How I Read Between the Lines of Grace Fellowship Church, Toronto, Website. Learn Everything You Need to Know Without a Visit.

“Read between the lines. Then meet me in the silence if you can”. — May Sarton


Last week I wrote Another ARC Church, Another Pastor “Affair”; How to Look for Red Flags in a Church: Grace Fellowship, Toronto.

My goal in writing this was twofold. I discovered something that made me discover why Tim Challies may have felt that it wasn’t good time management to look at the accusations and lawsuits involving Sovereign Grace Ministries and CJ Mahaney. This led me to wonder if readers might benefit from learning how to discover red flags prior to even walking into a new church.

How to deal with this church covenant.

Here is the covenant from the above post

There are hints of potential abuse here, but I will hold my observations until I hear from you.

Membership Covenant

MEMBERSHIP COVENANT
This statement will be read (or repeated in certain instances) by each new member upon their reception into the membership of Grace Fellowship.

Having been led, with assurance, by the Spirit of God, [1] to receive Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord, [2] and upon profession of my repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, having been baptized by immersion in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I engage therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit; to walk with you in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this Church, in knowledge, holiness and comfort – even to the laying down of my life in service for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and my brothers and sisters, and if called upon by my Lord, to hazard my life for the gospel’s sake; [3] to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain true Biblical worship in it, observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s table, discipline, and doctrines as revealed in the Word of God; [4] to contribute cheerfully and regularly of my income as God has graciously prospered me for the support of this church, relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel throughout all nations. [5]

I also engage to maintain family and private devotions; to biblically educate my children; to seek the salvation of my family and acquaintances; to be zealous in my efforts to advance the kingdom of my Saviour [6] ; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in my dealings, faithful in my engagements, exemplary in my deportment, abstaining from all appearances of evil; [7] and, to avoid all backbiting, gossiping, and unrighteous anger [8] .

I further engage to watch over you, my brothers and sisters, in brotherly love; [9] to remember you in prayer; to aid you in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; [10] to be slow to take offence, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the commandments of our Saviour to secure it without delay. [11]

I also understand that if I am overtaken in any fault, I will be subject to biblical discipline which seeks my restoration. [12]

I moreover engage that when I remove from this place I will, as soon as possible, unite with some other church of like faith and practice, where I can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word. I also realize that Grace Fellowship Church has already entered into this covenant one with another and that she is also responsible to me in like manner.


I have written extensively on these covenants and this one is as bad as many others I have read.

  • This is a legal document and you are bound by it if you sign it. The fact that they do not tell you this is key. They can use this to cause you untold misery. Read the story of Karen Hinkley for a worrisome example of terrible abuse by Matt Chandler and The Village Church.
  • You can get out of this covenant/contract at any time, even if you are under church discipline. That is your legal right. I have a post that can help you to accomplish this. 
  • Since they do not define for which faults you may be disciplined, they may discipline you for anything they darn well please. Why will they not tell you the parameters or offenses surrounding potential discipline? It is my opinion that they wish to leave this open-ended so they can discipline you for stupid stuff like “Not supporting your pastor’s vision casting” or asking questions about the church budget.
  • Why would you sign up to have some gospel dudebro discipline you when you don’t know what sort of person he is? Why should you trust the pastors, especially since they will not define for what you can be disciplined?
  • You have to guarantee that if you leave this church, you will join another church ASAP. YOu must also join a type that they will judge to be acceptable. My co-writer, Todd, was introduced to me when this happened to him. He decided to leave the church(9Marks’ UCCD) because they pushed CJ Mahaney’s books. He took his time looking for another church in Dubai. This was judged “unacceptable.” They then decided to discipline him “in absentia.” I dubbed this “retroactive church discipline.” Why should a church have control over anyone if they decide to leave a church? Is it a church or a prison?

How well do you know these pastors? Have you carefully considered why you trust them? Do you know them well? Why do you give them this much power over you? I bet many people in churches research their next vacation destination more than they look into their church.

I, along with many others now, do not recommend that you sign one of these covenants since it is a legal document. If you really must, review it with a lawyer before signing.

Let’s go on to other things from the church website.

Affiliations-Sovereign Grace Churches

This is my favorite because it may explain why Tim Challies didn’t want to learn too much about Mahaney.  From my original post:

Affiliations (Hint: Explore the Sovereign Grace Church-Which branch does it belong to. Read the link at the beginning of the post again which was about Challies response “Not learning too much.”

Challies’ church is affiliated with Sovereign Grace Church Toronto. Link You will note that this church is a member of:

Sovereign Grace Church Toronto is a member church of a growing family Christian churches in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Bolivia, and the United Kingdom which are joined together under the banner of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

This is the lovely group of churches that was founded by CJ Mahaney. Follow the links. I can assure you that either Challies knows about this link and it looks like he used his precious time management to help his church affiliate with CJ’s pals. Why do I have a difficult time believing Challies?

Other affiliations: Surely some of you figured this one out.

I wrote:

Under affiliation looks at the final paragraph. “We also find significant affinity and fellowship with many ministries including:”

Well these include:

  • 9Marks!!!
  • Desiring God (John Piper)
  • The Gospel Coalition

Why the exclamation marks after 9Marks? This is the crowd that pushes strict church covenants and aggressive church discipline, IMO. You can be darn sure this covenant will be aggressively enforced. Caveat emptor and all that jazz. Also, John Piper has been a consistent supporter of CJ Mahaney.

Church constitution: Membership

I wrote:

Constitution: Look at all membership procedures

Dear reader, I hope that you do not assume that an onerous membership procedure means that this church has got it “biblically together.”  It may mean that they plan to control you while enforcing strict authoritarian leadership.

f the applicant has been a member of another church, the elders will investigate his standing in that church before he is accepted as a member in this church. Where it is possible and appropriate, a letter of transfer will be requested. Reception by transfer does not negate any of the requirements for becoming a member in this assembly.

c. Upon the reception of an acceptable written testimony, the elders may at their discretion ask for another meeting with the applicant; otherwise, the name of the applicant shall be announced for at least two consecutive Lord’s Days at stated meetings of the church. This time period is for the purpose of enabling the members to read his testimony and to raise any questions or objections concerning the applicant’s qualifications. (Members are expected to consider this a personal duty of the most serious character. They are expected to voice privately to the elders all questions or objections that have not yet been resolved, after personal contact has been made with the applicant

And then there is this:

Reaffirmation of Membership

It will be the custom of this church that all members present will renew their membership promise at the induction of any new members, using this time to evaluate how well they have lived out their commitment and to thoughtfully consider how to fulfill their promise even more.

You will repeat this, over and over, and over again. Are you sure this is just serious membership or an indoctrination?

Final thoughts:

There are other concerns such as Letters from Walter. The members seem to find these amusing. To me, they seem rather silly. Read this one about women.

Do you really think you would want to be a member of this church, knowing you could be disciplined for anything they dreamed up? What is to prevent them from doing so? How do you know they are a bunch of nice guys as opposed to authoritarian narcissists? The entire history of this blog is replete with examples of unjust church discipline.

Having read this website, I would never, ever step a foot inside this church. However, my goal in this post is to show you how much you can learn by simply reading a church website. Spending about 15 minutes can help you avoid the heartache of finding yourself in a potentially disturbing church situation.

I am always up for reviewing a church website. It has become a rather odd hobby of mine along with collecting needy pug dogs, overfeeding the birds in my backyard, cooking, and staying up to the wee hours reading mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction, and science fiction.

FYI: We are expectiing an ice storm in our area on Sunday so do not be surprised if the website is hard to access for a couple of hours. We do have a generator and it better work!!


Comments

How I Read Between the Lines of Grace Fellowship Church, Toronto, Website. Learn Everything You Need to Know Without a Visit. — 57 Comments

  1. I viewed the Sovereign Grace Church Toronto website today and it appears that it takes them at least 10 years to update their site. This from their website:

    “They also train new leaders at their Pastors College, which is closely associated with Covenant Life church in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

    For more information on Sovereign Grace Ministries you can find them on the web at”
    ========================

    The 10 month “Pastor’s College” hasn’t been associated with Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg since several months prior to Covenant Life Church withdrawing from the denomination in 2012.

    This from The Wartburg Watch:
    “It looks like 12.12.12 is a significant date in the history of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). According to a statement from the pastors of Covenant Life Church (CLC), that is when CLC members affirmed their pastors’ decision to end the congregation’s formal association with SGM.”

    Two years later Sovereign Grace Ministries changed it’s name to Sovereign Grace Churches. This from Mark Prater:

    “Transitioning to Sovereign Grace Churches
    December 11, 2014 by Mark Prater Categories: General

    When we at Sovereign Grace Ministries adopted our new polity, we decided that the name Sovereign Grace Churches better reflects who we are in our new structure.

    Our family of churches has been known as “Sovereign Grace” since we began using it in August 2002. It is a name we thank God for because it’s an important part of our history, and it captures our rich theological distinctives and values. The modification of the name from “Ministries” to “Churches” is simply a better way to describe that we are a family of churches who partner together to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ through the planting and building of churches.”

    – See more at: https://web.archive.org/web/20150421070551/https://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/blogs/sgm/post/Transitioning-to-Sovereign-Grace-Churches.aspx

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  2. I have an off-topic question (but maybe not too far off-topic). I am looking for the original source of Bruce Ware’s quote about women being made in the image of God in an indirect, derivative, and, mediated manner. I can find the quote in quite a lot of places (TWW, Wade’s blog, and others), but all refer back to the CBMW site which no longer has the article with that quote. The video links I found no longer have the video. It looks like Ware and CBMW have tried to disappear the quote from the internet. Does anyone know how to find it on archived versions of the CBMW site? Here is a part of that quote: “God intended priority given to the man as the original image of God.”

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  3. Dee, I hope you and your Mom are well.

    ======

    re: OP

    > “How well do you know these pastors? Have you carefully considered why you trust them? Do you know them well? Why do you give them this much power over you? ”

    Even if one is highly confident that the current potential discipliners are people of good character, there is no guarantee that they will remain the leaders one has to deal with for the duration of one’s association with a congregation. Who knows what the next crop of leaders will be like?

    The priority of individual conscience is pretty foundational in Protestantism, and the abolition of that in a contract like this is worrisome.

    ——-

    Perhaps SGC/SGM should have stuck with “People of Destiny” (which I think may have been borrowed from something Bill Bright was fond of saying to crowds of believers). Of course, that leaves the question of the character of the destiny in doubt. Per Daniel 12:2, some will experience long-lasting shame.

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  4. Ken F (aka Tweed),

    According to http://powerscourt.blogspot.com/2008/04/bruce-ware-on-constitutional-inequality.html
    it was at
    http://www.cbmw.org/Conferences/Building-Strong-Families-in-Your-Church/Male-and-Female-in-the-Image-of-God
    which from the wayback machine was a page about

    Male and Female in the Image of God
    Bruce A. Ware

    Building Strong Families in Your Church: A Call to Clarity, Conviction, and Courage in Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was a national conference for pastors, staff, Christian lay leaders, and their spouses. It was held in Dallas, Texas on March 20-22, 2000.

    with a link to an mp3 file. Unfortunately the wayback machine does not archive mp3 files

    http://www.cbmw.org/images/audio/building_strong_families/bsf-ware-imageofgod.mp3

    I came to a dead end here though someone may have a copy

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  5. Ken F (aka Tweed),

    My initial reply is gone for some reason, but, this is a followup.

    Starting point is http://powerscourt.blogspot.com/2008/04/bruce-ware-on-constitutional-inequality.html but the wayback machine hunt yielded only a mp3 file of a speech given in 2000 and those aren’t stored by the wayback machine. The 2000 conference that Ware gave the initial speech at resulted in a book “Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood” edited by Grudem which contained an essay (pages 71-92) based on but not identical to the speech. A search in the preview yielded words like “priority of man” and “unmediated”.

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  6. “… overfeeding the birds in my backyard …” (Dee)

    We woke up to a fresh layer of snow this morning. There is a flurry of birds at our feeders as the snow continues to come down. I’m glad I filled the feeders before the storm. While watching them, I was reminded of a Bible passage:

    “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own” (Romans 8:19)

    There is a yearning in creation for the Church to get this thing right … for believers to come into their own. As they view various aberrations of faith on planet earth (e.g., New Calvinism), the birds in my backyard must agonize on their tiptoes at how far off track men have gone with teachings and traditions of men about God but not of God … while the rest of creation which hasn’t lost contact with the Creator behaves as it always has … yet, their yearning goes on year after year. Perhaps someday we will all get this thing right … in the meantime the beat goes on, doing church without God in far too many places.

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  7. Erp,

    Thanks for looking. I found exactly the same things you found. I suspect he pulled it because he got so much pushback. I was hoping for an original source for incontrovertible proof. Although there are so many different sites that captured this quote identically I don’t think there is any way for him to deny it.

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  8. Regarding the Grace Fellowship website, I found the “Letters from Walter” section rather interesting. Supposedly “Walter is a friend of Grace Fellowship Church who lives somewhere in Northern Ontario. All that we really know about him tends to come from the letters he writes to us. He does appear to know a great deal about our church and a great deal about how we ought to live as Christians.”

    https://www.gfcto.com/articles/letters-from-walter

    His letters are essentially reformed indoctrination … how we ought to live as New Calvinists.

    I suspect the letters are really written by one of the brethren at Grace. If so, it’s a cute deceptive way to get their message across … everybody wants to tune into the next letter from Walter! Reminds me of when Mark Driscoll used to troll the blogosphere disguised as William Wallace II … when he got caught doing that, he sorta repented. Yep, there’s lots of reasons to read church websites before you visit … church leaders like to open their mouths and reveal who they are if you listen with discerning ears.

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  9. Ken F (aka Tweed):
    I have an off-topic question (but maybe not too far off-topic). I am looking for the original source of Bruce Ware’s quote about women being made in the image of God in an indirect, derivative, and, mediated manner. I can find the quote in quite a lot of places (TWW, Wade’s blog, and others), but all refer back to the CBMW site which no longer has the article with that quote. The video links I found no longer have the video. It looks like Ware and CBMW have tried to disappear the quote from the internet. Does anyone know how to find it on archived versions of the CBMW site? Here is a part of that quote: “God intended priority given to the man as the original image of God.”

    In Oceania’s ministry of truth, stuff gets chucked down a memory hole all the time.
    It never existed.

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  10. 2 nuggets of Wisdom. Thx, Dee:

    1. “benefit from learning how to discover red flags prior to even walking into a new church.” (Start with the website. I would add: check public records & Google regarding leaders et al. The Houston Chronicle did & discovered a boatload of criminals running churches. This is not rocket science.)

    2. “How well do you know these pastors? Have you carefully considered why you trust them? Do you know them well? Why do you give them this much power over you? I bet many people in churches research their next vacation destination more than they look into their church.”

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  11. Ken F (aka Tweed),

    It’s possible Suzanne McCarthy or the person she hattips, Wade Burleston, may have a copy of the mp3. Someone obviously transcribed it or part of it at one point.

    Rabbis over time have speculated that the adam of the first chapter and the beginning of chapter 2 of Genesis was both sexes and that the ‘creation of Eve’ was rather the splitting of this being into two being, one male and one female. (Bereishit Rabbah 8). This should probably not be mentioned to Bruce Ware

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  12. Muff Potter,

    He wishes. Millard Erickson wrote entire book on the subject, “Who’s Tampering With The Trinity.” ESS is largely an attempt to buttress his view of the status of women. They need ESS for their viewpoint to be taken seriously.

    To think he would play fast and loose with one of the fundamental doctrines to give his views on gender “inequality” blows my mind.

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  13. Ken F (aka Tweed): women being made in the image of God in an indirect, derivative, and, mediated manner

    This is the best I could do. It doesn’t contain the entire quote you were looking for, but I have no doubt Ware made the quote you were searching for.

    “Let me suggest that this distinction may not reflect the whole of biblical teaching. I will here propose that it may be best to understand the original creation of male and female as one in which the male was made the image of God first, in an unmediated fashion, as God formed him from the dust of the ground, and the female was made the image of God second, in a mediated fashion, as God chose, not more earth, but the very rib of Adam by which He would create the woman fully and equally the image of God. So, while both are fully the image of God, and both are equally the image of God, it may be the case that both are not constituted as the image of God in the identical way. Scripture gives some clues that there is a God-intended temporal priority bestowed upon the man as the original image of God, through whom the woman, as the image of God formed from the male, comes to be.”

    Bruce Ware, “Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God” Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, Chapter 2 p.114, Editor – Wayne Grudem.

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  14. “ You have to guarantee that if you leave this church, you will join another church ASAP. You must also join a type that they will judge to be acceptable”

    I noticed this when I read your prior post too. It struck me as one of the strangest things about the whole strange document. I can see why an organization might want to make it tough for people to leave its orbit. But how any church in a a modern 21st century culture could imagine it has the authority to dictate what people do after they leave its organization is beyond me.

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  15. CMT: make it tough for people to leave its orbit … how any church in a a modern 21st century culture could imagine it has the authority to dictate what people do after they leave its organization is beyond me

    The Church of the Living God is a free church … membership is voluntary … believers are free to attend and move within the Body of Christ as the Spirit leads. For GFC members listening in, Christ set you free from the teachings and traditions of men … why do you want to come back under a yoke of bondage?!

    The Kingdom of God on earth, in the here and now, does not require you to sign a membership contract. The only covenant that you need to enter into is the one written in red by Christ. DO NOT sign a membership contract anywhere you go within the Body of Christ … you “signed” all you needed to when you put your faith in Jesus. Your past church has no jurisdiction over your journey of faith as God leaves you elsewhere. If you are in a church that teaches otherwise, put your behind in your past ASAP. You have freedom in Christ … exercise it!

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  16. Muff Potter: They bank on the ignorance of rank and file pew serfs who dare not question them.

    A counterfeit pulpit would have no platform if it weren’t for a pew that is uninformed, misinformed, or willingly ignorant. MUCH has been said on Christian watchblogs and elsewhere to inform and warn the Body of Christ to steer clear of New Calvinism. To enter into an alliance with NeoCal ministers and ministries is to turn from truth, to be willingly ignorant. The New Calvinist bubble will eventually break … don’t be in it when it does.

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  17. Judas Maccabeus: ESS is largely an attempt to buttress his view of the status of women. They need ESS for their viewpoint to be taken seriously.

    If you can successfully subordinate Jesus through rotten theology, you will have no trouble subordinating women … if you buy the ESS lie, they own you. ESS is, of course, heresy. Teachings which diminish anyone by race, class or gender is bondage at its core.

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  18. Todd Wilhelm,

    Thank you for reminding me how silly the logic of the CBMWites can be: So the man images God in an “unmediated” way because he’s made out of ACTUAL DIRT instead of from another human. And “temporal priority” means that woman submits to man, but it DOESN’T mean that humans submit to creeping things and the fishes of the sea.

    And yeah, yeah that guy Paul said something about woman came from man, now man comes from woman so would you all please stop arguing about who’s better and let’s talk about Jesus. But that’s not important, we only listen to him when we can twist his words to back up what we already think.

    Oh wait, did we say that last part out loud? Oops.

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  19. CMT: please stop arguing about who’s better and let’s talk about Jesus

    The New Calvinists talk very little about Jesus. They preach a lot about ‘God’, but Christ gets barely a mention, and hardly a word is said about the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Piper and other NeoCal icons get more airtime than Jesus in a typical NeoCal sermon. They camp out (and twist) the epistles of Paul, but dodge the Gospels and words written in red.

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  20. “Some gospel dudebro.” Exactly. “By what authority” do they do these things? They have appointed *themselves* to positions of authority over the pew peons, but why on earth should the peons simply accept that? Who died and made *these guys* bishops? Did their churches even exist 20 or 30 years ago?

    The whole question of authority is the big fat elephant in the room.

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  21. So, being a raconteur and a pot stirrer…. It’s interesting to me in the narrative of creation the following: 1. Adam could be viewed as an imperfect and incomplete created being. 2. Eve was the only created being not created from “lesser” materials. 😉 3. Eve, as the last created being, could be viewed as the pinnacle of creation. Of course none of the dudebros would dare mention any of that.

    I also find it interesting that this originally Jewish creation story is told in evangelical circles without the context of other Jewish traditions and writings that claim Lilith as Adam’s first wife who was cast aside because she euphemistically “didn’t know her place”.

    Irinically, in the Calvinista dudebros universe, that would be more instructive because they are intent on everyone knowing their place, keeping their mouths shut, posteriors in pews, and lucre in the plate.

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  22. Well, at least the covenant info can be found online. My ex-church hide from public their membership covenant, church org. structure, their affiliation with SBC, and their own network of churches.

    Ironically, One of the church’s biblical “heart attitude” is to be “live an open and honest life”.

    Furthermore, leaders are taught by pastoral staffs that people who ask for the above info are trouble makers.

    What I am trying to say is that there are churches out there hide their identity from public.

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  23. Max,

    I agree with what you said about freedom. I’m not sure I’m on the same page about this part:

    “DO NOT sign a membership contract anywhere you go within the Body of Christ … you “signed” all you needed to when you put your faith in Jesus”

    I take you to mean local church membership, as a formal category, isn’t legitimate.

    If so, I have to question that. I think there are sound practical reasons why local congregations need to define who is part of them, and the rights and responsibilities involved.

    Some nondenominational churches don’t even have formal membership. In my opinion that absence should be just as much a red flag as the presence of overly restrictive membership agreements. The last church my husband and I attended had “partners” but no legal members, which meant that in effect the lead pastor was The Boss. I believe Mark Driscoll’s current “church” uses the same strategy to concentrate power. Ours wasn’t to that level but it still got ugly.

    So I don’t necessarily agree that contract membership itself is a problem. It’s not “biblical,” in a literal sense. It can certainly be abused. There might be better models out there. But done well, in a healthy community, surely it has its place?

    I’m curious to know what folks think about this. Although I’ve attended church practically my whole life, I’ve never been a member of one, so my experience is limited.

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  24. KEN F – (and sorry I couldn’t link to your comment; that doesn’t work anymore)

    I think I found something to help answer your question, “Does anyone know how to find it on archived versions of the CBMW site? Here is a part of that quote: ‘God intended priority given to the man as the original image of God.’”

    It’s in Bruce Ware’s book Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Wheaton Illinois: Crossway, 2005, page 140.

    I bought this several years ago when the ESS controversy heated up, along with Millard Erickson’s Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? but only read from Erickson, none from Ware. Shame on me.

    The quote is on page 140 of Chapter 6, which is entitled “Beholding the Wonder of the Triune Persons in Relational Community.” (More to be said on the Trinity as community, and to counter that I recommend a recent article in Christianity Today by Matthew Barrett, entitled “Evangelicals Have Made the Trinity a Means to an End. It’s Time to Change That.”

    Anyway, BRUCE WARE’S QUOTE:

    …Paul sees things differently. In two passages, 1 Corinthians 11:5-10 and 1 Timothy 2:12-15, Paul makes the point that women should recognize male authority in certain settings because God’s very creation of the man and the woman indicates that male headship was part of God’s design in creation. For example, in both passages, Paul refers to the simple fact that it was Adam who was created first, not the woman (1 Cor. 11:8; 1 Tim. 2:13). So evidently it mattered that God created the man first and the woman second. Evidently God’s point was not only to indicate that both are needed to fulfill what God intends for them, but also that in this relationship, the man has headship or authority, since the priority of the man over the woman is shown through his being created first [emphasis mine]. Further, in 1 Corinthians 11:9 Paul indicates that the man was not created for the woman’s sake but rather women should recognize male authority in the Christian community. Male headship, then, is part and parcel of the very created design of God for men and women, and this reflects something of God’s very triune nature.

    Elsewhere in the chapter or book there may be a more direct quote to answer your question, but this isn’t far off. And this book is very much the impetus of the CT article I mention above, which is a must-read.

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  25. CMT: I’m curious to know what folks think about this.

    I have mixed feelings. I think there is a need for a document that clarifies expectations, but many go way to far. Gym membership could be a good example. Most gyms required people to sign some kind of a medical release along with a document explaining the gym rules and the things for which members cannot sue the gym, and then let the person work out however they want as long as they don’t to things that injure themselves or others. That makes sense. But it would be abusive for a gym to require members to work out according a schedule and intensity prescribed by the gym manager and enforced by the trainers, with threats of punishment for not obeying, and no way to shift membership to a different gym without the consent of the gym owner and trainers. That would be creepy. It seems to me a church membership document should be more along the lines of something like a club or gym membership.

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  26. Ted: And this book is very much the impetus of the CT article I mention above, which is a must-read.

    Thanks for looking. I probably should read that book. It’s interesting how being created after something else means being lower priority. That makes men lower than dirt, lower than animals, lower than plants, lower than everything in the cosmos except for women.

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  27. Sowre-Sweet Dayes: What I am trying to say is that there are churches out there hide their identity from public.

    The SBC church I left a few years ago did a pretty poor job managing their website. I don’t think it was malicious, but there were few documents one could find online. One had to ask the church office for documents such as membership agreements, church constitution, detailed statement of faith, etc. That church has been on a slow drift toward Calvinism while denying they are Calvinist. But I don’t think it is a purposeful drift, just a naive drift.

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  28. Ken F (aka Tweed): The SBC church I left a few years … slow drift toward Calvinism while denying they are Calvinist

    That’s happening all over the SBC as thousands of traditional (non-Calvinist) churches are gradually getting with the program. It’s clear that the New Calvinists are clearly in control of the once-great evangelistic denomination … they have taken over all SBC entities (seminaries, mission agencies, publishing house, and a growing number of churches). Church leaders who want to maintain their affiliation with the SBC, as well as their retirement program, are getting on board or else. The pew ain’t got a clue that this is going on … if you keep their potlucks coming, most Southern Baptists are OK with theological drift in belief and practice … they have been easy targets for the Calvinista revolution.

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  29. CMT: I take you to mean local church membership, as a formal category, isn’t legitimate.

    No, what I’m saying is that church membership contracts are not legitimate. A believer is a formal member of the Body of Christ … no signed church documents necessary.

    CMT: But done well, in a healthy community, surely it has its place?

    Therein lies the problem. Locating “healthy” church communities, the real-deal Body of Christ, has becoming increasingly difficult in America’s Christian Industrial Complex. Things are not always what they seem … don’t get crippled by signing a restrictive membership agreement should you choose to leave. This is particularly concerning if you fall in the New Calvinist snare – these guys can get ugly with those who desire to exit their community.

    CMT: I’m curious to know what folks think about this.

    Dee has written extensively about this. You can read all about it here:

    http://thewartburgwatch.com/permpage-church-membership-covenants-legal-contracts-that-are-not-biblical/

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  30. Ken F (aka Tweed): Bruce Ware’s quote about women being made in the image of God in an indirect, derivative, and, mediated manner

    In the financial world, a derivative is a transaction that derives its value from the performance of an underlying commodity. When Ware calls women “derivatives”, he is implying that their value is linked to men … that they have no value in God outside of what men assign to them. In the Kingdom of God, that is dead wrong. These guys are blind guides which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

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  31. CMT,

    Max: CMT: But done well, in a healthy community, surely it has its place?
    Therein lies the problem. Locating “healthy” church communities, the real-deal Body of Christ has becoming increasingly difficult in America’s Christian Industrial Complex.

    CMT
    Let me ask you a question. Why in the world should I trust some pastor to correctly discipline me? It is my opinion that I don’t really know s pastor for a few years. Why should I submit to discipline when it hasn’t been spelled out a priori to me. By this, I mean exact standards. “You will be disciplined if you tell the pastor you disagree with his vision.”

    How do I know I’m in a healthy church? It took us 2 1/2 years to join our Lutheran church (LCMS.) We did not have to sign a membership contract. We merely had to sign a statement that said we were believers and that we thought the church was following God’s Word.

    I think lots of people are. hooked on the idea that you should sign the stupid covenant and be subject to the whims of sinful men. The pastors can be sinful. The church structure can be sinful.

    I have been in my present church for about 8 years. I have waited for the other shoe to drop. It hasn’t. I am happy there, I’m learning and growing and contributing.

    You are more than welcome to sign your name to a legal document and be subject to the “authority” of the pastors in your church. Hopefully, you don’t end up like Karen Hinkley who was discipline in front of 6,000 near and dear church members or Todd Wilhelm who spoke out against CJ Mahaney’s books being sold by a 9 Marks church.

    There are other ways to accomplish the mandates of the NT than the “biblical” church covenant. I know. I have seen it.

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  32. CMT: I take you to mean local church membership, as a formal category, isn’t legitimate.

    Also, I joined my church and am a member.I did not sign a membership covenant. I have two pastors who are kind and thoughtful. They have asked us if we would help with things around the church. We try to help where we can. We do not need a contract. We need simply to respect one another.

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  33. dee: How do I know I’m in a healthy church?

    IMO, there are some indicators you should look for. Is the Main Thing the main thing … is the Name of Jesus proclaimed above all others? Is the Gospel of Jesus being preached to ALL people? Is the Word of God held higher than the teachings and traditions of men? Do the teachings of the church conform to Scripture regarding its view of God, man, sin and salvation? Is the Holy Spirit allowed to operate or is He grieved, quenched and relegated to the back pew? Does the preacher ever say anything about the Holy Spirit? Are all believers treated equally, with no distinction in race, class or gender? Is the way, truth, and life in the Kingdom of God more important than denominational affiliation and theological persuasion? Are lost folks in the community being converted to faith in Christ through the outreach of the church? Are church leaders and members disciplined in prayer and Bible study? Are widows, orphans, and others in need ministered to by the church? Is every member of the church taught to identify and exercise their spiritual gifts? Are all members mobilized and engaged in the Great Commission individually and corporately? Is the church staying in its lane to preach, teach, and live the Gospel, rather than dabbling in entertainment, politics, and other affairs of mere men? Is every member treated by church leaders as being just as important to the Kingdom as they are? When God looks at the church, does He see the blood or pass over it?

    If these things are not at the core of a Christian ministry, they are doing church without God … in my humble, but accurate, opinion.

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  34. dee,

    Max,

    Thanks for your responses. This is thought-provoking.

    I understand Max’s point that I am a member of the Church de facto because I am a believer. I can contribute and grow without signing anything, and truly healthy congregations are hard to find. And I completely track with Dee that nobody should agree to a vague “discipline” via a potentially abusive “covenant” that gives a pastor or elders unilateral authority.

    I think I just have a hard time conceptualizing what membership (ie a voice in the decisions and direction of the congregation I participate in) looks like if there is no formal agreement. Perhaps I am being overly nit picky but this is not an academic question for me. I hope to soon begin seeking a new local church to participate in, but I truly don’t have the experience to know what is a “normal,” healthy way to handle this issue.

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  35. CMT–things may have changed since my aunt was part of a Church of God congregation, but at that time they had no formal membership. Where I live now many of the Pentecostals are “Free Pentecostals” meaning you have no formal membership. Business is conducted more by consensus than majority rule, so there is that.

    Many places we went when following the oil fields, small groups of like minded believers met in garages, living rooms, rented spaces, and even church buildings where the congregation owning the church “loaned” some other group space and time. We functioned much like a family of grown siblings. Everybody voiced an opinion, and usually what got done was what an individual just stepped up and did.

    It can get messy, but so can organized membership. Tailgate church works.

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  36. CMT,

    Jesus said, “Follow me.” He never made anyone sign on the dotted line.

    In my lifetime, I have been a participating member of 4 SBC churches. None of those churches required signatures on contracts. Those contracts are very recent additions to membership requirements. All of the churches that I have attended only required public, verbal professions of faith.

    Yes, there has been some church disciple and even expulsion, but it is rare, and only in extreme circumstances. And, all church decisions were made through congregational vote, open to all active members…… majority rule.

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  37. CMT,

    We are members of a Presbyterian church – don’t remember signing a single thing, and there is certainly no “contract”. They wanted to hear our testimony. The main benefit (to membership) that I see is we are eligible to vote on all congregational matters, including the budget which is published in detail!

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  38. CMT: think I just have a hard time conceptualizing what membership (ie a voice in the decisions and direction of the congregation I participate in) looks like if there is no formal agreement

    It works in my church and I have been there for @8 years, long enough to see if prblems developed. My pastors are incredible and know what I do. They don’t try to control me yet they are quick to ask us to serve in the community, which we do.

    It is a beautiful place and I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t have such a peaceful, thoughtful, encouraging place to worship and grow.

    All I can say is that I wish I had found it 10 years before I did.

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  39. Samuel Conner:
    Even if one is highly confident that the current potential discipliners are people of good character, there is no guarantee that they will remain the leaders one has to deal with for the duration of one’s association with a congregation. Who knows what the next crop of leaders will be like?

    YES.

    My husband and I encountered this. We used to joke that the senior pastor was a “benevolent dictator,” because nothing of substance ever changed/started unless it was his idea. But because he was basically a man of good character and a decent delegator, the church functioned mostly smoothly. When he retired, the church hired the associate pastor he’d basically groomed for the job.

    Within less than a year of the hire, the other associate pastor had left, the worship pastor was fired, church discipline was publicly enacted, major changes to the budget were announced literally the week after the congregation voted to approve it, the pastor was caught plagiarizing, I caught him in a bald-faced lie, and the church was “moving in a new direction” focused on the “true” gospel.

    It was becoming a cult. We weren’t the only family to notice and leave because of it.

    PASTORS need to be aware of this when they set up church governance, as well. Congregations need to be able to stand on their own two feet, and that means enacting checks and balances against even yourself, if you happen to be the senior pastor.

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  40. dee: You are more than welcome to sign your name to a legal document and be subject to the “authority” of the pastors in your church.

    The words of an old hymn comes to mind for folks who take the risk of signing membership contracts in authoritarian churches:

    You got to know when to hold ’em
    Know when to fold ’em
    Know when to walk away
    And know when to run

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  41. linda,

    I love this:

    “ We functioned much like a family of grown siblings. Everybody voiced an opinion, and usually what got done was what an individual just stepped up and did. It can get messy, but so can organized membership. Tailgate church works”

    Besides a body, a family of grown siblings has to be just about the most common NT metaphor for church. If it was like my blood family it would be loud, chaotic and with a high prevalence of ADHD. Maybe “tailgate church” would be a good fit haha.

    Dee and others who have responded above-thank you. It is good to know that there are churches like yours out there. Finding one locally might be another matter…

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  42. CMT: It is good to know that there are churches like yours out there. Finding one locally might be another matter…

    I was just thinking, I’m jealous of people who have found a good church and they have a sense of belonging there and there are no red flag issues. Then I thought, just about everyone who is in a good church situation has probably also gone through a number of bad situations. That is not a comforting thought – it just seems to be the way it is.

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