Pastor Mike Braun
Community Evangelical Free Church
2640 Northwest 39th Avenue
Gainesville, Florida 32605
Re: Campus Bible Church/Gator Christian Life
Dear Pastor Braun:
I am a member on the Northside Community Evangelical Free Church in Atlanta, Georgia. This is a new E Free church that began on December 2, 1964. John Rowell is the pastor and I am one of eight men on the leadership team. Jim Siwy, a former member of Community E Free, is presently a member of Northside Community E Free.
I am writing to you in regards to Campus Bible Church/Gator Christian Life. I am a personal acquaintance of the original fifty people who made up this group. They moved en masse from Ames, Iowa in August, 1979. They were all part of the ISU (Iowa State University) Bible Study/Ames Christian Fellowship Church of which I also had been a member since June, 1976. With regard to Sam Lopez in particular, I was his former elder at Bethany Bible Chapel in Winona Lake, Indiana where we were students together at Grave Theological Seminary.
I left this group, referred to nationally as Great Commission International (GCI) and Great Commission Churches, in July, 1980.
I am writing to you at this time because Victor Legra, a member of the group until recently, sought my help and counsel in order to leave the group without being excommunicated.
More specifically, I am writing to you for two reasons: 1) Past history indicates that when one member leaves it is not unusual that others follow and that they generally need a great deal of spiritual encouragement and counsel to "re-enter" a normal life style and I am hoping that Community E Free will be able to serve that role in Gainesville as Ontario Bible Church has in Ames, Iowa, and as other churches and believers have in other cities. 2) I believe that there are problems with this group that constitute dangers for idealistic Christian young people who have a heart to go all out for our Lord Jesus Christ. It is this second point to which I address the rest of the letter--that it might represent a warning of sufficient nature to encourage you and your board of elders to investigate these matters for yourself.
Central to Jim McCotter's teaching, the founder of this group and its self-proclaimed apostle, is that God has revealed in a "heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19), a divine "strategy" for evangelizing the world. He teaches that this strategy is encapsulated in such passages as Acts 1:6; 26:20; Rom. 15:19,20; II Cor. 10:12-16; and I Thes. 1:6-- all of these, he believes, describe a spiraling out of the gospel from a central point. McCotter teaches that any departure from this strategy is disobedience to gifts; and, that every individual Christian who is really spiritual and desirous of God's best must have as their goal moving to other countries (in fact, every other country) to evangelize and disciple All Christians who do not have this as a goal are either 1) untaught in the Scritures, or, 2) disobedient to the Scriptures. McCotter has taught over the years 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".
As the organizational vehicle for achieving his vision, McCotter 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. (A team church is to be understood as an Acts 13 team like Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, etc., thus Campus Bible Church/ Gator Christian Life is the team/church that moved from Ames, Iowa to Gainesville.) McCotter's version of this hybrid "team-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.
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 the group for the sake of their own spiritual (and often emotional and physical) health, do so having already been taught that every other church and Christian organization is "second-best", luke-warm and carnal, or ignorant of the Bible. To leave GCI is to leave the center of God's favor. More than one individual has said that he or she truly believed that by leaving the local GCI group he or she was actually leaving God, but for the sake of his or her sanity it was essential 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/or "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. (McCotter and the other leaders contend it is the church which carries out the discipline, but in every case of which we are aware the church was used simply as a rubber stamp to legitimize action already decided upon, and in some cases already carried out, by the elders, often with Jim's enthusiastic approval end encouragement.)
As more and more people throughout the movement have had the same questions and expressed the same disagreements with GCI's doctrine and practice, the leadership has become increasingly authoritarian in order to maintain control over the members. In fact, recent teaching by leaders who work directly under McCotter in Maryland asserts that the Bible is authoritative over only 40% of a person's life (i.e., is black and white on certain issues, like adultery, etc.) but in anything not specifically spelled out in Scriptures, it is the leaders' perogative to interpret, direct and counsel specifically and authoritatively. This concept (in more general terms) has been around in the movement for a long time, and has resulted in much harmful meddling by leaders in the private lives of group members in such areas as: the choice of marriage partners; the purchase of cars, homes, etc.; pursuit or non-pursuit of higher education; location of residence; choice of occupation; use or non-use of birth-control methods; adoption of children: child-raising; and much else. 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.
McCotter has recently (1984?) sought to tighten control over GCI and the individual groups by giving the whole movement a "denominational" tag--Great Commission International--and promulgating new teaching concerning apostles and elders. His apostleship teaching is a reversal that has taken place over the past two years or so. Now McCotter has found it convenient to declare tht the Holy Spirit does still make some men apostles, and that he is the apostle of GCI. This legitimizes his dictating to the individual groups/churches around the country, as well, as to the individual members. Dennis Clark is also an apostle in GCI but not with the same standing as McCotter. McCotter claims to be an apostle like Paul; but Dennis claims to be an apostle of music (whatever that is).
Another recent doctrinal innovation with practical ramifications concerns tithing. Jim now teaches that literal tithing (giving 10% of gross income to the church) is an absolute requirement of New Testament Christians if they desire God's richest blessings. More than that, the tenth is to be given to the local elders only (not to other people or organizations), who are then to send a tenth of their income to the national leaders, i.e., Jim and Dennis.
High school and college age Christians are often very susceptible to criticism of the traditional local church, especially if they begin to attend meetings of a group that appears to be very evangelical and makes claims that they are going to reach the world for Christ in our generation.
To be evangelical and have as your goal to reach the world is certainly not bad in and of itself. 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. Without first consulting with the "elders" (usually men in their twenties), they do not take jobs, apartments, visiting of parents and family, whether to stay in college or not, who to room with, and a multitude of similar things. In essence they are cloned to a particular style and are taught that all other Christians that do not join them and evangelize in their particular way are not really in God's perfect will.
They are constantly told that they are going to reach the whole world in their lifetime if they will just be united in love and unity. It is stated that 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 16 centuries, along with all present day believers, have been disobdient and therefore it is incumbent on them to be obedient. This leads them to be predisposed to accept the teachings of this 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 uniqueness that God has endowed them with, their undergraduate objectives and their careers. (This is why I compare this and similar Christian groups to cults like the Moonies.) Now their unquestioned authority becomes their leaders. All these Christians have to do to reach the world is to obey their leaders and to be united in love and unity. Unity is of a higher priority than truth and love never hears anything wrong about another person (in favor in the group), and especially about a leader.
The long term impact on believers in the group 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 among people that might not have compatibility beyond 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 to be mobile and evangelistic); psychological and spiritual trauma as the Christian brothers in particular seek to advance in a group whose leaders are advanced, not based on purported biblical standards, but really on how accepting they are of the present leadership and in particular the apostle, Jim McCotter, and how willingly they do what is asked of them without questioning.
Therefore, because believers enter the group with a heart to be obedient as no other believers since the first century, and since they give up such complete control of their lives, goals, careers, and personalities, it is of little wonder that these Christians are so completely devastated if they ever leave the group; not to mention that they are labelled as a Demas who left becaused he loved this present world and then ostracized by their friends (who have become as family to them) as being factious, slanderous and rebellious.
In summary, then, I charge this group with:
1. BEING EXTREMELY SECTARIAN: No one has ever left this group with its blessing to attend another church or work with another church or Christian organization; nor are other Christians ever invited in to speak at their meetings or national conferences. Most of the Christians in this group were saved before joining it, and yet have been isolated from their "spiritual roots" end taught that their former churches, Bible colleges and seminaries are led by people who do not really want God's best.
2. DOCTRINAL PROBLEMS: These are related to the new teaching regarding Jim McCotter being an apostle like Paul; in the manipulation of the Greet Commission in order to gain control over the lives of the members; in the dictatorial abuse of authority; and, in the sinful abuse of the power of excommunication or discipline (formal or informal); in the manipulation of the Scriptures for financial gain (Note: McCotter has never given a financial accounting of the funds he has collected over the past 15 years.)
The central error of the group is the one centered on in the Reformation, as outlined by J.I. Packer in Beyond the Battle for the Bible. Jim McCotter has decreed a canon within the canon for his followers. The McCotter church has set up its tradition as more basic than the Scripture as interpreted by the individual believer. Thus, the groups are held together by a false unity. The unity of the movement is a pattern of service as instilled by Jim McCotter. Those who do not agree with the pattern of service are not esteemed as spiritual men.
3. FOLLOWING A "DIOTREPHES": Jim McCotter is not a man above reproach and is therefore not qualified to be an elder, much less an apostle. There are over a dozen former leaders (not to mention many, many people who were never leaders) from this movement who belonged to different groups, in different states, at different times, all of whom give testimony to McCotter's lack of integrity and could give testimony to his deception, distortion of facts, and his outright lying. All could give consistent and convincing testimony to his relentless and insatiable desire for control over peoples' lives. Finally, Jim McCotter is a most factious individual, siphoning off believers from other churches and groups and then dividing them from the body of Christ with his teaching that they are the only group of Christians who really love God and went to obey the Bible. Beyond slandering the church universal, McCotter is at the bottom of the malicious and slanderous accusations made against those who disagree with him. Without exception, no leader has left this group who has not been placed under a formal or informal excommunication and charged with faction, slander, and spiritual backsliding.
While we do not have a heresy like "another gospel," these are serious charges, and if true, constitute serious dangers for Christian young people, who unwittingly might attend Bible meetings on a secular university campus that would lead them to cut ties with families and home churches.
Regretfully, I was a pert of this whole thing. I was involved in deceiving people, ostracizing people and helping in excommunications, all in the name of the Lord. Fortunately for me, there has been opportunity for repentance, and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.
In terms of Jim McCotter himself, I was very close to him and intimately involved in working with him for four years. I have gone to him, entreated and plead with him, and finally warned him when I left. But I am not in pursuit of Jim. If I may say so respectfully, he is the Lord's problem, as Saul was the Lord's problem and not David's problem. Over the years, since I left, I have tried to be an encouragement and help to others who wake up to what is going on, and who try and pick up the pieces of their lives. More recently, I have become involved with other former leaders in efforts to make the evangelical community-at-large aware of the dangers and deceptions at the McCotter movement.
You may wonder why I have adressed myself to Jim McCotter and have not spoken more specifically of Campus Bible Church/Gator Christian Life. It is because they are one in the same. Nothing is taught in this group, as to its basic purposes and goals, that it not parrotted from McCotter. No elder, and probably no deacon, is recognized in this group without the direct approval of McCotter.
If you interview the local leaders, as I hope you will, do not expect them to confirm the things I have said. They play very loose with truth (I know from experience) and are sincerely convinced that to be "wise as serpents" in the answers they give, permits them, not only, not to give the whole truth, but even to misrepresent the truth. They would never say it, but, they operate on the principal that "the ends justify the means", because they are the only ones truly obedient to God.
May God bless you, and help you, as you seek His wisdom for discernment and direction in dealing with the things I have written and any subsequent actions.
Sincerely in Christ,
Michael F. Royal