As many of you know, in 2002 and 2003, Misty and I went through a very difficult ordeal in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church over a doctrinal difference concerning the ten commandments. I was brought up on charges and there was a lengthy trial that spanned a period of about a year and a half. I was found guilty by the Presbytery of Southern California by a vote of 17 to 16, and my subsequent appeal to the General Assembly was denied, even though the Advisory Committee had unanimously recommended (with one abstention) that my appeal be sustained. Realizing that I had no further recourse, in October of 2003, after much prayer and reflection, I decided to peaceably withdraw from the OPC and seek a new denominational affiliation. In February, 2004, the Presbytery accepted my decision to renounce the jurisdiction of the OPC and erased my name from its roll under the provision of the Book of Discipline for cases without full process. In March, 2004, Misty and I were received as members of New Life Burbank (PCA).
Four years later, in 2008, with the session’s encouragement and support, I applied to come under care as a candidate for the ministry in the PCA. The Pacific Presbytery (PP-PCA) contacted the Presbytery of Southern California (PSC-OPC) and inquired as to the status of my case. On May 2, 2008, the PSC-OPC wrote a letter to the PP-PCA that seemed to imply that my censure in the OPC was ongoing, or at least that is how the PP-PCA initially interpreted it. As a result, the PP-PCA rejected my application to come under care and encouraged me to seek reconciliation so as to have the censure resolved (mistakenly assuming it was ongoing).
Since I was unable to pursue re-ordination as a teaching elder in the PCA, I was instead nominated by the congregation and ordained as a ruling elder in September, 2008.
A few months later, when the PP-PCA heard that I had been ordained as a ruling elder, they erected a committee to see if there were any irregularities. The committee concluded that the session of New Life did not violate the constitution of the PCA to ordain me as a ruling elder, although it would have been wise if New Life had communicated with the PSC-OPC first. In May, 2009, the PP-PCA adopted the recommendations of the committee. This was a relief, but there was one loose end. The presbytery asked the session of New Life to write to the PSC-OPC to clarify its 2008 communication.
On August 3, 2009, the session did so. The PSC-OPC received NLB's letter and began drafting a response. This past January, I learned that my former presbytery had a draft of a letter that they were going to vote on in February. Now up to this point, I was so angry with the way Misty and I had been treated, if someone had asked me if I would ever be willing to go and meet with my old presbytery, I would have said, No way. The negative emotions would have been too much for me. But the Lord rather unexpectedly put in my heart a desire to go and meet with the brothers in the OPC. I can’t tell you how or why, but God took away my fear and drained away the negative emotions.
I’m so glad I decided to go. I think just showing up and shaking their hands broke the ice and humanized me in their eyes. And God in his grace did what seemed like a miracle. It was largely due to the leadership of the man who had been the prosecutor in my case. He and I hold different positions on the Law, but he graciously reached out to me by email a few days ahead of time. During the debate on the floor, he made a crucial speech that helped the presbytery change course. The presbytery indefinitely tabled the letter that had been drafted and adopted a new letter on the spot which essentially said that it would have been best if the session of New Life had communicated with the OPC before ordaining me as a ruling elder; nevertheless, they acknowledged the PCA’s right to evaluate my doctrine and to duly call me to ordained service. This letter passed overwhelmingly with only a handful of negative votes.
After the vote was over, I was given an opportunity to address the presbytery. I thanked the men for their action. I told them that even though what I went through in 2002-3 was very painful, both for me and for them, I believe the Lord used it for my spiritual growth. Being an ordained minister and engaging in theological debates had become something of an idol for me. And because the ministry had become an idol, I neglected my relationships with my wife and children. But the Lord abruptly took that idol away from me for my own good. In my stripped down condition, I have been able to focus on just being a better Christian, a better husband to Misty, and a better father to my children. I have learned to be more patient, more longsuffering, and more humble.
Afterward, many men came up to me and thanked me for what I said, including some of the men who had been opposed to me back then. It was moving to shake their hands and even hug some of them. Later that night, I cried for about 10 minutes, so thankful for the Lord’s goodness to a sinner like me.
I was filled with two seemingly contradictory emotions. On the one hand, I was overjoyed at the prospect that after all these years, I might be free to pursue re-ordination as a teaching elder. On the other hand, I was overwhelmed with a sense of my profound sinfulness and unworthiness. I felt like Peter when Jesus told him to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch. Peter said, “Master, we have toiled all night and took nothing!” Nevertheless, he did as Jesus said, and he took such a large catch of fish that the nets were breaking and the boats were almost sinking. When Peter realized what happened he fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Sometimes the Lord’s goodness makes you aware of how sinful you are, of how unworthy you are of his goodness and grace. For my part, like Peter, my sinfulness was my unbelief. I went into the meeting with little expectation that the presbytery would do the right thing. I had demonized the presbytery in my mind and had assumed that they were implacably opposed to me. It turned out that they wanted to move on and get some closure, just as much as I did. I know that we still disagree theologically, but I think we have come to a point of saying that we can agree to disagree and move forward as better servants of Christ.
One of the things I am keenly aware of is the importance of the body of Christ in helping us when we are hurting. I'm so thankful for the love, prayers, and support of the congregation of New Life Burbank. When we left the OPC it was like being pushed off a cliff. But congregation’s acceptance of Misty and me over the years softened the landing and helped us heal.