Part Three: Analysis
Preface to Part Three
In offering the following interpretation of events, practices, and teachings of the Blitz movement as it existed in the 1970s and '80s I make no claim to know all the facts, nor denial that I may yet be misinformed on some things - nor do I wish to assert that my interpretations are the only possible ones. I do feel I have done my best to learn the truth throughout the writing of this history, and whatever error may still remain is due to the frailty of human memory or to a measure of unresponsiveness on the part of some of my reviewers.
I would like to make it very clear at the outset of this analysis that I fully acknowledge that there was much that was good and praiseworthy about the Blitz, in spite of all I have reported in Part Two. First of all, in every area of essential doctrine the Blitz has always been thoroughly orthodox, holding to the full and complete inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture; the unique tri-unity of three Persons in the one Godhead; the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ; the Person and work of the Holy Spirit; salvation by grace through faith alone; the eternal security of the believer; the church in its universal and local forms; its government by plurality of elders; and the second-coming of Christ (including a premillenial, pre-tribulational rapture of the church).
Secondly, Blitz leaders have always been strong in instilling a sense of mission in those who fellowship with them. This is an important understanding which most Christians lack. God has left us in this world for a purpose, and we need to discern that purpose and fulfill it. Christ has not merely saved us so we can do whatever we please; rather, he has saved us and called us with a holy calling - i.e., to experience and exhibit his life in this world of sin, and that includes serving him by working for the evangelization of the world and the bringing to spiritual maturity of those who believe.
A third strength of the Blitz has been in the area of building Christ-like character into individual lives. Too many churches teach the Bible as if it were a psychology textbook - something you apply to others, but not to yourself. The Blitz strongly encourages personal application, and there is a generally healthy emphasis on the need for each of us to become more like Christ.
The realization of the importance of prayer as a way of life is yet a fourth strong-point, and this is probably the single most important factor in the success the Blitz has seen in evangelism. Again, too many churches neglect corporate prayer altogether, or relegate it to a scant half-hour weekly - and it is often questionable how many Christians have healthy personal devotional lives.
Finally, in spite of much disagreement with its methods and overall concept, I find it praiseworthy that the Blitz sees and enthusiastically accepts the responsibility of evangelism.
I also want to make very clear that in spite of my disagreement
with certain individuals involved in the Blitz movement, and in spite of my rejection
of much of their ideology and methodology, my love for them as my brothers and sisters
in Christ has not been diminished. Rather, my feelings are mainly of sadness for
the deep hurt caused to literally hundreds of young Christians throughout at least
the first twenty years of Blitz history. I must also add that the conditions described
in the following pages (and, for that matter, in the foregoing pages as well) were
not found in equal degree throughout the movement. What I am about to describe is
based on my own experience and observation, as well as that of many others from
about 8 or 10 fellowships associated with the Blitz during the 1970s and 1980s.
Conditions varied depending on the relative strength and independence of the local
leadership, but the overall character of the movement was clear.
Ever since my days in Tucson (December 1971 through May 1973) there had been certain things that disturbed me about the assemblies associated with the Blitz. One difficulty that proved to be much more basic and far-reaching than I realized at the time was a division in the church between what I would term the “teaching party” and the “evangelism party,” the former preferring to attend Bible studies and teaching meetings, the latter zealous in witnessing to others about Christ. This division also broke down roughly between the physically older and younger members, respectively. The elders basically sided with the “evangelism party,” while I primarily agreed with the “teaching party.” Since the elders (Brian Catalano and Mike Begley) were still young men in their 20s and there were men in the assembly who were in their 40s and who had studied the Bible most of their lives, the former allowed their youth to be “despised” (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12) to the extent that they failed to exercise consistently strong leadership. (I don't fault them for this - I probably would have performed far less adequately.) At any rate, as a result, the argument behind the division that existed in the church became more and more theoretical - i.e., a subject of discussion rather than action. There were only sporadic attempts at aggressive, corporate evangelism, although the “evangelism party” earnestly desired that this become a regular part of the church program. The teaching became less systematic, more hit or miss or based on spur of the moment “burdens” - and we began to simply mark time as an assembly.
The division into two parties, however, was just the symptomatic manifestation. The underlying problem was a faulty concept of the church and Christian responsibility. The facts as I understand and interpret them have convinced me that the prevailing ecclesiastic ideology among most of these assemblies amounted to an unscripturally narrow view of the church as little more than an evangelistic team, somewhat more aggressive (and baptizing and “bread-breaking”) than Campus Crusade for Christ, and a little less mobile than Operation Mobilization. In fact, the only fundamental difference between many Blitz groups and Campus Crusade was that the former called their leaders elders or pastors and practiced the church ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper - but is that sufficient to make a group a church?
If the church were meant to be nothing more than an enhanced evangelistic team, then the Solid Rock Fellowship of Columbus, and the Blitz movement as a whole, would, in many respects, have been right on target - the gospel teams we see in Scripture (Jesus' and Paul's) are characterized by many of the things that the elders of the assemblies in question seemed to want to characterize their own congregations. But there are some vital differences between teams and churches that are generally obscured here, with the result that many Blitz groups were neither New Testament teams nor New Testament churches, but rather hybrids seeking to combine into one the characteristics of both. This hybridization works no better than mixing oil with water, for the differences between teams and churches are frequently irreconcilable.
For example, both Paul and Jesus hand-picked the members of their teams - this cannot be done in the case of the church, but rather anyone whom Jesus has accepted must be received by the church (Romans 15:7), except in the case of proven immorality or doctrinal heresy involving essentials. Secondly, both Jesus and Paul kept certain other people off their teams because of lack of dedication or zeal; but these are not legitimate reasons to refuse church fellowship, either by denying reception to someone, or by expelling him, or even by making him feel so uncomfortable he leaves on his own (cf. Colossians 3:21). Thirdly, by definition, the team is limited in purpose and function, and its members can rightly be expected to perform in a certain prescribed way, with disobedience punishable by expulsion. But a church is not limited to only one or two purposes - there is a variety of gifts and ministries, and there are few rules to govern the function of individual church members. There must be liberty for the Holy Spirit to direct individuals as he wills, not simply as the elders will (unless, of course, they coincide). But in the assemblies associated with the Blitz unity was too often found more in the activity of the group than in the life of Christ shared by all the members in common. Hence, the “unity” that was forged was really more a uniformity, both of thought and action. Instead of fostering the freedom of Christ for which he set us free, this concept produced bondage as individuals were pressed into lines of service in which they were never meant to be.
In these respects many Blitz groups functioned more as teams than as churches - in some this was much more pronounced than in others. They tended to be so narrowly goal-oriented (i.e., militantly evangelistic) that they adopted team-like requirements for membership (albeit unspoken) and those who failed to measure up in terms of performance or attitude were sometimes unceremoniously rifted from the ranks. Even in cases in which genuine offenses were committed, unscripturally severe discipline was meted out occasionally to remove the offender from the group.
Other differences may be noted between New Testament teams and
the Blitz of the 1970s and '80s:
1. New Testament teams were extremely mobile, almost constantly traveling from place to place. Paul and those with him usually spent only a few days to a few weeks in any one place, the major exceptions being Corinth (a year and a half) and Ephesus (three years). Yet even in these latter places Paul seems to have operated within the church context once it had been established - and it is significant that he never appointed himself or his co-workers as elders. Jesus and the Twelve were so mobile they had nowhere to lay their heads, i.e., no permanent home, as they traveled the length and breadth of Palestine.
The Blitz, by contrast, established itself in stationary locations, becoming only temporarily mobile for the purpose of holiday and summer evangelistic campaigns and conferences. In that they were normally stationary Blitz groups resembled churches; in that they typically pushed for 100% participation in campaigns they resembled teams.
2. New Testament teams were always small, ranging in size from 2 to 9 (Acts 13:2; 20:4, 5). Blitz teams, on the contrary, were usually quite large (up to 150 or more on occasion) due to their penchant for enlisting the entire assembly membership for the team activities. No such attempts are indicated in the New Testament; rather, just the opposite. In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit called for Barnabas and Saul only, not the whole church, to launch out in missionary service. In Acts 16 Paul chose only Timothy out of the church in Lystra, leaving the rest to carry on the life and ministry of the local body there.
3. New Testament teams were careful to cooperate with existing churches in areas where they operated, rather than seeking to establish “their own” churches, unless there were none. At the very beginning of his ministry Paul did not set out to “do his own thing” but “was with the disciples who were at Damascus” (Acts 9:19). Later Barnabas and then Paul went to Antioch to work with the brothers who had founded the church there (not to start their own), and after they left on their journeys they continued to sense a responsibility to report back to their “sending church.” Paul also worked in close association with the church in Jerusalem, even seeking humble fellowship with the men he once sought to persecute. In addition, Paul was eager to visit Rome to meet the Christians there and add to what others had begun among them.
In contrast to this, most Blitz groups ordinarily cooperated only
sporadically and minimally with other fellowships and churches, preferring instead
to devote all their time and energy to their own separate activities. While other
organizations have occasionally invited Blitz groups to participate with them in
special activities (e.g., Campus Crusade's Josh McDowell lectures and “Here's
Life, America” campaign), the Blitz rarely, if ever, reciprocated. In fact, Blitz
members were strongly dissuaded from concurrent involvement with other campus groups,
because that would be a failure to maintain a “single eye.”38
Finally, whenever the Blitz moved into a new area it was always with a view to establishing
a church of its own, never with the intent to discover which churches were already
doing a good work and cooperating with them.
This “team-church” concept was manifested in an intensive, highly organized evangelistic program geared for whole-church participation. Everything else was subordinated to the evangelistic program, including teaching, discipling and personal growth, counseling, prayer, and social activities. Evangelism should have an important place in the life of any church, but not to the diminishing or restriction of other important aspects of church life and responsibility. There was a serious failure in many Blitz fellowships, I believe, in understanding how the different spiritual gifts and ministries of the various members of the local church work together and contribute to the overall thrust of evangelism and discipleship (see page 59). The effect of much of the Blitz' teaching (even if not the intent) was that most people spent far more time and effort in evangelism and evangelism dominated activities than they did in exercising their gifts or fulfilling their ministries (cf. 1 Timothy 4:14; Colossians 4:17). Those who didn't participate fully or at all in the church's evangelistic program were at best considered to be wasting their time in “second-best” activities, at worst to be positively rebelling against God - and the latter was, unfortunately, not an infrequent charge. Further, the teaching that because all Christians have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” and that therefore every decision and activity must be weighed in that light (see page 29) led, at least on occasion, to an unbiblical and unbalanced lifestyle that some might term fanaticism. Underlying this teaching, at least in the Blitz, was the conviction that every believer should be engaged in intense, aggressive evangelism, regardless of what his or her specific spiritual gifts and ministries might have been otherwise. Focusing on evangelism to the near-exclusion of everything else has the result of truncating the full range of life experience that it is God's desire for his children to enjoy (cf. 1 Tim. 6:17).
I really have no objection to team evangelism - no one can deny
that we find examples of it in the Bible. What I do object to, and, I believe,
on firm biblical grounds, is the attempt to make the evangelistic team co-extensive
with the church by applying team principles to the church. Biblically there is no
warrant for this, and the results are not merely detrimental to full church life
and growth, but are potentially disastrous. Not only are church members pressed
into a narrow mold that most of them were never meant to fill (because of their
differing God-given gifts and intended ministries) and thus will suffer stunted
or deformed spiritual growth individually and corporately, but also their personal
problems will likely continue to be unsolved because of the simplistic view that
their solution is to be found by more active evangelism. While this may be part
of the solution, I fail to see how it can ever be the whole solution, and
in fact it seems to indicate an attitude that problems can be solved by covering
them or drowning them out with activity. My thought when I left the Blitz
in 1977 was that if the leaders of the Blitz movement wanted to involve themselves
in team evangelism they were free to do so, but they should have abandoned the charade
of claiming to be involved in New Testament church ministries.
Another clear evidence to me of the presence of this “team-church”
concept was the subject matter of the teaching we had been receiving in Columbus
for quite some time prior to my withdrawal from the church there. It had become
apparent to me (and I know it had to others also) that for a good while we were
fed a deficient spiritual diet consisting of large quantities of milk, very little
meat, and hardly any variation in menu. As I reviewed my notes from the teaching
and thought back over the year and a half or two before my departure I observed
that with only occasional and fleeting exceptions the teaching we received fell
into one or another of only three categories: (1) evangelism (exhortation
to evangelize or instruction in how to); (2) discipleship, including life-style
and character (exhortation to be disciples or instruction in how to make
disciples); and (3) positional truths related to the life, death, burial, resurrection,
resurrected life, and glorification of Christ (what Bill Taylor emphasized, and
just about the only subject area that really gave us any spiritual meat to chew
on). Even in our small group discussion-studies of individual New Testament books
the focus was on the implementation of our own particular ideas on evangelism and
discipleship. These things, while important, are hardly the “whole counsel of God”
(Acts 20:27). For example, after nearly four years we had never received
any definitive teaching on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, other than a
series on spiritual gifts taught by Bill Taylor from February 9 to May 4, 1975.
(In Tucson spiritual gifts were taught after the manner of Bill Gothard of the Institute
in Basic Youth Conflicts on October 18, 1973, in a day-long session. The effect
in the lives of most of the members was, however, minimal, and at the time the leadership
showed no greater acceptance of the diversity of gifts and ministries other than
mere lip-service. The prevailing Blitz ideology militated against the discovery
and use of individual gifts, and there was no follow-up to help the believers find
their place in the local body. Spiritual gifts were for a long time rarely mentioned
Strategy to Reach the World
Underlying even this basic fallacy of the “team-church” was another more basic error, namely the “strategy” or “heavenly vision.” I'm willing to grant that when Jim McCotter first went out on his own he saw the tremendous need in the world for the gospel, and that he had a genuine burden to do something about it. Unfortunately, the solution that developed in Jim's mind - and consequently in his practice and teaching - was really a lot of human logic mixed with a little bit of Scripture - taken out of context and misinterpreted, at that. Using such passages as Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 8:39, 40; 26:19, 20; Romans 15:17-19; 2 Corinthians 10:12-16; and 1 Thessalonians 1:8, Jim concluded that every believer is to engage in a peripatetic evangelistic ministry in imitation of the Apostle Paul. In addition, he also became convinced that most attention should be focused on what later became known as the “most available (or accessible) labor pool” - meaning the location or section of society in which the church can most easily and quickly see individuals saved and made into productive laborers in the evangelistic harvest (also meaning, with only rare exceptions, the university campus). This idea, alien to the Scriptures, was especially emphasized during Herschel Martindale's visit to Columbus in February 1977. Another way this idea is expressed is by saying we should labor in the place where we can see “the most” happen (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19f.).
Now, of course we should be interested in seeing laborers raised up, and we ought to be where we can see the most happen in accordance with God's will for us individually - but there are problems of definition and interpretation involved in this, not the least of which is that in the context of 1 Corinthians 9 Paul says he reaches “the most” not by limiting his territory or his methods, but by expanding them (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul aimed at “all men,” not just those he imagined to be the “most available”; but by some sort of hermeneutical legerdemain the Blitz leaders said he teaches just the opposite.
One question that immediately arises in connection with this is: how should we gauge what “the most” is? By the number of professions of faith in Christ? By the number of persevering disciples that are made? Or by something less tangible, less readily measured, such as helping believers to experience a total and mature spiritual life, or preparing the hearts of unbelievers to be won to Christ by someone coming later? The concept that prevailed in the Blitz assemblies with which I am familiar did not seem to leave room for that last gauge of fruitfulness. If the “most available labor pool” theory were followed consistently no one would ever think of being a missionary to North Africa or Afghanistan unless those were the last places on earth to be evangelized, and the farming country of the American Midwest would be overlooked and avoided as being unprofitable - one simply does not find masses of people there who are at a stage in their lives in which they are “ripe” for the gospel, or ready to launch out on evangelistic missions. But the people who live in these places are just as much loved by God as anyone, even college students, and it is his will that someone take the gospel to them. Even though a missionary to Algeria may see no conversions in his entire lifetime of service, he can greatly advance the cause of the gospel simply by making Christians (and hence the Christian message) more acceptable to Muslims by living an exceptional life among them, and engaging in what is called “pre-evangelism,” i.e., winning a hearing and “plowing up the fallow ground.” In short, I believe the view of the church and missions that prevailed in the Blitz in the 1970s and '80s was myopic.
Beyond this, it seems inconceivable that when Jesus gave the Great Commission (as expressed in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8) he literally meant that each of the disciples was to go to every country, though this was the conclusion to which most Blitz teaching on the subject pointed (as, for example, in the “GO Book” by Henry Hintermeister, who has long since repudiated this notion and left the Blitz). This is not only a physical impossibility, it is also a logical absurdity. Even if the apostles spent only two or three weeks in each place, it would have taken longer than most of them had to live in order to cover the whole world. Nor is it correct to believe the early Christians evangelized the entire world of their day, as is often said. New Testament references to the gospel spreading throughout the world are to be understood as literary hyperbole, i.e., exaggeration for effect. The oldest evidence of the gospel's penetration as far as China dates only as far back as ca. 635 a.d.,39 and there is no record of the gospel's arrival in the Western Hemisphere at least until the voyages of Columbus in the 15th century.
In addition, it is really beside the point to think in terms of political states in regard to fulfilling the Great Commission. Can we consider a country evangelized when it has X number of missionaries? Should our goal be to get at least one missionary into each country? If a worker gets raised up in Tibet must he go to another country just to obey this stricture - or should he remain in his own tremendously needy land? I think this line of thinking misses the point. It doesn't take much reflection to realize that the world has changed dramatically since Jesus' time - the kingdoms and empires of his day have all vanished, with the exception of Iran (Persia) and China, and these have changed their borders and forms of government. Therefore, for Jesus to have given any emphasis to political entities would have been meaningless for us today, since kingdoms are constantly rising and falling and their boundaries are frequently altered. It makes far more sense to think in terms of places, or better yet, communities of people. The Greek word for “nations” in Matthew 28:19 is ethnos, meaning “folk” or “ethnic group,” indicating that the Lord's emphasis was on the people rather than the places. The Lord isn't concerned so much that each country have a missionary or even a church - he's more concerned that all men and women hear the gospel of salvation. The Blitz, however, came up with this “strategy” of reaching into the “most available labor pool” in order to “win the most,” and in so doing they put more emphasis on being in the “right” geographical location and discriminated unbiblically among categories of people.
Concerning laborers, it's a remarkable (and overlooked) fact that Jesus, in speaking to the disciples about the need for the harvest, did not tell them to evangelize for the purpose of raising up laborers, but to pray for laborers, i.e., to ask and believe God to raise them up, rather than to expend a lot of merely human and fleshly energy in the endeavor. When the disciples went out, they went out “among the villages, preaching and healing everywhere” (Luke 9:6) - they didn't look for something they could call “the most available labor pool”! Another fact that seems to be overlooked is that while Paul remained in Ephesus for three years, the whole province of Asia was being reached with the gospel - if the early believers had been following the “most available labor pool” strategy they would not have spent any time in the smaller towns and villages except just to pass through them on their way to the larger population centers that, theoretically, should have been evangelized first. As Roland Allen points out in his book Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?, Paul didn't focus his evangelism on any one or two classes of people - he witnessed to anyone he could, going wherever the Holy Spirit opened doors and gave opportunity. It was the Lord who raised up the laborers. The “most available labor pool” theory of evangelism, rather than being biblical or spiritual, is simply an extremely utilitarian, human idea - it indicates more of a desire to see people saved for what they can produce than for who they are or because of their intrinsic worth as creatures in God's image. The proper goal of evangelism is not workers, but “children of God.”
Jim McCotter and other Blitz leaders had such a strong goal-orientation
(i.e., to achieve “the evangelization of the world in our generation”) that literally
everything was subordinated to that end and influenced by it. This goal loomed
so large on the Blitz horizon, in fact, that even scriptural truth and historical
fact became unconsciously distorted in its withering rays. The goal had to
be reached, and the “strategy” therefore was of utmost importance. One former leader
of the movement termed Blitz philosophy “pragmatic expediency,” and said that this
“expediency is the central basis of [Blitz] theology, not TRUTH as TRUTH alone.”
Jim McCotter was extremely zealous for the Lord, his motives were, I'm again
willing to grant, unimpeachable, and he was a gifted evangelist and exhorter. But
as a teacher he unconsciously wore his “strategy” as a horse wears blinkers,
to prevent him from properly relating his evangelistic road to the rest of the scriptural
countryside. (For more on this subject, see Appendix One: The Gospel, Unity, and
This utilitarian view of things carried over also into discipleship. In most assemblies associated with the Blitz individuals were encouraged to spend time teaching or helping a person only so long as he responded positively to instructions and conformed to the discipler's expectation of what he ought to be doing - which primarily meant he should be involved wholeheartedly in the evangelistic effort on the nearby campus or in the community. The biblical injunction to help the weak and encourage the fainthearted (1 Thessalonians 5:14) seemed to be interpreted to mean that the weak and fainthearted were such either because they were “not rejoicing,” or because they were not evangelizing enough (or at all) and that all their problems would be resolved by active and joyful participation in the evangelization program. They merited help and encouragement only to the degree they saw this as their problem and began to witness more aggressively. Those who didn't agree with this view and didn't respond the way the elders thought they ought to (according to their narrow understanding) got dropped by the wayside, and the wish often developed, at least subconsciously, that they would just go away and stop being a “weight” holding back the progress of the church. I personally heard brothers connected with three or four Blitz assemblies say that their churches had, or ought to, “cut off the dead wood” - a reference to getting rid (actively or passively) of ones who were slow to respond to the program or had “lost the vision” (or never found it). Though perhaps not universal, that attitude was not very far beneath the surface in many Blitz groups. I also distinctly recall being told that the fellowship in Tucson had been “purified” following a “great falling away” in the summer of 1973.
Rather than putting individuals out of the church, or even wishing
they would just go away because they're not contributing to the church's
life or program, or even because they're downright carnal, the church
ought to seek to help them (Galatians 6:1f.). In his book God's Forgetful
Pilgrims Michael Griffiths writes:
If you are building a new community out of sinful men and women, you are foolishly idealistic if you expect to get away without problems arising. As the Puritan Richard Baxter once said, 'The church on earth is a mere hospital'! Those of us who have been admitted as in-patients have come within its walls precisely because we are sinners in need of treatment. The doctor on his ward round does not castigate the recently admitted patient because he is not yet fully recovered. He came to the hospital because he needed treatment. It would be very foolish to criticize hospitals as ineffective because their inmates are sick.40
One of the greatest dangers of the “team-church” concept is that it produces such a fast pace and such an intensive program that young Christians will either get burned out spiritually (and sometimes emotionally) or else they will grow up into spiritual deformity, lacking the balance of the whole counsel of God. Also, there is often more whitewash than mortar in the new saints - they look good, but underneath the exterior there are cracks and holes. The house erected the fastest can collapse the quickest.
Another way to put this is to say the Blitz created spiritual hothouses in which to force spiritual growth in an unnaturally climate-controlled environment. Much as tomatoes are forced to ripen or carnations are made to bloom in January in hothouses, so young believers were forced into outward conformity to the Blitz' image of a “true disciple.” But, also as the hothouse tomato lacks much of the sweetness of the vine-ripened variety, so the “hothouse disciple” lacks much of the inner maturity of the believer who is allowed to grow according to the Holy Spirit's schedule and methods. The story is told of the seminary student who went to his advisor to plan out a schedule of courses to prepare him for the ministry. The advisor laid out a detailed program of Hebrew, Greek, hermeneutics, homiletics, Old Testament studies, New Testament studies, etc. - in other words, three years of intense and difficult study. The student examined the schedule with dismay, finally asking whether he couldn't achieve his goal more quickly. “Yes,” replied the wise advisor. “But remember, when God makes an oak he takes twenty years. He needs only two months to make a squash.”
As already indicated, there was very little allowance for “slow learners” or emotionally troubled believers. In Columbus we had a number of such people pass through our midst, at least six or seven in the latter category. We were unable (and to some extent unwilling) to do much for those with emotional or behavioral problems - we were too inexperienced, for one thing, and too pre-occupied with working with “faithful men.” At least two or three people suffered nervous breakdowns while in fellowship with us in Columbus, admittedly partly because of unconfessed past or present sin in their lives - but I'm convinced this was aggravated by the restless, highly pressurized environment we had created. One of these individuals eventually took his own life under very tragic circumstances. At least one sister in Tucson suffered similarly. While still experiencing an earlier emotional collapse, she attempted suicide during Christmas 1977, with the result that she was left permanently blinded. After an initial return to a semblance of reality following this shock to her system, she slipped back again to her former psychosis. Her confused conversation constantly revolved around Blitz teachings, which had always seemed to be a major part of her problem.
Spiritual growth takes time - much more time than many in the Blitz
were normally prepared to grant. New and immature believers were force-fed and pushed
and pulled in an attempt to make reproducing laborers out of them at an early age.
Unfortunately this does not usually work - all this effort frequently manages to
produce is a lot of deformed and stunted spiritual children full of self-confidence
and zeal without knowledge because they haven't been allowed to grow by the
working of the Holy Spirit within them alone. In The Green Letters Miles
Since the work of God is essentially spiritual, it demands spiritual people for its doing; and the measure of their spirituality will determine the measure of their value to the Lord. Because this is so, in God's mind the servant is more than the work. If we are going to come truly into the hands of God for His purpose, then we shall be dealt with by Him in such a way as to continually increase our spiritual measure. Not our interest in Christian work; our energies, enthusiasm, ambitions, or abilities; not our academic qualifications, or anything that we are, in ourselves, but simply our spiritual life is the basis of the beginning and growth of our service to God. Even the work, when we are in it, is used by Him to increase our spiritual measure.
…the Spirit's object is… to form Christ in us through the working of the cross. His goal is to see Christ inwrought in believers. So it is not merely that a man does certain things or says certain words, but that he is a certain kind of man…
We are not saved to serve; we are matured to serve. Only to the extent that cultivation reveals self for what it is are we in position to assist others in their cultivation. We find out everyone else by first finding ourselves out.41
Not only were evangelism, discipleship, and service viewed in a
utilitarian way among Blitz assemblies in general, but even fellowship was. Whenever
two or more members got together there often seemed to be (consciously or unconsciously)
an ulterior motive. Those who were considered the “older brothers and sisters” frequently
sought to read and analyze the hearts and motives of ones with whom they conversed.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer deals with this and other aspects of utilitarian fellowship
in his book Life Together:
Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual and not a psychic reality. In this it differs absolutely from all other communities. The Scriptures call “pneumatic,” “spiritual,” that which is created only by the Holy Spirit, who puts Jesus Christ into our hearts as Lord and Saviour. The Scriptures term “psychic,” “human” that which comes from the natural urges, powers, and capacities of the human spirit.
The basis of all spiritual reality is the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ. The basis of all human reality is the dark, turbid urges and desires of the human mind. The basis of the community of the Spirit is truth; the basis of the human community of spirit is desire… In the community of the Spirit there burns the bright love of brotherly service, agape; in human community of spirit there glows the dark love of good and evil desire, eros. In the former there is ordered, brotherly service, in the latter, disordered desire for pleasure; in the former humble subjection to the brethren, in the latter humble yet haughty subjection of a brother to one's own desire. In the community of the Spirit the Word of God alone rules; in the human community of spirit there rules, along with the Word, the man who is furnished with exceptional powers, experience, and magical, suggestive capacities. There God's Word alone is binding; here, besides the Word, men bind others to themselves. There all power, honor and dominion are surrendered to the Holy Spirit; here spheres of power and influence of a personal nature are sought and cultivated. It is true, in so far as these are devout men, that they do this with the intention of serving the highest and the best, but in actuality the result is to dethrone the Holy Spirit, to relegate Him to remote unreality. In actuality, it is only the human that is operative here. In the spiritual realm the Spirit governs; in human community, psychological techniques and methods. In the former, naive, unpsychological, unmethodical, helping love is extended towards one's brother; in the latter psychological analysis and construction; in the one the service of one's brother is simple and humble; in the other service consists of a searching, calculating analysis of a stranger.42
Further, at least in Columbus during the latter 1970s, it seemed that whenever two or more people got together there had to be some “spiritual” reason for it. Just getting together to eat pizza and maybe play a board game or watch a movie on TV wasn't “good enough” - there also had to a time of prayer, or singing or testimonies or other “spiritual” talk of some kind. Relaxing with one's friends came to be regarded as “unspiritual,” possibly because it was “self-centered” and didn't involve evangelism or discipleship as understood by the Blitz leaders. There had to be some spiritually utilitarian reason for getting together.
One incident occurred at Easter-time in 1977. The elders “suggested”
that we all go to various OSU dormitories to watch the three-part special on “Jesus
the Messiah” that was being televised that year. This was so we could use it as
an opportunity to witness to the college students who might be there, too. The elders
even told us to just go up and change the channel if students already in the lounges
had a different one on! (Imagine how effective a Christian witness would have been
after that!) Several of us dissidents opted not to participate and instead gathered
at the home of my future wife to watch the movie and just enjoy our own fellowship.
Church Authority and Disagreement
Another serious danger inherent in the “team-church” concept as it developed in many Blitz groups was that it tended towards authoritarianism on the part of the leadership as it demanded closer adherence to group goals, methods, and beliefs. Any disagreement, while permitted in theory, was strictly forbidden in practice on the grounds that it was “factious,” “divisive,” and “undermined the authority of the elders.” This was an issue that disturbed me for some time while I was still in Columbus, especially since I was confronted on two or three occasions by SRF members who reproved me for voicing disagreement with aspects of the teaching and practice in the fellowship there and elsewhere in the Blitz. The SRF elders also spoke with me about this, saying that in their view it was wrong to express disagreement to third parties. The accepted view seemed to be that Matthew 18:15-17 applies in such cases. My understanding of that passage is that it applies only to cases of sin (which is, after all, what it actually says), not disagreement over interpretation and application of biblical principles. Disagreement should be expressed to the person or persons concerned, but I am unaware of any scriptural authority for restricting it to that person - on the contrary, Paul openly expressed to Timothy his disagreement with Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17 & 18), and he actually accused Peter to his face and in public of hypocrisy, which is sin! The SRF elders, by contrast, did not consistently follow the injunctions of Matthew 18:15f. in its correct interpretation; instead, they preferred Titus 3:9-11, and in the past excommunicated persons with whom they refused to meet, going directly to the church with the problem.
Apparently, Bill Gothard of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, as well as the Blitz leaders, believes that disagreements are always the result of sin. Gothard applies Matthew 18 to matters of disagreement and has refused to meet with various writers who wished to interview him concerning certain points of disagreement between them; he did so on the grounds of Matthew 18, saying such disagreements ought not to be brought out in public. (In recent years Mr. Gothard has agreed to meet with critics, though to my knowledge he has never admitted any error.) In Columbus, the elders explained Bill Hulligan's disagreements with them by saying his mind had been warped by over a year of sin. They used a similar argument against Fred Colvin, myself, and others. In Tucson, Todd Mills' disagreements were likewise deduced to result from sin.
This notion, however, is false. While it is true that differing opinions may arise because one's mind is clouded by unconfessed sin in one's life, this is hardly the only possible cause. Differences, and even error, may also arise simply because we are all afflicted with a sin nature - there is no need to look for specific sinful acts or attitudes as the causes of misunderstandings. Another, even more likely cause is our human frailty and finiteness, which has nothing whatsoever to do with sin, active or passive. We frequently find ourselves not seeing eye to eye merely because we, unlike God, are not omniscient or infallible - there are great gaps in our knowledge and understanding. If disagreements are not allowed to be voiced, and differing opinions considered - if the leaders merely cultivate a crop of “yes-men” - how can we ensure the full or even substantial apprehension of truth? So to forbid individuals from expressing their disagreements in public (provided they avoid slander - i.e., false accusation - in the process) is to manifest a wrong and autocratic exercise of authority.
Despite the Blitz' insistence that Matthew 18 be followed in cases of disagreement, in actual practice this procedure was often stymied. For example, if Brother X were to approach his elders with questions about their teaching, they would often turn his questions back on him, and, employing the ad hominem argument mentioned on pages 70, 81, and 88, suggest the problem wasn't with them, but rather with Brother X - the fact that he had questions would be said to indicate that “his heart wasn't right.” If, however, Brother X knew the problem was not with his heart, and he sought one or two witnesses to approach the elders again, he would then be accused of “faction” by “seeking to divide others” from the elders. At this point it was not unusual for the elders to give Brother X his “second warning” (construing their previous meeting as the “first warning”) and then, with or without any further pretext, to expel him from the group. Thus Matthew 18 was transformed into an ecclesiastical “Catch-22,” and the elders were able to avoid any serious consideration of Brother X's questions. There were several cases almost identical to this in the Blitz groups in Ames, Columbus, and Norman, Okla. - and possibly others.
Related to this was the view held commonly throughout the Blitz
concerning disputes and controversies in general. In Herschel Martindale's discussion
of contention given in Albuquerque on September 16, 1977 (see page 78) he stated
that about a year earlier he had changed his thinking on the subject. He went on
Always in my past whenever there had been a question or a difference of opinion, I'd always felt the right thing to do was to evaluate the sides, evaluate the situation - let each person give their side, listen to them and try to decide who's right and who's wrong in a contention or a division or strife or something of that nature, and try to give counsel, then, according to what you evaluate is really right or wrong. This was the only way that I'd ever known to deal with anything as far as differences were concerned among Christians. Incidentally, that is not biblically sound - it's humanly sound, but it's not biblically sound.
In Titus 3 and verse 9 it says, “But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the law”; and it goes on to say, “for they are unprofitable and worthless.”
Now, let me ask you the question… What is it that's “unprofitable and worthless” in this verse? …Strife and disputes… But now here's the question that comes into my mind: Wasn't one of the parties disputing right and one wrong?… What is worthless and unprofitable is not the side that is wrong - it's any controversy… If you were to tell a person… if he's sitting there grappling with a particular problem, and you tell him, “Avoid it,” you almost rebel against that, don't you? You almost think, “But now wait a minute! I really believe that this guy's right!” But that's never the question.43
However, even a cursory examination of Scripture does not support Herschel's view. First of all, Titus 3:9 refers to “foolish controversies,” etc., not simply “controversies.” (In his discussion - not cited above - Herschel changed “foolish” to “endless,” which Paul used only of “genealogies” in 1 Timothy 1:4.) Secondly, they are specifically controversies “about the Law,” not simply controversies in general (though Herschel broadened the application beyond what the Word actually says). Thirdly, the Apostle Paul, who wrote Titus, did not shun controversy when it arose in Acts 15, involving, in fact, matters of the Law. Investigation of the original language in Acts 15 and Titus 3 shows that the words translated “debate” (Acts 15:2 & 7) and “controversies” (Titus 3:9) are identical in the Greek (zeeteesis). Therefore, the qualifier “foolish” in Titus 3:9 must have far more significance than Herschel gave it (which was none), and Paul must have viewed the controversy in Acts 15 as anything but foolish. On that occasion Paul did not shun the controversy, but rather engaged in it enthusiastically in order to determine what was right and what was wrong - content was the issue. And upon reaching a conclusion the apostles and elders declared that the Holy Spirit had been actively involved in the proceedings. Herschel's view of controversy, accepted in most Blitz fellowships, is thus shown to be unbiblical.
The Matthew 18 “Catch-22” combined with this unbiblical view of controversy to create a situation in which any questioning of the elders was termed “controversy” and “faction.” The effect of this, even if not the intent, was to raise the elders' teaching to the level of authority of Scripture itself as individuals were required to submit without question to the elders' interpretation of the Word of God. Controversy became anything that was contrary to the elders' view of things - unity and submission to authority were paramount, even if the authority was wrong (see Herschel's comment to the Schoolers on page 78).
When I was in Columbus on October 31, 1977, one of the SRF deacons told me he was learning to submit to authority in the church by obeying the elders in spite of his own doubts and questions. I told him I agreed that we must submit to the authority over us; but then I added that the issue at stake here is not so much submission as it is the kind of authority to which he was being required to submit. Even in the New Testament church leaders were not immune from abusing their authority, as, for example, it seems (from 1 Timothy) some of the Ephesian elders did, and, as we know from 3 John 9-11, Diotrephes did and was rebuked by the apostle. The authority of church leaders is administrative and ministerial, not legislative or dictatorial. Leaders are to be dependent, not independent, regarding the Scriptures; their authority does not extend beyond Scripture. They may express their own particular interpretations of the Word of God, but they have no authority to compel passive acceptance of their views by the congregation. Except in cases of fundamental doctrinal error and gross moral sin, church leaders are to rule by advice, counsel, and example, and not mere fiat - and even in these extreme situations elders are under obligation to deal in justice and impartiality, and to enlist the full and active participation of the congregation whenever an individual is being considered for excommunication.
The prevalent attitude fostered in Columbus and in some other Blitz fellowships seemed to find a precedent in the defense of Nazi war criminals who said they were “only following orders.” This attitude clearly expresses the notion, “My elders, right or wrong,” or unity at any cost - even at the cost of truth and justice. I cannot accept the idea that it can ever be right to sacrifice truth for the sake of unity - what kind of unity is that? That's the kind of unity promoted by the ecumenical movement and enjoyed by every cult! Purity must always come before unity (James 3:17). Truth thrives only in an atmosphere of openness and honesty. Truth liberates, it does not bind (John 8:32).
All of this led to an increasingly closed-in environment in many Blitz groups in which all teaching originated within the rarefied atmosphere of the movement - only men from this circle were considered “safe” because only they were in complete agreement with the local leaders. I deeply fear for any church that has come to the point where it forbids the voicing and consideration of differing views, or where it refuses to listen to men of other churches or groups because of some fear that these men might poison the minds of its members with ideas that do not fully correspond to those of the local leadership. In Columbus, the only reason we were able to benefit from the teaching of “outside men” such as Bakht Singh, Jean Gibson, and Jim Wright was because of strong lobbying by Bill Taylor and Fred Colvin. Without this the other elders likely would never have invited them to speak, and after Bill and Fred left Columbus few, if any, outsiders addressed the Solid Rock Fellowship.
The following incident is offered as illustration of this mentality:
Back in 1972 Don Norbie of Colorado44 arranged a conference to be held in Lubbock, Tex., expecting Jim McCotter, Herschel Martindale, and a large number of others from the then-existing Blitz assemblies to attend. As it turned out, however, no one from the Blitz went, even though Don, along with Marion Michaux (also of Colorado), had attended the Blitz' first conference in Norman, Okla., the previous summer. Herschel later explained to Jim Schooler of Albuquerque that Don had also invited some older brothers from the Brethren assemblies and that he (Herschel) and Jim McCotter knew they could not control the teaching. Therefore, they did not advocate that anyone with whom they were involved go to Lubbock.
The “Laodicean Syndrome” and Sectarianism
Hand-in-hand with this ecclesiastical introversion was a “Laodicean syndrome” which affected much of the Blitz movement. This was the teaching and mentality that viewed every other group or church as, to some degree, “lukewarm” and less correct or zealous than we were; every other group was engaged in “second-best” (or worse) activities. One brother wrote that “the Blitz was founded on a divisive basis as an alternative to the Laodicean churches from which most of its leaders came… The movement survives only as long as its adherents can with a clear conscience label outsiders as 'Laodicean,' otherwise the movement loses much of its raison d'être.”
While still in Tucson I began to detect an incipient sectarian spirit, in myself as well as in others. We believed that we were the most scripturally correct church around and that we (i.e., we in the Blitz movement) were the ones whom God was going to use to evangelize the world in our generation. We believed that every other church was, to one degree or another, “lukewarm,” “Laodicean.” They were steeped in traditionalism, complacency, and false ecclesiology. Even the Brethren assemblies from which many of the Blitz leaders came were considered little more than “breaking of bread societies.” Now, we in Tucson knew, of course, that we had our own problems - there were some folks whom we simply couldn't get out to do aggressive campus evangelism - but we “knew” at least that our theology, or ideology, was “pure.” We did cooperate to a small extent with other campus groups - Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Navigators - but we always considered them “second-best” organizations because they did hot represent the full New Testament concept of the local church, or even seek to do so. We felt this was a serious deficiency.
My initial excitement at learning something of the movement I had joined gradually gave way to a growing unease as I became aware of this note of sectarianism. Of course, if anyone had suggested that we were sectarian we would have denied it vehemently: the movement had no name that we accepted and used; each assembly was (we thought) completely independent of every other assembly; and we didn't even all use the same hymn book! Sectarian sentiments were seldom, if ever, spoken quite so bluntly as I've expressed them in the preceding paragraph, but I firmly believe the above statements reflect the general trend of thinking of many of us at that time. Further evidence of this is contained on two or three audiotapes in my possession of Jim McCotter teaching on “The Laodicean Church” at separate Blitz conferences.
After leaving Tucson in June 1973, I noticed the same general attitude in other Blitz assemblies, and especially in statements made by leaders during teaching sessions. I am also able to personally attest to this “Laodicean syndrome” being present with the Solid Rock Fellowship in Columbus, having heard numerous references to other churches and groups as being “cold,” “dead,” “lukewarm,” etc., and the assertion that we were the ones who were going to reach the world. At best this is a sectarian attitude, at worst it could be cultic - and this in a group that claimed to be “non-sectarian” while excommunicating individuals for being “factious”!
Further evidence of this sectarianism of the Blitz was supplied to me inadvertently by the editor of a national Christian magazine in 1974. My father, impressed by the zeal and accomplishments of the Blitz, had written to him suggesting that he solicit and publish an article on the movement. The editor wrote back that such an article had already been submitted, but the author had stipulated that it was to be printed only on condition that Jim McCotter give his personal approval. The editor then went on to lament the unwillingness on the part of the Blitz assemblies to be associated with other assemblies and churches, and he remarked that this amounted to a “non-sectarian sectarianism.” (The article was, to my knowledge, never published.)
In his book Wellsprings of Renewal (which, by the way, contains on page 15 a fleeting reference to the Blitz group in Ames, known then as the Alpha and Omega Fellowship) author Donald G. Bloesch insightfully writes, “While most of the communal experiments seek to work within the wider church and give support to its ongoing mission, an increasing number of such fellowships, especially in the United States, see themselves as embodying a higher life and purpose than do the churches. The ever present temptation in vigorous movements of reform and renewal is to become self-righteous and self-sufficient and thereby immune from criticism by fellow Christians. The hope of the church today as well as of the new centers of spiritual renewal is to establish a relationship of mutual trust and cooperation in the fulfillment of their common goal, the heralding of the coming kingdom of God.”45
Beyond this and connected with it, the “team-church” concept makes it much easier for a fellowship to see itself as part of a movement and to submit (even while denying it) to “higher authority” outside the local assembly. Several cases of this within the Blitz movement have already been cited in Part Two of this book, but to these others may be added. It should be kept in mind, however, that such incidents were occasional (though real), that until about 1984 there was no formal, official, or permanent hierarchical system in the Blitz, and that some local leaders were more susceptible than others to outside pressure.
One incident occurred in August 1973 at the Bloomington, Ind., conference at the conclusion of the Mission: U.S. '73 campaign. The teams that gathered together for this conference were those that had been at Urbana, Ill., Bloomington, Columbus, Washington, D.C., and Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and E. Lansing, Mich. The main purposes of this get-together were to share experiences and plan the next steps to take. Most of the team leaders were inclined to leave a core group in their areas to consolidate the work they'd done in the summer into on-going assemblies - the Washington group had even left one leader behind to arrange permanent housing for the fall.
During a meeting between Jim McCotter and the team leaders, Dennis Clark, Mike Keator, and I all expressed our confidence that God was leading us to stay in Columbus; several others expressed similar confidence about their own cities. But just as it looked like we were going to end up with at least three or four new assemblies, Jim spoke up and practically with a wave of his hand he changed everyone's minds - except mine. Even Dennis and Mike, who along with me had been the most positive about establishing a permanent work, were ready to abandon their plans and the Columbus believers who had come with us to the conference, pack their bags, and return to Ames - all at a (45-minute) word from Jim McCotter. Jim didn't think the fruit was sufficient to warrant permanent assemblies, nor the leaders mature enough or experienced enough to become elders (though the stated object of the campaign at the outset had been to establish “new works.”) There was very little further discussion after that - Jim had spoken and that settled the matter. Later he did give his support to Mike and Dennis to continue in Columbus and become elders of a new assembly, but for two or three days the whole outcome was in doubt. I was really dumbfounded and dismayed by the ease with which Jim was able to influence so many brothers at one time, including some who had been serving as elders already in places other than Ames. No one seemed to have the spiritual fortitude to stand by his earlier confidence in the face of Jim's decision. Jim was obviously the chief. (“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” - George Orwell in Animal Farm.)
A second incident was related to me by Mike Keator, who in telling it indicated his own approval. As he, another brother, and I neared Kansas City on a trip west in September 1973, Mike told me that the assembly there (the Cornerstone) had been drifting away from early Blitz ideals and, under the leadership of founding elder Paul Martin and others, had, among other things, begun studying the writings of Francis Schaeffer and paying more attention to culture and society around them (e.g., reading, writing, and discussing poetry; listening to and discussing music, etc.) - in short, they were losing the “vision.” So Jim decided he had to go there to “set them straight” again, which he eventually did. It was as if the Cornerstone had no authority or prerogative to develop its own assembly character with appropriate ministries to meet its own needs.
A third incident also involved the Cornerstone. In 1971 or 1972 a local Kansas City publisher invited George Verwer of Operation Mobilization to come to Kansas City, and it was arranged for him to speak at the Cornerstone. However, before the event actually took place, Jim McCotter called to cancel the engagement, apparently fearing that George would siphon off workers to his own movement.
Other incidents illustrative of “higher authority” are those previously related in Part Two regarding Columbia, Mo., and Albuquerque, N.M., as well as the numerous occasions of external interference in the internal affairs of the Solid Rock Fellowship in the case of Bill Taylor's excommunication.
“Non-autonomous autonomy” frequently revealed itself on a lower
level of the de facto Blitz hierarchy. For example, the “mother church” in a state
or other area often influenced or actually controlled the affairs of its “daughter
churches,” as, for example, Albuquerque did in dissolving the group in El Paso and
curtailing the work in Belén (see page 79). Another incident illustrative of this
practice occurred in the spring of 1977 when the elders of the Norman, Okla., assembly
decided that the entire Stillwater church should move to Norman for the summer,
which they did. At the end of the summer, another decision was made for them to
remain in Norman indefinitely and not go back to Stillwater at all. (It was
thought that perhaps in the future Norman could send a 50-man team back in.) Thus
the elders of the “mother church” in Norman essentially appropriated the authority
to liquidate the “daughter church” in Stillwater.
It was as I sensed this repressive atmosphere descending over
the Solid Rock Fellowship that I felt I had no alternative to withdrawing myself
from my association with those believers, even though I had grown to love many of
them dearly in the Lord, and still do. With remarkable insight Roland Allen has
described precisely how I felt prior to my departure, and I'm sure how many
others felt before they also left. Speaking of the tendency of missionaries around
1900 to become authoritarian in their dealings with their converts, he wrote:
The fatal mistake has been made of teaching the converts to rely upon the wrong source of strength. Instead of seeking it in the working of the Holy Spirit in themselves, they seek it in the missionary. They put him in the place of Christ, they depend upon him.
In allowing them, or encouraging them, to do this, the missionary not only checks the spiritual growth of his converts and teaches them to rely upon a wrong source of strength; he actually robs them of the strength which they naturally possess and would naturally use. The more independent spirits amongst them can find no opportunity for exercising their gifts. All authority is concentrated in the hands of the missionary. If a native Christian feels any capacity for Christian work, he can only use his capacity under the direction, and in accordance with the wishes, of that supreme authority. He can do little in his own way; that is, in the way that is natural to him. Consequently, if he is to do any spiritual work he must either so suppress himself as to act in an unnatural way, or he must find outside the Church the opportunity which is denied to him within her borders, or he must put aside the desire which God has implanted in his soul to do spiritual work for Christ, and content himself with secular employment. If he does the first, he works all his life as a cripple: if he takes either of the other two courses, the Church is robbed of his help. It is almost impossible to imagine that a native 'prophet' could remain within the church system as it exists in many districts. If a prophet arose he would either have all the spirit crushed out of him, or he would secede. The native Christian ministers who remain are those who fall into lifeless submission to authority, or else spend their lives in discontented misery, feeling that they have lost themselves not to God but to a foreign system. Thus the community is robbed of its strength: its own forces are weakened whilst it depends upon the most uncertain of props and the most unnatural. In the result the missionary is left to deplore the sad condition of a Christian church which seems in danger of falling away the moment he leaves it.46
Therefore, those in the Blitz who felt confused and torn within themselves weren't necessarily “carnal” or “out of the will of God” (as was often the accusation). It might more probably be because they were like frogs out of their pond - they might have been compelled to function in a manner the Lord never intended them to because he'd given them different gifts and ministries. It is only when we're exercising our own God-given gifts in our God-ordained ministries that we truly experience a genuine sense of fulfillment. If we're being pressed unnaturally into forms of service alien to God's intentions for us, the Spirit in us will be quenched and we'll end up suffering a deep spiritual malaise. I hasten to add that this is not meant to imply that some believers need not share their faith with the unsaved; on the contrary, it is clear that all who have been reconciled to God have received the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). However, only the Holy Spirit has the prerogative to tell a believer when, where, how, and how much he ought to evangelize or disciple others. It hardly seems proper for an individual to spend more time and expend more effort in evangelism than in exercising his gift or in fulfilling his ministry.
The prevailing degree of autocracy and repression of dissent in
an attempt to compel loyalty to a man, a movement, or a narrow set of doctrines
called to my mind the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4:16, 17: “Have I therefore
become your enemy by telling you the truth? They eagerly seek you, not commendably,
but they wish to shut you out, in order that you may seek them.”
A Faulty Hermeneutic
I believe one of the most basic causes of Blitz error was a profound
failure to exercise care in interpreting Scripture, particularly in distinguishing
clearly between biblical commands, principles, and examples. In addition, Blitz
teachers often failed to interpret the Word of God consistently within context.
First, Blitz leaders and teachers were frequently incautious in
their application of biblical commands. For example, when Paul told Timothy to “entrust
to faithful men” the things he had heard from Paul “in the presence of many witnesses”
(2 Timothy 2:2), are we really justified in applying this command to all
believers regardless of sex, spiritual maturity, or position in the church? Or ought
we to regard this command as applying only to Timothy and men of similar stature
and responsibilities? Jesus instructed the rich young ruler to sell all he had and
give the money to the poor, but he was content when Zaccheus pledged to give only
half of his goods to the poor - are we right, then, to take the Lord's
words to the rich young ruler as applying to all believers? Of course, an
extreme case would be to refer to the opposite commands given by God to Jeremiah
and Hosea concerning marriage (Jeremiah 16:2 and Hosea 1:2). In the Blitz (and,
admittedly, in other churches also) there was too often a failure to take adequate
note of whom a passage is addressing.
Secondly, Blitz teachers often universalized their own particular
applications of biblical principles, turning them into commands, and making them
binding on all believers. Paul said, “All things are lawful, but not all things
are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians
10:23). A thing that is unprofitable for one person, however, may well be profitable
for another, ruling out, of course, anything specifically forbidden in the
Word. We need to give room for Christian liberty, even while we seek to prevent
license. The principle of “winning the most” (1 Corinthians 9:19) as applied in
most Blitz groups consisted of an emphasis on university evangelism, and thus this
was the only kind of evangelism that was considered to be “top priority” for every
believer. As pointed out already, however, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9, states that
his idea of “winning the most” was to be completely open and unrestricted in his
ministry. Some Christians might have gifts that enable them to “win the most” in
child evangelism, others in counseling, still others in hospitality. It is simply
unbiblical to universalize particular applications of scriptural principles. The
Holy Spirit must be allowed to determine the particular applications for each individual
in his own circumstances.
Thirdly, the Blitz frequently held up the examples of men and women in the Bible, saying, “See what they did? Now we must do the same.” This was done especially in the case of Paul - his repeated “be imitators of me” was taken as referring to everything he did (see the letter quoted on page 89), and the qualifying context was usually overlooked. Blitz teachers apparently forgot or disregarded the key fact that Paul was an apostle of the sort that does not exist today - no man living is a witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus (Acts 1:22; 1 Corinthians 9:1) nor can anyone rightly claim to perform the “signs of a true apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12). The Blitz also took little note in practice of the fact that individual gifts and ministries differ according to the sovereign pleasure of God, and that these are the things we should be concerned about, not learning what Paul did and copying him. This is not to say that we should not learn what he did, nor that we should not do any of the things he did - just that we should guard against slavishly mimicking only those things and thus restricting the Holy Spirit's personal guidance. Most Blitz leaders rejected the suggestion that what Paul really had in mind for others to imitate in him was his character - his godliness, zeal, dedication, faith, perseverance, etc. Otherwise, how do we interpret such passages as 1 Corinthians 11:1 (“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ”) or Ephesians 5:1 (“Therefore, be imitators of God…”)? How can we imitate Christ or the Father by doing what they have done or are doing? We can copy them only by conforming to their character, not their acts, and even this requires complete yieldedness to the Holy Spirit in us.
At the Knoxville conference in June 1973 reference was made to Paul's example during the public explanation of the change in plans from reaching into every state in the eastern half of the country to a more realistic plan of pulling back to overlap new and old “Blitz territory” (see page 9). However, I thought to myself that Paul's example (of maintaining relatively short lines of communication between churches) did not really fit our circumstances, because he was pioneering the church in completely virgin territory, but we weren't. In America there are always other churches and Christians who could be sought out for advice or looked to for examples. When I voiced these thoughts to one of our leaders he fell back on the “Laodicean argument,” saying we didn't want any new assemblies to lapse into “traditionalism” and thus lose the “vision,” which he felt likely would happen if they were established beyond the range of influence of older, stronger Blitz assemblies. To me, this was one more proof of the Blitz' “non-sectarian sectarianism.”
Blitz leaders were also frequently inconsistent even in following this principle of imitating Paul - they failed to copy one of his most basic aims, namely, to preach Christ where he was not already named (Romans 15:20). One final observation on this point is that there are conflicting examples in the Scriptures: whereas Paul went only to virgin territory, Apollos didn't - whom then should we follow?
Where this faulty hermeneutic especially wreaked havoc was in
cases where individuals sought to determine God's will for themselves. Having
been conditioned by Blitz precept and example (and just plain ignorance) to minimize
or even disregard the distinction between commands, principles, and examples, adherents
of the movement very often found “the Lord's leading” in a misapplication of
a misinterpretation of a verse of Scripture. One blatant example of this sort of
thing by Jim McCotter himself was based on Isaiah 34:16, which reads:
Seek from the book of the LORD, and read:
Not one of these will be missing;
None will lack its mate.
For His mouth has commanded,
And His Spirit has gathered them.
Jim related in Tucson (February 1973) and again in Madison (December 1976) that it was partly on the basis of this verse that he became convinced that he would one day marry. When I pointed out to him, after hearing this in Tucson, that the context did not support such an interpretation, he replied that he knew this was not the actual interpretation of the verse, but that he still felt it was a valid application. But even as an application it is farfetched. The context of the whole chapter concerns God's judgment against Edom and mentions such noxious creatures as jackals, wolves, the “night-monster,” the snake, and hawks, among others (verses 13-15), as taking up their abode in that land. Verse 16 continues the reference to these animals and emphasizes the permanence of their dwelling by stating that each would have a mate, and presumably offspring who would go on inhabiting the land of Edom. This is an especially graphic way of stressing the extent of the destruction of that nation. There is no reference to humans in these verses, nor such a blessed state as human marriage, and thus no warrant to apply Isaiah 34:16 as a promise of marriage. When I mentioned these things to two or three people in Columbus I was taken aside and rebuked by one of them, who also volunteered that he and four or five other brothers, having heard Jim share this passage in Madison, were claiming it as a promise for themselves!
In his book Where Do I Go From Here, God? author Zac Poonen writes, “God may in his supernatural wisdom lead us through a verse taken out of context, but this is the exception rather than the rule. And when God employs such a method it will usually be only to confirm guidance that we receive through the normal channels. We should never make such verses the sole basis for guidance in any matter.”47 The same thing was written by Paul Little in his booklet Affirming the Will of God: “On rare occasions God will take a verse which has no specific application to you and give you a message through it, but this is the exception rather than the rule. The basic biblical principle is to interpret and understand the Bible in context.”48
Jim's wresting of Isaiah 34:16 is, perhaps, an extreme example,
but nevertheless it is illustrative of the type of scriptural manipulation that
too often characterized Blitz teaching and manifested itself in the daily lives
The Forgotten Spirit
All of these things - humanly-inspired evangelistic strategy;
pat answers to serious questions; simplistic solutions to complex problems; repressive
measures against “free thinkers”; autocratic leadership; and faulty hermeneutics
- all of these indicate one underlying weakness of the Blitz of the 1970s and '80s,
namely, a failure to fully trust the Holy Spirit to give strength, guidance, knowledge,
and protection to the church of Christ collectively and individually. Blitz leaders
talked much about imitating the Apostle Paul, but how unlike his ways were their
own! Roland Allen again illustrates this difference:
In our dealings with our native converts we habitually appeal to the law. We attempt to administer a code which is alien to the thought of the people with whom we have to deal, we appeal to precedents which are no precedents to them, and we quote decisions of which our hearers do not understand either the history or the reason. Without satisfying their minds or winning the consent of their consciences, we settle all questions with a word.
This is unfortunate because it leaves the people unconvinced and uneducated, and teaches them the habit of unreasoning obedience. They learn to expect law and to delight in the exact fulfillment of precise and minute directions. By this method we make it difficult to stir the consciences of our converts, when it is most important that their consciences should be stirred. Bereft of exact directions, they are helpless. They cease to expect to understand the reason of things, or to exercise their intelligence. Instead of seeking the illumination of the Holy Ghost they prefer to trust to formal instructions from their foreign guides. The consequence is that when their foreign guide cannot, or will not, supply precise commands, they pay little attention to his godly exhortations. Counsels which have no precedent behind them seem weak. Anything which is not in open disobedience to a law can be tolerated. Appeals to principles appear vague and difficult. They are not accustomed to the labour of thinking them out and applying them. If a missionary explains to his converts that some act is not in harmony with the mind of Christ his words fall on deaf ears: if he tells them that it was forbidden in a council of such and such a date, they obey him; but that is the way of death not life; it is Judaism not Christianity; it is papal not Pauline.
St Paul cannot have believed that by his appeal to charity the question would be settled. He must have foreseen strife and division. He must have deliberately preferred strife and division, heart burnings, and distresses, and failures to laying down a law. He saw that it was better that his converts should win their way to security by many falls than that he should try to make a short cut for them. He valued a single act of willing self-surrender, for the sake of the Gospel, above the external peace of a sullen or unintelligent acceptance of a rule.50
A question many began to ask was: “Is the Blitz movement fully of God?” or, put another way, “How much of it is really of God and how much is merely of man?” This is similar to a question put to Jim Schooler of Albuquerque by Jim McCotter's brother Bill. Prior to the Madison conference in the summer of 1972, Bill, who had been serving with Jim Schooler, asked him why he felt that that in which he was involved was of God. Jim replied, “Look at all that God has done!” Bill then pointed out that if that was to be our basis of judgment then we would have to conclude that everything accomplished by the Pentecostals must also be of God. At the time, Jim didn't quite understand Bill's implication.
Jim's answer was similar to the counsel given by Gamaliel to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:38, 39. His advice is often called upon in an attempt to put the stamp of God's approval on a human endeavor. Indeed, Gamaliel was a wise rabbi, but he was not an inspired prophet. Although he was correct in insisting that any work truly of God will resist man's efforts to thwart it, he was only partly right in saying that any work of man will be overthrown - in reality, man's works often thrive for years, even centuries, before finally being overthrown. The mere fact that an endeavor prospers over a period of time is not proof that that endeavor is approved of God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) has been thriving since 1830, and yet we certainly wouldn't say that God is pleased with its heresies.
The fact of the matter is that human effort alone is quite capable
of keeping something going for many years simply through the proper application
of sound management and marketing principles. This is not to imply that everything
about the Blitz in its first twenty or thirty years was fleshly and nothing was
of God, because this simply is not true. Nor is it true to say that everything
about the Pentecostals (or almost any other Christian denomination) is fleshly,
let alone demonic, as some assert. I believe God always blesses to whatever extent
he can any obedience, faith, and dedication he receives from his children, even
when it is mixed with generous portions of carnal thinking and action.
The Development of Heresy
I believe something Francis Schaeffer has written is pertinent at this point. In his booklet The New Super-Spirituality he describes how heresies get started.51 He begins by saying that the complete body of Christian doctrine is necessary for the fulfillment of the needs of man as God made him and as man now is since the Fall. But somewhere along the line the church may begin to fail to preach, or to preach inadequately, certain points of doctrine. In this unbiblical situation the lack begins to be felt until finally someone discovers what is missing, but then starts to over-emphasize these points, riding them as his personal ego-indulging hobby-horse. Moved out and away from the whole doctrinal system these doctrines become distorted. The resulting new heresy becomes successful because there is a longing and genuine need in the human heart and mind for the whole of Christian teaching. If some points are missing people will go where they are stressed. One group will overemphasize those points out of relationship to the whole; another, in reaction, will under-emphasize them even more. We can see this process clearly in the area of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit today, and in earlier generations, in the areas of prophecy and social concern. Schaeffer says, “Satan fishes equally on both sides and he wins on both sides.” The proper Christian response is not to avoid the doctrine or to stress it at the expense of other truths, but to see it, and teach it, in the proper biblical framework. Balance must be restored.
I'm afraid that, in the 1970s and '80s at least, this
process was at work among many of the Blitz assemblies in the areas of evangelism
and discipleship, as well as in the area of submission to church authority. Whether
the trend has continued or has reversed during the 1990s is for others closer to
the movement to say. However, I do believe the road to heresy had at least been
entered. I believe this with all my heart; the evidence for it is in what I have
already stated: the limited scope of teaching, the “team-church” misconception,
and all the implications, results, and dangers of the latter already enumerated.
Although the Blitz' over-strong emphasis on its unbiblical “strategy” had caused
it to become theologically eccentric, I do not at this time by any means regard
the Blitz movement as a cult, but I do not hesitate in saying it had become cultic.
Winds of Change
The following remarks and observations are based on a visit I had occasion to make to Tucson in June 1979. While talking with elder Dan Gill I learned that Jim McCotter, Herschel Martindale, and other Blitz leaders had recently been undergoing significant changes in their thinking and practice. Specifically, Dan said they were now acknowledging that they had been moving too quickly in establishing new churches and had thus been guilty of appointing as elders brothers who were immature and otherwise unqualified. They now recognized that this had led to several of the problems which eventually arose in many of these fellowships. (However, as detailed in Part Two, many of the worst offenses had been committed by those considered “mature,” including McCotter himself.)
Both Dan and Todd Mills reported that the new assembly in Austin, Tex., under the leadership of Herschel Martindale was stressing love, patience, and gentleness in the discipleship of the believers, with a greater recognition that the training of leaders takes time, as does also the production of mature Christians in general. Dan also mentioned that in Austin there was a stronger emphasis on developing and maintaining a healthy family life, along with a diminished emphasis on university evangelism.
The Tucson assembly itself, during the previous two years or so, had benefited by positive teaching and similar shifts in emphasis effected under the leadership of Dan Gill, George Even, and (until his subsequent moves to Austin and then San Clemente, Calif.) Brian Catalano. The group there was gradually beginning to recover from its earlier stress on uniformity of thought and action, though it experienced mixed success in attracting back into fellowship some who left because of their disagreements over such issues.
Dan also informed me that even as we were talking (the week of June 17, 1979), Jim, Herschel, and many other Blitz leaders were engaged in a month-long elders' conference in E. Lansing, Mich., to work through a number of areas needing thorough discussion and possible change, and to chart the course for the movement as a whole for the next year or two. (This was the conference referred to on pages 83) When the first edition of this book was completed in 1979 it was still too early to predict how far-reaching any changes would eventually prove to be, or how durable they would be. Early returns were mixed. On the one hand, some of the elders in various places (Norman, Okla., for example) publicly confessed that they had been wrong in many areas and asked for forgiveness from the members (cf. footnote 30, page 87). One error confessed was that of “lording it over the saints,” another was that of forbidding dating (it was thenceforth permitted), and another was that of pressuring others to join their groups. Other changes were a de-emphasis on communal living, and encouragement of full-time, rather than part-time, employment.
At the Michigan elders' conference ninety brothers, all leaders of the movement, declared their readiness to move overseas to carry on the work of spreading the gospel - some considering leaving for Europe as early as the following year. In fact, there have been Blitz assemblies (under the current names Great Commission Association of Churches and Great Commission Ministries) in Germany and Ukraine, among other nations, for several years. Also during the conference plans were discussed to send 5000 young people to share Christ at the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York City - even to attempt to nominate a Blitz leader (most likely Jim McCotter) for president just so he'd be able to address the whole convention, sharing Christ with the delegates. (This grandiose idea never materialized.)
Not all later events were encouraging, however. It was during the Michigan conference (and with the advice and counsel of the Norman elders meeting there) that Kandy Kline was excommunicated from the fellowship in Norman, again on the old familiar charge of “faction” as it had been understood in the case of Bill Taylor, three years earlier. In addition, the Blitz fellowship in Minneapolis, Minn., was willfully split apart on the advice of elders from Ames, who, during the Michigan conference, urged Minneapolis elder Jim Coleman to separate from his co-elder, Don Schonberg, because the latter disagreed with the Blitz “strategy.” Effected in mid-September 1979, the split resulted in the formation of two new churches - one of about 30 adhering to Jim Coleman, and another of about 70 remaining with Don Schonberg. Obviously, in spite of other, positive reforms there was no immediate softening of the Blitz stance on the “strategy.”
There has also been little significant indication of willingness on the part of the responsible Blitz leaders to make full restitution and restoration to all who have suffered serious injustice at their hands through the abuse of church authority and discipline. In spite of the indications of reform in 1979, things were clearly back to the bad old days of the mid-1970s six years later, as attested by the excerpts from letters from 1985 in Appendix Two, and as described in Part Four.
 This was based on a misunderstanding of Matthew 6:22, KJV. Considering the context of this verse, including the verses before and after it, and checking the standard Greek lexicons, it becomes apparent that "single eye" is an idiom meaning "generosity." The Greek word translated "liberality" in 2 Cor. 8:2 (NASV) is from the same root as "single" in Mt. 6:22.
 Kenneth Scott Latourette, The Chinese: Their History and Culture, Fourth Revised Edition, p. 155.
 Michael Griffiths, God's Forgetful Pilgrims, p. 38.
 Miles J. Stanford, The Green Letters, pp. 91-92.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pp. 31-32.
 From a tape in my possession. (Ellipses […] here indicate pauses, not words left out.)
 Don Norbie is a leading brother among the "Open" Plymouth Brethren. The conference was likely the annual Brethren "Workers and Elders Conference," which Norbie continues to arrange in different cities each year.
 Donald G. Bloesch, Wellsprings of Renewal: Promise in Christian Communal Life, pp. 97-98.
 Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?, pp. 61-82.
 Zac Poonen, Where Do I Go From Here, God?, pp. 54-55.
 Paul Little, Affirming the Will of God, p. 29.
 This manipulation of Scripture was referred to in a letter to me from Bill Hulligan in which he told me of his engagement. He wrote: "…We have some strange stories about our courtship, and how the Lord confirmed to us His will. One way which He did NOT use was, to show us obscure and exotic verses having to do with slaying Philistines or herding goats, which could be spiritualized into commands to marry. Linda's sister Diane, for example, wanted to know what verses we had. We had verses like those in I Cor 7, Eph 5, I Pet 3, Matt 19, Pr 31, etc.… which were not good enough [as far as Diane was concerned - lap]. The idea of rooting around and getting verses which can be twisted to mean what you want, is plain silly. In fact we based our decision entirely on passages such as those just mentioned. So do not expect to get any laughs out of the verses we squirreled from the Scriptures through systematic lucky dipping and through abundant grace were able to allegorize miraculously into what we wanted to hear. Be advised, however, that one SR couple got a proof text for their upcoming wedding out of Numbers 31." The only verse in Numbers 31 that I can imagine being twisted in this way is verse 18: " 'But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.' " I say!
 Roland Allen, op. cit., pp. 118-119.
 Francis Schaeffer, The New Super-Spirituality, pp. 27-29.