February 20, 2013 by jmar198013
–Calvin Luther Edwards III, contributing editor, The Phinehas Page—
The theme of this year’s “Full Armor” lectures was “Contend Earnestly for the Faith Once and for All Delivered: Lessons from the Book of Jude.” The day was scheduled to begin with a group singing. After last night’s purging of our hymnals, which declared only Brother Enos Crump’s old standard “The True Church” as the only song in the book appropriate for congregational use, several of us had been pondering over breakfast at Shoney’s whether there’d be a singing at all. Brother Herbert Sharp, the esteemed pulpit minister for the Cortez First United Primitive Christian Church, which mostly hosts students and faculty from Steed-Ramrick University, waved a dismissive hand and said in an assured manner, “Oh, there’ll be a singing! Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 both command that we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Yes, there will be a singing, even if we have to sing nothing but ‘The True Church’ repeatedly, as we did last night.” I was rather anxious on this point, and told Brother Sharp so.
“Brother,” I said, “I enjoy ‘The True Church’ just as much as anyone else, but don’t you think Brother Olley may have gone just a little overboard last night? I mean, couldn’t we at least sing ‘Just as I Am’ or ‘Sing and be Happy’? Those don’t have anything in them about grace, do they?”
Brother Sharp looked at me incredulously, and the others at our table seemed mighty uncomfortable that I would question Brother Olley. The old man with the hearing aid who sat by me the night before dropped the knife he’d been buttering his biscuit with. His wife stared into her coffee cup. “Calvin, I’m surprised at you!” said Brother Sharp. “Merle Olley is an elder in the Lord’s Church, and you know 1 Timothy 5:1 says ‘rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father.'”
I told him I wasn’t rebuking anyone. “Besides,” I said, “wouldn’t he have to be here at the table with us to qualify it as me rebuking him? I just want to know why we can’t sing ‘Just as I Am.'”
“I’ll tell you why we can’t sing that song,” croaked the man with the hearing aid who’d been shushed for “Amen”-ing the evening before. “It encourages moral laxity. You start singing a song like that and people get too comfortable with being sinners. They’ll say, ‘If it’s all the same, I’ll just go on sinning, since Jesus will take me just as I am.'”
“I don’t think that’s the message of the song at all,” I said.
Brother Sharp slapped the table hard and shouted at me, “Rebuke not an elder!” I looked at him, confused by his outburst. “Huh?”
He pointed at the “Amen”-man and said, “That’s Brother Cecil ‘Skeeter’ McDoogan, and he is an elder of the Lord’s Church in Cortez, where I preach. And you were rebuking him!”
“No I wasn’t,” I replied.
“Rebuke not an elder, Calvin!” shouted Brother Sharp. Other Shoney’s patrons were staring at our table.
“Which elder am I rebuking now?” I cried, exasperated.
“Me!” spat Brother Sharp. “I am an elder in the Lord’s Church!”
“We installed him last week,” added Brother McDoogan, nodding.
“I apologize,” I said, “I didn’t know you were an elder.”
Brother McDoogan’s wife looked up from her coffee and (thankfully) changed the subject. “I’ve heard a rumor that Strudel Harrison is in town this week and may be visiting the lectures for Open Forum one day,” she said.
Strudel had been an outstanding student at Steed-Ramrick University, and later taught there for a while. During his professorship there, he had also manned the pulpit currently manned by Brother Sharp. Strudel had also helped establish, along with Brothers Garnish Welsh, Remus Philbert, and the late Demar Wiggington, Sr., the monthly journal “Full Armor of God,” which, of course, hosts the lectureship. In those days he was known for his hard-line stance on issues ranging from pacifism (he argued that those who refused to fight in wars were guilty of violating Romans 13) to roller skating (which he dubbed “licentiousness on wheels”). Back then, he was seen as the Golden Child of the First United Primitive Christian Church. All this changed, however, in the early nineteen eighties, when he began to question many of the brotherhood’s methods of interpreting the Scriptures. When he published his doubts in a book entitled I Have Decided to Follow Jesus he was sacked from both his professorship at Steed-Ramrick and his preaching post at the Cortez Church. Shortly thereafter he was hired by a progressive church in Nashville and started writing more books, each one in turn making his former comrades madder at him than the one before.
“Let him come here!” growled Brother Sharp through clenched teeth. “I’m always ready to give a defense, to take a bite out of some tasty Strudel!”
When we arrived at the Doogood Ave. auditorium for the group sing, we all noticed that there were papers in front of the now useless hymnals. Caleb Coolidge took his place at the podium to direct the singing and said, “I stayed up half the night looking for appropriate songs to sing this morning, and I found this one.” He waved a piece of paper above his head. “I’ve made copies for everyone. You’ll find it in the songbook rack on the back of the pew in front of you. So if you will secure a copy and please stand where you are, we will now sing ‘Rulers of Sodom.'”
And so we stood, and began to sing (the meter was “Cheshire”):
Rulers of Sodom, hear the voice
of Heaven’s eternal Lord!
Men of Gommorah, bend your ear,
submissive to his Word!
The song went on for five more verses, finally concluding:
But cleanse your hands, ye guilty race,
and cease from deeds of sin.
Learn in your actions to be just,
and pure in heart within.
Feeling mostly edified, we sat back down in our pews, and a man named Colin Cumberbatch, an indigenous evangelist from the island of Nevis who had come to the preacher training school run by the Doogood Ave. Church, led us in an opening prayer. Then, we settled in to hear the first lecture of the day, “Jude at a Glance,” presented by Brother Harland Jenkins, preacher for the Corn Row First United Primitive Christian Church in Altoona, PA. I don’t really remember much about that lecture. He was, after all, charged with the unenviable task of summarizing a book that’s only twenty-five verses long.