and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will
He is most definitely a rock of offense, a stumbling block, and a scandal to the world. Christendom has generally understood this to reflect the hateful nature of the cross, that despised instrument of execution of despised men, on which the righteous one suffered so incongruously, and on which he is considered to have become sin for us. But I have discovered that the cross was a most appropriate instrument for the execution of Jesus. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus’ life and the doctrine that personifies that life scandalizes the world, including Christendom, when it is rightly perceived. The whole person of Jesus is a stumbling block, not just the cross on which he died. Jesus is a scandal to the world, not because he became sin for us on the cross, but because his doctrine interdicts humanity's supreme love – the love of life (John 12:25). The cross is a locus of that scandal because on it Jesus illustrated the ultimate expression of life hatred. The blessing of Jesus comes only to those who are not scandalized by this, and so as he said, "Blessed is whosoever shall not be offended in me." This thesis underlies the work found in these pages.
Having already stated my thesis, I hope I have not lost you. What you are about to read contradicts Christendom'’ universal creed, the belief in the crucifixion as a sacrifice for our sins, and so I do not expect many persons to be positively inclined. There must be a few scattered about who are truly hungry for Truth, however, and it is for you that this book is written. These pages contain unusual material that may be offensive, and simple honesty demands candor at the outset.
Perhaps it will help if I give you some preliminary information about me, and how this book came to be. Hiroshima started it. I was a Navy V-5 student at the University of the South when the news came. My first reaction, like that of my fellow students, was one of great joy and satisfaction. Pearl Harbor had been avenged! They would not send us into combat! The festive mood continued through our victory celebration on the eve of VJ Day, but it was not unmixed. This triumph of technology had shaken the foundation of the life I planned to live. Technology was my future, or so I had thought. Then, suddenly, Hiroshima and Nagasaki! So . . . this is where it leads!
The months following VJ Day were an uncertain time as I reevaluated career plans. Then, in July of 1947, I became a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth and joined the Walnut Grove Baptist Church in Gibson County, TN, the church of my childhood, from which I transferred to Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. By the following spring my feeling for Him was so strong that I could no longer continue planing for a career in engineering. After graduating from Georgia Tech with a degree in chemical engineering, I entered the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as a foreign missions candidate. Southern awarded me a BD degree in the Spring of 1952, and there I met and married Nellie Ruth Harmon.
This was the beginning of a long and fruitful career for most of our fellow graduates, but not for us. My confidence in the church was often challenged at Southern. While studying the Gospels, I could not fail to compare the Lord's words to the practices of the church, and my professors were unable to resolve the apparent contradictions. The comparison left me with many more questions than answers, but I plunged boldly on. I am the problem, I thought. The church is surely right. How can I be correct and all Christendom in error? Some day, I thought, I will see the light. So, when Fortune Baptist Church, a congregation near Parkin, Arkansas, that Nellie and I had founded, told us one evening in 1955 that I could no longer be pastor, it became one of the saddest days of my life. Everyone was hurting that night: Nellie, me and every member of the church. They loved us. They did not want to sever us, but they felt compelled to do so. The issue was whether we were to continue ministering to both blacks and whites without discrimination, a practice they were unable to support.
With the encouragement of a few local friends, and by invitation from persons in an adjoining community, we moved down the road a few miles and set up shop again. There we founded Boatrun Community Church, which now exists as Trinity Baptist Church. This was always a small congregation. In the early years there were hopeful signs, but the membership stabilized at about twenty persons, and there it stayed. The Baptists would never accept the congregation while we were there. This Boatrun period lasted twelve years, from 1955 until November 1967. By 1959 our family had grown to include four young children and the wolf was always at the door. Despairing of making a living in the ministry, I found it expedient to dust off my engineering skills. Near the end of that year, I was employed in Memphis as chemical engineer.
I remember the next seven years, until November 1, 1967, with mixed feelings. There were many happy times. Our daughter and three sons were healthy and doing well. My engineering work was going well. We had a good home in Memphis. But I entered a different world in the evenings when I settled down to prepare for weekends with the church. How could I succeed with this congregation, small and dwindling? How could some semblance of a career as a minister be salvaged? What was to happen, spiritually, to the members of my church? How could I continue in the ministry and maintain the integrity of my faith? Must I abandon the Lord as I knew him, and did I not know him aright? I was blind to the answers. To quit was to give up on the church – in my heart to condemn it, and this I was never prepared to do. Not to quit seemed to be condemning me. Many happy days of work and family life were closed not only by the shades of night, but also by the darker shades of frustration and fading hope.
Once, during pastoral visitations in Boatrun community, I approached a home only to be attacked by a small, feisty dog that attached itself to my heel and would not let go. I tried to shake it off by swinging my foot, kicking at it and dashing it against the ground. Even when its master appeared with loud commands to cease and desist, it remained firmly attached until I finally knocked it loose. So it was with me. I was hanging on to the church, doggedly persistent, determined, and resolved, although I was being shaken, kicked, and abused every step of the way. What is worse, I now know my Master was there, all the time telling me in words that should have been loud and clear, "Let go! Let go!"
November 1, 1967, was the day that knocked me loose. That morning I blacked out at work. Thus began my breakdown, and thus ended my ordeal with the church. There was no question of continuing that ministry, for it was many months before I could function normally. The first days were especially dark and there were times when I was a great danger to myself and to others.
A particular experience from that illness stands out boldly. You see, one type of the periodic attacks to which I was subject differed from the others. They all came from within me, from maladies in my system, but this one came from without. There was no doubt about that. I could feel it approaching before it arrived, and my practice was to suspend all activity. Then I would clamp my jaws and hang on, like a roller coaster rider as the car tops the crest and begins its descent. Yes, this was different, and the longer I endured it, the more I began to wonder . . . can it be? Then, sometime in the summer of 1968 I felt strong enough to journey alone to visit a Christian commune near Durham, N.C. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was to speak to the community that evening, so I went out into nearby woods seeking solitude to collect my thoughts. Hardly had I settled under a large tree when I felt "it" descending on me again, through the trees, like a great eagle alighting on its prey. Without premeditation, suddenly believing and without any doubt, I found myself lifting my face to the leaves above and crying out, "Satan, in the name of Jesus I command you to be gone and never to return!"
Instantly there was what seemed a great "swish" as the dread shadow reversed itself and shot up beyond the trees. It was gone, and it has never returned! Peace enveloped me, and I was ecstatic. It is true! It is true exactly as he announced when he told his disciples after his resurrection, "All authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given unto me." The problem was not in me, it was in the church! I could no longer doubt it. I need no longer deny it. That afternoon, in profound peace, I knew the Lord and I knew that I knew him! At last, I was free to follow him, free from the shackles of institutional religion. I was free to receive and believe what I already knew in my heart. Best of all, the Lord was with me.
The seventies found me with a confident faith in Jesus. Many doors were opening after that liberation in the Carolina woods. The mind was free to entertain new and unusual thoughts. The most important change in thinking began early in this period. One day, while reading from Chapter 17 of John's Gospel, my mind focused on the verses referring to the Word of God. Speaking to the Father, of the apostles, Jesus said, " . . . I have given them the words that thou gavest me . . .." Then a little further and he said again, "I have given them thy word . . .." And yet a little further and he said, " . . . thy word is truth." Suppose, I pondered, suppose the truth is to be found only in the utterances of Jesus? They are the words of which he spoke here, which the Father gave to him, and which he delivered to the disciples. And they are the words he defined as "truth." The church had always taught me, and until that day I never questioned it, that the whole Bible is the inspired word of God. In consequence all of us have been sorting out the truth from the entire Bible. We search the Hebrew prophets, the New Testament epistles, and even sometimes listen to Jesus. But we arrive at different conceptions of truth. What would result if I were to start over, wiping the slate clean and listening only to Jesus – to his very words as recorded in the four gospels?
Reading a little further I heard him saying, "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." Here, it appears that the word of the apostles is also a basis of truth. Yes, but what is this "word of the apostles?" Why, look, I thought, "their word" must be their repetition of the words he had delivered to them. When he said to the Father, " . . . thy word is truth," he immediately added, "As thou didst send me into the world (to deliver the words), so I have sent them into the world." Excitedly, I thought, the very words I am reading are the words of Jesus delivered by the apostles and recorded in the gospels. Jesus knew we would be divided if we did not adhere exclusively to his very utterances as the word of truth. He knew, as I have since learned, that the only basis of our unity in him must be in our common devotion to his utterances as delivered by the apostles. His utterances must be the exclusive well of truth. Not Moses, not the prophets, not even the apostolic commentary in the New Testament epistles – just his very words!
The pilgrimage changed its direction as I began to look at the utterances of Jesus in this new light. Today I understand that his very words not only are the exclusive source of the Father's Truth, but the words are Jesus! To receive him is to receive his Word; to receive his Word is to receive him! To abide in his Spirit is to abide in his Word; to abide in his Word is to abide in his Spirit. To have his spirit within is to have his Word within; to have his Word within is to have his Spirit within. There is no difference between the Lord, the Spirit, and the Word. Jesus is alive in the world because his Word is alive in the world. Take a quick journey through John's Gospel and you should see that he said all of this, and more. Yet after a seminary degree and twenty-five years in the church, no one among all their scholars, pastors, and professors had ever told me this, and I had never guessed! When he said, "I am with you always, even to the end of the world," he meant that his very word is with us. Did he not also say, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away?"
Everything did not clear up overnight. The pure ideas of Jesus kept bumping into obstructions planted in my mind by the years in the church. "Wipe the slate clean" is much easier said than done. In addition, I always studied under the conviction that the Truth of God must be simple. If we require scholars to define and explain it, then the ignorant and unlettered are condemned simply because they are ignorant and unlettered. No, if God is just, then it must be so simple that even a child can understand. Why couldn't I? Then slowly, surely, I began to draw the first buckets of pure, living water from his well.
I know now that I was a slow learner because the Truth, while simple, is hard! For example, I kept reading, "Do not resist one who is evil." And saying to myself, "He can’t really mean that." Finally I quit doing that and said to myself, "Look, Ed – what it says is clear and simple. Perhaps he does mean exactly what he said." Then understanding came. Prior study of the entire Bible and the learned works of scholars had only taught me that he did not mean exactly what he said. Only one thing was needful . . . that I hear the voice of Jesus speaking the words of the Father . . . and that I listen like a child to receive the simple Truth.
It turns out his truth is a product for which there is little demand. The one thing I could do was write, and through the last twenty years, I have defined and recorded the faith, posed and answered questions, sought and found. This book is the fruit of that labor. I was constantly looking about for a church or fellowship of individuals that knew Jesus as I was learning him, but with little success. Have there been no prominent persons since the apostles who knew Jesus after this fashion? I am persuaded that they are numerous, though it is hard to find them recorded in history. Had I lived in their times and places, I must have met many of them among the Hutterites, the Mennonites, the Quakers, the Amish, the Waldenses, the Anabaptists, and wherever the children of God gave up their lives for Jesus. There must be many redeemed persons in the churches this day who are frustrated and hungry for the Living Bread, supposing, as I did, that the problem is in them, not in the church.
More recently, I see Leo Tolstoy, during the later years of his life and in his work, "The Kingdom of God is Within You." Then, a hundred and fifty years ago there was in Denmark the most remarkable brother, Soren Kierkegaard, whose "Attack on Christendom" is, I believe, the boldest and most accurate evaluation of the maladies of Christendom to have ever been written. Everything he said is, in principle, fully as applicable to modern American Christianity as to the state church in Denmark in 1855, when he left this world. Kierkegaard addressed himself to a state church, but on the absolute principles of Jesus. He helped me greatly during the lonely times. I could always turn to his later writings and find a friend who understood.
I honor all the persons, organizations, and sects listed above because I believe that they took the utterances of Jesus seriously as he intended. Frequently they reached conclusions that differ from mine, and I regret that. The differences are easily explained. In every case I see that they went astray due to their consuming interest in the injustice of their times and by their compassion for its victims. Tolstoy’s heart bled for the poor peasants; Kierkegaard’s for the multitudes of Danes buried under the deathly shroud of the state church. The radical reformers were overwhelmed by the brutality of medieval Catholicism with its Inquisition. I was sorely tempted to toss in my lot with that of the civil rights activists of the Fifties and Sixties. Certainly Jesus grieves for the victims of injustice. His solution to their problem is, however, the absolute one, and it differs from all those attempted by the world. When, like Tolstoy (or later, Martin Luther King) we attempt to make the Gospel "relevant" to the needs of our times, we take the heart out of it and render it impotent and powerless to accomplish the aims we seek. I will say again in the following chapters that the words of Jesus are the very words of God and are the absolute Truth. His message was absolutely unconditioned by the circumstances of his time, or by those of any time. They cannot be made relevant to any time or place, or to any set of historical circumstances.
I went through five employers during the seventies. My last employer released me from a position as manager of a clay mineral processing plant in Tippah County, MS in 1983. I was 57 years of age and unemployed, so Nellie and I purchased a Laundromat in Memphis and "went into business." This was our livelihood for the next eleven years, and we prospered. We purchased a second store in 1991, and by the spring of 1993 we owned two great stores and had no debt. There was great satisfaction in the humble work of taking in laundry, and ample time to study the Word and to write. By 1994, most of my questions were answered and this book was complete. In the spring we sold the stores and I retired from business to resume the foreign mission that began misguided, and was aborted, fifty years ago.