The Parable of the Fire Alarm
July 18, 2017 (first published March 21, 2011)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
fire alarm
There was once an international conference of Independent Baptists held in a large church. The facilities were impressive. The speakers were skilled. The unity was wonderful. Much good was being accomplished. Everyone was happy and deeply satisfied.

The only problem was that a fire was burning in the basement.

A passerby with some experience with fires smelled the smoke and decided to investigate. He discovered a small but steadily spreading fire. He was even told that this fire had been burning for some time. Disturbed, he looked around to see if any alarm was being raised, but no one seemed concerned. Strangely, some of the speakers mentioned the danger of fire in generalities, but none addressed the particular fire in their own midst.

The passerby decided to pull the alarm.

As the shrill sound pierced the air, the effect was immediate and pronounced, but it was not what the alarmist expected.

A few of the attendees heeded the alarm, looked around and saw for themselves that there was indeed a fire, and being convinced that it would spread, ran out of the building.

The vast majority, though, directed most of their attention to the alarm and the alarmist.

Some criticized the alarmist’s method. They said he should have first talked privately to the building superintendent in case he might have misunderstood the fire. Some were convinced that alarm pulling should only be done by the consensus of building superintendents.

Some criticized the alarmist’s discernment. These observed that there are different opinions among the brethren about fires and who is this stranger to say dogmatically that this is even a real fire?

Some criticized the alarmist’s motives. According to these, the important issue is not whether there was a fire or even whether an alarm needed to be pulled, but whether the alarmist properly loved the conference attendees and its superintendent.

Some criticized the alarmist’s timing. It is only a small fire, they observe, and who is to say whether small fires always become big ones? Some of these believe that alarms should only be raised for “essential” fires, and they are confident that this particular fire is a “non-essential” one.

Some criticized the alarm’s divisiveness. These observed that before the alarm was sounded, there was harmony and peace. Can divisiveness be a good thing, even for the sake of putting out fires?

Some criticized the alarm’s disturbance. Doesn’t the alarm take attention away from other more important things? The superintendent even told a little story about a man who allegedly became so consumed with raising alarms that he didn’t accomplish anything “positive” in life.

Some criticized the alarm’s sound. They said that it was grating on the nerves and should be toned down considerably.

Some criticized the alarm’s persistence. These commented that the alarm just went on and on, and someone should put a stop to it. There was a consensus that fire alarms are necessary at times but they should be short and sweet.

Some compared the stranger alarmist with their own alarmists of repute. “Don’t we have our own alarmists?” they said, “and don’t they give warnings about the danger of fires? Aren’t they just as skilled in fire detection as this man? Why are our own alarmists not seeing what this stranger sees? Obviously, this man is an extremist.” What these do not recognize is that their alarmists of repute typically speak of the danger of fire only in generalities and when they do become specific in identifying fires, they are fires that blaze somewhere else. They almost never warn of the fires that are burning under their very noses, because that would be unacceptable both to the superintendents and to the crowds.

In spite of the fierce criticism aimed at the alarm and the alarmist, the fire could not be totally ignored once attention had been brought to bear in such a public manner. Almost reluctantly, the superintendent and his underlings threw some water on the fire and the conference survived a few more years. What no one seemed to care about was the fact that the fire had only been knocked down in intensity; it was still a smoldering fire and it was still spreading. Everyone seemed to agree that a smoldering fire is nothing like the danger of a raging fire.

One thing is certain. The alarmist was blacklisted, and at each annual conference thereafter some of the speakers were certain to pay backhanded compliments to all such extremists.

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