“Never hide yourself! When you say something, don’t be in the shadow; let everyone see you!
Be courageous enough not to use any mask nor fake names neither blocking people.
Don't forget that hiding among the bushes is the affair of the cowards!
Let the Sun shines on your face and everyone see you,” ― Lea R. Caguinguin link
So, you have just heard about a new church in town or maybe an old church with a brand new, young pastor who's "got answers." How do you find out if this is a decent church with loving pastors or some authoritarian church which is going to discipline the heck out of you when bad things happen in life? It is becoming harder to spot these churches. So, the following tips may, or may not, apply depending on the lengths churches go to conceal their true intentions.
Beware the *friendship* trap. It may not be friendship, but affinity due to shared membership and cognitive dissonance.
Remember, it is the goal to get you and your family involved in the church. People will be nice to you but do not assume that means that they really care about you. They like you so long as your keep with the program. The moment you deviate, you will see people beginning to distance themselves from you. That is because they are not your friends.
These are insecure people who want to be reassured that they have chosen the right church, the right pastor and the right secondary or tertiary doctrine. It is extremely difficult for people who like to think they are intelligent and insightful people to discover that they have chosen poorly so they pretend they haven't. This is cognitive dissonance. It can't be them so it must be you.
They will do everything in their power to convince you that you re being unbiblical, hurting name of Christ, not being submissive to authority, gossiping, etc. I know this is hard to accept when you are on the receiving end but it is not about you. It is about them and their insecurities. They will distance themselves from you because you were not really their friend. You were merely their cheerleader, assuring them that they made the right choice.
A test if you are wondering about the friends you have in the church you are now in.
The next time you get together with your small group, tell them you are not sure you agree with your pastor on one of his pet teachings. Watch the responses of your small group. See if they become uncomfortable or try to talk you down. Try to do the same thing with you pastor. I still remember telling my pastor that I disagreed with him on young earth creationism. He became irritated and even tried putting me down. I knew then that I had a thin-skinned pastor who only accepted me so long as I acquiesced to his pet theology.
Beware new church plants or new pastors in old churches, especially those started since the early 2000s: Read about the history of the church.
Most people are unaware that the Baptist are targeting the northern states for church plants. These particular church plants or church takeovers are almost always authoritarian based churches started by pastors with rigid ideas on the *right way* to do church. This will include heavy handed Neo-Calvinism. Marie found herself in such a church. See the history page.
Find out which seminaries trained these pastors, paying careful attention to Baptist seminaries with a Reformed emphasis.
Most church websites will list the seminary training of the pastors. This is important since certain seminaries are known for teaching authoritarian Calvinism. These include, but are not limited to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Golden Gate Baptist Seminary (to change name to Gateway), and New Orleans Baptist Seminary.
Tim Cochrell has a PhD from SBTS and Kevin Wright has a Doctorate in Biblical Counseling from SEBTS. Therefore it is no surprise that they should be so dictatorial in their approach.
Recently, HBC had a woman's speaker, Janet Surette, from Southshore Bible Church. This is a good example of a church which does not list the seminaries attended by the leader. Ask which seminaries the leaders attended, preferably before you get on their wrong side. If they are not readily telling you where they trained, be suspicious.
If there is an emphasis on Biblical counseling, be very, very careful.
Marie was a former Biblical counselor and she can tell you many stories about the limitations of this form of counseling. Julie Anne Smith presented one post on the matter.
Read this again: Because of Scripture’s sufficiency in this regard pastors and counselors can be assured that Scripture contains all things necessary for counseling the hard cases in counseling ministry. Participants will come to understand that Scripture is relevant to the counseling task, and that the grace of Christ in Scripture ensures help in even the most difficult issues of life.
In a number of cases with which TWW has been acquainted, churches which emphasize Biblical counseling believe they have the ability to intervene in hard core abuse issues. This is very, very dangerous because they are NOT professionally trained to handle such serious mentally disturbed individuals.
What do you do if the church website doesn't give lots of clues about their belief structure?
Listen to posted sermons.
Heritage Bible Chapel has a website which has few red flags. No membership covenant is mentioned and no emphasis on secondary issues are to be found. The resource page is devoid of anything but sermons. Now, as one reader discovered by listening to sermons, Tim Cochrell has a rather strong view on divorce. Listening to sermons can take time but is very helpful.
Read websites of supported ministries.
While reading through the website, I discovered that this church helped start the Charles River Church in Boston. Go to their resource page. Here you will see, disturbingly, recommended books by the Sovereign Grace Ministries leaders: CJ Mahaney, Gary Ricucci, Dave Harvey along with other known Calvinsta leaders like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, etc. Imagine recommending books by a ministry which has been mired in a sex abuse scandal?
Read websites on the churches of invited speakers.
I want to thank Ken F for leaving this comment.
The speaker at the HBC women’s conference in May will be Janet Surette. Here is a link to Janet’s church: http://southshorebible.org/about-us/what-we-believe/. This church has something for everyone to love: reformed baptist, complementarian (Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is in the church constitution), “Biblical” counseling, young earth creationism (YEC is in their constitution), membership covenants, church discipline.
From their constitution: “All who come into membership are expected to recognize and submit to the authority of the overseers of the church (1 Corinthians16:15,16; 1 Thessalonians5:12, 13; Hebrews13:17). This responsibility will include willingly scheduling oversight meetings with Elders.”
At the website of Southshore Bible Church, we hit the mother lode. For example, under core values we have membership covenants, church discipline, and the importance of males (no women).
We practice Biblical membership and accountability by entering into and abiding by a Membership Covenant. We adhere to biblical church discipline for the spiritual good of our members and the health of the church. We prioritize discipleship of people versus relying on a program-oriented model of ministry
This website is an incredible compendium leading me to believe that one has a possibility of getting disciplined early and often.
Here is a link to the PDF of the Constitution (containing the above mentioned Appendices)for delightful reading on this day after Christmas. Here are a few memorable items. (I have downloaded this in case it disappears.
No gray areas
Speak or forever hold your peace.
Discipline of members and nonmembers alike.
Don't say a word if the elders tell you it is of *private concern* to the church.
Think about this when it comes to child sex abuse or domestic violence and the church screws up.
Women are uniquely compassionate but have nothing to say to men in spiritual matters.
Rigid views on young earth creationism
There are some churches which carry a secondary belief to an extreme. In this instance, it is a serious doctrinal belief that the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old. It is our experience that such churches are highly rigid in other areas as well.
These are just few tips in preventing an unsuspecting person from getting involved in a church like Heritage Bible Chapel. Remember, do not assume that church is *good* because they are nice to you when you first join. Take your time. We just joined a church after two years. We read extensively on the church, the denomination, nd the recommended resources. We stayed in the background, watching interactions between the pastors and the members. By the time we joined, we were experts on the church.
You become an expert at reading church websites. If you question something you are reading, get an answer. About 6 months ago, we got an email from someone who asked out opinion about the website of a church they were thinking about joining. We pointed out the red flags and told them to run away as quick as possible.
Please feel free to share excerpts from your own current or former church website. Also, if you have a story about how you ignored red flags and joined a church, only to discover the red flags should have been heeded, let us know.