General letter from former leaders of GCI to concerned people and groups
(This letter was written and distributed during the 1980s.)
Cuyahoga Falls, OH
We are writing to inform and warn you about the activities and teachings of a nation-wide Christian movement known as Great Commission International. Ronald Enroth, a noted expert on cults and aberrational Christian groups, has written an article entitled The Power Abusers (Eternity Magazine, October 1979) in which he states that a significant number of evangelical groups are taking on cult-like, manipulative characteristics of totalistic authoritarianism. These groups have not necessarily deviated from the great historic, fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, but have adopted cultic manipulation and an authoritarian structure that creates an apostle-like figure at its head. We believe GCI fits this mold perfectly. Over the past several years a large number of young men and women have been severely wounded by this authoritarian system as it has been applied within GCI.
We are a group of concerned former leaders of GCI from various parts of the country who, individually and independently, have become aware of the serious problems that have developed within the movement. Over the past 10 years or so different ones of us have confronted the self-appointed apostle of GCI, Jim McCotter, and other leaders of the movement concerning these problems, but to no avail. Therefore we feel it is our obligation to warn the evangelical community at large about Great Commission International.
We believe the seeds of the present critical state of affairs were sown the moment Jim first went out on his own to seek to found a “New Testament assembly” in Greeley, Colorado in the mid-1960’s without himself having learned to submit to the authority of the elders of his home (Plymouth Brethren) assembly. We are convinced that Jim’s desire to be in authority before he had ever really learned to be under authority has had disastrous consequences throughout the succeeding twenty years.
Without seeking to psychoanalyze him, it seems Jim sincerely wanted to do what he believed to be God’s will, namely, to preach the gospel, win the lost, and gather the saved into New Testament churches that would more nearly reflect what he understood to be the scriptural pattern than did the assemblies with which he was familiar. As he studied the New Testament, especially the book of Acts, he eventually came to the conclusion that God had revealed, in a “heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19), a divine “strategy” for evangelizing the world. He believes this strategy is encapsulated in such passages as Acts 1:8; 26:20; Rom. 15:19, 20; 2 Cor. 10:12–16; and 1 Thes. 1:8—all of these, he believes, describe a spiraling out of the gospel from a central point. Jim is convinced that any departure from this strategy is disobedience to the revealed will of God.
Along with this strategy Jim also believes that all Christians are called aggressively
to carry out the Great Commission—that is, in his understanding, we are all to be
intensely involved in evangelism and discipleship regardless of our individual spiritual
gifts, and that we all should have as our goal travelling to other countries (in
fact, every other country) to share
He is convinced that the college and university campus is the most fruitful field for evangelism (because “laborers” can be raised up most quickly from that environment), and hence all who wish to be “hundred-fold Christians” will engage in aggressive evangelistic efforts in the university community—any other type of ministry is “second-best.” Jim’s emphasis on “raising up laborers,” in fact, indicates that his passion is really not for people as people, but as tools to be manipulated to further his ideology of the “strategy.”
As the organizational vehicle for achieving his vision Jim has adapted the team model to the New Testament church. Actually, he believes the church was intended to function as a team all along, and, he has merely “restored” it to its original purpose. However, this hybrid “team-church” of Jim’s would have been a total novelty to the apostles and other saints of the first century. We agree that church members are to work together as members of one body, but we deny that they all are to do the same thing, or even the same kinds of things. Jim’s version of the church leaves little or no room for the operation of the full range of spiritual gifts; thus those whose gifts are not evangelism or exhortation either become quickly unfulfilled and dissatisfied (and leave the group) or else (which is more common) they quench the Spirit within them in order to function as they have been taught they must. In consequence they become spiritual cripples and help to make others into spiritual cripples like themselves.
High school and college-age Christians are often very receptive of criticism of the traditional local church, especially if they begin to attend meetings of a group that appears to be very evangelical and makes the claim that it is going to reach the world for Christ in our generation. To be evangelical and have as one’s goal the reaching of the world for Christ is certainly commendable. But the concept of world evangelization is used over a period of time to manipulate these idealistic young people into giving up control of their lives to their “elders” in order to achieve this goal. They, in essence, give up thinking for themselves and making their own decisions.
This type of “submission to authority” has become more pronounced in recent years as the leadership has emphasized it more and more in their teaching. In fact, recent teaching by one of Jim’s associates asserts that the Bible is authoritative over only 40% of a person’s life (i.e., where it is black and white on certain issues, like adultery, which it forbids, or like love and unity, which it commands), but in anything not specifically spelled out (the other 60% of a person’s life) it is the leaders’ prerogative to interpret, direct, and counsel specifically and authoritatively. This concept has been around in the movement for a long time (in more general terms), and has resulted in much mischief and harmful meddling by leaders in the private lives of group members. Now, without first consulting their “elders” (usually men in their twenties) they do not make decisions concerning jobs, apartments or houses, visits to family or friends, remaining in college, roommates, majors, marriage partners, use or non-use of birth-control methods, child-raising, adoption of children, family life, and a multitude of similar things. As a result of this virtual cloning to one particular style of life much damage has been done by the simplistic, uninformed, and plain wrong advice and dictates of inexperienced and arrogant young men posing as wise counselors who must be obeyed. In the exercise of their usurped authority these leaders clearly “exceed what is written” in the Word of God (1 Cor. 4:6).
The members of GCI are told over and over again that they are going to reach the whole world in their lifetime if they will just be united in love and purpose. They are told the world has not been reached since the first century because Christians have been disobedient to the Scriptures. So these young people are set up immediately to believe that all other Christians in the last 19 centuries, along with all present-day believers, have been disobedient and therefore it is incumbent upon them to be obedient. This leads them to be predisposed to accept the teachings of the group without questioning or critical discernment. It also implies a sense of urgency, so that implicit to being obedient is to give up all personal goals and accept the goals of the group, i.e., to reach the world. As a result they give up their God-given uniqueness, their educational objectives, and their careers. Now their unquestioned authority is their human leadership. All these young believers have to do to reach the world (and thus live a spiritually fulfilling life) is to obey their leaders implicitly and be united in love and purpose. Unity is of a higher priority than truth, and love never hears anything negative about another person (held in favor by the group), and especially about a leader.
The long-term impact on believers in the movement is a gradual isolation from the body of Christ at large; isolation from parents, families, and former friends; marriages that are approved by the “elders” between guys and girls who may have had no compatibility beyond zeal for the goals of the group; the acceptance of menial jobs during the prime years for education, experience, and career establishment (so as to be available and mobile for evangelism); and psychological and spiritual trauma as the Christian brothers in particular seek to advance in a group the leaders of which are promoted not according to truly biblical standards, but really on how submissive they are to the present leadership and especially the “apostle,” Jim McCotter.
Within the past year or so Jim has sought to tighten control over GCI and the individual groups by giving the whole movement a denominational tag, namely, Great Commission International, and promulgating new teaching concerning apostles. This new doctrine amounts to a reversal of his earlier position, which stated that apostleship was a defunct spiritual gift and/or office of the early church. Now Jim has found it convenient to claim “new light” on the Scriptures and to declare that the Holy Spirit does still make some men apostles, and that he, Jim, is the apostle of GCI with authority similar to that of the Twelve. This legitimizes his dictating to the individual groups around the country, as well as to the individual members. Dennis Clark also claims to be an apostle in GCI, but not with the same standing as McCotter. Jim claims to be an apostle like Paul, whereas Dennis maintains that he is an apostle of music (whatever that is). Along with this doctrine on apostleship, Jim puts additional pressure on the brothers by propagating the notion that all brothers should eventually be elders. This creates an unholy vying for position within GCI.
Another recent doctrinal innovation with practical ramifications concerns tithing. Though we do not quarrel with the practice of tithing per se, we do object to how Jim is now manipulating it. In addition to teaching that those who fail to tithe cannot experience God’s richest blessings, he also insists that, “Principally, New Testament believers should tithe to the Lord by way of their local elders” (not to other people or organizations); and, “Principally, all elders should tithe to the Lord by way of their apostles, or national leaders,” (namely, Jim and Dennis); and, “Principally, all national leaders should tithe to the Lord by way of meeting national and international needs and coordinating special national efforts, etc.” We believe this doctrine is unconscionable wresting of the Scriptures, and financial chicanery.
Those who come to disagree with these and other teachings of Jim McCotter and Great Commission International (teachings which are central to the movement, but eccentric to biblical Christianity) and who decide they must leave their group for the sake of their own spiritual, emotional, and/or physical health, do so (as already indicated) having been taught that every other church and Christian organization is “second-best,” “Laodicean,” or downright carnal. To leave GCI is to leave the center of God’s favor, the “apple of God’s eye,” and only one whose “heart is bad” would want to do that. More than one individual has said that he truly believed that by leaving the local GCI group he was actually leaving God, yet for the sake of his sanity it was essential even to do that.
In the event that such an individual shares his concerns and/or disagreements with other group members before leaving (or even before contemplating leaving) and the “elders” learn of this, he will be quickly labelled “factious,” “divisive,” and “rebellious,” and ordered to keep his opinions to himself. If he persists in voicing his concerns, however humbly and circumspectly, he will be “rejected” or excommunicated by the “elders” on behalf of the church (Jim and the other leaders contend it is the church which carries out the discipline, but in every such case of which we are aware the church was used simply as a rubber stamp to ratify action already decided upon, and in some cases already carried out, by the “elders,” often with Jim’s enthusiastic approval, encouragement, and instigation).
To sum up, we charge Jim McCotter and his associates with the following:
1. Distortion of Scripture:
a. Doctrinal error: Jim’s new teaching on apostleship; unquestioned submission to authority; “New Light” doctrine; and deception doctrine.
b. Doctrinal eccentricity: Jim’s unbalanced “strategy” to reach the world; his creation of the unbiblical “team-church”; his unbalanced teachings on marriage, sex, child-rearing, and the role of single sisters.
2. Autocratic leadership:
3. Other personal character and behavioral defects:
a. Abuse of authority in pastoral leadership.
b. Abuse of the power of excommunication.
c. Violation of local church autonomy.
d. Extreme sectarianism.
a. Refusal to hear and answer accusations against him, even before a neutral and impartial board.
b. Refusal to acknowledge and repent of serious wrong-doing.
c. Refusal to receive counsel from outside the GCI inner circle.
d. Deception, distortion of facts, and outright lying.
e. Greed, for material gain as well as for power and praise.
e. Self-exaltation cloaked in superficial humility.
g. Malicious and slanderous accusations against those in disagreement.
In short, we are convinced that Jim McCotter is not a man above reproach, and therefore
is not qualified to be an elder or even a deacon, much less an apostle.
All of these charges can be thoroughly documented from several hundred pages of letters, papers, and personal testimonies. We would be happy to provide you with this material should you desire to investigate this matter for yourself.
It is our earnest prayer that the Lord will cause Jim McCotter to see his sin and error, and will bring him to his knees in genuine repentance. In the meantime, we purpose to do all we can to help in the healing process of all who have been maimed through their involvement with Jim and GCI.
Sincerely in Christ,
Lawrence A. Pile
Tony Castro, M. Div., M. S.
Assoc. Professor of
Math and Comp. Sci.
Gordon College Wenham, Mass. 01984
David F. Cook
David C. Munday
Paul R. Martin, Ph. D.
E. Ray Moore, Th. M.
James R. Schooler