I have not cried so much in one day since my mother died twelve years ago. When you pour so much of your heart and mind and energy and hope and prayer into a relationship, the ending is a burning behind the eyes and a piercing through the chest.
When the merger discussions ended on Monday (October 27) night God poured out his grace on fourteen weary men who had come to love each other very much. We took each other's hands and prayed. We embraced as though a son were going off to war. It was a precious and heart-wrenching meeting. But now the merger negotiations are over and some explanation must be given. I'll try.
A possible merger between Bethlehem and First Baptist has been in discussion since April 24. Since then it has consumed countless hours. Hundreds of people have labored to make it happen. We on the Consolidation Committee know that our own lives will be the richer and wiser for having come to know and work beside the team from First Baptist.
So not without a deep stirring of our hearts did Bethlehem's Consolidation Committee and Deacons vote to discontinue the pursuit of a merger. We hold fast a love for the saints at First Baptist and pray earnestly for their spiritual prosperity in the days to come.
We realize that this decision will be a profound disappointment to many and that both churches will face afresh extraordinary challenges. Nevertheless, we are constrained by conscience to end the pursuit of the merger for at least four reasons. No single event has led to this decision. But the accumulated weight of the following observations has finally pressed itself upon us with irresistible force and gravity.
- The biblical and theological differences between the Bethlehem pastoral staff and a significant number of people at First Baptist, including influential leaders, are substantial.
- Our philosophies of ministry are sufficiently diverse so as to make compatibility precarious.
- The differing attitudes toward denominational involvement would make denominational relationships controversial and divisive.
- In view of these observations the weakness of the vote to call Pastor John takes on a color of ongoing, significant division.
We regret that the full weight of these insights was not felt sooner. Both churches could have been spared six months of pursuing a dream that has proved unworkable. We apologize for any weaknesses or sins that may have kept us from avoiding this costly detour. Our hope is in the God of Roman 8:28 who causes his chastened servants to say, “Lo, it was for my welfare that I had great affliction” (Isaiah 38:17).
Under his mercy,
for the Consolidation Committee