Keith Hunt - Churches that Abuse #12   Restitution of All Things
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Churches that Abuse #12

Challenge and Change


CHURCHES THAT ABUSE #12

by Ronald Enroth (1992)


CHALLENGE AND CHANGE 

Abusive Churches Will Always Exist


     "We repented and were accepted back into fellowship, but
they were afraid to associate with us again. When we came back,
they didn't know what to say. They didn't know what was really
wrong, what we'd done, or what they could say or shouldn't say
that might make them fall from favor. They didn't know how to
relate to us because I had been a 'leading brother' and had
'failed.' But, what really bothered me was, if our repentance was
accepted and we were back, why didn't any other workers or
leading brothers call to see how we were doing or drop by for tea
or anything? They showed very little compassion."
     Kyle Larson's story of his eleven-year involvement with
George Geftakys' "Assembly" demonstrates every aspect of the
psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse that is
characteristic of many fringe fundamentalistic churches. Kyle and
his wife were "workers" responsible under shepherds - in The
Assembly's hierarchy of command. As such, they gave away eleven
years of their lives, including their college careers, to follow
"Brother George's" interpretation of the way to eternal life. Not
once in their married life did they have any privacy, but lived
with and spiritually directed as many as seventeen "brothers or
sisters" at any given time. The Assembly is based in Fullerton,
California, where Brother George Geftakys, 64, a graduate of
Talbot School of Theology and former Baptist minister, provides
the model for his followers across the country. Strongly
influenced by Plymouth Brethren thought and anti-denominational
teaching that condemns organized Christianity, Brother George
began his ministry among the students of the hippie generation of
the early 1970s. Drawing his following from Fullerton Junior
College and California State University at Fullerton--"because
the older people don't want to change and are set in their ways"
- Brother George began by speaking to house meetings of loosely
knit young Christians who had come to Christianity out of the
hippie movement. As Kyle says, "We were willing to have anyone
come speak to us who wanted to address a group of Christians."
     None of these young people knew much about the Bible or had
any developed discernment skills. All were "on fire for God," and
desired a life-style of total commitment, including lives as
missionaries if that was God's will. Brother George would speak
to two southern California communes called the House of Christian
Love and the House of the Lord's Grace on a regular basis. Kyle
was impressed. "He could really preach a sermon." On New Year's
weekend of 1971, Brother George invited his new following to a
seminar at Hillcrest Park in Fullerton. This included members of
the two communes as well as a few young families who had been
following him around to the different Bible studies where he
would teach. At that time, Kyle and his contemporaries had been
Christian believers for about six months. "He began opening the
Scriptures to us and showing us what it meant to be involved in a
corporate testimony." By February of that year the thirty-five
persons in attendance began to meet regularly under George's
teaching. The recreation center of Hillcrest Park had been
offered by the city to the fledgling church free of charge on
Sundays in hopes that they would be a positive influence on a bad
neighborhood.
     Kyle recalls that within six months a leadership board
composed of "leading brothers" had been chosen by Brother George.
The initial authority exercised by George seemed to be good.
Brothers and sisters were separated into different houses located
in the area, and a strict regimen of activities was begun. This
was all completely opposite to the laid-back life-style to which
the members had been accustomed. The Christian communes of the
earlier period had been very loosely structured. "We didn't have
rules or regulations; we came and went as we pleased. We just
lived together because to us, it was a very normal outgrowth of
the kind of life-style we had had before."
     The new "brothers' houses" were very regimented with nightly
meetings, shared expenses, and shared tasks around the house.
(Similar "sisters' houses" came into being a few years later.)
Everyone was expected and required to attend all meetings, and
there were at least six of them each week. All of this was in
addition to being full-time students. Consequently, many never
finished college.
     Kyle says that "George has a very domineering personality
and is extremely opinionated and dogmatic. He has a way of
looking at the world that's not quite real, and he's also
extremely intelligent." Although he always refers to himself as a
"brother among brothers," there is no question in anyone's mind
who is in charge of The Assembly. As Kyle states, "It was clear,
without a doubt, who the leader was, who was giving the
direction, the counsel, the teaching. It was George. That
position, from the very beginning, was secured. I don't think
that it was ever relinquished for even a moment." Brother George
asserts that he runs a "prophetic ministry." He teaches a great
deal on how believers are to relate to him as "The Lord's
Servant" who has been anointed by God. While he never refers to
himself as the servant of the Lord, and does not claim to have a
unique anointing himself, he doesn't have to. For his followers
there is an implicit understanding that Brother George is "the
Lord's Servant" in the ministry to whom all are subject and to
whom each is loyal.
     The group's name, "The Assembly," came about as a reaction
against the organized church. It was said that the word "church"
had a bad connotation. "Church is a building and it's used
wrongly. We are the Assembly; we are the ecclesia [the 'called
out ones' - the assembly of God's peoplel; we take no name other
than Christ - no name, just 'The Assembly'." Their anti-
denominational stance has gotten them confused with Witness Lee's
"Local Church" at times, and, as Kyle indicates, they have had
some "very big clashes" with members of the "Local Church"
movement. Both groups disdain organized Christianity (reflecting
Plymouth Brethren influences on both), but The Assembly does not
engage in "pray reading" and other practices associated with the
"Local Church" movement.
     Kyle and his wife were known as "workers." Workers were the
ones most closely associated with Brother George and constituted
his "inner group." A list of twenty-eight characteristics was
developed to describe the requirements for workers. Set within
these guidelines is the key notion that, in effect, Brother
George is "The Lord's Servant" to whom everyone must be subject
and to whom everyone must be loyal. The inner core of workers
oversees the whole ministry of The Assembly, while each local
Assembly is directed by a leading brothers' council.
     Kyle states that during the early years, "Brother George
spoke on Sunday morning, Brother George spoke on Sunday
afternoon, and Brother George spoke on Wednesday night. Brother
George spoke at the prayer meetings, and he spoke on Saturday
morning." He spent those first years indoctrinating the workers
into "all his thoughts, his ideas, everything, until the brothers
were 'developed.'" Thereafter, some of the more "mature" brothers
were allowed to "get a word" and preach. However, no one from the
outside was ever allowed to address The Assembly. Brother
George's followers regarded him like the apostle Paul, his role
being to plant Assemblies, preach, and give the vision.
     Kyle now realizes that much of what he and the other members
did was a direct result of what George said they could do - or
had to do. "Although we were getting older and were no longer
kids anymore, we were still treated very much in that same
manner." Those who fell from favor with George, particularly the
older members who persisted in questioning his teaching and
authority, were ostracized and ridiculed. "You don't have a
relationship with George unless George dominates."
     Brother George would save his most extreme indoctrination
for the workers' meetings - because workers were supposed to
develop "thick skins." Although he reserved much of the verbal
and psychological abuse for private sessions, he would ridicule
dissenters in these closed workers' meetings, gatherings to which
the general congregation was neither invited nor allowed to
attend.
     The average members, according to Kyle, don't see the
underside of the organization. "They see the enthusiasm, the
tremendous amount of outreach that goes on, the impressive amount
of personal involvement, and the companionship as you labor
together with them." But they were not privy to the inner details
of "The Work" - leading, discipling, decision-making, problem
solving, and indoctrinating. The written code of requirements for
workers states that, "The Work is not conducted on the basis of
democracy.... We have the right to demand loyalty in The Work....
We come into The Work ... with a commitment to The Work...."
     Supposedly, any Christian is welcome to attend meetings at
The Assembly, and to partake of the Lord's Supper with them. No
one is turned away, and, "God's family and God's purpose are
inclusive of everyone." However, former members say the principle
is not carried out in practice.
     Kyle and his wife had a difficult time leaving The Assembly
because to leave was to lose one's "covering." To leave would be
to subject oneself to physical danger from the Adversary, or to
the defilement of one's testimony by Satan. Members are
continually taught that "there is no place else in the world like
this Assembly in Fullerton." Kyle says that the spiritual
intimidation employed can be severe. Members are brought before
the leading brothers' council and "talked to" for violations such
as displaying a desire to hear other Christian preachers, having
a "rebellious spirit," disagreeing with authority, lack of
subjection to the leadership, questioning one of Brother George's
teachings, or desiring to go to another church. "You have one
person on one side of the table, with an array of men on the
other side. A domineering person is telling you you're wrong, why
you're wrong, that you need to repent, and then, one by one, all
the rest of them agree wholeheartedly. The targeted person has a
tremendous psychological onslaught to deal with. More often than
not, he ends up in tears and repents, and is either eventually
restored to favor or leaves the fellowship." Additionally, peer
pressure among the general congregation is an extremely effective
tool used to control the wayward.
......

Wow, are you ex WCG people seeing this? Are bells ringing in your
head? Does it all sound very familiar? Did you not see all this
kind of thing going on in the WCG under HWA? If you did not you
truly had your head in the sand - Keith Hunt.
......
 
     Although members are taught that it is perfectly legitimate
to have differences of opinion between "godly men," in practice
it is not allowed. Brother George himself claims to be
accountable to the leading brothers, and that he doesn't do
anything without their approval. However, "they  always agree
with him," because, "Brother George has insight to see things
that we don't see." As a result, Brother George and a few of his
underlings exercise unrestrained control in the lives of Assembly
members. Followers are told what occupations are God-honoring,
whether or not they may practice the professions for which they
have been trained, whom they can marry and when, where they can
live, whom they can date, what they can do with their money, and,
in some instances, what they can and cannot eat.
     Members of The Assembly are in a real double bind when it
comes to family and children. Although there is a great emphasis
on homes and the need for family life, activities are so frequent
and so intense that children are neglected. Families are lucky to
have two Saturdays a year to spend together, Kyle observes. From
birth children are expected to attend all meetings and to remain
quiet "in the presence of the Lord." "You would feel guilty if
you went off with your family or just wanted to hang out. If you
took off on a holiday to visit other family members, you just
didn't want what the Lord wanted, and you were just going the way
of the world."
     The requirements on workers are the most intense and
burdensome, often entailing voluminous correspondence, outreach
efforts, and meetings. And, of course, Sunday is reserved
entirely as a day for the Lord. Brother George teaches in "broad
strokes" - a whole chapter from the Bible at a time. He may use
three or four hundred Scriptures in a two-hour meeting, and in
the midst of all the Scriptures he is attempting to identify a
general pattern or teaching. He tells his followers that he
believes that the vast majority will "forsake him in the end,"
but that if only one or two remain loyal it will have been worth
his effort. In the end, "tremendous persecution" will inevitably
be his lot. Members are encouraged not to miss out, but to
overcome and receive their "inheritance."
     Brother George believes that the greatest part of salvation
is yet to come. According to his theology, only overcomers -
those in The Assembly - will reign with Christ in the millennial
kingdom, which is their inheritance for appropriating God's
grace. At the end of the millennium and after the destruction of
Satan, all believers will gain entrance to the eternal kingdom,
but only those having an inheritance will reign first.
     In order to maintain full control over the lives of his
followers, Brother George instituted a reporting system by which
he rewards those who inform him of any questionable activities
among the membership. Although "everyone would deny that flatly,"
it was understood that those who informed on others were "truly
godly," and that the "dedicated ones told all." Consequently,
Kyle, and many others, confided in no one, including even their
spouses at times. Special friendships were said to cloud one's
ability to really discern the Lord. Affections might get in the
way of making an objective spiritual judgment or decision
concerning someone in The Work.
......

More of the same tactics as used in the WCG under Herbert
Armstrong - Keith Hunt
......

     Brother George has developed a teaching that refutes all
criticism. He encourages members to listen to no criticism of or
accusations against that teaching whatsoever, even "the Enemy"
lurking in one's own thoughts. The result of this teaching,
according to Kyle, is the "subtle cutting off of any kind of
critical thinking, any kind of analytical thinking." Members
therefore listen to nothing but the teachings of Brother George.
......

Ahhhh, same thing employed by the WCG under HWA - Keith Hunt
......

     Kyle and his wife believe that they remained with The
Assembly as long as they did because they were away from
Fullerton and the full impact of George's influence for six of
their eleven years. During that time they ministered to
Assemblies in several states. Kyle says, "When we started
thinking that we were going to be coming back to Fullerton, we
very seriously considered not even leaving the Midwest, just
because we had personally been out from under all the control for
so long. It was a lot easier to deal with a long-distance phone
call than it was to deal with discipline day-by-day,
face-to-face. When we were told to move to another city, we
thought that that was a little bit better. But, what it comes
down to is that there are always ways for control to be
established and perpetuated no matter where you are. The
appropriate thing to say to Brother George was always, 'Brother,
whatever you want me to do, I'll do it.'"
     Eventually, Kyle "fell into sin" and was excommunicated. In
actuality, he left the movement for a period of time because he
was "fed up." He had begun to see the subtle indoctrination
process involving heavy scheduling, constant teaching, unending
meetings, and the partisan viewpoint being presented while passed
off as inspiration from God. He saw the "tremendous psychological
chains" that were being put on the people, and he was also aware
that most people who leave The Assembly drift away from the Lord.
They give up, believing that God himself has laid on them
unachievable expectations.
......

And so it was the same with the WCG, most eventually drifted
away, they closed their Bible, decided God was really not there
in their lives, and walked right back into the world - Keith Hunt
......


     Unable to reconcile his thoughts and sort out his emotions,
Kyle "repented" and went through a yearlong process of proving
his repentance to the leading brothers. He was passed up for four
months during communion, and the condition of his repentance was
based on how willing he was to do whatever he was told. Even when
his repentance was accepted, he and his wife were still shunned,
because members were afraid of associating with a fallen worker.
After six months of this treatment, Kyle and his wife left to
begin a new life.

     Leaders who are abusive usually develop their heavy-handed
style over a period of time. Churches that abuse are the result
of an ever-accelerating emphasis on the kinds of control
mechanisms I have discussed in this book. People who have been in
close contact over a period of years with some of the pastoral
leaders we have discussed have told me that their ministry was
far more benign and subdued at the beginning. Gradually, as the
pastors became aware of the influence they could exert and the
power they could wield, they and their ministries began to
change. Consciously or unconsciously, they took advantage of
vulnerable people, and convinced them that God had given them,
the shepherds, the right to exercise authority over the flock.
People who abuse power are changed progressively as they do so.
In abusing power they give themselves over to evil, untruth,
self-blindness, and hardness without allowing themselves or
anyone else to see what is happening. The longer the process
continues, the harder repentance becomes. Church bosses must be
spotted and rescued early, or they may never be rescued at all.
They have caused inconceivable havoc among churches throughout
history.
......

Yes indeed the WCG under HWA did not start out as "authoritarian"
and "ruling people" with a rod of iron - it was a gradual
process. It's like the frog in the water that is slowly heated,
and does not see that change is taking place and he'd better jump
out. The church work started by Jim Jones started out as helping
and serving hundreds - a good charity church. It was over a
period of time that Jones turned his church into a cult of
control and eventually into hundreds of his followers willing to
kill themselves and their children, in the now imfamous story
that you can no doubt look up on the Internet - Keith Hunt
......

     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.

     But what about rescuing the leaders and salvaging the
followers? That is a major challenge facing the conventional
evangelical church. Most of the abusive churches I have studied
are independent, autonomous groups. They are not a 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. How can such independent groups
themselves be disciplined or even investigated for aberrations?
Because we value freedom of religion for all people and because
we are reluctant to get involved in someone else's vineyard, even
if we know it is "off the wall," the problem of abusive churches
is likely to continue.

     The key to understanding the whole phenomenon is within the
human psyche - the desire to control others and to exercise power
over people. That has always been a part of the human experience
and it will continue to be. All of us have been exposed to the
temptation of power, whether as parent, spouse, teacher, or
worker. It has been said that human nature is always ready to
abuse its power the moment it can do so with impunity. It should
not be surprising, then, that the will to power sometimes invades
the religious realm, and specifically the church.
     The respected Christian writer and physician, Paul Tournier,
writes that "there is in us, especially in those whose intentions
are of the purest, an excessive and destructive will to power
which eludes even the most sincere and honest self-examination."
     He makes the point that people in the helping professions -
social workers, physicians, psychologists, and pastors -
especially need to be aware of the temptation of power, the
temptation to manipulate, and to control those who come seeking
help. "To be looked upon as a savior leaves none of us
indifferent."
     Although he was not specifically addressing the problem of
contemporary pastoral abuse, Tournier's comments about the
possibility of misusing spiritual authority are a timely warning.

     They look upon us as experts, God's mouthpieces, the
     interpreters of his will-to begin with for ourselves, but
     very soon, before we realize it, for other people too,
     especially since they insist on requiring it of us. Very
     soon, too, we find ourselves thinking that when they follow
     our advice they are obeying God, and that when they resist
     us they are really resisting God.

     While we probably cannot prevent individual power-seekers
from getting entangled in their own authoritarian excesses, we
must remind all who will hear, including mainstream Christian
leaders, that weakness and dependence on God's strength are the
hallmarks of true greatness. As Harold Bussell writes in Unholy
Devotion:

     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.

     This 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.

     If we are in positions of power over others and we fail to
     place controls on ourselves, we subtly and unknowingly start
     to control others. Power that elevates a leader beyond
     contradiction ... will lead both the leader and the
     followers down a road marked by broken relationships,
     exploitation, and control. Power that tempers and checks
     itself and is wrapped in compassion is the pathway to
     gentleness, caring, and maturity. Jesus said, "I am the good
     shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the
     sheep" (John 10:11). He is our model of service and
     leaderships.

     One of the pressing needs of the Christian church is to
assist in the development of discernment skills among believers
so that the likelihood of following an aberrant teacher or a
false doctrine is diminished. The need for discernment was
impressed on me by a former member of Hobart Freeman's Faith
Assembly. He told me how the emphasis on the "faith message" or
"faith walk" eventually diverted his focus from the centrality of
Jesus Christ.
     "The faith message is a counterfeit, unbiblical faith," he
said. "It takes the place of relationship with Jesus. Christ
became a secondary figure. We were taught that if you produce the
works of faith, God will bless you and you will have definite
proof that you are following Jesus Christ. These people would
say, 'I believe with all my heart that I'm on the right track
because Jesus healed me. Jesus gave me a promotion. Jesus gave me
a new car. He gave me the desires of my heart.' It becomes a
matter of the work of faith, doing some kind of faith formula.
What you do is important proof of your salvation, not what Jesus
did for your salvation."
     This young man described the appeal of emphasizing positive
thinking or "positive confession," as it is known in the faith
movement. Many new Christians that he knew in the movement were
not only attracted to Hobart Freeman, but to the prospect of
supernatural, extraordinary experiences. "People look for
teachers who claim special revelations, who promise signs and
wonders. They've got to have something more than just a
relationship with Jesus Christ."

     One survivor of an abusive-church situation told me how she
had been exposed to "every movement or fad that has crossed
America in the past decade." Initially influenced by John
Wimber's "signs and wonders" teachings, her church moved from an
emphasis on healing to inner healing, visualization, the healing
of memories, deliverance, positive confession, covenant
relationships, prosperity teaching, discipling/shepherding, and
even community living. She left confused and suffering from
spiritual bum-out. "It's still difficult for me to read my old
Bible, you know, the 'cool' one that's all marked up. I have to
read a different translation. I can't sing the same worship songs
and I have difficulty going to church."
     This woman's comments about the progression of spiritual
fads she encountered brings to mind a book that has not received
wide circulation, but which I believe deserves thoughtful
consideration by every Christian interested in the topic of
current evangelical/charismatic movements. It is entitled
"Wonders and the Word," and is a collection of essays that
sensitively and discerningly critique the Vineyard movement
founded and headed by John Wimber. (There are now more than two
hundred Vineyard fellowships throughout North America and
Vineyard-sponsored seminars are held throughout Europe, the
United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.)
     Although the book focuses on the "signs and wonders"
emphasis within the Vineyard fellowship, I feel its message has
wider implications for understanding any new religious movement.
I receive many inquiries about the Vineyard movement. Based on
extensive conversations with both current and former members of
Wimber's fellowship, I believe that the issues raised in "Wonders
and the Word" are valid concerns and that this rapidly growing
movement has great potential for problems similar to those I have
been discussing in this book. Indeed, there is some evidence of
abusive practices already taking place within Vineyard churches.
     Let it be clearly understood that I agree with one of the
contributors to "Wonders and the Word" when he states that:

     the Vineyard movement is impacting many people both inside
     and outside the church. We cannot deny its existence as a
     genuine work of the Spirit, and so should not discredit
     it.... At the same time, we need to be aware of some of the
     extremes to which such a movement can go.... Most new
     movements of the Holy Spirit are embraced by eager
     followers, many of whom tend to push the ideas of the
     leaders to extremes. However, rather than write off the
     movement because of excesses, we should draw alongside to
     render guidance and counsel where it is needed and welcomed.

     It is precisely this need and desire to provide counsel and
guidance that constitutes the challenge to the larger Christian
community as we reflect on the problem of abusive churches and
the prospect of potentially abusive groups. As I shall point out
shortly, there are some groups that are open to dialogue with
more mainstream churches. Others are extremely defensive and
resist any overtures from traditional churches, considering them
to be apostate and outside the circle of the elect.
     Another challenge to the larger Christian world includes the
recognition that at least some of the members of abusive groups
are refugees from more conventional evangelical churches. They
are sincere, earnest seekers after God who, for a variety of
reasons, have become disillusioned with mainstream
evangelicalism. Many are seeking an intimacy and a kind of
fellowship that traditional churches often do not provide. As
Yeakley admits, "In the modern church, people come together as
strangers and leave as strangers and their lives never touch."
     Others seek a more informal, charismatic worship style that
many traditional evangelical churches do not offer.
     Interestingly, it is this dimension-worship style - that
former members of abusive churches tell me they miss the most, as
they reflect back on their experience. Still others mention the
appeal of a family-like environment. I have in my files a letter
from a man whose comment is not at all unusual: "One of the good
things about the group was that it gave people like me a sense of
'family' and 'belonging' to an extent that I haven't had before
or since."
......


And so it was also in the WCG under HWA - people felt a family
connection, that became so strong it blinded them to what was
taking place in the organization and also in their mind-thinking.
The tie of "belonging" and "family" together with the idea that
"this organization" had a special connection to God - they were
slowly brainwashed into believing "their organization" was the
"apple" of God's eye, and that He had sent them an end-time
apostle to lead them into the Kingdom - Keith Hunt
......

     Why are Christians being attracted to nontraditional
groups? In addition to the reasons just cited - greater freedom
in worship, acceptance, fellowship, and a sense of family - there
is the appeal and excitement of experience, the desire for
something new, something more, as illustrated by this observation
concerning the Vineyard: "Dissatisfaction with a lack of
spiritual power, a feeling of unfulfillment in one's relationship
to Christ and a hunger for a new and deeper experience with
God.... The Vineyard's emphasis on power, signs and wonders has a
definite appeal to those who are searching for something more."
     I have already noted the role of subjective experience in
the devolution of many abusive churches. It is understandable,
then, that I voice my concern over the current preoccupation in
some Christian circles, including the Vineyard movement, with the
exorcism of demons, the pronouncements of "prophets" like Paul
Cain and Bob Jones, the talk of a "new breed" of people ("Joel's
Army" - a unique end-time army of believers endowed with
supernatural power enabling them to perform "signs and wonders,"
purify the church, and overcome all opposition to the Gospel),
the appearance of the "Manifest Sons of God," the unorthodox
Godman theology of Benny Hinn, and the "revelation teaching" of
assorted "end-time prophets" in charismatic circles. Space does
not permit discussion of these phenomena, but let the reader
beware.
     As Dr. Paul G. Hiebert of Trinity Evangelical Divinity
School correctly observes:

     Like most movements in the church, the current emphasis on
     healing, prophecy and exorcism has both positive and
     negative sides to it. It reminds us of the need to take
     seriously the work of the Holy Spirit in meeting everyday
     human needs. It is in danger, however, of placing primary
     emphasis on what is of secondary importance in scripture and
     of bending the gospel to fit the spirit of our times. Satan
     often tempts us at the point of our greatest strengths. His
     method is not to sell us rank heresy, but to take the good
     we have and distort it by appealing to our self-interests.

     Abusive churches are not, for the most part, promoting rank
heresy. But their human leaders seem ever willing to make
pronouncements in the name of God, thus "mistaking what God is
saying in Scripture for their own particular brand of
interpretation of Scripture." This sets the stage for the
possibility of outright heresy being introduced, as well as the
kind of abusive practices we have discussed.

     Is it possible for authoritarian churches to change
direction? There are several fairly recent examples of leaders
who have announced changes and confessed to error. One of the
leaders of the discipleship/shepherding movement officially known
as Christian Growth Ministries, Bob Mumford, made a dramatic
about-face after issuing a public statement of repentance in
November of 1989. Mumford, one of the "Ft.Lauderdale Five" (so
named because of the group of the five founders of Christian
Growth Ministries of Ft.Lauderdale - Don Basham, Ern Baxter, Bob
Mumford, Derek Prince, and Charles Simpson), acknowledged abuses
that had occurred because of his teaching on submission. This
emphasis resulted in "perverse and unbiblical obedience" to
leaders. He publicly repented "with sorrow" and asked for
forgiveness. He also admitted that families had been severely
disrupted and lives turned upside down.
     In an interview with "Christianity Today" magazine, Mumford
indicated that the abuse of spiritual authority led to "injury,
hurt, and in some cases, disaster." Leaders, he said, were
operating at a level where biblical limitations on their
authority were not clear. "Part of the motivation behind my
public apology is the realization that this wrong attitude is
still present in hundreds of independent church groups who are
answerable to no one."
     Jack Hayford, whose counseling of Mumford was instrumental
in the decision to issue a public apology, said in "Ministries
Today" magazine that he was one of hundreds of pastors who had
spent fifteen years "picking up the pieces of broken lives that
resulted from distortion of truth by extreme teachings and
destructive applications on discipleship, authority, and
shepherding."

     In November of 1989, Maranatha Christian Churches, founded
by Bob Weiner, announced that it was disbanding and dissolving
its international federation of churches. The youth and
inexperience of its pastors, along with the controversial
shepherding practices of the group were some of the problems that
led to the demise of the organization (although MCM spokespersons
denied those allegations). Most of the churches themselves did
not close, but instead became even more independent and
autonomous bodies.

     One of the most encouraging evidences of change is taking
place within the Great Commission Association of Churches,
formerly named Great Commission International (GCI). Founder Jim
McCotter is no longer associated with the organization. The
current leadership (which includes many of the original leaders)
has been consulting with evangelical pastors, lay persons, former
members, and various well-known Christian organizations in an
effort to chart a new course. I have met with several of the
national leaders on two occasions, and they shared with me their
commitment to a process of restoration and healing, as well as
their desire to chart an organizational change.
     The Great Commission leadership has identified a number of
past "errors and weaknesses" that they feel were caused by
incorrect or imbalanced teaching, the youthful immaturity of some
leaders, and a number of other factors. In personal
correspondence with me, one of their national leaders stated, "We
have a desire to forthrightly acknowledge errors and problems
that existed and yet not inaccurately or needlessly dishonor what
the Lord has done in our past...."
     Former members of GCI are cautiously optimistic about the
unfolding events and, frankly, they are a bit surprised. Others
are more cynical, fearing that the effort is an insincere gesture
in order to achieve acceptance and legitimation from the
evangelical mainstream without fully acknowledging the depths of
the hurt which has been caused over the years. At this writing,
the effort at reconciliation and restoration is in process. Many
will be watching to see the outcome and the nature of change that
emerges. The Great Commission Association of Churches may well
prove to be a model for other groups to emulate.

     Major change is also taking place within a network of
charismatic Catholic communities because of the efforts of former
members to expose the excessive control and abusive practices
alleged to have occurred. The Word of God Community in Ann Arbor,
Michigan, has undergone a split, and cofounders Ralph Martin and
Steve Clark have experienced a parting of the ways. Word of God
leaders, in a March 1991 letter to members, expressed a desire to
repent of "spiritual pride and arrogance, elitism, legalism and
an overbearing exercise of pastoral authority." Several months
later the same leaders told assembled members that people were no
longer to be under anyone's control, in effect renouncing the
shepherding practices of the past. The basic issue that divides
Martin and Clark is the nature of pastoral care and authority in
Christian community.

     Martin's faction has opted for a more moderate pastoral
system with less emphasis on submission, while Clark maintains
that covenant community leaders have been entrusted with the
spiritual and material welfare of the members, and therefore must
exercise responsible pastoral authority over those members.

     Former members of several other charismatic Catholic
communities told the "National Catholic Reporter" stories of the
extreme submission of women to men, and life-style conformity
that included the wearing of shoes and hairstyles similar to
those of the leaders. One group celebrated the birth of boys but
reportedly only "tolerated" newborn girls. A former member of one
group was "discouraged" from visiting his dying mother. "He was
told to repent for spending a Sunday morning with her."
     Roman Catholic Bishop Albert Ottenweller of Steubenville,
Ohio, ordered an investigation of Servants of Christ the King, a
charismatic covenant community affiliated with the Sword of the
Spirit, a network of communities scattered throughout the United
States and abroad. Bishop Ottenweller criticized the Servants of
Christ the King for "an arrogance that is elitist ...." and a
"lack of compassion and love for those in need." He charged that
the lives of members had been controlled through the manipulation
of marriages and life-style patterns. "Great psychological harm
has been done to members."

     While not all groups affiliated with the Sword of the Spirit
have recanted their clearly abusive methods, the actions of Word
of God leaders in Ann Arbor appear to be sincere and will have an
uncertain but dramatic impact on that organization's future. In
an interview with Fidelity, a conservative Catholic magazine,
Word of God senior head-coordinator Ralph Martin admitted that
the community had had problems from its earliest days.

     I think a small group of people basically took control of
     the whole thing early on. And I was part of that group.... I
     think [we] took the place 'of the Lord Himself, in a certain
     kind of way. Instead of trusting in the Lord and being
     docile to the Lord....[we] basically got into protecting our
     thing, our work, in a way which led to excessive exercises
     of authority, controlling people's lives. 

     While these examples of repentance and change are welcomed
and praiseworthy, we must not forget those whose lives have been
damaged, some irreparably, during the long years when the
now-repentant leaders were unresponsive to warnings and reluctant
to admit weakness. It is easy for us who have not experienced the
pain and turmoil of their followers to say, "Forgive and forget."
     We all struggle on in a fallen world, seeking to test the
voices that call to us, to discern whether they are, indeed, from
God. The ultimate challenge is to fix our eyes on Jesus, the
Great Shepherd, who knows his sheep and who will never abandon
us.

     The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy
     against the shepherds of Israel .... 'This is what the
Sovereign LORI) says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only
take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the
flock? .... You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick
or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or
searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered because there was no shepherd ....
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD .... because
my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves
rather than for my flock .... I am against the shepherds and will
hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from
tending the flock .... I myself will search for my sheep and look
after them .... I will bind up the injured and strengthen the
weak .... I will shepherd the flock with justice .... I will save
my flock, and they will no longer be plundered .... You my sheep,
the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares
the Sovereign LORD.'" (Excerpts from Ezekiel 34)

                       .............................

NOTE:

You should certainly see by now that the Protestant and Roman
Catholic world of Christianity has its "churches that abuse" -
indeed they do, and probably still do. 

Yet those of us who have been blessed with having more knowledge
of the truths of God's word than the Catholics and Protestants,
need to watch our step also, for church groups are out there
among US who ABUSE and "brain-wash" and "want to control" your
every move, and thought. You need to love truth and righte-
ousness; you need to prove all thing; you need to hold fast to
that which is good; you need to keep your nose and eyes in the
Bible; you need to find by prayer and study of God's word HOW a
true minister of the Lord will speak, act, and work. And if you
have ever been a part of an abusive church, you need to admit it!
If you have been by God rescued from an abusive church, then
PRAISE HIM! And ask Him for the wisdom to NEVER be pushed along
and caught up in an abusive church again.

Keith Hunt                 


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