** WHAT PHILLIPS HAS IN COMMON with Watchman Nee, Rev. Moon and JW's
WHAT DOUG PHILLIPS HAS IN COMMON
Watchman Nee,Reverend Moon and Jehovah's Witnesses:
THE NEW FACE OF SPIRITUAL ABUSE
Copyright 2007, UnderMuchGrace.com
May not be reproduced without permission from CM Kunsman
Preliminary Introduction posted 10Jul07;
Updated but incomplete article posted 18Aug07.
**FULL ARTICLE ANTICIPATED BY December 1, 2007,
(continuing with exploited male headship, "militant fecundity," aggressive response and legal action taken against critics).
One of my two editors is MIA. Don't want to post without their input!
COMMONALITIES OF DOUG PHILLIPS’ DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE
WITH BIBLE-BASED CULTS:
POTENTIAL WARNING SIGNS AND MARKERS
FOR LEGALISTIC AND ABSUIVE PRACTICES
From my recent study of Doug Phillips and the doctrines propagated by his many, intertwined branches of ministry (Boerne Christian Assembly, Vision Forum, Vision Forum Ministries, National Council of Family Integrated Churches, National Center for Home Education under the Home School Legal Defense Association, and others), I note a trend of practices and philosophical similarities common to other legalistic Christian denominations and movements. Although, to my knowledge, these trends have not been documented by the counter-cult movement as diagnostic for cults and cultic groups, there are common “markers” and “red flag” symbols that tend to follow legalistic and cultic practices.
These aid in the identification of groups for whom legalism is a central doctrinal tenet. These are by no means suggested as criteria for determining either theological cults (groups denying the deity of Christ, per the “traditional Walter Martin definition”) or psychological cults (groups practicing techniques which dull critical thought through manipulation without the knowledge or consent of the subjects/followers). It has been my experience, however, that noting these trends in churches or Bible-based groups serve as a potential indicator of legalism and of cultic doctrine and/or behavior.
Preferences and traditions differ from expected standards within churches, however over the course of the histories of many religious groups, preferences and traditions can become requirements. Many groups follow this pattern as they respond to the pressures exerted by their church leaders by means of the legalistic focus on reasonable standards, subtly shifting them into essential doctrines on the same level as the fundamental, essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Cults, by nature and definition are also legalistic, but not all legalistic religious groups may be qualified as cults. There are also times and seasons in both the life of the individual and in the life of the church when the focus on specific doctrine(s), in response to particular pressures and events, does not constitute the type of legalism described above. Used properly, they preserve an acceptable trend and temporary means of sustaining vigilant contending for the faith. However, the continued employment or exploitation of such a sustained and narrowed focus on less essential concepts to the exclusion, addition or even replacement of the essential doctrines of the Christian Faith poses a potential threat to the healthy, balanced Christian life of both individuals as well as entire groups.
The criticism brought against the Kansas City Prophets presents a valuable example of such a sustained focus beyond reasonable and edifying use. Within this movement, the work and experience of (what was understood by that group as) the manifestation of the Holy Spirit supplanted the value and potency of Scripture. This aberrancy of the Kansas City Prophets demonstrated by views about the working of the Charismata within the lives of believers became a “theological innovation.” Vision Forum and the teachings of Doug Phillips represent a theological innovation very comparable to this Charismatic example. Promotion of family and legalistic interpretation of Biblical ideals of family displace and redefine the central, orthodox doctrine of grace and also the evangelism of the unbeliever through avenues outside of the life of the family. Standards of family become tantamount to the essential doctrine of Christian liberty through grace, serving as “markers” of salvation within Doug Phillips’ patriarchy doctrine.
COMPARISON OF PRACTICES AND DOCTRINES OF DOUG PHILLIPS WITH OTHER LEGALISTIC CHRISTIAN GROUPS.
Symbols of Christ.
Many Christian groups focus on symbolism of elements that represent Jesus Christ. For example, the doctrine of transubstantiation concerning the Lord’s Supper maintained by Roman Catholicism represents one of the most obvious and well known references to religious and cultic symbolism as an exploitation of the Biblical model. Other more obvious examples of such symbolic concerns can be demonstrated by Jehovah’s Witness doctrines concerning blood products and their specific teachings about the cross. Both of these symbols (per Watchtower Society teaching) become a focus of their skewed doctrines, in concert and keeping with their false teachings denying the Deity of Christ. This unbalanced focus on the symbols provide us with more obvious “markers” of legalism, however many groups practice more subtle forms of unbalanced focus on symbolism.
Eucharist or “eucharisto”, (deriving from the Greek term for “grace” and often translated as a celebration of “thanksgiving”) is commonly referred to as “communion” in evangelical Christian circles. The Greek word for “communion” (koinonia) translated as “fellowship” is reminiscent of the Apostle’s Creed reference to the “communion of the saints,” describing the church as a unified body. Connotation subtly suggests that the eucharist (also referred to as “communion”) implies communion with the group rather than simply a symbolic ritual of communion with Christ. Manipulative groups capitalize on the term and the ritual, using it for the benefit of group cohesiveness.
Thought reform, a psychosocial dynamic at work in cultic groups, dulls critical thought by stressing one of the three primary aspects of the self: thought, emotion and behavior. Because manipulation of just one aspect of the self is so stressful, the mind will automatically seek immediate resolution of the psychological stress by conforming the other unaffected aspects to maintain self-integrity. The eucharist, a demonstrative ritual of doctrine (thought concerning soteriology) involves much emotion (thanksgiving for salvation for Christ offering Himself as mans’ propitiation) and behavior (through ritual and social interaction) serves as a most powerful ideological solidification technique within both orthodox and cultic groups. In this fashion, legalistic groups and cults exploit the potency of this religious tradition.
At Boerne Christian Assembly (BCA), the local body that formed from a home based support meeting for homeschoolers hosted within the home of Doug Phillips, no woman may partake of the elements of the eucharist independently. The elements must be served to a woman by a man or boy. She may not reach to directly receive the elements herself. Within BCA, practice is a reinforced standard. Here is an account of a former member of BCA:
“Although there were no rules for being a part of BCA, per se, it was the unwritten rules that were the invisible foundation….Next came the Lord’s Supper….fathers usually went forward and got communion for their whole family. The grape juice was served in medium-sized Dixie cups that the whole family could share. The men would take a chunk of matzoh to share with their family as well. It was left up to the men to decide who takes communion in their family. If the father was absent or if a woman didn’t have a husband, one of her sons could bring her communion, even if the boy hadn’t been baptized and wasn’t old enough to take communion himself. If there were no males in the family, one of the deacons would serve the woman communion. If you were not participating in taking communion, it was quite obvious to the whole congregation.”
As this personal account describes (within the BCA group), communion with Christ is both a family and a very social experience, the practice of which reinforces the interconnectedness of the group, the symbolic requirement for an intercessor between Christ and the believer and a distorted interpretation of male headship. Any male family member, independent of age or maturity in the faith can become the symbolic patriarch in the father’s absence. With in the BCA group context of promoting the family, these variants within the traditional practice of communion may not seem of great concern, their true significance as aberrant variants in practice take profound import when examined within the context of both BCA’s written and unspoken doctrines concerning women.
Within my own shepherding group with ties to the Charismatic Ft. Lauderdale Five, the communion was often a strange practice. Members of the church would partake of the elements themselves and reserve a portion of the bread to serve to other church members. As the BCA example stressed the doctrine of male headship, my group focused on a utopian unity. (Much of this doctrine was based upon the statements in Acts 2:44 and 4:32 where believers shared and “had all things common.”) Another odd (but much less significant) practice arose in this church following the installation of new carpet which created much controversy—that of the change from red to white grape juice for use in communion. My departure/exit from this group coincided with this change to white grape juice, provoking some sadly cynical comments about switching to “Kool-aide” in a shade that matched the carpet, reminiscent of the cyanide laden drink used by the Peoples Temple in Jonestown. I must admit that I am equally disturbed by the reference to “Dixie cups” contained in the preceding quote, considering that they were also touted to be used to serve the Jonestown “Kool-aide”. Note that it is not any campaign against these manufacturers as “markers” but a harrowing reference to the history of the events of the Jonestown ‘suicides.’
Celebration of holidays within non-liturgical, Bible-based groups often poses matters of legalistic concern. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, reject the celebration of all traditional holidays, even including the specific celebration of the birthdays of their followers. Seen as legalistic and pagan practices, Jehovah’s Witnesses likewise reject consideration of the many feasts of the Jewish tradition practiced throughout the lifetime of Jesus. Scripture makes no condemnation of the observance of these traditional celebrations, and Jesus himself made no such protests in reference to their practice. Per the accounts of his life in the Gospels, at the least, Jesus observed both Passover and Pentecost. Many such cultic groups make an argument from silence that such traditions are not mandated by Scripture, but neither are they condemned within Scripture. Many groups generally go beyond the belief that they are not mandated to state that such practices and participation denote sin.
Although many doctrinally sound Christians take issue with the celebration of Christmas, this particular holiday presents an interesting example of another potential marker of both religious control and manipulation. Some Christians maintain that the celebration of Christmas ranges from questionable to pagan, originally deriving from adaptations of pagan holidays into Christian tradition. Some cite 1 Cor 11:23-26 as a Scriptural proof that Christians should not observe a celebration of Christ’s birth, but to only focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Another criticism concerning the holiday surrounds the symbolism of Christmas trees as a violation of Scripture. Old Testament proofs supporting this interpretation include but are not limited to Lev 14:37, Deut 12:2, I Kings 14:23, Psalm 37:35; -- all passages that reference green trees. Following a desire to yield the utmost honor to God, some Christians decline celebration of Christmas with decorations and, as previously stated, many decline celebration of the holiday altogether.
Doug Phillips does not observe Christmas personally, stating that it is a Catholic holiday. Christmas was not formally observed at Doug’s local church per the statement of a former member of BCA:
“The congregation was split about half and half on the Christmas issue. There were definitely NO Christmas programs or any talk about Christmas, but it really depended on who was leading worship as to what hymns we sang. Sometimes we did sing a Christmas hymn or two, but they were VERY limited, as most of them contained words that many in the congregation did not agree with….There was one family at BCA who had a Christmas party every year and everyone was invited, although not everyone attended. On the other hand, if you went to the Phillips’ home in December, you would find lots of poinsettias, nutcrackers, and green and red decorations. Beall decorates quite festively for someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas.”
This does not identify Phillips as a cultist, but it certainly serves as a possible marker for legalism. It is another “red flag” that often accompanies both very legalistic and unbalanced churches in addition to many Bible-based cults. Within my former spiritually abusive, cultic church, I was surprised at the many questions about whether my family decorated a tree. It was one of those strange, frequently asked questions that did not initially make sense. The odd nature of what seemed like a strange obsession with Christmas trees was soon followed by many other “unwritten” and informal ideals maintained by our Shepherding/Discipleship Movement group, another spiritually abusive system practiced by many denominations. In their attempt to be holy (literally “set apart” in the original Greek) and perhaps more importantly, in an attempt to appear holy, these legalists often demonstrate inordinate focus on avoiding or eliminating non-essential (not profound doctrinal or salutary significance) aspects of the Christian life such as celebration of holidays. They may even spend more time, energy and resources denouncing something like Christmas than most people expend in the celebration of such holidays. Such over focus and fixation clearly demonstrates legalistic behavior, thus expanding into control leading into manipulation, abuse and exploitation.
Upon leaving the aberrant group where we met, a dear friend of mine (not yet accepting of the concept of cultic Spiritual Abuse model) joined a similar Shepherding group that completely rejected the celebration of the Christmas holiday. Among these mentioned arguments, this church’s leadership maintained that they did not recognize Christmas because the date discrepancy. (Many sources state that Christ’s birth and/or conception did not occur in December.) In contrast, this church did honor all the major Jewish holidays and traditional feast days celebrating them in worship services and with other activities. (I greatly enjoy these types of observation personally, finding them helpful in the pursuit of understanding the Jewish aspects of Jesus’ life.) Perhaps Vision Forum’s honor of certain patriotic events could be interpreted in a similar way, with their quadricentenial celebration of the Jamestown settlement providing a similar example. Celebrated occasions demonstrate the groups’ preference or prejudice rather than a strict observation of Scripture. Celebration of such events or preferred traditions may reinforce the cult of personality, thus promoting the perceived unity both inside and outside the group. It is another display of the outward appearance of intimacy and unity among group members through superficial practices. These traditions serve as a demonstration of the cohesiveness of the group.
To be continued....