My Response to Tony Miano: “God Hates Divorce in the Church”

What do you do when you’ve made a grave mistake? You look around, and you assess the situation, you try to determine the best course of action, and then, of course, you double and triple down on your current mistake. Most people will chuckle and say, you know what, I’ve done that. We’ve all done it.

Tony Miano is currently doing that by choosing to double down on his mistake of moving to Davenport, IA, and aligning himself with Grace Fellowship Church. I have to believe that somewhere in the corner of his mind, he is contemplating whether he has made the biggest mistake of his life. However, blinded by his pride and inability to admit his mistake.

After all, how many people do you cut out of your life to deny reality? A lot, apparently. I’m talking about some of his closest friends, former elders, and countless others who have been in his life for a long time. The close to a dozen now families left GFC after his arrival that continue to testify against the issues and abuses they experienced under GFC elders’ leadership and primarily the pastor Mike Reid. I’m one of them.

I’ll make the disclaimer again it brings me no joy to write this article, but I feel compelled since Tony felt compelled to write a backhanded slap, passive-aggressive essay at those who have left and worked to expose the issues. Tony is well-known for his passive-aggressive nature and even wrote a post about those that are passive-aggressive. Tony was passive-aggressive when we left GFC. He posted this the day after we left, insinuating we had stabbed them in the back.

I think they call this projecting. Instead of defending yourself, you project what you do onto others. It’s a very creative technique utilized by those engaged in gaslighting, and generally with a narcissistic tendency. I’m not accusing Tony of being a narcissist. I like Tony, and I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with him, but when I sat down with Tony for a couple of hours after we left GFC, he wanted to articulate to me that he had left churches in the wrong way, and he urged me not to go in the wrong way. He assumed I was leaving in the wrong way. First of all, he had no idea what we had been through, but that’s for another day and covered in previous articles. I recognize these “attacks” have probably felt somewhat relentless. That’s the goal. They need to shake Tony out of his slumber and alert those that know him best to ask him to wake up.

I’m writing to show that Tony, in his own words, is often his own worst enemy. In an attempt to defend himself, he condemns himself. I’m not saying Tony isn’t an intelligent man or a gifted man. He is far beyond me in many of his abilities, but like all of us, he has blind spots, and rather than admit that he continues to double down and talk down by making accusations against those of us that have seen enough not to want to take it anymore.

In Tony’s most recent article, he compares God hating divorce from Malachi 2 to improperly leaving a church. I’ve linked the article here. I’ve also copied below this article in its entirety for the eventual reality that Tony will probably take it down after this article comes out. 

I will highlight two critical errors Tony has made in this comparison. The first thing to point out is Tony has adopted, from Mike Reid, there are only (3) ways to leave a church. We have heard this before from Mike Reid on the Remnant Radio Podcast, which has disappeared. I’ve highlighted that here in my blog post. For a moment, we will consider this an accurate statement, as Tony has provided some scriptural proof texts.

If this is true, I’ve argued this before, and recently my good friend Todd Pearson pointed this out on his podcast, Tony is a hypocrite. Tony left Grace Community Church in California outside of these parameters. He may argue he had “mutual consent,” but I know for sure that is not true. His elders had deep concerns about GFC. Those concerns have come to fruition as the “ministry” has received more unwanted attention. 

Furthermore, Tony cites the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 26, paragraph 13. Although it claims the 1689 is their confession, I may briefly add that GFC only uses what they approve of from the confession. I’ve made those points before. Paragraph 13 is an essential part of Chapter 26, but it doesn’t stop there. Paragraph 15 tells us the remedy for this offense.

Paragraph 15. In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned;29 howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so-called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers. (Acts 15:2,4,6,22,23,25) (2 Cor. 1:24; 1 John 4:1)

On at least three separate occasions, I made this offer. One of which I posted in the blog linked above. As I pointed out, the problem with this which churches would help remedy the situation. It was tried before by Sycamore Baptist Church, but they were accused of sin. The elders of GFC try and stack the deck and overwhelm anyone that would dare stand against them, but these are things Tony Miano does not know about because he hasn’t been there long enough, and he hasn’t had conversations with the other side. I would encourage him to contact the elders of Sycamore and ask about it.

How did Tony leave his former churches? In my discussion with Tony, he admitted that he had poorly left before, and because of the lessons he “learned,” I shouldn’t do the same leaving GFC. He never did mention to me that day at Starbucks how he left Grace Community Church (GCC). If it was by the standard, he claims in his article. I believe he failed. He says this:

 After a comprehensive look at the New Testament, one will not find a laundry list of reasons for leaving a local church. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find more than three: being sent out by the church (church planting, missions, mutual agreement–including for reasons not always missional, etc), excommunication, or death.

Being Sent: Acts 9:23-25, 30; 11:19, 25; 13:2; 15:22-29; Phill 2:19, 25, 28; Titus 3:12

Excommunication: Matthew 15:18-17; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Death: Acts 5: 1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16

If an American Evangelical Confession of Faith existed, it would likely significantly add to the biblical list of three.

I will say I agree with Tony on his point that people far too quickly depart a church. We have a complete agreement in this area, but what I’d like to ask Tony is being faithful members of a church (GFC) for nine years, being a Deacon for four years, always in good standing with the leadership, demonstrate to him that we left for the reasons he has stated? Or is it possible there was more to the story? Is it possible that the other families left had similar experiences that had caused them to say, “enough is enough?”

Does he know how I went to Mike and presented what I could best articulate at the time as the reasons for our concerns? Does Tony realize my concern was for my family’s spiritual health and well-being, and I attempted to convey the issues of legalism and authoritarianism to Mike Reid in hopes he would work to help change the course of direction? No, Tony didn’t realize nor would he hear those things, because, for him, he had found “paradise.” 

The second issue I would like to bring up is the poor exegesis involved in Tony trying to connect Malachi 2:16. I will quote the NKJV since I know that is the translation GFC utilizes.

“For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the Lord of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” (Malachi 2:16).

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is for those who don’t read Greek or Hebrew to check multiple translations. The value in doing so can provide tremendous insights into the word of God. I appreciate several translations of this verse, but I’ll show the Lexham English Septuagint. The LES provides a very practical, literal translation to give a better understanding.

16 But if, while hating, you dismiss your wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “you will conceal the wrongdoing of your thoughts,” says the Lord Almighty. “So observe yourselves, and never desert your wife.” [1]

I believe Tony should be embarrassed at attempting to make this comparison. We shouldn’t use the Scriptures to our advantage to make a point that we desperately want to make, then find a verse, twist it, bend it and distort it to make a point that scripture never intended nor never meant. While we can find verses to make an application, I’d argue you would have to struggle to apply what Tony is trying to do in this article. I’m going to try and give Tony the benefit of the doubt. He says this:

With that kind of closeness, because of the inherent sinfulness of all involved, there will be difficult times. When those difficult times come in a local assembly of believers the wrong response, just as in a biological family, is to divorce or otherwise abandon the family. God hates divorce between a husband and wife. I think He also hates divorce within the context of the local church.

What Tony may forget is that we were a part of that church for nine years, I’ve made that point before. I’ve heard Mike Reid quote Malachi 16 more times than I can count. He was firmly against divorce. I’m glad he was, but I also believe he has a severe misunderstanding of this verse, and now Tony is doing the same to this verse and not considering the context of Chapter 2, specifically. 

Before I get into the topic of divorce, we need to look at this in context. The argument in Chapter 2 is that the priests have been unfaithful to the Lord in dealing with the people.

So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. (Mal 2:4-7).

If we want to connect the dots between divorce and the church, here is the starting point. The priests had the job of protecting, ministering, and watching out for the children of Israel’s spiritual welfare. They are messengers of the LORD of hosts. We can draw this parallel between New Testament elders and pastors because they also are charged with protecting, ministering, and watching out for Christ’s sheep. But what if they don’t do that?

But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” (Mal 2:8-9).

God does indeed make a comparison between the husband and wife relationship. He also compares the Priest and the children of Israel, but this does not play in Tony’s favor.

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. (Mal 2:13-15).

Here is where this goes wrong. These priests were showing disdain and hatred for their wives and the people of God. Remember what the LES said?

16 But if, while hating, you dismiss your wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “you will conceal the wrongdoing of your thoughts,” (Mal 2:16a)

The context of Malachi 2:16 is faithless ministers that hate their wives and desire to divorce them. God is giving this warning directly to them. In reality, if Tony wants to make this connection, he should acknowledge the faithless minister that is doing damage to the congregation. I believe this is the most egregious part of the misdiagnosis of the passage.

However, if we look at the actual divorce concept, is there ever any circumstance in which divorce is permissible? I think Tony should ask Mike. I know the answer to the question.

Barbara Roberts writing an academic paper on Malachi 2:16 from domestic abuse angle, asks some legitimate questions.

So if an abused woman finds herself in a situation where Malachi 2:16 is being used to deter her from divorcing her husband, she can point out that the verse does not apply to her situation and her ‘instructor’ is in error, at the least.

She goes on:

If Malachi says God hates divorce, this places Malachi in opposition to Moses, who condoned disciplinary divorce for cases of abuse or neglect (Deut 21:10-14). It also sets Malacchi against Ezra, who required divorce of foreign wives when the continuation of the Jewish nation was in jeopardy. And it begs the question: If Malachi says that God hates (all) divorce, why did Jesus not quote Malachi when the Pharisees claimed that Deuteronomy 24 approved of divorce?

Where we can connect here, using Tony’s logic, how long is it required of abused church members to sit under the authoritarian leadership of rogue pastor’s that use the word of God to club people into submission? Do we have a right to divorce them? Or should we stay and enjoy the beatings? Perhaps try explaining that to the victimized wives that continue to relive these nightmares by a “well-intended pastor.” 

Barbara Roberts is primarily dealing with how modern translations render this wrong, and she says this:

God is addressing abusive men: You men! Shallach! Let go! Release! Give up! The parallels with Exodus are obvious: You, Pharaoh, should let go of the people you are oppressing! Release your slaves. You, Mr. Abuser, should let your wife go free! Release her from your cruelty! Give up your power and control over her!

Emphasizing the importance of the instruction, God followed it with “says the Lord, the God of Israel” – a two-fold appellation for God which is used nowhere else in Malachi. Perhaps God anticipated the abusive priests and abusive husband would retort with harsh words (cf. Mal 3:13a) so he hit them between the eyeballs with his command before they had a chance to answer back.

Those who insist on construing God as the one who hates and reading shallach as infinitive construct need to ask themselves how much their translation is consistent with reality. Is it consistent with the heart and character of God? Is it consistent with dynamics of abuse where men abuse their wives?

While I have some empathy for Tony in his ignorance, he has no idea the level of hurt many, and dare I say most, have in their experience with GFC, Mike Reid, and the elders. He can’t comprehend why they wanted to get out. For one, his treatment is different. I tried to explain that to him, but he didn’t understand, and I’m sure he still doesn’t. People feel abused, and they didn’t want to take it anymore.

If Tony ever cares to be honest with himself and those that are part of the “Kangaroo Court” (quote by Tony about us “criticizing” GFC), he is free to reach out to me anytime, and I’ll gladly explain many things to him. He and Mike Reid have a standing offer to come on the Apologetics Live Podcast and explain their side of things.

Given Tony’s behavior thus far, and what I’ve seen in the past, blocking anyone that dissents, or dares question him, unfriend, avoid, don’t answer; eventually this goes away, attitude, that won’t solve the problem he finds himself. The evidence is overwhelming, but yet the love is still there, and it’s real. Nobody desires to hurt Tony or Mike Reid or GFC. I personally, and most I know, want to see repentance and reconciliation. Again, I will give Tony the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t realize how much GFC has caused hurt and pain. The more he supports it, the worse it gets for him. I hope he will recognize that and heed this advice.

When you are in a deep hole, stop digging. 

Kevin

Here is Tony’s article titled: Something to Think About: God Hates Divorce in the Church

Divorce in the church is a serious problem, but not likely in the sense that first comes to mind. God hates divorce–in marriage and in the church.

Closer than Siblings

At the end of our Sunday evening meetings, our church family has the opportunity to corporately share their praises and thankfulness to the Lord. Last night a young couple announced their engagement. We knew it was coming soon, but that didn’t dampen our joy.

Then, like we do every Sunday night, we all enjoyed dinner and fellowship together.

Scripture tells us that the early church had “all things in common.” It was not merely a cultural distinctive or a sign of the times. The early church was a blueprint and a picture of what today’s church should look like.

The relationships inside a local assembly of believers should be as close, loving, affectionate, supportive, and strong as the healthy relationships between any loving group of biological siblings. Because of the common bond of Christ, relationships among Christians should be even stronger than relationships with unsaved, biological family members.

God Hates Divorce in the Church

With that kind of closeness, because of the inherent sinfulness of all involved, there will be difficult times. When those difficult times come in a local assembly of believers the wrong response, just as in a biological family, is to divorce or otherwise abandon the family. God hates divorce between a husband and wife. I think He also hates divorce within the context of the local church.

For too many professing Christians, the local church is something they *do*, someplace they *go*, and not who they *are.* Their commitment is only as deep as the temporal benefits they derive from *attending* the church. They will *quit* a church for reasons they would never dream of quitting their biological family.

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (the confession to which my church subscribes), in Chapter 26, Paragraph 13, states the following:

“No church members, upon any offence [sic] taken by them, having performed their duty required of them towards the person they are offended at, ought to disturb any church-order, or absent themselves from the assemblies of the church, or administration of any ordinances, upon the account of such offence [sic] at any of their fellow members, but to wait upon Christ, in the further proceeding of the church” (Matthew 18:15-17; Ephesians 4:2-3).

The leading cause of divorce in and from the local church is likely “personal offense.” Someone did something or said something, or didn’t do something or say something, and a personal offense was taken. Instead of doing the sometimes heavy lifting of reconciling with those who have hurt us or with those we have hurt, some people will choose to leave the church. Considering the sinful flesh in which every presently-bound-to-earth Christian dwells, remaining offended is easier than reconciliation.

But God never promised us easy, brethren.

Reasons People Divorce Churches

After a comprehensive look at the New Testament, one will not find a laundry list of reasons for leaving a local church. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find more than three: being sent out by the church (church planting, missions, mutual agreement–including for reasons not always missional, etc), excommunication, or death.

If an American Evangelical Confession of Faith existed, it would likely significantly add to the biblical list of three. Such a confession of faith might include the following justifiable reasons for divorcing a local assembly:

  • Style or type of music
  • Style or type of teaching
  • Length of sermons (too long or too short)
  • Dissatisfied with Children’s Ministry
  • Dissatisfied with Youth Ministry
  • Dissatisfied with Young Adult Ministry
  • The church doesn’t have Children’s, Youth, or Young Adult ministries
  • Too much emphasis on certain secondary theological issues
  • Not enough emphasis on certain secondary theological issues
  • Too many homeschoolers
  • Not enough homeschoolers
  • Too political
  • Not political enough
  • Too patriotic
  • Not patriotic enough
  • Too much personal accountability
  • Not enough personal accountability
  • Conflict with people in the church
  • Want a church closer to home
  • Not enough people who look like me
  • Not enough people who think like me
  • Not enough people who act like me
  • Too much emphasis on evangelism
  • Not enough emphasis on evangelism
  • Doesn’t have an abortuary ministry
  • Has an abortuary ministry
  • Pastors won’t support my self-anointed call to open-air preach
  • Pastors won’t let me/support me (fill in the blank)

Of course, the above is NOT an exhaustive list. Isn’t that sad?

The reasons listed above are some of the actual reasons people have given for leaving churches. Sadly, some of them have been my own.

The Church is not Built with a Revolving Door

God did not create the human family with a revolving door through which family members can simply come and go, join and quit, marry and divorce as they please. Neither did God create the Church, comprised of local assemblies, with a revolving door.

What if a visitor walks into your church building this Sunday, strides up to the pulpit, and announces he is now a member of the church? Would he be considered a member? Would he be given all of the rights and privileges of membership?

Of course not.

Yet many professing Christians, particularly in America and the wider western civilization, think they can quit a church, divorce a church family whenever they want for whatever reason they deem sufficient. Most would never assume the autonomy or authority to make themselves a member of a local assembly. But most would assert the autonomy and authority to divorce a local assembly.

I understand what I just suggested is counter-intuitive to what is acceptable and practiced in western church culture. I understand it is counter-intuitive to the American Evangelical way of thinking–a way of thinking (whether or not American Christians will admit it) that gives autonomy, independence, and even authority to the individual when it comes to leaving or divorcing a local church. While what I’ve put forward in this article might be counter-intuitive to some, it is not unbiblical.

Something to think about.

In the meantime, love your church family.


[1] Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Mal 2:16.

Deception, Abuse & Disqualification

light_shining_through_windows

In concluding a three-part series on exposing the practices of Grace Fellowship Church of Davenport, Iowa, (GFC) we will look at some of the specifics of the practices that occur, and why they are so dangerous.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

  Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

  and lead me in the way everlasting! – Psalm 139:23-24

February 4th, 2018 was the last service we attended at GFC. This very evening Mike Reid read this verse asking the congregation to examine their own hearts, I jotted down this note not knowing at the time its significance. I wrote in my note, “You prayed this Sunday night. The Lord is being gracious.”

I write this last article, with heaviness in my heart, that these leaders will turn from the practices that have hurt so many people, and the Lord will convict them to “clean up their messes”, and experience the joy and freedom of the Christian life.

I firmly believe the leadership of Grace Fellowship Church is biblically disqualified from Christian ministry, and dangerous to the church of Christ. I will present arguments from Scripture, from example, and personal interactions. These interactions are not only mine but also others. These are not personal attacks. Each of these men played a role in my life at one time, and I have no personal vendetta against them. The truth is I have a particular love for many who are still at GFC. I continue to pray for them. It is the glory of Christ and His church that needs protection from men that distort and twist the gospel to be something other than what Christ has given to the church. It should serve as a warning, not only to these men and those they lead at GFC, but to anyone that would potentially visit GFC. Also, to the universal church that it might be aware of these serious issues. May the Great Shepherd rescue His sheep from GFC and prevent even one more of His own from falling into this cesspool of biblical errors.

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. – 1 Timothy 1:8-11

I believe Paul’s point is clear. Any slight distortions can and will be damaging. We see the example of teachers without understanding yet they make confident assertions. They use the law, but they do not use it lawfully. They use the law in a way that hurts others. The law is meant to convict and show error, but always in love. Then Paul calls them out, by name.

This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1Timothy 1:18-20

Countless people have attempted to expose the grievous errors that occur at Grace Fellowship. Godly men and women, godly pastors, well-known and respected church leaders have attempted to correct the issues. We are left only to do what the Scripture calls us to do; Expose evil. Specifically, I want to put the spotlight on the ungodly and cult-like control the leadership exercises over its members.

 

The Leaders 

 

What is Grace Fellowship of Davenport IA? How did this place become a thing that has been written about previously and now? Who are its leaders? Grace Fellowship Church, originally called Legacy Church, sprang out of a church plant in Davenport from Christ United Methodist Church. The intent was to have an inner-city ministry that served those in need. From the start, there were problems, and it never got off the ground in the right way. The original church plant included my family and several others. Of the original launch team, only two families remain.

The original failure launched a pastoral search that eventually landed Mike Reid as the pastor, despite Reid’s lack of formal training in pastoral ministry, or a thorough examination process, he took the reins. Reid is still the pastor at GFC and the main subject of this article. He began his ministry by transforming a church that was hurting into what he believed a church should be. My wife and I had originally been very convicted and challenged by Reid’s preaching, and in the summer of 2009, while going through a bible study, came to repentance and faith in Christ. We were “all in” at the time and appreciated Mike’s teaching and preaching. It was like nothing we had ever been exposed to before. He preached from the Bible, verse by verse and we were learning and growing.

Nevertheless, many people were leaving. His “style” was not for them. He could be aggressive and abrasive; he could also be kind, which will be addressed later as one of the techniques of something called “gaslighting” which is a form of emotional manipulation. In addition to Reid’s behavior, some left GFC because he began to teach the doctrines of grace. This highlights the sovereignty of God and is difficult for some to swallow. While some were leaving, others that Mike knew from his previous church came and joined. One of those men, Nick Rolland, soon became one of the elders in the church. Rolland was virtually unknown to the church nor came with any formal training, and none of the current eldership or former had any experience or training in church ministry, which I will discuss more later. He, along with Cal Bolkema, and Mike Reid made up the eldership in the earlier years. Cal Bolkema was removed as an elder over some personal indiscretions. These were mostly hypocritical, as opposed to moral failures, but he was removed rightly as he was clearly no longer biblically qualified. Eventually, Tyler Bolkema, Cal’s son, became an elder at GFC. Cal is currently in leadership as a deacon.

One other significant player in the organization is evangelist Tony Miano. Tony is not in leadership, to the best of my knowledge. However, Tony’s role in the church is important for numerous reasons. Why was it important to get Tony here? I will attempt to cite several reasons later, but for now it was important because it provided Mike with some credibility in his ministry. Tony had influence and sway in the open-air crowd and the larger, Reformed camp. He had spoken at conferences that had speakers like Paul Washer and James White. He had been arrested twice in the UK for preaching in public. That he would move from Grace Community Church in Los Angeles to little GFC in Iowa was significant and signaled that Reid should be taken seriously as a pastor and preacher.

Tony was recruited by Mike and Nick while they were at the Shepherd’s Conference in 2015. I was serving as a deacon at the time and was a part of the recruitment process on some level. I would say Mike Reid played the most significant role in bringing Tony to Davenport. Some have argued that Mike steals credibility. He is not a seminary-trained pastor, and he never sat under proper teaching for an extended period that he might be tested. Some of his methods are evidence of these very things.

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. – 1 Timothy 3:6

This may be a significant factor in the issues at hand.

While there are many godly men leading churches that do not have seminary degrees or seminary training, men that have oversight stand a better chance of not becoming puffed up with conceit, the importance of the two-fold call, internal and external, and the cultivation helps protect the church from unqualified men. I contend that this has been the case with Mike. He has a powerful personality, almost overwhelming at times. Given some power over people, nobody to answer to except himself, and you have a recipe for a cult driven by loyalty to its leader. Mike will claim the Scripture is his authority. He will also claim the other elders keep him accountable. No one should be fooled. Mike Reid runs GFC. Nothing is done without his approval. Any contrary thoughts or expressions are condemned and quashed.

A plurality of eldership is biblical, and I believe the best way to protect a local church. Additionally, having the support and oversight of an organization, or at the least other pastors that can provide counsel and truly speak into a man’s life, is a necessity. See the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith – Chapter 26. There is great danger of falling into this trap and the condemnation of the devil, but this is not the case with GFC, they are a completely independent church, without oversight, and no fellowship or accountability to any other local churches.

Grace Fellowship claims to be a Confessional church, formerly citing a combination of the Westminster Confession and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. They have abandoned their combination of those two venerable documents and adopted the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. While I’m not sure when the change occurred, I do find it interesting they believed they could write a “better” confession by combining the two. I think it speaks to the inflated view of their abilities.

Writing in his book, The Creedal Imperative Carl Truman said: “On the whole, those who reinvent the wheel invest a lot of time either to come up with something that looks identical to the old design or something that is actually inferior to it.”

The leadership of Grace Fellowship of Davenport, IA are products of Mike Reid’s teaching and influence, there are no two-ways about it, he has been and continues to be the primary influence over the men he has picked to serve alongside him.

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. – Matthew 10:24

Christ has told us we will emulate our teachers and ultimately Christ is the one we should be looking at for our final authority. However, the leadership at GFC very much resembles Mike Reid. They use the same techniques, they say the same things, and they have the same tendencies. While a plurality of elders exists in theory, it does not exist in practice. I believe the ultimate, determining factor in any disagreement at GFC is not Scripture, but whatever Mike Reid wants.

 

The Play 

 

In his book Churches That Abuse, Ronald M. Enroth notes that this pattern tends to happen over time in “churches” with abusive and authoritarian tendencies, and this is the bottom-line on Grace Fellowship. The central theme is the control-oriented leader. Mike Reid desires to know everything he can about everyone in his congregation. This creates a situation where everyone depends on him for “counsel” and advice.

Detractors of GFC have predicted that this type of control, along with Mike’s insistence on meeting with everyone, including women, would eventually lead to the usurping of a man’s authority in his own home. As former members of GFC, we watched this play itself out right before our eyes. It really begs the question, how many years must a pastor continue to “shepherd” a man’s wife on a weekly basis and not expect it to interfere with the authority structure of the home? How can a man possibly maintain credibility with his wife, when the pastor has this much influence? While the marriage bed may not be defiled physically, it certainly is defiled mentally and spiritually.

Mike has consistently been warned and criticized of this in the past but continues to exercise this kind of authority in the marriages of those at GFC. He believes this is part of shepherding the flock. He also meets with women of the church alone, with no accountability to anyone but God. He cites sources to validate this “ministry,” yet he denies any need to listen to any other counsel.

The following illustrations show the dangers and failures of this approach to ministry.

My wife and I were requested to meet with the elders for “marriage counseling”. While our marriage was in no way perfect, it was stable, and we had not requested counseling. In one particular meeting, Mike Reid continued to press my wife, over a past situation that finally left her in tears and repeatedly asking to leave, because she needed to pick up our daughter. She desired to be respectful, but Mike was having none of it, it seemed he desired to pick a fight, and after Jen had left, and I had more conversation with the elders, Mike stated, “I’m doing your job”. This really was the beginning of the end as I look back in disgust at the way my wife was treated, the cowardly way I failed to protect her, and the unbelievable control he has over people that place their trust in him. This is control-oriented, abusive leadership at its “finest” and it needs to be exposed, because this is sheep-beating, not loving shepherding. It also shows his desire to “do the job” of those husbands that can’t, won’t or aren’t progressing fast enough for him, and the goal is for the husband to have complete dominance over the wife. She should never question anything her husband says or does, nor should she ever ask questions of the eldership, after all they have been ordained by God, a phrase they were fond of using.

Another grievous example occurred on a car ride home from the abortion ministry in Iowa City; my wife was riding with Mike and Tony. My wife had recently experienced two miscarriages and perhaps too much time had gone by with her not being pregnant, so Mike asked my wife if “her parts were still working?”

On the face of it, this is immature and insensitive—at best. Why would any adult, let alone a pastor, ask such a rude and intrusive question? I believe there is a two-fold explanation. First, Mike does not hesitate to ask anyone almost anything, and often in a “caveman” sort of way. There appears to be little or no filter between the brain and the mouth. Second, and much more importantly, this is designed to show Tony the type of “relationship” or control Mike has with his people. It made Tony uncomfortable, in his own words, “I’m driving as fast as I can Jen…” Tony knew this was out of line, and this also has the future benefit of dropping Tony’s guard toward future boundary violations by Mike.

and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. – Titus 2:8

Mike has consistently used unsound speech, as evidenced here in this one example, but there are others, and the egregious nature of such a question to another man’s wife, in the presence of a virtual stranger (as Tony was at the time) is really inexcusable, and not above reproach, not dignified, not the behavior of a man of God, much less the pastor of a church.

Mike consistently digs into the intimate relationship between husbands and wives. He would tell of his relationship with his wife, in completely inappropriate ways, to help soften the blow for a wife to share details of her marriage bed. How often did she and her husband have relations? What types of techniques do they use? Again, there are no boundaries permitted—no information is off-limits to “Pastor Mike.” In his mind, this is a shepherding issue. However, the reality is that there is a trail of those damaged by these intrusive methods, having memories etched into their minds which they will never be able to remove. For Mike sex is a big part of marriage, “all things are spiritual” but if a couple is not seeking this counsel why must it be a part of the normal practices of the church? Is it truly a shepherding issue? A Christian minister should never overstep his authority in the home of congregants, and bring shame to the pastoral office in this manner.

 

Gaslighting

 

Gaslighting is a psychological technique used to manipulate and confuse people. It causes them to question reality and to lower their defenses. The techniques vary, but the goal is control over people. This article provides a good overview of the techniques used and, when used consistently and properly, can gain control over whole societies. This sort of psychological warfare is heinous and dangerous. Victims learn not to trust themselves, but to lean on the person employing the techniques. That is the point: breaking down a person’s independence, causing them to lean on the manipulator. I believe Mike Reid has continued using gaslighting as a means of controlling those at GFC.

The ultimate danger in gaslighting is that it causes people to question their sanity. In my personal experience with Mike’s techniques, I saw him use this on my wife and even on me. While I did not understand it at the time, I can see how I was manipulated into believing the leadership over my wife. They claim to put a high emphasis on marriage but they have actually done a great deal to tear down marriages. There are many broken relationships and shipwrecked marriages in GFC’s history that show how Mike’s desires to “shepherd” the flock did significant damage.

So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. – Matthew 19:6

Other daily workings in church life previously included that girls in sports or attending college was highly discouraged. Most all sports were considered potentially idolatrous. Sports and girls getting a college education were the subjects of many teachings, and not only casually, or suggestively but quite aggressively. After all, why would you have girls participate in anything other than preparing to be godly wives and mothers?

A couple of things changed through the years regarding this teaching. The arrival of Tony Miano was significant because Tony’s daughter began attending the University of Iowa, and around that time, one of Cal Bolkema’s daughters decided to pursue a degree in nurse-midwifery. Nothing was ever said to the congregation; it just became something that was accepted. While this would seem the normal course of life to many Christians, it was nearly iconoclastic at GFC. It was shocking when it happened, yet nobody dared asked any questions.

As reported by a former member, Mike asked Tony Miano and Cal Bolkema in a gathering time if “(we have) ever taught against girls going to college?” Tony boldly declared, “no, pastor” as did Cal. This congregant was considerably upset over this hypocrisy, as she had lost a friend over this doctrine a few years earlier.

Here is a link to the teaching that Mike Reid, Nick Rolland & Cal Bolkema, himself, as the moderator of the conference, were quite aware they had taught against girls going to college.

From about 38 minutes and to 44 minutes will give a good overview of the clear position these men held regarding college education. I’ve quoted a few things stated below and the timestamps.

37:54 – Mike Reid: “But what did you learn in college that about being a wife and a mother and being a homemaker and being chaste and discreet and reverent… you learned the opposite at most every college you would go to not to mention you are outside of the protection of your father, again what did you learn and what is it that you are saying it is helping you to be a wife and a mother and help teach my kids?”

38:45 – Mike Reid: Speaking about his son Jack. It sounds good here, but Jack received very little education. “I’ve taken that on because he’s a man, or he’s becoming a man, so I’m educating him…”

The main idea is that teaching children the Bible and about God is the only thing that truly has eternal value. While on the surface this sounds like it might be a legitimate concept, the Bible teaches and encourages it is good and godly to work, to be able to provide for a family. Working toward a college degree is not necessarily sinful but can be a way to provide for a family.

What are the ramifications of such teaching? Observation and testimony from others that have family at this place are that many of the children will receive nominal if not marginal education. They encourage large families, which is not a bad thing, but many are unequipped, and unprepared to school this many children, so what happens is that education falls by the wayside. The church would never encourage you to send them out to school, and most people cannot afford private education, so you are stuck with getting by. Getting by is not enough to prepare these children. They talk a big game, like Mike said in his quote, that he is now educating Jack, but the reality is that probably doesn’t happen.

A question came in about girl’s attending a local college, but still living at home.

40:40 – Mike Reid: “Possibly, what are they going to learn there that you can’t teach them?”

41:36 Nick Rolland: “I think a strong desire to learn is a great thing, and there are these things called books that fit into most people’s homes and there’s lots of them and they can be read by almost anyone, anywhere at any time…”

Will an article exposing some of the hypocrisy, and heterodox teaching be effective? Only the Lord knows, and I will trust Him to have those that need to read this, read it.

I pray this will assist unsuspecting church goers with critical information before making a decision to attend GFC.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14

The former members and attendees of Grace Fellowship have voices that others will want to hear, I’ve posted them here. I know they struggled through leaving, just as we did. They were hurt, they were abused, and they needed to say what could not be said. Thankfully, they have been given an opportunity to say what needs to be said. So that all that read these articles have an opportunity to hear from them. I’ve talked to so many of them, and in many instances they thought nobody cared. Grace Fellowship is not all that unusual as I said in the first article, and so there are other places like this. I have seen the playbook written about time and time again as I began to spend countless hours researching these types of places.

Will those that still remain examine these claims and examine the teaching carefully and prayerfully desiring to know the truth? Seek the Lord, He will provide the answers.

There is so much more that I could say, and so many more stories that could be recounted, but this question needs to be answered;

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

Many would like to know.

 

Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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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. [This video was removed by Remnant Radio, why I do not know]

GFC is a church that falls into the category of biblicism. Biblicism (generally) 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

Churches That Abuse – Final Thoughts

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In this post I’ll be wrapping up my review of Ronald M. Enroth’s book Churches that Abuse, I have some final thoughts, admonitions and hope for this series.  I hope that someone may recognize the characteristics of an abusive church and know how to stand against them.  It is also an admonition and warning those that continue in and support these churches to stop supporting them and work toward change or leave them.  Since the garden, Satan has been working to disrupt and distract from the simplicity of the gospel message.  Christ has established the church to bring glory and honor to Himself and the adversary is constantly working to distract us from the gospel message.  Let us not forget it is Christ’s church.

Pastoral abuse can be spotted quite easily, at least in its advanced stages.  Abusive religion substitutes human power for true freedom in Christ.  Unquestioning obedience and blind loyalty are its hallmarks.  Leaders who practice spiritual abuse exceed the bounds of legitimate authority and “lord it over the flock,” often intruding into the personal lives of members. God’s will is something that they determine for you rather than something you individually seek to know.  Abusive leaders are self-centered and adversarial rather than reconciling and restorative.[1]

God’s sheep can experience abuse, but they can also be complicit in the act of abuse; Paul warned Timothy these things would happen.  Paul’s warning against “easy believe-ism” in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 applies just as much to conservative churches.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  2 Timothy 4:3-4

Notice, Paul writes about people having teachers “to suit their own passions…” Have you ever known a legalist?  They love legalism.

Have you ever wondered why it’s so difficult to leave an abusive relationship?

Abused individuals sometimes turn away from listening to the truth and they prefer myths. There becomes a level of comfort with the situation.  The Stockholm Syndrome can become a very real thing.  Abusive teachers stay in power because the people either tolerate them or even celebrate them.

What protects sheep from abuse?  Who monitors them?  Biblically, a plurality among leadership is helpful except when they all believe and support the same theories  or have one dominant personality or confrontation and disagreement is not allowed.

Confessions of faith are a safeguard, yet even confessional churches can fall into the trap of authoritarianism.  The 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 offers a remedy:

Chapter 26 – Paragraph 15. In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned;29 howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers.30
29 Acts 15:2,4,6,22,23,25
30 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 John 4:1[2]

It’s important for local churches to have other local churches that come together and solve problems that have moved beyond the singular local church.  But is it even possible for abusive churches or authoritarian leaders to seek and follow counsel from outside sources? Notice the purpose is not “to impose their determination on the churches or officers” but to counsel with them. Authoritarian, abusive leaders don’t take counsel from others.

Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war. – Proverbs 20:18

Most of the abusive churches I have studied are independent, autonomous groups.  They are not part of a denomination or network that could provide checks and balances or any kind of accountability.  As we have seen over and over again in these pages, their leaders are accountable to no one and resist any outside scrutiny.[3]

Author, blogger and open-air evangelist Peter Boland made the observation that, “Some of the issues are fairly widespread. It seems to have crept into the Reformed camp due to an overreaction regarding church membership. It’s an overreaction to ‘easy believe-ism’ and the ‘no commitment’ church attendance of the 20th century. So now there is this strong emphasis on the membership submitting to the authorities and powers that be, in order to prove, that we are somehow wiser and holier, and that we have more of a ‘healthy church,’ than those mainstream Evangelical churches of the 20th century.”

Abuse can happen on all levels but as people seek a deeper understanding of Christianity, they seek Bible teaching, they affirm and long for more than a surface level faith, and there can be an overreaction.  Sometimes young or growing Christians can swing the pendulum in the other direction.  The Marrow Controversy of the 18th Century exemplified some of the very same issues as Sinclair Ferguson has so eloquently written about in his book, The Whole Christ.

In the well-known sermon Ten Shekels and a Shirt, Paris Reidhead describes the prophet seeking a place to fit.  He was willing to settle for a paycheck and a garment of clothing.  He wasn’t terribly interested in pursuing the best interest of his congregants and ultimately the Lord.  While he may have thought he was, he had an ulterior motive.

Today’s abusive pastor has an ulterior motive.  His life doesn’t match his words.  As John MacArthur describes, “he’s a moral heretic.”  When power or position has been achieved, it’s difficult to let go.  It’s difficult for an authoritarian man to face the truth that his life doesn’t match his speech.  Is the expectation perfection?  Of course not! But these men are called to a high standard and blatant hypocrisy should never be accepted.

As long as Satan prowls around seeking whom he may devour, there will be abusive churches.

Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.  Acts 20:31

The antithesis of the misuse of power is gentleness, which is best seen and understood within the framework of strength.  Gentle leaders, pastors, or teachers do not force their insights and wisdom on the unlearned, nor flaunt their gifts before those in need.  They are patient.  They take time for those who are slow to understand.  They are compassionate with the weak, and they share with those in need.  Being a gentle pastor, shepherd, leader, or teacher is never a sign of being weak, but of possessing power clothed in compassion.[4]

 

This [gentleness] is in stark contrast to the style of abusive leaders, who, as we have seen, often lack compassion and a gentle spirit.  Power has a way of blinding the conscience so that those who spiritually and psychologically abuse others (like abusive parents) show little sign of remorse and repentance.  They deny any guilt for what they have done to people.  And they project their own weaknesses onto others.[5]

Be ever watchful dear friends, know the signs of an abusive church, know how they operate, and be aware.  The greatest defense against abuse is a knowledge of how abusive churches and leaders operate, and most importantly, having an intimate knowledge of the Scriptures.  May the Lord bless His sheep and keep them by His grace.

 

Kevin

 

[1] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – page 217

[2]http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/baptist_1689.html

[3] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – page 217

[4] Harrold Bussell, Unholy Devotion (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1983), 70

[5] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – page 219