Ligonier Ministries Responsible for Federal Vision Converts?Posted: July 9, 2007 Filed under: CREC, Doug Wilson, Federal Vision, Ligonier Ministries, RC Sproul, RC Sproul Jr 39 Comments
“Back in the 1990s, Senior Sproul was an outspoken critic of Charles Colson’s, J. I. Packer’s and Cardinal Cassidy’s cult, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, but in the twenty-first century, he remains silent on the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision, both forms of heresy rife in his denomination, the PCA; and he is silent on Norman Shepherdism, the form of Neo-Legalism rife in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Junior Sproul, while he was editor of Table Talk, the monthly devotional publication of Ligonier Ministries used to advance its theological agenda, made sure that Douglas Wilson appeared in the magazine monthly, and that his friends, Steve Wilkins and Steve Schlissel, appeared occasionally…
“The silence of the shepherds in dealing with the heresies in their own churches stems from their compromised philosophy and theology. They cannot clearly articulate their differences with Rome, or practice what those differences require, because at bottom they agree with Rome.”
The Silence Of The Shepherds, The Trinity Foundation
The Federal Vision / New Perspectives On Paul / Auburn Avenue theology controversy has been raging in Reformed circles for several years now, and especially so since the 2002 Pastor’s Conference at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Monroe, Louisiana, pastored by Steve Wilkins, where the theme of the conference was Federal Vision.
I view Federal Vision as one of the most divisive and dangerous doctrines that has ever been introduced into the Reformed church. Federal Vision is a deceptive assault on the doctrines of grace, and in particular the doctrine of justification by faith alone — Sola Fide. As such, Federal Vision is a pernicious belief system with eternal consequences. It’s made just that much more insidious because of the fact that all of it’s leading spokesmen hold themselves out as “Reformed.” Indeed, it’s not outsiders who have crept into the Reformed church to subvert it and lead it back to Rome, but rather insiders.
All of the key Federal Vision spokesmen have come from Reformed backgrounds, and all of them claim that they are still “Reformed.” They say they still believe in the Five Solas, but they have deceptively redefined them. Many of them claim to adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Yet, Federal Vision doctrine is contrary to the Five Solas, and contrary to the Westminster Confession on some of the most significant issues that the Confession expounds, such as the covenant, election and justification.
We haven’t dealt with Federal Vision here before, mainly because others are far better qualified to address it than we are, and some have. If you’re not familiar with this controversy, let me just say that it’s one of the more important theological issues to have confronted the church in many years. There aren’t many theological issues that can be as significant as soteriology — how man is saved.
Federal Vision has already infiltrated many Reformed churches. I say “infiltrated” because quite often the ringleaders would prefer to operate surreptitiously, rather than openly and honestly. If Federal Vision hasn’t already infiltrated your church, you should be prepared for it, and the way to be prepared is to study the issue for yourself. I’ve provided a list of some references at the end of the article, but this is by no means exhaustive. There is also much more available, both online, and in various books.
Reformed Presbyterian churches and their denominations have especially felt the impact of Federal Vision, particularly the PCA and the OPC. Many of their members, and even some of their pastors and elders, have started embracing Federal Vision, and many more embrace it privately and covertly. Indeed, the covert nature of Federal Vision, and the way that its promoters seek to stealthily infiltrate Reformed churches, is one of the things that troubles me so much about it. Its spokesmen have often shown themselves to be crafty and cunning infiltrators, rather than honest and straightforward about what they believe. They often twist words and meanings in a manner that bears striking resemblance to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In response to the onslaught of the Federal Vision within it’s denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America determined at their 34th General Assembly to appoint an “Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theology.” The Report was finalized on May 11, 2007 and presented to the PCA at their 35th General Assembly. The Report was overwhelmingly approved by the GA. Only about 50 out of 1400 delegates voted against it).
It remains to be seen what will become of prominent Federal Vision spokesmen who pastor PCA (e.g. Steve Wilkins) churches. For the present things appear to remain in the “discussion” and “recommendation” stages. However, at some point the discussion will need to come to an end and action will need to be taken. The PCA cannot permit heresy in its midst. If it does then it will render itself irrelevant and little better than the PCUSA. The Truly Reformed will have no choice but to leave, and they will leave in droves. The PCA cannot and must not permit its own pastors to be guilty of promoting heresy.
At some point, and hopefully sooner than later, those PCA pastors who are guilty of Federal Visionism will either be required to recant and repent of Federal Vision, or they will be brought up on charges of heresy. Since it’s unlikely that any of them will recant, they’d be wise to flee those Truly Reformed denominations, such as the PCA and OPC, and escape to someplace that’s “Reformed” in name only. Doug Wilson’s Federal Vision boutique, the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, comes to mind.
Timing here is crucial. What they don’t want to do is to force their Presbyteries into a position of having to defrock them, and then they have no choice but to flee to the CREC. That’s what RC Sproul Jr did, and that was a big PR mistake. Better to flee before being defrocked.
It’s not that being defrocked makes any difference to the CREC. They have, and they will continue, to gladly welcome defrocked Presbyterian ministers, even if they were defrocked for very serious things like ecclesiastical tyranny and tax fraud (as was the case for RC Sproul Jr). So being defrocked as a heretic surely won’t pose any obstacle to getting into the CREC. Nevertheless, from an appearance standpoint, it would be wise for all the Federal Vision heretics to flee to the CREC before they wind up getting defrocked.
No doubt Doug Wilson is licking his chops now. The PCA’s Federal Vision Report can only mean one thing for Doug Wilson — church growth.
I recently came across an interesting statement on a blog run by Federal Visionist, Mark Horne:
Great stuff from Ligonier Ministries on the Lord’s Supper
Published by Mark, July 2nd, 2007 in Bible & Theology
Here is a an article from Ligonier Ministries’ TableTalk magazine on the Lord’s Supper. It is really good.
Mark Horne’s blog entry directs his readers to an article on the Lord’s Supper, originally published in Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk magazine. The article was written by Federal Visionist, and PCA Pastor, Jeffrey J. Meyers. Mark Horne himself has had articles in Tabletalk.
Both Horne and Meyers are PCA pastors, and both pastor at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, Saint Louis, MO. Jeff Meyers is also the author of The Lord’s Service, a favorite book among the Federal Vision crowd, and considered among many of them to be essential reading.
Jeff Meyers’ article had been written for Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk magazine, during the time that RC Sproul Jr was Tabletalk’s editor. RC Sproul Jr not only tapped Jeff Meyers to write for Tabletalk, he also procured writing gigs for multiple Federal Vision / New Perspectives On Paul / Auburn Avenue Theology leaders Doug Wilson, Steve Wilkins, and Steve Schlissel. These and other Federal Visionaries appeared in Tabletalk during the time that RC Sproul Jr was editor. RC Sproul Jr also arranged for various Federal Vision spokesmen to speak at Ligonier conferences.
Not everyone would appreciate the significance of a Jeffrey Meyers article appearing in Tabletalk magazine. However, Mark Horne certainly appreciates it, and he recognizes what a coup it was to have a prominent Federal Vision spokesman’s articles appearing in the “devotional” magazine of the nation’s leading Reformed ministry. Others too had no trouble picking up on the message:
I have enjoyed telling people (especially in the last few weeks) that I first discovered both Biblical Horizons and Credenda/Agenda through Ligonier Ministries back in the early 90’s. R.C. Sproul is the reason I’m FV.
I’ve assumed for quite some time that Ligonier Ministries has had a hand in making Federal Vision converts. However, not many people like Sean have been willing to go public with such confessions. So for the Federal Vision converts that converted as a result of the articles that appeared in Tabletalk by Federal Vision authors, we can thank RC Sproul for that. In fact someone else commented on Mark Horne’s blog to do just that:
Mitch Jul 8th, 2007 at 9:56 pm
“R.C. Sproul is the reason I’m FV.”
Sean, I’m with ya bro!
Stop and think about the irony though. The publication of the most Reformed ministry in the country responsible for making Federal Vision converts. Too cool! I knew it was happening. It’s just refreshing hearing someone thank Ligonier Ministries for it.
As much as thanking R.C. Sproul we need to thank R.C. Sproul Jr. I don’t think his old man is FV. I don’t think so, but anyone who’s followed R.C. Jr knows he’s FV. I don’t understand why he tries to hide it. I just wish he’d come out of the closet about it.
However, is it reasonable to just “thank” RC Sproul Jr? Didn’t his father have a hand in his son becoming the editor of Tabletalk? Of course he did, just as his father continues to play a role in ensuring that the defrocked RC Jr continues to speak at Ligonier Ministries conferences. So why would Dr. RC Sproul have permitted his son to invite men who hold to such errant and even heretical theology to publish their articles in Tabletalk?
Was, and is, RC Sproul really ignorant of one of the biggest theological controversies to hit the Reformed world in years? No, he clearly is not. In fact RC Sproul attended the 35th PCA General Assembly, and rose in opposition to a motion to postpone a vote to adopt the Committee’s Report. His speech was compelling. So how could RC Sproul have permitted Federal Visionaries to write for Tabletalk and speak at Ligonier conferences, and yet not also understand that such men deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone? It simply appears inconceivable that one of the most knowledgeable and insightful Reformed theologians of our day could be knowledgeable and insightful, while at the same time being so incredibly ignorant of what those men represent and their attack on a doctrine which is key to the Gospel itself. It’s just not adding up.
RC Sproul is one of the leading champions of the Reformed Faith in the world today. He even wrote a book expounding the Reformed doctrine of justification entitled, “Faith Alone.” Federal Vision is one of the greatest threats to the Reformed Faith today, and especially the Reformed doctrine of justification. One would think that RC Sproul would have a vested interest in speaking out long and loud against Federal Vision. Yet, for the most part, he remains strangely silent. Why? If you search Ligonier Ministries’ web site you won’t find one mention of Federal Vision. Yet, his ministry has given a platform to the Federal Visionists. Why?
And what about RC Sproul Jr? Is he too really that ignorant? How can he claim to be “Reformed” while countenancing the very men who assault the very foundations of the Reformed Faith? How can he claim to be Reformed and yet some of his closest personal friends are prominent Federal Vision spokesmen? And why did RC Sproul Jr jump ship to join the one and only “confederation” that has dedicated itself to advancing the Federal Vision?
I just wish that RC Sproul Jr would start being honest and, in Mitch’s words, “anyone who’s followed R.C. Jr knows he’s FV. I don’t understand why he tries to hide it. I just wish he’d come out of the closet about it.”
RC Sproul Jr has already been defrocked for goodness sake. So it’s not like anyone in the Reformed world respects him anymore anyway. With the exception of Doug Phillips, the only friends he’s got left are in the CREC. Why not just admit to being Federal Vision?
Update, July 10: And Federal Vision Is Responsible For Roman Catholic Converts
I received an email from a gentleman, concerned that it took RC Sproul years to respond to the assault against the Reformed faith by the Federal Vision. However, it could be argued that Sproul’s brief little two-minute speech he gave at the PCAGA could hardly qualify as a genuine and substantive response at all, especially in light of the fact that he permitted his Ligonier Ministries to be used as a platform for Federal Visionaries for so long.
The gentleman had an additional concern — the fact that so many Federal Visionaries have become Roman Catholic converts. I too have heard this very thing, and I even know of several people who have become RC (that’s Roman Catholic, not Robert Charles) as a direct result of first embracing the Federal Vision.
Below is a video clip by a Roman Catholic who gloats over this very thing, and who thanks the Federal Visionaries for helping to make Roman Catholic converts. In his words:
“I rejoice with the Federal Vision because I believe that it’s a golden brick road to Rome… So I thank God for the Federal Vision because it’s a termite within Protestantism, and it’s tearing away at the structure, and everything that’s falling out is coming to the Roman Catholic faith.”
I’m sad to have to agree with this Roman Catholic. However, he’s not entirely correct when he says that “everything that’s falling out is coming to the Roman Catholic faith.” There are also numerous accounts of those who embrace the Federal Vision, and then go on to become Greek or Russian Orthodox. Not that there’s even much of a difference between the RCs and Orthodox.
Presbytery Reports On Federal Vision:
- Review & Critique of the Federal Vision / Auburn Avenue Theology
- Analyzing the Federal Vision
- Federal Vision Refutation
- Refuting the Federal Vision Heresy
- Paul’s Perspective
- Providence OPC Spring Conference on Federal Vision
- Covenantal Universalism: New Form of an Old Attack on Sovereign Grace
- The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis
- Justification And The New Perspectives On Paul: A Review And Response
- Getting the Gospel Right: Assessing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul
- The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision
Doug Phillips Promotes Pagan AuthoritarianismPosted: July 5, 2007 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Patriarchy, Vision Forum 9 Comments
The following article has been republished here with the permission of the author, Don Veinot. The original article appears on the Midwest Christian Outreach Blog.
Don Veinot has also published an exposé about Doug Phillips and his Patriarchy entitled, Who Will Be The First in the Kingdom? The article appears in the current edition of the MCOI Journal. Jennifer Epstein previously posted an article about it entitled, Cult-Watch Ministry Publishes Article Exposing Doug Phillips.
Doug Phillips – New Paganism?
by: Don Veinot, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc.
A number of years ago Dr. Albert Mohler spoke at an EMNR conference and in his talk shared a story about Bishop John Shelby Spong. According to Mohler, at the Lambeth Conference, Spong had committed a cultural and political boo-boo. He had been pressing for the ordination of homosexuals but was unable to get the majority to agree at the time because the bishops from Africa held firmly against it. In a moment of frustration Spong lashed out with, “The reason the African bishops believe the Bible to literally is because they have been so recently converted from paganism.” To which the Bishop from Uganda responded, “The reason Spong doesn’t believe the Bible is because he has so recently been converted to paganism.”
I have thought a lot about this exchange lately. It is easy for many of us to write off liberalism, the Emerging Church and Postmodernism as an embracing of paganism by church leaders and their followers. And, to be sure, it is. But, do some segments of conservative believers embrace other forms of paganism that may be promoted by some of their leaders? I would suggest this is the case with Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard.
Bill Gothard embraces and promotes the pagan view of authority as being the Christian view of a top down authority based on a misuse of the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-10. The story was about who Jesus was and His ability to heal long distance but Gothard makes it a story about authority and wrote in his Basic Seminar Textbook:
After the centurion asked Jesus to come and heal his servant, it occurred to him that just as life was structured around a “chain of responsibility,” so the kingdom in which God operates must have a similar structure of authority.
Jesus directly inverted this idea in Luke 22:25-26:
And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
Rather than the leader being less or not accountable and each one below them in “authority” being progressively more accountable to a larger number of people above them Jesus turned it around and made the leader the most accountable. God’s leaders live in glass houses and everyone else has Windex!
But how does this reflect upon or answer the question about Doug Phillips and Vision Forum? There are a number of areas that could be looked at, including his view of authority which, like Gothard’s derives from First Century paganism. We have looked at his promotion of his concept of patriarchy in our current Journal article, “Who Will Be First in the Kingdom?” (Vol. 13, No 2). Another area is Vision Forum’s view of women. How does it compare with First Century paganism?
Moya K. Mason points out in her “Ancient Roman Women: A Look at their Lives.”:
In that culture aristocratic woman may have received some education but that was primarily for use in educating their children. Most women received little or no education. Men were the ones to receive higher education. It was considered a waste of time and financial resources to educate a woman in the same way. After all, her use was to have children and stay at home to care for them. The husband owned the wife and children. If she had a baby girl he had the choice as to whether the female child would live or die. He was more interested in having a son to carry on his name but the son too was property until he attained adulthood. The daughter could be sold or bartered with. She lived with the father until he decided to marry her off, or perhaps not marry her off and she was under his authority until he died.
Alvin J. Schmidt in his book Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization points out how the church elevated the status of women by addressing many of these issues. He also comments on the church having to go back and address this issue as various church leaders have reintroduced this pagan view of women back in to the church. As we look at Vision Forum are we seeing yet another attempt at bringing the pagan view of women back in to the church? In their statement The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy we read:
Until she is given in marriage, a daughter continues under her father’s authority and protection
But what of education? Like the First Century Romans, Vision Forum in their article ”Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation” considers educating females a waste of time and money:
And does it really make economic sense to invest tens of thousands of dollars for a woman to get an advanced education (often having to go into debt to finance that education) that she will NOT use if she accepts that her highest calling is to be a wife and mother?
In his excellent book Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” Timothy Paul Jones addresses Bart Ehrman’s claim that some passages were modified to oppose women and Jews:
A handful of changes could potentially relate to the role of women in churches today. It appears that women played more prominent roles in the early church than they did in the later eras. As a result some scribes in late ancient and medieval times seem to have altered texts that seemed to place women in prominent positions.
For example, in the most ancient manuscripts of Acts 18:26, a woman named Priscilla seems to be the primary teachers of Apollos. Centuries later, a copyist switched the order of names, placing the name of Pricilla’s husband, Aquila, first. In Romans 16:7, someone named Junia – a woman’s name – is said to be “significant among the apostles,” but a later scribe turned “Junia” into “Junias,” a man’s name. In Acts 17:4, another scribe changed “prominent women” into “wives of prominent men.” In each of these cases, however, it’s possible to look at the manuscripts and recover the original wording.
Similarly, Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum is clear in their article ”Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation” of the wrongness of a woman having an individual personal view and taking any sort of participation or prominent role which may be viewed as competing with her owner, er, I mean husband:
In regards to a woman’s right to vote; if husband and wife are truly “one flesh” and the husband is doing his duty to represent the family to the wider community, then what PRACTICAL benefit does allowing women to vote provide? If husband and wife agree on an issue, then one has simply doubled the number of votes; but the result is the same. Women’s voting only makes a difference when the husband and wife disagree; a wife, who does not trust the judgment of her husband, can nullify his vote. Thus, the immediate consequence is to enshrine the will of the individual OVER the good of the family thus creating divisions WITHIN the family.
Is Doug Phillips just the latest incarnation of this infiltration? I am not sure but it seems worth thinking about.
Vision Forum’s Jamestown 400: An Epic Week For Doug PhillipsPosted: June 18, 2007 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Patriarchy, Vision Forum 19 Comments
Doug Phillips “Utterly Shatters The Nonsense” About Misrepresentations On Patriarchy
Last week was an epic week for Doug Phillips of Vision Forum Ministries. Mr. Phillips was at the center of what was touted to be the most significant event in Vision Forum’s history, the hosting of a 400th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Jamestown Virginia Colony. Doug Phillips promoted his event as a “celebration,” whereas the “official” government sanctioned event last month was called a “commemoration.” The most politically correct called it an “invasion.” Doug Phillips is correct to call it a “celebration” for there is indeed much to celebrate.
Speakers for the event included respected Christian historians and scholars such as Gary DeMar, Marshall Foster, John Eidsmoe, Joe Morecraft, Paul Jehle. And then there was Doug Phillips.
“The Jameston Quadricentennial: A Celebration of Our Providential History was the most significant and far reaching event in the history of Vision Forum Ministries.”
A former Vision Forum intern by the name of C.S. Hayden was gracious enough to post a number of event photos and offer some personal commentary. Some of what Caleb Hayden shares, however, is significant in conveying the fact that Doug Phillips was faithfully checking certain blogs last week to see how he was faring in the court of public opinion. For example, here’s a portion of his account of Doug Phillips’ talk from Saturday, June 16:
Doug Phillips encouraged us throughout the day as he shared stories of God’s Providence in planting and sustaining the Jamestown settlement. At the end of the day, he implored all of us to raise up an army of many children for God’s glory, which aroused great cheers and applause from the crowd (including from yours truly). He also said that we must return to biblical manhood and womanhood, and at this point, he utterly shattered the nonsense that some people falsely propagate about the teachings of the “patriarchy” movement. He said that we need visionary daughters who are capable, intelligent, well-trained, and love being women. Doesn’t sound like Mr. Phillips thinks women are “doormats,” as some misguided souls have suggested. He also said we must have sons of honor who will be raised to become patriarchal leaders of their households, with love, sacrifice, a vision for discipleship, appreciation and honor for their wives, and willingness to lay down their own lives. Doesn’t sound like Mr. Phillips thinks men are exalted as tyrannical dictators over women, as some misguided souls have suggested.
Apparently, this was very significant, or at least it was significant to C.S. Hayden, because it’s one of the very first things he mentions in his article. This appears to be a clear reference to Jen Epstein’s three-part series, “Are The Biblical Tenets Of Patriarchy Biblical?“, and perhaps a lesser reference to my own article, “The Vision Forum: Patriarchy Weirdness Exposed.” Other blogs and forums too have picked up on Jen Epstein’s Patriarchy critiques and, no doubt, Doug Phillips is under some pressure to respond.
Vision Forum’s “The Tenets Of Biblical Patriarchy” appear to be a vital document — absolutely vital to Vision Forum’s “vision.” As Jen pointed out last week, Patriarchy is central to so many of Vision Forum’s events. Without Patriarchy Vision Forum’s “vision” is no more, and unless Vision Forum can continue to claim that Patriarchy is “biblical” they won’t have any basis to continue pushing it with any legitimate authority.
It’s remarkable that such a significant document could have been posted for several years on Vision Forum’s web site and, apparently, no one has ever publicly challenged it in any substantive way as being extra-biblical and unbiblical. Then along comes Jennifer Epstein, not a biblical scholar but just a simple Berean, and with relative ease she begins to cast serious doubt on “The Tenets.”
How will Vision Forum respond? According to C.S. Hayden, Doug Phillips has already “utterly shattered” Jen Epstein’s arguments. But the problem is that no one has seen any evidence of it. Furthermore, Jen Epstein isn’t arguing against “a return to biblical manhood and womanhood.” In fact it’s apparent that this is exactly what she is arguing in favor of. What she’s arguing against is calling The Tenets Of Biblical Patriarchy “biblical,” when so much of it appears to be so seriously lacking in biblical support. Worse yet it does appear that Doug Phillips has engaged in a great deal of prooftexting and taking Bible verses out of context to try and make his case. Rather than handling the Word of God with respect and treating it as sacred, Doug Phillips appears to have used God’s sacred Word in a self-serving manner to push his personal and very profitable agenda.
I assume that C.S. Hayden isn’t a Vision Forum employee. However, as a “former intern” he would have been personally trained by Doug Phillips in such things as debate and logic. Therefore, one would suppose that Caleb would have at least some abilities to defend statements that he makes on his own blog. Caleb did receive some comments on his blog. However, Caleb’s “response” was most disconcerting.
Tammy C said….
What a good ending.I am sure we will be reading about this celebration on many blogs for weeks to come.
Enjoy your visit with the family from Mountain Musings.
6/17/2007 7:09 AM
Nate E said…
What? No Jamestown 400 finalist pictures?
Thanks for covering the event. Looks like it was an excellent “building up” time.
6/17/2007 7:45 AM
I really wish we could’ve gone. I’m jealous. Our family just couldn’t afford it. It sounds like it was awesome.
“He also said that we must return to biblical manhood and womanhood, and at this point, he utterly shattered the nonsense that some people falsely propagate about the teachings of the ‘patriarchy’ movement.”
We need to hear more on this! Patriarchy is definitely under attack, and not from the typical non-Christian feminists, but from Christians who claim that they’ve believed in Patriarchy and practiced it. This has got me worried.
I’ve been following the articles on Jen’s Gems this week critiquing The Biblical Tenets Of Patriarchy. I have to admit that I’ve been very bothered about it because it does appear that there may be some theological holes in some of the tenets. I haven’t seen anybody step up to the plate to defend it. At this point I’m not really sure what to think.
Do you know if Vision Forum will be responding? If Doug can “shatter the nonsense” then I hope he does it really soon where we can all see it, like on his blog. This is really important.
6/17/2007 4:33 PM
I share your thoughts when you say, “it does appear that there may be some theological holes in some of the tenets.”.
We are a family that believes in Biblical patriarchy. Which at one time we believed was the same thing that men such as Doug Phillips believed. (We were very early supporters of Vision Forum.) However, having read the tenets shortly after they were first published and some recent writings by men within Vision Forum such as Mr. Abshire, we began to see that what they purport as biblical patriarchy isn’t exactly what we see in Scripture. There are places where their scriptural justification is not sufficient for the claims they are making.
Which in and of itself would be fine. This wouldn’t be the first time that disagreement occurs between believers over doctrine. What is troubling to us is that any disagreement is seen by those that ascribe to their viewpoint as an attack on THEM. Those who have supported and encouraged the various ministries over the years are surprised to see that those who disagree are viewed as “the enemy” simply for saying perhaps this isn’t quite right or supported in Scripture. Don’t misunderstand I’m not saying that must see it our way. But isn’t there something between total agreement and total enemy?
Can sensible bible-believing Christians disagree with the tenets of patriarchy as written by Doug Phillips and Phil Lancaster without being considered a effeminate or thwarting God’s restoration of Western Civilization?
The fact that you or others are looking to Doug Phillips for a response which will “shatter this nonsense” is also a troubling thought. Why must Doug Phillips respond? Rather, let each of us, study the Scripture and decide who is actually moving into nonsense. Relying on men such as Doug Phillips to do the work of the fathers only proves that possibly the men who have written the tenets have become more important than the Truth they seek to teach us.
Let each father become a Berean and see that if what is taught by Godly teachers is actually true.
Isn’t that what a true Patriarch would do to protect his family from possible heresy?
6/17/2007 7:33 PM
“Why must Doug Phillips respond?” He needs to respond because The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy are being accused of being unbiblical and extrabiblical.
We’ve shared The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy with a lot of other families because we want to see a lot of Christian families doing patriarchy. Some have been open to becoming patriarchal too, especially when they see that it’s biblical. It’s hard to argue against something that’s biblical.
Until this week we’d never even heard anyone say that The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy aren’t biblical. We really need some help with this. We believe that God has raised up Doug Phillips as a great teacher. He’s one of the smartest men we’ve ever heard. Even the people attacking patriarchy probably see that he’s really smart. So we’re looking to him to help us with this. He’s been so helpful to our family. Why is it wrong for us to look to him for help with this? We’re really grateful to Doug Phillips. He’s done more for the patriarchy movement than anyone.
6/17/2007 10:17 PM
As far as Doug P. not thinking women are doormats, I submit that actions speak louder than words. God bless him for proclaiming otherwise, but how does he behave? That’s far more telling.
I agree with Spunky – I am a women with a graduate professional education, raised in a patriarchy family. Why is it the patriarchy movement condemns me for living my calling, just because it includes higher education and doesn’t fit some kind of cookie cutter mold? Honestly, I’d have fewer problems with it if people would stop telling me I’m going to hell or can’t possibly be in God’s divine will because I think women should be allowed to go to college if it fits in their life plan.
6/18/2007 1:30 AM
Your sad comment is exactly why it is an awesome thing that people are starting to sit up and take notice of the heresies being promoted as “biblical truth” in patriocentric circles.
God hasn’t called you to wait around for Doug Phillips to tell you what to believe. Paul commended the Bereans for searching the Scriptures themselves. If all you have to offer your own children is what Doug Phillips thinks or believes, why should they follow you as their patriarch?
I offer this challenge to you….set aside any tapes, books, or writings of any kind written by someone in a patriocentric camp. Pick up your Bible and start reading the Gospels. Take notes as you read, paying particular attention to what Jesus says. Then, compare His writings with those of the patriarchs.
It will take a while to detox…believe me, I was there. But when your patriocentric delerium tremmens have passed, all you will have left is God’ precious grace and you can move on to a living relationship with the Lord, as can your family.
6/18/2007 4:25 AM
Joshua, you said “Why must Doug Phillips respond?” He needs to respond because The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy are being accused of being unbiblical and extrabiblical.
I understand that the Tenets are being accused of being unbiblical or extrabiblical. But the question for those of us who believe in Biblical patriarchy shouldn’t be “How does Doug Phillips respond to this?” Instead we should ask, “What does the Scripture say? Are the tenets Biblcial?”
If the Biblical Tenets are indeed bilbical they will hold up to the strongest scrutiny. We have heard from Doug Phillips and what he believes on Biblical Patriarchy, now is the time for every man to examine those tenets as a Berean and see if they are indeed true. Don’t let your supposition be that they are, but test them to see if they are indeed True. Scrutinizing the Tenets is not the same as challenging Doug Phillips personally. It’s obeying the Scriptural instruction to study to show ourselves approved unto God. Paul was scrutinized by the Bereans, surely we are permitted to scrutinize the Godly teachers of our day as well.
You asked, “Why is it wrong for us to look to him for help with this?”
I’m not saying it’s wrong, but troubling when a believer looks to a man FIRST to see what he thinks rather than looking to Scripture to see what God reveals. Doug Phillips is fallible, just like you and I. Yes, he is smart and gifted in many areas. But that doesn’t make him right in all areas. You are free to ask him what he thinks about the criticism. But that doesn’t excuse you from your first obligation which is to search the scriptures yourself to see if the things any teacher teaches are indeed true, that must be done independent of Doug Phillips.
Our focus as believers should be on Truth. Truth will stand up to the toughest scrutiny. It is we who must have the courage to accept what Truth reveals about us and what we believe. Clinging to an idea simply because the messenger has been right in other areas in the past, or his idea has personally helped you, is insufficient to believe the idea is Biblical or that the teacher is consistently right in all areas.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Doug Phillip’s Biblical Tenets are wrong. He could very well be right, and those that critize need to adjust. But how will we know unless we ALL are studying for ourselves and not relying on someone to study it for us and telling us where the flaws are? Study the Truth of Scriptures and build your own defense for why these Tenets are true. Then when you have exhausted yourself in the effort, petition many great biblical scholars to examine what you have found. And then compare what you have found with the Tenets themselves. See where you agree and where you disagree. Then go back and study some more attempting to resolve the areas of difference.
But of course, that all takes work. It is so much easier to just have someone tell us what to believe. Following someone else who has studied and found what they believe is easier than doing the work ourselves. I’m not trying to be hard on you. It’s true of all of us. But a Christian man or woman will study the teachings of others for the greater good of themselves and their family. And in return, the great teachers will know that they are indeed accountable for the words they teach. And in the end the Body of Christ benefits.
Accountability isn’t to be feared it is to be embraced. For in true accountability, the purity of Truth shines forth. Truth cannot be hidden from view is inescapable. It is we who must have the courage to accept what Truth reveals. That is a harder task than even studying. But in the end it is the right choice.
George Grant wrote recently, “None of us like to hear that we are wrong, that we have to make changes in our lives, that we have to adjust our way of thinking, or that we have to admit our faults. We are loathe to confess that are in need of repentance, forgiveness, or forbearance. And we persist in our pride even when we know the truth.
The truth demands something of us. It may or may not demand something of us as dramatic as what it demanded of the passengers of Flight 93. Though the truth ultimately sets us free, it does so at some cost.”
And that cost is usually our pride. We don’t want to admit that we or someone we admire might be wrong. But the Truth will set us free. And I am glad I have freedom in Christ and not bound to the claims of any earthly teacher however smart or talented they appear to me at first.
6/18/2007 7:31 AM
Lastly Joshua you said, “Even the people attacking patriarchy probably see that he’s really smart.”
Not all who are examining the tenets are attacking patriarchy. That gets back to my first comment. Joshua, why do you view those who question what Doug Phillips teaches as Biblical Patriarchy, as an attack on patriarchy itself?
Brian Abshire warned in the article Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation, “There is also the danger that some men will over-react against the common emasculated concept of the modern “father” and will overcompensate by denying any authority other than their own; including lawful authority in the church and State. The simple fact is that ALL Men will sin; they will sin against God and they will sin against their families. However, the divinely required methodology of dealing with that sin is by meditating and applying the unchanging standards of God’s law, being humble before Him, recognizing and confessing that sin, and then through repentance, taking the appropriate course of action.”
I believe Mr. Abshire is correct in that regard. There is a danger for any man not correctly defining or applying what the Bible says about Patriarchy. That includes Doug Phillips. The remedy is each of us applying the unchanging standard of God’s Word to our lives and those we allow to teach us. This should not be viewed as an attack or threat by anyone truly seeking God’s Truth and His alone.
6/18/2007 8:38 AM
Let me clarify, I am NOT accusing Doug Phillips of sin with his tenets of patriarchy. But that ALL men do sin in their lives. We cannot see the words of any man as infallible, the claim of perfect truth is for God’s Word alone. Sola Scriptura. Therefore the possibility exists that in writing his tenets he MAY have erred just as all men are capable of erring. The only way we will know for certainty is by doing what Mr. Abshire exhorts and that is comparing Doug Phillips words against the unchanging Truth of God’s Word.
6/18/2007 8:44 AM
How did Caleb Hayden respond? Caleb “responded” by deleting all but the first two comments. Thankfully, Spunky saved the comment thread and reposted them on Jen Epstein’s blog.
Caleb may or may not know know who Joshua is. Perhaps Joshua’s questions and concerns embarrassed Caleb. Perhaps Caleb just didn’t now what to say. But is that any cause to just delete his comments? Joshua’s comments do appear to be a sincere plea for assistance. Is this how Doug Phillips trains his interns to respond to people who are begging for help?
Spunky, on the other hand, is someone that, if Caleb doesn’t know who she is, he really should. “Spunky” is no obscure unknown figure in the home schooling sector of the blogosphere. Given that home school moms probably comprise at least 50 to 70% of Vision Forum’s business, that was a very foolish thing for Caleb to delete Spunky’s comments. Spunky is a very thoughtful and circumspect lady, and not one to quickly take sides in a controversy or dispute.
It troubles me to see the way that C.S. Hayden treated Joshua. It would be nice if we could all assume that just because Caleb Hayden isn’t a Vision Forum employee that his behavior isn’t a reflection on Vision Forum. But the fact is his behavior is a direct reflection of the culture that is Vision Forum, a culture of Doug Phillips’ creation. Caleb was trained by Doug Phillips. Caleb is just “responding” as he’s been taught, and by what Doug Phillips has personally modeled for him.
Joshua, keep pressing for answers. Contact Vision Forum directly. However, don’t be surprised if their response isn’t any different than Caleb Hayden’s “response.” That will tell you something: You’re permitted to agree with Doug Phillips. You’re not permitted to disagree, or to so much as even ask him questions that might embarrass him. That’s all part of the hyper-Patriarchy package.
Spunky had some very good insight and suggestions. I’d like to suggest, Joshua, that you carefully consider what she said. In fact I’d like to just recommend what she said to anyone who’s now looking for answers about this Patriarchy thing. I don’t believe we’re going to find any answers by looking to Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. I think they’re part of the problem.
The Vision Forum: Patriarchy Weirdness ExposedPosted: June 6, 2007 Filed under: Daddy Shaving, Doug Phillips, Patriarchy, Vision Forum 88 Comments
If you haven’t been following Jen’s Gems, and the ongoing exposés of Doug Phillips there, you’re missing out on some fascinating discussion. One of the subjects that I’ve personally been following with great interest is “Patriarchy.” Prior to reading about Doug Phillips’ ecclesiastical tyrannies I’ve never really given much thought to the Patriarchy movement. However, in following this story it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that the Patriarchy movement leadership has got some serious problems when it comes to the proper and biblical exercise of authority.
There also seems to be a certain “weirdness” factor about Patriarchy, at least with the leadership of the movement. For example, one of the commenters on Jen’s Gems made mention of some weird goings on at The Vision Forum’s annual Father and Daughter Discipleship Retreats, including “unity” events such as “daughters shaving their daddies” and “daughters dressing their daddies.”
When I first read that comment I thought, “Surely you jest! That’s just too weird!” Unfortunately, the commenter really was telling the truth. It didn’t take me long to find specific references on Vision Forum’s web site to these weird goings on. I’m sure that there are a lot of nice and proper things that happen at these Vision Forum events, and no doubt I’ll get some commenters now telling me how wonderful these events are. But regardless of all the nice and proper things that may happen there, the daddy-shaving and daddy-dressing isn’t proper, at least in my book. It’s creepy.
Some photographs from the Vision Forum daddy-shaving sessions are provided below, and below them are the photo captions from the Vision Forum web site:
The Father and Daughter Retreat was not only a time to serve (and shave) Daddy, but to dress up pretty as a picture.
And of course after shaving daddy we must also dress daddy:
In a video from Vision Forum’s web site highlighting their Father-Daughter Discipleship Retreat, with commentary from Doug Phillips’ daughters, they say, “Our weekend began with Father-Daughter unity games. Each of the games was designed to teach us a principle about our relationship with our fathers.”
What, pray tell, does shaving daddy have to do with teaching principles about a daughter’s relationship with her father? What has this got to do with “discipleship”? I guess I must not be a “Patriarch” so I’m having a hard time with grasping all this. In fact the whole thing just seems creepy. But it doesn’t end with just daddy-shaving. It also includes daddy-dressing, and that seems even more creepy.
I’ve got daughters and I’ve never, ever, had the notion that they should “serve” me by daddy-shaving or daddy-dressing. I wouldn’t even ask my wife to do that! Apparently all this shaving and dressing stuff is supposed to prepare a daughter for marriage:
“Hearing and seeing the example again this weekend confirmed in their hearts that this is the direction they want for their lives. They have both given their hearts to me and I intend with all my (and the Lord’s) strength to guard them and nurture them until such a time as I give them to a godly man in marriage.
“My older daughter is already taking the initiative to learn more on the domestic front and her spirit is noticeably softer now that she has a direction in life that coincides with the way God naturally wired her as a woman. My younger daughter is watching intently the example of her older sister. And both have turned to me as their Dad and their head. It is a beautiful and lovely thing to be a father of daughters when we do things according to Scripture.”
I’m having a hard time seeing how daddy-shaving and daddy-dressing prepares a young lady for marriage. Apparently this is all part of Vision Forum’s Patriarchy package. To me all this appears to do is to prepare a young lady for a life of obsequious bondage to a master, not marriage to a husband.
Apparently, this is supposed to create some sort of a “bonding” experience between daddies and daughters. Why not then have a Vision Forum Mother and Son Discipleship Retreat? And what sort of “unity games” might it include? What about moms shaving their sons? What about moms dressing their sons? Weird? Yes, that would be weird. But to be logically consistent about it we’d need to have sons shaving their moms, wouldn’t we? Daughters shave daddies, so sons shave mommies? So would sons shave mom’s legs? Creepy, right? Of course it’s creepy! And what about sons dressing their moms? So what makes it acceptable for daughters to be shaving and dressing daddies? The only answer is Patriarchy. Only in Doug Phillips’ Land of Patriarchy could such weird things be going on, year after year.
When men want to be shaved they go to a barber. When women want the hair removed from their legs they go get a “wax job.” Fathers don’t solicit their daughters (or even their wives) to shave their faces anymore than do mothers solicit their sons (or even their husbands) to shave their legs.
Fathers should not be soliciting their daughters to dress them, anymore than should mothers be soliciting their sons to dress them. It’s weird and creepy, and it says something about Doug Phillips’ notions of “unity” and “discipleship.”
To me this is just more evidence with what’s wrong with the Patriarchy movement, or at least the direction that Doug Phillips and Vision Forum are taking the Patriarchy movement.
Does Patriarchy Produce Ecclesiastical Tyrants?Posted: May 7, 2007 Filed under: Doug Phillips, RC Sproul Jr, Vision Forum 44 Comments
“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 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:
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.
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.
Doug Phillips Uses Virginia Tech Shootings To Promote AgendaPosted: April 19, 2007 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Vision Forum 87 Comments
Doug Phillips has posted a blog article about the Virginia Tech school shootings. Even I could have never anticipated that Doug Phillips was this cold and calloused. Even before the blood had been cleaned from the classroom floors, even before any of the funeral services had been performed, even as twenty gunshot-wounded students still lay recovering in their hospital beds, Doug Phillips was preparing another one of his “See I told you so!” sermons.
Just to ensure that his article received the widest possible exposure, Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum also emailed the article to thousands of recipients. Upon seeing Phillips’ article two days ago I was completely stunned and words failed me. Now that I’ve had a little time to absorb it I’ll try and communicate my thoughts about it.
Others, however, wasted no time in communicating their sentiments to Doug Phillips. One reader wrote in to say:
“Please remove me from your mailing list. The use of this tragedy by any organization to promote an agenda is unconscionable.”
After reading Phillips’ article I had exactly the same sentiment. What he has done is unconscionable.
Phillips entitled his article, On the Horror at Virginia Tech; Finding Eternal Hope in Present Sorrow. But how exactly does Phillips offer hope? He doesn’t. In point of fact his article is a rather gloomy and fatalistic “See I told you so.”
“When people ask: ‘Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?’ or ‘How can such a terrible thing happen?’, we must point them to the fundamentals. First, all of us deserve death and all of us will die.”
Now there’s some “hope” to offer a grieving mother and father who have just lost their son or daughter in a senseless slaughter! Saying such a thing to grieving families, or even to those who haven’t been directly impacted by the Virginia Tech shootings, like the millions across this land who are questioning, “Where is God at a time like this?”, isn’t a message of hope at all. Phillips’ article is likely to be interpreted by many as a message that God is cruel, unloving, uncaring, judgmental, and only too eager to destroy sinners.
This isn’t to say that I disagree that “All of us deserve death.” While being a valid theological statement, is this a message of hope? Are these words of comfort? Is this the Gospel of Jesus that Christians are to share with the disillusioned and suffering? No, it’s not, nor is it a message of comfort.
Tragedy and “horror” isn’t a time for preaching “fundamentals.” This is a time for mourning and, therefore, this should be a time of “comforting the afflicted”:
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. (2Cor. 1:3-4)
Doug Phillips pastors Boerne Christian Assembly. Pastors are called upon to provide “grief counseling” and even perform funeral services. I cringe to think of the “comfort” meted out by this man to his own church members should any of them ever have an hour of personal crisis.
“Thousands will be deeply affected, probably for the rest of their lives. The most serious pains belong to the mothers, fathers, and sisters and brothers of the murdered victims. What shall we say to them? What are we to learn from these events?”
Those two questions address very different issues, or at least they should. But it’s clear from his article that Phillips would encourage us to take the practical and theological lessons that he believes we are “to learn from these events” (according to him), and “say to them” those same hard and ponderous theological “fundamentals.” I would submit that to do so would be to beat a wounded person over the head with a message that they’re simply in no position to hear. The harm and injury that could come of it could be catastrophic.
This would be an absolutely horrible time to be sharing any of the things that Phillips talks about in his article with those that mourn at Virginia Tech or, for that matter, anywhere else where unbelievers are present. For Phillips to call these shootings “God’s judgment” is anything but a message of “hope.” However, that’s one of the things that Phillips informs us that they are “to learn from these events.”
“Second, we must acknowledge that the rise of community violence is a judgment of the Lord.”
Can you imagine telling a grieving father and mother who has just lost their son or daughter, “What you need to learn from this is that this is the judgment of the Lord”?
Is this what Jesus did to Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died? Did he say, “This is the judgment of God. He deserved to die”? No, Jesus comforted them. “Jesus wept.”
Some of the things that Doug Phillips has to say in his article are worth hearing. But why does anyone need to hear them now? Phillips’ timing and his approach are absolutely atrocious. This isn’t the time for lectures or posturing. This is a time for grieving, and grieving people need to be comforted, not beat over the head with “fundamentals.”
I received an email from a home school mother in Virginia about this article. She gave permission for me to post her email.
I’m surprised that more blogs haven’t taken Doug Phillips to task over this. What he’s done is sick. A lot of people got that Doug Phillips’ spam email about the VT massacre. It looks to me like he deliberately sent it to a lot of home school families here in Virginia. Talk about pouring salt in the wound. I know I’m not the only one who’s outraged to get his spam. Just check this out from the Home Educators Magazine Yahoo Group.
RE: [HEM-Networking] Forward to Christian Homeschool leaders
Is this online any where?
This is so weird that this has come up now as I had never heard of Vision Forum until they added vahomeschoolers emails to their email list (unrequested) and we started getting spam from them. I then found out that Doug Phillips is a featured speaker at the Home Educators Association of Virginia convention this spring.
As a Va Tech grad, I was absolutely appalled at their response to what happened. Really, really scary stuff… you know that people that think like this are out there, but to actually have it show up in my inbox was eye opening. It is scary that these people are representing homeschooling.
I don’t know Stephanie personally, but she’s saying exactly what I think of this too. Watchman, thanks for what you’ve done. This Doug Phillips is a sick man. He needs to be stopped.
Doug Phillips: Will He Ever Be At Peace With His Brethren?Posted: April 10, 2007 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Vision Forum 8 Comments
It was on January 16 that I received an email from Mark and Jen Epstein, requesting that we take our Doug Phillips articles offline. The Epsteins made this request in the spirit of seeking reconciliation with Doug Phillips.
At the time I was very sceptical that reconciliation was even possible with a man like Doug Phillips, but I also didn’t think it appropriate to deny the Epsteins their request. After all, what the Epsteins sought to accomplish by requesting reconciliation through Peacemaker Ministries was entirely biblical. Besides which, if things didn’t work out (and I was reasonably confident that Doug Phillips would do what he wound up doing), it would take me all of just a few minutes to put the articles back up.
In the end my scepticism was more than warranted. Doug Phillips sabotaged reconciliation. After exhausting all their other remedies, the Epsteins put all their “Exposing Doug Phillips’ Ecclesiastical Tyrannies” articles back up, and I put our own articles back up too. Now the Epsteins have come out with another chapter to their saga. This latest story only confirms just how incredibly vengeful and vindictive that Doug Phillips really is. The Epsteins have dropped some hints about this before, but until now they didn’t name names.
Now the Epsteins have named Little Bear Wheeler as the pastor they went to after they were unjustly “excommunicated” from Boerne Christian Assembly by Doug Phillips’ personal Kangaroo Court. Little Bear Wheeler isn’t just a nobody. Little Bear Wheeler is the founder of Mantle Ministries. He’s been active in the home school community for a number of years, and he’s a highly respected leader in the home school movement. Little Bear Wheeler has been active in the home school movement at least as long as Doug Phillips has, and probably longer. It speaks very badly of Doug Phillips that he chose to dis an honorable man like Little Bear Wheeler.
Pastor Wheeler suggested that the Epsteins attend his church for six months while he worked at facilitating reconciliation between Doug Phillips and the Epsteins. However, Pastor Wheeler actually attempted to do so for fourteen months, all to no avail. In the end he had no choice but to abandon his reconciliation efforts.
The Epsteins later moved on and then attempted to join Faith Presbyterian Church of San Antonio. FPC also attempted to facilitate reconciliation. The Epsteins appeared to have greater hopes in reconciliation through the FPC session than through Little Bear Wheeler because several elders at FPC are “certified Christian conciliators” with Peacemaker Ministries. But if Doug Phillips would spurn a close personal friend like Little Bear Wheeler, why would he treat the FPC session any better?
At least Phillips knew not to ignore the FPC session for fourteen months, the way he did Little Bear Wheeler. Rather than ignoring FPC’s overtures, Phillips decided he’d better waste no time. Rather than postponing one meeting after another for fourteen months, Phillips met with the FPC session promptly, but just like Phillips did with Pastor Wheeler, he called the FPC session “wicked sinners for fellowshipping with excommunicants.”
What is the purpose of church discipline, and of excommunication as the most severe form of church discipline? According to the Westminster Confession of Faith:
Of Church Censures
I. The Lord Jesus, as king and head of His Church, has therein appointed a government, in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.
II. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed; by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively, to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word, and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel; and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.
III. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offenses, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honor of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.
IV. For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition; suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the Church; according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person.
Rather than acknowledging that church discipline is for the benefit of the sinner, to bring him to repentance so that he can be reclaimed by the church, Doug Phillips treats church discipline as a means of accomplishing his personal political agenda. Doug Phillips told Jen Epstein, “You’ll pay for this” and that’s exactly what he did. Church discipline isn’t about making someone “pay for this.” It’s for the purpose of bringing about repentance and reconciliation.
The London Baptist Confession of Faith (which was derived from the Westminster Confession), which Doug Phillips claims he subscribes to, makes it plain that church discipline decisions are to be made by church officers. Church discipline isn’t done by mob rule and Kangaroo Courts. It’s not something that’s put to a congregation to decide by majority vote, especially when the majority of a church are the pastor’s personal employees, as was the case at BCA (many of the BCA members were Vision Forum employees).
When other church officers have attempted to reclaim the Epsteins for the church of Jesus Christ, Doug Phillips has sabotaged those efforts through intimidation and allegations that having anything to do with the Epsteins makes them “wicked sinners.” Phillips’ objective isn’t about reclaiming the Epsteins for Christ, but relegating them to a perpetual state of punishment by shunning. Even the Epsteins’ children, which were never charged with any sin and were never the subject of church discipline, have been punished by Doug Phillips and the entire BCA congregation, by shunning. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses, which are notorious for shunning, know better than to do that.
The church of Jesus Christ is to be an instrument of Christ’s grace and mercy. Doug Phillips appears to know nothing of mercy. Rather, he is driven by entirely by personal agendas, and vengeance is one of his tools of that agenda.
What has Doug Phillips accomplished in the process? Did his vengefulness improve his reputation? Was anybody (besides Matt Chancey and his “former interns”) impressed? Has his church grown? Have sales at Vision Forum improved (the answer below)? If Doug Phillips had more common sense than pride he would have told the Epsteins, “It’s been two years since I disciplined you. Two years is long enough. We don’t want you back at BCA, but I’m pleased that you want to make yourselves accountable to a session of church elders. Accountability is good and they’re in a good position to examine you and determine your fitness to become members of their church. They’re in a good position to minister to you and help your family. I mean you no ill will, so go in peace. I won’t interfere with your plans.”
Doug Phillips didn’t need to agree to reconciliation, but he also didn’t need to sabotage the Epsteins wanting to become members of a Reformed church. Instead, Phillips undermined the Epsteins’ hopes of becoming FPC members and he even called the FPC session “wicked sinners for fellowshipping with excommunicants.” Are the FPC elders “wicked sinners”? That seems doubtful. What seems far more likely is that Doug Phillips is a self-righteous Pharisee.
I received an email from Ann. She gave me permission to post her email, provided I don’t use her full name. Ann has some good insights and I think her email deserves to be posted. Her email also addresses the question, “Have sales at Vision Forum improved?”
Dear Ministry Watchman,
I’m on Vision Forum’s email list and have been for a long time. If you ever order anything online from them (and I’ve ordered a lot of things from them before) you’ll wind up on their email list. In the past few months, including since prior to Christmas, I’ve been amazed by how many emails I’ve gotten from Vision Forum. Some weeks I’ve gotten an email from them almost every day, and practically all of them are sales discount notices. What gives with Vision Forum? I’ve never seen anything like this from them before. It’s obvious that their sales are way down and they’re getting desperate.
I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation between all the “exposing Doug Phillips’ ecclesiastical tyranny” articles and the fact that Vision Forum is having to beg for orders. If there is then I hope that he comes to his senses and changes his ways soon. I’d hate to see Vision Forum brought to their knees. Doug Phillips still has some good things to say. He just needs to repent of being such an arrogant jerk and start serving the Lord and the Lord’s people in humility.
On Jen Epstein’s blog there are comments now about how Doug Phillips is retaliating against Mr. “Little Bear” Wheeler. Phillips has dropped Mr. Wheeler from the Vision Forum catalog, and he won’t even talk to Mr. Wheeler any more. It’s all over the fact that Little Bear welcomed the Epsteins into his church. Phillips is punishing Little Bear financially for not shunning the Epsteins. Now I’m seeing blog comments calling for a boycott of Vision Forum.
I don’t think an official boycott is necessary. It’s obvious that VF is feeling the sting already of families like ours using good stewardship over our finances. Probably all Jen Epstein or anyone else really needs to do is suggest that people exercise good stewardship by not supporting abusive ministries. I see that Jen did that on her other blog with Ligonier Ministries. Jen used to financially support them but now it sounds like she no longer does. It’s a question more of exercising biblical stewardship, not boycotting.
Our family is probably a lot like other Christian families. We’re careful to not financially support Christian ministries and businesses that get themselves embroiled in problems that they could have easily avoided. Doug Phillips is a controversial man, but it’s not controversy that we run from. What we don’t like are troublemakers, and Doug Phillips is obviously a big troublemaker, and very arrogant one too. It looks to me like just about every problem he’s gotten himself into was of his own making. The Ministry Watchman article exposing Phillips’ “Raising The Allosaur” video fraud is a good example. I deeply resent the fact that he used home schoolers to push his personal agenda with lies and lined his own pockets from it. I’m sad to say that we purchased that video. We won’t make that mistake again.
I’m impressed that the Epsteins offered Phillips a biblical way out of his conflict with them. I’m bothered that he refused their offer. It tells me a lot about what he’s made of. The man isn’t fit to head up a church, and he’s not fit to head up a Christian ministry. I’m not taking sides with the Epsteins. I’m sure they’ve made alot of mistakes along the way, but I also don’t think they deserve to be treated this way. No one deserves to have done to them what Doug Phillips has done to them.
In her latest article Jen Epstein has pointed out that Little Bear Wheeler also has a ministry to home school families, and that he sells a lot of the same items that Vision Forum does. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Little Bear has been selling those items for a lot longer than Vision Forum has, and that rather than finding unique things to sell himself, Doug Phillips went into direct competition with Little Bear Wheeler by selling a lot of the same exact things. Given the choice our family will patronize Little Bear Wheeler rather than Doug Phillips. Needless to say, we also won’t be ordering anything ever again from Doug Phillips.
I’m also going to make a point of not attending any conferences where Doug Phillips speaks. I’m also going to send those conferences letters telling them my objections to their having him speak. I’ll send you a copy of my letter and you can post it if you like. Please just don’t use my full name. We’re very active in home schooling and even exhibit at home school conferences. I’m sure that Phillips would like to use his influence to hurt us (like he’s hurt Little Bear Wheeler) if he knew I was going to write some of the conferences he speaks at. If others would like to use my letter to send to home school leaders that they know they’re welcome to do that. If you have a big list of email addresses for home school leaders I’d like to get a copy of it.
I don’t think it’s right for any home school groups to be giving a man like Doug Phillips a platform to promote his personal ambitions. He’s become too much of a liability. I think a lot of home school groups don’t even understand Phillips’ agenda and they need to know about it.
Thanks for everything you’ve done.
Doug Phillips’ influence in the world of home schooling is considerable. Ann is well justified in her concerns and it makes a lot of sense that she wants to email home school leaders. I don’t have an extensive email list like what she’s asking for. If anyone does and they’d like to make it available, please email it to me and I’ll pass it along to Ann.
I hope that one day soon Doug Phillips will get smart and find a way to be at peace with his brethren. Doug Phillips has a lot of potential to do many good things for the church of Jesus Christ, as well as for Christian home schoolers. But unless Doug Phillips repents he also has the potential of doing us all great harm.
Doug Phillips Torpedoes Reconciliation With EpsteinsPosted: March 12, 2007 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Vision Forum 22 Comments
With Frank Vance’s recent departure things have been a little slow lately.
I just checked on our comments and noticed that there had been about twenty pingbacks that came in this morning, all from Mark and Jennifer Epstein’s blogs! Here I thought things have been quiet for them too, and then blammo! Obviously they’ve actually had a lot going on behind the scenes, and they just couldn’t talk about it.
The latest word from the Epsteins is that Doug Phillips torpedoed the Peacemaker Ministries reconciliation that they were trying to get him to participate in with them. Phillips apparently told the Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA) elders, “This is not about reconciliation; this is only about the Epsteins repenting” and “There is only one way for the Epsteins to be reconciled with me; they must come to me and repent fully without any equivocation of everything that we excommunicated them for, and they also have to repent for blogging about me.”
I don’t thnk that anyone should now have any doubts about the true nature of Doug Phillips. I remember that in one of Jen Epstein’s early stories that she said that Doug Phillips told her, “You’ll pay for this!” Phillips was true to his word. He made the Epsteins pay, and three years later he’s still making them pay.
It must have taken a lot of effort for the Epsteins to arrange for that peacemaking, and it must be a huge disappointment to have Phillips arrogantly rebuff the offer. But one good thing about it is that the Epsteins have just further confirmed what Doug Phillips is really all about. Doug Phillips is a vengeful, self-righteous, unforgiving man.
Here’s a copy of an email I just received from Mark Epstein:
Dear Ministry Watchman,
We appreciate your cooperation with us in honoring our request to take your articles about Doug Phillips down while we sought to enter into Peacemaker Ministries reconciliation with Doug. We know that you were all very concerned for us, and that you believed that the prospects for reconciliation were remote. Your scepticism was well justified. In spite of your scepticism you still agreed to cooperate with us by taking the articles down, and we appreciate it.
Last week we were informed that Doug Phillips refused the efforts of Faith Presbyterian Church to facilitate reconciliation on our behalf. We’ve posted articles on our blogs describing what happened at:
Doug Phillips Refuses Reconciliation With The Epsteins, and
Doug Phillips Refuses Reconciliation.
Doug told the FPC session, “This is not about reconciliation; this is only about the Epsteins repenting.” He also told them that there was only one way that we could ever be reconciled to him. We’d have to come to him and repent of everything that he’s accused us of. That’s simply not possible for us to do. Doing that would mean that we’d have to lie and bear false witness against ourselves. We’d have to lie because what Doug demands is that we confess sins and beg forgiveness of things:
That we’re not guilty of and that no one can provide any evidence that we’re guilty of.
That we committed years before we even became a Christian, and that we confessed and repented of years ago.
That are so vague and ambiguous that we can’t possibly comprehend what they even are.
That in the case of the few charges that we were guilty of, we confessed and repented of those things, but Doug excommunicated us any way.
We’re disappointed but not surprised. We’re also disappointed with the FPC session. Doug did everything that we expected he would. We didn’t however expect that the FPC session would cave in the way they did. Three of their elders are “Certified Christian Conciliators” with Peacemaker Ministries. In our estimation they could have done much more than they did. Nevertheless, the FPC session isn’t the issue and we’re unlikely to discuss them or respond to comments about that issue, unless we’re forced to. Our focus will remain on Doug Phillips.
We won’t be making any more attempts at reconciliation. We’ve done everything that we possibly can.We request that you put the articles back up that we previously asked you to take down.
Thank you for everything that you’ve done for us.
Mark and Jennifer Epstein
I never much liked the idea of taking down all our Doug Phillips articles, but I also didn’t want to get the blame, or give Phillips any excuses for not meeting with the Epsteins for their reconciliation meetings. In the end it didn’t make any difference.
So Mark and Jennifer, as soon as I post this I’ll start reposting all our Phillips articles (look for pingbacks comin’ back at ya!).
Ligonier Ministries Recap and a Farewell From Frank VancePosted: February 4, 2007 Filed under: Ligonier Ministries, RC Sproul 34 Comments
Periodically it’s wise to take stock of one’s pursuits and accomplishments. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of that. Prior to taking up blogging I lived a quiet life and I enjoyed my life very much. Since taking up blogging my life has changed dramatically and not in ways that I’ve enjoyed. The best that I could say about it is that it’s been stressful and less than rewarding.
This may sound selfish to some but I’d just like to have a “normal” life again. With this article I announce my departure from Ministry Watchman and from blogging. This will be my final blog entry and I doubt that I’ll be posting even any further comments here or anywhere else.
Exposing Ligonier Ministries, and then being on the receiving end of their unbiblical response (i.e. being sued by them) only proved to me how corrupt an organization they really are. But witnessing what’s now going on between Ministry Watchman and Doug Phillips strikes me as what it must have been like for the FBI to take on Al Capone. Things have gotten ugly and they could easily get a whole lot uglier. My greatest concern is that it may soon just be totally out of control.
Up until recently I’ve generally been okay with the way Ministry Watchman has functioned. The system hasn’t been perfect, and there’s a lot of room for improvement, but at least I wasn’t losing any sleep by being affiliated with Ministry Watchman. But when Joe Friday commented on 1-26 about Reagan’s policy of “mutual assured destruction” that’s when I start to get nervous.
I want to go on the record as saying that I’m not in favor of any tit for tat. Doug Phillips is playing dirty pool with his pal Matt Chancey accusing me and anyone affiliated with Ministry Watchman (no matter how loosely) of being racists. But regardless of what Phillips and Chancey have done I don’t think it’s appropriate to respond in kind. I’m very concerned that will happen and if it does I don’t want to be around for it. I don’t expect that just because I retire from blogging that it will stop the Phillips/Chancey/VF “Former Interns” cabal from hurling their “racist” grenades, and I’ve been informed that the very next grenade that they hurl will be immediately responded to by Ministry Watchman with the equivalent of a nuke. Make that several nukes in quick succession.
Joe Friday has shown us three articles that he’s written so far (and he’s working on more) in his “Is Doug Phillips A Racist?” series. I didn’t know anything about the things that Joe’s uncovered and now that I’ve seen it I’m deeply concerned. I fear that things could get extremely ugly and that’s not what I signed up for. I’ve been thinking for weeks about leaving the blogosphere anyway. I haven’t particularly got much more to write about anyway. The Ligonier debacle is pretty much over and blogging about Ligonier was never even my intention in the first place.
Ligonier is obviously not going to repent. What more can I do? As far as I can see my work is done anyway, and when people start talking about “mutual assured destruction” I know it’s time for me to get out of the way. It’s time for me to start living a quiet life again and I look forward to it.
As my final article I’ve been asked to give a brief recap of the Ligonier Ministries debacle. Given that this will be my final blog entry that does seem appropriate. So I’ll give a recap and then close with some personal thoughts about Christians and blogging.
The Ligonier Ministries Saga
My short-lived blogging “career” began in May 2006. I never intended to become a blogger. The only reason I started a blog at all was to have a place to repost a rather lengthy forum thread from the Tim Challies forum that Challies suddenly and without any warning took down. Someone who’d been monitoring that forum thread had the foresight to save the thread, and she emailed it to me and asked me to “please do something with this.” So I did.
In part I’d been motivated by RC Sproul’s public comments in defense of his defrocked son. RC Sproul defended the sins of his defrocked son and effectively mocked the church discipline of the Presbyterian denomination that exercised church discipline over RC Sproul Jr. Dr. Sproul claimed that his son’s name would be cleared by the CREC, but that never happened. In fact when the CREC Report finally did come out they said, “It is our finding that there were significant pastoral mistakes, errors and sins by the former Session.”
RC Sproul never did apologize for his public statements. Rather than ridiculing the Presbyterian Elders who disciplined “Precious,” RC Sproul should have called his wayward son to repentance. Like many others I was disappointed by these events, as well as Sproul’s eagerness to put RC Jr behind the pulpit at a Ligonier conference barely a month after he’d been defrocked. Initially I chose to believe that what Sproul did in defending his son was misguided but just the natural response of a caring father toward his son.
Some have since accused me of being “bitter” or having a “chip on your shoulder.” But the reality is that I’d been a big fan of RC Sproul’s. His teaching has helped me immensely in my appreciation for the Word of God and instilling in me a passion for studying the Word. I also credit Dr. Sproul for giving me a deeper appreciation for Reformed theology. I never set out to “ruin Ligonier” or “ruin RC Sproul” as some have accused me. In fact I was so eager to avoid blaming RC Sproul that I chose to believe that Ligonier was being ruined only because of Timothy A. Dick, Ligonier’s President/CEO/CFO and son-in-law to RC Sproul. In my admiration for RC Sproul I chose to believe that the solution was for Tim Dick to go. However later I began to realize that the problems at Ligonier had been there long before Tim Dick arrived on the scene.
After posting my first blog article I started receiving comments. I was surprised by this because I didn’t expect that anyone would even find my little blog. Reposting that Challies forum thread seemed to strike a nerve with a lot of people, or at least what to me seemed like a lot of people. Soon my StatCounter showed that I was getting over 100 unique visitors a day. The word apparently got out about my blog and it started spreading. But the most amazing thing of all was when I started getting emails from Tim Dick.
At first I just couldn’t believe that this was actually the President of Ligonier Ministries. I thought it must be a hoax. Much of Tim Dick’s correspondence was incoherent and his writing skills were on a sixth grade level. How could this have come from the President of a ministry that I’d had so much respect for? A friend later showed me how to check for the IP address in the email headers and, sure enough, it was Ligonier Ministries’ IP. I knew that something had to be seriously wrong at Ligonier, and so I made the decision to repost Tim’s emails.
I started receiving emails encouraging me to further expose Ligonier. This resulted in a third article that I posted on June 27. That article resulted in multiple emails from former Ligonier employees telling me in considerable detail some of the dirty deeds of Tim Dick.
After that my blog started to take on a life of its own. Comments started pouring in and other blogs started talking about it too. Among other disturbing stories there’s the hedonistic lifestyle of Ligonier employee and Sproul grandson Ryan Dick, who grew up in Sproul’s home and still lives there. “Partyboy” and his blog was first exposed by Pastor Steve Cavallaro (“Cavman”), another former Ligonier employee (Cavman subsequently deleted the article). Others later picked up on the shocking Partyboy story, including Jen Epstein.
I also reported on the nepotistic practices of Ligonier in which godly and competent Ligonier employees, some of whom had worked for Ligonier for decades, were fired by Tim Dick to make room for his unqualified and overpaid family members. I reported that between the Sproul and Dick families they are taking in excess of $1 million dollars in Ligonier “compensation” per year.
These and other related articles received wide attention and I started receiving numerous emails from current and former Ligonier employees, all of them extremely critical of Tim Dick. Many of them included very specific and detailed accounts of Tim’s misdeeds. It was also disclosed that Tim had a lot of very colorful nicknames. I even received emails from members and former members of Saint Andrews Chapel. Some of these emails described an entire culture of corruption, cronyism and nepotism within Ligonier and even Saint Andrews Chapel. Those emails continued coming in for months. For some time I struggled with knowing what to do about them but ultimately I realized that with such compelling testimony from so many different insiders, Tim Dick needed further exposure and perhaps others needed exposing too.
For the record, Don Kistler never was, and never did become, one of my sources (more on that later).
Tim Dick continued making his presence known by sending incoherent emails to other bloggers, as well as posting strange comments on multiple blogs (including even on Little Geneva) claiming that people were attacking him when often no one had even mentioned him on those blogs at all. Ligonier’s Executive Producer John Duncan also posted numerous blog comments under “Passerby” and other aliases, many of which he posted right from his Ligonier office.
The emails kept coming and the stories that were laid out painted a picture of not just one corrupt man, Tim Dick, but of an entire corrupt organization. At first I just couldn’t believe that RC Sproul could even be aware of these things. At the time I still very much admired Dr. Sproul, so I chose to believe that the real problem was limited to Tim Dick and that Dick was so effective with his corruptions that he’d successfully concealed them from the presumed “hands-off” management style of RC Sproul.
In early August I learned from several insiders that Ligonier Ministries had defrauded Dr. Don Kistler in their “acquisition” from him of his Soli Deo Gloria Ministries in 2004. On August 18 I informed Tim Dick about what I’d discovered and I repeatedly asked him the question, “Did you or did you not defraud Don Kistler?” My emails also contained other questions, each and every one of which he promptly responded to. But he never did answer the question about his part in defrauding Don Kistler. Others too subsequently emailed Tim Dick about the same thing and got the same exact evasive results. At no time did Tim Dick ever deny that he’d defrauded Don Kistler.
I gave Tim Dick a ten day deadline to restore to Don Kistler what he defrauded him of or I’d take the story public. On August 28 I made good on my promise. However unknown to me Ligonier Ministries and Tim Dick had filed a lawsuit against me on August 25 for an injunction, as well as $15,000 in “defamation” damages. Among other things Tim Dick sued me for calling him a “nincompoop.”
Ligonier never did inform me of the lawsuit. But the Press got wind of it, so word got out fast. In fact it was from a newspaper reporter that I was first informed on September 1 that Ligonier had sued me. Rene Stutzman interviewed me for an Orlando Sentinel article, so obviously it wasn’t at all hard to contact me. But Ligonier lied to Judge Nelson and asked her to move the case forward without me even knowing about it because they said it was “impossible to contact Frank Vance.” This proved to be the first in an entire series of lies that Ligonier would tell not just the judge, but even their own financial supporters.
Ligonier Ministries had other options than suing me. They could have tried Christian mediation, but they didn’t even attempt that. It became obvious that they weren’t interested in a resolution, only in silencing me.
Thanks to all the publicity I was bombarded with emails from First Amendment attorneys from all over the country, each offering to represent me pro bono. These attorneys all characterized it as a SLAPP lawsuit intended to intimidate me into silence. However the fact that so many attorneys were willing to stand with me had just the opposite effect on me. They all characterized it as a “dream case” that they’d be able to play up in the media as “David vs. Goliath,” a small-time blogger vs. a multi-million dollar corporation of religious hypocrites.
New blog articles started popping up every day about the lawsuit and the traffic to my blog went through the roof. That lawsuit even later put Ligonier on the front page of USA Today, giving Ligonier all the wrong kind of Press, and me all the right kind. It quickly proved to be a public relations disaster for Ligonier.
Calls poured into the Ligonier Ministries office, many from their own donors angry that a Christian ministry that they’d financially supported would be using their donations to sue a brother in Christ. Many wanted to know how a Bible preaching ministry could blatantly violate 1 Corinthians 6. Many wanted to know how a donor-funded ministry could justify spending donor funds to hire not just attorneys but even private investigators to go after a brother in Christ. Ligonier took quite a beating over it.
Ligonier’s customer service representatives were instructed by “senior management” (Tim Dick, John Duncan) to tell callers, “There is no lawsuit. We don’t know how that story got started.” In other words they were instructed to lie. But maintaining the lie after I posted a copy of the lawsuit became untenable, so Ligonier changed their story again, and again, and again.
Then on September 22 at 5:27 PM (EDT) I received an email from Tim Dick with links to two public statements informing me that Ligonier “had withdrawn” the “legal complaint.” The public statements had actually been posted on Ligonier’s web site two days prior, so I found it very suspicious that I was being informed late on a Friday, and too late to call the court and find out if the “legal complaint” had in fact “been withdrawn.”
Loyal Ligonier courtiers like Tim Challies thanked the Lord that it was all over, but I had my doubts, and my doubts were confirmed Monday morning. Ligonier had not withdrawn the lawsuit at all. In fact on September 21, only one day after Ligonier had originally posted their two public notices, they were back in court attempting to get another secret “ex parte” hearing with the judge to move the case forward!
On September 28 I responded to Tim Dick’s Public Statement.
More than a week went by, after Ligonier had publicly announced that they “had withdrawn” (past tense) their lawsuit, before they finally got around to actually filing the paperwork with the court. What they filed was a dismissal “without prejudice.” In other words they sent a message loud and clear that they might very well sue me again! If their intention had been to not sue me again they would have withdrawn their case “with prejudice.”
On September 29 the Orlando Sentinel ran another article in which they interviewed Ligonier Ministries’ attorney Dan Brodersen. Brodersen acknowledged that Ligonier might sue me again. In other words Ligonier learned absolutely nothing from the scandal they’d created. Because of the national publicity that Ligonier brought on itself they brought shame and ridicule on the church of Christ by unbelievers. Even atheists had a good time mocking the body of Christ over it. Ligonier Ministries has yet to repent for anything and they probably never will.
I’m dismayed that not only are so many Christians willing to turn a blind eye to the sinfulness of Ligonier’s lawsuit, but even apparently a number of well known Reformed ministers are willing to condone Ligonier’s lawsuit as well. They know better but they’re willing to put their personal friendships ahead of faithfully applying the Word of God.
On November 28 Ligonier Ministries fired the Founder of Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, Don Kistler. Ligonier hired Kistler two years prior, and with Kistler they “acquired” his Soli Deo Gloria Ministries. However the acquisition contract was to have contained a reversionary clause permitting Kistler to leave Ligonier any time he wanted to for any reason and to take SDG with him. The reversionary clause never made it into the contract, and as I exposed in my August 28 article this was done deliberately and fraudulently. Kistler and others brought the matter up repeatedly to Ligonier’s “management” but his pleas were ignored.
With Kistler’s firing Ligonier now has what they were after all along, total control of the ministry that had become a goldmine for Ligonier. SDG may be the only venture Ligonier has that currently turns an impressive profit. Greed can make men do very wicked things. Ligonier got SDG by deception and they paid nothing more than two years of a modest salary to Don Kistler. Now Kistler is out on the street and he’s lost twenty years of his life’s work for his troubles at Ligonier.
The excuse provided by the Ligonier Board Of Directors, chaired by RC Sproul, for Don Kistler’s firing was a complete sham. My sources tell me that the real reason that Don Kistler was fired is because Sproul and Dick had become convinced that Don Kistler was one of my primary insider sources. As I said earlier, Don Kistler was never one of my insider sources. At no time did Don ever contact me, and I knew better than to contact Don at a Ligonier Ministries email address, which would have been the only way I would have known how to contact him.
It wasn’t until Don put up his own web site that I obtained a “safe” email address to use for him, and the very first time I emailed him was on October 3, 2006. I’d like to be able to say that Don was helpful and informative, but the fact is that although he was very cordial, he wasn’t at all disclosing. Even after Don’s firing Don hasn’t been particularly informative to me. I’m sure he’s got quite a story to tell, but for whatever reason he doesn’t want to tell it. My belief is that Don is reluctant to talk because he knows he’d probably get sued, and unlike Ligonier he doesn’t have unlimited financial resources to see him through a costly legal battle. This is the game that Ligonier has been playing for years with its former employees and it’s proven very effective at silencing them.
Like every other godly person that Ligonier has done dirty over the years they unjustly fired Don Kistler on a bogus charge. The only difference is that none of the other unjust firings got any publicity. I hate to have to admit this but I don’t think that all the bad publicity has changed much of anything at Ligonier, and it certainly hasn’t changed any hearts.
This concludes my summary of the Ligonier Ministries scandal. I don’t anticipate doing any more blogging about Ligonier, or any other topic for that matter. Now I’d like to briefly discuss my views on Christians and blogging.
It was in late September that I was approached by a newly forming ad hoc Christian accountability group called Ministry Watchman. As they explained they had been motivated in part by my own Ligonier exposés. They saw the need for a more formalized system of holding corrupt Reformed ministers and ministries accountable. I was impressed by their goals and agreed to join them. They believed that we could accomplish far more by collaborating together, and by having several different authors it would likely draw a bigger audience. On October 7 I publicly announced the transition of my writing to Ministry Watchman.
I continued providing articles, mainly focusing on Ligonier Ministries. Other Ministry Watchman authors contributed some additional articles of interest to Reformed Christians. Some of the articles I thought were very good. Ministry Watchman has consistently brought in a lot more traffic than my own blog did. The problem though has been that I’ve been the primary article contributor. Now that I’m out of things to contribute, and now that I’m leaving Ministry Watchman, I hope that other contributors will be able to pick up the slack. I also hope that the kinds of articles that are featured on Ministry Watchman in the future don’t include the sorts of things that Joe Friday has been digging up. No insult to Joe but I just can’t see any good coming of that.
When Watchman approached me and several others about his idea of launching this experiment, we all had what we thought was a good plan, and we certainly had the best of intentions. But the best of intentions don’t always produce ideal outcomes. What’s been the outcome here? Not the one I’d hoped for.
The single most important thing that I personally wanted to see Ministry Watchman accomplish was to bring corrupt Reformed ministers and their ministries to repentance. That has yet to happen.
We all agreed that in every case the criteria would be that we would only expose men who had already been confronted per Matthew 18, but who refused to listen and submit. The same kind of men often establish an appearance of accountability, but in reality they’ve just surrounded themselves with yes-men. Their “accountability” is too often just a sham.
That’s just one of many things that I exposed about Ligonier Ministries and even RC Sproul’s Saint Andrews Chapel. Not only is Ligonier Ministries a parachurch ministry that’s in no way accountable to any denomination or any Elder oversight, it’s not even accountable to it’s own Board Of Directors, as we all plainly saw in the Ligonier Ministries vs. Frank Vance lawsuit. None of the Board members, other than RC and Vesta Sproul, knew anything about the lawsuit!
I made certain assumptions that if anything would bring such men to repentance it would be a strong dose of public exposure. Ethically I didn’t have a problem with doing that. After all, they’re public figures and they’ve worked very hard to put themselves into the limelight. I also believed that the Bible supports this too. I anticipated the likelihood that public exposure would humble them and bring about contrition, repentance, and even reconciliation with those that they’d harmed. However, that hasn’t yet happened, even in spite of enormous public pressures, including even the loss of substantial portions of their support base.
One thing I’ve learned from all this is that corrupt men are inevitably proud men, very proud men, and it will obviously take a lot more than a Ministry Watchman to humble a man with a massive ego.
There are other corrupt Reformed ministers that I also thought about exposing, but the likelihood is that the outcomes of further public exposures will just be more of the same hard-hearted unrepentance. If a man is going to repent at all he’ll probably do it relatively quickly, such as we saw Ted Haggard do.
I’m not too proud to admit that my personal contribution hasn’t proven very effective at accomplishing what I had in mind. Perhaps it’s time for a different strategy, but I’m not at all sure what that strategy should be. All I know is that I can’t continue doing things the way I have just so I can continue getting the same less than effective results.
This isn’t to say though that I believe that I’ve accomplished nothing, and that Ministry Watchman has accomplished nothing, or that this experiment has been entirely ineffective. They may not have repented, but we’ve certainly gotten their attention.
One very significant thing we accomplished was to inform donors of the significant responsibility they have for becoming informed about how to make sound stewardship decisions. The fact is that there are many Christian ministries that squander donor funds like they were drunken sailors, and with Ministry Watchman’s support I was able to expose one especially significant one here. Some of those “ministries” are even members of ECFA. Ligonier Ministries is an ECFA charter member “in good standing,” which just goes to show how worthless the ECFA seal of approval is. Ligonier Ministries proved to be a good object lesson for the many thousands of Christians who have read my articles here. Many of my readers commented favorably and wrote emails to thank me for that.
But still I find it very unsatisfactory knowing that there’s been no repentance, and that from all appearances there may never be any repentance. I find it even more dismaying that in spite of the stacks of evidence that I’ve presented here not one single prominent Reformed minister has made a public statement regarding the sins that I’ve exposed. They’ve all turned a blind eye. It would be fair to say that I’m experiencing some disillusionment over this.
I recognize that I’m not the Holy Spirit, and only the Holy Spirit can convict a man of his sins and bring him to repentance. But does God also use men to rebuke sinners? Yes, of course, and God uses many different means of doing that, sometimes perhaps even including an ad hoc watchdog like Ministry Watchman.
I’d like to see Ministry Watchman head in a new direction, but whatever direction it does take I know that I can’t be a part of it any more. That’s no slam against Watchman and the other authors. I think they’ve done a fine job. But their resources are limited and it’s inherently dangerous taking on corrupt multimillion dollar corporations.
I’ve also come to have a few misgivings about the use of blogs to hold Christian ministries and ministers accountable, at least in the way that I went about it. I never put up a blog with the idea of holding Ligonier accountable. That just developed over time, and it wasn’t very well planned out. That put me at a distinct disadvantage. It’s not smart to fly by the seat of the pants. I believe that the Ministry Watchman idea was better planned, but it could have stood a whole lot more planning.
I especially am frustrated over the fact that so many of my sources were unwilling to go on the record and tell their stories themselves. This created a lot of additional work for me. Even more disconcerting to me is the fear that they each expressed of using their own names. In hindsight though we should all appreciate their fears. Ligonier has threatened many people many times with “legal action,” and in my case they made good on it. They used me as an example and no one will soon forget it.
I’ve heard many stupid statements from Ligonier defenders about Ligonier’s lawsuit against me, but seldom a condemnation of the lawsuit itself. “Frank, why don’t you just come forward and tell us where you live. Why won’t you just go to court with Ligonier? Obviously you must not trust the Lord very much. The Lord will protect you Frank.” Such talk reminds me of those Christians who put God to a foolish test by handling poisonous snakes. Even though I had a number of attorneys agree to represent me pro bono, which would have saved me potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, that doesn’t in any way change the fact that lawsuits are stressful and very time consuming.
After what I’ve been through I know perfectly well why so many have been eager to tell me their stories but they’ve all insisted on confidentiality. At the same time though I don’t like the fact that it’s put me on the front lines to draw all the fire for people who should have had the courage to tell their stories themselves.
Since I started blogging the thing that’s bothered me the most is how it tends to bring out the worst in people. I too haven’t been immune from this. There have been times where I’ve been cross and grumpy in my responses to various posted comments. It’s too easy to do that from behind a keyboard and much less likely to happen when dealing with someone face to face. Blogging is impersonal and that’s something that I especially don’t like about it. For any offense I’ve caused (and I’m sure there’s been some of that) I’m truly sorry.
Another thing I won’t miss about blogging are all the unethical practices perpetrated by so many bloggers. Tim Challies is one of the best examples I can think of. Challies wrote an article ridiculing me and exaggerating my previous statements. Several people showed up to defend me and he not only deleted their comments he even banned them. Mind you these were people who were making very civil and well reasoned statements. They weren’t banned for bad manners. They were banned for merely disagreeing with the great Challies. I saw this kind of dishonest behavior on a number of blogs and it’s one of the things that bothers me the most about blogging.
One thing I really appreciated about Watchman’s comment rules is that he’s maintained such a liberal comment approval policy. He’s a firm believer in free speech. Too many other bloggers operate just the opposite and I’ve been on the receiving end of some of it myself. I look forward to taking a long break from looking at any blogs at all.
I should have realized much sooner that if you’re going to do exposés about a popular ministry that you’ll make enemies, and those enemies often refuse to honestly and consistently apply the biblical standards that they profess to live by. In fact just about everything that I’ve been ridiculed for by my detractors they themselves turned right around and did the same thing themselves to me. Obviously they must not really believe what they claim to believe. Either that or they think that two wrongs make a right.
Sadly I don’t see these problems with blogging improving anytime soon. In fact I think it’s likely to only worsen. I’m not sure what the solution is but I don’t think it’s more blogging. It’d be great if we could look to our ministry leaders, seminary professors and various church denominations for some guidance, but I’m inclined to think that many of them are incapable of providing wise and practical counsel in these matters. If they don’t have the courage and integrity to confront a corrupt organization like Ligonier Ministries I doubt they have the ability to provide godly leadership to the blogosphere.
Please pray that the Lord would bless Ministry Watchman and other similar blogs that are exposing wickedness and corruption within the church with an abundance of His wisdom. Please pray especially for Ligonier Ministries that the Lord would be pleased to convict their hearts and bring them to repentance.
Farewell dear friends.
Christian Leaders Ignore Sin (When It’s Advantageous)Posted: January 30, 2007 Filed under: Doug Phillips, Doug Wilson, Ligonier Ministries, RC Sproul, RC Sproul Jr 2 Comments
A failure to hold church and ministry leaders accountable seems to be endemic among Christians of this generation. One of the biggest problems is that pastors and ministers often aren’t holding their ministry friends accountable.
By now just about everyone has heard about the outing of the closet homosexual and drug abuser Ted Haggard, ex-pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs and the ex-President of the politically influential National Association of Evangelicals.
But what many people don’t realize is that Haggard’s sex and drug problems were well known to his closest friends, including Rev. Louis Sheldon, founder and chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition. In a recent interview with Lou Sheldon some truly astonishing things came out:
Then, as if things could not get worse, there was the disgrace of Sheldon’s own friend and colleague, Rev. Ted Haggard, the Colorado mega-church leader and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an even bigger pillar of Republican support on the Christian right. Sheldon disclosed that he and “a lot” of others knew about Haggard’s homosexuality “for awhile … but we weren’t sure just how to deal with it.”
Months before a male prostitute publicly revealed Haggard’s secret relationship with him, and the reverend’s drug use as well, “Ted and I had a discussion,” explained Sheldon, who said Haggard gave him a telltale signal then: “He said homosexuality is genetic. I said, no it isn’t. But I just knew he was covering up. They need to say that.”
His friends knew that Haggard was a pervert and a drug abuser. What did they do about it? They kept silent. They were more concerned about preserving their own positions and power base than they were about preserving the peace and purity of the church. Too many Christian leaders are pragmatists and pragmatists will always compromise.
Confronting a powerful and influential friend about his sins, unethical conduct or hypocrisies could cost them. It could cost them the friendship itself, and all the “benefits” that go along with it. The loss of that friendship could be the loss of the influence, and perhaps even money, that that friendship buys them. So they keep quiet rather than risking the friendship.
Influential men who don’t want to be held accountable will choose their friends based upon what they can get out of the friendship. One of the things they expect is to not be held accountable. They also surround themselves with yes-men in systems that have the appearance of accountability, but which in reality are nothing but shams. They’ll ask close friends and yes-men to sit on their board of directors, which serve as nothing more than rubber stamping committees.
Needless to say such “friendships” are really no friendships at all. A friend who won’t confront a friend in his sin is no friend, but rather a deceiver and a user: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Prov. 27:6
Far too many church and ministry leaders today are very selective, and even opportunistic, about who they’ll confront in their sins. If it’s a close and influential friend they’re far less likely to confront them than if it’s just an ordinary church member.
Many church members have experienced being confronted by their pastors and elders when they’re in sin. That’s never a pleasant experience, but if indeed we’re in sin then we should be grateful for those pastors and elders who have the guts to confront us and call us to repentance. The Word says that they keep watch over our very souls:
Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Heb. 13:17
We all need this accountability in our lives and even when it’s unpleasant and uncomfortable we should be grateful for it.
Unfortunately there are those who abuse their positions of trust and lord it over those souls that have voluntarily submitted to their pastoral care. If there wasn’t such pervasive ecclesiastical abuse there wouldn’t be so many books about it, but even though there are at least a dozen books written by Christians on the subject of ecclesiastical abuse the market hardly seems crowded at all.
Ecclesiastical bullies however are very selective in who they abuse. Of course, they don’t see it as abuse. Rather, they call it “church discipline.” Their “discipline” however is enforced very selectively, and they uphold the discipline of their friends, or against their friends, in a very selective manner. In other words they employ a double standard based entirely on whether you’re a friend or family member, versus the standard they impose for anyone else.
Take for example the recent defrocking of R.C. Sproul Jr. Sproul was deposed from office by the RPCGA for, among other things, “abuse of authority in an inexcusable manner” against several Saint Peter Presbyterian Church families, as well as identity theft and tax number fraud (Sproul stole and illegally used the EIN of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church). Sproul even confessed to the charges, but it appears that the only reason he confessed is to avoid a church trial that would have subjected him to even much greater scrutiny.
Upon being defrocked R.C. Sproul Jr could have appealed the decision (a unanimous one at that) of his Presbytery. If he disagreed with the decision that’s what he should have done. Instead he pled to be released from membership in the RPCGA. Upon his release Sproul immediately whined publicly on his web site that some great injustice had been committed against him — and this after he’d already confessed to the charges!
Sproul is just like the whiny criminal who gets busted by the police in the very act of his crime. He even admits to the cops that he’s the perp. Then when the cops attempt to cuff him and take him into custody he resists arrest. So in order to protect themselves and safely subdue him they mace him. But he still resists. So they tazer him and he whines, “I’m innocent! This is police brutality!” Yet he continues fighting them the whole time, after he’s just confessed to the crime.
R.C. Sproul Jr. wasn’t alone in his whining. He was joined in a chorus of whiny abusive ecclesiastics. 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).
Among the first to join the chorus of whining ecclesiastics was Douglas Wilson. In fact Doug Wilson started whining even before R.C. Sproul Jr started whining! Doug Wilson saw the handwriting on the wall for his good friend R.C. Sproul Jr. He attempted to influence (read “meddle in”) the RPCGA’s internal matters by starting a series of blog articles entitled “A Justice Primer,” articles which clearly attempted to manipulate the unfolding Sproul church discipline matter.
After Sproul was defrocked Doug Wilson continued publicly defending his pal R.C. Sproul Jr, often going to extraordinary lengths to bend and twist justice like a wax nose. Thankfully however a number of commenters showed up on Doug Wilson’s blog to publicly challenge Wilson’s very creative definitions of “justice.” It’s not clear when Wilson rolled out the red carpet to Sproul and offered him a home in the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches. It might very well have been before Sproul was defrocked. But in any event Sproul’s tax fraud and ecclesiastical abuse of several Saint Peter families was certainly no impediment to entering the CREC.
Wilson orchestrated the formation of a CREC Commission ostensibly “to provide pastoral oversight.” Yet no one really believed that the real agenda of the CREC Commission just ended there, regardless of the fact that the CREC publicly stated that the Commission “is not judicial in nature ” (original underlined). In spite of the CREC’s proclamations that their Commission wasn’t just a Kangaroo Court, Wilson had for weeks been telegraphing his intentions, and no one had any trouble picking up on it either. Some openly stated that the purpose of the CREC Commission was to “clear RC Sproul Jr’s name” and that article was posted by an ally!
Many were shocked and dismayed that R.C. Jr’s father publicly accused the RPCGA of taking a “fraudulent” action against his son that was based upon nothing more than fraudulent charges and the testimony of false witnesses. At the time many attributed it to the emotional outburst of a deeply hurt and embarrassed father. However, as time has gone on and we have now seen so much sin and corruption being exposed within the ranks of Ligonier Ministries I can only conclude that Dr. R.C. Sproul himself is an autonomist and eagerly turns a blind eye to sin, when it’s personally advantageous to do so.
When the CREC Commission released their Report Doug Wilson publicly thanked the Commission. That brief statement resulted in Wilson being immediately hit with a flurry of comments and questions, virtually none of which he responded to. Instead, he just moved on and posted a new article related to the previous one. This too resulted in a flurry of questions and negative comments and, once again, Doug Wilson failed to respond.
How could Doug Wilson possibly respond? It was all too apparent that his boutique “confederation” had largely glossed over the great sins that R.C. Sproul Jr and his session had been disciplined for. The CREC treated Sproul as though he’d never been defrocked at all. Their Report states of Sproul, “. . .he shall not be required to fulfill the process for ordination and shall be considered ordained within the CREC accordingly.” Huh? How can a defrocked minister “be considered ordained”? In Doug Wilson’s loony world this is called “justice.”