by Larry Pile (cult researcher)
March 11, 2006
To whom it may concern:
I was a member and leader in Great Commission Association of Churches back in the 1970s, before it was called Great Commission. My wife was likewise a member of GCAC; she for 4 years, I for 5 ½.
The movement was founded in the late 1960s (the official version is that it was founded in 1970, though it really began ca. 1967 or ’68 in Greeley, CO) by Jim McCotter. It spread rapidly in the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Wisconsin. In 1973 the movement expanded to several other states in the South as well as the eastern and upper Midwest, including Ohio, where I moved as a team leader (along with Dennis Clark, Mike Keator, and Fred Colvin) with ca. 30-35 other mostly college-age people to Columbus.
In the early years the movement was a vibrant, fairly healthy “house-church” movement centered for the most part on large state university campuses. As time passed and the movement continued to expand, however, problems began to develop, mostly in the form of unbiblically stringent views of authority and submission. Another major problem was what amounted to an implied concept of “sanctification by works.” By this I mean that many of the group leaders (called “elders” back then, reflecting the Plymouth Brethren background of several early leaders, including McCotter) seemed to assume that unless individuals were spending at least a half hour to an hour in a daily “Quiet Time,” were sharing the gospel with people wherever they went, including in the college dormitories, were attending virtually every meeting and Bible study of the group, etc., etc., then they weren’t really submitting to the will of God and thus were not progressing to Christ-likeness. There was also a great deal of pressure applied by the elders (and many of the deacons, too) on everyone to get involved in all the evangelistic outreaches of the fellowships, to the point that a great many younger believers suffered spiritual burnout.
The situation that ultimately prevailed throughout the movement was essentially that of a system of spiritual hothouses – artificial environments in which to force spiritual growth under unnaturally climate-controlled conditions. Much as tomatoes are forced to ripen or carnations are made to bloom in January in physical hothouses, so young believers were forced into outward conformity to the movement’s image of a “true disciple.” But, also as the hothouse tomato lacks much of the sweetness of the vine-ripened variety, so the “hothouse disciple” lacks much of the inner maturity of the believer who is allowed to grow according to the Holy Spirit’s schedule and methods.
Eventually it got to the point that anyone who resisted the many pressures, and shared their concerns with other members of their churches (outside the leadership), was in danger of church discipline. Ultimately, several people in many different fellowships in the movement were excommunicated on charges of “faction” and others. Much injustice was perpetrated in the name of God and maintaining “purity” in the church.
This state of affairs (and I’ve only barely sketched a couple of the major problems) prevailed from about 1974 through at least the mid-1980s. Some reform took place after 1986 or ’87 when Jim McCotter stepped down from leadership and then left the movement altogether, though some abuses continued to occur. During the 1990s more reforms took place, and things now are much better than they were back in the “bad old days.” However, every now and then in the early years of the new millennium I continued to hear of problems in individual churches, but not to the extent I once did. (Please see the addendum to this statement.)
Paul Martin (another former leader, and founder of Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center) and I, along with two other early leaders, Rick Harvey and Bill Taylor, had much discussion (both face to face and by letter and phone) with GCAC leaders in 1991 and 1992, and to a lesser degree since then. The men with whom we’ve discussed our concerns were David Bovenmyer, John Hopler, Mike Keator, and Tom Schroeder (now an ex-leader, I understand). Paul and I (one of us or both) have also met with current leaders Jeff Kern and Greg Vanada. By and large we were encouraged by what we have heard from these men, though we have felt that more needs to be done, mainly in regard to acknowledging the early abuses and fully apologizing to the men and women who were hurt, though some of this has been done. We also feel they need to be more forthcoming about acknowledging the unbiblical teachings and behaviors of McCotter and numerous others during the ’70s and ’80s, many of whom are still in leadership. Some attempt at this was done in 1991 with an official statement, but this was, for the most part, general and unspecific. More needs to be done, and in at least a semi-public way. What I mean is: there are many Christian leaders and others outside the movement who were very familiar and even occasionally involved with it in those early years and who therefore know the abuses that took place. It seems virtually impossible for these men and women to believe in the sincerity of the current GCAC leadership without a more vigorous statement along the lines I have suggested.
I hope this helps.
Lawrence A. Pile
32438 McGinnis Road
Albany, OH 45710-9028
Former Director of Cult Education and Research
Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center
P. O. Box 67
Albany, OH 45710
March 11, 2006
I. As examples of the depth of feeling of many of those who were hurt spiritually and emotionally while members of Great Commission I offer the following excerpts from letters and e-mail messages:
A. A young man writing several months after leaving GCI, i.e., Great Commission International, the first official name of the movement:
“...I have recently been reading through Galatians. The message of that book has quite literally changed my life... I discovered that the problems of guilt and disbelief that I had been continually experiencing for about the last year and a half sprung from a false concept of God spurred on by the ‘self-sanctification’ which seems to me to have been encouraged while [in the GCI group]. When I began to be pulled under the law again (self-sanctification) I was faced with constant condemnation. Not having a desire to do these things (witness, etc.) I continually prayed for the desire to appear. When I still lacked the desires I felt that God was withholding them from me. This led to a hatred of God, a picture of Him as that cruel sadist who loved to see ones suffer. It was as if He had let me hear the gospel of truth and let me adhere to it for a while and then snatched it away from me so that He could delight in my torture as I was consumed by my lust yet seeing the hope and blessings of Christ completely out of my reach... But since reading Galatians the Lord has turned my heart. He has shown me the falsity of self-sanctification which is equal to self-salvation. Never has Gal. 2:20 meant so much to me since just reading it in the context of Galatians. Christ living out His life in each of us. NOT Christ in us to help us keep the law but Christ living out His righteousness thru us. The glory is all God’s because He is doing all things that are worthy of glory in us. Praise His name.B. A young woman writing from the Army back to a friend who had also left the same GCI church:
“...He didn’t save me because my heart was right towards Him and He isn’t going to perfect me because I cleanse my heart of iniquity either. It’s because He loves me, really, truly, beyond a shadow of a doubt Loves me and desires the best for me, His son.”
—December 27, 1977
“I know when I lived [in the local GCI sisters house] I felt hemmed in & oppressed by rules, schedules, other people’s expectations, fear of being judged, & my own conscience.C. The wife of a deacon who had been excommunicated from a GCI church in the Mid-West, writing to a former elder of the same church who had left several years before:
“About ‘old’ friendships I had this thought: is it right that we live out our witness by honoring the friends we had before (‘I love you IF you come to church’ is not agape!), or shall we forsake them when they won’t be interested in the same thing we are?
“I’m glad you left the fellowship with the conviction you were obeying the Lord. That has probably helped you more than you realize. When I left, I knew something was wrong, but I thought it was me. I thought they were right, even to the extent that I equated leaving them with leaving God. And I was so unhappy I was ready to take even that step to escape. You can probably imagine how guilty & alone that made me feel. The final result was that I suffered what I consider a mild nervous breakdown through Basic Training... Even after that, I was sunk in depression until very, very recently & I thought I’d never be happy, or willing to be used by the Lord, again... I think, from reading your letter, my counselling [sic] sessions maybe weren’t as vicious as yours, but because my vision wasn’t as clear, perhaps, & I was afraid to tell the people who might have helped me, the results in my life were nonetheless devastating. The only other thing I want to say about all this is that when I left [the city] last spring I felt like I was running for my life...”
“...It seems a crime to be praying for people to ‘leave’ but that is the case here. We just want to be available to help in any way we can to assist in making a step out. The single sisters are having an especially rough time—only two have left. Getting out from under that ‘umbrella of protection,’ the authority claims, is a scary thing. Just is, the sisters have the most to lose by staying in. Their (GCI) attitude toward women is less than encouraging. Woman is deceived and the deceiver. Many of the men who have left shared how they were challenged that they were listening to the whisperings of their wives and were not being leaders of their homes—even couples whose concerns were every bit equal between the two.D. A man who had left a Mid-West GCI church describing the atmosphere in his church right before he and his wife decided to leave it:
“We have a great desire to get past all of this stuff and fill our minds and hearts with more edifying stuff. It’s just hard since our roots are so deep and our concerns for ones in the church are so real...”
“More and more it seemed like...in [our church] it got to the point where it seemed like the order of the day was ‘Who are we gonna kick out next?’ And I got really sick of that. Not that I was against discipline, or anything like that, but it seemed like that was the biggest highlight of any meeting that we had was ‘Who’s gonna get the axe next?’ I just couldn’t believe that was the emphasis that God wanted us to have, so consequently we basically sorta drifted away from the [church] after some real personal problems that [my wife] and I both had with the direction of the church that was really never answered. We felt guilty for a year—we felt really guilty—because we were meeting together, she and I. We’d visit other places, but mostly we were together; we just claimed that ‘when two or more are gathered in My name, I’m there.’ And we still felt guilty, because we thought we don’t want to be apart from people, but we weren’t sure where to go. We didn’t know of anybody or any church that we could go to that we didn’t think we’d have the same problems. Although we knew there had to be a group of believers that God wanted us to knit with, but we weren’t sure where. So it was really a blessing in February when we started meeting with the remnant of [our GCI church (a group of former members)]...I’ve never doubted my salvation or where I stood with the Lord, but it’s almost like I’ve been reborn if you can say re-saved in a sense in February, because it’s like I kinda came down from the Empire State Building down to the first floor, and I’m just re-building, really starting from there...I really believe that we’ll get back to the simplicity of our devotion to Christ—that’s really all I want to get back to.”E. A college co-ed who was formerly a member of a GCI church in the East writing to a university official:
“...During my involvement with Great Commission Students at [two different universities]...my interest in subjects outside of or unrelated to church goals became non-existant. Before my contact with this group my interests were varied and all encompassing. As my commitment to the organization grew, my struggle to keep a balance between time given to church-related activities and time needed for other responsibilities became overwhelming. I felt a need to do well in school because my parents were paying for my education, and in order for my teachers and classmates to respect my ‘message’, it was important to exemplify my life in a way that they could respect. In short, if I did not do well in school, Christ’s reputation was at stake. On the other hand not being totally committed to the goals of the group was like saying you didn’t think Christ was worthy of all you could give. These concerns produced incredible emotional and mental strain upon me and frequently resulted in periods of breakdown (depression and slight hysteria, sporadic crying and laughing sometimes for no apparent reason). Eventually my attention span decreased to such a point that headaches would result after only fifteen to thirty minutes of concentration. In addition, my ability to process information deteriorated to the extent that it would take twice the time to complete an assignment or understand material as it would have taken the average person. To people around me, my thoughts seemed disjointed or unrelated and my conversations hard to follow. Even I noticed the changes in my ability to think, and became discouraged at my own inability to communicate. At the time I attributed these problems to my own shortcomings. I thought I just needed to try harder. The final blow came when I recieved [sic] my grades for the Spring semester of 1984: two D’s and one F. In all my years of school, even when I didn’t try hard I never received lower than a C. I felt I had given every ounce of energy I had left to finish well that semester and still I received these grades. I was more confused than surprised but very distressed about the outcome. I was very hesitant, even after leaving the group in the summer of 1984, to attribute any of these changes to the church. It has only been recently after talking to several others that I discovered this experience is not restricted to me alone...”F. A woman writing (after leaving her GCI church in the upper Mid-West) to a former elder in a different GCI church:
—September 20, 1985
“...I had been asked to meet with [three elders] and about 10 others as a ‘leadership group.’...Those meetings showed me a lot to be concerned about, and when they gave us Jim McCotter’s Leadership book, that really confirmed it. Once I started it, the incredibly faulty exegesis and less-than-scholarly form...made me so mad that I knew that if I finished the book, I’d leave the church. I loved the people so much that I quit reading it for a while...G. From three individuals posting to an Internet bulletin board in 1995:
“...My questions got more and more haunting (I did read Leadership...), and began asking a lot of questions. I wanted to help, not just leave. I tried to point out the elitism, in-growth, faulty ‘apostle’ doctrine, peer-pressure and conformity being substituted for genuine spiritual growth, focus on church and church government rather than on the individual’s personal relationship with and knowledge of God..., inordinate dependence upon leaders, lack of independent thinking, etc., etc. Most of what I said (usually in small amounts, said at the ‘leadership’ meetings) seemed to go right past everyone.
“Eventually my questions and everything got worse, I was accused of having a pattern of slander, and was given my three warnings. I was told that I’d be disciplined if I ever talked to anyone else about my questions, but they never followed through on it.
“What they put me through at that point gave me a small idea of what you…and hundreds of others have gone through. I was told over and over that I was deluded, that I was in sin, and that they feared for my life, etc., etc. When I said that I just wanted truth, I was told that I didn’t. I was also told that the problems that I saw were products of my imagination...”
—April 14, 1986
Subj: GCM[I spoke or corresponded with several who left GC churches in the 1990s after the Weaknesses Statement came out – a couple who left the GC church in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, three who left the church in Columbus, Ohio, and at least three couples who withdrew from the church in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Those who left the Columbus church (all of them 9-10 year members of the movement, two of whom had been with other GC churches besides Columbus) told me that in their opinion GCAC was actually worse then (post-Statement) than in the past. It was just that the problems were much more subtle than before, the leaders having learned how to cover things up better. Specifically, they said that the average member saw very little of the abuse that happened in the churches; this only became apparent as one began to move into positions of responsibility and leadership in the local church, and then various forms of manipulation were employed to elicit the behavior desired by the leadership: guilt manipulation, promises seldom kept, and power brokering, among others – lap.]
Date: 95-01-03 11:27:24 EST
“For the last two years I have been a part of a GCM campus ministry/church. My ministry director has been relatively open about the history of the organization, but I still have questions about the group. I wish I could give you specific issues that are on my mind, but I can’t really put my finger on anything right now-- I just have a bit of uneasiness in general, and have since the beginning. At the same time, this ministry seems to be one of the most “serious” campus ministries in terms of following Christ that I’ve been able to find on campus.
Are there current issues I should be aware of? I guess I’m interested in entering a dialogue about this, since I really don’t have anyone I can talk to about it other than our campus ministry director. Sorry I’m so vague, but I don’t know where to begin. Thanks for your time and attention.”
Subj: Re: Great Commission Ministries
Date: 95-01-04 21:59:39 EST
“I feel I have to be careful. If I vent, I would tear down a part of Christs’ body. The paper you referred to did not change anything within the GCM church in Austin, TX. Many of my friends, have been hurt by things that were not necessarily taught by leaders in the church but by things that were more of a peer pressure. Spiritual pride seemed to be the major thing wrong within the Austin Church. Another thing was that the church stressed accountability to one another more than leading by the holy spirit. There was some legalism, grace seemed to be tossed out along with the baby and the bath water. The major requirement for leadership was who your friends were within the church. My husband and I are glad to be part of another church in another community. We have friends who are in counseling in the Austin area now. We learned some hard lessons, but we also learned some good lessons.”
Subj: Re:GCM in Minneapolis, Minn.
Date: 95-01-08 00:06:08 EST
“We were in a GCM church here for 4 years. We left for several reasons. I have a copy of this paper. I do not feel GCM has matured. Do you want to know more specifics? Do you want to know the negative stuff? Email me for more info. I wrote a detailed letter describing our reasons for leaving the church-now called Evergreen Community Church.”
H. From a man who joined a GCM affiliate while in university in Colorado:
“Some people study history so that they aren’t doomed to repeat the mistakes of the previous generations. Unfortunately I wasn’t so lucky. I got involved with GCM in Colorado, actually a relatively new branch in which I got heavily involved with then left after a year and a half. I left because something was eating me up, I was depressed, not eating right and falling apart all around. I had several issues with the church regarding authority, church over school and some non-essentials that I would consider unimportant that the church just blows out of proportion. One thing that they would say is that in picking between truth and unity you should pick unity. I disagree.[From a later e-mail]
I have talked with one girl who has left the church more recently then I have and she shares some of my concerns. Others are seeing it as well but I am not sure how many but I will work abit on this. I’m trying to figure out at this point what I should be doing, this is not all foreign to me as I was working on becoming an apologist before said events. Oh yeah, my psychologist [name deleted] was the one who told me to contact you about this.”
“I was with [name of church deleted] for about 2 years including going to Leadership Training in Estes Park for the summer. That was about 1 1/2 years ago. Also yes, I will share my experiences with you, I’m still tyring to figure out exactly what they were and how it all fits together. Still doesn’t make sense to me at times like why me and not anyone else? Why did it affect me more then others? Why did affect me so much more then I thought it would or should? What side affects are still there? How can I undo whatever they did to me.I. From a woman who was a member, with her family, of a GC church in Missouri:
I am thinkin about these things again now because I think that understanding what happened to me and how it affected me will be important in understanding why I lost part of me there. I used to be a die hard, passionate apologist but no more. I am interested but don’t do much research though. [Name of church deleted] gave me alot of crap for doing it because it wasn’t what the group was doing and I should do that and that sort of thing.
I was also curious as to how ‘bad’ this group is\was. They seem so close to the truth at some points that I wonder if this made them more dangerous or less. For objective purposes I was trying to ‘rank’ them in destructiveness. Since you rank them as a taco instead of a cult does that make them less dangerous? [I generally refer to groups like GCAC/GCM as “tacos” — totalist aberrant Christian organizations — rather than cults. “Cult” can be misleading, implying doctrine based on serious heresy. “Taco” applies to groups that are not actually heretical, but are “off,” or aberrant, on secondary matters – lap.]
Unless you have any specific questions about my experience it may be awhile till I put it all to paper and explain it since I would like to catagorise what I went through, ie appeal to authority, do this because God uses men to do his will and so if you want to listen to God, listen to your leaders. Unity over truth, Do what the leader says even if it is wrong because like Jonathan and his swordbearer in the OT he who does the wrong thing because of their leaders told them too will be blessed. If I can write out all that happened and also put down what that meant and why that was right/wrong then that would help me alot.
Over the summer I talked to psychologist who had info on cult activity and helped me objectively qualify my experience. I was so messed up in the head I believed that I was pyschotic or something because I saw a bunch of things going on and what not that no one else did. Also leaders told me that they weren’t really there. What do you call people who see things that aren’t there??? So far research has shown that it really is there not in my head…
…Anyway, thanks for the time you have spend doing research in this area and the time it will take you to read and respond to this.
Out of the ashes of Frail I am Reborn.
PS. The signature here is somewhat symbolic of all of this as well. I was truthseeker before [name of church deleted] and Frail after I joined them. Now I am trying to get up and move on thus, Reborn.”
“When we first started attending [name of church deleted], [name deleted] the pastor, told my husband that he should come to him for decisions regarding our finances and our marriage. He invited my husband to bring his family to church and specifically excluded me from the invitation. Bill (my husband) told him no thank you!! That is when I somehow ended up talking with Paul Martin all those years ago. He was very helpful.”J. From a man who grew up in Great Commission in the Mid-West in the 1980s, writing in 2003
“I remember (around the time I was 12-14) the firestorm surrounding the alleged ‘slander’ by ex-members (and maybe you were one of them?), and the supposed ‘sin’ of ‘listening’ to a ‘bad report’ by any of them. I was a bit young to understand all the fuss, but now it is quite clear. Any totalistic group is going to eventually have defectors that have less-than-flattering things to say about it, and what is said will be anathema to the group unless and until it reforms its self-image and ways. Around the time the fuss about ‘slander’ peaked, I remember the sudden, quiet departure of Jim McCotter within months of a big conference in Washington DC in which protestors stood outside and passed out anti-CGI material. (Apart from his obvious energy and charisma, I have absolutely no clue how he went from living on donations in the 70’s to being a multimillionare [sic] businessman plugged into a secret right-wing political organization, as he is today.)”[From a later e-mail]
“Thanks so much for [the information you sent]. It is amazing how they solve some of my childhood mysteries, even though I was quite young when most of the ‘division’ stuff and subsequent purges happened. I really wonder how things would have been different if the ‘attacks’ on the ‘elders’ weren’t handled with so much secrecy, and if the movement’s history were fully opened up to scholarly inquiry and accountability.II. Please notice that the letters and e-mails in the preceding section come from four different decades. In addition, since the turn of the millennium I have received inquiries about Great Commission from parents, pastors, counselors, as well as from some then-current members.
Whatever the case, I wonder if GC leadership and members even at this late date retain and promote to the public a distorted sense of their own history because of how the movement’s dissenters were once silenced and demonized. My own sense of the movement’s history was extremely distorted even at the point of my leaving in the early nineties. Having only a vague concept of what was wrong in the past (besides my disagreement with the haughty rightwing politics promoted in church publications), I even thought that some of the reforms that were made were just a watering down of the church’s original (apparent) authentic spirituality. I now know that the history is much more complicated than that.
Anyways, I know that there have been some formal apologies from GC leadership. But has there every been a substantive critique and rejection of the authoritarian model of eldership and the aberrant theology from those days? Have pastors ever publicly acknowledged their own past wrongs as they submitted to Jim’s ‘apostleship?’
In other words, are folks like you still seen as ‘bad guys?’
The lesson for all this stuff is not, for me, merely academic. Love and healing come from understanding the past, not forgetting it.
Furthermore, I know that whatever church my wife and I choose to join, we will avoid any church that (like GCI did) uses a wholly ‘top down’ approach to authority that offers zero self-determination to lay members while it inducts leadership into chain of command cloaked in secrecy. I now see how ‘raising up elders’ in a local church can actually be an illusory phenomenon, and instead they can be ‘pulled up’ a hierachy [sic] by those above them. I have no opinion on the issue of ‘church autonomy’ per se (I probably favor Presbyterian governance) but when a movement rooted in the Plymouth Brethren tradition (and led by people who are maybe 30 years old!) suddenly reverses itself on the issue of ‘church autonomy’ to be more ‘effective for the gospel’, I can see how much potential there is for tragedy and sorrow in confused members and elders suddenly caught between exalted status and oblivion.”
A. A mother called to express concern about her college student son. He was a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder and, like too many others, had acquired a drug habit. His roommate was a member of GCM in Boulder (called “The Rock”), and the woman’s son had become heavily involved as well. The mother had searched the group’s web site and listened to some of the leaders’ Bible talks that are/were posted there. She felt that in one of those talks the speaker exhibited a too casual, even joking, attitude about drugs. Further, she told me that her son’s roommate was aware of the son’s drug use, but apparently had chosen to disregard it. If I’m not mistaken, she also told me that the roommate also led small group Bible studies.
B. I received a call from a man in his fifties who with his family had been attending the GC church in Minneapolis, Evergreen Community Church. He had been referred to me by his nephew (I believe), a missionary to Japan with Bethany Fellowship who had visited Wellspring Retreat a few years before and knew of my former involvement with Great Commission. The caller told me he was concerned about the church, mainly in a general way – he had begun to feel vaguely uneasy about it, but was hard pressed to identify specific problems (see the first e-mail in section I. G. above).
One thing he was able to point to was a sermon preached within the previous year by an associate pastor. The sermon was in response to a recent fall-off of attendance at services, and several families’ actually withdrawing their memberships at Evergreen. In the course of the sermon the associate pastor pointed to the biblical analogy of the bride and bridegroom used in reference to the church. However, whereas Paul in Eph. 5:22 ff. and John in Rev. 21:2, 9 identifies the church as the bride and Christ as the bridegroom, the associate pastor identified the local church (i.e., Evergreen Community Church) as the bridegroom and the individual church member as the bride! He then made the point that for a member of Evergreen to absent himself from meetings at Evergreen was like a bride losing interest in her bridegroom, and for the member to attend meetings at other churches was like a bride being unfaithful to her bridegroom!! [I may be slightly overstating what he said, but not by much. My caller sent a CD containing the sermon to me at Wellspring and I no longer have ready access to it to refresh my memory.]
When my caller expressed concern about this utter misuse of Scripture to the senior pastor at Evergreen, the latter downplayed the seriousness of the error, explaining it away as simply the speaker’s zeal in seeking to address and redress what he and the pastoral staff in general had considered a growing lack of commitment on the part of church members to the church. My caller felt (rightly, I believe) that such gross misuse of Scripture in this one instance can lead easily to further misuse in other places, and may be symptomatic of serious underlying problems. One of those may be a predilection for eisegesis as opposed to exegesis (twisting Scripture to support one’s position rather than allowing Scripture to inform one’s position), a problem I see all too common among popular Christian authors and speakers of many denominational persuasions.
C. Returning to point “A” for a moment… “The Rock” is a name used by GC not just in Boulder, Col., but also in other cities. I am not sure exactly where all it is used, but I know it is/was used in Berlin, Germany. On June 26, 2001 I received an e-mail message (on a German language cult information mailing list) from a man named Kurt Kreibohm, a pastor in the Evangelical [Lutheran] Church in Berlin (and Commissioner for New Religious Movements in the Evangelical diocese Teltow-Zehlendorf of Berlin) looking for information on Great Commission Ministries. The next day he sent a message saying he had found the organization’s web site and on the basis of references contained on it (including Moody Bible Institute) Kreibohm’s American wife concluded that GCM was “harmless.”
Some time later (possibly during 2002 or ’03) I had a brief exchange of e-mails with a woman named Marga Mueller with a German government agency based in Berlin. She was not just curiously looking for information, as Kreibohm appeared to be, but expressed more concern, specifically about The Rock of Berlin.
From what little I could gather at the time (and even less recall now!), The Rock seems to be primarily a church geared for those in the teens and twenties, offering contemporary-style worship and Bible studies, with a lot of skits, short talks about “cutting edge” topics, and music on the hard rock side of the spectrum. Dress (of pastors and congregation) is casual if not “street hip,” if you know what I mean. I’m not necessarily concerned about adopting a more contemporary approach to reaching the younger generation(s). My fear (and suspicion), however, is that The Rock may be leaning towards the “Emerging Church” concept, in which, in my opinion, the pastors are too willing to compromise truth for the sake of “relevance” to the post-modern generation. This certainly seems to be implied by the casual attitude towards drugs allegedly exhibited on at least one occasion (see above).
D. In May 2004 I received the following e-mail, alleging that many of the “old” problems were still current, at least in one GC church:
“It is with trepidation that I write this. I have noticed that recent references to Great Commission Ministries and Great Commission Association of Churches seem to say that the group is not as destructive as it has been in the past.E. To be fair I must say that I, Paul Martin, and Wellspring have received letters and e-mails from a few current members of GC affiliated churches telling us that we seemed to describing some other church, certainly not theirs! One woman wrote in 1993 after reading Paul’s recently published book, Cult-Proofing Your Kids. She wrote that she had seen nothing at all resembling the problems he described in the book when relating his own experience with Great Commission. It was abundantly clear from her letter that until she read Paul’s book she had no idea GC had the history it did.
I recently left this church after having been a member of it for 8 years. I have read the Blitz papers from the past [a collection of letters, testimonies, and other documents I compelled – lap], but I think there are still unethical practices that definitely keep this group or at least some of its churches in the unhealthy church category.
Recently in the local GCAC Church that I attended there was a building campaign. During this building campaign three of the leaders announced their three year pledges. One of the leaders, a dear man – father of six children – with a single income, pledged [tens of thousands of] dollars saying it was a retirement fund. Part of me says, ‘Yes, sacrificial giving like this is what Christianity is all about.’ Another part says, this is crazy, no one in their right mind gives this kind of money – especially when that amount is more than their yearly salary. And what kind of church has people announce gifts like this publicly.
It was at this time, that I reflected on all of my others concerns with this church:
The monopolization of time – many retreats, conferences, meetings, accountability groups
The marginalization of women – there are very few places for women to serve other than in the kitchen, the nursery, and with other women.
The pressure to grow the numbers, and the deemphasis of making life long friends. People become tools and projects.
Many, many sermons on submission, unity, obedience – messages that suit an unhealthy church’s purpose well!
The pressure to spank and only spank your children.
The silent conformity to homeschooling, women at home, courtship, and even vocabularies – Core members are very much alike, in my opinion.
We were told not to read as much, and that our desire for historical integrity and orthodox Christian teaching was wrong.
We were told that all we needed was the Bible (but our interpretation better match up with approved doctrine!)
At first we found the people in this church to be incredibly loving. As we grew deeper into the church we found that the pressures were subtle but at the same time clearly delineated. You knew if you were a good member or a bad member. The pressure to belong was crushing. The commands to submit and be unified tireless. And as a woman, I found that my self esteem suffered immensely as I was pushed into a little box of submission and limited options for my life.
This was also evident in an e-mail sent to Wellspring ten years later:
“Wow. Was I shocked to read this on the web:These two communications are evidence that Great Commission has not been very forthright with its members about the abusive teachings and practices of its past. Not that every church with a problemed past needs to dwell on that. But it should acknowledge it, describe how it has learned and grown from (and away from) it, and emphasize its desire to glorify God by building healthy disciples of Christ. The past can, and should, be a source of learning. As George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
‘and Great Commission International [now Great Commission Association of Churches; the group has made significant reforms in recent years and is not as abusive as formerly].’
I have been with the GCAC, formerly GCI since 1985. I have been surrounded by a loving family that has done nothing but taught me, encouraged me, and challenged me to give my all for Christ. I have been taught by loving pastors and encouraged by loving leaders to be a lover of the church and a lover of this lost and dying world that desparately needs the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I truly hope you have found this Christ and are experiencing his full grace and mercy. If you have peace with God that your in error against an extremely humble, serving, gospel sharing, family building association of churches that are very simply trying to do what God told them to do as clearly laid out in the scriptures.
We have only one life to live. A very, very short one. Oh how easy to get sidetracked on a witch hunt.
God’s Grace and Forgiveness to the writer of this article and your staff.”
Great Commission did prepare a “A Statement Recognizing Early Errors and Weaknesses in the Development of the Great Commission Association of Churches.” However, the Statement was not widely distributed within the churches, but apparently was given only to long-time members of four or five years or more. One man from the Champaign-Urbana, Ill. church told me that the only reason he got a copy was because he specifically asked for one. Furthermore, many former members who read it felt it did not say enough. Issues not addressed include:
1. An implied sanctification by works (see my main statement)III. When Paul Martin, Rick Harvey, Bill Taylor, and I met with David Bovenmyer, John Hopler, Mike Keator, and Tom Schroeder (see my main statement), the latter asked repeatedly what we wanted GCAC to do to make things right and/or to convince us they had fully reformed. I answered (partly then, and partly in a follow-up letter):
2. Teaching a false definition of slander, saying it is any negative communication about a person, whether intended or not. For example: “What are the fingerprints of slander? They are the effect produced in a person’s life. At the time it may seem to be only an innocent question or a harmless statement. But what effect did it have in your life? Did it cause you to love the person talked about or feel judgmental and critical of him? Did it produce confidence, trust and loyalty to that person, or did it cause you to even slightly question that person’s integrity? This is the true evidence that will help expose slander – not the exact words, or the sincerity of the words, but the effect in your heart” (“Evil Reports: How to Identify Them,” by Dennis Clark, The Cause, Vol. 3 No. 6, June-July 1985). In practice this applied mainly to negative communication about Great Commission or its leaders; a double standard was followed with regard to former leaders of the movement who were critical of it or its leaders.
3. Numerous instances of unethical actions and words. Among them: making deliberately misleading statements to the press, prospective members, pastors of other churches, and others; deception in fundraising and in representations of itself on university campuses, especially Iowa State University.
4. The importance of Jim McCotter’s ultimately negative influence on the movement. He is not named once in the entire ten pages of the official “Statement Recognizing Early Errors and Weaknesses in the Development of the Great Commission Association of Churches,” and yet he was the founder and former self-proclaimed “apostle” of the movement! Other churches and Christian movements with problemed pasts have been much more candid about their former errors. Among these are several leaders of the Word of God community in Ann Arbor and the current leadership of the Worldwide Church of God. In addition Bob Mumford, former leader in the “discipling movement” Christian Growth Ministries made a public statement of confession and repentance of his erroneous application of discipleship principles that had caused harm to many people (see Ministries Today, January/February 1990). In my opinion, GC should be similarly up front about its past problems.
“As I said in July, merely saying GCAC has changed, and even putting some specifics in print, will not dissipate all the suspicions and outright ill will that, rightly or wrongly, have arisen towards GCAC. Since I mailed out my letter about the reform taking place in GCAC I’ve talked with a few people who told me that they would be more inclined to believe GCAC has changed if they were to see some cash “reparations” to them to reimburse them for money they spent to restore their sons or daughters to sound mental and spiritual health. In fact, [name deleted] specifically authorized me to communicate such a thought to you – he said he and his wife spent about $10,000 to turn their son [name deleted] (whom they said had become a “zombie” as a result of his involvement with GCI) back to normalcy, and if GCAC were to reimburse this expense he would be willing to concede that things are different now.As far as I know, nothing of the sort has ever been done or even seriously contemplated by the GCAC leadership.
Similarly, [name deleted] told me on the phone shortly after our July meetings that $30,000 would go a long way towards reconciliation, stating that Jim had “stolen” or “ruined” (I forget the exact word he used) his business. And then there remains the case of [name deleted]. I don’t know the details of that story – it sounds highly complex every time [name deleted] tells me about it – and certainly there are two sides to this as to every story. But he’s not going to be satisfied without some financial settlement. It may be that some of these cases will require third party mediation to reach satisfactory arrangements; possibly some people will never be satisfied.”
IV. I freely acknowledge that much of the foregoing is “old news” and no longer characterizes GCAC/GCM, at least not systemically. However, the fact that concerns have been expressed in the past six years, both by members and former members and by outside observers tells me that there are still residual problems at least in individual churches and leaders. Furthermore, many of the old problems have still not been addressed fully or forthrightly.
V. I am willing to receive any current information about Great Commission, positive or negative, in order to have as accurate an assessment of the association as possible. Information (and inquiries) may be sent to:
Lawrence A. Pile
32438 McGinnis Road
Albany, Ohio 45710-9028