Ebenezer and Ralph’s Story

 

It was on a Thursday morning and . . . ah . . . No! No! It was on a Wednesday evening.

It was just after the rainy season. The grasses on the savanna were tall and lush. Trees were full of leaves and fruit. It was the season of plenty for all creatures, large and small.

The elephants were doing well. The herds were numerous and large. They were fat and healthy. The calving season had been successful. Elephant trumpeting echoed far and wide. The ground trembled with their unhurried traverse of the savanna.

Along with the herds of other animals, the elephants were migrating. Throughout that Wednesday, the herds passed through the territory of Ebenezer and Ralph. Snuggled deep in their holes, Ebenezer and Ralph were safe from the feet of the herds, and they were delighted that elephants were moving through the grounds they patrolled.

Ebenezer and Ralph were brothers; however, one would never know it from the way they treated each other. From the time of their hatching, Ebenezer and Ralph had gone their separate ways. They did not even know that they were siblings. They did not care. The only thing that they knew was their rivalry. They were insect scatologists who battled over droppings. Yes, Ebenezer and Ralph were dung beetles.

It was late Wednesday afternoon before the elephants had finished passing through Ebenezer and Ralph’s domain. For fear of being squished, they waited long in their burrows. It was nearly dark when they crawled out to investigate.

What Ebenezer and Ralph saw nearly took their breath away. In every direction, as far as a dung beetle’s eyes could see, there was elephant dung. It was heavenly! Both Ebenezer and Ralph whispered a prayer: “Thank you, God, for elephants!”

To this day, there is considerable debate in the scatology schools of dung beetles as to whether Ebenezer or Ralph saw IT first. Both were patrolling the same area when they saw IT. Ebenezer said: “It was the largest mountain of elephant dung in the history of the world.” Ralph said: “It was the Mount Everest of elephant dung.” Indeed, theirs was a once-in-a-lifetime find. The challenge was daunting. The hour was too late. They would have to wait until the next day.

Like most mornings on the savanna, Thursday morning broke early and bright and clear. Both Ebenezer and Ralph were up early. A conquest was to be made. A mountain was to be climbed. A summit was to be reached.

As they surveyed the world’s record for the largest mound of elephant dung, they also assayed it. Indubitably, the elephant that had deposited this bonanza had a rich and varied diet. All their tests revealed that this was also the world’s richest elephant dung. They surmised that it would take all day to ascend this mountain. The task was great. They were up to it.

Ebenezer started on the North slope. Ralph started on the South slope. Indeed, their climb was exhausting. It took the rest of the day.

No one is sure which of the dung beetles reached the top first. It was a photo finish. The one thing that is for certain is that the fight began when Ebenezer and Ralph reached the summit and saw each other. It was a battle royale! They fought into the evening and through the night and for two more days and nights. No one has ever fought so hard and so bravely and so long for a dunghill. Yes, it was a magnificent struggle. A legendary battle that has become mythic in the telling!

Well, who won the battle? It is hard to say. Do you remember that Ebenezer and Ralph were brothers? It is hard to tell dung beetles apart even when they are not brothers. Whether the victor was Ebenezer or Ralph has been lost in lore; however, one of them became the proud owner of the world’s largest mound of elephant dung. A spectacular accomplishment! One of them was able to say: “I won the battle for the biggest and richest dung hill!”

Mr. LeRoy Brown of Chicken Neck, SC, read this story. “I’m glad I’m not a dung beetle!” he said.

In the world of Presbyterianism in the United States, in spite of a 200 plus year history, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has played equally a small and an insignificant role. Why is this? The Editor has heard all kinds of explanations for the failure of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church to thrive. Some of us have even boasted that the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is “little Benjamin.” They have not seen the failure of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church to thrive as a matter for concern.

It is interesting that the data of the New Testament does not define the Church in term of that which is small and insignificant. The New Testament data describes the Church as growing and significant.

Any survey of the New Testament concept of the Church begins by noting that the Greek word for Church means “the called out people,” that is, the people who are called by the Holy Spirit to know and serve God in a relationship through Jesus Christ. What does this “called out” people look like? The New Testament metaphors for the Church fill out the Church in this manner: (1) According to 1 Timothy 3:15, the Church is “the house of God” and “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (all Scriptural quotes from KJV). Thus, the Church is a household or family where God is the Father, Jesus is the elder brother, Christians are brothers and sisters who are called to a familial relationship of mutual care for one another, and God’s Word is the acid test for establishing truth. And to be a healthy family, the Church is a growing and expanding organism. (2) In Colossians 1:12 and13, the Church is “the inheritance of the saints in light,” those who have been delivered “from the power of darkness,” and “the kingdom of [God’s] dear Son.” Thus, in the Church, God, in Christ, is delivering His people from the power of sin and evil into the Dominion of His Son, and the Christian finds himself/herself a rescued citizen of this new Kingdom that is advancing. (3) According to 1 Peter 2:9, the Church is “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Thus, the Church is a holy nation of priests where Christ is the High Priest. God’s people are called to a priestly servanthood, and the light of this holy nation is advancing and overcoming the darkness. According to Ephesians 2:19-22, the Church is the citizenship of “the household of God,” where the foundation is the Apostolic and Prophetic witnesses, where Jesus Christ is “the chief cornerstone,” where the Church is being “framed together” and is growing into “an holy temple in the Lord, and where the people of God are being “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Thus, there is a sense of building and growth and advancement. (5) According to 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, the Church is a “Body.” Thus, the many parts make up the one Body which has as its Head the Lord Jesus, and this Body is marked by the various members caring for the one Body. Thus, the Church is shown as ministering to Herself, and, in so doing, renewing Herself. (6) According Titus 2:14 and Acts 20:28, the Church is the body of people that Jesus has redeemed “from all iniquity” and called into a “flock” that has “overseers” to “purify” them into “a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Thus, the Church becomes the people of God thinking the thoughts of God after Him and doing the works of God in Christ’s name among people until Jesus returns. (7) Finally, according to 1 Peter 5:2-4 and 5:25, the Church is “the flock of God,” the people who are the “sheep who were going astray”; Christ is “the Shepherd and Bishop,” and the leaders are those who “feed the flock of God,” as “God’s heritage,” in Christ’s name and according to His example. Thus, wherever the Church is, God in Christ ministers to and grows the Church.

At this point, adding Christ’s imperial claims as the only Savior of sinners (John 14:6 and Acts 4:12) and His commission to evangelize and to make disciples of all nations in His name (Matthew 28:19-20), one is left with a view of the Church that sees the Church growing and significant. The Church is seen as spreading and becoming the Kingdom of the great Pantokrator of the Revelation (Revelation 1:8), who reigns over heaven and the nations of men.

We in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church have described our role and identification in the Church in lesser terms. In the past, we ARPs spoke of our role and identification in the Church in terms of: (1) A Scottish heritage; (2) A musical heritage of Psalm singing; (3) An attempt at strict Sabbatarianism; (4) A southern heritage; (5) Genealogical relationships, as though blood ties meant something in the Church of the Lord Jesus; (6) An odd delight in being small; (7) A passing salute to the Westminster Standards; however, we have rarely concerned ourselves with theological precision; and, most important of all, (7) The Siamese twins of Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary. Of course, this delineation of the role and identification of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the Church has not been true of all Associate Reformed Presbyterians. Some may say that they are offended by such a characterization; however, the list is historically accurate. Our own histories are the witnesses.

The most fascinating aspect in how we ARPs have described the role and identity of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is the Siamese twins: Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary.

The Editor remembers discussions at Erskine Theological Seminary and elsewhere where it was argued that the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church had no real identify apart from Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary as the educational agency of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was argued that, apart from the sociological and familial connections that were created and cemented and continued at Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church had no reason to continue. It was argued that this was the life-giving glue that held the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church together.

The history of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the last 40 years disproves the thesis that the Siamese twins of Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary are the glue that has held the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church together, although Erskine is the place where a lot of dysfunctional ARP patterns have been perpetuated. Our history the last 40 years has been one of contention and division over these Siamese twins, and this contention and division have led to the decline of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Many argue: “That is not the way it is supposed to be!” Sadly, that is the way it is.

In the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, we have lost sight of something that is important: JESUS DIED FOR HIS CHURCH. It is not written in the Bible that Jesus died for a college and seminary. It is not written in the Bible that Jesus died for academic accreditation. It is not written in the Bible that Jesus died for anything other than His Church.

The role of the Church of Jesus Christ is not to advance the cause of colleges and/or seminaries. Furthermore, the role of a Christian denomination is not to be driven by the agencies that have been established to advance the mission of the denomination as a part of the Church of Jesus Christ.

In the past, we ARPs have looked at the role of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as an instrument to advance the health of the Siamese twins. Look at where we ARPs have poured our money. In the last 40 years we have invested at least $20,000,000 from the treasury of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Then, if one adds the gifts of individuals and local congregations in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the investment becomes exponentially larger.

Well, what have we ARPs bought with our financial faithfulness to the Siamese twins of Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary? Have we bought a growing college? Have we bought a college that is now faithful to our mission for an evangelical college? Have we bought a seminary that is now faithful to our conservative and Presbyterian and Reformed heritage? Have we bought a college that we can trust with our high school seniors? Have we bought a seminary that we can trust to train our candidates for the ministry of the Church? Have we bought a growing and healthy denomination? Have we bought theological and intellectual significance in the world of evangelical Christian thought?

The answer to the above questions is: NO! But we have ended up with current and anticipated conflict and misery and discord and frustration. Instead of advancing the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has joined secularism and distrust of our educational agency. As a part of the Church of Jesus Christ, we ARPs have embraced the roles of insignificance and mediocrity and worn them as badges of honor. Politely, the rest of the world quietly scorns us for our foolishness!

The net result is a decline for both the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and Erskine College and Seminary. Our unwillingness to have the determination and courage to be faithful in our stewardship of Erskine College and Seminary has led to the creeping insignificance of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Nowadays, as the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the secularists on the Erskine faculty and board and the alumni association continue in a struggle for the governance of the Siamese twins of Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary, this question needs to be asked: WHEN WILL WE IN THE ASSOCIATE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH RISE UP IN HOLY INDIGNATION AND FIX THE MESS AT ERSKINE COLELGE AND SEMINARY? Do we not have the theological, intellectual, and personal will to get the job done?

What is the goal of the secularists among the Erskine faculty and board and the Alumni Association? They certainly are not bashful in stating their goal. Read the following from the so-called Alumni Association:

__________

Alumni Board Motion

9/25/10

As representatives of the Erskine Alumni, the Erskine Alumni Board respectfully requests that the following selection criteria for members of the Erskine College and Seminary Board of Trustees be considered by the Erskine By-Laws Committee:

The Erskine College and Seminary Board of Trustees shall be comprised of individuals who are committed to active governance of Erskine throughout their time of service.

Trustees shall demonstrate:

1. Christian commitment as evidenced by their support of and participation in church and community activities, and their reputation within their community as followers of Christ.

2. Understanding that service on the Board of Trustees requires the highest ethical and moral standards and a significant commitment of time and energy over a sustained period.

3. Knowledge and deep appreciation of the history and mission of Erskine College and Seminary including its origins and its relationship to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian (ARP) denomination.

4. Understanding and appreciation for the value of an accredited Christian liberal arts education and the importance of academic freedom and integrity in that education.

5. A deep commitment to the mission and future of Erskine College and Seminary as evidenced by their status as an alumnus, a sponsor or parent of an alumnus, a member of the ARP Church, and/or a strong personal commitment to the mission and future of the institution.

6. A depth of knowledge and proven success in at least one or more areas useful in the service of Erskine College including, but not limited to:

a. Educational, academic, and athletic affairs

b. Christian ministry or theology

c. Fiscal and business matters

d. Scientific research or medicine

e. Legal and governmental affairs

f. Human resources and personnel management

g. Development, marketing, and philanthropic work

h. Strategic planning and organizational development

i. Construction and facilities maintenance.

7. A record of financial support for Erskine College and/or Seminary, from personal resources, with evidence that Erskine is among the top five beneficiaries of charitable giving for at least one year prior to appointment to the Board of Trustees and willingness to provide such a record for all years during which the individual serves as a trustee. Evidence to support this level of financial commitment may include a signed affidavit, or other approved documentation.

8. A record of collaborative leadership, the ability to articulate their point of view, understand the views of others, work to develop consensus among their fellow Board members, and to implement decisions as they are reached.

Furthermore, the Erskine Alumni Board respectfully requests that the Erskine College By Laws Committee give consideration to a requirement that the Board’s Committee on Trustees be charged with the responsibility of nominating members so that the Board as a whole is balanced and maintained in a manner conducive to the effective operations of the board over time.

The desired result is a Board of Trustees whose members complement one another and can effectively work together towards the goal of making Erskine College and Seminary among the leading institutions of higher learning in the United States.

The Board’s Committee on Trustees shall consider the following:

1. Balancing the unique skills and competencies of Board members such that each Board continually develops members for leadership positions for each of its standing committees

2. Diversity as reflected in the gender, ethnicity, demographics, Christian denomination, expertise, and professional experience of its members.

__________

Well, there it is. This document is an attempt to steal Erskine College and Seminary from the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. This document proposes to remove from the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church the right to appoint and approve the Erskine Board of trustees. In disregard for decades of practice and relationship, this document is nothing more than a rationale for thievery. What audacity! What a sense of entitlement! To borrow an old saying: “The inmates are proposing to run the asylum.”

For more than 40 years this conflict has either simmered or raged. The recent conflict is only one of the messier chapters. In the world of evangelical and Reformed Christianity, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has become an amusing proverb for both educational and theological ineptitude. We simply cannot get right the Siamese twins of Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary. It is also the Editor’s contention that this inability to mold the Siamese twins of Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary into the evangelical and Reformed institutions that we long for has been the major contributor to the failure of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church to thrive in the last 40 years. All our energies have been involved in a conflict over an agency, Erskine College and Seminary

Often the Editor hears the following: “If only we can bring about reformation at the college, then Erskine College can become the premiere Christian liberal arts college of the southeast,” or “If only we can bring about leadership changes at the seminary, then Erskine Theological Seminary can become a great bastion of conservative Presbyterianism and Reformed theology.” Okay! The Editor has heard such rhetoric for 40 years. The Editor has even bought into the ideas. However, what has been the net result: THE ASSOCIATE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH HAS NOT PROSPERED IN THIS EFFORT! Instead of the blessing of God, it seems that we have experienced the judgment of God.

Could it be that we are doing something wrong?

Does it not seem that we are like dung beetles fighting over a dunghill? Is it not time either to fix the Erskine mess or to be done with the Erskine mess? We have nearly killed the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in a battle to transform what amounts to not much more than a theological and educational dunghill! Are we not weary enough and ashamed enough of our hopeless bungling in our efforts to identify the role and mission of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church in the Church of Jesus Christ by means of an educational institution that has cursed and shamed us rather than blessed us?

Mr. LeRoy Brown of Chicken Neck, SC, also read these comments. He said: “You ARPs are crazy! I’d rather be a Buddhist than an ARP! I’m so glad I didn’t attend Erskine; I’m a graduate of Chicken Neck State Community University!”

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

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  1. Tony Locke says:

    We were on track within the State Courts for radical change. By winning the suit the Synod would have had unquestioned authority in all these matters. If we lost we would have been allowed to stop talking about Erskine. Either way it was movement forward. All we had to do was be patient and let the Lord work these things out with finality through the same courts the ARP Church used to organize Erskine as a legal entity.

    Remember, Erskine was granted a separate charter by the ARP Church when we petitioned the State of S.C to establish laws governing the relationship between the church and school. We took ourselves before secular courts to codify our relationship with legal language. We submitted our ecclesiastic authority over the school to the laws of S.C. related to 501 C3 corporations. We did this to ourselves.

    The lawsuit only asked the State to clarify governance. No damages, nothing sinister. The board had fiduciary responsibility to do this. They could have sued for not protecting the school’s interests.

    Admittedly, the board saw this as their tool to stop the will of the Synod. In truth, it could have been a God send to the Church for our will to be ratified as authoritative by the State within the boundaries of 501 C3 statutes. If we could have kept our big-boy panties on, then we could have increased our standing considerably.

    Instead the ministers freaked out. We forgot that almost all legal relationships are governed by secular courts: marriages, adoptions, etc. We forgot that the ARP Church started the legal dynamic by taking ourselves before the courts and asking to have these laws govern our relationship with Erskine. We forgot that we had to live by those laws. We submitted ourselves, and forced Erskine to submit, to secular laws and then were surprised when Erskine trustees asked the courts to make sure we were living within those laws.

    We should have kept our mouths shut during the 2010 meeting of Synod on these issues. We should have allowed the process to move forward without our commentary. We should have rejoiced in this development and not acted like surprised children who didn’t get their way without a fight.

    Believers didn’t take believers to court over doctrine. 1 Cor 6 doesn’t apply.

    The trustees entered the courts, as modeled by Synod decades before, to further define the boundaries of a formal relationship between two non-profit entities. Synod’s win would have shifted all the power to the Church.

    But our win would have been even more significant than that. Synod’s win would have become a legal precedence for future Church-School controversies in all denominations within the State of S.C.

    Instead of rising to the occasion and acting like men, we whimpered, cowered and lost the fight.

    Where is Synod today in our relationship with Erskine? The same place we have been for the last 50 years. Hoping a small change, with new promises, will take us where we need to go. Our money is spent and we have nothing to show for it. This is why the ARP church doesn’t make progress.

    Luke 16:9 The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

    I agree with the article that we need to put the focus of our glory in the Church back on Christ and His work. At the same time, we need to make wise use of this world’s systems. The court was part of our Father’s world. We scorned it to our own demise. Shame on us.

     
  2. Brian Smith says:

    Sorry Tony Locke, you don’t seem to make sense.

    Case in point: The lawsuit only asked the State to clarify governance. No damages, nothing sinister. The board had fiduciary responsibility to do this. They could have sued for not protecting the school’s interests.

    Admittedly, the board saw this as their tool to stop the will of the Synod. In truth, it could have been a God send to the Church for our will to be ratified as authoritative by the State within the boundaries of 501 C3 statutes. If we could have kept our big-boy panties on, then we could have increased our standing considerably.

     
  3. […] college and a pathetic seminary! The truth of the matter is that we have become nothing more than dung beetles fighting over a steaming pile as though it were the only cow pie in the pasture. We speak of Erskine BECOMING “the preeminent […]