High-demand Bible-based groups take Scripture out of context, mistakenly apply it, and use it to justify a performance-based system. See what the Bible says in context and watch the gospel, sanctification, and the church emerge in a different perspective.
• How Are We Made Right with God?
• Sanctification by Faith, Not by Trying Harder
• The Christian Life - Not Performance-Driven
• The Will of God - Not Mystical
• General Encouragement
• The Church - Organism & Organization
• Union with Christ
• Using the Mind - Biblical & Essential
• Biblical Church Leadership
• Christian Marriage
• The Biblical Message of Grace
• Devotional Helps
Dr. Harold Bussell, who wrote "Why Evangelicals Are Vulnerable to Cults" and "Checks on Power and Authority in the New Testament", says that a clear understanding of the gospel is the single most important issue in recovery and future immunity to further cultic involvement. This is the key issue in getting free from the bondage of spiritual abuse.
Jesus did what we could never do for ourselves: He lived out a perfect righteousness that is credited to the sinner the moment he believes. On the basis of that righteousness alone, which is received by faith, the sinner is made acceptable to God. Past, present, and future sins are forgiven, and "therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8). Gone is the guilt induced by extra-biblical demands.
Mark Campbell, former Assembly Leading Brother, emphasizes this in his story of recovering from the Assembly.
A proper understanding of how we are made right with God is the best inoculation against legalism and "overcomer" teaching:
The Three Stories, an Internet Monk blog post by Michael Spencer (an avowed non-Calvinist, by the way), comprises a shorthand way of encapsulating the gospel while distinguishing it from a couple of widespread substitute stories. The three stories are "The Feel Good Story", "The I'm Good Story", and "The Grace Story".
Justification by Faith and Its Consequences, a summary of the book, Romans: An Interpretative Outline by David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas. As you study Romans with this outline, a new understanding of Paul's message will begin to dawn on you. A reader comments, "AWESOME exposition on justification. The words set me free about some things. Thanks."
• Chapters 1-3, The two methods of justification
• Chapter 4:1-17, The ground of justification
• Chapter 4:18-25, The means of justification
• Chapter 5:1-11, Resulting blessings from being justified
• Chapter 5:12-20: Adam and Christ
• Chapter 6, Dead to sin
• Chapter 7:1-6, Dead to the law
• Chapter 7:7-25, Unending struggle with indwelling sin
• Chapter 8: The security of believers
The Galatian Crisis, Steve Irons / Frederick Bruner - Steve uses Bruner's book, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, to critique G. Geftakys' insistence that a fuller obedience on the part of the believer leads to a fuller salvation in the ages to come.
Assurance of Salvation in Romans 8, D. N. Steele & C. C. Thomas - A study in outline form that shows the unbreakable chain that forms our security as believers.
Barely Saved?, Dr Richard Sibbes - We often heard it said on the basis of I Pet 4:18 that some Christians will be barely saved or "saved by the skin of their teeth". Richard Sibbes makes it clear that the righteous are saved already; their salvation was never in doubt.
Beyond Probation, Lee Irons - "Many Christians have the mistaken idea that they have been accepted into the program, but they're still on probation. No, Paul says, you are beyond probation, because Jesus has passed the probationary test on your behalf as the second Adam."
Christ, Our Surety, Dr Richard Sibbes - One of the many great Puritan preachers tells us in this sermon that it is the "shallow heretic" who wants us to have a Christ who is merely an example of patience and holiness in his life and death. On the contrary, what we really need is Christ to be our Surety, that is, one who will act on our behalf to pay the double debt we owe to God: "a debt of obedience; and if that fail, a debt of punishment."
Justification Vindicated, Robert Traill - Quotes from a treatise written to defend the orthodox brothers against the charge of antinomianism leveled against them by the neo-nomians in England in the 1690s.
Justified by Works at the Day of Judgment?, Lee Irons - Are we justified (declared righteous) by good works (even Spirit-wrought good works) at the Day of Judgment? The answer is a resounding, "No!" The answer should settle the nagging doubts you may have about how your life will be evaluated at that awesome day of reckoning.
Quotations on Rewards - Quotes from a number of reformed writers that will help you understand the place of rewards in the context of justification.
Righteousness for the Unrighteous, Lee Irons - "The gospel is not first and foremost about the inner spiritual growth that is taking place by God's grace in my life. It is rather about the objective, historical achievement of Jesus Christ in fulfilling the Law and satisfying divine wrath so that I might be right with God. The doctrine of justification stands at the heart of the Bible's message of salvation."
Phillip Cary's latest book, Good News for Anxious Christians, sounds promising - the subtitle is "10 Practical Things You Don't Have to Do". The introduction, titled "Why Trying to Be Christian Makes Us Anxious", begins with the statement that God's commands are actually permissions. Read it here.
These are the chapter titles - sound intriguing?1. Why You Don't Have to Hear God's Voice in Your Heart, Or, How God Really Speaks Today
Thanks to Dave Sable for the heads up on this new book.
The Room, Joshua Harris - A story that makes you realize that any rewards we may receive are insignificant compared to God's love for us in Christ. (Our inclusion of this article in no way implies general approval of Josh Harris's ministry.)
What Is Justification? D. Block & N. Harlan's webpage with extensive links to articles on justification.
The gospel was all too quickly set aside in the Assembly. George denigrated the gospel to "mere forgiveness of sins", which was just the beginning of something far greater. We were terrified with the possibility of missing out on special privileges and rewards with Christ. The possibility of rewards and even of eternal loss was our motivation for living a holy life. This proverbial "carrot on a stick" drove us to constant activity: all nights of prayer, gospel outreaches, stewardships in brothers' and sisters' houses, learning to do the right thing through "consequences", hours of sitting and listening to George, and much more.
The following articles show the error of this kind of teaching. The truth is that the gospel isn't about us or what we do; it is all about Jesus Christ and what He did (and continues to do for us). The gospel is the great relational truth that God is our Father and he is working out salvation. Our justification is secure in Christ, our sanctification is being worked out, and we can rest assured that what God promised, he will complete. The pursuit of sanctification -- a tremulous, fitful, on-again/off-again experience for most -- does not cause God to regard us in any way outside of his pronouncement in Christ. It is, instead, the natural fruit of God's legal pardon, being worked out in real flesh and blood by challenging and changing our desires, decisions and beliefs. Christians must believe the gospel for both their justification as well as their continuing growth in sanctification.
Gospel-Driven Sanctification, Jerry Bridges, Navigator staff - This article, posted on the Modern Reformation website, is a clear exposition of sanctification. "As we grow in Christ--as the process of sanctification makes us more like Christ--we will come to see the depth of our own sinfulness. Will this fresh realization of our sin, as Christians, drive us into despair? Will it encourage us to toil even harder to cover our sense of guilt? Or, will it drive us to the gospel, where we will realize once again the enormity of God's love for us? It is the gospel believed everyday that is the only enduring motivation to pursue sanctification, even in times when we don't seem to see much progress." Several of Bridges' sermons are available in MP3, such as "Living by Faith in the Righteousness of Christ" and "Trusting God - Even When Life Hurts".
Free to Be Righteous, Dr. Donald Hagner - "We are set free from the law precisely in order that we might pursue righteousness more effectively." (Dr. Hagner is chair of Lee Irons' doctoral dissertation committee at Fuller.)
What Is Sanctification?, Lee Irons - "When Paul exhorts us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, he is calling us to be more and more conformed to the image of Christ, to have Christ-like humility and love for others, and to be conformed to Christ's humiliation and exaltation. In other words, sanctification is defined in relation to the character of Christ himself." Lee also has a series of MP3's on this topic on his website.
Keswick Burnout - Lee posted this critique of Keswick spirituality on his blog. If you have been depressed over the quality of your spiritual life, this will help. Dave Sable has a comment on this article.
The Two Natures - In this excerpt from Studies in Perfectionism, B. B. Warfield calls into question the teaching so prevalent today regarding the supposed two natures of the Christian: the old "carnal" nature and the new "Spiritual" nature.
Christ Died for the Sins of Christians, Too - Dr. Rod Rosenbladt emphasizes that "even a Christian can be saved. The other 'gospel,' in its various forms (Higher Life, legalism, the 'carnal Christian' teaching, and so on) is tearing us to pieces."
The Christian in Romans 7 - Arthur W. Pink decries Wesleyan perfectionism, and supports the view that Romans 7 describes the life of believers. "To talk of “getting out of Romans 7 into Romans 8” is excuseless folly. Romans 7 and 8 both apply with undiminished force and pertinence to every believer on earth today." Recognizing and sorrowing over inner corruption is the result of the Holy Spirit working. Pink cites many examples of men of God who experienced this more and more as they grew in grace - Spurgeon, Newton, and Rutherford, to name a few.
We were given in the Assembly an unhealthy dose of teaching on "the higher life" or the "victorious Christian life". These articles are intended to deliver us from the false dichotomy between the "carnal" and "spiritual" Christian.
Death and Unconfessed Sin, Ken Jones - Answers to the question, "What happens to a Christian who dies with a known, yet unconfessed sin in his life? Does he die in an unforgiven state? If he dies unforgiven, then what is the result?"
FAQ's on Ovecomer Teaching - Tom Maddux, who has completed an M.A. at Talbot Seminary, succinctly tackles the problems with this teaching in a series of questions and answers.
Living as Heirs, Lee Irons - Commenting on the warning passage of Ephesians 5:5-8, Lee says, "I do not believe Paul is asserting that any believer who may struggle with these sins, is automatically excluded from heaven. Rather, Paul's solemn warning is directed to those who call themselves Christians but who have given themselves up to such sins without shame, without any acknowledgment of the sinfulness of their actions, and without any sorrow for sin and desire to turn from it."
Who Is the Overcomer of Revelation 2-3? - George Zeller, of Middletown Bible Church, writes on the errors of "overcomer" teaching" as taught by J. D. Faust, Joseph Dillow and Charles Stanley, as well as Plymouth Brethren writers G. H. Lang, Govett, Pember and others. These writers were the sources of G. Geftakys' teaching, whom he often plagiarized and quoted directly without crediting them. Below are two related articles by George Zeller. Here is a list of other articles he has written on this subject. (Our inclusion of these articles in no way implies general approval of Zeller's ministry.)
J.D. Faust on "The Rod--Will God Spare It?" - George Zeller refutes the teaching that Christians will be punished.
A New Creation - Michael Horton says, "My purpose is to flesh out just what Christians can and should expect the normal Christian life to be like....In the churches of my youth, Romans 7 was typically said to describe the 'carnal Christian' as opposed to the believer who was living in 'victory.' Someone could be converted and begin to live the 'victorious Christian life,' but then fall into sin and suffer a setback. As a 'backslider,' such a person would still be 'saved,' but he would be failing to live 'the higher life.' But Paul is not presenting us with such a time line here."
The Believer and Indwellng Sin - George G. taught that Romans 7 was the experience of a "carnal" believer and that we needed to move on to Romans 8 and experience victory and freedom from sin through the "spirit-filled" life. John MacArthur understands Romans 7 to be a description of a "mature" Christian who recognizes that there are remnants of sin remaining in him and that complete freedom from sin will not happen until he or she dies or the Lord returns.
On Perfectionism - Dave Sable discusses how to get on the right track when striving after holiness.
Walking with God is like navigation - Eric Foy shares a helpful analogy to describe the ebb and flow of life's circumstances and emotional dimension.
Developing a Closer Relationship with Christ - Lee Irons has a series of posts on his Upper Register blog on prayer and walking with Jesus. (Don't believe it when they say the Reformed are "the frozen chosen"!)
All of Life Is Repentance - Excerpt from Rev. Tim Keller's insightful take on repentance and why it may be difficult. He introduces a sentence prayer from George Whitfield to craft a very helpful model of prayerful repentance: "God, give me a deep humility and a burning love, a well-guided zeal and a single eye..."
Hebrews 6 - "Hebrews," says Verne Carty, "is one of the books George Geftakys mutilated to our spiritual detriment." Verne sent excerpts from H. A. Ironside's treatment of Hebrews, chapter 6. Dr. Ironside says, "Let us be very clear...The urge of the Spirit here is not to leave earlier Christian experiences and go on to a deeper work of grace, as some put it. Neither is it to cease from being occupied with the elementary truths of Christianity and go on to deeper things."
Is God's Grace Suspended Until We Act? - Excerpts from Studies in Perfectionism by B. B. Warfield make it very clear that God's grace is not inoperative until we secure it by an act of will.
Is it biblical to think we must try to discover the exact, bulls-eye will of God for our lives in particulars such as where to go to college, what job to take, who to marry? (Of course this was a necessary dogma in the Assembly, for how else could the leadership justify all their meddling in peoples' lives...)
Who's Calling? - After covering most of the well-known "methods" for finding God's will, J. Budziszewski gives three "Laws of Spiritual Discernment." He says, "Those so-called methods are just gimmicks — not ways of discerning God's will, but ways of avoiding discernment." A humorous but very helpful approach.
What is God's Will? - We were taught in the Assembly that we could find God's will for a specific situation by getting a promise or verse that "spoke" to our situation. Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton address that practice in this excerpt from Let the Reader Understand: Scripture and Guidance.
How Do I Find God's Will for My Life? - A brief article on the ACE website is based on Sinclair Ferguson's book, Discovering God's Will. The last paragraph is great: "Often, when people say they want to know God’s will for their lives, they mean that they want to be assured that everything will go as they plan, without difficulty or trial. One thing we can be sure about God’s will is that this is not his plan. Instead of seeking relief from the prospect of difficulty or worldly failure, Christians should instead seek to honor God with decisions that are obedient to his Word, trusting him to make all our seemingly twisted paths straight in his loving care of our lives."
Wisdom Along the Way and Paths of Righteousness - Two very balanced articles on guidance by J. I. Packer that are a helpful corrective to the notion that a specific verse from the Bible will stand out and indicate God's will for each decision.
Getting a Promise - Joe Sperling shares humorous anecdote about hoping to find God's will for a wife as a young man in the Assembly.
A Conversation in God's Kitchen - Michael Spencer has a simple yet profound and comprehensive approach to understanding the Bible that is a very helpful antidote to the wrongheaded hermeneutic we learned from G. Geftakys.
Magic Books, Grocery Lists and Silent Messiahs: How rightly approaching the Bible shapes the entire Christian Life - Michael Spencer makes you want to start reading the Bible again. He describes the common practice of looking for verses to provide specific guidance as "the magic Book approach," but goes on to give a great nutshell introduction to rightly approaching the Bible.
Hermeneutics - What is it, and why do Bible readers need it? - an instructive and very readable blog post by Dr. Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. We didn't believe in no fancy Herman-utics in the Assembly, much to our detriment - if you don't know you have one, you don't examine it. But unknown to us, we did have a very well-developed hermeneutic - J. N. Darby's.
Michael Spencer has several great posts on grace versus legalism: "Our Problem with Grace", "The Gospel-Believing Christian in the Midst of Legalism", and a riff on "The Face of the Gracious God".
I Will Restore - An anonymous devotional thought on God's promise to restore us.
Learning What We Already Know - Al Hartman says, "I have known the twenty third psalm since I was a small boy. Now I am learning it."
Making Sense Out Of Suffering - Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College, and an apologist for the faith in the tradition of C. S. Lewis. He has written a book on the problem of suffering entitled Making Sense Out Of Suffering. The article is most of Chapter 7.
Chess Master - "God brings victory even from our bad moves," says Philip Yancey.
Preacher of Good Tidings - There are some verses in the Bible that we never get beyond. John 3:16 is one of those verses, expounded by Dr. R. B. Kuiper in The Glorious Body of Christ.
The Progress of the Gospel - Lee Irons takes heart in the way the Apostle Paul reports on the progress of the gospel even in his imprisonment. He says, "Your trials, your difficult situations, are not obstacles to be overcome but divine appointments to be embraced. Do not run away from them. Do not stoically persevere in spite of them. Take your trials, embrace them as God's foreordained purpose and plan, flip them upside down and turn them into the moment you've been waiting for, an opportunity to know Christ better and to make him known to others."
Reminders from the Heart of God - This brief essay on God's heart of love has been adapted from the writings of Jeff VanVonderen.
Some Thoughts on Legalism - A blog post by Michael Spencer inspired by a Bible study on, "Why earrings are wrong." Sound familiar, anyone?
An excellent book on how spiritually abusive groups misuse the Bible to manipulate their members is Twisted Scriptures: A Path to Freedom from Abusive Churches, by Mary-Alice Chrnalogar.
Who I Am In Christ - Neil Anderson describes how God looks at his children. Notice the absence of any conditional "if" clauses.
We need to re-think what we believe about the Church. Is "organization" unbiblical? Is it wrong for a church to have a trained pastor? What about worship?
Beyond the Style Wars: Recovering the Substance of Worship - A clear article on God-centered worship by Michael Horton.
Ecclesiology of Ephesians - Lee Irons takes Paul's two-age construct (the "already" and the "not-yet") and applies it to the doctrine of the Church. "The empirical church that we see now, the church with all its warts and foibles and even apostasy in large sections of it, is the church in its pre-consummation form, still waiting for the glory of the not-yet. That is the church as visible. The church from the perspective of her present participation in Christ's death and resurrection, the church as already raised with Christ and seated with Christ in the heavenly places, waiting only the public vindication at the last day - that is the church from the point of view of the already, the church as invisible."
An Organism and an Organization - George takes an extreme position in his characterization of the church is an organism and not an organization. Dr. R. B. Kuiper explains how the Bible" speaks unmistakably of the church as both an organism and an organization."
The Universal Office - You've heard of the "priesthood of all believers". But did you know that each and every believer in the church actually holds three offices? Dr. R. B. Kuiper underscores the wonderful truth that, "Every single church member is at once a prophet, a priest and a king."
Special Offices - When George talked about "man-made appointments" in the ministry he was setting up a straw man. Does it necessarily follow that because a man is trained in a seminary that he becomes a "professional", or that the headship of Christ is denied? Dr. R. B. Kuiper shows that these things do not necessarily follow, because, "The special offices are rooted in the universal office."
Church Discipline - John Calvin's discussion of church discipline in his Institutes of the Christian Religion is amazingly balanced. For a man who is accused of being "severe" and "harsh" this is written with great sensitivity. He enjoins gentleness and moderation and sets forth peace in the church as the goal. The Church Order of the United Reformed Churches in North America provides a modern example of how church discipline is to be conducted.
There has been an amazing amount of recent New Testament scholarship. Herman Ridderbos is one of those scholars. He lays out the main lines of Paul's preaching in his book, Paul, An Outline of His Theology, from which we've excerpted sections from Chapter 2, "Fundamental Structures".
This redemptive-historical perspective of Scripture shows that union with Christ is firmly planted in objective history, not in our subjective experiences. It is grounded in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago.
Christ as His people's "corporate" head (the "Last Adam") has objectively incorporated us into his death and resurrection. This union objectively took place in history. We don't need to have a subjective feeling or "experience" of communion with Christ in order to make that union effective in our lives. It is an already-accomplished fact!
Get ready for some scholarly reading that will renew your mind and enlarge your heart. To see the progression of thought, the articles should be read in the order given:
• The Fullness of the Time
• The Mystery of Christ
• The Firstborn from the Dead
• In Christ, With Christ
• Revealed in the Flesh
Thousand Year Reign of the Saints, Dr. William Hendriksen - There are other views on the Millennium (the thousand years of Revelation 20) than what we heard from George. This an interesting, alternative view that the thousand year reign of the saints is not a future glorious era, but is happening right now in heaven. If what is depicted in Revelation 20:4-6 belongs to the present and not the future, then perhaps we can breathe a sigh of relief that George's view (that we could "miss out" on co-reigning with Christ) is just one of many "theories", as Dwight Pentecost puts it in his book Things to Come.
Contrary to the heart-vs.-head dichotomy that is commonly taught, using the mind is scriptural. It is essential to recover critical thinking skills that were blunted by spiritual abuse. Whatever is of God will bear up under critical investigation. See a reader's comment below.
In My Theological House Sandy Blank creates a punchy metaphor to describe how leaving a Bible-based cult, the former Worldwide Church of God, destroyed her spiritual foundation. She sketches her process of reconstruction, using the mind to become biblically literate.
The Importance of Using Our Minds - John R. W. Stott spoke on this topic at an Inter-Varsity Fellowship conference. His subtitle was "The misery and menace of mindless Christianity." His words are as true today as they were then.
The Mind in the Christian Life - Stott explains how knowledge, wisdom, discernment, and understanding are the very foundation of the Christian life. He makes a forceful appeal to Christians to show "devotion set on fire by truth."
Trichotomy: Beachhead for Gnostic Influences (PDF)- Downplaying the mind, even denying its role, is a key element in disabling critical thinking. The popular belief that man is made up of three parts - body, soul and spirit- supports this denigration of the mind, which is deemed to be soulish, and therefore not spiritual. Kim Riddlebarger tackles this widespread misconception and shows how it leads to error.
Abuse of authority is an integral part of spiritual abuse. Elders and "Leading Brothers" in the Assembly went far beyond the Scriptural limits of Church leadership.
Authoritarianism in the Church - Steve Martin, brother of Dr. Paul Martin, founder of Wellspring Retreat, gives a well-reasoned and supported analysis of the growing problem of authoritarianism in churches. He also cites many excellent resources for further scriptural examination of this issue. (HT The Blog of Lema Nal.)
Authority and Leadership - Danny Dixon, a former member and campus worker of the cultic International Church of Christ, examines the concept of church leadership from the original Greek texts, concluding that whenever leaders bind their opinions beyond the confines of the Scriptures they have assumed a role of authority that God has not given them.
Checks on Power and Authority - Harold Bussell describes the checks on power and authority found in the relationship between Christ and the apostles as well as the apostles with believers.
The Inner Ring - C. S. Lewis observed that the longing to be a part of the "inner circle" is one of the "great permanent mainsprings of human action". He warned that unless we take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of our lives.
A Pastor's Authority - Pastor Ray C. Stedman preached on the scriptural limits of pastoral authority. He expounded the Greek in Heb 13:17 and concluded, "...the clear thrust is that leaders are persuaders whose ability to persuade arises not from a smooth tongue or a dominant personality, but from a personal walk which evokes respect."
Abuse of Authority in the Church: A Biblical Perspective of Leadership - Jason Young on the Battered Sheep website cites Paul, Peter, John and Jesus himself on the Biblical exercise of authority.
In The Office of Ruling Elder - Dr. R. B. Kuiper elucidates the biblical description of the office and duties of elders.
Subjugation of women is a very common element in spiritual abuse. In the Assembly, the teaching that husbands were to "train" their wives did untold damage. What is the Biblical role of husbands?
Christian Husbands - Warren Doud uses I Corinthians 13 to show how the husband's leadership should work.
A Real Marriage - This is Chapter 7 from Families Where Grace Is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen. The first half of the excerpt is about Eph.5:18-21, a great exposition of being filled with the Spirit, which applies to everyone, not just to marriage. "Paul is actually presenting a major concept that empowers all believers to live the Christian life."
Comments from Readers
Eden G., born and raised in the Assembly: "In the Assembly there seems to have been a general distaste for the intellectual life in general and academics in particular. Notice no one in the leadership was encouraged to go to seminary (though GG had gone). I heard him speak several times on an experience when God "told him" to put away his study of philosophy.
Though so much outreach was conducted on college campuses, I often saw students compromise their studies to focus on the "campus work" - they were encouraged to do so. I was a high-achieving student in high school, and did well on the SAT. Tim Geftakys told me that it likely was not God's will that I go away to school. He made vague claims that the East Coast was "dark" and that likely God wanted me on a local campus, if any. He suggested that instead of college, maybe God wanted me to get married and have babies!
A Presbyterian pastor reminded me when I was 19 that the Bible says not just to love God with the heart, but with the MIND. It was a great relief to me at the time to remember that if God created us, he created us to be curious, investigative, analytical and logical."