It’s really just as well that I can’t recall all the details about the church John belonged to prior to our wedding. No doubt, the specifics would attract more readers (which I’d definitely like), but I believe leaving things vague would, in this particular case, be most honoring to Christ.
In that church the offices normally called elders and deacons were called, respectively, deacons and trustees. From what I understand, the deacons held authority comparable to that of the pastor, working with him in governing the church. If memory serves correctly, John had begun the second year of his three-year term on the board of deacons. This leadership position obviously gave him knowledge about various things going on in the church.
Perhaps, during those phone calls and internet chats between Massachusetts and California that year, John said more than he should have about church politics, but our sovereign God used those conversations to give both of us a conviction that the church seriously deviated from Scripture. Certainly, though they’d hired a man as their full-time interim pastor, women held unbiblical leadership positions. During that year, in fact, they elected a woman to chair the board of deacons.
In the early months of our engagement, we believed that God wanted to use us as stealth missionaries to it, certain that we could, by prayer and example, offer a refining influence. I saw that as an exciting prospect.
But as time went on, John’s narratives of deacon meetings became increasingly discouraging. Repeatedly, the others rejected his suggestions. At the same time, they demonstrated definite leanings toward more liberal theology. John, having a more optimistic nature than I have, continued trusting that the Lord would use him to turn things around. I became skeptical.
Our arguments over whether or not to remain in that church (even though I still lived in San Rafael), dominated our conversations as spring arrived. I’d be moving to Randolph in August, three weeks before our wedding, and I no longer saw the point of ministering to a church that had little interest in Biblical Christianity. At length, I realized that I couldn’t marry John if he remained there.
Some of my friends at Church of the Open Door told me that my unwillingness to join John in what he believed God had called him to do evidenced a lack of submission. Yet I wasn’t his wife at that point. Engagement, as I saw it, provided a time for making sure that the Lord had called us together. If a couple found problems, a broken engagement would be a lot less devastating and dishonoring to Christ than a bad marriage that might end in divorce.
Although I’d told John that I couldn’t be a part of his church, I didn’t break the engagement because I saw signs that he had begun to agree with me. Shortly after I’d informed him of my inability to “marry into” his church, his pastor confided in him that someone in leadership lived in sexual immorality. The pastor had no intention of removing the person from leadership, hoping that a gentle reprimanded would eventually produce repentance.
Within two months he found Brookville Baptist Church, which became our church home. We both praised God for helping us discern that we belonged in a church that upheld God’s Word.
But the Lord evidently wanted to show me a little more of my budding discernment abilities before I moved to Massachusetts. Late that May, Church of the Open Door hosted its annual Missions Conference with all the other Open Door churches in the San Francisco Bay Area. The guest speaker, flamboyant and long-winded, spent almost two hours delivering a message as he used our pastor as a visual aide by placing him in humiliating poses. Quite rightfully, everyone was exasperated and offended.
Sadly, however, no one I spoke with seemed alarmed that this man took Scripture completely out of context as he promoted ideas from the New Apostolic Reformation.Even though I wouldn’t discover for two more days just how serious his error was, his repeated statements that doctrine didn’t matter, and in fact caused division that harmed churches, broke my heart. By the end of the service, I was weeping openly, grieved that people appeared to be embracing his theology…or lack of theology.
After it was over, I spoke with the wife of one of the other Open Door pastors. With sorrow I told her that I was glad to be leaving if the Open Door movement was indeed going to embrace this type of doctrine. She appeared baffled by my sorrow, and could only say, “If you feel that we’re heading in the wrong direction, pray for us.”
In researching some of the people that the speaker named, I saw clearly that indeed he represented the NAR. As I begged my friends to critically examine the content of his message, they could only find fault with his methods. It saddened me that no one had any inkling of the dangerous things he promoted.
Still, it was difficult to leave a church that I had been with my entire adult life. At the same time, I could see God’s hand in providing a husband 3,000 miles away and a church that both of us believed offered sound Biblical teaching. I praised God that He taught us both to be discerning and that He led us out of churches that we could never influence for good.
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