A research paper by Don Vinzant and F.H. Martin, Both from The Church of Christ

A year by year look at some negative evaluations, criticisms, warnings, etc. concerning submissionistic, authoritarian discipleship/shepherding groups. (none of these comments are from the members of the Church of Christ)

Research by Don Vinzant Edited by F.H. (Buddy) Martin

c/o Granbury Church of Christ c/o Cape Cod Church of Christ

Box 396 493 Race Lane

Granbury, TX 76048 Marstons Mills, MA 02648

  1. 573-2613 (508) 428-8799


Bob Buess, a charismatic pastor from East Texas, wrote in his book THE PENDULUM SWINGS, (self-published, 1974): "Some pastors and elders set themselves up as little 'Hitlers' over the flock…Some even go so far as to demand submission for you. You cannot make a decision for yourself…It is not as a Chinese writer (evidently, Buess refers to Watchman Nee - DV), states : 'Blanket obedience regardless of morals or righteousness, simply for obedience's sake…" (pp.11-13)


In the book cited above, Buess dealt with several pressing matters in the charismatic world whereas in his book DISCIPLESHIP PRO AND CON (also self-published, 1975) he focuses on the discipleship/shepherding issue. "Being like Jesus is one thing, but to be like your shepherd may be completely different…A discipleship program must not make disciples unto men. The modern discipleship program often does that very thing…In neo-discipleship groups, there is absolute submission to the shepherd. Everyone is submitted in a regimented (army type) authoritarian chain of command."

October 10, 1975: An article appeared in CHRISTIANITY TODAY, by Edward E. Plowman titled, "The Deepening Rift in the Charismatic Movement" pp.65-66. IN part, Mr. Plowman says: "A dispute is taking place over issues of authority and discipleship. Powerful figures in the movement have built up a chain of command linking many local groups around the country to themselves…the topic being talked about most at the present time is the authority-discipleship dispute…Discipleship involves submission to the shepherd as he points the way - and points out flaws in behavior…The shepherd-submission concept…Some travel to Ft. Lauderdale…In the chain of command, the …top-level leaders see themselves as apostles. Those being discipled must consult with their shepherd about many personal decisions. In some cases, shepherds forbid marriages, reject school and vocational plans, demand confession of secret sins. Mumford says he has not seen the established churches producing disciples…A frequent criticism is the aloofness of CGM groups from other charismatic groups in many communities.

October 25, 1975: From the news section of CHRISTIANITY TODAY we find an article by Edward E. Plowman, entitled, "Whatever Happened to the Jesus Movement?" pp.46-48. Plowman briefly reminds the reader of the Jesus Movement as it began in San Francisco, in the summer of 1967, and then of the early 70s. "One of the most colorful and effective Jesus-movement groups was the Christian World Liberation Front (CWLF). It was founded by jack Sparks and a handful of fellow Campus Crusade for Christ staffers as a Crusade front in Berkeley in 1969…A clash occurred among Sparks' house group in August on questions of authority…The former Crusade staffers with whom Sparks is mow 'mutually committed' in an 'apostolic band'…The seven see themselves as apostles or missionaries called to set up and oversee small church groups patterned after Biblical discipleship…A chain of command already exists between the groups and the apostle-missionaries."


January, 1976: From ETERNITY magazine (an inter-denominational magazine) and article, "Top Religious Stories mark '75 As Pivotal Year." Ranked number nine in the Shepherding/Discipleship issue… "The charismatic movement's oneness in the Spirit has been badly strained by a disagreement on the nature and methods of discipleship training between Bob Mumford of Christian Growth Ministries, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and a variety of charismatic VIP's…Mumford is charged with constructing an overly rigid, denomination-like hierarchy of 'shepherds' whose spiritual authority over their charges is called a threat to traditional clergy and hence to the inter-denominational character of the charismatic movement itself."

April, 1976. Russell T. Hitt, consulting editor for ETERNITY magazine beginning on page 13 wrote the following: "Are you in submission to anyone? That's a question increasingly being asked in evangelical churches and its demands a proper answer…Discipling as these exponents explain it is the radical process by which a believer is placed under the headship of a shepherd or elder or 'head' of a house church and forced to submit to the authority of the human mentor. While there is some variance in the implementation, the disciple learns obedience by submission to a properly designated overseer. It is taught that such a relationship develops Christian maturity more rapidly than an unstructured life…One of the most impressive arguments for discipling is enunciated by Robert E. Coleman, head of the evangelism department at Asbury theological Seminary, in his book THE MASTER PLAN OF EVANGELISM. In essence Coleman explains that the Lord Jesus is calling the twelve to be 'with him during the final three years of His life forms a pattern for training true disciples.'

August 17, 1976. On this date a position paper was adopted by the Assemblies of God General Presbytery. A tract was written based on this paper entitled, "The Discipleship and Submission Movement." The tract is written in a kind spirit, yet is firmly against the submission which goes to the extreme. In part it notes: "Some find the pattern for their new order of discipleship in the relationship of Jesus with His disciples, forgetting that this was done within Judaism before Jesus began to build His church. Instead they should seek guidance for church patterns in the Acts and Epistles. There variety is evident to meet the need for every situation…In our impersonal society, people do need the closer fellowship of smaller groups…ways of meeting this need can vary to suit the circumstances. But the kind of division seen in the Corinthian church, based on getting a following for a human leader, must be avoided…"


Michael Harper, LET MY PEOPLE GROW: MINISTRY AND LEADERSHIP IN THE CHURCH, Plainfield, NJ, Logos International. Pp/74-75, 151-153. "At the same time as much of the Church is stressing the servant nature of the Church, charismatic people were seeing the Lordship of Christ and beginning to stress authority. In more recent times, some charismatic's have been giving even more emphasis to what they call 'discipling.' But what is important to notice is that the New Testament carefully avoids using this kind of language to describe relationships between believers. Instead it uses the language of service.. If the language of 'discipling' is used in place of 'service', it will be a way of replacing anarchy with tyranny." (pp. 74-75). And again, "the master disciple relationship is, of course, used frequently to describe the relationship that Jesus had with other on earth, and, therefore, can equally describe our relationship to the Lord today. We are still His disciples, and He is still our master. But it is never in the New Testament used to describe the relationship with Christians may have with one another. But it is best not to use the 'discipling' terminology at all. Not only is it Biblically unsound, but it also injects into this area an authority factor which is inappropriate…" (pp.151-152).


Bailey E. Smtih, REAL EVANGELISM, Nashvilel, TN: Bradman Press, P18. "When one allows someone to shadow his life as his 'spiritual leader' and dominate his thinking, he takes on the quirks, oddities and idiosyncrasies of his discipler. He becomes a disciple all right - of Tom, Henry, Bill or Harold, not of Jesus…a man in one part of the nation who is active in what he calls a discipling ministry has produced hundreds of his disciples. Even though many of them have good qualities, they all bear his obvious theological error."


Micheal Green in FIRST THINGS LAST: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO EVANGELISM? Nashville, TN: Discipleship Resources, pp57,58: "In recent years one of the fastest growing Christian organizations has been the network of house churches throughout the world…Part of the strength of this movement has been the practical caring which members show for one another, not only in the practical affairs of life, but in spiritual growth and development. But so strong has been this emphasis on individual caring and what is called 'delegated authority' (held in a chain going through the pastor to the Lord) that something dangerously akin to authoritarianism can - and sometimes does - ensue. When you must implicitly obey your 'cover,' as the one above you in the chain is called, and obey that person as you would obey the Lord, then something is seriously amiss…"

April, 1979. Dave Breese wrote "WHY JONESTOWN?" in the MOODY MONTHLY, April, 1979, pp. 42,43. "It was the deadliest communion service in history. One by one - children, adults, elderly - they took the deadly potion. Four hours later 913 lay dead in the commune at Jonestown, Guyana…The people at Jonestown were seeking an authority figure, someone who would do their thinking for them and to whom they could surrender their wills…Only Jesus Christ deserves disciples…Even many 'discipleship' programs are suspiciously cultic. Jesus Christ is the only one who has earned the right to be the object of our faith."

September, 1979. David L. Waterman wrote "The Care and Feeding of Growing Christians," ETERNITY, Sept. 1979. Pp.17-22. "Christians seem to be sprouting some new terms - phrases like 'personal headship,' 'one-on-one,' 'the multiplication process,' 'discipling relationship'…What's going on? Afoot in many different evangelical groups…Is a quiet, but persistently growing, revolution in interpersonal relationships called 'discipleship.' The terminology is quite precise really. You are either a 'discipler' or a 'disciplee,' depending on your 'age' and maturity in Christ and where you stand in relationship to someone else…Where does all this talk about 'spiritual' parenthood and reproduction come from anyway? Well, you can credit the late Dawson E. Trotman, founder of the Navigators, for most of it, at least in out generation…What most people mean by discipleship today is nothing more than the post-war concept of 'follow-up' in new wineskens…In a classic little booklet right to this point, BORN TO REPRODUCE, Trotman comments, 'The first order even given to man was the he be "fruitful and multiply"'…"


George Bryson in THE WORD FOR TODAY - SPECIAL EDITION 2, "Excuse for Abuse: An Examination of Heavy-handed Authority Doctrines." Pp.1-7 quotes in the introduction a leading advocate of heavy-handed authority doctrines, "WHAT WE NEED ARE PEOPLE WHO WILL STAND ON THEIR HEADS AND SPIT NICKELS, MERELY BECAUSE YOU TELL THEM TO, AND NEVER ASK WHY."…In submission…right and wrong are apparently no longer determined by the merits of the act…obedience to the one in authority, regardless of the request or consideration, is of prime importance…Under this false definition of 'authority,' right in determined solely by obedience or submission to that authority or its representative…The notion that we're responsible only to our 'superiors'…and that they will somehow have to answer to God for us, is totally foreign to Scripture. (pp. 1,3,5).


Lawrence O. Richards and Gib Martin. A THEOLOGY OF PERSONAL MINISTRY: SPIRITUAL GIFTEDNESS IN THE LOCAL CHURCH. Grad Rapids: Zondervan. Pp. 222-223. "In the New Testament portrait, discipleship is not to an individual but to Christ Himself….Without downplaying the importance of the believer who invests his life discipling others, we can definitely say that the New Testament knows no such thing as 'Paul's disciples' or 'Cephas disciples'…Making disciples is not a one-on-one process, but rather a group process in which each participant contributes to the growth in commitment to the others…At this point, many want a clearly outlined 'discipleship program'…A universalized 'discipleship program' simply will not work.

George Mallone wrote FURNACE OF RENEWAL: A VISION FOR THE CHURCH. Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press., pp. 83,85. "in the last few years, both charismatic and evangelical churches have been split over the 'shepherding controversy.' In it's extreme, it is extortion and domination of the worst variety…What is true of Lord Acton's phrase in politics is also true in religion, 'All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'…Contrary to what we would like to believe, elders, pastors and deacons are not in a chain of command, a hierarchical pyramid, which puts them under Christ and over the church. The leaders of a Biblical church are simply members of the body of Christ."

Bill Hamon wrote THE ETERNAL CHURCH. Phoenix, AZ; Christian International Publishers, pp. 286-287. (Hamon's book is a sort of church history from the charismatic perspective. In the section quoted, he refers to the charismatic movement during the 1970s -DV) "…when the pendulum of truth swings, some are pushed into extremes. Some taught and developed a Christian leadership pyramid, chain-of-command. The pastor became almost a papal leader to those under him…All decisions had to be made by leadership, even daily and personal activities of members…Some disbanded the weekly meeting of a large congregation, breaking up into small house meeting cell groups…"


James Hitchcock's book, THE NEW ENTHUSIASTS AND WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, was published by Thomas More Press. P. 27. Hitchcock speaks of occurrences within the Roman Catholic charismatic movement. "There have been problems in the charismatic movement in that it tended to set up what may seem like parallel church structures - prayer groups or communities which substitute for parishes, community officials who seem to exercise definite authority over members in a way analogous to the superiors of religious orders…It is an authority which is not answerable to or verifiable by established ecclesiastical authorities."

Margaret Paloma. THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT, Boston, MA: Twanyne Publishers, pp. 235-236. (Paloma treats largely the situation among Roman Catholics charismatics) "Discipleship refers tot he practice of making oneself personally responsible and accountable to another believer for all 'life decisions.' Such decisions may range from figuring a daily time schedule or financial budget to appropriate use of possessions…Discipleship is usually highly structured…"

Joyce Thurman. NEW WINESKINS: A STUDY OF THE HOUSE CHURCH MOVEMENT. Franfurt, Germany: Lang, 1982, pp.99ff. This is Thurman's M.A. thesis at the University of Birmingham, England. She writes of the house church movement in Great Britain: "A mark of the Harvestime Churches is the emphasis on shepherding which could, and in some places, has given rise to a patriarchal attitude…already there are churches where young couples have to seek the permission of the Elders before they become engaged…That the members are conditioned to obey is very obvious from for instance the prompt response when an appeal for money is made…it is hard to escape the conclusion that such a movement is very good for those at the top of the pyramid, as it were, the Apostles…Every personal wish has to be submitted before the Elders for approval before it can be acted upon…"

David Watson. CALLED AND COMMITTED: WORLD CHANGING DISCIPLESHIP. Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw Publishers, pp.45ff. "Why, then, do many churches view the whole concept of shepherding with suspicion and dismay? There are some obvious pitfals to be avoided. First, serious discipling is often legalistic and authoritarian…Second, shepherding can develop into a new priesthood…Third, dominant shepherding inevitably becomes disisive…"


Howard A. Snyder published LIBERATING THE CHURCH: THE ECOLOGY OF CHURCH AND KINGDOM, Downers Grove, Ill; InterVarsity Press, pp.250ff. "The chain of command concept which has gained a certain popularity in some sectors of evangelism and fundamentalism…is applied to relationships both in the church and in the family on the theory that every Christian stands in a chain of command in which he or she is under the authority of 'covering' protection of another Christian…Actually, Scripture teaches nothing about a chain of command. Neither the terminology nor the concept is Biblical…Both the chain-of-command theory and the idea of 'covering'…go beyond the Scripture and can lead to presumption and fatalism."

Jerram Barrs. SHEPHERDS AND SHEEP: A BIBLICAL VIEW OF LEADING AND FOLLOWING. Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, pp.39-57. "Covering is taught by Watchman Nee…he teaches that whenever Christians disagree with their leaders, the ipso facto disagree with God…if somebody…in authority…tells you…you aredoing something wrong, if you can see nothing in your life…sinful, even after prayer and confession…if examination finds nothing contrary to the Word of God, you must be prepared to submit…"

  1. Thomas Starkes. CONFRONTING CULTS: OLD AND NEW. Chattanooga, TN: AMB, pp. 127ff: "In the 1980s a new 'cult' has arisen within mainline Christianity which expresses itself in various forms but may best be called 'neo-authoritarianisms.' This new 'cult' is of no less importance than it was in the days of Paul's letters to the Galatians…In his day, the legalists were Jewish men who promoted circumcision of the flesh as a way to please God. In the 1980s, the new legalists promote submission of the human spirit in the name of Christian discipleship…Galations still stands as a flagship surrounded by an enemy armada seeking to rob believers of freedom in Christ Jesus."


November, 1985. Gordon MacDonald wrote "Disciple Abuse" in DISCIPLESHIP JOURNAL, Issue 30; pp.24ff. "There has been considerable abuse in the ministry of discipling when the one in spiritual directorship has attempted to try single-handedly and exclusively control the 'world' of the disciple…the disciple may not be permitted to engage in interpersonal relationships without the leader's approval; he is not to discern the will or purposes of God without consultation; there is no freedom to make decisions without fear of being berated or rebuked; the use of one's time is carefully controlled and critiqued."


October, 1986. Ronald M. Enroth wrote "Churches on the Fringe" in ETERNITY, October, 1986, pp.17-22: "They promote isolationist attitudes, exhibit a sense of spiritual superiority, and scrutinize members who want to leave their groups. Some former members feel victimized, confused and bitter…Fringe churches distance themselves from other Christians by regulating dating, marriages, and other forms of social interaction…Members of fringe churches soon discover that expressing dissent is futile if not dangerous to their spiritual and emotional well-being. Their sincere concerns and questions are cited as evidence of a 'critical spirit' or a 'spirit of disobedience'…"

December, 1986: In researching the material on shepherding and discipling groups Don Vinzant was referred to the group known as Marantha Ministries, headquartered in Gainesville, Fl by Jamie Buckingham of Melborne, Fl. Mr. Vinzant attempted to speak with Bob Weiner, the head of Marantha Ministries, but was only able to speak with an assistant, Bob Nolte. During that conversation, Mr. Nolte told Mr. Vinzant, "What you are experiencing in the Church of Christ is what the charismatic movement vomited up."

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