Part 1 of a 5-part series.
TRIGGER WARNING: DISCUSSION OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
“A Badge of Honor” – My Excommunication & Shunning from a NeoCalvinist Church – by Velour/MtnShepherdess ©
“Consider your excommunication as a badge of honor from a church like that!” –
Boz Tchividjian, Attorney/Law Professor/former sex crimes prosecutor/ advocate for child sex abuse victims/founder of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E.), grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham, words of encouragement to me on my excommunication/shunning from Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley (California)
1.Excommunication & Shunning. Threatened by pastors/elders for discovering a Megan’s List sex offender convicted for child pornography at church.
Nearly two years ago the Chairman of the Elder Board of Grace Bible Fellowship of
Silicon Valley (“GBFSV” http://www.gbfsv.org/) banned me from attending Sunday church services, banned me from attending any church events, banned me from having any communication with any church members (including my friends whom I’d known for nearly eight years), and told the Seventh Day Adventists who rent to GBFSV in Sunnyvale, California, (Silicon Valley) that I was banned from stepping foot on church property. I was then excommunicated and ordered to be shunned before hundreds of church members.
My “crime”? I had not committed any act of immorality. I would not bow to theauthoritarian dictates of the chairman of the elder board who demanded that I apologize to all of the pastors/elders for their repeated threats to me about a Megan’s List sex offender at church whom I had discovered while doing a research project for a former sex crimes prosecutor. (I will discuss that in greater detail further in my story.)
My name joined the “banned from church property” list with the wonderful Dr. Luke (not his real name), a godly doctor in his 70’s, loving husband to his wife Mrs. Luke (not her real name). The Lukes have been married for nearly fifty years. Dr. Luke is also a loving father to grown children and a faithful evangelist at his office.
Dr. Luke had generously bought expensive books and DVD’s to start the church lendin library. Dr. Luke also invited and paid for the senior pastor to join Dr. Luke, pastor John MacArthur (Grace Community Church in Southern California, president of The Master’s College and The Master’s Seminary) on a trip to North Carolina a few years ago to meet the Rev. Billy Graham in person at his log cabin home in North Carolina. For all that Dr. Luke did for GBFSV, for all of his kindnesses to the senior pastor, for the stand-up Christian that I know him to be, the GBFSV pastors/elders told hundreds of church members, including members who work for well-known high-tech companies in Silicon Valley and members who are undergraduate and graduate students at the elite Stanford University, in a closed door Sunday meeting after the church service to NEVER speak to Dr. Luke again. The senior pastor said they had “worked with Dr. Luke for years” to no avail. The senior pastor said that Dr. Luke “wasn’t one of us” and if you had anything to do with him to “call him to repent”.
The senior pastor also accused Dr. Luke of false teaching, even though Dr. Luke had never taught any Bible classes at GBFSV, had never held Bible studies, and I knew that he wasn’t a false teacher.
The senior pastor told us to “pray” for Dr. Luke’s wife, and delivered this admonishment in serious tones, as though she was in some kind of hostage situation with her husband. When I interviewed Mrs. Luke, after my own excommunication, she told me that she’d always hated the senior pastor, the elders, and the church and that she thought something was terribly wrong with the church. She repeatedly warned her husband that they should not go to this church. She told me that she thought many of the church members were emotionally unhealthy because healthy people wouldn’t tolerate this treatment. She told me that she hoped this incredibly destructive, abusive church “implodes”. Me too.
Many church members secretly taped on their cell phones the excommunication and shunning of Dr. Luke, who was not present. Those individuals and families also left GBFSV after that.
After I was ordered to be excommunicated and shunned from the church on a trumped up charge by the pastors/elders, I contacted The Lukes. It turns out that the pastors/elders had invited Dr. Luke to a meeting at church. He went to the meeting thinking that they were going to ask him to be a church officer. Much to Dr. Luke’s surprise, the pastors/elders screamed at him and falsely accused him.
- How Had I Gotten In To A NeoCalvinist, 9Marks, Abusive, Authoritarian Church?
I missed all of the signs in an abusive church. In point of fact, I didn’t know what to look for in an abusive church.
I had tried a number of churches in various Silicon Valley cities that I had been invited to by friends. There was something wrong with them, but I couldn’t articulate the problems, many of which I have since learned about on The Wartburg Watch.
My most recent church had been a mega church that I had been invited to by a friend. It was independent with a hip pastor who had a large following and a radio program. While I liked the choir, I did not care for the irreverent sermons, the anonymity, and that constant demands for money. Taking a class at church meant having to come up with a lot of money to pay for it. Those without funds simply could not take classes.
A godly Christian woman I knew warned me that my mega church did not practice “Biblical Church Discipline” and that was one of their serious problems. She said that a husband from their church (Calvary Chapel) had an affair with a woman from the mega church. They disciplined their member (the husband) but that the mega church had refused to discipline their woman church member even when the smaller church’s elders had asked.
I had never heard the term “Biblical Church Discipline” and so I looked it up. I found Mark Dever’s 9Marks of a Healthy Church organization in Washington, D.C. He founded that organization. He is also the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I read the 9 Marks of a Healthy church that were “missing” from so many of today’s churches. I thought surely I had found my answer to the churches that I’d attended that seemed so off. 9 Marks promised church health, stability, and a vibrant, growing church membership.
I did not know anything about the 1970’s heavy Shepherding Movement, some of the Florida founders later repented for its un-Biblicalness, authoritarianism, and abuses. I didn’t know that Mark Dever, and others, were simply using the Shepherding techniques again with the same disastrous results.
Comment from Todd Wilhelm on The Wartburg Watch on May 17, 2016:
“I think it was Brad the futurist guy that recommended a book to me titled “The Shepherding Movement: Controversy and Charismatic Eccliesiolgy” by S. David Moore.
I am currently reading the book and the similarity between 9Marx and the Shepherding movement is eerie. It is almost as if Dever has lifted all the Shepherding concepts and repackaged them for our day.”
- Finding a 9Marks Church On The Locator Map Near My Home
On the 9 Marks locator map I found a church near my home, Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley.
I read the church website and they seemed to have all of the “marks” of a “healthy” church that Mark Dever talked about.
Yes, it all seemed there. What a relief, I thought, to find a bedrock of stability in a church world that had gone insane.
I went to the church. The church was new, started by a group of families from a Baptist church, and they were renting space from the Seventh Day Adventists.
The members seemed nice. There were slightly less than one hundred people. That seemed promising, that we could get to know each other. My needs in a church were simple and in retrospect naïve. I wanted to know other Christians, be known, hear the Word of God taught, grow as a Christian, and serve.
The music was reverent. The sermon seemed much more serious than the hip mega church pastor. The church members and attenders were an intelligent crowd, many working for high-tech firms in Silicon Valley. There was also a large contingent of students from the near by Stanford University. And another group of University of California at Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) who had come to work for Silicon Valley tech companies.
The church also had a fellowship meal after the service, a potluck on most Sundays. This was, I was told, to follow the pattern of the early church and to eat together. It seemed fun and nice.
Jack on The Wartburg Watch:
“Just went to the website of this church [Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley]. The membership contract is a vague rip from Purpose Driven Life but the bylaws are the meat & potatoes!
In short, this corporation has no members. Members abrogate their rights upon signing the contract.
Just reading the bylaws lights up every warning alarm on the TWW checklist of what to look for in an abusive church. http://www.gbfsv.org/by-laws
No doubt new attendees are love bombed before they read the fine print.
You should write this up as a case study of churches to stay away from.
It would be interesting to know how you became involved.”
Statement of Faith
- Church Distinctives
- Membership Covenant
- By Laws
“BTW, I looked over the website of your former church [Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley], their resources page reads as a veritable who’s who of nefarious organizations discussed here. I also note that least half the elders are staff, this inverts the accountability and put way too much power in the hands of the pastor. The preface of their statement of faith gives me the shivers and don’t get me started on their membership covenant.”
- Resources: http://www.gbfsv.org/helpful-websites
- Elders: http://www.gbfsv.org/elders—deacons
- Statement of Faith: http://www.gbfsv.org/gbf-statement-of-faith
I didn’t know that researching a church to attend would involve as much research, or more, as buying a car.
I didn’t understand the implications of everything that I had missed on the church’s website, and that they were advertising authoritarianism and hierarchy, from the church to the family.
- Becoming A Member And Signing A Church Membership Covenant
I met with an elder and found out the process to become a church member. I had to write up my testimony, have several meetings with him, sign some church documents including a Membership Covenant, and meet with the pastors/elders as a group. I did all of those steps with another Christian woman. We were introduced as new church members to the church one Sunday morning.
- I Immersed Myself In Church Activities And Everything Seemed “Fine”
I immersed myself in church activities. I attended Adult Sunday School on Sunday mornings before church, I attended church services, and I volunteered to assist with the fellowship meal. Since I love to cook, I also cooked for the fellowship meal.
I attended Bible Studies when I could on Friday nights. The Bible Study leader, an engineer, took a great deal of time to prepare for the weekly Bible studies. He would sometimes spend forty hours a week preparing for the Friday night Bible Study in his and his wife’s home. They were gracious people and we had a fun time.
- If Everything Was “Fine” Why Were Good And Godly Families Leaving The Church To Never Be Seen Again?
After my first year of church attendance, I noticed that good and godly families, left the church never to be seen again. It was very odd. They were strong Christians, in the Word, wonderful, intelligent people. Kind, generous, funny. And they were leaving and going to other churches, never to be seen from or heard from again.
I asked the pastors/elders and other long-time members where these solid church members had gone. I was shut down from any answers. I was told it was “their time to leave” or they had “been called by God to another church” or given no answers. It was odd.
Families that had helped found the church, including an elder, were leaving. If they were called away by God, why didn’t we all say a proper “good bye” to them? After all they were “family”. Our church family.
I made a mental note. As the years went by, I noticed the pattern and grew alarmed by it. People left and would not give an answer as to why they were leaving. They gave furtive glances. Uneasy looks.
When I was no longer a member, after my excommunication and shunning, I called former church members and I asked why they had left for other churches. They all told me the same thing: They were alarmed by the authoritarianism that the pastors/elders claimed to have over church members’ lives, the demands that we “obey and submit” to their authority, and that it was “un-Biblical.” These solid Christians, most were conservatives, said that the pastors/elders were doing an incredible amount of damage to Christians’ lives and seemed blinded to it.
Many former church members described the same kinds of meetings that I had been subjected to by the pastors/elders: Being invited to a meeting, not being told what it was about, and then being screamed and yelled at, falsely accused and threatened.
They also described the insufferable control that the pastors/elders expected to dictate over our lives.
Many people also said that they had been warned not to join the church by family members who were long-time Christians, friends, and others who spotted the signs of an abusive, authoritarian church. Others had spouses who refused to join and thought there was something wrong with the church. One husband said that the Holy Spirit came to him very strongly during a prayer time and said “no” don’t join. He, his wife, and children had a family meeting. The children said that they hated the church and what a cold, unloving place it was and they weren’t welcomed there and they didn’t want to return. After a family discussion they were all in agreement and they went to another church.
Max, on Wartburg Watch, posted this comment:
“This is actually quite common in New Calvinist churches, particularly church plants. Here’s the usual cycle based on observations in my area: (1) a young reformer rolls into town with church planting seed money from a parent church or denominational support, (2) someone in the community is approached to serve as the host for a home meeting to discuss the church plant (usually someone who is disgruntled from doing traditional church or who has noble aspirations to start a new work to reach the unchurched), (3) the host invites his friends and others from the community to a “Bible study” (= core group), (4) the group grows as the young reformer passionately talks about hills he would die on and a message that sort of sounds like the gospel, (5) after a few months, the group out-grows the host home and they look for a store-front to rent, school gym, off-hour meeting at another church (most commonly in yuppie areas), (6) the young reformer recruits a cool band and singers, (7) free coffee/donuts and the cool music begin to draw a larger and younger crowd, (8) the flock keeps growing (mostly 20s-40s), (9) the young reformer selects like-minded elders (young ones), (10) the original host of the core group gradually becomes less important to the young reformer – he gets wise to the scheme and leaves, (11) other core group members begin to feel left out as they become distanced from the cool pastor while others take their place as the new core – they, too, begin to see the deception and exit, (12) the old core group members are shunned in the community.
All sounds like God, doesn’t it.”