Deception, Abuse & Disqualification

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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!

———————————————

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

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

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

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

Kevin

Excommunication – The Abuse of Biblical Doctrine

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

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

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

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

 

Excommunication = Restorative 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Excommunication NOT Retribution

 

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

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

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

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

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

GFC is a church that falls into the category of biblicism. Biblicism (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 – Part 4

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About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.  – Acts 16:25-26

God loosens the bonds of slavery and sets prisoners free.  Freedom gained through salvation and the merciful kindness of God gives an unlimited access to Him through the cross of Christ.  In abusive churches these lines are often blurred, or hard to see.  If eyes are opened, the most difficult step begins because to leave an abusive church is a painful process.

Continuing the series on the book Churches That Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth, I will examine two remaining topics.  The focus of this article is the painful exit process.  “To break away from the group required more effort than to join” and family members are pitted one against another to keep them and often citing passages like Matthew 10:34-39 as the justification for splitting families apart.

Ex-members were called quitters, turncoats, and traitors.  At first they simply lost their place in the Lord’s roll call, but gradually the act of leaving became an act of disloyalty.  Ex-members were not to be spoke to or about.  Georgia Sheller was told to have no fellowship with her parents who had left angrily and bitterly.[1]

To maintain control, the control-oriented leader must keep the sheep in the fold at all costs.  Enroth gives examples of two men, Don Barnett and Phil Aguilar, who used similar tactics, not uncommon for this type of a leader.

“God has called you to this assembly to furnish you with that which you need.  Do you have His permission to leave this assembly?” – Don Barnett[2]

“You need to trust God through me; I know what’s best for you.”  “I have the responsibility and the accountability according to God’s Word for each and every one of you.” – Phil Aguilar[3]

By comparison, the New Testament gives little indication about leaving a local church. While there are important principles that apply, specific instructions about moving one’s membership from one local assembly to another are not provided.  One need express caution when applying God’s word to descriptive but not prescriptive texts of the Bible.  Yes, every Christian should be committed and submitted to a local church, to live at peace, as much as depends on you (Romans 12:18)—it’s biblical. However, when leaders are over-bearing and controlling, leaving is the right thing to do.  When leaders lead a church unbiblically and when members put up with an environment “where there are no gray, only blacks and whites,”[4] the church ceases to be a biblical church and Christians not only have a right, but an obligation to leave.

In writing about Great Commission International (GCI), an organization founded in 1970 by “apostle” Jim McCotter, former member Jerry MacDonald notes that the group compares its leadership structure with a marriage.  “GCI elders frequently refer to ones that have left the church as divorcing themselves from their family.  They twist Scripture on God’s hatred of divorce and use it as a coercive technique to keep people from leaving their churches.  Thus, ones who leave are taught that they have actually left God and sinned.  What it really means is that the elders have usurped the loyalty and the devotion that is due Christ alone and refocused it on themselves.”[5]

 

MacDonald points out that the proof-text for the idea of “marriage” in relation to elders and leaders in GCI is found in Ephesians 5:22-6:9. The group cites 5:22 (“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord”) as the key to their hierarchical system of authority.  “Just as wives are to be in subjection to their husbands, so the church is to be in subjection to the elders.  It seems that the elders are the physical manifestation of the authority of Christ.  Just as a family mirrors the church’s relationship to the elders, so a wife and husband in the bond of marriage reflect the subjection the congregation should have to the elders.”[6]

 

In the Great Commission International, much emphasis is placed on “trusting God’s leading through others” –the “others” being those in leadership.  In reality, this means surrendering one’s independence, obeying in all things, and submitting to the leaders.  As numerous ex-members of GCI have told me, it amounts to subjugation of members to the leadership.  Failure to comply with the authoritarian dictates of the group can result in ex-communication, a common practice in GCI and other abusive-church groups.[7]

 

If you do not give up your independence and follow in harmony, you will be reproved for “sowing discord in the body,” and if you still do not “harmonize,” you will be excommunicated for faction—since, according to GCI, there is no difference between trusting God and trusting a GCI leader.[8]

There are always certain “buzz-words” that carry weight in these assemblies and are commonly used by the leadership; words like authority, submission, love for the body. There are subtle, but well-known, unwritten rules.  There are even times when it may take “reproof” to bring members in line—those “wise in their own eyes” are dealt with quickly.  It is the unwritten code that is most powerful.  It is a life in a fishbowl, where every move is observed.

Enroth notes “excommunication is almost always accompanied by shunning behavior instituted by the leadership…One need not have psychological training to understand that such a procedure also operates as an effective control mechanism within a church.  Those who are the ‘boat-rockers,’ those who raise uncomfortable questions and who challenge the leadership in any way, are prevented from sharing their legitimate concerns and criticism with other members.  Dissent is muffled, and disinformation can ‘spiritualized’ or manipulated by the leadership.”[9]

Submission is biblical, but unmitigated submission without a clearly defined standard as outlined in Scripture is not.  When submission is stressed be on guard.  When mishandled, submission can undermine the whole teaching on the individual priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9).  We are called out individually and collectively to be in local church bodies for mutual edification, but not to have a heavy-handed form of church government upon you.

Leaving will be difficult, relationships that were once cherished will be lost, but to seek and find normalcy is well worth the effort to break free.  Good churches are hard, but not impossible, to find.  Pastors that preach the Word and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work are a treasure.

If you see any similarities in these words, seek the counsel of someone that has been in an abusive church before or has helped others escape, and read Enroth’s book.  It promises a bright hope through the One who never enslaves His sheep.

 

Kevin

 

[1] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – Page 65

[2] Ibid – page 80

[3] Ibid – page 81

[4] Ibid – page 175

[5] Jerry P. MacDonald, “Manipulation of the Scriptures Within Great Commission International,” unpublished paper (1985), 186.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – Page 182-183

[9] Ibid – page 183

Churches That Abuse – Part 2

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Today I will continue a blog series on the book Churches That Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth with a focus on control-oriented leadership and spiritual elitism–two hallmarks of abusive churches.

What is it that makes a church a “special” place for its members?  Charismatic leaders have an influence on people, sometimes for good, but in the case of an abusive church, disastrous.  These leaders control the vision for the church through persuasive speech and bold proclamations.  This is how Pastor Barnett built his church.

If there is just one word to describe Don Barnett and his church, it would be “control” –autocratic control over the lives of the individual members.  Barnett’s pastoral “concerns” went so far as to dictate how close together people should sit in the pews of his church…[1]

 

Most members experienced a totalitarian system of control in which all free time, outside of employment, was given to the “assembly,” or church….   It was not unusual to spend five or six nights a week in church.  When asked what members did for fun, Robin responded, “That is what we did for fun, we went to church.”  [2]

As we’ve seen above Pastor Barnett had total control.  Often, new believers are easy targets, and while they may be familiar with the bible they don’t always have a good command of the bible.  They can be swayed by the truth with a slight degree of error.  Truth mixed with error is error and the subtle errors are the most difficult to detect.

The tragedy of Community Chapel goes back to a misplaced loyalty.  People, thinking that they were placing their allegiance in the Word of God, were actually placing their allegiance in a man and his interpretation of the Word of God.  That is crucial to understanding why people were so easily deceived.  They thought that they were really obeying the Word of God.

 

The comments of a former elder who was associated with the church for eighteen years before resigning are insightful: “As I look back on it now, it is clear that, subtly at first, there began to be a feeling of superiority and exclusiveness among the people.  This was more evident in some than in others, but I think we all were affected by it.  There began to be a feeling that this church was unique, and that while we loved other brothers in Christ, to leave Community Chapel would always be a step down spiritually.

 

The pastor rarely had other preachers in to minister to us, feeling that they really couldn’t add anything to us, and might only foster divisions and problems.  I feel that this is one of the critical factors in the sad things that happened later: no checks and balances with the rest of God’s people, and no accountability to other men of God outside our own little circle.[3]

Controlling leaders able to articulate the “specialness” of the church, create a buy-in process for the membership and future members.  “We’re unique! There’s no one else like us! We’re faithful!”

You will hear things like “Other people really wish they had a church like this…”

“I just don’t hear about the type of love we show one another…”

“Some may think this is legalism, but it’s really a desire to pursue a higher level of holiness…”

Spiritual elitism can be fostered through daily life and it is often controlled through a systematic message, consistently fostered through the leadership.  We are the “Special Forces” of the church world.  We take it to a whole new level, exemplifying the Christian pursuit of Christ’s calling.

As one ex-member put it, “We believed we were on the cutting edge of what God was doing in the world.  I looked down on people who left our movement; they didn’t have what it took.  They were not faithful to their commitment.  When everyone else got with God’s program, they would be involved in shepherding just like we were.”

 

Community Chapel’s Pastor Barnett regularly reminded his followers that their church was special.  “We’ve got to go on into a new thing that God promised in his Word that no church has ever come into yet…. Do you know of any other church in which people are loving each other with that same kind of unconditional love?  I don’t.”  [4] 

Spiritual elitism convinces members that their families need special attention.  They have not heard, nor have been under, the teaching of these leaders, they are certainly a lesser Christian if even a Christian at all. Barbara explains her experience:

Because she came to believe that her whole family would be lost if she didn’t try to convert them (the Boston churches constituted the only “true Church”), Barbara was constantly speaking to them about their salvation.  Her family grew tired of the spiritual barrage, as did her old friends, so Barbara ended up moving into an apartment with four other women from the Phoenix Valley Church of Christ.[5]

There is an intense pressure to save those we love and, as Barbara stated, “She constantly felt guilty.”  Christians don’t desire to see their loved ones suffer in Hell; and their salvation can only come by a prescribed manner consistent with the abusive church.

The Spiritual Elite Churches place a high emphasis on evangelism and efforts are commended where many are reached for the lost through passing of pamphlets and tallies of the amounts that went out.  The modern church is an easy target to setup the elitism because there is a seeming lack of passion for the lost. In elitist churches, unhealthy expectations and feelings of guilt are entrenched if members are not working for God to bring the lost to Christ in the way they’ve been instructed to do so. After all, they wouldn’t want to be like all the other so-called Christian compromisers out there.

Spiritual elitism, fostered by control-oriented leaders, leads to churches that abuse because at the root of the problem is spiritual pride.

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (Proverbs 29:23).

Next time, we will discover that maintaining control requires a system of reporting and monitoring of the sheep through what’s called “the shepherding movement” and Here.

 

Kevin

[1] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – Page 37

[2] Ibid – Page 38

[3] Ibid – Page 48

[4] Ibid – Page 118

[5] Ibid – Page 112