thursday, june 14th, 2007, 10:01 a.m.
Margaret Tilton had hoped Terry Maclin would arrive a few minutes before ten so she would have an opportunity to converse with him; it would be considered an act of courtesy to interrupt her work for his sake though she was the curious one. Did he have children? How old? Did he enjoy living in Canada? Does he miss the States? Yesterday she was impressed with the solid stature, uncommon in this office, in the dark grey suit who would soon be the assistant superintendent, her number two boss. Was he as polished as he seemed? He certainly didn’t lack professional flair. Hmmm. Forty? Forty-two?
She was disappointed Brother Maclin was a minute late, and his attire today surprisingly casual. Brother Johnston came out of his office to greet him with a brotherly embrace.
“Terry! God bless you!”
“And you, Martin!”
“Well, yes, yes! Come in.”
Margaret observed the meeting was becoming rather lengthy, forty-five minutes having passed, and the two had not yet emerged from the office. And then the indicator light on her phone blinked.
“Yes, Brother Johnston.”
“Yes, Brother Grover is in town. He has an 11:15 at the Bible college.”
“Yes, sir. Right away.”
The phone rang a number of times before Mrs. Grover answered.
“Good day, Mrs. Grover. Margaret Tilton.”
“I am well, thank you. Is Brother Grover available?”
“No, I have his cell number. Thank you.”
“Hello, Brother Grover. Margaret Tilton. Brother Johnston requests you to join him here in a meeting with Terry Maclin from Canada.”
“Yes, I told him about your appointment. But it seems he wants you here.”
“Thank you, Brother Grover.” And then, “Brother Johnston, Brother Grover is on his way.”
“Yes, sir, I will cancel your 11 a.m. and your 12.”
Fifteen minutes later, “Good morning, Margaret.”
“Good morning, Brother Grover. Please, just walk in.”
thursday, june 14th, 2007, 4:00 p.m.
“Bryden Falls Community Christian Center, Pastor Phil Ferguson speaking.”
“Mac! How are you?”
“Never better, eh? The meeting went well then?”
“You got to see both the super and his assistant. Great! I’ve been praying for you. Where are you phoning from?”
“So you will soon be boarding? Sounds like you will be in River’s Bend in two hours and home in less than four.”
“No problem. I’ll start phoning right away.”
“Got it. Friday evening 7:00 p.m.”
“Got it. It’s important everyone is there.”
“Got it. You are bringing two guests for the meeting. I’ll pass on that information.”
“Sure I can meet with you tomorrow, Mac. I am free at noon. How about lunch?”
“Great! Can you pick me up?”
“Great! Look forward to seeing you.”
“Yes, I’ve been managing. Lots of calls, people wanting to know if Tanner will be speaking on Sunday. I assured them he will not. I was surprised some were disappointed.”
“Okay then, I’ll see you tomorrow noon if not sooner. Have a safe trip.”
“Love you, too, Mac.”
And then, “Mrs. Williamson. Pastor Phil.”
“Oh, just great, thank you. It’s been a bit hectic, but Pastor Mac and Vivian will be back at work next week. Say, is Donald home?”
“Donald. Pastor Phil. Pastor Mac asked me to relay a message to the elders. He is hoping you can be all be at the Center Friday at 7:00 p.m.”
“Any chance of you canceling? He says it’s important you all be there.”
“I understand. He said if anyone can’t be there he will personally phone when he gets in.”
“Yes, sounds real important. He says he invited two guests to be there.”
“No, I didn’t ask, actually. He was meeting with both the superintendent and his assistant.”
“Well, that might be a fair assumption. Who else could it be? He says it is a most important meeting.”
“Oh, you think you can cancel? Great, Donald! See you Friday at seven.” And then, “Hello, Mrs. Edwards. Pastor Phil.”
“Oh, just great, thank you. It’s been a bit hectic, but Pastor Mac and Vivian will be back at work next week. Say is Shaun home?”
friday, june 15th, 2007, 6:55 p.m.
The elders assembled in the boardroom could hear the muffled voices of Mac and the two guests behind the closed folding door separating the boardroom from Mac’s office. Anticipating Superintendent Johnston and Assistant Superintendent Grover, the elders were more animated than usual, fidgety, a bit giddy. Two chairs had been placed at the far end of the table, a spot reserved for special guests. Donald Williamson was pumped for the occasion; he had been determined to block Tanner from the pulpit, and was enjoying his victory. David Tomas and Sheldon Waters were bracing themselves so as not to be unduly influenced by the dignitaries, but both felt themselves caving even before their entry. Nelson Chesney and Brent Anderson had the butterflies, and hoped they wouldn’t embarrass themselves by saying something stupid, or by saying something intelligent stupidly. Sheldon Waters, usually controlled, fiddled with his pen, cleaned his glasses, adjusted his watch. And then the folding doors were flung open to reveal the guests.
Reuben Tanner and Tony Borric.
“Gentlemen, I trust everybody knows everybody,” Mac said matter-of-factly while escorting his two guests to the end of the table. After pausing a full minute to allow everyone to regain equilibrium, he continued. “I want to thank everybody for coming on such short notice. I especially want to thank my guests, Reuben and Tony, for honoring us with their presence. They will be here for a short time only.” He handed a piece of paper to Sheldon listing the order of business and asked him to chair, as usual.
Sheldon Waters: Be happy to, Pastor. Nelson, please open in prayer.
Nelson Chesney: Father, we ask that You preside over this meeting. Your will be done. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Sheldon Waters: I want to welcome our guests, our surprise guests, this evening.
Most: Yes. Welcome.
Sheldon Waters: We have extensively discussed Reuben Tanner. He is here now to answer any questions we might have. Anyone?
Donald Williamson: Tanner, I’ve been watching most baseball games for several years now and you were always behind the plate. On the most important game of the year, any year, you were conspicuously absent. It seems so obvious this was done to spite the baseball team and the entire congregation.
Brent Anderson: We would certainly have won the game if you were there, Reuben. The congregation has always faithfully supported the Challengers, and was hoping for a playoff spot after all these years. It seems you put your interests and your feelings before everybody else.
Reuben Tanner: I can only say I had urgent business to attend to.
Donald Williamson: Yes, I heard about the “pressing matter.” Odd that a pressing matter never stopped you before.
Terry Maclin: Brothers, a little while ago I shared your sentiments, and I was probably the one angriest with Roo. But now I can verify from firsthand information Reuben did, in fact, have a crucial matter to attend to.
Donald Williamson: Tanner, since you appealed to us to overthrow Pastor Mac’s decision to refuse you the pulpit, we have been disrupted as never before. One elder even shirked his responsibility by quitting before his term was up. And as a direct result of your dissertation to the congregation, the church is split in two. Tell me Tanner, why are you here? If you come to ask our forgiveness I, for one, will forgive and forget.
David Tomas: Tony, Mr. Williamson does not speak for all of us. Notice no one has opened the Bible since you closed it.
Sheldon Waters: I think we owe an explanation to Reuben. Tony resigned because he felt we were choosing the policies of our denomination over the Bible. Before leaving, he shut the Bible, obviously because he felt we were making a mockery by leaving it open, an open Bible indicating that we honor and obey it. Have I got that right, Tony?
Tony Borric: You speak correctly.
Reuben Tanner: May I respond to Donald’s question?
Sheldon Waters: Certainly.
Reuben Tanner: I felt the Lord wanted me to speak to the congregation. I was surprised and disturbed at the widespread reaction. Mac gave me a book to read, a book that suggested I might have been mistaken. At this moment I am confused. Perhaps I made a serious mistake.
Donald Williamson: Perhaps?! Perhaps?! Just look around you, man! People are confused, shaken!
Nelson Chesney: Reuben, our very witness to the community is threatened! What happens to our reputation when the news gets out? Since your message to our people, we are falling apart internally.
Tony Borric: May I speak on Reuben’s behalf?
Sheldon Waters: Certainly.
Tony Borric: Since my resignation, and since Reuben’s message, I have diligently sought the Lord on behalf of the congregation. I believe the Lord has revealed to me that Bryden Falls Community Christian Center is not as spiritually healthy as we seem to think, and He wants to bring renewal. I believe He has spoken to us through Reuben Tanner.
Donald Williamson: Tony, that’s preposterous!
Shaun Edwards: Let the man speak!
Tony Borric: Tell me, Donald, who do you think caused the split in our church?
Donald Williamson: That’s obvious! Tanner!
Tony Borric: I disagree.
Donald Williamson: Well, who then?
Tony Borric: The Holy Spirit.
Nelson Chesney: Tony, that’s insane! The Holy Spirit doesn’t divide, He unites!
Tony Borric: Does He? Shaun?
Shaun Edwards: I believe Tony is right. Whenever Jesus spoke, it seems, He brought division. And Jesus was, while on earth, dependent on the Holy Spirit for direction.
David Tomas: Has there ever been a visitation of the Holy Spirit that did not bring division? History indicates revival always causes division.
Shaun Edwards: Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”
Donald Williamson: I utterly reject such nonsense! We can look at the Trinity and see God is a God of perfect unity!
Shaun Edwards: The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are united in truth. It seems to me when we chose, as a board, to accept denominational policy over the Bible, we turned our back on truth, and went another direction.
Donald Williamson: It’s not another direction! We have always gone this way!
Tony Borric: I believe the Holy Spirit wants to change that. He wants His people aligned with truth. An assembly not built upon the truths of the Bible can never be spiritually healthy.
David Tomas: I have something to say to Reuben Tanner.
Sheldon Waters: Speak.
David Tomas: Thank you, Reuben! It took real guts to do what you did.
Shaun Edwards: Yes, Reuben, thank you!
Brent Anderson: Man, am I confused!
Donald Williamson: Well, Brent, some here would say you are supposed to blame the Holy Spirit for that!
Brent Anderson: Reuben, I understand some of our congregation were considering attending your Wednesday gathering at your residence. Tell me, did that happen?
Reuben Tanner: Eight people from the Center attended last Wednesday.
Brent Anderson: Eight people! Did you discourage them from attending in the future?
Reuben Tanner: I did not.
Brent Anderson: Would you consider relocating your Wednesday gathering to the Center, and bring it under the authority of the Center?
Reuben Tanner: No.
Donald Williamson: How do you feel about that Tanner? – Pastor Mac trusted you with the pulpit and you steal some of his sheep. Frankly, you don’t seem to be a man who can be trusted.
Shaun Edwards: Let’s assess the matter. Reuben obviously feels the Center is not doing well spiritually. Could we really expect him to bring his group under our authority?
David Tomas: I think it would be fair to ask, what spiritual authority do we think we have?
Brent Anderson: We are under the authority of the denomination.
David Tomas: And whose authority are they under?
Brent Anderson: God’s authority!
David Tomas: Isn’t God’s authority His Word, the Bible we have decided to abandon? Could it be that God speaks a different word to headquarters?
Sheldon Waters: I think we better hear from Shaun.
Shaun Edwards: David is right. If we believe God’s Word is His authority, then we must conclude that only those who speak God’s Word are speaking authoritatively.
Donald Williamson: Nonsense! We are all to be under someone’s authority! The Israelites were under Moses’ authority! The early church was under the authority of Christ’s apostles! Down through the ages there has always been an order of authority!
Shaun Edwards: My response to you, Donald, is that no one has authority to alter or add to God’s Word. The authority of Moses, the authority of the apostles, the authority of church leaders throughout the history of the church was limited to speaking the Word. If they spoke another Word, God would not have his people obey.
Sheldon Waters: While all this is most interesting, I think we should move on to the next order of business. Pastor Mac?
Terry Maclin: My brothers I have a request to make. I made a mistake, another mistake, and now I need your help.
Sheldon Waters: We are listening, Pastor.
Terry Maclin: We had a good chance to win the game against the Pirates Sunday. We needed one run to tie, two to win, going into the ninth. We were facing the weakest links in their batting line-up; they would be facing our strongest. They took advantage of a technicality and the game was theirs, this they did even though they were well aware we didn’t have to play them. Had we not canceled our Sunday service we would have automatically made the playoffs. It seemed so unfair. And then I remembered I did the same thing.
Sheldon Waters: The same thing, Pastor? What do you mean?
Terry Maclin: I gave Reuben my word he could speak two successive Sundays. I let him make the decision to cancel the service or not cancel. Reuben did the honorable thing, and gave the Pirates a fair chance. I seized the opportunity to get out of the commitment I made to Reuben. I should have offered him the pulpit the following Sunday, this coming Sunday, though on a technicality I was not obliged. He did what was right and honorable; I did not.
Donald Williamson: Pastor, surely you are not asking us to give the pulpit to Tanner again!
Terry Maclin: Donald, that is exactly what I am requesting. I listened to Roo’s tape a second time. He did not, in my opinion, say anything scripturally unsound. As a matter of fact, his preaching reminds me of my own preaching many years ago.
Sheldon Waters: This is the second time we have been shocked in the past few minutes. Brent and Nelson, let’s hear from you.
Brent Anderson: I am surprised and more than a little upset by the request. I must say, however, I thought the Pirates played dirty ball on Sunday. If we deny Reuben the pulpit because he did what was honorable, we would also be playing dirty ball.
Nelson Chesney: I really want to say no to the request, but I cannot in good conscience. We gave Pastor Mac our word we would support him in whatever decision he made; we are still obligated to keep our word.
Sheldon Waters: Shaun? David? Donald? What’s your judgment?
Shaun Edwards: I look forward to hearing my brother Reuben Tanner on Sunday morning.
David Tomas: Ditto. I want to hear how we can draw closer to Jesus Christ.
Donald Williamson: I think everyone knows my position.
Sheldon Waters: Like Nelson, I hate to say yes, but cannot say no. Well, Pastor, it’s not quite unanimous but you have our support.
Terry Maclin: Thank you, brothers. Reuben, would you please preach the second half of your message on Sunday?
Reuben Tanner: I will.
Terry Maclin: I encourage you to freely share your insights. Don’t hold back.
Reuben Tanner: I hear you.
Terry Maclin: And Reuben, would you accept my sincere apologies?
Reuben Tanner: You know the answer, Mac.
Donald Williamson: It’s Pastor Mac, Tanner!
Sheldon Waters: Now it says here, Pastor Mac has two announcements to make. Go ahead, Pastor.
Terry Maclin: Thank you. On Thursday morning, at 4:05 to be exact, I recommitted my life to Christ.
Reuben Tanner: Mac! That’s wonderful!
Sheldon Waters: I’m amazed! Go on, Pastor.
Terry Maclin: By a series of events I came to realize I was backslidden. I had departed from Jesus Christ. No, not entirely, but I was far from where I once was, relationally speaking. It was hard for me to see it, being the proud spiritual leader.
Nelson Chesney: What? You, Pastor Mac?!
Donald Williamson: In all due respect, Pastor, couldn’t you rephrase that? Perhaps backslidden is an overstatement.
Brent Anderson: Surely you are not serious, Pastor Mac! I have always looked up to you as my mentor!
Terry Maclin: I am serious, Brent. In part, I blame the pulpit for that. I was negatively affected by the constant attention and admiration from the congregation. I got puffed up, so slowly as to be imperceptible. I began to believe I was someone above the ordinary.
Brent Anderson: But Pastor, you are above the ordinary! That’s why you are the pastor!
Terry Maclin: Brent, if you were behind the pulpit as much as I have been, you too would be looked upon as someone special. The pulpit does that. At the conference I warned other ministers of what I term Pulpit Power, the power of the pulpit for good and for harm, but could not see I myself had been ill affected.
Brent Anderson: Are you saying the pulpit is harmful to every minister?
Terry Maclin: I wouldn’t say every, but certainly most. Brent, try to picture yourself being listened to by a large group of impressionable people Sunday after Sunday, year after year. Add to that someone calling you Pastor Brent a number of times throughout the day. Don’t you think it might go to your head? Would you not begin to see yourself as someone more spiritual, more special, more gifted with wisdom than the rest?
Brent Anderson: I see your point, Pastor.
Sheldon Waters: Thank you for your insights, Pastor Mac. You said you have a second announcement?
Terry Maclin: I do. I wish to inform the board I resign as pastor of Bryden Falls Community Christian Center, effective immediately.
Everyone: No! No, Pastor Mac! But why?
Terry Maclin: Hear me, brothers. When I recommitted my life to Christ yesterday, I also committed myself to obedience to the Bible. I pledged obedience to His Word as the Holy Spirit reveals truths of the Bible to me. I even signed the last page of the Bible as a declaration to the Father, His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I think we have already agreed many denominational practices are not biblical. Actually, I have come to realize most of the ways we do things are contrary to Scripture. I cannot be the pastor of this church, any church I know of, and keep my commitment to the Bible. I therefore must resign.
Nelson Chesney: But pastor, the Center needs you! I need you!
Terry Maclin: Believe me Nelson, you don’t need me.
David Tomas: You cannot blame yourself for the spiritual condition of the church. We are each free moral agents.
Terry Maclin: Yes, David, we are free moral agents, and everyone is responsible for his/her spiritual condition. Nonetheless, I was your chief influence. You see, not only did I not prevent the people from turning lukewarm towards Christ, I led them into lukewarmness.
David Tomas: I don’t understand.
Terry Maclin: Think back a few weeks ago when the board was challenging denominational practices. You were actually turning to the Bible for guidance before I gave a subtle threat. I can still remember my words, “I am a licensed and ordained minister of our denomination, and as such have agreed to abide by denominational bylaws and policies. I am committed to head office and the standard they have set.” Does everyone remember that?
Everyone: Yes. Yes, I remember.
Terry Maclin: In fact I was saying either we go the way we have always gone or risk losing me. Not long after speaking those words, everybody changed their tune. Brent, you said, “The Center without Pastor Mac is unthinkable!” And everyone agreed. I steered you away from the Bible! And when I steered you away from the Bible, I steered you, to a degree, away from Christ!
Shaun Edwards: Don’t be so hard on yourself, Pastor Mac. That was one time.
Terry Maclin: No, it was a pattern. I asked the Lord to show me how I went astray, and He did. I was a different person years ago. I was on fire for Christ. Doesn’t anyone remember?
Shaun Edwards: I remember, Pastor. So was I.
Sheldon Waters: I remember. I guess I thought it was just natural to lose enthusiasm as one matured. I certainly have.
Terry Maclin: Jesus taught one cannot serve two masters, but I certainly tried. I started off serving Christ and ended up serving our denomination. Slowly, imperceptibly, my loyalty began to shift from Jesus to headquarters. When I noticed a conflict between the Bible and policy, I chose policy. Soon, choosing policy over the Word became instinctive.
David Tomas: I think an example would help clarify. Can you think of an example?
Terry Maclin: I can think of several, but will give just one. When I was a young Christian I could not consolidate the concept of being led by the Holy Spirit and the concept of tithing. I did a thorough study of the New Testament and could not find one example of a Christian tithing or being instructed to tithe. Giving, yes. Generosity, certainly. Tithing, definitely not. Even though we were taught in Bible school tithing is a requirement, I hung on to my conviction though careful not to express it. When I became a pastor I had a choice to make. Do I stick to my conviction or go with accepted custom? Understand if I made a stand against tithing I would have no career as a pastor in our denomination. And so I simply had the basket passed to collect tithes and offerings. I didn’t actually preach tithing, not at first, but implied it was expected. When we started building our church we needed more funds; it was at that time I completely forsook my conviction and began preaching tithing. As odd as it may sound, I actually came to believe, in time, God wants his people to give ten percent to the local assembly, such was my confidence in the wisdom of my superiors which had come to surpass my confidence in the Bible. And, as you know, I have regularly coerced the congregation to tithe.
Nelson Chesney: Pastor, my hands are sweating and my heart is racing from all these setbacks. I must say, I am surprised a licensed pastor would compromise his principles like that.
David Tomas: Nelson, the pastor is saying he couldn’t be a licensed minister if he were not willing to compromise. I would like to confess the same sin. You see, I don’t believe in tithing either. I never have. And yet if I didn’t tithe I could never serve at the Center in any meaningful capacity. I would not be on this board, and neither would any of us.
Shaun Edwards: Thank you, David. Now it’s my turn. I have always known there is no example of giving a title to a man, and yet I have always called Pastor Mac Pastor. I cowered to peer pressure.
Terry Maclin: Shaun, if you did not call me Pastor, I am ashamed to say, you would not be on this board. I would have considered you to be rebellious, a bad example to others. You would not be the Sunday school superintendent, not even a teacher. You would not have been given any responsibility whatsoever. I would have made you feel like a second rate adherent. Either you would have capitulated, or you would be pressured to look for another church. There is only one man who refused to bow to my unspoken demand to be called Pastor.
Sheldon Waters: May I ask who that one person is?
Terry Maclin: Reuben Tanner. I am ashamed to say I never gave Reuben an opportunity to serve in a meaningful way though I have always recognized a spiritual stability. For fifteen years he has been an usher. I never even asked him to be head usher, but always appointed someone less worthy, usually someone younger. But Roo served faithfully, never complaining once in fifteen years. Nor could I sense any bitterness. And during those years he and his wife have been praying for my best friend.
Sheldon Waters: Would that be the one everybody calls Tree?
Terry Maclin: Years ago I gave a picture of Tree and his wife, Sally to a few people in the congregation. I used to do that.
Sheldon Waters: I remember, Pastor. You gave their wedding picture to my wife and I. We prayed for two or three months.
Terry Maclin: Reuben and Jeni prayed faithfully for fifteen ……
Sheldon Waters: Go easy, Pastor. Here are some tissues.
Tony Borric: A few of us could use some tissues down this end of the table.
Terry Maclin: Forgive me, gentlemen. I think I’ve regained my composure.
Sheldon Waters: We are all attentive, Pastor. Take your time.
Terry Maclin: The Tanners have been much more faithful to someone they didn’t know than I was to my best friend. And their prayers were answered, at least in part. Tree became a Christian early Monday morning. While we were playing baseball Reuben and Jeni were looking for Tree and Sally and their children. Tree had just said final good-byes to his family, but Roo and his wife rounded them all up and brought them home to their ranch. They will be staying with the Tanners one full year. I believe in that time God will restore the family.
Most: Praise the Lord!
Terry Maclin: I was making the point that I steered the congregation away from the Word and into submission to man’s traditions. You see, the only way I could become successful as a minister was to please my superiors. To please my superiors I had to bring everyone into submission to policies and customs they deemed to be sacred. There was nothing intentionally sinister to this; we were all the blind leading the blind.
Donald Williamson: I must say, to call our spiritual leaders blind is a bit harsh, Pastor Mac!
Terry Maclin: I hope you can see I am not pointing the finger of blame at anyone, but rather everyone. We are all to blame, even those in the congregation. They each allowed themselves to be led away from dependence of the Bible. Nonetheless, leadership must also take ownership for their own words and actions. I have repented for my betrayal to Christ. I am deeply sorry for leading the congregation away from the Lord Jesus. Please understand when I led people away from the Bible I was leading them, relationally, away from Christ. I apologize to every man here for the harm I have done by my compromising.
Sheldon Waters: I think we have to compromise our individual beliefs if we hope to fit into any evangelical church. Would you agree, Pastor?
Terry Maclin: Unfortunately that is true. I am certain there was not one minister at the conference who did not preach tithing and collect tithes, but surely at least some disagree with the supposition a New Covenant person is obligated to tithe. I say this to make the point everyone must compromise if he hopes to serve in a significant manner in evangelicalism.
Donald Williamson: Surely, Pastor Mac, you are not accusing every minister of every denomination of compromising their convictions!
Terry Maclin: That might be going too far, Donald. Some do it in ignorance. Perhaps many, even most, are guilty of presumption. I can’t say. But the ugly truth is if a licensed minister made a stand for a conviction contrary to accepted policy, he would not have much of a future in his denomination.
Donald Williamson: How could one expect otherwise? If everyone were allowed to express his own opinions every congregation would be at risk.
Terry Maclin: You have a point. But on most issues there should be room for differences of opinion.
David Tomas: Give us an example, Mac.
Donald Williamson: Pastor Mac, Tomas!
David Tomas: No longer, Mr. Williamson! As you know, pastor means shepherd. I have one pastor, Pastor Jesus!
Terry Maclin: An excellent example is, again, tithing. Why can’t people be allowed to evaluate Scripture for themselves to decide if they should or should not tithe?
Donald Williamson: We would lose our unity!
Terry Maclin: How many times I have preached unity. Brothers, unity should not be our god. God should be our God. Should everyone be expected to lay aside his or her convictions to keep unity? Let me ask, how many in this room honestly believe tithing is not a New Covenant requirement? Including mine, I count four. Now how many firmly believe tithing is a requirement? Three. And undecided? Two. You see, if we are representative of our congregation it indicates many in our congregation are coerced to go against their conscience. Shaun, I defer to you. Is there one biblical precedent for compromising one’s convictions to maintain unity?
Shaun Edwards: None that I can think of. Actually, the Lord often requires us to take a stand against custom.
Terry Maclin: I want to say again, I had exchanged the lordship of Christ for the lordship of man, and compelled my congregation to do the same. I was blind to the fact we were a backslidden people. God had to send an usher to open our eyes.
Brent Anderson: Perhaps you are being too hard on yourself.
Terry Maclin: Brent, my precious brother, it gets worse. As the Holy Spirit was showing me my spiritual condition, through Reuben, my daughter, material I have read, and my own conscience, what kept me from hearing the obvious truth was my need for a paycheck!
Brent Anderson: Pastor Mac!
Terry Maclin: I relied on my paycheck to maintain house and home the same as most people in this room.
Donald Williamson: Well, who doesn’t need a paycheck?
Terry Maclin: Exactly. And who doesn’t do whatever is necessary to protect his paycheck? Ministers are no different. They, too, live paycheck to paycheck.
David Tomas: Mac, I feel terrible about the way I betrayed the Lord Jesus. Instead of taking a stand for righteousness, I cowered under peer pressure. How would you have treated me if I refused to compromise?
Terry Maclin: David, I love you, and I will be forthright.
David Tomas: Please do.
Terry Maclin: There are tricks of the trade in every profession, including mine. There are ways of bringing people to submission.
Donald Williamson: Perhaps this is going too far. Let’s get on to relevant business.
David Tomas: This is relevant business.
Shaun Edwards: I, too, want to hear. Please, Mac, carry on.
Terry Maclin: First, you must understand how important it is to gain the pastor’s approval. Church life is dreadful without it. And his recommendation is required if one wants to be involved in ministry outside the church or another church if one decides to switch. Add to this people’s fear of rejection. What can be worse than being rejected by the one everyone considers to be God’s spokesman? You can see the advantage every pastor has.
Shaun Edwards: Leverage.
Terry Maclin: Yes, leverage.
David Tomas: But how would you actually have pressured me to conform?
Terry Maclin: A rubbery handshake. Ignoring, even shunning. A look of disapproval, or even a questioning look. Retaining enthusiasm while showering others with enthusiasm. I think you get the picture.
David Tomas: I do.
Terry Maclin: Some ministers would not hesitate to use the pulpit to cull undesirables.
Nelson Chesney: Undesirables?
Terry Maclin: That is a word I privately used to describe someone who is exceptionally proud and arrogant, or someone who voices unacceptable doctrines, a person who is a hazard to the spiritual life of the congregation. But it could also be someone who doesn’t believe in tithing, or refuses to call the pastor, Pastor. Or someone who speaks against the ministerial/layman concept. Or a number of other legitimate concerns.
Nelson Chesney: Very disturbing. All these methods are used to maintain unity?
Terry Maclin: Used effectively. Have you not noticed everyone, in all evangelical churches, calls the pastor, even the assistant, Pastor? Everyone is coerced, subtly or otherwise, to obey unwritten codes. Keep in mind unwritten rules are unwritten because they have no biblical precedent.
Sheldon Waters: Speaking of assistant pastor, where is Pastor Phil? Couldn’t he make it tonight?
Terry Maclin: Phil Ferguson has resigned.
Others: Resigned? Why? What is he going to do? Our church is falling apart!
Terry Maclin: Phil and I met over lunch today, and I gave him all details. I relayed a message from Martin Johnston a new position, full time, would be awaiting him if he so chose. He decided to accept the offer.
Shaun Edwards: Was there hard feelings?
Terry Maclin: Not at all. He suggested I apply for his job as salesman. Brent, I will be in to see you.
Brent Anderson: You’re hired. A man of your renown will attract business. You can work part-time or full time.
Terry Maclin: For now, part-time. I have much adjusting to do, spiritually. I want to spend most of my days pursuing Christ and feeding on the Word. I need a break.
Brent Anderson: I will personally show you the ropes. You will be a successful salesman in a month.
Nelson Chesney: Pastor Mac, I need a break! My head is spinning. We lost our pastor and our assistant pastor. Could we stop for coffee?
Terry Maclin: Before deferring to Sheldon, I would first like to publicly apologize to Tony. Tony, I am sorry. You were standing on principle by resigning. I should have supported you. Please forgive me.
Tony Borric: Done!
Terry Maclin: I want to thank both Tony and Reuben for coming on such short notice. You are welcome to join us for coffee.
Most: Yes. Amen.
Terry Maclin: Sheldon?
Sheldon Waters: A break would be in order, but we better make it a short one. We have much more business to discuss, right Pastor Mac?
Terry Maclin: Yes, much more.
friday, june 15th, 2007, 8:45 p.m.
Heavy the hearts that reconvened, caffeine having done little to solace the bewildered elders. Their leader was resigning, going another direction. The Center would never be the same for it was uniquely chiseled from the gritty character of a capable and determined leader. Mac was always there, like the morning paper on the front steps, always there. But now change had come uninvited, sameness no longer in command, uncertainty would reign for some time.
It would have been less painful if Mac were moving to another church or elevated to head office. Such was orderly. But no, he was saying good-bye to a life considered by most to be right and good in search of another. Would the board follow their leader onto a strange path?
Mac went over, chronologically, all the events since the day Reuben Tanner said, “I believe I have a message for the congregation. I request to have access to the pulpit,” to the meeting he had with Martin Johnston and Frank Grover yesterday. Though most of the events were familiar to the board, the sequential report did much to bring clarity to the issues at hand. Mac explained to the six the future of Bryden Falls Community Christian Center was in their hands. Not he, not the superintendent, not district elders, not the congregation would be the decision-maker; they were the final authority. What they say goes.
Mac explained their two options.
One, they could go the way they have always gone, follow old patterns, remain under the spiritual umbrella of the denomination. Martin Johnston would provide necessary personnel to regain stability. His nephew, Peter Johnston, would be sent as an interim pastor for one year. The super had assured Mac his nephew is experienced and competent, most congregations would consider themselves privileged to have him. It is quite possible he would accept a permanent position of senior pastor if invited.
The second option is to forge a new way of gathering in the name of Jesus Christ, a manner more connected to New Testament saints. No salaried pastors. No titles. No tithing. No clergy-layman division. No denominational hierarchy. The Bible is authoritative. Elders oversee, but do not dominate. The pulpit is under the headship of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is exalted and recognized as supreme authority. Should they decide this direction they would be forever separated from denominational headquarters. Such a decision would surely be greeted with suspicion and scorn from other evangelical churches. Mac would stay with them, as a fellow elder, until they were stabilized. Bringing Reuben and Tony on board would be a real asset.
Donald Williamson was appalled with the second option. David Tomas and Shaun Edwards were keen. Nelson Chesney and Brent Anderson were terrified. Sheldon Waters was undecided.
Williamson argued that the board was duty-bound to make the decision the congregation would want them make, for it was the people they served; undoubtedly church majority would opt for the status quo. But David Tomas and a few others were not so sure; perhaps it was God alone they should serve, and their responsibility was simply to do right, whatever right might be. All agreed that a tie vote would be a vote to remain fixed to the denomination.
Mac made sure they realized whatever choice they made – to remain or depart – the Center would never be the same. Already, he reported, several families were looking for another church. He warned them to brace for an exodus of many more after the announcement of his resignation, perhaps as many as a third or even more; Mac stated what they already knew – the people were attached to the Center because he and his family were the hub of the Center.
After much discussion it was decided the six board members would meet one week from tonight to make the all-important decision. Donald Williamson insisted the superintendent and his assistant be invited to meet with the board before Friday’s meeting to get their perspective on the matter. When Donald said he would contact Johnston personally his eyes met Mac’s and quickly darted away. Mac had identified his betrayer. Yet Mac’s love for frosty old Donald decreased not the slightest.
It was decided Mac would come for their decision Saturday morning, the day after their meeting. He requested the board signify its decision by the Bible in the middle of the long table; closed signified the old way, open signified a new.
Mac asked for, and obtained, permission to address the congregation on Sunday morning before Reuben’s oration. He would announce his resignation as pastor, and explain briefly the decision the board would be making on their behalf, and invite them to voice their opinions and concerns to the elders before Friday’s meeting. When asked if he would encourage the people to be loyal to the church and support it through this time of turmoil, he replied he could not in good conscience advocate loyalty to any system not in accord to New Testament writings. However, he assured them he would not so much as hint they leave. Where could they go?
It was past eleven when they said the closing prayer.
saturday, june 16th, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
Mac was leading his Palomino by the reins, Tree an Appaloosa, as they headed back towards the Tanner residence. It had been a good afternoon for the two ex-marines, now brothers in Christ, wandering the hills, exchanging verbal jabs, rehashing old times. But now it was time for serious conversation, elder brother to younger.
“You seem to be content here, Tree.”
“A better word would be happy. I’ve never been happy before, Mac, at least not since I was a kid.”
“You’re going to be here for a year?”
“Yep. Twelve months. Me and my family. I am praying Jesus will fix us. Maybe Sally and I will remarry and we can be a family again. We haven’t talked about that, but I’m hoping.”
“And praying. I’m sure all the Tanners are praying too.”
“Tell me, pal, don’t you think I should be going to church or something. Isn’t that what real Christians do?”
“What do you think a real Christian is?”
“Well, someone who goes to church.”
“You are a real Christian. I can see the change in you.”
“I have changed. I’m not afraid anymore.”
“Tree, you have everything you need right here. I envy you. I would gladly trade places. You don’t need to go to church.”
“But Mac, how can you say that? Christians go to church; even I know that.”
“Not all. The apostles did not attend church, at least not anything that looks like our churches.”
“Well, what did they do?”
“They met in homes mostly. Tree, listen to your elder brother in the Lord.”
“I’m listening, man.”
“Everything you need is here. You will never have an opportunity like this again. Try to see this as a gift from Jesus. He is providing you with a respite from all distractions and cares and addictions. This is an opportunity to let your roots go deep in Christ. He wants you to draw close to Him.”
“But I already love Jesus! Now I want to serve Him, but I don’t know how. There’s a lot of work to be done here, more sheds to build, and corrals, and horses to look after, and there’s a huge garden, and …”
“Whoa, little brother! Listen to Mac! Most Christians start out just where you are, full of passion for Christ, but usually all that passion is gone in a few years.”
“That’s my story. But now I am back on track with Christ, never to leave Him again.”
“But Mac, I don’t understand how Christians can lose their – what did you call it? – passion. I mean, I got it, and I’m just a baby Christian!”
“Listen to your bud, will you?”
“I’m listening, man.”
“Why didn’t you become a Christian twenty years ago when I first told you about Christ?”
“I don’t know. I thought you had become a religious freak or something.”
“Think about it. Did you think I would lie to you?”
“Then why didn’t you believe me?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why did it take a man and a dog to dig you out of a grave before you believed what I told you twenty years ago and I have been telling you ever since?”
“I don’t know.”
“The answer is the same answer to your question, ‘Why do Christians lose their passion for Christ?’”
“Really. Well, big brother, what’s the answer?”
“A long time ago, and I mean a long time ago, there was a mighty angel in heaven who rebelled against God.”
“He talked lots of angels into joining him.”
“Like a dozen?”
“Like millions, perhaps billions.”
“Well, he got kicked out of heaven and so did the angels who joined him.”
“Serves them right.”
“Soon he’s on earth trying to get man to rebel against God.”
“Was he successful?”
“You’ve heard of Adam and Eve.”
“I get it! You’re talking about satan! I heard about him. I always thought he was just a fairy tale. Hey, wait a minute! Is that the answer to your question, why it took me so long to believe?”
“Boy, you are one smart marine.”
“And he’s the one who gets Christians to lose their – what do you call it?”
“Passion. Fervor. Enthusiasm.”
“Well, he’s not getting mine, the rat!”
“Don’t underestimate him. He got mine and that of most of the people in my church.”
“He’s subtle. Jesus called him the father of lies.”
“The father of lies?”
“That means he invented lying. No one is better at lying and deceiving people than he is.”
“But he’s only one guy!”
“He has an army.”
“And they’re all liars?”
“What chance do we have?”
“They can’t get through Christ. And Christ protects those who stay close. The devil does what he can to separate us from Christ so we become vulnerable to his deceptions.”
“How does he separate Christians from Jesus?”
“He takes advantage of our ignorance, our weaknesses, our need to be accepted. We carry within us the effects of our past sins. We have pride to deal with. There is a part of us that wants to live for God, through Christ, and another part that wants to be independent of Christ. We want to do our own thing, something we can be proud of, something to prove to ourselves, and others, that we really are important and good.”
“That’s what happened to you?”
“And your family?”
“And my family.”
“And the people attending your church?”
“Most of them.”
“And the Tanners?”
“No. They’re different. They always stayed Christ-centered. They love the Lord. That’s why they’re so content. That’s why they bear so much good fruit.”
“You know, good works. Good results. Good children.”
“I will do what Roo wants me to do. I will study the Bible. He sets time aside to communicate with Jesus ever day; I’m going to do the same. He has given me a book to read.”
“Who is the author?”
“A. W. Tozer?”
“That’s the dude. Is he any good?”
“The best. If you read, no, if you study his material you will be a rich man indeed.”
“You mean he will show me how to make lots of money?”
“No, marine! Spiritually rich.”
“I think Reuben has over a dozen titles of this Tozer guy. Even the kids read them.”
“Great! By the way, I talked with Reuben about coming to visit you every Wednesday morning. What do you think?”
“I think it would be good for both of us. And I’ll be your chore boy if you need anything from the outside world. You name it, I’ll do it.”
“How about a dozen beer?”
“Just kidding. I lost all desire for drinking.”
“No. Roo told me I will never have to worry about that again.”
“Say, isn’t that Reuben and Jeni walking down the road towards the highway? Where are they going?”
“They’re just walking. This is their time together. Every day they walk to the highway and back, holding hands.”
“So the kids tell me.”
saturday, june 16th, 2007, 7:00 p.m.
“It’s been a rough month for you, Reuben.” Jeni wanted to comfort her husband as they were making their evening trek down their roadway.
“Tough for the entire Tanner family,” Reuben responded. “Everyone is affected, you, me, the children. Are you okay, wife?” Wife was a term of endearment; she was his most prized earthly treasure.
“We have been going through the fire, but we are going together. It’s so good having a family.”
“And our precious five? How are they doing?”
“They are very protective of their father. They have been retaliating at any hint of criticism of you from their church friends. I had a long talk with them, explaining their friends are probably speaking from their pain and confusion. I assured them Daddy needs no defending. I think John is hurting the most. The concert was a flop, and he couldn’t get a big hit in the ball game to win it for the Challengers.”
“John is solid. He’s a man. A young man, but a man. All the sacrifice I gave in raising my son was paid for one day in the dugout.”
“It was the game against the Grizzlies.”
“Is that the game Jesus healed his broken leg?”
“That’s the one. Everyone was staying his distance from me. John sat beside me, and said loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘I love you, Dad!’ He was supporting me when I needed it most at the risk of losing his acceptance with the team and the entire congregation. It took every ounce of strength to keep me from breaking down. Those words will ring in my ears everyday I live, ‘I love you, Dad!’”
“I will love John Douglas the more after hearing that story. I love you, too, husband! We all do.” And then, “What will happen to the Tanner family?”
Reuben hesitated before answering. “A while back you told me you felt the Lord saying major changes were coming. Since then we have adopted an entire family for a full year, and I rarely leave the ranch, running my business entirely from my office. But that may not be the end of the changes.”
“You are referring to the Center?”
“Yes. Mac has resigned.”
“No! But why?”
“Mac recommitted his life to Jesus on Thursday.”
“He also committed himself to obedience to the Bible. He signed the last page of the Bible, a way of sealing his commitment before the Lord. He feels he cannot keep that commitment and remain pastor.”
“What will happen to the Center?”
“Mac related to me the details of the last part of last night’s meeting. The future of the Center is in the hands of the elders. They will decide to either remain under the auspices of the denomination, or break away from the denomination to run the Center in accord with New Testament writings.”
“What is your hunch?”
“There will be a heavy pressure on the men to vote to stay within the denomination. Before making their final decision on Friday of next week, they will be meeting with the superintendent, and possibly his assistant. They are very influential men.”
“When will we know?”
“Mac asked them to signal their decision with the Bible in the middle of the boardroom table. A closed Bible signifies everything is to stay the same.”
“And an open Bible?”
“An open Bible would indicate a decision to make changes, changes that would bring the church in harmony with the Bible.”
“What is the fate of the Tanners if the Center remains with the denomination?” Jeni questioned.
“We won’t be welcome. Neither will the Maclins.”
“Do you mean we may not be attending the Center after tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow could be our last day. Would we want to stay in a church that knowingly chooses man’s traditions over God’s Word?”
“We have so many friends,” Jeni said. “Our children have deep roots there. But the answer to your question is no. But what will we do?”
“I don’t know, not yet,” Reuben responded. “Our children are strong. John is a positive influence on the younger ones. We will come through this if we rely on Jesus.”
“Yes,” Jeni confirmed. And yet she was still concerned for her man. “The Center is in a major storm, and you, dear husband, are in the very middle of it. Tomorrow will be a trying day. Will you be okay preaching to the congregation tomorrow morning?”
“This is a task I never asked for,” the plumber answered, “yet I am honored to proclaim Christ to the people we both love. He will help me.”
“He will, Reuben. Did the book Mac gave you to read help you?”
“No, just the opposite.”
“After reading it I wanted to throw in the towel. Just give up.”
“And now?” wife asked.
“I was surprised when Mac asked me to give the last half of my message, since it was he who gave me the book. I agreed though still confused. Since then our precious Jesus has given me insights regarding Building A Church On Wisdom’s Foundation. This book would be acceptable in any religion – Jehovah’s Witness, Mormonism, Catholicism – an indication it is not Christian. For all of its practical wisdom, Jesus was almost entirely excluded.”
“How easy it is to forget Jesus,” Jeni added.
“How is the Kenny family doing?” Reuben asked.
“Sally is full of hope. She sees a definite change in Trevor since his conversion to Christ.”
“Does that make her hungry for Christ?”
“Sally will become a Christian regardless of Trevor. I sensed a hunger in her even before bringing her here. She is cautious, has many questions, but very close to surrendering to the Lord.”
“And her children?”husband asked.
“I’m leaving her children to our children. They are bonding, and bonding to our kids will cause them to bond to Jesus.”
“You’re right. And we will pray.”
“Yes, husband, we will pray.”