An Alert Reader

Comedian Dave Barry often thanks the “Alert Reader” (sic) who finds errors in his material. We had an Alert Reader lately when someone found an error in the Sunday bulletin. It was fairly significant, and as editor, I should’ve caught it. I corrected it before the congregation and joked we often print errors as a test to see how closely the people read! Well, all in good humor since the Alert Reader was being helpful.

I respected this Alert Reader more than one I had a few years ago who sent an anonymous letter. She (at least her handwriting looked feminine) took me to task on “ensure” vs. “insure.” I’d written about Gettysburg “insuring” the end of the Confederacy, and this was wrong. It “ensured” the end of the Confederacy. “To insure” is to purchase a product to protect your assets, and nothing more. But I do wish she’d felt comfortable to tell me this personally or by phone.

The apostle Paul exhorted young Timothy to revere the scripture and use it for “instruction and correction” (2 Timothy 3: 16). Bible instructors need the wisdom of God to determine when to correct others with the Bible.

I can remember going to the pulpit a time or two with anger, lashing out at the congregation because one or two members were unruly. I came to quickly regret this. If the pulpit is used in this way it becomes “coward’s castle” as Charles Spurgeon once said. In my better moments I try to remember Ephesians 4:15: “speaking the truth in love.”

But other than this, I’ve never felt I as a pastor should correct everything I hear I believe is wrong. The exception is a moral issue; then a pastor must stand for truth and suffer whatever fallout may come.

But many things in the church aren’t as weighty as moral issues; for example, the interpretation of some passages. Eschatology is the theology including the return of Christ, and there are at least four major theories about his return. We need to make allowance for sincere interpreters.

Across the street from our church is a Methodist congregation who baptize differently than we do. Their student minister called a few years ago to ask about borrowing our baptistery since he had some youth wanting to be immersed. I had good fun inviting him to bring the whole church over for baptism! But we make allowances for different modes of baptism.

We need the wisdom of God to know what needs correcting with scripture, and things that should be overlooked as simple interpretive differences between sincere brothers and sisters in Christ. Augustine wrote: "in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity."