This document is part of the Festschrift in Honor of Charles Speel, edited by Thomas J. Sienkewicz and James E. Betts and published by Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois in 1997. The Table of Contents for this volume can be accessed here. If you have any questions, you may contact Tom Sienkewicz at email@example.com.
A Return To Decency:
The Role of the Church in Modern Society
Linda Killey Baldwin MC '61
When Charles Speel was my advisor, professor, friend, we took decency for granted. We assumed the world would always remain decent, that the basic caring unit and primary example would be the church. From this basis we thought the world would always be a decent place. We never dreamed that we would live in a time when kindness, gentleness, respect, caring, all qualities Charles instilled in us, would be endangered, that they could actually provoke opposite reactions in people in our valued structures.
To travel back thirty seven years is a wonderful way to return to decency, to remember how we cared for each other in a spontaneous, tender way. Those ways bubbled up from our inner core, consumed and nurtured us through our association with Charles. It turns out they strengthened us and prepared us for the challenges from indecency today. Through Charles' uncommon example, we were encouraged to bloom past our seedling call, to overcome our numbing fears. He nurtured, cared for, was kind and gentle, oftentimes firm when it came to confronting our emerging self. We did not know, though I suspect Charles knew in his spirit, that we with our affirmed self would come to live in a world of crumbling structures, the church included.
If I asked whether he protected and prepared us sufficiently and whether we can face
the reality of the situation and still be a part of the solution, I reply to both
questions in the affirmative. Through his actions and words Charles demonstrated that only
kindness, gentleness, respect, love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness,
self-control--qualities we received inside the structure and at Monmouth College--will
rebuild our world in whatever shape. If Charles had known about our world today when he
was with us yesterday, he would tell us not to lose hope, to believe in those everlasting
qualities of decency. We were privileged to live during those times with Charles.
1). A Return to Decency: A Way to Discover the True Meaning of the Church.
Yes, I believe Charles offered protection and also prepared us to reconstruct the church for today's world. That impetus can be traced back to his uncommon quality of decency ingrained in him by his ancestors and his own belief in the role of the church in our world. One other thing Charles ingrained in us: the Church of Jesus Christ can never be destroyed. The church was so everpresent, everlasting then. Only now that the church we built is being threatened do I understand what Charles meant. There is an invisible structure constituted by the saints who have gone before us, both living and dead. That line can be traced back to before the very beginning of time; and it can be traced back to the beginning of the time Charles first started to think about the significance of the church in his life. He proves, even today, that when we think about the role of the church in our lives we are also conveying the importance of the role to others around us. This is the visible manifestation of the church found in the life and many sacrifices Charles has made that stream through us into the reality of the need for the church in our world.
The qualities Charles gave us from his own understanding of the eternal, loving aspects of Jesus Christ originated from the reality of the existence of the Body of Christ that never dies. That is the comforting, strengthening aspect of Charles' greatest lesson taught to us. So, when we see the church crumbling around us, membership roles declining, funds drying up, the church assuming a fringe position in society, I remember Charles taught us to expect the best response out of this idea of the living, invisible, eternal though visible structure of the Church of Jesus Christ. I ask myself what kind of miracles can we expect from that unbroken line of believers in Jesus Christ? I first heard this question in the decent life of Charles Speel.
In being able to ask such an important question, I am making a difference as I live in an indecent world while remembering a world of decency. It is my belief in the Church of Jesus Christ that sustains me. Yesterday we were children in this belief, not mature, not tested. Today we are being tested, our belief is maturing, not yet mature, our only solution. We see people seeking other ways, avoiding the real answer Charles would speak up and answer if he were our professor today. He would have the courage. His mind would be clear and it would focus on the basic truth of what the church is and has always been. He would tell us that our challenge now is to be able to convey this truth about what the church is to people who do not speak the same language we did. Hard to believe it is hard to speak about and live decency.
The return journey to Monmouth College to the late '50's and early '60's reminded me that the church was a healing place. The church was also Monmouth College and Monmouth College was the church. Charles represented how the church was central in our lives through his own fulfillment in life. He lived what he taught and preached.
For four years, we enjoyed a sweet respite before the storm of today, a respite which I now realize came from the love of Christ in people like Charles, other professors, students, administrators. I could not have identified the source then. Now that I have this world to compare it to, I can be grateful to Charles. Thank you for that sweet rest that provides a reason to persevere in the knowledge that we must continue with the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ at all cost. Without that sweet rest and the connection of today's challenge we could not have accepted the truth that the church is Christ's love that links us to each other, to those who came before, to those who will come after us. The church is still able to provide shelter during dangerous times, yet instills in us, the way Charles did, that we must reach outside that shelter to clasp hands and hearts with other emerging selves.
There are people who never feel safe. They are never out of the line-of-fire. They are
never privileged, as we were, to savor the sweet respite Charles provided for us. He would
tell us to share this joy with others, teach them what decency is, not to keep it to
ourselves. He certainly did not. This is the true meaning of the church we learn in the
life of people like Charles and the people Charles has taught.
2). The Sweet Rest We Thought We Lost is Found in the Church We Will Rebuild.
Did we abandon the church, or did the church abandon us? Our troubles began with the war in Vietnam; the assassinations of three leaders; drugs; abuse; violence; freedom to be ourselves; the end of school prayer. The nature of the church changed. People did not seek shelter or help from the people of the church. Help came from social institutions. God assumed power in name only, indecent acts became commonplace. Sometimes the church ignored some of the indecencies, allowed them to continue. Did the church cease to exist? There were times I thought it had. . . except for the person of Charles, the words he spoke years ago. The Church of Jesus Christ will never die. What does this mean for our world? Can she provide that sweet rest we enjoyed in the middle of the present conflict that seems to be tearing us asunder?
The hope Charles inspired in us gives us courage to ask these questions and more. What happened to all that love we enjoyed during our sweet respite? Is it my imagination or would not Charles again be a source of sweet respite with more positive answers to our questions? It is not too late, I hear him say, to offer yourselves in gratitude to Jesus Christ, grow into the church again. Continue to weave together into the fabric of the Body of Christ, beautiful patterns, strong and sturdy. Be kind, gentle, caring, respectful of each other. Do what others have forgotten to do or refuse to do, do this immediately. Sometimes Charles had more energy than patience, or at least conveyed he wanted you to free yourself from being deadened by the sounds of life around you. Do not be convinced that those structures are really crumbling. Do not be immobilized into thinking there is no solution. Go forward. Plan for the future. Thank God in Jesus Christ that you exist and that you still have time to return to decency. There is always time to be more concerned with our successes than with our failures. Charles is still a positive force in his community and the church. He is still encouraging people to be positive for Christ in the world. He is totally in tune with world events. He recalls names, dates, reasons for events quickly. With his discerning mind, he would remind us that no one has to remain in the line-of-fire very much longer. His belief in God's past, present, and future action would convince us once again that God will act to protect the Church of Jesus Christ. Soon we can walk off the battlefield assured it is God who wins the battle for decency and human worth. With this outcome, the Church survives to protect future generations. The safety zone comes into view, an area which our hope and belief have helped God create in an indecent world. Into it soon, great numbers of people will come to be a part of the Body of believers. Charles taught us that this Body is designed to love others the way Christ loves us. In this way, the church will be the reason we stop being so indecent to one another.
How fortunate for us that this knowledge about the Church was imparted to us, unique in
the realm of all other knowledge I have gained in the secular world. We were at the right
place at the right time. Very few times and places after that would I classify as being so
right and true. I believe it was a miracle Charles was there to promote the growth of our
hearts and minds into the core of this knowledge so that when we needed it the most we
would feel we could rely on that knowledge to rebuild the world and a better,
more invincible, visible church. Oh, yes, Charles would say, the church can be built up
higher, deeper, and broader--through our decent actions toward all people.
3). A Vision of the Rebuilt Church from our Return to Decency During the Time of Charles at Monmouth College.
The Church of Jesus Christ is not crumbling. We cannot hear stones, bricks, or wood siding falling off, see yards cluttered with church ruins. In my vision, I see the church shedding worn out, useless, immature aspects of us. She is freeing us from our collective false pride, bargaining deceits, greedy grasping, unwarranted unkindness, cruelties, abuse, and harsh dealings. The church has become a mirror of our actions and we are seeing ourselves face to face, heart to heart, soul to soul. We are being forced to admit how thoughtless, narrow, shallow, and hopeless we have become. Through the impetus of Jesus Christ, the church is peeling back layers of herself to reveal the true church to unbelieving hearts, tear-stained eyes, pained lives. She is down to the last layer. A new church is being born right before our very eyes. This church is Jesus, is strong, brave, unable to be defeated by indecency.
My return to decency reminded me of the true nature of the Church of Jesus Christ: invincible, invisible, eternal, visible, made up of people from the past, present, future, people like Charles Speel. These people stand firm even through spells of sickness, traumas, and temptations. They remain true to the purpose of the church through dangerous periods like the present. They are strong, brave, gentle, kind good examples for the rest of us who are not sure about the side of the church we cannot see.
Charles is still teaching us how to see that side that reveals itself through decent
actions. This church we viewed up close while we were at Monmouth with Charles' mature
observations guides our way. That church and Charles expect us to carry on the great
tradition. "Do it now," he would urge us.
Six years ago Charles told me to get back to seminary, finish this time, do it now. His words had an urgency about them. His eyes radiated a positive light that ignited my fire again and I returned, finished, have been ordained, and am a minister of two churches in Iowa.
Charles was my advisor, he still is. Proves when we are part of that unbroken line that is the Body of Christ. We are never abandoned. God does not stop trying to get us to use our gifts. In this case, I was running from using mine and Charles called a halt with his "do it now" remedy. Now that I am using my gifts, I feel I have returned to decency and stopped contributing to the growth of indecency. Thank you, Charles, for everything you have given us. Through you we have come to know the nature of the Church of Jesus Christ, the church you were trying to describe in all those church history classes. Thank you, Emma Janis. You have been a wonderful wife, mother, a strong individual, a great woman of God alongside this great man of God.
Speel Festschrift Table of Contents
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