I spent part of Friday morning at the Stuttgart, Arkansas, Public Library. My kids were at “Art Camp” in Stuttgart and we were getting so much of the desperately needed rain that the one road out of Almyra to the north was about to flood under. So, I needed a place to read in town and not buy excessive numbers of donuts. The library fit the bill.
While I was there, I noticed a pair of items in the restroom that I had not put together before. On previous trips, I have explained to my son what the “towel roller” on the wall is. Now, those of you who are my age or older likely remember these items, but for the young crowd, I’ll fill you in. Once upon a time, perhaps before widespread acceptance of germ theory, public restrooms did not utilize disposable towels. Nor did they have those wall-mounted dryers. Instead, a cloth towel on a roller mechanism was mounted to the wall. You pulled the towel so that it rotated and gave you a section of towel that had not been just recently used. In most parts of the country I have been in, these devices have long been relegated to the antique store.
Yet our library still uses them. There is no interest in replacing them with hand dryers or disposable paper towels–not according to a few folks I spoke with about it.
Today, though, I looked at the wall behind the sink and noticed something else. There is a GFCI electrical plug in the men’s room. Now, what’s a GFCI plug? It is a specific type of plug connected to a more advanced (compared to the 1950s) circuit breaker. These are required by the city building code for wet locations because they reduce the likelihood of electrocution when using electric appliances in those areas.
Basically, the library restroom is equipped to keep me from zapping myself if I shave in the low-light but also prepared for me to wash my hands then get whatever bacteria, mold, or virus has taken up residence in a roller towel that looks like a grease rag from when I change the oil in my car. One update was necessary for the law, even though its usefulness is less than my cat. The other update would seem mandated by common sense but instead is held off by an admiration for the way things used to be.
What do we learn from this?
I find it connects to Matthew 23:24 where Jesus criticizes the Scribes and Pharisees for straining out gnats and swallowing camels. It’s the same principle, just put in modern practice:
A gnat is not something you want swallow. First of all, it’s a bug. Who eats a bug for fun? Second, it’s unclean and that mattered in the context. Third, there was much ado about making sure everything was tithed on, and eating an untithed gnat would be troublesome spiritually. The reason for the strainer? Gnats are hard to see and you might accidentally consume one. This illustrates the major legalism that the Pharisees constructed to avoid accidental violations of the Law.
A camel, though, is also not something you want to swallow. First of all, you’d get hairballs. Camels are big and hairy. Second, it’s unclean and that mattered in the context. Third, you’d choke. Camels, for those who have never seen one, are not small animals. You can accidentally swallow a gnat. I’ve done it. You cannot, though, accidentally swallow a camel. The camel illustrates how the Pharisees were missing the bigger point, the more obvious sin of rejecting God, failing to walk humbly before God, and not showing mercy and justice. (Micah 6:8, roughly)
We are stumbling quickly in this direction in modern American Christianity, especially the Baptist side of it. There are minor dangers that we need to avoid, but they are about as unlikely as electrocuting yourself with a hair dryer at the library: to get into that problem, you’ve got to be doing something you shouldn’t be doing anyway! We see this when we start trying to parse down to the last conjunction someone’s blog post or consistently try to hang someone over one ill-prepared remark.
We see it when it is not enough for a person to preach that people need to accept Jesus to be saved, but instead want to know if that preacher thinks God will regenerate the person to believe or the person will believe to be regenerated. We see it when we want three levels of separation between our funding and any organization that might possibly be on “the other side” even when the other side is Bible-believing Christianity.
Meanwhile, we’re letting the camels climb onto our plates. Our fractures have distracted us from seeing clear accountability in our agencies and entities. That’s a problem that is taking years to correct, and the weakened trust structure shows from it. Our bickering gives the unsaved world one more reason to ignore the message we preach, and our infighting gives people pause about being counted among us. While we push at the gnats of Calvinists, Traditionalists, and everybody else, are we letting the camels of worldliness and greed get on our grills in place of good steaks?
Are we spending more money and effort to avoid the unlikely event that my electric razor will burn down the library, while we allow germs and bacteria to multiply?
The Southern Baptist Convention of Great Commission Baptists sits at a crossroads. Unfortunately, that is what we are doing. Sitting, trying to decide if we want everyone to go with us or drop a few SBCGCB folks here and leave them behind. Yet we are not here to sit. We are here to serve the Risen Savior.
Let’s get to it.