Shepherding/Discipleship Movement Survivor's Blog

The present-day impact of the Shepherding/Discipleship movement from the perspective of a former member of Morning Star International (now Every Nation Churches and Ministries).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


I just got an email from a friend and reader joking that I must be pretty old to remember the 19th century communalist groups. Sorry, meant more modern day groups and the days when cults made headlines in the 70s and 80s. Sometimes I feel that much older, especially when climbing stairs, but I'm really only middle aged, and relatively early middle aged at that.

But, I already knew more than I should about the other groups too, since I'm also a product of the "Burnt Over District" of Upstate New York. This is what I wrote back:

Hehehehe, I thought I was writing it in such a way that I meant the more modern day groups, not the 19th century ones.

Though most of my time growing up I lived around a mile from the original US Shaker settlement, where Mother Ann Lee is buried. I used to go fishing in Ann Lee Pond. Also, my family is originally from the infamous Burnt Over District that spawned some of those other groups, including the Oneida Settlement - my birthplace is where they made Oneida silverware and have a street named after John Humphrey Noyes (their founder), and the Mormons also used to heavily promote the annual Palmyra pageant in our area too - Hill Comorah isn't that far away either. One could even say that Doris Wagner (C. Peter's wife), who is the one heavily into the spiritual warfare thing, is a modern-day product of the Burnt Over District since she's also originally from Central New York [. . .]. Central and Western NY was another hotbed of early Latter Rain activity - the revival based at Elim Institute occurred at around the same time as the original one in Canada. My brother even knows of a laughing revival church in the same area where they literally pipe in laughing gas every week - reason he knows this is he knows the guy who makes the weekly deliveries. The majority of people in that area are either vehemently anti-"born again" (like most of my family) or deeply into the off the wall stuff that causes others to get so turned off to "born agains." All this to say I already knew more than I should about many of these groups, hehehehe.

That last part is something that has always saddened me about the area where I grew up, and obviously more so now that I'm a "born again" myself, though I think my family is starting to see through me that "born again" isn't synonymous with "blithering idiot." There's been so much weirdness up there that so many people seem to already be culturally predisposed to be turned off to the real Gospel, preferring the safety of "dead" religion or no religion at all. My pastor while I was in grad school in Virginia (this was before my MSI/Every Nation days) was a second generation Italian from New York City, and for a while he and his Ontario-born wife pastored a church in Rensselaer, NY, which is right across the Hudson River from Albany. I was born in Utica, NY, but spent most of my childhood and early adulthood in Colonie, an Albany suburb. Anyhow, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn't make a go of their ministry there due to what they perceived as a heavy spiritual darkness and resistance to the gospel. Maybe things have changed; but I know when I left the area ten years ago, even though this was still before I became a Christian, I sensed the same heaviness as well - what a contrast to Nashville, where I finally surrendered to Jesus. Anyhow, if God ever leads me back to Upstate New York to be a light on a hill, no matter how dimly lit I think it might seem, I would go, despite the bitter cold and snowy winters that I've been happy not to deal with over the last decade since I moved south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Ok, I need to stop. I've got work to do and a paper to write.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Next Up...

Well, I just got permission to submit the paper I alluded to in my former entry for credit in my "cult class." Our assignment is to analyze either modern-day aberrant Christian groups or communitarian groups of the nineteenth century (eg. Oneidists, Shakers, Brotherhood of the New Life) according to the following criteria:
  • Psychological (individual attraction to the group and effects of group membership)
  • Sociological (how does the group view society and vice versa? Is it "world rejecting" or "world affirming"?)
  • Theological (how do the teachings compare with Christianity? How does the church as a whole view/treat the group and vice versa?)
  • Legal (are there areas of legal conflict between the group and the state that overstep the boundaries of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion?)

The abberant Christian groups we've discussed so far include Jim Jones/People's Temple, Branch Davidians, The Way International, Children of God/The Family, Moonies/Unification Church, and Heaven's Gate. We did discuss shepherding groups very briefly and generally toward the beginning of the semester but haven't profiled them specifically in class. So my question was, "Can I write about shepherding/discipling groups, like the ICoC, Maranatha, and Morning Star International/Every Nation, or am I limited to just the groups profiled in class?"

The answer: "Ms. Ulyankee, you can write about whatever you want."

Ahh, the benefits of relatively old age in a sea of late teens and early twenty-somethings. Not to mention that I'm fairly sure I have the only A average in the class so far, which is probably related more to being old enough to remember many of the groups we've discussed, plus my getting a two year head start on some of the other course material, than to the hours I (haven't) spent studying.

I think I may start my paper with a salient quote by Steve Cannon of Personal Freedom Outreach, who was one of the members of the "ad hoc committee" which investigated Maranatha (at its own invitation) back in the 1980s:

A committee that investigated Maranatha Campus Ministries from 1980 through 1983 got an intimate look at the inner workings of an aberrational Christian group that many believe uses heavy- handed tactics to manipulate its members. Maranatha is a campus ministry teaching basic Christian doctrine and using tactics similar to those of mind-control groups to recruit and subdue members. With the discovery of Maranatha, the issue no longer was black-and-white, cult-or-Christian.


Of note... Richard Bartholomew of "Bartholomew's Notes on Religion" is being threatened with a libel suit over comments made on his blog. My readers may recognize Bartholomew since he has written several entries about Every Nation. While this particular case centers on a rather arcane UK law, believing that something similar couldn't possibly take place on my side of the pond is unwise as Nashville's NewsChannel 5 might be able to attest. My support goes out to Bartholomew and to others who dare to seek and expose the truth to the point of incurring legal threats or worse.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Prerogative of Deity?

I've been somewhat pulled in various directions over the last several days... I guess if you post stuff on the Internet along with your email address people will write you--and I welcome this!--but one of the things I've been wanting to do but haven't found the time to do is to write a documented, semi-scholarly article on the covering doctrine specifically as it pertains to Every Nation's "working theology" regarding apostolic/spiritual/delegated authority and present form of government. Right now it is comprised of two sticky notes on my desk filled with rough citations and notes that only I understand.

A couple things do stand out, though.

From the 3/2006 revision of The 2010 Initiative, emphasis mine (this section is unchanged from previous editions):

Each local church gives monthly into Every Nation; many give a tithe. In the future, the new churches planted will be "tithing" into the overall mission of Every Nation. This tithe recognizes the principle of spiritual authority and covering.

I highlight this as significant since this was published after the January reorganization - apparently the "principle of spiritual authority and covering" is still a key underpinning of the movement.

From Jim Laffoon's book, A Divine Alliance: How Apostles and Prophets Operate in Today's World (emphasis mine):

Apostles are also gifted to recognize the calling and spiritual destiny in the lives of God's people. One of the most powerful examples of this aspect of the apostle's ministry is found in the book of Acts: Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:36-37).

The word encouragement comes from the Greek word nebee, which means prophet. Even as God renamed Abram, Jacob, and Simon according to their calling, the apostles in Jerusalem saw the prophetic calling on the life of Joseph, who was a businessman in the church, and redefined him accordingly. This is an amazing story. For the first time in history, God was allowing humans to rename people according to their spiritual destiny. That which had always been the prerogative of deity had now been given to humans through the apostolic office. It is no different today. God has given apostles the grace to perceive and define the calling and destiny of His people.

Aside from the fact that this conclusion is based upon an absolutely horrid little piece of exegesis, the notion that the "prerogative of deity" is given to those with the so-called "apostolic gifting" is more than somewhat troubling, at least to me. This sounds similar to Roman Catholic beliefs regarding the Pope and church hierarchy, and indicates that perhaps the counsel of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor Jesus sent Who would be with us until the end of the age, is not quite adequate.
4/30/06: Wow - look up "prerogative of deity" in Google... Beyond all the esoteric stuff that comes up first in the search, here's what Baker's Evangelical Guide of Biblical Theology says about this (emphasis mine):

God retains exclusive prerogative as deity. Any competing ideology is idolatry, whether that be the ancient worship of Baal or the modern preoccupation with technique, nationalism, or militarism.

This really is a key difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism... or maybe I should say between Every Nation and the rest of Protestantism...? And the Church Lady says,"Hmmm, could it be... CATHOLIC?"

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Jesus Christ Alone

As I stated in my last entry, over the last several days I've reflected on my new-found freedom in Christ, and have been so burdened to tell others about it. I don't know if "new-found" is the right terminology or not, since I have been free in Christ since January 1998 when I surrendered my life to Him, but if one remains in a jail even with the door wide open, afraid to leave the security of the jail, and not exercising that freedom, then I guess "new-found" still works.

Two years ago, when the Holy Spirit began speaking to me about this next season in my life and what He was to have me to do, He told me that He was going to use me to "bring a word to a body that has forgotten that Christ is the Head." It wasn't until several months later when I was reading Colossians that I realized this was a direct reference to Colossians 2:19, "He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow." I got chills... I had been searching and confirming and reconfirming that what God told me was in accordance with Scripture, and here was proof staring me in the face. In larger context, this was exactly what I was experiencing in my former church movement and seeing in many areas of the church at large... a return to Old Testament-style legalism. Colossians 2:16-23 (NIV) reads:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

So even though those who claim that "follow the delegated leader" brings them to a closer relationship with God, talking about how humble they are now, all the visions they have, how they've learned that through following, obeying, and honoring so-and-so they are following, obeying, and honoring the Lord, in actuality they have lost connection with the Head and risk drawing people further away. CHRIST ALONE IS THE HEAD. WE ALL FOLLOW HIM. Church leaders, ministers, pastors, the so-called five-fold ministry, rank-and-file, everyone.

Speakword, a fellow former-Every Nation member from South Africa recently posted a link on his blog to an excellent series of articles discussing the detailed roots and history of the "covering doctrine." I believe that the "covering doctrine" as practiced TODAY in Every Nation churches (yes, as in today, now, after the "reorganization"), particularly but not exclusively in the US, comprises the core of a false gospel where leaders become Christ to their followers, if not in name, certainly in practice. I agree with Speakword that it is idolatry. I also believe that it adds works to salvation, because if one does not unquestionably obey their leaders, then one's very salvation is called into question.

Though as I've stated before both here and on FACTNet, the issue isn't just when the practical applications of these teachings go "too far" and abuses occur. They have to be dealt with at their theological root. Time and again, the leaders of Shepherding-style movements, including Maranatha Campus Ministries and now Every Nation, have repented of "abuse" and "control." But not of the root theology that led to the abuse and control in the first place. Rob McAlpine, the author of the above linked series of articles states, "the fatal flaw was not in the existence of the abuse, but in the foundational assumptions that gave credence to the teachings on submission and authority."

I am "covered" by the precious Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And not only "covered" in an Old Testament sense but cleansed free from sin. Read the book of Hebrews. Read Jesus' admonishments in the synoptic gospels that "so shall it not be among you."

I know that one of the objectives of "covering" and "accountability" is to keep people free from sin. This is not necessarily a bad objective, just a human solution to a spiritual problem that only God can solve through the power of the Holy Spirit Who indwells all believers in Christ. Sadly, as the periodic scandals and failures among leaders who teach and practice this doctrine illustrates, quoting the apostle Paul, these human, legalistic practices "lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." They didn't work in Old Testament times, and they don't work today, other than to point us to Jesus Christ as our only hope.

A friend gave me a note of encouragement the other day... it meant so much to me. I hope this person doesn't mind me quoting this here.

We need to trust in God and be faithful to what He has called or shown us to. [. . .] You don't need me to check up on you and you don't need an accountability board. You stand or fall with the weapons God has given you as long as you use them.

There may be some who say, to quote an Every Nation leader I heard say derisively some time ago (about someone else) when teaching about how to hear from God, that I'm just an "uncovered woman." To them I reply, I AM FREE IN CHRIST!!!! HALLELUJAH!!!!