Our gratitude to Brookville Baptist Church for supporting us through John’s two-and-a-half month hospitalization encouraged us to overlook our disagreements with the many changes that we’d noticed since the 40 Days of Purpose campaign six years earlier. But by the summer of 2013 (just a year after John returned home), the tension had again grown, and I felt ready to leave.
John, on the other hand, believed that he could be a good influence on the church once his breathing improved enough for him to teach Adult Sunday School again. In submission to him and because of all the church had done for us, I continued going to services with him, though I couldn’t share his optimism.
In writing this post, I am praying for the ability to write with sensitivity and grace, remembering that several people there are genuine Christians. Hopefully this autobiographical series has demonstrated that God has been merciful to me though times when I lacked discernment, and yet my involvement in poor teaching didn’t negate my salvation. In recording the problems that John and I had with Brookville, therefore, I want to be as careful as possible. In keeping with my desire to honor the Lord as I write this very difficult chapter, I want to avoid as many specific details as I can, while still explaining the way things affected me and John.
For instance, the removal of Pastor Larry must be mentioned because of the disunity in the church that resulted. John and I were unable to attend the meetings regarding his removal, so I don’t really understand what led up to it other than financial considerations. My opinion of Larry is best left unspoken except to say that I miss his friendship (he was exceptionally good to me and John). Yet his departure must be noted, as I already remarked, for its impact on Brookville.
That summer, Brookville changed its name from Brookville Baptist Church to Brookville Bible Church. They believed that the word “Baptist” carried negative connotations, particularly in New England, where most professing Christians identify as lapsed Catholics. Dropping “Baptist” from the name, reasoned the elders, would attract more people (with their tithes) to the church.
I never understood why others objected to the name change, and I believe it’s probably just as well. John and I, in contrast to others who opposed it, simply considered it disingenuous because both the sermons and the Adult Sunday School classes grew less and less reliant on Scripture each week. Both venues used Bible verses to advance an agenda of structural change, meant to attract young families to the church.
By October of 2013, Pastor Dennis had retired, leaving us with an “intentional interim pastor,” whose job it was to restructure the church. By his own admission, preaching was neither his primary gift nor his primary purpose in becoming our interim pastor (even though he preached every Sunday) . Instead, he would help us work through our factions, caused by Larry’s removal and the name change) so that we could be “healthy enough” for a permanent pastor.
To our disappointment, Pastor Dave turned Adult Sunday School into the study of a book about resolving church conflicts. The book was peppered with Bible verses, which the author used merely to substantiate psychological principles. After a while, John decided that we’d sit out Sunday School because the facilitators scarcely used the Bible.
In late February of 2014, Pastor Dave forced the passage of Scripture to conform to his agenda for change so violently that even a teenager in the congregation later agreed with us that Dave had abused God’s Word. Angry from the sermon, I sat in the coffee area afterwards, where I overheard the head elder mention a New Age technique he used to alleviate some joint pain. At that point I exploded.
I spent the next hour with the women’s ministry leader, venting about years of frustration with Brookville. Some of her responses revealed her lack of discernment, increasing my rage. I wanted out of Brookville, keenly aware that it no longer faithfully preached the Word of God. As John listened, he knew that we needed to leave the church. I drove my wheelchair down the ramp, shaking the dust off my feet.
Our meeting with Pastor Dave,Pastor Dennis and the elders a month later confirmed that our doctrinal differences with Brookville couldn’t be resolved. The letter of dismissal they sent cited my “unwillingness to negotiate” as their reason to terminate our membership. But sound doctrine is never up for negotiation. With that letter, the Lord assured us that we’d made the right decision.