Monday, February 13, 2006

Why we renounced theology

I was about 12 years old when one of my older sisters went to Hong Kong to work with a small group of Brethren missionaries. One of those missionaries, Mr. Christopher Willis, was in Canada at that time and he came to the house for supper one evening. For some reason everyone else was out of the house until about 6:00, but he would turn up before they returned. I was comissioned to make supper, a roast, potatoes, and vegetables. I was told that he was allergic to wheat so I made rice crispie squares on my own intiative. I do not remember him actually eating them but he could see that it had been my own idea, not my parents, and expressed the appropriate gratitude. He had many grandchildren of his own so he was well able to say the right thing.

Mr. Willis was a self-taught Greek scholar and a missionary in China for many years. He had brought with him that evening a book which he gave me called Treasures of the Greek New Testament. It was written for children and I accepted this gift as an honour.

Not long after that he returned to Hong Kong and then several years later he retired to a small town in Canada.

Here is what my sister wrote about this time when she was living in Hong Kong with Mr. Willis' sister Helen Willis.

    In 1972, an event taking place in the meeting in Canada turned the world upside down for Mr. Collier and the Hong Kong mission. Mr. Christopher Willis, older brother of Helen Willis and the leading missionary of the Brethren's China mission, was suddenly expelled from the Exclusive Brethren Fellowship. He had been living in retirement with his daughter in Canada, when certain brothers in the meeting where he worshiped decided that something that he had written was heretical and succeeded in having him excommunicated from the fellowship. This was a rare occurance among the Brethren, usually taking place only when some sexual misdemeanor had been exposed. Expulsion in one place meant that the individual was excluded from fellowship in all meetings arond the world. The heresy of which Mr. Willis was accused was on an abstruse point, having to do with the saving power of the blood of Christ on the cross. Was it the blood flowing from his side, or from the nail prints in his hands? Mr. Willis was convicted of preaching a "bloodless salvation" because he insisted Christ's words on the cross "It is finished." meant that salvation was achieved before the soldier had pierced his side.
In Toronto, Mr. Willis' son, a doctor and his wife, close friends of our family came to visit. We were in the other room but we could hear their exasperation as the nonsense of the heresy accusation was described over and over and the futility of arguing with the men who had excommunicated their father. To this day I am afraid that I will get it wrong. Is it the blood from Christ's hands or his side?

The house was turned upside down as our father became the leader in defense of Mr. Willis's integrity. He attended meetings and took phone calls day and night. He stewed for hours over obscure isolated Bible verses. This went on for over a year.

I was 16 and the only one at home who read Greek well. More than once my father sat down with me at the dining room table with the Greek New testament and we reviewed Matt. 18:18-20.
    18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
    19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
    20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
He wanted to know how to undo the excommunication that had taken place. He asked again and again about the tenses of the verbs, was it the perfect or the pluperfect, in each case, and the meaning of each word. "Dad, it doen't mean any more in Greek than it does in English. That's all there is. I can't make it mean any more than that."

Mr. Willis was never unexcommunicated and then he died. That is all. Then we left. Don't ever ask me if you should study Greek. It will not save you. But you should learn the right answer to whether it is the blood that flowed from Christ's hands or his side.


Kevin Knox said...

Sister, thank you for answering my question.

Matthew 24:48 TNIV But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Christians beating Christians is an old, old story. Drunk on their power, they try to stand in for their Lord and administer the beatings they believe He would. May the Lord increase the ranks of the servants who build up their brothers and sisters.

I honor Mr. Willis, though I do not know him, in this. There is no new denomination that believes "It is finished" means the blood from the hands of the Lamb is enough. He did not attempt to split the denomination over his personal injustice. He did not beat those who were beating him. May the Lord commend him.

Swearing off weapons-grade theology is a must for all of us.

I appreciate all that you have shared of your gifts since I started reading you.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am not literally afraid of answering that question wrong. I am afraid of people having power over other people.

Kevin Knox said...

Luke 24:49 TNIV Chapter
I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

Acts 6:8 TNIV Chapter
[ Stephen Seized ] Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.

Romans 1:16 TNIV Chapter
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

2 Corinthians 10:4 TNIV Chapter
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

2 Timothy 1:7 TNIV Chapter
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

I know none of this is news to you, but power does not corrupt. Power heals when wielded by women in the Lord (and by men). If Jesus doesn't wield power during His incarnation, nobody is healed. If Paul doesn't wield power, the church is not planted. If we do not wield power, the church is not built up.

If we do wield power, we do so in the fear of the Lord. You have long heard that the best leader is the one who doesn't want the job.

I'll quit now. The Lord bless and keep you. Thank you for giving your stories.

Mike Moore said...

The practice of excommunicating people and demanding that all affiliated assemblies around the world is far from a rare occurrence now. It used to be, but what happened with Christopher Willis continued to happen more and more. People always really got kicked out for personality clashes and jealousy and politics, but the excuse was always "doctrine."