The Bayly brothers went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to get what Dad referred to as “the union card” (an MDiv), after which we each were ordained into pastoral ministry. My first parish was two churches in the dairyland of Wisconsin, David’s was a church in Toledo, Ohio (where he has served his entire ministry), and Nathan’s was a parish in Bristol, Virginia (where he served until his untimely death at forty).
Our ministry and form of leadership in writing, preaching, teaching, and pastoral care has been formed by coming of age in an editor, author, and publisher’s home where, in the evening, Dad called us over to his easy chair to read us his monthly column he’d just finished and was about to submit. When he was done reading it to us, he’d look up at whichever one of us was standing beside him and ask what we thought? Young punks, he wanted our opinions and almost always incorporated any suggestions we made (which wasn’t often).
Later in the evening after family dinner, Scripture, and prayer, he’d be back in his chair and call us over to share a couple cartoons from The New Yorker. We all loved Booth and Adams best.
He’d also read us letters to the editor thanking or (more often) criticizing him for some recent column in Eternity magazine. For exactly twenty-five years, a monthly column ran there, and since Dad wrote to be helpful rather than to grow his voice and influence, he was particularly focussed on the sins and weaknesses of leaders, regularly addressing them in his columns. Naturally, he was never popular among Evangelicalism’s egotists who knew they were important and didn’t miss a chance to tell you so. Still, they read him. Who else criticized Bill Gothard publicly, calling him to accountability back in the day when Bill was consistently filling the largest venues of our largest cities?
So Dad was maybe the most influential voice among Evangelical leaders whom Evangelical leaders never mentioned to anyone. (Until he died, that is, after which they claimed they missed his “voice.”)
Anyhow, Dad took his letters to the editor seriously, particularly those critical of him and what he’d written. As a matter of principle, Dad practiced three disciplines that our Big Men today aren’t even aware they don’t do.
First, whether positive or negative, Dad personally responded to all the correspondence he received.
Second, regardless of who was calling and for what reason, Dad always took his phone calls. I’ve only known two other men of stature who took their phone calls and few things are as indicative of character. One was Richard Halverson, former Senior Pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland; then (for many years) Chaplain of the Senate. The other was Joel Belz, Publisher of World magazine. Humble men, both.
Third is a commitment of Dad which I’ve never known any other famous man even to aspire to: he never accepted speaking engagements on the basis of size of audience or money. A United Million Miler and one of the most frequently invited conference speakers back in the heyday of Evangelicalism, Dad never demanded a contract stipulating (as men I’ve worked with do) First Class travel, a premium hotel suite, a large enough audience to prove his fame and importance, prominent placement of book tables selling (their often ghost-written) books; and finally, of course, many thousands of dollars agreed to beforehand, and delivered as his honorarium.
I state these things because the media mavens and talking heads today are fawned over by the sheep today just the same as their predecessors were back in Dad’s day. You always have suits among you, but wise men keep their distance from them. Sheep think they have the right heroes, but sadly, no one has explained to them that pride, greed, and hankering after media attention are no necessary proofs of godly or even spiritual leadership.
They may be known for how adeptly they speak and write Biblical truth, engaging Christendom’s destroyers with lilting words and a fine sense of humor, but God’s servants, the prophets, never spoke cutely. They had no stylistic aspirations when they wrote. The sheep weren’t impressed with their rhetoric. God’s servants, the prophets, spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. They warned against sin and error, and were as serious as death.
So, praise God, the sheep understood them and fled from evil. They had been warned and the warning had produced fear in their souls lest they fall into the hands of the Living God.
Amos and Jeremiah and Hosea were not loudmouths. Nor was our Lord. Nor the Apostles Peter, Paul, and John. No shepherd of God’s flock ever demands the world’s attention, respect, or admiration. These things were Balaam’s concern.
So, if you are following and listening to such a man, don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s because that man is growing the Kingdom of God. He’s growing his own kingdom and it’s proven by the things he hankers after. Attention. Importance. Media numbers. Wealth.
Here’s one of the most common warnings I received from Dad as I entered pastoral ministry: “Tim, every man is out to build his own kingdom. Every man.”
Now then, here is one record of Dad’s serious and helpful work which appeared in Eternity back in the eighties. This was the lead up.
Dad was in the living room one Saturday morning, and he expressed his concern over the growing acceptance of divorce and remarriage within Evangelical churches. He mentioned particularly a book just issued by an Evangelical publishing house seeking to normalize remarriage after divorce, adding that the author himself was divorced. Dad made it clear he was not just concerned about the moral drift of God’s people, but also Evangelical publishers providing these men a forum.
Listening to Dad, the rest of us asked if he was going to write a column about it?
Dad replied, “No, I don’t want to. If I criticize him, they’ll all attack me.”
I remember his words because I’d never heard anything like this from Dad before. I don’t know about my mother or brothers, but I was flabbergasted. Scandalized, even. Then we all looked at Dad and said, “You have to do it.” That was all, and he did.
Here is what he wrote. As you read it, compare the directness, simplicity, and seriousness of Dad’s helpfulness to the sheep with what you normally read from your smarmy Christian celebrity heroes. None of that ever with Dad. One of Dad’s favorite pieces of advice to us was, “If there’s a smaller word, use it.”
OUT OF MY MIND
Who Are We To Judge?
Eternity, November 1982
Is the gate widening or are we just not taking God’s Word seriously anymore?
A man who is separated from his wife writes a book which presents a new view of divorce—a view that permits it today for the same reason God permitted it in the Old Testament: the hardness of his people’s hearts. The man is respected; the book is accepted. In fact it is welcomed by one of our most conservative evangelical periodicals, which headlines the review “Remarriage as God’s Gift.” Calling the book “monumental,” the reviewer summarizes the new doctrine as “God’s gracious action in permitting us to sin, then forgiving us and giving us another chance to succeed.” And how many chances? Two, three, five?
Another man writes a book on how Christians should have a caring attitude toward others. He’s divorced. Others continue in positions of leadership, including youth work, after divorce and remarriage.
The reviewer of the book I alluded to earlier says that “evangelical thinking about divorce has been cast in concrete since the early 50s, with the works of John Murray, Guy Duty, and Charles Ryrie forming the basic framework for that thinking.” I wonder why he only went back 30 years instead of to Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament. Surely Christian thinking about divorce was cast in concrete then and continued until 10 or 15 years ago when evangelical Christians discovered that divorce with remarriage was acceptable. Subsequently new and exciting (or comforting) discoveries were made by so-called theologians to rationalize the disdain of Christians for the teachings of the Bible.
A similar pattern is displayed in liberation theology, women’s theology, black theology, homosexual theology. Maybe I shouldn’t lump these together; I am not implying that some of them don’t have valid, biblical goals. But they are alike in starting with a problem, a need, a desire, rather than with God; then building a construct that is unbalanced, to support their teaching about that need. If Bible passages have to be explained away or even rejected to support their thesis, so be it.
I remember studying under C. T. Craig, New Testament scholar and Revised Standard Version translator at Union Seminary the summer of 1942. The course was “The Pauline Interpretation of the Gospel.” For the first few weeks Dr. Craig could not have been more clear in his understanding of the Pauline teaching if he had been teaching at Dallas or Wheaton.
Then, at a critical point in the course, he said, “Up to this time we’ve been studying what Paul actually said. Now we shall proceed to reinterpret his writings in the light of the twentieth century.” From then on he cut down what he had previously built. St. Paul was “a child of his times”; cultural change necessitated drastic revision of his ideas.
I could not have been persuaded in 1942 that 40 years later a respected professor at an evangelical seminary would reject St. Paul’s teaching about gender differences with almost the same words.
How far we’ve strayed from believing and obeying the Word of God. The evangelical church is sick—so sick that people are crowding in to join us.
We’re a big flock, big enough to permit remarriage of divorced people (beyond the exception Jesus allowed), big enough to permit practicing homosexuals to pursue their lifestyle, big enough to tolerate almost anything pagans do. We’re no longer narrow; it’s the wide road of popular acceptance for us.
“When the son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?”
That question asked by our Lord haunts me. To me its implications are far more serious than the timetable of his return, over which we spend so much time arguing.
What do I suggest?
First, that we begin to take the Bible seriously again, as God’s Word—GOD’S Word. Not something to hold conferences about, to give lip service to; something to reckon with and to obey.
If we take the Bible seriously, we won’t rationalize the parts that convict us of sin—whether the sin of divorce and remarriage, the sin of homosexual relations, the sin of scorning the poor, or the sin of genocide by nuclear weapons.
Somehow we must restore the sacredness of the marriage vows. Maybe there could be two different ceremonies: one for those who have forsworn divorce and remarriage; another for those who consider divorce and remarriage an option “if this doesn’t work out.” I’d like to see all latter such ceremonies relegated to the county clerk’s office.
By revealing my thoughts, by writing these words and submitting them to the editor for publication, I have stepped away seemingly from the tolerant, caring, loving, “who am I to judge?” attitude of many evangelicals, including many of my friends. I’m considered judgmental; I ought to cast the beam out of my own eye; I’ve forgotten to show love; I’m getting old.
To those who consider the latter a valid objection, especially since I’ve been married to the same person for 39 years, I’d like to say that pressures on marriage are nothing new. Don’t think my generation and previous generations were free from the relational, emotional, financial, health, and spiritual problems—including the temptation to commit adultery—that confront you today. We were confronted; some of us had good marriages, some poor ones. But divorce wasn’t an “out” for previous generations of Christians. Maybe that was the reason we honored our promise to stick to our mate for life, “until death us do part.”
I like to think that a lot of us were persuaded that we’d made the best choice in the whole world and that nobody else (including young flesh) could be better. And I like to think that we had a bit more concern for our children.
After publishing the above, Dad let things sit for a few months, then published the following as a follow-up:
OUT OF MY MIND
A Child’s Heart
Eternity, May 1983
Is the issue of divorce the church’s acid-test for words like love, compassion, and obedience?
My November column (“Who Are We To Judge,” about the growing rate and rationalization of divorce in our evangelical churches) brought the largest number of responses of any column in recent years. Most of them expressed agreement with my comments on the changing attitude toward ending marriage and, in a larger sense, not taking the Scriptures seriously.
Two letters reveal differing points of view. Here’s the first.
My reaction to the article is one of deep compassion for the angry, frightened, threatened person who wrote it.
The first question has to be: What deep-seated fear drives him to his attitude and position about divorce and remarriage? And more specifically, about those of us who are divorced? Perhaps it would be worth his while to take himself and his article to a good Christian psychiatrist. The article could hold the key to understanding some serious underlying emotional problem.
Bayly mentions the need to take God’s Word seriously. By that I assume he means I should interpret it as he does. To me, taking God’s Word seriously means to seek to know and understand what God means and what his intentions are, in an honest way. While Bayly and I may never agree about what God is saying in his Word about divorce and remarriage, it is almost impossible to misunderstand what he is saying about love, compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance. I believe God extends these things lo those of us who are divorced as well as to liars, thieves, murderers, junkies, whoremongers, elders, deacons, pastors, Christian magazine editors, et al.
Certainly the vituperation and the almost hysterical condemnation that characterize this article do not demonstrate the love we are commanded lo have for one another. If it does, please don’t love me anymore!…
The other letter has a different tone.
Thank you for saying that. I am separated from my wile of [many] years and lately have been very close to taking divorce action. She just has not acknowledged me as her husband for a long while and though the pain has subsided after [a number of] months’ separation, there is still such tension and strain, even in my continuing contact with our kids, that I’ve nearly fallen prey to the thinking that to divorce would be the thing. Few Christians have tried to dissuade me from this thinking. The pastor of our family’s church—where I no longer attend brought up the subject in our last phone conversation, knowing that in our state we have now fulfilled the time required for granting a “no-fault” divorce.
But I have been arrested by the plain teaching of the Word and have renewed my commitment not to divorce, and to seek for the reuniting of our family. The latter looks impossible, and I need two things, as I see it—a heart united in believing that what is obviously God’s best will may be done, and a new love for [my wife].
But your call to us to return to the Scriptures’s teaching is what I—and many like me—need. We are weak enough. Without the Word, which I am studying on a daily basis, I would have washed out long ago. I can easily see why others do so with little thought or hope….
Separation hurts. Divorce hurts. The hurt—which I haven’t experienced—is apparent in both letters.
God’s Word also hurts. And, as the great missionary to India’s women and children, Amy Carmichael, wrote, “If you have never been hurt by a word from God, it is probable that you have never heard God speak.”
A dear child wrote the following psalm and gave it to me it Christmas. At the top of the page on which it’s written is a carefully drawn cross.
Please forgive me.
Please forgive me.
I’ve done wrong and
I love you so much
I just can’t leave you.
Tender is the heart of a child. Tender toward God, tender toward sin.
We adults need that tenderness. It can be ours, as shown by the second letter from which I’ve quoted. This example of faithfulness to a commitment to God and a partner, and determination to seek reconciliation, means a great deal in such a time as this. I admire the man who wrote it.
And I hope the child’s heart remains tender. I pray that it will.