Friday, October 21, 2016

Convince people, don't insult them

My interest in the traffic to this blog is not about numbers of visitors, or how many people comment, or how to inflict the most damage on the institution of the Stanton sect of the Church of Christ. No, it's always and only been about one thing: uncovering the historical roots of the sect, and encouraging and motivating people impacted by its unbiblical doctrines to learn more about our loving God and forsake the teachings of men for the Bible alone. It's about spurring one another on toward love and good works.
John 8:32 - Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Hebrews 10:24 - And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds...
As such, it's awesome to receive things like the postcard I got in the mail the other day from a reader. He thanked me for the encouragement the blog offers, but the real thanks goes out to him and all the others who are actually awake, paying attention, and engaging in a meaningful way with the information and conversation here. You've encouraged me to keep moving forward with this project, and I can tell it's done some tangible good. So thank you. It's truly a blessing to be part of anything that brings people closer to the God of love I know.

Yet some people—those who have "come to spy out our liberty," perhaps—assume different motives (I think we'd call that "evil surmising"), and suggest that the blog is nothing more than a tool to engage in a war of words with Stanton. For them, it is about politics, not ideas. This is evidenced by the occasional troll who pops in and tries to take a swipe at me, or the blog, or its readers or commenters without having read the posts and articles.

I can't speak for the motives of every reader and commenter. I think most have genuinely good motives, but I'll stipulate that everyone who reads this blog is in a different phase of understanding and dealing with the harm inflicted by Stanton's teachings. Some are professed believers, some are not. This blog gives voice to both from time to time, and attempts to be fair and accurate in the process.

But we should acknowledge that trolling is a practice that lowers discourse from a conversation about ideas to a political sport where we're rooting for teams, not truth. Trolling is not about communicating ideas and conversing about them. It is about appealing to our baser instincts, such as the pride of winning an argument, or sticking it to the opposition with a good "zinger." None of us are above these human motivations; they can crop up at any time in any conversation, and I have to hold them in check as much as the next person. But the truth is that "zingers" rarely lead a conversation into productive territory. Just watch the presidential debates if you doubt me.

These types of comments are not about seeking to convince anyone, nor are they about seeking to understand, educate, encourage, or enlighten one another. They are solely about sabotaging the conversation between seekers of truth who are attempting to reason together.

This blog is intended to be just that—seekers of truth returning to the Bible alone for their authority in doctrine and practice. But for the Stanton loyalists who choose to troll this blog from time to time, it's clearly not about that. It's more about rooting for their team to "win" the debate. And with that attitude, everyone loses.

It's been awhile since I've shared traffic analytics, so here are some stats you might find interesting. Aside from the >110,000 page views and >2825 comments, there is this:

Here you'll see that in any given day, there are an average of 14 active users. For the past 30 days, there have been an average of 388 active users.

It is also interesting to me to see what posts and articles get the most readers. Clearly, the article on Fear and Intimidation Tactics resonates with a large number of readers. But even that is dwarfed by the number of people interested in the historical roots of the church, as evidenced by the pageviews to the historical pages about the church and about Merie Weiss.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Do you believe in love?

Do you believe in love? Before you dismiss this as a trite 80's song, think about it from a Biblical perspective. One of the really interesting things about God's love is that we have to believe it:
1 John 4:16 - So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.
This makes so much sense, when you think about it. Consider a father who loves his child deeply, and wants only the best for her. He raises her in love, corrects her when she's wrong, and teaches her how to be a good adult. But during those teen years, isn't it true that a parent's love is sometimes not felt? It's there. It's being displayed. But it's not being believed. It's being misunderstood, mistrusted, or mistaken altogether for something else.

Most parents reading this are shaking their heads "yes." There might be a teen or two reading this who disagrees, but give it a few years and you'll understand better what I'm saying. Love can be poured out, but the object of our love has the option of choosing to disbelieve it.

But John says "we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us." We have come to know it. That means there was a time when we didn't know it, and coming to know it was a process.

But we have also come to believe it. How do you "believe" God's love? It's easier in theory than in practice, but it takes setting aside the mistrust we might have learned, and accepting the fact that God's desire—his heart—is to love you and know you. God is a loving father who wants a good relationship with his son or daughter, not a dysfunctional one. Why else would he describe himself as a good father? And why else would so many believers around the world describe God as a Good, Good Father? Has it ever occurred to you that maybe they're on to something?

John goes on further to say that "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." This says a lot about the nature of God's love for us. It's not a disinterested love, or a love that just works on paper. It's a love that works in real life; a love that seeks to fill that core human need we all have to be loved, and which can only be filled adequately by our creator.

It won't take long to read the entire book of 1 John to get the full context of this brash statement that there is no fear in love, but in the interest of space, let's just take a look at a snippet:
1 John 4:7-21 - Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 
16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (ESV)
Drawing from my own experiences as a father, I have to acknowledge that there are times when instilling a healthy fear into younger kids especially is essential to keeping them safe. We all needed to have some fear of the consequences of our behavior; like running out into the street, or disappearing in a crowded place where bad people might be.

But if our entire relationship with our parents is based on fear of consequences rather than knowing and believing that they love us, that's what's called a dysfunctional home. As a foster family, my wife and I have spent years trying to pick up the pieces in the lives of kids who have had the trauma of not being raised in a loving home. We form our perception of the world at a very young age, and it is difficult to convince youth to trust adults enough to actually believe they are loved when their experiences teach them to the contrary.

Is it any different between us and God? If our (mis)understanding of him is formed at a young age, how hard is it to convince ourselves to believe that he really is the God of love he says he is? Doesn't that seem a little too good to be true?

How hard is it to "come to know and to believe the love that God has for us?" And how hard is it to expel the fear that we learned at a young age in place of that love?

But for those who find themselves in that situation, the parent analogy may be your lifeline to know and believe the love that God has for you again. Because if your relationship with your child, if you have one, is not one of controlling them through fear, but persuading them through love, you have what you need to understand your relationship with the God of the universe. And now it can be built, as it should be, on love, not fear. But first you must come to know and believe the love God has for us.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Does evil exist?

This is a little poem I wrote awhile back based on the moral argument for God. I know there are readers of this blog who struggle to believe that God exists due to their experiences with the Stanton sect. I just want to encourage you to dig further. We should all be able to agree that evil exists. This poem makes the case that the existence of what we call evil is not evidence that there is no God, but evidence that there is a God without whom we would not have any frame of reference to decide what is evil and what isn't.

I hope this poem makes the case persuasively. In any case, I can assure you that God is alive and well, and he's waiting for a relationship with his children.
Does Evil Exist? 
Does evil exist?
Well, does it, or not?
I demand an answer
And if so, hold that thought 
Because if wrong does not truly
Exist in bright colors
What, then is justice
But a meaningless construct 
And if wrong does exist
We must face this reality
That calling something wrong means
There's a right way things ought to be 
If the rape of a child
In all histories and cultures
Can be called pure evil
Even by society's worst prisoners 
If the murder of innocents
Is forever and always
An evil in society
That can't be tolerated 
If imprisonment of a woman
Like chattel for sale
Being held as a sex slave
In her own private hell 
Or murdering Jews
Like Hitler's evil plan
Or starving millions unjustly
In Stalin's Ukraine 
Or killing the masses
For political expedience
Culling babies in China
Or locking up dissidents 
If beheading of heretics
Is inherently wrong
Or even violating your privacy
Or invading your home 
If these are universally bad
And there's meaning in words
Then there's universal good
That our souls are drawn toward 
Something more than just philosophy
Because that lacks authority
And if good is defined by government
Then what about the minority? 
Tyrants run roughshod
When rights come and go
At the whims of the powerful
Because what they say goes
No, evil is something
More than laws, or from cultures
Or philosophical sophistry
From ivory towers 
To try to stop badness
Is really to defend
That there's a god of pure goodness
Who wants us like him 
We can discuss who that god is
And what is his substance
But the least we can do
Is acknowledge his existence 
You can say that religion
Starts evil wars and such
And you might just be right
But you've just proved too much 
Because if there is no god
Whose nature defines goodness
Who are you to call war bad
Or rape evil, or hate, darkness? 
Who are you to sit in judgment
Of the religious who you think hate you?
If there is no moral standard
That makes hate wrong, and judging too? 
If morality is nothing more
That just another social contract
Then it's just he said/she said
And there's no fixed moral compass 
You see, your personal compass is as good as mine
And that may be fine, generally
Until the rapist asserts his own
Warped idea of morality 
What makes his wrong
And yours universally right?
That's a tough question
That keeps philosophers up at night 
Because indeed, if there is no god
There's no guilt to assuage
For the wrongs that man does
Because there is no such gauge 
It's like measuring empty
Without knowing what full is
Or trying to describe love
Without knowing who God is
Read more on the moral argument for God

Monday, October 3, 2016

How to read the Bible—and how not to.


The Bible is feared reading for some. If you were raised in the Stanton sect, it may seem to you like a mass of confusing cross references, chain references, commands, and vague inferences. Remember the trusty Thompson Chain Reference Bible? Yeah, I thought so.

Understanding how to read the Bible is critical to developing a love for the Word. It's not as confusing as Stanton would make it seem. It's actually exciting, if you take the clean Bible challenge. But it's important not to read it like a novel. It's not one. And it's also not a law book to be dissected and argued like in the Pharisaic courtroom of May Week deliberations, either.

Here's the simple truth: The Bible is basically a collection of short, real-life stories, along with some poetry, books of wisdom, prophecy, and even personal letters. All of these different pieces of literature are about 2000 years old or more, but have been preserved for us to read today. There is no other single book in the entire world that is anything like the Bible.

The Bible was written by the hands of many different human authors under the supervision of God Himself over the course of thousands of years. What is fascinating about the Bible is that in spite of its many different authors, there are no factual errors of history or science, and there is a clear theme that holds it all together. From the opening words of Genesis to the end of Revelation, that theme is Jesus Christ.

Here's a quick synopsis that will make your reading of the Bible much more meaningful.

The old testament scriptures

The Old Testament tells the story of the beginning of the world and of human history through the eyes of God’s people, called the Children of Israel. It is through this civilization that Jesus Christ would eventually come. The word “testament” means “agreement” or “covenant;” the “old covenant” was a kind of contractual agreement between Abraham and God that the world would be blessed with the coming king (Jesus) through Abraham’s descendants. In the old covenant scriptures (what people call the Old Testament) we see the rise and fall of the ancient nation of Israel, with many prophecies (predictions) about a future Messiah (anointed king) who would rescue the people of Israel from the troubles they were having.

The Old Testament is composed of ancient writings from thousands of years ago, and includes the following writings:

1. The books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)

These books tell the story of Creation, the flood of Noah’s time, the beginnings of the Israelite nation, and it’s period of slavery in ancient Egypt. They also tell about the Israelites’ miraculous escape from Egypt, and about the laws God gave to Moses for the Children of Israel to obey. Sometimes these five books are referred to as “the Law” or the “Pentateuch.”

2. The books of history (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther)

These books contain true stories that are sometimes suspenseful, occasionally unsettling, but always meaningful to us today in that they show us the character of God and how He protects those who serve Him. The history of the rise and fall of the Hebrew nation is recorded faithfully—not just their triumphs, but their failures as well, which few other ancient civilizations wrote about themselves. We have the story of how they came to settle in the land of Canaan, which is now called Israel. We’re told about their periods of faithfulness to God, and the times they turned from Him. We’re also told about their “judges” (military deliverers) and kings, about the rise of their prosperous civilization under kings David and Solomon, and ultimately about their decline into captivity under Assyria (modern Iraq), Babylon (also modern Iraq) and Persia (modern Iran).

3. The books of wisdom and poetry (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations)

The book of Job is famous for its story of a man persecuted by Satan himself and how he personally dealt with those difficult times. Most of the Psalms were written by King David; the book is actually a collection of individual songs. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon were largely written by King Solomon, who recorded both witty and wise observations about human nature, moral conduct, and life itself. Lamentations was written by Jeremiah the prophet in poem form, and is about his sadness at the destruction of Jerusalem, the City of David, when it was overtaken by Babylon.

4. The prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

These books contain both predictions about Israel’s history that would come to pass many years later, and passionate instruction to the backsliding nation to turn from its errors. Israel, like mankind in general, naturally moved away from God over time, and most of the prophets wrote their books specifically to encourage the people to go back to obeying God’s laws. The prophets wrote many things about the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, that happen exactly as predicted.

The new testament scriptures

The new covenant scriptures, often called the New Testament, tell us about the arrival of the Messiah. The word "Christ" simply means “the anointed one,” since kings were often anointed with oil in the old days, and Christians look to Jesus as our spiritual “king.” The “new covenant” (or contract) fulfilled the terms of the old one (the Old Testament) and put in place a new one that would be in effect until the end of time. In the New Testament we find the history and teachings of Jesus Christ and of his earliest followers, called his apostles (or messengers).

The New Testament is composed of the following writings from the 1st century AD:

1. The “gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)

These four books are called the gospels because they document the “good news” of Jesus’ life from beginning to end. The word “gospel” means “good news.” They tell the story of Jesus’ life, and eventual death on the cross, from four different perspectives; Matthew, a Jewish tax collector turned follower; Mark, a Jew with Roman training; Luke, a physician; and John, a close friend (and some people think a cousin) of Jesus.

2. True stories of the Apostles’ early evangelism (Acts)

This book is called the Acts of the Apostles because it is an historical account of what Jesus’ apostles (His hand-picked messengers) did to aid in establishing Christ’s church.

3. The Apostle Paul’s letters to various first-century churches (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians)

These letters were generally written to instruct the young churches (groups of believers) in how to behave as Christians. They cover topics like morality, faith, immersion (baptism), salvation, living a godly life of service to others, and many, many more.

4. The Apostle Paul’s letters to various individuals (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon)

These letters were written to the individuals after whom they are named, and contain valuable, God-breathed instruction directly from Paul to these men.

5. An open letter to 1st century Christians of Jewish descent (Hebrews)

Many of the Jewish people who converted to Christianity during the early years of the church had a deep understanding of the Old Testament. This open letter was written to reassure them in their faith in Christ, and remind them, based on many Old Testament references they would easily understand, how the Jewish religion fit into God’s plan for the Messiah.

6. Letters by various individuals to first-century churches (James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude)

Like Paul’s letters to various churches, these letters (written by the authors after whom they are named) enjoyed wide circulation among first-century believers. Since they didn’t have the Internet or the printing press, the letters were hand copied and passed from church to church to provide centuries of encouragement and instruction for Christians.

7. Book of prophecy (Revelation)

This is often the first book people turn to when they start reading the New Testament, but the numerous conflicting opinions on its interpretation can make it the most confusing. It contains a prophetic revelation to seven churches of the first century, with many appropriate lessons for our churches today. The book goes on to give us a great picture of the place He has prepared for the righteous after judgment, and develops the theme of how God’s forces will be victorious over evil in the end.
For the rest of your life, remember that men and women have added “helpful comments” to just about every edition of the Bible that has been printed. All of them, including the words in this introduction to the Bible, are written by fallible people! Never assume to be true what a church, book, preacher, pastor, friend, or teacher tells you about the Bible without finding out for yourself if it’s true. This rule should keep you searching the Bible for the rest of your life, because there is no end of people willing to tell you what they THINK about it. Instead, find out what it really says!

Enjoy the journey of discovering God and the true story of Jesus Christ. Remember, it's not so much about the Bible itself—that can become an idol, just as any church can become an idol when it stands in the place of God. No, it's about the Jesus the Bible tells us about.

This is what Jesus told the Pharisees:
John 5: 39 - You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. “I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts."

Friday, September 30, 2016

Why won't Stanton confess its own public sins?

Stanton teaches that private sins require private confessions, and public sins require public ones. Thus, if a person runs a red light, they are in public and must confess that sin publicly before God will forgive them. This is, of course, completely foreign to the scriptures, but that is what Stanton teaches.

But what about sins committed by the church body as a whole? It turns out that the whole idea of enforced unity through May Week is a two-edged sword for Stanton. If their unity is so commendable on good things, when they're wrong, isn't it a liability? Isn't that a collective sin that can bring the whole ship down? You can't have it both ways.

Let's remember that May Week is essentially a church council. Starting with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., this practice of convening representatives of each church to deliberate on doctrine was justified back then using the same scriptures Stanton uses—incorrectly—to justify May Week. This false image of unity they boast of is frequently unity on error, rather than unity on truth, and we can trace back the major apostacies of the church to their attempts to enforce unity.

But is it really a unity borne of the Holy Spirit when humans have to convene and debate the subjects endlessly to arrive at it? If it were from the Holy Spirit, they would be unified without a church council, or May Meeting, like Paul when he "conferred not with flesh and blood" after his conversion:
Galatians 1:11-16 - I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.
To further insult our intelligence, when they use this pretense of unity to agree on incorrect teachings, a "new understanding" is reached later and simply whitewashed. They minimize the sin and hurt done to the people affected by those incorrect doctrines.

The people who were targets of the destructive doctrines needed to humble themselves anyway, they say. Or they eventually "fell away" from the church, so they aren't worth seeking out to ask their forgiveness. They probably won't come back, and they're going to hell anyway. So why bother?

Stanton, here's why you should bother. Because what you did was wrong. It was a sin to question peoples' innermost thought lives and expose them to the congregation—including children. It was a sin to promulgate a doctrine that encouraged marriages to be broken up unjustly, and children to grow up in a broken homes as a result.

It was a sin to publicly humiliate people for their private sexual sins and addictions, especially since there was no attempt to help them overcome those temptations or addictions. It was a sin for wives to publicly rebuke and withdraw from their own husbands for these matters that were truly between themselves and God. It was a sin to have every person in the congregation see these people come and sit in "withdrawal," knowing what they had publicly been disciplined for.

It was also a sin to have open conversations about these topics in the presence of very young children. Whispering at fellowships, rides home from church, conversations on the telephone—all of those were fair game to discuss these subjects, and at five years old, you can't unhear them. Those images came into my head for many years when I would see these people sitting in withdrawal for a decade or more. And I am not the only one who remembers hearing what was happening in bedrooms as early as five and six years old.

According to Stanton, isn't a confession to be as public as the sin? Stanton, take a look at the verses you hold out to defend standing for public confession, and those same verses describe when Israel had sinned as a nation greatly, and was returning to God with a repentant heart. There was weeping, sitting around in sackcloth all day, and offering of sacrifices for the sins of the nation. They were publicly remorseful for these national sins.

Remorse? Are you kidding? That's not even in Stanton's vocabulary. Instead, they minimize it, saying they just "grew in understanding"—meaning essentially that it was the Holy Spirit's fault for not leading them to this "new understanding" sooner. Have you ever heard of Stanton falling on its collective knees to repent of any of its past sinful "judgments" and the harm they caused to real people, men, women and children alike?

The human cost of these "national sins" of Stanton is great. The list is long of people whose view of God was severely damaged by these teachings and practices. Kids who have vowed to never set foot in a church building again. Adults whose view of God was so tainted that they don't believe in God anymore, because of that's what God tells Stanton to do, they want nothing to do with him.

In fact, the irony is that these are real examples of "bringing reproach on the church," yet the church itself did it, and has made no efforts to make amends with the people hurt in the process. Worse, the church has brought a major reproach on the name of God (the real meaning of the commandment not to take God's name in vain, which means essentially to drag it through the mud). The "national sins" of Stanton have clearly left a stench in the nostrils of many people, and reproached a loving God and father-figure with their practices.

But the whitewashing of the past continues. When it comes to the "national sins" of Stanton, I keep waiting for a collective confession of guilt and desire to simply apologize to the people whose lives and families have been forever impacted by those hurtful teachings. I do hope it happens, and I will welcome it and applaud it if it does. Until then, the silence is deafening.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The hypocrisy of Merie's withdrawal

No comments:
If I were to ask one question of Stanton members, it would be this: Did Merie ever make herself right from her withdrawal for sowing seeds of discord and causing division?

Here is her letter of withdrawal from 1958. (Mainline churches actually leave a paper trail for their disciplinary actions, unlike Stanton COC, which prefers to keep its business under the cover of secrecy.)

To me, this is the question that strikes at the root of the tree of the Stanton sect. According to Merie's own teaching, the mainline churches didn't "lose the candlestick" until sometime in the mid-70's. This means her withdrawal was put into place by a church that even she recognized. Now remember that by Stanton COC teachings, even unjust withdrawals need to be honored until the church obtains a "new understanding" from the Holy Spirit.

So their own teachings undercut the authenticity of the sect. Spring Valley, much less Stanton or any of the others, should have never been started, and should not then currently exist, by virtue of the fact that Merie was withdrawn from the entire time she was starting and building her little sect.

Remember, a sect is simply a division. Isn't it obvious then that the basis for her withdrawal was accurate? She actively sought to divide the church, and succeeded in that effort.

Even if the things she was saying were right (which they weren't), by their own standard, she should have kept quiet until the church came around to the correct view. Furthermore, she would have been guilty of murmuring if she vocalize any dissent. She should have humbled herself during her withdrawal and sought to "make herself right."

But no. Stanton's own rules for others don't apply to themselves. This is the height of Pharisaism, and the kind of unrepentant hypocrisy that has no defense.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Reconciling with our good, good father

Have you ever thought about why God would choose to refer to himself as our father? I think it's because that relationship is one we all intuitively understand, whether we had a good father or not.

I did have a good father, although he recently passed away. Many were not so fortunate to have good earthly fathers. But just about all of us can picture in our minds the ideal of what it means to be a good father. Even if you didn't have one, you know what you wanted—wished for—cried out for. A dad who was firm, but at the same time, gentle. Kind, but willing to tell us when we're wrong. Willing to give advice, but not wanting to crush our spirit or lord his authority over us. One who would discipline, in love, when necessary, but remind us that his "anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime" (Psalm 30:5).

And this is the genius of God calling himself father. This powerful song about God's role as father packs a lot of truth into five short short minutes.

If this is the first time you've heard the song, listen to it again. The love of our father above helps shape our identity. He wants to be known as kind. He's willing to tell us when we're wrong, gently giving advice without crushing our spirit. He is a good, good father, and for those who didn't have an earthly one, he wants to be that.

This song tugs on my heart every time I hear it, but especially so this past Sunday, as it brought back thoughts of my dad. He wasn't perfect, as our father in heaven is perfect. But no matter who your earthly father is, we can all dive deep into the love of our heavenly father.

Give him the benefit of the doubt when you don't understand him. Sometimes our mistaken understandings of him can get us humans angry, or confused, or rebellious. But like Hosea, he's there waiting to take us back, no matter how far we've strayed. Wouldn't a good earthly father do that? And isn't God the perfect pattern for earthly fathers, not the other way around?

For anyone who's separated from God, I pray you'll seek him with all your heart. Read your Bible. Talk to people who love God, even if you don't agree with them on everything. That's OK. We all need to grow, and we grow most when we're challenged.

Immerse yourself into God's love. If you haven't yet been baptized, do it. Start the journey. He's a good, good Father, no matter what you may have thought about him yesterday. Call or email me if you'd like me to pray for you, or just to talk.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Should I use the word "cult?"

Well, it seems I've crossed some sort of tripwire I didn't know existed between civil discourse and hate speech by using the word "cult" to describe Stanton, and apparently I'm now labeled as vicious, cruel, vindictive, bitter, bloodthirsty, a vigilante, oppressive and tyrannical according to commenter Martin Luther. Wow, tell me how you really feel!

I know, and hopefully you do too, that all these things are untrue, but I'm hopeful that after reading this, you will at least understand my heart a little better. You may not agree, but agreement is not a condition of brotherly love. Remember that?

I have to say I was a bit shocked by this over-the-top denunciation. I consider Martin Luther a friend, although we've never met. I know who he is; we've talked and corresponded a number of times about the abuses of Stanton, and he's provided a number of digital files of lessons. I've never once wanted this blog to be a blunt instrument of vindictiveness or personal attack, and have always made every attempt to make that clear. So to see my motives impugned like this is a little discomforting--did I come across that way to anyone else, or just Martin Luther? I'd like to know your honest opinion.

But I obviously stepped on a nerve. So come, let us reason together.

Let me first start with an apology for offending you, Martin Luther, and anyone else who was truly offended to the core. It was not my goal to attack anyone or to otherwise be incendiary by use of this term. For me, it was just a natural progression of how I've come to view the sect. (Is "sect" a more politically correct term, or do we need to have a "safe space" to avoid this trigger word as well?)

I will more fully explain my use of the term later in this post, but first, let's rewind and respond to some of Martin Luther's comments:
"Yet, ironically, the very one's (sic) claiming on here that Stanton is so oppressive and tyrannical, are the same ones oppressively and tyrannically labelling (sic) them a cult."
"I respect the opinion of those who admit their own faults, which hurt all of us the most, and then highlight Stanton's, but I have no respect for the vigilantes who bloodthirstily pursue Stanton no different from how the Jews once pursued Eichmann. The Jews had a reason, you don't."
"I do realize hurt people hurt people, so I understand it, but if the intent of this site is to heal and not to rip apart further than using the word cult is not the way to go. There are no rewards for viciously attacking ones enemies."
"Of course injustice needs to be addressed, this is indisputable, yet it must be addressed with understanding and not cruel vindictiveness."
"...let it never be said of me that I attacked people and organizations rather than the ideas that caused the behaviors. To say Stanton is an evil wicked cult is exactly why they won't converse with many of us. When debating an opponent, using insults, and the word cult is a supreme insult, is guaranteed to lose the debate."
First and foremost, "enemies?" Really? Can you find anything in my writing that indicates I consider anyone enemies? I love these people. I don't know most of them very well anymore. Some of them knew me as a child, but personally speaking, I don't have a relationship with enough of them to be hurt by what they say or think, much less consider them enemies.

Second, and this is extremely important; this has never been a debate. A debate requires a dialogue, and not once has Stanton transparently engaged me or this audience in friendly conversations, much less debate. As Gary so famously said in his Labor Day talk, Not Ready To Give An Answer:
"Someone told me here just recently that 'Gary, do you realize what's happening, under cover? People are coming out and expressing what it is that they feel, their disdain and contempt for what you believe. I've got to know how to respond.'  
And I know how I respond. That's the basis of this lesson. I refuse. I refuse, to the uttermost of my being to dignify the absurdity of the questions and the challenges in which it is that people will present. What I mean by that is that I will not honor, they are not worthy of my consideration. ... 
[M]y whole estimation was to not give it a nickel's worth of consideration. But I want to give you what it is how I deal with things like this. How I respond. Because I don't. I don't.
So to say that using the word "cult" will shut down debate isn't exactly the strongest argument I've heard. Yes, I do want to dialogue about the Scriptures with people in Stanton, but attempts at dialogue have literally never worked. The only hope of reaching the people still in the sect is to present truth in love, and hope that something here inspires a little more investigation of God's Word.

Third. Does use of the word "cult" necessarily indicate that I'm vicious, cruel, vindictive, bitter, bloodthirsty, a vigilante, oppressive and tyrannical? Objectively, I hope it's apparent to everyone that the answer is negative. Those labels are judgments of what's going on in someone's heart. I think it's important to constantly remind ourselves that we as humans can only judge actions, not motives, because someone's motivations are matters of the heart. Only God can judge motives.

I can be magnanimous about Stanton, giving them the benefit of the doubt about their intentions and motivations, and still conclude that the word "cult" is appropriate, because that word does not impugn their motives or intentions of the heart. I have to assume they sincerely believe they are following God. But I can at the same time believe them to be in a cult, and I'll explain that later.

Martin Luther says:
"Has anyone ever met the person who was told they were in a cult in Stanton and they changed their life around and are now happy and blessed by God? Who was persuaded absolutely by being told they are a cult follower?"
This argument is what kept me from using this word for many years. I didn't believe it would be effective in convincing people, so I stayed away from it, even though I believed it to be true. However, I believe this is a personal decision that everyone has to make about what is going to be the most effective in their relationships with people in the group (here's another politically correct term I think we can all agree on). So this is an argument about the pragmatism of using the word, not the veracity of it.

Before getting into the accuracy of the term as applied to Stanton, let me first explain my increased use of it. I started off, as I've said, avoiding the term. I opted for the word "sect." This was intentional, because I felt that it would be a turn-off to some people and they wouldn't listen past that. Perhaps that was the best route, and I've erred in straying from that.

But let me add another side of this. My family has been divided by this sect's authoritarian teachings for nearly 48 years now. I've seen it tear countless marriages apart, spiritually and sometimes physically. I've seen it estrange fathers from their children for generations, with new generations raised to think that is OK. I have, during the past 20 years, attempted various ways of reaching my family members in the group with a more accurate view of God, the Bible, grace, love, forgiveness; all the things I've written about on this blog.

But this avoidance of the term "cult" hasn't produced the intended fruit. My mom remains in her bondage to the unbiblical "counsel" of fallible humans, as do many other subjects of the various teachers in the group. Using the word cult was a considered decision, one taken as a result of my strong belief that more and more generations are getting roped into Stanton's divisive teachings, and that needs to stop.

I've used this analogy before: Stanton's throwing people into the river, and I'm tired of simply trying to pull people out down river. I want to stop them from throwing anyone else into the river, and empower people who might be on the verge of letting themselves be thrown in the river to say "wait a minute, this isn't right." And hence my increased use of the word "cult." I believe it is accurate, the only question is if it will be more effective than the alternative. The jury is out on that one. I've spent at least 20 years of trying the one approach. My mom may not have many years left. She's 83 years old. For me—and maybe it's just for me, but maybe others are at this point, too—it's time to try something different. They say the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. So this is me trying something different.

Maybe after trying this approach, it will also prove to be ineffective. That's a very real possibility. I just don't know. What I do know is that I use the term in good conscience, and with no desire to offend anyone. For me, I'm making a sincere application of this verse:

Jude 22-23 - Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

For you, maybe you're not there yet. Maybe you don't see your situation as urgent, needing to pull someone out of the fire. That's OK. Just try to be patient with me, then, because that's where my heart is.

So let's talk about the definition of a cult

Stanton has often cited a dictionary definition of "cult" to say that by this definition, Jesus was in a cult. Martin Luther wrote:
"Cult: a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. That means everyone who follows Jesus is in a cult. LOL."
"If Stanton is a cult than (sic) Martin Luther, and Alexander Campbell were cults too, but I don't suppose you've bothered studying them have you?"
Actually, Martin Luther, I have read Campbell extensively, dating back to my teen years, and I'm 48. I own and have read dozens of his books, debates, and periodicals. I've read all seven years of his Christian Baptist magazines in an effort to understand the roots of the movement I was raised in and decide for myself what is Biblical and what's not. I've read volumes of that publication's successor, Millennial Harbinger, as well as books and articles about the movement and about Campbell himself.

I can tell you unequivocally that Stanton bears almost no resemblance to the movement that Alexander Campbell was instrumental in starting.
  • Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it's silent? Are you kidding me? Stanton's the opposite of this, adding layer upon layer of their teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men.
  • Campbell's was a unity movement to unite "the Christians in the sects." Stanton denies there are even Christians in those sects, outsides its own hyper-sectarian walls.
  • Campbell was an advocate for freedom of conscience devoid of bondage to human creeds. Stanton "rabbis" enforce the radical antithesis of freedom of conscience.
But I digress.

Using Martin Luther's preferred definition of "cult" doesn't hold up to reason. We agree that neither Jesus nor Alexander Campbell were members of a cult. Therefore, I know we agree that this particular definition of cult is not the one we're really discussing.

Instead of cherry-picking the most benign definition to argue from, let's look at Webster's full definition of cult:
1:  formal religious veneration :  worship
2:  a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also :  its body of adherents
3:  a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also :  its body of adherents
4:  a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
5 a :  great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially :  such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
b :  the object of such devotion
c :  a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion
There is a lot of room in these definitions for different types of cults, and different (but accurate) uses of the word. The worship of the ancient pagan gods were cults. They were a system of religious beliefs and rituals, also including an object of devotion (the supposed deity, or the physical idol it represented).

The one that I would use in reference to Stanton is #3, a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious, as well as #5a, a great devotion to a person or idea, and #5c, a small group of people characterized by such devotion.

Could mainstream Christianity, if you stretch the meaning of words, be shoehorned into some of these definitions? Of course. But we all know exactly what we're talking about. We're talking about an undue idolization of a group above all other groups. I sincerely believe that Stanton has become the modern equivalent of idolatry for many members.

Martin Luther says:
"The Bible does teach if you don't obey the church it designed, you are going to hell. What do they [Stanton] have to apologize for?"
And that's where it becomes idolatry, I would argue. The Bible does not say to obey Stanton. Our obligation is to obey God rather than men. It is never sacrilege to disobey unbiblical doctrines, no matter who teaches them. If the church as a human institution is in authority over our lives, then we must all become Catholics and return to the Mother Church, seeking to reform it.

I'll choose instead to expend my energies trying to reform my own heart and the hearts of others I may have an ounce of influence on. I don't really care about the institution of Stanton. I care about the people within its walls who are being enslaved by its ideology; the ideology that in it alone can truth be found. That's just patently false and destructive to the souls of men every time it's tried.

One person told me recently that he had a conversation with someone in the group and pointed out a factual string of abuses of the church. The response was absolute horror that he would dare criticize "the church," as if God might strike him dead for simply pointing out where it's strayed from the scriptures. That is what I mean when I say the church has become an idol, and is why I am comfortable using the word "cult" in a factual sense. We should never be horrified at the mere thought of questioning with boldness what we've been taught. That's just honest inquiry. It's what the Bereans did, and it's what we should be doing.

As for whether Stanton is truly a cult, this of course depends on whether you believe their ideology or not. For those convinced of their anointed status as the only true church, it is understandable that this wouldn't be acknowledged. "I'm in a cult"...said no cult member ever. It is only with outside perspective that it becomes obvious; when you see the real life effects of families broken up, husbands ditched for loyalty to the teachings of fallible men, and lifelong relationships tossed aside should one dare question the authority of The Church.

There are many good articles on identifying characteristics of cults, as people most commonly use that term. Some identifying marks that I think are fairly useful come from this article:
  1. All your friends believe just like you do. It is one thing to all have similar world views. That happens in churches, clubs, political parties, etc. But when there is absolutely no room for dissent, this can be a sign your'e in a cult.
  2. Nobody questions authority. Reasonable people in leadership positions do not exercise totalitarian or authoritarian control over people. When you have a culture that makes everyone fearful of even holding an opinion that might contradict an authority figure, much less voice it, this can be a sign you're in a cult.
  3. The source of authority is vested in a person. Most cults have an authority figure who claimed special knowledge or insight from God. This person cannot be criticized without being denounced or reprimanded, because to call into question their authority would call into question the very existence of the group.
  4. Doctrine must not be questioned. Authority of the leaders (#2 above) is one type of control, and Stanton uses this in binding teachers' "counsel" on members. But this extends to doctrine as well. The teachings that come out of May Week are held to be authoritative (at least until next year).
  5. Secrecy and excommunication. This is a big warning sign for Stanton. They attempt to maintain a high level of secrecy, and do not want their churches to have websites or lessons published on the Internet. Paul would have loved the openness of the Internet. Stanton has had entire talks given at meetings about the need for secrecy. The "excommunication" or withdrawal as a tool to stifle dissent is also a warning sign.
But there are plenty of other good articles with identifying marks of a cult. The more you read about modern authoritarian groups, the more you will see the many similarities to Stanton. I have a unique perspective in that I have lived the history of this group from the time I was born. I grew up in it and defended it earlier in my life. I have talked to first-hand sources who knew Merie growing up in the 50's, and who knew her family going back decades before that.

My perspective may not be accepted or shared by everyone here, but I ask for your patience in accepting my heart that my use of the word is not meant to be an attack, but a statement of fact as I see it. You can disagree, and that's OK. Whether the term will be useful in the cause of bringing people closer to the Jesus of the Bible remains to be seen. But I suspect that truth-telling, no matter how difficult that truth is to swallow, can always be useful if offered in love, as I've tried to do.

It's my hope and prayer that being a little more direct with the use of this word will shake someone up enough to take the question seriously of whether Stanton really is a cult or not. What do you think? Is it a cult? Was I out of bounds for using the word? You tell me. Please share your thoughts, because I really do want to hear other perspectives.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tackling the hard job of living Christlike

Ever notice that when your kids really don’t want to do something, they will find anything and everything else to do before getting to the undesirable job? Forget the kids, I do this myself. Sometimes the hard tasks get postponed for something else that might truly be a good thing to do. Even a great thing to do. Nevertheless, the good becomes an escape to avoid the better, and easier wins out over harder. When this happens in our Christian walk, the ivory tower of Christianity ends up trumping real life. Process trumps results.

So it can be if we become preoccupied with doctrinal issues (by that I mean "what is the correct opinion on XYZ issue?") to the exclusion of the hard job of Christian living. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that correct opinions on who Jesus is, what he came for, and how to follow him are unimportant. But I will go out on a limb here and say that once a person is a believer, the most important struggle is not to accurately parrot the teachings of the church you attend, or grasp the finer points of theology or eschatology, or even the most interesting ones. The most important challenge for believers is to understand our own hearts and turn them to do the Lord’s work.

“What’s so hard about Christian living?” you say. How about being Christlike to the waiter who was really bad at customer service? How about choosing entertainment for ourselves and our families that isn’t in conflict with Christian morality and living? How about stepping up to lead our families, rather than letting them meander aimlessly through the spiritual minefields of the pop culture? How about resisting the urge to pass on that very interesting tidbit of gossip about a brother or sister in Christ (or anyone else, for that matter), and choosing to take James’ advice seriously:
James 4:11 – Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.
If we’re truly honest about ourselves, these types of Christian living issues are where the rubber meets the road in Christianity, not the endless flow of opinions of men expounded and debated in the Stanton sect during May Week. All those meetings are good for is for teachers to oppress the consciences of the subjects with their own fallible opinions. We can't use these doctrinal debates to escape the hard work of living a life sold out for Jesus Christ.

Just as the theologians of Jesus’ day were escaping the front lines of the battle that takes place in the heart by retreating to the desk job of interpreting the law for everyone else, we too can escape the heart and soul of Christianity if we become overly preoccupied with matters of opinon that matter little to God at all. (Does God really care what organizational means we use to help the fatherless and widows, or does he just care that we help the fatherless and widows?)

My kids can put off their hard chores for awhile by doing easier ones. Eventually, though, they’ll have to answer to me for why they didn’t do what I really wanted them to do.
Isaiah 29:13 – The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Confessions from Donna Bennum

Donna sent me the following letter addressed to the people she knew during her time as a teacher in the cult. I'm publishing it here to help her reach out to them, whether they are still in the SCOC or not. Wow, thank you Donna. This took a lot of courage--the spirit of Christ is very evident in your life.
Confessions from Donna Bennum 
Confessions concerning those I sinned against while a member of a specific sect of the church of Christ, from January 1978 through August 2014. 
I was baptized into this sect in January 1978 in Des Moines, Iowa. My husband (Bill Bennum) and I, we're married in April,1978. We were sent out to help grow a congregation in 1981, to Springfield, Il. We were there for ten years. From there we moved to Decatur, Il. We were there for a year before we were sent to Erie, PA. We lived in Erie, Pa and Girard, PA. for three and a half years. We moved back to Des Moines, then to Oxnard, CA., then back to Des Moines, IA.
I mention the locations for the mere reference of those congregation I served in.  Most of those years I served in the capacity of a teacher, and often as a counselor. I affected many members, families, non-members, and children of members. 
For anyone that I adversely affected by my pride, and oppression, and judgements I made against them- I ask your forgiveness. I lifted myself up in pride when I was found in favor with the older teachers. I detest who I became! 
Please forgive me for teaching this oppressive doctrine of MAN and trying to enforce this doctrine, often with no mercy or grace. Please forgive me for pleasing and serving MAN by continuing in the capacity of a teacher, and cast judgements on those I dealt with unjustly. 
I was a HYPOCRITE. I had no business teaching. Albeit, as it is a FALSE TEACHING, I still treated people with no respect or compassion at times.
I HATE that I took part in interrogation of the minds of people, and of the marriage beds of members. This was ungodly and devilish! Forgive me for arrogantly lifting myself above you. Forgive me, please, for getting into your personal business- especially of how to raise your children, or concerning very personal issues, and marriages. 
Please forgive me for scrutinizing your behavior and what you wore. Please forgive me for doing the bidding of the teachers, counsellors and evangelists- and burdening you with these corrupt judgements. This involves so many years and locations and people, and SITUATIONS, that I don't know how I will ever make amends with individuals. 
Please accept this for the wrongs I have committed against you, and I pray my God will be gracious to me as I have repented of these grievous sins against you all and against Him. Forgive me for teaching a doctrine that is NOT CHRIST and of God, but rather from MAN. 
I decided I needed to take this step to be able to continue my journey of growth with my Savior.  If anyone has ought against me, PLEASE CONTACT ME.  You can PM me
on FB and I will give you my contact information. 

If I could go back to everyone I have every 'taught' these hypocrisies- I would share with them that THIS SECT is not portraying the TRUE AND LIVING GOD. 
There IS a Great God in heaven! He is my redeemer. He brought me up out of a HORRIBLE PIT. He is merciful. He does not condemn or cast judgement or scrutinize. He loves us while we are yet sinners.