Update: The original posting of this article attributed Jennifer Johnson’s quote to February 2017. The dateline at the top of the post reads “16 Feb” but gives no year. It was incorrectly assumed that the article was posted in 2017. However, next to every comment in the comment section the year is clearly stated. Appropriate changes to the content of this piece now reflect that reality. Apologies for this oversight. 08/11/17 4:06 pm PST.
Just days before His arrest and subsequent crucifixion, Jesus, in Mark 14, returned to Bethany to experience the warmth and affection of his closest followers and friends – most prominently Lazarus. These followers actually knew a few things by now. Resulting from intense periods of sound teaching, Lazarus’ sister, Mary, entered with an alabaster jar of perfume (equivalent in value to the annual tithe of a wealthy individual) and began using it to worship Jesus. Judas, in charge of overseeing ministry funds, scolded the woman on humanitarian grounds, citing the waste of potential relief this kind of financial capital could bring to society’s marginalized minorities. (Getting to the heart of the matter, it is here revealed to the reader that Judas’ objection was related to a conflict of interest. Judas was hiding the fact that he had been profiting from ministry funds, and that any spiritual advice he offered was in service to his own financial interest.) Jesus, knowing that the chips were down, intervened:
6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. 7 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. 8 “She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 “Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
In other words, addressing the vast deficiencies of life – suffering, poverty, social injustice – is subservient to the public proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. In this single act of worship, informed by sound doctrine and fired by sincerity, Mary, ironically, reflected a priority system which would not only provide for eternity, but would, ultimately, provide the foundation for a just, compassionate, and benevolent society on earth.
Just as noteworthy is the cautionary tale of Judas Iscariot as an example of A Ministry Leader Who Went Too Far, one who went over the line – messed with the siren goddess of celebrity and got burned. As he became recognized for his association with Jesus, he began expanding his own “brand,” offering self-serving recommendations camouflaged as leadership advice on issues of religion and morality, overseeing the expansion of ministry funds for marginalized minorities, and rubbing elbows at temple gatherings with well-known spiritual bigwigs and their cronies. Then, after his hideous, high-profile, quid pro quo venture with those temple leaders, his ministry, such as it was, ran its humiliating course – he was no longer associated with the ministry of Jesus, banned from his disciple brethren, and last mentioned in the New Testament as a suicide by hanging.
In September of 2014, it became fashionable for high-profile ministry leaders – intent on selling books and expanding their brand – to make disparaging remarks about our national convention and the RM at large. These criticisms soon expanded beyond mere methodology and began to include our commonly held spiritual framework, condemning us as a movement stuck in the past. Many began to wonder why the quisling custodians of our national establishments were now coming out to say such unreasoned and unbiblical things about the very institutions to which they were entrusted. Institutions, by the way, which were, at the time, inseparable from the RM identity.
The answer is that this cadre of self-interested custodians are out to fashion our movement in their own mold. Although rarely disclosed in publicity bios or periodical bylines, the most visible and influential RM personalities at our convention, and the most highlighted and mentioned names of the CS – Don Wilson, Jerry Harris, Tim Liston, Gary Johnson, Kevin Haah, Todd Clark (and daughter, Ruby), David Dummitt, Doug Crozier, Ben Cachiaras, Rusty Russell, Greg Nettle, Ken Idleman, and several others – are all founders, board members, or employees of Church Development Fund or its offshoot, The Solomon Foundation.
Any reasonable person with a keen grasp of moral sensibility has to ask, why, when Jerry Harris, as CS publisher, gives an advertising endorsement to the consulting work of David Dummitt and Doug Crozier, are there no disclosures that all of them work for TSF? Or why is it that the true aims of the Christian Standard, in its current iteration, are never clearly or intelligibly stated? The CS is no longer, as it claims, a religious publication promoting the news and interests of the RM, but a marketing tool promoting the investments and services of its parent company, The Solomon Foundation. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that TSF bought the magazine in February of this year and they are free to use it to promote their own financial interests. But they camouflage themselves with the trusted name of the CS, borrowing on its brand loyalty, to dole out advice to those seeking spiritual counsel for their own personal enrichment.
Similarly, how ethical is it that Gene Appel served on the board of CDF simultaneous to serving as president of the NACC and influenced, if not directed, doctrinal decisions related to the convention which were intended to enlarge CDF’s target market and potential profit? How is this not a conflict of interest? This fails to meet even the world’s ethical standard, which requires even the possibility of a conflict of interest to be publicly acknowledged.
But the truth is emerging.
These institutions are out to build a New Order. And with a realism startling in a group of so-called spiritual leaders, they have set about their job in the most effective fashion. They don’t dissipate their efforts on frivolities such as Biblical exegesis or even seeking consensus; they work with a far more fundamental social matter, money.
The chagrined and frustrated local minister has very little luck opposing the advances of this New Order. Even long time NACC Continuation Committee Member, and self-described “informed” RM observer, Jennifer Johnson, in 2010 expressed frustration about the Board of Stewards (the NACC’s highest authority, chaired in 2017 by TSF’s Don Wilson). She questioned the board’s openness to valuable feedback from its most loyal volunteers and charitable boosters. She writes in the comments section, “In fact, when we did try to think strategically” . . . “it often backfired because whatever Board members were at a particular meeting would change their minds or veto our recommendations.”
Translated, this means that NACC Continuation Committees are a farce used to extract thousands of dollars of support from well-meaning and trusting individuals. More significantly, no subset of our movement outside the board rooms of TSF or CDF has a right to seek reform of the convention regardless of the extent to which they disapprove of the net impact specific decisions have on our churches, or the convention itself. But they have no problem shaking down credulous acolytes for the finances necessary to pay for their thinly veiled self-promotional event. This New Order, through its control of the NACC, the Christian Standard, and favor-exchanging mega church pastors, in short, is attempting to consolidate its position as the exclusive, irresponsible regent of our movement.
The Restoration Movement, it says, c’est moi.
There is not enough room for this New Order and sound doctrine. The New Order is philosophically wedded to the notion that the test of truth is its ability to win acceptance from the masses.
It clearly won’t do then, to foster within the movement, respect for an absolute, intractable, unbribable God, a divine Intelligence utterly unconcerned with other people’s version of the truth and humorously inattentive to majority opinion. The New Order prefers a secure monopoly for itself. It is intolerably divisive to have God scrapping with them for disciples.
Doctrinal authorities, then, must go. First, we must expose sound doctrine as a not-very-serious intellectual avocation – as Christian Standard contributor, Tyler McKenzie, does here.
Next, we must prove that advocating for sound doctrine within our convention imminently commits us to becoming a denomination – espoused by last year’s NACC president, Dave Stone, quoted here.
And the fight is being won. Doctrinal diversity is quickly becoming entrenched with next year’s convention featuring James Okalo Ekwang. He and his wife, Prophetess Agnes Okala Ekwang, are faith healers from Uganda.
But there remains a Trojan Horse, an implacable enemy that threatens the uniform evolution towards this New Order. The multi-generational, single campus, autonomous congregations (which are predominantly below 500 in attendance and outnumber 17 to 1 large congregations) are still measurably sound in their doctrine. And many of them straightforwardly so. And as long as these remain faithful, the emerging monolith is threatened.
Therefore, alongside the marketing of this new movement, a propaganda must be staged against these congregations. The move to discredit their ministries has already begun. The Christian Standard spelled out their misgivings online last month. Rather than engaging directly in fulfilling Christ’s mission, many churches should accept defeat – the implication being that they should sign over their financial resources to TSF through one of its following suggestions:
“•Start new churches or satellites with very different worship services and structures to reach the younger generations.
• Raise money from their traditionalists and boomers, the generations blessed financially beyond any in history, to fund reaching the next generation here and around the world.
• Send their people around the world to serve and lead.
• Then, and this is huge, before the church shrinks out of existence, hand the keys to the building over to another church that is reaching younger people who don’t have the money to buy it.”
The psychological groundwork has been laid, the time is ripe for reaping financial riches.
The implications are not easy ones, we must not forget that truth carries with it awful consequences, as well as sustaining joys. Decisions must be individually made. Many churches and church leaders support causes which, while we may disapprove of them, are not in themselves morally objectionable. With such things we can agree to co-exist. But with others, those who ally themselves with an order which aims to overturn our spiritual framework, we can not negotiate. There are higher values than unity. The total unification of every American denomination under one banner is not as valuable as a single eternal life.
Terry Sweany serves as Senior Minister of Playa Christian Church. He received his Bachelor’s in Christian Ministry from Cincinnati Christian University and a Master’s in Marriage, Family, & Child Counseling from Hope International University. He and his wife, Patty, reside in West Los Angeles.