Total Commitment or Total Regimentation?
The Root and the Fruit of the "Total Commitment" Movement
Let me say at the outset that I believe in and teach total commitment. I know of no verse in the Bible that teaches us, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with HALF of thy heart --," or anything that resembles that. But total commitment to the LORD and total commitment to some particular IMPLEMENTATION of the Lord's commands in accordance to HUMAN judgment are two different things. The thing known as the "TOTAL COMMITMENT MOVEMENT" is characterized by the latter, and has its root in a book by Ronald Coleman, entitled "The Master Plan of Evangelism."
Since I have used the book in teaching classes on Personal Evangelism for a number of years (since about 1963), and since I have recommended it highly (with several reservations which I pointed out to my classes), I think it appropriate to give a more extended review of the book in order that those who are in some way troubled by this movement may better understand the things with which they are dealing. I hope that many honest, devoted, sincere, consecrated persons who are participating in or encouraging various phases of the movement may see more clearly the root and fruit of the movement as they understand better the philosophy on which it is based, and see the practical outworking of the philosophy in congregations across the nation. It is my deepest hope that when men of good will see the destructive and divisive practices that are thus created, they will renounce the system, but will still strive to carry out the commission of our Lord with vigor, courage, and determination.
I used and recommended the book because I thought the main thrust of it to be outstanding. But when it is used, as it is in this movement, in the assumption that the methods of the Master in evangelism must include a leader with authority, wisdom and power produced by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that a person who follows the MASTER PLAN must himself be a MASTER PLANNER, and not just a follower, and when the system is so structured that it, of necessity, involves a blind obedience to that "master-teacher," it is perverted, disruptive, sinful, dangerous and divisive.
Of course, most of those who practice the system will deny all of this. Not ALL of them are lying -- from their viewpoint. As they say, "We do not do that," they may well be stating their INTENT. But as we go through the book in more detail, we shall show why many of the things that seem right on the surface, when applied in accordance to the basic philosophy of the book, tend to be deceitful, destructive, and divisive, REGARDLESS OF THE INTENT of the teacher!
Before we look at each chapter in detail, let us notice the basic philosophy, and why the whole system is perverted. On page 17 is the caption, "Christ, a Perfect Example." Peter says in 1 Peter 2:21, "Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps." I have taught and still teach that. In fact, at this time, I am teaching a course from my workbook, "THE MIND OF CHRIST" in which I am trying to get all students to actually DEVELOP the mind of Christ by following His example. We are to let the life of Christ be manifest in our mortal flesh. What, then, is the problem? Is it that we merely SAY the words, and when someone else effectively puts them into practice, they show up our failures so clearly that we try to destroy their good works? That accusation has been made, and seems plausible to many, but it is not so. Let us examine how easily this Bible truth about Jesus as an example may be perverted.
Let us suppose we say, "Christ is our example. Christ never married. If we want to be Christlike and reach the highest level of spirituality, we will never marry." Does that sound a little like a statement of 1 Timothy 4:3 and the perversion made by the Roman Church? It may surprise you that several features of THIS system bear a remarkable resemblance to THAT system! But let us try to see more clearly the basic error that produces that kind of fruit. It is true that we SHOULD be like Christ and follow His example. But the illustration given is evidence that an ASSUMPTION about truth may be substituted for truth. The truth is, "Christ did not marry." The assumption is, "In order to be Christlike, I must not marry." Why is this not so? Simply because the idea of Christlikeness which the Bible enjoins is not involved with the imitation of SPECIFIC personal actions of our Lord, but the attitude, motivations and principles upon which He acted. To be Christlike, we do NOT have to ride into Jerusalem on an ass, be baptized in running water, or recline in an upper room for the Lord's Supper. We may assume that ANYONE can understand that, yet thousands have missed similar truths. We do not mean to imply that the ones who have practiced the system under review believe or teach these PARTICULAR perversions. But they DO teach similar ones, of which I assume most of them are NOT aware. Let us examine how these assumptions work in the implementation of the MASTER PLAN OF EVANGELISM.
Christ's method was to choose twelve men whom He trained and personally supervised at almost every waking moment. "Men were His method," the book emphasizes, and the ONLY method that is REALLY Christlike is to choose men who have the right to be leaders, and say, "Follow me; I know the way" (p. 117). Since men, not methods, are the key, the logical conclusion is that, "Whatever methods these men may choose, we should follow THEM, for they know the way," especially since the way they choose is apparently patterned after the way of Christ.
Christ was the Master Leader. We are to train leaders like Him, not just followers (p. 110). He had the authority to chastise, rebuke, correct, and discipline. Since we are to follow the LEADER'S example, the leader under the MASTER PLAN must do likewise. Remember that these leaders are NOT elders, ordained as God's leaders! In fact, if we cannot, by keeping our ultimate purpose hidden (p. 118) get elders and others to follow US, yielding to the MASTER PLAN, then we must bypass the elders (p. 36). Of course, when an eldership allows this system to operate, then it is easy for the leaders to say, "Of course we do not teach anyone to bypass the elders. See how we are subject to them here!" And thus the deceit and delusion are compounded. It does not take one who is particularly astute, but merely observant, to realize that the system works that way. When an eldership allows the leaders of the "group" to proceed with the implementation of THIS system, they claim that peace and harmony reigns. If all of us would just allow Russia to take over the United States, we would have peace! But if an eldership decides NOT to allow a self-appointed, or externally controlled group the privilege to direct the activities according to the perversions of the MASTER PLAN, then charges of an immature, unspiritual eldership are made, and division and confusion result, many times with the assistance and approval of preachers and editors who should know better. They WOULD know better if they would examine the philosophy and the perversions of the truth in practice all over the country, instead of simply listening to the VERBAL PRONOUNCEMENTS that come from the headquarters1 of the movement!
Any person who denies that it has happened has not looked, for it is not only the basic doctrine of the book, it is reported from all over the country. We hear the reply, "We never taught anyone to do that." Many have received invitations to come to "headquarters" where the system originated, and LISTEN to what is taught. Many go. They hear nothing wrong. They see enthusiasm, devotion and dedication that put most of us to shame. They go back home and report that SOMEONE, for an unknown reason (probably jealousy), is lying about these wonderful people! My opinion is that most of them are wonderful people. They are loving, dedicated and zealous. But one of our problems is that we are accustomed to think of teaching as VERBAL INSTRUCTION, but this system is built deliberately so that the principles are taught, not by TELLING, but by DOING! In fact, that is where it gets so much of its power, for that is the way Christianity SHOULD be taught!
So, contrary to what we have assumed, the place to look is not at "headquarters," where a controlled environment is produced, but in hundreds of churches where leaders trained from outside moved in and implemented the system as the book suggests it be done. If we listen to the thousands of testimonials of psychological pressure, mind control, and the hundreds of perversions of true Christianity in the practical application of the system, we can see the fruit in a way that cannot otherwise be seen. We thought at one time that the fruit could be seen by examining the ROOT of the tree at "headquarters." But we discover that it is seen rather in the hundreds of lives that have been twisted, churches that have been divided, friends who have been alienated because of the practical outworking of the system. It is not enough to hear the invariable reply, "Jesus taught that it is inevitable that His teaching would divide families, etc." Surely no thoughtful, honest person can assume that all these testimonies are the result of some conspiracy of ungodly, complacent, jealous individuals and church leaders! We have no doubt there are some of that kind, but why would all these persons lie about the same things, at the same time, in the same way, none of them knowing the problems of the other?
We have heard of some that are so complacent and indifferent that any effort to shake them loose from their lethargy would produce problems. We have no doubt that some "elderships" actually get uneasy if there is rapid grown, especially if there are more baptisms each night than there are from "coming down the aisle" on Sunday morning!! That can easily be used as a "smoke-screen" to cover up what is actually taking place. I can personally sympathize with good brethren who cannot see past that smoke- screen, for some of us who have been active in personal evangelism have had our hearts broken many times by the casual, indifferent attitude of most brethren, and many "elders." But that does not excuse the introduction of a system of perversion, based upon wrong premises, and practicing perverted principles.
For those of you who are not familiar with the system, but only hear what is preached publicly at lectureships, at "headquarters" and written for public consumption, let me give you some specific illustrations of how it works in practice. My "prayer partner" and I teach you of the loving authority of Christ, and baptize you, emphasizing that you must ALWAYS accept the Lordship of Christ, and use HIM as your example and authority. Your love and respect for us is unbounded, for we have shown you the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE. We have developed in you a peace that passes understanding, and have demonstrated a Christlike concern for you that impress you for many reasons, a personal concern that is all too unusual -- even among active churches of Christ. We designate them as "mainstream churches," in contradistinction to our "group," which is "totally committed."
We do not break fellowship with these "mainstream churches," for we can use them in various ways to advance our purposes, but we speak of them, if at all, with some degree of sorrow and disdain, for they are so far behind us in spirituality. We spend as much time with you as we can, day and night, so you can absorb our Christlike qualities (p. 177, 178). You do not really see any significant differences in absorbing the qualities of the "leader" and absorbing the qualities of "THE LEADER," for we have tried to live so that when you think of us, you think of Christ. You are taught 2 Corinthians 5:20, "We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead, be reconciled to God." So you think of me as an "ambassador" of Christ (with implied ambassadorial authority!) I am standing "in Christ's stead" as His representative, just as the Apostles were. You are to treat me with the same respect as you would treat HIM. Since "nothing less than a personal baptism of the Holy Spirit would suffice" (p. 69), then all of us leaders of the group have received the power and authority to be spokesman for God, even as the Apostles were! That was the PLAN and we are to reproduce it! I do not mean to imply that every leader TEACHES VERBALLY that he has received a personal baptism of the Holy Spirit. I DO mean that the very operation of the system is built upon that ASSUMPTION!
Any time you have a question, we have an answer, usually backed up by many scriptures, which we give particular significance. You wonder why we care for you so much. You hear, "It is important to 'Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ'" (Gal. 6:2). You understand that Christianity is a "one-another" religion. This means that you are to bring to me ANY problem, burden or question and I will share it with you. If it is too big for me to handle, I am able to share it with MY advisor, and he with his, all the way back to headquarters. I do not tell you all of this, but if you happen to find out, I assure you that we ALL in this "totally committed group" are concerned about your problems, for we love you as Jesus loves you. Who could POSSIBLY find fault with that?
Since the MASTER PLAN tells us to keep a record of your progress (p. 123), all these problems and questions you may have are noted and filed (though the idea is often denied and ridiculed). You do not know the details of this, and will not until you become a dedicated leader like me, but if you DO find out, it is easy to understand that ANY church worthy of its name tries to keep good records of its members. You never really think about the difference in the elders keeping good records of those under their direction, and the "spiritual advisors" and "prayer partners" keeping records and sharing them with other leaders in other localities. And if you DID ask about the difference, you could easily be convinced that it is all because we love you. For what other reason could it possibly be?
You are told that, "We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak" (Rom. 15:1). You are sure that I am stronger than you are. So, since James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to one another --," you realize that you NEED to confess your sins and infirmities to me. It is not like the Roman Catholic confession, for I do not claim to absolve you. You simply want to be more like me, your leader and example. Any external criticism of such confession is shrugged off as the ignorant mouthing of unspiritual, jealous men, for you not only know the Bible commands it, but you feel the value of this openness. It never occurs to you that the confessions are a "one-way street," but if it did, the answer is so apparent: "You are the weak one. I am the leader and stand for you in Christ's stead (2 Corinthians 5:20). I simply do not have as many sins to confess to you as you do to me. After all, you are the babe in Christ and know you need help. "
We read together 1 Corinthians 4:15-16, "Though you have 10,000 instructors ye have not many fathers, for I have begotten you -- -." Since I have begotten you, and you are supposed to imitate me, I am your spiritual father, and have both the right and responsibility to instruct, discipline and chastise you (p. 93, 100). On page 58, we find this statement, "A father must teach his children to obey him if he expects his children to be like him" and the application is that since you are my spiritual child, you should obey me and become like me, for I am like Christ and stand in His stead.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, "Follow me as I follow Christ." I have not TOLD you in so many words, but the "as" is thought of as "inasmuch as," or "since." Since you are a new convert, you do not see the difference between the effect of the admonition, "Follow me to the DEGREE that I follow Christ," and "Follow me SINCE I follow Christ." These scriptures, which are perverted so slightly that they are practically impossible for a novice to find, (and apparently for some astute elders, preachers, editors and others) cause you to look on me as a leader who has the right to say, "Follow me, I know the way" (p. 117). When we do as the book says, and are teaching you by PRACTICING these perversions of scriptures, what need do you have for elders? I have not taught you VERBALLY to disregard them, so I can claim that I have not said anything like that! But we simply have neither time nor inclination to bother with them unless they get in our way, for they did not invite you to the "soul talk," nor did they convert you, and we can do without interference from them. Until we have control of the total situation, we do not publicly oppose them, for they provide a rent- free building for our activities.
The sad thing is that in many situations the elders do not really know what is going on, for they are not a part of these little group meetings and "soul talks." It is probable that the more sophisticated do not now call them "soul talks," for it is easier for a person to hide their nature under different names now that it has become known so widely that many of those who practice what is known as "soul talk" practice these perversions of scripture. The elders are usually a trusting people, who think the best of a person or group, especially devoted soul-winners, and it does not occur to them that anything looking so good, and sounding so doctrinally right could be VERY bad! Besides, all the fuss is said to be about METHODS, and we have heard all we want to hear about such trivial matters! Whether we use filmstrips or "soul talks" to convert a man is not worth splitting the church over!
What makes it worse, and contributes to the problem is that some elderships would LIKE for someone to do for them the work of converting, shepherding, and guiding. As long as they are the OFFICIALS of the church, those who are "spiritual advisors" can take charge of all the converts they can win, and more power to them!
The cumulative effect of these very slight perversions, some of which can scarcely be seen, is great. They are easily denied and scoffed at. So, there are many who feel that surely the only kind of person who could POSSIBLY find fault with the kind of devotion, service, and activity in winning souls that puts most of us to shame must be some radical, ineffective, opinionated, mote-finding church divider who is jealous because someone is getting more publicity than he is. And since most of us think we know of one or more such mote-finders, and since we cannot easily find even ONE DOCTRINAL ERROR taught when we go to "headquarters," the answer seems to be logical. So the case (and the mind) is closed!
Let us continue to examine highlights in each chapter to see how statements that are true are perverted in application to create a system that is divisive in results and destructive in its fruits, without VERBALLY teaching a false doctrine in every case. Even in the introduction on page 10, we can see the basic thrust, which underlies the thesis of the whole book. We find, "There is nothing in the following pages that belittles what the Spirit of God has done and continues to do through the colossal, concerted, temporary undertakings of such evangelistic specialists as Moody, Sunday, or Graham." The idea that the Spirit of God directed those persons might suggest to us that we should be on the lookout for some novel and interesting concepts. However, that idea is accepted by a large number of those who claim membership in the Lord's church today. That did not mean that I could not get value from the book, so I taught my students, "When you are eating a fish and find bones in it, learn to get the good and throw the bones away." But I also tried to teach them that if we are eating a fish that happens to be almost all bones but its eyeballs, we might do well to fish in other waters, or eat a different fish!
On page 18 we find, "There was nothing haphazard about His life -- no wasted energy, not an idle word. He was on business for God (Luke 2:49). He lived, He died, and He rose again according to schedule." There is nothing wrong with the statement, nor with an effort to get persons to practice those principles in their lives. But when it is our DIVINE leader who had a schedule in which there was no wasted energy, then it is ASSUMED that our HUMAN leader has the right to determine such a schedule for HIS followers, we are in trouble. Surely you can see the difference in my teaching that the Master lived a disciplined, purposeful life, urging you to do the same, and my establishing for you specific priorities by telling you when and how you should eat, rest, play or have a soul talk! If you cannot tell the difference between my telling you the PRINCIPLES of Christianity, and my ASSUMING the authority to tell you how you must APPLY those principles, you probably will not profit from reading more. I am aware that most of the leaders in this movement would probably deny that they do that, and claim that in the FEW cases where something SIMILAR to that might be found, it is because of an inadvertent error of some "overzealous" convert! Imagine the pain it must have caused to admit that some convert might be "overzealous"! But the truth of the matter is that reports from all over the nation show that it is NOT a new convert that does this, but a trained leader, and it is the general pattern instead of merely being an exception to the rule.
In Chapter 1, page 21, he says, "His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow." One almost has to strain to find something in that statement that is wrong, does he not? But as with almost EVERY wonderful principle in the book, it is perverted in practice in the following way: Since we are to develop MEN whom the multitudes will follow, let us train men who have the charisma, the personality and the ability that will cause men to follow them! A convert is taught 1 Corinthians 11:1, which says, "Follow me AS I follow Christ." Since the basic premise on which the whole system is based is that "men are His method," and since we trained a fine group of leaders who show the world devotion, faith, total commitment, and a disciplined life, why should you NOT be told that if you do not follow such a leader, you are not following HIM?
Can you not tell the slight, but VERY important difference in a leader saying, "Listen to me as I tell you what Jesus said," and "Listen to me, and follow ME as I put into practice MY APPLICATION of what Jesus said"? The first one amounts to, "Follow the Lord." The second is, "Follow ME!" But remember that the book has as its thesis that those who apply its principles must realize that Jesus was THE LEADER who had a right to demand submission, and we MUST follow the same patter in developing other leaders who have the SAME responsibility! Both the PATTERN and the AUTHORITY for continuing the pattern was given to the Apostles and passed on down to us! That is what reproducing THE MASTER PLAN OF EVANGELISM means. That is the name of the book! What a travesty on truthfulness it is when the leaders of the movement say, "That book is not our authority. The Bible is our authority." In their more candid moments, they admit that the whole system was derived from the book! And even if they did not admit it, a close observer could tell if he knew both the philosophy and its practical outworking.
On page 21 he says, "The initial objective of Jesus' plan was to enlist men who could bear witness to His life and carry on His work after He returned to the Father." Can you find anything in that statement that is wrong? I cannot. But the underlying assumption and misapplication is that, as they bore witness to His life, so must we. Remember that we must reproduce THE MASTER PLAN! The problem is that we cannot! THEY were witnesses who could tell what they had seen and heard -- the life and resurrection of the Lord. That was the heart of the gospel. They were witnesses of it. We are not! We can bear witness to what the BOOK says, and how it has changed our lives. You may say, "What a small, insignificant, trivial point about which to find fault with such a wonderful, productive method!" The trouble is, there are hundreds of such points, NONE of which is as trivial as it may look on the surface, and upon which the whole system is based. Any plan predicated upon the exact reproduction of their operation and power is wrong! Note CAREFULLY: The death of the APOSTLES, in bearing witness to His life and resurrection, is one of the proofs of the reality of the gospel facts upon which our salvation is based. But if WE died, bearing witness to OUR faith, it is proof ONLY of the reality of our BELIEF! The difference is not only significant, it is VITAL! We may applaud the sincerity of a "Latter Day Saint" who would die for his belief in the veracity of Joseph Smith. But that would not prove a thing about Joseph Smith!
On page 26, we find, "The fact that there is no record of the disciples complaining about the pre-eminence of the three, though they did murmur about other things, is proof that where preference is shown in the right spirit and for the right reason, offense need not arise." Do you know what that innocuous statement means in application? Since some were pre-eminent, chosen by the Lord to be leaders, then those who are chosen as leaders today, since we are to reproduce the MASTER PLAN, would be recognized as pre-eminent, with the authority to command! This is spelled out on pages 34 and 35 in more detail as he says, " -- The multitudes can be won easily if they are just given a leader to follow." Remember that this is NOT God's ordained leaders, elders, of which he speaks. It is a leader chosen by someone else on the basis of his ability to direct and CONTROL his followers!
It might seem a small matter that he says on page 31 that "only about 120 tarried in Jerusalem to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:15)" until you realize that he believes that ALL disciples who would be leaders under THE MASTER PLAN must also receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He says on page 69, "Nothing less than a personal baptism of the Holy Spirit would suffice." Is it any wonder that those who practice the principles of THE MASTER PLAN often assume apostolic authority over the convert? They apparently think they are endowed with APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY, if not with APOSTOLIC POWER! Is it any wonder that the movement has gained impetus from the teaching, support, and influence of one whom many of us have considered one of the most powerful preachers in the brotherhood? Yet he has taught that the expression, "Ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5b) was NOT made to only the twelve Apostles." (See p. 18, THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD, by Richard Rogers).
On page 36, there is a VERY revealing statement that will give us insight into why the movement has caused division and widespread confusion. "But if we can't begin at the top, then let us begin where we are and train a few of the lowly to become the great." Since I have emphasized the expression, "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have," for the past 40 years, I cannot find MANY faults with the previous expression. Like any number of other statements mentioned, it may have more truth than error. Rat poison may have more corn than poison, but it is poison, nevertheless. Do you realize what that statement above means? It means that if you cannot get the elders to be agreeable to the program, train your own leaders to take over, in spite of the fact that God ordained a different set of qualifications. The system is designed to automatically bypass the eldership, no matter how Godly, evangelistic or effective they are, if they do not approve of the system of perversion under discussion.
In chapter 2, page 38, we find, "His disciples were distinguished not by outward conformity to certain rituals, but by being with Him, and thereby participating in His doctrine (John 18:19)." Of course this is true, in general. But His disciples WERE distinguished also by conformity to certain rituals. But if the principles on which the book is based are true, then the statement on page 47 must follow: "The examples of Jesus would teach us that it can only be done by persons staying right with those they seek to lead." And thus, they would follow the authority of the present leader and participate in his doctrine as THE MASTER PLAN is reproduced! It is my hope that those in the Lord's church who use this plan ASSUMED that this would actually reproduce Christ in the life of the follower, since he could see Christ in the life of the leader, and would only reproduce those qualities that were Christlike. But those of us who have seen the system operate know that the structure of the system is such that the allegiance and submission that should belong alone to Christ is subtly transferred to the human leader as he ASSUMES this leadership (p. 47). Furthermore, instead of reproducing merely the qualities and characteristics that are like Christ, it has even reproduced leaders who would try to grow a mustache like another leader, or some other characteristic or mannerism that would be humorous if it were not so pathetic.
The original idea apparently was, as suggested on page 48, "This means that some system must be found where every convert is given a Christian friend to follow until such a time as he can lead another." Most of us probably thought it meant having what we called a "buddy system," and that the only difference in the MASTER PLAN and what we practiced was that theirs was simply more effective. We admit that it is more effective in producing SOMETHING! That "something" is a "leader" they must follow as they would follow Christ! As we find on page 49, "The only way they can be trained is by giving them a leader to follow." Remember that the leader mentioned is NOT Christ, nor qualified elders, but someone who has "assumed the leadership" (p. 47) and who is impressed by the fact that since he is following the example of Jesus, he MUST be followed!
On page 50 we find, "He required obedience. Jesus expected the men He was with to obey Him. They were not required to be smart, but they had to be loyal." Is that true? Of course! If a person had to be smart to follow Christ, most of us would never make it! But if the statement is true, why is the philosophy of the system false? Because that although the basic statement of truth is about JESUS, it is assumed that the SAME statement concerning one of the group leaders is NOW true, since it is ASSUMED that we must use the same methods and principles if we are to follow Him!
As Jesus trained the men He was with by constant supervision, the leader of today is to be with his followers at every possible moment -- supervising and correcting -- if he is to follow THE MASTER PLAN OF EVANGELISM! Those followers were to be loyal to a Leader (Christ), and did not have to be smart or think for themselves. Since we are to duplicate the plan, the follower of today must trust his leader and do what he says without having to be smart enough to make the decision for himself!
We are well aware that most of the leaders in each group will probably not admit that they TEACH that, and we have never heard it VERBALLY taught, but EVERY place we have heard of it being practiced, that is the result. Further evidence of this is found on page 50, as he says, "No one will follow a person in whom he has no trust, nor will he sincerely take the step of faith unless he is willing to obey what his leader says." When this is applied, it means that the gospel is NOT the power of God unto salvation unless the convert is willing to follow his leader! Remember that MEN ARE THE METHOD! It may be without either the leader or the student realizing it, but the emphasis on the authority of Christ shifts to the authority of the leader, for it is so built into the system! Let us see how it actually works, not only from our own experience and observation, but from reports from hundreds of letters from all over the nation where the system has been operating.
Suppose you are a young, idealistic college student. You yearn for authoritative statements from one who has correct information and knows where he is going (p. 117). Who would not? That is one reason you are going to college -- to find someone who can give you authoritative answers to the many problems of life. I knock on your door and introduce you to Christ. I prove that He has all authority in heaven and on earth, and wants to be Lord of your life as well as Savior of your soul. You accept HIM in that way, with the understanding that it involves total commitment to Him. In a world of doubt and insecurity, that has great appeal to you. You obey the gospel, or if you have been an average church member of one of the "mainstream" churches, you decide that your first baptism was invalid, for you have not demonstrated the kind of love and devotion you should have, so you are re-baptized with a "lordship baptism."
You are intellectually and emotionally overwhelmed by a realization of the Lordship of the Savior, and by my evident Christlikeness as I have led you with love to Him. For the first time in your life, you have heard someone properly emphasize the Lordship of Christ, quoting scripture for almost every situation. You are especially amazed and gratified by my knowledge of the scriptures, as you realize that I have been a Christian for only a year. You begin to dimly realize that you can become a great leader like me if you apply yourself and follow me properly. You are so grateful that I see your capacity to be a great leader and realize your worth. It is wonderful that I am willing to sacrifice my time and money to give you loving guidance in making a sensible application of any scripture that seems hard for you to understand. I especially make sure you memorize such passages as Luke 14:26, "If any man cometh after me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." If you really practice that, you will rise above the "mainstream," second-class sort of so-called Christians that make up most of the membership of the churches of Christ. We tolerate them temporarily, for we love them and they may eventually learn better and become part of our "group. " Besides, we are getting the use of their building and facilities until we can do better.
You learn to appreciate this structured life of self-denial involving soul-talks, devotional programs, quiet times, and whatever else we have wisely done for your spiritual development. You are aware that it is all sacrificially done to help you. You freely make the choice to participate in all of them without any pressure from me at all!
But you have a birthday coming up. Your parents plan a party for you as they have done all your life. But the party conflicts with one of the soul- talks we had planned for you. Your parents are not Christians, but you love them deeply, and the fact that you would like to be with them on this special occasion leaves you slightly disturbed with the apparent conflict. You come to me, as I am your "spiritual advisor" and "father in the gospel." I say to you, "Remember that I am not your authority. Christ is. Quote for me Luke 14:26." You quote it, for it was one of the first things I taught you. I continue, "I am not going to tell you to do or not to do anything. I am not your authority. But to help you clarify the things YOU want to do, let me ask you, 'Whom do you love more deeply, the Lord who died for you, or your parents'?"
So with a breaking heart, but with joyous gladness that you are counted worthy to make such a small sacrifice to show your love for Christ, you tell your parents, "I cannot come to the birthday party." They are hurt and amazed. They ask, "Has someone told you that?" You truthfully reply, "Of course not! I have made up my own mind. The Lord must come first in my life." If your parents charge that I have told you not to go, both you and I deny with righteous indignation that it is so! I have only and always taught you to seek first the Kingdom of God, and have taught you certain key scriptures which you can and do quote on almost any occasion, but I have NOT brainwashed you, or made any decisions for you! Of course not! Only some vile enemies of TRUTH would make such a charge, or some envious so-called Christian who is so ashamed of his own spineless brand of Christianity that he must pull down those who are greater!
But your parents are frustrated, angry and hurt. They try to get an explanation from us, but cannot get one that makes any sense to them, for they are not Christians. You get frustrated trying to explain, and say to them, "I could not expect you to understand at all, for Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, 'Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him', and in 2 Corinthians 4:4, 'The God of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God should not dawn upon them'." The bitterness of your parents, thus classified by you as ignorant, blind, and unbelieving, grows. You eventually leave home, though they beg of you to stay, for they love you in spite of the fact that they cannot understand what is happening to you. But you leave, glorying in your ability and willingness to sacrifice the most precious things in your life for your faith in Christ. Both you and I deny that I encouraged you to leave home, though I remind you daily that those who come to follow Christ must hate their father and mother (Lk. 14:26), and I love you so much that when you did leave, I let you stay in MY house and did applaud your mature and Christlike decision! But your parents begin to hate the thing they call "The Church of Christ2" with a passion, and may even begin to despise the Word of God, for at each step of the process a scripture too difficult for them to handle was quoted and applied (or misapplied). All they know for sure is that SOMEBODY took you away from them, and from their viewpoint, made you a brainwashed zombie!!
What went wrong? Did the leaders or the new convert mean to do that? In most cases, we think the answer is "NO!" The result came (and this is typical of literally hundreds of reports from all over the nation) because the structure of the SYSTEM, with its authoritarian methodology is built upon an amazing series of wrong assumptions and multiplicity of slightly perverted applications of scripture. One of the tragic things about it is that otherwise intelligent leaders in the church seem to think that it is but a fussing over some insignificant method -- as if I thought my method of showing film strips or open Bible study is better than your method of soul- talks -- and I want to disfellowship you because you are more successful than I! What a baseless and false charge!
In case you have missed some of these perverted applications of God's word, let me point out some of them. Is it true that a person should love Christ more than any other person? It is! If a parent should try to prevent his child from obeying the gospel, the child should obey God rather than man. Even if the parent drives him from home because of it, he must obey. But notice that in the situation described, the parent does NOT drive the child from home. The child leaves with the parent begging him to stay! Again, note that it is NOT because of obedience to a command of Jesus. Did He teach that a soul-talk had to be held on Friday night? Did Jesus teach us that ONLY a child going to a soul-talk, but not to a birthday party could glorify God? Those things are NOT the commands of Jesus, but simply ASSUMPTIONS of a "spiritual advisor" who very subtly has made his assumptions seem the logical and scriptural conclusions of the new convert. We admit that it may be that neither the leader nor the child realized that a person might glorify God just as much at a birthday party as he could at another meeting designed by the self-appointed leader. But the perversion is there and the damage is done, no matter whether or not they realize why. In addition to this, another whole treatise could be written on the danger and the impropriety of undue psychological pressure, creating of "guilt complexes," etc. which usually both the "spiritual advisor" and the new convert both deny. It is not always because they are lying that they deny it. It is that the system is so set up that they do not even have to TRY to exert undue pressure, or TRY to create a guilt complex. It happens when they follow the procedure, no matter what they WANT to happen!
Very boldly, yet subtly, there is a substitution of the authority of the leader for the authority of Christ. His interpretation and application of what Christ said is substituted for what Christ said. At each point, it is probable that both leader and follower will not admit that, for neither necessarily wanted it to happen. But the basic philosophy of THE MASTER PLAN produces it, and there are hundreds of examples of it.
Although we hope that neither MEANT for it to happen, it is well to point out that when it DOES happen, and the leader grasps the fact that he can exert that kind of power and influence on another, it takes a rather unusual kind of person to reject the system which gives him that power and approval. Have not many of us who preach wished that we had some method by which we could merely SUGGEST that our Sunday morning audience return Sunday night, and they would be there? It happens that way in THIS system simply because the system is built on the ASSUMPTION that since the leader is a leader for Christ, trained to practice HIS methods, his application of God's Word is almost, if not altogether equivalent to God's Word itself. This has been happening all along since the days of Christ, but not since the days of the Roman apostasy have we known of it being built so subtly into a system and interwoven with New Testament Christianity in this way.
As an example of this subtle, fantastic, and fatal interweaving, every chapter will suffice, but note here on page 58. "A father must teach his children to obey him if he expects his children to be like him." Is this true? Of course! But what is the application of it in the system under consideration? Since "I have begotten you through the gospel," as Paul says, and am therefore your "spiritual father," you must obey me! "No one can ever be a leader until he has learned to follow a leader" (p. 58). And of course you want to be a leader! On page 59, although he now capitalizes "He," referring to Christ, remember that the "leader" is to follow the example and take the place of "The Leader." When it is said, "It is not our duty to reason why He speaks as He does, but to carry out His orders," it is both understood and practiced that "It is not our duty to reason why he (our leader) speaks as he does, but to carry out his orders." "There is no place in the kingdom for a slacker, for such an attitude not only precludes any growth in grace and knowledge, but also destroys any usefulness on the world battlefield of evangelism." How many times have many of us said the same or similar things? But when we define "a slacker" as one who does not follow OUR orders, and drive them from the fellowship because he has not grown according to OUR standards, and burden him with a guilt complex because he does not conform to OUR methods of expediting the commands of Jesus, we have perverted the truth, all denials to the contrary notwithstanding.
What gives the book and the method so much power is that it is interwoven with 95% to 99% of expressions of valid principles. The trouble is that the constant misapplication of those principles perverts the whole system. Note that the misapplication is automatic, partly because of the basic philosophical or theological error of the whole. That is, that Christ meant for His disciples in ALL ages to have the same authority that He gave the APOSTLES, and that all disciples have the same relationship to the Holy Spirit to enable them to do so! On page 60 he says, "Indeed it would appear that the teaching of Christ on self-denial and dedication has been replaced by a sort of 'do as you please' philosophy of expediency." We think this is so, with elders and preachers contributing to that sad state. But we do not need to cut off the arm just because we have a wart on the finger. Note Mr. Coleman's solution to the problem. "It is high time that the requirements for membership in the church be interpreted and enforced in terms of true Christian discipleship. " That means that instead of a person being accepted as a Christian upon a confession of faith in Jesus as Lord, repentance of sins, and immersion into Christ for the remission of sins, he must be properly catechized and instructed in what his leader thinks is "true discipleship. " But he goes on to say, "This is not enough." That is, even after that rigorous examination, one cannot become a member of the Lord's Church until one is totally committed to OUR SYSTEM, which is, of course (in our minds) the Lord's system! Then they have to be re-baptized with a "lordship baptism."
It has been our conviction for years that many are not taught properly before baptism. We have used the expression, "They were probably pulled while too green." We meant that we should carefully teach people what is involved in accepting Christ as Lord. But we did not, and DO NOT, mean that we have the right to require that they pass OUR examination for membership that involves more than God's requirements. Men's creeds are improper, no matter who makes them! He says on page 60, "The requirements for membership must be interpreted and enforced in terms of true Christian discipleship. " Can you guess by this time who has the authority to do this "interpreting and enforcing"?
But remember that even "this action will not be enough." "Followers must become leaders, and this means that before much can be done with the church membership, something will have to be done with the church officials (p. 60). As many of you, I find myself agreeing with that statement! But what is that "something" the way the system operates? It is to take the church property away from them as soon as possible. Then what? "We will have to start like Jesus did by getting a few chosen ones and instilling into them the meaning of obedience" (p. 60). You should be able to see that at least part of the problem is that Jesus did the choosing, and that obedience in that case was obedience to HIS commands. But the method of the MASTER PLAN is that the leader, whether self-appointed or appointed from "headquarters," does the choosing and CHUCKS OUT those who will not conform to HIS decrees! He then reproduces a group of other leaders who instill in their followers the same loyalty to their commands. It is built into the system! The elders whom God ordained for leadership in His church are to be disregarded, no matter how Godly or scripturally qualified they may be or how interested in soul-winning they are, if they do not approve of THIS system!
But one of the things that breaks our heart is that, in our judgment, many elderships, preachers, and congregations have brought it on themselves, to a large degree, by a half-hearted, ignorant, self-satisfied complacency with the status quo. We create such a vacuum by our indifference to the Great Commission, our lack of discipline and commitment, that to many, ANYTHING was far better than nothing was. So, when the purveyors of this false and insidious philosophy produced results and said, "We are winning souls, at least. What are YOU doing?" they were met with guilty, dead silence. Even today in spite of all the fanfare, recriminations, accusations and denials, less than 5% of the average congregation are in any recognizable way trying to win a soul for Christ! It is apparently easier to try to excuse ourselves out of doing anything by finding fault with THE MASTER PLAN than to follow the MASTER'S ORDERS! And even among those who know SOMETHING is wrong with this system, many of us would rather see someone who is trying to follow Christ, even if he misunderstands many important things, doing many things wrong, than someone whose primary interest is simply to sit around and find fault with what others are doing. But why give two wrong alternatives and act as if you have to choose one of them??? Why not just do it God's way?
On page 64, we find, "Jesus wanted His followers to obey Him. So He gave Himself away." "His whole evangelistic plan hinged on this dedication, and in turn, the faithfulness with which His disciples gave themselves in love to the world about them." Can you deny that? But what is the application of this? On page 65, we find, "Let no man imagine, however, that this kind of experience with Christ can be engendered by human ingenuity." So He promised His disciples another Comforter who would guide them into all the truth (John 16:13) and "nothing less that a personal baptism of the Holy Spirit would suffice" (p. 69). So, he proceeds upon the assumption that the power of the Holy Spirit promised to them is available to those who follow Jesus ALL THE WAY (that is, to the totally committed), for he says on page 70, "However, it is well to mention that only those who followed Jesus all the way came to know the glory of this experience." This has nothing to do with the promise of Acts 2:38. It is one thing to affirm that we DO today have the Holy Spirit and to affirm that the BAPTISM of the Holy Spirit, with that accompanying power and authority, is available.
Even those among us who claim NOT to be proponents of the "total commitment movement," but who advance that cause by participating in their lecture programs, etc., quote 2 Corinthians 5:20, "We are ambassadors on behalf of Christ," and imply that the ambassadorial position and authority is given to ALL who follow Christ. If we had time and space to set forth an exegesis of the passage, we think we can demonstrate in the context that the language, grammar, pronouns, etc. show he is NOT teaching that all Christians are ambassadors, even if it is the case that we help others to be reconciled to God. We admit that the term "ambassador" may be applied loosely or figuratively, as we might say of our soldiers in foreign lands, "They are ambassadors of peace." But the term, "ambassador," in its proper and strict sense, has to do with special ambassadorial power and authority as the Apostles had.
On page 81 we find, "When it is all boiled down, those of us who are seeking to train men must be prepared to have them follow us even as we follow Christ." Does not the Bible teach that, and have not all faithful gospel preachers always taught that? If so, what is our problem? It may be hard to find and define, but after examination of case after case reported in detail from all over the nation, we think we have the answer.
The leaders teach their followers this verse. Then the point is made, either implicitly or explicitly, or both: "Do you believe that I am a follower of Christ?" The answer is, "Of course!" Then the conclusion follows: "Do you not see that the Bible teaches you to follow ME, since I am following Christ?" Part of the error is hidden behind the subtle switch from "as" to "since," with the hidden assumption that since I am following Christ IN GENERAL, you should follow me in ALL PARTICULARS. You are to follow my direction as if I were Christ. You have already memorized 2 Corinthians 5:20, which is, "We pray you IN CHRIST'S STEAD be ye reconciled to God." You have heard some of the most powerful preachers in the brotherhood explain that the true leader stands in CHRIST'S STEAD to the followers. So it is evident that if you do not follow my advice, you are not following Christ, and are sinful and rebellious. We are to pray for you, rebuke you, and if you do not repent of not following us, shun you. Remember that this rebuking, withdrawing, etc. is NOT initiated and done by the elders whom God gave the responsibility for overseeing the flock, but by "the leaders" of what has been commonly called "the group." Remember that "there is no place for the slacker in the kingdom" (p. 69). "It is high time that the requirements for membership in the church be interpreted and ENFORCED in terms of true Christian discipleship" (p. 60). "It is not our duty to reason why, but to carry out orders" (p. 59). So, if you do not follow me and carry out MY orders, since I am following Christ, you must learn and turn, or burn!!
We notice the same basic mistake over and over. On page 88 he says, "He began by giving them HIS own authority and power to do His work." Again, this is ALMOST the truth. The Apostles had power to cast out demons, raise the dead, and perform other miracles. The words they spoke were the words that the HOLY SPIRIT put into their mouths, and were just as correct and authoritative as the words of Jesus. They do not have to be written in red! The erroneous assumption underlying the philosophy of the book and the system is that this is true of ALL DISCIPLES who follow the MASTER PLAN.
We do not suggest that the leaders of the movement all teach or believe that they are guided by the Holy Spirit in the same direct way the Apostles were. But we DO mean that the system is set up and operates with that concept as its underlying assumption. That is, as Jesus had the authority to choose, delegate, and supervise the Apostles, so did they have that authority, which right, power, and authority MUST be passed on down through the stream of time, for we MUST FOLLOW THE MASTER PLAN! That is what the book is about!
Remember that the key men are NOT God-ordained elders, with God- ordained qualifications, but special men, chosen and trained in the theory and practice of THE MASTER PLAN OF EVANGELISM. If we ask one of them, "Do you think you have Apostolic power?," we have little doubt that the answer in most cases would be, "No!" But the very foundation of the SYSTEM involves the ASSUMPTION, and the application of the principles involves the necessity of ACTING THAT WAY, for if one has the obligation to operate under that system, he must have the authority to discharge that obligation!
A revealing and key sentence is on page 93. "They had much more to learn before they could be considered ready for graduation and until that time came, He had no intention of turning them loose from His personal direction." Is that true? Of course! But when we assume that WE must apply the same principle today, we have big problems! That is, when I have trained you in the MASTER PLAN, I must keep you under MY personal direction and control until I consider you ready for graduation. Of course, by this time, neither you nor I would consider it "brain-washing," for you think all along that you have chosen every step of the way to make your own decisions. And in a sense, you have, just as a person might choose every step of the way to use cocaine. But though the choice WAS his at every step, try to get him to CHOOSE NOT TO after a while, and see what the result is! One might claim that the members of a cult chose to drink poison, but so what?
On page 95 he says, " -- after the disciples were sent out to work, they were expected to share their experiences later with the group." Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not. Why, then, is there a problem? First, when the sharing experiences to "the group" and "witnessing" are made equivalent to sharing the gospel and witnessing of the Apostles, it is wrong. Their witnessing was to the facts of the gospel, which is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16). Our witnessing is telling what happened to us. The first was ordained of God. The second was an invention of men.
Second, when the "share-your-experience-session" is used as a "checkup" session where the leader has the authority and obligation to rebuke and give "correctional lectures" (p. 98-99), then they go beyond their proper function and cause great difficulty. Such sessions are used to burden the new convert with a guilt complex because he is not doing more for the Lord, or his spiritual pride is fostered as he gets the idea that he is more Christlike than some others. After all, he performed the tasks assigned by his leader, and won more souls than some other person, so he must be greater. This is wrong. If he has loyally and without question followed the instructions of the leader (p. 50), he is successful. So he has a tendency to feel inordinate guilt if he does not produce, and inordinate pride if he does. Some of us who have been proponents of personal evangelism have probably contributed to an attitude like that because we have preached about it so strongly. A spiritual and psychological immaturity may have made us feel it in our own lives. But when it is built into a system that produces these results automatically, it is much worse. We must learn to distinguish between "guilt" of which we can repent, and a "guilt-complex" created by some self-imposed standards that we have not met.
The leader in this ecclesiastical hierarchy has the authority and obligation to assign tasks, checkup, and supervise in all cases (p. 100). Not only that, but "many experiences which bring delight to the soul need to be clarified and deepened as their meaning is interpreted in the light of the total world mission of Christ." Those of us who have seen the system operate do not need to be told who does the interpreting and clarifying! But those who have only gone to "headquarters" to check out a procedure or a doctrine never saw that, and wonder what all the furor is about!
For those, and other devoted souls who have seen nothing at all wrong with the system, and have a hard time seeing anything wrong with the operation or the philosophy on which it is based, we might give you a specific instance of how these "experiences in grace" are "interpreted and clarified." A church secretary was a convert from Catholicism -- a devoted soul-winner who, in intense effort, studied herself out of the system. When her husband left her with the care of several children, she was deeply moved and thrilled by the devotion and love of the group of very loving, "totally committed" disciples who seemed willing to do anything for her that seemed needed. She was "love bombed" and assigned a "prayer partner" and "spiritual advisor." She apparently never knew who assigned them, but that did not bother her, for she knew she needed advice and prayer.
She became involved in soul-talks and devotional programs almost every night, and loved it. When she realized that she was letting her daughters grow up with almost no supervision, she decided at least ONE night she was going to stay at home and train them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Her "spiritual advisor" interpreted and clarified for her in this fashion: "Whom do you love most, your Savior or your girls?" She replied in this fashion, "What does that have to do with anything? I love my Savior enough to try to do for my girls what He wants me to -- train them in His likeness." As she reported it to me, "He fixed me with his eagle eye and said, 'Sister, you have a previous commitment'." When she informed him that she had made the commitment and chose now to replace it with one with greater urgency, he informed her that she was unfaithful, that he and her "prayer partner" would be praying for her. When she told him that she would accept that, but refused to let him do her "interpreting and clarifying" for her, a cold blanket of disdain, rejection and disfavor descended, and group fellowship was withdrawn from her. She was "shunned," not by the church under the direction of the elders in accordance with the commands of God, but by the leaders of a "group" and their followers.
Even though she had the support and encouragement of the elders and others in the congregation, this was almost enough to break her heart and crush her, for the system was so structured that she had relied heavily on the loving, devoted concern of the "brothers and sisters." It was during this revelation of her experiences that I became more keenly aware that most of the expressions of love for "the brothers and sisters" about which we had heard so much had reference almost exclusively to one or more of the "totally committed" group! The rest of us were usually called by our first names, but the ones who had learned the lessons of loyalty and obedience to THAT system were "the brothers and sisters"! I did not know whether or not that was the general practice all over the country.
On page 98, we find, "It seems in the course of their travel that they had run across some people casting out demons -- but since the persons were not of their denomination, the disciples severely rebuked them for it." This is simply false doctrine. I do not have space to give an adequate exegesis of the passage, but this was NOT another denomination. Although the disciples were wrong in their attitude toward another group which acted IN JESUS' NAME (or by His authority), it is interesting to note that the author (and apparently those who are following his philosophy) seem to think it is appropriate for the leader to rebuke his own converts as a father rebukes and controls his children, but not appropriate to rebuke those of "another denomination."
On pages 109 and 110, we find, "Note, it is not enough to rescue the perishing, though this is imperative; nor it is sufficient to build up new born babes in the faith of Christ, although this too is necessary if the first fruit is to endure. In fact, it is not sufficient just to get them out winning souls, as commendable as this work may be. What really counts in the ultimate perpetuation of our work is the faithfulness with which our converts go out and make leaders of their converts, not simply more followers." We have taught ALMOST that idea on many occasions for over 30 years, and, believing in the general thrust of that statement, wrote what we believe was the first workbook in the brotherhood on Personal Evangelism, entitled "Christianity in Action." Why, then, do we find fault with the statement now? Except for its slight perversion, and the usual misapplication of it in practice, we find very little wrong with it. But as we have pointed out before, there is very little poison in a box of rat poison. But what little there is kills!
If the long quotation above only meant that the average church leader and member is warped in his thinking if he assumes that a large budget, an active youth program, or a well equipped "plant" are the proper things by which to measure our success, it would be right. But in THIS movement, it means that "what really counts" -- that is, the ONLY standard by which we can measure the REAL VALUE of a Christian -- is: Is he a leader in training others how to win a soul for Christ by following the philosophy of THE MASTER PLAN? We know that some of the leaders deny that THEY mean this, but it is what the book SAYS, and it is the basic philosophy of the SYSTEM. That it so understood and practiced all over the country is confirmed by independent reports of those who have been involved with the system.
This concept is wrong for two reasons: First, it gives little, if any, place for any sort of peace or recognition of value in a thing not approved by the leaders of the group as directly contributing to winning a soul AND making that person what the author calls "a leader of their converts." This accounts, in some measure, for a mother being advised (commanded) to let her children be left in the care of someone or no one, and attend a soul-talk. It accounts for reports of a wife who was told to leave her husband if he in any way prevented her from doing WHATEVER her "spiritual advisor" suggested (decreed)! "Ours not to reason why; ours but to do or die" is the basic philosophy that causes even the most significant and valid principle to be perverted in actual practice.
The leaders of this perverted system claim that IF such things happened, they were RARE exceptions, and the result of some over-zealous, well-meaning, but slightly misguided soul. I am not implying that the "chief leader" or even the "little leaders" who are "lowly" but trying to "become the great" (p. 36) MEANT for that to happen, or had impure motives, but they are NOT rare exceptions, but the general rule. They are the DIRECT result of the underlying or basic philosophies and structure of the system.
If a wife who prepares her husband's meals is not contributing to winning a soul -- as her "spiritual advisor" ASSUMES it should be done -- she may be loaded with a guilt complex, maligned, and in some cases driven from the fellowship with a broken heart. We know that it is scornfully denied with something like these words, "Any reasoning man knows that there are hundreds of wives who are totally committed to Christ who prepare the meals for their husbands or family. It is ridiculous to accuse us of teaching anything so foolish as that one is to stop all other activity. We have doctors, nurses, lawyers, and all sorts of persons who carry on their routine tasks, so this whole accusation is plainly a ridiculous lie."
That, too, is typical of most answers to most charges others and we have made. Instead of facing the facts, correcting the practices of which they are guilty, they bring up something else and pretend to answer that. No one ever accused them of saying, "No wife may prepare a meal for her husband," or anything resembling that. Even the most radical person has to compromise with reality from time to time. But there are literally hundreds of independent testimonies from all over the nation that indicate the truthfulness of the accusation that when the "spiritual advisor" commands one to be at a soul-talk, he is supposed to come, or be advised that "He that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me," and this applies to any activity or relationship in life.
But the concept that "THE criteria upon which a church is to measure its success is how many church leaders are being trained" is wrong for another reason. It is based upon a double false assumption which many of us have made because we fail to define Bible truths sharply enough. The first assumption is that the most important goal for the church or individual is the winning of a soul and making him a leader that can win another. Probably most of us who have been actively promoting personal evangelism have said so. I am sure I have. But it is not so! A corollary to that is the false assumption that God cannot be glorified in any other way than that prescribed by the leader. Those who practice the system will laugh at the accusation and say, "It is too silly to answer. We NEVER said that God could be glorified in no other way." Of course you never SAID it. But there are hundreds of examples of it being taught in PRACTICE, and that is the root and power of the system. That is the very thesis of the book!
The ULTIMATE goal -- the chief end or purpose -- of all mankind is neither the winning of a soul, nor making him a leader in THE MASTER PLAN, but to glorify God. (Cf. Eph. 1:6,12,14; 2:7; 3:10,21, etc.) What makes it harder to deal with is the fact that most of us who really care about the Great Commission have tried to encourage personal responsibility by accepting and pushing the idea that the most important thing in the world is winning a soul. It is TRUE that ONE of the most significant, meaningful and rewarding ways to glorify God is to win a soul. After all, is not THE purpose for which Christ came and died to seek and save the lost? The answer is, "NO!" That is not THE purpose, no matter how many high powered sermons you have heard to the contrary. There are at least 60 things listed in the Bible for which He came and died -- not only to save the lost. Man is the highest glory of God's creation, and the ULTIMATE redemption of man is the most significant way God can be glorified. But it is NOT "all that really counts" (p. 110). This is NOT merely "nit-picking," or a war of words about a semantic problem. The fruit of the system and its destructive and divisive power is found to be in exactly this: The fantastic multiplication of these SMALL perversions, no one of which seems to make much difference, but all of which make a great deal of difference, and are practiced with intense devotion.
If one REALLY believes that being a leader in the MASTER PLAN is "all that really counts" (which is what the book says), then if he does not do that, he is a second class citizen at the best, and a no-good bum at the worst, to be loaded with guilt if he is doing anything else when the leader says he should be doing this. Staying with "the baggage" (1 Samuel 30:34) is not enough. Any perversion of God's truth is wrong, but a whole book full of perversions, based upon the wrong premise, and all so close to the truth as to be almost indistinguishable therefrom is especially dangerous.
Although many preachers, elders and other Christians have probably wasted many hours on the golf course, fishing, and playing tennis which might have been better spent in winning souls to the Lord, it is possible to glorify God by being on the golf course or resting in the shade! It is bad enough to load ourselves down with guilt when we have failed to meet OUR OWN self-imposed standards of excellence and productivity. But to become enslaved to a system which allows some "spiritual advisor" to impose it is worse! We need to understand that "It is required in stewards that a man be found FAITHFUL" (1 Corinthians 4:2). That must not be perverted to, "It is required in stewards that a man be found PRODUCTIVE," and that productivity "interpreted and clarified" in terms of standards set by some "spiritual advisor."
This is NOT just a "war of words" or an idea that "my method is better than yours." It is a fundamental error in the outworking of a system that has substituted man's ASSUMPTIONS about the teachings of Christ for the teachings of Christ themselves, in a most insidious (although probably inadvertent) way, which has produced division and confusion throughout the nation.
One of the great dangers of it is that many hundreds, not really understanding the system, are measuring it in terms of the number of baptisms produced. How many times I have heard (and said), "If you can't find a better way to do something, do not criticize those who are doing SOMETHING for the Lord." That is probably good advice in most cases, though not necessarily right or best in every case. There MAY be times when you know something is wrong, when you may not know what is right. If one takes poison for medicine, you may not know what is the RIGHT medicine to cure the disease, but you still should point out the danger of the poison!
In this case, we can suggest something better. The better way is to leave out of the system the things we have pointed out that are causing the problem. (There are others we have NOT YET pointed out). The better way is certainly NOT to run around the country and/or write articles and editorials denying that there ARE any problems, and accusing those who see the problems of being jealous liars! (I am happy to report that at this writing -- September 10, 1986 -- we have reports that SOME of the leaders of the movement which caused me to write the first article, "Cultism in the Church," have apparently repented and asked forgiveness for their arrogance, spiritual pride, and improper actions in causing the difficulty. And I have personally talked with some who rebuked me for the first article who have said that they have ceased to participate in programs sponsored by the leaders of the movement. Whether or not this means that they will publicly renounce the system that created the problem remains to be seen).
Perhaps the basic error can be seen more clearly by an illustration of the kind of thing so widely reported. I have converted you, and am your "father in the gospel" with the right to control and discipline you (p. 59). I note that you are sleeping later in the morning than I. (I am writing this at about 5 a.m.). So I ask you, "Which is more important to you, a little more rest, or winning a soul to Christ?" If you reply that your desire for rest is more important than a soul saved for eternity, you are not worthy to be called a Christian. If you reply, "Winning a soul," then my reply will be, "Why not quit resting then, and be about the Father's business?" Any person who cannot see the difficulty with that sort of dichotomy and perverted reasoning has no doubt quit reading before now. For the new convert who trusts his "spiritual advisor," this kind of pressure is almost irresistible.
But we continue to live in what appears more and more to be a vain hope that those who have promulgated and pushed this perverted system produced by THE MASTER PLAN will cease their divisive and destructive activities and see that we are not fighting them personally. Nor are we questioning the motives of loving and devoted followers of Christ. We are fighting against the PERVERSIONS of those principles that are enunciated and practiced. Why not examine these or other perversions in earnest, rejecting those which cause havoc and division among dedicated Christians, and press on to glorify God in ALL areas of our lives, giving highest priority to soul winning?
"Follow me, I know the way" should be changed to "Follow Christ, HE IS the Way!" You may use my life as an example to follow to the extent that you see me glorifying Christ, without any authoritative assumption on my part that I am your "father in the gospel," who has a right to demand obedience as the book teaches. Page 118 suggests, "It is not necessary to broadcast what is being done," which leads to deceptive brainwashing techniques, and spiritual bondage to a human leader. That idea should be replaced by, "Ye shall know the truth and the TRUTH shall make you free." Why not move in THAT direction instead of denying all the allegations, and accusing us of lying when we point out these and other improper attitudes and practices?
Partly because of the havoc wrought by these small groups, some have already disapproved of small group meetings, and some elderships have tried to ban them. In my judgment, the supposed cure may be worse than the disease. When an eldership is more concerned with "exercising authority" than with leading dedicated Christians to do the work of the Lord, they are creating the very kind of problems that want to solve. It is not merely the use of such expressions as "soul-talk" or the practice of praying with someone and calling them a "prayer-partner" that causes the problem. Those who use the system are, in some cases, changing the terminology to hide their practice. A skunk smells the same way even if you call him a "woods pussy"! The basic philosophy of the system leading to these perversions is what is the problem. There are those who vehemently claim that they have no connection with Crossroads, where the system received its major thrust, but they practice the principles of the book, and the same results follow. And there are many who never heard of the book, and would deny that their practice has its root in the book, but they practice the principles just the same and the results are the same. There are many Baptists and Methodists who practice the principles in their Manuals and Disciplines who do not even know those books exist! But their names and practices originate there, nevertheless.
On page 124, we find, "Carnal attitudes and reactions need to be detected early and dealt with decisively, as all offensive personal habits, unfounded prejudices, and anything else that would obstruct their priesthood with God and with man." Surely that is ALMOST true, like most of the other things we have observed. One can read that 10 times without finding anything wrong if he is not very careful. But do you notice how subtly the idea that one has a "priesthood with man" is introduced? By now, you must know who is supposed to have this "priesthood with man" and the authority to deal with these "carnal attitudes"! God ordained that an eldership consisting of mature, scripturally qualified and properly appointed men detect and deal with these carnal attitudes. He did NOT order that a young man, carefully trained in the philosophy and procedures of THE MASTER PLAN, who ASSUMED Apostolic authority "detect and deal with" all "offensive personal habits." And neither an elder NOR a "spiritual advisor" has priesthood with man. All Christians are priests of God who approach God through JESUS as our High Priest. And one priest does not need another priest to do that job for him, as this system insidiously and falsely says, and as those who follow the system practice, even if they are not aware of it!
A key to one of the greatest faults in the system is found on page 124. "As their guardian and advisor we are responsible for teaching our spiritual children how to live for the Master." Who gave US the authority of a father over a "spiritual child?" Who appointed US their "guardian and advisor"? Surely an honest, thoughtful student of the Bible can see that each one of us DOES have a responsibility of teaching others how to live for the Master. But that does NOT give us parental or apostolic authority to direct and chastise! If you cannot see that, then you are a part of the problem! Surely a "brother's keeper" is something different than a "zoo-keeper," who keeps his monkey in a cage!
Instead of denying every charge, or half-heartedly apologizing occasionally for "a few possible unrelated abuses by overzealous converts," the instigators and purveyors of this false system should see the fruits of confusion, division and destruction that come from the root of the system, and admit, correct and repent of the wrongs. Then we can get on with the business of carrying on with the Master's orders. If anyone can read the book, THE MASTER PLAN OF EVANGELISM, with this partial and inadequate review and still believe the problem is not real, or that it is caused by some crackpot critic who is jealous because a better method has been found to do God's will, he needs more help than we can give him.
Read on page 125, "Before they should be turned loose FROM OUR CONTROL they need to be thoroughly established in the faith that overcomes the world." Of course, both the leader and follower denies that there WAS any control, for "It is not necessary to broadcast what is being done" (p. 118). Both said that it was "advice," but for SOME reason the idea has spread all over the nation where the system is being practiced that it is CONTROL! Could it be because that is what the textbook SAYS, and that is what is being PRACTICED?
Or is it possible that all over the nation the loyal church leaders and active Christians are all telling the same lies about the same situation? We think it possible that of those who teach the system many now say, "We do not even USE the book. We just use the Bible." That sounds good, does it not? And we do not mean that they are all deliberately lying. But what difference would it make if they never were actually assigned READINGS in the book, or never even saw it, if every perverted principle of the book is still practiced in the practical outworking of the system? What good does it do to say, "I repent of any harm I may have done, or any arrogant attitude I may have had, or any breach of fellowship I may have encouraged" if those things that caused the problems are still practiced?
When a person has given his life in upholding the idea that a person who follows Jesus MUST be a fisher of man, and when a person who does not glory in controversy is forced by the gravity of the situation to raise his voice in alarm and protest, surely it behooves sincere honest persons to examine with care the objections raised. Would it not be wise for all those who have seen no wrong, nor heard a false doctrine taught at "headquarters" where the system has been so effectively propagated, to go to congregations where division and confusion have taken place and see if the principles herein reviewed have not been a major factor in such division, or if it is simply because of a bunch of ignorant, self-willed, do-nothing elders who are not interested in personal evangelism? Whatever side of the "issue" you may take, be assured that I am concerned about the souls that are lost, the glory of God, and YOU. Let me know if I can be of service in any way.
T. Pierce Brown
1 This article was written in September of 1986 when the "Master Plan of Evangelism" philosophy was being spread amoung churches of Christ in America by "Campus Ministers" who had been trained at the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainsville, Florida. Because of this, the movement became known as the "Crossroads Movement" among churches of Christ. Their trainees split hundreds of churches of Christ in all parts of the United States and caused much harm. Later, the Crossroads congregation renounced the errors of this philosophy and eventually changed their name because of the bad associations connected with the name.
2 Leadership of the "Crossroads Movement" later passed to Kip McKean of "The Boston Church of Christ." They eventually cut all ties with (and were completely rejected by) existing churches of Christ. They are now a denomination which calls itself "The International Church of Christ," sometimes abbreviated as ICOC.
Published in The Old Paths Archive