February 6, 1978
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Because certain unfortunate conditions persist among the fellowships
associated with the Blitz Movement, and particularly in the Solid Rock Fellowship
in Columbus, Ohio, I feel compelled to write to you at this time to explain the
circumstances as I see them and to give my interpretation of them. In doing so,
I do not claim to know all the facts, nor do I deny that I may be misinformed on
some things; nor do I wish to assert that my interpretations of the facts are the
only possible ones. My purpose in writing is to contribute to your search for truth
by sharing with you from what I believe to be a biblical viewpoint why certain teachings
and practices of the Blitz and especially the SRF are unscriptural, and to enable
you to better answer questions that may be asked by those who are still in the movement.
Before launching in, however, I'd like to make it very clear
that I fully acknowledge that there is much that is good and praiseworthy about
the Blitz. First of all, they are strong in instilling a sense of "mission"
in those who fellowship with them. This is an important understanding which most
Christians lack. Christ has not merely saved us so we can do whatever we want; rather
He has saved us and called us with a holy calling -- i.e., to serve Him by working
for the evangelization of the world and the bringing to spiritual maturity of those
who believe. Another strength of the Blitz is in the area of character building
-- there is generally a healthy emphasis on the need for each of us to become more
like Christ. A third strength is the realization of the importance of prayer as
a way of life. And finally, in spite of criticisms to be made later, it is 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 in several cities, 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 and deep concern for each saint involved in the affected assemblies.
Next, allow me to give just a brief word regarding my actions
since leaving the Solid Rock Fellowship of Columbus, Ohio: as of Sunday, May 1,
1977, I officially separated myself from the Solid Rock Fellowship and relocated
in Cleveland, entering into fellowship with the saints at Gracemount Chapel for
the next four months, after which I moved on to California to join the saints at
Fairhaven Bible Chapel, San Leandro. Prior to my leaving the assembly in Columbus
I did not make it my habit to discuss my variant views indiscriminately--I
spoke concerning these things only with those I knew (by various means) were already
concerned about some of these same things. I have also tried to the best of my ability
to emphasize to each one of this mere handful of people to search the Word, spend
time in prayer, and seek godly counsel from helpful books and men (including the
elders) and then to arrive at their own convictions under the leading of
the Holy Spirit before making any rash decisions. While in Cleveland I was quite
reticent about mentioning anything concerning my disagreements to anyone--to this
day not even my mother and father know the full reason for my leaving Columbus.
Under specific questioning by Roland Wonders (father-in-law of Ricardo Laos, formerly
of the Tucson fellowship) during a session I had with him and two other elders of
the Gracemount Assembly I admitted that there was some disagreement over what I
and others believe to be a tendency on the part of the leadership in some assemblies
in the movement to allow themselves to be directed too frequently and too fully
by the leadership of other assemblies--I had no desire to even mention this
to the elders there, but under the circumstances had to confess that this was a
concern of mine and others. Since coming to California I have maintained my original
unwillingness to make the errors of the Blitz and SRF a matter of public knowledge.
Now to the subject at hand:
Ever since my days in Tucson (December 1971 thru May 1973) there
have been certain things that have disturbed me about the assemblies associated
with the Blitz. In Tucson it manifested itself as a conflict between the "evangelism
party" and the "teaching party," although, as Todd Mills of Tucson
has since pointed out, the argument was basically theoretical at the time. I know
now that that was just the superficial manifestation, and that 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 these assemblies amounts 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, and a little less mobile than Operation
Mobilization. (The only fundamental difference between the Blitz and Campus Crusade
is that the former calls its leaders "elders" and practices the church
ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper -- but does this make a group a
church?) This concept is manifested in an intensive, highly organized evangelistic
program geared for whole-church participation. Those who don't participate
fully or at all In the church's program are at best considered to be
wasting their time in "second-best" activites, at worst to be positively
rebelling against God -- and the latter is unfortunately not an infrequent charge.
Another clear evidence of the presence of this concept is the
subject matter we (at least in Columbus) had been getting for quite some time. It
has been apparent to me (and I know it has to others also) that for a good while
we were fed a spiritual diet consisting of large quantities of milk, very little
meat and hardly any variation in menu. As I have thought back over the year and
a half or two years prior to my departure I have observed that with only occasional
exceptions the teaching we received (in Columbus and at conferences) has fallen
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) the life, death, burial, resurrection, resurrected life and glorification
of Christ (what Bill Taylor emphasized, and just about the only subject that really
gave us some meat to chew on). These things, while very important, are hardly the
"whole counsel of God." Back about the beginning of the summer of 1976
I wrote up a list of subjects which I felt had been largely neglected in our teaching
and which deserved to have varying degrees of attention paid to them. I don't
clearly recall ever showing the list to anyone, though I may have shown it to one
or two people. I did give a copy to Bill Taylor in August, 1976, after the Holy
Convocation with Bakht Singh, and I gave copies to Mike Keator and Dennis Clark
in January, 1977. But so far, to my knowledge, hardly a dent has been made in the
list, except for some isolated teaching on church leadership (on elders at the time
Terry Bartley was recognized, and deacons a few weeks later when the whole "deaconry"
was revised), and two sessions on the roles of men and women in the church. After
nearly four years we never received any definitive teaching on the
Person and work of the Holy Spirit other than a number of sessions on spiritual
gifts taught by Bill Taylor during the school year 1974-75.
The "team-church" concept shows itself also in evangelistic
strategy. We focus our attention on what has become known (at least in Columbus)
as the "most accessible labor pool" -- meaning the location or section
of society in which we can most easily and quickly see ones saved and made into
productive laborers in the evangelistic harvest (also meaning, with hardly any exception,
the university campus). This idea was especially emphasized during one week in February,
1977, when Herschel Martindale was in Columbus (whom, by the way, I greatly admire
in the Lord), and several brothers besides me had questions about certain aspects
of it -- I can name at least seven others, to most of whom I had never breathed
a word of my own-variant (deviant?) thoughts. Another way this idea is expressed
is that we should labor in the place where we can see "the most" happen.
Now, of course we should be interested in seeing laborers raised up, and we ought
to be where we can see the most happen -- but there are problems of definition and
interpretation involved in this, not the least of which is that in the context
of 1 Cor. 9 Paul says he reaches the most by not limiting his territory or his methods
(1 Cor. 9:19-23) -- quite the opposite of what is taught and practiced in the Blitz!
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
by someone else? The concept that prevails in the Blitz assemblies with which I
am familiar does not seem to leave room for that last gauge of fruitfulness; if
the "most accessible labor pool" theory were followed consistently no
one would ever consent to being a missionary to North Africa or Afghanistan unless
those were the last places on earth to be evangelized, and the farming country of
America would be overlooked and avoided as being unprofitable -- one simply does
not find masses of people there who are at a stage of their life in which they are
ripe for the gospel, or ready to launch out on evangelistic missions. But I believe
the people who live in these places are just as much loved by God as anyone, even
college students, and I believe it is His will that someone take the gospel
to them. Even though a missionary to Algeria may see no conversions in his lifetime
of service, he can greatly advance the cause of the gospel simply by making Christians
(and hence Christianity) more acceptable to Moslems by living an exceptional life
among them. In short, I believe the view of the church and missions prevailing in
the Blitz is myopic. Beyond this it seems inconceivable to me that when Jesus gave
the Great Commission (as expressed in Matt. 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8) He literally
meant that each of the disciples was to go to every country. This
is not only a physical impossibility, but also a logical absurdity. Even if the
apostles only spent two or three weeks in each place it would have taken longer
than most of them had to live to cover the whole world. And anyway, I believe it's
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?
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 boundaries). 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 borders change almost
as much as amoebas. It makes far more sense to think in terms of places,
or better yet, communities of people. The Lord isn't so much concerned
that each country have a missionary or even a church -- He's far more concerned
that all men and women hear the gospel. The Blitz, however, has come up with this
strategy of reaching into the "most accessible labor pool" in order to
"see the most," and in doing so they've put more emphasis on being
in the "right" geographical location and have 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 Him to raise them up, rather than to expend
a lot of human energy in the endeavor. And 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 accessible
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 saints had been following the "most accessible labor
pool" strategy they would not have spent any time in small towns and villages
except just to pass through them on their way to the larger cities that, theoretically,
should have been evangelized first. Roland Allen points out, in his book Missionary
Methods--St. Paul's or Ours?, that Paul didn't focus his evangelism
on any one or two classes of people--he witnessed to anyone he could, going where
the Holy Spirit opened doors and gave opportunity. It was the Lord who raised
up the laborers. The "most accessible labor pool" theory of evangelism
strikes me as being extremely utilitarian (as Franky Schaeffer would say)--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.
This utilitarian view of things carries over into "discipleship."
Time is spent teaching or helping a person only so long as he responds positively
to instructions and conforms to the discipler's expectation of what he ought
to be a doing--which primarily means he should get involved in the evangelistic
effort on the campus. The biblical injunction to help the weak and encourage the
fainthearted (1 Th. 5:14) seems to be interpreted to mean that the weak and fainthearted
are such because they're not evangelizing (at all or enough) and that all their
problems would be solved by active involvement in the evangelization program; and
they merit help and encouragement only to the degree they see this as their problem
and begin to witness more aggressively. Those who don't agree with this
view of the elders and don't respond the way the elders think they ought
(according to their narrow understanding) get dropped by the wayside, and the wish
develops, at least subconscious1y that they would go away and stop being a weight
holding back the progress of the church. (I've actually heard brothers connected
with 3 or 4 assemblies in this "circle" use the expression "cut off
the dead wood" in referring to getting rid of ones who were slow to respond
to the program--not recently, fortunately, but I don't think that attitude is
too far beneath the surface. I also recall clearly being told that the assembly
in Tucson had been "purified" following the "great falling away"
in early summer, 1973.
Rather than putting ones 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. In his book God's Forgetful Pilgrims, Michael Griffiths
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!
Spiritual growth takes time--much more time than the Blitz is
normally prepared to grant. New and immature believers are 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 manages to produce is
a bunch of deformed and stunted spiritual children full of zeal without knowledge
because they haven't been allowed to grow by the working of the Holy Spirit
within them. In The Green Letters, Miles Stanford writes:
"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 abilites; not our academic qualification, 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.
Not only are evangelism, discipleship and service viewed in a
utilitarian way among the Blitz assemblies, but even fellowship is. Whenever two
or more saints get together there often seems to be (consciously or unconsciously)
an ulterior motive. Those who are considered the "older brothers and sisters"
frequently seek to read and analyze the hearts and motives of ones with whom they
converse. Dietrich Bonhoeffer deals with this and other pertinent 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 human community of spirit is desire. The essence of the community of the Spirit is light, for "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5) and "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (1:7). The essence of human community of spirit is darkness, "for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts" (Mark 7:21). It is the deep night that hovers over the sources of all human action, even over all noble and devout impulses. The community of the Spirit is the fellowship of those who are called by Christ; human community of spirit is the fellowship of devout souls. 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 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 toward 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.
If the church were meant to be nothing more than a glorified gospel
team then the Solid Rock Fellowship and the Blitz Movement in general would be right
on target--because 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
seem to want to characterize their own congregations. But there are some vital differences
between teams and churches that are obscured here. First of all, both Paul and Jesus
hand-picked the members of their teams--this cannot be done in the case of
a church, but rather anyone whom Jesus has accepted must be received by the church
(Rom. 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 refusing to receive someone, or by expelling him, or
by making him so uncomfortable he leaves on his own (cf. Col. 3:21--"Fathers,
do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart"). Thirdly, by
definition the team is limited in purpose and function, and its members can rightly
be expected to perform in a certain 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 the individual
church members. There must be liberty for God, the Holy Spirit, to direct
individuals as He wills, not simply as the elders will (unless, of course,
they coincide). But here (i.e., in the assemblies in question) "unity"seems
more and more to be equated, at least subconsciously, with "uniformity,"
both of thought and action. Instead of fostering the freedom of Christ for which
He set us free, this concept produces bondage as ones are pressed into lines
of service they were never meant to be in.
I believe something Francis Schaeffer wrote is pertinent at this
point. In his book The New Super-Spirituality he describes how heresies get
started. 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 weakly, 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 overemphasize them. Moved out and away from the whole doctrinal system they become
inverted or reversed. The 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 underemphasize them even more. We can see this process clearly in the area
of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Schaeffer says, "Satan fishes equally on
both sides and he wins on both sides." The proper Christian response is not
to avoid the doctrine but to see it in the proper Christian (biblical) framework.
Proper balance must be restored.
I'm afraid this process has been at work among the Blitz assemblies
in the area of evangelism and discipleship, and more recently in the area of submission
to church authority (see below). I'm not sure how far advanced it is, but I
do believe the road to heresy has at least been entered upon. I believe this with
all my heart; the evidence for it is in what I have already stated: the limited
scope of teaching, the misconception of the church as a team, and all the implications
and results of the latter, both as indicated above and in the clear and present
dangers I am about to enumerate.
Allow me to interject at this point that I really have no objection
to team evangelism--no one can deny that we see examples of it in the Word. What
I 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 context. Biblically there is no warrant for this, and the results are not
merely detrimental to full church life and growth, but potentially disastrous. Not
only are the 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 lie 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. If the
leaders of the Blitz movement want to be involved in team evangelism they should
feel free to do so. But they should cease the charade of claiming to be involved
in New Testament church ministries.
Another serious danger inherent in the "team-church"
concept is that it tends toward authoritarianism on the part of the leadership.
If we're nothing, or little, more than a team, then we can legitimately be required
to participate in any church (team) activities. Beyond this and connected with it,
this concept makes it much easier for a church to see itself as part of a "movement"
and even to submit to "higher authority" outside the local assembly, as
I personally believe has happened in the case of Columbus, and as I have heard concerning
Albuquerque and Tucson.
I believe Bill Taylor also saw these dangers, and tried to counteract
them while he was in Columbus. I don't know too many of the specifics in his
case, but I probably know more than just about anyone else other than Mike, Dennis,
Fred Colvin or the other "witnesses." I believe it is safe to say that
at least many of Bill's concerns have been mine as well--and that from my earliest
days in Tucson. I have repeatedly emphasized to Mike and Dennis (and to Jim McCotter
in a phone conversation in December) that not once did Bill ever talk to
me about any of these things, and yet somehow I came to many, if not all, of the
same conclusions he did.
My current understanding is that Bill's fears (as much as
they coincide with my own) were and are basically well-founded, although he perhaps
did not pursue his objective completely properly. But even allowing the possibility
that Bill was guilty of judgmental or discretionary errors, the charge of "faction"
which was levelled against him does not in fact seem to be applicable. First of
all, the definition given to the word hairésis by the SRF elders does not
seem to be accurate-- they understood it to mean simply "division," whereas
most commentators (and I've checked at least 20) take it to mean a "self-chosen
and divergent form of religious belief or practice" (Alford),"doctrinal
departures from revealed truth or erroneous views" (Unger). In a letter to
the elders of the Solid Rock Fellowship (dated 3/21/77) five elders of Southside
Bible Chapel, Colorado Springs, wrote:
...Contrary to what your letter suggests, few see the man in Titus 3:10 as being factious from any standpoint other than his teaching, although Vine acknowledges that "factious" might be a marginal rendering for heretic and further suggests "party-making" and seeking to win followers" as alternate renderings. Our difficulty here, brothers, is that we see no evidence in your letters or the tapes that Bill was trying to divide the church by winning large numbers over to his side. On the contrary, the saints were not even told the name of the offended brother on Sunday morning, since "it is of no benefit to you to know that." Apparently, the saints in Columbus were not even aware of the problem, yet Bill had been teaching them and in close association with them. Does this suggest one who is committed to win "followers"? On the contrary, his care in avoiding the subject among them seems exemplary.
Even if Paul intended to imply nothing more than simple division
we would have to radically redefine the scope of application of the term in order
to accuse Bill of faction--and this is apparently precisely what the SRF elders
did. It is virtually impossible to claim that Bill had divided the Solid Rock Fellowship,
since none but the elders and a very small handful of others were even aware of
his disagreements with Jim McCotter. Therefore, in order to accuse Bill of faction,
the scope of its application had to be expanded (without scriptural warrant)
to include the whole Blitz movement.
A second error in the case of Bill's excommunication was in
the discipline meted out. On the basis of Titus 3:10-11, Bill was "rejected"
by being excommunicated. But again, virtually every authority I examined declared
that "reject" does not mean "excommunicate" but rather "to
beg off, ask to be excused" (Vine), "to decline, refuse, avoid" (Vincent).
H.A. Ironside says that excommunication is not in order except in cases of immorality
(cf. 1 Cor. 5) or false teaching on essential doctrine. So you see, even if Bill
had been guilty of faction, the discipline was inappropriate to the offense.
This raises an issue that has disturbed me for some time, especially
since I was confronted on several occasions by brothers (and by one sister) who
reproved me for voicing disagreement with aspects of the teaching and practice in
Columbus and the assemblies associated with the Blitz. Dennis and Mike have said
the same a thing to me, expressing their belief that it is wrong to voice disagreement
to third parties. The accepted view seems 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 really says) not disagreement over interpretation
and application of scriptural principles, and in all this issue I am not accusing
anyone of sin. Disagreement should be expressed to the person or persons
concerned, I but I don't know of any scriptural authority for restricting
it to that person--and don't forget, Paul actually accused Peter to his face
and in public of hypocrisy which is sin!
I know Bill Gothard applies Mt. 18 to matters of disagreement--he
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 Mt. 18,
saying such disagreements ought not be brought out in public. Apparently, Gothard,
and the Blitz leaders, believe that disagreements are always the result of sin.
(In Columbus, the elders explained Bill Hulligan's disagreement with them by
saying his mind had been warped by over a year of sin. They used a similar line
against Fred Colvin, myself and others.) This notion, however, is false. While it
is true that differing opinions may arise because one's mind is clouded
by unconfessed sin in the life, this is hardly the only possible cause. Differences
may also arise simply because we all are afflicted with a sin nature--we don't
need to look for specific sinful acts or attitudes as the causes of misunderstandings.
An even more likely cause is our human 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--there are great gaps in our
knowledge and understanding. So to forbid ones from expressing their disagreements
in public (provided they avoid slander in the process) is to manifest a false and
autocratic exercise of authority.
The last time I was in Columbus (the first week of November, 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 he is
being required to submit to. 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 were doing, and as we know from 3 John 9-11, Diotrephes did
and was rebuked by John.
The prevalent attitude being fostered in Columbus seems to find
its precedent in the Nuremberg Trials, where Nazi war criminals defended themselves
by saying, "I was only following orders!" This attitude clearly expresses
the notion of "unity at all costs--even at the cost of truth and justice,"
or "my elders, right or wrong!" 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 enjoyed by every cult! Truth thrives only in
an atmosphere of openness and honesty. Truth liberates, it does not bind
(John 8:32). I really fear for a 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. ...My fears continue to grow.
It was as I saw this repressive atmosphere descending over the
Solid Rock Fellowship that I felt I had no alternative to withdrawing myself from
my association with those saints, even though I had grown to love many of them dearly
in the Lord, and still do. With remarkable insight, Roland Allen described precisely
how I felt prior to my departure, and I'm sure how many of you felt before you
left. Speaking of the tendency of missionaries around 1900 to become authoritarian
in their dealings with their converts, he writes:
The fatal mistake has been made of teaching the converts 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 which 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 two other 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. (Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?, pp. 81-82)
So you see, if you felt confused and torn within yourself, it
wasn't necessarily because you were "carnal" or "out of God's
will." It might more probably have been because you were like a fish out of
water--you might have been compelled to function in a manner the Lord never intended
you to because He'd given you different gifts and ministries. It is only when
we're exercising our 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.
Further evidence of the repressive and autocratic leadership presently
being exercised in the Solid Rock Fellowship in Columbus (and one may assume, with
blessing from Ames) is seen in the following:
1. Bill Hulligan, having left the fellowship over a year earlier,
was excommunicated about Thanksgiving time (how ironic!), 1977, for not being sufficiently
reticent about his questions regarding Bill Taylor's excommunication. Not only
was he put out of a fellowship he wasn't even in, but his fiancée (now wife)
was also put out (she was in at the time). Where the SR elders ever found scriptural
support for either of these actions I have no idea--such actions are without biblical
precedent. Again the reason for disfellowshipping was not immorality or false teaching
but disagreement, labelled "faction." SR also tried, without success,
to get Bill's present elders to join in their discipline.
2. In a series of telephone calls, visits, and public declarations,
other brothers and sisters who had left the SRF were warned about, then forbidden
to have, contact with saints who remained in the SRF (too many were asking embarassing
questions about why they had left). Again, where is the scriptural warrant?
I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul which he wrote
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."
All of these things--humanly-inspired evangelism strategy; pat
answers to serious questions; simplistic solutions to complex problems; repressive
measures against "free thinkers"; and autocratic leadership--all of these
indicate one underlying weakness, namely a failure to fully trust the Holy Spirit
to give strength, guidance and knowledge and protection to the church of Christ
collectively and individually. The Blitz leaders talk much about imitating Paul,
but how unlike his ways are their own! I quote again from Roland Allen to illustrate
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 of 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. (Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?, pp. 118-119.)
One final error must be mentioned. Todd Mills of Tucson referred
to this in a letter to Brian Catalano dated May 15, 1977, as the "Laodicean
syndrome." He wrote:
The Blitz was founded on a divisive basis as an alternative to the Laodicean churches from which most of its leaders came. I am further convinced that 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 [reason for existence]. This attitude is not as outspoken as it used to be but it is still close to the surface, and because of its subtlety is all the more dangerous. (Since leaving the fellowship I have actually lost a few friends because they have this attitude and consider it heretical for me to disagree with you).
I am personally able to attest to this "Laodicean syndrome"
being present within the Solid Rock Fellowship in Columbus, having heard numerous
references to other churches and groups being "cold," "dead,"
"lukewarm," etc., and the assertion that we were the ones who were going
to "reach the world." This is not merely a sectarian attitude--it is positively
cultic, and combined with everything else already discussed, gives me great
cause for alarm. I confess, in the matter of the Blitz I make a very poor optimist.
In conclusion, I recommend for your reading books which I have
found very helpful:
Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?
Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Gene Getz, Sharpening the Focus of the Church
Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church
Michael Griffiths, God's Forgetful Pilgrims
Miles Stanford, The Green Letters
Please consider what I have written seriously and prayerfully,
as I have written it that way. I welcome your response to these things, but please
don't respond until you have sought the Holy Spirit's guidance and illumination,
and searched the Scriptures for yourself to see if these things be so. The one thing
I pray for more than anything else is for the Holy Spirit to be allowed all the
room He wants and needs in our lives individually and corporately to glorify Christ
in His people.
With sincere love in Christ,