A Pilgrimage to a Far Left Land
I cried on April 13, 1962. Not right away though. It wasn’t because Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13 or because that was the day we got the first two dollar bill. The doctor slapped me. Most babies cry, but I had to warm up to my scream, at least according to my father, who also says I came out looking black from lack of oxygen. You don’t have to guess how it ends. Somebody’s typing this.
It was St. Elizabeth’s in Danville, IL. My parents were from Covington, IN, but we didn’t have a hospital in the small town on the Wabash River. So dad drove mom across the river, past Olin corporation, the factory where he worked making cellophane for seventeen years, by the podunk village of Foster, where he grew up on a rural farm without electricity, and then across the border to the nearest not-so-thriving metropolis. Danville had reached its peak in my early childhood, but with my apologies to current residents, Danville today mostly looks like a bombed-out, deteriorating war zone. My childhood memory, however, was a spit-shined big city with Alexander’s sporting goods store and the Burger Chef, before McDonalds sprung up with massive yellow arches.
I came back to St. Elizabeth’s five years later to have out my tonsils and adnoids. Before that was the nun who gave me my first blood test. I was a scrawny little kid—my dad called me “ginny-legs.” And the sister couldn’t find the vein. Now, I don’t see one of her career-choice without thinking of her with the exploratory needle, digging for one of my blood vessels. She tried both arms before eureka. Mom says I turned a shade whiter than the chalky tone I already had. I won’t forget the hamburger afterward to reward the abuse I endured, mom sympathizing.
My parents named me “Kent” after the Kent line, a branch of my paternal grandmother’s lineage that sprouted out of Kent, England. The Brandenburgs came from what is the state of Brandenburg, which has a rich and deep German history. The family name titles one of the most significant historic sites in all of Germany, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and one of the most beloved musical compositions of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
Dad and mom brought me home and threw a basketball in my crib like most of the parents in Hoosierville, that is, Covington (pop 2500), where I grew up until twelve years of age, was and is the county seat of Fountain County (pop 17,000), home of a historic courthouse. You’re never wanting of a pickup game in these small Indiana towns, even if you need your shovel to clear off the snow. Every little boy learns a proper pick and a lay-up with the weak hand even before he memorizes the multiplication table. Its tree-lined streets lead to the local park where the cars park around the little league diamond on a hot, humid summer night, the lightning bugs blinking to the rhythm of chirping grasshoppers, and junior can trade in a five cent ticket at the concession stand for every foul ball he runs down. Almost every person recognizes every other person whom he sees in its only grocery store, the local IGA.
My father, Terence, was a bit of a local hero, the farm boy who took the bus into school until he was old enough to drive and owned his own car. Because of the farm work, his dad allowed him to play two sports, so he chose football in which his team went undefeated his senior year in 1958 to win a mythical Indiana state championship, and track in which he ran the 100 yards on cinders in a school record and made it to the state finals before pulling a hamstring. A red-headed young lady, Karen, joined his class for high school, her family having moved with Olin corporation first from her childhood home of Iowa to a brief stop in North Carolina before settling in Covington.
Mom says I started to read before I went to school. She regularly tells the tale of the baby sitter who reported that all I did was sit and read the encyclopedia. I had an early fascination with books. We had one of the old Carnegie libraries in town, brick two story, close enough for me to walk. I read through every single book on the downstairs children’s shelves. Then I remember starting upstairs on the adult section. My favorite book was by Charles Major, an early 20th century, Indiana author who wrote pioneer era tales of the state, entitled, The Bears of Blue River, published by Macmillan in 1913. I read it eight times. Later as an adult, I fondly remembered the book and found it had been reprinted in 1984 by Indiana University Press as part of their Library of Indiana Classics. I ordered it and read it to my entire family.
The Baptist Church
First Baptist Church, independent and Bible-believing, sat at the corner of fifth and Harrison in the middle of Covington and became the center of my young life. Out in Foster, dad had received the Lord as an eight year old under the fiery preaching of a Brethren evangelist. He didn’t grow much in that weak denomination to which his parents belonged. Things didn’t start changing until he and mom were married, both eighteen years of age, and then began attending the Baptist church. He got right with the Lord and was baptized. The pastor preached the gospel to my mom and she received Christ. They didn’t start attending faithfully right away, but soon a new pastor came when I was about three, and then my parents and my older sister, Kim, and younger brother, Kris, all went Sunday morning, evening, and even Wednesday night.
Our family began taking spiritual things very seriously. My dad became a deacon and ran a bus route. When we had evangelistic meetings, two evangelists I remember, Bill Rice (John R.’s brother) and Bill Hall, we passed out flyers everywhere, running them from door-to-door all over town. Every Sunday I was on the bus that my dad drove and picked up children for church. During a vacation Bible school at five, I made a profession of faith in Christ. Those next few years I still struggled with assurance of my salvation, asking Jesus to save me again and again, fearful of what might happen if I would die, usually at night when I was alone and passing car lights would cast scary shadows on my bedroom walls. When I was seven, I was settled on salvation so was baptized by immersion into the church.
In hindsight, our church would probably now be termed a Hyles’ church. I don’t think our pastor’s preaching was like Hyles, but we had the big days and the promotions, and I later found out he was influenced by Jack Hyles, who was in his hey-day in Hammond. None of that meant anything to us. Most weeks a child who rode the bus got a bottle of “pop” for coming. I don’t remember what hymn book we used, but I remember my favorite song was “Love Lifted Me.” The congregation sang hymns, but our special music was definitely southern gospel. We had an elderly lady named Tilly who would yell and wave her hanky sometimes, when she got excited.
By the grace of God through the influence of the church, our whole family served the Lord. My father regularly went out evangelizing and he was able to win some men to Christ, who also were baptized and joined the church. I took my Bible and preached to other children in my neighborhood and invited boys from my class to church, several of which came. We were fervent in reading and studying our Bibles. As my dad grew, he believed that it was the Lord’s will for us to leave Covington and go to Bible college. He had taken Old and New Testament survey at a Bible institute at a Baptist church in Danville. He wanted more.
The first car of my childhood was a white 59 Buick Electra, but my little brother had painted half of it grey with porch paint. Our second car was a yellow 68 Ford Galaxy 500. Our family of five loaded into that car and went on our own Bible college trip. In 1973, we drove first to Greenville, SC and Bob Jones University, to Chattanooga, TN, and Tennessee Temple University, and finally up to Watertown, WI and Maranatha Baptist Bible College. This was the summer time and not many people were in the main building (actually the only building, but it was always called “the main building”) at Maranatha. My dad walked inside and in an office smack dab at the end of the wide, long hallway right in front of him sat an older bald man with glasses, who we came to find out was the founder and president of the college, B. Myron Cedarholm. I never met him then. I was running around outside, but when my dad got into the car, I remember what he said—“if that man wanted to, he could have sold me a car.”
The next year my dad quit the factory, sold the house and a lot of furniture and the canoe, and we moved to Watertown. Two weeks before we left, our church split and we joined the brand new Maranatha Baptist Church in Covington. Once in Watertown we moved into the renowned Boughton Street apartments (now called Watertown East Project) on the north outskirts of town and joined Calvary Baptist Church. I was twelve and entering seventh grade. My dad was thirty-five and a freshman in college.
My mom worked as a waitress at the diner in the downtown Kresge, working her way to the manager. For quite awhile she then ran the dining hall at Maranatha. My dad worked several different jobs through the years, but mainly UPS in the evenings and then as a Pinkerton night watchmen on the weekend graveyard shift. Our choice of cars devolved to two that served us for at least a decade, a 1967 blue Volkswagon station wagon with no heat. That’s right. My brother and I scraped the windshield while dad drove. The other was a 1972 Chevy Vega wagon with a rust hole in the floor. We could see the road pass underneath us as we held our breath to avoid the exhaust. Between a full time student with three teenage children, my father and mother labored very diligently for all of us to get through school. And everyone did—all four graduated, then my dad added an M.A. and me an M.A. and M.Div.
None of us kids had been to a Christian school, but my dad enrolled my brother and I in Calvary Baptist Christian School and my sister was a Freshman at Maranatha Baptist Academy. That college year kicked off with a week of meetings preached by Lester Roloff. He was a pastor and operated a large and well-known home for wayward men and then youth down in Corpus Christi, Texas. He had with him a singing group, the Honey-Bees. Not many years later, Roloff, who was an airplane pilot, crashed his plane and he and the Honey-Bees were killed.
My parents’ sacrifice at this juncture in their lives was pivotal in the future service of their three children. Especially through their example, I saw whole-hearted service to the Lord as the only option. And then we were always in a setting where we were saturated with Bible preaching. This reminds me of what Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:14: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy.” The gift that was in me was given me by “prophecy” (preaching). My parents maneuvered me into the position to hear that preaching by their devotion to God. The Word of God burnt in my heart, which prevailed in my desire for the office of the bishop.
Dr. Cedarholm had a huge influence on Maranatha, and after him would be Dr. Richard Weeks. Maranatha was a fundamental Baptist college. It was not and still isn’t under the authority of a church. It is mainly guided by its president, who acts a sort of pastor figure with the influence of a board of directors and the rest of the administration of the college. Maranatha was conservative in its theology, very solid in teaching the basic doctrines of Scripture. However, Maranatha was distinguished by certain doctrines and practices from other schools that also were conservative. Those distinguishing characteristics were (and in this order):
- Local Only Ecclesiology
- Spiritual Kinship View of Church (Baptist) History
- New Testament Church (Baptist) Distinctives
- The Preservation of Scripture in the Hebrew Masoretic OT and Textus Receptus NT (Total Rejection of the Critical or Eclectic Text)
- Convictions of Personal Separation
- No Divorce-No Remarriage
Anyone who doesn’t think of these as unique Maranatha positions, in at least the Cedarholm years that I was on campus (74-87), wasn’t connected with the college theologically. As Arno Weniger Jr. moved into the presidency, a firestorm of debate and discussion opened up on these very issues after which Maranatha left them and lost that distinctiveness. The faculty members most responsible for teaching these positions were either fired or resigned.
Maranatha was and still is very conservative in a stand on worship. They didn’t and still don’t accept any forms of worldly, fleshly music on campus. After I first arrived in Watertown, our church youth group took a bus to an activity and I began singing one of the old southern gospel songs from my Covington years. One of our leaders was the son of the head of the music department at Maranatha and he said to me: “That song doesn’t check.” I instantly stopped singing and contemplated the word “check.” My understanding of Christian music changed during those years in Watertown to something much closer to a scriptural position. It has become even more biblical since then.
I had the spiritual, scriptural desires appropriate for a saved person from the time of my conversion. I grew as a Christian. The Holy Spirit bore witness with my spirit that I was a child of God. Many different people helped me in formative years that led to who I am and what I do today.
In jr. and sr. high school I had youth pastors at Calvary Baptist Church in Watertown who contributed to my spiritual growth and thought—Ken Marsh, the late Michael Cobb, and Fred Froman. William Lincoln was the faithful pastor the entire time. I spent many all-nighters at the home of Pastor Fred and a few other friends in what we called “theolog dialog.” I had teachers who also helped me in those years. My freshman high school English teacher, Susan Hermes, convinced me I could write. My college composition teacher, Mrs. Kerr, reinforced that. Both my academy coaches, Charles Welner and Rich Akins, instilled and sharpened many character traits through football, basketball, and baseball. Monty Budahl led the music at Calvary, but he also directed our band, and I was able to play trumpet under his leadership for four years.
I loved sports growing up. I had the privilege of playing on an undefeated little league team in Covington. I started basketball in fifth grade with an excellent elementary school coach, who drilled into us the fundamentals. At the high school level, I started three years at quarterback on the football team, then two years in college. I lettered three years in basketball in the academy then all four years in college. I played baseball in high school for four years and ran track in college. I was able to enjoy the companionship of many teammates, who helped me win several awards. More than anything, sports taught me to persevere through difficulty and have control over my body. I liked playing and still do. However, nothing is as important as the service to the Lord. I was thankful that during both my high school and college years I had the opportunity to evangelize many of the players on the opposition that we faced.
While I started high school, my dad was in college, and no one impacted me more than him. He and mom were as busy as people could be—his two jobs, her one, full time school, church, and three kids—but up in the stands at every game without fail, my brother and I saw either dad or mom. My dad carried a briefcase and Greek cards every day to school (one of his majors was Greek), so as a freshman in high school, I carried a small vinyl zipper briefcase and Greek cards. I learned the Greek alphabet and quite a few vocabulary words. Four other academy boys and me took first year Greek from Mr. John Kerr. By the time I was a senior, my dad had graduated from college and he taught us second year Greek.
When I was a sophomore, my youth pastor, Fred Froman, posted a sign-up for preaching. I had never preached before. I walked by that sign-up many times, and each time felt conviction from the Holy Spirit, until finally I signed my name. I had no idea how to prepare a sermon, but the Lord led me to preach, “Why Sinful Pride Is Destroying our Youth Group.” I stood before about 60-70 teenagers and as I began to preach, I started to cry and was barely able to finish before I sat down. Lots of weeping and not a lot of precious seed. But I knew God wanted me to preach. Later that year Rod Bell came to Maranatha and at the invitation, he asked all those who knew that God would have them to preach would come to the front. I had never let anyone know, but that day I knew I would, so I moved to the platform and stood.
When I looked at the college handbook, I decided to take the course that I believed would best prepare me for the ministry—majors in Pastoral Studies and Biblical Languages with a minor in Speech. My favorite speech rule was: “the pause can be used effectively.” I started into Greek immediately, skipping to second year college Greek and continued with Greek for many of my Bible classes all the way to my Master of Divinity. Maranatha was privileged to have the teaching of Richard Weeks, who taught Baptist polity, Baptist history, Acts, homiletics, and Revelation. Dr. Weeks owned the largest private Baptist library in the United States and we were able to borrow from his stacks for our outside reading. When I got into graduate school, Thomas Strouse was at Maranatha and I took him for a third of my classes. Dr. Cedarholm and these men made a major impression on my belief and practice.
I worked as a surveyor, at a paint store, and as a dormitory supervisor. I spent the summer after my senior year in Eastern Pennsylvania serving at Lehigh Valley Baptist Church in the preacher boy program. My last year of graduate school, I was able to serve on the administrative cabinet at Maranatha as director of student activities, always sitting right next to Dr. Cedarholm. I called that position the Dean of Fun Arts. The Lord allowed me the great thrill of intern pastoring the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Elkhorn, WI my last year. I got to preach three times a week and learn a great deal about leading a church.
Marriage and the Move
It really is a long, wonderful story that I’m shortening considerably, but in the middle of my second year of grad school, I wrote Bridget Kirby. She was from New Hampshire, a senior at Bob Jones University, and going to Togo, West Africa as a part of a summer team from BJ. She took awhile to write back. My next letter went to Africa and we continued writing that summer while I preached with another summer team from the college. I went to visit her and her family out East at the end of the summer. We wrote and called that school year. My parents were now in Tempe, AZ and so while visiting there for Christmas, she came down too. I had called to ask her father for her hand and after a good grilling from him, a two day wait and then permission, I popped the question on a mountain outside of Tempe.
The Monday after my last graduation, I said goodbye to Watertown and embarked on the road to California. The Monday after my last year of seminary, I drove a Dodge Omni to the San Francisco Bay Area to survey. I recall stopping at a rest area near Reno, Nevada to sleep between the car seats, the emergency brake pushing into my ribcage. For three years I had known that the Lord would have me go to evangelize and then plant a church there. I believed God wanted me someplace difficult that had heard little preaching. Nowhere in the U. S. is like where I was going, truly a pilgrimage to the furthest left land. I abandoned the car to our sending church, Calvary Baptist in San Francisco. I flew back to New Hampshire and worked all summer.
Bridget and I were married at the Calvary Independent Baptist Church in Plymouth, NH. After two weeks of honeymoon, we loaded a UHaul truck and drove cross country to California. As we drove into Pinole to our first apartment, I saw a sports store and said, “I’ll work there,” and we saw a bank, and she said, “I’ll work there.” We had no furniture, not even a mattress. We paid for three thousand tract-brochures. We both got jobs and started going door to door in the city of Hercules, just north of Berkeley and Oakland in the East Bay. I moved out concentrically from the Ohlone Elementary School, where we first met in the multi-purpose room, and on October 18, 1987 we had our first service.
I had 100 people promise they’d come. We had seven. None of them stayed. My first goal was to stop working at the sports store the thirty hours a week. We had enough people to offset the minimum wage paycheck by January of 1988, which wasn’t many, only about 15 people. That first year I knocked on every door in Hercules 1 1/2 times. We grew very slowly. I wish I could tell you many stories of that first year and what I learned, including surgery to remove a cyst from my tailbone that I developed from jumping into my car so many times. Our sign was stolen and then returned after something close to an imprecatory prayer. I started my first series of expositions in the gospel of John.
We had long prayed for property and a building in the most expensive housing market in the country. In February of 1989 the Lord gave us buildings in the nearby town of El Sobrante. A church was folding and so they gave us their three and a half acres free of charge, all paid for.
Certain moments I view as pivotal to what I believe and practice today. Early on I knew we would have nothing to do with Hyles churches, even though Maranatha had Jack Hyles preach a conference there every year. In 1992 I became convinced that discipleship was how God intended to build the church, so I wrote a thirty week discipleship, Disciplines for Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, that has been the bread and butter of our church ever since. I began thorough evangelism training to perfect the saints. Not a week goes by that we don’t evangelize several people in our area. We had knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors. We determined to practice church discipline and have obeyed Matthew 18:15-17 consistently for almost 20 years. At first we did a limited amount of promotion or gimmicks with a few special days a year. I was convicted in preaching through Matthew to regulate our methodology by biblical example. We started from scratch looking for churches of like faith and practice with which to fellowship, completely unaffiliating with all parachurch organizations, including mission boards. We operate our own summer and craft camp every summer.
My dad and mom came early on with dad as principal and teacher in our church school. We have one of the best men in the country, a godly man, Pastor David Sutton, who was ordained here for that office, and is now principal. We have helped get one church started in California and three others in other states. We anticipate more in the future as I train two men here in our own pastoral training program at a seminary level. More than half the people of our church are involved in some sort of organized evangelistic efforts every week.
Three or four times we have street preached at the Gay Pride parade festivities in San Francisco. We have twice made the front page of our newspaper. Once four years ago we peacefully passed out tracts at a Sikh parade in our town. The Sikhs have a temple in El Sobrante. That became worldwide news in the Sikh community. Two years ago California attempted to ban all spanking of children in the state. Child protective services got a tract our principal wrote on spanking and sent it to the paper. That resulted in another front page article with several pictures and an appearance on a major news station in the Bay Area. We took that stand and by the grace of God the spanking bill failed by a large margin.
I continued to preach through books of the Bible. I’ve now preached through every New Testament book at least once, except for my one last section of Luke, and beginning through Revelation now for my fourth time. I’ve taught the whole Old Testament and preached separate series through Genesis, Deuteronomy, the tabernacle-priesthood-sacrificial system, Joshua-1 Samuel, Nehemiah, Job, 100 of the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and all of the minor prophets.
We have published a number of gospel tracts and two books—Sound Music or Sounding Brass: The Issue of Biblically Godly Music and Thou Shalt Keep Them: A Biblical Theology of the Perfect Preservation of Scripture. I’ve finished writing and we are in the publishing stage of a 300 page book on dress and appearance, Fashion Statement: A Biblical Theology of Dress or Appearance. We are also prepared to publish what I think is the best book I’ve read refuting baptismal regeneration by Thomas Ross, who was an active member of our church for several years. Two years ago for one week I debated Church of Christ speaker Larry Hafley on the subject of eternal security. Almost five years ago, Fairhaven Baptist College bestowed on me an honorary doctorate at its graduation.
My wife and I have four children—Kirk, 17, Julia, 14, Natalie, 11, and Gabrielle, 7. We have regular family devotions with our children. They all four attend our church school from which Kirk will graduate this year. My wife teaches piano lessons and actively teaches and disciples women and children in our church. Our children each play two instruments, each piano, as well as Kirk trombone and the three girls violin. Kirk and Julia play in Young People’s Symphony Orchestra and Natalie in the Berekley Youth Orchestra. I’m on the board of both orchestras. The three oldest play in our church orchestra every Sunday morning and evening or afternoon.
We believe that our oldest three children are saved. Gabrielle knows the Lord very well but hasn’t made a profession of faith yet. Most weeks Kirk goes with someone and evangelizes door-to-door with the rest of the teenagers. I am thankful for my wonderful wife of 21 years and our four children. Bridget has been a great help meet for me. We look forward to what God has in the future for my family.
Around two years ago, Jeff, Dave, and I met in Chesterton, IN while we were all three there and we decided to launch Jackhammer. We know one another for several reasons that I’m sure will be revealed in future posts this month. We all three had our own weblogs, but we saw the value of getting together for one team blog with the unique format of covering one topic a month. We have enjoyed our time together and with you the readers. Please stay.
Kent has been voted the most popular man in America among evangelicals.