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Saturday, November 1, 2008

His Book Challenges My Behaviour

The week immediately after New Years ’78 we spent in Grenada for the conference of our mission’s Caribbean missionaries. When the day arrived for the presentation of papers and the panel discussion on the subject of Church Planting, I was filled with fear! I was the youngest missionary in the group. Board members and executives of the mission were present from the States and I was about to present a paper that suggested a radically different perspective on church planting than we were currently practicing!
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…)

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