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Dangerous Doctrine: Shepherding

Dangerous Doctrines: Shepherding.

I want to do a series on Dangerous doctrines. It may take a while between blogs as this one has taken me a month to write.. This isn’t to bash churches with different worship styles or even those that disagree on theological subjects. Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7 is about the danger of deception. While there are times when people get things wrong in their study of the Bible, that doesn’t necessarily mean they hold dangerous doctrines. A dangerous doctrine is a doctrine that can lead someone away from Christ or a doctrine that can damage a person physically, emotionally, or spiritually. This is based on the command from 1 Corithinas that however we use the spiritual gifts we are given it should always be for building up the Church (meaning the body of Christ made of individual believers). If a theology is damaging to the Church it is dangerous.

The doctrines I will be writing about are actually very common; otherwise there would be no point in addressing them. Today I want to address something called the Shepherding movement. Shepherding has been around since the early Church, since the time of Paul. Paul shut it down in Corinth, and it didn’t take hold again as a popular doctrine until the Eastern Church split from the West. Bishop of Rome wanted to secure his power and the power of his bishops so infallible authority was given to the pope and his bishops (though this wasn’t made official until 1870). Every Christian needed to be under the authority of the Church and its bishops and priests. The doctrine stated that it was only through the Church (the Pope, Bishops, and Priests) that Christians could receive knowledge (which is why the Bible was only read by Priests or clergy in only latin) and blessings and forgiveness through the priest/Church. Since that time, we’ve had varying versions of the same idea. The idea is not born out of the Bible but out of selfish desires. This doctrine seems to appear whenever there is a decline in numbers in the Christian Church or a conflict. In order to keep people in the pews some leaders have been willing to forgo Biblical freedom for unbiblical force and control.

Fast forward to the 21st century. As the Church began to shrink and loose favour in the 1960’s a new movement came about focused on Church Growth. That movement, which I’ve mentioned before, asked the question, “how do we get more people into our Churches” (read my previous article on the Church Growth Movement). One answer was a resurgence of the Shepherding/ Discipleship movement. Derek Prince, Don Basham, Erm Baxter, and Charles Simpson formed an organization called Christian Growth Ministries (There are many organizations with that name, this one is no longer in existence). 1. They travelled the world sharing their ideas for growth which involved “Shepherding”. They spoke all around the world and had a good deal of influences in places like Oral Roberts University and Fuller Seminary. Their disciples started Churches, ministries, and movements. The principles were this; That the five leaders of this movement were apostolic leaders accountable to one another, each of them, then had disciples under them (usually pastors who came under the umbrella and covering of CGM), and under them were other disciples (usually elders often called Apostles). All Christians needed to be in submission to an apostolic leader, who was then in submission to another. Vision, theology, blessings, and teachings went down the line, while tithes and submission were shared up the line. Submission to apostolic authority was key. Christians needed to be in “Covenant relationships” or “Spiritual families”. If they left or questioned those they were in covenant relationships with, they were considered to be breaking covenant and submission, and would therefore lose their connection with the Apostles and with Christ.

The influence of this movement was wide spread, movements were formed around this movement, including the Jesus People movement, Maranatha Campus Ministries, international Churches of Christ, Restoration Fellowship International, and the logos Foundation in Australia, as well as many individual preachers and public figures in the Church. 2. 3.

The reason I listed the names above of the founders of this movement, is because Christian Growth Ministries of Ft. Lauderdale Florida, no longer exists, they shut it down. Bob Mumford in particular made a public statement saying he repented of it and asked for forgiveness calling the movement “unhealthy submission resulting in perverse and unbiblical obedience to human leaders”. While the others distanced themselves from the movement. Charles Simpson, however, stayed and rebranded it as the Covenant Movement and continues on today. 2.

In looking at the devastation caused by this movement, it should be noted that three of the movements above were/are heavily involved in universities. The ICOC is a known cult and the Jesus People movement is now under scrutiny for sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Maranatha Campus ministries was dissolved after it also became cult like. The other movements listed are also either now, known cults or have ended in abuse or scandals.

That being said, this movement is still popular. It now takes on other forms as Apostolic Alignment, Apostolic Reformation, Spiritual fathering, or still as Shepherding. The recent emphasis on leadership in the Church shows a resurgence of authoritarian theologies in the Church. When a movement like this exists, it may lose favour among some, but what happens is that when an authoritarian leader is confronted on being controlling, they often simply pack up their bags and form a new movement or Church. This is what has happened in this movement. The ministries I mentioned before, of those that have dissolved, there have been splinter groups that have continued on, redeveloping and rebranding the same movement. 1.

Today the movement looks similar. However, instead of having one group like CGM, there are a host of Apostolic networks. The apostles in these networks are organized in the same fashion as the shepherding movement. Each Apostle, Church, leader, and Church member is to be Vertically aligned to an apostle and prophet, and horizontally aligned to one another. In Vertical Alignment Churches have, over them, an apostle and prophet, the apostle lays down and implements the vision for the Church. 3

Ok, so in reality, we don’t see the dangerous side of this all that often. Those in CGM however, stopped the movement before it got to a point where it got out of control. However, when the problems do arise they are catastrophic. Good examples are of the man claiming to be an Apostle in South Africa, pastor of one of the largest Churches in South Africa, who has so much control over his congregants that he gets them to eat grass and drink petrol. 4. The international Churches of Christ is an organization that exists mainly on college campuses. They start by asking people to come to their Bible study, however once in the group, every aspect of the members lives are controlled, where they work, who they date or marry, and they are discipled, which in this case means they are watched by their discipler or shepherd. 5 Jesus People USA, a group that was very popular during the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s is a group that builds communes and has run some of the largest Christian music festivals in the United States, has been dealing with law-suites related to abuse and the cover up of abuse which included four years in the 1970’s where the practice of hitting adult members to release their inner child was an official practice. 6 This is not to mention the numerous moral, financial, and theological controversies and failures that have risen out of this movement.

This movement is popular and common, you’d find it in many Churches. Most people are happy to go to Church on Sunday and leave the decision making to for the Church to someone else. Problems don’t arise until there is a leadership change. If the pastor is the visionary Apostle for the Church it can be very difficult to change leadership. Another time when issues arise is when allegations of misconduct arise. This has been shown to the world in the past few years. In this apostolic and authoritarian system, if misconduct happens and it is committed by the pastor/apostle, it is the pastor/apostle and his colleagues that deal with the issue, not the congregation or the authorities, in many cases, due to a desire to support one another, the issues are not dealt with property. Whereas in a congregational system, there is no hierarchy for accusations to flow through, just the congregation and the authorities. If there is misconduct a pastor will not be moved to another congregation but will simply be disciplined according to the law and the bylaws of that particular congregation.

Identifiers of this movement:

Apostolic Alignment: Apostolic Alignment is in the Bible. Those ministries that encourage Apostolic Alignment will often encourage members and leader to say “So and so is my Apostle”. The Bible addresses this specificially when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 “Do not say I am of Paul or I am of Apollos”. It is true that Timothy listened to Paul as and elder. It is true that we are to submit to our leaders. However, the only one we are in covenant relationship with is Christ. Our covenant is the new covenant poured out for the forgiveness of sins and sealed in the blood of Jesus.

Apostolic Covering: Apostolic Covering is a doctrine that says that the Apostle you are vertically aligned with will provide you with spiritual protection. In Psalm 121 David has something to say about this when he says “my help is in the Lord, maker of heaven and earth”. Our covering is from Jesus.
“Touch not the Lord’s anointed”: This is a statement from the Bible that is often quoted by Apostles in this movement to defend their unquestionable authority. This is taken out of context and not applied in accordance with 1 John 4 or 1 Thessalonians 5.

A devaluing of Biblical leadership roles of the Elder and Deacon with an emphasis on the pastor/Apostle. The Bible is clear that the two roles that govern the Church are the elders and the deacons who are to be chosen from among the Church. The role of Pastor does not exist in the Bible, it is elders who are to shepherd. The apostles were evangelists, the word apostle means someone who is sent, these are people who have been sent out with the message of Jesus (this was the time before the Scriptures were widely available) to teach what Jesus had taught them, and to teach them to the Elders who would then in turn teach the Church. Their role was a teaching role not a visionary or leadership role. The apostles did not work in one particular Church but were evangelists to many Churches. This is one of the most common signs of authoritarianism, when a Church abandons Biblical leadership structures like Elders and Deacons, or they meld the two together. The Bible is quite clear that both are Biblical leadership roles separately and for different purposes.

False Spiritual Concepts. Often the leaders in authoritarian situations will invent or re-emphasize spiritual concepts that only they can deal with. Things like generational curses, dominion mandates, financial seed sewing, etc, are all concepts that rely on someone or an institution who/that is spiritually superior. These teachers will teach that only they can heal (with the right amount of tithing), only they can pray for generational curses, only they can protect you from spiritual warfare. This is a direct denial of Jesus Christ and his power and authority. Remember in Matthew 28, Jesus says, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Dynastic Ministry. One of the things that the reformers fought against was nepotism in the Church. When clerical positions were passed down from father to son creating a dynastic system in the Church was only certain families were able to have certain positions. In many authoritarian Churches church positions are passed down from father to son. This is nepotism and it can make it appear that a person has spiritual authority simply because of their lineage.

Blind Submission. As in the case of the Church mentioned before in South Africa, authoritarian leaders can often test the submission of their followers by making them do or believe strange things. In the case of the Church in South Africa the “apostle” has told Church members to eat grass, drink fuel, and allow him to touch them inappropriately. Other forms of this are more subtle, like worship leaders convincing congregants that doing the “hokie Pokie” will bring them healing. Or when TV evangelists use false prophecy like saying “there’s a little old lady with money in her cookie jar and God has told her to send that money to them”. Blind submission is contrary to 1 Thesselonians 5:21 and 1 John 4:1.

Church branding: When an authoritarian Church plants another church it does not allow that Church to melt into the body of Christ, but they maintain a brand and leadership over that Church. Churches then become like franchises of another Church. This limits the ability of that local Church to be who God called them to be and it is totally contrary to the principles laid out in 1 Corinthians about all believers being “one Church” and “one body”. It also points back to Paul’s issue in Corinth when several of the groups within the Church were saying “I am of Paul or I am of Apolos” what is the difference now in saying “I am of Hillsong” or “I am of Willow Creek” or “I am of Bethel”?

Love Bombing: This has been a classical tactic of control for many cults and even some authoritarian regimes. It is to create a sense that everything is so loving, so good, and so happy, that to question anything would be to be unloving and unhappy. Authoritarian leaders will often focus on simply being positing, not worrying about “silly things like doctrine or theology or Church practices”, not focusing on the negatives, just focusing on the positives. But as in the case of all cults, there will be a time when the negatives will have to be dealt with. In an authoritarian relationship people can feel like they are bad people or bad Christians for questioning or wanting to discern.

Holy Spirit over the Bible: Because the authoritarian Apostle is anointed by the Holy Spirit, many authoritarian leaders will claim that he Holy spirit is more important than the Bible or having right doctrine. They will often claim that they have a new revelation not found in the Bible that comes from the Holy Spirit and therefore should not be questioned. The Bible and the Holy Spirit are inseparable. Jesus said that the role of the Holy Spirit is to teach the disciples what Jesus already taught according to Jesus’ words in John 14. Then we read in Ephesians 6 that the Sword of the Spirit is the Bible. He scriptures and the Holy Spirit cannot be separated.
An Unbiblical definition of Worship:

So what do we do about it? Well it depends on who you mean by “we”. We as the priesthood of all believers must remember that we are just that; that according to 1 Peter 2 are all a royal priesthood and we only have one high priest and that is Jesus. That means that all of us have equal access to God and to his blessings and forgiveness and his Holy Spirit and we are all equal members of the body of Christ, each given different but equally important roles in the Church (1 Corinthians 12+). Use your freedom in Christ to read the Bible, to test what you are hearing, and to as 2 Timothy 3 says to correct and rebuke when need be, and to always make sure that you have the freedom to do that.

The Shepherding Movement: Reformed and Revamped
Shepherding Movement:
Apostolic Canopy: Joel Garcia. Apostolic Company. 2007.
First he had them eating grass…Daily Mail. Ted Thornhill. 16th October 2014.
Cult Following. The Guardian. Wendy Wallace. June 21st 2000.
Abuse Allegations aimed at Jesus People commune: Manya Pashman. Chicago Tribune. February 27, 2014

About the author

Erik Liljegren

Erik Liljegren

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