NOTE: Eighth in a series, this latest post is better understood by reading the earlier ones.
After the previous post, I think a few preliminary words are in order concerning the value of confessing one’s own sins, publicly.
Public confessions are Biblical. When the Sons of Israel were defeated at Ai and it was revealed by God that Achan was at fault, here’s what Joshua said to him:
My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.
The account continues:
So Achan answered Joshua and said, “Truly, I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.” (Joshua 7:16-21)
It gives glory to God for us to confess our sins. Sometimes God is honored by our doing so publicly. This can be abused. For personal catharsis. For the sort of humble-bragging rife among social media types. Inappropriate public confessions must be guarded against. But look at contemporary biographies and autobiographies, comparing them to Augustine’s confessions, and it’s very clear we need fewer superheros and more Biblical characters like David and Peter, church fathers like Augustine, leading us today.
Pastors are not sinless. Far from it. We have feet of clay, and it is necessary for our sheep to know this. In fact, it’s my conviction we need to tell our people so, doing it repeatedly. God could have sent them angels, but He chose to send us. We are inadequate for the work, but this makes us depend upon Him. In our weakness, dependence on Him brings Him glory.
Back to my own confessions.
We’d had the first dinner out at Don and Evelyn’s farm. Then came the second.
Another Lord’s day, Evelyn Jerred again invited Mary Lee and me out to their farm for “dinner” later that week.
Again, Mary Lee and I drove out to the farm and were invited in. We sat down at a table with a full spread: salad, meat, vegetables, potatoes, dessert. Cold and hot drinks. Again, when the meal came to an end, my woman elder turned to her husband and for the second time said, “Dad, did you have something you wanted to ask the pastor?”
Grunting softly in a sort of affirmative way, Don turned to me and asked, “Evelyn and I were wondering what you would think of Evelyn resigning as an elder?”
“Oh no, please don’t do that,” I responded. “We have to have a woman elder and anyone elected to take Evelyn’s place would not be nearly as good as Evelyn.”
We talked for some time. I did most of the talking and it was all aimed at dissuading Evelyn from resigning. My arguments were all pragmatic. None were principled. Leaving half an hour or so later, I hoped I’d forestalled what might, in the end, prove to be inevitable, longterm.
A couple weeks later, we had a session meeting. It went well, but at the end, Evelyn said to the rest of us, “I have something I want to say. May I?”
My stomach lurched and I responded, “Certainly.”
“I’m resigning as an elder,” she said. There was almost no discussion. We accepted her statement and didn’t try to talk her out of resigning. A few minutes later, we all went home.
I’d lied to Don and Evelyn the first dinner, telling them Scripture was clear about the husband being the head of the home while not being as clear whether or not women were allowed to be pastors and elders. The second dinner, I’d sinned again by trying to dissuade them from Evelyn resigning. God be praised, they didn’t do what I wanted and asked. Instead, Evelyn resigned!
So what happened?
First, I’ll recount the negative result. Then, in the next post, I’ll recount the floodtide of blessings Evelyn’s resignation poured out on the church; but also me, personally.
The negative was that a woman of the congregation in her eighties was nominated and elected to take Evelyn’s place. It was just as I’d feared.
Since she was less than mobile, I offered to pick her up and drive her to the session meeting. After our adjournment followed by tea and pie, I drove her home, stopping to let her out in her driveway. The car was in park, but before she opened her door, our new woman elder turned to me and said, “Timothy, you and I are going to have problems with each other.”
I responded, “Really? Why?”
She said, “Because you believe the Bible is God’s Word and I believe the Bible is the words of man.”
The rest of the way home, I had fear and a heavy heart, but not a bit of regret that Don and Evelyn had decided for Evelyn to resign. If the reader can understand my saying so, I was relieved I had failed to dissuade Evelyn from resigning. Her righteousness and faith, along with her husband, was an immense encouragement to me, personally. But how was I to lead the session with a faithless woman serving on it as an elder?
Skip forward a couple months and our monthly session meeting was at this elderly woman’s home that night. Shortly after the meeting began, she requested time to present some concerns, and I said she was welcome to proceed.
Placing a long yellow legal pad on the table in front of her, she began to read pages of figures, all written in red ink. She adumbrated, delineated, and explicated each of five or six pages of negative money projections, taking about half an hour to do so. At the end, she looked up at me and said, “Timothy, how long do you think we can keep paying you if you keep preaching the way you are?”
There was nothing I could say. I was all of thirty years old, fresh out of seminary and wet behind the ears. One thing was certain: I could not defend myself. I could not say anything, so I sat there, silent. The silence hung heavy over the kitchen. It was unrelieved.
Then Chuck Dykstra, one of two male elders, said, “I have something I want to read.”
Chuck was maybe 6’ 4”, and likely the best hunter, trapper, and fisherman in the county. For forty years, he served as Cambria’s barber, and he was known for his trap shooting. He was “Top Gun.” A man’s man, I’ve often explained his manliness by saying that, every church potluck or picnic, Chuck would quietly approach the most recent mother, asking if he could hold her little one, then stand and talk for fifteen or thirty minutes with the baby nestled in his strong arms, peacefully asleep. No joke, I watched and rejoiced in this countless times. What a testimony of Biblical manhood. What loving care for the ewes and lambs of his flock.
Before I came to know Chuck, I came to know his mother, Josie. Soon after arriving at their church, I was greeting the congregation in the doorway after morning worship and a very tall elderly woman stopped to say a word to me. Later I learned who she was, but all I knew at the time was her saying to me quietly, “Here’s a list of some Old Testament Minor Prophets. We don’t ever hear sermons from the Minor Prophets. Maybe you could preach from them?” She shook my hand, pressed a scrap of paper into my palm, and with a smile, was gone.”
What was Chuck Dykstra’s response to our new elderly and dignified woman elder’s attempt to silence God’s Word? He opened his Bible and read:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. –2Timothy 4:1-5
Closing his Bible, he said quietly, “This is what’s going on here.”
(Eighth in a series.)