One of the things that set Corner Church apart was that everyone could play a tiny part of struggling through those worms. The elders (the den mothers) would make the final decision, but because every elders' meeting was recorded (dictaputers were very cool,) they could publish the whole discussion to everyone. Not everyone read or listened to the meetings, but anyone could. And when an issue like this came up, almost everyone had something to say. Everyone could and did give their den mother their thoughts as this drama unfolded. It may not have been true Athenian democracy, but it was something.
Jim and Brenda were split on Derek's idea, so they read the meeting minutes together each week just as soon as they were published.
Twice the elders gathered in as many weeks. They were committed to deciding how the church would reach out to their neighbors, but that was not the real question any more. The question had morphed into whether the church needed restoration from a sloppy unholiness. Derek wanted to lead Corner Church to repent and seek God as a body, and the church was torn over whether to give him the reins. Derek was confident that leading the church to a focus on holiness would bless the church in every way, including experiencing more power in reaching out to their neighbors.
Derek was silent in those elders' meetings. He observed while the other elders presented their convictions. Each week, a few more elders presented why they had taken up Derek's position. Each week the recorder submitted a minute for acceptance stating that the sense of the meeting was toward holiness. Each week, a group of elders would not accept that this was really the sense of the meeting. Each week they published the minutes, and agreed to take the issue up again next week.
Twice Jim and Brenda sat on their couch, and debated between themselves which arguments were strong and which were lazy. Now that Brenda was working, and Lacy was in preschool, free time was scarce, but the time to talk this out was budgeted first. Jim was sure he could persuade Brenda that the pursuit of God required sacrifice, and Brenda was sure that if Derek won, some elder would be calling them about Lacy being in preschool.
It was the undercurrents between them that were so draining, though. Jim was fighting not to think about how afraid he was. He seemed to be married to a woman who did not respect his opinion on anything. And Brenda feared she was married to a man who only cared about his hobbies. Today it was holiness. What would Jim obsess about tomorrow? When would she and Lacy ever become his priority?
They were discussing the elders' meetings, and thinking about the future of Corner Church, but they were both far more afraid than that. The elephant in the room was whether their marriage had been a mistake after all. They were both looking at the escape hatch, and wondering whether they shouldn't get out. Neither of them knew how to be married to someone so wrong. Running away was an appalling thought, but it was there, and had been ever since Derek stood up to turn the church back to God.
The elders gathered again for a third try at the topic.
Together, they would wait on the "sense of the meeting." All the elders had reflected on scripture, and on everything their brothers and sisters had said over the last week. They would each speak from the heart, and if there was a sense that they now had the same heart on the subject, then the church would go that way.
The sense of the meeting was always open to the Spirit's leading, and anything could happen, but the sense of the neighborhood would usually tell the story to an open ear. And the sense of the neighborhood was clear. Tim and Thom were the last two den mothers who did not want to go where Derek was leading.
Derek might have been silent in every elders' meeting, but he had been active between them. He had plied each undecided den mother with free lunches, and helpful conversation. He offered them a chance for "fellowship," and relaxed discussion. And since he was a persuasive man, and more so one on one, each of the elders who accepted his offer came to see what the church really stood to gain in rededicating themselves.
Tim and Thom had no need to be charmed, and declined Derek's gracious offers. Instead, they stepped into the elders' meeting more firmly convinced than ever that this was a bad idea.
When the third meeting ended, and the minutes were published, Jim and Brenda found themselves on the couch again, 'puter in hand. As it worked out, Tim spoke first.
Three weeks ago, brothers, most of you did not feel that the church was failing in holiness. Now, you have decided to take Derek's feelings on the subject as prophecy, a word from the Lord. I question this. I am not convinced. When Derek spoke three weeks ago, the Spirit did not witness in my heart that the things I was hearing applied to us. I don't fear a lack of holiness for myself, and I don't fear it for Corner Church.
Be that as it may, I would caution you there is a risk in going where holiness leads.
Holiness leads to police work - thought police work. It leads to one brother confronting another about things on which scripture is silent. Scripture says that one man can observe a day as holy to the Lord, and another can ignore the same day equally to the Lord. One can eat what another cannot, and both still have holy mouths to the Lord. But policemen never say things like that. Thought police always have to say the same thing together. Either it is holy to watch a football vid or it is unholy. Policemen cannot see that what is degrading for one can be inspiring for another.
And holiness policing will always be that way. If men were silent on everything about which scripture is silent, there would be nothing for the thought police to say, nothing to do. We already know we should abstain from fornication, drinking blood, and moving in with a stepmother. It's not a complicated message, and Corner Church is not supporting anyone who does any of these things.
But what suffers if we focus on holiness? What good things go unnoticed because we are straining at gnats? You cannot enforce, "Love your neighbor as yourself," but that's the only thing that matters. While we turn our eyes into our navels, our neighbors will go on wondering who we are, and why we don't introduce ourselves. And then they will forget about us. And the same thing will happen to our brothers. When your brothers are spying out your holiness, will you seek them out in joy? Or will you slowly begin to lock yourselves in your homes, away from prying eyes?
[The dictaputer recorded a pause here.]
That's my peace, brothers.
Jim stopped reading, and looked at Brenda. He was a guy, so he did not see her swallowing back her cheers. He was barely looking at her at all, really, because his mind was whirring. Tim's speech cut through something in his head, but he was not yet sure what to make of it.
They went back to the meeting minutes, and kept reading. Den mother after den mother stood up after Tim, and each said the same things they had said the week before, and the week before that. Jim even had a hard time concentrating on what he was reading.
When the presentations were done, he was surprised at just how little the other brothers had addressed the things Tim said. Of course, that was the whole idea of the elders' meeting; each brother said what was on his heart without answering anything any other brother said. Still, love trumped holiness and none of the other brothers made a case for love.
Finally, Jim spoke. With so much happening in his head, it was not easy, but he wanted to hear what Brenda thought before they read what the final sense of the meeting was.
"I see why you agree with Tim," Jim said.
"Thank you," Brenda answered. "The biggest thing Tim said to me was, 'I'm not worried about my holiness.' That was just amazing to me, because it's so true. Our holiness is something we get from God, not something we do. But it's so bold to just say it like that! He's my new hero." Brenda smiled.
Jim grinned back. "Yeah," he said, "That took some stones, especially in that crowd. They didn't want to hear that at all.
"I don't know whether I've changed my mind yet, but I'm wondering now," Jim offered. "If it turns out that Tim's right, that there really is a thought police, then I guess I'll want to leave, too."
Brenda answered, "I don't want to leave, Jim. I just want to love the Lord without strangers meddling in my life. If Karen says something to me about Lacy, it will be because she knows me, and loves me, and loves Lacy. It won't be because she's my den mother and thinks she's supposed to keep me in line. When Joy told us about home schooling, it was just wierd. I know she's a den mother and all, but I hardly knew her. I really DO NOT want to leave, but if anyone thinks she can tell me how to raise Lacy just because she's some kind of honcho around here, she's got another thing coming. And she didn't even sound like she liked home schooling!"
Jim nodded in agreement. "If anyone tried to tell us how to raise Lacy, I'd be right with you."
They went back to the meeting minutes, and kept reading.
The dictaputer faithfully reported the recorder entering the meeting minute for the third time. "The brothers of Corner Church presented each other with their impressions of scripture and the leading of the Spirit regarding the future direction of the church. It was clear to everyone present that the Spirit is leading the church into a time of repentance and increased diligence in our obedience to the Lord. Over the next month, Corner Church will ask Derek to share with the church everything the Lord has laid on his heart regarding repentance and holiness, and we will enter into this time as fully as we can."
Brenda could not help but choke a little at reading that, and Jim had to pause to let the full import sink in.
The transcript reported that the minute was submitted to the brothers for acceptance, and that it was accepted unanimously, with two abstentions. Tim and Thom evidently figured they should quit holding the church back.
Jim was just about to tell Brenda that now they would see what was really going to happen when the phone rang. He clicked over to answer it, and it was Joy.
After the niceties and greetings, Joy said, "We talked a couple weeks ago about how I home school Darren and Dawn? I was wondering whether you guys might like to talk more about home schooling over dinner next week? I'll cook?" she chirped.
Jim did not even glance at Brenda.
"You know, Joy," he began, "we haven't announced it yet, but we're probably going to be shopping around for churches over the next few weeks, so I would feel awkward imposing on you for dinner. Thank you for the offer, though."
And just that quickly, it was over.
They set the vidputer aside, and had a good cry. Both mourned something, and both rejoiced for something, but they weren't exactly the same things.
It didn't matter. They were together on this one, and that was enough for both of them.
PS: There was one more minute recorded to the meeting that Jim and Brenda did not quite get around to reading.
"The brothers of Corner Church, with one heart expressed a need to be more comfortable speaking their full hearts and minds to each other. They found, these recent weeks, that knowing their every word was being transcribed made this difficult to do. It was clear to everyone that not reporting the full text of every elders' meeting would make this much easier for everyone, so it was agreed that these would be the last full meeting minutes reported from the elders' meetings."
The minute was accepted unanimously, with two abstentions.