(Eleventh in a series.)
In the last account of the kindness of God that led to my repentance and the reform of Rosedale Presbyterian Church—my first parish out of seminary—I wrote that my wife Mary Lee and I noted and took great joy in our new elder, Don Jerred, being in a new place, spiritually. He had a newfound fear of God and a firm determination to trust and obey His Word. What was most singular in that connection was his discipline of his sixteen-year-old son Danny for speaking disrespectfully to his mother. After this discipline of “Rambo,” Danny turned back into a normal, loveable young man. One indicator of the change in Danny is my memory that Danny’s younger brother, Douglas, became the irritating one in the family.
When I first came to town, the owner of the local True Value Hardware store, Curt Coddington, invited me to help him lead the community youth group. Since this youth group served churches from several towns, young men and women from ten to fifteen local churches attended and we spent a lot of time with them each week. Naturally, we got to know them well, particularly those from our own congregations (Curt attended a local Baptist church).
Danny’s change of heart was evident to everyone, but it was only a harbinger of wonderful blessings yet to come from God.
Following Don’s wife, Evelyn, resigning as an elder, my conscience began to suffer acutely. When I’d chosen to be ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA), there were some good reasons for doing so, but my conscience had never been right. I knew I was entering a denomination that was constitutionally committed to the ordination of women, requiring each of its congregations to have women ordained and serving as elders proportionate to the balance of women to men in the church’s membership. This was a most basic sin against God’s order of creation, just as the Apostle Paul declares in 1Timothy 2:12-13:
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.
So how was it I went into the PC(USA)?
Sin, but more on that later.
Fact is I woke up burdened with guilt. My memory is distinct of getting into the shower each morning and being overwhelmed with this sin of mine. There was no question I had gone into the PC(USA) against my knowledge of God’s Law, and no question my convictions were Biblical. It was overwhelming and it grew day by day, month by month.
In time, I could no longer bear it, and I talked it over with dear Mary Lee. To this day she remains intransigent in her conviction it was all for the good. She would point me to the fruit of our ministry. It was beautiful, even in Mrs. Jerred’s resignation of her eldership. Was that not an indication that God was working in and through us despite our sins?
Yet my guilty conscience remained, and was intolerable.
One day, it became too much to bear and we called Don and Evelyn, asking if we could come out to their farm after dinner and talk?
Always gracious, they said “Yes,” so following dinner, Mary Lee and I put our kids in bed and left the babysitter in charge. It was a ten minute drive to their farm. Pulling into the parking area at the side of their house under a picture window, we didn’t get out of the car. We’d been fighting and weren’t ready to go in, so we sat there and argued. For ten or fifteen minutes we sat there in anger and fear. Our fight was about something unrelated, although the stress causing the fight was very much related. Knowing Don and Evelyn could see us just outside their window, we were ashamed, knowing they would be concerned and wondering what was up with us?
Finally, without any resolution to our conflict, we despaired of resolving it and went inside. Don and Evelyn welcomed us warmly, not mentioning the embarrassing fact of our delay. We sat down and it all came out, like a punctured boil.
“I can’t serve the churches any longer. My conscience is intolerable. I have to resign.”
Explaining how I had sinned coming into the PC(USA), going directly against my conscience, we also explained Mary Lee’s judgment that by God’s providence it was all for the good. Nevertheless, I said I had to resign from the PC(USA) and leave my call. My guilt was simply unbearable.
It took an hour or so to get it all out. There it sat in the room, stinking to high Heaven.
After a long silence, Don cleared his throat and said quietly, “You need to trust the elders.” That was it. No explanation. I’d unburdened myself and now I needed to leave it to the elders, and trust them.
There was no further talk about the problem. We didn’t leave right away. There was small talk I can’t remember, and we left a while later, but we left with my conscience relieved that I’d confessed my sins to “one another”—in this case to my elder and his wife—and now I could rest in the knowledge that God would work through my elders to solve my anguish. It was such a relief.
Mary Lee and I drove home and went to bed where I slept soundly. The next morning, I took my shower peaceably, without drowning in self-recriminations.
(Eleventh in a series.)
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