This is the second part of a guest post from a pastor who I respect immensely. I can’t recommend enough that you go and read Part 1. The author will remain anonymous to protect the community he serves.
I walked out of Church that Sunday extremely confused and a bit rattled. All I kept thinking was what the heck just happened! Did I really just get openly rebuked and called deceived because I read Rob Bell’s book and liked most of it?
I got in the car and immediately received a call from our senior Pastor. He asked how I was doing, and he told me that we are a team and that he trusts me, and that this kind of behavior was unacceptable. He told me not to worry that he would deal with Tadd.
Honestly, I wasn’t really all that worried, until I woke up Monday morning. Our worship leader called me, and told me about a dozen or more emails that he had received from Tadd and Pheldon slandering me, and some even threatening me. Mass emails had been sent to half of our church body. Even overseas missionaries as far as India had received emails about me and how I had been deceived by a book.
Our Pastor was desperately trying to arrange a meeting between Pheldon, Tadd and our staff so we could discuss this and handle it in a loving way. But they declined and the hostility only continued.
Threats were made through heated emails that they were going to destroy the church if we did not repent. They were convinced that they stood for the truth and we were all deceived. I received an email from Pheldon calling me and our Senior Pastor not genuine Pastors, and saying that I should be more of a prophetic voice of truth concerning this matter. He told me that he had finally read the book, and still condemned Rob Bell as a heretic.
This was my response:
Pheldon, this is the last discussion I’m willing to have about this, but I needed to clear something up, because obviously there is some confusion. I read Rob Bells book, I wholeheartedly disagree with him on his purgatory like notions of hell. I believe in Jesus as the only way to heaven and without Him there is eternal punishment. The ONLY thing that I was unwilling to do is go so far as to condemn a brother as a heretic for his hope that people will not burn forever. I can lovingly disagree with him, and discuss this issue with others, and point out scripturally why I disagree. I’m embarrassed by the way some of my brothers have handled this. I’m frustrated with the toll this is taking on me and my pregnant wife, over a book. I am frustrated with how un- lovingly and disrespectfully you called my pastor and myself not “genuine.” I would have never insulted you that way. I don’t believe this is how Jesus ever intended us to treat each other. So call me what you want, I’m moving on, I have only love in my heart for you still and am holding no offenses against you. We believe the same things Pheldon. For the sake of Jesus, myself, and my family would you please let this go?
His response was simply that I should post what I believe publicly so there is no confusion and that I will be hearing from him no further about this. And thankfully I haven’t.
We did however find out that the Sunday morning before I was confronted by Tadd, in the class that Pheldon teaches he spur of the moment changed topics, and lectured for an hour on Rob Bell’s heresy. He warned everyone not to read his book, and not to discuss it.
Once our staff discovered this they called Pheldon again and asked to set up a meeting. He agreed, then disagreed, then agreed, then never showed up. He sent an email stating that he is leaving the church. We tried once more to meet with him, but he declined.
Every other day or so an email is sent to one of our staff members from Pheldon calling for my repentance, or for our Pastor’s repentance or some other staff members. We have stopped responding, and are trying to move on.
After a week of angry threating emails from Tadd he was asked not to come back to our Church. We even had deacons posted at the doors this past Sunday because of some of the threats he made. He has since sent a letter of apology to our pastor and was encouraged to meet with me. He has declined.
One other couple was involved in this that I have not mentioned, the woman who originally posted the video on facebook. She was extremely upset with me because her oldest son who is 19 wants to read Rob Bells book. We had an hour meeting where I was put on trial. Emails were handed to me and I was asked to read my words in front of the staff.
I stood by all of my comments, and encourage them to read the book for themselves, because it is not in fact from the enemy. It was a grueling and painful meeting, but it ended with prayer, hugs, and a little bit more understanding. Three days later she sent me a letter of apology, stating that she may have overreacted.
The worst part of all of this for me was how far the slander and the gossip had spread. I received phone calls from people I hadn’t seen in five years asking me what was going on. I ran into a friend from another church walking out of Starbucks and he said, “Hey man what’s up?” Then he smiled and said, “Hey just remember love wins.” He laughed and patted my shoulder in an effort to console me.
The church has received numerous calls from various people in the community asking what I believed, if I was a Universalist, and if it’s true that I teach out of Rob Bell’s book. Like I stand in front the church and say, “Now open your books to page 37, today the word of Rob tells us…” Really?
This has been the most unbelievable experience of my life, I’m still scratching my head. But fortunately I have learned quite a bit from all of this as well. There is one main point I wish to highlight.
In the past I have been quick to label people as heretics and false teachers whose doctrines I wholeheartedly disagree with. I have judged Pastors who I don’t even know, and some of whom I have only ever heard fragments of sermons highlighting their supposed wrongness. I have heard rumors and murmurs about ministers down the street, and the preposterous things they have said and did. And I have believed them; I would shake my head and say wow what a shame. And now I know what that feels like. People who don’t even know me are shaking their heads, labeling me, accusing me, and misjudging me. I will never do that again!
Please don’t misunderstand. I believe in historic Christian Doctrine; I believe that in the last days there will be many false teachers and that people will no longer put up with wholesome teaching; I believe that I must test the spirits, and that I must use discernment in ministry.
But I also believe that I should know a person before I try to correct them. I believe that disagreeing with someone’s theology does not automatically make them a heretic. I believe that I should care more about being loving than I do about my need to be right. I believe that it is not God’s will for me to be a source of division in his Body, but an advocate for unity, peace, and authentic relationships where we speak the truth in love, hold each other accountable, and give each other grace, in the same way our Father showers us with grace.
Since I have been called to repentance a hundred times in the past few weeks, I confess that I have repented, and do so now publicly. I repent of all of the ways I have failed to love like Jesus. And I intend to make living and loving like Jesus my highest goal.