5/2/05 Report on Work New York City area
Problems at the
Every congregation I know in New York City has a constant influx of Christians from different parts of the world with vastly different backgrounds. Our policy at Upper Manhattan has been to avoid partyism and accept all baptized believers, knowing that many have unconventional ideas. Our hope is that good teaching will correct whatever is lacking. However, the danger always exists that some with unorthodox concepts may not receive Bible teaching and instead may begin to exert their influence on others with their questionable ideas. This has happened at Upper Manhattan.
Our problems revolve around three brethren influenced by the Pentecostal Movement. One is particularly friendly and has therefore been able to influence about ten of the new and weak Christians. I woke up to that fact when they almost succeeded (when some of us were distracted) in having one of our new converts give her "testimony" in front of the congregation about a sore knee that she felt was healed. I decided to give a series of lessons in the adult Bible class on the Bible as Gods unique revelation. During the series, and also during a special Saturday Bible study, the three brethren decided to openly challenge the fact that the Bible is Gods only revelation, implying that he also gives us direct revelations through dreams and the events of our lives. They were often combative and disruptive with their comments.
Finally, several leading men of the congregation, picture below during happier times, decided to act. Most in the mens meeting agreed that public responsibilities should be taken away from the three as a type of "first admonition." They hoped that it would not only wake them up to our concern about attitudes, but also serve notice to some who sympathize with them. Unfortunately, the medicine hasnt gone down well. The three are defiant about the discipline and succeeded yesterday in completely disrupting the service along with the help of a fourth ally who will now be disciplined. The good news is that most of the other brethren seem determined to see the problem dealt with and are united that even stronger measures should be taken now that the first admonition has not accepted. I am concerned during this type of problem not only for the men who are mistaken, but loved by all, but the new converts and for visitors who observe their outbursts.
Fair Lawn, Morristown.
The wisdom of Gods plan for the autonomy of local congregations can be seen in the fact that the Spanish church at Fair Lawn is completely unaffected by the problems at Upper Manhattan. Brethren there continue to grow in the faith and work with each other to deal with the challenges of daily living in the kingdom.
Several congregations in the New York City area (one from Brooklyn, two from the Bronx and one from Morristown/Whippany, New Jersey) composed primarily of brethren from Central America meet together one Sunday afternoon every three months. Ive tried to maintain good personal relationships with these brethren through the years and was invited to speak to their gathering in Morristown last month. I decided to accept and was warmly received by about 200 Christians. Ive talked to several of these brethren through the years about my concerns that such meetings may begin to be perceived as official or semi-official "church of Christ" meetings with agendas developed for the network of churches represented. Theyve listened, acknowledged the possible dangers of such concepts and continued. As far as I know, none of the congregations are involved in anything openly unscriptural, though most would have a "mainstream" background with some denominational concepts. Please pray that I may use wisdom in dealing with such good brethren.
One interesting new contact in Upper Manhattan is José Ballona from Peru. In one of my first studies with José I talked with him about the shepherds of Luke 2 and noticed that he was smiling and nodding knowingly. It turns out that he was a shepherd in Peru! After taking care of sheep for a while, he went to Lima and study auto mechanics before coming to the States. Hes now a mechanic in the Bronx. Ive never studied with a shepherd before.
The next few months will be very busy. Im planning for our weeklong young peoples get together in July. No churches are involved. As always, if you know of anyone who would like to financially help some needy young people to attend, let me know and I will send you material telling you how to help. Immediately after that "camp," our oldest daughter, Rebecca, is marrying David Bermudez, a very spiritually minded and conscientious young man from Columbia. His father, Nestor, preaches in Bogotá. Pray for them.
I enjoyed a meeting last week with the church in Joliet, Illinois. It was a treat to spend time with their preacher Dan Peters, his family, Carrie Tambling, a good friend for almost 10 years and other good brethren. I was able to see Ramón Vargas from Puerto Rico who Ive know for many years. Ramón Vargas is in the far right in the picture with the black coat on. Nelly, his wife is beside him, Nelson, his son is in the red shirt with his wife, Marilin and the kids.
Theres lots to do and little time in which to do it! I ask for your prayers and thank you for them.