Members of a community church in Paramus, N.J., are in a state of disbelief over this week’s confiscation of their beloved building, built and paid for by members in 1929.
Last Sunday, the nearly 100 members of the Community Church of Faith and Hope met in the building for apparently the last time.
Monday morning, a locksmith hired by the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination locked the church members out of their building after the New Jersey Court of Appeals ruled that the denomination has every right to exercise a “reversionary” clause and take the valuable property away from members.
Although the court ruling clearly gave the congregation until March 18 to turn over the keys to the building, the CMA didn’t wait and shuttered the building, personal possessions and all, first thing Monday morning.
While the church members are shocked by the property confiscation, they are more bewildered that the Christian Missionary Alliance would act in such a way toward fellow believers.
“We haven’t been treated very Christ-like by the Christian Missionary Alliance,” said Pastor Joseph Smaha.
Alliance officials did not respond to WND requests for comment.
WND reported a year ago about the dispute between the small community church in suburban New Jersey and the Metropolitan District of the CMA, led by Bruce Terpstra.
The CMA had determined the church was dying, so ownership of the property and all of the congregation’s assets must be turned over to the denomination.
“Not so,” Smaha insisted.
“There has never been any indication that our church is ‘dying,’” he said. “On the contrary, our body has been growing by leaps and bounds.”
Smaha said the average attendance has been approaching 100 for quite awhile.
“Our congregation is vibrant, in love with Jesus, and growing steadily, with new people coming in every week,” he says. “What’s more exciting than that is the people receiving Jesus as Lord through our outreach.”
Smaha said he tried to explain how healthy the congregation was to Terpstra and Fred Henry, a regional director for the CMA, but the pastor was told, “You could be making the numbers up.”
Smaha urged the pair to come visit the church and “observe the great work that God is doing here,” but his offers were declined.
WND visited the small church for a worship service and observed large numbers in attendance — far more than the CMA constitution calls for in downgrading a church to “developing.”
Insisting that the congregation is not “viable,” conference officials dispatched a rebuttal to one WND report that said:
“Because we rely so heavily on the Internet as a source of information that is often unverifiable, we must exercise great caution in what we choose to accept as truth. More than any other generation, we must read Internet articles with great discernment and a healthy dose of skepticism. The sworn enemy of Christ’s church has vowed to stop at nothing to bring about its demise. And the use of media has become a frequent weapon of choice.” – From a CMA letter to pastors.
The Christian Missionary Alliance turned to the courts when congregation members raised objections to turning over the building.
One pastor WND interviewed, Joseph Broz, said the CMA literally told him it didn’t owe him any prayer while it was attempting to take away his church in Pennsylvania in a similar fashion.
Broz told WND he nearly died in an accident, and CMA District Superintendent Wayne Spriggs refused to even pass along a prayer request for him.
In the midst of his battle with the CMA, Broz was in a serious car accident that left him in critical condition. His son, an EMT, emailed Spriggs asking for prayer for Broz, saying, “It doesn’t look good.”
Broz told WND: “Spriggs later admitted to him that he never passed on the prayer request, because unbeknownst [to him], Spriggs had revoked the pastor’s credentials due to the property battle, saying, ‘We didn’t owe you any prayer.’”
Broz said that removing a pastor’s credentials and decimating a congregation seem to be standard for the CMA during one of these “takeovers.”
WND has reported several instances of property confiscation by the CMA, each involving the practice of exercising a “reversionary clause” in church documents.
The same method repeats itself in CMA churches across the country, and James Sundquist has produced a DVD chronicling the destruction of these churches called “Making Merchandise of Men’s Souls.”
In a number of cases, the members of the local church are shocked to find the locks on the doors to their sanctuaries changed by the CMA without warning.
In July, WND reported that the Grace Community Alliance Church in Baldwin Park, Calif., was also nearly locked out of its building.
Much like the Paramus Church, the pastor of Grace Church told WND that everything was going fine until CMA District Superintendent Bill Malick decided to take the church away under the “reversionary clause.”
In that case, the church had a spotless record of paying dues to the CMA “Great Commission Fund,” and members said they had no issues with the district.
But the CMA decided to strip the pastor of his credentials and classify the church as “development” in order to take control of the property.
“We are not in chaos, we are not in financial difficulty,” Pastor Fred Cheock of Grace Community Alliance Church told WND.
“Still, the District Superintendant Bill Malick labels us as ‘development,’ and within weeks tries to cancel all of our worship services and lock our people out of our building,” Choeck said
Choeck and his congregation are still fighting the CMA over the property.
The pastor of the Paramus church provided WND with a similar account.
Smaha said that his church had no problems and he hadn’t even spoken to the CMA District personnel in years.
That all changed when he called them for advice on how to biblically deal with a secretary who allegedly had embezzled thousands of dollars from the church treasury.
Smaha said “our small church was out-of-sight-out-of-mind until someone from the district realized what a nice, valuable piece of property the Paramus congregation had built up.”
“Suddenly the district tells us we’re not a viable congregation, and they are invoking the reversionary clause,” he said.
Smaha said that the CMA took his description of how his congregation and the church had survived through lean years, including selling the parsonage to raise funds to repair the sanctuary, and twisted it into a story for a judge about how the church was no longer viable.
“Nothing could be further from the truth, but a judge wouldn’t let us present testimony, he simply ruled that the CMA can deal with its churches however they see fit.”
Smaha said that the small church has been more than viable in recent years, growing from a low of about 20 in attendance to nearly 100. The church also provides a separate service for a Hispanic congregation, has money in the bank and is debt free.
Smaha said the CMA denomination never contributed a penny to the work of the local church, yet now has taken over a debt-free building that has been in the same community of believers for generations.
Smaha said that on top of seizing the church building, the CMA also sent a letter this week demanding the $28,000 the church had in its checking account when the battle began.
“They also plan to sue us for court costs apparently because they feel entitled to all that money because we shouldn’t have stood up for what’s right,” he said.
“I also find it laughable that they claim we are not viable, yet admit that we are completely debt free and have $28,000 in the bank. We are thriving, and they are lying.”
Smaha said his church was aware that a reversionary clause existed in church documents, and a church elder questioned the CMA about it before joining the denomination in the 1990s.
“He was a nice, old World War II vet, who wanted to make sure our congregation wasn’t being taken advantage of,” Smaha said.
The CMA assured the elder that the reversionary clause would “never, ever be invoked unless there was an extreme case of a congregational split, false teaching, or the church just closed its doors one day.”
None of which have been alleged in the case.
“Clearly, the court’s involvement in a matter of church governance would run afoul of the First Amendment,” said the recent court decision.
The court referred to the church operating as a hierarchy in its rationale for not getting involved. But Dan Wetzel, the CMA interim vice president of church ministries in Colorado Springs, said, “We are not a hierarchal body.”
“Defendants [the Paramus Church] ask the court to intervene in a dispute between them and the CMA. This is a matter of ‘church government’ which the Supreme Court has declared must be free of ‘secular control or manipulation’ under the First Amendment,” says the court ruling.
In Colorado Springs, a Chinese CMA congregation had its property seized by the conference and sold for a karate studio.
CMA members were heartbroken to learn that the denomination had thrown all of their expensive Chinese-language Bibles into a dumpster.
WND met up with Bruce Terpstra and the CMA attorney Hopkins at the courthouse in New Jersey.
Asked to comment on the fight between the small church and the denomination, Hopkins replied, “We prefer to handle this situation to the glory of God’s Kingdom rather than in the media.”
Smaha said that a fund has been set up to help the church, as it will now need to rent a meeting place. To help, send donations to: C/O Community Church of Faith and Hope, P.O. Box 683, Paramus, N.J., 07653