A Proposal Only

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A few weeks ago, I told the story of how I became a paedobaptist. I need to develop one portion of that story just a little further for several reasons. The first reason is that it is just plain interesting. The second reason is that certain details from that story have gotten swept up into some of the current controversy. And as I have mentioned before, we hold to a faith where historical details matter. Because we serve the God of truth, we affirm that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, a cardinal historical truth. But for the same reason, St. Paul also denied that he kept switching his travel plans, saying yes, yes, and no, no. In the latter instance, such things are not a big deal in themselves, but when they get swirled into the course of theological controversy, they become a big deal because of the things they get connected to.

When Charlie Nolan left our church and began gathering up his materials to use against us, one of the people he connected with was Terry Morin, who had left the church about a decade before. When I first posted the story of how I became a paedobaptist a few weeks ago, I had referred to Terry, but not by name. He was the elder who left the church a very short time after the critical heads of household meeting, and he was the elder who had (amazingly) suggested taking the baptistic statement out of our statement of faith. I had not referred to Terry by name because he had not yet fully entered the fray under his own steam. But since the recent World magazine debacle, he has joined in the festivities in several places (the Warfield list, the World magazine blog, and he has posted some related documents on his own web site). So among other things, this relieves me of the responsibility of using various circumlocutions like “a certain gentleman.”

It also enables me to express gratitude to God for the years of friendship Nancy and I had with Terry and Linda, by name. I really wish that it were not necessary to go through all this. I also need to say that the implosion of our friendship with the Morins was and is one of the great griefs of our lives. And even though it has become necessary to talk about these things publicly, I still don’t want to say, write, or do anything that would preclude a godly reconciliation. But this desire does not mean being quiet when it is no longer possible. I don’t think St. Paul was unloving to point out what Demas had done, and I am sure that Paul did not love him any less. The fact remained, and was recorded for us, that Demas deserted Paul because he was in love with the world.

This is the context of our sadness over the shipwreck that Terry has made of his earlier convictions. In one of his recent posts, Terry has said that it was in part his association with me that cost him his faculty position at the UI. Such an injustice may well have happened, because that is the kind of thing Intoleristas do. But if Terry paid a price for our friendship, it was an association we both had put our hand to, and gladly. One of Terry’s problems with the UI was that he had very courageously and publicly handed out literature protesting a play celebrating homosexuality on campus. I was certainly proud to be associated with him. But he has since then changed his priorities, and has a new set of confederates to be proud of him. For one example, he signed a “Not In Our Town” petition to run Christ Church out of our town (a petition that ran as an ad in our newspaper), and the preamble to that petition was very plainly championing the same kind of “diversity” he once so courageously opposed.

Anyhow, when we first received the ream of charges from Charlie Nolan a few years ago, included in this package were some affidavits from Terry Morin. One of those affidavits stated that I had “not submitted” to the lawful authority of the church, and that I intended to “rule” the church unconstitutionally. This affidavit was referring to the controversy that had erupted back when I had become a paedobaptist. This charge of a lack of submission on my part was astonishing, given what had actually happened, and so I and our current session attempted in a number of ways to get together with Terry to talk about this, but to no avail. Terry has refused to meet with us. My intial assumption was that Terry had been somehow crowded into doing all this by Charlie, but subsequent events have shown that he has become a willing participant, advancing the story entirely on his own. And so, was this yes, yes, and no, no on my part? Do I talk large when it comes to submission to authority, but then, when the great test came in my own life, did I refuse?

A half truth presented as the whole truth is an untruth. This affidavit (as well as the other affidavit containing charges against me) falls handily in that position. What Terry has dishonestly left out of his affidavit was the fact that the letter that was sent out to the congregation was attached to a cover letter that stated emphatically that what the three elders were putting forward was only a proposal. In his affidavit, Terry says, “We sent a similar letter dated 12/5/93, explaining the situation to all the families in the church, and called a meeting of the heads of households for Dec. 10, 1993, to answer questions, give explanations and defenses, as required.” But everything rides on whether they were answering questions, giving explanations, and defenses for a decision, or were ready to answer questions, give explanations and defenses for a proposal that would then require a subsequent decision.

In the cover letter that went to the congregation, the three elders promised the men that they would take no action without consulting with the men in it. This meant that they had taken no action before the meeting (unless they were lying, which I do not believe they were). The letter made it as plain as words can make it that no action had been taken at all. The men of the congregation took this at face value and (in the days after the meeting) a number of them began drafting various other alternatives than the one outlined in the proposal from the three elders. The three elders had created their proposal (for that is what they called it) in a secret meeting/meetings about which I knew nothing. And when they presented it to the men, there was absolutely nothing about it that was settled or determined. The three elders expressly denied that they had determined or decided anything at this point. Now how is it possible to refuse to submit to no decision at all?

The input from the men that night (remember that the elders had said they would do nothing without getting input from them) was overwhelmingly that they did not want our church to divide over this issue of infant baptism. They did not want me to step down, and they did not want the other elders to step down. The men wanted us all to remain. The appeal from the men was this — work it out. The men did not say that they wanted to “go with Doug and you baptistic elders can take a hike.” A number of the men who made this appeal to the elders to work together were themselves baptists. In many ways it was a wonderful meeting, and a testimony to how baptists and paedobaptists (and a few agno-baptists) can really get along. But unfortunately, two of the three elders did not take the pleas of the men for unity to heart. Terry left his eldership and the church a very short time later.

So the elders had said before this heads of household meeting that they were putting forward a proposal only. We had that meeting between the elders and the men, but then there was no record or knowledge of a subsequent meeting of the three elders, which is the only time they could have made their decision. If they had made such a decision at another secret elder meeting, and communicated it as a decision and not as a proposal, then I would have trusted God and submitted to it. I am not saying it would have been easy, but that was what I was all set to do.

But Nancy and I were left waiting for the decision that the elders never made. I believe, sincerely and without guile, that their proposal that night was only a proposal. I believed this because they had insisted to the congregation that this is what it was. In order for the proposal to become a decision, the elders would have had to have met and voted. You can’t have a decision without deciding. But they did not do that.

Nevertheless, we still knew that this is what the other elders wanted to do (their proposal certainly indicated their desires), and after the heads of household meeting, they still had the votes to do it. Even if they had invited me to a subsequent elder meetings, which seems appropriate as I was an elder, the motion to do what they had proposed to the men would have carried. And if there had been such a meeting, and had such a motion been made, I would have voted no, and then would have submitted to the decision. I would have stepped down as pastor and elder, and I would not have left the church. Nancy and I had worked through where we would go, and the answer was nowhere.

In short, the other elders could have made a decision, but they never did. And unless they made a decision, it was not possible for me to defy it. What Terry needs to do in order to make his affidavit stick is produce the minutes of a non-existent elders meeting after the heads of household meeting, in which meeting a decision was made to implement the plan they had earlier presented to the men emphatically as a proposal, and they went so far as to underline words like proposal. But there are no such minutes, because there was no such meeting. There was no such decision. And there was no rebellion or disobedience on my part to any decision of our elders at any time. I am afraid that Terry has grossly mis-remembered and misrepresented what happened. And I am also convinced at this point that the only possibility for reconciliation is for Terry to swallow his pride and admit that he has been wrong. Wrong on the intial facts, wrong to remain in bitterness for a decade, wrong to take up with Charlie Nolan, wrong to win the “strange new respect” of those he used to oppose so courageously, and wrong to take the show on the road.

I am acutely aware of the use to which enemies of the gospel can put this kind of public controversy between Christians. I wish that we could have settled this in private meetings. We attempted that repeatedly and were rebuffed. And now World magazine has done a great deal of damage by (in effect) dragging these things out onto the national stage, and part of my ministerial responsibility now includes trying to deal with the consequences of their decision. And so we remember with gratitude that God is still on the throne.

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