Friday, December 19, 2008
-While I’d spoken with fellow workers about having been a missionary in the West Indies, and of my confidence in the Bible etc, I had never had the courage to simply bow my head and give thanks for my food before the others in the cafeteria!
-While I’d faithfully read the Bible with my family and studied it for hours to prepare to preach or teach it to others, I didn’t know what it was to simply sit down with the Word of God to enjoy it as the food for my own soul!
-While I’d given thanks for our food at our table for years, lead in prayer during family devotions and often prayed in assembly meetings, I knew nothing of private and personal communion with God in prayer!
I began to see clearly that the Lord Jesus’ description of the scribes and Pharisees was an
accurate description of myself, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27
Now, since I had no “position” above or over anyone else in the assembly, the fear of man and my own pride could no longer hold me in bondage. So I purposed to go home that night and tell
my wife, Judy, the truth about myself. So after supper , I sat Judy down at the kitchen table and told her that I had come to the conclusion that while I’d learned to go through all the religious motions, I’d never truly been saved!
At first, Judy was incredulous – How could she have married an unsaved man??! But as the seriousness of the matter dawned on her, she plead with me, “Bruce, you know the truth of the Gospel, you’ve preached it to others, why not just believe it for yourself, right now?” But to me, it no longer seemed quite that simple!
I find it hard to explain, but that night I experienced such a calm that I’d not known for a long time and instead of lying awake in fear and under deep conviction of sin (as I thought might have happened), I slept peacefully with a deep sense of relief!!! It was not a false sense of security thinking that I was accepted with God, for I knew that I wasn’t! It was rather just a deep sense of relief stemming from finally facing the truth about myself. I was no longer uncertain, but for the first time in my life I knew exactly where I stood before God. There was no doubt in my mind any longer. I knew that the matter of salvation must now be my #1 priority! That sense of relief was very short lived and the next day the seriousness of my condition was clearly before me. That night was our midweek Bible study night in Collingwood and I knew I needed to go and talk to someone. Judy had been crying all day and was in no frame of mind to go to a meeting so I went alone. I had never before gotten into the habit of wearing a seat belt, but that night I buckled up securely! I knew I was unsaved, under the wrath of God and with no guarantee that the Lord would even spare me from death till I got to Collingwood that night!
After the meeting, David Gray, a man whom I’d called from work that afternoon to tell him my problem, came to me and asked “Bruce are you sure you’re not saved? As a young man, I often struggled with doubts, but I could always go back in my mind to the might I got saved and I knew the matter was settled.” I said, “David, that is something I’ve never been able to do!” So he invited me over to his home that night to talk, and I was glad to go!
Sitting in the living room of David and Elizabeth’s home, he and I read many scriptures and talked of many things relative to God’s salvation. I kept thinking, “As long as we’re looking at the scriptures, I’m sure I’ll get saved!” I’d heard so many people tell how the Lord had used a verse of scripture to open their eyes and draw them to Christ. So that night I was looking for “my” verse of scripture! But the more we read, the darker my mind seemed to get and I began to wonder if I would ever be saved!
But eventually we came to John 5:39 & 40 where the Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees of His day, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”
I heard no audible voice but the thought that came to the mind of this Pharisee in that moment was clearer than an audible voice, “Bruce, what a fool you have been! Here you are looking for a verse of scripture, but salvation is not in some verse of scripture – it is in the One of whom the scriptures speak!”
Immediately Isaiah 53:5, a verse I’d learned many years before in Sunday School, came to mind in a very personal way, “But He (the Lord Jesus) was wounded for my transgressions, He was bruised for my iniquities: the chastisement of my peace was upon him; and with his stripes I am healed.”
In that moment I turned to David Gray and said, “David, I know it’s settled. He died for me!”
I knew then what my problem had been all along: Being raised in the Woodford home, where Dad and Mom wouldn’t let us do many of the things the neighbour kids could , I had foolishly thought, “We Woodford kids are just a bit better than the kids down the block! But nothing could have been further from the truth! “For there is no difference, for all have sinned!” Romans 3:22,23
So the night when I was 11 and professed to be saved, I’d been afraid of hell but had not been willing to acknowledge my sinfulness!
Since the 21st of November,1981, (my spiritual birthday) I’ve often said that I didn’t learn (intellectually) any truth that night that I didn’t know before. But I did come to know in my spirit at least two things:
(1) I learned what it was to finally have peace with God resting on what the Lord Jesus did for me, and
(2) I learned what a vast difference there is between having religion and knowing Christ!
After all those years that I had tried to deal with my doubts by thinking… “ I couldn’t have done all the things I’ve done and not be saved”… I now realized that I had been resting for assurance in my doing rather than in what the Lord Jesus had already done for me!
I am so very thankful to God for giving His own Son to die in my place and I have often thanked the Lord for Helen Ferguson (now Helen Allen) whose courage and honesty was used by the Lord to awaken me to acknowledge my own need of the Saviour!
(I’ve been in touch recently with Helen and her husband , Steve, and look forward to soon being able to share with you Helen’s own story of how she came to Christ some years after I did.)
Saturday, December 13, 2008
When I was 11, I attended a young peoples’ Saturday night rally at which we watched a movie that emphasized the necessity of choosing Christ and avoiding hell. In response to an invitation at the close of that meeting I had raised my hand to indicate that I wanted to be saved. I went home and told my Mom that I’d gotten saved that night. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday 1964, my grandfather, a retired Baptist pastor, baptized me by immersion on the basis of my profession of faith in Christ.
Because of a deep interest in foreign missions, I went to Moody Bible Institute after graduation from high school to prepare for life as a missionary and eventually was “ordained to the ministry” and commissioned for service as a church planting missionary in the West Indies. But no one but me and the Lord knew that I often wrestled with doubts , “Bruce, are you sure that you’re really saved???”
These doubts continued through my teen years, as a Bible School student, and even as an ordained minister and missionary! But I always reasoned that they were simply an attack of Satan seeking to rob me of my joy. So I’d put them out of my mind time and time again. But the more “progress” I made (Bible school student, missionary candidate, ordained minister, foreign missionary, and “Pastor”) the less possibility there was that I would ever acknowledge to anyone that I sometimes doubted my own salvation!! I could not bear the thought of acknowledging such thoughts to anyone! “What would people think of me, in my position, if they knew!” So never having any peace as I recalled the night when I’d professed to be saved, I’d tell myself, “Woodford, you couldn’t have done all you’ve done or been in all the places you’ve been without being saved!!!”
But this “chapter” of my life brings us to the time when, as a father of 4 children, I would read the Bible and pray with my family, study the scriptures and preach and teach in assembly meetings and had done so for about two years. But now, I had no position over anyone, no reputation to maintain and now the Lord was about to use a brave young woman to cause me to consider where I really stood before God.
One family in the assembly that met at the Collingwood Gospel Hall was the Ferguson family. They had heard the Gospel some years before and the three daughters had responded to the Gospel message shortly after their parents. All had been baptized and eventually each one had been received into the assembly. But one Sunday morning, I was surprised to see the youngest girl, Helen, who was then in her late teens, sitting near the back of the Hall rather than in her usual place to share in taking the Lord’s Supper.
Right after the meeting, I took one of the elders aside and asked, “What’s wrong with Helen Ferguson?” He responded, “She’s concluded that she never got to Christ when she professed to believe in him years ago! So she realizes that it is not her place as an unbeliever to be in the assembly.”
While I was surprised to hear this, a deep respect welled up in my heart for this young woman and for her courage and honesty! A few minutes later, I said to her Mom and Dad, “It’s far better that Helen faces the truth now and get’s saved than it would be for her to live her life with a false profession and end up in hell at the end!!”
Shortly, I turned with my family to get into our car and a thought rang through my mind so clearly that an audible shout would not have made a deeper impression: “Here is a young woman who has had the courage to acknowledge exactly where she stands …NOW, BRUCE, WHAT ABOUT YOU?” To this day there is no memory in my mind that is clearer than the recollection of that question put to me over 29 years ago! But as stubborn and proud as I was, I immediately put it out of my mind and refused to consider it!
But the Lord was not through with me! I often stayed up late at night reading after the house was quiet, and about two weeks later picked a book off my shelf, “The Life of David Brainerd”. Brainerd had been a Gospel preacher to the American Indians in the late 1700’s. That night, I learned that he’d had a very religious upbringing quite similar to my own and in his late teen years had devoted his life to preaching the Gospel among the native peoples of New England. But, at the age of 21, as he prepared to preach from Isaiah 53, the Lord arrested him and brought him to realize for the first time in his life, the reality of his own sinfulness and of his own need for the Saviour! So at the age of 21, David Brainerd was converted to Christ after having spent some years as a Gospel preacher!
In my own case, I had not yet come to the point of being willing to acknowledge to another person the awful doubts that had plagued me on and off for 18 years. But the thought that was burned into my mind that night before I lay my head on my pillow was this, “Bruce Woodford, you cannot afford to go on any longer with uncertainty about your own salvation! You’ve got to get this matter settled, one way or the other!” (To be continued)
Sunday, November 30, 2008
While still in Dominica, we learned that these assemblies would not receive any professed believer to break bread with them, but rather would only receive to the assembly those who would also receive the assembly and all it stood for. Thus there was a place in each hall for observers, not yet regarded as being in assembly fellowship, to observe but not to participate in the Lord’s Supper. So we sat in what was called “the seat of the unlearned” for some time as we observed how this assembly functioned.
Seeing that there seemed to be no clergyman leading and directing the meetings and that all the brothers in the assembly had liberty to participate we felt that we had finally found an assembly which functioned according to the scriptures. Thus we eventually asked to be received into the fellowship of this assembly. After we had been interviewed by the elders, the assembly received us and we began breaking bread with them and I began taking part in the meetings which included opportunities to teach and preach.
Here, I participated in an entirely new practice of ministry that was such a contrast to my former experience. Here I was free to minister along side of other brothers but none of us had any “office” or position over the other! I was simply one of the brothers who had opportunity to minister, as it were, “on a level playing field”. I had no idea at the time what a personal hindrance my assumed title “Reverend” or my esteemed position as “Pastor” had actually been to me. But the Lord was preparing me for the most radical challenge and change of my life!
He would use this entirely new experience of co-operative ministry and also a brave young lady in this same gathering to show me something in myself with which I’d never come to grips before.
Sorry! In order to keep this post to a reasonable length, this will have to suffice for today and be the prelude to the one to follow!.....(To be continued.)
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Two of the projects which I undertook in Dominica which I’d never tackled at home were raising chickens and doing my own auto repairs! As I had not been raised on a farm, I knew nothing about cleaning chickens! It was Pete who taught me how to butcher and clean the chickens we raised. And when the transmission in our Ford Cortina malfunctioned, it was Pete who loaned me tools and helped me to remove, dismantle and reassemble it. (We never did find out what was wrong with it, but it worked just fine after it was back in the car!) Also we often met Ken and Doris Taylor and Peter and Marlene Simms and their families at the beach on Saturday afternoons. In the early months of 1978, after my thinking about church practices had been radically challenged by my study of the Book of Acts…I had lots of questions for them about their understanding of the church and the practices of the Lord’s people as they gather together.
Judy and I had attended one of their Sunday morning meetings in the summer of 1977 and had been astounded at the differences between their meetings and our own in the church which I pastored. In our meetings, I chose the hymns, I did most of the praying, I lead the service and I did the preaching. But in their meetings there was no “clergyman” like myself, there was no “order of service”, there was no appointed preacher and no visible leader. Rather all the brothers in the meeting had liberty to lead in the singing of hymns, reading of scripture or praying. In our meetings all the people sat in pews so that they faced me, the man in the pulpit, and could only see the back of the heads of folks in front of them. But in that little gathering of saints, we saw brothers and sisters sitting around a table on which a loaf of bread and a cup of wine had been placed. Thus each one could see and look all the rest in the face. In our meetings, we had “communion”, a little ritual of 5 or 10 minutes which was tacked on at the end of the Sunday morning service once a month. But there, the entire meeting each Sunday morning was given over to remembering the Lord in “the breaking of bread”.
So, in the following months, as I questioned Pete and Ken about their understanding of the church and its practices, they challenged me to compare any practice (theirs or our own) to the scriptures and to allow the scriptures and not religious traditions to be the standard. In the early months of 1978, it became increasingly difficult for me to stand in the pulpit of our church to preach. I now knew that the scriptural pattern was for a plurality of scripturally qualified elders to lead each church rather than a lone pastor (Acts 14:23) and that when the church assembled together, God’s “order of service” called for believers to “provoke or stir up one another to love and good works” and to “exhort one another”. (Hebrews 10:24,25) I began to see myself as a positive hindrance to what the Lord wanted to do through all of His gathered people! When I was appointed to speak, the effect of that appointment was a virtual muzzling of all the other saints whom God intended should be involved in “one anothering” ministry!
In Pete and Ken and in the assemblies in which they ministered I could see a much closer following of the scriptures than I had ever practiced or witnessed in churches with which I had been associated. So a battle raged for some months in my heart! Would I continue with familiar traditions, a secure position and an honored office in the church, OR would I dare to obey the Word of God, break with those familiar traditions and relinquish my position and office as “pastor”? I had no peace in my heart.
But finally one night as I wrestled again with the issues involved, the Lord broke through my stubbornness and unwillingness to trust Him with all the unknowns. Tears rushed down my cheeks and my shoulders shook with sobs but my heart was finally at peace. A letter of resignation from the mission board would be written, my ordination certificate would be destroyed and my “Reverend” title assumed at my ordination would be set aside. I’d come to see that such a designation was reserved in scripture for God alone and I, a mere man, had no right to such a title! “Holy and reverend is His name.” Psalm 111:9
Thus in November of 1978 we left all that we had previously known of “the ministry” and returned to Canada to seek a gathering of saints who put into practice what we had just begun to see in principle in the scriptures. Pete and Ken kindly wrote a letter of introduction for us and as result, we were kindly and warmly welcomed by assemblies in Ontario which knew them. We returned with very little idea of what we would do or how we would make ends meet. But we were confident that God was faithful and would guide as we followed what He had shown us. (to be continued)
Thursday, November 13, 2008
While I was still at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in the early 70’s, I heard the name Bill Gothard and learned of the seminars which he was teaching. Those early seminars were called “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts”. But more recently are known as “Institute in Basic Life Principles”.
The first of these week-long seminars that I attended impressed me deeply with the realization that the teachings of the Word of God were intensely practical and that obedience to God’s Word would bring great blessing and that failure to obey would result in a wide variety of sad consequences which would be the direct result of violating teachings of the Bible.
Of the many subjects covered in that seminar, the following stood out particularly in my mind and have guided the course of my life since then:
-Scriptural principles of finances: I had never before realized that the Bible gave such practical guidance that ran counter to much “conventional wisdom” that is widely embraced by Christians and non-Christians alike! Some of those that deeply affected my thinking at this time were (1) The importance of “firstfruits giving” to the Lord. Proverbs 3:9, I Cor.16:1,2 , II Cor.8:6-15 and many other passages taught me the importance of giving to the Lord, not of what was left after my own needs were met, but as the very first priority whenever I received financial increase. I had never made such giving a priority before but was now challenged to make this a consistent practice. (2) Avoiding debt. Romans 13:8 was brought to my attention, “Owe no man anything but to love one another.” I had never been taught this before either and thus I had applied for and received a student loan for a portion of my Bible School expenses. That $1000 loan was quite modest by today’s standards but seemed like an enormous sum to me then! But as a result of the teaching I received, I purposed that eliminating that debt would be my number one priority upon graduation and that I would never again borrow money for any reason but would look to the Lord to provide for whatever He knew that I needed. The Lord richly blessed my desire and purpose of heart… just prior to my graduation, I received a card from a great Aunt with a graduation gift enclosed. It was a cheque for “1,000!!! Thank you Lord! Sending that money off to pay off the student loan, I purposed never again to intentionally get into debt. So a few years later, before Judy and I got married, we purposed together never to buy anything for which we did not have all the money in hand.
-Scriptural principles for relationships: (1) Honouring parents: Prior to attending this seminar, I’d not thought much about purposing to allow the Lord to guide me through the counsel of my parents, even in the matter of finding a prospective mate. But as a result of teaching I received, I purposed I would not marry apart from the counsel and blessing of my own parents and of that of the parents of one who would become my wife. So when I met and then proposed to Judy, I told her that, while I wanted to marry her, we would not marry until we had the blessing of my parents and her mother (her Dad had died while she was young.) We have taught the same to our own children and have seen the rich blessing of such purpose of heart in the marriages of the four of our five children who are married. (2) Gaining a clear conscience: One of the teachings in the seminar that had the greatest effect on me was the importance of gaining a clear conscience. From scriptures such as Acts 24:16 and I Timothy 1:19 I realized how important it was to gain a clear conscience. Putting this teaching into practice has meant “eating humble pie” many times since as I have had to go to my parents, siblings, wife, our children, friends, fellow workers, and employers to ask forgiveness for actions of mine toward them which were wrong. But the joy and liberty of gaining a clear conscience has always been well worth the difficulty of acknowledging my wrongs which the Lord has brought to mind and asking forgiveness of those whom I have wronged.
I have thanked the Lord many times for the wise teaching I received early in life on vital subjects such as these. Thus, although Bill Gothard would not know me from Adam, his ministry has had profound effects upon my life, our marriage and many decisions we have made as a family.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
But here, let me introduce a little of the story of another man, named Robert Bland.
During the 1950's when Ralph Mount was building his first models of the Tabernacle, Bob Bland was in Bible school and was given an assignment to research the subject of the Tabernacle. As a result of his study and realization that the Tabernacle was a very detailed parable or picture of Christ in the Old testament, Bob began dreaming of a day when he would build a life sized or full scale model of the Tabernacle!
Bob and his wife, Bernie, eventually founded and still direct the ministry of Teen Missions International (TMI) in Merritt Island Florida. TMI sends scores of teams of teenagers to countries around the globe every summer to assist missionaries and missions organizations in a wide variety of projects. It was through TMI that Bob Bland's dream finally became a reality in 1997. After a number of years of hard work and gathering materials from all over the world, the life sized replica of the Tabernacle was finally completed. In the summer of 1998 that replica was brought to Canada and erected in Burlington, Ontario - about an hour from our home!
When I heard the news, I knew we just had to see it! So with a group of home school families we went one afternoon for a tour of the Tabernacle, and in the process we were introduced to the ministry of TMI! Andrew, our youngest son, came home with a handul of pamphlets about TMI and began praying about going on one of their teams in '99. But the door did not open until 2000 when Andrew went on his first trip with TMI to the Phillipines. TMI has been a very big part of Andrew's life since then and he has been on numerous trips as a team leader with them to Poland (twice), New Mexico, Ethiopia, Uganda, and also served for 16 months on their multinational team called "Missionaries to America". Three of his siblings have also been members on TMI teams. Mark was a leader of a team to Guatemala, Rob was on a team to Poland, and Joia was an assistant leader on a team to Dominica, West Indies. Her second summer she was the head female leader of a TMI team to Ecuador, South America. The head male leader of that same team was a young man named Philip Dooley. It didn't take those two very long to conclude that God had lead them together and they were eventually married and now live in Florida where Philip is a doctor with the U.S. Airforce. They have one little boy, Keenan, and are expecting their second child early in 2009.
Thus, an interest in the subject of the Tabernacle, which was expressed in two different ways in the lives of two different men (Ralph Mount and Robert Bland), was used by God to minister to me and thus, through a progression of events over many years, to also minister to our children -giving them a keen interest in missions and even being the means of introducing our daughter to the man who is now her husband!
Our initial visit to see TMI's life sized Tabernacle opened the door for me to have the thrilling opportunity to be a tour guide through that same replica for most of the rest of the summer of 1998. Then we were invited by Bob Bland to spend the summer of 2005 in Howe, Indiana doing the same thing. What awesome opportunities we enjoyed sharing the Word of God with thousands and making friendships with many other brothers and sisters in the Lord which we treasure to this day!
Thank you, Lord, for the ways that you weave the tapestries of our lives and use such a variety of people to touch our lives, challenge our thinking, give us vision for things that close to your heart and introduce us to other people who will become so near and dear to us!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I think it was during my freshman year at Moody (1970-71) that a man I’d never heard of came to a church in Chicago with a model of the Tabernacle which Moses and the children of Israel constructed in the wilderness according to detailed plans given them by God. A fellow student had been to this particular church one Sunday night and came back to the dorm telling me about this man who had a 1/18th scale model of the Tabernacle and would be speaking on it every night for the next two weeks. He invited me to go with him the next night and I have been grateful ever since for that invitation!
Ralph H. Mount was the speaker that night and I was enthralled with his ministry and especially with the model he had constructed. While I had read the Book of Exodus before, I had never been able to picture in my mind just what the Tabernacle would have looked like. So, for the first time in my life, this subject became intensely interesting to me. But more intriguing to me was the realization that this building, which was first erected about 1500 years before Christ came into the world, was in fact a detailed portrait of the Lord Jesus! As I listened to Mr. Mount speak and open the scriptures relative to Christ in the Tabernacle, I began to see more clearly how all the scriptures speak of Christ and that He is the theme of all the scriptures! (Luke 24:27) Now, not only Exodus but the Book of Hebrews seemed to be illuminated much more clearly for me.
I went to those meetings as often as I could for the two weeks that Mr. Mount was speaking and I will never forget the night that he spoke on the garments of the high priest! That night he wore a life-sized set of the high priest’s garments and spent the whole evening demonstrating from scripture how every detail in the design of those clothes provided a portrait of Christ as our High Priest!
I had never before heard any ministry on the Tabernacle but now, having heard Ralph Mount, I began to appreciate how God had placed so much emphasis on this “parable portrait” of Christ in the scriptures! No other parable in all the Bible has nearly as much space devoted to it as the Tabernacle! The latter half of the Book of Exodus and Hebrews chapters 8,9 and 10 are entirely devoted to the subject. I bought Mr. Mount’s book entitled, “The Law Prophesied” and for the next few weeks I read it and the scriptures which dealt with the Tabernacle. This was the beginning of my own study of the Tabernacle and among many other subjects, it has become my favourite! It was not long before I started dreaming and planning for the day when I would build my own Tabernacle model.
About ten years later (after we’d returned to Canada from Dominica) and were meeting with “brethren” assemblies or “Christians gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus” I heard ministry on the Tabernacle again. Brother Edward Doherty spoke on the Tabernacle using a large wall chart. It was a good visual aid but, remembering Ralph Mount’s model and how it had been so helpful to me, I now had a deep desire to actually begin to build a model to make available to anyone who wished to minister on the subject. So with the help of my wife and my mother who did an incredible amount of sewing, I was able to finish my model after spending about two winters on the project.
Since that time, that model has been to New Brunswick, Florida and has been used in numerous places here in Ontario.
But in just the last few years, I have also come to appreciate how the Old Testament Tabernacle is not only a portrait of Christ but also a shadow of the true Tabernacle, the House of God today which is the people of God (those saved by faith in Christ). As I’ve come to appreciate these New Covenant truths relative to our relationship to Christ, I’ve become even more excited about this tremendous subject in the Word of God. I must stop here for today, but in my next post, I’d like to share how this God-given interest in the Tabernacle has brought about circumstances which have shaped and even changed the course of the lives of some of our own children as well!
(If you have an interest in learning more about the Tabernacle, how it pictures Christ and the church, the ekklesia of God’s people today, I’d be glad to send you free of charge and postage paid, a DVD of a presentation on this vital subject. Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your postal address and I’ll be happy to send a copy to you.
Or if you want to give teaching on the Tabernacle and would like the use of a model for that purpose, that is the reason my model was built! By all means get in touch with me! I'd be delighted if it could be used continually in this way.)
Saturday, November 1, 2008
With knocking knees I read my paper which advocated:
- teams of missionaries working together so their gifts could complement each others’,
- church leadership trained in the local church rather than being sent away to school,
- a plurality of elders who are known by and appointed from among the flock,
- no distinctions between “clergy” and laity”. For both terms in scripture refer to the
very same group of people, and
- church meetings being gatherings of believers for edification and Gospel outreach
being times of scattering of the saints into the community for evangelism of
unbelievers in places where they normally gather of their own accord.
When I finished, I expected “fire” from all directions, for if I had understood the New Testament scriptures incorrectly, I wanted to be corrected. But there was almost no response at all! One brother commented that I’d done “some good research” and had expressed “an interesting point of view”, but no one explained to me why our 20th century church practice was so different from that of the first century church. In fact, there was absolutely no discussion on the subject of church planting at all. Rather we immediately moved on to the next topic and panel discussion!!
So when the conference was over, I returned to Dominica with a bigger problem than I’d had when I left…I had hoped that there would be a good explanation given me why we did things the way we did, and why my radical ideas were all wrong. But when no such correction was forthcoming, I knew I needed further counsel from others. So I wrote letters home to pastors of three of our main supporting churches. I enclosed a copy of my paper on “Church Planting Principles”. I explained to each of these pastors that I was in no way criticizing their ministries, but had simply been observing NT ways and asked for their evaluation of what I had written. Only two of those men wrote to acknowledge receipt of my letter and paper but neither of them even attempted to defend our modern day church practices from scripture.
I began to realize that you could not argue with the scriptures and thus it was time to seek to practice what I had been observing in the Book of Acts. I’d also observed that the early Christians broke bread in remembrance of the Lord Jesus much more frequently than our own traditional monthly “communion service”. So I suggested to the believers that we do it every week and that I no longer “administer” it as I had in the past but rather that the other men in the congregation should participate. The Dominican brothers were eager to do so but such changes seemed too radical to the other missionaries with whom we worked. So in the next monthly meeting of the “field council” of our missionaries in Dominica, a motion was presented and passed that stated, “There shall be no new teaching or practice unless it is first approved by the field council.”
I knew exactly what was behind this motion! I, as the youngest missionary, had certainly not come to Dominica to cause problems so I agreed to return to “business as usual”. But as a result, I spent two of the most miserable months of my life! I knew I was not being honest with myself, the Lord, the Dominican believers or those back home who were supporting us. At last I realized that in order to be obedient to what I’d seen in the scriptures relative to insurance and church practices, I’d have to resign from the mission, leave Dominica and return home to Canada to seek other believers who practiced what I had simply seen in principle.
Thus, it was that in November of ’78, just a little over a year after I’d been asked to chair a discussion on “church planting”, the course of my life and ministry was radically altered. We embarked on a new chapter of our lives and returned to Canada seeking the Lord’s direction for us now that we were no longer associated with the mission or the church in which I’d been raised all my life! (To be continued…)
Thursday, October 30, 2008
In order to prepare for this assignment, I looked in our local Christian bookstore for books on Church Planting but I could find none. So I thought, “Really, the best place to look should be the Book of Acts!”
So I began reading Acts through repeatedly and began inquiring how the early apostles preached the Gospel, instructed believers and planted churches in the first century. It seemed to me that they would likely have the best perspective on how the task should be accomplished since they had been personally instructed by the Lord Jesus, Himself.
So I prepared a chart listing all the cities mentioned in Acts where the apostles had ministered and then noted their methods and the results of their ministries, i.e. were strong churches established by them? If so, how was the task accomplished? If not, how did their work which failed to establish churches differ from the work in cities where strong churches were established.
Two observations from that study intrigued and challenged me:
(1) Where ever one man went alone to preach the Gospel, churches were never established! (Peter went alone to Lydda and Joppa where people were saved, healed and even raised from the dead! Paul went alone and preached on Mars Hill in Athens, where a number of folks were saved)
(2) But where ever two or more men went together and preached the Gospel to the unconverted, there were always churches established! Yet in most of our ministries, emphasis was generally placed on a man working alone as a “one man show” and in most of our churches one pastor was ordained as a “star performer” who was expected to minister to everybody else.
But a third observation troubled me greatly about my own position as “the pastor” of the congregation which I served:
(3) Every church that I found in the NT was lead by a plurality of elders who co-operated together. They followed the example of the team of men who had co-operated together to bring the Gospel to them in the first place! I could not find even one church in the whole NT which was lead by one elder or pastor such as myself!
And a 4th observation really awakened me to the fact that many of the “church traditions” with which I’d been raised and which I’d accepted as the norm were all foreign to the Bible!
(4) No NT elders or church leaders were “imported” from elsewhere, and none were trained in “Bible schools”. Rather all such men were “homegrown”, well known by the saints to whom they ministered and were all equipped for leadership by serving the saints in their home communities! But we had traditionally imported pastors who were initially total strangers to the congregations they served and were men whose training consisted of years in Bible school or seminary far from home rather than years of actually serving the saints right where they lived!
Eventually, I wrote a paper on the subject of church planting which laid out these and other observations which had deeply troubled me. When I sent the paper to Terry Martin, he asked me to make copies of it, invited me to present my paper at the conference and said he would simply find someone else to chair the panel discussion!
So I went to that conference with fear and trembling! I knew that I would be presenting a perspective that was radically different from our own practices, but I desperately wanted answers as to why there were such radical differences between first century church practices and our own. But I was not at all prepared for the response that I would receive!
(To be continued in next post.)
I was certain at the outset that scripture would clearly support my own position that good stewardship of resources the Lord had committed to us definitely included good insurance coverage. But the more I searched scripture, the more uncertain I became on that point! In fact, after almost two weeks of personal study of every scripture that I thought could be related to the subject, I came to believe that I had been wrong and must change my view!
It now seemed clear to me that…
- My lip service to trust in the Lord would actually be denied if I could not trust him to protect
the building, or to replace it if He allowed it to be destroyed. (Proverbs 3:5,6) Up to this point, I had been trusting in the insurance company and the combined pool of funds of many policy holders for the security of the building. I had thus far failed to place my trust in the Lord to protect what I acknowledged to be His property!!
-Our insurance premiums went into a common fund which was used for the protection, restoration, or replacement of many businesses which were characterized by ungodly practices: i.e. bars, brothels, breweries, abortion clinics, and even false religions! Thus I came to believe that if I chose to continue to do so, I would be unequally yoked together with unbelievers contrary to II Cor.6:14.
- While I claimed to believe that the Lord's work should be done in the Lord's way and that I
should never appeal to unbelievers for funds (Philippians 4:6,7) , if the building was ever destroyed and I with others claimed insurance on it, I would actually be depending on premiums paid in part by owners of bars, brothels, breweries, abortion clinics and supporters of false religions to rebuild that building!!! This would again demonstrate that I was, in fact, unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
Most of the congregation had opposed insurance from the start. (I had simply come to agree with them as a personal conviction of my own resulting from my study of the scriptures.) So when the matter came to a vote in our next congregation business meeting, the congregation voted to discontinue paying insurance on the building. As a result, the mission board chose to insure the building with mission funds!
I knew I could not hold to one view of insurance for church matters and another view relative to my own personal matters! So our own life insurance policies were cancelled and I appealed to the mission headquarters regarding our group health insurance with Blue Cross/ Blue Shield. As an entire mission organization, we were paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and rarely claimed any major medical expenses in return!!! The greatest benefit in recent years had been $60,000 which had been paid for one missionary’s surgery! So it seemed to me that we were needlessly pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars down a “black hole”. I was sure we could never stand before the Lord and demonstrate that such waste had really been “good stewardship” of resources which He had committed to our trust!
So I suggested that, in place of a group plan with “Blue”, we could simply establish a fund, within the mission itself, to which each missionary would contribute. When a certain established maximum amount was reached, the fund could be capped and no more payments be made into it until some medical expense had to be paid. Then contributions could resume to replenish the fund and nothing would be lost. But this suggestion was flatly rejected and our mandatory participation in the group health plan was still required. Because of my changed convictions regarding insurance on the church building and our mission’s group health insurance plan, I knew that I was “in hot water” with the organization. But another matter was soon to be brought to my attention, on another subject altogether, which would ultimately make it impossible for me to remain in my current position as pastor in that congregation or a missionary with that mission. God was about to use another Christian to challenge my thinking regarding our whole ministry of church planting! (I must close for now to continue in yet another post.)
BTW, your comments, questions, or other perspectives on this subject are welcomed and encouraged below or in personal emails or conversations.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
When the financial report was read, one of the church members, Clinton Dyer, stood to his feet and asked a question…. (This was to be the second question I’d encountered in my life which was entirely “outside the box” of my traditional thinking!) He asked, "Why are we, who claim to trust in the Lord, paying a worldly insurance company to protect the Lord's property?"
I, along with other North American missionaries, tried to explain how insurance was good stewardship of the Lord's property. (If a flood, hurricane, or fire destroyed the building, the insurance would enable us to rebuild or replace it.) Many of the believers in the congregation were not satisfied with our explanation and a heated discussion ensued. But little light was shed by which to resolve the dispute. A visiting summer missionary commented to me after the meeting, "No one, on either side of the debate, appealed to scripture to support their position!" That keen observation reminded me of the principle that Professor Gundry (mentioned in the previous post) had taught me just a few years before!,
I knew the discussion would continue at our next mid-week meeting. I was also determined we would not have another "hot debate"! So when we met again I said to the believers, "Opinions are like noses everybody has one! But we need more than opinions to settle our disputes. We need scriptural principles. We know that the word "insurance" is not found in scripture. But there must be principles to guide us. So let us search scripture with our concordances for words and expressions which might bear on the subject."
We then brainstormed and compiled a list of words for which to look in scripture that might lead us to scriptural principles relative to the subject of insurance. Our list included the following: safety, security, stewardship, peace, protection, gold, silver, money, calamity, confidence, preservation etc. We purposed together not to discuss the matter further until we had searched scripture and found scriptural principles to guide us relative to the question of insurance.
At this time, I had no idea how Clinton Dyer’s simple question would soon get me into my first pot of “ministerial hot water” and eventually change the course of my life at a number of crucial points!
But the continuation of this account must wait for another post!
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Stanley Gundry, the professor who taught our class on “The Pastoral Epistles” (I and II Timothy and Titus) posed a question which was entirely “outside the box” of my previous church traditions!
He divided the class into a number of study groups and assigned each group a question to research and then to present their findings to the class. My group was assigned the following question: “Are the qualifications for overseers/elders in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11 a standard which must be met or do they describe an ideal to which elders should aspire?”
In my humble estimation, Professor Gundry was the best teacher under which I studied at Moody. Rather than telling us what to believe, he asked us questions for which we had to find answers in the Word of God! Traditions or opinions are not sufficient to guide the people of God and for the first time in my life, I began to compare church practices, traditions and doctrines with what scripture actually said!!
As our group of 4 or 5 students met together to consider our question, it didn’t take us long to notice the word “must” (an absolute requirement) found 4 times in I Tim.3:2 and 7 and Titus 1:7 and 11. But even more importantly, we noticed that the necessary qualifications for such men had nothing to do with education, administrative abilities, oratorical skills, charisma, talent or pulpit manners!! They all had to do with character (what kind of man is he?), control (does this man know how to control himself and train his own children?) and commendation (does this man have a good reputation among unbelievers in his own community where people know him best?) The only ability that is scripturally required of such men is the ability to teach the word of God so as to be able to refute false teachers!
Such observations shook me to the core as I realized that, while churches with which I was familiar claimed that the Bible was our “only and final authority”, we did not heed these scriptures at all when it came to appointing elders! Back home, when our congregation had searched for a new pastor, we were not informed that scripture set out the qualifications for which we should be looking. Rather we were asked to evaluate men who were total strangers to us on the basis of their education, credentials, and primarily on their preaching skills which we observed in one or two sermons!!!
I am so grateful for the pattern that Professor Gundry established in my own mind and heart which has continued and has guided me many times since. The practice of seeking to give the scriptures absolute primacy over traditions, practices or doctrinal statements of men has been of invaluable worth to me. It has also gotten me into plenty of “hot water” on more than one occasion !! But such accounts will have wait for another day!
Saturday, October 25, 2008
This was not the kind of post I envisioned for this blog, but if this kind of news does not challenge and change my prayer life, something is definitely wrong!
I have received the following plea for prayer from two different friends in the last couple of days, one in the Philippines and one here in Ontario. The letter is from YWAM staff (Youth With A Mission) in the state of Orissa in India.
The same sort of reports from Orissa are coming from Gospel For Asia. Please also check out their reports of the situation at http://www.gfa.org/orissa-update and above all, please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing horrendous persecution in Orissa!
Dear beloved sponsors and friends of Good News India,
We have never seen anything like this. We knew that Orissa was the most resistant and hostile State in India as far as the Gospel is concerned. And we brushed off the continuous threats and harassment we faced as we went about His work. But none of our staff imagined that they would see this kind of carnage.... And it seems to be totally under the radar of the Western Media ....
Let me explain.... A militant Hindu priest and 4 of his attendants, who were zealously going around the villages of Orissa and 'reconverting' people back to Hinduism, were gunned down by unknown assailants in Central Orissa last weekend. Immediately the Christians were blamed. The cry rose up...'Kill the Christians!'And the horror began.... In the past 4 days, we have first hand witness to hundreds of churches being blown up or burned and many, many dozens of Christian tribals have been slaughtered. For no other reason than they bear the name of Christ.
Night and day I have been in touch with our Good News India Directors spread across 14 Dream Centers in Orissa... they are right in the middle of all this chaos.
In Tihidi, just after the police came to offer protection, a group of 70 blood-thirsty militants came to kill our staff and destroy the home. They were not allowed to get in, but they did a lot of damage to our Dream Center by throwing rocks and bricks and smashing our gate, etc. They have promised to come back and 'finish the job.' Our kids and staff are locked inside and have stayed that way with doors and windows shut for the past 3 days. It has been a time of desperately calling on the Lord in prayer.
More police have come to offer protection. In Kalahandi, the police and some local sympathizers got to our dream center and gave our staff and kids about 3 minutes notice to vacate. No one had time to even grab a change of clothes or any personal belonging. As they fled, the blood thirsty mob came to kill everyone in the building. We would have had a mass funeral there, but for His grace. In Phulbani, the mob came looking for Christian homes and missions. The local Hindu people, our neighbors turned them away by saying that there were no Christians in this area. So they left. We had favor. The same thing happened in Balasore.
All our dream centers are under lock down with the kids and staff huddled inside and police outside. The fanatics are circling outside waiting for a chance to kill. Others were not so fortunate. In a nearby Catholic orphanage, the mob allowed the kids to leave and locked up a Priest and a computer teacher in the house and burned them to death. Many believers have been killed and hacked into pieces and left on the road.... even women and children. At another orphanage run by another organization, when this began, the Director and his wife jumped on their motorbike and simply fled, leaving all the children and staff behind. Every one of our GNI directors that I have spoken to said: 'We stay with our kids.... we live together or die together, but we will never abandon what God has called us to do.'
More than 5000 Christian families have had their homes burned or destroyed. They have fled into the jungles and are living in great fear waiting for the authorities to bring about peace. But so far, no peace is foreseen. This will continue for another 10 days.... supposedly the 14 day mourning period for the slain Hindu priest. Many more Christians will die and their houses destroyed. Many more churches will be smashed down. The Federal government is trying to restore order and perhaps things will calm down. We ask for your prayers. Only the Hand of God can calm this storm. None of us know the meaning of persecution. But now our kids and staff know what that means. So many of our kids coming from Hindu backgrounds are confused and totally bewildered at what is happening around them. So many of their guardians have fled into the jungles and are unable to come and get them during these trying times. Through all this, I am more determined than ever to continue with our goal: the transformation of a community by transforming its children. Orissa will be saved... that is our heart's cry. If we can take these thousands of throw-away children and help them to become disciples of Jesus, they will transform an entire region. It is a long term goal, but it is strategic thinking in terms of the Great Commission.
What can you do? First, please uphold all this in fervent prayer. Second, pass this e-mail on to as many friends as you can. We must get the word out and increase our prayer base for this is spiritual warfare at its most basic meaning. We are literally fighting the devil in order to live for His Kingdom. The next 10 days are crucial. We pray for peace and calm to pervade across Orissa.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please pass it on and help us to get as many people to partner with us on this cutting edge effort to fulfill His mandate: Go and make disciples of all nations....
Blessings, Chip & Sandy Wanner Col 2:2 MBI Team Facilitators to YWAM frontlines
But after a number of years of serving in this capacity, Dad’s supervisor came to tell him that their company was restructuring and that he would soon be coming to our town to take over Dad’s responsibilities as the local supervisor. Naturally, Dad asked him what his job would be at that time. His supervisor told him to choose the best delivery route of the men whom he currently supervised and take it.
Dad knew if he did that, one of the men that he had supervised would ultimately have no job. Dad was not the kind of man who would do such a thing, so he told his supervisor that he would rather resign than bump one of his men out of his job.
When Dad first came home and told us that he would soon be out of work, I did not fully realize what his decision would cost him. But as I watched him over the next few years, his conviction, displayed in that one moment of testing, became for me the greatest legacy my Dad could ever give to me, his son!
Dad is a man of few words, but a man who lives what he believes. He practices what he knows the Bible teaches and leaves the preaching to others! When Dad resigned he had a wife and 4 children to support (I was the youngest). But jobs for which he was qualified were scarce. So Dad, who was willing to work at a job which was not to his liking, took on the task of being the local “Fuller Brush man”. He was no salesman, but his task was seeking to sell a wide variety of brooms, brushes and household cleaning products to housewives in our community.
I can remember sitting at our supper table awaiting Dad’s return from offering his products for sale. Many times our meal was finished and we were still waiting for him to return home after a long day on the road. We would eagerly await the news that he had made some good sales that day, but often Dad would come home tired and discouraged with not a sale to report for all his trouble.
It was then that I began to realize what Dad’s convictions about putting others’ interests above his own were costing him. Those were very lean times in our home as far as material goods were concerned but I began to realize that my Dad was a man of principle who would rather walk a very difficult road with a clear conscience than walk an easy road without one. His example has encouraged me at a number of crisis points in my own experience when tough decisions had to be made. (I hope to share some of those in posts to come.) But as a result of my Dad’s example, I’ve learned something of the truth expressed by Henry Blackaby in his book Experiencing God- knowing and doing the will of God, “Obedience to God is always costly right on the front end, but the dividends multiply in the long run.” The corollary is also true….Disobedience to God is always the easiest thing to do at the moment, but the sad consequences also multiply with time!