“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
“He insisted that I remove the post and that I apologize, confessing that I had sinned. Of course, I cannot confess to sinning without believing that I have sinned”
-Jacob Brunton, “Yesterday, I was Excommunicated.”
Dee and I, as well as many other bloggers, have written numerous articles on spiritually abusive church leaders. We have warned readers of the hazards of signing membership contracts. Dee has even provided a helpful article on how one can resign from a church that is attempting to apply “church discipline” to someone who has signed a membership contract. Personally, I would never sign a membership “covenant,” or, as I prefer to call it, a membership contract. I find no biblical basis for such a thing. Further, I would never even attend a church that requires a Christian to sign a covenant/contract to become a member. If you are searching for a church to attend, do your homework. Most churches have a website – check it out prior to attending. In the section concerning church membership, see if the church requires you to attend new member classes for 4-6 weeks. If so, they usually require you to attend these classes and then sign a membership contract. If you can’t find anything about membership classes or contracts search for affiliations. If the church is affiliated with 9Marks that is generally a good clue that they will require new members to sign a membership contract. You can also go to the 9Marks website and look on their church search page to see whether the church you are thinking of visiting is listed. If so, I would suggest crossing that church off your list of churches to visit.
Unfortunately, bloggers such as Dee and I will likely never run out of spiritual abuse stories to write about. Today I share yet another story of heavy-handed spiritual abuse by authoritarian “Elders” in an SBC church.
I led off with the video of Martin Luther because I believe that, like Luther, Jacob Brunton (the hero of today’s story) stood up to those in leadership positions who attempted to force him to compromise his own conscience. While Brunton’s stand is not equivalent to Luthers in terms of the radical change it brought about in Christianity, it is similar in that Brunton refused to bow to pressure and compromise his conscience.
Jacob Brunton is an intelligent, well educated, articulate, principled Christian man. He is active on social media and writes for a blog called “For the New Christian Intellectual.”
Jacob Brunton was recently excommunicated from his church because he refused to repent of “sins” the church “elders” accused him of. The sinful actions, according to the “elders,” were items Brunton had written about and posted on both his Facebook account and his blog.
The material in question has been reposted by Brunton on “Medium,” in a post titled, “Setting the Record Straight — The Original Post,” as well as on his blog, “For the New Christian Intellectual” in an article titled, “Renouncing Disgraceful & Underhanded Ways—A Plea to Southern Seminary & Its Defenders.”
As quoted at the top of this article, Brunton has stated that “He (an “elder”) insisted that I remove the post and that I apologize, confessing that I had sinned. Of course, I cannot confess to sinning without believing that I have sinned”
Below is a quote from Brunton’s article, “Renouncing Disgraceful & Underhanded Ways – A Plea to Southern Seminary & Its Defenders.” This should give you a good idea of the nature of the dispute between Brunton and his former church “elders.”
So the two issues in this controversy are the doctrine of inerrancy and postmodern hermeneutics. This is not a controversy over “the color of the carpet.” This is not even a controversy over some “secondary” or “non-essential” doctrinal issue by almost any model of “triage” one could find in conservative evangelicalism. This is a controversy over doctrinal convictions which our historical conservative heroes of the faith have waged theological and institutional wars over. This is not to say that Dr. Fuller’s charges about the teachings of these men is accurate. It is to say that the question of whether or not they are accurate is of profound significance.
Evasion at the Seminary
And now we are ready to evaluate the way some of Southern Seminary’s defenders have responded to Dr. Fuller’s charges. Did they carefully evaluate the writings of the professors which Dr. Fuller cited, in order to judge whether Dr. Fuller’s charges were accurate descriptions of their writings? Did they offer and argue for some other plausible readings of the texts which Dr. Fuller had cited—readings which were compatible with orthodoxy on the issues in question? Did they at least acknowledge that the writings in question were worded in such a way as to potentially cause confusion on those important issues, and that clarification would be forthcoming?
They didn’t do any of that.
In fact, they did not acknowledge the concerns raised by Dr. Fuller at all.
Instead, the seminary released carefully tailored interviews with the professors in question (Dr. Hernandez and Dr. Pennington), wherein the professors were not asked a single question about the specific concerns raised regarding what they had written. They were asked about their current convictions on related topics, but never about how their professed orthodoxy squared with the writings in question.
This, in itself, is an outrage.
The lesson of the Conservative Resurgence—in particular, the lesson which Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. himself taught us about the Conservative Resurgence within the seminary—is that mere professions of orthodoxy must be tested against actual teachings which may contradict those professions. In fact, Dr. Mohler once explained that the reason the theologically liberal faculty were able to sign the conservative confessions of faith was because they had adopted a postmodern hermeneutic which allowed them to question and twist authorial intent—not only of the Scriptures, but of the confessions as well. This is the very concern raised by Dr. Fuller about one of the current faculty members. That the seminary, under Dr. Mohler’s leadership, thinks it is unnecessary to evaluate the actual writings in question is as strong an indication as any that the seminary’s doctrinal defenses have once again fallen.
That is a strong claim, so allow me to re-emphasize and to clarify. I am not saying that Dr. Hernandez and Dr. Pennington are actually teaching heterodoxy, and that this is evidence of the seminary’s defenses having fallen. It could be entirely true that Dr. Fuller is mistaken about the teachings of Hernandez and Pennington, and I would still claim that the seminary’s defenses have fallen. Why? Because the seminary has displayed no concern for examining whether Dr. Fuller’s charges are accurate or not. The seminary has communicated, through their hasty interviews with the professors in question, that it does not care to evaluate the specific teachings of those professors, and that it prefers to instead rely on their mere professions of orthodoxy. The seminary has publicly indicated that it has abandoned the policy once utilized by Dr. Mohler to guard against theological liberalism, and that it has adopted the policy which allowed theological liberalism to thrive prior to Mohler’s presidency.
Yesterday I was alerted to an article Jacob Brunton had published on September 14, 2020, titled, “Yesterday, I Was Excommunicated.”
I think it best to quote directly from Brunton’s account of events:
“Seventeen years ago today, I was baptized.
Yesterday, I was excommunicated.
Though, that is not entirely accurate.
It would be more precise to say that the elders of the church I used to attend declared that I was excommunicated, apart from any membership vote, apart from allowing the members to hear any counter-arguments, and apart from any biblical or legitimate process of discipline.
I have two aims in discussing this matter publicly:
The first is to “set the record straight,” so to speak, since the elders’ declaration has been made public to the members of the church, and will be made public to the extent that anyone inquires about my membership status.
The second is to be a warning, and an encouragement, to other brothers and sisters in the faith who might find themselves in the midst of such abusive actions by their elders. Based on numerous accounts which have been reported to me, along with my own personal experience, I have reason to believe that similar abuse, in the name of “discipline,” is something the Church needs to be discussing and warning about.
However, I want to be clear that my aim is not any form of retribution against the elders or against the church. I have entrusted them to Him who judges justly, and I will ask that you join me in earnestly praying for their repentance and renewal in the faith.
Because I do not want this to function in any way as retribution against the elders or the church, I will omit the names of both the elders and the church involved. The majority of those who already know the name of the church to which I refer are also members of that church, and they have been instructed not to communicate or associate with me at all. Therefore, this is the only manner in which they are able to learn the truth about what transpired.”
Jacob Brunton is correct when he stated that the Church needs to be discussing and warning about abusive (my word) “discipline.” While I understand Brunton’s desire to not name the elders or church involved, I hope he understands my belief that the most effective way of putting an end to spiritually abusive church “leaders” is to expose them. Name names, name their church, and name their deeds. At a minimum, even if the abusive “leaders” do not reform their behavior, potential new church members may be warned off.
That said, here is the information on Brunton’s former church:
Here is what Redeemer Church refers to as “our affiliations.” I prefer to call them warning signs.
As I have previously stated, if a church affiliates with 9Marks, it’s almost a certainty that they will have a church
covenant contract. Supplementing the church covenant contract is the church discipline form you must sign to become a member. I couldn’t locate the church bylaws on their website, but they are generally very vague as it relates to discipline.
Now back to Brunton’s narrative:
“From the beginning of this process of “church discipline” (which I intentionally put in scare quotes), the elders communicated disdain and contempt toward my honest attempts to be a “Berean” regarding the claims they were making. I repeatedly and earnestly sought to understand the biblical rationale for their claims against me, and I was repeatedly rebuked and punished for doing so. They made it clear, in several ways throughout this process, that it was not the Word of God to which they wanted me to submit, but their own arbitrary will, which they claimed was based in the Word of God, while refusing to substantiate that claim, and while penalizing me for requesting that they do so.”
Ah yes, abusive leaders never want any questions. I have encountered the exact same reaction when I dared question a senior pastor – they don’t like my “tone” or I am not “winsome” enough. While I admit I am not a butt-kisser (another word for winsome) Mr. Senior Pastor should take a look in the mirror. His face is flush with anger. He is seething that a lowly rock-throwing peasant would dare question him. It is my belief that this is a major reason we so frequently so the Big Eva celebrities ranting about the evils of social media. They want to control the conversation and have never been fans of a level playing field. This is why the 9Marks site quit allowing comments several years ago. Kevin DeYoung and Tim Challies have followed suit.
“In May, I published a post on Facebook which was critical of some SBC pastors regarding their responses to the controversy at Southern Seminary. One of the elders of my church contacted me over FB Messenger, with another elder in the conversation. He told me he was contacting me “as a brother” (rather than as a representative of the elders), because this post was the first time he thought a formal call to repentance was warranted. (The accusation centered on “slander” but often included references to “uncharitableness,” etc…). He insisted that I remove the post and that I apologize, confessing that I had sinned. Of course, I cannot confess to sinning without believing that I have sinned, so I inquired as to his reasons for believing I was in sin.
After much discussion over the course of multiple days, wherein one of the elders defended the actions of Southern Seminary, the accusing elder was not able to substantiate his accusation of sinfulness against me. This was in spite of my ongoing attempts to help him clarify and identify exactly what he believed to be sinful and why. At each point where it seemed like he had communicated what he believed to be sinful about the post, I would repeat my understanding of his position and ask if I was correct, only to be told that I was incorrect.
Moreover, the accusing elder repeatedly cited my requests for substantiation (of his charges) as further evidence of my sinfulness, while insisting that it was my responsibility to demonstrate that I was not guilty of his charges. I explained that he was (likely unwittingly) employing a kafka trap (holding me as guilty until I proved myself innocent, and counting any attempt I made to defend myself as further evidence of my guilt). He finally became exasperated and volunteered to end the discussion until he could bring it to the other elders.”
This too is a common reaction. Abusive leaders are generally never questioned; when they are questioned, especially by someone with a sharp mind, they quickly fold. This guy ended the discussion and said he would bring it to the other elders. That’s kind of like having a couple Jehovah’s Witnessed come to your door and when you ask them a few questions they have no answer for they will show up the following week with their sharper brother.
“I then met with the two other elders (who were not in the FB chat, but who were aware of it) in person. In spite of the fact that they had given only a few hours for the meeting, one of the elders kept attempting to bring up many other issues, instead of discussing the formal charge of sin which had been brought against me. He even attempted to claim that there was a sinful pattern of behavior on my part, which they had repeatedly addressed with me in the past. I responded in shock, explaining that to my recollection they had never communicated to me before that they thought I was in sin, and that to my knowledge, all of our past conversations had been aimed at resolving personal differences regarding matters of preference in tone and style of writing. The other elder even affirmed this, explaining that it would have been a failure to shepherd on their part if they had thought I was in sin in the past without communicating so to me.”
I have seen all this behavior myself. I have to wonder if maybe these abusive leaders have been taught this behavior at a 9Marks Weekender Conference, or maybe there’s a book called “Abusive Christian Leadership for Dummies.”
I could continue on and quote the entire article, but I encourage you to read it for yourself. Brunton’s experience was sadly typical. He relates how he went from his “First Official Warning” to his “Second Official Warning” in less than 24 hours. All I can say is Brunton has more patience than I. He stayed the course all the way to the inevitable ending of being excommunicated. I would have bailed when they first attempted to get me to delete my post. I don’t blame Brunton. He was correct, he had truth on his side so chose to make a principled stand. Below are screenshots of some of the email exchanges that Brunton had with his former “elders.”
Finally, here is a video clip from a sermon by one of the elders from Redeemer Church of Ft. Worth.
“Man, I could be off here, but this sure sounds like a sinful cult.” -Watch the video and you will understand.
I would have to say being excommunicated from this horrifying church is probably the best thing that could have happened to Jacob Brunton. Who would want to attend a church like this?