The most unique Sunday School class I have ever been fortunate to have been a member was the Men’s Theater Bible Class at First Baptist Church in El Dorado. The path God took me from being a religious agnostic to becoming a co-teacher of that prestigious men’s Bible class was unusual to say the least and at best, not without major internal struggles.
Cathy and I moved to El Dorado in 1971 to begin raising our family and for me to begin my surgical practice. The decision of returning to my home was difficult for me, because I had once made the statement I would “never live in such a small town.” It was difficult for Cathy because she was from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the idea of making our home in a small Southern town was a major cultural shift. Having family there and having a ready surgical referral source in my brother (Bubba), overcame most but not all of our objections.
Shortly after our move we joined the First Baptist Church without ever visiting any other churches. Mom and Bubba and his family were long time members, and it only made sense to have our membership where our family belonged. At that point in our lives Cathy and I were not even faithful church attenders. We seldom attended church during the 4 years we lived in New Orleans, and for the 2 years we were in the U.S. Air Force in Valdosta, Georgia, if we attended church at all it was in a Methodist church. We quickly made new friends at First Baptist, and primarily because we wanted our children to have good spiritual training, we became very regular in attendance. We were members of a young adult couple’s class which was taught very well by our friend Robert Wike, who was in charge of the Physical Therapy Department at Union Medical Center.
In 1975, Robert announced to the church nominating committee that he would only continue teaching that class “if John Moore will agree to co-teach the class with me.” I reluctantly agreed to accept the appointment, because I had no prior experience in teaching, and the class was quite large with some individuals who had more Bible knowledge than I had. There was definitely a long learning curve for me, but I remained faithful in study and preparation, and my teaching skills did slowly improve according to Cathy who was my greatest encourager.
As a result of a number of factors; especially the faithful witness of Bubba and others, Cathy and I attended the Bill Gothard seminar in Dallas in August, 1977 and had a major spiritual change in our lives. We finally understood being born again meant having a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ through repentance and by faith receiving His salvation by grace. We received that gift from Him on August 6, 1977 and everything about us changed. Among other things, the scriptures had a more personal significance, and I had a fresh and greater desire to learn His Word and to become a more effective teacher. We continued in that couple’s class until 1980 when I accepted a new appointment and the challenge to co-teach the Men’s Theater Bible Class.
This class had a long and significant history in the life of First Baptist Church. Started in the 1920’s when El Dorado had a meteoric increase in population due to the discovery of oil, the class reached out to men of all denominations. The class met in the Rialto Theater which had the largest seating capacity of any downtown building apart from the church itself. At its’ peak, the weekly attendance of the class exceeding 300 men and was taught by Judge John Ragsdale, who was an active member and deacon at First Baptist. By the late 1970’s Judge Ragsdale had departed and the class was being taught by Judge Oren Harris, a long time member of the U. S. Congress from the 4th Congressional District of Arkansas and was then serving as a Federal Judge on the bench at El Dorado. The class itself had dwindled to a small handful of men, perhaps 30 or 40.
A group of men from the class approached me in 1980, and asked if I would consider assuming the teaching position of the class. I assumed Judge Harris had decided to relinquish his responsibilities as sole teacher, and he and the class were all in agreement with this change. After consideration and prayer, I told the committee I would accept the position if my friend Bob Watson would agree to co-teach with me. In my surgical practice, I was responsible for weekend ER call once each month and wanted to make certain the teaching was covered in case I got called to the emergency room.
On the Sunday morning we agreed to be presented to the class and receive a vote of affirmation, both Bob and I were present and prior to the class opening while in the foyer of the theater, shook hands with all the members including Judge Harris. When Judge Harris spoke to us, he said, “I understand you two men have been asked to take my place and teach this class next year,” to which we responded, “if the class is in agreement.” I thought his question was unusual since I thought he knew about the committee approaching us. We discovered when the class began Judge Harris was not interested in stepping down as class teacher, and was not in agreement with the actions of the apparent self-appointed committee. After the opening prayer, the Judge stood and said, “I would like a vote of confidence from this class for me to continue as your teacher next year and have all those in favor to stand.” Every man present stood while the men who had approached us remained in the back of the class out of sight of the rest, including the Judge. It was an extremely embarrassing moment for Bob and me and when the class was over, we spoke to Judge Harris and explained our dilemma and why we were even there. He said he understood our situation and made an appointment for us to have lunch the following week and determine if we could reach a mutually agreeable plan. The lunch meeting was set for Wednesday noon. To be continued–