February 21, 2013 by jmar198013
—Calvin Luther Edwards III, contributing editor for The Phinehas Page—
The two-o’clock lecture was somewhat more memorable. Brother Hollis “Mack” Snipes, a favorite Gospel meeting speaker among this segment of the brotherhood, was speaking in one of the children’s classrooms in the Doogood Ave. Church’s building. Brother Snipes, who preaches for a congregation of the Lord’s Church in Raceland, KY is, as many of our readers are no doubt aware, a fiery-tongued orator with an acrostic fetish, who can issue forth the poetic cadences of the King James Version Bible with the caustic grace (oh no, that word again!) of Muhammad Ali. And like Ali, his rhetorical flourishes, whether in homiletic or forensic settings, float like butterflies and sting like bees. I recall a debate he did several years ago where, having soundly whipped his worthy opponent, erring Brother Wilbur Hogg, Brother Snipes anounced: “Anybody want some bacon? Because Brothers and Sisters, I do declare I’ve just sliced me up a Hogg and fried him!”
Brother Hogg had been riding a particularly foolish hobby for some time, you see; namely, that after the Lord’s Supper, the entire congregation had to sing a song and walk out of the building. He got this notion from the account of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper in Mark 14, because in verse 26 it says that, “after they had sung an hymn, they went out.” Brother Snipes needed only point out to Brother Hogg that he was entirely neglecting the rest of the clause: “they went out to the Mount of Olives.” That should have put a stop to Brother Hogg’s foolishness then and there, but the sad fact of the matter is, undaunted, Brother Hogg convinced the eldership of the congregation where he preaches to plant an olive grove along the back of the church’s property. This grove was marked with a sign that says “The Mount of Olives.” So each Sunday the whole congregation, right after the Lord’s Supper, gets up, starts singing “Night, with Ebon Pinion, brooded o’er the vale,” and marches out to the so-called “Mount of Olives” (which, whatever else it is, can hardly be classified as a “mount”). They stand out there for a minute or so, and then amble back in. Then a collection is taken up, and they are forced to sit and listen to another one of Brother Hogg’s ridiculous hobby horse sermons. I hear that these days he’s got it in his head that, based on his careful exegesis of the book of Revelation, there can be no doubt that the risen Jesus, seated at the right hand of our Heavenly Father, is literally a sheep-lion-man hybrid with a sword protruding from his mouth! You know, compared to him, some of Strudel Harrison’s teachings don’t sound all that far out.
Brother Snipes’ lecture was entitled “Hell is ETERNAL (Jude 13),” another of his famous acrostic sermons. I was all fired up to hear what each of the letters of ETERNAL would stand for, but also concerned that he wouldn’t be able to wrap up all seven points of his lesson and still have time for the post-lecture question and answer session promised in the lectureship brochure.
After a wholesome and patently uninteresting luch at a nearby Picadilly cafeteria, I arrived back at the Doogood Ave. building about half an hour before Brother Mack Snipes’ lecture, “Hell is ETERNAL,” was slated to begin. I checked the lectureship schedule, and saw that the session was to be held in room 17 of the children’s wing. It turned out to be a classroom for five-and-six-year-olds.
The door to room 17 was classy–or should I say classly? Maybe “classroom-esque.” What I mean is, it had every appearance of having been designed by someone who’d majored in elementary education. There were photographs of the teachers’ faces pasted onto construction paper bodies, which were clad in overalls. There were also faux straw hats on the teachers’ heads. The teachers for this class were a severely pretty thirtysomething named Mrs. Oddmanners, and a mousy teenaged girl called Ms. Carrie. Pictures of the children of the class had been variously affixed to vegetables (if they were boys) and flowers (for girls). A confused-looking chubby boy named Otis Cobb was peering out at me from an ear of corn, while a pig-tailed girl named Fauna Flory smiled at me cheerfully from the midst of a daffodil. The teachers and students were connected by a circular series of vines, the root of which was a picture of a standard white Jesus. A banner underneath him read, “I am the vine and ye are the branches.” In the center of this tableaux were stenciled letters cut from construction paper which spelled out: “Come and BLOOM in our KINDER-GARDEN Class!” I told you it was classy.
Because I’d arrived so early, I was able to choose a seat near the front of the room. I scanned my surroundings, and I must admit, it seemed a bit eerie to me that this cheery room which usually housed carefree children would soon be the site where one of the Brotherhood’s most histrionic orators presented what was sure to be a heated lecture on the unquenchable fiery abyss. The place was a gallery of children’s Bible class artisanship: painted macaroni mosaics of Noah’s rainbow, coloring book representations of the standard white Jesus holding cotton-covered lambs in his lap, and a prayer collage, with items for which the children were thankful clipped from magazines and pasted to a posterboard. Otis Cobb, by the way, is thankful for Twinkies, and Fauna Flory is thankful for the color pink. I found myself liking these goofy kids I’d never met, and thanking God for MAD magazine, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream under the influence of that prayer collage.
I was aroused from my orgy of gratitude by the arrival of an obviously toupeed gentleman wearing a short-sleeved button-up shirt and a pink paisley tie. “You savin’ that seat for anybody?” he asked, because I’d mindlessly placed my Bible, notebook, and lectureship brochure in a chair to my right.
“Oh, no sir,” I told him. “You can have it.” I moved my stuff out of his way, and he sat down.
“The name’s Woody Dupree,” he said, grinning to reveal extensive dental work and a moderate case of periodontal disease. “I’m an elder at the Raceland First United Primitive Christian Church in Raceland, Kentucky.”
“Ah yes–where Brother Snipes preaches. Well, I’m Calvin Luther Edwards, III.”
“From the Phinehas Page, right?”
“Yessir,” I said. “I sort of acquired it by accident, you know. Brother Bucky Dinkins willed it to me when he went on to meet his great reward a couple of years ago. I wasn’t even out of college yet.”
“Well,” said Brother Dupree, “I trust you will continue its fine heritage of contending earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.”
“Sir, if there’s anything I am, it’s earnest. I just can’t find it in me to be contentious.” I smiled rather wryly at him.
“Son,” he replied, “someone’s gonna find you contentious no matter what you write. Just try not to be cantakerous. What you gotta do is, start off your articles saying how you love any brother you’ve got to call out. Lay it on real thick about how you’re only speaking the truth in love. See, then when people accuse you of being unloving, you can say, ‘Of course I’m loving. Didn’t I say so?’ Now they might say, ‘Well, you don’t act like it,’ and then you can tell them they’re trying to judge your heart, and that isn’t right. So then you have to emphasize that it grieves you and pains you that you even have to write what you’re about to. You’d rather not do this, you can say, but So-and-So Church or Brother So-and-So has forced you into it by their purposeful slide into digression. Then, you spend somewhere in the neighborhood of two to five pages venting your spleen (in love mind you). And ever’ so often, assure the brethren that you aren’t just being a ‘dirt-digger’ or a muckraker, and that all of which you have charged your brother with is public record. Now, after you’ve finished rebuking, reproving, and correcting your erring brother on account of his advocating unfruitful works of darkness, make sure you remind the readers of your love, and prfound sorrow, and mention that you’re tearfully praying that Brother Such-and-Such will be moved to repent of his foolishness. If you really want to lay it on thick, you can end with a prediction, however. Say that you’re afraid that this brother may have already slid too far into iniquity to repent. Because, let’s face it– they never do repent! They’ll tell you they’ve nothing to repent of! And then, you’ll come off looking downright prophetic, and the people will believe anything you tell them.” While Brother Dupree was enlightening me on the fundamentals of Brotherhood journalism, people had been wandering into the room. I was wondering if any of them had overheard. No one seemed to be paying attention.
“Sounds like you’ve got it down to a formula,” I told him.
“It’s what we’ve been doing for over seventy years now,” said Brother Dupree, “and it’s served us well. It was developed by Brothers P. O. Branum and Coy F. McGinnish when they debated one another over the located preachers controversy in the pages of Speaking as the Oracles of God. You can read all about it in volume two of Brother Eggwood E. Easterly’s history of our Brotherhood, Renewing the Ancient Covenant.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” I fibbed (sort of–I’m bearing it in mind, just for a different reason than he wanted me to). Then I changed the subject. “So, what’s Brother Snipes like?”
“Oh, he’s a real bulwark of soundness,” chimed Brother Dupree. “None of that silly change agent stuff for him, no siree!”
“What sort of change agent stuff?” I asked.
“You know, those new Bibles, like the Revisionist Satanic Version (more commonly known as the RSV), the Nearly Inspired Version (or, NIV, if you will), or the Easy-to-Mislead Version. And he doesn’t go in for all that flashy PowerPoint mumbo-jumbo, or folks lifting their hands and clapping their hands and stomping their feet. Or those new songs.”
“What new songs?” I asked.
“Well, I’m not exactly sure of the names of them, because we don’t sing them, of course. Brother Snipes did a sermon series on them a few months back called ‘Singing Our Way into Apostasy.’ He said that what’s happening at our colleges and in some of our churches is that our young people are being taught to sing songs by this rock-and-roll band from about twenty years back, called Devo.”
“Er,” I said, trying really hard not to explode with laughter at the thought of a bunch of kids singing “Whip It” in the Grand Chapel of Steed-Ramrick University, “I think you mean that they’re singing devo songs…um…devotional songs.”
“Whatever they are, they’re simply vehicles used to bring in false doctrines to our vulnerable youth. There’s this one song, called ‘Days of Elijah,’ and it’s really just a schizophrenic kaleidoscope of Bible stories. A real train wreck of a song is what Brother Snipes says–it don’t even make any sense. These aren’t the days of Elijah and all that Old Testament foolishness! These are the days of Jesus and the faith once for all delivered! And there’s this other song that says, ‘May my steps be worship.’ Now, can you name me one place in the Bible where getting up and walking around is given as a command or an approved example of worship?”
“Um, I don’t think those songs are meant to be taken quite so literally,” I said, “I think what we need to recognize is–”
I felt a hand clamp down on my left shoulder. It was Brother Skeeter McDoogan. “You weren’t just rebuking an elder, were you Calvin?”
“No sir,” I replied, “I was just–”
“He was coming mighty close,” said Brother Dupree.
Brother McDoogan chuckled and reached out to shake Brother Dupree’s hand. “Hey there Woody. Don’t mind Calvin. He’s a good boy, he really is. He’s just too curious sometimes. And much too forward. One of those bold Young Kurds.”
“Don’t you mean, ‘Young Turks’?” I asked, and immediately regretted it.
“Rebuke not an elder!” snapped Brothers McDoogan and Dupree simultaneously.
Since I had no desire to be accused of rebuking anymore elders, I just shut up. But Brother McDoogan kept on going, “If you’re not careful, Calvin, you’re going to end up wearing sweaters when you preach and reading out of the New International Perversion!” As he said this, however, the room grew suddenly silent, so that his final salvo of “Perversion!” ricocheted awkwardly off the walls. I searched around for the source of this sudden silence, and that’s when I realized that Brother Snipes had taken his seat at the front of the room, and Brother Remus Philbert was approaching the lectern to introduce him.