Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Truth Lies Between the Extremes

I was hired to preach at the New Providence church of Christ in Calloway County, Kentucky at the young age of 25. During the four years I spent in that work I learned more about preaching than any other period in my life. A mile or two from the preacher's home (which was next to the building) lived an older couple who became some of our best friends. Mr. Ewing and Mrs. Youlanda Stubblefield lived just around the corner on Calvin Wilson Rd., and to go spend time with them was just like going home.

Ewing had preached for nearly 30 years at the Bethlehem congregation in Tennessee, just on the other side of the state line. He was still preaching some and they attended there, even though he had grown up in the New Providence church. Ewing and Youlanda took us in, as if we were their own kids. Youlanda suffered from Parkinson's and Lupus, but she would get down and play on the floor with our young son. Ewing would have us over for breakfast, which he made himself from scratch, and he also routinely gave me all of his old Gospel Advocates and other outlines and ideas and advice. (Did I mention he also made the best fried apples pies in Kentucky?).

While Amber and Youlanda talked about being preacher's wives, Ewing and I would sit and talk about preaching. He would tell me stories of great preachers and lessons he had heard. He would tell of congregational situations and how they solved problems. He would talk of the debates he attended and the amazing ways of Foy E. Wallace. Mr. Ewing was an asset to this young preacher who did not know his right hand from his left. He was my friend.

More than once, when discussing a doctrinal matter I remember him saying, "Well, you know, (he always said 'you know'), the truth lies between the extremes." Over the last 15 years I have found this to be correct, not only in Biblical matters, but in life. Even within our brotherhood - preachers, elders, teachers, members, and individual congregations struggle with extremism. Some want to bind things that Christ and the apostles never bound, just because they want to stay sound. Others want to let anything go, just because they want to be loving. We need to be careful. Honest and sincere Bible study should lead us to a balanced view of what the Bible actually says, and away from what we want it to say.

In my personal studies and preparations for sermons, classes, and writing I have found that the truth lies between the extremes. My original intent to attack a subject or a text is usually reproved by the intent of the Holy Spirit in the text itself. God wants us to be able to approach the masses with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Extremism accomplishes nothing to that end. Even within the core of what we hold to be "things more surely believed," we can discover the correct way to teach and live God's truths if we will stay in the center.

I have also learned, that the best way to continue in my relationships with people, preachers, and even churches who have allowed themselves to stray from the Bible will be through the avoidance of extremism. I don't want to be labeled a liberal or a conservative (although people may choose to do so anyway), but I want to be Biblical. One of my mentors in preaching used to say, "We are conservative in doctrine, while being liberal in our giving and love for God and others." It has also been commonly said - "unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things."

About a month ago I went to visit my good friend, Ewing Stubblefield. Youlanda passed away several years ago, and my wife and I served as honorary pallbearers at her funeral. Ewing now suffers from dementia, and is at a local nursing home in Murray, Ky. As I approached him in his room and I asked him if he recognized me. "You are that young man that used to preach at Providence..." He was right about that, but for a man who once knew me so well, his mind had diminished to the point of only faint memories. I spent a few minutes with him, and I hugged him and thanked him again for being my friend. I hope to get to see him every time I go back to Murray.

Ewing Stubblefield probably doesn't know it, but the advice he gave me in my formative years in the pulpit has served me and will continue to serve me for the rest of my life. This is what fellowship among brethren in Christ is all about. Don't underestimate it. It is one of the greatest blessings of being a member of the Lord's church. I love Mr. Ewing and I thank God for faithful preachers like him who love younger preachers and the future of the kingdom enough to unselfishly serve as mentors.

He was right. The truth lies between the extremes.

"Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left." ~ Deuteronomy 5:32