By Arthur Vess
These days, it is a common thing for our pastors to ask, '"What shall I do about the reception of members wearing the wedding ring?" The writer has a very sympathetic feeling toward pastors facing this problem under present conditions, and hopes to offer some suggestions which may be helpful.
John Wesley's instructions are very sane and practical. Let us use them as our guide.
The general principle is as follows: "Should we insist on the rules concerning dress?" Answer: "By all means." This is no time to give encouragement to superfluity of apparel. Therefore let none be received into our churches until they have left off the wearing of gold and superfluous ornaments. In order to this:
"In visiting the classes be very mild, but strict."
"Allow no exempt cases; better one suffer than many."
His standard: "Let NONE be received into our churches until they have left off the wearing of gold and superfluous ornaments." "The Bible does not make the exception." Then 'Let none be received," certainly refers to the women wearing the wedding ring. If our mothers and wives do not set the example in refraining from jewelry, who can enforce the rule and who will follow it? Any pastor or other person who receives into his churches those wearing any sort of rings, violates the Scriptures.
The method to be employed: 'Be very mild, but strict." Be very firm, but kind. If we are mild without being strict, our softness will let many slip into our churches contrary to our rules and future blessedness. If we are strict and firm without being mild and kind, our harsh manners and methods will drive away some who might be won to Christ and our church. Of course, none can be mild and kind enough to please those who want us to let down our standards to let them or their friends into our churches without meeting the conditions. No matter how kind and tender we are, they will accuse us of being too hard and strict. Let us not get discouraged, but just remember that "they said, He hath a devil," -- and hold up the standards to keep the wolves out and the lambs in. We must save our standards for the sake of souls; neither has any value without the other. The greater danger in this world of compromise is in being too soft. It takes grit, grace and brains to be strong, tender and intelligent. Expect that some will be our enemies, while others will enter in and be saved. Theirs is the final decision.
The principle to be held up: "Allow no exempt cases; better one suffer than many.
The exempt cases cause the complete breakdown of law, in church or state. If we exempt one person, why not another? If we let up on one rule, why not on all rules? To make a rule or law optional, destroys that rule, or law. This is as destructive as it is irrational, and the only defense is to "allow no exempt cases.
The rule usually breaks down with special persons and cases which may claim exemption on account of their talents, wealth, influence, relatives, friends, as descendants of charter members, etc. Remember that the more influential a prospective member is, the more destructive will be his wrong influence when once in the church. Let us have the grit and grace of John the Baptist who demanded of the Scribes and Pharisees who came to his baptism, "fruits meet for repentance." If the daughter or wife of a prominent member is allowed to wear the wedding ring, her example is more powerful and destructive than that of a more humble member. We never make exceptions for the poor or ignorant. Why should we for any? Let Herod's wife or daughter line up or line out. God makes no exceptions.
"Better one suffer than many." Let us beware lest our sympathy or undue consideration for the person before us, blind us to the welfare of all the present and future church. How can the pastor and church hold up the standards on other lines if we let down on the wedding ring? Our whole discipline and church stand or fall together. If we have no standards, we have nothing to offer anyone at any time. If our standards do not suit you, it is easier to find those with lower standards than with higher. Exceptions and exemptions embarrass the pastor and church, and bring reproach from thinking people on the outside. It is the first dram that makes the drunkard, and the "exempt case" that makes a prodigal church. If you permit one or more ringed members in the church, how can you keep others out? We do not need to be admonished to be soft, but we must pray for "boldness to speak the truth" and hold up our standards for all.
We must present a united front from our local churches to our General Conference. If the chain breaks any place, our defense is gone. If all our denominational officials stand firm, and our conference officials hold their grounds, while our pastors and evangelists indoctrinate and enforce our rules, our churches will remain spiritual and united. Otherwise, they will decay and we shall fall apart in confusion and destruction.
"Whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is guilty of all." Again, "Whosoever shall break the LEAST of these, my commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven." Major emphasis must be put on major truths; minor emphasis must be put on minor truths, but none can be neglected. Sometimes special emphasis must be put on minor neglected truths to bring them back to their place and power, but so many are not willing to suffer this reproach. It is not so easy to bestow more honor on the less comely parts," but it is necessary. "The stone which the builders rejected became the chief corner stone." The character and intelligence of the builder is reflected in his choice of materials. "Let us condescend to men of low estate" (standing) and we shall have little temptation to make "exemptions."
Those who encourage neglect or violation of a rule or standard, later argue that it should be removed because it is not enforced. If it is right, it should be retained and enforced. Removal will not correct the evil prohibited, but only license it. If removal is substituted for enforcement because of violation, we endorse the evil principles involved rather than the good. If all good rules or laws had been removed upon violation, the Decalogue and all other moral or civil laws would long since have been removed. Specific statement and strict enforcement is the only defense of moral law and government. Rebels never endorse or enforce holy laws.