Monday, March 30, 2015

My Story, by Matthew Ezell

No comments:
Matthew submitted his story back in 2013 in a series of six comments. In an effort to reorganize stories like his into a more useful and findable format, I have compiled his story into a single post.

Full disclosure: Matthew is my brother-in-law, and currently "withdrawn from" by the Anchorage, Alaska congregation. Jill is my sister, whom I love very much in spite of our disagreement over the church. They have an awesome family, and I've respected that they've been able to maintain a loving relationship.

August 29, 2013 at 3:36 PM

The option of "Anonymous" allows us to speak without anyone having any preconceived ideas about us and shields us from anyone bringing up our past. We all have one, don't we. I choose not to be "Anonymous" My past has the good, bad and ugly. I pray that you can learn something from it.

I am a past member, teacher, evangelist of this sect, who is currently withdrawn from. For me it all started when my high school friend took me to a Der Wienerschnitzel, where he introduced me to my wife to be. She invited me to a class and I never stopped going. She is still an active member "teacher" of this sect and she is still the love of my life for the last 34 years.

It is so easy for us to point fingers at each other. Because we are all human, faults are easy to see. When I look back at my participation with this sect I have a lot of memories, things I am thankful for and a lot of things I am ashamed of. I needed to learn to move on and remember that I am accountable for my actions. No matter how many faults another might have it will never make me look, or be, any better of a person. I need to improve my own life and live responsibly before my God. I now worship at the Rose street church of Christ in Anchorage and have for several years.

When I tried to make changes I ended up getting withdrawn from. I spoke out against "May Week" and said it was unscriptural. (This was the straw that broke the camel's back). To have select members of each congregation meet to discuss what the brotherhood was going to teach for the next year is not biblical. It would be impossible for me to count how many times I was publicly rebuked from the pulpit and in a Bible class. My favorite scripture during these times was Job 21:3 "Suffer me that I may speak; and after I have spoken, mock on."

August 30, 2013 at 2:33 PM

2nd Post

I am thankful for this page and the FB page that allows different ones to "get things off their chest" and lets us communicate together. This is way overdue. However... all of the anger, hatred, foul language and bitterness, I will not agree with. But I pray that in time we can all work through it. I know it has taken me a long time to get to where I am today and my journey is not done. God deserves a lot of praise for is long suffering with us.

There will be times in our lives, which certain events will happen, that we will never forget. We will remember exactly what we were doing and where we were when it all happened. Like... 9/11, the day the shuttle blew up. All because of the significant impact of the events.

Back in 1977 a few weeks after I became a member of the Stanton congregation, I remember vividly being questioned by two ladies in the congregation (who are still in this sect). They asked me if I masturbated. When I told them no, they said if I did I would be withdrawn from. Later I also learned that they believed masturbation could be a cause for Alzheimers.

Around 1979 was when I found out that some used to tie their children's hands at night, to keep them from "touching themselves". They abused their children in this way because they didn't want their children to grow up to be masturbators. This practice was stopping around the time I learned about it.

I remember (like it was yesterday) while we were in San Antonio, (this would have been around 1984) I received a call from a brother in Odessa asking me what sexual positions I practiced with my wife. I told him, that was not a conversation we were going to have and I never answered his questions. I felt it was none of his business. I then called and asked, someone else (a brother in San Diego) what was going on.

They would also question members to see if they had a "corrupt mind". If they determined they did have one, then they were withdrawn from.

They have withdrawn from hundreds of members for these three "sins". Masturbation, defiled marriage bed and the corrupt mind. They also believe now that those withdrawals were unscriptural. It would be safe to say that they have had far more unscriptural withdrawals than scriptural. They believed that those that fell away, after being withdrawn from scripturally, would have never continued anyway.

There past is so very ugly and they try to hide it. They destroyed the tapes of any recordings with these things being taught. They don't want any of their new converts hearing these things.

I'm sorry for not having a more respectful way of putting this... But was it their Holy Spirit that led them in and out of the "truths" of child restraint, masturbation, the defiled marriage bed and questioning individuals if they had a corrupt mind? Was it their Holy Spirit that kept them united through all of that?

August 30, 2013 at 2:37 PM

3rd Post because it was too long to all be in my 2nd post.

Here is something to take note of... They believe that one of the "ear-marks" of them being the only true church is their belief that are led by the Holy Spirit into all truth and he keeps them united.

It is also important to note that they believe and are convinced that everyone else is lost. All other churches of Christ are referred to as the "off Churches" "Congregations that have had their candlestick removed" (Rev 2:5) therefor they believe God no longer recognized them as being the church.

Here is something VERY important to understand about them... With their strong belief that everyone else is wrong, this leaves them with nowhere else to go. So, no matter what they have done wrong and willingly admit to, it will always be better to stay where they are at, than to go anywhere else.

I will leave you with this scripture...

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. -2 Peter 3:9

This is how God feels towards them too. I believe prayer is in order for those we love, that are still a part of this sect.

September 1, 2013 at 6:01 PM

4th Post

I will start this post by saying that in my beginning; every new convert was questioned on masturbation and taught it was wrong. I might add that I still believe that we need to refrain from such behavior.

Now, another day, I will never forget. March 11th 1998. This is the day my Dad passed away suddenly with a heart attack. On this day I was at Sam's Club shopping when my phone rang with my Mom on the other end of the phone. In her emotional pain she told me what had happened. Two months prior she lost her Mom and now her husband, my Dad was dead. All I could do was sit down on a pallet and cry.

I flew to the Stanton area to be with my Mom and family. As we were arranging my Dad's burial, I was told that I needed to go back to Anchorage and worship with them. I was being told I needed to worship with my home congregation even though the Stanton congregation was right there. This was going to require me to miss my father's burial. My family was willing to postpone his funeral so I flew back to Anchorage; worship with my home congregation, then flew back for his funeral. I will always remember, when I first told my Mom, I could not stay. She asked me why I could not stay and worship with the Stanton congregation. That's when I told her, as I had been taught, it is written, "But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead." -Matthew 8:22. I will never forget her cry and tears.

September 2, 2013 at 8:41 PM

5th Post

Sweetheart (Erin) you are right about Matthew 8. That's just what I was taught and the way they applied it to me was cruel and wrong. I believe they have changed that teaching and application to Matthew 8 also.

Another event I will never forget...

My withdrawal. It was on a Thursday night after our non-member class. My wife and I walked in with some non-members, right about the time the class was supposed to start. Immediately the preacher and a lady took me into a back room to talk with me. They told me that after the non-member class the congregation was going to have a meeting to bring up withdrawing from me for what I said, the last weekend, at a Sunday night fellowship. I asked them a question (I don't remember my specific question) and they said, "We don't have time to talk right now, we need to start class".

This is what I taught at the fellowship "May week was unscriptural and it was like the Baptist convention." Furthermore I said "We can't read in the Bible where the older ones from each congregation are to meet to discuss the teaching and practices of the brotherhood for the purpose of keeping us united."

Now back to Thursday night. When the meeting started, the preacher said he wanted to first paint a picture of me because he didn't believe the congregation knew me like he did. So, before going into what I said that previous Sunday evening, he spoke for about 15 minutes accusing me of things he believed I had done. He then spoke about what I said at the fellowship and then asked if there were any questions. At that point I wanted to address everything he had falsely accused me of, so I raised my hand. He called on me and I began to answer for myself on the first accusation he made about me. I said, "The first thing you just accused me of is believing that the older ones in our congregation are holding a specific brother back from teaching the older kids class" (I might add here that neither he or anyone else had ever talked with me about this).

I told him "I didn't believe that and I had never thought it." At that point another sister interrupted and said, "This has nothing to do with Matthews withdrawal and we didn't need to talk about it" so I was stopped. I raised my hand again and when he called on me I began to talk about his second accusation against me and I was immediately cut off by another sister who said the same thing, "this has nothing to do with Matthew's withdrawal and we didn't need to talk about it." So I was stopped a second time, for trying to answering for myself, the accusations laid against me. I raised my hand again and he called on me one last time. I asked "can I answer for myself for the things I said at the fellowship for the reason you are withdrawing from me?" He said "no" and I was then withdrawn from.

There never was any scripture given to try to show the "May Week" to be scriptural. Not at that meeting or any time thereafter. I continued to attend for around 1 ½ years before I left for good.

I consider this day to be one of the greatest days of my life. I continue to thank God for setting me free. I believe that my life is proof that anyone can make it out of there.

He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. Psalms 111:4

September 27, 2013 at 12:43 PM

6th Post

There were two other days I will never forget. These two days happened several years after my withdrawal. Two of my boys, on different days, a few years apart from each other, were baptized into the congregation in Anchorage. They both, at their different times, meet up with me to tell me that they were going to get baptized. This might sound odd, but with both of my sons, we just cried and hugged each other. Neither one of them wanted to let me go. Those were the longest hugs ever. This was because we both knew that they would never hold any more conversations with me. No more camping or playing basketball or anything with Papa any more. As I said before, I am literally reminded every day of the bondage that is a part of those congregations. I believe I still have to reap what I sowed and I believe God can work a miracle in their lives also. I told my first boy that God was merciful with me because he led my out of those congregations. I said, "You are so much like me and I believe God will help lead you out of there too."

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. -Psalms 51:8-13

I do not want anyone to feel sorry for me, because God has been very good to me. I have so much to be thankful for and I know that my journey is not over. This is just what is happening in these congregations today.

I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD. -Psalms 104:33-3
Here is a link to my own study on Stanton's mistaken understanding of withdrawal. It does not necessarily represent Matthew's opinions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Story, by Jeff Hernandez

Thank you, Jeff, for your letter detailing your story. I'm sorry for your experiences. If believers are to show Christ to one another as well as to a lost world, this certainly doesn't seem like the way to do it. Thank you for being discreet (proper usage of the word) about names so this doesn't become about personalities, but about the church's culture.

I want to encourage you to find a church family who will take the time to get to know you, and with whom you can share your struggles freely without fear of retribution.
My name is Jeff Hernandez and Lynn is my middle name. My wife and I are still married. She left the church because it was too hard for her to take the kids and listen to the sermons and classes when they were little she spent a lot of time in the cry room, and nobody would help her. When she did start coming back she wasn't whole hearted into it because almost every time she came the topic was about me.

I was first baptized in 1983 when I was 17 years old. Mentally I was still a child. Yes, I made a lot of mistakes, but instead of helping me I got a lot of rebukes and was withdrawn from for basically talking too much. A talebearer. It was easier to shut you up with withdrawal than to work with you. Eventually, almost every teacher was either withdrawn from for false teaching and/or fell away. Because of the way people were treating each other, I left after about 3 years of it. I came back in around 1998/9.

I came back strong. I learned a lot and studied a lot. I caught up a lot by listening to tapes of talks and May weeks. I started seeing a lot of what this congregations biggest problem was. Their lack of love for each other. Yes, they were great in greeting people when they got together, but not where it counted when people were in need. There was a great absence in moral support and members would pick and choose who they would give physical support to.

(I am trying to do this without cluttering this up with specific details.)

I was told that a preacher from Portland was sent to us to help with the lack of love situation, but that didn't work. Him and his wife eventually fell away. A preacher from down south was sent to replace him, but they made the situation worse. He stood by a motto of "don't ask the church could do for you, but what you could do for the church" whenever I would ask for help because of my infirmity. I saw no love in his wife at all. Even when this preacher's own son was preaching he mentioned in a sermon that when his wife was out for a due to her pregnancy that nobody even called her.

In this congregation it was taught that those who have the infirmities and miss classes or worship are supposed be the ones to reach out and not to expect the congregation to help, unless I ask for it. Are we not told to support the weak and bear one another's burdens?

Not too long after I came my spine started deteriorating badly. I had to bring a different chair a the problem was from my tailbone up. I eventually started missing classes and personal work. Then started the constant teaching to push the flesh. I heard that so much that I at times would avoid people to keep from hearing it. When I would call to let somebody know I wasn't going to able to make it, most of the time it would be met with pushing the flesh to go.

In the late 90' in order for me to go to work I had to take 2 800 mg of Ibuprofen and a Vicodin. I was seeing so many doctors and would up in the emergency room at least four times. I am now on disability and have a very hard time doing anything.

When the congregation saw that I was making it sporadically then the teachings and classes and sermons start being focused on me. I would be compared to other members in how if they could do it then so could I. I was compared to an elderly woman in another congregation who comes with her oxygen tank. I was compared to another sister who had one compressed disc who came and laid down in the cry room and got the disc decompressed. I have 3 compressed discs, 7 discs that are damaged, sciatica, stenosis, degenerative disc disease, degenerative arthritis, and scoliosis.

I was constantly treated like I didn't have these problems. I never asked for special treatment nor did I expect it. All I asked for was that my own brethren would show some empathy, keep in contact with me, and share with me what I missed in classes. It turned out pretty bad. It was taught, preached, and even brought out in talks to other congregations that I was self centered, selfish, and stand offish.

There is a lot that happen in the years, but for time and space sake I will keep this from getting long. You can from my other letters things that happen.

In all of this I couldn't fathom why people would choose to stand at a distance and continually tell you to push yourselves and not lift a hand to be there for a brother/sister. I was not the only one this was done to. An elderly sister we had eventually quit coming because of the constant badgering to push the flesh.

I was threatened with withdrawal if I didn't quit bring up that the brethren need to do more for each other in situations like this. That preacher now denies even saying it.

It got to the point that I started ignoring the brethren that were always trying to drive it into me that my pushing and going is more important than what I was going through. It got to the point that it was being said that I think I control the corner on pain and that I am only thinking of myself. All I ever wanted is support from my brethren in what I was going through. The two biggest things I ever asked for was that people would call me every once in a while and to share with me what I missed in classes. What I got was people showing up just to tell me repeatedly to push the flesh. I got so tired of it that I was ignoring my phone when certain people called. That was brought out too. I asked if people could just show up and share the scriptures with me and was told that they can't do that. My wife even heard that one.

The rest of the congregation started following suit in believing that I wasn't accepting teaching and eventually it was like I was on withdrawal as most people wouldn't talk to me and my family. At two fellowships my children were on the children's blanket that they get fed on and all the other children were fed, except my two. I had to get up and make their food. This was even done in front of one of the evangelists.

I couldn't take this anymore and started reaching outside this congregation. I knew one of the preachers from a CA congregation and told him everything. When he inquired about it our preacher from the south told him that nothing is going on. The preacher from the south's wife told me that and that the preacher from CA will believe them over me because they have more status than me.

I didn't stop there. I reached out to the evangelist in CA. He ignored my letter. I emailed a couple more times only to be ignored. Eventually I sent him one stating that this email must not be the right one only to be replied by him that he spoke to a certain preacher here about it and was just going to let them handle it. So, I told him that I would contact the other evangelist and he said go a head. That evangelist was coming to see us anyway and made it a point to talk to us about this. What a mistake that was.

That evangelist held a meeting with the older members and myself. I brought out how I was rebuked basically for following that evangelist's wife's counseling, which should be murmuring, and nothing was done to that preacher. The evangelist told me that after reading my letter that it seemed that it was all just about me like it was self centered. I brought out how that because of my spine I had asked if people wouldn't shake my hand so hard and was said that I was rude about it and this evangelist said that I probably was. After this meeting he took me aside and practically told me too get a job and that I had too much time on my hands like I was a busy body. I'm disabled. That Sunday sermon this evangelist nailed me to the floor comparing me to [Snip]. I even told him that one of the preachers threatened me over a matter, but that got nowhere.

These brethren think they can just show up at people's homes whenever they feel like it. I had asked that before anybody comes over if they could call first as I was on some heavy medication that made me drowsy and a lot of times I was in such pain that I didn't want to see anybody. Also, my wife was fallen away and she didn't like them. It made for an uncomfortable situation. At times we would go out to McDonald's or somewhere to meet, but couldn't all the time because in too much pain. Well, they couldn't accept that. They believed that if they felt like stopping by anytime they want, that you should accept them. A preacher even brought out in a sermon he did on "A Man of God" stating that he that doesn't follow the teachings is not a man of God. He even included that if I don't allow people to show up when they feel like it I am not a man of God. I told this to the evangelist and that to make such a remark you are making that a law, but that was ignored.

Kevin, this only scratches the surface of the years of this treatment. I would have to write a book in order to get everything down.

Because of what I was going through I have set into motion a sequence of events that will move us from this state to another.

I have stopped going since because I practiced this:

Matthew 18:16-18 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

I took it to the preacher and was almost withdrawn from at one time. I have talked with many of the preachers and teachers only to be told I am in the wrong for not pushing the flesh and being selfish for looking for support from my brethren. I took it to the outside preacher and two evangelists only to be ignored and have it backfire on me to where now most of the congregation treats me like I am withdrawn from.

I have wrestled with it for quite some time, so that I can't be happy here. I love the Bible and talking scriptures. I am reminded almost every time we go about what I need to be doing. My wife and kids saw this. Even the children of other Christians saw this and disagreed with how they were treating me and don't want to join.

I keep asking them what sin did I commit in looking to my brethren in my times of need.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My Story, by "K.F."

A reader emailed me this letter and asked me if I would post it. I've been a little reluctant because of the underlying bitterness that is still there, but we agreed that I could make a few introductory comments about that. While I don't at all endorse the bitterness, I do understand where it's coming from. My hope and prayer is that KF can defeat this bitterness, and I believe that can only happen by experiencing God's love and forgiveness in a way that he's never seen in the Stanton churches.

EDIT #1 - In the spirit of clearing up confusion about the purpose of posting this letter, I think it should be clear by my history on this blog that it was not to defame anyone or slander K.F.'s ex-wife. K.F., I am going to redact a few lines that appear to be attacks on your ex-wife. They may or may not be true, but I don't want the purpose of this blog to be questioned in any manner. The purpose is to expose Stanton's history, give voice to people who have been hurt, and to show a way out of that hurt in a Christlike manner. To those who think I exercised bad judgment by posting the letter in its previous form, I apologize. It was a tough judgment call, and I'm doing my best to seek a wise course on things like this.

They Took My Wife and Ruined My Life, by "K.F."

Hello Kevin, I'm not a member, however many of the members of the Spring Valley cult know me personally through the membership of my ex-wife CF.

I thank you giving all these people a forum to express their experiences with the doctrines put out by the teachers of this cult that have damaged their lives.

In my 30 year career as an air traffic controller, we referred to others by their operating initials, hence KF.

The damage in my life began about 1990 in Santee where I was living with CF, my wife of 7 years at the time. We had two children, EF my son born 1984, and SF my daughter born 1986.

The stories of how the members and their children were separated from their "worldly" friends and families gave me painful reminders of what I and my children suffered from. So I felt that I should contribute some outside perspective to this small community.

CF and I lived unmarried together for nearly four years before getting married in 1983. Yes we waited to be married before having children, not like some of the family members of SCOC.


The door knocker that got my wife's attention then (1990) was none other than [Snip]. Starting with non-member classes then eventually being baptized not long after. The effect on my family was innocuous at first, but soon there were changes that made an impact. When COC stepped into my marriage bed to tell me how and how often I can have sex with my own wife, that told me we were headed for trouble. [Snip]

Then my children were told to dress different than other "worldly" people.

This term "worldly" has separated so many from the real world. When you look outside of the COC, doesn't the rest of the world count? Does this cult think that only people within their one nation english speaking, sexually judgmental world are the only people on earth that matter? Are all women harlots constantly tempting weak-willed men into sexual pursuits? Why not chastity belts?

[EDITOR'S NOTE: There are many ways to teach kids to save sex for marriage and to dress modestly without resorting to cult-like control of members.]

They destroy families and should be shamed and punished for what they have done in the name of Christ. Throughout my wife's membership in the COC, many times fellowships were held in my homes for her to impress other members. Didn't they realize they were invited into the home of a worldly heathen? I would come home from my work on Sundays and feel quite unwelcom in my own home as 10-20 members and kids occupied my house.

[Snip] and their family even rented a home of ours for a time in Santee. Other members have rented apartments or homes that we owned over the 20+ years that CF has been a member.

My kids were taught to avoid me because "he is not one of us" or "your father has worldly behaviors." [Snip]'s kids rented an apt from us, [Snip] rented a brand new home, [Snip] and their 5 kids [Snip] and another family lived together in our duplex til our divorce in 2010. We lost over $100,000 having to sell that asset.

Speaking of our assets. Since the COC discourages women from working or getting an education, the assets that we acquired during our marriage were attained entirely through my ability to maintain my high income job while also spending many,many of my off hours constructing new homes and remodeling others. CF hasn't worked since 1984, She now lives on over $30,000 a year taken from my federal retirement and also lives in a house mortgage-free that she was given in the settlement. How's that ladies? Wouldn't you all like to have your own house and $30K a year?

Of course everyone in the COC knew we were getting divorced. Not one, Not one of any of the members who knew me personally, lived in my homes, worked with me in my airplane washing business, fellowshipped in my home over and over...not one cared enough about our marriage to speak to us together. [Snip] knew me very well.

This is why I refer to the COC as hypocrites Hypo-Christians. They do not practice what they preach.

My children suffered real identity problems as they were continually segregated from their school friends. Sorry, but many of the children in the COC were not the best friends for my daughter to have. Now that I hear of the yelling that went on it angers me more. My son is not a member Thank Goodness not Godness, my daughter is still struggling with identity but is making good progress now in finding new direction. Actually she has attended and will attend college in spite of her mother's church doctrine. [Snip]

So as you can gather I am very bitter over the teachings of this cult and their hypocritical actions. Who do they help but themselves? Will their doctrine bring peace in the world? NO.

Do they reach out to actually provide food or shelter to anyone? NO.

Do billions of other people in the world count? YES.

So you can all go on praying for better times, but until you are ready to roll-up your sleeves and get into the rest of the world and help, yes we are all doomed to some fate. Not by the hand of some God but by the continuous degrading of our lives by failing societies and ignorance.

I addressed the Spring Valley congregation last year with a written flyer I left on a few windshields that day. It addressed a debt that my ex-wife owes me during our worldly divorce.

It was CF who initiated the divorce as the plaintiff. Wasn't that against COC doctrine?

My flyer was taken as an act of domestic violence by CF and she actually had a restraining order placed on me for three months. Talk about worldly actions.

I do not intend to let this debt go, It involves $19,000. Perhaps with a few more people knowing about it she will confess to this debt and pay me back. She already takes money that I alone earned.

Our divorce took over three years (2007-2010) and cost our children over $200,000 of inheritance that went to attorneys. She took me to court again in 2013, wanting more money. Who's worldly now?

So children of COC and members who read this blog, thank you for expressing your views and helping me to gain insight into what happened in my marriage. I forwarded the list of rules that Christian's live by to my sister who lives in Jordan in the Middle East only about 100 miles from Bethlehem, Israel. She responded by saying "there is another group just like them. They are called the Taliban." She is correct, but COC uses Guilt instead of Guns.

If you stay you will be damaged, if you have left or are thinking to leave, may you have better fortune through your self-determination.

Every man/woman sins. The greater sin is non-acceptance of human beings and trying to persuade others to live in a closed-off world. It's a small world that is dying and not growing.

Praying and imagining are not going to change the world as it is. Dreams can be lived but only through earnest work?

Love "Well that's just some people talking" "Your prison is walking through this world all alone" (Eagles)

I'm sure many who read this will know who I am. I invite you to email me.

FYI, I did make edits for clarity, and later cut out some references that I didn't feel were helpful or necessary. It is painful to click "Publish," but I believe it's necessary to hear KF's perspective and experiences.

K.F., I hope these edits are OK with you, if not let me know and I'll remove the post. I'm praying for you that God will bring people into your life to speak about God using a different language--the language of love and radical forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ.

If we look at how Jesus handled being treated unjustly, we have a pretty clear model for how we should react--with love and grace.
grace - n. - unmerited favor
KF...I'm sorry you went through all this.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Loving those still in Stanton

I get a lot of questions from people about how best to have a relationship with those still in the Stanton churches. Many feel castigated and judged after leaving, whether they left for Biblically principled reasons, or because they were running from the mistaken view of God they had been told about by Stanton, and wanted nothing to do with him.

What a shame, either way. The dysfunction that has arisen in so many families as a result of Stanton has been written about extensively in these pages and in readers' comments. It's truly an awful legacy, considering that the family unit was designed by God to be a beautiful thing, something that protects and nurtures children's and spouses' faith in God.

Nevertheless, many find themselves on the outside of Stanton for a multitude of reasons, and wonder if there is any hope to patch up relationships with those who remain on the inside. Is it possible? Is it worth it? I hold the view that all relationships are worth it, but if so, how does one go about it? Many have written me expressing how hopeless it all seems.

Hopeless may seem accurate if the only goal is to get the person who is still in, out. While I make no pretense that that is a worthy goal in most cases (because those "in" will see and relate to God so much better from outside of Stanton's darkened view of God), that is the wrong objective to measure success from a relationship point of view. We can't hold the relationship hostage until they leave.

So the real question is how can we relate to those still inside? How do we deal with strong differences of opinion, especially at family gatherings like meals (particularly when there are withdrawn-from family members present) and weddings (where alcohol might be served).

Is it possible for people who strongly disagree with each other to not just be cordial, but to genuinely love each another as Jesus loved? If Jesus' kind of love is truly a command, not just some sort of warm fuzzy feeling, then yes, we can. If love is a command, it's something we have complete control over. God can't command something that is impossible for us to do.

This means disapproval can coexist in a loving relationship. We know this to be true from life experiences. Can't siblings love each other in spite of their different choices in life? Can't parents and adult children love each other in spite of differences in their opinions and choices with regard to church, faith, or anything else? Can't spouses do the same?

I know some of you will shake your heads in disbelief. "Well, that may be a good theory, but I've never seen it happen in real life--at least not in my family." My point exactly. Maybe the real problem is that you haven't actually seen Jesus' love preached or lived out in real life, but I'm here to tell you, it can be done. Whether you are currently a believer or not, you have the ability to model the way forward for your family. Become a believer, set your life on fire for Jesus Christ, and the task at hand will become much more clear.

The scriptures command this kind of love for those we don't understand, or that we have conflicts with, and we are to follow this command above all else. It is our highest calling, above even going to church. If love demands you help someone stuck on the side of the road next Sunday on your way to church, that's what you should do, even it makes you late. Or, you can be the priest with your nose in the air who walks by on the other side of the road, driving right past a golden opportunity to demonstrate love in action.

The Greatest Commands are to Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor--and by extension, your father, or daughter, or son, or mother, or husband, or wife--as yourself. That's not a theory, it's a life-altering call to action--an deliberate reinvention of each relationship from the ground up. It is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing you will ever do. Love comes easy because we're made in the image of a God whose nature is love. But it's hard because we want to make all kinds of excuses why we can't, or shouldn't, or don't need to really love THIS person THAT much.

I may not like someone's behavior, or opinions, or choices, or church, but I can still love them deeply, and display that love genuinely through my actions, words, and demeanor. It doesn't mean I approve of all of the above. It means I love them in spite of it. Wasn't that what Jesus did while associating with the publicans, sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes--those outside the outer circles of the spiritual in-crowd?

Jesus didn't give his stamp of approval to the "riffraff" of society when he socialized with them. He got to know them as real people, with real hurts, habits, and hangups. He didn't wring his hands in fear that eating and drinking with them would be seen as an endorsement of their messed up lives, although the Pharisees dutifully accused him of exactly that. No, man-fearing was definitely not top-of-mind. Instead, the "riffraff" felt Jesus' love for them, not his judgement. In fact, his most fiery judgment was reserved for the most hypocritical teachers of the law, the upper echelon of the religious hierarchy of his day. Things haven't changed much, have they?

Are there times when we may need to show some righteous indignation, or at least put some firm boundaries down about what will or won't happen in our own family unit? Sure, but remember that Jesus had the confidence of knowing everyone's heart. We don't. We should always assume good motives, and that will tend to soften our words a bit. A little humility goes a long way.

Jesus' kind of love--the kind that forgives old hurts, recognizes failures, and loves anyway--is the kind that fathers and daughters can tap into to rebuild a strained relationship, or mothers and daughters can use to heal old wounds. Sons can tap into this Jesus-kind-of-love, even after years of drifting away from their fathers, whether that was because of the natural forces of their teen quest for independence, matched up against a father's need for authority and respect in his home, or because of hardened, unloving church teaching and discipline. Love conquers all, and yes, it covers--overlooks--a multitude of sins. It is not our role to mete out justice to those who have wronged us. That's above our pay grade.
1 Peter 4:8 - Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
And everyone has them, don't they? Father, son, mother, daughter, in the church, or out of the church, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

You want to know the secret to reconciling sinful people in messed up families? The humility to recognize that we're all in the same boat. We all stand condemned, and thus are all equally in need of God's grace, from those who get all spiritual to those who rarely set foot in a church building. The minute I start demanding that you be held accountable for all you've done wrong, I have to see clearly before me how I've done wrong and need just as much grace and forgiveness as you do. The humility that washes over us when we realize our own shortcomings is the beginning of rebuilding a relationship on mutual love and understanding.

If you have a relationship with someone in Stanton, take heart and don't throw it away just because they may not agree with your decision not to attend. Even if they don't treat you very lovingly when you express your disagreement, that's OK. Love them anyway. Show them Jesus' love in action. Model the right way to live a life of love for those we disagree with, and show them a better way.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A "Jesus Take The Wheel" kind of faith

Several people have sent me audio files from various meetings since I started this blog, and I just happened to browse some of them recently. One caught my eye called "Standing in the Gap" from November 2013. It sounded inspiring enough, so I imported it into my iTunes and started listening.

It was rather lengthy, and I recalled having started listening to it before, but never made it to the end. After awhile, I remembered why. It took some time to get up to speed, wandering a bit aimlessly for the first 40 minutes. Eventually, though, there were some valuable points made.

Most it was charming prose, though maybe a bit too self-conscious. From one story to another, the first 40 minutes of the talk were about the speaker's ailments, how rough it is to be a preacher, how important his work is, how much influence he's had on younger preachers, and how difficult it is to give a 4 hour lesson.

Jesus Take The Wheel

What really stuck out to me, though, was when he launched into a piece about his doctor's "Jesus Take The Wheel" kind of faith, and how laughable it was that his doctor admonished him to trust God as a way to deal with his stress before standing up behind the pulpit. I guess we can't have someone who's not a member of "The Church" giving meaningful spiritual advice to a preacher.

You can listen to this 5 minute segment I'll call "The Preacher and the Doctor" that starts at about 29:45 in the full audio version. In it, he mocked the doctor's Biblical advice to trust God (to the chuckles of the audience). A perusal of scripture suggest that we go with the good doctor on this one:
Psalm 37:5 - Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: 
Psalm 55:22 - Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. 
Psalm 56:3-4 - When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? 
Psalm 94:19 - When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. 
Proverbs 16:3 - Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. 
Isaiah 40:31 - But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. 
John 14:27 - Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 
Philippians 4:6-7 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
To me, the doctor's advice actually displays a genuine, real-world kind of faith--a faith that is not ivory tower kind of stuff, but practical, where the rubber meets the road of our Christian walk. Let go and let God. Jesus, take the wheel.

I know, this is just bumper sticker theology, you say--a trite saying finessed by Nashville into a recording contract. Perhaps, but there's some powerful, life-changing, Biblical admonition in there. I'd be careful about mocking it just because you first heard it on a country station.

He acknowledges that the doctor has a deep faith (with the obligatory "of sorts" caveat), but it struck me that the doctor's faith was perhaps deeper and more practical than his own. In fact, I'd say the doctor's "Jesus Take The Wheel" kind of faith was the same kind that caused Paul to go into the tent-making business to support his ministry to convert the Roman Empire. Kind of a crazy plan, but he entrusted his plans to the Lord, and guess what? They succeeded, just as the scriptures promise. It's the same kind of faith that prompted Paul to criss-cross the known world without fear, go to Macedonia despite warnings of impending imprisonment, and eventually die in Rome for the cause of Christ. Yet the doctor's Paul-style faith was played up for laughs.

I mean no disrespect by pointing this out. This analysis is not about the preacher. I don't know him at all, but I honestly think I'd like him if I met him. So as far as the person goes, I will chalk this up to an off-day behind the podium.

For that reason, I'd prefer that names be kept out of this, simply because it's not about him, or questioning his motives, which I assume are wonderful, but about underscoring a dangerous theology that seeks to cheapen the value of trust in God in everyday life.

I'm here to say loudly and clearly that our God who made the universe, and who made you and me, can and does help those who trust in Him in everyday life--whether that is preaching an effective sermon, overcoming stress and physical ailments, or guiding the hands of a surgeon. We have an all-powerful God who cares deeply about our everyday lives.

After listening to this talk, I was honestly left a little confused. On one hand, he acknowledged the importance of faith, and that it provides victory over the weakness of the flesh, but on the other, appears to mock this whole idea that we can actually cast our burdens on Him. There is a disconnect here that's hard to put my finger on, but it's as if he's saying the idea of absolutely trusting in God is too good to be true. This is accentuated by the doubts he expresses in the face of his struggles, thinking that maybe God has left him somehow. This reminds me of Peter's lack of faith walking on the sea. It was not that Jesus left Peter to sink, it was that Peter's faith wavered when the going got tough. He didn't fully "let Jesus take the wheel."

This disconnect seems to turn all that Christian talk of the importance of faith into a sort of lip service--something that may sound good in theory, but in real life, when you actually get up to give a sermon--you just can't put your stress about that into God's hands. We, after all, are the tip of the spear, God's partner to get this done.

It also struck me as odd that he is glad to not have to rely on a surgeon who prays for God's guidance for his hands. I, for one, would happily put myself into the care of a surgeon who commits his work to the Lord in prayer, believing in faith that God will help him accomplish his task successfully. Do I want him to have some great surgery experience under his belt, too? Yeah, there is that. :-)

I don't want to be too negative, and I don't want to be flippant about this man's ailments or the contradictions of faith I heard. In fairness, I did find some sound exhortation in the latter half of the talk. There was some good encouragement about avoiding fearfulness, avoiding excessive negativity, and being committed to the cause of Christ to the death. All good stuff, and delivered charmingly.

Overall, there was some worthwhile exhortation. But that "Jesus Take The Wheel" segment...yikes!

Here is the snippet again, and here's the full audio if you'd like to listen to the entire talk.

Note: A part of me is really hesitant to post this, because I don't want anyone to think this blog is about tearing down people. I hope you can see that that's not what this is about. I've been behind the podium before, and I've not always been happy with myself afterward. In fact, sometimes embarrassingly so. The golden rule applies here, and while I wouldn't necessarily like someone dissecting my sermon on a blog, if I was speaking unbiblically, I would honestly want someone to correct me so I could deepen my faith. I hope that my analysis here can be received in that light.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My Story, by Donna Bennum

I appreciate Donna's willingness to share her story, and hope that others are emboldened to do the same. More importantly, I hope that her experience inspires others to take action!

My Story, by Donna Bennum

In August of 2014 I made my decision to leave 'the church' (Stanton churches) which I had been a member of for thirty-six years.

In the weeks that followed I found Rising Sun church of Christ. I sat in their sanctuary and listened to their hymns, as they were accompanied by musical instruments of all sorts. I listened to the preacher speak about God's love for us and about His GRACE, and how there's NOTHING we could do to work for that grace of Christ dying on the cross for us. The message that made such an impact on me was "praise God in all we do!" All I have been doing is pleasing MAN by conforming to man-made rules/judgements for all the time I've been in the church.

It hit me that I have been held HOSTAGE for the past thirty-six years! Hostage to beliefs that are not inspired by God. Hostage to "judgements" that became DOCTRINE. HOSTAGE to the fear of MAN. HOSTAGE to the fear of God striking me dead if I text while driving, or if I forgot to bless my food before taking a bite (fearing a God of condemnation - not SALVATION.)

I have been HELD HOSTAGE to SCRUTINY! Being analyzed for what you wore, what you spoke, how you moved what you did or did not do. Life in the Stanton churches was NOT a joy and rejoicing of my heart. I would go to worship and classes and anticipate a phone call from a teacher over the next couple of days...your kids didn't take notes during church, your girls didn't wear socks with their shoes to Tuesday class, you could see the lines of your bra through the back of your blouse (I was not the only mom who was always equipped with a thermometer to find any excuse to miss classes or worship).

I realized why I never felt really close to my brethren, it's because I felt I always had to have my guard up because they would eventually bring a perceived offense to me about me or my children.

The 'straw that broke the camel's back' came when my husband was counseled to bring our disabled 18 year old child back home to gain guardianship - no matter what  legal fees entailed. We were working with social service agencies on a regular basis but it was the church that took away our ability as parents by taking away our ability to make OUR OWN decisions. The Bible teaches that men are to take the role as the head of their homes. The church does not give them that liberty.

Because I was considered a teacher for much of my 36 years I WAS part of the problem with teaching man-made doctrine. I became the enforcer of church rules in my home with my children and in taking away my husband's authority. Having adopted three siblings out of foster care, and seeing results of "failing" (by Stanton's measures) with our four bio children, I had decided to be stricter and more diligent with our adopted children. Between my pride and the church rules and three teenagers—it was all out WAR! They could do nothing right in my eyes as I scrutinized them the way the teachers do.

My husband and I were always at odds regarding discipline of the kids. He wanted time to weigh things out and I pushed him to ACT. I was rash. I pushed for what I'd been taught...don't let ONE act of disobedience go unpunished. I became the enemy in the home but I had convinced myself that it was due to our children's rebellion. I considered myself to be the righteous one because I was obeying my teachers. Meanwhile, my husband was 'set down' for NOT conforming to the hard discipline of the church, as I was doing.

I realized the church does not teach men to lead their homes, nor Christians to make their own decisions. Submitting to your teachers in the church means DON'T question church counsel and judgements. I learned to judge with harshness and hardness out of pride. My self examination became, if I'm approved in the eyes of my teachers then I MUST be approved before God.

Over the years in the church I was withdrawn from twice. Both were unscriptural for offenses fabricated by the church by intruding into people's private lives. My husband attempted to contest the scriptural basis for my withdraw but was shot down as not having the judgement as the older ones. Once again, he was striving to be the man of his house.

I THANK GOD that he opened my eyes to see that I was NOT serving Him OR my family out of LOVE.

I am ashamed of having a part in teaching these doctrines of man. I don't want to say that what I have been through in the church for decades is comparable to the three women who were held in chains in a home for decades—but I DO believe I HAVE related to that moment the one woman took courage to rush to the door and take the chance to BREAK OUT in the hope of freedom.

The moment I determined I was DONE WITH BONDAGE, God opened the door to FREEDOM! I praise my God for this! He has shown me I have HOPE. I found my MY hope. He will show you as well. Have faith to 'step over the side of the boat' and put away the premise that God exists only within the Stanton churches (another fable of man's creation).

There IS hope after SCRUTINY! I pray for those still in the Stanton churches, but especially those who are recovering from the damage done by the man-made doctrines within the Stanton churches. So much damage has been done simply by largely omitting the GRACE of Christ from their doctrine. The Stanton churches are NOT a "taste of heaven on earth" because NO ONE will make it to heaven without following Christ's commandments of LOVE.

You are in my prayers, Donna Bennum.
Do you want to see more stories like this? Submit them to me using the contact information in the sidebar. Thanks for your patience and readership as the blog evolves, and thank you Donna for submitting your inspiring story!
2 Corinthians 3:16-18 - But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A public confession


I have a public confession to make.

I believe the church's practice of public confession, and all its associated rules, are simply more assumptions which have been mistakenly inferred and bound by men, not by the Bible. This includes:
  • A weekly time of public confession.
  • Private sins confessed before public ones
  • A confession must be as public as the sin was
  • Must stand for public confession
  • A prayer must be offered after said period of public confession asking for the forgiveness of the people who confessed.
  • You can't take the Lord's Supper if there is "sin on your soul" as a result of not confessing a "public sin" publicly
  • If these rules are violated, your sins are not forgiven
We all know the church is big on public confession. This is a distinctive teaching that separates this church noticeably from other churches, and not just other Churches of Christ, by the way.

Stanton likes to refer back to Nehemiah 9 and 10 (a unique instance of a national confession of Israel) for a dubious Biblical precedent for this Sunday morning practice. But where exactly is this event referred to by first century writers, much less practiced by them? Spoiler alert--it's not. Not even close.

Don't get me wrong--private confession, as the New Testament teaches, should be an important part of Christian life. It encourages humility, and restores relationships, when it is practiced between brothers and sisters who have truly offended one another. Public confession can even be a valuable thing as well, when one's own desire for accountability leads them to expose their weaknesses so the church body can support them in changing their ways.

But when you've just violated an entirely man-made rule, like the wrong color of lipstick, or not wearing nylons on is an unbelievable cheapening of what should be a deeply personal, and entirely optional, desire to humble yourself and expose your struggles to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Leadership hides behind the optional nature of public confession when it's convenient ("If they have a sensitive conscience, who are we to tell them they can't confess that?"), but denies it's optional when defending the practice in general.

I'd like to suggest that if the church really, truly believes Nehemiah 9 and 10 are examples we're required to emulate as a church body (and I don't, for the sake of clarity), then the church ought to be fasting, wearing sackclock, standing as an entire assembly, reading from the Book of the Law, and confessing the collective sins of the church over the past 45+ years for a quarter of the day. And since we're paying attention to details, and we don't know what God might strike us dead for, don't forget some dust on the head:
Nehemiah 9:1-3 On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God.NIV
What sins has Stanton committed as a church body? How about starting with teachings imposed "in unity" that have since been rescinded?

Things like withdrawing from people unscripturally and unjustly, publicly defaming the character of people in front of their wives (in fact, BY their wives) for their private thought lives or private sexual addictions, teaching and providing moral support for the breakup of marriages, affecting generations of children who had to grow up in a split family as a result. Let's just start with these things for now.

Look at the human cost of these collective "national sins" of Stanton. Aren't they a little more impactful than the normal Sunday morning confessional litany of so-called sins, like speeding a little, or not wearing nylons, or failing to obey some other obscure rule in 2 Opinions Chapter 3?

The irony of Stanton's embrace of Nehemiah 9 and 10 is stunning, when you think about it. Stanton "proves too much" in defending public confession based on these passages, because if they apply to the church, they affect not so much sins done individually, but public sins of the collective assembly--things that the church acted on "in unity" but in error.

Rather than scrubbing history to whitewash and minimize these errors in doctrine, wouldn't it be more consistent with Stanton's own teaching to just admit these sins--to confess them as such? Just come clean, admit that the church taught erroneously, and sinned greatly by offending "one of these little ones" (children) in the process. If a confession should be as public as the sin, then I think it's reasonable that people who have left Stanton because of past offenses, and whose family lives may have been forever altered because of them, be made aware if Stanton actually repents from any of these past sins and offenses. There have been real, human costs to these sins, and they are not to be brushed off lightly.

For those of you who have been sinned against by Stanton's unbiblical teachings and unloving practices, I encourage 100% forgiveness--for your sake, not theirs. Stop carrying around the hurt, lay it at the cross, and let Stanton carry its burden alone. They are destroying themselves.

Remember this oft-quoted verse?
Isaiah 9:16 - Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray. NIV
When Stanton chooses, as a church body, to lay their collective sins at the cross, they, like you, can experience true freedom in Christ. Until then, let's pray for them to experience the love and forgiveness that the gospel is really about by seeking true reconciliation with the people they've hurt by their unbiblical doctrines.

What about Matthew 5?

But what about Matthew 5, you ask? Doesn't that mandate the confession of public and private sins before we can take the Lord's Supper, as Stanton teaches?
Matthew 5:23-24 - Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Stanton's interpretation of this is ludicrously out of context, if you really think about it. Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount in this chapter primarily to the Pharisees, long before the Lord's Supper was ever introduced. His point, pure and simple, is to slap the Pharisees around for thinking they could have a fine relationship with God while they are at odds with their brother.

Mind you, Jesus is not talking about one Pharisee having seen another Pharisee doing something wrong, and having to legalistically "correct" it with him chronologically prior to approaching God with an act of worship so that God will accept said act of worship. No, that's our legalistic human minds trying to make a formula out of what is truly a matter of the heart.

This is about a broken relationship between two people. Yes, he's setting up a principle, but it isn't a principle imposing a regulatory chronology, but a priority of the heart. He's saying, how dare you think you are so righteous before God just because you're doing all your outward acts of service correctly, while at the same time refusing to mend a broken relationship with your brother. Fix the relationship with your brother. That's your priority.

A deafening silence about public confession

If this was a weekly practice, as Stanton has made it, and it was such a central part of the first century church's doctrines on forgiveness of sin, it is mind boggling that we have not one recorded mention of a church or individual doing it. Not even in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul's letter to that church telling them to accept the man who had repented of sleeping with his father's wife.

It's noteworthy that the man had already shown a repentant heart without ever having come before the church publicly, to our knowledge. The church had completely expelled the man from the assembly, per Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 5, and sometime between then and his second letter, had changed his ways. The church, meanwhile, was continuing to "punish" the man by rejecting him from the group, and Paul is writing to them telling them to stop and accept him once again. He doesn't say to have him come before the church and confess before he can take the Lord's supper again.

Any fair reading of the New Covenant Scriptures leaves a deafening silence about any first century church practice of public confession. That's because it was not something they did on a regular basis. Did someone occasionally feel a personal need to come before the congregation to confess their faults one to another? We might guess that the man in Corinth, and maybe others, did--but that would be speculation, upon which we'd be foolish to establish a church doctrine or practice. We simply have no historical evidence--Biblical or otherwise--for this teaching. To bind this practice on Stanton's churches, as it has done for 45+ years, is one more example of "teachings for doctrines the commandments of men."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This one little problem with the "One True Church" claim

1 comment:
Does the Holy Spirit guide Stanton alone into all truth? Ahh, this is the $64,000 question, isn't it? Wouldn't everyone nod their heads in agreement with Stanton's claims to be the "One True Church" if this could really be proven true? Of course, but it can't.

Thankfully, the opposite is actually possible. It is easily provable that this central claim of the church is not true. All we need to do is demonstrate clearly that the Holy Spirit has not, in fact, led either the church or any individual in the church, into all truth.

Wouldn't that lay an ax to the root of this tree that has produced such divisive fruit for over four decades now? Of course it would. Which is exactly why so many of the Old Guard in the church are so invested in revising church history to purge any doctrinal changes from the memories of members and children of members. The accepted way of dealing with these inconvenient facts is to play word games: "We didn't change the teaching, we just grew in our understanding."

I'm sorry, but this is Orwellian double-speak (anyone remember the book 1984?). Changing the meanings of words and phrases to maintain control over a group is called propaganda, plain and simple.

Doctrine by any other name is still doctrine. As I've pointed out on this blog many times, "doctrine" simply means "teaching." There is no meaning of the word possible such that "judgments" are not "doctrine." If the church teaches it, it is a teaching. It is by definition, then a doctrine.

The church tries, with a wink a nod, to smugly insist that its doctrines have not changed, when we all know they have. This is disingenuous. How is it any different than a politician shading the truth to cover up their inconsistent voting record? The church's record of changing doctrines is clear. You can't argue with 45+ years of history (unless you don't know that history, which is why this site exists).

Merie used to say, "If you find one contradiction in the Bible, I'll eat every page."

I'd like to propose a similar test. If we can find one instance of the church's doctrines changing, they've judged themselves not to be the One True Church, because that used to be the standard they applied to all other churches, remember? Everyone else changes their doctrines, but the Bible doesn't change. Truth doesn't change. So the church's teachings don't change. That used to be a common refrain in non-member classes.

The church makes the assertion that it is led into all truth. But if the past is prologue, I'd certainly be skeptical of this claim. The children of Israel were told to test the prophets of old who claimed God was speaking through them. If a prophet failed the test, the people were not to listen to him. The test was if what they said came true, they were from God. If what they said didn't come true, they were not.

Applied to Stanton, they said they were the One True Church, and that the Holy Spirit gives them unity and leads them into all truth. We now have 45+ years of history to judge whether these claims have held up.

If we find one doctrinal change, or one doctrinal error, it is obvious that Stanton has not been specially gifted by the Holy Spirit with The Truth. One error--one change in doctrine--one revision of teaching based on their "new understanding"--is all it takes to prove their status as a human organization. But let's be safe and pick the first five that come to mind:
  1. Women didn't used to be able to wear jeans with a zippered fly. Now they can.
  2. Families couldn't go on vacations under Merie. Now they can.
  3. They used to question people about their thought life. Now they don't.
  4. It used to be taught that an elder had to have a "good reputation within and without" both before and after his baptism. Now it's correctly applied to his reputation after his conversion.
  5. Teachings on marriage and divorce have changed drastically over the decades.
We could come up with many other examples, but these ought to be sufficient to raise a red flag that this group does not have a lock on all truth.

NOTE: For the sake of clarity, and because metaphors can sometimes be taken out of context, I'd like to state for the record that I believe the axe should be laid to the root of the tree in the sense that we ought to completely destroy the notion that Stanton is the One True Church. This has been Stanton's raison d'ĂȘtre, and it is based on completely fallacious, not to mention prideful, reasoning.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Biblical look at so-called withdrawal

This subject of "withdrawal" is of huge importance within the Stanton churches, because it is so grossly misunderstood, taught, and practiced. In its current form, it is unscriptural, unloving, and unjust, and the fear and dread it brings to those under its threat can silence even the most honest of questions.

Some of you reading this have been "withdrawn from" (an unscriptural term, how Stanton uses it) and others have spouses, mothers, fathers, or siblings who have been, thereby creating an intricate web of rules you or they have to live by.

Others of you have remained silent about your dissent from official church teachings due to the threat of withdrawal, and the dysfunction it would create in your relationships with your spouse or children. My hope is this study will cause you to dig into these verses and learn the truth of what the Bible really teaches about it, not just the traditions and regulations of men.

The church has been great, as usual, at pointing out how other churches don't do "withdrawal" right (or at all). That may be true. But I hope to make it very clear that Biblically, Stanton has it painfully wrong, with a one-size-fits-all approach that metes out the same form of church discipline for every offense under the sun, without Biblical authority. It is rather like a parent applying one extreme form of discipline for any offense, great or small, whether it's defying authority or forgetting to put toys away. This is unjust, at best.

Their error in reasoning stems from the fact that most of the church's beliefs on this come from verses that are pulled out of their original context and cobbled together into one category arbitrarily labeled "withdrawal." When looked at in context, these verses have little to do with each other, and instead include many disparate teachings by Paul on unrelated subjects regarding unrelated circumstances. Stanton takes a little from Paul's letter to Corinth, a little more from his letter to Rome, and still more from his letter to Thessalonica. They then mix these passages all up and put them in parallel with still more excerpts from Paul's letter to Titus, and again, from his letter to Timothy.

What we end up with is a self-contradictory set of laws, rules and regulations developed by the minds of men, not of God. For example, the spouse of someone "withdrawn from," who remains in good standing, can have sexual relations with them, eat with them, and have an otherwise friendly and intimate relationship with them. But how about their children? Once their children are baptized, they are expected to "honor the withdrawal" by abiding by rules such as not eating with the parent who is withdrawn from or discussing Biblical matters with them. These are completely arbitrary rules, no different than when the Pharisees legislated rules for their followers on subjects like how far someone could travel on the Sabbath, or whether one should tithe their spice shelf (yeah, really). It may sound funny, but there is a real human cost to relationships between spouses and children here, and for nothing better than "teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men." It's wrong, friends. These unscriptural practices are destroying family relationships, causing children to unfairly have to pick sides.

I've devoted a considerable word count on this study to satisfy both the person with a casual interest, and the one who is really struggling and questioning the scriptural exegesis and applications of these verses. I've divided this study into two parts, a short and sweet overview, and a detailed exegesis of each of the passages twisted by Stanton into these unloving and arbitrary rules of men.

My prayer, once again, is that the rules of men will crumble beneath the weight of the truth.

I. Overview of "withdrawal" as church discipline
  • Withdrawal is a verb, not a noun
  • Fellowship isn't ours to "withdraw"
  • Bible words for Bible things
  • "Delivering unto Satan" means expulsion
  • To withdraw means "to distance oneself from"
  • Heresy and schism
  • Conclusion
II. Detailed scripture study of misused verses
  • "Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly"
  • "From such withdraw thyself"
  • "From such turn away"
  • "Mark them which cause divisions"
  • "Deliver such an one unto Satan" and "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person"
  • "Whom I have delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme"
  • "A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject"

I. Overview of "withdrawal" as church discipline

Withdrawal is a verb, not a noun

First, let's address the fact that "withdrawal" is a verb. It is not a noun, meaning it is not a state that someone is in. It is an action on the part of the one doing the withdrawing. It is impossible to "withdraw" or continue "withdrawing" for years or decades from someone who has already "withdrawn" themselves from a group.

All of the Biblical teaching on the subject is about either purging the church of wicked people (fornicators, idolaters, etc.) or withholding something an errant brother wants (brotherly camaraderie) in order to encourage him to change his ways. If someone no longer wants to be part of the congregation, both reasons for "withdrawing" are gone. You don't discipline adult kids who leave the home and want to do their own thing. You discipline and set the rules of the house for the ones who still want to be part of the family, and therefore have a reason to respond to your discipline.

Fellowship isn't ours to "withdraw"

The subject of fellowship is often understood as spiritual and social interaction, but this is not how the Bible uses the term. Fellowship is synonymous with brother-ship; a brother is a "fellow" disciple, and the "ship" suffix means "state of." This means that fellowship is a state of "brothership" or brotherhood—a relationship the Lord alone puts us into. Thus to disfellowship someone or withdraw fellowship from him is something God alone can do. We can neither make someone a brother nor declare him not our brother.

Bible words for Bible things

None of the following terms appear in the Scriptures in reference to church discipline: withdrawal, disfellowship, excommunicate, shun. If we are to speak as the Bible speaks, be silent where it's silent, and use Bible words in Bible ways, then we shouldn't use these words to describe church discipline practices.

The confusion over these terms came from the miscategorization of a bunch of verses that contain similar instructions but in much different contexts. When they are mistakenly considered parallel passages with 1 Corinthians 5, we end up with bad conclusions where real lives are affected for generations.

Just as we cannot take the word "baptism" and apply it the same way in every verse (since some verses are talking about immersion in water, others a figurative baptism by fire, and still others, the baptism of the Holy Spirit) we cannot take the use of the word "withdraw" as indicating a disciplinary state of "disfellowship." If we could, then we could say that the Jewish rulers "disfellowshipped" the Sanhedrin: "So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin." (Acts 4:15) This is silly, of course. You have to look at the context and understand the circumstances he's addressing.

"Delivering unto Satan" means expulsion

There are two prominent examples of church discipline in the New Testament. The most detailed one is in 1 Corinthians 5, and Paul calls it "delivering unto Satan," where the grossly immoral person is to be completely expelled from the assembly. Note that the word "withdraw" is not used here at all. When Paul writes to "purge out therefore the old leaven" and "put away from among yourselves that wicked person," there should be no question about what is intended. The idea is for that person to be completely excluded from all gatherings of the church until he has changed his immoral ways, not meekly sit on a back bench until he demonstrates enough remorse to church leaders.

The second example of a disciplinary action is alluded to in 1 Timothy 1:19-20, where Paul uses a phrase similar to the one he used in 1 Corinthians 5 (delivering unto Satan). He again did not choose to use the word "withdrawal." Paul used his apostolic authority to expel Hymenaeus and Alexander, apparently for their blasphemous departure from the faith.

To withdraw means "to distance oneself from"

The other verses commonly applied to church discipline use the word "withdraw" to simply mean "removing oneself" from certain kinds of people. These verses are talking about avoiding social interaction, but there are no detailed rules for how to carry it out. We are all supposed to just exercise good judgment about the kinds of people we hang around.

Also in this category is 2 Thessalonians 3:6, which is teaching to stay away from (and don't be an enabler to) brothers who refuse to work, and who get their sustenance by leaching meals off of other Christians. This is not the same as what Paul refers to as "delivering unto Satan" in 1 Corinthians 5.
1 Timothy 6:5 is similar, and it is saying to stay away from those who dote about "questions and strifes of words." Again, there is no instruction here to expel them or "deliver them unto Satan." We are simply to avoid the kind of people whose goal is to produce factional strife.

In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, “From such turn away” is clearly parallel to "from such with withdraw thyself," yet no one feels that unthankful people should be "withdrawn from." This shows that "withdrawal" has been completely misunderstood as church discipline, when it is really an action to be taken by individuals. We're simply to avoid such people—don't be influenced by them—don't make a habit of being around them.

Romans 16:17 is also in the category of avoiding certain kinds of people, in this case, those who cause divisions. The idea Paul is trying to convey is again not a formal disciplinary measure, but an avoidance of people who are divisive. People who seek to separate one group of Christians from another are constantly seeking alliances and making political factions out of groups of Christians. We are to avoid associating ourselves with this kind of person.

Heresy and schism

Avoiding schismatic people fits right in with Paul's instructions in Titus 3:9-11 - "A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject." When we properly understand the word "heretic" as meaning a divisive person, it is clear that we are to remove ourselves far from schismatic people so that we don't contribute to their influence on the body of Christ. To give them social standing in the church just lends them credibility.


In no case do I find an example of people being disciplined by the congregation and continuing to show up at the assembly with rules like not talking, not eating with others, not taking the Lord's supper, etc. At best, those are human-contrived rules which are "doctrines and commandments of men." At worst, they are a twisting of various scriptures out of the context of what the original authors meant by them.

II. Detailed scripture studies of misused verses

"Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly"

This phrase in 2 Thessalonians is one that is frequently taken out of context. In fact, it is most often used to "withdraw fellowship" from people for the wrong reasons, and rarely used to justify dissociating from someone for the correct reasons given by Paul when he wrote it:
2 Thessalonians 3:6 - Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
If we are to understand what he means by the phrase "not after the tradition which he received of us," in verse 6, we should take the time to understand what those traditions were that the Thessalonian Christians received from Paul. Fortunately, he explains in verses 7-9.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 - For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
He is clearly telling the Thessalonian Christians to stay away from someone who is lazy and refuses to work for their own food. In fact, he defines precisely what he means by "walking disorderly:"
2 Thessalonians 3:10-11 - For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
His intention is that people disengage socially from someone who refuses to work, but is constantly begging food from the brethren. Don't invite them for dinner and enable their laziness. Don't bring the busybody into your house to tell you all his or her latest gossip. To these people, he gives a command:
2 Thessalonians 3:12 - Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
Then he goes back to addressing the brethren who had to deal with such people, telling them not to be discouraged from doing good just because some people abuse their generosity.
2 Thessalonians 3:13 - But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
He follows this encouragement with specific instruction on what to do with the person who refuses to work and insists on living off of the bread of other brothers in Christ:
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 - And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
So let's review what Paul said and did not say in this letter:
  • This brother remains in "brothership" or "fellowship" and is to be treated as such.
  • The tradition the church received of Paul is very clearly defined in verses 7 and 8 as working for a living rather than relying on the generosity of the saints.
  • "Walking disorderly" is also clearly defined in verse 11 as "working not all."
  • The path to follow, according to verse 12, is to command and exhort these people to work and to eat their own bread with quietness.
  •  Those who still refuse to obey the instruction to work for their own living are to be noted and excluded from social settings for the purpose of shaming and admonishing them.
  • There is nothing here about not talking to them, or not eating with them at the same table, or in the same room, etc. We are just to obey the spirit of this instruction; in order to shame and admonish them, we are to avoid making them feel a part of the congregation's social circle. A social get together implies acceptance and usually includes food, and that would just be another occasion for a lazy person to get a meal without feeling admonished and without having to work for it. In other words, don't be an enabler.
  • There is nothing here about a formal "withdrawal meeting" or "delivering unto Satan" when the whole church is gathered together. The instruction is merely to avoid these people socially in order to discourage their bad behavior. If the person's behavior changes from Sunday to Monday, and on Monday, he lands a job, there is no meeting of the church required before a brother could invite him over for dinner.

"From such withdraw thyself"

Paul's letter to Timothy has also been construed to mean that we ought to "withdraw fellowship" from certain people.
1 Timothy 6:5 - ...perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
The most obvious thing to note is that Paul is writing to Timothy to stay away from these types of people, not ordering him to excommunicate or deliver such a person to Satan, so to speak. This is a personal exhortation from Paul to Timothy.
Taking Paul's comments in context, I'll start at the beginning of the chapter:
1 Timothy 6:1-2 -  Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.
Apparently, the poor of the churches were rebelling against their Christian employers and masters. There was apparently some "class envy" going on. But Paul instructs Timothy that servants should not despise their masters, but serve them all the more because they are brethren and fellow heirs of the benefit of salvation. Then he warns against those who might continue to teach that slaves should rise up against their masters:
1 Timothy 6:3-5 - If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
There were apparently Christian servants at the time who felt justified in despising their Christian masters. But Paul says they were engaging in strifes over words, railings, evil surmising, and perverse disputing. He further says that these people supposed that "gain is godliness," and urged Timothy not to get caught up with such people. That is what I think he means by "from such withdraw thyself." He's instructing Timothy, as a man of God, not to get involved in taking sides with the factional infighting of Christian against Christian, which invariably led to envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, etc.

He goes on to clarify and emphasize the same point about the deceitfulness of riches and those who follow after it in the rest of the chapter.

What we learn from Paul's letter to Timothy about this subject is:
  • As with Paul's letter to the Thessalonian church, there is no law given here about formal church discipline, or a "state of withdrawal."
  • Paul is simply telling Timothy to stay away from people who insist that gain is godliness. There are people today, many of whom are in the inner cities, who preach class hatred for poor Christians against their "rich" employers. Those are precisely the people Paul is telling Timothy to stay away from.
"From such turn away"

This passage is often overlooked when looking into the Bible’s teaching on “disfellowship.” Yet clearly, "from such turn away" is equivalent to "from such withdraw thyself." So in whatever way Timothy was to withdraw himself from those other people, he was also to avoid these types of people:
2 Timothy 3:2-5 - For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
This emphasizes to me that “turning away” from such bad characters (particularly those who call themselves believers) should be the individual, natural response of a faithful believer. There is nothing implying that all people fitting the above character traits are to be formally expelled and “delivered unto Satan,” although a number of these character traits could easily rise to the level of such action.

I have known of unthankful people who call themselves Christians. Is Paul teaching us to cast out such person, or to simply avoid enabling and learning their unthankful ways? Avoiding clearly could not have meant “excommunicating” in Paul’s mind.

On the other hand, a blasphemer and a lover of pleasure (particularly sexually immoral pleasure) could easily find himself “cast out” of the assembly, considering Paul’s strong instructions to the believers in Corinth and his example in dealing with Hymenaeus.

"Mark them which cause divisions"

This passage is relatively straightforward: make note of those who are out to cause divisions and lead people away from the teachings of Jesus Christ and avoid them.
Romans 16:17 - Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
The next verse fills in a pretty good picture of the kind of person he is writing about:
Romans 16:18 - For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
The people to be avoided are people who are evidently not out to serve Jesus Christ, but their own appetites for glory, power, etc. There is nothing in this passage that indicates a congregational “trial” of any sort. When Christians cross paths with brothers who are divisive or egotistical, we are to simply make note of them and avoid them. In other words, don't give them an audience. This is what the Spring Valley church should have done to Merie. Instead, they gave her a seat of prominence, and the rest is history.

"Deliver such an one unto Satan" and "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person"

This passage is one which urges very explicitly the “casting out” of a wicked person from among the group. It is clearly an act of “church discipline” done for the purpose of purging sin and reproving the sinner to bring about shame and repentance.
1 Corinthians 5 - It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
Note that this passage is unlike many of the other passages that simply tell us to avoid certain kinds of unsavory characters. This is not an avoidance of social interaction, but a complete expulsion from the group. "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person" is a pretty strong statement and does not imply that someone continues to come to the assembly and quietly sits in the back row. That is nothing more than a tradition of men.

I also think this implies that there is malice and wicked intentions on the part of a sinner who calls himself a Christian. Jesus ate with publicans, and adulteresses in the hope of reaching them with his message of forgiveness and repentance. This is clearly a different situation with someone who professed Christianity but flagrantly lived opposite to its ideals.

"Whom I have delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme"

Hymenaeus and Alexander were apparently two individuals who “rejected faith and a good conscience,” resulting in blasphemy.
1 Timothy 1:19-20 - Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.
Paul personally “delivered them unto Satan.” Hymenaeus apparently was teaching that the resurrection was already past, "overthrowing the faith of some."
2 Timothy 2:16-18 - But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
Since 1 Corinthians 5 is the only other example of someone being "delivered unto Satan," and that example is where a fornicator was to be put out of the congregation, we can infer that this must be what Paul meant by the phrase.

"A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject"

Paul said this to Titus:
Titus 3:9-11 - But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
This is a case where the choice of the word "heretic" in the King James translation (like the word "Easter" in Acts 12:4) makes Paul's meaning less clear; but it is not impossible to figure out, given the context. In verse 9, Paul is clearly advising Titus to reject divisive people who engage in unprofitable, foolish strivings and contentions about the law. The subject he is addressing is contentiousness about opinions (being schismatic), not having or teaching an incorrect opinion about them (being unorthodox).

The meaning of the word translated "heretic" in Titus 3:10 is clearly "a schismatic person." This is borne out by the following verses, where the words heresy and sect (which is a schism or faction) are all translated from the same Greek word: Acts 5:17; Acts 15:5; Acts 24:5,14; Acts 26:5; Acts 28:22; 1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 5:20; Titus 3:10.

It is also borne out by the American Standard Version translation of the Titus passage:
Titus 3:9-11 – 9 but shun foolish questionings, and genealogies, and strifes, and fightings about law; for they are unprofitable and vain. 10 A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse; 11 knowing that such a one is perverted, and sinneth, being self-condemned. (ASV)
Far from instructing Titus to "withdraw fellowship" from people who have an incorrect opinion, Paul is telling Titus something a lot simpler: to have nothing to do with people who have a factious attitude. There are those in the church who are out to splinter it into fragments, and Titus was to stay away from such people.

HISTORICAL NOTE: The only reason this church exists is because certain Christians in the 60's decided to split off from other Christians. This should raise some red flags for current members. Do you know your history and your Bible as well as you think you do? When you read Merie's letters, did the Spring Valley church divide from El Cajon and other congregations in the San Diego area in righteous indignation over "church heresies," or were they the ones being "heretical" (factious, causing division)?

Biblically, the truth is that Spring Valley was itself the faction, and its leaders were the factious brethren that the rest of the congregations at the time rightly decided to ignore. Whatever moral authority Merie and other leaders thought they had, even if some of their concerns were valid, was sacrificed when they decided to create a faction out of God's people.

But I digress.