A Sad Story Told Time and Again
The old Catholic Presbyterian Church in Chester county, South Carolina, was founded in 1759. Sixty-two men from the congregation served in the Revolutionary War. The church was so named because the congregation was originally made up of emigrant families primarily from Ireland, who came from a number of different Presbyterian denominations. Uniting as one congregation, they agreed that the church would become aligned with whichever group should succeed in obtaining the first settled pastor. And so it was that the congregation came to be aligned with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., when Robert McCulloch answered a call to serve this church and the nearby Purity Church, under what was often termed a “yoked” pastorate.
Of the Purity church, it has been recorded that
“Communicants who did not live by the strict moral code of the church were brought before the congregation for chastisement. At a Sessions meeting in 1792, Purity Church brought a query to that larger governing body.
“What shall be done in the case of John Weir and his wife who apply for baptism to their child born within the time limited after marriage?” It was judged that “they be suspended until they make public acknowledgements and be publicly rebuked.”
And so we understand in that context just how injurious and painful it must have been when the pastor himself was charged with the sin of adultery. He was tried and found guilty by the Presbytery and barred from the ministry on November 13, 1800.
Of this sad occasion, George Howe writes in his famous work, Presbyterianism in South Carolina,
These things are proofs of human imperfection; and yet religion has its place in the world, and the Church still stands; nor were such instances of defection, even of renowned servants of God, wanting in Scripture times. It was probably in view of this, and moved by the evidences of his repentance, that his church petitioned for his restoration to the ministry on September 28, 1801. This the Presbytery did not then grant, first, because it would be improper to return him to the ministry before he was received into the communion of the Church, and secondly, there should be very satisfactory evidence of repentance, reformation and aptness to teach. But after he should give satisfaction to the Church, Presbytery had no objection that he should use his talents among them in their religious meetings for their instruction, yet in such a way as was consistent with the dtuies of a private Christian only. In those unofficial labors he engaged, holding prayer meetings, accompanied with exhortation, through the congregation, and drawing back to him the affection of his people.
Dr. Howe continues in his account:
On the 17th of March, 1802, the congregation renewed their petition, being satisfied of his repentance and that he would be as useful as ever in the ministry, if not more so, if restored. Presbytery, after careful enquiry and full communication with the offender absolved him from the sentence of deposition and appointed him to preach in their vacant churches. This he did both to his own church and to others. For several years he was reported as a minister without charge, and Catholic Church as vacant.
Sin has its cost, as Howe notes:
The defection of Mr. McCulloch was followed by a great decline in Catholic congregation just when the interests of religion were advancing rapidly elsewhere. Many withdrew from the communion of the Church, some of whom joined the Covenanters, sole the Old Associate, and some the Associate Reformed, and some remained out of the communion of any Church. . . Mr. McCulloch continued to preach at Catholic, later dividing his time with the church at Rocky Mount, and again later preaching one-fourth of his time at Bethlehem church in Beckhamville.
Words to Live By:
Sin always has a cost, sometimes more evident and devastating than others. The pastor’s sin drove people from the church. But how much worse could the situation have been, had the Presbytery not been there to exercise discipline? From Howe’s account it seems that some in the congregation were pushing the Presbytery to reinstate the pastor sooner than the Presbytery thought wise. Perhaps that in turn is what caused some to leave the congregation for other churches. God’s grace, extended through Christ’s death and resurrection, can always overcome our sin. Grievous sin can be forgiven and we can be restored to useful service. But take time to wait upon the Lord and pay attention to the wisdom of godly pastors whom the Lord has established as servant-leaders in His Church. Godly discipline always bears a good fruit.