In today's chapter of The Priceless Privilege, Rosemary gets to visit Hope Valley. It is the church that will (spoiler alert) be the answer to all her problems, a church where things are done according to the Bible, and there is peace and love, and so forth. My sources have identified the real life location of "Hope Valley," so, if you can't guess where it is, I will tell you sometime.
But before she visits Hope Valley, Rosemary gives us an insight into one of the things that is deeply wrong with Pinecliff. Youth socials.
"What was the social like last night?" Rosemary ventured to inquire. She dropped the last egg neatly into the skillet before she looked up at her tall brother.
"Why didn't you come along and find out?" he teased, glancing sideways in her direction.
"Did you play games, or what?" Rosemary evaded his question.
I don't want to give the story away, or anything like that, but you should know that there is a Very Good Reason that Rosemary does not go to socials. And we will learn that reason before this chapter is through.
"Well, the theme was Easter," John explained. "First we sang a song, then Irene read a short Easter story. Then Carol did a chalk drawing while three boys sang. It was a pretty good drawing." He slipped his comb into his shirt pocket.
Rosemary's eyebrows raised. "Three boys sang? Who were they?"
John grinned. "Who do you suppose? Richard, Glen, and I. Glen played his guitar, too.
John watched Rosemary's reaction out of the corner of his eye.
(He wasn't disappointed.)
After they had dragged Rosemary to her fainting couch, and fetched the smelling salts, and fanned her face, and soothed her burning brow, Rosemary began to recover.
"Does Glenn have a guitar? What about the church standard against musical instruments and special singing?" Rosemary's grieved eyes left her brother's face and turned to the frying eggs.
Even in her time of deepest emotional stress and complete systemic shock, Rosemary knew her place in the home.
"This wasn't church," John countered easily. "After the chalk drawing we played a few games and had refreshments-- 7-up floats and potato chips."
"Tell her what you told me Tim did," put in Curtis, who had just come in from the barn.
"That was the laugh of the evening," John grinned. "You should have seen him, Rosemary. For one game, those who had never heard of the game had to leave the room. Tim was one of them, and he came back dressed like an old lady. He had parted his hair in the middle and powdered it heavily-- it was really white-- and he had on his sister's long pink housecoat and fluffy bedroom slippers."
"He must have looked funny," Ruth giggled delightedly.
Notice that the whole family, except Rosemary, is enjoying this story. This is intentional. The point the author is making is that when you allow such foolishness and vanity into the church, it poisons whole families.
I have to admit that this kind of slap-stick level humor isn't that hilarious to me, either. I prefer verbal humor, and social commentary. But that's a matter of personal taste. In these circles, personal taste is indistinguishable from Bible-based Conviction.
"We had lots of fun," John asserted. "You ought to come to the socials again, Rosemary. There's only a handful of us left anymore."
Rosemary held her peace and the subject was dropped as the family gathered around the breakfast table.
John knew very well why Rosemary no longer attended the young folks' socials.
The shallow entertainment she had never really enjoyed grew more and more sickening. It was empty and vain, for Rosemary was a new creature in Christ and all things had indeed become new. How much more satisfying to spend a quiet evening at home in reading and meditation.
[When the reviewers at Rod and Staff were going over this book, they asked the author to rewrite that last paragraph to make it even more pious. After 17 revisions, and consultations with bishops throughout the nation, they ended up keeping the paragraph as written, because no one could make it sound any more pious and righteous than it already was. To this day, it is used as a model to aspire to, but it has seldom been matched, and never excelled.]
Yes, Rosemary is saved, and when you are saved, you do not have a sense of humor any more, or enjoy chalk drawing, playing games, or 7-Up Floats (although, I have to admit that I think many an ungodly person would have trouble choking down that abomination). And you definitely can't stand guitar music.
So, at this point in the story, the phone rings and it's Menno Kropf inviting Rosemary to go to Hope Valley with them. Her father reluctantly agrees, but he has a warning for her.
"I don't know about that group at Hope Valley, Rosemary," Ed Witmer began, weighing his words carefully. "They don't believe in rebaptism. Their ministers are pretty slick at twisting the Scriptures, so don't fall for everything you hear."
This issue of rebaptism is going to come up again, and again, and it may be a little confusing to you, if you aren't familiar with the concept or what it driving it. The book addresses the issue in more depth later, so I'll save most of the discussion for then, but here's a short synopsis of the issue.
There was, and still is, in some places, a movement that encouraged people in Mennonite churches to be rebaptized, because, in many cases, they had not been born again when they had been baptized the first time.
In some cases, this was extended to other cases. People would be rebaptized because their spiritual life had been lacking in some way when they were baptized, even though they were saved. This caused some confusion and uproar in churches, so some churches took a hard line against it, and forbade all rebaptism.
The irony is that word Anabaptist means "rebaptizer." Anabaptism started because people wanted to be rebaptized because they hadn't been believers when they were baptized. But now, these modern Anabaptists forbid rebaptism.
There's more to the issue, and the story will discuss it in a few chapters, but that's the basic line of thought we're dealing with here.
He saw the light go out in her eyes, as a candle flame is snuffed out by a puff of wind, and his square jaw softened.
"Go with Mennos and enjoy your trip, Daughter. But use your own good judgment and don't be swayed by every wind of doctrine."
This is really telling. Ed is encouraging Rosemary to use her own judgment. As we will see later, this is the issue that makes Ed "one of the bad guys." Because he holds the individual conscience higher than "the voice of the church."
But that's a discussion that we will have when the book characters do.
Rosemary is crushed, because if she can't trust the Hope Valley ministers, who can she trust?
So Rosemary goes to church and, while the people there dress just like they do at Pinecliff, the atmosphere is different. People aren't tense and uptight, they are all at peace.
So Rosemary is enjoying the service, but when the bishop, Brother Mark, gets up to preach, she puts up her guard, remembering that the ministers at Hope Valley are good at twisting Scripture.
The theme of the message was Scriptural unity in the church. (because of course it was.)
Rosemary was thankful she had remembered to put some paper and a pen into her purse. Her pen could scarcely keep up with the minister's thoughts.
"Every member must be born again, cleansed by the blood of Jesus, living a holy life according to the Scriptures, keeping the flesh crucified day by day. Then, and only then can there be unity," he stressed.
"The Word is our only basis for unity; unless each member is faithfully living it out, how can there be oneness? The individuals who make up the true church --the very body of Christ-- have thoroughly repented of sin and are living consistently in obedience to the Word."
This sermon sounds really good, so far. And the funny thing is that his words are coming to pass in the conservative church. Look at the waspish divisiveness and the splintering! Look at the back-stabbing, and the bickering, and the power plays! Look at the splits, and the splits that split! There is no unity. Because there is no obedience to the Word.
Men set themselves up as overlords. They exercise authority like the Gentiles. They allow children and women to be oppressed and abused and side with the powerful men who are abusing them. They seek power for themselves, instead of the place of humility, which they preach to others.
And the fruits are manifest. There is no unity.
Brother Mark is right. But not in the way he thinks he is.
And, of course, this is the part where the standards get mentioned.
"So many churches fuss about all sorts of external standards-- everything from cars to clothes."
I am sorry to tell you that this is the most disappointing paragraph in the book. Brother Mark makes a good start here, and it looks like he's going to address the silly legalism, and pious posturing in these churches.
But, like this book does again and again, at the last minute he swerves away, and does the exact opposite.
"Standards are essential; our outward expression of nonconformity is important. But, beloved, when each member has completely repented and is transformed from the heart on out, then we can have the unity of the Spirit and we can all speak the same thing. Then the externals are no great problem."
This, my friends, is devious.
What Brother Mark has just done is made adherence to the standards the determiner of who has truly repented, and who has not.
Follow the logic:
1) When Christians have repented, they have unity.
2) Without repentance, there is no unity.
3) Unity means "speaking the same things."
4) "Speaking the same things" means agreeing on the standards.
5) Therefore, people who do not agree with the standards have not truly repented.
He ends up saying the exact opposite of what he appears to be saying at the outset.
Fighting and bickering over the standards is bad, because those who aren't willing to shut up and do what they are told haven't repented of their sins and are lost. The people who are nit-picking everyone else's lives are the good guys. They have repented. And if you would repent, too, all their silly little rules wouldn't be a problem. You would just humbly submit.
That's what he's saying.
Of course, the suggestion that people at Pinecliff might not be saved is shocking to Rosemary, and she wonders if Brother Mark is twisting Scripture. Fortunately, God comes to the rescue.
The witness of the Spirit in her heart assured Rosemary that he was not. There it was, plain as could be, in the open Bible on her lap. All that he said agreed perfectly with the Scriptures he read. Yet a shadow of doubt remained, for shattered confidence is not easily restored.
I despise how these people use the Spirit of God.
He shows up conveniently to show people how right the preacher is about some conservative point of dogma.
But when someone feels led of the Spirit to disagree with them, it's just their own private ideas, and they need to submit themselves to the council of the church.
The Spirit only ever agrees with them.
"What kind of activities do you have here?" Rosemary opened conversation with Joy Mast, a sweet-faced girl she had met after church.
(At least she didn't mention guitars.)
"Activities?" Joy looked puzzled. "Oh, you mean for the young people? We don't have anything just for the young people."
"Nothing at all? No socials, or--or--literaries, or anything like that?"
"No," Joy smiled at Rosemary's surprise. "We believe it's best for the whole church to do things together, and not have the young people doing things as a separate group."
"But are the young people satisfied with that?" Rosemary marveled. "Oh, I can see how you would be, but--but--" She stopped in confusion.
You see what the author is doing here?
She's depicting the young people as thrilled to death to be going along with the church's anti-youth activities agenda.
You see, if a church gets real spiritual, and has the right levels of control, the young'uns will just LOVE to pass out tracts and stuff. It's true! The book says so!
"Why yes, all of us are satisfied," Joy replied sincerely.
"We wouldn't want a lot of programs, games, picnics, and such. I believe what we enjoy doing is to go out witnessing in the community on Sunday afternoons. Anyone in the church can go, old or young. We separate into groups of four or five and go into different homes to sing and read and pray and visit with the people.
Some of them are so interesting--it's such a blessing, Rosemary!" Joy's eyes shone. "Can you come with us this afternoon?"
We all know that Joy is a product of the author's wistful, and overheated imagination.
I'm going to guess that this is not the average young person's idea of a good time. (And if the young people did truly love this so much, having other options available wouldn't hurt, would it?)
I mean, it's not like they'd go for it or anything. Right?
What's with the tight control?
Then, the music score changes.
As they visited, Rosemary found herself describing the Easter social at Pinecliff.
"I guess we wouldn't enjoy such doings. Picture my brother Paul, over there, dressing up like an old lady!" Joy dimpled in amusement.
Rosemary glanced at the serious-faced young man who stood by the garden fence nearby, earnestly discussing something with Menno Kropf.
There was strength in his clean-cut features and gentleness in his smile. The hand that rested on the fence looked firm, accustomed to a carpenter's life, yet there was kindness in its supple lines.
(Check out those supple line!)
I'm sure we can all tell where this story is headed.
"It isn't that we in ourselves are better than young folks who enjoy foolishness," Joy went on more seriously. "But when Jesus satisfies, those things add nothing of interest."
Rosemary nodded in perfect understanding.
This author was certainly firing on all cylinders when it came to cloyingly pious writing, wasn't she?
It's not truly self-righteous if you mention Jesus, though. So Joy is all good.
The story ends with Rosemary and the Kropf's driving home and discussing the day, and the "true life in Christ" that the Hope Valley people have. (Remember, this is a real church and I will tell you where it is sometime. And you will laugh.)
Rosemary decides that maybe this is a church that she can trust, because when you're 20, it's easy to think that your first impressions are accurate.
We'll keep following Rosemary's journey to the perfect church in the next post. Stay tuned!