NCFIC: A Vision Forum Retread

Andrew McDonald has been reading and commenting here for the last year, and partially because of his involvement here, he has encountered his own story of church discipline which he would like to share with us here.  While there have been many, many people and families who have been hurt in various ways through the years by Doug Phillips, Vision Forum, Scott Brown, NCFIC, and others associated with these men and their ministries, most have chosen the easy road of just keeping quiet.  It takes real courage to speak out publicly about what is happening, to warn friends and family that their house is on fire!  Patriarchy, and the abuses within its walls, is still alive and well.  To those who are still in the patriarchy movement, and/or the NCFIC movement: Your house is on fire!  The time to act is now!

Here is Andrew’s story, in his own words:

Some of you know my concerns as I have written on Jen’s Gems a bit. People are still suffering from Doug Phillips’ abuse and speaking out is part of the process of healing. I began thinking about those like him: Men desiring control. I’ve posted about that and gave details of the past and present situations in my own life and church. Some details were specifically about Scott Brown and as a result someone alerted the leader of my church and I was eventually called into a private meeting and confronted. I do not deny that some good has come alongside the wrong teachings, there has been much good done, but the wrong teachings are never justified by adjacent successes. Successes are really God’s department and to His credit not ours. He gets the glory. Justifying the error by mention of the benefit only makes the situation more tragic, it does not validate the error. Since the leader knows I post here I’ve decided to respond here. You may well ask what is my background and how dare I say these things? Glad you asked! I am a great sinner who has a greater Savior, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and trying to follow after the Great Shepherd who invites us all to follow Him. I say these things not because I am worthy; I say them because the TRUTH is worthy and, lastly, because folks need to be warned.

An Open Letter to my former leader:

When you confronted me about posting on this blog, you showed up with a stack of paper and mentioned over 100 pages written. I thought that seemed like a lot. In order to get an accurate idea of what I said in the posts and the volume of the entries, I went through the site and copied them all. I posted 66 messages, printable in less than 23 pages, not even close to the ‘over 100 pages’ mentioned. Most posts were short and, contrary to your ‘concern’, took little time away from my family. Some were late at night as the matter was heavy on my heart.

No posts were purposefully inflammatory; they were my experiences or opinions tempered with prayer and investigation. That the posts were truthful is bolstered by the fact that they eventually identified me. Most were inquiries about Doug Phillips’ close associate, Scott Brown. Scott Brown was initially my concern. Some posts were sincere inquiry seeking counsel.

a-weed-in-the-churchI contacted people who knew Scott Brown to confirm that he had problems; the events were confirmed by personal testimony and church records. These events were never cleared up.

As it turns out, your belief that Scott Brown is ‘one of the godliest men’ you know is based solely on your experience with him. I continued to research and began to post in December of 2013. NONE of the posts were made until after I’d spoken with you. My concerns were effectively dismissed. After I told you that the posts were mine, you moved to the old standby tactic of all authoritarian leaders: accuse and intimidate. You accused me of being a gossip and a busy body even though you knew that I came to you with each concern and you also knew I had not broadcast it about the church. Am I a gossip? Like Doug Phillips has said, ‘He who defines the terms wins.’ But my intent was not to get the ‘juicy stuff’ as you said; it was only to get at the truth, to protect against wrong teachings and to warn you.

I am sure that I am not the only one with concerns over these matters. Yet many will say nothing as they understand the reception and repercussions of doing so. This lack of freedom to speak is not surprising to anyone on this blog. It thrives in all cultish environs where perfunctory dismissal of differing opinions seems to be the order of the day. I am not sure who told you about this blog, but it really matters little to me. I imagine it is another concerned person in the church and I am glad they are concerned. I hope they continue to dig into the details. If they do they will discover the truth. I do not regret warning others or checking into folks presented as ‘teachers’ or ‘authorities’; it is the obligation of any follower of Christ and especially one who leads in any capacity to ‘know the well from which they drink.’ We are charged to be Bereans, to see ‘if these things be so.’

I went through the NCFIC site to see just how deeply entrenched you were. It was a task to be sure. I found your presence pervasive and realized your course had been set firmly. I discovered that the beliefs along these lines were nothing new, they began even before you came here. You testified to that in your phone interview on the NCFIC blog. The beliefs were fostered, in part, by and through Doug Wilson and his disciples.

At your first church experience you expressed frustration at trying to ‘replicate the ministries’ of your sending church. You say it caused burn out and ended with the eventual abandonment of Junior Church. In the phone interview with Scott Brown, you said a youth pastor gave you a booklet by Christopher Schlect. The pamphlet explained why people should remove their children from Sunday School and youth ministries and how such activities are anti-Biblical.

When I researched Schlect, I found he was a member of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Christians. (CREC is a denomination/sect started by Doug Wilson in 1998 surrounded by dubious activities and shenanigans.) I saw that he was a teacher at New Saint Andrews College (Doug Wilson’s college). His pamphlet was published by Canon Press (Doug Wilson’s company). Then I recalled your response when I tried to caution you about Doug Wilson, after you gave out one of his books at a men’s retreat. I researched Doug Wilson, and then came to you. I warned you and you said he was a friend. I thought you were just trying to get a book published. Now it makes sense, you were already a follower. My warning was years too late.

After your church plant, you found an established church to implement your newly adopted ideas. In the interview you declare that you came to the church and began your ‘5 year deprogramming’ plan. You followed exactly Paul Washer’s counsel on his You Tube video for ‘Reforming a Church’. Gaining their confidence, by teaching on relevant issues like the family, you moved right along ‘letting some ministries die gracefully’ rather than axing them. Although I’m not sure how any ministry dies gracefully, that is what you said in the interview.

You have also followed the example of Scott Brown. When he got in a tight spot, he called for a ‘vote of confidence’ . I recalled the same ploy used at church when people voiced concern at a congregational meeting just after Scott Brown had been there. You called for a vote of confidence and it worked. In retrospect, that was a sad, sad day. If the vote had been the other way, the church would have been saved from much trouble. The whole event seemed out of place, the timing of the ploy may have been a tad off, perhaps a bit overplayed, but hey, it worked. It was a watershed moment.

Those who knew something was wrong likely knew they’d just lost their church. Trouble was that they lacked the expertise of the better communicator. Mark this, they did not lose because they were wrong, they lost because they were not as articulate, as organized, as winsome and because they got too emotional over the issue. They had the disadvantage because they did not really know what was being played at. Few did. They were colorfully painted as aggressive, arrogant, close minded, slightly ignorant and off base. Some colors were slightly true and that lent credence to the accusations; yet who is perfect, don’t we all have some of these traits? The flesh is hard to capture and, as Christians, we are all in the process.

After this event you, more firmly, established your authority; after all the church is a ‘pastor rule’ church and it was your prerogative. When this all started I wonder if the congregation saw the big picture. I wonder if they knew about the ‘5 year plan’ or about ‘letting ministries die gracefully.’ I am sure the idea of changes for the ‘good’ of the congregation seemed good. Some, in fact, were good; that they were based on an unbiblical foundation was far from their minds. Did they know they were involved in ‘worldly practices’? I doubt it. Scott Brown was the first real clue but it was already too late, the wheels had been set in motion. I have to respect what you’ve accomplished even though the church had to split to get there. I have learned from this: I will NEVER attend a ‘pastor rule’ church again; sadly human nature is just too corrupt for such a rule.

I did consider revealing myself on the blog. I thought it was perhaps even courageous since you implied that to be posting on the blog under a pseudonym was cowardly and sinful. Blasphemous, you said about the site, although I still cannot see that one; I see no contempt or lack of reverence for God on the site. Yet I’ve decided not to reveal myself as it would reduce this to a personality contest. The contest should be the truth against falsehood. It may take awhile but the truth will always win. Some do not think too deeply about much and it is not their fault. If it wasn’t for Scott Brown, I would not have thought more. Not knowing was far more comfortable.

When I first began all this, I did it because I thought you were being charmed or won over by these people. I wanted to warn you. I was wrong. I was quizzical at the reception of the information I had retrieved, for two reasons: first, it is very, very likely true; and second, I thought you’d appreciate the time and effort involved in an effort to warn you. Instead, you told me I should be a ‘spy or a detective’, that I should stay off the internet.

Your challenge to pray about what I was doing caused me to go to prayer and to the NCFIC site again. I combed through it and found the phone interview mentioned, then I knew by your own admission, you had come to the church with a preconceived notion, inspired by the followers of the beliefs espoused by NCFIC. Unbeknownst to the church membership, you began to work it out. They should have known the whole plan, they did not. Doing it this way was wrong. An announcement posted by NCFIC, about the telephone interview you and two other pastors participated in, stated, ‘What these men dared to do was not easy. But, with much prayer, teaching, and faithfulness these pastors have made significant strides in dismantling various worldly practices in their churches!’  I do not think that the church you came to, after a failed church plant, had ‘various worldly practices’ going on. I know you could say, ‘Well, that’s what they wrote; I never said that.’ That fits nicely with the plausible deniability that the NCFIC and all their followers always seem to have.

Your accusation of my demeaning you (by mentioning that you were young) is not fair, as if I am against you personally. I am not. The fact is, you are young, you are just as susceptible to spiritual deception as anyone else, and as a leader you’re even more likely to be targeted than others for deception. On this site, I said you were young and asked people to pray. As I told you, this was not meant as a slam. I still ask that, now even more fervently.

In researching this situation, I can’t tell you how many people sounded like Sgt. Shultz from the old Hogan’s Heroes show, ‘I know nothing!’ or the TV evangelist’s ‘Don’t touch God’s anointed.’ If I did not know the people involved, I might ask, ‘Who has bewitched you?’ Except I know who bewitched you for I was bewitched by the same crowd.

In 2006 the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International said Family Integrated Church practices were ‘errant and schismatic.’ They pretty much sum it up:

• It encourages schism in the local church bodies by encouraging its adherents to change the theology and philosophy of the churches of which they are members.

• It does violence to local church authority, calling on local church members to leave their churches when the church does not bow to the philosophical demands of the movement.

• It espouses an ecclesiology based upon the family that is not based upon the New Testament but rather is an adaptation of Old Testament patriarchy.

• It falsely lays the claim that the destruction of the family in the U.S. is solely the fault of age-graded ministries in local churches. We contend that this is a simplistic and therefore false accusation.

• It espouses a postmillennial theology that is contradictory to a dispensational understanding of Scripture.

• It is oddly inclusive, basing fellowship on a particular philosophy of ministry rather than on the great fundamentals of the faith.

I do not say that anyone involved in the NCFIC is lacking salvation. Salvation does not hinge on these things singularly but the efficacy of the salvation message can be clouded by them, the Christian walk can be hindered by them and unity will certainly suffer from them. I urge you to step down from involvement with these people, as Kevin Swanson has done, and just pastor your church; the people love you, they do not need someone in ‘substantial’ agreement with NCFIC. (Gotta love those nebulous words; they always provide a convenient back door if things get hot!) The people need you to stand for God, for His Word and lead. And be honest with them, if they want to go the direction you intend then great but give them a voice in the matter.

God Bless,

Andrew

For more information about:
Scott Brown look here.
Doug Wilson look here and here.
Doug Wilson’s school.

UPDATE: This letter will certainly identify me as I put it into the hands of church leadership before I decided to post it and parts of it (like the statement from the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International) were given to alert leadership to the hazards of the NCFIC. Already my family has been turned away from by some folks who will no longer come to our home because of, as one dear saint said, some ‘offense.’ Naturally unexplained. Another hung up their phone when we called. We are funny and predictable creatures upon which God has lavished his love. We should do likewise even in the face of shunning. In the end, God will prevail and we will understand, one day, just why we did the things we did and how it was right or wrong; for God’s glory or our own. In the meantime we must continue to look to Jesus.

I was told yesterday that the pastor called a congregational meeting where they were told that I’d posted ‘lies’ on the web about him and the church. That explains the responses we’re getting. Oh well. Funny thing is just before I got the phone call about the meeting I’d told my wife we were probably excommunicated in abstentia; not too far from wrong on that one! Explains the cold shoulders we’re getting.  I wonder why no one is thinking about how so many folks who’ve left could all have been wrong?

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Scott Brown’s No Gossip Rule: The Plague of the NCFIC

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How Doug Phillips and Scott Brown Promote Sin and Cowardice In The Church

“Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.” –Charles Haddon Spurgeon

gossip-frontIn 2007 Scott Brown, Director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, preached a sermon entitled, Gossip: The Plague of the Church. This sermon was preached to an audience of several hundred immediately following a conference on building businesses and entrepreneurialship. The audience also included some pastors.

Doug Phillips, President of Vision Forum Ministries, was at that conference and struck a deal with Scott Brown to sell the sermon as an audio CD on the Vision Forum web site.

Jen Fishburne informs me that it was no coincidence that Scott Brown preached this sermon at the time he did. It was at this same time that Doug Phillips was beginning to feel the heat from Jen exposing his ecclesiastical tyrannies and abuses on her blog. Jen had done everything humanly possible to seek reconciliation with Doug, but he sabotaged her every overture. As a last resort she published her story on her blog, not to shame and humiliate him but to publicly expose Doug Phillips as an ecclesiastical tyrant so that others might not fall prey to his abuses.

Jen has been accused many times of being “bitter and unforgiving”, but I know Jen well and I know that the opposite is the case. Her motivation isn’t a hatred for Doug Phillips but a love for the body of Christ.

As a direct result of Jen’s story going public, the home school community was asking questions, and even some members of his own church, Boerne Christian Assembly, were voicing concerns. In desperation Doug Phillips searched for a way of shutting down all inquiries into his abusive practices. The charge of “gossip” was a ready-made excuse for silencing all calls for his accountability and repentance. Scott Brown’s “Gossip” sermon was tailor-made to clamp the lid down hard on any challenges to the tyrannies of a spiritually abusive pastor.

It was Scott Brown’s “Gossip” sermon which launched the No Gossip Rule in the BCA community. By mass-marketing the CD, Vision Forum and the NCFIC have also effectively inculcated the No Gossip Rule within a large portion of NCFIC churches. Doug Phillips and Vision Forum have, likewise, indoctrinated thousands of Christian home school families with the No Gossip Rule. To quote from one of my previous articles:

Doug Phillips has railed against so-called gossipers for years, and gossip is whatever Doug Phillips defines it to be. As Doug Phillips has often said, “He who defines the terms wins”, and the way Doug defines gossip is by equating gossip with a violation of the 9th Commandment. This is quite typical of how Doug Phillips twists and distorts sacred scripture for his personal agenda. To Doug Phillips gossip is anything that anyone says about him, or about his friends, that he doesn’t like. It makes no difference to him whether the things said about him are true and already public information. Say something about Doug Phillips that he likes, even if it’s just complete lies and fabrications (and there have been plenty of his sycophants who have done so to feed his massive ego), but that’s not gossip. But say anything true about Doug that he doesn’t like and it’s not just merely gossip, it’s “wicked gossip” or the “horrific sin of gossip”…

This is one of the most oft-used mind-control tools Doug Phillips has pulled out of his toolbox, and he’s used it to tremendous effect. Doug Phillips injects massive doses of  guilt and shame to prevent anyone from confronting him and holding him accountable, or even so much as reading anyone’s blog where they might find “gossip” about him. What few BCA members and Vision forum employees and interns that have read our articles and posted comments here have inevitably condemned it as, “I see your fruit on this site and it is wicked gossip.”

The fruit of Doug’s “no gossip” rule has created many more non-thinking people than just within the walls of BCA and Vision Forum. That mind-control influence has been spread to thousands of home school families too, and that mind-control prevents thousands from so much as looking at a blog of this nature lest their utopian home school dreamworld be contaminated.

Those indoctrinated in the No Gossip Rule can’t even question it, even in the light of the very Scriptures from which its teachers claim it originates. To my knowledge, the Phillips-Brown No Gossip Rule hasn’t ever been challenged. I intend to not only challenge it here, I intend to dismantle it, and the Code Of Silence that goes with it.

omertaThe Phillips-Brown No Gossip Rule contains a terrifying message. It is the VF/NCFIC equivalent of the Mafia’s Omertà. Omertà means “honor” in Sicilian, but the Mafia perverted the term into a Code Of Silence. The violation of Omertà has frightful retaliatory consequences. The power of the Mafia is real and only a fool would defy it. The power of Scott Brown and Doug Phillips is largely bluff and bluster. The threat of “excommunication” from a cult leader has no impact on the condition of one’s soul, nor does it carry any weight whatsoever with the Lord God. But as P.T. Barnum put it, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Doug Phillips and Scott Brown have effectively created a Christian Cosa Nostra, complete with its Code Of Silence. Doug Phillips is all about drama and theatrics. He loves dress-up and costume parties, so it should surprise no one that he accessorized his Boss image by having VF employees and interns trained as “executive protection” agents. He periodically had them play dress-up as black-suited black-shade wearing armed enforcer goons. In several cases he’s sent his enforcer goons out (very likely at VFM donor expense) to threaten and intimidate people who dared to expose him. In at least two cases that we know of blog owners dramatically altered and removed content from their blogs, or shut them down altogether, as a direct result of those threatening encounters. Those strong-arm tactics have been well concealed and they are known in detail to only the perpetrators, victims, and a few others, like Jen and myself.

Multiple thousands have come under the influence of not only the Phillips-Brown No Gossip Rule, but also the cultish influence they have injected into dozens of other religious sociopathic leaders they have served to inspire within their VF/NCFIC subculture. Brown’s lecture wasn’t preached so much to his own church members, though some were there. He was addressing a larger audience of several hundred. There were pastors in that audience, and Scott Brown had an objective of influencing those pastors to become the same kind of autocratic tyrant that he and Doug Phillips are.

For those who have embraced the No Gossip Rule, violating it could have even worse consequences than what the Mafia imposes. This is because the consequences, as they have been led to believe, could be eternal. As I will demonstrate herein, that threat is a myth based on nothing more than Scott Brown’s clumsy and inept twisting of Scripture.

One thing that is not bluff and bluster, however, is the very real threat of “church discipline” (code word for banishment and shunning) for any who would dare to violate the No Gossip Rule, or challenge it, or challenge any of those other numerous cultish rules endemic in the VF/NCFIC subculture. In Gossip: The Plague of the Church, Scott Brown affirms that gossip warrants a “zero tolerance policy”. According to Scott Brown gossip is the worst and most destructive sin in the church. Gossip is due the harshest possible penalties. Gossip is due only one warning, and two at the most:

“I had a very interesting moment several months ago where I was speaking to a pastor friend of mine at my house and we were talking about the subject of gossip and he told me that in his church he has a zero tolerance policy for gossip, and he said that in his church in Wilmington, North Carolina, no one becomes a member of that church until they hear the sermon on gossip, and he delivers this sermon on gossip every September, and he makes two promises to the people in his church. The first promise is that whenever they come they are going to be taught scripture as best as he can in its context and, secondly, that no one will speak evil of you behind your back, and I was very interested in this policy because I’d never heard anything like that before, and I thought what a great policy and what a great practice in the church, and I said could you send me last year’s sermon, and he did… And he says that gossip is the chief destroyer of the church. And the destruction isn’t to brick and mortar but it’s to the souls of people…(4:20) Here’s what my pastor friend told me in his church. He said, You know Scott in our church if you commit adultery you get four warnings according to Matthew 18. But if you gossip you’re out of here by the first or the second warning. And that’s it. You will not survive in this church after the second warning, and maybe the first” (17:50)

Scott Brown goes on to state his approval for this “zero tolerance” policy, and it’s one that he apparently practices himself. He may be accurately representing his “zero tolerance” pastor friend for the tyrant that he unwittingly portrays him to be. On the other hand Scott Brown may be every bit the duplicitous liar that Doug Phillips proved himself to be when he lied for many years about his “mentor and spiritual father” Pastor Robert Gifford, and that Pastor Gifford allegedly commissioned him to start a church in San Antonio. Either way though, “zero tolerance” has some frightening ramifications.

Yes, we are to confront and discipline sin in the church, but we are to do so per Matthew 18:15-17, and that applies to all sins and all members of the local church, including to pastors, elders and deacons. Scott Brown singles out gossip as being the one sin that is unworthy of any Matthew 18 biblical due process because it is far worse than any other sin. Under Scott Brown’s tyrannical oversight, if gossip happens there’s only one warning, two if you’re lucky. Confession and repentance apparently count for nothing in such a case. You’re put out of the church and you’ll be shunned by all your friends. This sounds like an ironclad guaranteed way to shut everyone up.

Is gossip inherently so much more destructive to the church than other sins that it warrants a zero tolerance policy and immediate expulsion and shunning? Is gossip so horrifically sinful that it qualifies for sanctions that aren’t imposed even in cases of adultery, extortion, drunkenness, and idolatry? Is that really what the Bible teaches? Scott Brown claims as much:

“And so here in Titus 3:10 we read, reject a divisive man after the first or second admonition. I don’t know why this sternness is present here. It’s more stern than the sins that we might regard as even greater sins, like adultery, or like extortion, or like drunkenness, or like idolatry, or like covetousness, or all manner of idolatry. It’s right in the same plane and it’s categorized in the midst of other great evils.” (18:10)

Here Scott Brown makes a subtle and yet significant exegetical and logical error. He conflates terms. This is something he does throughout his lecture, and he does so with practically every verse he quotes. Titus 3:10 uses the term “a divisive man” which he conflates with “a gossip”. If not confronted, gossip in the church does have the potential to cause division. However, it is not gossip that the Apostle Paul is referring to when he speaks of a “divisive man”.  What is a divisive man? Scott Brown doesn’t seem to appreciate the importance of interpreting scripture with scripture. The previous verse (9) clearly defines what a divisive man is by the activities he engages in:

But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law;  (Titus 3:9)

Scott Brown and Doug Phillips claim to be Calvinists, so let’s see what John Calvin has to say of Titus 3:10. In Calvin’s Commentaries he likens the divisive man not to a gossip but to an argumentative, quarreling “heretical man”:

10. Avoid an heretical man. This is properly added; because there will be no end of quarrels and dispute, if we wish to conquer obstinate men by argument; for they will never want words, and they will derive fresh courage from impudence, so that they will never grow weary of fighting. Thus, after having given orders to Titus as to the form of doctrine which he should lay down, he now forbids him to waste much time in debating with heretics, because battle would lead to battle and dispute to dispute. Such is the cunning of Satan, that, by the impudent talkativeness of such men, he entangles good and faithful pastors, so as to draw them away from diligence in teaching. We must therefore beware lest we become engaged in quarrelsome disputes; for we shall never have leisure to devote our labors to the Lord’s flock, and contentious men will never cease to annoy us.

It’s debatable whether Titus 3:10 is even about church discipline at all since “have nothing more to do with him” implies that it is addressing someone outside the local church. If it applied to a member of the local church Paul would likely have said something like, “Rebuke him before the assembly and cast him out of your midst for an example to all”. That would be consistent with another of Paul’s pastoral instructions, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1Tim. 5:20). However, even if it could be reasonably argued that Titus 3:10 is addressing members of the local assembly it clearly only applies to the argumentative, quarreling heretical man, not mere gossips.

After conflating “divisive man” for “gossip”, Scott Brown goes on to say that failing to shun a gossip is sinful:

“Notice the last three passages of Scripture that we read say reject a divisive man, or to avoid them, or to not keep company with them. You might think about that on a practical level. Maybe on two levels. Is it possible that there are people in the body of Christ who are sinning by not avoiding you? They actually continue to relate with you and they should not because of this. Or is it possible that we are relating with and not avoiding those who gossip? These are beautiful and very simple passages of Scripture. They’re not complex. A six year old can understand them.” (18:48)

“A six year old can understand them” is a rather common tactic among intellectually dishonest men like Scott Brown. His message is transparent – “What I’m telling you is so obvious that even my little grandchildren get this. If you don’t get it you’re dumber than a six year old. Don’t even think about questioning me about this.”

Needless to say, any pastor who considers his own twisted interpretations of Scripture to justify his autocratic methods of ruling his church to be “beautiful” is no pastor at all. Like Doug Phillips, Scott Brown is a religious sociological cult leader.

Under the terms of this No Gossip Rule the accused gossiper is confronted with the frightful threat of “discipline”. Discipline in many NCFIC churches is accompanied by the implied threat of banishment (“excommunication”) and shunning. This is precisely what Scott Brown is advocating in the above quote. Banishment and shunning means being cut off from “the community of believers” and being cast out into “the world” where they are “lost”. The shunned are cut off from all their friends, and sometimes even family members, who will no longer so much as speak to or even look at them. They may even lose their job if their employer is a member of the same cult (I’ve seen it happen). They are forever a pariah.

The threat of being shunned is a powerful mind control tactic that keeps members passive and docile. This is precisely the demeanor that cult leaders demand of their followers – unquestioning servile obedience in all things. Obedience to the cult leader is the real standard in a cult, not the Word of God. The Bible itself is not the authority to the cult but, rather, it is what the cult leader interprets the Bible to mean for them. Any dissenting views are subject to immediate and harsh discipline. One cannot dictate efficiently as an autocrat without first silencing opposition, and Scott Brown’s sermon gives the alleged “biblical authority” to put down any and all dissenting views, as well as eliminating any and all accountability of themselves.

One of the indicia of cult leaders is their penchant for blowing minor sins and transgressions completely out of proportion with what the Bible says of them, while also often ignoring major sins (and especially their own sins). The sin of gossip is a perfect example of this. Of gossip Scott Brown says:

“The Lord hates it and He calls it an abomination… If we want to understand this subject we need to understand that God hates it.” (24:55)

Scott Brown makes this bold claim by conflating “gossip” for “sowing discord among the brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19) and completely ignoring the context of the passage of those things listed which God actually does hate. Gossip may be the vehicle through which some discord is sown, but sowing discord is a far more egregious act than mere gossip. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God hates gossip, nor does the Bible call gossip “an abomination”.

Abomination is one of those scary words that cult leaders love to recklessly toss around because “sin” just doesn’t have the punch they’re looking for to justify “disciplining” the alleged perpetrator. Once someone is charged with an “abomination” then all bets are off for any biblical due process.

gossip-backThe back cover of the “Gossip” CD case states:

“Gossip is the great destroyer of families, communities, and local churches. And the Bible has much to say about this form of verbal murder [emp. added]. Now, in this Scripture-saturated message, Scott Brown defines and diagnoses the problem of gossip, unveils the spiritual devastation it leaves behind, and explains the scriptural remedy and the blessings which accompany following God’s commands regarding the use of the tongue.”

Scott Brown’s message includes a number of quoted Scriptures, but it would only qualify as “Scripture-saturated” if the scripture verses he quotes were directly applicable to gossip and not distorted into something not intended by the authors. In his sermon introduction Scott Brown says,

“I’m not actually going to do an exposition of the book of James, but I’m going to give us lots scripture, lots of verses. I’m going to just wear us out with verses here this morning. I almost never do this but I’m going to do it this morning.” (3:30)

The following is the list of verses Scott Brown quotes from, given in the order that he quotes them. I’ve summarized the verses, not according to what Scott Brown claims they say about gossip, but what the verses plainly say for themselves:

  • Matt 5:21-26 “angry with his brother without a cause”, “whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool’, shall be in danger of hell fire”
  • Ps 15:1-3 backbiting, taking up a reproach against a neighbor
  • Prov 6:16-19 “A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.”
  • Prov 26:20-23 talebearer, contentious man, “Burning lips and a wicked heart”
  • Rom 16:17-18 “divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned”
  • 1 Cor 5:11 “do not keep company with… a reviler”
  • Titus 3:10 “avoid a divisive man”
  • James 4:11 “Do not speak evil of one another”
  • 1 Pet 3:8-12 “Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit”
  • 3 John 9-10 “Diotrephes… prating against us with malicious words”
  • Prov 17:4 “An evildoer gives heed to false lips; A liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue.”

While we should all take heed of these admonitions, none of these verses have much if anything to do with the act of gossiping. Rather, they are about slander, lying, speaking deceitfully, backbiting, reviling, sowing discord among brethren, contentiousness, and listening to and giving credence to lies and liars. Yes, all of these things can be conveyed by means of gossip. But gossip can also occur without any of those other sins being perpetrated.

Scott Brown’s method of expositing Scripture is little different from throwing a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs at the wall and hoping something will stick. His exegetical skills really are that much of a mess. He twists and contorts Scripture, as well as the definitions of the terms used therein, while conflating one term for another, all to arrive at a predetermined outcome. Deception is always rooted in truth, or at least a half-truth because blatant lies would never have any chance of deceiving anyone but the most gullible. As such Scott Brown starts off his lecture by giving a half-truth:

“So I’d like to define gossip here a little bit with scripture. The terms gossip and slander occur around 56 times in Bible, and they’re often used interchangeably”. (7:10)

As Doug Phillips has stated many times, “He who defines the terms wins.” Scott Brown and Doug Phillips have defined gossip as slander and slander as gossip, when in point of fact they are distinctly different from one another. Slander and gossip are not “interchangeable” as Scott Brown claims, whether it be in the Bible, or anywhere else. If “gossip” were “interchangeable with slander”, as Scott Brown asserts, it would have to be, like slander, a violation of the 9th Commandment in all cases. Certainly gossip can be the means of facilitating these things, but gossip is not, of its own accord, a violation of the 9th Commandment. Gossip is, quite often, completely truthful, whereas slander is always lies, fabrications, and/or half-truths.

To conflate “slander” for “gossip” Scott Brown very early in his lecture uses a specific Bible version that he believes aids him in this error, the 1995 edition of the NASB. The editors of the NASB state: “Version Information – While preserving the literal accuracy of the 1901 ASV, the NASB has sought to render grammar and terminology in contemporary English.” While a modern English rendering may be beneficial to the casual reader, it’s hardly the basis for sound hermeneutics. In order to make his case that gossip = slander,  Scott Brown quotes Proverbs 20:19 (at 7:30) from the NASB:

He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip.

The naive may suppose that Solomon himself is conflating slander for gossip. Wisdom literature, such as we see in the Proverbs, is often poetic, and often delivered in one sentence segments where the second part of the line may serve to contrast the first part or, as in this case, it may serve to reinforce the first part (see Prov 10:1 – 22:16 & 25:1 – 29:27). In all cases it is still a poetic literary form. We get into deep weeds quickly when we take poetical literature too literally by attempting to augur intention that isn’t there; and in the same way we also get into trouble by taking biblical parables too literally. It’s called “wisdom literature” for a good reason – not only may it impart wisdom to those who can receive it, it may also require a modicum of wisdom, or at least a bit of common sense, to properly understand it in the first place.

In no way does Solomon seek to make slander “interchangeable” with gossip. Scott Brown himself probably knows better. If not then he is a remarkably ignorant Bible teacher. Doug Phillips’ favorite Bible commentator is John Gill. Ironically enough John Gills says of Proverbs 20:19:

“It may be applied to false teachers, and their deceptions with good words and fair speeches; the word used signifies to deceive with the lips; see Romans 16:18”.

Nevertheless, this NASB rendering of Proverbs 20:19, or rather Scott Brown’s conflated interpretation of this rendering, forms the very foundation from which Scott Brown then proceeds to base his entire No Gossip Rule.

“So maybe we could define gossip like this: A person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts, a rumor or a report of an intimate nature… But basically speaking negatively about another person without that person being present is gossip.” (9:05)

Here Scott Brown finally uses a reasonably honest definition for “gossip”. Yet he has already corrupted that definition by claiming that the terms “gossip” and “slander” are “interchangeable” when they are not. This is typical of what he does throughout his duplicitous sermon. Since Scott Brown has defined gossip as slander, he then must go on to define “slander”:

“So here’s a definition of slander: The utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation. A false and defamatory oral statement about another person. And this term in Hebrew would be translated typically with the word talebearer and in Greek becomes the word blaspheme or to speak against us.” (10:12)

Scott Brown offers up a reasonably accurate definition for slander, at least up until, like his definition for “gossip”, he conflates slander for “talebearer”. Yes, a slanderer is also a talebearer, but not all talebearers are slanderers. If Scott Brown were capable of an honest definition he would have equated the modern “gossip” for the biblical “talebearer”. I’d like to be able to say that Brown and Phillips are only ignorant Bible teachers; but knowing their character as I do I can’t chalk this up to mere ignorance. This is all quite deliberate on their part. They are guilty of conflating gossip with slander for a specific agenda – to silence any and all opposition to their abuses of authority. This Code Of Silence prevents anyone from holding them accountable.

In seeking out actual dictionary definitions, I purposefully quote here from Doug Phillips’ favorite dictionary, the Webster’s 1828. Of this dictionary Doug Phillips says: “When Noah Webster first published this book, he understood that whoever defined the words of a culture would capture that culture”:

GOS’SIP, noun

1. A sponsor; one who answers for a child in baptism; a godfather.

2. A tippling companion.

And sometimes lurk I in a gossip’s bowl.

3. One who runs from house to house, tattling and telling news; an idle tattler. [This is the sense in which the word is now used.]

4. A friend or neighbor.

5. Mere tattle; idle talk.

GOS’SIP, verb intransitive To prate; to chat; to talk much.

1. To be a pot-companion.

2. To run about and tattle; to tell idle tales.

BACK’BITE, verb transitive [back and bite] To censure, slander, reproach, or speak evil of the absent. Proverbs 25:1.

SLA’NDER, noun

1. A false tale or report maliciously uttered. and tending to injure the reputation of another by lessening him in the esteem of his fellow citizens, by exposing min to impeachment and punishment, or by impairing his means of lining; defamation. slander that worst of poisons, ever finds an easy entrance to ignoble minds.

2 Disgrace; reproach; disreputation; ill name.

SLA’NDER, verb transitive To defame; to injure by maliciously uttering a false report respecting one; to tarnish or impair the reputation of one by false tales, maliciously told or propagated.

It’s interesting to note that “gossip” originally had a positive meaning, but over time it was corrupted to the point where today it is pejorative. The term “gossip” has changed a great deal over time. That is not the case for the biblical terms “slander” and “backbite” whose meanings have remained reasonably fixed throughout history. “Gossip” only came to be used in its disparaging form in relatively recent history. As such “gossip” appears not a single time in the King James Version (1611) or the Geneva Bible Translation (1599). The Geneva Bible happens to be the preferred translation of Doug Phillips and many others in VF/NCFIC circles. The ESV, which is highly acclaimed by Bible scholars, includes “gossip” only twice (Ez 36:3 & 2Chron 12:20). This isn’t much to go on to build an entire doctrine out of.

If Scott Brown and Doug Phillips were honest they would only use the terms “slander” and “backbiting” instead of “interchangeably” substituting the completely separate and distinct term “gossip”.

For those of us who have been on the receiving end of slander (and I’m no stranger to that myself), it indeed can be the murder of one’s reputation – “character assassination”. Through lies, fabrications and half-truths the slanderer with malicious intent sets about to cause severe damage and harm, and to divide friend from friend. Slander and backbiting are expressly condemned in scripture, not only for the harm they cause, but also because they are in direct violation of the 9th Commandment.

3-monkeysScott Brown makes a case for speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil, and he equates the see no evil and hear no evil with sins that will “mar” the hearer permanently. Therefore, one must do everything possibly to avoid so much as even accidentally overhearing gossip, lest it corrupt and defile them:

“Once you hear gossip you’re marred. You are marred. That tasty trifle goes down to the inmost parts and you are never the same again. One little word and you’re never the same again regarding that person. It’s tragic. If you’ve ever listened to gossip then you just need to know that you’ve been defiled. Because it has gone down. It’s gone down, deep down into the inmost parts and it’s a danger to you.” (27:33)

“You’ve been defiled.” How terribly frightening! Fear of alleged “defilement” is a common tactic used by performance-based religious cult leaders to control their followers. Scott Brown then reinforces the policy of cutting off and shunning anyone who would dare to ever gossip:

“Note and avoid a gossip, and there are a number of passages of scripture that make this clear. Romans 16:27-18, 1Corinthians 5:11, and Titus 3:10 all say this. Let’s just sort of get some detail on this. Romans says to note such a one. Romans 16. Titus 3 says warn a gossip once and then twice. Titus 3 says reject a factious man. And in Romans 16 avoid, and 1Corinthians 5 do not keep company with. And then it gets even worse do not even eat with such a one in 1Corinthians 5. Well there’s just much evidence for the importance of avoidance and isolation of this sin. We’re not used to doing that, are we? It’s counter-intuitive to us. We don’t want to do this. But yet we have these very stern and clear warnings from scripture.” (28:10)

Scott Brown speaks “of how gossip is often disguised” as a prayer request, seeking counsel, or bearing one another’s burdens (21:50). True enough, this can happen. In a healthy church of compassionate believers it’s far less likely to happen than in an unhealthy dysfunctional church. Rather than addressing the problem in a biblical way, Scott Brown recommends the elimination altogether of prayer requests, seeking counsel, and bearing one another’s burdens:

“On the speaking side of the coin, first of all keep quiet. Zip it. Just zip the tongue. Remember what your mom used to say? It’s as simple as momma. Momma got it right, didn’t she? If you can’t say anything nice just don’t say it. Don’t share your pain. We live in a culture which teaches us to just share any old thing coming out of our black old heart. Well this isn’t the counsel of the Lord. This is the counsel of a wicked culture saturated in ungodly psychological principles. Don’t make your prayer requests. Have you ever heard of silent personal prayer? Do you have to bring everybody in the world in to prayer for a brother who might be having trouble?  Couldn’t you just labor in your closet for him instead of speaking evil of him in the midst of it?” (33:10)

Is this what Scripture actually teaches? Is making a prayer request for a friend or loved one really gossip? Is coming to the pastor for counseling in, say, an abusive marriage, really gossip? What of “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”? (Gal 6:2). In Scott Brown’s church it appears that everyone is required to just stuff it and suffer in silence. Certainly that has also been the experience for members of Boerne Christian Assembly.

Scott Brown’s teaching on gossip is a gross misrepresentation of Scripture. It calls into question whether he is capable of honestly expositing any biblical topic or passage at all. Rather than guiding Christians out of sin, Scott Brown is actually teaching people to sin. In other words, the cure is worse than the disease. Many of Scott Brown and Doug Phillips’ followers have falsely assumed that obeying the No Gossip Rule will keep them out of sinful behavior in the church when just the opposite is the case.

A wooden compliance with the No Gossip Rule ignores the command of Jesus to “judge with righteous judgement” (John 7:24). Christians aren’t to live with their heads buried in the sand, ignoring sin in their midst. Gossip is hardly the only sin in the church, nor is gossip the “abomination” that Scott Brown makes it out to be, or the “horrific sin” that Doug Phillips makes it out to be. By complying with the No Gossip Rule one would, of necessity, not be able to do a number of  things required in Scripture:

  • Mat 18:15-17 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
    If only I am aware of a grievous sin in a brother’s life, how am I to obey this scripture and still comply with the No Gossip Rule? I can confront that brother privately about his sin, but what if he doesn’t repent? According to the No Gossip Rule I have to keep that brother’s sin a secret, thereby making myself complicit in his sin.
  • 1Tim. 5:19-20 “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.
    How am I to accuse an elder of sin when I’m not even permitted to speak with and identity any other witnesses for fear that I will be charged with “gossip”?
  • Gal 6:1-2 “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
    How is one to obey this scripture in light of the No Gossip Rule? Also, how do we allow the brethren to fulfill the law of Christ (which is love) if no one ever shares their needs and can only “zip it”?
  • 1Cor. 5:11-13 “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
    This is one of the passages Scott Brown lifted out of context. What if I know that a man is sexually immoral and that man is my own pastor (such as Doug Phillips)? What if that man is also my employer because I work for Vision Forum? What if because I work for Vision Forum I also know the same man is covetous and an extortioner? I could try Matt 18:15, but I already know that everyone else who’s tried it before was fired, put under church discipline, and everyone was ordered to shun them for the rest of their lives. Maybe I could go to the elders of my church? No, that can’t work because they’re all just hand-picked stooges of the pastor. So how do I obey scripture and not violate the No Gossip Rule?

“Bearing one another’s burdens” may require listening patiently to a wounded brother or sister’s tragic story, not judging them over it, or fearing that we’ll somehow be “marred” by it. Requiring that Christians suffer in silence isn’t love but hate.

“Speaking the truth in love” sometimes means having to confront sin (as defined by the Word of God, not some twisted cult leader’s interpretation). The Code Of Silence implicit in the No Gossip Rule just creates a whole new level of sins far worse than the problem of gossip.

It’s been said that, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” How true. Doug Phillips through Vision Forum has marketed the image of inspiring “biblical manliness”. The reality is, however, that Doug Phillips has created hundreds, and perhaps thousands of cowardly men who remain silent in the face of terrible sin. Nothing could more clearly prove this point than the dozen years he spent cheating on his wife. Multiple men knew about it and said nothing and did nothing. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. That’s not manliness. That’s cowardice.

The No Gossip Rule that has been so successfully promoted by Scott Brown and Doug Phillips has had precisely the effect they intended – it’s shut everybody up. There has been much sin in the camp for years; but rather than confronting it to purify the church, sin is concealed. That Code Of Silence is a sure-fire recipe for concealing sin, when scripture commands that we expose sin and purge it from our midst:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph. 5:11)

Ever since the public revelation of Doug Phillips’ clergy sexual abuse Scott Brown has sought to distance himself from Doug Phillips. In a sermon Scott Brown gave immediately after Doug Phillips’ resignation Brown even referred to Phillips as an “apostate”. Yet it is by Scott Brown’s No Gossip Rule that he empowered Doug Phillips to get away with his apostasy for so many years, and those sins are far worse, and far more extensive, than have come to public light so far.

Until Scott Brown’s teaching on gossip is eradicated from all Vision Forum and NCFIC spheres of influence there will be more scandals and abuses of power that occur within those churches.

Like Doug Phillips, Scott Brown is a Pharisee and a hypocrite. We should all heed Jesus’ warning, and Scott Brown and Doug Phillips should take special note of it:

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:1-2)

___________________

January 17:

One of our regular commenters here, who wishes to remain anonymous, emailed me an article that she wrote on gossip. It’s an insightful article and provides some practical guidelines for knowing what gossip is and what gossip isn’t. I believe her article complements my own and addresses several key areas that I have not. I hope everyone will also read it. I have her permission to share it here: Is it Gossip or Speaking the Truth in Love?

Scott Brown and Jason Dohm Offer Advice On the Doug Phillips Debacle

In the last three days Scott Brown and his fellow church Elder Jason Dohm have, between them, posted three noteworthy articles. Their articles seem inspired by the Doug Phillips sex scandal that resulted in his resignation and the closure of Vision Forum Ministries. No doubt there is much more than a mere adulterous affair that forced the closure of Vision Forum Ministries, but that story will have to wait for another day. Scott Brown and Jason Dohm are Elders at both Hope Baptist Church and Sovereign Redeemer Community Church. Both churches are in or close to Wake Forest, N.C.

Distancing oneself from Doug Phillips is all the craze these days. Multiple blog articles, Facebook posts, and even a sermon or two have been hastily thrown up by Vision Forum board members, employees, interns, and various assorted associates of Doug Phillips. The humorous part for me is they hardly ever mention the name “Doug Phillips”. It’s as though there is now an unwritten rule, Let not that name be mentioned. In this way they can circumvent the “no gossip” rule that is so widespread in Vision Forum Land, or so they at least rationalize. Since we all know who they’re talking about anyway, I’d much prefer they just stop pretending. Moreover, too many of those public postings smack of CYA and are no more genuine than was Doug Phillips’ True Repentance article that he posted in August 2013. In retrospect we can plainly see that article was an utter sham and a ploy to save his own bacon. It goes to show that even the most biblically valid article, written in the most eloquent prose, can be authored by a silver-tongued wolf in sheep’s clothing. We should never assume that good sermons only come from good men.

ScottBrown-DougPhllips

Doug Phillips and Scott Brown

Scott Brown features prominently in the Doug Phillips sex scandal. He is the Director for the Vision Forum Ministries Board of Directors and, no doubt, has good reason to distance himself from The Doug. Scott Brown is also the Director for the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. The NCFIC was handed over to Scott Brown by Doug Phillips.

Brown and Dohm’s articles are quite good. I especially appreciate Jason Dohm’s article, not only for his brevity and his insights, but for the fact that he’s one of the few that has actually used the forbidden name “Doug Phillips” (Scott Brown has yet to do that). Jason Dohm’s article is so good that I contacted him and asked permission to repost it here, in it’s entirety, thereby giving it far greater exposure than he has now. To put it in the politest possible terms (on my part) he declined my request.

Jason Dohm

Jason Dohm

Jason Dohm doesn’t permit comments on his blog, and perhaps that’s why he doesn’t want his article being reposted in it’s entirety here. Doing so might facilitate some discussion that he may not want to address. It might also necessitate his interacting with commenters here, something he may wish to avoid. Be that as it may I’ll only selectively quote from Brown and Dohm’s articles and link to them where they may be read in their entirety. Needless to say, any discussion is welcome here, as are Scott Brown and Jason Dohm themselves, should they wish to make an appearance to answer questions. Feel free to ask them questions regardless of whether or not they reply. I’m confident they’re reading. In fact Jason made an appearance here earlier today.

Regardless of their motivation in writing their articles, they are good articles, and worthy of our consideration and discussion. We should all take these matters to heart.

First from Jason Dohm:

Has Doug Phillips repented? No one knows.

Even if all the signs were positive – granting that purely for the sake of argument – no one would really know for quite some time. Though Proverbs 28:13 doesn’t explicitly use the word “repentance,” it contains the best definition of true repentance that I know: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Did you catch that? Confession ≠ Repentance. Confession is a subset of repentance. The other active ingredient is the forsaking of the sin, and knowing whether or not that has really happened takes significant time. Part 1, confession, is super-easy for a skilled communicator – and Doug is a very skilled communicator…

Has Doug Phillips repented? Don’t count on it.

If we have learned anything from these revelations, it is that Doug is a very skillful deceiver and manipulator. He is good at it, and he has had a lot of practice. Knowing that, it would be foolish for any of us to put ourselves in a position to be deceived or manipulated by him now…

Which kind of shepherd has Doug been? For years now, Doug has been an Ezekiel 34 shepherd, exploiting and devouring for self-satisfaction. He was entrusted with sheep to be a blessing to them, and instead he has been a curse. Is this not beyond dispute? And has not the Chief Shepherd removed him?…

Has Doug really repented? Time will tell, as the saying goes. And as it relates to Christian leadership, that can’t mean a week, a month, a year, or a decade. When it becomes known that a shepherd has cultivated a life of deception and manipulation for many years, such a man may not have enough years to reestablish himself as qualified for leadership.

Should Doug be forgiven? Absolutely. Anyone who has been forgiven much by the King must stand ready to forgive his fellow servants (Matthew 18:21-35).

Should he be trusted? Not on your life. At least not now. At least not soon.

Next, Scott Brown:

Disciplining an Elder – Alexander Strauch Weighs In

One of the most difficult things a church ever does is to discipline an elder. It is difficult enough to bring biblical discipline to church members, but it is even more difficult when elders are the ones in need of correction. There are so many conflicts and questions that are raised when an elder is caught in sin. When this happens, the church is in a very vulnerable situation. They are immediately subject to partiality, divisions, and even biting and devouring one another. Alexander Strauch has given me permission to post this from his book, Biblical Eldership. The quotation below is from chapter nine, following this citation is a link to the whole chapter.

Disciplining an Elder

How should an elder be treated if an accusation of sin is found to be true? Verse 20 provides the answer: “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all.” Some expositors think that verse 20 begins a new subject regarding the treatment of sinners in general, but this view is incorrect. Such a break in thought would be too abrupt and unexpected. Furthermore, it is clear that verses 19-25 deal with the topic of elders, particularly the sin of elders.

The clause, “those who continue in sin,” translates a present active participle (tous hamartanontas). The New American Standard Bible rendering stresses the persistent nature of the sinning. There is disagreement among commentators, however, as to what is implied by this present tense participle.

Some commentators believe that only those elders who stubbornly persist in sin after private warnings are to be publicly rebuked and that repentant elders need not be rebuked publicly. This interpretation, however, misconstrues the point of the passage…

The elder’s disposition toward his sin is not the issue here. The issue is: an elder’s sin demands public exposure…

First Timothy 5:20 provides additional biblical instruction on church discipline, specifically the matter of a church leader’s sin. Of course, if an elder refuses to repent, he would be disfellowshiped from the congregation according to Matthew 18.  Paul’s instructions go on to add that an elder who has been proven to be guilty of sin by witnesses is to be rebuked before the church. The imperative verb “rebuke” translates the Greek word elencho, which is a rich term conveying the ideas of “exposing,” “proving guilt,” “correcting,” and “reproving.” In this context, “rebuke” includes the ideas of public exposure, correction, and reproof…

Nine Ways Church Elders are to be Held Accountable

Each year we see new stories of Christian leaders who get entangled in scandalous sin. Our experience tells us that this has happened before and will happen again. Often we ask, “Who was holding this man accountable?” And, “If I can’t trust this seemingly godly man, who can I trust?” It is very common and very appropriate to also ask, “How are we supposed to hold leaders accountable?” If they are local church elders, the Bible speaks directly to the question…

Following are nine ways that 1 Timothy 5:19-21 shows how church elders are to be held accountable.

1. Personal responsibility

Paul makes it clear that church members have a very specific role. Every church member has the divinely appointed right and responsibility to bring a charge against a church elder when it is necessary. It is remarkable that woven into the very relational and sociological fabric of the local church is the assumption that at no time should elders be above the evaluation of the people they serve. Every person in the pew has this responsibility…

2. A stricter judgment

It is immediately evident from 1 Timothy 5:20 that the Lord has designed His church to have a very specific set of rules for dealing with church elders when they sin. These procedural commands are obviously focused on elders, not the wider church. Eldership carries with it greater risks for a greater number of people, and therefore they are subjected to a “stricter judgment,” (James 3:1)…

3. Multiple witnesses 

Holding church elders accountable requires two or three witnesses, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.” Notice how the Lord has commanded that there be a careful process that includes the following elements. First there must be a personal witness. Then in order to bring an accusation, that person is obligated to bring a minimum of one other witness. This language implies a vigilant examination and verification process.

This procedure is designed to protect the elder from trivial, false or evil accusations. It also protects him from accusations based on rumors, gossip or internet slander. It is part of the territory: Church elders are often targets of criticism since they are all imperfect in their life and doctrine, and the best of men can be picked apart…

4. Partiality avoided

Paul makes it clear that there must not be any partiality, “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.” Partiality has many faces. Sometimes it expresses itself when there is a very gifted elder and because of his charisma, persuasiveness and position, people actually hold him to a lower standard when they should be holding him to a higher one…

5. Accountability for what happened

Paul is advocating accountability for the sin, in the phrase, “Those who are sinning rebuke…’… In the case of sins of a financial or moral nature, for instance, the very act of getting caught almost always brings these sins to an immediate stop.

For example, if an elder is caught embezzling funds from his church, the ability to embezzle is taken away the moment he is found out. He is therefore no longer continuing in his sin. Does this mean that he should not be rebuked? Or if a man is caught in adultery, he usually stops. Does this mean there is no need to rebuke him?…

What if the man says he repents: does he then escape the rebuke? This passage gives no indication that repentance suspends rebuke. In fact, there is no mention of repentance in the text. Paul’s instructions are very clear. The purpose of this rebuke is not to produce repentance in the elder—important as that may be—but to cause all “to fear.” The issue here is not excommunication (whether that happens or not). The issue is the public exposure and reproof of one who holds a high office. No one gets a pass in Christ’s churches when it comes to sin, especially not its elders. While true repentance is a critical matter in the elder’s relationship with the Lord and His church, it is important to remember – the explicitly stated purpose of the rebuke is not repentance, but the causing of fear…

6. A rebuke 

…The rebuke is designed to expose and bring the sin to light. The word that Paul uses here speaks of exposing, convicting, disapproving or punishing.”The rebuke should be delivered according to wisdom. It should be measured according to the severity of the sin and the disposition of the offender. There could be a simple public rebuke, or temporary removal, or even excommunication depending on the many factors involved. The punishment should be delivered according to wisdom…

7. A public rebuke 

The rebuke is to be delivered before the whole congregation, “…in the presence of all.” There is the tendency in many situations like this to try to protect people from hearing. Sometimes, in an attempt to express sympathy or to act out of a sense of misplaced kindness, there is a private meeting for the church members only, or a subset of the church. It is difficult to see how these approaches are appropriate applications of the scriptural language…

8. The courage to cause fear 

In today’s church environment, church elders and members often prefer a positive, upbeat church life; free from guilt, repentance or fear. In contrast to this, Paul’s stated purpose of the rebuke is so that “the rest also may fear.” Paul uses very strong language to communicate this. The word he uses to communicate the desired result indicates “alarm” and “fright.” Paul desires that there be a fear of sin in the congregation…

9. Trembling at the seriousness of the matter

The requirement to rebuke must be regarded with utmost seriousness. The gravity of handling the matter properly is identified by an unusually sober warning, “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.”…

Is your church afraid to expose sin? Is there partiality? Are you personally reluctant to play your role for an elder trapped in sin? If so, the consequences can be terribly harmful for the purity of the church and the elder entrapped in sin. It easily blemishes the public reputation of the church as “pillar and ground of the truth.” It can muffle the proclamation that God saves and sanctifies sinners. In the presence of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels, it hides an important expression of the redemptive power of the gospel itself.