The new facilities of the Arden (NC) Presbyterian Church provided the scene for the Presbyterian Church in America's most-beloved Choctaw Indian Chief to deliver a stirring message as part of a celebration of the denomination's silver anniversary. The November 8, 1998, evening service was sponsored by Western Carolina Presbytery.
Jimmy Lyons was introduced by the Pastor of the host church, Ed Graham. In his introductory remarks, he noted that when the guest speaker was being examined in 1973 for reception by Vanguard Presbytery, the first presbytery of the Continuing Presbyterian Church movement, he was asked about why we don't regard footwashing as a sacrament. "The gruff examiner said, 'Mr. Lyons, why don't we Presbyterians wash feet?' Jimmy reflected on that question for just a minute, and said, 'Mercy, mercy, sir, I do wash my feet.'"
When Jimmy came up to speak, he said, very slowly and solemnly: "The great shouts of victory through the centuries: 'We have not yet begun to fight!'; 'Give me liberty or give me death!'; 'We shall win the inevitable triumphs!' And I'm going to be remembered for washing my feet!!"
His tempo increased as he declared: "I am so happy to be here; this is my favorite place on Earth, and you are my favorite people, and I'm going to hurry because I've got a lot to say and there's not much time left to say it.
"It is important for our children to know who they are and that involves their knowing where they came from, and where they're going. Suppose I came in here tonight and one of your ushers said to me, 'How are you, sir; welcome here; what is your name?' And I said, 'I don't know.' He would probably have said, 'Oh, well listen now, no kidding, you're welcome here, and we're glad you've come. What is your name?' 'I don't know.' 'Where did you come from?' 'I don't know.' 'Where are you going?' 'I don't know.' Now, if you had been that usher, by that time, and if you had any compassion in your heart at all you would have known that I needed some attention, and before long the men in little white coats would have come and taken me away. It is not acceptable not to know who you are. It is not acceptable not to know what your name is or where you came from or where you are going.
"It is important for our children to know. There was a time, many years ago, when a child walked with his father at a place called Gilgal. He looked at a pillar of stone . . . , [a] column of twelve stones, and these were very curious. They weren't at all like the rocks he would find by the wayside or out in the fields-those were usually jagged and roughly surfaced, but these stones were very smooth, almost as if they had been polished. And when the child asked his father what the pillar of stones meant, the reply he received might have gone something like this: These stones were set up here son, just so you would ask. And do you notice how smooth they are? Do you know why they are smooth? They came from the bottom of this River Jordan. They've been polished by centuries of flowing water. You know, our forefathers were finally permitted to come into this land from out of the desert. It was a time long awaited, for they had wandered for forty years in that desert until that day when God led them over this Jordan and into this land that's now yours. The people had been prepared, they were ready to cross, but the river was in flood. The Jordan was out of its banks. Water was everywhere. And then, as they'd been instructed, the priests, carrying the Ark of God, stepped into the water, and the moment, the very moment the soles of their feet touched the surface of the water, the waters that were coming down from the north were stopped. They didn't stop flowing, they just stopped as if they were held back by some invisible force, and they began to pile up, heap upon heap. And this heaping wave just stayed there. And all the water that was flowing down below that invisible guard, flowed on away until the bottom of the river appeared and became dry. And the priests were ordered to go out into the middle of the river and stand there with the Ark of God until all the children of Israel has passed over to the other side. And when they'd crossed over to the other side, men were ordered to go in to the river bed itself and pick up stone, twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel. And that's where your Scripture reading [Joshua 4] took up. As instructed, those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. And he spake unto the children of Israel saying, 'When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying "What mean these stones?", then you shall let your children know, saying "Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan before you until you were passed over as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea which he dried up from before us until we were gone over, that all the people of the Earth might know. For the Lord your God, the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you might fear the Lord your God for ever."'
"It is important for our children to know where they came from, and who they are, and where they're going. And we've come to our own time of witness, you and I. For the Lord our God in his providence has brought us to this hour that marks the first quarter-century of our lives together as the Presbyterian Church in America. It's a time for us to remember where we came from, so our children can know who they are. Twenty-five years ago, we really didn't think we were at a beginning, it looked like we were at an ending.
"Most of us had spent our lives in a denomination which saw its birth in 1861, in Augusta, Georgia. I was not there! But it was there that what was known as the Southern Presbyterian Church unfurled its banner to the world, determined not to let the gospel be silenced across the Southland by those political furies that had divided the nation's citizens. Through those turbulent and terrible years, of darkness and blood and finally defeat, the churches of the South maintained the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was the power of his gospel that enabled a broken people in a broken land to endure and survive and begin to build anew. Though scars were many and deep, and the wounds were still capable of pain, the love of God who is Jesus Christ began his healing across the land. . . .
"We were a people wandering through seemingly endless change, and a people beginning to hunger and thirst for something more. And in all of that, sometimes barely audible, sometimes refreshingly clear, a still small voice whispered of One who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Some heard but really took no serious notice. That whisper went through our cities to every village and hamlet in the land. Some heard; they wanted the blessing but they weren't interested in the suffering that goes promised with the cross. And some heard and then found themselves strangled with the cares of this world. And some heard and believed and set out to follow the Nazarene, and among these last, none better than the most wretched of sinners, but saved by grace, were our children's mothers and fathers. And I think I can speak with confidence for all our fathers and mothers when I tell the children, the way of the cross is difficult. There are real battles to be fought all along the way, and the warfare is real, and so is Satan. . . .
"And, you know the first step the evil one takes to capture the lives of Christians, is the disruption of our faith. Any time and any place he can sow a doubt, he will. If there is any way he can separate you from the word of Scripture, that is the Word of God, he will use it, and sometimes his efforts come in the most attractive ways, and unexpected ways. I remember in days gone by when I first entered seminary-it was in pre-historic times-I was so eager, I wanted to just soak up the Scripture. I wanted to know it, 'kiver to kiver', as the saying goes, I wanted to be able to rightly divide the word of truth. I thank God there were professors there who helped us to try and do just that: the beloved Manfred George Gutzke, the greatest of them all.
"But you know, I hadn't been there long before I was in a classroom and I was asked to listen to teaching that went like this: The children of Israel didn't really cross over the Red Sea on dry land, they crossed over the Reed Sea, and under certain circumstances, the water there is just ankle deep. We-e-e-l-l! I was raised in Oklahoma; the majority of my time was spent on horseback. One of the first things I learned was that very famous maxim that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. And you can't make him drown along with a chariot and Pharaoh's host in ankle deep water either! And I was asked to listen to teaching that went something like this: Joshua never fought the Battle of Jericho. Some natural catastrophe took place there but we don't know exactly when it was. It was a long time before Joshua and the children ever got to the Promised Land. . . . But what that teaching did was kind of rock me around, because you see, I'd been saved, marvelously saved, and delivered by the God of Scripture, and here I was asked to listen to teaching that said that . . . some parts of the Scriptures weren't really true-parts were just myth and legend and folk lore. It illustrated truth.
"Of course, if parts aren't true, the question immediately arises: Well, if some parts aren't true, what else isn't true? And how do you tell the difference between what is and what isn't? [Between] what's true and what's merely an illustration?
"And there were answers. I was told, Well, the thing you've got to do is you've got to engage the tools of scholarship to really become competent. You've got to be able to reconstruct the social and the political and the economic forces that shaped the times in which Scripture was written. And then you'll be able to understand what it really means.
"That sounds reasonable, doesn't it? With all due respect, it isn't. It's a bunch of bunk! LISTEN! HISTORY IS NOT THE LENS THROUGH WHICH YOU VIEW SCRIPTURE. SCRIPTURE IS THE LENS THROUGH WHICH YOU VIEW HISTORY. And academic respectability isn't the credentials of those who interpret Scripture to your heart; neither is scholarship. There's a place for academic excellence, and there's a place for scholarship, and if you're a real Christian, you'll pursue it as students. But those aren't the credentials that validate what you believe. The only holy and infallible and inerrant guide to Scripture is Scripture interpreted to your own heart by the Holy Spirit of God. But once the Deceiver can weaken your faith in God's word, then your guide becomes something or someone else and trouble begins. Then what is right or what is wrong is determined by what some men say it is, or some man or even yourself. Every man doing what is right in his own eyes. And then there's chaos. The chaos doesn't appear all at once, it's a gradual thing.
"Changes are small and inconspicuous and slow, but all that has a way of gathering momentum, like a few snowflakes that become a snowball, and plunging with its own weight, gathering speed and volume until it becomes an avalanche that can destroy anything in its path.
"Even while many of us were preparing for ministry, an avalanche was forming. Biblical words were being redefined to mean something that they were never meant to mean. The gospel was being redefined to say that everyone is entitled to an equal share of the good things of this life. The mission of the church was redefined to say that we must restructure society, socially, politically, economically so that everyone would have an equal share of the good things of this life and almost invariably that restructuring would come to mean society made over into a Marxist, socialist state. And any means necessary to accomplish the goal were permissible. Any means, certainly meaning violence, including mass murder."
Mr. Lyons then noted how the Communists had infiltrated the major Protestant denominations, including the Southern Presbyterian Church; and he also noted the millions of people slaughtered by Communist regimes: "And I do not recall one single demonstration or protest here at home. In the denomination, missionaries were brought home to raise money from congregations supposedly for the missionary task, but the money was used increasingly to fund organizations and activities contrary to what the Scripture teaches. And while all these things were happening, arrangements were made to force us into a union [with the Northern Presbyterian Church-Ed.] we believed would subject us to authorities that had already violated our conscience, who were wanting to force us to support what we did not believe was true.
"And finally we'd had enough. It was time to sound the trumpet. And there was nothing uncertain about its sounding. From across the Southland men came. From Alabama and Mississippi, Georgia and the Carolinas, Virginia and Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas, Maryland and Texas, and others too. While we gathered chiefly from the South, there were others who came from across America to watch and listen and wonder. And some came home from foreign fields deeply troubled and found hope born anew in their hearts. The affirmations were clear. The Scripture is holy, infallible, and inerrant. Jesus Christ is the sole head of the church. The church's mission is the same as it's ever been-the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
"In reverent and joyful assembly in the Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in December of 1973, over a thousand people had gathered. The Briarwood Church was pretty small at that time, it only seated around eleven hundred people, but every seat was full, and people were standing along the sides, and across the back and out in the foyer and out the front-they couldn't get them all inside. . . . And the Presbyterian Church in America was born.
"It's important that our children know that they've been born into times that have become their times. And their confession will cease to have meaning for their times unless their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ not only equals but far surpasses that of the legions of unbelief. But as we let them know, as we ask them to remember, tell them there's no reason to be intimidated. They don't have to be afraid, . . . even though we're a minority now in our own land, even though your Savior and his church are quite regularly demeaned and despised in this world where you are. . . .
"You have come to one of the smaller denominations in America. Her people have very little, if any, prestige. . . . But God has called close to six hundred of his people to a lifetime commitment to carry the gospel of Christ to fifty-nine nations of the world that I can name, and some I won't because if I did it would jeopardize the security of those who are there. And literally thousands of our people-at last count over eight thousand of our people-have gone to fill short-term assignments all over this world. And God has made your Presbyterian Church in America the largest Presbyterian and Reformed missionary society on planet Earth.
"Well, we'll walk with the children as far as we can, and if some day you turn and find that one day we've left you, hey, it's only for a little while. We shall see you again when you come to gather with us around the Crystal Sea. In all the meanwhiles you will never walk alone. It is written, 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.' With the apostle, be persuaded that 'neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor heighth nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' And when others ask you and ask our children how this can be, tell them you'll be led by the hand of God. Let your confession ring clear, even as spoken by the stones of Gilgal, that all the people of the Earth might know the hand of the Lord, and it is mighty, that you might fear the Lord your God for ever."
[Click here to listen to the full text of the sermon. Cassettes of the entire service, including the sermon, are available from Arden Presbyterian Church, (828)684-7221.]