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. 2 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:
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.
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?
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.
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.