My wife and I started attending Homestead Bible Chapel (no longer exists), a Plymouth Brethren assembly, in 1980; not too long after we were married at St. James in Grand Rapids, MI, a Roman Catholic church.

The first time we went there, we knew that we had found a home. It was a very small church. It had room to seat only about a hundred or so people. When we walked in the door, we were greeted by Abraham Lincoln! His real name was Randy Cooper, but you would swear this was old Abe reincarnated. Before the service even started, we had been invited over to his house for lunch. I don’t remember if we did–I don’t think so. We were kind of taken aback by the friendliness of the people. It was a good thing. We liked it, but is was so different than the aloofness of the laity that we were used to in many Catholic churches.

HBC was an open PB Church. To understand what that means, I have couple of things to tell you about PB “distinctives”. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail here, but here are some basic tenents of the PB.

First is that they are very mainstream Protestant, Fundamental, Evangelical, and Baptistic. For those who may not have heard of them before, they are not a cult as Christians usually define the word, although it is one if you look it up in the dictionary. So is Christianity as a whole for that matter. Some of the more famous people who have been PB are Harry Ironside, former pastor of Moody Bible Church; and WE Vine, author of “Vines Expository Dictionary.” Famous former PB are Garrison Keillor of “Prairie Home Companion” fame; and Brian MacLaren, now associated with the Emergent Church movement.

Two other PB are of note. John Darby was one of the original PB in Plymouth, England (not Massachusetts) in 1827. Darby is the man to whom the Holy Spirit revealed the concept of the Rapture as we know it today. He also was instrumental in the development of Dispensationalism.

PBs reject the name “Plymouth Brethren.” This is not a name that they use to distinguish themselves, it is a name that others have put upon them to differentiate them from other denominations. They do not call themselves a church, but an assembly. The Greek word for church is (εκκλησία), or assembly. They believe (correctly) and stress that the church is an invisible organism made up of all believers, alive and dead. They do not use it for a local assembly of believers, or for the building, which they usually call a chapel.

PB are very Baptistic in their beliefs. See my next chapter for an explanation of Baptist distinctives. There are two major differences between them and Baptists:

  • They do not believe in a local church membership. PB see no Biblical or practical reason for local church membership. Nowhere in Scripture is there any indication that any local assembly of believers had any kind of membership roll. Baptists not only maintain such a list, but you usually must sign an agreement about your beliefs, and that you agree with the church Constitution. Most importantly, members must first be baptized by immersion. PB do not agree with any of these. They do believe in baptism by immersion, just not as a condition for membership.
  • Baptists believe in two offices: pastor and deacon. PB believe that these these two offices are one and the same, and they prefer to use the term “elder.” There is no clergy or laity. There are only those who have chosen to fellowship with one another. There must be more than one elder in the assembly, and they are not elected to office.

PB assemblies are completely independent from one another. One may differ greatly from any other one out there. The Worship service at Homestead was what my wife and I still call the closest thing to true worship that we have ever experienced in a Protestant church. There was no set message. There was no designated speaker. You simply walked in, sat down, and began to pray silently. If you felt like praying aloud, you prayed aloud. If you felt like reading Scripture, you stood up and read Scripture. If you wanted to share a testimony, you did so. Usually after about a half-hour, one of the elders would stand and share a 10 or 15-minute mini-sermon. After that, the offering basket would be passed very quietly, then we would share in the Lord’s Supper. Communion is a weekly observance in most PB assemblies.

We loved Homestead greatly. In 1981, we both felt the need to be baptized biblically, by immersion. We had both been baptized as infants by sprinkling in our respective Catholic churches, St. John Vianney for me, and St. Isidore for Mary.

In 1982, I was getting to the point where I dreaded my job.

I was working at Guardsman Chemicals in Grand Rapids. It was a dirty, scummy, union job. At his time, I hated unions but in order to work there, I had to join. My father was the foreman of receiving when I first started there. Dad was having physical problems at the time and had missed a lot of work. When the supervisor in the Drum plant (where I worked) retired, they moved my Dad into this position. A few months later, for unexplained reasons (probably because of his health) he was fired.

I hated this job anyway and had already decided to go into the Army, partly to see if I might like it as a new career, and partly to get some money for college, something my folks and I could never afford. The way my Dad was treated at Guardsman just confirmed to me that I was doing the right thing. My wife was pregnant with our first son, so I waited until after he was born so I could be at the delivery and share in the first couple of months after his birth. So when Mike was two months old, I left for basic at Fort Dix, NJ and AIT at Fort Sam Houston, TX while my wife and he lived with my parents in Grandville, MI.

After Fort Sam, I left for my permanent assignment at Fort Hood, TX. I went straight there after AIT so I could find an apartment. I found one almost right away and went home to get my family.

Homestead gave us a wonderful send-off. There were a lot of tears. Randy Cooper tried to convince me that it definitely was NOT God’s will for me to go into the Army. This was Randy’s personal thing, not a PB thing. So it was off to Texas for a new chapter in my life.