A SEQUEL TO “CULTISM IN THE CHURCH”
T. PIERCE BROWN
In theFebruary 22, 1979issue of the Gospel Advocate, there is an article I wrote. I made no charges against any particular group, nor expressed any opinion or beliefs about who was responsible for what I had seen, heard, and reported. Although my address was not included with the published article, there were responses by letter and by phone from more than 50 churches and individuals from at least a dozen states, ALL of whom expressed gratitude for the article. They ALL came to the SAME conclusion as to the origin of the attitudes and practices which had been reported!
The elders of the congregation which they ALL concluded was the origin of the practices which had worked havoc in their lives or congregations wrote me a very nice letter assuring me that they felt sure I loved the Lord as they did, but that I was mistaken in my BELIEFS about their works and doctrine, and invited me to come there and see for myself. That was surprising to me, for I had not mentioned their works or doctrine or accused them of ANYTHING! What I had written was not based on any belief, assumption or report about THEM, but what I had seen and heard. To go and hear and see what was happening in another congregation miles away could not possibly change the reality of what I had already seen and reported in another place. Nor could it change the reality of the frustration, heartache, confusion and havoc reported to me from all over the nation. No doubt that if I went to that congregation I would see and approve of enthusiasm, devotion, activity in soul winning, and a challenge to “total commitment”! Who would not approve of those things? I would probably not hear any false doctrine, and would applaud 99% of what I did see and hear.
I am not yet (4/12/79) making any accusations regarding who is responsible for all the heartache, misery, guilt complexes and split congregations I heard about after my article was published. But I do feel duty bound to point out some very significant facts. When congregations all over the country report the SAME conditions, the SAME pattern of activity, and the SAME destructive tendencies, and ALL of them report that it comes from the SAME source, which source we did not even mention, and the reported source feels called upon to defend itself against charges which we did not even make against it, even a naive, gullible person such as I would tend to be slightly suspicious! In case anyone does not know by now, the source is the Crossroads church inGainesville,Florida.
The problem is so difficult to recognize and deal with because it puts the critic in a position of seeming to oppose enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and progress, and leaves him open to the charge: “You are just jealous because OUR devotion and progress shows you up for the lazy, uncommitted person you actually are!” And like the rest of the program, there is probably enough truth in the charge in some cases to make it appear valid! It is my fervent hope that the pendulum may not be allowed to swing in the opposite direction and allow us to feel smug and satisfied with the lazy, uncommitted persons we actually are!
Although the following is a mere conjecture (as opposed to what I have previously reported as fact), it may help some congregations and persons make an evaluation as to what I think MAY have happened and why, based on my own experience in personal evangelism for a quarter of a century.
There are a great number of congregations that have become so ritualized, systematized, organized or fossilized that any unusual enthusiasm, outward expression of love, or emotional response would be looked upon with suspicion–maybe an offshoot of Pentecostalism! The lives of many–especially young people–were left bleak, barren, empty and unchallenged. Who could thrill to a challenge, “Let us go climb a molehill?” Yet this was about the kind of challenge given in many cases. Into this void came a voice “crying in the wilderness,” challenging to total commitment, devotion and the restoration of New Testament Christianity in deed as well as in word, and in a remarkable way, PRODUCING RESULTS of baptisms and dedication on a scale seldom seen by most of us. What a thrill this was to each of us who love the Lord and his Church. How we rushed by car, bus, truck or plane to each workshop or lectureship where we could be inspired and instructed in how to duplicate it!
I find it practically impossible to believe that those who began the programs that produced such fantastic results MEANT to spawn a record number of broken lives, split churches, and psychotic followers that have been reported. I am told, “That is just hearsay.” Of course it is–hearsay from all around the country from first hand witnesses. It is easy for me to see why they deny vociferously that it happens. We do not assume they are all just lying about it. It is mind-boggling almost beyond belief to think that the things that looked so much like what the Bible authorizes could have such results. So the only logical conclusion to which some could come was that the criticism MUST BE from a bunch of weirdoes–blinded, jealous, crackpot, fault-finding do-nothings who find it easier to criticize than work!
So my opinion is (based on my own experience) that some of the leaders of this movement took some powerful denominational authors, such as Watchman Nee, Corrie Ten Boom, Jay Adams, Robert Coleman, Stephen Olford and/or others and designed a system of evangelism that had a lot of power, partly because it was patterned so much after the early church methods and message. Yet it turned out so many destructive things because it was unwittingly (I hope) perverted in a few significant key points. Perhaps an analysis of one or two of the many may help.
For example, I have used Robert Coleman’s “The Master Plan of Evangelism” for about 20 years, considering it one of the best of about 40 such books I have on the principles and techniques of personal evangelism. It is more than 95% very good. But surely all Christians are aware that practically EVERY departure in to Romanism or sectarianism of ANY FORM is based on God’s Word–slightly perverted. “Baptism saves us” is a Bible truth. But perverted into “baptismal regeneration” it becomes a false doctrine. “Being therefore justified by faith” is a Bible doctrine, but perverted into “salvation by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine,” it becomes denominational, divisive and destructive.
In every chapter of Coleman’s book we may find similar examples to this one, but on page 66 he says, “In this light, evangelism was not interpreted as a human undertaking at all, but a divine project which has been going on from the beginning. It was altogether the Spirit’s work. All the disciples were to let the spirit have complete charge of their lives.” These statements are almost true. Then on page 69, “Nothing less than a personal baptism of the Holy Spirit would suffice.” That too is true, if one understands that it applied to the Apostles. But Coleman did not so apply it! Probably without realizing it, hundreds have taken such principles and statements that applied to the Apostles and applied them to ALL the disciples.
Notice how easy it is to do that kind of thing in the matter we are now considering. “One should pattern his life after Jesus.” Who can deny it? Now, suppose it is slightly perverted to mean that one should not let a wife and responsibility to her have any weight on his decision of how to live for the Lord! Christ did not allow a wife to keep him from sacrificial living. Why should I? If I suppose that in my own individual situation it is bad enough. But suppose it creeps into a fast growing and progressive system, absorbed rapidly by many converts! A Christian has responsibilities in many spheres. One does not NEGATE the others, but must balance the others. Again, the Apostle Paul had the right to supervise, delegate, and act like a “spiritual father’ to chastise, rebuke and oversee his converts (1 Cor.4:15). Suppose we, even without consciously realizing it, assume, teach and PRACTICE the idea that ALL disciples should have the same power and function! Mind control, perversion and eventual corruption develop.
This may sound like such a little matter, but in our judgment this is one of the primary reasons why this grand program, so enthusiastically conceived and joyously copied throughout the nation has wrought such havoc in so many places. Anytime a human being WITHOUT APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY AND POWER is placed in a position to exercise APOSTOLIC CONTROL over another Christian (even inadvertently) to the extent of telling them whom they may date, whether or not they must attend a specific soul talk, or how much weight to lose, and many other things which are reported, than all sorts of evil results follow. Denials that they are done have little weight, for the denial may mean, “We have not consciously or deliberately done that.”
We find it hard to believe that any of our brethren have deliberately done that. We presume that in all probability the thing began to work and was so close to what most of us have surely taught all along that few were able to see what was wrong, and even less able to see why it was happening. For example, who does not recognize that every new convert needs a “buddy” to strengthen and encourage him, and even to point out to him dangers which he is not mature enough to see? Our judgment is that if you asked any leaders of this movement, they would tell you that is all they advocate! But when it is reported from all over the country by loving, dedicated Christians that these “spiritual advisors” have taken charge of the lives and minds of others, all denials have little weight. Who in his right mind could oppose a “prayer partner”–a person to pray with and for you when you need strength? I have upheld it all my preaching life, AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO! Some elders, editors and preachers may swear this is all that the prayer partner does, but when churches from California to Florida report that this is NOT all that is happening, but that the prayer partner not only exercises control and authority over the new convert and that it is not a two-way street where each prays for the other on an equal basis, but the confessions of the junior partner get sent all the way back to “headquarters” in many situations, thoughtful persons should try to find out what has gone wrong instead of simply denying all the evidence.
One other thing almost inevitably happens that is VERY dangerous. When a person with an ego problem discovers that he has this kind of power over another, the results are predictable, but disastrous! What preacher or elder has not wished he could say, “There will be a Bible study Thursday (or even Wednesday) at7 p.m.” and could expect to have 100% of his group there? What preacher has not wished he could say, “You should not smoke anymore,” and every smoking member would throw his cigarette away? When the average man–especially a relatively new convert–discovers that he has this kind of power over others, partly because of the structure of the system and partly because of the slightly perverted doctrine, what do you think it would normally do to him? And if a power hungry egomaniac happens to be a preacher with unusual charisma, what do you think would happen to the churches he controls? When you have a whole system that is so designed that the power structure is perpetuated NOT through God-ordained, scripturally qualified ELDERS in each local congregation, but through humanly designated “spiritual fathers” and “prayer partners,” who report back up through the hierarchy the most intimate things they may find through the confessions they hear, and when the devotion to the system is equated with devotion to Christ, the end result is devastating and diabolical!
Another sentence on page 82 partly illustrates the point we are trying to make. “Jesus did not discourage their spontaneous reactions to bear witness to their faith, and in fact, He seemed delighted that they wanted to bring others to know what they had found.” Is this true? Of course! But suppose that, without even realizing it, a large group of zealous, loving persons are “witnessing” to “what they have found”–peace, joy, fulfillment, etc., ASSUMING that this witness of their SUBJECTIVE experience is equivalent to the APOSTOLIC WITNESS of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord. If you do not see that it makes much difference, then this article will not help you. No Apostle ever sang, “I know he lives” because “he lives within my heart.” That was subjective good news, but it was not THE GOOD NEWS! Note carefully: It is not wrong to testify (witness) to what God did for you, or to have Jesus live within your heart. But it takes the very heart out of the gospel to let the witness of my joy for what Christ did for me SUBJECTIVELY substitute for what Christ did for the world OBJECTIVELY. Deny them who may, these things have happened. These are some tentative suggestions as to what may have gone wrong any why. There are many others, but time and space forbid it now.