Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. - Irenaeus

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Twisted Faith?

How it may have been prevented.
by Dale Brown

Gregg Olsen’s book A Twisted Faith tells the tragic story of what started out as an Assemblies of God church that fell to deception and eventually the youth pastor ended up serving time for murdering his wife. The motive appears to have been a number of sexual relationships he was having with some of the church ladies. How could this happen to what was often described as a "full-gospel" church which prided itself in doctrinal purity? Some outside the Pentecostal camp would quickly claim it as the fruit of the Pentecostal movement. Others like our Catholic friends might not be too critical considering all the sexual issues that have cropped up in their ranks. The critical non-religious crowd might write it off simply as religious foolishness.
I write these observations as one who lived on Bainbridge Island during the events that unfolded in Olsen’s book. Several years before Nick Hacheney was convicted of murdering his wife I pastored a small church on the island. I had several people show up in my congregation who had suspicious tales that they shared as to why they had left the church in question. When someone complains about the church they just left, one must be a bit discerning as to what is really going on. Are their reasons justified, or are they simply a rebellious person that has come to cause me problems?

My wife Peggy and I took a break from being a pastor and spent a summer on the boat we were living on in the San Juan Islands. Returning to Bainbridge and for about six months we decided to attend the A/G church where Bob Smith was the senior pastor. We soon began to see some warning signs. With the help of "apostle" Robert Biley the leadership was working toward separating themselves from the Assemblies of God, which did not seem as a real problem on its own, but it appeared to us that with Mr. Biley at the helm they were headed toward extreme authoritarian control. The bible tells us that there is a safety in the multitude of counselors, so a closed system is usually headed for disaster if they are not willing to listen to advice from outside their own perspective.
Pride of having the perfect form of government or doctrine can have a blinding effect. This was the problem of the Pharisees and Sadducees who eventually rejected Christ. They were blinded by their own prejudices and misconceptions. (Luke 18:9-14)

We also noticed that there was far too much weight placed in personal prophecies without the protection of biblical principles to examine them. When someone questioned the prophecies they were quickly placed on a list of suspicious troublemakers. Now I believe God can certainly speak to us today but he is not going to contradict what he has already revealed in scripture. Nor is a prophetic revelation going to bring us under the control or power of another individual. That kind of revelation is more akin to witchcraft or a cult. We were aware of people there that were storing up rice and beans because the church had prophesied of an up and coming earthquake, which never happened. Why God was not revealing this "revelation" to the rest of the Christians in the Seattle area never seemed to occur to these people. This suggests a pride issue. That of having the inside scoop with God while no one else can hear his voice.
The problem of Nick counseling women alone was obviously a problem, however it is not likely the senior leaders were privy to most of that. The husbands of these women should have been more aware and protective of their marriages. The biblical illustration of a predator is that of a wolf, and that is the nature of the situation here. (2 Tim. 3:13)

When a church is unable or unwilling to judge itself then God will raise up people from outside its ranks to point out the problem. If that voice is not heeded then further deception will likely result. Eventually God is likely to use civil authorities to bring things under control, which is most embarrassing for the church, and Christianity as a whole. (Amos 7:10-16)

People who have gone through such painful experiences often never quite recover. They can be the most difficult people to get back on track and functioning as a healthy Christian. Others learn, and go forward and are ever more the wiser.

It is certainly not healthy to always focus on the negative but when a church refuses to listen to any voice in their midst who might be a bit negative or critical then the church can become open to deception. God has given certain people the ability to see or discern problems. Sometimes they are not able to communicate very affectively what they are seeing but their gift is valid just the same. They are like a mechanic in a factory. He may stand around with his tool belt on doing nothing but looking and listening, but when he hears the wrong sound, smells the wrong smell, he knows there is something worth paying attention to. Sometimes a pastor, on the other hand, can be too close to the situation. He cannot see the forest for all the trees.

Gregg Olsen’s book is not written as a theological piece, or published by "Peace and Harmony Publications" therefore many Christians will not read it. Others will not read it because the topic is so distasteful. Much of the Bible is distasteful however. Those who should read it probably won’t. Therefore in a few years another book will have to be written about another similar situation. Obviously hindsight is 20/20 and it is said that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. Thanks to Gregg's work many remained in a fog until they read his book.
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  1. Dale.....Thanks for doing such a wonderful job with the book but more important sharing wisdom that many pastors, spiritual leaders can take hold of. You continue to be an inspiration and source solid teaching my life. Pastor Bob Smith

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