How Could This Happen in the PCA? (Part 1)
by David Eyre
I begin my story in late 1999 in the lunchroom of a Christian high school in the Pacific Northwest. This was our first meeting of the pulpit committee to search for a new pastor for our PCA church. The previous pastor, D.A., had felt God calling him back to his East Coast roots. When he came to be our pastor in 1993 he and his wife were childless but in a few months they suddenly had two children: one by adoption and one through a long awaited pregnancy. Now they had four children and grandparents hundreds of miles away. His announcement in the summer of 1999 that God was calling him back East came as a surprise to us. In my opinion, he had been a very good pastor, and when we had a going away event for him in that same lunchroom in late 1999, I was one of a handful of people that stood up and expressed what his ministry meant to us. I recalled that time when our son Matthew stepped on a yellow-jacket nest and got stung over 70 times and was taken to emergency, Pastor D.A. was there. Another time, while I was at work, my wife had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, and went into shock. Pastor D.A. himself drove out to our rural home (20 miles from his home) and took her to the emergency room. This was one of his strengths. He really knew how to show practical love to people. In his last sermon at the church, he ended it with this refrain: "Love one another, love one another, love one another, love one another." The way he charged us that day was tragically prophetic as you will eventually see.
But back to the business at hand, the first meeting of the pulpit committee. I can't remember the exact protocol and order of items for that meeting but at some point, we all were given an opportunity to share from the heart our feelings about what the church (this specific church, FPC) meant to us. I recalled one of our first visits to the church in January 1992.
We had just decided to leave an independent reformed church that we had been part of for about 6 years because they had become what I consider hyper-calvinistic. One of the final straws was the pastor saying from the pulpit, "I hate Arminians with a holy hatred." One elder was trying to teach us that we must not accept another professing Christian's testimony as valid unless they adhered to the five points of Calvinism. We could not accept this extreme sectarian teaching and decided to try the PCA church.
The second or third time we went to FPC, the pastor J.C. (no, not the Lord himself) invited us over for lunch. When we got there our oldest son Isaiah, who was nine-years old at the time, did not want to get out of the car. His best friend was at the previous church and he was having a hard time getting over that. Pastor J.C. was very compassionate and gently coaxed him out of the car.
In late 1992, J.C. accepted a call to teach at a seminary and the church eventually called D.A., who was approved by a congregational vote of 100 per cent. As I recalled that event about J.C.'s kindness to the other pulpit committee members, my voice quavered and I broke down. It was one of those moments when you suddenly realize how much someone, or a group of "someones" (FPC Church), means to you. And I wasn't ashamed to let these people see me cry. Time would fail me to tell of all the good memories from 1992 up to this point in time. From Sunday worship to Christmas programs to church picnics to Reformation Day celebrations, this church gave us 99 happy memories for every one bad memory. They know we were partial to a particular theological school of thought but accepted us anyway and I respected them by never pushing my position.
Seated around the table with me were P.R., W.L., G.J., J.S., M.W., K.C., and K.V. I credit P.R. (a ruling elder) for leading me to the Lord in 1972. We both attended the same Catholic high school and graduated together in 1971. W.L. was an elder and regarded by almost everyone who knew him as one of the godliest men they knew. G.J. was the pianist and music director at the church and in my opinion was the most amazing musician I have encountered in a church setting. J.S. was a deacon who was characterized by always being seen in practical service, even when it was mopping or vacuuming the church building. M.W. was also a deacon and I admired him as he made his living as successful entrepreneurial inventor. K.C. was his brother-in-law and not only an insurance agent, but my insurance agent. K.V. was the only woman on the committee and from one of the original families at the church. She served tirelessly in teaching Sunday School and helping with the annual children's Christmas program.
Over the next 4 or 5 months, the pulpit committee labored to determine what sort of pastor the church ought to seek. During these meetings, complaints about the church and the previous pastor came to the surface. Each individual's perspective and particular Christian orientation was brought to bear on the search for a new pastor.
Since 1980, I had been strongly influenced by the Christian Reconstruction (C.R.) movement represented by such men as R.J. Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, David Chilton and Joe Morecraft. For a long time, I felt that it was important that the church in general adopt a positive view of the future (postmillenialism) and take a serious approach to Christian education by emphasizing either private Christian education or Christian homeschooling. M.W. and K.C. had in their teenage years been involved in a charismatic type church that oddly enough had also traces of influence by Rushdoony. I had met M.W.'s father in 1986 when the church I attended hosted a conference with Rushdoony and Mr. W had been in attendance. G.J. was a reformed or Calvinistic Baptist in a PCA church because that was the best choice for him. The others had recent backgrounds in mostly the PCA, OPC and CRC.
After months of meetings, the search was starting to get to the point of looking at some fresh resumes from pastoral candidates. We initially had received a packet of resumes to look over but some of the information was outdated as the candidates had either found a pastorate already or had withdrawn their application. We were actually calling candidates on the phone and interviewing them.
I was interested in a man from the South who was biblically conservative and held to the literal six day creation. I still hold to this perspective on creation, and in the year 2000, it was a very important issue to me (more important than now). I had a short phone interview with him and reported my findings to the pulpit committee. Some of the other men called him but felt he was not a good match for our church.
In approximately March of 2000, one of the meetings had an ominous tone to it. One of the men shocked me by saying that if the music didn't change, he may not stay at the church. By the end of the meeting, it became apparent that 4 out of the 7 pulpit committee members expressed the possibility that they may not stay committed to the church. I was very troubled and wrote W.L. an email with my concern.
My precise memory fails me at this point but I think that it was at another meeting when negative comments about the church again bubbled to the surface. When it came my time to speak, tears welled up in my eyes and I remember suppressing emotions of anger as I said something along the lines of, "I don't understand why you are talking about FPC this way. This church has been the best church experience my family has ever had." I can't remember the beginning of the sentence but I was again countering the negative comments about FPC. I continued, "Something, something, something... and this man and his music (looking over at G.J.) have meant everything to me!"
The elder W.L. spoke at one point and his voice wavered as he intoned. "I think this church is a house of cards!" At this particular meeting, another church elder, M.P., who was not part of the pulpit committee, sat in on the meeting and took notice of my comments and the emotions I expressed. When I got home that night there were messages on my answering machine from him. I believe he was very concerned about me and called to encourage me. My timeline may be off, but it was either one or two weeks later at another pulpit committee meeting that things were going much better. M.P. was now attending the pulpit committee meetings even though he was not selected as a member.
One night a new resume came in. I believe it was M.W. who casually mentioned to the group that a new resume had come in from a man named "B.A." I immediately took notice and spoke up saying I knew of the man and that he was a good person. I had read B.A.'s articles for years in a Christian Reconstruction publication and it was my opinion that he was one of the best examples of the movement. I felt that he was very down to earth, good with people and not associated with the extremes of the C.R. movement. When the meeting was over, I excitedly called my wife on the phone and told her whose resume had come in. She was also excited but we both forced ourselves not to get our hopes up. We realized that because of his C.R. background, he would probably not be given serious consideration.
Within two weeks, there was a conference call made to B.A. and another pastoral candidate by the name of Roy. To my amazement, B.A. impressed most of the pulpit committee members and without any pressure from me, 6 of the 7 people on the committee expressed approval to have him visit the church and preach. Around May 2000, a congregational vote was held and B.A. received over 90 per cent favorable vote. On the day of the vote, I was filling my usual role of leading congregational singing. We were singing while the votes were being counted. I still remember choking back tears of happiness and at times being unable to lead the singing because of my strong emotions over getting what I believed was a great man as a pastor. In June 2000, B.A. was installed as the new pastor.
Things were going to be different under this pastor. He emphasized strong male leadership in the home. From the beginning, there were Saturday morning men's prayer breakfasts where the men of the church and their sons came for fellowship, prayer and instruction from the pastor. I was very excited about this and thought it would spiritually strengthen our family and especially help me to be a better father. Pastor B.A. initially preached about a vision he had for the church and then began a series on the Ten Commandments that continued into 2001.
In the Spring of 2001, a situation developed in the church involving several families and their desire to get out of debt by selling items on eBay. We were one of the families. L.S., a man in his twenties who started coming to the church when the new pastor arrived, was responsible for showing people how to successfully sell things on eBay. His plan involved starting the auctions at one cent. My wife was alarmed that a person could lose lots of money if the item was never bid past at least the seller's cost of the item. L.S. said not to worry and that his strategy would prevent such losses. The strategy involved having friends and family members bid on each other's auctions to drive the auction price up. We did not know the terminology at the time but later learned that this is called shill-bidding. In the coming weeks I would learn that firstly, shill-bidding was against eBay policy and could get you suspended from operating on eBay. On June 15 , 2001 I was shocked to discover that shill-bidding was not only against eBay policy but in fact a felony!
I had no reason to be suspicious of L.S. Not only did the pastor think well of him, but when our oldest daughter was less than one month away from marrying her fiancee, L.S. brought it to our attention that our daughter's fiancee had a serious moral deficiency. L.S. had discovered the man to have stolen something from his employer which was apparently verified as the fiancee was soon fired from his job. As a father, I made the painful decision to call off the wedding. We later found the fiancee to be untruthful about many things he had said. This was an excruciatingly horrible time for our daughter. (I am happy to say that after these sad events, God brought an exceptionally good man to her, and that she is happily married and a mother to our two fine grandsons!)
As the several families continued to sell things on eBay, it would become routine to place a phone call, instant message online or even ask in person at church for a friend to "help" with an auction, i.e. shill-bid on the item. At some point even before I knew it was against eBay policy, my conscience bothered me about this activity. I didn't want to do it any more. My original idea for success on eBay was to simply find items somewhere at a low price that could be resold on eBay for a higher price.
Sometime in the month of May, we were at the pastor's house for lunch when his wife stated that L.S. had been suspended by eBay again, this time for something called (as she put it) "shilling" (L.S. had been suspended by eBay earlier for selling items to underbidders) As soon as I heard that, I did not to say anything to anyone, but became very alarmed. "That's what we did!", I thought to myself. When I got home that evening, I went to the eBay web-site and found that it was against their policy. eBay warned, "Don't even think about doing it." Shill-bidding is mentioned on their website in more than one place. I did not see the statement that shill-bidding was a felony until I again researched their site on June 16, 2001. At this point in time, it was enough to know that it was against their policy and could get you suspended.
I composed a short letter by hand with the intention of sending it by email to the three other families we had "helped" in the past with their auctions. As one of these families was the pastor himself, I felt very hesitant about sending it and didn't actually send it for about two weeks. When I finally sent the email, one family commended me for my stance, one did not respond and one did not take the substance of the email seriously. I had accidentally sent the email to him three times and his response focused on how I must be really serious about this: You sent it to me three times. You sent it to me three times. You sent it to me three times.
Along with the eBay situation, my wife and I were now questioning the influence L.S. was having on our three oldest children. In a discussion about medical ethics with our daughters, L.S. opined that it would be completely ethical for a couple to have a child in order to obtain a kidney to save the life of its mother, father or sibling. The scenario here did not involve the death of the new child. The assumption was that only one kidney was being taken and the new baby would survive. My wife and I were aghast that this idea could be ever possibly be considered as ethical in a Christian world view and challenged our daughters to reject this notion. Their response was most alarming. In their view, we needed to confront L.S. about this and follow the procedure in Matthew 18. It was suggested that we were slandering him or attacking his character simply because we disagreed with his twisted ethical perspective.
In early June 2001, my wife became deeply concerned about L.S.'s influence on our children. L.S. had offered a job to our oldest son who was 18. L.S. offered to buy him a car and to pay him approximately $10 per hour mostly doing web-design and other duties related to his online businesses. Our son Isaiah was told that the money would be paid "under the table" without involving withholding taxes, W-4 forms, etc. I was not comfortable with this and was afraid I would not have an ally in our pastor because in a visit to our house in 2000, he expressed approval of the idea of a family having a side business and not reporting the income to the IRS.
That same month, our daughter Rachel graduated from home-school high school, and L.S. and his wife wanted to take her out to dinner. I had taken my boys to the lake fishing and when I returned home, my wife wanted to speak to me about an urgent matter. I had rarely seen her in such a solemn demeanor and took her very seriously. My wife and I are not charismatic Christians and do not believe that God speaks to us other than through his Word, the Bible. My wife however, was given (I believe) an impression from God or prompting by the Holy Spirit in such a powerful way that I did not question it in the least. Her impression told her, "Get your children away from L.S.!"
After being convinced that this impression was coming from God, I recalled that a sister church to FPC less than 50 miles away had a pastor we knew personally, and who was also familiar with L.S. as he had attended the sister church for a time. On the night of Friday, June 15th, 2001 everything fell into place for a visit with pastor M.K. We drove over to his house through a low-mountain pass and passed some people in a car going the other way that we thought we recognized. When we arrived at M.K.'s house and settled down for a conversation, we told him our concerns about Isaiah going to work for him, especially the being "paid under the table" concern. We were concerned about the twisted ethical views expressed in the "having a baby to obtain a kidney" scenario. We mentioned the eBay shill-bidding concern further down the list in importance, but pastor M.K. took special notice of this and told us for the first time, "That's against the law!" Before we left his home that evening, he must have told us four or five times that we needed to take this matter of the shill-bidding to the session (the teaching and ruling elders in a Presbyterian church) . We left his home that evening with a new found moral clarity and a terrifying road ahead of us. When we arrived at home well after midnight, our three oldest kids and their friend Ryan played the role of the exasperated parents and scolded us for coming home so late. It was a rare light moment in a time of our lives that would soon take a devastating toll on us spiritually, emotionally and physically.
How Could This Happen in the PCA? series: