W. J. Ross died in 1910. He is buried in Kentucky. A pretty common story except for his tombstone. Buried in the Rock Spring Cemetery, Ross’ stone reads, “Saved by Jesus, but murdered by the church.” The story behind this is that when Ross died, his father wanted to hold the funeral at the Baptist church they attended. The church was holding a revival at that time and refused to have the funeral held there. Ross’ father was so upset with the church that he put on his son’s stone that infamous inscription, “murdered by the church.”
But, I expect this isn’t the only time someone was murdered by the church. In fact, religious history of Europe during the reformation reveals many that were killed by the church. Being labeled a heretic was a sure sign of instant trouble and often death.
Even in modern times, there have been many murdered by the church. It wasn’t physical death, but it was the death of their faith and their conviction and commitment. I expect most that leave the church disgusted and angry, do so not because of the way the Lord treated them, but by the abuse and neglect from each other.
There are some serious lessons for us here:
First, the way we treat each other has deep implications that can spread through generations. This works both ways, positive and negatively. Have you noticed how many times fellowship and relational principles are found in the letters to the churches in the N.T.? Getting along and getting along well is important. Attitudes, grace, and forgiveness can help smooth the bumps in life and the times we irritate one another. Take cheap shots verbally at each other is nothing more than drive by shooting that leaves our emotions wounded and our faith shaken. You may say something and think nothing about it ever again, the person you said it to may remember those words for next four decades.
Second, some people look for a green light for wrong behavior. They get upset when a group of believers side with the Lord rather than them. We don’t get to do whatever we feel like. We don’t get to pick and choose what commands we will follow. That is not the spirit nor the attitude of a disciple of Jesus. It’s easy to blame the church when it’s us who are to blame. One can say that the church killed them, but the truth is, they killed themselves by the choices that they made. Guilty people and those that support them often get upset with a church when discipline is practiced. All the church is doing is what God told them to. We tend to point our fingers at the wrong group. It’s the guilty that we ought to be upset with. Why won’t you walk in the steps of the Lord? That’s the question to be asked.
Third, I assume the leaders at that Baptist church in 1910 thought preaching in a revival was much more important than stopping things for a funeral. I can just hear someone saying, “Let the dead bury the dead.” There are times when one can think that his needs are greater than your needs. I expect Jarius felt that way. His daughter was dying. As Mark 5 tells the story, it’s a 911 situation. Hurry, for she’s about to die. As Jesus heads that way, the woman with the issue of blood touches Jesus from behind. She’s cured. But that’s not enough. Jesus has to talk with her. A conversation goes on, all the while, life is slipping out of a little girl. How easily Jesus could have told the woman with the issue of blood to wait there and He’d be back in an hour. She had her disease for more than a decade. Waiting one more hour wouldn’t matter. How easily Jesus could have healed the dying girl without even being there. But none of those things took place. This unnamed woman was just as important as the needs of a synagogue official. His name is given to us. His status is given to us. But that doesn’t make him more important than this woman. Sometimes we think everyone ought to stop what they are doing and tend to my needs. I come first. Burying someone or preaching, I’d pick preaching.
Fourth, all the people that were involved in the story of Ross are now dead. Yet, his stone still tells of the anger his family felt. And, that’s what often happens to us. Years after a church split, no one remembers why and the people involved pass away, yet no bridges are built to reconcile and no attempts are made to iron out differences. We can leave scars upon our family and our congregations that will last for a lot longer than we do. Letting things go and a whole lot of grace and forgiveness will do us all well. In our times, no one would know the story of Ross and being “murdered by the church,” had his tombstone not said what it did. Maybe there are some things that you have etched upon the stone of your heart that you need to remove. Someone hurt you. Someone was unkind to you. Someone wasn’t very “Christian” towards you. You can carve that in stone so it will always be there, or you can let it go. Our hurts can be very much like Ross’ tombstone. We keep returning to the grave of those pains and sorrows and we never heal. It’s time to remove the stone and stop visiting that grave. You’ll feel better and you’ll find that forgiveness is a key that unlocks a door. Once you unlock it, you discover that you were the prisoner all along.
Murdered by the church—that sure is a statement that sticks with a person. Let’s do all we can so that people will say that they were helped by the church. Or, they were encouraged by the church. Or, they were made better by the church. Or, they came to know the Lord through the church. Killing folks is not the business of the church.