"A fly in the ointment"
A close friend during the 25 years I have worked in New York City has recently gone through a spiritual crisis that has affected the church. He has been married three times in his sixty-five years! As more information has come to light about his situation, it has become obvious that his first and last divorce put his right to remarry in great doubt. We have told him that he should treasure his salvation and not put it in jeopardy by remarrying a fourth time. He heartedly agreed and promised to remain unmarried. We told him that if he ever allowed that resolve to weaken, we would have to discipline him as a congregation.
However, several weeks ago my close friend told us that he had married one of our impressive new converts. We begged them both not to follow through with their plans, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Its as if were talking to two teenagers who insist on a disastrous relationship, responding to every logical objection by saying, "but were in love!" Therefore, the church has decided to withdraw from them.
A complicating factor is that this couple that we love so much, has indicated that they will continue to attend services with us. That puts us in the awkward situation of wanting to be polite with them, and not treat them as enemies, even as we avoid giving them the impression that they are well spiritually. An overt shunning and refusal to shake hands looks terrible to visitors. However, an "all-is-well" type of greeting undermines the purpose of spiritual discipline. I hope the church can handle this awkward situation wisely.
To complicate matters even more, our sister who we had to discipline has continued to work to encourage visitors that attend our services! She has a warm and open personality that attracts them to her. It is not easy to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We ask for prayers.
Our best new contacts now are Sylvia and Catherine. Sylvia is a single mother, probably in her late thirties, who visited services with sister Mercedes, an elderly disciple she cares for. She remarked that she never had seen as much love as she saw at Upper Manhattan and gladly accepted our invitation for a home study. We are reading portions of Luke and Acts with her and her well-behaved son, Anthony, in their home in the Bronx.
Catherine, who is seventeen years old, was invited to services at Fair Lawn by her friend, Ana Gladys Mejía. She came to our teenagers class and immediately showed a lively interest in our study of Second Chronicles. She accepted an invitation for a personal home Bible study that we began yesterday in Elizabeth, NJ. Catherine is very bright and very interested in the Bible. Though only seventeen, she has an 11-month-old baby. Perhaps that situation has made her more serious about life than many of her peers.
I had a very enjoyable visit last week with brethren that meet on Jackson Drive in Athens, Alabama. I preached for them two nights during a weeklong meeting they have every year. While in North Alabama, I was able to visit the lectureship at the College View Congregation in Florence. What a treat that was, listening to excellent preaching and seeing so many old friends!
This report is coming out early because I will be "running around like a chicken with its head cut off" next week. That is the week before our yearly camp. It appears that that the camp, scheduled for July 1-7 this year, will continue to grow, with around 170 in attendance. I always fear that one year it will become too much for me to handle, but so far we have survived and Im sure we will this year as well.