Another snippet from my dad John King’s memoir Can You See God in This Picture, this time a particulary painful chapter in my own memory.
Unlike many Christian memoirs, this is not a book full of feel-good experiences. It’s not always “Praise God!” and miracles, because that’s not life. As Dad said to me:
[In another book I read] everything was blessing and miracle and miracle after miracle, in his whole book. My book, you read it, and you don’t see any miracles. You see us getting beat up and knocked down and tripping up and making mistakes, which is the greater part of life. The miracles are few and far between. Where people really live is where we were.
Preachers get in the pulpit every week: ‘Praise God, what He’s going to do.’ It’s always ‘what He’s going to do.’ You know, ‘I can see revival in the air.’ It’s always ‘revival in the air.’ It never comes. It’s always ‘in the air.’ And this book was written to say: I’m not looking ahead to what’s coming. And I’m not taking one miracle in my life and letting that be the sole testimony. We went through this, and now we want to explain this in terms of a blessing from God, in terms of true ministry, in terms of achievement and success and calling. That’s the way it was. And it doesn’t deny us the fact that we were called, that we were blessed.
And sometimes the blessings were tiny. I didn’t win the lottery. Someone didn’t come to me and give me a brand new car when mine broke down. But the real blessings were, I played football with you boys across the road in Burgettstown. Or we played hide and seek in the woods. That’s life. And you lose the little things, because you’re looking for the big things.
I owe it to you to record the final events of our ministry in the Norwood church. This is not sour grapes but a piece of personal history with which we need to be reconciled. I have said my goodbyes and am okay with what happened. Denying it or projecting blame is not an option here. So to the best of my recollection here is the short of it.
October 16, 1988, a meeting was called with district and church officers in attendance. I had received a registered letter requiring my presence, and thinking it had something to do with money, I cut a check for the district which I handed to the district treasurer just before commenting that now we can all go home. Make a mental note of my “smart” attitude. It would show up now and then when I was convinced that I had the right of way. The treasurer wasn’t impressed. He told me it was more serious than that.
It turned out that some national and district officers had met the week before to discuss the agenda, and this meeting was well organized. It had little to do with money. The short of it was they had an interest in my theology regarding the possible loss of salvation —the Calvinist-Wesleyan controversy, which I mentioned already. I understood later from another national official, who was not at the October 16 meeting, that if they could have shown that my theology had changed from what it was when I became the pastor, they would have had grounds for dismissal.
I was put on a 90-day disciplinary leave of absence, which carried little to no meaning in the scheme of things, as it turned out. Ninety days later, I spoke with a church official, who told me that I had been fired. Later, he denied this. Go figure.
What happened next is the next chapter in our adventure, but what might be worth mentioning here is my meeting with CCNA officers at the motel where I took employment after I left the payroll of the Norwood church.
National and district officials met with me on December 7, 1988 at the Howard Johnson’s Motel. The meeting was probably uneventful. Actually I doubt that it was worth their time, unless the executive board was simply inquiring about our departure from Norwood. The only question I recall is one of accountability. My response was that we are all accountable to each other. It is a fellowship, not a hierarchy where the person at the top has no one to police his actions —another one of my smart remarks aimed at the general overseer, to let him know that in my mind he too needed to be policed. After the meeting the general overseer sought out an audience with me in private, wondering if he had done anything to offend me. I told him there was nothing that I could think of, not knowing at the time about the meeting he had attended to draft the agenda for October the 16th.
Messy? Messy. But it did happen that way, and I would be careful finding people to blame. I know I seem to be pointing at the top CCNA leadership, but in all honesty I could not then nor now be sure of who took what responsibility. Since then, I have been reconciled with a number of principal players in this mini-drama.
For now, it was time to move on.
Today, if I could do it all over again, would I react or act in the same fashion? I would probably fight to keep my pulpit, by guaranteeing an audience with the Vice President of the organization. He was not called in, because he was not part of the plan to discipline me. If he would have advised my staying, I would have stayed.
And if I stayed, I would have taken this issue before the people. They had a right to know and—God knows—the grapevine was not silent. Certain board members would probably have been asked to leave the board. This would be difficult for me to recommend, since I have believed in the general goodness of Christians and still like the idea of forgiveness as a working principal in relationships.
I say this because I believe it is Scripturally the best approach in defense of the gospel message and the spiritual interest of the congregation. Attacking a pastor without cause is attacking the pastorate as a principal of Biblical leadership, and it is very wrong.
They felt they had cause. I give them that.
Let’s move on.