"Nothing more impressive than an intellectual and spiritual approach to seeking truth and a willingness to embrace it unconditionally."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Three Little Prigs: By Todd Nance

The Three Little Prigs[1]

Once upon a time there were three little prigs: Cuthbert, Porter, and Bertram. They had lived very contentedly with their parent’s strong faith but the time had come for the three brothers to forge a faith of their own. Prayer, blessing, and warning graced their departure: beware Slew the circuit-riding wolf: a very ingenious and dangerous enemy, who by “hook or crook” was not above attacking fledgling faith.

Cuthbert, the youngest, launched out crying, “Do something- even if it’s wrong!” His parent’s rules made leaving home easy. “I‘ll keep the basics,” he said, “but take away the needless barriers of separation that keep good people out.” Anything old or established was intolerable to him; he meditated listening to Everything is Beautiful on his CD player. He did not attack separation, he just no longer mentioned it and the line of distinction disappeared.

Cuthbert attempted a noble goal: his faith would make room for everyone. Crisis and convenience shaped his theology. He built with straw: soft, inoffensive, and flexible. Now Porter, the elder brother, decided his parents had allowed too much liberty and set out to build a better cage.

Porter measured everything: his dependability, his faithfulness, his prayers, and his Bible reading with a journal, a public journal. He also tallied every offense, every lack of spirituality in his brothers (he had a long record of Cuthbert), and every favor rendered. He also had a problem with “spasms:” In some of the most unusual situations his knee would jerk. For him theology was simple: black or white, gray was a liberal color.

Porter’s motto was, “Better safe than sorry.” Being skeptical and paranoid of anything new, Porter avoided risk. In his private (?) devotions he listened to Hold the Fort on his eight- track tape. So Porter built his faith of sticks: stiff, hard, and brittle.

Then there was the middle child Bertram. He was adventurous but not experimental; he thought for himself, but he was not super bright like his brothers. He couldn’t even make the simplest decision without a “season of prayer.”Bertram would not cut corners; he took the best of his training, mixed personal victories and built his own faith; this was his faith and he wanted it right. He knew false doctrine was not the only kind of heresy; it could be teaching part of the truth for the whole truth. He also noticed that specialized faiths did not last long. For him balance was the operative word. Bertram built his faith: Jesus Christ his foundation; Holiness and Love his message.

Soon after the brothers were settled into their faiths, a lone dark stranger sauntered into town. He smirked and pulled at his goatee as drapes pulled, doors slammed, and streets cleared. The whole town knew Slew the wolf, and he was on the prowl. Slew had long since given up huffing and puffing and blowing houses down. “Doctrinal breezes” were now his weapon of choice. “Winds of doctrine” are not all harsh; some are soothing, enticing, deadly, and quite effective.

Slew paid Cuthbert a formal visit. “Some things are not important,” Slew suggested. “We shouldn’t be so narrow about the way we dress, the places we go, the things we see, and the people we fellowship.” Cuthbert began to wonder if anything really mattered. With wafting promises of crowds, Cuthbert tried it all. The Word of God was de-emphasized (anyone can say what one means in twenty minutes) and music became center stage; after all, the letter killeth, the Spirit giveth life.

Gimmicks propped up church attendance; with drama and talent replacing the Holy Spirit. They did mention Jesus but evangelism was preeminent. “Winning the lost at any cost” became Cuthbert’s mantra. When last seen, Cuthbert’s fellowship looked, acted, and believed the same values as the world. Who was winning whom? Slew chuckled as he roasted Cuthbert’s faith with the straw trimmings left behind; it was a short feast.

Porter lasted longer out of sheer stubbornness, but Slew was patient. After several failed attempts, Slew found something that worked on Porter. Was everyone who called himself a brother truly worthy of his fellowship? Porter decided to narrow his fellowship so he could be “holy.” Because his righteousness was self-righteousness, he lost his peace; joy soon followed. Even evangelism (a former favorite pastime) became drudgery: it was too difficult to skin the fish before he got them in the boat. He was not just trying to live above sin but above his brethren. This self-imposed pressure began to take its toll; sticks began to “snap” until his faith was in shambles.

His pile of broken sticks looked amazingly like Cuthbert’s and burnt just as fast. With Cuthbert joining the world and Porter joining the monastic “Order of Bitter Critics,” Slew aimed for Bertram’s faith. Slew tried his best, and Bertram learned firsthand that Slew was a very crafty opponent indeed. Bertram did stumble a time or two, repented, but never caved. He anchored himself in the way of holiness and reached out to the lost. Commands and promises equally offered he presented Jesus and balance kept Slew away.

Cuthbert and Porter never did come around to Bertram’s faith. And Slew is still available to push the fringe believer in the wrong direction. But plain, sure-footed Bertram is still living for God- because of balance. Balance does not win titles or praise; balance just keeps a person saved. And like a well-balanced tire, a balanced faith will last a long time and the ride is smoother.

[1] prig (1), noun. a person who is too particular about speech and manners, and prides himself on being better than others. Ex. A prig is a fellow who is always making you a present of his opinions (George Eliot).

1 priggish, adjective. too particular about doing right in things that show outwardly; priding oneself on being better than others. (World Book Dictionary, 1998).

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