Does Patriarchy Produce Ecclesiastical Tyrants?

“It’s not that any of them are inherently opposed to church discipline. No, in fact they love church discipline, so long as it’s them that are wielding it. Tyranny loves company and bullies love other bullies (it’s for good reason that Hilter and Mussolini were pals).” Christian Leaders Ignore Sin (When It’s Advantageous), by Henry Barnes

One of the hottest blogs right now is “Jen’s Gems; Exposing Doug Phillips’ Ecclesiastical Tyrannies.” I don’t mean that Jen Epstein’s blog is hot just in Christian circles. I mean her blog is hot in cyberspace in general. Jen’s blog has gone from obscurity to being listed several times now on the WordPress Blogs Of The Day. May 2nd found her listed #89 out of over 900,000 WordPress blogs! And that was a low point. She’s been as high as #26! The number of comments she’s getting on some of her articles also boggles the mind. For example, her article “Vision Forum: Culture of Deception by Doug Phillips’ Example?” currently has 560 comments! Surely that’s got to be some kind of new blog record!

All the commotion over Jen’s blog has helped to shed some light on some other things beyond just Doug Phillips and his tyranny. In order to better understand Doug Phillips’ ecclesiastical tyranny, and why he refuses to repent of it, it might be helpful to examine some of Phillips’ values and beliefs, especially where any of those values and beliefs are the very thing that may be motivating and justifying (in his mind) his tyranny. For example, there’s the doctrine of “Patriarchy.”

Doug Phillips RC Sproul Jr patriarchyDoug Phillips is a prominent leader of the “Patriarchy” movement. So is RC Sproul Jr. Phillips and Sproul teamed up with the publisher of Patriarch magazine, Phil Lancaster, to produce The Tenets Of Biblical Patriarchy. Though “The Tenets” contain numerous Scripture references, a careful read of those references will in some cases show that those verses do not make their case at all. While there may be some desirable aspects to Patriarchy, given the dubious character of the authors of “The Tenets,” we might want to proceed with great caution.

Both Phillips and Sproul are ecclesiastical tyrants. Sproul was defrocked over it (and some other things too). Phillips can’t be defrocked because he’s never been frocked in the first place (he’s a self-appointed non-ordained “pastor” accountable to no one). Phillips and Sproul are apparently very close friends. Doug Phillips says of RC Sproul Jr, “My heart beats to the same drum.” I’m not surprised to hear it.

Patriarchy is starting to find itself more and more under the microscope, and Doug Phillips’ unjust excommunication and shunning of the Epstein family is a major reason for it. Some folks are assuming that there must be a direct cause/effect between Patriarchy and ecclesiastical abuse. I haven’t yet reached a firm conclusion on this, but I do have some thoughts that I’d like to share that I hope will stimulate some productive discussion here.

A number of people have alleged that Patriarchy is inherently a misogynistic extrabiblical belief system that subjugates women and children to autocratic men. If that were true then the potential for abuse would be high and perhaps even commonplace.

It seems logically consistent that autocratic and authoritarian men may not be content to rule merely over their own homes. They would seek to rule over other people as well. As the scope of such a man’s “authority” increased, and particularly where he actively sought out additional positions of authority, the opportunity for his abuses would grow exponentially.

The office of Pastor would be an ideal position for such a man to seek out. The office of Pastor is a position of trust, and it also carries an inherent authority. The Bible has much to say on the qualifications of pastors and elders (1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 5) and how they are to govern the church of Jesus Christ as His under-shepherds. They are to be servant-leaders, compassionate, caring, and edifying. But because of sin there will always be exceptions, and sometimes bad men will seek to become pastors who have no business being pastors.

God has ordained that we have pastors. Therefore, the office of Pastor does not create bad men. Usually the opposite is the case. Many less than exemplary men have become pastors, and they have soon discovered that the demands and responsibilities of the office compel them to completely change their lives, and for the good. Either that or they soon realize they lack the qualifications and they leave the pastorate for good.

This isn’t to say though that bad men aren’t occasionally tempted to become pastors. However, they were bad men before they became pastors. They sought out the office of Pastor not because of God’s calling, or because of a desire to humbly serve and minister, but because they crave the personal attention and “authority” that comes with being a pastor. It wasn’t the office of Pastor that corrupted their character; they were corrupt long before they became pastors.

I’m currently unable to say the same thing of Patriarchy. I’m concerned that Patriarchy has great potential for taking otherwise good men and making something bad out of them. Again, I’m not decided on that issue, and I welcome more discussion here. However, one thing I am decided on though is that the influence of Patriarchy is the worst possible thing for a man to get involved with when he already has problems with loving his wife and kids, anger management, etc., or if he already has a tendency to govern his home as a dictator. Entrusting an angry man to be a “Patriarch” is like entrusting rebellious teenage boys with whiskey and the car keys.

I can’t think of a more ego-gratifying position for an autocrat like Doug Phillips to seek out, for the purpose of expanding his “dominion,” and the number of people that he can dominate and abuse, than the office of Pastor. Who appointed, who anointed, who commissioned, who ordained Doug Phillips to the office of Pastor? Doug Phillips did. Doug Phillips is an “authority” unto himself. When you add “the tenets” of Patriarchy to that kind of mix you’ve got the makings for a very volatile situation.

Over on Jen’s Gems, Esther posted an interesting comment, and then she asked a question which got me thinking:

Esther Says:
April 28th, 2007 at 12:16 pm
Mark, what I do not understand is the glaring hypocrisy for anyone with eyes to see.

Doug Phillips had no problem with the RC Sproul, Jr. defrocking. Like Sproul, Sr, he ignored church authority and held teaching a teaching conference with Jr. soon after the defrocking.

Yet, you and Jen are excommunicated and shunned for not repenting but are not told your offense that you must repent?

It really does boil down to Doug Phillips’ opinion…not scripture.

Folks, if that is not a cult, I don’t know what is.

Since I do not come from patriarchal type circles, I was wondering if it is normal to ’shun’ children in these situations?

Esther asked an important question that really needs to be addressed. I don’t come from a patriarchal background either, so I’m probably not the best one to answer her question. However, one thing I do know is that it’s not the first time shunning entire families for the alleged sins of the parents has been perpetrated by a prominent figurehead in the Patriarchy movement. The unjust excommunication and shunning of the Austin family by RC Sproul Jr is another recent example of a prominent Patriarchy leader who’s shown his penchant for being an ecclesiastical thug. Apparently Sproul’s thuggery was a major factor in why he and his entire session of elders were defrocked:

Another significant factor in the deposing of the St. Peter Session is the ecclesiastical tyrannies they perpetrated against several families over several years. Noteworthy among these is the John Austin family because it was the first that had been documented, and the first which had petitioned to Presbytery for redress.

On April 17, 2005 John Austin sent a letter to the Elders of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church, informing them that he was withdrawing his membership at St. Peter over doctrinal disagreements, and that he would be seeking out another church in the area more in accord with his Reformed Baptist views. In his letter he stated, “We in no way want to cause problems or divisiveness,” and for his desire to be at peace with the brethren:


On May 14, 2005 the Session of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church voted unanimously to censure John Austin “for contumacy (failure to repent) by breaking his vows of membership.” John’s punishment included, “The refraining from all contact with your family by the other families in our church.” In other words, the congregation of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church was ordered to shun the entire Austin family, including the Austin’s five children:


The incident with the Austins is an obvious example of an ecclesiastically abusive church. But it might also be fair to refer to St. Peter as a “Patriarchy Church” since its head [defrocked] pastor is a prominent leader in the Patriarchy movement. Are Patriarchy leaders more prone than other pastors to engage in unjust church discipline? There does appear to be a pattern to indicate so.

The Austin family excommunication and shunning sparked debate about the nature of church membership. Doug Phillips had this to say:

Biblically leaving a local church involves transferring covenant duties and privileges from one local body to another. It does not involve breaking a covenant.

To put it another way, the believer’s covenant with the local church can be transferred to another Christ-honoring local church, but it cannot be “resigned,” abandoned, or simply disregarded without the professing believer becoming a covenant-breaker.

But what happens when the pastor refuses to permit a church member to “be transferred to another Christ-honoring local church”? And how can you even have an opportunity to be transferred if your pastor won’t allow you to even check out any of the other local churches so you can figure out which one you’d like to transfer too?

Just how far does a pastor’s authority legitimately extend? Can he actually prohibit you from leaving his church, even when you have just cause for wanting to leave? And if you leave anyway does he really have the spiritual authority and the biblical support to “excommunicate” you, such is in the Austin case, thereby putting you outside the visible church and cutting you off from the grace of God? The RPCGA completely disagreed with RC Sproul Jr about his “excommunication” of the Austins, and he wound up being taken to the woodshed for it.

As the Austin family found out, even though they did their best to leave St. Peter Presbyerian Church “honorably,” and even though they did nothing in violation of the church’s Book Of Church Order, it still wasn’t good enough for RC Sproul Jr and his session of ecclesiastical bullies. The Austins were unjustly excommunicated, and Sproul ordered the St. Peter congregation to shun them, and that included even the Austin children. Punishing entire families by shunning, including even small children, for the alleged “sins” of their parents, is an extremely cruel and wicked thing to do. Punishing children for the sins of their parents is also expressly prohibited by Scripture:

The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. Ezek. 18:20

What was done to the Austin family bears striking resemblance to what was done to the Epsteins. In the name of “church discipline” Doug Phillips abused the Epstein family, the entire family, in much the same way as Sproul abused the Austin family. If ever there could be an act that a pastor could commit that carries with it the risk for causing children to stumble and lose their faith, it would be to punish them for the sins (real or imagined) of their parents. RC Sproul Jr, Doug Phillips, and other Patriarch leaders of their ilk, should take the frightening ramifications of Matthew 18:6 to heart.

Even a pagan knows how unjust it is to punish the children for the sins of their parents. Even cults that are renowned for shunning, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, don’t shun entire families. When it comes to church discipline, these two “Patriarchs” are guilty of perpetrating more injustice and wickedness than any JW pastor ever has. This isn’t to say that a JW pastor wouldn’t be capable of doing the same thing. But even JW pastors have some accountability that prevents them from getting away with it. Sproul was disciplined for his abuses by the Presbyterian denomination that he was ordained by. Doug Phillips hasn’t been disciplined for his tyrannies because he’s not ordained by anyone, and not accountable to any ecclesiastical authority. Doug Phillips is a law unto himself.

Ecclesiastical thugs are prone to defend and support other ecclesiastical thugs. That’s why Doug Phillips continued supporting RC Sproul Jr after he’d been subjected to the severe church discipline of being defrocked. Phillips demands that all churches honor the “church discipline” that he meted out against the Epsteins, without so much as even being permitted to question him about it. But why should anyone honor Doug Phillips’ church discipline when he openly defies the church discipline that was meted out against RC Sproul Jr? Doug Phillips’ hypocrisy should surprise no one. Ecclesiastical thugs demand respect and honor, but they only give respect and honor to others when it advances their personal agenda. To quote Esther again:

“Doug Phillips had no problem with the Sproul, Jr. defrocking. Like Sproul, Sr, he ignored church authority and held teaching a teaching conference with Jr. soon after the defrocking.”

Only several weeks after RC Sproul Jr’s defrocking, Doug Phillips and his father Howard Phillips spoke at a conference hosted by RC Sproul Jr’s Highlands Study Center, an event directly affiliated with St. Peter Presbyterian Church, the church that Sproul continued pastoring, even though he’d been defrocked. Hypocrisy was manifested in full force by the very title of the conference, Generations Conference, Giving Honor To Whom Honor Is Due.

RC Sproul Jr - Doug Phillips Honor Conference

By speaking at that conference, Doug Phillips sent a message loud and clear. By speaking at a conference on “honor” with the newly defrocked RC Sproul Jr, Doug Phillips thumbed his nose at the Presbyterian denomination that had disciplined his pal. But defiance of church authority isn’t the whole of it. As others have already pointed out, RC Sproul Jr had just suffered the military equivalent of being court martialed, found guilty, and receiving a dishonorable discharge. Then he has the nerve to host a conference on “Honor”? The magnitude of this hypocrisy just boggles the mind!

For anyone who’s read the RPCGA’s Declaratory Judgment they shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out exactly why the Saint Peter elders were defrocked. The list of charges was very detailed and specific, and apparently there was a lot of evidence to support the charges. Not only that but Sproul even confessed, effectively pleading “Guilty as charged.” Sproul received due process according to the well documented disciplinary procedures of the RPCGA’s Book Of Church Order. Sproul had sworn an oath to obey that BCO, and to be held accountable to it.

There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that RC Sproul Jr received justice. But oddly enough there is some defiance of the RPCGA’s discipline, at least among a few of Sproul’s fellow Patriarchal ecclesiastical buddies. Aside from Doug Phillips, there is also Doug Wilson. It may not just be a coincidence that Doug Wilson is another prominent Patriarchy leader. Not long after being defrocked, Sproul was welcomed by Doug Wilson into his Confederation Of Reformed Evangelical Churches, a place where other defrocked ministers have also been warmly welcomed. Sproul is “considered ordained in the CREC,” even though he’s defrocked. Go figure. The CREC supposedly has some rules and even makes their ministers swear vows to obey the rules, just like real denominations do. But Doug Wilson appears to be a lot like RC Sproul Jr, in that neither one of them believe the rules actually apply to themselves.

Not that I’m in any way surprised that Doug Wilson has broken his vows to obey the CREC’s Constitution. In fact vow breaking is entirely consistent with how Wilson operates, and he’s very comfortable welcoming into the ranks of the CREC fellow vow breaking ministers who play fast and loose with the rules, including even the defrocked. Witness RC Sproul Jr.

Men of Doug Wilson’s ilk when given any authority at all will always attempt to seize more authority, whether their constitution that they have sworn to obey grants them that authority or not. Doug Wilson, Church Splitter

The disciplinary case against the Epsteins is in stark contrast to the Sproul case. According to the Epsteins, and the primary source documents they posted that back up their story, they were tried in absentia, without any due process, according to procedures that Doug Phillips fabricated out of thin air. The list of charges were vague and unspecific. No evidence was presented. No witnesses were called. The Epsteins weren’t permitted to cross-examine their accuser. The Epsteins pleaded, “Not guilty” and have continued pleading “Not guilty” ever since. The Epsteins have called their “church trial” a “Kangaroo Court” and a “Star Chamber.”

In spite of the sham justice that Doug Phillips meted out against the Epsteins, he demands that all other churches respect his “church discipline.” Yet Phillips has shown no respect toward the church discipline of the RPCGA, a discipline that even he apparently can find no fault with, or at least any fault that he’s willing to make a public statement about. Yet he, just like Doug Wilson, has continued treating RC Sproul Jr as though he’d never been disciplined at all. Yet these Patriarchal ecclesiastics expect and demand that others honor the church discipline that they mete out, even though their own form of church discipline breaks every rule in the book.

Returning now to my original question, “Does Patriarchy Produce Ecclesiastical Tyrants?” Is it Patriarchy that turned men like Doug Phillips and RC Sproul Jr into tyrants, or were they tyrants and bullies all along? Probably the only people who could answer that with some measure of certainty are those who have known these men long enough to know what they were like before they became Patriarchs.

What about at the grass roots level of the Patriarchy movement? Are there a lot of bad Patriarch husbands and fathers? My personal exposure to Patriarchy is somewhat limited, and the only Patriarchs that I personally have known appear to be fine brothers in Christ who treat their wives and children well. They’re true servant-leaders and they’re very biblically minded men. There are probably many godly men involved in the Patriarchy movement who would never be abusive toward their families or anyone else.

Patriarchy, or at least the biblical aspects of Patriarchy (and yes, I believe there are some), has the potential to motivate men to become strong and active leaders in the home, the very sort of thing that many wives often desire that their husbands would be. Weak and ineffective male leadership in the home is an all too common problem and valid complaint among many wives. Someone may yet be able to convince me otherwise, but at least at the grass roots level I don’t think Patriarchy is much of a problem, and there may be many husbands and fathers that have benefited from it. If there is a problem with Patriarchy, the problem is with Patriarchy leaders like Doug Phillips.

The more I look into Patriarchy the more I’m convinced that men like Doug Phillips are giving a movement that has a lot of good potential a bad name. So we should really label them “Hyper-Patriarchs.” Just like so many other extremists, Doug Phillips appears to be hyper about a lot of things, including church discipline. The leadership of the Patriarchy movement are practicing an extremist and extrabiblical form of Patriarchy. Where his Patriarchy touches the church it becomes ecclesiastical tyranny. The church of Jesus Christ needs loving and compassionate discipline, not ecclesiastical tyrants that masquerade as pastors and shepherds. Doug Phillips is an ecclesiastical thug — a brute, a bully, and that’s not the same thing as being a Patriarch.