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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Difficult Changes - Deep Peace

Prior to our departure, in November of 1978, from the island of Dominica, West Indies – there were two other men who made deep and lasting impressions on me. Peter Simms and Ken Taylor were both fellow Canadians who had been commended by their respective home assemblies to preach the Gospel in Dominica. The assemblies with which they worked preferred not to take any designation which would distinguish them from others but chose to simply designate themselves as “Christians”, “brethren”, “believers” or “disciples’, names which could be applied to all who belong to the Lord Jesus.
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)

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