Testimonies – And the Truths they Tell

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Christians are called to be light and to shed light into dark places, and nothing is more grievous than when the darkness resides in the church. I once again present this with a heavy heart and great hope and anticipation that the Lord Jesus Christ uses difficult circumstances for the good of his people and to glorify himself. I have decided to put forth what I had intended to be the third installment in this series, exposing error at Grace Fellowship Church of Davenport, IA, into the second article.

This article is in the words of those that have left. The range of these testimonies covers ten years, some of these people were recent, and some go way back to the beginning, but there are common characteristics to all these testimonies that will be evident. I have no joy in exposing these errors, but a desire to protect others from hurt. These are not new errors in Christianity, and if the leadership continue to resist what so many others have told them through the years, and seem to believe themselves above correction and reproof, this is a dangerous place to stay.

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. Proverbs 29:1

Where there is no guidance a people falls, But in abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11.14.  

I have received more material than I can put into this post and hope that people will read it all the way through. I have endeavored to keep these testimonies concise and truthful to their intent. These are mostly direct quotes or slightly adapted due to grammar. These are powerful testimonies, and are verifiable, as I have kept meticulous records of these encounters so that I am accountable to them and the reader. Given the overwhelming response and some that I have yet to receive, I intend to provide more as this series progresses. I never expected to do this much on the topic, we were content to leave and leave well enough alone, but in love, urge those still at GFC to consider what is said, and see the pain, hurt and damage that has been done.

A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful. – Proverbs 14:25

I’ve added one paragraph between the testimonies, and it is bolded.

——————————— Testimonies ———————

Through our time of attendance and membership at Grace Fellowship (9+ years), we experienced several practices and teachings that were unbiblical. Our children, especially our daughter, were damaged by these things, including the judgment and condemnation she experienced from many of the adult members.

Last year as the elders of GFC was teaching through the confession statement that they were adopting, and they taught that there is no limit to an elders’ authority in believing members’ lives. While I am referencing the teaching of this specifically regarding the confession statement, this was taught throughout our time there using Hebrews 13:17 as their basis, often admonishing members that lack of obedience to their requests or expectations would be unprofitable. We had even been told before that we ought not to be listening to sermons from other pastors, but that rather we should go back and listen to previous sermons from our pastor.  The intention of this was to discourage those of us who were seeking to ‘test’ what we were being taught by looking for other sermons by like-minded pastors on the same sections of scripture.   Some examples of expectations that were strongly taught over the years include that wives were expected to quit jobs to stay home in order to live out ‘God’s design for families.  Wives caring for their homes is certainly good; however, the elders influenced women to believe that working outside of the home is unbiblical or even sinful. One former member received counsel that she must not even be saved in part for her desire to go back to work to a job she enjoyed because it was a sinful, selfish desire and reflected a lack of contentment in God’s design for her as a wife.  Additionally, it was common for individual private meetings between Pastor Mike Reid and women to include discussions of intimacy with their husbands up to and including a prescribed frequency in at least one case.  Finally, toward the end of our time there, I was especially bothered by the misuse of Colossians 3:16 wherein we were directed to be looking around and singing to or at each other during the song service. To use songs and this portion of a church gathering to take away from the worship of God and direct our focus away from Him and to one another seemed greatly misdirected.  At one point a comment was even made from one of the elders in the pulpit that we ought not to be closing our eyes (to worship) because that was not allowing us to minister to one another in the song service. This exposes the idolatrous view that the elders and members of GFC have of their assembly and ended up being yet one more reason we were compelled to leave.

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Under the leadership of GFC, I saw a misconception of the term “submission.” All was well unless one questioned authority or spoke out, asking for clarification of a sermon or study. It was truly a do as I say, not as I do form or manipulation and control taking place regularly. Counsel came swiftly if clergy perceived an error on anyone’s part. The clergy’s own family was called out regularly and chastised and belittled in front of the congregation. That is not loving. Shaming, judging, and public ridicule does not bring one to Christ.

The reason that our family left was that it was being torn apart. I watched my teenager go from loving the body of Christ to stone-cold fire and brimstone. It has turned her completely away from Christ at present. I watched my husband seek guidance under weekly counsel that offered no encouragement, grace, or mercy. Counsel consisted of perceived wrongs and unwavering demands to mans contrived rules and perverted doctrine. I watched my family slowly lose the love of Christ until the day we left. It was shortly after the elder council and pastor called me in and stated that they determined I was unsaved based upon my inability to attend the weekly bible study.

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I started attending GFC around February of 2011 through April 2013. Three primary reasons caused me to leave. First was the leadership telling the people of GFC if they get something out of reading the scriptures other than what the elders told us, then we were wrong; in effect, all interpretation had to be approved by the elders.

Secondly, Mike’s son moved because of some behavioral issues in the home and Mike told the Men’s Bible Study that if we disagreed with the reasons behind it we need to keep those to ourselves, and lastly, was Mike’s insistence meeting alone with women, even after I said I am not okay with that, specifically as it related to my wife. Mike told me that if he could not meet with her alone, then I was asking them to sin by not allowing the pastor to shepherd the flock, which led to him discussing our marital intimacy without my presence giving her instructions about helping her feel closer to me.

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One common theme is how the Elders took more control of our daily life; here are some examples in no particular order.

1) Whenever I questioned something an Elder said or did, I was told to “be careful, and I’m on dangerous ground.” We were taught not to question them, and we thought if they were our Elders chosen by God, we better obey.

2) I was asked regularly about how many times a week I had intimacy with my wife.

3) I was continually told confidential information that another member revealed in closed sessions with the Pastor. He justified sharing it to make a point with me about my life.

4) There is a constant emphasis on sin. The entire church was instructed to actively look for other’s sins and call them out. Things like not being joyful was a sin of a bad heart. Once I had another member follow me into a small janitor’s closet, close the door, and asked me if I was chewing tobacco! He was 2 inches from my face!

5) Over the top emphasis on the man is the head of the home. The wife had no say, wasn’t supposed to offer an opinion if they did that was a sin issue. Wives were not to be involved in any financial decision. My wife is the best person to get an opinion from regarding any financial decision. Yes, I am called to lead, but a good leader uses all available resources, like in my case….my wife!!

6) Over the top emphasis that the true family is the church. We have two sons with children. We were encouraged not to miss any church fellowship due to being with them.

7) The misrepresentation of idolatry. I was told my grandkids are an idol, and my wife was told I was an idol to her. Interesting, the Elders wanted the church to idolize them!

8) Other various things: we were strongly encouraged not to celebrate Christmas. We were told to not say the Pledge of Allegiance or display an American flag (obviously, these were idolatrous acts). We were encouraged not to vote (although it wasn’t mandatory). We were told GFC was the only “true” church in the Quad Cities. Other churches were regularly spoken against.

Women were strongly encouraged to wear long dresses or skirts, but not pants. Girls were not to participate in sports and should not attend college. (I will speak more definitively about this in the next article).

Courtships and courting arrangements were encouraged, Elders were to be informed about financial and work-related decisions. The married couples were to completely leave the size of their family in God’s hand, no birth control choices.

Shepherding played a vital role in the church, not only for men, but wives and young women were to meet regularly to discuss a wide range of personal topics. Attendance at church functions and social gatherings became a “must” with a phone call follow-up if you did not attend.

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The stories above are familiar to the teachings at Grace Fellowship Church. While there may be appearances of biblical doctrine, there is always the level of “over-the-top,” and the constant pushing the limits of how far teaching can intrude into the lives of God’s people that become an error. The next series of testimonies were painful to read, painful to tell, and painful to post. Does this represent the damage done to individuals that one would have to ask what were you thinking? Additionally, what was God thinking? The question posed to these elders, have you caused God’s children to sin?

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———————————————- Testimonies —————————

We came to GFC as saved believers in Jesus Christ, with a letter of good standing from another church we had attended for a couple of years.  We were looking for more expository teaching and thought, based on GFC’s website, that we would receive it there.

Our letter of good standing was not accepted; they did not believe our testimonies because

  • Our lifestyle was unbiblical because my husband had retired, and I was employed
  • My salvation was uncertain because I couldn’t name a date and time it occurred
  • My husband had some besetting sins he was working through, and therefore because his life wasn’t completely sinless (or at least sanctified enough), his salvation wasn’t real

We were denied the Lord’s Supper because we were not members; however, when I asked about it after several months of steady attendance, I was told I could partake one time.  Me, not my husband.  I did not partake.

We asked about church membership and were handed application questionnaires asking about our past, our sin history, the circumstances around our salvation, etc.  I completed the application and waited to have a meeting scheduled because Mike was traveling outside the country.

While there, we were witness to the discussions of two families who had left the church and were subsequently excommunicated.  In each case, the actual letters or emails from the families were not printed and shared.  Excerpts were read aloud, and defenses of the elders given, but at no time was any acceptance that anything these families identified as reasons for leaving or questioning the teaching may have been accurate.  In both cases, we were told never to speak to them and to shun them completely.  We were not comfortable with these admonitions, and my husband stood during one of the meetings and questioned whether that treatment was in keeping with Jesus’ teaching to pray for the lost and to bring them home.

The sermons given always stressed sins and never (or rarely) the joy, grace, and mercy that we receive through salvation.  We were basically taught to doubt our salvation, that assurance was not given. This constant message caused my husband to doubt his faith.  The more we attended and listened to the teaching, the more depressed he became.  He was continually told he wasn’t saved, and the methods used to convince him of that seemed intended to drive a wedge between us.  I began to believe what they said about him, and our marriage began to suffer.  Despite this, we continued to attend, believing that we were being taught the scripture correctly and just needed to be more repentant.  In hindsight, I feel like the way my husband was treated was due to him standing in public opposition to the treatment of the excommunicated members.

A meeting to discuss my membership with the church was scheduled, and I was told that my husband was not allowed to attend. It was held in the basement office; three men and me.  No women present.  I was uncomfortable with that and mentioned it to Mike.  He brushed off my concerns as unreasonable and unnecessary.  During that meeting, the validity of my faith was questioned, my military service berated as sinful, and I was told that a spousal rape that had occurred with my previous husband was not possible. (This was based on their teaching that the husband’s authority was never to be questioned and the wife was to be submissive in all things) I was asked if my income was six figures. I responded truthfully and never again was the fact that I held a job brought up.

During a Wednesday prayer service shortly after this, my husband asked for prayers for a family member suffering from cancer and who was not a believer.  After that service, a member with some standing due to his street ministry approached us, and in front of the entire congregation told my husband quite loudly that he was a “liar and a sinner.”  He was berated for requesting prayers for another when he was not saved himself. This went on for nearly 5 minutes.

We continued attending for a few weeks, even though we were beginning to have serious doubts about what was being taught there.  My husband missed a couple of Sundays due to depression and near-suicidal emotional state.  He believed what he was told that he was a sinner, and his prayers would not be answered, especially concerning my brother, who was on his deathbed.  I began to really see the lack of joy in the membership, and the humiliating and disrespectful way in which the women were treated began to really bother me. It was little things, little twists of scripture that made you go “hmmm” during the sermon and then spend hours reading and studying later to figure out just what wasn’t right.  We were not allowed to question anything that was taught – absolute authority and power of the elders.

The last straw for us was a broadcast Mike was part of where he discussed the authority of the church elders over membership, and that he had absolute authority over whether members could move away from the community and his church – he could tell them no.  The day after that broadcast, we sent Mike a text and told him we withdrew our request for membership and would no longer be attending based on the statements he made during the broadcast.  He responded, asking for specifics – we did not reply.  We also advised a couple of others that we were not returning, and in one instance, the man who called my husband a liar responded to the joint text asking me to reconsider – not addressing my husband at all.  Because we were not members, our exit was nothing like it was for others who left and were excommunicated.

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My experience with Grace Fellowship Church (GFC) began with reading an article (I can no longer find) Tony Miano posted on his blog about his first experience with GFC. He talked about his street evangelism with them and his experience with Mike Reid and the other members there. His first impression, as I recall, was that they were legalistic, but concluded: “they were pursuing a higher level of holiness.” (This may have been Tony’s wife that stated it was a legalistic church)

I tweeted Tony about evangelizing with him when he comes to Iowa again and got a response from Nick Rolland, one of the elders at GFC, to join them. The people were kind and welcoming, with almost too personal of greetings having just met.  A week or so later, Mike Reid invited me to spend the night at his house. He asked me about how I came to faith in Christ. I told him my testimony and a brief synopsis of my addiction to pornography. Mike asked me more about my sex life. He kept on prodding and justified it by saying he wanted to know everything so he could help. Then he told me his testimony and about his wife’s affairs and his affairs against his wife. These have since been taken down from Sermon Audio. He seemed to brag about how he had done the deed rather than simply looking at women, and there seemed to be no remorse in his voice.

I went to the Sunday service the next day. I would ask people their testimony, and many of the people would say they thought they were a Christian until they met Mike. They said Mike helped them realized they were not saved and preached the true gospel to them. Others who still claimed to be saved praised Mike’s preaching and teaching, which gave Mike credibility in my eyes. Afterward, Mike, Nick and I talked in Mike’s office. Nick told me he did his research and said there are not any good churches in my area.

On April 24th of 2016, I asked Nick about becoming a member of GFC. They told me to sit down at any of the tables after service. I remember them coming over with very stern looks on their faces. They sat down and asked me why I would like to become a member. Mike proceeded to bring up my sex life and willful sin again. He told me that if anyone loves God, they will keep His commandments. He asked me if I had been keeping the commandments, and I said no. I was broken. I began to cry like a baby. Mike asked me where I deserved to be for looking at women with lust, and I cried out, “In the deepest, darkest pit of hell!” Mike and Nick seemed surprised by my reply. Mike asked me, “If Elder Nick’s wife was naked in the other room, would you have sex with her?” I was confused by his question, wondering why he would even ask me that. He said something to shame me again, and I started crying again., Mike said, “I command you to repent.” I lifted my head, looked Mike in the eye, and said, “That is God’s command.” He shifted in his seat, got mad, raised his voice, and said, “You need to repent.” Nick said, “this was the most loving thing we could do for you, to help you see your need to get right with God.” I sat there, crying and confused.

I was a mess on the way home – crying, angry and confused, I thought, “How can a pastor say something like that, is it right for a pastor to tempt someone to sin? Why would Mike ask me that?” The following Saturday, a friend of mine received a text that said the elders of GFC had declared me ‘unsaved.’ I thought, “That’s it. I’m done with them.”

In the middle of May 2016, I became convinced I wasn’t saved, and this led to a very dark time in my life. I stopped reading my Bible, stopped going to church as often, and had no desire to evangelize. My flesh had full reign. I went down a path of committing grievous sins.

After some time had passed, I sat down with men from the local church and told them about the things that happened at GFC and the grievous sins I committed. They were heart-broken and wished to see me repent and restored. They practiced church discipline in a loving way I had not experienced at GFC.

Other Christian brothers reached out to me and helped me to see that what they are doing at GFC was unbiblical. One friend shared Chuck O’Neal’s article with me, and this began to open my eyes to the strange and evil things that were going on there. I still had to deal with my sin. I went home, and God granted me repentance, and I was restored to fellowship with the brethren of my local church. Praise the Lord!

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I never became a member of GFC because Nick and Mike did not believe my story of salvation credible. My testimony didn’t fit their template because my level of holiness hadn’t yet risen to the level they insisted it must be, and since my sanctification wasn’t complete, as I did continue to have some ongoing sin issues, they feared that if they accepted my testimony it might give others in the church license to stay in their sin and still claim salvation.

My faith in Jesus alone for salvation was okay with them, but my sanctification had not progressed enough to qualify me as saved, and until I was willing to admit that my past salvation experience was false, I was disqualified. They used 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Ephesians 5 to “disqualify” me. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone was their claim, but it felt so much more like my salvation was dependent on me, not good works, but an absence of sin.

They also wanted me to dismiss my coming to faith in Jesus, 15 years prior, as a false conversion.  I just could not do that.  They were asking me to deny a change in me that I could only contribute to the work of the Holy Spirit and attribute it to something else.  That seemed like blasphemy to me, and I wouldn’t do it.  I still to this day, question my understanding of what salvation is and looks like, not only for myself but others as well.

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May the Lord bless these testimonies, and may the truth be revealed.

Kevin

Excommunication – The Abuse of Biblical Doctrine

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Today, I am writing with grief and hesitation in my heart, as I tell a story I never wanted to tell; however, I believe I must stand on the firm biblical ground to expose the problems we now see plainly. The problems that we have worked toward resolving, through conversation, leaving the church, writing blog posts, letter writing, and finally these series of articles. I am under no allusion that things will change, but it surely is my desire.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 4:1-2

Grace Fellowship Church (GFC) in Davenport, Iowa is, sadly, not all that unusual. There are many churches which have an outward appearance of fidelity to the Gospel, and which have orthodox statements of faith, but which utterly fail to “practice what they preach.” GFC often does not preach what its statements of faith proclaim. It is my hope that this series of (3) articles will put a spotlight on its heteropraxy, by which I mean how it leaves the boundaries of orthodox, biblical church practices and more readily resembles a cult.

While there are countless examples and descriptions I can write about, today I am choosing to focus on one issue, I will further address specifics, in an upcoming article, and then conclude in a third article with words from those that have left GFC, only to be disillusioned and most often confused with what church life should resemble. I have chosen this issue because this beautiful biblical doctrine, is being abused, misused, and misapplied for one reason, to control people. Control, and misapplication through excommunication are what most cults or cult-like churches do to wield control, and GFC has mastered these techniques.

 

Excommunication = Restorative 

 

In dealing with the topic of excommunication we have two primary passages of Scripture to be considered, but first it is important to understand excommunication is designed, by God, to be restorative, John MacArthur, in his commentary from Matthew 18, says:

The purpose of discipline is the spiritual restoration of fallen members and the consequent strengthening of the church and glorifying of the Lord. When a sinning brother is rebuked, and he turns from his sin and is forgiven, he is won back to fellowship with the Body and with its head, Jesus Christ.

Matthew 18:15-17 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

How we deal with sin in a local church body is explained in this passage. It is clear this is to follow a process, and the first step of that process is that a brother is in sin. 1 Corinthians 5 is the second passage that deals with the sinning church member. 

1 Corinthians 4:4-5 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

We can see the issue with blatant, in the open sexual immorality, and Paul tells the Corinthian church this man should be put out of the church. Paul’s desire for this man is salvation, and the purpose of putting him out of the church is the last resort to reconcile him back to a right relationship with the Lord and to restore fellowship in the church.

 

Excommunication NOT Retribution

 

Excommunication is designed to be a tool, in proper biblical churches, to draw people back to fellowship, not to punish them for leaving the church, and that is the focus of this article. If a “church” consistently uses this tactic, to punish, and to alienate former members for leaving the church, is it a church, by biblical standards?

We were members of Grace Fellowship Church for nine years. In those nine years and the subsequent year and a half since our departure, and our excommunication, five more families, have been excommunicated.

Why you might ask? For leaving Grace Fellowship is the answer; all of these families are still serving the Lord; they still desire to be in a biblical fellowship and walk as Christians. According to GFC theology, it is a sin to leave a church.  According to Mike Reid (Pastor) there are only three or four ways in which you can legitimately leave a church, and if you did, he asks, “what scripture lead you to do that?”

Interestingly enough, what scripture lead him to determine those three or four ways of leaving are the only legitimate ways to leave and has anyone ever come to GFC that they have received into membership that left another local church, even against the counsel of that churches leadership? We know this to be hypocrisy because we know this to be true, and something I will address in the next article.

Last year Mike was invited to participate in a show, and his own words clearly illustrate his theology and ecclesiology. It will not take long to see you will not leave GFC very easily. This gives one illustration of a drift away from orthodox teaching, but there are many more.

GFC is a church that falls into the category of biblicism. Biblicism is a doctrine that, at its essence, teaches that you must have a scripture verse to support anything and everything you do, ultimately, allowing the leaders to control the populace. If they do not have a verse to refer to, then it is not a biblical decision. The New Testament provides no clear definition of the decision to leave a church.

The New Testament does not give direct prohibitions, NEVER to leave, as well there are no commands that one must stay. There are legitimate reasons for wanting to leave that should not involve excommunication; however, at Grace Fellowship leaving, at the time of this writing, has ALWAYS resulted in excommunication for members, with perhaps the exception of one.

According to Bob Selph, teaching Pastoral Theology for the Reformed Baptist Seminary, there are times when it is necessary to leave.

There is a time to leave a church. When, because of faulty teaching or because of authoritarianism, which robs the child of God of his liberty in Christ, a person’s soul is under harm or that of his family, he must leave that situation in allegiance first of all to his King Jesus Christ.

He goes on to discuss the role of an elder not being too authoritative, or intruding into the lives of the congregation, furthermore, he says:

You or I may not particularly prefer or agree with our brother’s and sister’s personal choices, but rules that go beyond Holy Scripture are not to be forced upon the consciences of God’s free people. The church must not go beyond the clear teaching of Holy Scripture with regard to morally neutral activities and force a code of behavior upon God’s redeemed people. These areas are not under the province of the church unless they are done in direct violation of the law of God (10 Commandments) or done to such excess that the testimony of Christ and the church is obviously besmirched. See Confession’s chapter 21 on “Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience” to understand a person cannot give his conscience away to the lordship of a church or of anybody else.

Here is what lies at the bottom of Mike Reid and Grace Fellowship’s theology. The elders have extensive rule and authority over the church. When their authority is threatened or challenged, they will find a way to get back; ultimately, it is an impossible situation to leave. The truth is that the only way to leave GFC is either by death or excommunication, but never in ten plus years of the life of the church, has anyone left in a manner worthy of mutual agreement.

 

Working toward Agreement?

 

November 5th, 2018, I responded to a message that Mike Reid sent me, asking to get to together and seek our forgiveness. While on the surface this may seem like a commendable thing to do, and we wanted to be gracious in our response, I needed to discover if there was any sense of wrongdoing regarding our excommunication or willingness to overturn it. I responded with a lengthy letter explaining many issues we believe continue at the church and explaining them as some of the reasons for our departure.

Here is an excerpt from that letter:

Mike,

I received your message on October 24th (2018) and wanted to take this opportunity to respond, of which I’m grateful to do so, but I must first say, the message caught me off guard.  It has created some confusion in my mind as to the reason behind it, and while I don’t want to be ungracious in my response, it urges some questions to be asked.   I also must mention that if you believe you have witnessed the manifestations of my election through the years, you will deeply contemplate the things I present.

Our last communication was a letter in which we have been excommunicated from GFC, and all those in attendance were being instructed to interact with us in accordance to a couple of scriptural references.  I assume you would also fall under this instruction.

“The members of our local assembly will be instructed to interact with you in accordance with Romans 16:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15.”

We must deal first with these two passages.

Romans 16:17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 

Romans 16:18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. 

This is clearly dealing with the unbelievers.  Verse 18 is the immediate context of the passage.  An attempt is being made by unbelievers to change and distort the gospel from what the apostles were teaching.  This is not what we were doing.  And in your message to me the other day you call me brother so, that is either untrue, or this is a misapplication of the verse.

2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.  If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

The context of this passage is warning believer’s against idleness.  It’s distinctly clear from the preceding passages.  What troubles me is that you and (2) other elders at GFC approved this letter to justify what you didn’t like and put a blanket statement of “division” over our actions.  Individually the verses do not apply to us, nor do they have any relationship to one another.  Our shunning and excommunication were founded on the eisegesis of these texts by you, Tyler and Nick.

As I said earlier, I don’t want to be ungracious in whatever attempt this might be to reopen a line of communication, but it’s “out of the blue,” and for one, our excommunication needs to be dealt with first and foremost.  Where do the Jandt’s stand in relationship to you and GFC?  This can’t be swept under the rug. You have purposely distorted the truth, misguided the assembly, thus discrediting our family.   You further abused your role in the church, to do what seems clear you do not understand, by “excommunicating” us.  All an effort to control us and strike fear in the assembly.   We can’t simply dismiss what we believe to still be the problems that persist at Grace Fellowship. 

 

Serious Concerns

 

Are the elders ignorant of the doctrine of excommunication, or are they simply ignoring it to suit their desires? It is hard for me to imagine they are ignorant, as I have pointed this out to them in the letter, as others have pointed it out to them in the past.

Why would a legitimate man of God desire to distort the Bible’s teaching?

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Additionally, the congregation plays a role in these decisions. Is the congregation also ignorant, or are they ignoring these truths or lack of truth in order to support their leaders?

I clearly understand the persuasive powers Mike Reid has and the leadership structure he has set up, and how he has convinced the flock that the elders have been ordained by God to speak for the church. Disobedience to them is tantamount to disobedience to God himself, and once again, these tactics are consistent with cultish churches.

Is Grace Fellowship Church a cult, or simply cultish? These are legitimate concerns for those that might attend there, but these believing members that are still in the congregation need to examine the Scriptures. Are the practices of GFC biblical? If not, the members have a responsibility to stand for truth or leave. They are culpable as well, should they continue to support their leaders.

“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” Deuteronomy 19:15

These are serious claims, and there is no shortage of witnesses to the evidence against GFC and leadership. After our departure in February of 2018, at last count, eight other families had left, some members, some non-members, and to my knowledge, all members received excommunication letters from GFC. Many of those were long-term members, one family had been there since the very beginning, just as we had, and they desired to leave well. Leaving well is not possible. Leaving is anarchy to leadership, and it must be dealt with in a heavy-handed manner, as a warning.

I wrote a blog series on Churches that Abuse and all of the tactics described in the book by Ronald M. Enroth. Grace Fellowship utilizes most of these tactics. These are not unique. The, at best, heterodox teaching of GFC is dangerous, and one member, well-known evangelist Tony Miano, before becoming a member had engaged in working through the notorious cult Church of Wells. Tony did a three-hour interview discussing the techniques and the issues, and firmly warned those that might be in a church like this, and now, ironically, is in a similar situation himself. This link is a valuable resource as to how these places operate, and yet Tony is now a member in a place that operates in like manner.

 

Fighting for the Gospel

 

I write this knowing full-well we were at this place for nine years, we participated in the same sort of actions, doing exactly the same thing; going along without question because of the teaching. However, God in His great mercy revealed these truths to us in His perfect timing. We had gone back to those excommunicated before us, sought their forgiveness and confessed our sin of participation before them, we sought reconciliation and have received nothing but mercy and grace.

Ultimately, I always come back to the decision that this is a gospel issue. GFC is devoid of true gospel freedom for its members and attenders. The heavy hand of authoritarianism and legalistic preaching and tendencies wreaks in the place. It is a burden for the children and for those that truly have a desire to serve the Lord, and leads them into great confusion as to the balance between the law and the gospel.

I do not want to belabor what others have already said, or tried to do, but to plead with current members to look at the Scriptures and closely examine the teaching and this article, speak with those you have been told not to speak to and seek counsel outside of the leadership. When you can stand back, clear your head, and hear from others, you find amazing clarity.

 

Always Hopeful

 

Lastly, I write this out of a heart to see change. Most likely, I will never have the opportunity to stand before the congregation and bring witnesses to rebuke a sinning elder or three sinning elders, and therefore, my only hope is that this can be exposed that nobody will ever be hurt again by this misuse of church power, and unqualified leadership.

Additionally, I have offered to pursue Chapter 26, paragraph 15 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, to work through this with multiple churches and their representatives.  In an email I wrote to Mike Reid December 7th, 2018, I stated:

We desire peace, yet our peace must be in the Truth.  We can have a worldly peace between us, we can say “hi” at the grocery store, but true peace at its very core is a gospel issue.  And I believe this is where the problem lies between us.  As the 1689 provides a provision for others to provide counsel, I’m willing to seek that out.  See Chapter 26 paragraph 15.  But who could that possibly be?

I still stand prepared to go through with this process and offer that challenge today, yet this must be done with great care, with well-respected, confirmed, and legitimate ministries. After all that has transpired, after many written words, after all the hurt feelings that have come and gone, we are still hopeful for those that remain. We are hopeful they will eventually see through the control, see through the manipulation, and see through the misuse of the truth of the Scriptures. We continue to pray for them by name, and in earnest expectation of great things happening, we will not give up, because those that went before us, never gave up.

My family and the recent families that have left have found the Jesus they sought, to be far more gracious than they could have ever imagined. Man-made rules and regulations do not lead to higher holiness, only self-righteousness, and lack of joy. There is freedom in Christ on the other side, and that is my plea.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. – 1 John 4:1

May the Lord do as He sees right.

 

Kevin

The Whole Counsel of God

paul writing

Because souls are at stake, the work of an evangelist requires boldness, compassion, love, and accuracy. The gospel message is precious and must be protected, but it must also be declared accurately. Paul’s final admonition to the Elders of Ephesus included some powerful truths worthy of our consideration. If we desire to see souls won to Christ, it is imperative we labor to consider the fullness of God’s counsel.

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.  – Acts 20:26-27

Though simple, this statement is important to dissect and digest. A gospel preacher has an incredible responsibility. Is Paul suggesting that he would be guilty if he did NOT declare the whole counsel of God? Is he saying that everyone that heard him preach (“all”), whether they come to Christ or not, and in this case, not, has received a message that is accurate enough to save their souls?

Commenting on this verse, Calvin says:

“I do not doubt but that he had respect unto the place of Ezekiel, where God denounceth that his prophet shall be guilty of the blood of the wicked unless he exhort them unto repentance (Ezekiel 3:18, 20).”

These are hard words, not only from Calvin but first and foremost from Ezekiel, and certainly should serve as a warning to those that go out to preach and teach on the streets, college campuses, abortion clinics, jails or downtowns.

If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. – Ezekiel 3:18-19

We have before us two issues. One is the warning to the unbeliever or the wicked. They are called upon to turn from their wicked ways. It is straight-forward enough. Secondly, however, and the focus of this article is the call to the preacher. Our job is to warn. Our job is to tell our hearers what will happen if they heed not the message.

One of the important elements of gospel preaching is to preach the full counsel of God. This includes the hard news. According to Ezekiel, warning people releases the gospel minister from the guilt of the hearer’s unbelief. As Paul said about himself, he is “innocent of the blood of all” because he was truthful in his gospel proclamation. He did not hold back. He warned. He declared the whole counsel.

In our day of compromise, we readily see evangelism and missions ministries with slogans that focus on the love, mercy, kindness, and compassion of God. This is true enough, but such a one-sided message is lost on sin-hardened culture like the contemporary West. Unbelievers will simply twist such a message to make it seem as though God was accepting of their rebellion. We must preach Christ and preach Him accurately, calling the lost to repentance of their sin. We must warn them of the eternal danger such a life leads to. We must warn them of hell and the judgment to come, should they reject so great a message.

This is not to say that gospel preachers should only warn. We must also point to the love and beauty of Christ. There must be a balance. There must be a pointing to the cross in all our preaching. Matthew Henry illustrates the well-rounded preacher of the gospel with clarity and force.

The elders knew that Paul was no designing, self-seeking man. Those who would in any office serve the Lord acceptably, and profitably to others, must do it with humility. He was a plain preacher, one that spoke his message so as to be understood. He was a powerful preacher; he preached the gospel as a testimony to them if they received it; but as a testimony against them if they rejected it. He was a profitable preacher; one that aimed to inform their judgments, and reform their hearts and lives. He was a painful preacher, very industrious in his work. He was a faithful preacher; he did not keep back reproofs when necessary, nor keep back the preaching of the cross.

The whole counsel of God includes God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness and impending doom, and the blood and resurrection of Christ that can save their souls from hell. It includes counting the cost. It includes hard truths. It also includes reconciliation with God and joy that surpasses all understanding. We must deliver the entirety gospel truth. It will rarely be popular. It will typically bring persecution. But for those with ears to hear, it will well up springs of eternal water. It is our joy as gospel ministers to walk away knowing we did not shrink back from declaring the whole truth, trusting in the Lord to save souls.

Kevin

 

The Joy and Privilege of Suffering

Saint Paul

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. Philippians 1:29-30

The concept of suffering in the Christian experience is not unique. In fact, we could argue the lack of suffering most Christian’s have experienced in recent generations is unique.  Paul had no concept of “not suffering.” It was expected, anticipated, and it was “granted.” Not only is faith a gift from God, but so is suffering. Why does it surprise us today that we would, should, or even must suffer for the sake of Christ and the gospel?

It is time we marvel at the words Paul uses to describe his situation, and consider why suffering is so beneficial to him and to those around him.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Philippians 1:12-14

Paul was in jail at the time he wrote the letter to the Philippians. He is grateful for his suffering. It has given him a unique perspective. Suffering forces a person to depend upon God, and it causes the outside observer to question why one would willingly endure such things? It was no different for Paul.

So what is it about the Christian life that can take joy in reproaches, insults, and derision? For the Christian sufferer, it drives them to Christ. It weakens the bondage the flesh has over them. It leads them to more fervent prayer. It softens them when dealing with other people’s trials. It gives them a better appreciation of what Christ went through. It encourages other Christians to be more steadfast in their own trials. It encourages Christians to be bold in the proclamation of the gospel, regardless of the hardship it brings.

In all of this, Paul said, it especially serves to advance the gospel. The guards saw what Paul endured. They were shocked that he would joyfully submit to his suffering. They were shocked by his continued boldness and patience. Other Christians were perhaps the same way. They were encouraged that Paul’s faith never wavered.

Christian, do you lack boldness? Has your witness lagged? Has your spiritual life become dry? This is something that every Christian will likely go through at some point in his or her walk. We need a boost. We need a lift. Rather than turn to self-help books or gurus, perhaps it’s time we suffered for the gospel.

The gift of suffering helps us to depend on God. This is not to say we should intentionally look for suffering or hardship. As Peter stated, we should not suffer as evildoers, but suffer for doing good (1 Peter 4:15-19). But it is to say that as we live out our lives as obedient Christians, especially in the pagan West, we will meet a culture that is hostile to biblical truth. This will inevitably lead to suffering, and it is a cause for rejoicing, not shame.

A more obvious source of suffering comes from evangelism, whether it is gospel focused open air preaching or 1-1 on the streets, college-campus, abortion clinics, or even with a relative on the phone. As we expose the folly of unbelieving worldviews and contrast it with the consistency of the biblical worldview, we will incur the hostility of the lost. Spurgeon said it well: “If you really long to save men’s souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth.”

Telling the truth has always had a way of bringing persecution, whether in Jesus and Paul’s time or our own. We are not to shrink back, but rather to press on, realizing that our Master has followed the same path. Paul and the disciples have done the same. Now it is our turn. Suffering is a gift from God, so rather than be surprised by it, let us rejoice and keep going in the good fight of faith.

Kevin

marc-preaching.jpg

God’s Way: Kerruso!

george-whitefield-preaching

My second article for Christ in the Wild Ministries.

Preaching the word of God in the open air is biblical and effective, as I established last week. Today, I want to look at exactly what it means to preach. A good place to start is by defining the term.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17

κηρύσσωc: kerysso; to publicly announce religious truths and principles while urging acceptance and compliance—‘to preach.’[1]

The first public proclamation of the gospel is by Jesus himself. Yes, it was also proclaimed by the triune God in Genesis 3:15, but it is not until Christ’s public ministry that we see a clear explication of exactly what this gospel is. And, moreover, it is not until Christ’s public ministry that we see this gospel preached, as opposed to some other form of communication.

Christ’s way is not complicated; it is not fancy; it is straight-forward gospel preaching. Notice it is public, and the word emphasizes a demand to comply with what is being proclaimed. As preachers of the gospel, we are not offering an option to people, but a command to believe the message. The gospel is not meant to “improve people’s lives,” but rather to save souls from the judgment to come. The reason it is a command, not an option, is because it comes from the King of kings and the Creator of the universe. As creatures, we have an obligation to submit to this God and to do what he says. The fact that it is preached further emphasizes the urgency to obey. Paul states in Acts 17:30, “God now commands all people everywhere to repent.”

Jesus’ example provides us with all we need to know about what to do as preachers, but we see many other examples throughout the Scriptures. To deny the reality and necessity of biblical, open-air preaching is to deny the truths of Almighty God and his prescribed way of getting his message to the masses.

Repentance, Grace and the Kingdom of God

As theologian Leon Morris explains, an emphasis on repentance and grace in our open-air preaching is also imperative.

Not only did Jesus begin to preach, but Matthew mentions two topics of his preaching: repentance and the coming of the kingdom. Jesus began with the same emphasis as John the Baptist. This makes sense, because repentance and the Kingdom of God go together: if the kingdom of God is near, then clearly people cannot be complacent. They must prepare for that kingdom, and that means repenting of their sins. Jesus, like John the Baptist, calls on the people to realize they are unfit for the kingdom of heaven and to repent accordingly. Such preaching is a clarion call to action, not a recipe for slothful complacency. We should not overlook the importance of this call to repentance at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, since everything else follows from that. Matthew has often been seen as one who stresses the importance of good works, which is true. But this must not be held in such a form that his emphasis on grace is missed. From the beginning, Jesus took it for granted that people are sinners, and accordingly his first message was that they must repent. Only so would they know the forgiveness he came to bring.[2]

Question 76 of The Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “What is repentance unto life?” Answer: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.”

This is why repentance unto life must be preached. John Newton summarizes, “My grand point in preaching is to break the hard heart, and to heal the broken one.”

As open-air preachers, we have a message from the King, and we must go proclaim it. There is no further justification necessary. I will deal with the how-to of open air preaching in future articles, but let us pray that God opens our eyes to the glory of the simple proclamation of his gospel to sinners.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? – Romans 10:14

 

Kevin

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 416.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 83.