Friends and Acquaintances
Stephen Hesterman > Relationships | Treasure in Earthen Vessels | About Us
A Few Friends and Acquaintances
I was born at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey, about two miles east of Chatham, New Jersey, where I was raised. Our family attended a non-denominational Christian meeting at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Main Street with about 25 other brethren. We were commonly known as "Plymouth Brethren", although we disavowed any denominational name, choosing rather to be known simply as "Christians" (Acts 11:26). The Ted Druckenmillers, among others, attended the same meeting with us in Chatham as we were growing up in our teenage years, and Ted was kind of a mentor to me during that period. He would often give me and my brothers rides to Westfield for a midweek Bible study with Christians from nearby meetings in Summit, Cranford, Westfield, and Plainfield when my folks were too tired to attend. We called this the "city reading". During this period, I remember one of my friends pointing out where Eardley Petersen lived, a few houses down Hillcrest Avenue from our Westfield meeting room, which was located at the corner of Hillcrest Avenue and South Euclid Avenue. His older brother, Jimmy Petersen, lived a few houses away on South Euclid Avenue. In this narrative, the names of these friends and acquaintances will reappear. (At this point, I only knew that something had happened to their father, Arthur Petersen.) I helped Ted install and insulate the ducts in the air conditioning system when we expanded the Westfield meeting room. At his suggestion, I attended Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology, the same college that he had attended. Upon graduation, I went to work for the same company (Exxon) that he worked for.
When a worldwide division occurred in 1970, the Druckenmillers were in Argentina on a temporary work assignment, and they stayed with "the Jimites" who followed James "Jim" Taylor Jr. I often prayed for them, and when Ted was shut up/withdrawn from by the Jimites in the late 1970s, the Lord laid it on me to visit him after the breaking of bread one morning. (My wife had stayed home that morning, caring for our newborn son.) It was a cold, wintry day, and I rang their doorbell, not knowing what sort of reception I would meet with. Ted opened the door, surprised to see me, but came out on the porch to talk. I told him that we loved the Lord Jesus and were remembering Him together with a few Christians, including my father and mother, the Cy Dadds, the Tom Hawkins, the Percy Coombs, the Jimmy Petersens, and a few others, and that we had been praying for him and his family.
Ted contacted Cy Dadd within a week or so, and they were happily breaking bread with us shortly thereafter. It thrilled my heart to see how God had answered our prayers. But gradually, Ted and Esther became quite supportive of Cy Dadd's and Jimmy Petersen's approach to the Los Angeles situation, hosting Ernest Cary in their home, and so forth. Years later, in late 1992, Ted's eyes were opened concerning a situation in Adelaide, Australia (in which a brother had been disfellowshipped without adequate witness to establish his guilt) and Jimmy Petersen's pernicious involvement and wrong influence on brethren concerning this matter.
The Lord used a series of events during this late 1992-early 1993 period to open our eyes to the evil that was being perpetrated on brethren with whom we were fellowshipping. Jim Renton stressed, during fellowship meetings in early December, that he "didn't know anyone who was filled with the Spirit". This troubled me deeply, and God used Ted's word in a ministry meeting ten days later to bring matters to a head. Jimmy Petersen called Ted after that meeting, demanding that he withdraw his word. Ted would not withdraw it, and Jimmy went off on an extended drinking binge. At the time, Jimmy Petersen was scheduled to serve in two three-day Bible conference meetings—Edmonton, Alberta and Bendigo, Australia. No other three-day meetings were scheduled (per Jimmy's list of scheduled meetings) at this time.
After Jimmy's drinking binge began, Eric Burr's magazine arrived, in which a brother quoted Ephesians 5:18: "And be not drunk with wine, in which is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit". I felt keenly that we, in our locality, had allowed Jimmy's influence to so permeate brethren, including his influence in the Los Angeles matter many years earlier. After we withdrew from Jimmy Petersen, I spoke to Jim Castle by phone and encouraged him to be reconciled with Arthur Widtfeldt; I understand that he did visit Arthur shortly thereafter.
Well, my parents, the Druckenmillers, and ourselves were of one mind as to the situation in Australia, and we remembered the Lord Jesus together in our home on the first Lord's Day in May (1993). Much had taken place, especially during the preceding five months, to knit our souls together in Christ. Of course we had much to review during the ensuing months, including Eardly and Helen Petersen's exercises, Robert and Elizabeth Smith's exercises, and others. We realized that we had gone astray from the Lord's will over the course of many years, and that we had not really faced certain long-standing matters, in repentance and self-judgment, after 1970.
During the mid-1990s, Esli Forrest and other brethren in Auckland were also reviewing matters, and they wished to break bread there with David and Helen Church, who had been fellowshipping with Robert and Elizabeth Smith in New Jersey for many years. After it became clear that Auckland brethren and others in New Zealand and Australia had commenced to break bread with the Churches, effectively setting aside our concerns about Robert Smith's letter many years earlier (refusing fellowship to Helen Petersen after she had separated from iniquity in Westfield and suggesting that she return to the meeting in Westfield "where the truth is"), Ted Druckenmiller told me bitterly after a meeting one evening, "Where are we anyway?"
Shortly thereafter, someone recruited Ted's son, Garth, into Amway, then Garth recruited his father, and Garth tried, persistently, to recruit our son Eric. We knew nothing about Amway except that they marketed soap and other consumer products. Around that time, my cousin Carolyn Kelsey (nee Hjort), her husband Brian, and their family visited us; during their visit, they asked how the Druckenmillers were getting along, and I casually mentioned that they were starting to work with Amway. Brian then told us of a documentary they had seen, in which several former Amway people related their experiences with the company. Brian's and Carolyn's comments about one couple's testimony on the documentary alarmed me: "if your spouse doesn't agree with your involvement with Amway, you should leave your spouse and continue with Amway".
At that point, we started looking at the books Garth had given to Eric, in one of which Freemasonry was written of favorably. We spoke with Garth (and with Ted and Esther) about our concerns, stressing that we had no problem with the purchase or sale of Amway products. During our conversation with Garth, he told us that at the Amway meetings, they say a prayer that is explicitly addressed "to the god of your choice". I realized that this concept was akin to Freemasonry, and was antithetical to our Christian beliefs: "the only God our Saviour" (Jude 25), "there is no other God save one" (1 Corinthians 8:4), and "For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but Jehovah made the heavens" (Psalm 96:5).
So of course we had concerns about participating in this prayer. Well, shortly thereafter, at the beginning of a meeting one evening, Ted insisted that we withdraw our concerns, but I said that I could not, with a good conscience, withdraw our concerns. Ted said that he might even lead the prayer, and justified it by saying "It's deity". To which my mother replied in a shocked, audible whisper, "That's awful"! During our conversation, Ted read Isaiah 65:5, and I read Acts 20:28-31, Ezekiel 33:1-6, and portions of 1 Timothy 6:3-12. I also mentioned 1 Corinthians 10:14 and 2 Corinthians 6:16. Ted ended our conversation by saying that they would go their way and we could go our way. And so the meeting ended.
I believe it is heresy to justify prayer to the god of each person's choice (whether it be the Muslim god Allah, the Hindu pantheon of gods, or any other god than the only true God that we know and love as Christians). We should not participate or "have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather also reprove them." Ephesians 5:11.
Our cleavage with the Druckenmillers was a real sorrow to us after so much that we had been through together. I will simply add that we had departed from God's will, both in this area and more generally, over a long period of time. Westfield brethren's acceptance of Edwin Storr's and Jimmy Petersen's public withdrawal of their confessions in 1955 (witnessed by Helen Petersen and Janet Druckenmiller, who were local in Westfield at the time) and, as we later realized, the insistence by some that JT Jr's sister, Stella Petersen, divorce her husband around 1950 were serious long-standing matters that we could not ignore if we were to "pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart". (2 Timothy 2:22).
Quite simply, my wife Jane and I believe that Helen Petersen was right to separate from evil in 1955, but, as we were working through matters with Eardley and Helen, we found that Eardley dismissed our exercises regarding participation in a prayer that is addressed to the god of each person's choice. More recently, as the situation pertaining to Stella Petersen's divorce became more clear, and as we searched the scriptures concerning the truth of baptism1, we have realized that the departure from God's word has been very serious, over the course of many years. Consider Jesus' words in Mark 7:5-13, where He told the scribes and Pharisees that they were "making void the word of God by your traditional teaching which ye have delivered". See this baptism timeline for a bit of perspective on this departure from the word of God.
1 A Christian in Villa Grove, Illinois had given me a copy of God's Way and How to Find it, by Charles H. Mackintosh. A few years later, God brought us into contact with Larry and Marlene Stank, two Christians living in Catawissa, Pennsylvania. They also appreciated Mackintosh's writings; through their connections with Believers Bookshelf, a nearby Christian publisher in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, I discovered Mackintosh's short paper entitled On Baptism, written on December 22, 1871.
Stephen E. Hesterman
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