Monthly Archives: October 2013

Opie the Evangelist

“The greatest story ever told” is known by a declining number of people. Numerous studies and surveys document rampant biblical illiteracy across a country that some people still insist is a “Christian nation.” Few can name the four gospels. Not many can list more than a couple of the Ten Commandments. Most have no idea what a Beatitude is. Many people find the story of an all-powerful, all-knowing God who created everything that exists, who loves and calls people to faithful response, who became a baby so that he could live among and interact with the people he loved, who grew up to demonstrate and to teach about his grace, who turned water to wine and fed thousands with just a lunch box of fish and bread, and who was executed but came back to life three days later to offer full, everlasting life to all who believe – many people find that story just too much to believe. People of faith, on the other hand, keep telling others how much God loves them and how their lives can find amazing peace by believing and loving this God they scoff at. The perpetual problem is finding the best way to tell skeptics the fantastic story about God and have them believe.

This is where Opie the evangelist comes in. My very favorite – and I maintain the most theological – episode of The Andy Griffith Show gets at a crucial element for people of faith effectively communicating God’s story to dubious neighbors. “Mr. McBeevee,” the first episode of the third season of the series aired October 1, 1962. The parable has not lost its power and relevance in the 50+ years since its first broadcast.

The episode opens with Opie playing with his make-believe horse, Blackie. Opie “ties up” his horse and comes inside to breakfast with Andy. Shortly Barney arrives, and Opie excitedly tells him about his horse tied up outside. Barney eagerly insists that they do outside to see the horse, since he “has a way” with them. Barney is testy with Andy when he finds that he has gone outside to see a horse that really isn’t there but is just make-believe.

Later that day Opie comes to the courthouse with a marvelous prize. He explains that he has been given a dull hatchet by Mr. McBeevee, a man he met in the woods. Opie explains further that Mr. McBeevee walks around in the tops of trees, wears a big silver hat, jingles when he walks, has 12 extra hands hanging from this belt, and can blow smoke out of his ears. All of the details are things Mr. McBeevee, a utility lineman, did upon meeting 8-year-old Opie. Andy and especially Barney take Mr. McBeevee to be another character made up by Opie. Andy insists that Opie return the hatchet to the place he must have found it so that whoever lost it can come back to get it. Opie reluctantly complies. Mr. McBeevee agrees that Opie’s father probably knows best, and gives the sad, long-faced Opie a quarter for bringing him water from a stream and berries Opie picked in the woods. When Andy worriedly questions where Opie got the quarter they ride out of town to where Opie says he met the man. Mr. McBeevee, however, has gone in his utility truck to another location and is nowhere to be found by Andy and Opie. Andy takes Opie home, where he concludes with Barney and Aunt Bea that Opie is likely to get a whippin’ for persisting with his fantastic story about Mr. McBeevee. The following scene takes place in Opie’s bedroom:

Andy: About this Mr. McBeevee. Maybe you just made him up too. There’s nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is using Mr. McBeevee … to explain things that seem to come from nowhere. Opie, there comes a time when you have to stop the play-acting and tell the truth. And that time is now … right now. Opie, I want you to be man enough to tell me that Mr. McBeevee is just make-believe. That’s all you have to say and it will all be forgotten. All right, just go right out and say it: “Mr. McBeevee is just make-believe.”

Opie: Mr. McBeevee is just…

Andy: go ahead

Opie: I can’t, Pa. Mr. McBeevee isn’t make-believe. He’s real!

Andy: Opie…

Opie: Don’t you believe me, Pa? Don’t you, Pa?

Andy: [After a long pause, then a deep sigh and a low mutter.] I believe.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Barney and Aunt Bea are anxious to know whether Opie has gotten the whippin’. Andy comes in saying that he did not. Barney wants to know what did happen:

Andy: I told him I believed him.

Barney: But Andy! What he told you is impossible!

Andy: Well, a whole lot of times I’ve asked him to believe things that to his mind must have sounded just as impossible.

Barney: But Andy! This silver hat, and the jingling, and the smoke out of the ears… What about all that?

Andy: O, I don’t know, Barn… It’s times like this when you’re asked to believe something that just don’t seem possible; that’s the moment that decides whether you got faith in somebody or not.

Barney: Yeah, but how can you explain it all?

Andy: I can’t.

Barney: But you do believe in Mr. McBeevee?…

Andy: No… no. [Very resolutely] I do believe in Opie.

Andy’s last line is the key. Andy believes in Opie first, whether or not he is yet convinced of the existence of Mr. McBeevee. Similarly, many people may continue to have questions about God’s marvelous story, but often are much more open to our testimony about God if they first know that they can believe us.

Paul assured his protégé in ministry, Timothy, that he could be sure about preaching the gospel of Christ because he was confident of his relationship with Paul and could believe Paul’s story: “You know what I teach, Timothy, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith and how long I have suffered. You know my love and my patient endurance. {11} You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra–but the Lord delivered me from all of it…. {14} But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.” (2 Timothy 3:10-11, 14 NLT) Paul broadened the principle to a whole churchful of people in the city of Philippi: “Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and heard from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9 NLT) The wonderfully amazing story of God’s creation and loving redeeming grace and re-creation through Jesus Christ is more than some people can quite believe. But they might first believe you or me if we prove to be trustworthy in their other dealings with us.

Andy does finally meet Mr. McBeevee when he happens upon his utility truck parked beside a county road. When they meet, Andy vigorously shakes his hand and joyously repeats Opie’s description to Mr. McBeevee: “You walk around in the trees!… Silver hat!… You jingle!… You can make smoke come out of your ears, can’t you?” When someone who has heard about God’s grace from you and comes to a moment of personal encounter with God, will they be able to repeat God’s story because of the veracity of your testimony? Are you an Opie-quality evangelist?

– J. Edward Culpepper

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