Pastor Craig Reiner had prepared a good sermon on Sunday morning on Corinthian’s thirteen. ‘Love,’ Amanda thought. Suspicious, her mind examined every word he spoke. ‘Where is he going with this sermon?’ Almost every topic he had preached on for the last six months were on love, obedience, unity, and evangelism. She had most of the sermon material scribbled in her almost full notebook. All along, she'd had niggling feelings reminding her of the behavior of another pastor.
Tensions had run high at Lakeside Baptist Church in the last few weeks with rumors of change in the church constitution to be discussed in the evening service of January the twentieth, at the annual business meeting.
Amanda had seen the amendment proposition on the bulletin board, in the lobby, after her friend Margie had pointed it out, and asked her to vote no on all counts. Pastor intended to diminish some of the deacon's power, giving him freedom to privately, counsel prospective church members among as well as several, less obvious issues.
Six months ago, Pastor and Nancy Reiner had moved to Lakeside in Coral Bay, in sunny central Florida. Everything was different from the little settlement in Wyoming they had left six months ago. Pastor saw a great potential to expand the small congregation, reaching the vast population surrounding Lakeside Church. He had set to work immediately, implementing change. The wary congregation kept an eye on him.
Amanda, Margie and several other of Lakeside's recent members had belonged to another fundamental Baptist Church for many years when a new pastor took the pulpit. Two painful, disappointing years later, Amanda who had stayed on long after Margie left, joined her at Lakeside. Half of Lakeside's members had drifted here because they
had refused to be subjected to the new movement of liberalism that was spreading like wildfire across denominational boundaries. It had even begun to take over conservative fundamental churches.
Pastor Reiner appeared to be taking the same course the apostate preacher had at Amanda's former church. Obedience-unity-big words taken out of context, equaled dictatorship, the flock paying obeisance to the pastor.
Pastor paused at the end of his sermon, his mouth puckered as though ready to speak but he hesitated for a moment. He appeared to struggle with his thoughts. Amanda straightened and strained toward him.
"I have been your pastor for six months now and today I stand here
confessing that I feel many of you almost fear me," he finally said. "I don't understand. I love you and I had truly hoped you would love me."
‘Aha, that's a twist! Now he's playing on our guilt,' she thought. His momentary confession melded in with another deluge on love while Amanda's thoughts drifted back to her former church.
Pastor Roy Wilson had come, dripping humility and love. A frog-like creature, married to a haughty beauty, he had moved right into the brand new sanctuary built by sacrificial giving. Amanda felt nauseous, remembering the monetary sacrifices she had made to see the beautiful new building emerge. Within six months, Pastor Wilson had let go his staff, deacons, and treasurer; and to add insult to injury, he had taken down the sign and changed the denomination, without a vote and the approval of the congregation. Anyone who grumbled was well advised by pastor and his staff that he did not look kindly on disobedience.
Swiftly, he had brought in family members and friends from another part of the country and instituted a liberal theology. Liberal preaching of a soft gospel, all faiths invited, joined with upbeat, sometimes heavy metal Christian rock music. Altar call, preaching on hell and repentance disappeared at once when he gained control of the
Amanda, vigilant in speaking up within her circles, had warned her friends they needed to take back the church from this imposter. But content and swept along with the excitement of a growing church, they had ignored her.
Amanda focused on her neighbor closing her Bible and she knew
the pastor had finished.
"And so, beloved, please stand for the invitation," Pastor Reiner concluded. Amanda's notebook lay beside her; she stared at the blank page. Yes, she would remember another sermon on love and obedience.
She was glad for once that he had finished, and rushed out to her car. The weight of her suspicions pressed in on her; she almost felt as though she were escaping from an enemy.
Amanda lived alone. Her life revolved around her two pets, her church, and the circle of Christian women friends. Only a year ago, she had left other friends behind for the sake of her convictions when her former church went liberal. The church at large that spanned many denominations was changing, relentlessly moving away from
traditional Christianity, and in her opinion becoming apostate. She grieved to think that she might leave her new friends behind once more. Anxious to know the outcome of the evening meeting, she fidgeted in her apartment all afternoon, getting nothing done.
Rain lingered all day and in the evening, it poured. Amanda had nearly wrecked her car on the way to church in the heavy downpour when a passing car drifted into her lane. The parking lot was full. Every member of the congregation was present.
When the service concluded, Pastor asked visitors and nonmembers to leave before commencing with the annual business meeting. Tension hung heavy in the air. In the concluded sermon, he once again expertly drew out verses from the Bible outlining the importance of the under-shepherd in directing and guiding the sheep. Amanda fumed
inwardly, ‘I can’t help it, that man acts as though he considers himself equal in authority to Jesus Christ.’
The business meeting concluded, minutes were read, a brief pause and before Pastor could speak, Deacon Brady stood up.
"I would like to make a motion. I move that we delay the vote that is on the table tonight for further investigation. I feel we are not prepared to vote at this time," he said and sat down. Pastor stared at him in disbelief, his mouth ajar. His hand flipped back his suit jacket and with a slight tug on his belt he pulled up his pants. Amanda had seen him
do it repeatedly in the past but hadn't yet decided what emotions caused this gesture. She looked around, faces strained toward the pulpit, tension mounting.
"Well, ah- I-I thought we had this settled. I had a meeting with the deacons and I thought we were in agreement. I-I'm at a loss," he stuttered. His hand went up to his balding, gray head, smoothing his hair. Someone else raised a hand up to speak, and for the next thirty minutes one by one, members raised their hands to be heard. Some
pleaded, some spoke directly with force, and strong emotion, contended for and against the proposition to change the church's constitution staying as it had for the past fifty years. "We won't have a dictator!" Roy Fromm, one of the church benefactor’s in good standing finally bellowed as he stood, arms crossed over his chest, frowning.
Someone from across the aisle snorted in disgust. A young woman, who had earlier sung a heavenly solo, turned to faced the congregation. "I can't believe how you can treat this pastor with such indignity, I think it's implied what she means by how she's phrasing it
after all he has accomplished since he came," she growled, her face contorted in anger.
Fifty people Amanda had come to know in some remote mode of Christianity, came to life. People with thoughts, with differences and yes, in Amanda’s opinion, people with slanted theological views. She watched in awe the stage on which the church performed. Deacon Brady made a motion to conclude the meeting.
"So, what do we do with Bob and Mildred Brown, they can't join the church according to the present constitution?" Pastor asked. The congregation fell silent.
"Well, I don't know about that, there may be a way. If they do join, they won't be able to teach any classes of course," Deacon Brady retorted. Amanda turned and gawked at him. 'How could he cave now? This was just the beginning. Couldn't he see the bigger picture, couldn't he figure out that the ambitious new pastor intended to suck up this church and open its doors to people of all faiths? She had the proof in her notes, his carefully planned sermons all had led up to this.
Pastor chose the last song and the group filed out into the rain.
Amanda drove along, conversing loudly with herself. It was dark out, no one saw or heard her ranting. The nerve of Pastor coming into the church with an agenda to change its very foundation; she would do her best to keep it from happening. She passed twenty prosperous churches three times a week on her way to Lakeside, one, five minutes from home. She knew that those churches fell in line with her former church by just reading their non-denominational church banner.
Back-sliding for a long time, Amanda, a Christian of thirty-five years; had just this past year truly recommitted her life to serve God. She credited it to the straight Bible preaching and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the little, ultra conservative congregation. This had become her safe haven where prayers were answered and
miracles still happened.
A couple, living in the streets had come begging for food and shelter. Hearing the gospel and receiving Christ, the husband took an offer of a good paying job within a week. A woman who was given two months to live began to grow stronger and her following check-up showed no sign of her illness. Even Amanda was amazed at her own circumstances. The church was in transition when she began to attend and she was keenly aware that they could not afford the salary of a new pastor. Amanda had lost her retirement by investing and she now barely survived as she struggled along with teaching part time, two classes a week. During her devotions, she became burdened to tithe her income at a most inconvenient time to help pay the new pastor’s salary. Within two months, she added seven more classes to her schedule. She had tried in vain to increase her workload before she began tithing. God was at work in her church, not only in answered prayers, but the sweet love of Christian fellowship spread among the members.
Amanda had been happier of late than ever before. But now, with this dread looming before her, what difference did it make now? She felt dejected. Any church would do if the fingers of apostasy spread wide touching even these isolated small congregation.
By the time she arrived at home, her mind had cleared sufficiently to afford her a little comfort. Some of the congregation had come out of places like her former church
and they knew the ropes. Together they could fight for Lakeside this time.
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