It is madness for sheep to talk peace with a wolf. Thomas Fuller
US Sheepherding Experiment
While crowds of protesters in the Middle East are clamoring for freedom from oppressive dictatorships, it appears that some Christians who live in the land of the free are being coerced into signing membership covenants based on a Moses Model of Old Covenant “rule”.
Perhaps without realizing it, these brothers and sisters in Christ are renouncing Paul’s teaching to the Galatians and reverting to Old Testament law, which we believe is being imposed on them by their church leadership. This is a hybrid form of Christianity that the Apostle Paul warned against.
Let’s take a look at the membership covenant featured in yesterday’s post for evidence of hybrid Christianity. Did you spot any RED FLAGS? Here are the five that greatly concern us. For clarification, quotations from the membership covenant are in italics.
RED FLAG #1 – Faulty Theology Regarding the Bride of Christ
“Membership is the difference between a couple living together and marrying – both experience the rewards, only one includes commitment. Membership asks the congregation to pledge themselves …”
“Membership defined. Put simply, a member is “an individual belonging to a specific group.” Therefore, a church member is a person who belongs to a specific church. They key term in this definition is “belongs to”. My wife belongs to me and I to her; we made commitments to one another on our wedding day. My children belong to me and my wife until they are the appropriate legal age to belong to themselves. Family members belong to each other, through struggles and triumphs, for the sake of each other. Church members belong to one another. They commit to one another to live according to the New Testament principles of togetherness – bearing burdens, weeping rejoicing, edifying, encouraging, etc., together. They agree to love each other and be loved by each other.”
Why does this membership covenant use a word picture of “marriage” to describe the relationship between an individual and the local church as well as relationships between church members? Aren’t we collectively the BRIDE OF CHRIST? We’re NOT married to each other, except for husbands and wives. This is faulty theology!
When someone chooses to leave a particular congregation of believers to affiliate with another congregation, he/she has NOT left the body of Christ. Belonging to a particular church should not be described in terms of marriage, and leaving it should not be viewed as a divorce. This is an inappropriate analogy. For example, when Dee and her husband decided to leave their former church, one elder remarked: “I am sorry for your loss” in an effort to prevent them from leaving. Dee and her husband do not view their resignation of membership as a divorce because they continue to maintain friendships with members of their former church.
While church hopping is not ideal, sometimes it is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of the individual Christian and to preserve the unity of the local congregation. As some of you know, Dee and her husband are Old Earth Creationists. Since the leaders at their former church were not transparent about their dogmatic embrace of Young Earth Creationism, it was better that they join another church that views creationism as a secondary issue. Unity at their former church has been preserved by their leaving.
We believe the reason some church leaders utilize the marriage and divorce analogy to describe church membership is to control the flock. There is absolutely nothing wrong with leaving a church, especially when doctrinal positions are altered or the “rules” change after you have joined. A great analogy is Ronald Reagan’s famous quote in 1962. He stated: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” Sometimes changing church affiliations is necessary in order to preserve one’s Christian liberty.
RED FLAG #2 – Elder / Parental Authority
“Every Christian is expected to be under elder authority. By committing to membership, believers publicly declare their consent to the elders, and elders gain a firmer grasp on those for whom they are responsible.”
“Christians are under elder authority”
“Those who commit … will enjoy the following benefits: regular shepherding care, protection, and discipline from … elders…”
“The following will be expected of members… Submission to, and respect for, the elders…”
“They submit themselves to their Christ-ordained “parental” authority – the elders…”
After reading this membership covenant, does anyone have any doubt whatsoever that members in this church must be submitted to their elders? Words are powerful, and the phrases that are disturbing include: “elders gain a firmer grasp”, “elder authority”, “regular shepherding care, protection, and discipline from elders,” “submission to, and respect for, the elders”, and last but definitely not least “submit themselves to their Christ-ordained ‘parental’ authority – the elders.”
Wait a minute! What kind of dysfunctional marriage is this anyway? Are church members married to their dad – the elder who rules and reigns in their lives? Please see our post “You Are the Child, Your Pastor Is Your Dad”
RED FLAG #3 – Mandatory Small Group Participation
“The following will be expected of members: …
Small group participation (Although exceptions will occur, our constant encouragement will be for all members to join small groups.)”
Believe it or not, there are churches that actually use small groups as a means of control. In Sovereign Grace Ministries, for example, it has been reported that Care Group Leaders take copious notes when group members confess their sins. Such information has subsequently been used in a punitive manner by pastors and elders. What appears to be a time of fellowship and encouragement can end up being a control mechanism implemented by the elders of the church.
At one SGM church a member who worked the late shift was unable to attend his care group meeting which was held in the evening, and he was disciplined for his lack of participation. Furthermore, some SGM churches “assign” members to certain small groups. What is wrong with this picture?
To be clear, we ARE enthusiastic supporters of small groups when they are used for fellowship and encouragement – NOT FOR CONTROL. How do you know the difference between healthy and unhealthy small groups? Just look at the church leadership structure. We view hyper-authoritarian church leadership as highly suspect.
RED FLAG #4 – Non-members Must Submit to Elder Authority and Discipline
“We will not allow you to continue in known sin without corrective measures. Regular … attenders will be required to sign a document acknowledging their submission to elder authority and discipline.”
Can you even fathom this? So those who are attending the church as seekers are subject to church discipline? Note the words “submission, “elder authority”, “discipline”, and “we will not allow you to continue in known sin”. Finally, we have discovered a church with sinless leaders!
RED FLAG #5 – Disenrollment and Leaving
“We ask that any member who desires to leave … discuss the reasons thoroughly with his/her elder(s) before doing so. While there are legitimate grounds for leaving, some people abandon their church for selfish purposes and leave behind damaged, unreconciled relationships. The shepherds of … care for the spiritual well-being of our flock. On the other hand, if the reason is legitimate we will send you off with our blessing and the assurance that we have worked to please Christ in the decision-making.”
Have you heard the phrase “leaving well”? It means that you MUST meet with your church leaders and obtain their “blessing” in order to transfer your membership to another church. Again, using Sovereign Grace Ministries as an example, some SGM members have left their church only to be pursued to another church. SGM pastors have been known to contact the pastor at the church a former member wishes to join and declare that said member is “under church discipline”. We know this to be true because when Dee and her husband left their former Southern Baptist church and sought to join another congregation, they were not offered membership because their former pastor said that they were “unreconciled” with him.
As soon as I read this Membership Covenant, I realized that this church is utilizing techniques from the abusive Shepherding Movement. Exactly 35 years ago Derek Prince – one of the Fort Lauderdale Five – wrote an article entitled “Discipleship, Shepherding, and Authority” which appeared in the February 1976 issue of New Wine Magazine, which you can read here.
Here are two excerpts from Prince’s article:
“In New Testament congregations, all Christians (i.e. disciples) were expected to be under the rule of duly appointed leaders. The leaders of each local church were always referred to collectively, in the plural. They had three distinct, but related, titles: elders; overseers (or bishops); shepherds (or pastors).” (pp. 11-12)
AUTHORITY AND SUBMISSION
“Among Christians, those who rule must not impose or enforce their authority, in the way that authority is frequently enforced in the world…. Therefore, if Christians are to be ruled in the church, they must make this possible by voluntarily submitting themselves to their leaders.”
As our loyal readers know, Derek Prince and Bob Mumford publicly apologized for the abusive practices of the Shepherding Movement. Sadly, another generation has arisen that has no knowledge of Shepherding aka “Discipleship”. We fear that they are the “target market” of these hyper-authoritarian churches. After all, what age group will knowingly enter into a relationship with a church leader who is their “parental authority”?
What is especially disturbing about this membership covenant is that the church utilizing it belongs to a denomination never mentioned before at The Wartburg Watch. In other words, this church is not part of the SBC, PCA, or SGM. Hyper-authoritarianism is definitely on the rise!
Yesterday morning both Dee and I received an e-mail from a young lady in a nearby state with questions about finding a new church home. Here is just some of what she wrote:
“You both have provided me a safe place to explore other viewpoints and be challenged in my own viewpoints and I am most appreciative. Also your warnings about SGM were very timely as I was just beginning to look at their movement when I read your articles and I was able to warn one of my sisters about them as well and point her to your blog.
I do have a question for either/both of you. I am starting to look for a new church family, your recent blogs on finding a church have been helpful but I was wondering, when looking at a church’s website are there some key words/phrases that would improve my chances of finding a grace teaching church? … Part of the problem is that the reformed/Calvinist movement, esp. the so called Young Restless and Reformed group have adopted “grace” as one of their key words, unfortunately when they talk about grace it is more along the lines of “you’re lucky God in His holy plan has decided to show you grace you dirty, rotten, no good sinner, now shape up and show your appreciation for that grace!”… Any help or advice you could offer would be very much appreciated.”
Dear sister in Christ, in response to your important question, I hope this Final Exam on Membership Covenants and our identification of Red Flags has been beneficial to you. It’s important to be able to recognize what is a healthy church looks like, and in our view, this “SOS Church” is extremely unhealthy. That’s why one of its former members alerted us about the Membership Covenant that was recently adopted.
For those of you who are curious about the acronym “SOS” it means SHEPHERDS OVER SHEEP. We believe it’s an appropriate name for the church in question.
Someone in the blogosphere (whom we do not know) read yesterday’s TWW post and featured the SOS Church’s Membership Covenant on his blog, which you can read here.
He concluded the post as follows:
“And on and on it goes, a relentless list of reminders that you are to be obedient, generous — as dumb farm animals who do as they’re told. I know how this goes: “That’s not real Christianity,” somebody will object. It’s not the religion of Jesus, for sure, but it sure as hell is historic Christianity — and it stinks and does harm. Presentation of this ‘membership covenant’ is all any sane adult should need to see what these predators actually are.”
Yep, some so-called Christian leaders treat their flock as “dumb farm animals” who are supposed to do as they are told. Where’s my copy of Animal Farm? Apparently, protesters in the Middle East have been reading George Orwell’s masterpiece. In conclusion, always review membership covenants very carefully… Some are really BAAAAA……..D !!!
In loving memory of Numo, the Olympiad Hedgehog
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 28:16-29:40 Luke 3:23-38 Psalm 62:1-12 Proverbs 11:18-19