The three days of theological training couldn’t have been further from what Sam wanted. It was dry and abstract, and did nothing to soothe the pain that ate away at him. Every argument and discussion he entered was aggressive and volatile, even when he didn’t really object to the point being made he took it upon himself to take offence. He was even more contrary than usual and as he returned to London on Saturday morning he was undecided if he’d even turn up to church the next day.
It should have been the point he’d been aiming for since he began his apprenticeship, he’d been given the opportunity to preach in the morning service. In the snatches of time that he had found over the break between tormenting himself with Alex and Adam’s antics he was proud of his preparations. At one point he had even considered exposing Adam from the stage in the middle of his preach, finding a tangent off which to launch a vicious crusade against the church’s philandering pastor. Common sense prevailed and Sam put together a mediocre sermon that would hardly bring revival but wouldn’t get him booed off the stage either.
However, as Sam got home Adam texted him, “I’m going to be making a special announcement at church tomorrow so you won’t be preaching, please do come and hear what I have to say.” With that Adam discovered a curious mix of emotions, frustration at missing his chance to preach, but also a slight satisfaction as it seemed Adam had heeded his suggestion and would be facing up to the consequences of his actions.
The atmosphere in church seemed more sombre than usual to Sam, although maybe he had projected that from his expectations of what would come later. He noticed that Alex was not there, he wondered if she had been asked to come, or maybe asked to stay away. He could certainly understand why she would not want to be there, Sam was not sure he wanted to be there either.
As the church rose and sat to sing the songs and hear the prayers and readings Sam’s mind drifted to consider what Adam would have done over the past couple of days. Presumably he had told the other elders, and surely they would have something to say after Adam had made his announcement. Sam thought it improbable that he would be allowed to continue in his post as before, at the very least a period of penitence away from the visibility of the church would be required.
The Reverend Doctor took to the pulpit as if it was a regular Sunday, many would have thought that he was about to introduce Sam as their speaker for that morning. Instead he adopted a sombre tone. “It is a pleasure to lead Holland Park Baptist Church, and virtually every part of this job I love and thrive in. However, there are some aspects that bring no joy. And today I am afraid is one of them.
“Last week some very serious allegations were brought to my attention and I have done all that I can to deal with them sensitively and compassionately. It was my sincere hope that his could be resolved in a quiet and private manner. Unfortunately the actions of the people in question have made this impossible.
“Some of the responsibility for anything that happens within this congregation must fall upon my shoulders, and I personally feel that burden. It has saddens me that the actions of others also betrays a lack of Godly wisdom and discretion in my own life. I must apologise that I have played a part in bringing this situation into the church.
“There are many challenges that face us in this world as we seek to live as disciples of Jesus and uphold his holy and righteous ways. These challenges are not less severe here in London, they are, I would suggest even harder to resist. The world that we live in tells us so many things that are contrary to the word of truth which we must seek to live by. Never is the way of the world more at odds to the way of Christ than when it comes to our relationships. The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to what is the right way to build sexual relationships. There is no alternative, they are only to exist within marriage.
“That is not a popular message in the world we inhabit. It tells us we can have what we want whenever we want it. It sells us the consumerist gospel that we are entitled to everything and anything we wish. And it opposes those who suggest we must be disciplined and restrained in what we do. The world would tell us that there is no reason not to have sexual relations with someone who we were in love with, whoever that may be and at whatever stage or level of commitment that relationship was at. That is not the teaching of the Bible and it is not the sort of conduct that is compatible with growing in Christ as part of Holland Park.
“The Bible teaches us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I have sinned and I will go on sinning. I am a filthy sinner clothed only in the glorious robes of Christ’s forgiveness. But our sin is not a burden we have to carry, it is not a life that we cannot escape, it is not inevitable that we will fall in to temptation, that we will succumb to the schemes of Satan. We must be strong, we must find our strength in Christ to flee from sin when it presents itself. We must fall on our knees and beg of Christ’s forgiveness when we dirty the brilliant white that he has covered us in. We must be assured that we are saved not because of what we do, but but the reckless grace of God, who in his mercy sent his son to die for us.
“It is therefore with great sadness that we find ourselves where we do today. That we find ourselves in a place where continued, unconfessed, in fact, denied sin has blighted someone’s life. Following attempts to resolve the situation in private and to find that the person in question is not only continuing in their destructive pattern of behaviour but they deny that it is taking place, and as a result are completely unrepentant of their sin. As a church it is necessary at this stage that we take careful but clear public action.
“At the start of last term we had a new apprentice start working for the church, and it is about Samuel Engle that I now want to speak. In many ways Samuel has been a blessing to the church. He has been a key part of the office and I know many of the students greatly valued the efforts that he put into your activities. There are two key things that need to be made clear about why we are doing what we are doing today. The first strand which I will comment on is not in and of itself the reason for our actions. The second, however, is.
“Firstly Samuel has been conducting theological training alongside his work here. Samuel has a lively mind and engages in many heated discussions around the church. His tutors have commented that it is more than just an activity in playing Devil’s Advocate. It would appear that he is ready to question core aspects of the evangelical truth to which we hold.
“As I said, that is cause for concern, especially if true to the extent suggest would mean he falsely signed the church compact. But it is the second aspect which I must dwell on. For the past few months Sam has been engaged in continued and persistent sinful activity. I have confronted him about his actions but he refuses to acknowledge the veracity of my observations, and as a result will not cease his behaviour or repent of his sin.
“Samuel has been having an inappropriate, and deeply sinful, sexual relationship with a young woman. Despite being caught in a deeply compromising position he has continued to protest his innocence. It was only with the testimony and confession of the other party that I felt able to confront him and give him a final chance to repent and seek forgiveness before it was necessary to take this current public and difficult step.
“I have thought long and hard over whether to name the other party involved in this fornication. In the end I decided, and the elders backed this decision, that given her repentance it was neither necessary nor appropriate to bring her name into the open and make an already horrendous situation even worse.
“The person in question will be placed under church discipline and we hope that full restoration will be attainable within a short period of time. This has been an experience that I would never choose and there have been many unwanted elements that I wished were not present, nor necessary for me to do. And in considering how to deal with Samuel I faced the hardest. This past few months we have worked closely, his behaviour came as such a shock to me, and I alluded earlier that I must bear some of the responsibility, and this is why, it was my choice to offer him the role and I did not pick up that something was wrong until too late.
“Last night I met with the elders to discuss what to do. In short there were two options, and those two options are both still possible courses of action. The first is that Samuel comes under the church’s discipline and fully confesses his actions, steps down from all positions of responsibility, and seeks to rebuild based on God’s grace and guidance. The alternative is that if Samuel is unwilling to confess, repent and come under the church’s authority then I am afraid that I am in no position other than to say this church will no longer be a place where he can fellowship.”
The church had sat with rapt attention throughout the Reverend Doctor’s address. Stunned expressions stretched across the pews, and none were more stunned than the expression etched onto Sam’s face. He could not believe what he had just heard. And then the church began to turn, almost in unison towards him. They follow Adam’s gaze, as thought waiting for an answer.
Sam considered the question impossible to answer because it had no grounding in the truth. He strode up the centre aisle and took the microphone from Adam and faced the congregation. “I am not going to answer the claims that the Reverend Doctor this morning. He has made them because I have caught him in an inappropriate relationship and he refused to admit it. It is he who we should be disciplining, it is he who should be kicked out of the church.”
And before Sam could say another word the microphone was snatched back. “I think we have heard enough,” Adam adopted his solemn pose before he went on, “I think you ought to leave Sam, you can come into the office this week to clear out your stuff. We will all be praying for you and when you are ready to confess your sins and call on the Lord for repentance we will welcome you with open arms.”
Sam hung around beside the pulpit where he had been left as Adam had resumed his pious utterings, he could not grasp the extent of what had gone on. But he slowly sensed the need to move as the eyes from across the church bore down on him and waited for him to move. So he started to walk, but not before a last look back at Adam standing in the pulpit preparing to now give the main part of the morning’s sermon. And in the front row, unnoticed until now sat Alex. As she studiously avoided Sam’s stare he began to leave the church, it was only fleeting but the look that went from Adam to Alex, and then returned. That looked said it all.