Note: Due to the sensitive subject matter being discussed, the names of the people involved have been changed to protect their identity.

A Modern-Day Spirit of Diotrephes

by Allan Mack

Introduction

It has recently come to my attention that since I left Our Way Church (OWC), numerous poisonous rumors about me and my friends have been circulating at my former place of worship. These rumors were voluntarily passed on to us by someone who is still attending OWC--someone who is apparently kind enough to give us the benefit of the doubt regarding the numerous nasty rumors they have heard about us.

The gossiping that is being done at OWC is reminiscent of the kind that Diotrephes used to engage in. For those who may not know who this unsavory character is or what he represents, the apostle John describes him briefly in 3 John 9-10:

"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church." (3 John 9-10, NIV)

As you can see, Diotrephes was the type of person who "loves to be first", and will stop at nothing to spread unkind rumors about fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who apparently don't agree with him. It is precisely this kind of malicious gossiping which is going on at OWC that I wish to discuss in this paper.

Rumor #1: I was led astray

The first rumor I would like to address is the one where I have been painted as a "dumb and blind sheep" who has been led astray by my friend Paul Sue (you can read Paul's story here). Rumor has it that I could not have possibly written the paper Why I Left Our Way Church on my own, and that I'm not smart enough to have done all the research that went into writing it.

It's true that I may not be the most articulate person around. If you met me in person, you would probably say that I am very quiet and shy. That does not, however, mean that I am not capable of communicating my own thoughts and opinions on paper. I am, after all, a university graduate and at one time even a candidate for a master's degree (I say this not to boast but rather to simply state a fact). And so, to say that I did not or could not have written my own paper is not only ludicrous but downright insulting.

In fact, my paper preceded the formation of Battered Sheep Ministry by several months, and was first story to be incorporated into this website. Indeed, I had shown my paper to no less than four OWC members in April of 2001, more than three months before the conception of this ministry. (An interesting note: three of these OWC members commented on how there was nothing in my paper that they did not disagree with; the fourth OWC member never got back to me regarding my paper, although we are still friends. All four, by the way, are still currently members of OWC as far as I know.)

I think part of the reason why people say I did not write my paper is that they think I was influenced by Paul's experiences and nothing more. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I was actually present in several of the meetings that Paul describes in his paper. Also, I had many personal meetings of my own with several of the leaders mentioned in Paul's paper. I did this because I wanted to verify the legalistic and authoritarian tendencies of OWC's leaders for myself.

For example, I met alone with Dan, one of the associate pastors at OWC. During this meeting, Dan attacked Paul behind his back by remarking how Paul was "seeking to be number one." Shocked at this accusation, I later rebuked Dan in an e-mail, and it was only after I did this that he apologized to Paul.

In another incident, one of the elders named Tom sent me a rather slanderous e-mail full of lies about Paul. Apparently, Tom was not aware that I knew Paul, and when I strongly rebuked him about the slanderous attack, he immediately arranged a private meeting with me at my home. There, he apologized to me while trembling greatly with fear at the same time.

In a later meeting with Tom, Paul and myself, Tom's demeanor changed completely, and he came across as very arrogant, condescending and loud--completely different from the quiet, fearful, humble demeanor he exhibited at my home a few nights earlier. It was also at this meeting that Paul and I experienced one of the worst cases of authoritarianism and spiritual abuse in our Christian lives: Tom called both of us "heretics" right to our very faces.

I will never forget that meeting because I was there. During that meeting, Tom also stated his refusal to apologize to Paul for his slanderous e-mail, and to this day he has not offered any apologies to Paul regarding the false accusations he wrote about him.

Thus, to say that I based my paper solely on Paul's word and influence would be totally incorrect, for I was actually present at many of these meetings, and I wisely documented most of the things that were said during these gatherings.

With regard to my criticisms of OWC and its practices, I had developed these opinions long before I even met Paul. Anyone who knows me well, for example, will recall my reservations about OWC's endorsement of controversial parachurch ministries such as Promise Keepers, Institute in Basic Life Principles, and Focus on the Family. They will also tell you that I had concerns about cliques and the lack of true fellowship at OWC long before Paul even started attending there. And so, to say that I am just a blind sheep who has been led astray is not only ridiculous, but false. True, Paul and I share very similar concerns and reservations about OWC's unbiblical policies and structure of authority, but we developed these concerns on our own and quite independently of each other.

Rumor #2: People are being recruited away from OWC

The second rumor that has been floating around is that Paul has been trying to break apart OWC by recruiting members of that church to join another, specific church. Again, there is absolutely no truth to this rumor. For example, although Paul and I left OWC within roughly the same time period, I had left of my own accord and was not at all persuaded by Paul to leave. In fact, Paul had insisted that I stay at OWC despite the problems we encountered, but by then my mind was already made up. In fact, when I first informed Paul of my decision, he was sad and surprised.

Shortly after I had left OWC, Paul and his wife also quietly started attending another assembly. Although they invited me to attend their church, they also encouraged me to try and find another place of worship closer to my area of residence. In fact, Paul and I now attend completely different churches on opposite sides of the city. So much for the recruitment rumor--never once did I feel pressured by Paul or his wife to join their church.

Rumor #3: We are conspiring to break apart OWC

Another rumor that has taken hold is that Paul and I are conspiring to break apart OWC by using Battered Sheep Ministry as a way to attack its leaders. If so, then why did we go out of our way to change the names of all those involved, and to change the name of the church itself in our papers? Our purpose was not to "blow the whistle" or bring people down, but to share our experiences with other people who have been hurt by legalistic and authoritarian church leaders (such as those who operate at OWC). Our purpose for Battered Sheep Ministry is not to "name names" but to generate discussion so that we can simultaneously warn and comfort other people who are going through the same trials that we experienced.

I think it is so sad that people at OWC and elsewhere simply cannot understand the true purpose of this website. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if those who have criticized us the most have not even bothered to read everything we have written, and I doubt if they have even taken the time to check out any of the links that we provided.

I think the people at OWC are like this because they simply don't know any better. To them, this is what church is all about: sitting in the pews each week while listening to sermons from professional (ie., "paid") pastors. These people do not dare question the authority of the church leaders because they were raised to behave this way. And when they do dare to challenge what the leaders have taught them, they are typically met with hostility. As one OWC member told me last year via e-mail:

"We are asked to approach the pastors (specifically Pastor Harry and Pastor Joe) with our concerns, and we are told that they will listen. Well when this happens, you are instead met with a barrage of attacks on your character and your spiritual life. How can people honestly be encouraged by this?"

Rumor #4: Unjustified attacks on loved ones

Another rumor that has been circulating is one that is particularly upsetting to me because it is about people who are very close to me. I don't care so much if people attack and criticize me behind my back, but when they start maliciously talking about those who are closest to me, I cannot help but be angry. The attacks on me are acceptable and understandable because I have been willing to speak out and publish the truth about OWC's unbiblical practices. However, the attacks on those who are closest to me are totally unprovoked, out-of-bounds and unreasonable.

I won't go into any details regarding these rumors for fear of hurting and/or further discouraging these people who are closest to me. Suffice it to say, however, that these rumors are particularly caustic and vicious, and absolutely unjustified. What makes me really angry is that these rumors are apparently emanating from the church leaders of OWC. But even if they aren't, these so-called "guardians of the flock" are certainly doing nothing to quell the rampant gossiping. If anything, they are perpetuating them.

These rumors were obviously targeted at the people closest to me because I have chosen to question the teachings and policies of the church leaders. In fact, the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that OWC is becoming a social club which is merely cloaked in name of Christianity. I'm not saying that there are no Christians there--there are--but more and more it is starting to resemble a member's only club. If you don't conform to their way of worshiping, talking, socializing, level of education, level of income, etc., you just won't fit in at OWC, no matter what you do. In fact, you will be automatically labeled as "weird" or "different". And don't think I am harsh for choosing these words--I have personally heard these words being used by some of the counselors and pastors' wives at OWC to describe some of the people I once fellowshipped with at that church.

"Diotrephes" Refuses to Welcome the Brothers

I leave you with one last example of the spirit of Diotrephes that is pervading OWC:

In late August 2001, not long after OWC supposedly held their church-wide "revival" conference, one of the OWC members had arranged for a Bible study at Paul's place. It is important to note that this get-together was the idea of the OWC member (let's call her "Sonja"). By this time, Paul and I had been gone from OWC for several months, but we were still friends with many of its members. In fact, Paul and his wife had invited several of them to their place a month earlier for a friendly and casual barbecue, whereupon several of these OWC members showed up.

Getting back to the Bible study, Sonja had notified several other OWC members (including ex-members such as myself) about the gathering via e-mail. A few days later, on a Sunday afternoon, the Bible study was suddenly canceled with no explanation whatsoever. Later, when Paul's wife spoke to Sonja about the cancellation, she was informed that the Bible study was terminated by none other than OWC's senior pastor-to-be: Pastor Joe.

Why was the study canceled? The reasons are rather obvious: the church leaders at OWC were labeling Paul as a person who was bent on breaking up OWC by inviting people over to his place in order to plant seeds of division within its members. In other words, Paul was deemed to be "divisive" and therefore a person to be avoided at all costs.

A very short time later, this rumor was confirmed when I was informed that Pastor Joe had created some new policies at OWC. According to these new rules and regulations, non-OWC members were no longer allowed to attend any of the OWC fellowship functions. If that wasn't enough, Joe also decreed that OWC members were no longer allowed to attend any barbecues, potlucks, bible studies, etc., at any non-OWC members' homes. Never before have such strict and exclusionary policies been established at OWC.

You can imagine the disbelief, anger and disappointment when these rumors were told to me. You can also imagine how relieved I was that I had made the correct decision to leave OWC, which has proven to be a perfect example of what an authoritarian and legalistic church is like. By refusing to have us back at OWC, Pastor Joe was behaving exactly like Diotrephes nearly 2000 years ago:

"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church." (3 John 9-10, NIV, emphasis mine)

Conclusion

It's been over a year now since I left OWC, and as I wrote in my previous paper, I have been praying constantly for true revival to happen at my former church. It appears that I will have to wait much, much longer for this to occur, because much of these vicious rumors appear to have originated from the leaders at OWC after their supposed "revival" conference last summer.

Of course, it makes me sad that the church leaders at OWC have had to resort to spreading malicious rumors about me and my friends, but it also comes as no surprise. This is a pattern that has been repeated over and over throughout the centuries and which continues to this day: whenever church leaders are challenged by lay people, they immediately go on the defensive and use their unbiblical positions of authority to try and suppress anyone who questions their teachings and/or policies.

These self-appointed shepherds lord themselves over the flock rather than protecting it. When they are challenged in any way about their man-made rules and regulations, these church leaders will sometimes resort to lashing out by creating and/or perpetuating malicious lies and rumors about their brethren, much like Diotrephes did many centuries ago.

While I have no problems whatsoever with submitting to biblical authority, I do have major qualms about submitting to unbiblical, pharisaical church leaders. In other words, I am against centuries of man-made traditions that have crept into today's churches. These unbiblical practices, in my opinion, have made institutional churches such as OWC weak and ineffectual, and it is high time that such churches repent of their sins and return to the original, New Testament model of how Christ would want his church to be like.

But as long as OWC continues to unbiblically elevate and trump up its pastors and elders, and as long as the congregation allows things to continue the way they are, the spirit of Diotrephes will continue to permeate throughout OWC.

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