JIM McCOTTER'S APOSTLESHIP RE-EXAMINED
by E. Ray Moore, Jr. Th.M.
(Written in response to the Leadership Manual)
The purpose of this paper is not to examine fully the recent book, LEADERSHIP: Apostles and Elders, published by GREAT COMMISSION INTERNATIONAL (hereafter GCI) and authored by Jim McCotter, but rather to highlight several major salient features from the book as they impact on the GCI movement and how Jim McCotter's recent teaching on apostleship is actually being executed in the movement. As a recent participant in GCI I am somewhat qualified to address the recent changes. Further I have also noted with increasing distress for several years variance between what is taught publicly and what is actually practiced, especially with regard to the style of leadership in GCI.
II. A METHOD IN SEARCH OF A DOCTRINE
Approximately one year ago LEADERSHIP by McCotter was published by GCI. Prior to that a preliminary manual had been circulated to some elders for comments. I declined to comment as I had a growing sense that my comments would not be seriously considered and further out of deference to Jim. I was still trying to keep an open mind on his new teaching and approach with "apostles". While there are some mainstream evangelicals who accept that apostles are valid for today, it is only in the sense of missionaries or church-planters who are the "apostles of the churches" and in no sense do they have the authority of the Twelve and Paul. Many scholars see Eph. 2:20 as an indication that "Apostles" were foundational only. Jim, in LEADERSHIP, (pp. 88-51) tries to make a case for this last group - "apostles of the churches" but in fact he has greatly confused the 3 different orders of apostles mentioned in the New Testament. The 3 N.T. orders of apostles seem to be 1) Apostle of the Father - Jesus Christ 2) Apostles of the Son - The Twelve & Paul, 3) Apostles of the Spirit - (of the church Barnabas, Timothy, et al.[)] Jim has blended features of all 3 into the last order, apostles of the churches, which he feels are valid for today. This now gives him the theological-doctrinal justification for a strongly authoritarian style of leadership.
In past years Jim has exercised a major control over many of the churches (and elders)
that have affiliated with GCI, particularly the several dozen he had personally
begun or ones begun by his closest co-workers. This control or authority was largely
on a personal basis and until recently did not have a doctrinal sanction. It has,
however, been learned that some elders with GCI have taught privately that Jim is
an Apostle on par with the Apostle Paul for several years but this has not been
completely accepted by all GCI groups until this past year. Now the acceptance of
Jim McCotter as "the Apostle" is an actual criteria for affiliation with
any GCI group. This acceptance includes personal obedience and an apparent acceptance
of Jim as the unquestioned leader and dispenser of doctrine, guidance and leadership.
While many new initiates into GCI are not aware of this development, no one in the
future will be appointed an elder or even a small group or team leader without acknowledgment
of his authority. This is now generally true in most groups.
Control has been Jim's personal style of leadership for many years. He really has no peers in the GCI groups. Dennis Clark, who is frequently called an apostle by some, is clearly in a subordinate role and does not appear even to question or challenge any belief or action of Jim's. Dennis serves as a buffer to the criticism that only Jim makes decisions and rules GCI. There used to be a triumvirate (Jim, Dennis and Terry Bartley) but Terry's name suddenly was no longer mentioned. These types of decisions so characteristic of GCI are arbitrary and without any reasons given or known except to Jim McCotter.
Now Jim has theological sanction as "the Apostle" and it is believed that he has had for years "a method in search of a doctrine" to theologically justify his authoritarian rule. It is incredible to observe the recent outworking of this teaching with GCI elders, how they have ceased to be free moral agents answerable to God and have come more totally under Jim's domination. Many are fine servants of the Lord who probably have no idea of the deeper problems with GCI on the national level. True reciprocity and mutuality among the elders has disappeared in GCI which is neither beneficial to the rulers nor to the ruled.
III. MAIN FEATURES OF McCOTTER'S APOSTLESHIP
A. Hierarchical Apostles
B. New Light doctrine
C. Deception doctrine
A. Hierarchical Apostles
It has become clear that GCI has become a pure hierarchy. The system of mutual checks and balances and spiritual protection for leaders inherent within the plurality of elders in a local church (Act. 20:28) is not practiced on the national level. In the past Jim has tried several features, as the recent experiment with a "triumvirate", to deflect criticism of his hierarchical approach to leadership. He seems now to have abandoned all pretense. The entire spirit of the New and Old Testaments reflects the sentiment of Lord Acton's famous axiom; "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely". In the several GCI related organizations such as US PRESS (recently suspended), THE CAUSE a true board of directors is lacking. There are no real by-laws to govern the many associated organizations and while Jim will have several 'elders' listed in any legal documents, he and Dennis are always listed as board members and usually there will be the minimal number required by a law to insure control. Never is someone included on a board from outside GCI, totally unlike the regular practice of other evangelical organizations, who desire the input and wisdom of other Christian lenders as well as desiring to express a practical unity with the Body of Christ and demonstrating that they do not consider their organization the only good or correct one.
While many Christian organizations today do have a limited hierarchy usually the director or president is subject to a board of directors and is governed by a constitution or by-laws. The director is not above his own organization and himself must be subject to its rules and the board.
While there is a denial of such, a kind of "apostolic infallibility" is implied concerning the role of Jim Mccotter in GCI, if not for the Christian world at large. Since Jim has become an "Apostle" above the elders there is much less danger that they will question him or his actions. This kind of Apostleship did not even exist in the Testament concerning the Twelve (Gal. 2:11-14). This contention would be denied by many within GCI but few former associates of Jim McCotter can recall his admission of any error. This in itself is incredible in light of all the many poor administrative decisions made in recent years, the starting and stopping of publications, etc. This is all done in the name of "change" or the excuse "we're young and still learning". This is a far cry from doctrines of repentance, confession and restitution.
One of the most shocking examples of the tendency towards inordinate adulation of Jim was the "Honduran slide-tape Show" shown at the FALL '84 Regional Conferences. The film was not even factually accurate, failing even to mention the name of the founder of the Honduran work, Daniel Sierra. The impression given was that Jim McCotter had been the major contributor in Honduras. More frightening, however, were the accolades and effusive praise of Jim and "manipulative" poses and shots of him compared to similar ones of our Lord Jesus Christ. One was reminded of Acts 12:21-26 concerning Herod when the people said "This is the voice of a god, not of a man". The Honduran film has been brought to the attention of Jim and GCI elders and it has been defended as proper. This film on Honduras evidenced not only a lack of integrity by its omission of Daniel Sierra but demonstrated that a borderline deification of Jim is taking place in GCI and shows the role of leading elders in this. At the 1984 elders conference, in D.C. many elders testimonies had shifted away from "what the Lord as done in my life" to the "blessings of obedience to Jim Mccotter".
Another problem with the new doctrine on hierarchical Apostles is the lack of any definition of the terms and limits of Biblical authority within GCI. Jim, himself, is careful to be imprecise on a definition and the nature of authority and will only say things like "we shouldn't be afraid of authority if we love one another" or "evangelicals don't have a proper concept of authority" or "we're young and still learning". There seems to be no understanding that servants of the Lord only exercised delegated authority and that they themselves are men under the authority of the Word the same as their flocks. The authority of "the Apostle" to move elders around the USA at random without any acceptance or agreement by the flock his an abuse of authority. Any churches, involved in such a move, would probably say they agreed, although they're not consulted. While it can not be proven as intentional there seems to be an effort to relocate founding church elders and move into their churches more definitely committed GCI elders. Further in some cases such as Daniel Sierra in Honduras founding elders have been asked to step down due to alleged problems in their lives or families. This has happened numerous times in recent years.
B. New Light Doctrine
In the GCI videos on "apostles" Jim talks about receiving new light that the church has heretofore missed since the early church. This same theme that GCI will reach the world because Jim has recovered this lost teaching is a central theme in LEADERSHIP as well as in general public teaching. Statedly, the only way to 'reach the world" is through hierarchical apostles over the churches. By implication anyone who wants to "reach the world" will necessarily join with GCI under McCotter's apostleship. Up to this point GCI has stayed within the parameters of evangelical orthodoxy at least in terms of major doctrines if not in their style of leadership and practice, but it has become clear that one of the perogatives [sic] of an apostle is to receive the new light, to chart heretofore uncharted theological - Biblical sea or at least recover the lost purity of the early church. Jim must be obeyed further by GCI elders and members because he is the one as an apostle who receives the "new light".
C. Deception Doctrine
This individual has personally experienced little of the GCI teaching on deception that was clearly laid out in Ames in the late 1970's. McCotter's teaching seems somewhat parallel to Jesuit casuistry where the end justifies the means. Using Matt. 10:16 as a proof text McCotter lays out that being "wise like a serpent" means to practice deception in certain cases. One's conscience must undoubtedly be defiled by such repeated deceptions as are so frequently practiced by GCI currently. This approach is common in working with the "Gentiles" but also a lack of openness and integrity seems to be a policy between GCI and some actually involved in the movement itself. 1 Timothy 1:19,20 shows the critical danger to ones doctrine-theology by violating his conscience. It is axiomatic that ones doctrine effects his life as well as ones life effects his doctrine. A constant practice and a theology of deception cannot but have a corrupting influence on GCI particularly the leadership and the doctrine. (John 7:18)
There seems to be a triad in McCotter's new apostleship: 1) Apostolic hierarchicalism, 2) New Light doctrine, 3) Deception doctrine. These three features make for a tight system of theology and "a cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Eccles. 4:12b). Also the theological mixture of these three elements portend potential increasing problems for GCI in the future. The problems will be compounded by the added dimension that few elders may be remaining who will question the doctrine or the practice of GCI. With this the problems become more entrenched and incapable of an organizational remedy. While there are many other questions and issues involved with an analysis of GCI attention needs to be given to McCotter's triad of hierarchicalism, new light and deception. If anyone of these areas can be successfully challenged in the minds of GCI elders and members hope remains that individuals can be recovered to spiritual health and the "freedom we have in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 2:4, 5:1).
E. Ray Moore, Jr. Th.M.
May 17, 1985