HAMMOND | The First Baptist Church of Hammond's congregation will absorb the shock of the departure of their senior pastor at their Wednesday night services.
"Our congregation is strong. Our church was founded in 1887. Our roots are buried deep," Eddie Wilson, a spokesman for the church, said Tuesday afternoon.
Wilson spoke in the aftermath of the church's board of deacons dismissing Jack Schaap, leader for 11 years of its 15,000 members, for committing what high-ranking church leaders called a sin of a physically improper nature that also was reported to legal authorities.
"The change in leadership will affect them to some degree, but we will let them know the church isn't about a man. It's about our faith. As much as we put faith in a man, our faith is truly in God.
"All of them will want to be led. So at the evening service the deacon board, who made the decision, will be very cautious that we go forward and don't wallow in uncertainty. We have to be careful not to elevate that man above God," Wilson said.
The church's website indicates its first ministers, including Allen Hill, B.P. Hewitt and Edward Carter, formed a church that hewed to a strict interpretation of the King James Bible. Its first Sunday School was held in the garret of a downtown railroad hotel, and its first permanent quarters were a simple house on Sibley Street.
Jack Hyles, who was summoned from Garland, Texas, in 1959, displayed a zeal for a fundamentalist view that resulted in an exponential growth of the church's membership and activities.
Hundreds of church buses were a familiar sight on the roads of Northwest Indiana and Chicago's South Side and its suburbs, transporting thousands to the church's Sunday school.
The church has been ranked by Outreach Magazine as among the top 20 largest in the nation.
The church had opened elementary and secondary schools and Hyles-Anderson College by the early 1970s.
The church's website states that under Schaap, the First Baptist Church has moved into a new 7,500-seat auditorium, doubled its average weekly attendance and sent mission teams to Africa, Thailand and India.