Following nearly two years (1975-76) of ministry in Peterborough, England, my wife and I (along with our son, Scott, who had been born in Peterborough) packed our belongings and returned to the U.S. We immediately began paperwork to enter Canada.
Finally, the necessary documents arrived and we packed and moved to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in March of 1978 – now a family of four as Lois had given birth to our daughter, Rebecca, during those months of waiting. We would have one more child, Elisabeth, during the Dartmouth years.
With no contacts, save for, Don & Janice Robins, New Brunswick Bible Institute (NBBI) classmates who were planting a church just outside Dartmouth with the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada (FEBCC), we arrived in Dartmouth to plant a congregation from scratch. It was both an exciting and terrifying prospect.
Don Robins introduced me to Clair & Betty Hofstetter who were planting a congregation with the FEBCC – in Dartmouth of all places! Their work was located in a newly-developing part of the city called Forest Hills. My target area was the older, central core of the city.
Shortly after settling in Dartmouth, Clair Hofstetter introduced me to two of the leaders in the FEBCC. They listened as I shared my vision to plant an independent church in Dartmouth. When they invited me to consider planting with the FEBCC, I declined because I was committed to establishing independent, fundamental, dispensationalist Church. The FEBCC, while having many pastors with dispensationalist leanings, took an open position on eschatology. I was not ready for that much openness.
Despite my reticence to be closely identified with the FEBCC, Clair and I became good friends. In God’s providence, within four years I would become pastor of the church he planted – Forest Hills Fellowship Baptist Church. But that is a story for a future post.
Over the next two years, God blessed the work that ultimately became Open Bible Baptist Church. I did not plant this church alone. Along with my wife, the Mission placed a single woman, Alice Sand, and a couple, Rob & Donna Heijermans to work along with us. It was a great team, and we were blessed to see people coming to faith in Christ, being baptized, and growing in spiritual maturity.
The Mission with whom we served was (and still is) decidedly independent, fundamental and dispensational. As members of WEF, we were required to annually sign the doctrinal statement, declaring that we held these beliefs without mental reservation. It was a signature that I had freely and gladly given since joining the Mission in 1972. And as expected, the church we planted subscribed to the same tightly-defined doctrinal statement.
However, concurrent with planting this congregation, I was continuing to read reformed literature – particularly as it related to the doctrine of salvation. I was wrestling with the implications of
Limited atonement (I prefer the term definite atonement),
Irresistible grace, and
Perseverance of the saints
the doctrines commonly known by the acronym, T.U.L.I.P.
Because the reformed authors I was reading generally embraced Covenant Theology and were amillennial or postmillennial, I was constantly challenged regarding my dispensational, premillenialism. And while I still retained a commitment to dispensational premillennialism (including a pretribulational rapture – a requirement of our Mission’s doctrinal beliefs); I was beginning to have questions.
Somewhere along the way, not particularly related to my exploration of T.U.L.I.P., I read The Church and the Tribulation by Robert H. Gundry. His posttribulational apologetic rattled my confidence in a pretribulational rapture. I still believed, but the questions were growing.
Someone, I don’t recall who right now, gave me John A. Sproule’s In Defense of Pretribulationism, a detailed review and rebuttable of Gundry’s book. I read this 64-page booklet several times, making copious notes. But, rather than solidifying my commitment to a pretribulational rapture, it further eroded my confidence in the position. I still held it, but not without some unanswered questions.
The annual signing of the Mission’s doctrinal statement loomed, and while I could still sign it, I could not sign it without reservations. My growing commitment to a reformed soteriology, coupled with an eroding confidence in a pretribulational rapture was leading to a crisis of conscience.