On February 5, 2015 a fire broke out at Heartland Evangelical Free in Central City, Nebraska. The fire was found to be arson. This post looks at the incident and gives an overview of Zeke Pipher and this local EFCA church in Nebraska. I especially want to focus on the issue of the fire in the context of how Neo-Calvinists teach God’s sovereignty. After all can it be said that the church sinned against God when they rebuilt?
“How much must God love us to let us go through this together? That’s the question I keep asking myself after the fire last night at Heartland.”
“The reward of suffering is experience.”
“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
Job 1:21 NLT
We are going to look at an Evangelical Free church in Central City, Nebraska. Central City is a small town in Merrick County and the city is a part of the Grand Island metropolitan statistical area. In the last census of 2010 the population was a little over 2,900 people. In its history the Mormon, Oregon and California trails passed through the area. The original name was called Lone Tree, but that changed in 1875 to Central City. The Union Pacific railroad laid tracks through the city but the area boomed in 1880 when the Burlington & Missouri River, the predecessor to the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad. The town slowly grew over time. The depression hit the area hard but the key to Central City is agriculture. That, I believe, remains true today. The largest the town grew to was in 1980 when they had 3,083 people.
An Overview of Heartland Evangelical Free and Zeke Pipher
The origins of Heartland Evangelical Free go back to when is was founded in 1965. It grew out of a Bible study and eventually the Free Methodist property was purchased. The original name for this church was Central City Evangelical Free. And it was to serve central Nebraska. Over time this church went through five building campaigns and 20 different senior and associate pastors. The local newspaper, The Republican-Nonpareil, wrote an article about the 50th anniversary of Heartland in 2015. Heartland makes itself available to the community for example the local Weight Watchers chapter actually meets at Heartland.
Senior Pastor Zeke Pipher has served Heartland Evangelical Free since 2005. Zeke is from Nebraska and attended Nebraska Wesleyan University where he graduated with a degree in biology in 1993. In 1997 he married his wife Jamie and afterward he attended the Talbot School of Theology where he earned a Misters of Divinity. He earned a 4.97 GPA and focused on pastoral care and counseling. In 2005 he earned his Doctor of Ministry from Gordan-Conwell Theological Seminary. Zeke was also a guest chaplain to the United States House of Representatives in March of 2013. Zeke is an author and has written several books to include, “In Pursuit: Devotions for the Hunter and Fisherman“,”Man on the Run: Helping Hyper-Hobbied Men Recognize the Best Things in Life“,”Wild Mountain Tribe” and “The Wild Man: A Fable for Boys Who Can’t Grow Beards…Quite Yet .” Zeke like to write about manhood and masculinity issues to include initiating boys into manhood. He is also an outdoorsman who likes to hunt and fish. He also has contributed articles to Deer & Deer Hunting, Petersen’s Bowhunting and Whitetail News magazines. He has two websites that you can check out which are here and here. Zeke used to blog at Patheos but it appears as if he has stopped writing at that location.
An Arson Fire Strikes the Church in February of 2015
On February 5, 2015 a fire broke out at Heartland Evangelical Free. A group was meeting in the basement when the fire alarms went off. The fire came as a shock as people evacuated from the building. The fire occurred in the south side of the building in the children’s section. Sprinklers went off in other parts of the building including the new sanctuary. The damage was extensive . Firefighters responded quickly and arrived on scene at about 8:30 in the evening, shortly after it broke out. While there was concern for the church people also recognized that property can be replaced but lives can not. After the fire Zeke wrote about it at his blog at Patheos. He put it in a theological perspective when he opened up the post by saying the following. “How much must God love us to let us go through this together? That’s the question I keep asking myself after the fire last night at Heartland.” In other words God loves that is why he let the church go through suffering together. He went to speak of the love of God in the post when he penned the following. “So when I say that watching our church building spit flames out the windows made me sense the love of God, it’s not a trite, or flippant, comment. It’s a comment that flows out of the past 24-hours, and watching people from across the state pray for and help us, and from seeing people in our community stir one another up by this chance to have courageous trust in God. And it’s a comment that comes from knowing that, in order to walk the deeper paths of faith together as a community, life must get hard. Comfortable things must be disrupted. And, occasionally, a few of our favorite places must burn. For it’s in these hot moments, we see the reckless, raging love of God.” You can read the post in, “When our favorite places burn.” You can hear Zeke’s sermon after the fire here.
The fire marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms conducted an investigation. It was viewed as being suspicious because the fire occurred in two locations. The two locations that the fire began were the nursery and the fellowship hall. In the course of time a female juvenile was suggested to be responsible in a case of arson. You can read about this in the local press here and here. Church arson is indeed rare and as I write about the EFCA this has been one of the only incidents so far that I have discovered. You can read more about church arson here. Heartland Evangelical Free has a church webpage about the fire which you can access here.
Did Zeke Pipher Sin Against God in Rebuilding?
The issue for me which drives this post is about how those in the Neo-Calvinist world can view sovereignty. They teach, proclaim and point out the order of a life that falls under God’s perfect will. Everything happens for a reason and will not be wasted. God works in a beautiful way and his sovereignty and control over the earth can go down into the smallest molecule and more. The sovereignty of God is proclaimed – until something challenges it. For example two years ago I wrote about an EFCA church in California called Church of the Canyons. It fell under John MacArthur’s influence and had a broad and fundamentalist view of sovereignty. They believed that until the state of California wanted to build a high speed railroad that would go through the sanctuary. They the church resisted and fought. If the Church of the Canyons truly believed God was sovereign and everything happened for a purpose then shouldn’t they have submitted to the railroad being built through their sanctuary? You can read more about this in, “The Church of the Canyons, The California High Speed Rail Project and my Question to Senior Pastor Bob Childress: Is the Lord Still Sovereign?”
In Central City, Nebraska an EFCA church dealt with a fire. Look at how Zeke Pipher described and explained it. The fire was good and a sign of God’s love. God allowed this to happen so that people can suffer together. God worked in this manner because he loves people. Can you see how Neo-Calvinist theology makes the problem of evil worse? Can you see how it intensifies and increases suffering in humanity? But what else would Zeke’s theology apply to? September 11, 2001 was good because the community of New York City brought people together. God loves us, that is why he allowed the destruction of the World Trade Center. Or how about Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. God loves the community that is why he allowed a mentally ill gunman to go on a rampage in a elementary school. Do you see how warped this thinking can be?
Then there is a flip side to this situation with Heartland Evangelical Free that I want to pose. This situation became one of arson according to what I researched. If you look at the sovereignty of how Neo-Calvinists think and function can’t it almost be said that the young juvenile was doing the Lord’s will. The Lord planned for this fire to occur and used the young female to be his instrument. In the end one could call the act of the setting of the fire an act of worship, am I correct? I am not reformed in my thinking so I don’t have to wrestle with this train of theology. What about the fire itself? Can it be said that Zeke Pipher and the elders at Harvest Evangelical Free are sinning against God as they rebuild and fix the building? If this is how the Lord operates can’t it be said that the church should not have been rebuilt? Please understand I am not trying to be difficult I am looking at this problem set through Neo-Calvinist theology. That is what this post is about. That is it for the day Heartland Evangelical Free, take care of yourself.