For the next two weeks we will be discussing an Evangelical Free/Acts 29 hybrid in Columbia, South Carolina known as Riverside Community Church. The problems examined here further illustrate the deep troubles inside the Evangelical Free Church of America. Today’s post is Matt Boedy’s plea for the EFCA to practice transparency especially in regards to “submission to church authorities” and church discipline.
“Beware how you take away hope from any human being.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
“I want to tell my story so you can avoid all these groups and this church if you are ever in Columbia.”
Matthew Boedy on why he is telling his story
And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them.
Romans 16:17 NLT
Paul’s teaching very much applies to situations such as what we will read about Riverside Community Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
Evangelical Free Church of America Logo
While the situation at Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania continues in the Eastern District, we are going to examine another Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) issue. This church exists in EFCA SE which is led by Glen Schrieber. This story takes place in an Evangelical Free Church/Acts 29 hybrid in Columbia, South Carolina. When I did the analysis of EFCA SE District, South Carolina was 100% Neo-Calvinist. In looking at the EFCA Church Finder there have apparently been two new church plants. One has a Facebook page and WordPress site, the other one I don’t believe has a website as of yet. So that number will change and probably go down. Note to Glen Schrieber, you need to update your District webpage. I have already done the analysis of the rate of Neo-Calvinist/Reformed theology in this district. This Acts 29 church is led by James Walden and is called Riverside Community Church. I would like to thank Matthew Boedy for his courage and strength in telling his story. I believe him, and this blog stands with him. This story is going to look at alleged pastoral abuse, pastoral counseling issues, Acts 29/EFCA issues, autonomy concerns, membership covenants, and Neo-Calvinist use of authority.
Matthew Boedy’s story is going to be broken up into several segments. The first part deals with the issue of EFCA autonomy. The EFCA advertises itself as an autonomous group of evangelical churches. That autonomy was created early on in its history. In the 1950 two ethnic organizations the Swedish Evangelical Free Church and the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Free Church association merged in June of 1950. When the denomination was being created in 1950 some argued for calling the new denomination the Evangelical Free Churches of America to stress the autonomous nature of the new organization. They wanted to do this to demonstrate autonomous nature of every EFCA church. This policy of the autonomous nature may have worked when the denomination was founded, however I would suggest that it has become its greatest weakness today. With the resurgence in Neo-Calvinist theology, and combined with the way Calvinists are exploiting the polity to help hijack churches combined with using the polity to only plant Neo-Calvinist churches; this has become a critical concern. I have written about my past in the EFCA in “A Personal Reflection on Fresno Evangelical Free Church; Known Today as The Bridge Fresno.” Recently I received an email from someone who was stunned to learn that a long standing EFCA in Clovis, California has gone Neo-Calvinist. I wrote about that church in “Is Wil Owens, the Senior Pastor of Clovis Evangelical Free Still Drooling Over C.J. Mahaney?“ As much as I would love to be involved in the EFCA in the Washington, D.C. area I have accepted the fact that I am long since a “done” to this denomination. I am not into Calvinist theology and that influence in EFCA churches here is what leaves me outside that denomination.
But in addition to the autonomous nature being exploited by Calvinists for church growth and theological hijackings, there is another major problem. When a church has gone rogue, or if something has gone wrong, what can the denomination do to correct the issue? That is why what is playing out in Elverson, Pennsylvania is so crucial. Will Steve Estes be allowed to practice church discipline on an alleged rape victim that his son allegedly abused. When issues or problems exist how will they be solved? Or will a problem just fester, and grow due to the inability of the organization to be able to solve it? Another problem with EFCA autonomy plays itself out in EFCA SE. The autonomous nature attracts shady and questionable characters. All one has to do is look at Four Oakes Community Church in Tallahassee, Florida and see Dave Harvey on staff at this EFCA church. Yes, this is the same Dave Harvey who led Sovereign Grace Ministries when C.J. Mahaney stepped down. Again this is the same Dave Harvey who was a spiritual tyrant at Covenant Fellowship Church out side Philadelphia in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. Dave was notorious for practicing church discipline on members for small and minor infractions. He did all this and emphasized church discipline when his own family was a mess, to allegedly include issues with alcohol and drugs, and his children wildly out of control. This has been discussed at SGM Survivors. Please note 99.9% of the time I believe its wrong to single out a parent when kids rebel or go haywire. After all life is hard, and raising children can be challenging. But in Dave’s case he allegedly was over the top in church discipline which was often not needed. That is why Dave Harvey deserves to be discussed here. Does the autonomous nature of the EFCA attract questionable people like Dave Harvey to this denomination? If you want to read more about Dave Harvey I have a category here about him, plus Brent Detwiler has written a couple of good articles to include “The Mona Lisa of Spin by Master Harvey“, “ Another Illustration of Dave Harvey’s Deceit” and “Dave Harvey, The Number 2 Leader in Sovereign Grace Ministries, Steps Down from All Responsibilities.” The first part of Matt Boedy’s post stress the problem of EFCA autonomy. When asked what can be done to help make the organization healthier Matt responded, that the EFCA needs more transparency. With that I will turn the rest of the post over to Matt.
Recently this website has called for people to suggest improvements to the EFCA. My first reaction was that after being spiritually abused by an EFCA church and being rebuffed by the HQ in Minneapolis, I didn’t really care much to improve the EFCA. It should just be ignored, allowed to face God’s judgment.
After some thought, I concluded ignoring a cancer doesn’t help. And there is a cancer growing in this group. The founder of this blog has called it a “theological hijacking.” And he is right. There is a movement afoot to take the Free Church toward something resembling a mixture of Neo-Calvinism theology, 9Marks church ecclesiology, and most importantly, the evangelism through church planting of Acts 29 [According to the 2015 EFCA Metrics Report, 1/3 of EFCA churches who responded to survey (nearly half did) were planting a church.]
The EFCA is an important part of modern evangelicalism and this blog’s focus on it is not only good for its health, but for the broader church. By its own admittance in that 2015 report, the EFCA in the last 30 years “enjoyed the designation of being one of the fastest growing evangelical denominations.” It has though recognized a plateau or beginning decline in members and so has recommitted itself to “develop a unified approach” toward the future. This is an important moment for the EFCA.
I have much history with the EFCA beyond my most recent, in Columbia SC. I attended an EFCA church in Gainesville, Fla while a student at the University of Florida more than 15 years ago. I have also given money to this group through tithing.
I want to offer one particular area for improvement that I think looms large for many who may be thinking of attending an EFCA church or are already members of one. I believe a more robust transparency from EFCA churches will help its own churches police itself. That may be the only way for the EFCA to change.
I call out transparency particularly because as a mode of operation for churches generally it is much en vogue these days with position papers on homosexuality, gay marriage, women in the church, and other issues. What is lacking in such a movement is transparency about “submission to church authorities” and its sister theology of church discipline. My particular abuse happened in those arenas through pastoral counseling.
The Overall Situation
The EFCA Today magazine listed in 2011 as No. 2 in its “top 10 risks” to its churches “Unclear Policies and Procedures for Pastoral Counseling.” This risk beats finance concerns, policies on youth trips, internet usage, and protection from lawsuits (i.e. lack of incorporation).
While the warning urges policies for pastors counseling women, when to report child abuse, and if pastors can reveal counselees’ information in a court proceeding, it does not direct churches to the most basic of counseling risks: the lack of clear policies about confidentiality. Perhaps it assumes policies are in place but need clarification.
The warning does link to an article in an Assemblies of God publication that suggests churches and pastor-counselors open up themselves to legal action “based on the lack of informed consent, if pastor/counselor inaccurately led the person he was counseling to believe that nothing he tells the pastor/counselor can ever be revealed.” It adds that the fundamental assumption of pastoral counseling is confidentiality and that “any waiver of” such confidentiality “must be clear and specific, so the person understands that anything told to the pastor/counselor will not be kept confidential if requested by a third party.” This is course why many churches have confidentiality policies about counseling – because so many have been sued for violating confidentiality.
Clearly the EFCA as a denomination knows it has a problem in this area. But it is unclear if the EFCA HQ in Minnesota wants to address it, other than to offer this type of warning. One could argue the theological hijacking occurring in the EFCA means church authoritarians have gained broad power to oversee counseling in whatever manner they see fit, ignorant or defiant to traditional professional ethics.
Recently I ended a lawsuit against my former EFCA church over the issue of pastoral counseling. I ended it for various reasons: I was representing myself, had no financial resources to pay the other side’s legal fees (which they demanded if I lost at trial), and I got what I was looking for.
I sued seeking two things: 1) the letter my former pastor wrote about me to a professional therapist I was seeing, a communication I prohibited, and a letter they refused to share with me and 2) the church to admit what they did in sending such a letter was wrong. I got the first, but not the second.
I think it is important to address this kind of behavior through the civil courts, especially when the local church’s transparency on many issues it claims under banner of “submission to church authorities” is pathetic. In other words, a good deposition and set of interrogatives are a good tool against such places. There is a sorrow some people share when they learn things after the fact, when they are faced with situations they did not think were possible. I don’t you to face that sorrow.
In regard to lawsuits, if churches are using legal tactics like church covenants, so should Christians who have issues with churches. In fact, it may be the only way to get certain information from a church, as my case will make clear. I will not argue here the theological misreading of those verses that ban suits against Christians. Whatever the quality of those arguments, they do often protect abuse from being made public. See “Spotlight.”
My former church remains part of the Acts 29 network, the same group that gave us Mark Driscoll and the horrible abuse of power in Matt Chandler’s Dallas church, which specifically prohibited legal actions by members, albeit divorce filings, without first seeking the church’s guidance. My former church is listed on The Gospel Coalition website. It is also listed on the 9Marks website.
I write now after some time of private but rebuffed attempts at reconciliation. I asked the church privately to enter into a reconciliation process through the Christian-based group Peacemakers. They refused. I also made the request as part of a settlement offer during the lawsuit and they refused a second time.
I am hoping broadcasting this case will not only push EFCA churches to respond to it specifically, but also offer more transparency.
I want to tell my story so you can avoid all these groups and this church if you are ever in Columbia. But outside these groups, my story is not unique. There is a common understanding among some churches on church membership, specifically use of a membership covenant. Such a document – either signed or merely said to exist – gives leaders broad and unspecified power to do whatever they deem necessary. I want to tell my story to highlight the continuing saga of spiritual abuse that comes from such a theology. Such a theology is growing in the EFCA.