Church fathers: only God is good...

Happy Father's Day, home fathers and church fathers!

When I graduated from high school, the Wheaton area was the center of Evangelicalism and Evangelicalism was riding high. Our father, Joe Bayly, was out on the road speaking at conferences so often he was a member of United's million mile club and my girlfriend's father had just started Tyndale House Publishers. At the time, Ken Taylor had two best-sellers making Tyndale lots and lots of money—a long-shot manuscript rejected by all the legacy Christian publishers that he issued under the title Dare To Discipline, and his own new Bible paraphrase called The Living Bible. Jim Dobson's book was so successful that Ken fronted Jim money to go into radio and Jim went on to make a name for himself. Dad Bayly and Dad Taylor (God was kind and I married his daughter) had friends... named Chick Koop, Gordon MacDonald, Ken Hansen, Hudson Armerding, Carl Henry, Ken Kantzer, Francis Schaeffer, Ruth and Billy Graham, Harold John Ockenga, Chuck Swindoll, Bill Bright, and of course the Howards; Tom, Dave, and Betty, known to the rest of the world as Elisabeth Elliot. Some friendships were closer than others, but as we grew up, this was our world. Summer vacations often had us tagging along with Dad wherever he was speaking (Harvey Cedars, Bear Trap Ranch, Word of Life, Spring Canyon Lodge, Cedar Campus, Mt. Hermon, Deer Valley Ranch, Word of Life) or we were in some city for the annual CBA-fest (Christian Booksellers Association).

Dad was respected and disliked, both at the same time. Wheaton tongues wagged because he worked for a non-dispensationalist Sunday school publisher named David C. Cook Publishing (now Cook Communications Ministries). Worse was his Philly and New York City style. A curious mixture, you could find Dad home from work and out in the garden in his starched white shirt, suit pants, and Bally shoes, weeding as he sat in the dirt. A cosmopolitan Easterner, he had a pungent and self-critical sense of humor that didn't sit well with sincere midwesterners whose typical thoughts were, "We love Jesus; how could we be wrong?"

Dad had recently published a satire titled The Gospel Blimp which was just the sort of hatpin gaseous and distended Evangelicalism needed just then. But it was a kickstarter campaign. We were still in the age of King James hegemony, so Dad Taylor self-published his Living Letters and Living Bible. We were also deep in the age of grand evangelistic schemes so no publisher would touch the Gospel Blimp. Often I wonder at how similar my wife's and my backgrounds were. With both Dad Taylor and Dad Bayly turning to self-publishing, their children grew up taking orders, packing, and shipping books from dining rooms and kitchens. Dad Taylor built a business out of it, but after the Blimp sold 45,000 copies, Zondervan saw the money and decided to take it under its wing. Dad gave up his Windward Press and returned to writing, editing, preaching, and speaking.

The good souls of Wheaton thought the Blimp was mocking them, and it didn't help that Dad grew a beard. He was committed to reforming DCCook and he worked to move its leadership and publications into firmer commitments to Biblical orthodoxy. Also, every Sunday he wasn't gone speaking, with Ken Hansen Dad team-taught a Sunday school class that was loved by its members. Following worship, Dad was out front on the sidewalk, arms crossed with Mud at his side, loving and listening to others, husband and wife together helping to bear others' burdens. You'd find them there long after all the pastors and elders were home eating Sunday dinner. It took forever to get home after church. So you see, what they lost by Eastern seaboard urbanity and satirical self-criticism they made up for with love for the Church and Her souls. Of course, people knew Joe and Mary Lou had just lost their third son and were without evident bitterness, so there was that.

Now I know most of the names above mean nothing to you, and that's my point. We don't know the names of the members of the Sanhedrin who persecuted Jesus. They were just the guys who had climbed high into relgious fame and fortune. God will open the book on them when they die and every deed will be known, and I tremble to think of that day myself. We must repent and believe each day. Each second. 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

When I was studying at Gordon-Conwell, one night when Dad was out on the road, speaking, we talked by phone. Our subject was the corruption of Evangelical witness by money, and coming to the end of our conversation, Dad chuckled, "You know where I am?"

I responded, "Yes, down in Dallas, at Highland Park."

"Yes, but where am I right now?"

"I don't know. The secretary at the church said you were out at a barbeque at some ranch or something."

"Yes, and whose ranch is it?"

"I don't know—whose ranch is it?"

Dad gave it up: "It's Nelson Bunker Hunt's ranch, and I'm in his office sitting at his desk."

We laughed. Hunt was the leader of the Hunt siblings and they'd just recently cornered the world silver market. Dad used to joke that when Nelson told Bill Bright to jump, Bill would ask "How high?" Bright's parachurch non-profit, Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru), lived off Hunt money.

Now, to the application. You may have fame and fortune with your NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB, MLS, or World Cup, if you must, but never mix fame and fortune, and religion. In matters of the soul, there are only two kinds of men: the vain and the helpful. And you know the vain by their coquetry. Instead of spending their Master's time admonishing, rebuking, and encouraging their own sheep, they give themselves to flirtation. In other words, the thing they hunger and thirst after is fame and fortune and seats of honor at the big conferences.

In his sixth century classic, Pastoral Care,1 Gregory writes:

Meanwhile it is also necessary for the ruler to keep wary watch, lest the lust of pleasing men assail him; lest ...he seek to be beloved of those that are under him more than truth; lest ...self-love estrange him from his Maker. For he is the Redeemer's enemy who through the good works which he does covets being loved by the Church instead of Him; since a servant whom the bridegroom has sent with gifts to the bride is guilty of treacherous thought if he desires to please the eyes of the bride.

...For from love of himself the ruler's mind is inclined to softness, because, when he observes those that are under him sinning, he does not presume to reprove them, lest their affection for himself should grow dull; nay sometimes he smooths down with flatteries the offence of his subordinates which he ought to have rebuked. Hence it is well said through the prophet, Woe unto them that sew cushions under every elbow, and make pillows under the head of every stature to catch sows (Ezek. xiii. 18); inasmuch as to put cushions under every elbow is to cherish with bland flatteries souls that are falling from their uprightness and reclining themselves in this world's enjoyment. For it is as though the elbow of a recumbent person rested on a cushion and his head on pillows, when the hardness of reproof is withdrawn from one who sins, and when the softness of favour is offered to him, that he may lie softly in error, while no roughness of contradiction troubles him. But so rulers who love themselves undoubtedly shew themselves to those by whom they fear they may be injured in their pursuit of temporal glory.

You see? This is all we are—slaves of our Master sent to His Bride bearing gifts. 

It's not about us. It better NOT be about us!

Fathers, pastors, mothers, deacons, elders, teachers, and all those bearing rule: let us see ourselves in this warning, and fear, lest we prove ourselves hirelings and abandon our sheep. Life is short. There isn't time for self-promotion and pastoral care. There isn't time for flattery and copping a posture. There isn't time for burnishing our image, nursing our reputations along in the right direction. There isn't time for anything but working to be helpful to God's flock so they may enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

No man is good. No man, and obviously that means you and me. You're not good. I'm not good. Only God is good. So let's get to work!

And when you hear the siren song of all the blogs, conferences, coalitions, books, and video products sold by famous religious leaders, remember this truth of Scripture:

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

For, “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.” And this is the word which was preached to you.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  (1Peter 1:22-2:5)

 

 

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.

Comments

Whoa, all those names are Sooo familiar. I never knew a one of them but that was my environment; solid, Biblical orthodoxy. My parents subscribed to ETERNITY and they always went to Mt. Herman.
You were born, and married, into the quintessential evangelical family of the era. Lucky Dog?

Loved this, Tim.

The enemy is, in three words, "rock star Christianity". e.g. in the last few years I have got to hear in the flesh, Brian MacLaren, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne and Rob Bell (and D.A. Carson, for that matter, in case anyone is questioning my orthodoxy). The problem is that this is not restricted to 'liberal' or 'progressive' expressions of Christian faith.

Tim,

I appreciated your post greatly. I have always loved the closing line of Studd's poem, "Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.'" That truth can be hard to keep at the forefront of our lives on an ongoing basis like it should be. Your post was a great reminder of that.

Over on the other side of God's house, where the non-celebrities gather, are the nobodies of the Faith, who, it turns out, have a patron saint. Here are a few paragraphs (from draft of my homily for this coming Lord's Day worship):

A few years ago, while reading randomly through religious notices on the internet, I stumbled across the patron saint of nobodies. I kid you not – she is the patron saint of nobodies in the Roman Church, and I think she's every bit as much worthy of honor and emulation than any other saint who is “famous.”

Her name is Vibiana. Her grave was discovered when a catacomb was excavated on December 9, 1953. The grave contained the broken body of a young woman who had died sometime early in the third century. The inscription on her gravestone read: “To the memory of the innocent and pure Vibiana, laid away the day before the kalends of September.” At the end of the inscription was a wreath of laurel with foliate ornaments, an emblem commonly used by early Christians to indicate that the deceased person died as a martyr. To this day, her feast day is observed only by the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles, because Pope Pius IX bequeathed her remains to the new Bishop of Monterrey in California in the year 1854.

Christians early on kept catalogs of early martyrs for the faith, and Vibiana is not named in any of these lists. She was identified as a martry in her burial, but after that, no one ever again heard of her or knew of her martyrdom until 1500 years later when archeologists unearthed her grave beneath a vineyard on the outskirts of Rome.

St. Vibiana's history at the diocesan website includes these words: “All we know about her is that she was a martyr. And that is enough. She stands for all of us, the insignificant ones who will never be written about in history books. We follow Jesus as best we can, in ways unknown to others. Yet we too can be like Vibiana, faithful disciples of the Lord. Our lives may not be widely known, but they are known to God, who has called us each by name from before the beginning of time.”

When we think of our Lord's prayer for Himself and for those who are the Father's gift to Him – all the redeemed for whom Christ died – let us remember our parents, our grandparents and great-grandparents who sacrificed, and all those nobodies for rolling centuries in the past who did their part to pass on the Faith to us. In many ways, they are all like Vibiana, unknown to the world but beloved by God. To a world obsessed with celebrity, they are nobodies; but in the eyes of God, they are precious beyond all imagining.

Thank you for your encouragements, dear sister and brothers. And, as always, for your guest editor contributions, Fr. Bill!

Love,

Reviewing my homily manuscript before worship this morning, I caught the following typo reproduced in the quote above. Vibiana's remains were discovered in an excavation of Roman catacombs in the year 1853, not 1953.

From: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6740574

"Pope Pius IX ordered an immediate investigation to authenticate the find. Satisfied with the results, he bestowed "equivalent canonization" on Vibiana as a Roman Era virgin and martyr in February 1854, bypassing the judicial and ceremonial procedures in declaring sainthood."

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