"All the glory, honor, praise, and shing-ding-dinging be given to Jesus!" Monday Nights link
Introducing Ryan Ashton's new website
Ryan Ashton contacted me to tell his story about abuse and excommunication from a house church known as Monday Nights. He, along with some friends, have posted an incredibly well-designed website documenting their experiences. It's called Redlands: Losing and Finding Grace. I wish I had his web designing skills. If you go to this site, click on The Book. You can then read the book online at the site by clicking on the arrows. Well done!
What is the Redlands Church Family-Monday Nights?
Let's back up. Here is the link to the Facebook of the house church known as Redlands Church Family-Monday Nights. This is their story told in their own words.
God is expressing Himself in a unique and special way here in Redlands. There are several gatherings throughout the week where people are awakening to the radical love of Jesus. He is bringing living stones together, building His very temple, a tabernacle of the living presence of love. We are then experiencing this love in familial relationships and in learning to receive from our Papa. His life is abundant and has found its way in our hearts. This life is easily shared when motivated by love. We are now seeing our city impacted with the gospel and are excited about the future. All the glory, honor, praise, and shing-ding-ding be given to Jesus! love you!
Here are their core beliefs. Yes, this is what they called them…
- God is fun
- Jesus is kind
- "It is finished"
- God enjoys you
- Love looks like something
Needless to say, they have some interesting ideas on how to express core beliefs. So, you can imagine what might develop as a new doctrine is introduced to the group. It's truly interesting that a crowd that enjoys shing-ding-dinging God would take a hard line on a membership covenant and excommunication when Ryan disagreed with them. So the shing-ding-dinging types are not all that different from than the Calvinistas when it comes to *discipline.* How odd or maybe, how typical.
A new doctrine: Hyper Grace
This is the new doctrine that was introduced to this group.
This taught that sanctification doesn’t exist—Christians are already perfected, negating the need for confession, repentance, transparency, accountability, or even conviction of the Holy Spirit. Hyper Grace teaches Jesus Himself was a “law preacher” and Paul taught the fullest expression of the gospel, so we are to disregard Jesus’ words and read all of Scripture with a “lens of grace.” It ultimately leads to universalism and license to sin
Here is a decent review on hyper grace on SBC Voices: Hyper-Grace: the REAL Hyper-Danger by Dave Miller.
One of the foundational doctrines of the hyper-grace message is that God does not see the sins of his children, since we have already been made righteous by the blood of Jesus and since all of our sins, past, present and future, have already been forgiven. That means that the Holy Spirit never convicts believers of sin, that believers never need to confess their sins to God, and that believers never need to repent of their sins, since God sees them as perfect in his sight.
Simply, hyper-grace is the emphasis on the grace of God to the extent that concepts of sin, holiness, the fear of the Lord, confession and repentance are largely ignored. It is the precious, biblical, wonderful doctrine of grace taken to a deadly extreme.
I asked Ryan to write an overview of what happened to him. The following is his response. Please make it a point to look at his website as well. I am going to link to it in our blog roll.
A week ago today, a group of friends who were direct witnesses to what happened with Ryan launched an e-book and website as a last-ditch effort to confront the spiritual abuse and false doctrine that has overtaken their once-loving house church called Monday Nights. “This document exists because all attempts to reconcile have failed,” the book opens, and it ends with the hope that the readers will have enough information to make reconciliation a reality.
The Voices of Redlands, written by John Baldwin and eight other witnesses, goes to great lengths demonstrating through first-person accounts, fact-based evidence, and copious documentation that the young people of Redlands are in great danger; a danger amplified by many adults and family members connected to Monday Nights who are going out of their way to ignore these events and deflect inquiry. Ryan and John have hope that now these testimonies are public, more people can see this case study of spiritual abuse and not just learn from it, but help rescue their friends who appear in desperate need of intervention.
Wartburg Watch: Can you summarize for us what The Voices of Redlands covers?
Ryan Ashton John Baldwin’s Testimony, which comprises the bulk of the document, begins with the theme that is apparent throughout: How far would you go for family? There are negative and positive ways this question has been answered, and John tells the story of how our former church, Monday Nights, has answered that call. John traces the story from the moment he met me, how the Gustafson brothers—the self-appointed leaders of Monday Nights—ginned up fear and lied to the group to get me excommunicated. The result is many refuse to listen to our pleas for help or to even listen to what’s going on. This has perpetuated not just a case of injustice, but allowed egregious sin and dangerous behavior to metastasize over the past three years.
WW: And what is happening?
RA: The Gustafsons have been deceived by a heresy called Hyper Grace, and are using their influence to teach it to others and spiritually abuse and silence any detractors who get in their way. It’s a highly volatile situation, where Monday Nights has being lied to and prevented from knowing the truth and bystanders are being told by the Gustafsons that I hate the group and am slandering them. They have been told to refuse to listen to my pleas for help or to even listen to what’s going on. This has perpetuated not just a case of injustice, but allowed egregious sin and dangerous behavior to metastasize over the past three years.
WW: What sort of sin?
RA: The kind that is typical for an isolated group of 20-somethings. Multiple reports of drunkenness, underage drinking, sexual immorality, adultery, drug use, parading around naked-even making the young girls who don’t participate in “No Make Up May” to run down the street in their underwear. Spiritual abuse abounds, such as threatening people who don’t disassociate from me with excommunication, blatantly lying about their detractors, discouraging religious leaders from investigating these issues, etc. All of these allegations are substantiated throughout multiple testimonies and documentation with scrupulous detail.
WW: How did this situation start?
RA: When I came to Redlands in 2012, I was fresh from several church abuse situations and was in no place to be open to a church again. Yet Jared Gustafson, a charismatic guy who is well-known to many locals, invited me to his church—Monday Nights—and I was embraced there. Monday Nights began as a college-age Bible Study from a local Evangelical Free Church (Trinity) and splintered off in 2009.
Soon after I arrive in 2012, Jared left to go to Africa to attend a missionary school for a few months, and I got to know the group really well in his absence. When he returned, he came back with a theology that was just beginning to sweep through the rest of the charismatic world called Hyper Grace. This taught that sanctification doesn’t exist—Christians are already perfected, negating the need for confession, repentance, transparency, accountability, or even conviction of the Holy Spirit. Hyper Grace teaches Jesus Himself was a “law preacher” and Paul taught the fullest expression of the gospel, so we are to disregard Jesus’ words and read all of Scripture with a “lens of grace.” It ultimately leads to universalism and license to sin, but in the beginning I had no clue about any of that.
WW: From the sounds of it, you had to find this out yourself?
RA: Yeah. Jared, along with another Monday Night member—Matt Anderson, who I’m still unsure whether he was in on this—began teaching “Gospel Chats” in January 2013, slowly unpacking this teaching but leaving a lot of unanswered questions for me. From February till April I was researching what was behind this new doctrine, because Jared had clearly changed since his trip to Africa and I wanted to know what happened.
WW: What exactly happened?
RA: Well, page 46 indicates that Jared had gotten involved with a clique at the missionary school he went to. This clique taught Hyper Grace, and it was rebuked as heresy by the leaders of the missionary school, Heidi and Rolland Baker. Rather than receive the counsel of his elders, Jared came back to Redlands intent on teaching this perspective of grace, which led to me researching it. Ultimately, this led to a confrontation.
WW: Is this the one between you and Seth Gustafson, Jared’s brother?
RA: That is the one. On page 66-67, I had just posted on the Monday Night page that I was concerned that Hyper Grace was being taught in Monday Nights and I was shut down—both on the Facebook page and later by Seth, through text, who admitted he and his brother were teaching it.
WW: How did that make you feel?
RA: I was furious. I told Seth “I will not stand my friends being led astray” and Seth replied “Then you might not have any more friends…Our actions might come down to that.” And they made good on their threat.
WW: When was that?
RA: April 8th, 2013. Everything happened really fast after that. Mid-April through May the Gustafsons convened at least two secret meetings with the rest of Monday Nights saying I was in sin by slandering Jared—by saying he was teaching false doctrine—and that I needed to be excommunicated. The book follows John Baldwin’s story from that point onward, as he was there for the Trial, the presentation of the Contract that I refused to sign, my attempts to reach out to the group (which fell flat), and then the Excommunication where John and his wife, Hannah, were bullied and threatened viciously for not agreeing to cut me out of their lives completely, which the Gustafsons argued must be done for the good of the group.
WW: Did everyone else cut you off?
RA: There were a few stragglers but ultimately everyone did, yes. I tried to stop it, and then tried to reach out and reconcile multiple times, but each time I either get silence or am outright refused.
WW: So the story John tells at that point is the various ways Jared and Seth tried to cut you further out of people’s lives: the Tuesday Night Study called Mountain Brothers Fellowship, then picking off close friends of yours one by one.
RA: Yeah. People told me at the time “all they did was kick you out.” It was utter nonsense. I was not allowed to have any friendships with anyone who knew the Gustafsons. Either I was to agree with Jared’s preaching of Hyper Grace, or I was to forfeit the only real family I had known up to that point in my life.
WW: Eventually Jared went back to Africa with a team from Monday Nights.
RA: Yes. I had already reached out to Rolland Baker, asking what had happened to Jared, abd he rescinded Iris’ invitation to Jared to visit. Jared has many connections and was most likely invited by someone who doesn’t know what he teaches. But then Jared begins to catch on that I had been communicating with Rolland, and proceeds to blatantly lie about me in order to refute my account of his spiritual abuse and heresy.
WW: Then John Baldwin steps in.
RA: Then John steps in. He had already tried to get through to Jared over the Mountain Brothers. This time he had had enough. He refuted Jared’s lies, but by that time Monday Nights had started a writing campaign and convinced Rolland and his staff that these two guys are just disaffected members and Jared should be allowed onto the Iris Campus. And he was.
After that, I include a brief-ish “Interlude” explaining what spiritual abuse is, and then John finishes by analyzing the big picture, indicating he and I want reconciliation with the group, but obstructing that goal is the Gustafsons themselves, who will not allow any discussion or forgiveness to take place. Jared and Seth have basically taken the group hostage.
WW: And then the book concludes with the rest of the testimonies.
RA: Yes. Verifying and adding even more texture to John’s account, which is compelling by itself. But we felt it necessary to include as much evidence as possible in order to provide a fully-orbed picture of what is happening in Redlands.
WW: Why the use of names and documents like texts?
RA: John and I realize people will bristle at that. I am not in favor of exposing every misdeed on the planet. Trust and safeguarding privacy are important to us. However, when it comes to exposing the corruption and abuse of the Gustafsons, and what they’ve forced Monday Nights to do, we have carefully chosen what documentation we believe proves something is wrong in Monday Nights. Additional documentation paints a picture of how Christians in our area have responded to the abuse—spoiler alert: not well at all—and so we hope by observing these facts people learn from them and don’t repeat the tragedy.
WW: Aren’t you afraid of being sued?
RA: Not at all. We had three lawyers review this document before release and defamation is incredibly hard to prove based on how carefully we have agonized over this project. These allegations have to be 1) false, and 2) stated with malice. Neither is the case. These facts are what really happened. These are their words—complete and unedited. These allegations are not made with malice but with scrupulous attention to detail, are the truth, and are revealed with the ultimate hope this exposure will put enough pressure on the group to reconcile.
Names are necessary t because this is a warning as much as it is an appeal. It is Scriptural to use names—Paul didn’t hesitate to do so (2 Timothy 1:15, 2 Timothy 2:17-18, 2 Timothy 3:8, 2 Timothy 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:14) and neither did John (3 John 9, 10). Public sins such as heresy and spiritual abuse warrant public rebukes as well. The Gustafsons have been rebuked by many leaders in private (David Inlow’s testimony lists some of them). Despite this, there are very few Christians who have taken our warnings seriously—the Gustafsons are still invited to churches and high schools to share and preach, and that makes them dangerous.
WW: Why do you think people haven’t heard you up to this point?
RA: Well when everything was happening I was in a panic. I had experienced abuse before, abandonment before, and been threatened by Seth that I was going to lose all my friends—so I reacted rather than responded with a cool head. I did rash and desperate things. No one wants to listen to a desperate person. In a few weeks it was all over, and there was nothing I could do. John Baldwin wasn’t convinced then that Jared was teaching something false—that would come months later—so for awhile I was alone. John knew something was wrong, but was hesitant to take my word for it, which was understandable. Once he did, you’ll read how he was blown off time and again by the Gustafsons.
As to everyone else… the Gustafsons are very convincing. I didn’t believe it at first but they are master manipulators, and are very good at weaving a story that sounds plausible, but falls apart under examination. That’s why telling the full story is so important—not only to give people a good picture of what spiritual abuse is, but also give those in Redlands everything they need to put a stop to it.
WW: Will they?
RA: It’s hard to say. Up to this point there are very few people who care enough about the truth to even listen. For most, their friendship with the Gustafsons and almost universal desire to “hear no evil” dominates. Some of that is my fault. Some of that is “the bystander effect” which I explain at length in the Interlude.
WW: What has been one of the hardest things you’ve experienced?
RA: Not the excommunication, but the apathy of other Christians. I have begged so many people to listen and to help, only to be told “It’s not my problem.” These are the same people who either go to the group or have family members who go or who have shared Jared’s Facebook posts where he’s teaching his exaggerated form of grace. These people are already involved. We are all a part of the Body of Christ. It’s actually pretty immoral for all these people to support or be indifferent to the abuse, heresy, and terrible misconduct this group commits because they’re friends with the Gustafsons. I wish I could just pin them down and ask them “What do you think loving Jared and the people he’s hurting looks like for you?” Indifference and ignoring this situation is not acceptable. It’s going to get worse. Yet these are always the patterns with abuse, I’m afraid. We are not learning these lessons—as a Church especially.
WW: What are you hoping will happen now that this book is out?
RA: Well a few things. One, Monday Nights was never able to hear the truth about what happened. Our hope is that they finally have that chance, will hold the Gustafsons accountable, and reverse the unbiblical excommunication. I think once we all can talk to each other again we can figure out what friendship looks like after this much wounding has taken place.
Secondly, this false teaching needs to be thoroughly discussed—amongst the group and the Church at large. Hyper Grace has destroyed Monday Nights. It is no longer the beautiful community it was. I hope that by showing people how it conflicts with actual Scripture they will have a choice that was never given to them: whether to accept it or not. As of now, they have been forced into the status quo by not being provided an alternative viewpoint.
WW: What happens if reconciliation doesn’t occur?
RA: Well, the website and book will remain, then. I will be adding a section on the website describing what Hyper Grace and Universalism are, edited by John and several theologians. That release will be imminent and will be a tool for many people on how to debunk this false grace teaching. The Gustafsons have hosted many Hyper Grace teachers in Monday Nights—Rodeen Williams, Tony Seigh, Andre Rabe—and are hosting one of the biggest names, John Crowder, in Redlands next May. I am hoping by that time enough local leaders will have warned their congregations what hyper grace is and put a stop to it and the families and friends of Monday Night members will have intervened and do what I couldn’t back in 2013.
All of us are to blame for this situation—myself, the Gustafsons, and everyone who has enabled these destructive behaviors from Monday Nights. That’s why it will take all of us to put an end to it.
John and I love our friends and will not give up on them. Until people are willing to see the truth and come to grips with what the Gustafsons have been enabled to do, we will not stop trying to be heard. The Gustafsons tried to destroy our lives, but they will not stop us from loving them enough to tell the truth.
WW: Where can people find the book?
RA: Go to www.RedlandsBook.com. You will find the book which you can read online, or download a PDF. I have recorded a 7-minute testimony as an introduction for those interested. Later on, this will be the place to see Hyper Grace, Universalism, and Spiritual Abuse explained in detail, as well as a page of resources for those seeking help and healing.