Doug Phillips’ Mentor and Spiritual Father Speaks Out

Negative comments appeared here recently regarding Doug Phillips’ “spiritual father” Pastor Robert Gifford. In response we received word from Pastor Gifford, via one of his daughters and one of his church members, that Pastor Gifford is in no way pleased to be portrayed by Doug Phillips as his spiritual father, and that he is in no way responsible for teaching Doug Phillips Dominionism, Patriarchy, Family Integrated Church, home school elitism, etc. According to these commenters Pastor Gifford has for years been openly confronting Doug Phillips for his unbiblical and extra-biblical positions.

I was subsequently asked to interview Pastor Gifford for this article. Interspersed in this article are direct quotes from my interview with Pastor Robert Gifford, including this statement which explains his motivation for giving me the interview:

“I grieve over the way Doug Phillips has misrepresented me. But that doesn’t bother me the most. God will vindicate me. What bothers me the most is how Doug has defamed the testimony of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It breaks my heart the way he’s discredited and maligned the Word of God. He twisted the Word of God for his own advantage. I also grieve that so many people have been harmed by Doug’s teachings that I think it’s necessary for me to speak out. Doug has a dual personality. He’s been leading a secret life. It’s like the movie Catch Me If You Can.”

Doug Phillips has often made mention of Pastor Robert Gifford, crediting him as his “spiritual father and mentor.” He has done so numerous times from the podium at various venues, as well as in print:

“When I was a young man, my spiritual father, mentor, and pastor gave me a copy of John Gill. He told me it was the most trustworthy and foundational commentary in print. He explained to me that my hero Charles Spurgeon had feasted on John Gill’s writings when he was a young man. Nearly twenty-five years later, I want to once again publicly thank Pastor Robert Gifford for introducing me to the great John Gill who has remained my constant companion in my life.”  2007 Vision Forum Catalog, pg. 38

“It was during those days that two men helped transform my boyhood dreams into the vision of a man. One was my father, and the other was my pastor, Robert Gifford. Both men gave me many books which fueled my interest in the story of Creation and even the quest for dinosaurs. They practiced discipleship and communicated a Creationist message of dominion.” 2003 Vision Forum Catalog, pg. 2

Robert Gifford taught Doug and Brad Phillips, both as their church pastor, and beginning in their 8th and 7th grades, respectively, when they were students at Fairfax Christian School in Vienna, Virginia. FCS is a prestigious school that has attracted many Washington politicians, local celebrities and famous athletes who have sent their children there for a Christian education. Five FCS parents have run for President of the United States, including Howard Phillips.

When Doug and Brad first began attending FCS, “They were deep into Roman Catholicism. Doug also believed in theistic evolution.” Through the influence of Robert Gifford they turned from Roman Catholic evolutionists to make professions of faith in Christ and becoming creationists.

“As a young man, Doug was also discipled by Robert Gifford, a great preacher of the Word and pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, who communicated to Doug a passion for Christian apologetics and the sovereignty of God.” Vision Forum Ministries, About the President

I asked Pastor Gifford, “Why do you think that Doug has so often claimed you as having been such a significant influence in his life, right along side his natural father, crediting you as his spiritual father and mentor?”

“I think that I most definitely influenced him in regard to the fundamentals of the faith. I taught him biblical doctrine. I taught him in school and at church. But I also taught him one on one, in my home. I taught him the doctrines of grace. I taught him soteriology. I taught him creationism. So I taught him the fundamentals in his early age, I was influential in that. Secondly, my family had a big influence on him. He was over at my house a lot. He saw the way my family operated and he liked that. I have seven kids and my family had a big impact on him. I think Doug is sincere about my influence, but I also think he’s being dishonest about some of it too. I think part of why he uses my name is to establish credibility within the evangelical world. Look at me. I’m under a spiritual father. I think it’s also his way of trying to cover up, camouflage, some of the aberrant doctrines that he has.”

Doctrinally, Pastor Gifford is and always has been an evangelical Baptist. He is Dispensational and Premillennial. This demonstrates how highly the Phillips family has always respected him because doctrinally Howard Phillips, after converting from Judaism, became a Reformed Covenantalist, Postmillennial, Reconstructionist, Theonomist and Dominionist, and his sons Doug and Brad later followed after their father in doctrine. Though Doug and Pastor Gifford are at opposite ends of the theological spectrum, in all these years Doug Phillips has always spoken with great fondness of Pastor Robert Gifford.

The Phillips family became members of Pastor Gifford’s church, Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Woodbridge, VA (not affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries). Pastor Gifford was a significant influence in teaching the Phillips family the doctrines of grace, both from the pulpit, and in the Christian school.

Doug Phillips would go on to graduate high school at FCS and then attend the College of William and Mary. It was while Doug was at William and Mary that Pastor Gifford started noticing troubling changes in Doug, and Pastor Gifford often addressed his concerns with Doug.

Doug then attended George Mason School of Law. While in law school he married Elizabeth Beall Dewey. Pastor Gifford performed the wedding ceremony.

Perhaps one of the reasons Doug Phillips has admired Pastor Gifford is because he has been so direct with Doug. According to Pastor Gifford he warned Doug Phillips many times about problems that he saw developing in Doug’s life, both in the doctrines he began to embrace as a young man, as well as his immense pride.

On Patriarchy:

If anyone deserves credit for indoctrinating Doug Phillips in Patriarchy, home school-only elitism, and family integrated church it would be John Thompson. Among other things Thompson is the founding director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. While Doug Phillips was a staff attorney at Home School Legal Defense Association, he invited Pastor Gifford to his home to introduce him to John Thompson:

“I was supposedly Doug’s spiritual father, but he invited this man, John Thompson, to come and instruct me about marriage and family. Doug knew I’d been teaching what the Word has to say about marriage and family for years. I had over a hundred messages I’d given on marriage and family. Doug orchestrated this whole evening so that Thompson could indoctrinate me in Patriarchy. We sat around the table while everyone listened  to this man lecture me. After he got done Doug had us all move into the living room where the men all sat down on the couches. My wife sat next to me; but I noticed all the other women stood behind their husbands, including Beall. It was very strange. They just stood there the whole time behind their husbands. I thought we were going to have a nice conversation. But it wasn’t a conversation, and it was very uncomfortable. This guy Thompson took over and started asking me questions. The last thing he asked me was, ‘If you were in a grocery store and your children started to act rebellious, how would you respond?’ So I said, ‘I don’t go shopping. My wife shops. Honey, what would you do?’ So my wife starts to answer and this Thompson guy cuts her off and says, ‘Excuse me! I’m speaking to the men!’ At this point I really had to hold myself back. Doug just sat there the whole time and said nothing. It was obvious that Doug set this whole thing up. At this point we got up and left.”

“When Doug left Virginia to move to San Antonio to start Vision Forum, I warned him to stay away from John Thompson and Patriarchy. I told him ‘It’s a tyrannical way to lead the family. It’s not biblical’.”

“I think men like Doug get into Patriarchy because they’re weak insecure men. So they gather a bunch of other men around them to figure out how to make their wives do what they want. They don’t know how to lead their wives. All they know how to do is force them. A man is supposed to lead his wife lovingly, sacrificially. unreservedly. It’s clear from Ephesians 5. The Bible calls the wife a ‘helpmeet’. What that means is that she’s a counselor. She’s supposed to give counsel to her husband, and the husband is supposed to listen to her. I’ve taught this for years. We men have blind spots. We need godly women to give us counsel. She’s a counterbalance to us.”

On Family Integrated Church:

“Doug was going around behind my back in my church telling people that Sunday school was evil. I confronted him about it and he lied and said he hadn’t. But I confronted him with the fact that ten families had come to me and told me he’d told them that Sunday school was sin. He told me, ‘I never said that. You’re misrepresenting me’. Doug was very divisive of the church. Several families left because of him, but I was able to prevent a church split. But that’s only because I put a stop to what he was trying to do behind my back. I kept catching him doing dishonest things like that where I’d confront him for something and he’d lie about it. It happened four times in a row.”

On Women Working Outside the Home:

“It’s not a sin for a woman to work outside the home. In fact there are times where it may be necessary for a woman to work outside the home to show her love for her husband and to complement him. This idea that a woman has to remain within the four walls of the home is nowhere found in Scripture.”

On Dominionism and Quiverfull:

vfcatalog2007cover“Doug has misrepresented me in the worst sense. He’s made me out to be a Dominionist. He’s put it in print. He’s said it many times. It’s libel. Dominionism is completely contrary to everything I taught. I think that much of Doug’s views of Dominionism came from the Shepherding movement. There’s a lot of similarities. He also teaches the same thing the Muslims teach which is you take over the world by having lots of babies. You establish an army through your children. It’s important to understand this. If you look at Doug through all his advertisements, the Vision Forum, he’s got his kids on the covers dressed in armor. This is what they’re doing. They’re forming armies through their families. I’m just the absolute opposite of all that.”

On Home Schooling Elitism:

“Doug and his brother Brad came to my home and told me, ‘Pastor Gifford, we believe that the qualifications for membership in the church are wrong. We believe that only home schoolers should be members of the church’. I told them, ‘Do you realize what kind of elitist attitude you have? Do you realize what you’re doing? This is totally anti-biblical. This is the problem that the early Jewish converts had when they thought only they could be members of the church and the Gentiles had to be excluded. What you have is an elitist mentality, and it’s going to turn into a cult if you’re not careful’. It was over that issue that Doug left my church and moved to Texas to start Vision Forum and his own church.”

On Moving to San Antonio To Start Vision Forum:

” ‘Doug, you’ve got a lot of natural talents and pride. Prideful men who rely on natural talents don’t depend like they should on the Holy Spirit. If you get prideful you also won’t rely on God’s Word to lead you. Pride goes before a fall, and that’s what concerns me. You’ve got to be very careful that you don’t do this in the flesh. You need to learn wisdom from above rather than the wisdom that comes from the world. You need to rely on the Holy Spirit to lead you. I’m concerned that in your pride you’ll just rely on your charisma and natural abilities’.”

” ‘Doug, don’t mix business with church. It always ends up that the business controls the church’.”

“I saw Doug’s abilities and charisma all along, and I always saw those more as a danger than a help. I told my wife that Doug was going to depend on his performance, and his charisma and his persona, more than on the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit.”

On Doug Phillips After He Started Vision Forum:

“Doug sent me some of his Vision Forum materials. I listened to them and was really disappointed. I called him and said, ‘Doug, where in any of this are you speaking of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ? All my teaching on the family always points people to Jesus Christ. You’re just teaching moralism. If we don’t lead our children to Jesus we fail. Moralism isn’t enough Doug. You’re de-emphasizing the gospel of salvation. You’re preaching moralism and Dominionism, not Jesus Christ’.”

“I’m not a Dominionist but even I can see that Doug’s militant form of Dominionism is extreme. I also confronted him about his Patriarchy. I pointed out to him that even the Dominionists weren’t teaching the kind of extreme Patriarchy that he does.”

Warning To Doug Phillips At Howard Phillips’ Funeral (May 2013):

“Doug, I’m really concerned for you. You’ve gotten far away from the Word of God by creating this Dominionist/Patriarchy/Family Integrated Church/Home School thing. You need to get back to the gospel of Jesus and stop being a moralist or everything you’ve done is going to fall. Point people to Jesus or your ministry will collapse.”

Pastor Gifford On Doug Phillips’ Infidelity

“All the these issues cause me great heartache, but nothing is so dreadful to me as Doug’s infidelity. In his pride Doug came to believe that he could live like a king with no accountability to anyone, even to God. The result is always immorality. Doug was taught in word and deed to live a pure and holy life that honored our triune God and His Word. He’s “turned from the holy commandment delivered unto him” (1 Thes 4:1-8) to a system of belief and practice that justifies immorality. May the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ quicken Doug and bring him to a place of true repentance and faith.”


Robert Gifford is an elderly man who, of his own admission, isn’t computer literate. Pastor Gifford has reviewed and approved this article for posting. He’s informed me that he likely won’t be monitoring comments to this article or responding to questions here. However, his daughter Grace, has informed me that she likely will.

Media Requests Regarding Doug Phillips and Vision Forum

There are several news media sources who are reporting on what is going on with Doug Phillips and Vision Forum right now.  I am getting multiple requests for more people who are willing to talk to the media.  You may use your name or be anonymous.  If you homeschooled your children or you were homeschooled, and you were impacted by patriarchy, and you are willing to discuss it with the media, or if you would like to tell your story here, please let me know.  If you were impacted by Doug Phillips and you would like to talk about it, please let me know.  I do NOT post anything here without permission first.  I have had many phone calls, personal conversations, and emails in the last couple weeks, but I do not ever break a confidence.

Please consider if sharing your thoughts would help the community of homeschoolers to bring healing to this situation right now.

You may use this form to directly contact me (this goes ONLY to me) or you may click on the email below my pic to the right.

Vision Forum: Closed

The Closing of Vision Forum Ministries


In light of the serious sins which have resulted in Doug Phillips’s resignation from Vision Forum Ministries, the Board of Directors has determined that it is in the best interests of all involved to discontinue operations. We have stopped receiving donations, and are working through the logistical matters associated with the closing of the ministry. While we believe as strongly as ever in the message of the ministry to the Christian family, we are grieved to find it necessary to make this decision. We believe this to be the best option for the healing of all involved and the only course of action under the circumstances.

The Christian Post: “Christian Family Ministry Leader Doug Phillips Resigns After Admitting to ‘Inappropriate Relationship'”

The Christian Post weighs in:

The leader of a conservative Christian family organization has resigned from the non-profit after admitting to having an affair, however, he will still maintain ownership of the related for-profit company.

Doug Phillips, whose organization Vision Forum advocates for “Biblical patriarchy,” admitted to having committed a “serious sin” and claimed that he had confessed it his “wife and family, [his] local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries.”

“I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not ‘know’ each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate,” wrote Phillips.

Despite the fact that Phillips asserted that he would no longer be “giving speeches or running conferences at this time of my life under the banner of VFI or VFM” and leading “a quiet life focusing on my family and serving as a foot soldier,” he also explained that he had not completely divorced himself from influence within the organization.

“I retain ownership of Vision Forum, Inc,” he wrote on the organization’s blog on November 6.


To read the rest of the article, which quotes one supporter and one ex-supporter, here is the rest of the article.

Why I am NOT Calling Doug Phillips to Repentance

For years, Doug Phillips called me to repentance.  He required that those in his congregation call me to repentance.  In fact, that was the only contact they were allowed to have with me, and still are.  For years, I asked what sin I had committed so that I could truly repent.  At the time, I wanted nothing more than to be restored to good fellowship, but no one was ever able to identify my sin.  Now, I am certainly far from perfect, but in this case, I had done nothing worthy of being excommunicated and shunned, and my kids certainly had done nothing worthy of their being excommunicated and shunned, simply because they were my children.  But, nonetheless, I have been called to repentance for years now.

Now the tables have turned, but now I am NOT going to call Doug Phillips to repentance.

Let me repeat that.  I am NOT calling Doug Phillips to repentance.

I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s look at repentance.  Ironically, Doug Phillips posted an article just a couple months ago, entitled “True Repentance.”  This was written by Doug Phillips himself on August 7, 2013.  If my memory serves me correctly, he has written this article before and this is probably an updated, edited version.  Nevertheless, the topic is still fresh in his mind.

Citing II Cor. 7:10, Doug Phillips goes on to compare worldly sorrow with godly sorrow.  Let’s observe Doug Phillips’ article on True Repentance alongside his Statement of Resignation.

Article: Too often “repentance” is the experience of offering a half-hearted and self-serving apology to God and man, mixed with large amounts of blame-shifting, pride, and a desire to be done with the whole matter so you don’t ever have to deal with it again. It is the “I have said I am sorry on my terms and in my way, and there is nothing more I need to do, so if that is not good enough for you, then you are the one in sin” attitude.

The Bible describes this attitude as “the sorrow of the world [which] produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). It is a false sorrow, a self-centered and self-serving sorrow. Evidences of worldly sorrow include fear of bad results, a sense of pressure caused by the consequences of sin, and embarrassment over “getting caught.” Worldly sorrow may result in partial repentance accompanied by the telling of half-truths and admission of just enough wrongdoing, and no more, than is necessary. Worldly sorrow is often accompanied by arrogance and pride, because, at the end of the day, the sinner does not believe his crimes are really that bad—at least, they are not as bad as the other guy’s crimes.

This is a sorrow that leaves injured parties worse off because they are expected to accept the apology of one who is at best “sorry” with qualifications and reservations, unwilling to make the injured party whole.

While Doug Phillips’ Statement of Resignation is not an official statement of repentance, am I the only one who detects many of the above characteristics of “worldly sorrow” in this statement?

With thanksgiving to God for His mercy and love, I have stepped down from the office of president at Vision Forum Ministries and have discontinued my speaking responsibilities. 

There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance. I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries.  I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not “know” each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate. 

There are no words to describe the magnitude of shame I feel, or grief from the injury I caused my beloved bride and children, both of whom have responded to my repentance with what seems a supernatural love and forgiveness. I thought too highly of myself and behaved without proper accountability. I have acted grievously before the Lord, in a destructive manner hypocritical of life messages I hold dear, inappropriate for a leader, abusive of the trust that I was given, and hurtful to family and friends. My church leadership came alongside me with love and admonition, providing counsel, strong direction and accountability. Where I have directly wronged others, I confessed and repented. I am still in the process of trying to seek reconciliation privately with people I have injured, and to be aware of ways in which my own selfishness has hurt family and friends. I am most sensitive to the fact that my actions have dishonored the living God and been shameful to the name of Jesus Christ, my only hope and Savior.

This is a time when my repentance needs to be proven, and I need to lead a quiet life focusing on my family and serving as a foot soldier, not a ministry leader. Though I am broken over my failures, I am grateful to be able to spend more time with my family, nurturing my wife and children and preparing my older sons and daughters for life. So, for these reasons I want to let my friends know that I have stepped down as a board member and as president of Vision Forum Ministries. The Board will be making provision for the management of the ministry during this time. To the friends of this ministry, I ask for your forgiveness, and hope that you will pray for the Phillips family at this time, and for the men who will be responsible for shepherding the work of Vision Forum Ministries in the future.

In the True Repentance article, Doug Phillips goes on to describe godly sorrow.  The article is actually very good, and well worth reading in whole, but let me pull a few quotes from each section of Doug’s description of godly sorrow:

Brokenness:  Those who experience true brokenness over sin are overwhelmed by the enormity of their crime. … He is deeply grieved that he has injured his brother. He enters into the pain of those whom he has wronged, and his heart is full of compassion for them because of the trouble his sin has caused. A truly repentant man is therefore a humble man who thinks less of himself and more of those he has injured.

Forsaking Sin:  One of the clearest signs of worldly sorrow and false repentance is that, once caught, the sinner simply transfers his sin to another venue.

Truth Telling:  Those who experience godly sorrow and true repentance will therefore tell the whole truth. They will not play word games or withhold those facts which would make them look worse. 

Acceptance of Responsibility: True godly sorrow necessarily requires the sinner to take full responsibility for his actions.  If you have ever listened to a person “repent” by making excuses for their actions, shifting blame, accusing others in the process, or telling half-truths, you can be sure that this person does not have godly sorrow and, therefore, is not repentant. 

Restitution:  It is not enough that they will cease and desist from the wrongdoing. They will do whatever is necessary to heal those they have injured by restoring to them what they have taken. Godly sorrow produces such compassion for the injured party that the penitent man aches to bring health and wholeness to those he has injured.

Peace: The man who experiences a godly sorrow unto repentance desires to live at peace with those he has injured, and all the more so when sin has brought strife and division between fellow believers.  A sinner who grieves over his sin will go to great lengths to seek peace with those he has injured.

When we first get caught doing something harmful to others, our natural human response is, “I’m sorry I got caught.”  That is natural, normal, and just part of the process of being human.  That is what the Bible terms as “worldly sorrow.”  But “godly sorrow” leads to true repentance.  So how do we get from “worldly sorrow” to “godly sorrow?”  If we call someone to repentance, will they suddenly turn around and go in the other direction, which we often term as “repentance,” and then will they find “godly sorrow” when they turn their lives around?

Paul tells us just the opposite, that “godly sorrow” itself is what produces repentance.  Calling someone to repentance does not produce godly sorrow, but the godly sorrow will inevitably lead to a true repentance.

What is true repentance?  Is it just turning around and going in the opposite direction?  No, I don’t believe so.  That would be a natural result of repentance, but that is not repentance itself.  Repentance is simply a changed heart.  The only true change in our lives comes from a change deep in our hearts, when we allow God to simply love us.  When we come to understand how much God truly loves us, our hearts melt before Him.  When we come to realize that God loves us, no matter what “sin” we commit, our hearts are reshaped into love.  When we experience God’s unconditional love even in our own self-imposed conditions, we are broken in love.

Love explainedLet’s break this down a bit.  First, we do something that hurts someone else.  In this case, Doug Phillips’ relationship with this woman was over a very long period of time.  Then we get caught.  What is the natural, normal, human response to getting caught?  Worldly sorrow.  “I’m sorry I got caught.”  That appears to be the stage that Doug Phillips is currently in.  That is normal.  As Doug Phillips comes to realize that God is not angry with him, that God is not keeping a record of Doug’s wrongs, that God has already paid for all his sins, that God is not standing over him with a big hammer, that God is simply loving him like He always does, then, and only then, will Doug’s heart be broken enough to accept God’s love for him.  When Doug Phillips comes to know how much God truly does love him, when he realizes this deep inside himself even though he has preached it all his life, then, and only then, will Doug experience the depth of God’s love for him that will produce a change of heart.  When Doug Phillips begins to experience this amazing love of God, Doug’s heart will soften and melt before God and before man.  That melting heart will lead to godly sorrow, and that godly sorrow will lead to repentance.  That repentance will be a heart change, not just turning around and going in the opposite direction.

And that is why I do NOT call Doug Phillips to repentance.  The only way that Doug Phillips will experience true repentance is after he comes to know the full love of God toward him at this moment in time.  And so, I simply plead with Doug Phillips to allow God to love him.  There is no list of “repentance” to follow.  There is no one right way to make things right.  When there is a true heart change, we will know it.  When Doug Phillips experiences the love of God in a new and fresh way, it will be apparent to everyone who knows him.

No list.
No rules.
No checklist.
No call to repentance.

Just the love of God for each and every one of us who hurts others.


How Patriarchy Itself is the Slippery Slope that Led Doug Phillips to Serious Sin With Another Woman

Speculation is running rampant right now regarding Doug Phillips’ recent admission of a lengthy, inappropriate relationship resulting in “serious sin” with another woman.  Doug Phillips claims that he behaved without proper accountability, but how much do we really need someone else to hold our hands to keep us from “serious sin” in life?  Is Doug Phillips really going to place the blame for his “serious sin” upon the shoulders of dozens and dozens of men who do hold him accountable each and every day of his life?  In his statement of repentance, does he truly take responsibility or is this yet another deflection?

Let’s take a look at Doug’s daily life and see how this could possibly happen.  Is it possible that the lifestyle and rules of patriarchy itself are exactly why Doug Phillips found himself on a slippery slope from which there was no return?  Does patriarchy in fact encourage this kind of temptation?  I believe it does and it did, in Doug Phillips’ case.

First, let’s go to work with Doug Phillips.  Vision Forum’s offices and warehouse are located smack in the middle of San Antonio, TX.  The men who are employed there all hold to Doug Phillips’ strict views and rules of patriarchy.  Any women who work at Vision Forum come to work with their husbands, fathers, or brothers.  There are no unrelated women working there.  There are a dozen or so men surrounding Doug and his office at any given moment.  To reach Doug’s office, one must pass by several other men’s offices.  It is practically impossible for any inappropriate relationship to take place at Vision Forum, and knowing Doug Phillips’ extremely high standards against sexual sin, this simply wouldn’t not happen at the office.

Doug Phillips attends dozens of homeschool conferences, and hosts many fabulous homeschool events put on by Vision Forum.  His family attends nearly event with him, and if his whole family does not go, at least some of his children are always with him at these events.  Doug Phillips is also always surrounded by his Vision Forum interns and staff at each and every one of these events and conferences.  I cannot for the life of me envision Doug looking at another woman while attending these events, and he is never left alone, so I think we can cross this off our list as well.

How about doing errands around town?  Not likely and not often.  Doug Phillips would have absolutely zero interest in the “worldly” woman, so I do not believe that would ever happen.

Counseling?  Doug Phillips was always very careful never to counsel a woman alone.  I am sure that he continued that rule.

So where does that leave us?  I can think of only one situation and it is not only plausible but also nearly inevitable in many patriarchal families.  Patriarchy itself lends itself to this situation.  Large families require a huge amount of work.  Many mothers within patriarchy are worn to a frazzle and if they can afford it, they seek extra help.  There are many types of help available but the most prevalent type is to hire a nanny, another young lady within the patriarchy movement who holds all the ideals of patriarchy, but is patiently waiting to get married, so she “serves” her father by serving another man and his family, taking care of his children.

In “The Return of the Daughters,” a young lady states that she cannot serve in her father’s business so she serves God and her father by serving others in the community (“community” is a codeword for those who belong to Doug Phillips’ church).  The way that she serves the “community” is to be a nanny for Doug Phillips’ eight children.  She is not the only nanny that the Phillips family has employed over the years, but she was featured in this documentary.

Let’s look at the type of “nanny” the Phillips family would employ.

Natasha Phillips GirlsDresses modestly (long, full dresses


Obeys her parents, even as an adult

Obeys her elders (at church)

Courtship only (no dating or relationships with men)

Gentle, quiet spirit



Has no opinions in her own right

Does not go to college

Good with children

Cooks and cleans

Loves God

Now, this is not your typical 13-year-old babysitter.  This nanny is often a full-time position for a young woman in her late teens or twenties.  This young woman, who most certainly has natural hormones for this age, has no outlet for relationships with men.  This young woman, under the encouragement of her father, idolizes Doug Phillips.  This young woman is the epitome of everything Doug Phillips preaches.  She is the standard that all other young patriarchal ladies wish to aspire to.  And this young woman does so with the full blessing of her father.

And she spends most of her time with the Phillips family.  She is there while Doug is at work.  She is often there when Doug is at home.  She will even spend the night there sometimes.  She is there when the family travels to homeschool conferences and Vision Forum events, where Doug has the opportunity to watch her perform her duties in a fashion that makes Doug Phillips very proud.  She even goes on family vacations with the Phillips, occasionally, to help with the tremendous amount of work of taking care of eight children.  She is like a second mother to the Phillips’ children.

Is it any wonder that she also becomes like a second wife to Doug Phillips as well?  Here is this young woman, in her twenties, beautiful inside and outside, blindly obedient to everything she is told to do, never questioning, and absolutely idolizing this man in his forties.  If this young woman spends several years practically living with the Phillips’ family, are we really so surprised that a lengthy, inappropropriate relationship develops between these two that eventually leads to serious sin?

Patriarchy itself, with all its rules and legalism, is such a heavy burden on a large family that they absolutely do need extra help.  The kind of help that leads to such a slippery slope, however, goes against everything Doug Phillips preaches.  Perhaps we need to go back to square one and decide if this was such a good idea.

I do not blame Doug.  I do not blame this woman. I am not saying that I know who the woman is, but if anyone knows anything different from what I have presented here, I will retract my thoughts.

This is not about needing more accountability in life.  Doug Phillips has more men to keep him accountable than does the president of the United States.  This is not about needing more rules in life.  Rules do not change our heart.  This is about having a change of heart.  This is about coming to realize that keeping a long list of rules just doesn’t work.  No one can perfectly keep a long list of rules and God does not intend for us to do so.

In the Bible, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the “patriarchs.”  Look at what happened to Abraham when Sarah’s household help was called upon to help progenate Abraham’s descendants.  Look at what happened when Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel, couldn’t get along and asked their household help to help progenate their families as well.  Perhaps, in the true sense of patriarchy, this is just a natural extension of patriarchy.

Or, perhaps, we need to reevaluate the value of patriarchy to begin with.

The Heavy Burden of Doug Phillips’ Legalism Leads to His Resignation From Vision Forum

When I first told my story about Doug Phillips, nearly seven years ago now, it caused a bit of a stir.  At the time, I felt like I had done nothing worthy of excommunication, I had exhausted all efforts to reconcile with both Doug Phillips and BCA, the church I was excommunicated from, and I had forgiven everyone in my heart of hearts.  The reason I went public with my story was because Doug Phillips was a very public leader in the homeschooling movement and was primarily responsible for the patriarchy movement.  This was not just a personal issue between Doug Phillips and me, this was a case of a very public leader who preached “Family First” everywhere he went, yet he totally destroyed and devastated my family.  I felt it was important to warn others that their number one leader in the movement was not really about putting family first (after God, of course).

Doug 4I was surprised, I suppose naively so, to begin to hear privately from person after person after person who told me stories of abuse by Doug Phillips and how he had threatened to harm their families, their career, and their church life if they did not keep quiet about what had taken place.  Any anecdote or story told within those circles was immediately put into the “gossip” category and was severely dealt with.  Legal means were often employed to keep people quiet.  I heard many stories of men “dressed in black,” carrying pieces (or so I was told), who used mafia-like techniques to make sure any and all stories involving Doug Phillips in any way other than idolizing him were decidedly dealt with, quickly and severely.

And so, when I was threatened with the same types of actions, as I realized how many people cowered in fear for their lives and their families’ lives, I stood up against such tyranny and abuse and fought for freedom from ecclesiastical terror.  Doug Phillips and his cohorts put up multiple websites about me, dedicated solely to attacking my family and me.  Many were outright lies; some were twisted truths, while others were simply about airing my personal “sins” for the whole world to see.  While that was not enough to stop me from telling my story about Doug Phillips truthfully and respectfully, it was enough to stop nearly everyone else from considering telling their stories publicly as well.  As I promised them all so many years ago, I will keep their secrets secret, but it was just all the more reason for me to proclaim to the world that Doug Phillips does not practice what he preaches.  And there is a time and a place to warn people against impending danger.

Statistics say that for every one person who writes a letter to the editor, or for every one person who writes a letter to a corporation, there are probably one hundred other people who feel the same way.  So, if a corporation gets one letter complaining about the taste of their peanut butter, for example, they may just blow it off and send them a voucher for a new jar of peanut butter.  But if they receive ten such letters in a short period of time, the peanut butter manufacturer will not think that ten people are complaining about their precious commodity, but rather that those ten are representative of one hundred people each, so that would be the equivalent of one thousand people probably feeling that same way.

I found those statistics to hold true for my blog.  For every one hundred readers, I had one comment, almost exactly.  It was eerily accurate.  But those were just the public comments.  I also received many, many private emails, especially that first year when I told my story.  In the first year my blog was up, I had over one million readers.  I also received approximately one thousand emails from people who were involved in patriarchy who had decided to leave the legalism and judgmentalism of patriarchy because of my blog.  If statistics hold true, and I do believe they do, that equates to about 100,000 families who decided to leave patriarchy because I told my story about the ecclesiastical abuse and tyranny of Doug Phillips.

If I could go back in history and be anyone I wanted to be, I have often dreamed of being Susan B. Anthony, because she freed women from the prisons of their lives then.  While it cost me nearly everything I had and nearly every friend in life, I believe God used me to be a modern-day Susan B. Anthony of sorts, leading women and their families out of the legalism and bondage of patriarchy.  And that made it all worth it.

Let me be clear that I am still strongly in favor of homeschooling.  I think that for a mother to be able to stay at home and raise her children and homeschool them is the best of all worlds for a child.  I believe that children should have two parents at home, that an intact family is a strong and healthy family.  I believe that husbands should love and cherish their wives, and wives should love and respect their husbands.  I believe that many, many of the things Doug Phillips taught in the patriarchy movement are good, valuable, honorable, necessary aspects of a strong family.

But it doesn’t come through legalism.  We don’t need a long list of rules to tell us how to love.  Doug Phillips wrote up several lists of “beliefs” that patriarchal families were to hold to, with each one being more and more restrictive.  Doug Phillips also insisted that the Law of Moses applied to us today.  I wish I could share with him the truth that Jesus came to free us from that bondage!

Love.  Or rules.

Which one binds us together?  Which one holds the family together?  Which one holds the church together?  Which one is written on our hearts now?

Early in my marriage, I committed adultery.  I repented from that many years ago, but what keeps me from committing adultery again?  Love?  Or rules?  Which is a stronger bond?

When we live our life by rules, which are just another form of legalism, we will stumble and fall.  We can’t help ourselves.  However, when we live our lives by LOVE, it is a whole different story.  Today, I don’t need a rule to tell me not to commit adultery.  Love for others keeps me from even thinking in that direction.  But even if I were to commit adultery again, love would bring me to repentance, not rules.

I still do not know why my adultery of 25 years ago was brought up in the excommunication, and why Doug Phillips found it necessary to tell the whole world about something I long ago repented from, but the Bible has a verse that seems rather appropriate to all this today:

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Gal. 6:7)

Today, Doug Phillips announced his resignation from Vision Forum, a ministry and business that is the culmination of his life’s work, his passion and love that he has given himself fully to for the last twenty years or so.  I do not rejoice in this announcement, as I realize how devastating this must be for Doug Phillips and his family, but I cannot help but think that today, Doug Phillips is reaping what he has sown.

Here is his announcement:

Statement of Resignation

Doug 1by Douglas Phillips, Esq., October 30, 2013

With thanksgiving to God for His mercy and love, I have stepped down from the office of president at Vision Forum Ministries and have discontinued my speaking responsibilities.

There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance. I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries.  I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not “know” each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.

There are no words to describe the magnitude of shame I feel, or grief from the injury I caused my beloved bride and children, both of whom have responded to my repentance with what seems a supernatural love and forgiveness. I thought too highly of myself and behaved without proper accountability. I have acted grievously before the Lord, in a destructive manner hypocritical of life messages I hold dear, inappropriate for a leader, abusive of the trust that I was given, and hurtful to family and friends. My church leadership came alongside me with love and admonition, providing counsel, strong direction and accountability. Where I have directly wronged others, I confessed and repented. I am still in the process of trying to seek reconciliation privately with people I have injured, and to be aware of ways in which my own selfishness has hurt family and friends. I am most sensitive to the fact that my actions have dishonored the living God and been shameful to the name of Jesus Christ, my only hope and Savior.

This is a time when my repentance needs to be proven, and I need to lead a quiet life focusing on my family and serving as a foot soldier, not a ministry leader. Though I am broken over my failures, I am grateful to be able to spend more time with my family, nurturing my wife and children and preparing my older sons and daughters for life. So, for these reasons I want to let my friends know that I have stepped down as a board member and as president of Vision Forum Ministries. The Board will be making provision for the management of the ministry during this time. To the friends of this ministry, I ask for your forgiveness, and hope that you will pray for the Phillips family at this time, and for the men who will be responsible for shepherding the work of Vision Forum Ministries in the future.

Doug Phillips

This is the difference between a life of love versus a life of legalism.  The rules were too heavy, too burdensome for him to bear.  No one could continue under all those rules and experience the abundant life God has for us.  This is very sad.

I pray that Doug Phillips will use this time to do some serious soul searching, not just in this one area, but in the burdens of life that he has put upon himself and his family and thousands of other families who have looked up to him for so many years.  Now is the time to reevaluate rules in favor of love.

Beall, I love you.  My heart hurts for you.

Someday, I hope to hear Doug Phillips preaching that not only does love cover a multitude of sins but that life is all about love.  Period.

How I Became a Two-Fold Son of Hell

And How God Bestowed His Grace Upon a Pharisee Like Me

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Matt. 23:15

The word “Pharisee” means one who is separated for a life of purity. Oh, that described my intentions to the fullest as a believer. I wanted to be pure and holy. The Pharisees probably began with pure motives and good intentions. They so desired to please God. They wanted to love God with all their heart. They wanted to obey Him in everything they did. But even though the Law of Moses was rather stringent, there were still many areas of freedom, such as what it meant not to do any work on the Sabbath. So the Pharisees began to add to the Law, to make it even stricter than what God had intended, even going so far as to prescribe where one could spit on the Sabbath, for example: It was fine to spit on a rock because the spittle just sat there, but if you spat on the dirt, the dirt had to absorb the liquid, so that was considered work. Oh, we look at that now and laugh, but do we do the same things in our desire to be pure and holy? I know I do.

When we are truly sold out for Christ, it is a wonderful thing. It is a goal worth obtaining to be everything that God wants us to be. But in so doing, sometimes we lose our first love. Sometimes the pursuit of holiness begins to take precedence over our relationship with Christ. Sometimes the rules begin to rule in our own hearts. Sometimes we forget the grace of God toward us while we were yet sinners and we “work” to please the Lord. We don’t even realize it is “work.” We think that we are pleasing the Lord by living a life of holiness and obedience to him. And we may be. If our motives are right.

When we see a pattern or principle in Scripture, that can be a good thing, if we understand how to properly use it. There is much to be learned from these biblical principles. But there is a world of difference between using a biblical principle as a guide and using the principle to define sin. Some Christians have falsely elevated principles in Scripture to make them the equivalent of commands. When we see a principle in Scripture, I think it is intended to help us make wise decisions. Often people will call them guiding principles, and that they should be. They should be there to guide us in life, but they are not there as a rule of law for us. We get into trouble when we elevate even Scripturally-based guiding principles into a rule of law for our life.

When we discover principles in Scripture, we make our own preferences in life based upon these principles. After a while of living out these preferences, they may start to become convictions for us. After having our own convictions for a while, they can then be falsely elevated into convictions that we put upon others, often without ever meaning to do so. When we expect others to follow these same convictions, we elevate what started out as merely a guiding principle for life to the status of a command or law for us. To violate this “law” now becomes a sin. Sometimes these violations are even then elevated to the level of being an excommunicable offense. How did we get from a basic guiding biblical principle all the way to an excommunicable offense? I saw this happen in my own life.

These last few months were excruciatingly painful for me as I realized what I had bought into all these years. Until very recently, I was bound by legalism, but I didn’t know it. I have just recently had many “convictions” stripped away from me as I saw that God does not give us explicit commands in His Word regarding these areas. I am not advocating antinomianism in any way whatsoever; we are under the Law of Christ, and as such, there are plenty of commands for us to obey. We just need to be very cautious not to elevate principles to the place of a direct command.

Having been a part of the Patriarchy movement for seven years, even after our excommunication, I was surprised when some here started challenging this movement. These were not egalitarians or feminists, and they appeared to believe in biblical roles, so I didn’t understand what they had against patriarchy. I was suddenly faced with the realization that Patriarchy may not be as biblical as I’d always believed it to be. I loved the lifestyle of Patriarchy, in spite of my story.

When I first set about to write about patriarchy, my thoughts were that I would start by listing everything in patriarchy that I found to be biblical. The second part of that series was going to focus on what seemed to be hyper-patriarchy, or extra-biblical. As I read through the “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy,” I thought that, overall, they sounded fine. There were a few minor areas of concern, however, so I decided to look up those verses to see why that tenet was stated in that particular way. Expecting to find biblical language being used in the tenets, I was surprised to find that the first few Scriptures I looked up did not provide the biblical support I anticipated. As I looked into the Scriptural support further and further, I began to see a pattern emerge, a pattern of tenets without the requisite biblical support. Still, I reasoned to myself, these tenets aren’t really that bad in and of themselves. They just need a little more Scriptural support. Even after writing out all the lack of biblical basis found in the “Tenets,” I was blind to what it all meant.

I believe these tenets were originally written in 2001, which was a time when I found Patriarchy to be much more loving and not nearly as extreme as it is currently. While I am sure that many patriarchists still believe these Tenets as written, how they play out in real life has become a huge concern to me.

When it comes to God’s Word, truth is all important. I am sold out for the truth of God’s Word, even if it means that I have to make changes in life in order to line up with the truth of God’s Word. We naturally gravitate toward positions that favor our personal inclinations. Sometimes we do so without searching the Scriptures for ourselves. But a diligent search for the truth of God’s Word demands that we be willing to let God rip away our emotional attachments.

When we first attended a patriarchy church, I was attracted to the like-mindedness of the other families there. I had always had a strong desire to live in a Christian community with other people who believed the same things I did, who lived a similar lifestyle, and who worked and lived and fellowshipped together on a regular basis. I wanted more, so much more, than what a normal church has to offer. I wanted that New Testament church where they had all things in common, where they broke bread together daily, where they met together in homes to study and fellowship. I wanted to be with people who believed in following the roles for men and women that God laid out for us in His Word. I desired to be with families who wanted to stay together as a family and weren’t separated every time we walked through the doors of a church. I really wanted to meet other families who believed in a reasonable amount of training and discipline for their children, so that children are a pleasure to be around, and not terrors.

I also crave structure. I’d been in churches where they just “let the Holy Spirit lead,” and we never knew what was going to happen from week to week. That was too touchy-feely for me and I created my own boundaries instead. Although I don’t need liturgies, I enjoy a highly-structured format to the service. I like predictability. I thrived under the discipline of military life and was drawn to memorizing all the rules and regulations. I carried that desire over into real life as well, feeling safe inside my man-made boundaries. As long as I could see a solid reason for them, I was willing to submit to all kinds of rules, and delighted in having that same kind of structure at home. I never felt I was too extreme in all this, as I didn’t lay out a schedule for every adult and child in my family for every fifteen minutes of the day, as did some of my friends. But I still advocated basic time management.

So I didn’t know anything about Patriarchy when we first started attending this church, but I was so desperate for a “godly” church that I was willing to follow just about any set of rules in order to be a part of one. In fact, had we not gone here, I was ready to go to the Mennonite church the following week. I told my daughter that I was willing to give up my wardrobe of normal clothes and wear plain, drab dresses, no make-up or jewelry, and I would even wear a head-covering, if I could just find a godly church. When the elders started preaching on different aspects of Patriarchy and these different tenets would come up in everyday conversation, I thought this was what was necessary in order to be holy. I had previously thought that maybe I was the only person in the world who was concerned with holiness, but once I started attending this patriarchy church, I realized that I didn’t even begin to meet their standards of holiness. I arrived there full of pride at my own holiness, but I soon had that pride dashed, as I suddenly felt myself fall to the bottom of the barrel, spiritually, in comparison to these other godly families there.

I worked real hard to make the necessary changes to fit in. I wasn’t about to change just to fit in, though, so I set about to pray and asked God to reveal to me all the sin in my life. My husband did the same. Together, we began to listen to dozens of sermons by various speakers about this new kind of lifestyle. After each tape, we would discuss the message as a family, evaluating whether it lined up with Scripture or not. If we agreed that it was biblical, we would cry and repent and make major changes in our family. Looking back now, I can see that nearly all these messages were based on biblical principles, often taken out of context, rather than on direct commands of Scripture. We listened to most of these on a 6,000 mile cross-country trip, so we sometimes listened to three or four sermons a day. That meant three or four major changes in our family a day. That was pure hell for our thirteen year old daughter and she hated all the changes, but she eventually just got used to them, since everyone else at church lived the same lifestyle. So, it wasn’t too long before we were on par with the rest of the families at church regarding Patriarchy or, at least, as much as we could figure out without having it demonstrated to us. I did have some concerns about the level of submission that was taught and the emphasis on not allowing girls to attend college and some of the extremes for the women, such as not being allowed to introduce my own parents at church, but for the most part, they were small differences that I could live with. Or so I thought.

Years later, I told my story. And I was still dedicated to Patriarchy. In fact, I said as much in many of my comments here. I wasn’t even ready to give it up when I posted that series of three articles exposing how extra-biblical “The Biblical Tenets of Patriarchy” really are. But God was ready for me to nail that coffin shut on that part of my life, so I believe that He led Corrie to post some articles here by Jonathan Lindvall. I said I didn’t want any off-topic comments on the “Biblical Tenets of Patriarchy” exposés, so I had some complaints about letting those comments stand. But as I read through those comments by Jonathan Lindvall, I suddenly realized that while the words on “The Biblical Tenets of Patriarchy” sounded polished and full of vision, what Jonathan Lindvall was talking about was what my real life was like in Patriarchy. That hit me like a ton of bricks and I was forced to examine the fruit of Patriarchy in my life.

But something really significant happened along the way, something that made me willing to examine Patriarchy. The more I think about this particular experience in my life, the more I am able to empathize with those who are still caught up in Patriarchy, especially hyper-Patriarchy, and the more I understand why they just don’t see what we are talking about. As I share a really personal part of my heart with you now, I hope that this will help us to be able to pray for those who are still blinded to extra-biblical teachings of hyper-patriarchy.

As many of you know, Mike is my Bible study teacher. But we did not get off to a very good start last March when I argued incessantly with him about the definition of the words “observe” and “keep.” I don’t know why Mike gave me a second chance, but he began to systematically teach me about the Law of Moses in the Bible. I didn’t get it. I liked being under the Law, all the while insisting that I wasn’t actually under the Law, but was merely following the Law. We spent hours and hours and hours going through Galatians, but I just didn’t understand what Mike was trying to say. At one point, in exasperation, I said, “Do you know how many times I’ve read Galatians in the last several days?” Mike merely responded, “Not enough,” so we went back to the drawing board. I averaged 8-12 hours of Bible study a day for weeks, trying to find the truth. I knew my position was wrong by this point, but I wasn’t ready to concede. I had to be convinced of the truth; I had to see it for myself. So we studied many, many passages on the Law. And I still didn’t get it.

I woke up on March 25 this year at 3 in the morning with two words racing through my mind: authority and jurisdiction. All of a sudden, I realized that the Law has no authority over me because I am not under its jurisdiction. (I realize that this is a very simplified version of hundreds of pages of teaching. Mike also taught me later which law I am under.) Mike had been saying that all along, but my mind was blinded. As Mike encouraged me to go back over all the previous lessons again, I suddenly realized that I understood them all clearly. They were as obvious now as the nose on my face. What changed? Why did those two words keep my stomach in knots for weeks? Why did this Bible study consume my whole life? Why was I so driven to study about the Law of Moses, of all things?

I didn’t understand why then, but as I recently studied II Corinthians 3 again, a passage that Mike taught me in great detail previously, I saw something that explained the radical change in my life from that day I woke up shouting “Authority! Jurisdiction!” This passage is talking about the veil that Moses wore over his face, even as the glory was passing away, the glory that came from the Old Covenant, also called the ministry of death or the ministry of condemnation. Then it talks about how much more glorious the New Covenant is. Now look at verses 14-16:

But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

When I saw this two weeks ago, I noticed something new to me. Both thoughts are repeated twice, which gives meaning to the context. Before we look at that, though, we need to understand what the veil does. Verse 14 states that their minds were blinded and then goes on to show why. The veil over the heart represents a blind mind, one that cannot understand the Scriptures. The first idea expressed here is “the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament” and “when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.” Obviously God is not telling us that just reading the Old Testament causes a veil to remain unlifted. That wouldn’t make sense. The second part tells us that it is specifically when Moses, or the Law of Moses, is read. But does reading the Old Testament or even the Law of Moses cause a veil to be over our hearts? Let’s look at the other thought here to find out. Now we see that “the veil is taken away in Christ” and “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” When we turn to the Lord, when we are in Christ, the veil is taken away and our minds are no longer blind. Would it mean that when we became a Christian that we would still have a veil over our heart when we read the Law of Moses? No. Of course not. So, it seems to me that since the whole chapter is talking about comparing and contrasting the Old Covenant, that ministry of death and condemnation, with the New Covenant, the ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness, that that contrast is continued in these verses. When we turn to Christ, we are under the New Covenant; we are no longer under the Old Covenant. The veil of the Old Covenant is taken away in Christ. The veil of the ministry of death and condemnation is lifted when one turns to the Lord of the New Covenant.

So what am I saying? I now know that I lived under the Law of Moses. I tried to keep that Law. Even though that Law had no authority over me, no jurisdiction over me, I wanted to obey that Law of Moses anyway. I put myself under the Law of Moses and that is what this passage is referring to when it says “when Moses is read.” And so my mind was blinded. I could not understand the Scriptures. I thought I understood them, but Mike kept assuring me that I did not. And then, all of a sudden, that veil was lifted and my mind was no longer blind. I could see! I could understand! When? When I turned to the Lord. The passage tells us that the veil is lifted when we turn to the Lord, that our minds are no longer blind when we are in Christ.

Was I truly saved before that day? Maybe. Maybe not. I thought I was. I loved God with all my heart and I desired to please him. But I know of another Pharisee who loved God with all his heart and desired to obey God also — Saul, before he became Paul. And after his conversion, it was as if scales fell from his eyes and his mind was no longer blinded. He, too, was living under that old Law, the ministry of death and condemnation.

Legalism brings a lot of condemnation. Legalism is adding to what God has told us to do. Legalism places heavy burdens on us that God never intended us to carry. Legalism is the burden of the Pharisees. Just as Saul was a Pharisee before he came to Christ, so I was a Pharisee. The verse I began with in this article says that Pharisees make their converts into two-fold sons of hell. That simply means that the new Pharisees are twice as fit for judgment as those who taught them to be so legalistic. Why am I so dedicated to exposing extra-biblical Patriarchy? Because I am concerned about all the two-fold sons of hell that are being converted along the way. And sometimes, when we overcome particular sins of our past, we become zealous with a zeal against what we ourselves were bound up in. I was bound up in Patriarchy and I was bound up in legalism, and now God is birthing a zealousness in me to help free those who are bound, but don’t even realize it. I don’t have all the answers for those who are in bondage, but I’m willing to share what I know so far. Liberty is too sweet to keep it all to myself!

Doug Phillips Sets the Standard for Family Integrated Church

A Good Idea At Risk Of Breeding Legalism

Among the other things that Doug Phillips promotes through The Vision Forum and Vision Forum Ministries is “Family Integrated Church.” Doug Phillips originally founded the “Uniting Church and Family,” a website and annual conference for training patriarchs to start their own churches, often home churches. This idea, which he originally “borrowed” from Eric Wallace’s book “Uniting Church and Home,” was initially headed up by John Thompson. The name was eventually changed to the National Center for Family Integrated Churches and is currently headed up by Doug’s friend, Scott Brown.

Just what is a family- or age-integrated church? What makes it different from a traditional church with age-segregated programs for adolescents, teens, college-age, adults, etc.? Is it a rejection of Sunday School and youth groups? Are family-integrated churches typically only for homeschoolers? Are they all the same? Is this a new denomination? Is Doug Phillips the new pope of this movement? Do you have to have a personal invitation to get in? And what in the world do you do at a family-integrated church, since there aren’t any programs?

Several of my commenters have asked me these and other questions. I’ve also been asked to write an article describing what the family-integrated church looks like. In order to adequately address all these questions, I’ll probably have to write more than one article. For this first article, I thought what I would do is describe two different family-integrated churches, based upon my own extensive personal experiences with them: Boerne Christian Assembly and Living Water Fellowship.

First, I’ll share my own personal experiences in the family-integrated church that we were members of for five years, Boerne Christian Assembly, pastored by Doug Phillips. Next I’ll share my experiences with Living Water Fellowship, pastored by Richard “Little Bear” Wheeler. The comment section is open for others to share their own experiences, both good and bad.

On the whole, I think that the family-integrated church movement started out as a good thing. I believe that it began with good intentions. One of the reasons it came about was that men like Doug Phillips wanted to address some of the deficiencies appearing in more traditional “programmatic” churches. However, over time, I’ve noticed a troubling trend in the family-integrated church movement. Much like “Patriarchy,” the FIC movement has often proven itself to be legalistic and divisive. I’ve heard numerous reports of it even causing church splits. I’ve also heard that there are smaller churches with limited facilities that embrace the FIC model simply because their limited facilities prevent their being able to have Sunday School classes and other church programs. So they call themselves “family-integrated” merely because that’s what they’ve always had to do anyway.

With this first article on the family-integrated church, however, I’ll limit myself to my personal experiences of what it was like being in an FIC. I have many fond memories of our time at BCA, and I hope that comes out in this article. However, I’ve also come to see that there were many problems, inconsistencies, and even hypocrisies, and that too will be discussed in this article.

The first issue I shall address is the impression that at least some FICs give that they’re not particularly open and welcoming of “outsiders.” Some have gotten the impression that in order to be welcome in an FIC, you first have to meet a certain set of criteria. The criteria may often include:

  • Homeschool only
  • Patriarchy
  • No women working outside the home
  • No daughters in college
  • Full-quiver
  • Dress code: women in dresses only (sometimes with headcoverings), men in suit and tie only
  • Courtship only

Those who don’t meet the criteria may be permitted to attend, at least for a time. However, they will often be made to feel that they don’t fit in, and that will also be reinforced from the teachings in the pulpit. They will be expected to conform. Image is very important in many FICs. I might also add to the list of criteria — “family only.” By this I mean that a divorced woman would probably be made to feel uncomfortable in many FICs, even if she had divorced for completely biblical reasons. Again, this is an “image” thing, and divorcees wouldn’t fit the image. Likewise, a college girl, especially if living away from home, wouldn’t fit the image.

Based upon my Doug Phillips’ story, and my prior descriptions of Boerne Christian Assembly, several people have gotten the impression that Boerne Christian Assembly is a “by invitation-only” church. That isn’t exactly the case, although I can certainly understand why so many people would have that impression. My own experience was such that I could not find out any information about BCA without a prior invitation. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that BCA is by invitation only. Practically speaking though, if one of the BCA members doesn’t first extend an invitation to a prospective visitor, it’s highly unlikely that they would ever find their way to BCA at all.

Doug Phillips maintains an extensive list of family-integrated churches on his Vision Forum Ministries website, with a current figure of 524 churches listed there. However, you won’t find BCA nor any of the other churches in what we BCA members called “the community,” the four churches in the San Antonio area that had all come out of BCA, listed there. I always found it odd that Doug wouldn’t list his own church with an organization that he so strongly promotes. So unless you’re extended an invitation to attend, from a practical standpoint, it would make it nearly impossible to find BCA. Even BCA’s own web site provides no contact information or directions to the church. This is a very odd practice indeed for a church to have a web site with no contact information, or even a list of church officers. Indeed, the primary purpose of the BCA web site appears to be as a blog site for posting articles in response to my own articles. Doug Phillips himself told us that he wanted to keep BCA “small.” Failing to provide contact information is certainly a useful way of discouraging church growth.

As he speaks around the country, Doug Phillips often mentions the family-integrated church, and he implies that Boerne Christian Assembly is the “model” church for Vision Forum’s “Family Integrated Churches.” Most people find out about BCA because they hear Doug speak somewhere and find out that he also pastors a church. So they call or email Vision Forum to find out how they might attend BCA, or perhaps they already know someone who attends BCA and ask if they, too, can attend. With such a system in place, it would be easy for people to get the impression that BCA is a “by invitation only” church.

Upon arrival at BCA on a typical Sunday morning, after a lovely drive through the country, you will arrive at what looks like a Hollywood set for “Little House on the Prairie.” The tiny, white, country church has a huge grassy yard with several picnic tables under the oak trees. Across the street is a one room schoolhouse, which hasn’t been used for school for many years. Down the road is Little Joshua Creek, where we all went for baptisms, full immersion-style. Most men wear suits or sport coats. Most of the women wear very modest, long and full dresses. To visitors, it must seem as if they are stepping back in time.

As we’d arrive Sunday mornings, everyone is busy bringing their crockpots into the annex building in preparation for the “pot-providence” (we weren’t allowed to use certain words like “luck,” therefore no “potluck”) that would convene after the service. Many families drove an hour or more each Sunday, so it wasn’t uncommon to see a line forming at the outhouse prior to the church bell tolling at 10:30 a.m. Inside the church building, pews fill the very tiny room, from front to back, and wall to wall, with just enough room down the middle aisle to add a folding chair to the end of each row. Once you were in your pew you needed to plan on remaining there for the duration of the service, which generally lasted several hours (if not put on a schedule, Doug can be very long-winded). So if you needed to get up for any reason, it could prove to be quite a challenge squeezing through the tightly-packed pews. Each family was jammed very tightly into a pew. Large families are common at BCA, so some families took up two full pews. Tightly packed, the church holds about 125 people.

Church services at BCA usually began with about 30 minutes of singing hymns. We would often have several homeschooled young people playing instruments such as flutes, violins, or other stringed instruments. We always had a piano player and some of them were quite good. Three different men took turns leading the worship time. One young man, fresh out of Bill Gothard’s ATI and Alert, would give us the history of at least one hymn we sang each week. Another man, when he was leading worship, would pick one hymn each week to ask the men for biblical support for what was found in the lyrics. The men were on the spot to find Bible verses on the spur of the moment, as they never knew which hymn he would ask for verses for. After a while, I found myself really searching the text of each hymn, wondering what verses this hymn came from. We would usually sing one psalm from the psalter as well. Sometimes Doug Phillips would then lead us in singing Psalm 100, Puritan-style. He would sing a line and we would repeat it back to him. It was really old-fashioned, but I loved that part. Worship was a time of great joy at BCA, as everyone fully participated and sang with their whole heart.

We would have a short announcement time afterward, and it always began with, “We believe in a plurality of elders.” I could never understand that part since we only had one elder for several years, Doug Phillips, and even Doug was only in attendance about once a month at that time. As time went on we saw even less of him. Then we introduced our guests or, should I say, the men introduced the guests.

The men took turns giving the sermon. For most of the time I was at BCA from 2000 until the beginning of 2005, we heard expository preaching through I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, and I and II Chronicles. If Doug was preaching, he might preach on the current topic he was wanting to promote at Vision Forum. They recorded those sermons and then they were sold through Vision Forum. All sermons were recorded free for church members. Depending on who was preaching, the sermon was generally one to two hours in length, followed by up to an hour for the “discussion of the men.” This was my favorite time, even though I wasn’t allowed to participate. The men were allowed to ask questions of the preacher regarding the sermon. Charity was stressed at all times, so if a point of disagreement came up, it was expected that it be handled in a gentlemanly fashion.

For several years, “discussion of the men” was a great time of iron sharpening iron; but around the time of the 2004 elections, the atmosphere of this discussion began to change into a mutual self-admiration club, with the men generally just congratulating one another on a great sermon. This deterioration was a great disappointment to me. It seemed that this small amount of accountability was losing ground. This discussion time was also open for the men to bring up any other subject they wanted to discuss, although this didn’t happen very often. It was also an opportunity for the men to share what they learned from God’s Word that week, what they taught their families during family worship time, or to share a hymn or read some Scripture. Doug strongly encouraged these aspects of the men’s discussion time, but they rarely had anything of this sort to share.

Next came the Lord’s Supper, preceded by the second sermon of the day. One of the men would talk about some aspect of communion, generally lasting about fifteen minutes in length. Communion was limited to those who had been baptized as believers, full immersion-style. Sometimes the men passed the elements down each row, but later on, the fathers usually went forward and got communion for their whole family. The grape juice was served in medium-sized Dixie cups that the whole family could share. The men would take a chunk of matzoh to share with their family as well. It was left up to the men to decide who takes communion in their family. If the father was absent or if a woman didn’t have a husband, one of her sons could bring her communion, even if the boy hadn’t been baptized and wasn’t old enough to take communion himself. If there were no males in the family, one of the deacons would serve the woman communion. If you were not participating in taking communion, it was quite obvious to the whole congregation.

The following hour was for prayer requests and prayer. Every person in every family (except Doug Phillips) came to church almost every single Sunday, unless they were sick or out of town, so this was a time for everyone to get know each family a little better. We knew details of every sickness, updates on difficult situations, and prayed for many outside the congregation as well. This was often a time of just reporting on how God was Providential in our lives that week. Again, the men (and boys) were allowed to speak during the prayer request time. If a woman had a prayer request, she could write it down and give it to another man to read. Then the men all took turns praying for all the requests. The service ended with the Doxology.

There was an annex building next door to the church where all the women would immediately gravitate to get the “pot providence” lunch ready. Visitors were allowed to go first and everyone went through the line as families. There were several picnic tables set up outside (the weather in Texas is nice enough to eat outside almost year round) which were built by some of the boys. There were several tables set up inside as well. Some families ate together, but many didn’t. This was a time when many of the young ladies would take other ladies’ babies and take care of them and feed them, if need be, for the rest of the day. Some mothers wanted a day off and they were glad for the help. Some mothers, however, wanted their older children to take care of the younger children, so the moms could have a day off as well. I thought my children worked hard all week and deserved a day off, so I chose to take care of Alicia, my youngest, myself. My daughter Natasha took care of Honor Phillips nearly every Sunday for three years.

After eating, the children would mostly play outside for the rest of the day. Balls and sports were not allowed on the Sabbath, so the children had to be creative in how they used their time. They made up games and sometimes would bring activities to do together. Some of the young ladies would read books to the younger children or just hang out with the children, trying to keep some kind of order. The adults and other young people would mostly fellowship for the rest of the day. Women were strongly discouraged from discussing theology with men at BCA, although I often did with those men who were willing to do so. While the men would often discuss theology and points of doctrine, the women usually talked about sewing and cooking and child training, when we weren’t talking about how to be more submissive. It was sometimes frustrating to me that the women didn’t even want to talk about homeschooling methods. I almost never felt challenged or stimulated in my thinking during these fellowship times. I usually felt as if I had to park my brain on Sundays. We often wouldn’t leave church until around 5 p.m. Before leaving, we would all pitch in and help clean up.

For a couple years, however, we were given one hour to eat and clean up and then we would separate into a men’s meeting and a ladies’ meeting. The children were free to join us or continue playing, unsupervised. I don’t really know what the men did, other than talk about Scripture and church business. The women would discuss making plans to take meals to those who needed them. However, we also had to first obtain our husband’s permission, so quite often our meal planning didn’t get very far. We would sign up for various clean up duties. Then we would usually talk about how to be a Titus 2 woman or a submissive wife. No matter what the topic was, that was always the angle. We studied Titus 2, word by word. We talked about how “non-normative” Abigail and Deborah and other women in the Bible were. Sometimes women would read passages from books such as “The Excellent Wife.”

Since there was an apparent lack of hospitality among church members during the week (we certainly experienced this), we studied a hospitality book. After we finished the book, we didn’t seem to have much more hospitality than we had before. It wasn’t that hospitality never happened at BCA; it did — a lot — if you were in the right circles. There were certain families that fellowshipped with one another on a regular basis, like we did with the Shorts. But there were other families who never got invited to other members’ homes. If you wanted to eat with the Phillips, you had to be in their inner circle. During the week, however, the women and children often got together for homeschool-type activities and fellowship. Some of these were formal groups and co-ops, but often we just got together with friends.

We did have lots of group activities, however, where everyone was invited. While these do count as showing hospitality and having fellowship, it’s not the same as having just one other family other for dinner. We had lots of baby showers, we had big Fourth of July events, we got together for big events at Doug’s home, often revolving around special visitors. Some people have remarked that some of the events at Doug’s home for his VIPs were just a way of showing off.

A couple events that I especially remember were the “Dinosaur Party,” where Doug showed a National Geographic film about dinosaurs, pausing every few seconds to ask questions such as “Were you there? How do you know what color the dinosaur was? Did you see it change from a bird to a dinosaur?” etc. This picture to the left is when the men got together at the beginning of the year to read the Bible for a whole day. That is my son, Joshua, taking his turn at reading. We had a big party with the DeRosas after they had worked on the Allosaur skull for a while. We had a big party when the Guenther family came to visit from Germany. They talked to us about how extremely difficult it is to homeschool in Germany, legally or otherwise. They worked with HSLDA to set up a kind of legal foundation to help homeschoolers in Germany. As long as Doug hosted these events, nearly the whole church attended.

The Epstein family liked to celebrate the biblical Feasts at that time, and we also invited the whole church several times a year for these Feasts. Everyone came at least once, except the Phillips family. BCA has very much a “not invented here” mentality. Having a successful event meant that you either had to be Doug Phillips, or you had to be part of Doug Phillips’ inner circle. If Doug didn’t come up with the idea, or if Doug didn’t personally endorse the idea, the event generally wasn’t much of a success.

“Family integrated” means keeping families together for the duration of the service. This makes for some interesting challenges now and then. Each family did this differently. Some families worked hard at training their children to sit still for the three to four hour service each week. Others chose to take their children out if they got noisy. This usually took two different forms. Sometimes the mothers would take their babies or young children next door to the annex to feed them or just let them play. Sometimes the older children would take their siblings next door as well. There was no way to hear the sermon while over there, so the women would often sit around and chat while the children played or ate. This was not considered or called a “nursery,” as family-integrated churches don’t have nurseries. And then there were the families that just gave their babies and young children to other people to take care of for them during the service. Beall Phillips, for instance, gave Honor to Natasha to take care of, not just during the service, but for the whole day every Sunday. I used this as an opportunity to teach Natasha how to train babies and toddlers. Honor was a very well-behaved baby while he was in Natasha’s care and we trained him to sit quietly throughout the service.

Family integrated churches are opposed to church “programs,” “age segregation,” and “dividing families.” “Family integrated” implies keeping the family together for the Sunday morning worship service, as well as other church functions. But practically speaking that isn’t often the case, as we experienced at BCA. It was quite common that husbands were divided from wives, such as the “men’s meeting” and “ladies’ meeting.” Children were also often divided from their parents, especially if they couldn’t remain still and quiet throughout a three to four hour service; and the reality is that there are very few babies and toddlers that can. So they would be taken out of the service, often to be taken care of by members of other families. BCA didn’t have an official “nursery” with officially designated “nursery workers.” But practically speaking, if you walked over to the annex building any Sunday, that’s what you saw.

Although there were no rules for being a part of BCA, per se, it was the unwritten rules that were the invisible foundation. It was not a requirement to homeschool, but homeschooling was preached from the pulpit nearly every Sunday. If you didn’t homeschool, you would have felt very uncomfortable at BCA. It was not a requirement for women to never work outside the home, but being a keeper at home was constantly talked about, both formally and informally. If you worked outside the home you would have been made to feel very uncomfortable at BCA (the one exception was that some of the women were permitted to work at Vision Forum, although they apparently were never “hired”). There were no rules about what to wear, but if you are a lady and you don’t wear long, full dresses, you are going to feel terribly out of place. If you visit more than once and you aren’t wearing prairie-muffin dresses, there is at least one woman who will take you aside to teach you how to dress “appropriately.”

There were no rules about how you spent your time during the week or what kinds of activities you participated in, but most families did not participate in any activities outside of BCA-sponsored activities. Our family participated in community activities on a very regular basis and we were always disappointed that others from BCA did not enjoy these activities as well. The unwritten rules even extended to certain words that were not allowed, such as “luck” (as in potluck) and “deviled eggs” (they should be “angel eggs”). As one visitor recently put it, and as I heard from several visitors, “We only visited there one time and felt such an oppression that we knew we had to flee.”

BCA does not have church membership, but they do have a covenant, which in some ways is even more binding than traditional church membership. This covenant was not in place until BCA was about three years old. At that time, the men got together to study the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, which they had to agree with before they could sign the covenant. On Covenant Sunday, Doug preached a message on why covenants were biblical. While we can all agree that covenants are indeed biblical, many people did not see that God was telling us to covenant with one another in that way as a church body and many families left that Sunday. Those men who agreed to sign the covenant all came up to front, one by one, and signed a large scroll-like document with the written covenant at the top and lots of blank space for all the men’s signatures at the bottom, similar to the Declaration of Independence. The man’s signature bound the whole family, although the wives didn’t even know what the beliefs of the church were, unless their husbands chose to share that with them. The women weren’t permitted to read the Covenant, although Doug did read it to the whole congregation. This is consistent with Doug’s view that women shouldn’t be permitted to vote. They were just expected to go along with whatever their husbands decided, even though they may not be permitted to even know the details of what their husbands determined for the entire family.

There are lots of young singles at BCA. Most of these twenty-somethings still live with their parents. A number of young men work at Vision Forum. Some live with other families and some live on their own. When a young lady was asked, “What do you do?”, every young lady was expected to answer, “I serve my father.” What that means in real life is that she lived at home, and cooked, cleaned, and helped with child care, either for her own family or for another family with lots of young children. It was considered quite prestigious to especially be able to do this for the Phillips family. While young men were allowed to work, most of them either worked at home, with their fathers, or for Doug Phillips. Getting a college education for a young man meant doing it by correspondence or through distance learning. None of the young men actually attended college. With approximately 125 people at BCA, about thirty or so were of marriageable age. Yet, weddings were few and far between. Courtship was emphasized and often talked about at BCA. Yet in spite the numerous eligible singles, we never saw much in the way of courtship happening. Perhaps it wasn’t encouraged enough in a practical way because the young ladies were considered too much of a valuable commodity in taking care of other people’s children?

Most people in the church were what we would call “like-minded.” We had the same doctrine, the same lifestyle, the same values, the same convictions. We spent lots of time together, not only on Sundays, but often throughout the week, in various church activities. So with so many eligible young people, we would have expected lots of weddings to take place. But, sadly, there were very few. In the five years we were at BCA, with an attendance peaking at 250 when BCA was about three years old, there was only one wedding within the church and only a couple more who married someone outside the church. Year after year, these young people continue to remain single. Why? Are their personal standards too high?

BCA was a legalistic environment. I have noticed with legalists that when we start with what we perceive to be a “biblical principle,” that principle tends to grow into a “biblical conviction” over time. That conviction grows until it reaches the level of “sin” if not followed exactly. At this point, the details of this conviction begin to become more and more defined, until what started as a good principle is now a long list of dos and don’ts. I have watched this process happen with many young people as well, with the detailed list of rules becoming very prevalent in their lives at an extremely young age. As they grow, they become unwilling to change at all. They are unwilling to make different choices in life in order to accommodate a potential spouse. The list of requirements becomes so extremely tight that it is nearly impossible to find a suitable mate. So we continued to see large numbers of single young people at BCA, year after year, with the number growing each year with more reaching marriageable age than those getting married each year. I still believe that courtship is much “safer” than what so many young people encounter in the dating scene. However, I do have to wonder why, if it’s a “biblical principle,” it isn’t working out any better in a church pastored by one of its leading promoters.

Not all family-integrated churches are alike, however, just as there are many differences among all other types of churches. Even in our like-minded “community” of churches that were all off-shoots of BCA, there are many differences. Since we attended Living Water Fellowship for a while as well, this is a good church to show some of the many differences.

LWF is much more “contemporary,” particularly in its liturgy and form of worship. After we all brought food in for the potluck afterward (and yes, we were free to call it a “potluck”), we began with about 30 minutes of electric guitars and drums and contemporary Christian music. Many of the women and children also participated in a circle of Davidic dance in the back of the school gymnasium, where we met for services. Men were invited to participate, but most were reluctant to do so. Davidic dance is a form of dance that is supposedly patterned after how the Israelites in the Bible, such as Miriam and David, danced to the Lord.

LWF did not have a set pattern of worship after this. There were always announcements, sometimes of classes or Bible studies or prayer times, many of which were often for certain ages or men or women only, or just for couples. They weren’t as concerned about always keeping the family together all the time. Sometimes, Little Bear Wheeler or one of the elders would give a testimony of something God had done in their life that week. Sometimes, other members would have an opportunity to talk about something God was doing in their lives as well. This was not a random testimony time, but usually was planned ahead of time. There were also times when Little Bear would ask someone to speak about something in particular on the spur of the moment, such as when he asked Mark to speak about how God was dealing with his anger. Both men and women were allowed to speak during this time. This did not happen every Sunday, but it did happen often.

Usually, one of the four elders would then give a sermon (LWF believed in and practiced a true plurality of elders). Sometimes it was topical, sometimes it was expository. Little Bear often used video clips or Power Point to embellish his sermons. We also had many guest preachers/missionaries, something which was almost non-existent at BCA. Communion was once a month at LWF, while it was every Sunday at BCA. It was very short and sweet, with each person being served a pre-packaged communion cup of grape juice with a little wafer in a plastic package as the lid for the cup. Everyone was able to decide for themselves if they wanted to take communion. Baptisms took place in the swimming pool at the home next door, which belonged to one of the attendees. I don’t remember any occasion for sharing prayer requests; I think the elders would just announce if there were any needs, which they also list on their website. They did announce prayer requests via email as well. We ended with a short prayer time and another song before getting the potluck lunch prepared.

Since LWF meets in a large gymnasium, there was plenty of room in the back for moms with noisy children or babies. You would often see moms pushing strollers around in the back during the sermon or maybe nursing their babies, but they were always able to listen to the sermon. We were also able to use the school lunch tables for eating our Sunday lunch, so everyone helped put away all the folding chairs from the service and set up everything for lunch. We tried to leave one end of the gym open for the kids to play basketball when they were done eating. It wasn’t unusual to have a ball come flying through your plate at lunchtime! And it soon became quite noisy with approximately 200 people all eating and talking and playing ball. Sometimes, the older girls would organize activities for the younger children. I remember that all the children got together one Sunday and made homemade Mother’s Day cards for all the moms. Some of the young ladies helped the little ones and my disabled daughter make cards as well. There were buckets of toys for the children to play with and there were always children practicing “Heart and Soul” on the piano to add to the delightful cacophony amidst hours of fellowship.

LWF does not believe in membership or signing church covenants. There is no statement of faith that I am aware of. In fact, although at least two of the elders are ordained, one with the Assemblies of God denomination, they don’t have a set of doctrines that I know of. The teaching leans heavily toward Arminianism and dispensationalism. Some families claim to be Reformed; however, I have some doubts that they even understand what “Reformed” means. Although there are many like-minded people at LWF, practicing things like homeschooling and affirming stay-at-home moms, there never seemed to be an emphasis on it. It is just something that most of us naturally did, but not something that we felt obligated by the elders to do, or that we even frequently talked about, the way we did at BCA. It’s entirely possible that there were some who did not homeschool and that there were some women who worked outside the home, at least part-time. College was never frowned on, for either girls or boys. Large families (“full-quiver”) were not idolized, as they were at BCA. Dress was varied. There were just as many women who came to church in jeans and t-shirts as those who wore “modest” dresses. There was no dress code and, for the most part, dress was not an issue.

The four elders made it a point to “smell like the sheep.” I would spend time talking with, and even eating with at least one, if not more, of the four elders and their wives, on any given Sunday. The elders made themselves available. The elders didn’t act like anyone special. They spent time greeting and fellowshipping with everyone who came to LWF. I remember one Sunday when I was sitting at a table with the elders and deacons and a couple other women. We were all discussing theology. I remember even openly disagreeing with their position, but they didn’t condemn me or make me feel uncomfortable for doing so. It was such a joy to be included in meaningful discussions — and with men no less! LWF seemed more “Complementarian” rather than Patriarchal.

These elders were also available day or night. Little Bear and Al both called Mark nearly every single day while we attended there. When there were serious problems, I could call those men even in the middle of the night. I remember one occasion when I was in much fear at home. I called Al (Little Bear was out of town) and he told us to come over in an hour. When we arrived at around 8 p.m., the other elders and their wives were there as well, all prepared to help us, with only an hour’s notice. They stayed with us until midnight that night. They also immediately got us into marriage counseling, with two elders and their wives and another couple who was trained in marriage counseling, meeting with us and another couple every week at Little Bear’s home.

Relationships were a little different at LWF as well. Men and women and children of all ages were able to mingle freely and fellowship with one another. The youth, however, naturally gravitated toward one another, and although there was not an official “youth” group, they definitely hung out together on Sundays, much the way that kids would at any regular church, complete with all the typical bickerings and jealousies. Even though LWF holds itself out as a family-integrated church, in many ways LWF was just a “regular” church, where just about anyone would feel welcome. LWF lacked any of the legalism that we experienced at BCA.

BCA and LWF represent for me two different extremes of the family-integrated church movement. The one was legalistic, authoritarian, and all about image. The other was about grace, with caring and nurturing shepherds, and not at all concerned about image. Looking back on it now, it seems very odd that these two very different churches could be in “community” with one another, especially considering the two very different theologies represented as well.

One of my concerns with the family-integrated church movement is that there are probably far too many of the legalistic churches involved, and too few of the “grace” churches. In fact, by its very nature, the family-integrated church movement tends to attract the former, and the NCFIC’s own Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family is representative of that. The “Confession” is judgmental and condemning of non-FICs. In my next article on the family-integrated church, I hope to address some of those issues.

Doug Phillips’ Parallel Universe of Reformed Legalism

Peddling Legalism as “Reformed Theology”

“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13

God has been using many of my commenters to help push me into becoming a Berean. I still have a long way to go, but I’m excited about the things I’m discovering. As a direct result of this blog, I’ve also made some dear friends. By studying the Word together, those friends have also provoked me into looking deep into the perfect law of liberty. I especially want to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to our Bible study teacher, Mike, whose teachings have exposed a number of harmful, unbiblical and extra-biblical doctrines in my own life. I haven’t made Mike’s life easy. I know there are many times that I have frustrated and annoyed him. But Mike has always shown himself to be a gentleman and a scholar. I will always be indebted to him. Thanks, Mike.

In the past several months, I’ve found myself having to confront many of the beliefs that I had long held dear. I’ve come to recently recognize that some of my beliefs are rooted in legalism. Patriarchy is an example of this. Other examples include homeschool-only, dresses-only, etc. This has been hard for me to confront. I’ve had to admit to myself and to some close friends that I’ve not only been a legalist, but that I even like legalism. Legalism for me is safe. It provides me with a sense of comfort. Having a list of dos and don’ts to live by has kept my life orderly and structured, and given me a sense of security.

Being a legalist is something that I’ve long lived by. This is why I was drawn to a life of military service. Everything about the military is structured and regulated, a veritable legalist’s paradise. It’s also why I was later drawn to Boerne Christian Assembly. Legalistic churches attract legalistic members. I don’t blame Doug Phillips and BCA for turning me into a legalist. I was a legalist long before I arrived. Personal liberty and freedom have long been alien concepts to me. In the last month, in particular, confronting my own legalism has been a gut-wrenching process. God has been revealing to me, on an almost daily basis, new areas of my life He wants me to face head-on. This story is one of those areas where I had previously not seen anything amiss. Now I can plainly see it.

God has recently shown me how deep into legalism Doug Phillips and BCA are. Having been such a legalist myself, I couldn’t see it before. It’s no wonder God has so much to work on in my own life as I attempt to leave all my legalism behind. It hasn’t been easy. It’s also cost me nearly every friend I’ve had in San Antonio. We tend to make friends with people who are much like ourselves, which means that many of my local former friends are also legalists. Losing all my legalistic friends has been the hardest part, and even though they’re legalists, I still miss them. My public exposure of Doug Phillips’ ecclesiastical tyrannies is, for my former legalistic friends, far more than what I had intended it to be. I thought it was just about exposing Doug Phillips’ ecclesiastical tyrannies; but for them it was much more. For them, it’s an assault on the legalistic worldview that Doug Phillips represents, a legalism that they personally hold very dear.

Doug Phillips is revered by many legalists because he’s such a smooth promoter of legalism. No legalist, however, wants to see their own legalism as legalism; and so we never call it “legalism.” We call it other things. Doug Phillips is a very slick promoter, and so he dresses it up and disguises his legalism in noble-sounding pseudo-biblical terms like “Patriarchy.” It sounds even more biblical when he calls it “Biblical Patriarchy.”

Doug Phillips doesn’t stop there though. In some ways Doug is truly ingenious when it comes to promotion and marketing. It doesn’t get any more ingenious than to repackage legalism as “Reformed theology.” As one of my commenters, “T. Reformed” put it recently:

The very cornerstone of the Reformed faith are the doctrines of grace, rooted in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”

John Calvin called Ephesians 2:8-9 “the hinge of the Reformation.” Martin Luther called it, “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.” These leading lights of the Reformation also used the terms “Sola Fide,” faith alone, and “Sola Gratia,” grace alone. In other words it is only by faith, and only by God’s grace that we are saved, and nothing else, ever.

Doug Phillips claims to be Reformed, and his church blog says, “Boerne Christian Assemnbly Affirms the London Baptist Confession of 1689.” The LBC was taken largely from the Westminster Confession of Faith.

However, I don’t see how Phillips could be Reformed while also embracing Gothardism… Doug Phillips appears to be a very mixed bag of “Reformed,” and some other things like Gothardism, which would be incompatible and even a contradiction to the Refomed faith. It sounds as though Phillips holds to a pseudo-orthodox soteriology, except when it comes to “the perseverance of the saints.” If this is true then he doesn’t really qualify as being Reformed.

It never dawned on me until this week what a major coup it’s been for Doug to portray himself as “Reformed,” yet for all practical purposes deny the doctrines of grace. There’s a major disconnect between what Doug Phillips professes to believe and what he actually practices. I’m amazed that he’s been able to get away with it all these years. Doug Phillips appears to live in some sort of a theological parallel universe where legalism = grace, man-worship = honor, bondage = freedom, and ecclesiastical tyranny = church discipline.

Repenting is often hard, and my legalism is something that I’ve recently had to repent from. The fruit of my legalism has caused great harm, especially to my own family. I’m just now beginning to see its magnitude. I need to repent to my family, and especially to my husband, for my legalism. I’m not ashamed to do so, and I’m not ashamed to do it publicly, right here. Mark, children, I confess my legalism and I repent of it. Please forgive me, and please be patient with me as I continue to work through the process of walking out of legalism into a life of grace.

Because of my blindness to my legalism, there was a significant part of my story that I had earlier failed to tell. I didn’t perceive when I was originally telling my story months ago just how significant this part of the story was. I not only thought it was insignificant, I didn’t even see it. Now I recognize just how significant it is. As God continues to convict me of this and other things, there may be other issues and events that come to mind that I may need to go back and tell, things that I had earlier missed. I’ll add these to the sidebar in chronological order, e.g. “Chapter 4-B,” etc.

And now to the story.

Most people at BCA didn’t seem to want much to do with our family outside of regular church activities, so we were thrilled when the Shorts decided to befriend us after we moved nearby in the summer of 2003. We quickly got into a weekly routine of having dinner together at our home nearly every Friday evening, with their family often leaving around 3 a.m. We would enjoy a nice meal together and then Mark and Richard almost always took a long walk together. Richard soon volunteered to mentor Mark. As Mark and Richard walked and talked, the rest of us generally played board games together.

I appreciated Richard’s willingness to counsel Mark, as times were pretty tough then. However, it seemed to be a rather superficial relationship. Because we were having marital problems, I ultimately asked Richard and Reba to be witnesses for me when I confronted Mark in step two of Matthew 18. At this point, our relationship with the Shorts noticeably changed. Richard began to focus on deeper issues with Mark, and Reba proceeded to tell me that “the problems in marriage are always the woman’s fault.” This later became the very basis of the three counseling sessions I had with Beall and Reba. The entire focus on every meeting was on my “faults.”

“The woman is always at fault for all of the problems in every marriage” is a belief held strongly in many Patriarchal churches, like BCA. However, since leaving BCA, I’ve discovered that there are Patriarchal churches which also teach just the opposite. “All of the problems in every marriage are always the husband’s fault” is taught by R.C. Sproul, Jr. Neither position is biblical, nor are they even logical or consistent with the reality of any Christian marriage. Because husbands and wives are both sinners, the truth falls somewhere in the middle. However, Patriarchy, being an extremist belief system, lacks the biblical balance necessary to correct marital problems. In too many cases, Patriarchy just exacerbates marital problems. Telling a husband that “All of the problems in your marriage are your wife’s fault” is every bit as harmful as telling a wife, “All the problems in your marriage are your husband’s fault.”

In our own case, the Shorts approached our marital problems with the unbiblical presupposition that all of the Epsteins’ marital problems were “the wife’s fault.” Not only was this untrue, it only served to make our marital problems much worse. Whereas before, Mark had started to recognize that he had areas in his life that needed to be repented of, now he was being told that it was all my fault and, therefore, he had no need of repentance at all. When I was told it was all my fault, I knew this couldn’t be true. This only made it harder for me to begin to take responsibility for those things that really were my fault. This is the fruit that comes from such extremism. To this day, Mark and I are both still struggling with the aftermath of this.

For approximately eighteen months, we’d been having dinner together with the Shorts, on a fairly consistent weekly basis. One Sunday after church in January 2005, Mark and Richard took a long walk. But when they returned to church, something seemed quite different. Richard said he wanted to talk to both of us, which was quite unusual. He then informed us that he had come to the conclusion that neither Mark nor I were true believers. In his view, we were unsaved. I was quite taken aback, as I knew that I deeply loved the Lord and desired nothing more than to please Him. But that was essentially the end of the conversation and we went home from there. I was also confused over the fact that Richard and I had spent very little time talking. Most of Richard’s time had been spent with Mark, and I couldn’t understand how Richard could come to the conclusion that I was unsaved when he’d never even asked me about my faith.

That Thursday morning, January 20, 2005, Mark had what I would describe as very broken spirit and a contrite heart. He desired to repent and seek futher counseling, with a focus on marital counseling. Mark was convicted by the Holy Spirit that there were important areas in his marriage that he needed to work on. He emailed Richard Short asking if they could meet and talk about Mark repenting. Mark also emailed another man at church who was known for giving good counsel in difficult marital situations and he agreed to counsel us. The Shorts live only about a mile or two from us and Mark works only about ten minutes away from Vision Forum, where Richard Short works. The two of them could have easily gotten together at a moment’s notice. Distance never posed a hardship. However, on this occasion, Richard said that he would not be able to meet with Mark before Monday. He wasn’t even willing to talk to Mark on the phone.

I could not understand this because, at the time, I assumed that this repentance was the fruit Richard had been working toward all these months. In reality, it was entirely the work of the Holy Spirit, in spite of Richard’s counsel to Mark. Looking back on it now, I can see that Mark’s repentance wasn’t at all what Richard was looking to accomplish, just the opposite. Remember, “All of the problems in every marriage are always the wife’s fault.”

Later that day, we received a request from BCA “leadership” to meet with them an hour before church began that Sunday. They did not tell us what the meeting was going to be about, so I assumed that since Richard Short had told Doug that I wasn’t a converted Christian. I assumed that I was going to need to defend my testimony and offer a credible profession of faith. I looked up a plan of salvation and made sure I had all my verses ready to show that I understood and could explain why I knew I was saved.

When we showed up early on Sunday morning, however, they did not ask me to defend my faith. They didn’t ask me to give a credible profession of faith. That didn’t even come up. Instead, we were read the disciplinary action statement, which I’ve described before. Although we do not have proof, we are almost certain that Richard Short is the one who recommended our discipline and excommunication. Doug has stated that he did not initiate our disciplinary action himself. Someone was responsible for that, so it’s reasonable for me to assume that the party chiefly responsible for our “counseling,” the Shorts, were the responsible party. The other people present who agreed to discipline us knew nothing of our situation, save one man, whom I know did not recommend this discipline, but who went along with it in the end.

Richard Short spent many months with us, mostly with Mark, and then he comes to the conclusion that neither of us is saved. Immediately after Richard comes to this conclusion, we find ourselves together at church on a Sunday afternoon, but Richard doesn’t bother to share the gospel with us, nor even ask us if we understand it. Mark then tells Richard that he wants to repent, but Richard suddenly doesn’t have time for Mark, when he always has before. Although Richard has stated that he doubts our salvation, he pushes for us to be disciplined and eventually excommunicated. That Sunday morning before church would have been a good opportunity to share the gospel with us, or to at least ascertain if we were true believers at that time. But even though Richard doubted our salvation, and even though Mark offered to repent, Doug chose to discipline us instead of sharing the gospel with us.

And what gospel would that be? I am just now learning that it is the gospel of grace. Grace. That is an almost foreign word to me. I did not hear the doctrines of grace preached at BCA — ever. I never heard the gospel preached at BCA. I am not saying that they preached another gospel, but that they simply didn’t preach the gospel at all. What was preached at BCA? For the most part, the Old Testament was preached at BCA — the law. We spent years studying the Samuels, Kings, and Chronicles, patterning our lives after what we found there. And what did we find there? For one thing, Patriarchy. We spent an inordinate amount of time studying Patriarchy. For a legalist like me, it never really surprised me how often and how easy it was to find Doug’s version of Patriarchy in the Bible, even in the “non-normative” stories. Looking back on it now though, it does surprise me how many years of Sundays we spent studying nothing but the law, but never anything about the doctrines of grace. Now I can plainly see that Doug Phillips is not a Reformed Bible expositor, nor is Boerne Christian Assembly a Reformed church.

We did have topical preaching. It just was never about the doctrines of grace. Those sermons were long on vision and short on Scripture and practical application. Legalists are big on dos and don’ts. However, this doesn’t mean that legalistic preachers are always helpful when it comes to practical application. This was one of our biggest frustrations with Doug. He would never hesitate to tell us what to do, but he seldom ever had any suggestions on how to practically do it. If you asked for practical examples he usually couldn’t offer any. Doug’s sermons and teachings that are sold through Vision Forum reflect this as well. Doug Phillips is a pie in the sky visionary, a warm and fuzzy motivational speaker; but when it comes to practical application he’s got little to offer. Now combine that with the legalism and you’ve got a formula for disaster. “Do this, don’t do that. However, you’ll have to figure out all on your own how to do it. Don’t expect any help from us. If (and when) you fail, you’ll be filled with guilt and shame, and we’ll do what we can to help reinforce your guilt and shame. We might even tell you that you’re not even saved. Then we’ll discipline you.”

Why aren’t the doctrines of grace preached in a church that states they “affirm the Second London Baptist Confession Of Faith” and that Confession itself so strongly affirms the doctrines of grace? Actually, I never once heard the term “grace” used at BCA. As I come to examine the teachings of patriarchy, I am coming face to face with more and more legalism. Legalism doesn’t have room for grace. Legalism doesn’t have room for mercy. Mark begged Doug for mercy that particular Sunday when he asked him not to read the part of the disciplinary statement about my sins prior to my becoming a Christian. No gospel that Sunday. No grace. No mercy. Just the sound of the hammer falling. Judgment. Condemnation. Shame. Guilt. Legalism.

Legalistic churches are all about image. It’s all about maintaining appearances. The Epsteins posed some major problems for BCA. We didn’t fit the image. We not only arrived with marital problems, we were just foolish enough to believe that church is the ideal place to confront marital problems by receiving competent, biblical counsel. No doubt there are other BCA couples that have marital problems, too. However, even with their marital problems they still fit the image, and in a legalistic church that’s really all that matters. They maintain the image by keeping their problems to themselves. We weren’t smart enough to know how to do that, and we weren’t good at pretending. Mark and I are still useless when it comes to pretending. (Natasha is no better)

Our marriage posed a huge threat to the image that Doug was trying to maintain. I’m quite confident that the thought crossed Doug’s mind more than once that we might be headed for a divorce. Such a thought would terrify a man like Doug Phillips. A divorce in his church would have been devastating to his image, especially when he held the “Uniting Church and Home” conferences. Doug decided that he needed to get rid of us. The expediency with which Doug dumped us, and the unbiblical and unjust way he went about it, only confirms that the only thing he was interested in was maintaining his image of the perfect church — a church where every marriage is perfect — or at least a church where there is the appearance that every marriage is perfect. Doug couldn’t risk the potentiality of a divorce happening on his watch. The Epsteins were expendable, and so we were expended.

I’m now baffled, though, over how a church can excommunicate a couple shortly after they just said that couple wasn’t even saved.

I pray that as God continues to lead me on His path of grace that He would also show His grace to all those at BCA. May God deliver them as He’s now delivering me. God wants us all to be free from the bondage of legalism and condemnation.