My Departure from AFC

It was a blast from the past reading the history if the GCI and reading about the dialogue behind the Wiki as well as the blog dedicated to those coming out of the movement.

The confederation of churches that became Great Commission International had a definite leadership structure. Yes, they had some things to say about Catholics and any other church that was not them. But if GCI had believed in having a Pope his name would have been Jim McCotter. You can read all you want about him on the internet. I was at a conference in Ankeny when he officially unveiled the GCCI banner. Yeah, there was an extra ‘C’ as in Great Commission Church International. AFC was no more and to be honest a new PR campaign was badly needed.

But nothing much changed except the name.

McCotter described himself as an apostle, and was totally styling his churches after those in the New Testament. He enjoined all of his members to seek the gift of apostleship. At the same time he pretty much flat out said that there would not be any speaking of tongues and there really never was. He totally disavowed almost every single spiritual charismatic gift right there, while keeping the teaching and preaching gifts as being lesser versions of apostleship. This was where I began to sharply diverge from them. Since I was questioning GCCI’s version of the Pope I became a trouble maker who was under Satan’s spirit of rebellion. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

I spent some time last night listening to archives of Jim McCotter, John his wife Carol and another fellow who talked about the early church history. The AFC was one of Jim McCotter’s biggest successes as far as his church planting efforts.

I had planned on writing a lot more about this church and its history but these are all available on the web for whoever wants to search. But going back into those archives brought back more positive feelings than I thought it would. I do not harbor bitter feelings towards the Great Commission churches at all. I do have disagreements and those are the primary reason I didn’t stay with them. There were some instances where the church leaders were simply wrong. They did not take criticism well at all, and most often reacted defensively towards this criticism. I believe this is something that still plagues them today. Until they deal with their pride and arrogance they will always be viewed as a fringe group and a cult.

I was discipled by a fellow named Eric who had me and Tom under his wing. We met several mornings a week just the 3 of us, plus we met with other members of our team throughout the week throughout the day in the Memorial Union. There was always teaching, preaching, or Bible study going on. We were together seemingly all the time. This tightness also lent itself to claims that we were in a cult and we were brainwashed.

But what sealed the deal was the authority of the leadership. They pretty much controlled the lives of the members as far as how they spent their time, where they spent it and who they spent it with. At the begininng of each term we were to give our handlers a copy of our schedule. Often breaks were spent with them instead of our parents and other family. I can say that my grades suffered mightily as not much time for study was built in. I know I wasn’t the only one whose grades suffered because when I said I had to study I was asked, “If Jesus came back tonight, which would matter more in eternity?”

How do you argue with that?

When I listened to Rick Whitney describe those early days, I remember a lot of that same kind of intensity. Basically this church had taken a look at the culture in which we lived and found it to be very corrupt and wicked. So the decision to become separated from the larger culture which also made us a target for cult talk. Our lack of connection with other Christian churches and causes going on in the community further isolated us.

So yes there were many cult-like things going on and it seemed we were forever in conflict with everyone else because we took a stand and did not compromise and give in.

On other feature of this church’s culture which made it stick even further out related to how the male and female members interacted. We didn’t date. At all. We fellowshipped together plenty which involved talking, and eating and generally doing activities together but there was no 1:1 time alone which differs substantially from what everyone else on campus was doing. We saw them as our sisters which involved quite a lot of equality, believe it or not. This is not to say connections never happened. But not too often.

For the first year I was there I never really saw any real partner pair-bonding between the men and women in the group. I did feel a sort of bond with one of the girls who was an animal science major making her the only other Ag person I knew on our team. She was just nice all around and such a Godly woman! She really was someone who I really liked being around. But I didn’t make it overt or obvious other than she was a favorite sister.

So you can imagine my shock when one Friday night pastor John announced that he was getting married to Carol! Yep. It was a shock to everyone. Except Carol of course. But apparently God told him he should marry Carol. When he finally got up the guts to discuss it with her, lo and behold she was feeling the same about John! And so it was that this was the first engagement in the church in quite awhile. But it started a cascade of other engagements within the group. But there was also a fair number of us guys who proclaimed ourselves part of the “Bachelor ‘Til the Rapture” group or BTR for short. I don’t know if any of us truly wanted that, but based on Paul’s admonition that was what we were to aspire to.

John and Carol are still preaching and teaching in the church along with their mostly grown children. Carol has become quite a good preacher in her own right. We never saw women preach either on the street or in church or anywhere else except in front of other women. As I listened to her latest presentation and then to John’s I remember that I really did like both of them. These are not bad people.

I suppose some people might have been hurt by the breaking of fellowship. There were several circumstances when a person might leave. One way was to be engaging in some sort of public or blatant sin. The church members would try to admonish the person and get them to repent. If this did not produce the desired results, then the leaders might choose to discipline the unrepentant brother by expelling him. This was the New Testament way. The problem was that a person was often disciplined or threatened with discipline for such things as fraternizing outside the church with nonbelievers, not submitting to church leaders by giving them your schedule or not doing what they were telling us to do. So yes, that was controlling and manipulative. They were working from the model Paul outlined in the New Testament without the good judgment of Paul.

A person might also leave to move somewhere else to plant another church. That wasn’t technically leaving, but it was about the only recognized legitimate reason to leave a particular group.

Many people left because they were weary of the control the church seemed to exert over everything they did. While being a very warm, friendly and loving community, the downside was that they were always and forever there. Accountability was HUGE and involvement was as close to 24/7 as a body could get. For instance I’m not exactly a morning person. Never have been and don’t know if I ever will. I had discipling meetings with Eric and Tom for a couple times per week and the rest of the week would schlep over to breakfast. I sort of wanted to eat breakfast alone, but lo and behold it seemed like there was always someone there from the church bright-eyed, and ready with a “GOOD MORNING!” long before I was ready to be that cheerful. While I was plenty social and gregarious, I richly valued being alone sometimes. Just sometimes. But I had so little time or space that I would call discretionary. And my studies suffered.

Of course there were heavy demands that kept a lot of people from joining at all. Not everyone wanted to be part of a New Testament church. There were people plugged into other campus groups like Campus Crusade, Maranatha and Baptist Student Union. And while there were many minorities on campus there was not much of an effort to recruit them. This was primarily a white church racial unity was not big on the agenda.

Some people would also leave because of certain points of theology. I’m trying to think of any other points that were cause for a lot of people departing. I can’t think of any, but it would be foolish to think I was the only one.

The church had a certain stance regarding spiritual gifts. Basically, they said that everyone was responsible for Act 1:8 and that everyone was responsible for evangelizing. All. The. Time. I was okay preaching on the street at times and they did not require everyone to do it. This was just something some of us did for some extra Friday night fun. But I was not as good at using my classes as my personal mission field as other people. Jim McCotter enjoined everyone to seek the gift of Apostleship and to not do so was seen as being rebellious. This, even though Paul clearly says that not everyone has the same gift. I have been blessed with a number of gifts, but Apostleship and church planting are not among them. I can teach, but teaching is not the same as preaching. I actually could preach on occasions and did, but liked playing lesser and more supportive roles better.

But this churches stand against healing, tongues and prophesy specifically put me at odds with their core beliefs. While I was no longer speaking in tongues, I was not prepared to disavow the existence of this gift. Prophesy is listed as one of the higher gifts that Paul enjoins us to seek, but this did not necessarily fit in with this church’s mission. Perhaps wisely so, in this case. I’ll speak more to prophesy later.

I ended up meeting with the pastor, John about my concerns. He acknowledged that there were some differences. He basically was okay with me going my way, I think. The church had recently been rocked by several defections and mine was comparatively low profile since I didn’t have a real position of leadership. Some folks who left did, and there was a big dust storm over those defections.

Tom also left during the same week I did. He cited the same theological differences I did, I think more because they made more sense than “I’m tired of you all telling me what to do all the time!” Tom had never spoken tongues in his life and had no experiences with charismatics other than me. And I was a poor example. So Tom and I left AFC together and continued to live together. I began going to an Evangelical Free Church that Beth was going to and her and I started a small Bible study of other AFC defectors.

Tom just quit going to church altogether. He just wasn’t interested and pretty much totally abandoned all things Christian. I’m not saying he was a bad person. He was a very good person but I think he might have suffered deeper injuries than I did from being in the church or separating from it. I never shared the animosity others did towards that church. I was wary and skeptical, but that was about it.

>POOF<

Just like that, the entire church, all of the friends and connections and contacts disappeared. Since Tom and I were living off campus we hadn’t had a lot of occasion to run into members of the fellowship like I did in the dorms. And since I was in the college of agriculture, there were very few members of the fellowship there. I might occasionally see them preaching on campus. I saw John and Carol once on campus, while John was preaching and had a cordial conversation with Carol. But it was awkward. Without me being invested in the fellowship, there wasn’t much we had in common anymore.

dick

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3 Responses to “My Departure from AFC”

  1. Therese Says:

    This for me was one of your most interesting installments yet. RS’s family spent several years in a cult. I often wonder what risidual affect that period had, particularly on the younger boys. One of his brothers, like Tom, has abandoned all form of religion. I imagine being a part of something so intense and then leaving can be pretty traumatic. Do you still keep up with Tom? Did he ever find something to believe in again?

  2. Desmond Jones Says:

    Some of this sounds very familiar, Digger. I’m going to post soon about the community that I’m part of (and have been since I was in college). The ‘early days’ of our community were very, um, intense. Like you say, some of the folks who were there with me look back on it pretty ruefully. But I look back with fondness, and an occasional shudder.

    One time my ‘leader’ decided that I was too much of a slob, and he pressed the issue pretty, uh, firmly. One time he dropped into my room unannounced for a surprise ‘inspection’. The room was immaculately cleaned, and I had a take-home exam sitting on my desk. He told me that I was supposed to have a clean desk, and made as if to ‘confiscate’ the exam. I came within a whisker of decking him right on the spot, and he backed down. But that was far-and-away the most egregious ‘abuse of authority’ I ever encountered. Not to say that they couldn’t be coercive or manipulative, but I was usually able to perceive the component of it that was for my own good. And for the most part, our leadership wasn’t nearly as heavy-handed as others I’ve known about.

    I also got a little chuckle over John and Carol’s ‘courtship’. I saw something like that happen, not so much in our community, but in a couple other semi-similar groups I was familiar with – one of the leaders would get a ‘word from the Lord’ that they were ‘supposed to’ marry such-and-such sister (who was usually one of the better-looking ones available). Then the repressed sexuality busts loose all through the group, and you get a flurry of marriages in a short period of time.

    We were eventually able to evolve into somthing a little more human-scaled, most likely correlated to the five-year period during which we changed from a singles-dominated group to a married-with-kids group. People just started to draw lines and say, “I can do this and this, but not that or that.” And that’s probably why we’re still in business after 30+ years.

  3. Adam Says:

    Hope it wasn’t too much of a “blast from the past”.

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