Friday, January 4, 2013

At the Tolling of the Bell by David R. Kenney

At the Tolling of the Bell
 by David R. Kenney

From 1967-1991, Otto & Hazel Saffle, my grandparents, served as custodians for the Laings Church of Christ in Monroe County, Ohio.  They served for twenty-four years mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, preparing communion, dusting, cleaning and a host of many other things that perhaps went unnoticed at times but appreciated by many.  This is a country church in a community where the dogs outnumbered the people and the church building had a bell tower.  The congregation has since left the building I remember, having built a new building on the hill.

As a young boy, I remember going to the church building with Grandpa to watch him toll that bell.  It was a big deal!  We would walk together up the road to the building at least an hour before services.  He would prepare communion and do some things about the building while I looked around and waited for the big event.  When the time came, he would remove the rope from its clasp on the wall, examine his watch carefully, then begin pulling on the rope.  I would listen for the ringing sound to begin and grow louder.  I loved to open the front door to hear the full sound of the tolling going out in the neighborhood.  He rang the bell for three minutes solid, then stopped, put the rope back in its clasp, then sit in the pew right next to the rope in the back of the auditorium.  And there we would sit there together in practical silence for several minutes before people would finally start to come in.  Then, at the exact starting time, he would ring the bell again with a single pull to let people know the services were commencing.

Twenty-four years he did this faithfully—twice on Sundays, Wednesday nights, plus gospel meetings.  This may seem like a minor thing to some, but to a young boy who admired the only grandfather he knew, it was anything but minor.  Assuming he never missed a service, and he rarely did, then he sat in that pew before ringing that bell for three hours each week.  That is 156 hours a year and over 3,700 hours for the time they served as custodians.  The time certainly adds up!

As time has gone by, several memories from my childhood have faded from my mind, but the importance of the tolling of the bell remains.  What did the tolling of the bell really mean?  At first one might say it just marked the time as one hour before services and that services had begun.  But it actually meant more than marking the time.  To the community it meant that the saints were gathering to the designated place at their appointed time to join in worshipping their God.  That these men, women and children were going to offer songs of praise to their God, partake of their Lord and Savior’s memorial supper, bring their sacrificial offerings to further the gospel message to all those who will hear it, speak as a congregation to their Lord in prayer and hear God speak to them through a message delivered from His Word.  That is not a minor thing, but I think Christians are being taken for granted (or worse) in our present day and age. 

Consider what the tolling of the bell did not mean.  No one in the community had to worry about an act of violence, hatred or any crime coming from this group.  They knew these people were law abiding, honest and “neighborly”—a term that is fast fading from our day, it seems.  Each in the community knew they were invited to services with the “tolling of the bell”.  The community knew that if they really needed help, they could turn to this group who would lovingly tend to their crisis to the best of their ability.  They also knew that they would be taught the gospel, not out of hatred but out of love and a desire to save them from eternal punishment awaiting those outside the church.  No one who attended was perfect; however, those in the community knew that the gospel called for men to be perfected.  They never had to worry about any malicious act from this group.  They respected these worshippers, even if they did not agree with them, and the trust was mutual in that worshippers left their homes often unguarded with even doors unlocked as they assembled for worship.  In Laings, Ohio not a single complaint was made about the tolling of the bell!

In the Introduction of Evidence for God, edited by William A. Dembski and Micahel R. Licona, reports a disturbing trend:

“A 2007 report by Tobin and Weinberg published by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research reveals that American faculty ‘overwhelmingly asserted their desire to see Christian influence lessened’ while being ‘far less critical and even supportive of increasing Muslim religious influence in politics.’  They added that ‘it is interesting and even perplexing to see a shared inclination among faculty atheists, those faculty with no religion, and those faculty for whom religion holds no importance:  They defend the right of Muslims to express their religious beliefs in American politics, while holding openly hostile views of fundamentalist Christians.’  And for such faculty, any evangelical Christian is an unthinking bigot and therefore a fundamentalist.   The researches added ‘the most troubling finding in the survey’ was that American faculty ‘feel less positively about Evangelicals than about any other religious group.’” 

To me, that is shocking and saddening that those in such positions of education would actually seek to increase Islam and diminish Christianity.  What would warrant some in our society to be so openly hostile to Christianity? 

It reminds me of the days when Christians were openly persecuted by the Roman Empire.  Christians, who had done nothing wrong, were put to death simply for not swearing “Caesar is Lord” since this violated their confessed loyalty to the only true Lord and Potentate—Jesus the Christ.  Pliny, the governor of Pontus and Bithynia, wrote Emperor Trajan about what to do with the growing “Christian menace”.  Note carefully what Pliny testified of Christians:  “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.” Trajan replied if Christians renounced their faith, served their gods, then they should be spared.  Only the ones who insisted on remaining Christians were to be actually punished.  Imagine punishing citizens of your empire who committed no immorality, were law abiding for righteous laws, and paid taxes!  Unfathomable! 

We pray that we never see the days of Trajan again; although the trends of our society give reason to pause.  May our communities continue to see us assemble peacefully for worship with love in our hearts to all!  May our communities know that indeed there are a people who love and serve the Lord among them, and they are free to come too!  May our communities never lose sight of the blessings of Christians dwelling in our land.  May the ringing out of the gospel message go forth and never cease in our beloved country!  
This article orginally appeard in Gospel Advocate, Vol. 154, No. 4, April 2012, pp. 28-29.

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