I have watched from a distance, mostly with occasional curiosity as I have not had the time for fascination, the goings on at the newly rebooted Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
If the name of the church sounds familiar, it probably should. It is the megachurch formerly pastored by the late D. James Kennedy, who you’ve probably seen on television at some point. He also authored the Evangelism Explosion material.
The short version of the story ongoing is this:
Kennedy passed away, leaving Coral Ridge without a pastor. They moved to merge with New City Presbyterian, an innovative and growing young church pastored by Tullian Tchividjian, a relatively young guy (he’s early 40’s, so he’s not exactly a whippersnapper, but “young” compared to Kennedy) with connections to Tim Keller and other respected guys in the Reformed and evangelical world. (His first book Unfashionable bowed late last year, I believe.)
Let me put the conflict in this frame: D. James Kennedy preached the gospel of America. Rarely did I turn on one of his sermons and not see him preaching against liberalism or some such thing. He was one of the founding members of the Moral Majority and was a leading voice in the Christian war on culture.
Tullian is . . . well, not that guy. And he began preaching the gospel.
He also did some irksome things like stop producing new episodes of Coral Ridge’s television show and stop issuing invitations at the end of sermons.
And as can happen when a younger church merges with an older, more established church, conflicts arose. The specific conflicts centered on a group pretty much led by Kennedy’s daughter who began pushing for Tullian’s ouster from the church.
Here is an excerpt from the news story linked at top to give you a sense of the flavor of the conflict:
Dissidents such as Jim Fisola, who is banned from the church, said they feared that longtime members such as himself were losing influence among the community.
“God bless young people that he’s brought over, but you’ve got to understand they’ve been meeting in a cafeteria or the high school,” said Fisola, a Coral Ridge member for 19 years.
“They are now in a [multimillion-] dollar edifice, and they didn’t have to work for it,” Fisola said. “. . . This man doesn’t have the experience or the maturity to lead.”
Kennedy’s daughter and her brigade of rabble rousers were initially banned from church premises after handing out literature criticizing Tullian on church grounds. Classy.
They stand primarily on the shaky ground of “This isn’t how we’ve always done it.”
People who invest time and money and tradition into buildings and programs learn to cherish those buildings and programs very deeply. (Some of us call that idolatry, but what do I know?) And then of course this group has their former pastor’s daughter on their side. And she has been playing the “This isn’t what daddy would have wanted” card.
By the way, Tullian Tchividjian is not without cultural Christian heritage as well. He is the grandson of the one and only Billy Graham. If that ain’t the “My preacher daddy can beat up your preacher daddy” trump card, I don’t know what is.
So it’s just yucky.
And it came to a head yesterday as the church finally got around to voting. Tullian “won” with a 2/3 vote in favor of retaining him as pastor. A few on Twitter were asking if this was really a win. If you were being called to a church, for instance, and 1/3 of the people didn’t want you there, would you go? I wouldn’t.
But Tullian is already there. And there is that tricky thing called a calling.
I’m glad the vote landed in his favor, and I’m praying some people find repentance, that all involved are praying hard, and that Tullian’s life and ministry at Coral Ridge bears nothing but undeniable fruit for the gospel in the years to come.