Monday, September 18, 2006

"Mother Never Told Me Not to Pee in the Neighbor's Yard"

Most students I know hate being required to do anything, especially things that require the use of their time. Even in Christian schools and seminaries, it is becoming increasingly rarer to find students who enjoy going to required chapel services. Yet, when the chapels are made voluntary, human nature takes over to persuade us that our time would be better spent in pursuits other than the worship of God in the community of our fellow peers and professors. My friend, Shane Walker, was one such student until recently.

Shane is a seminary student who will be graduating this May. He is one of the most careful and thorough thinkers I have ever met. Though possessing a benevolent demeanor, Shane will often hit you over the head with his intellectual hammer, forcing you to think seriously about issues you may not have given much thought to before. But more importantly, Shane can also hit you where it really counts... with thoughtful words that convict the heart. By his request, I have decided to post this moving confession which he felt compelled to create and share with others.

In Defense of Chapel and Good Manners
By Shane Walker

I once found a man relieving himself on my lawn. He did not appear to be mad or drunk. I was so shocked that my first comment was idiotic and unintelligible. He smiled and continued. My wife and daughters might come outside at any moment, another woman might pass. This affront had to stop. So, I yelled a clear, precise command and started advancing toward him. Frightened he ran away.

I bring this up to vividly illustrate manners. They are a group of mostly unwritten rules that help us function together as a group by smoothing communication and increasing civility. Without them there is increasing complexity and confusion in social relationships. My mother never told me not to pee in the neighbor's yard or not to type the words I yelled. These things are imbued in us by our culture, affinity groups, families, and so on. We don't generally talk about them, and all groups, small and large, have them.

The case can be made that God gave us manners as part of his common grace. They exist as law without legislation and order without tyranny. Manners are the actions by which we love each other socially. In Japan they bow, in Russia they kiss, and in America we shake hands, but in every case the manners serve to communicate social acceptance or love.

And with this all said, I now have a confession. I have only attended chapel three times since coming to seminary two years ago. This was rude. It was bad manners. It was a sin (and I don't use the word lightly) of omission.

Let me explain why this is so in a very individual case. I have a coworker who lives overseas. His father-in-law is a brilliant scholar who visited campus and gave a chapel address. In his sermon he attempted to demonstrate how it is that we can love our Savior through using the book of Psalms in worship. Afterwards, he stood at the back of the chapel with Dr. Mohler and shook peoples' hands. If I had attended chapel, I could have stood in line, thanked him briefly for showing me how to worship our mutual Lord, and told him how much I appreciated his son-in-law. He might have been encouraged in the Lord. Here he was away from his everyday life, and his son-in-law's friend had stood in line and said hello and talked about the things that he loved. It would not only have been good manners, it would have been the godly thing to do.

But I didn't go to chapel. No, instead I came out of the gym wearing my exercise clothes, recognized him in the hallway, forgot his name, bungled shifting my gym bag to shake hands, and attempted to introduce myself. It was rude, I shamed myself, my friend, and confused a kind Christian scholar away from home.

If I had been in chapel, I would have been dressed appropriately, his name would have been clearly printed in the bulletin, and he would have been ready to be introduced to new people. But in my selfishness, I rejected all of the structures presented to me for the purpose of allowing one Christian to get to know another in a large group. I decided to not love the visiting professor, my friend, or Southern Seminary, but I did love my smallest, least attractive self.

When this behavior that I exhibited is repeated hundreds of times in the same community, something happens, there is a decline in civility and manners within the community. We don't think about manners until they begin to break down. And I suspect within our seminary we are beginning to experience such a tottering.

Every community is defined by what they love. At Southern chapel serves as a time to adore the person we most love, Jesus Christ, as a community. On Sunday mornings we go our separate ways and worship Christ as congregations, but at chapel we worship Christ as a seminary. Further, Christ taught us in the parable of the good Samaritan that it is proximity that creates a neighbor. And we find that chapel is the only time when we can consider as a full community how it is that we should love each other.

Because one cannot preach from the Word without addressing these issues-love of God and love of neighbor-chapel serves as time to consider how to love Christ, our seminary neighbor, and those who are not members of our community. Each speaker, regardless of his denominational commitments or theological loyalties, opens a Bible that can only be applied to teaching us the manners of heaven.

When a speaker comes and is greeted by a half empty chapel, he is not being loved. When we refuse to meet with each other to worship, we are saying not only something about our love for each other, but about our corporate love for Christ. The issue then is that when I didn't attend chapel for any excuse but necessity, I was not loving you my neighbor or Dr. Mohler or Southern Seminary or other Southern Baptists or a visiting professor with a burden to share from the Lord, but I was loving myself. I wasn't quite up to the obvious rudeness of my opening illustration, but it was close, and it was certainly bad manners.

And how did I discover this? Well, the administration is making me go to chapel as a requirement for a class. You see, when manners break down, law becomes necessary. The unspoken understanding must be written down, enforcement mechanisms must be created, and I was proven more uncouth and immature than I had ever understood.

19 comments:

  1. This is a good insight and neat he allowed you to share it. It could be however, that a student just loves his wife and kids more than he loves a visiting chapel speaker and therefore works on Tuesdays and Thursdays and cannot attend chapel. Or it could be the bad manners. ;-)

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  2. Adam Adam Adam. :-)
    That's one heck of a headline up there. Good article!

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  3. Guillaume McDowell1:28 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. This was an excellent article. At my undergrad school we had mandatory chapel (punch-cards and required make-up sessions, etc.). I bucked at the system for a variety of reasons - including being an unregenerate neohippie (not that all hippies are unregenerate, but I was).

    When I went to seminary (across the street from you), my status as a regenerate person also affected my chapel attendence. After about the sixth chapel where "Sophia Christ" was invoked, I decided that I couldn't participate non-discriminatingly.

    Your point is well-taken. However, the faithfulness of the worship (not the quality, but the basics of non-idolatrous worship) has a lot to do with whether or not it deserves the sort of allegiance outlined here.

    P.S. - I went to SBTS chapel a number of times, especially when I took classes over there. I was always blessed by the experience.

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  5. Guillaume McDowell2:38 PM

    I'll try this again, walking on eggshells so as not to be deleted again. I find it hard to sit under bad preaching. Many visiting chapel speakers are lousy exegetes. They do the Word of God a disservice by shredding verses from their proper context to support THEIR point. If this seminary is all about expositional preaching, they should seek to have fewer outright eisegetical chapel speakers. Rather than fume in anger about the eisegesis, I'm much better off staying at home. I can't fake it for the sake of outward good manners.

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  6. swalker10:14 PM

    Gulliume:

    Thank you for reading my article and writing a comment.

    We cannot love the correct form of preaching more than our neighbor. God has commanded us to love our neighbor, and he has taught us that proximity creates a neighbor. He has commanded us to rightly divide the word of truth, but we are not instructed to fume when someone botches it. (And I don’t mean that we should not attempt to correct heresy or doctrinal error, but many a poor sermon does not contain either heresy or doctrinal error.)

    My concern with your comments is that you are excusing yourself from chapel attendance because of your love for expositional preaching; but how are you loving your neighbor by not attending chapel? And if you are not loving your neighbor, who are you loving? We only have three loves for persons—God, self, and neighbor. Which of these three are you loving by not attending chapel? To correctly love God is to love your neighbor, to correctly love your self is to love God and your neighbor.



    God bless,

    Shane

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  7. swalker10:16 PM

    Dear Chris:

    Thank you for reading my article.

    I agree. You would not be loving God by worshiping Sophia, nor by communicating to your fellow seminaries that you accept such worship.

    God bless,

    Shane

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  8. swalker10:19 PM

    Guillaume:

    I am sorry, I botched the spelling of your name. My favorite Dutch historian’s name is Guillaume Van Prinsterer, so I should have known better.

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  9. Guillaume McDowell8:06 PM

    Thank you for allowing my version 2.0 of my comment to stand. For the record, I view missing chapel as the lesser of two evils. My parents were in town when Dr. York spoke at chapel, and he blew our socks off. It was excellent. I was so glad my parents had the chance to hear him, and not other chapel speakers we've had. Too often our guest chapel speakers stand as examples of what not to do. Were I more completely sanctified, I would be able to sit there and disagree without fuming. As it is, I feel I sin far less by not attending if I think there's going to be a dud of a speaker.

    Shane, I feel a need to answer one of your points:
    but many a poor sermon does not contain either heresy or doctrinal error

    In my prior comment that was deleted, I confess probably due to its heated nature, I made a point that is central to my position on this issue. My point was that we criticize the liberals for mishandling the word of God, but tolerate and applaud it when a kindred conservative abuses scripture to make a conservative point. Mishandling the scripture will eventually lead to doctrinal error. When a conservative misuses scripture in order to make a good and valid point, he is just as guilty as the liberal who misuses scripture. Dr. Mac Brunsen made an excellent point, that the churches need to regain discernment, but he severely abused scripture, misinterpreting and misapplying it, in order to make his good point. That is a severe problem that I wish this school not ignore, or worse yet, endorse.

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  10. swalker11:02 PM

    Dear Freddy and Guillaume:

    Please allow me to address both of your thoughts in the same post. Both of you are addressing the heart of my concern which is the question, What are adequate grounds for not attending chapel?

    We can approach the problem in one of two ways: In the first, we can assume that there is a conflict between loving yourself (Guillaume’s concern) and your family (Freddy’s concern) and loving the Southern community through chapel attendance. The second option is that there is only the appearance of conflict between these loves and that one can biblically love yourself, your neighbor, and God without conflict.

    Let’s consider the “Love God with all your hear, mind, soul, etc.” There is no limit on this command. Nothing. We are to love God with everything. But when we turn to the second command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We find a limit. Our love for our neighbor is limited to our love for ourselves. God intends that we love our neighbor as ourselves in the context of loving ourselves in a biblical and non-sinful way.

    In the context of chapel, this means that one should only attend chapel when he has adequately fulfilled his other more primary responsibilities. A biblical community expectation is that chapel attendance should be a priority after taking care of your family. However, the community can expect us to give up blogging for two hours a week, or watching football, or surfing the net etc., so that we can attend chapel to learn how to love each other. (Freddy, I hope this answers your concern.)

    This also means that anytime we are obeying God it cannot be a lesser of two evil issue. We can’t say, I am going to love God more by sinning against him a little less. We must at least attempt, and boy do I fail at this, to try to love him fully and love our neighbor as our self.

    So, Guillaume, we are back to our first point. If you’re not attending chapel, and appears to me that it’s more that your arguing this as a possibility more than a reality, to not sin by fuming, then it would seem better to learn how to not get upset under poor preaching rather than not attend chapel.

    My last thought, before I am sinning by blogging too much; Guillaume, think of how much it must have tormented Jesus sitting in the synagogue week after week. Have you ever read a Midrash? Jesus sat through some horrible preaching until he was thirty years old. He condescended (in the theological sense) to poor preaching, so that he might someday have the authority to be invited to declare himself in his home synagogue. But we know that Jesus never sinned by fuming nor sinned by staying home from synagogue so that he might not be tempted to fume. (Can you image how charitable Jesus must be today, when he hears us preach? And then to use our stuttering to advance his kingdom. Amazing!)

    So my hope is to challenge you to condescend like Jesus. To sit under poor preaching of the word and learn to be edified, even when the preacher biffs it. This might mean celebrating the true points that the preacher arrived at the wrong way. It means worshiping God as a community at Southern even though the circumstances might not be ideal.

    And now, I’ve got to go love some of my more primary responsibilities!

    Shane

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  11. Anonymous3:11 PM

    Adam,

    I appreciate the article, as well as your comments. I've heard a lot of grumbling about chapel attendance. I'm not one who is required to go for my classes, but I try to.

    Your point about Jesus is well-taken, for I'm sure he heard some lousy synagogue teaching, that's for sure. I know of a man who was a pastor who quit going to church several years before he died. It was not due to health. He simply thought that those country preachers in my hometown could not teach him anything knew about the Bible. Instead, he was a member of that church and rarely showed up, mostly when he was asked to do pulpit supply.

    The fact of the matter is that we may be faced one day with being in a community where the only churches available to attend are those with pastors who preach less-than-stellar sermons.

    These are good thoughts to think about, and I appreciate your courage in putting this out there to face the scorn of the blogosphere!

    Blessings!

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  12. Thanks, Kenny, but you really need to direct your praise to Shane. He's the author of the piece and the comments. That said, I am in agreement with everything he has said here.
    Shane makes a great point about Jesus sitting under inferior preaching. What Shane was unaware of at the time, was that his illustration has also been used by no-less a thinker than B.B. Warfield:
    "Have we not the example of our Lord Jesus Christ? Are we better than he? Surely, if ever there was one who might justly plead that the common worship of the community had nothing to offer him it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But every Sabbath found him seated in his place among the worshipping people, and there was no act of stated worship which he felt himself entitled to discard. . . .

    Returning from that great baptismal scene . . . from the searching trials of the wilderness, and from that first great tour in Galilee . . . 'he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue, on the Sabbath day'. 'As his custom was!' Jesus Christ made it his habitual practice to be found in his place on the Sabbath day at the stated place of worship to which he belonged."

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  13. That quote was from "The Religious Life of Theological Students" in case anyone was wondering.

    And, Gino, although I disagree with your reasoning on the chapel issue, I am pleased that you put the effort into expressing yourself more clearly. Thanks for the improvement.

    I, for one, thought Dr. Mac Brunson gave a fair exposition of 1 Thess. 5, although he would have done well to have announced his text sooner in his sermon, as I could see how it may have confused some. I was both edified and challenged by his message. But each of us is entitled to his own opinion, I suppose.

    And, of course, I hope you will pray that the Lord will continue to sanctify both of us.

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  14. Anonymous9:41 PM

    Interesting thoughts. Seems like negative and positive chapel experiences are similar, even at the "other" seminary.

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  15. Shane, thanks for the article and Adam, thanks for posting. My concern was not because I do not like going to chapel. I love it! Even with some of the preachers that Gulliume mentioned. I like the Packer quote that went something like "God is please in his mercy to use the needle of truth found in the haystack of error." I am always in need of those needles of truth! Luther spoke that when the least of all preachers partner with God when can expect to hear a powerful word. Anyways, all that to say, I am just not comfortable when assumptions are made about the motives other's chapel attendance or the lack thereof. I have many friends who work in the middle of the night with UPS, all because they had to come to seminary because their local church failed in preparing them for the ministry. One UPS friend in particular right now has 2 kids with a pregnant wife whose current condition does not allow her to pick up anything over 10 lbs. This friend loves to go to chapel. He just doesn't get to that much. So I feel terrible for him when assumptions are made about his motives for not attending chapel. He is one example. He is not alone. I know you guys were sharing more about your personal experiences and not casting judgments at others, I am just sympathetic to many of my brothers who have a very difficult and even dark road through seminary. I'm sure you guys can understand. Thank you for your passion for chapel and the enjoyment thereof.

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  16. "You see, when manners break down, law becomes necessary"

    I dont' usually leave comments on blogs of people I don't know, but I figured what the heck. Thanks for raising a controversial and relevant issue to so many. It has sparked good discussion.

    It seems that your premise is resting primarily on the argument that our response to a proper understanding of our manners ought to be that we go to chapel. Maybe so, but I somehow doubt that that would lead to a justification of legalism, even in regard to chapel attendance. When law becomes necessary, then Christ becomes necessary. And where there is Christ, none need be forced to him, but rather he draws his own sheep in does he not? The same should be true of Worship. We shouldn't feel guilty when we miss church, likewise of chapel.

    Quite frankly, and regardless of manners, I would rather have an empty good chapel than a bad one filled through obligation. At the Seminary I attend I often skip the Chapel, and at times because I can't find a seat. Every week it is full. Other times I skip because I simply don't feel like going. I don't feel guilty about this though because it doesn't mean that I love my community any less, or that I desire to bless them any less. It simply means that I don't feel like going into chapel that week. Or it may mean that I have a more pressing matter. It doesn't mean i'm being selfish though, it means I'm being honest. The second someone trys to remove that honesty by making it my obligation, then I've lost the joy I get when I honestly do feel like going to worship with my brothers and sisters; or even worse than that, the joy I get when God corrects my scheduling and / or my apathy and makes me realize that I can choose better than simply, "not feeling like I want to go."

    But he doesn't always do that. And sometimes I don't want to go and that's ok and I know he releases me. And I don't see how going to chapel has anything to do with bad or good manners. And here's the thing: Regardless of the reason why you don't go, if you're honest you'll see that more often than not you ought to go. And if Jesus is there, he'll draw you in. Indeed didn't Jesus die so that law was no longer necessary?

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  17. swalker8:24 PM

    Dan Ray: Thanks for reading and responding.

    I must be terribly brief because of exams. You are right, often times we have other comments that require us to not attend chapel, but ungodly love of self is not one of them. The only way we can discover when we are being selfish or loving is to enter into a rigorous internal dialog through mediation of Scripture, prayer, and speaking to our neighbors.

    I think that Romans 13:1-6 and Hebrews 13:17 make it clear that “law,” in the sense of rules and rulers who order our relationships with each other through regulations, is still very much a part of the Christian’s life. And though our salvation is not dependent on obeying earthly rulers, evidence of our sanctification requires submission to local laws, manners, and customs, that do not violate God’s Word (2 Peter 2:13-17). Christ came, in part, so that we might be able to obey Him through submission to lower authorities (Eph. 6:7).

    Attending church or chapel, with a bad attitude would be a sin (Philippians. 4:4), but that does not excuse non-attendance to either. It merely suggests that we need to love our neighbor by enjoying them and their presence even when we find them inconvenient.

    My point about manners is that manners do not require rules, yet they play a very important role in showing love to our neighbors. In many ways, Jesus used earthly manners to communicate love and compassion to us, though he also violated manners when they caused sin or confused issues. My hope is to start a conversation about which sorts of manners allow us to love each other better as a seminary community.

    I am sorry that I have not answered all of your points and please do not take my brevity as rudeness.

    God bless,

    swalker

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  18. Swalker,

    Thanks for replying (and quickly); you continue to make good points.

    I didn't mean to imply that ungodly love of self was a good reason not to attend chapel. I'm suggesting that NOT attending chapel doesn't require one to be ungodly nor love one's self. I guess that's what I'm trying to figure out, is how come we are equating those two concepts to each other.

    I think you make a good point with Romans 13, especially concerning the Seminary environment. If you guys decided to go to a seminary that mandates chapel attendence then yeah it should be attended accordingly (or i guess you said you had to go for a class). By the same token I think it's ok to question those laws, at least in our society; and I do question whether a Seminary should impose attendence for whatever reason.

    I think to imply from Phil 4:4 that "attending church with a bad attitude is a sin" is something of a stretch. I know a lot of Seminarians who usually have a bad attitude around church. Were that the case that it was sin how much better would it be not to attend and avoid sinning! Surely non-attendance isn't a sin. And as I digress a little bit there i'm realizing how tricky the whole "sin of ommision" thing is. Not that I don't believe in such a thing, just that defining it is difficult.

    On your last point regarding manners I wholeheartedly. It's a good conversation to have.

    Blessings and Peace,

    - dan

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  19. Good, thoughtful word. Perhaps Spurgeon has a few cents to throw in. See my 10/1 post.

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