One of the things I learned well in an authoritarian church was how to be thoroughly judgmental. While I believe it is important to make righteous judgments (John 7:24) about things and about people the judgmentalism that exudes authoritarianism tells a lot about them.
One topic that is up for consistent judgment is someone’s salvation.
One reason for our departure from GFC was the constant look inward. Perhaps we could call this navel-gazing. We were always downtrodden and heavily focused on sin, so that joy was something relatively unknown to the congregation at large. When sin is consistently being analyzed as your personal path to holiness, the need to expose your sin is a top priority. It is only natural to call into question your own salvation as a by-product of this sin you seem to have. (Sarcasm intended).
I don’t mean to minimize sin. I realize the impact of sin, and yet I also realize I can’t remove all sin on this side of glory (1 John 1:8).
If you have ever spent any time around these types, you would know immediately what I mean. GFC is notorious for their calling out sin in the lives of their people (even from the pulpit, by name) and encouraging the congregation to weep and mourn over their sin consistently and repeatedly. It is all very dark and discouraging, to say the least.
Allow me a couple of examples.
Tony Miano might be the most well-known of those that attend GFC. Of course, the Pastor, Mike Reid has become notorious in his own right, but many still admire and respect Tony. Tony recently wrote an article about a man he is going to disciple, and at the end of a long blog post, Tony says this:
“Pray that John’s is a “good soil” conversion. Pray that I will be able to help him grow in his faith.”
I have to ask the question, why, given ‘John’s’ (not his real name) testimony would Tony be concerned about whether John is good soil or not? Here is John’s testimony according to what Tony wrote.
“John: ‘I have. I know my only way to salvation is to put my love and trust in Jesus. Without that in my life, I have nothing . . .’”
“John: “'I’m pretty sure it happened a week ago. I just didn’t understand what was causing me to feel different. I had to actually sit down and think about it. Who I’ve been lately is nowhere near the person I have been in the past. I don’t get angry or short-tempered like I used to. I know that doesn’t mean anything, but I know my heart has changed, and I know without Christ nothing in my life matters. Nothing.'"
The testimony seems credible to me, and what I would want to ask is why do we feel the need to question whether John is good soil or not?
The strategy that GFC elders (especially) and congregants employ is to question to the point of absurdity someone’s testimony.
I heard recently of a woman engaged in a long call with her mother, and the mother actually put the phone down, walked away, came back and the woman never came up for air. I mean they come hard after you if you profess Christianity and don’t always measure up to the standard for salvation they’ve set, so I can see it’s natural for Tony to take on this tone with people. Tony had this tendency in the past, but I’m sure it is elevated far beyond what it was before. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there.
A second example is a congregant, named Jason. Jason gives his testimony here, Jason does a nice job in showing that there are many people that are infants in the faith and need correction (perhaps guidance is a better term). It appears to me that Jason understands the consistent judgmentalism that abounds at GFC. As I listened to this, I found him a better instructor than the three men called to be elders. He shows a higher degree of understanding and empathy.
He does labor to explain his salvation, that he was immature but confident he was saved. At minute 32:50 he says “it is not by looking to our own performance that we will find assurance,” and here is one of the big sins of GFC. You are judged by your performance.
Jason’s testimony is a good one. It is encouraging considering GFC’s theology regarding salvation and sanctification. In many ways what Jason has testified flies in the face of what the elders do in practice, and in what Tony Miano has written. While we hope and pray 'John' has been saved his life will bear that out, and I’m not sure that it is biblically the role of the saints to make that determination.
May the Lord continue to reveal His truths even in the distortions that consistently occur in this place, and may we learn to extend more grace and love than we do judgmentalism.