“I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10).
The following is a story that an elderly, godly woman, Sister Jewel Peters (names have been changed.) shared with me about a crisis in her youthful marriage.
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June 2019. It's summertime. School is out. Seventh-day Adventists go to camp meeting. Pastors get ordained. This has been our denominational pattern for some 150 years. We can even watch in comfort from our homes, and click in our offerings. This summer, we watched Michigan Conference camp meeting from our home in Arkansas, including a relative's ordination service, a most sacred event.
Suddenly my thoughts shifted. I was sitting again at the Peters' kitchen table, spellbound by Jewel's unforgettable story of an ordination undone. This courageous woman had lived through the Great Depression. She had traveled the world. But the story she loved most to tell was of God's intervention one camp meeting night.
“I was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist minister's home,” she began. “My siblings and I attended Adventist schools. When I went to our college after academy, I met a most promising young man, a ministerial student soon to graduate. Bart Kraft was older than I, and when he proposed marriage, I left my studies and became his wife.”
I nodded, knowingly. This woman would have been any minister's dream—a good Adventist girl, sweet, attractive, musical, superb hostess. Jewel indeed!
“We were hired by a neighboring conference, where my sister Neva's husband was pastoring,” she went on. “For several years we enjoyed ministering in that beautiful state, with family close by. Bart had a warm, charismatic personality. He was popular, and his ministry was a success from the beginning. He worked well with the young people in our schools, and loved giving personal Bible studies. He was up early, and home late--a very busy man, truly a devoted husband and pastor, or so I thought.
“After several years, the conference brethren voted to ordain him to the gospel ministry. They planned to hold the service during camp meeting, to be held on the academy campus. I was so pleased, and he was very honored and eager for the service to take place, as it would validate his commitment to God and all his hard work. We encouraged our church members to attend camp meeting and share this special occasion with us.”
Summer arrived. Pastor and Sister Kraft packed their bags and drove to the academy. Bart reported for duty with the other ministers. As the men set up the campground, Jewel strolled across the campus and greeted arriving friends and church members. She was thrilled to see two single non-Adventist sisters setting up their tent. Sarah and Delia Young were some of Bart's Bible study contacts.
“Bart had invested lots of time and effort in these girls, and we were so encouraged at their strong interest in our message and their regular attendance at church,” Jewel continued.
Sabbath came. The ordination service went off as planned, well-attended and evidently blessed by God. An evening service followed. “Elder” and Sister Kraft attended, still adjusting to his new title. As they joined the bustling crowd exiting the meeting, Bart leaned over to Jewel and whispered, “I have a meeting to attend tonight, and it will probably run late. Don't wait up for me, Honey.”
“Just like that, he was gone,” she said, seemingly still in shock. “He just disappeared in the crowd, and I couldn't see him anywhere.”
In her innocence and integrity, she trusted him. She greeted a few friends and received more congratulations on his ordination, excusing his presence with the “meeting” he had mentioned. Then the tired but happy wife returned to their room and prepared for bed. Finally, she knelt for her evening prayers, praying for her loved ones, her newly-ordained husband and his work for the Lord, the sweet girls newly accepting the Adventist message...
God was not asleep. He had seen the patterns of deception woven ever stronger through a wayward life. Though uninvited, He saw the late “meeting” and moved to intervene.
“Suddenly, I felt a hand on my back. It pushed me--hard. 'Go find Bart!' came the strong impression.” As she told this part, Jewel's eyes widened as if glimpsing the handwriting on Belshazzar's wall. God's presence in that moment was unforgettable.
My husband said he had a meeting...that will run late...a meeting with whom? Where should I look? Who would be at the meeting? Maybe the conference officials' wives will help me.
She dressed and went out into the night. She found the building where the conference officers were staying and began knocking on doors. A surprised and sleepy treasurer answered her knock. Is he back from the meeting already?
“'Meeting? What meeting?' The conference man was confused. I had obviously gotten him out of bed, so I apologized for disturbing him, and knocked on another door,” she continued.
She knocked on several doors and found several conference officers, all in pajamas, all denying any Saturday night meeting. At least they had not been included. Things were getting rather suspicious when Elder Wise, the conference president, made a decision.
“I'll go with you and we will find him,” he said. He returned with her and they knocked on all the same doors she had already been to. This time, the men got dressed and joined them in the parking lot. And you never saw such a posse!
Crossing campus to the cars, the search party passed the tent of the two non-Adventist sisters, Sarah and Delia Young. The older girl, Sarah, was standing outside alone. She was crying. “I tried to tell her...”
The Conference officers jumped into cars, several riding with Jewel, and sped away. “They seemed to know right where to go,” she marveled, “and after a few minutes, we came upon a dark car—our car—parked beside the lonely road. Elder Wise shone his bright lights right into it, and there was my husband—and the missing younger sister—having their “meeting”.
“He didn't even seem embarrassed!” she exclaimed. “He just turned his head as the men walked up, and said, “Hello, Elder Wise. You can take Delia back now.”
“No, you will take her back and we'll follow,” corrected Elder Wise. “Then we will speak to you.”
Camp meeting was over for Jewel. Shock and disbelief enveloped her, though she had seen the facts with her own eyes. Her husband, newly-ordained that very afternoon, had deceived her, had mocked God and His church, had led a new believer into sin. How could he? What will I ever do now?
In a flash, scores of clues came together in her mind and she recalled many questions and doubts she had dismissed in her innocence, her desire to be the ideal pastor's wife. My embarrassing disease, all those other women he “studied” with, the “fraudulent” bills that came in the mail. Everything pointed to Bart's double life. He never should have been a pastor. He deceived us all.
A slowed and somber procession traveled back to the campus. As they drove, Elder Wise offered some surprising counsel. “You might as well divorce him,” he told the dazed young wife. “I have seen this kind before and they seldom change. You are still young; you can take your maiden name back and finish college.”
When the officials met with “Elder” Kraft, they did not mince words. His ordination was promptly revoked, and his ministerial license withdrawn. He was Bart Kraft, lay member only, and very likely the shortest ordainee that conference ever had.
His church membership now hung by the barest thread. He was instructed to leave the area and find a new job. He was not to preach or teach in any Seventh-day Adventist church or school. He was not even to join a church choir. He was to make things right in his life, and the Conference would revisit the issue after some months.
“I separated from him and got an apartment with a friend,” the wronged wife continued. “He pled with me to come back to him but I refused.” Now undeceived, she was skeptical, cautious. She got a job, and tried to make ends meet. Bart came often to plead his case, sometimes bringing flowers, sometimes gifts.
“He would knock on the door and ask to speak to me alone,” Jewel chuckled. “But I always made sure to have someone else in the apartment before I would let him in. She was wary, unmoved, though his promises were profound, even passionate.
“'I can explain everything,' he'd say. I only gambled a few times....Those girls meant nothing to me. I never loved anybody like I love you. You're the one I need to help me do better. I promise you, we're going to make it. I just need your help and understanding while I straighten a few things out, ' but I just couldn't believe him,” she explained, frowning as she relived those troubling months.
Jewel understood, all right. She understood Bart had willfully deceived her for months, years perhaps. Only God's hand on her back had spared her further injustice. Does he need me to help to pay his debts? Does he still see other women? I have Bible grounds for divorce. Oh God, give me wisdom!
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it...(Psalm 127:1). I forgive him, but can I trust him? Could we ever have children, a Christian home?
Jewel did not go back, not to him. She went home to her sympathetic family until her divorce was final. Using her maiden name, she returned to college and finished her course. After graduation she began to teach. Students loved her and life was full, almost.
Then God granted her another husband, this one a man of God inside and out. They married, had children, and God restored the years that the locust had eaten (Joel 2:25). When I met Jewel, she and Gene were about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Only death, not sin, parted this godly couple.
Michigan Campmeeting 2019
Bart Kraft's ordination service likely resembled that of Michigan Conference in its order and reverence. We watched as these candidates and their mentors shared Bible verses which had guided them in ministry. Elder Jim Micheff gave the charge: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (Titus 4:2). He even cautioned against using sermon humor, since it detracts from the power of Scripture.
As I watched the video, I added my hearty amens and shed tears at the solemn beauty of God's well-followed instructions. Three male candidates, (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6), with godly wives, were set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands.
Elder Micheff left nothing to chance. Appealing to the candidates' integrity, he asked them to turn in their credentials should they ever change their beliefs so as to be out of harmony with Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. That would even include Bart's lifestyle aberrations.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:7-9).
Decades ago, Bart Kraft's ordination was undone, and properly so. I applaud the faithful Conference officers who evinced no hesitation when their duty became apparent. They did not count “Elder” Kraft's ordination irreversible. They quailed not at the negative press to follow. They moved swiftly to correct him, sleeping not until discipline was meted out.
Lesson For Today
Are unfit candidates still ordained today? I believe so. What is God going to do about it? I don't know, but I talk to Him about it, on my knees: “...Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen (culture?) should rule over them,” (Joel 2:17, emphasis added).
Did you know that God revealed the “gospel order” to characterize Seventh-day Adventist ordinations in two prophetic visions which echo the plain qualifications in the Bible? Reviewing pages 97-104 of Early Writings, I wonder how we ever came to such confusion and division over the candidacy and proprieties of this biblical service. God's directions are clear and enduring.
Many other icebergs of infidelity threaten God's church. When you see one, “Meet it!” Ellen White did this regularly.
I knew what my duty was, and that there was not a moment to lose. The time for decided action had come. I must without delay obey the command, “Meet it!”
That night I was up at one o’clock, writing as fast as my hand could pass over the paper. For the next few days I worked early and late, preparing for our people the instruction given me regarding the errors that were coming in among us.
I have been hoping that there would be a thorough reformation, and that the principles for which we fought in the early days, and which were brought out in the power of the Holy Spirit, would be maintained, (1SM 206).
As prayerful, diligent students of Scripture and Spirit of Prophecy writings, we need not make excuses when God reveals a problem within our sphere of influence and duty. Is “Bart” already ordained in your Conference? Remove him!
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4).
Faithful Jewel's earnest bedtime prayer was followed by obedient action when God directed His suppliant. God still answers trusting prayers. If your heart is right and your spirit is meek (Galatians 6:1-4), you may feel a firm hand on your back. Get ready.
Holly Joers is a lifelong SDA who was raised in Southern California and now is blessed to live in rural Arkansas with her husband Skip and son Elijah. She enjoys studying Adventist history and hearing personal testimonies of how God guides His last-day church and its members.