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?

behind_the_mask

———————————————- 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!

———————————————

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

7 thoughts on “Testimonies – And the Truths they Tell

  1. I can’t believe we were part of the GFC cult for 9 years. Its only been about 6 months since we left GFC but we have more peace and joy now then we had the entire 9 years at GFC and our marriage is stronger now than its ever been.

  2. All these testimonies sadden me. It is not mans job to test a persons faith but for that person to test their own faith in the truths of God The “elders” at GFC have put themselves in the in the position of God & for the that is a very dangerous place. I pray that God would deliver them from that. I have seen where a person is caked out for a sin but when an Elder has known sin it is brushed under the rug. Again may the Lord have mercy on the “elders” of GFC.

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