Fen Sloughheart paced the stage, back and forth without saying anything, for about three minutes … three minutes that felt like 30 and had his 300 or so congregants squirming uncomfortably in their theatre-type chairs in the massive auditorium of Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church.
It was Saturday night praise and worship, meant to prepare the flock for Sunday morning worship, something Fen had started two years ago to keep his people more faithful and holy. Since recent controversial events, the normal crowd had thinned somewhat from an earlier average of about 420, but Sloughheart was pleased to see his solid, core group still coming.
“You know,” he finally began, looking hard into the audience, everyone completely attentive, “we know we’re living in the end times. We know that the darkness of sin and death is growing darker still. We know that the hearts of men and women are growing harder and harder, and that it’s becoming more and more difficult to share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“We know all of that, amen?” The expected chorus of “amens” arose in proper response. “We also know, because we’re told in God’s holy, infallible, inerrant Word, that even those who claim to be followers of Christ will begin to fall away … and this is tragic, but this is also true. I just never expected one of the fallen to be such a dear friend and brother … but it’s happened.”
“Oh my Lord God, have mercy! It’s happened…” he paused for effect. Everyone knew to whom he was referring. “Brothers and sisters, my dear and longtime friend and brother, my colleague in the ministry, the Reverend Grim Brusque, has openly and without shame warped and twisted Scripture and placed himself on the side of religious duplicity and spiritual harlotry.”
“Yesterday, as many of you know, Rev. Brusque issued a statement asking for prayer on behalf of Joy Brighterday. Well, in that statement he dogmatically asserted that no Bible-believing Christian would fail to pray for Joy Brighterday, and to pray for peace in our community and, indeed, the whole world. He declared that no one could truly be a Christian if they did not pray for her; in fact, no one could be a Christian, who refused to pray just as he directed!”
Sloughheart paused and began pacing again. All ears were open; all eyes glued on him.
“Wow! Astounding, isn’t it?” He looked around the large room. Several heads were nodding. “Well, Brother Brusque, if you hear me tonight – this service, like all our services, is being taped and will air on radio and television – so, if you hear me, my old friend, I just wonder … what Bible are you reading now?”
“Better yet, what religion have you converted to recently, and why, oh why, didn’t you come to me to talk to me, to pray with me? Why didn’t you confide in me if you were struggling in your faith, if something was deeply bothering you, if you were beginning to doubt? Why didn’t you trust me, your lifelong friend and brother and companion in ministry? Why!”
Sloughheart began his usual acceleration, building up holy fire in his belly, shifting into a higher gear for a fully expected, good ole fashioned, hellfire and brimstone sermon. Except this time it would be far more interesting … far more entertaining, because he was about to blast Grim Brusque. The man had fallen, and now Sloughheart was about to trounce him!
“Now you are cozying up to liberals, to gays and feminists, to socialists, even pagans making a pretense of Christianity. Is that the way you’ve gone, my old friend? Instead of declaring the Word of God and holy judgment upon wickedness, are you now actually asking us to pray for the recovery of evil? Oh my friend, my friend! What new-fangled, warped version of the Bible are you reading from now?”
“Me?” Sloughheart looked squarely into the audience again. “Well, I’m still reading from the one inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, hallelujah!” This drew another chorus of “amens” and “praise the Lords” with a few claps as well. More fuel for Sloughheart’s fire, of course. “It’s the same Bible you used to read and study and preach and teach! It’s the living, vibrant, convicting, unchanging Word of God! It’s holy Scripture!” More enthusiasm from the audience followed as the congregation got revved up.
“And what does this Bible, my Bible say? Well … uh, praise God, my Bible says, ‘On the wicked God will rain coals of fire; fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.’ Psalms chapter 11, verse six, amen?”
“Amen!” came dozens of voices. “Praise God! Bless God!”
“My Bible tells me … uh … that ‘assuredly the evil man,’ and anyone with a lick of sense knows this includes women, but feminists don’t have much sense, praise God?”
“Amen! Praise the Lord!” the audience answered, with quite a bit of laughter, too.
“Yes, ‘the wicked will not go unpunished,’ Proverbs chapter 11, verse 21. What do you think, Grim Brusque? Was the Lord joking? Was he pulling our leg? Or worse, do you think he was lying? Look! Pay attention! God will not be mocked! God will not be mocked! God will not be mocked!” Sloughheart was now fast tracking back and forth across the stage, waving his right arm up and down as the congregation applauded.
“God will not be mocked by a woman wearing a clerical collar and presuming to speak for God … uh … and … uh … twisting what the Lord almighty has clearly spoken in His Word! God will not be mocked by a male want-to-be parading around as an ordained minister, leading muddle-minded people astray, distorting the truth, and promoting indecency, emasculating men, wrecking homes … praise God!” Sloughheart had to catch his breath, but the enthusiastic reaction from the people allowed him ample time.
“Pray for her? Pray for her repentance or destruction, maybe, but for her recovery … and all others like her? I don’t know what your Bible says, Grim Brusque, but my Bible says, ‘Therefore, come out from among their midst and be separate, says the Lord.’ Second Corinthians chapter six, verse 17, praise God! And here the Apostle Paul was simply reechoing what God had already commanded through the Prophet Isaiah, amen?”
“Amen! Preach it, brother! Bless God! Hallelujah!”
“My Bible … uh … says in the Book of Leviticus … uh … to ‘consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy; for I am holy.’ God is holy! God is holy! God is holy! Uh … well, what does that mean, Grim Brusque? God judged the whole world with the flood. God slew the first born males in Egypt. God drowned Pharaoh’s whole army. God punished His own people time and time again for their wickedness. God almighty sits on the throne of judgment, and He does not change … uh … Yes, praise God, He is loving; He is merciful; He is longsuffering, but the Lord is still holy. He is still just. He is still righteous, and He will not tolerate blatant, in-your-face sin and rebellion! It’s not about the patience and love of God; it’s about the justice and holiness of God!”
More applause and enthusiasm came from the congregation, now mostly standing. The show was great tonight. Old Grim Brusque was really getting it; he’d probably eventually come to Ebenezer with his tail tucked to ask his old, lifelong friend for forgiveness. And then everyone would be invited to forgive him and pray with him, and that would be yet another special service.
“To the end of time, my friends; to the end of time!” Sloughheart was still racing back and forth across the stage, flinging both of his hands now. “And we’re living in the end times, but God has not changed, hallelujah! Uh … God still says … uh … the Lord still warns us, as the Babylon of this world totters on the edge of hellfire and eternal destruction, the Lord still speaks and … uh, praise God … still tells us in his Word, ‘Come out of her,’ come out of Babylon, ‘my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities…”
“Amen! Preach it like it is! Bless God! Hallelujah!”
“God has remembered! God has remembered! God has remembered…” Sloughheart was sweating and breathing heavily now, but he felt great. He was in his element. “Yes, hallelujah, God has remembered and He has taken account, and brothers and sisters, this includes Joy Brighterday! I know I may not be popular with the world. I know I may not be winning any points in preaching it like it is, and I may not be invited to serve on any of the secular boards or committees, or any of the so-called Christian charities or whatever. In fact, I expect to be condemned by the world! I expect to be condemned by most in our community! I expect to be vilified, and I have already been vilified in our community! I expect the devil and all his minions to come at me with everything they’ve got, but bless God, I’m no fool! And I’m no compromiser! I’m no Benedict Arnold! I’m no wishy-washy, butt-kissing, shallow-minded, half-baked caricature of the Christian faith! Praise God! I’m a believer, and I know in whom I have believed, and I am persuaded … uh … that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day … uh … that great and terrible Day of Judgment!”
The audience went wild clapping and shouting. Dozens were even jumping up and down.
“Are you so certain, Grim Brusque? Do you still have the assurance in Christ you once had? Oh, that assurance that you’ve had all of your life, old friend? Is it still there in your heart, in your soul? Oh, come back, my brother! Come back to the Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Come back, Grim Brusque, like the Prodigal Son. Come back to the open arms of the Father, our God – not mother, bless Jesus, but Father – yeah, oh, yeah, oh … come back!” Sloughheart wiped his face with his gilded handkerchief before continuing. The soft, low-key music started right on time. “And what about you here tonight? Do you know? Do you have…”
Blue Poorman switched off the radio, crumpled the papers on his desk, and threw them away. He then began again working on his sermon for Sunday morning at St. Giana Church.