My experience visiting a church that practices heavy shepherding, legalism, seminary pride, lording over the sheep, and/or “cultic” ideologies

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For this blog post, I will call the church we visited “This church.” Recently my wife and I were searching for a new church closer to home. While we were visiting churches, we had heard of a newly planted church here in Redlands, that being [name snipped].

This church was a church plant from a well-known Calvinist church located in Sun Valley, California. Since my wife and I have appreciated the expository teachings from the sending church, we added ‘this church’ to our list of churches to visit.

Our visit lasted five weeks. Their pastor was a nice man, but never in my life did I hear so much emphasis on “seminary.” Moreover, the emphasis was only on their seminary (which is also located on campus with their ‘parent church’). We all heard about his completion of “seminary” to ad nauseam.

Then one morning during a men’s study on ‘Ecclesiology / Biblical leadership,’ one of the men asked the pastor, “Is attending seminary Biblically required, to qualify a person to be an Elder or Pastor in the church?” He answered “yes!”

After hearing a couple of other things that were not biblically correct; I asked the pastor if I heard him correctly. He reaffirmed that his answer was “yes.” I respectfully asked him in the presence of the other men, to show us this belief in the Scriptures. Either with a chapter and verse or through hermeneutics, he did not. More about this later.

A consistent pattern that I have noted over the years, of those that tend to go off the chart of sound doctrine, is that most of them hold an M.Div. or higher. In the eyes of man, education is great, but in the eyes of the Lord, it means nothing. With some, their education has become pride, and a form of idolatry. A seminary-driven church can be just as bad as a purpose-driven church. We must RUN from churches filled with extra-biblical opinions.

Brethren, if you do not have a formal Christian education, don’t let anyone discourage you from His service. However, I would encourage you to pursue one, as it is much better to have a higher education than not.

In those five weeks spent at this church, I learned the following. All of which many other men also heard, at the same men’s study. Their pastor stated the following.

  1. That is was “Biblically required” to attend a seminary, to be qualified for Elder or Pastor.
  2. That it was “unbiblical” for Christians to do any form of Christian outreach or evangelism, without the approval of his church leadership.
  3. That he did not want any of his church members to attend any other Bible studies, events, or conferences apart from his church.
  4. That the only people he desired to attend his church, were those that would agree with him on everything. He stated, “I don’t want my members to ‘agree to disagree on anything.”
  5. He stated that there was only one other church in the greater Inland Empire (other than his) that is “Biblical.”
  6. They have no plurality of Elders.

Regarding #1: Had he stated that it was his personal preference, and/or the policy of the church, I would have appreciated his policy. I too am for high standards. But to say that it’s “Biblical,” and then when asked to show that belief in the Scriptures, but he was not able to; that is wrong. It’s a form of false teaching. The Bible says that the Lord has used even those that were uneducated.

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Regarding #2: I understand that it would be better to have their approval (as I do from my current elders,) for issues such as sound doctrine, accountability, discipline, etcetera. But again, when asked to show that command in the Scriptures, he was not able to support his opinions with Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible state that your elders shall first permit you to evangelize (though they should be sent).

Regarding #3: It is good and right for a shepherd to strive to protect his sheep from false teachers. But he should not Lord over them, or control them. I am so thankful for all the conferences and misc. events that the Lord provides us with.

Regarding #4: Folks if you ever belong to a church, where the pastor says that you have to agree with him on everything, RUN as we did. This pastor even admitted that when a lady recently left his church, she accused him of being “cultic.” I can understand why she said that. They act as if they are ‘the church.’

Brethren, anytime we become more loyal to our church, leadership, or denomination, than to the Lord and the truth of the Scriptures; that becomes a form of ecclesiastical idolatry. Truth is Christ is the Head of the church, and He and His Scripture are our authority.

Any time that we place so much trust, and reliance on our education, we need to repent from that idolatry.

Regarding #5. It’s PRIDE! Several times over those 5 weeks, this pastor proactively told several of us men “I am humble and still teachable.” Anytime someone proactively claims to be humble, they usually are not. Anytime someone proactively claims to be teachable, they usually are not. That is usually the same with love. We see people that claim to ‘love,’ but often it is a man-centric unbiblical worldly sensual love.

Regarding #6. This church had no plurality of Elders assigned to this church. Though on their website they showed [name snipped] as an “Elder at large,” but he was an attending Elder at the sending church, which was 80 miles away. Understandably this “elder at large” was not able to see or discern the aforementioned issues that a visitor could witness (and I was there for only 5 weeks). A plurality of elders is Biblical. Amongst many other things, Elders can prevent the pastor from heavy shepherding, from becoming a legalist, etcetera etcetera.

The pastor of this church is the same pastor that frequented a Starbucks while sisters from his church were simultaneously being assaulted, as they labored outside a nearby abortion mill (though they were not sent out by this church).

The pastor opposed Biblical open-air preaching. One day he referred to open-air preachers as nothing but men “standing on the corner with a bullhorn yelling at people.”

The pastor not only admitted being a “dispensationalist,” he boasted “I’m a dispensationalist!” But as I’ve said before,

I am a former Dispensationalist, and today I still have to fight against that former teaching. Dispensationalism is not just one err. Dispensationalism (or leaky dispensationalism) is the mothership that leads to many other errs. When an oncologist removes cancer, they don’t just remove cancer seen only on the surface of the skin. They surgically remove the root of the cancer. And so that is how dispensationalism must be treated, including “leaky dispensationalism.” Because a little leaven leavens the whole lump.

This is the same pastor whose assistant attends the same seminary. His assistant (who is bi-vocational) admitted at a men’s Bible study, that he’s a social liberal. He then went on to complain that he only gets paid “minimum wages” at the restaurant where he works at. He also stated that any Christian who does not believe in tax-paid social welfare programs is “un-Christ like.” Of course, he started his political rant by prefacing it with, “I don’t usually wear politics on my sleeves, but…”

We all fall short in sound doctrine, we all fall short period (myself included). But when there’s a ‘consistent continual practice’ of unbiblical, and/or extra-Biblical errs, it’s time to say enough. I rarely pull the legalist card, as the Lord knows many have wrongfully called me a “legalist.” But when a pastor legislates his own extra-biblical rules, expectations, restrictions, and/or requirements that are outside the Scriptures; that is legalism.

In closing.

This church has a lot of repenting and growing to do (and so do I). But it’s reasonable for laypersons to expect more from the local church.

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