This special three-part testimony is posted to share my experiences within a church organization whose teaching and practice I discovered to be more in line with that of a cult than an ordinary church group as one should expect to find such.
It is not, “The writings of a deeply hurt man,” as is the accusation from people within, (a common cultist-mentality accusation) Revelation 12:10b. It is the writings of a deeply concerned man.
The testimony is posted to inform and encourage any person who believes him or herself to be in a similar situation.
To give you some background to this testimony I recommend you first read my post: I failed to study that word “free.”
Melbourne Christian Fellowship – Why I Left It. Part 1.
I am prompted to write this testimony as a result of viewing the ABC television program aired on Monday evening June 23, 2008, regarding the serious allegations brought against the Brisbane/Melbourne Christian Fellowship. I was disturbed, but not surprised to find, that sooner or later, this Fellowship would be exposed in the manner in which it was.
Although all the facts may not have been given, and perhaps as a result, aired out of context on that program, nevertheless, in studying the transcript, I believe truth was expressed by the former members against this Fellowship. I say so because, in perhaps 4½ of the 7 years that I was a member of the Melbourne Christian Fellowship (1994-2001), I had my own share of negative experiences with these people and that is why I left them. I firmly believe I was a victim of Biblical misinterpretation and misappropriation of the Scriptures by the leadership, used to support their doctrines, resulting in Scriptural and spiritual abuse.
I want to declare though that as a people in this Fellowship they were kind, well-meaning, and probably had each other’s best interests at heart. It is important for the reader to have a proper understanding of that, otherwise there’s a danger of missing the true point of what’s written here. This is not an attack against the people, but rather, the spirit that motivates the people. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12.
Since leaving the Fellowship, I have spent many hundreds of hours studying Systematic Theology plus Scriptural and Spiritual Abuse, and am now in a better position to inform the reader of my experiences of these abuses during my time as a member among them.
With the aid of these studies and spiritual abuse terminology, I shall dot-point the specific areas where this experience was so for me.
- An exaltation to almost God-like status of the leadership, both by the leadership and the people, in and over the Fellowship, to Vic Hall (it appeared to me he was God’s man, a prophet of God, whatever he says is so) and Murray Wylie from Brisbane. A similar status, though to a much lesser degree, to David Hall in Adelaide and Ray Jackson, Richard Kaa, Dan Burkett, Gary Worth, Laurie Holland, Keith Tucker, David Bonham, Geoff Anson and Dan Worth, in Melbourne. Most of the time throughout my years in attendance it was publicly and privately expressed and implied that these people as leaders, were the voice and messenger of God, and that to disobey that voice and messenger was to disobey God Himself.
- Absolute authority of the leadership, control oriented, using subtle witchcraft tactics – manipulation, intimidation, guilt, fear, resulting in spiritual abuse and subtle domination of the group. It seemed to me the more obedient one was to his elder or leader, seeking out his or her advice, where to live, work, who to date, who to marry, the more likely one would be to obtain acceptance from the group (plus the Lord) and the abundant life. The power of the leadership’s control was often demonstrated not so much in words, but rather in expectations. For example, all the men were expected to attend every men’s meeting or weekend camp, resulting in additional pressure from one’s peers if one didn’t.
- No real accountability of the leadership to the corporate body with regards finances. No meetings were held in the local congregation clarifying where tithes and offerings were distributed. No concerns were expressed for overseas missions or the poor in the local community. I do not at all suggest anything underhand, but I’m not sure it was a good witness to see the leadership change their cars every 40,000 km’s when many in the Fellowship drove old bombs.
- A perverted concept of unity, which in reality translated itself into almost total and unquestioned obedience to the leadership. This outworked itself not so much in dictatorial terms, but rather, more subtle – soft voices, doctrine-speak, with a smile. One might question, but one soon knew one’s obligations, so to speak. It seems to me that unity was/is confused with conformity and uniformity to the ultimate extreme.
- Abuse and misuse of authority in personal dealings with members. I frequently discerned in my spirit that I was being analyzed as I spoke privately with 2 or 3 of the local Sunbury leaders. Rarely in my 7 years there, did it feel like we were having a normal conversation expressing the freedom and liberty of the Holy Spirit, as according to 2 Corinthians 3:17. It was as though they were trying to hunt out sin in my life! Often they would turn the conversation back to man’s sinful heart, as a result of the message brought earlier.
I regularly sensed “the accuser of our brethren” Revelation 12:10; and his condemnation. But I also strongly thought that perhaps these leaders were not at all sure of their own freedom and liberty in Christ. They were a very “sin-conscious” leadership and people. I can still see the fear on one lady’s face. She and her husband were leaders at the time. They left the Fellowship later, in negative circumstances. I pray they didn’t leave the Lord, but that’s the natural impression one got, it didn’t need to be spoken.
How this must grieve the Trinity of God. It certainly devalues the Lord Jesus and His precious blood shed on that cross. Also, in a men’s meeting led by Dan Worth, we had a discussion on fatherhood. I can’t recall what my statement to his question was, it was around the time God had previously revealed to me where I had failed in that area, and I had already been under His severe dealings and ministry.
Anyway, Dan responded by telling us what a good father should be. He looked at me for most of it, (that’s not to say he was referring to me alone), but I did experience condemnation as a result, as I had already been through a torrid time on that. But I was also grieved for Dan, because his children were young and I thought, “My goodness me, Dan, you have no idea what you are saying. When your kids are older you will be tested with those words.”
I wanted to say so to him privately, but in relation to all in leadership, I was always under the impression that one dare not say anything one discerned about a leader. Also, a wife and mother, experiencing problems was either told or strongly led to believe that Geoff Anson was Jesus Christ to her and the family. Verbalized or implied, it matters not, it is misuse of a leader’s authority and it is spiritual abuse.
- Constant indoctrination with a group or family mentality that impels members to exalt the corporate life and goals of the church-group over their personal goals, callings and objectives. In my opinion, the Fellowship fostered excessive involvement with participation in the programs and goals of the church, wherein members spent the vast majority of their time at church functions and had little time left for themselves or their families. I am still of that opinion.
- Theological incompetency by the leadership, especially with respect to the “rules” of hermeneutics and Bible exegesis employed in the formulation of doctrines, giving license to twisting and adulteration of Scripture in order to provide proof-texts for unorthodox, invented, unproven doctrines. The results of such behavior were: increased Scriptural and spiritual abuse by local and visiting leaders when preaching according to their understanding of what was previously taught by an apparent higher ranking leader a week or so before.
Three examples: Keith Tucker was reading from Luke’s Gospel about Zecharias, and then he stopped and said, “Zecharias was a feminized man.” He made that statement to fit his preaching on headship/family order. Geoff Anson read from Revelation re John’s visions. John was shocked at the revelations, the angel speaks to John and Geoff too stopped and said, “What was he (John) doing getting caught up in that? John was out of headship order.” Geoff too made that statement to fit his preaching on headship order.
Dan Worth read from Revelation 1:14 re “….His eyes like a flame of fire;…..” and he then used that Scripture to preach about Jesus’ blazing eyes representing His deep hatred of sin in our lives, and the judgment upon us if we persisted in it. It brought immediate condemnatory abuse to my spirit; even his wife was in tears, sobbing. I spoke to Dan after the service, took my Bible to him and explained that he preached out of context.
I asked him to read the Lord Jesus’ words in Revelation 1:17, “…..Do not be afraid;……” Dan dismissed me sharply. With all of those who preached from their understanding (their interpretation of the apparent higher ranking leader’s interpretation) of the doctrines, I was not left convicted, but rather, condemned – made to feel unworthy – not measuring up. No edification, no exhortation, no comfort, as according to 1 Corinthians 14:3; but much Scriptural and spiritual abuse.
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