blog was originally posted on January 28th, the day after our church
voted to leave our denomination. I had
tried to get answers to my concerns about the direction of the denomination for
months – literally several months – only to have nothing but radio
silence. But within 24 hours of posting
a blog about our departure from the denomination, I was contacted and people
were suddenly willing to talk. I’m not
sure why I wasn’t responded to before that, but I immediately offered to take
my blog down if someone who has some authority in the denomination would be
willing to call and talk to me. I felt
that it was only fair to hear a representative of the denomination out before deciding
whether or not I should put the blog back up.
I want to make it clear from the beginning that I am not an enemy of the denomination. I don’t have a proverbial bone to pick. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I’m writing this series because I’m angry. In fact, I put off publishing this for a few weeks, just to make sure that I wasn’t doing this out of anger (and I’m in no rush to finish it…although I do hope to do so in a reasonably timely manner). I’m not a contentious or quarrelsome person. But I do care a lot about the truth, and I will contend for it when it impacts the faith. Scripture instructs me to do so, and thus to fail to do so is sin (Jude 1:3). And so while I don’t like to fight, and I’m not looking for a fight, I have a responsibility to point out error where I see it. I’m not to do so hypocritically (Matthew 7:1-5), but I am to do it.
Please understand that I only represent my own perspective…obviously. I was told by the representative from the denomination (who doesn’t need to be named here, for all intents and purposes) that the concerns I had for the direction and the trajectory of the denomination were a result of me not being “charitable.” I actually told my wife before the conversation that I predicted that I would hear that word, and sure enough, that’s the word that was used to describe my perspective. I beg to differ. Hence, this blog.
[Don’t get me wrong – the conversation I had with the denomination’s representative was cordial. In fact, from my perspective, it was better than that; it was brotherly. We certainly don’t agree on some issues that, while very important, are what we would call “secondary issues,” but the conversation was brotherly. We even closed it with prayer, a recognition of our unity in Christ, and what I firmly believe was a sense of mutual respect.]
is certainly a place for being charitable with others – absolutely! – but the
accusation that one is “uncharitable” is more and more commonly being
used as an easy verbal tool to be used for the purpose of deflecting and
deflating thoughtful and even very well-deserved criticism. Maybe that’s the case here; or maybe it’s
not. My opinion is that if there had
been just one isolated incident which had caused me to be concerned about the
denomination, I would agree – it would be uncharitable for me to immediately be
concerned. And if I had been the only
one to take note of there being what appears to be a trend in the denomination,
that too would force me to confess that I was uncharitable – but within 24
hours of posting the first blog, I was contacted by several people who have
seen the same thing and who are just as concerned for the denomination as I
am I uncharitable? As you’ll see in this
blog series, I sat in silence for almost 2 years before finally bringing my
concerns to my elder board. I’m not
trying to toot my own horn here or anything, but someone who watches and waits,
observing a trend (to make sure it IS one) for 2 years strikes me as charitable
– perhaps TOO charitable. But either
way, throughout this series, I’ll share specifically what I saw that caused me
to become concerned, and allow for you – the reader – to decide for yourself. And if you think I’m uncharitable and
mistaken, so be it—just ignore what I have to say. But if I’m accurate, then you can’t just
write me off as “uncharitable.”
was asked by a friend of mine in the denomination, “What if people in my
congregation see your blog? What am I
supposed to tell them?” To answer that,
very briefly, let me just say that the issue is whether or not I had valid
reasons to be concerned…and, likewise, whether THEY have anything to be
concerned about. If my perspective is
inaccurate, you have nothing to worry about; show them where I’m mistaken. But if my perspective is accurate, what are
you supposed to tell them? Maybe tell
them why you’re not concerned, even though my concerns were accurate.
enough? Let’s get started.
(January 27th, 2019), the church where I serve as the pastor voted
unanimously to leave the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), the
denomination we had belonged to for over 20 years.
The purpose of this blog series is to document the reasons that we voted in this manner. Before I do that, I think it would be wise for me to discuss the history of the relationship between our church and the EFCA. But for now, let me offer at least this much: the denomination looks good on paper. If you were to review their beliefs as reflected in their Statement of Faith, the denomination would be deserving of an A+ for orthodoxy. The question is: what is the lens through which we view these doctrines? It will either be through a Biblical worldview, or it will be through the lens of a worldly ideology. And this is what is at the heart of the issue here.
I came to be completely convinced that “all’s not well in Waffleville,”* as the saying goes. I sat for years, silently watching as the social media posts and blogs and articles being shared in the bi-monthly newsletter of the denomination increasingly reflected worldly ideologies, all the while trying to be as gracious and charitable as I could toward the denomination. I firmly believe that as a Christian—and especially as a pastor—I have an obligation to:
jumping to hasty conclusions;
slow to anger;
the best until there is sound reason to believe less than that (Tim Challies
wrote a great blog about that. You can
read that here: https://www.challies.com/christian-living/believing-the-worst-of-those-who-love-me-most/ );
the purity of the Gospel from secular philosophies. As John Calvin once famously said, “The
pastor ought to have two voices: one for gathering the sheep, and another for
driving away wolves and thieves.”
slowly became my conviction that much of the material being published on social
media and in the denomination’s bi-monthly newsletter demonstrated a clear
trajectory away from orthodox Christianity and away from yielding to the
Scriptures as the inspired, infallible, and sufficient Word of God (after all,
if the Scriptures are sufficient, then we don’t need worldly ideologies and
philosophies to instruct us…right?).
Bonhoeffer once said, “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along
the corridor in the opposite direction.”
And this was the situation I came to believe our church was in with the
EFCA. It became clear over time that the
denomination was on a trajectory away from faithful orthodoxy. In fact, I brought my concerns to a friend of
mine who also pastors in the EFCA, and he agreed that what I was seeing was
unorthodox, and possibly even heretical, but all he could say to assuage my
concerns was, “What the denomination writes in newsletters and posts on social
media doesn’t reflect the denomination’s official positions on those issues.”
what do you do if you board a train that’s headed south, but you know that you
need to head north? Do you run along the
corridor against the direction of the train?
At some point, you need to either go where the train is going, or jump
out the back door. And while we would
rather choose “neither,” doing so wasn’t an option—jumping out the back door
was the only viable option.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here.
This is what we preachers are taught to do: you start a sermon by
telling people what you’re going to tell them, then you tell them what you told
them you were going to tell them, and then you tell them what you told
them. So the thesis of this blog series
is established: All’s not well in Waffleville.
goal over the course of the next several weeks is going to be to back that
claim up in a series of blog articles.
let me start with some history, because I know that some people might be quick
to accuse me or the congregation I serve of having an itchy trigger-finger on
this issue. But I can assure you, we
were not looking for a reason to jump out the back door of this train, and it
was a slow and painful process for us.
We stayed on-board until we were no longer able to do so in good
My Personal Backstory
was called to serve as the pastor of our church in December of 2010, and my
family and I moved here from Arkansas (where we were planting a church) in
January of 2011. I remember the moment when
I found the ad that this church had placed with a service that helped churches
find pastors—I was absolutely ecstatic to not only find a small church in an
area where I already had several friends (my college roommate lived just 15
minutes from the church!), but it was an Evangelical Free church.
I loved the Evangelical Free Church.
was saved in an Evangelical Free church.
I was going to a small, extremely liberal (theologically and
politically) Lutheran (ELCA) college, and was basically an agnostic moralist
who was convinced that if I was just nice enough—if I was just more moral than
the average person—if there was a heaven, God surely wouldn’t deny me entrance
then a friend of mine started asking me to go to church with her—an Evangelical
Free church. And after several weeks of
being invited, I agreed to go. After
all, it sounded like it was “free” of Evangelicals, and I had been taught to
not associate with those kinds of folks.
So, convinced that it was Evangelical-free, I went. And I had never heard a sermon like what I
heard. I had never heard the true
gospel. All I had heard in my ELCA
upbringing was a false gospel of “do-gooder.”
don’t remember how many services I went to before my heart was filled with faith,
but it wasn’t many. The pastor was a
kind and gracious man, and he would fairly regularly invite me out to breakfast
with him, where we would talk about questions I had about Christianity. He discipled me. He shepherded me. And by the time I graduated college, he
suggested that I consider going to seminary (which is exactly what I ended up
doing). I was so thankful for his faithful ministry. I was so thankful for the EFCA. I loved the denomination.
so when the time came when I saw a church that was in the EFCA and in an area
in which I already had several friendships established, I was so eager to serve
a church in this denomination, I probably accepted the call to move here and
serve as their pastor before they finished inviting me. I don’t know—I was filled with so much
excitement, I can hardly remember with any degree of clarity the moment when I
received the call.
my history with the EFCA before coming here.
But it’s also important that you know the history this church had with the
The Church’s Backstory
church joined the EFCA under the leadership of the previous pastor, who came
here as a pastor who had been ordained in the EFCA before coming here. The church liked what the EFCA stood for (or
at least SAID they stood for): churches helping churches to multiply
churches. The idea of churches working
together is great—and more importantly than that, I believe that it’s Biblical.
the church was having problems—it wasn’t growing; it was struggling. And every church goes through seasons of
struggle, so that should have been an ideal relationship between our church and
the EFCA. One would think that they
would love to help a church like this one.
long, our church, under the leadership of the EFCA-ordained pastor, agreed to
allow the denomination to do an assessment of the church, with the expectation
that they would be able to identify areas where the church could improve. An “add here, subtract there” kind of
that’s not what happened. Instead, the
team of church-assessors looked at the age of the pastor, put their minds
together, and decided that the best thing our church could do was shut down,
sell the property (keep in mind that we’re talking about 2 acres in the suburbs
north of Seattle, which is worth enough to buy you a few trips to the moon and
back), and give all of the proceeds to the EFCA.
me just say this: the fact that we’re still here and that we’re continuing to
grow and flourish as a congregation proves beyond any doubt that the assessment
was completely wrong. In fact, they
couldn’t have been more wrong if they had said that circles aren’t round. Our church defied the suggestion of the
denomination and kept the doors open.
And praise the Lord that they did!
Because the church is still here and growing, and our sermons are being
listened to by tens of thousands of people from around the world at this point.
the church body was not happy that the denomination had told them that their
best move was to shut down and send the proceeds to the denomination. It certainly seemed like a blatant conflict
of interest. Was that really the best
that the EFCA could do to help this struggling church? I don’t think anyone would have blamed our
congregation for leaving the EFCA at that point, but they didn’t. And based on what I know about the people in
our congregation, I’m convinced that they didn’t because they continued to hope
for the best. But I cannot deny that
feelings were hurt. It was
disappointing, to say the least.
was at that point that our church removed the EFCA as their main beneficiary,
were our church to ever shut down. It
wasn’t because they harbored resentment; it was because there seemed to be a
clear conflict of interest, and the EFCA had made the church feel like they had
been taken advantage of.
that brings us to when I got called to pastor this church. The church needed to be revitalized, and I
was a young, ambitious pastor who loved the denomination that the church
belonged to. The church body had some
battle scars, but I came to know the people of this church quite well—there
were some deep wounds left over from the EFCA assessment, but they had forgiven
the denomination, and continued to hope for the best.
was not a church that was looking for an excuse to jump out the back of the
proverbial train. They already had their
excuse, if they had wanted one. And who
would have blamed them? No, this was a
church body that was willing to let bygones be bygones. The fact that they didn’t leave the
denomination, even when they felt betrayed by the denomination, is a testimony
the coming blogs, I’ll continue to let the story unfold. For now, let it just be known that I came to
this then-EFCA church with the expectation of spending the rest of my life
pastoring a church in a doctrinally-sound, healthy denomination. But…as it would turn out, “all’s not right in
desire in using this phrase is not to be mean or uncharitable. The phrase apparently originated on a popular
cooking show. There’s a song available
on YouTube with the title “All’s Not Well in Waffleville,” and you can find a
bunch of memes if you put the term into Google’s search engine. As I understand and use this phrase, it’s
something of a popular colloquialism that means that the proverbial ship might
not be as steady as she appears.