Monday, August 28, 2006
One year ago this week my family and I left our little flock at Waverly Hall Baptist Church in the booming metropolis of Waverly Hall (population 700 minus 6), packed up and moved to Athens, GA to become a part of Crossway Fellowship Church where one of my dearest friends - Paul Cooke - is the pastor.
To date I have been in a lawsuit over two years. In July 2004, I and the deacons who so faithfully served Christ alongside me, were sued by half our congregation because we were Calvinists. Four petitions were issued and three church conferences held in order to accomplish one thing: the removal of the gospel and its influences from that local church. In a stunning yet unsurprising rejection of our church bylaws and its clear instructions to follow the principles of Matthew 18 in resolving their offense with the leadership, half the congregation took out a restraining order against the leadership so we would stop attempting to reconcile with them. After attempting reconciliation for six weeks, the only biblical response to give a restraining order is church discipline. And for the first step in this direction we were slapped with a lawsuit.
That's about as simple as it gets. Perhaps its an oversimplification. It probably is. There is much history behind this church with 14 pastors in 40 years. That one statement alone probably tells more history than the stories of all 14 men combined. In a church where the biblical gospel has not been preached either in full or at all, there grew a congregation, most of whom are probably cultural Christians, who do not truly know Christ, do not crave the pure spiritual milk of God's Word, and worse yet have no desire to acquire either.
For them, the local church is a place where their names are recorded in a roll book, etched on a stain glass window, embossed in a hymn book, placarded on the back of a pew, and stamped on the inside of every church library book. They are Roman Catholics in a very Baptistic sense, for they fight to this day, using the non-profit code of law as their guide, to retain their membership in that local church out of some superstitious yet genuine fear of losing something eternal should they lose their membership. In some strange way, they act and believe as if the Lamb's Book of Life is connected to the Waverly Hall Baptist Church Roll Book. But that will not be the roll which is called up yonder.
In our fight for the gospel, my family and I wearied. We wearied quickly. The existing leadership, still in place, were much stronger. They had been there longer, some significantly so, than we. I thought I could stick it out to the end. But it became clear that we simply could not do that. The toll it took on my wife and kids, not to mention the rest of the children in the local church, including the Christian school our church ran, was beyond measure and beyond words.
Thankfully, amid an equally troubling journey which ran parallel to this one, I met my pastor, Paul Cooke. While wading the deep waters of becoming a gospel-centered charismatic, and while attempting to guide a fledgling flock through the legal-infested waters of anti-gospel sentiments and actions, the Lord brought my pastor into my family's life. And our lives have never been the same.
The personal issues that developed amid this lawsuit, as well as the other ones which were there all along and just didn't surface until I went through the lawsuit, were too much to handle alone. Despair set in. Depression hung over me like a constant Seattle rainstorm. I needed a guide to weather it. And weather it we have. Thanks to my dearest brother, Paul.
While reading Richard Baxter tonight on Directions for Handling Despair, I came across this paragraph which stirred my soul afresh with thanksgiving for the man God has given my family to be our pastor. I offer this to Lord as a prayer of gratitude, and I offer it to Paul as a tribute of his faithfulness to love and care for us when no other pastor in the country cared for us as consistently and persistently as did he.
"Understand how necessary a faithful minister of Christ is, in such cases of danger and difficulty, to be a guide to your consciences; and open your case truly to them, and place so much confidence in their judgment of your state as their office, and abilities, and faithfulness do require, and set not up your timorous, darkened, perplexed judgments above theirs, in cases where they are fitter to judge. Such a guide is necessary, both as appointed by Christ who is the author of his office, and in regard of the greatness, and danger, and difficulty of your case. Do you not feel that you are insufficient for yourselves, and that you have need of help? sure a soul that is tempted to despair may easily feel it. You are very proud, or blindly self-conceited, if you do not. And you may easily know that Christ that appointed them their office, as far as reason will allow. And where there is no office, yet ability and faithfulness deserve and require credit of themselves. Why else do you trust physicians and lawyers, and all artificers, in their several professions and arts, as far as they are reputed able and faithful? I know no man is to believed as infallible as God is; but man is to be believed as man; and if you will use and trust your spiritual guide bu so far as you use and trust your physician or lawyer, you will find the great benefit, if you choose aright."
By God's undeserving grace and continuing mercy, we chose aright. Thank you Paul and Darby for continuing to be that right choice for us.