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GCI Elders

At several points in our analysis we have mentioned the difficulty that someone would have in attempting to bring a justified charge against someone in a GCI church. We also pointed out that the problem was made even more difficult if the person charged were an elder or church leader. The question then arises: "What is a person likely to encounter, or what might a person encounter, who attempts to bring an unrighteous elder or church leader to justice within a GCI church, or in the GCI national structure?"

It is important for those not familiar with GCI to understand the position the elder holds in a local GCI church. An entire publication could be written on this subject alone. Let us only briefly consider several relevant points.

GCI elders function considerably differently from those in most Evangelical churches. The elders are considered to be the prime, and in most cases the only, teachers in the church. McCotter discourages his churches from allowing anything other than the recognized elders to teach the church at large, though there may be some exceptions to this. The pastors of a GCI church are the same as its elders. It is taught that the highest honor a man can achieve in his life is to become an elder; it is the most important job he can do. All men within GCI are encouraged to seek and become elders (pastors). Frequently, in the past, numerous young men, in their early to mid-twenties, have been recognized as elders. Almost none have had any formal bible or pastoral training of any kind, other than what they picked up by watching other, similarly recognized elders, in their local church.

In addition, we have already seen that GCI teaches the churches to view themselves as a family, with the elders considered to be their fathers. They are encouraged to submit to their elders just as children submit to their fathers. We have also seen that they are told to question the judgment of an elder is the same as to question God or His Word. Within GCI churches, the elders wear many hats, including that of administrators, teachers, counselors, judges, jurors, career counselors, and others.

Problems and Pitfalls

With all of this in mind, let us consider the virtual plethora of problems and pitfalls faced by the average member who would wish to bring a true charge of unrighteousness against one of these men. To avoid tedious referencing, I will merely cite the various authors which support my point. The specific statements they have made have all been analyzed in detail in the previous chapters.

1. The first, and to a real extent, the largest obstacle for a member to overcome, who wishes to confront an elder, is to answer the question of why he even dare question an elder. He has been told that to do so is tantamount to questioning God and the Bible. If he believed that distortion, as most GCI members seem to, then he must overcome tremendous struggles with guilt feeling. (Bovenmyer, McCotter)

2. If he does summon up the nerve to confront the unrighteous elder, then he is likely to face the unpleasant prospect of being rebuked for his questioning and insubordination. (Bovenmyer, McCotter, Clark, Gumlia)

3. If he seeks another party (probably another elder) to go with him to the sinning elder, that party would not be permitted to hear the slightest bit of the situation, unless the person had the foresight to bring other witnesses with him. (Clark, Gumlia, Martindale, Hopler)

4. Since the one bringing the charge to the third party for assistance has spoken something which causes a "slight question" in the mind of the third party, he has spoken slander, and is to be rebuked for doing so. (Clark, Gumlia)

5. If there is a need, as in point three, to assemble some witnesses to approach a third party or the sinning elder, then we can have the clear appearance of stirring up a controversy in the church, which according to GCI is always wrong. The member must approach the others, asking them if they observed the action, and whether or not they judged it as he did. In doing so he is raising "slight questions", particularly if he inadvertently approaches one who was not a witness, or did not necessarily feel at first that the act was sin. For taking this step of seeking witnesses, the member can be rebuked for spreading controversy and slander, and his attempts at justice will be effectively thwarted. (Martindale, Clark, Gumlia, McCotter, Bovenmyer)

6. The truth of the charge, as we have seen, is not considered to be germane. The only concerns are whether he follows the right process, and if, when he humbly attempts to do so, whether he causes a "controversy" and "spreads slander", possibly inadvertently. (Clark, Gumlia, Martindale, Bovenmyer)

7. Once the unrighteous elder discovers that a member is attempting to proceed against him, it is a simple matter to bring counter-charges of slander/faction against the member. Since slander/faction is a far more serious sin than any other, and since the elder holds such power in the church, and since the elder's judgements are not to be questioned, his counter-charges against the member will carry far more weight than the charges against him, and he can effectively thwart justice. (Hopler, Martindale, Bovenmyer, Clark, Gumlia)

8. When the member first brings the charges to another party, that party is duty bound to defend the elder regardless of the truth of the charges. Failure to defend the elder from the accusation constitutes slander. (Gumlia)

9. If the elder has been able to conceal his sin, so that only one person at a time observed it, then it is impossible for the member to discover what other people might have witnessed similar behavior. (Hopler, Bovenmyer, Martindale, Clark, Gumlia)

10. Even if he did manage to find such witnesses, their testimony would be disallowed, since no two witnessed the same event, and they would all be considered slanderers. (Hopler, Martindale, Clark, Gumlia)

11. Due to the inordinate stress on slander/faction, the entire church would be on the look-out for potential violations. In such an atmosphere of paranoia, the slightest misque on the part of the member would be judged as the most serious sin of all, Satan's number one tool.

12. Since GCI sees slander in Titus 3:10 and Romans 16:17, any question on the part of the member about the elder's doctrines would also be construed as slander if he happened to mention it to a third party. This would be true also if the area he happened to question was the elder's doctrine about slander/faction. (Martindale)

13. Due to the excessively rigid, almost impossible procedure set up, and to the improper priority of procedure over justice, the slightest error in the member's technique will result in his discipline, not the elder's. (Hopler, Martindale, Gumlia)

14. If the elder succeeds in getting the member labeled as divisive or slanderous before the charges against the elder can be heard, then the church will never hear those charges. Divisive people are said to speak "smooth as butter" and to "use the Scriptures". Hench, anything the member might say, no matter how gracious he is, or how biblical his points, is considered to be a crafty attempt to further the division. So the truth of his charges is never investigated, for to do so would be to expose oneself to the "smooth" and "deceitful" tongue. (Hopler, Martindale)

Teachers Protecting Themselves

I am confident that the careful reader of the "Joy of Justice" and this analysis could likely find even more pitfalls than I have pointed out. The fearful thing which we face is an authority structure which is making itself unaccountable to the church. It is the leaders and teachers of GCI who are teaching and promoting these unbiblical doctrines about slander, faction, and church discipline. These are doctrines which are structured in such a way as to protect the very teachers who are constructing them. When authority is righteous, it need not teach or construct unbiblical and excessive mechanisms to protect itself from "negative information". When we see authorities so grievously mishandling the Word of God, building an unbiblical wall of protection, and teaching men not to question their judgements, we have an alarming state of affairs!

Discipline and reproof are the foundation for guaranteeing the maintenance of holiness within the Church of Jesus Christ. There is no way to guarantee this holiness without a proper understanding and application of the biblical teachings on these subjects.

"If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3)
May God have mercy! Amen.

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