Testimony of Reformation
Tommy & Betty Campbell
(Members of South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN)
The church is constantly in need of reform, or so it is said. We know this to be true, but this truth applies to other churches, not our own, right?
We joined the congregation of South Woods Baptist Church on a lovely autumn day in 1988, shortly after relocating our family and our lives to Memphis, Tennessee. We were joining together with a group of wonderful Christians, many of them old friends, to worship our God and Savior Jesus Christ. The truth of the Word was being proclaimed and our new pastor was clearly committed to shepherding this small congregation according to that truth. Warm thoughts of rekindling old friendships, nurturing new relationships, settling into the social fabric of our new church, and getting about the business of raising our small family abounded. Whatever we thought, reformation was the last thing on our minds. Never could we have anticipated that reformation fires had already been kindled and, in God’s providence, would soon burst into flame, engulfing us in a firestorm—a refiner’s fire—destined to refine and purify us all.
A change of location was just one of the many steps that would lead South Woods down paths of righteousness, for which, to be honest, we as a family were not prepared. When the old church building was sold by our mother church, our congregation relocated and the leadership proceeded with plans to acquire land and erect a new building.
A change of focus—building a worship center, building children’s programs, building a recreation ministry—was the next important step. Looking back, we see that the congregation allowed these to become the primary focus of the church. Focusing on each other, focusing on a common goal—these commanded our attention for a time. The church succeeded in meeting these goals and moved into the new building, bursting at the seams with children, ball teams and excitement.
A change of heart soon became apparent, however. We began to realize that we no longer loved the truth more than we loved ourselves and our comfort. Our pastor, however, never strayed from the basic principles and we came face to face with doctrinal truths that we had never considered. Though lifelong members of various Baptist congregations, our family had never confronted the doctrines of regeneration, predestination, limited atonement or effectual calling. As parents, we were uncomfortable with the thought that all of our children might not be counted among the elect. Our self-centered type of Christianity was being challenged, and rightly so. It was a crossroads for our family, as well as many other families in our church.
A change of direction—this was how our pastor’s presentation of truth, doctrine and the Word was perceived. The lay leadership asserted itself, expressing disagreement with the doctrinal truth being proclaimed from the pulpit. Failing to express biblical reasons for their disagreement, some among the lay leadership said they no longer agreed “with the direction of the church.” We came to despise this phrase when Tommy attended an early morning breakfast with one elder and one Sunday school teacher. That morning the pastor’s “shortcomings” and his “misguided” notions about the proper “direction of the church” were the main topics of discussion and it became apparent to us that we were in the midst of a true battle. The grumblings of a few became the mantra of many. Quiet dissatisfaction with the “direction of the church” and formerly subtle undermining of the pastor ended as some members made known their intent not only to leave the church but also to “save” as many members as possible from this “misguided pastor” and his “misguided focus” on doctrinal truth.
Everything changed when we realized that we were expected align ourselves with one side or the other. Those in opposition to the pastoral teaching at South Woods took an attitude that we were either for them or against them. We, however, came to the painful realization that the real choice was whether we would choose to align ourselves with the proclamation of biblical truth we didn’t completely understand or to put friendship above truth. Emotionally, it was a devastating time for us as many relationships we had nurtured for more than a decade were destroyed. Our oldest son was separated from his lifelong friend. Our closest friends were now distant.
Tumultuous times always pass. Despite the loss we suffered, we gained much more. We gained the knowledge that we must stand for the truth of Scripture regardless of the results. We gained the perspective that South Woods Baptist Church needed reformation. Most importantly, we gained an understanding that true reformation of a church starts with the reformation of the individual members.