Pastoral Nuggets Archive (2013)

The Church of the Unbaptized Arm

I have often mentioned that Rev. Olin McClain is one of my personal heroes of the faith.  When he speaks, I try to listen.  Not long ago he spoke at the Troup Baptist Association’s Monday Morning Pastor’s Prayer Fellowship.  He shared an illustration about the 15th century leader of Russia, Ivan the Great.  Now, keep in mind that the value of an illustration is not necessarily in its accuracy, but in the lesson it conveys.  Such is the case regarding this oft quoted illustration about Ivan.  Some history scholars question its validity, but regardless of its validity, the message it conveys is what is important.

The story goes that Ivan the Great brought the warring tribes of Russia together to form a vast empire that we would know today as the old Soviet Union.  He was so busy fighting and building his kingdom that he hadn’t taken time to marry.  Naturally, this meant no heir to the throne.  So, a group of his most trusted advisors approached him regarding this issue.  He told them to do the “Baptist thing” and form a committee (Not really!) to find him a suitable wife and he would marry her.  The committee chose the daughter of the King of Greece.  Her father was delighted and agreed to the marriage, with one stipulation; Ivan must become a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Ivan the Great agreed and the wedding date was set.

In order to become a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, Ivan had to learn the catechisms of the church.  Five hundred of his elite soldiers, the palace guard, ever loyal to their leader, decided they would be baptized too.  So, the church dispatched a priest to teach Ivan and his soldiers the catechisms of the church. When they had learned them, they set off to Greece for the baptism and marriage.

Upon their arrival in Greece, just as Ivan and his soldiers were about to be baptized, a problem surfaced.  The church didn’t allow professional soldiers to be baptized.  They would have to give up their commitment to bloodshed.  They could not be church members and soldiers too. 

A round of diplomacy quickly took place and a compromise was reached.  It was decided that just before the moment of baptism occurred, Ivan and his soldiers would reach down and unsheathe their swords and hold them toward heaven and the priests would submerge them – except for the portion of the arm that was holding the sword!  So, in essence, the soldiers agreed to surrender everything to Christ except one unbaptized arm holding a sword.

I fear that this story personifies the Spiritual problem plaguing America today.  We have allowed people who are not totally surrendered to Christ to infiltrate the ranks of our churches and society, and we are allowing them to shape our moral values.  Too many individuals, churches, homes, businesses, and governments are being led by people who belong to The Church of The Unbaptized Arm!  They profess their loyalty to the Lord, Biblical teachings, and the church, while simultaneously holding tightly to something they are unwilling to surrender – while demanding the church to compromise.  Sadly, as with Ivan and his soldiers, compromise is the order of the day!

Brother Olin also told about an evangelist who came and preached a sermon on total commitment to the congregation of a small country church.  The pastor, a beloved man who had served God for many years, was deeply disturbed by the sermon.  That night sleep was far from him.  The next morning his wife asked why he was so restless.  He told her that he was trying to discover what it was in his life he had not totally surrendered to God.  He said, “Around three o’clock this morning, I made peace with God when I surrendered my hound dog to Him.” You see, that dog and hunting was his unbaptized arm. 

I wonder if anybody reading this column today is a member of The Church of The Unbaptized Arm.  Unbaptized arms have many different names and characteristics.  But in reality, whatever stands between us and God becomes our unbaptized arm.  God demands total surrender. The unbaptized arm always has consequences.  It brings the results we see manifested in America and the world today.  I wonder, are you a member of The Church of The Unbaptized Arm?

Brother Aaron

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