10 signs of “Reformed” rot highlighted by the MacArthur/Eileen Gray story…and what we can do about it.
One of my favorite John MacArthur lines is his reminder that “every church is a collision of sinners.” This is true and very important to remember, especially in light of recent disturbing reports bringing serious light and heat to MacArthur and his Grace Community Church.
A couple weeks back in my first Substack post, I wrote what I assumed at the time would be part one of a two-part deal addressing the John MacArthur/Eileen Gray story that has recently come out from the shadows and into the light primarily due to God choosing a non-Reformed woman reporter to help make that happen. If you haven’t read through the Part 1 post, I recommend doing so in order to understand much of what will be shared here. I also highly recommend checking out the first and second reports released last month by Julie Roys, and three videos (#1 here, #2 here, and #3 here) recently produced by Ruslan KD.
If you haven’t read these articles and watched these videos, please pause and do so now or dive into them as soon as you can. They’re important – important enough for us to listen to them with serious, attentive ears no matter how prejudiced we might be against the politics or presentation style of their authors.
Remember: Truth matters.
That’s what we’re supposed to be about as Christians, right?
The Truth, personified by Christ Himself, and reverberating throughout His creation in every area of life.
We have to be about the Truth even when we are pitched “good reasons” to go another way. We aren’t supposed to protect the church from the truth. We’re supposed to build the church on the truth. We aren’t supposed to shield our favorite teachers, leaders, or “visionaries” from the truth. We’re supposed to shine it on them, holding them to the higher – not lower – standard that Scripture demands, especially of those who would claim the title of elder.
As I’ve been reading, researching, and contemplating this MacArthur/GCC/Eileen Gray story and coming to grips with how many important reference points are being highlighted in this still-unfolding drama, I have become convinced that this story represents something of a touchstone for things that God is in the process of revealing about the church in general and its Reformed celebrity/visionary-focused Christian subculture in particular. There seems to be a lot about this story that we need to focus on and work through. We can’t allow this one to come and go. We have to stop, pay close attention to what’s going on here, and work it through in our minds over time. Put another way, we need to stop having the focus and attention span of a retarded fruit fly and start taking serious things seriously as if we were actually responsible adult men and women made in the image of God.
It is in this context that I’ve become committed to not letting this one go. It’s conviction over what I have learned and am continuing to learn that has me determined to work these things through in detail while so many “Reformed leaders” seem to be just as committed to going in the opposite direction.
While, like many others, I have been waiting (and waiting and waiting) to see these “leaders” seriously engage core components of the Eileen Gray story, I’ve become increasingly disappointed and, I believe, properly and even necessarily angry (yes, these are thoroughly biblical concepts, however much religious hucksters might have you believe otherwise as a way of shielding themselves from the consequences they should face from God’s people). The days and weeks roll on and on with no direct, serious engagement of important matters related to the MacArthur/Gray story while many of the same “leaders” and their followers make vague, dismissive, and sometimes disdainful attempts to shoot the messenger or rely on naked appeals to fandom of MacArthur specifically and/or the Reformed celebrity culture in general. The dismissal of key facts, minimizing of what sure looks like serious sin, and attacking of anyone bringing any of it up as (at best) an ignorant tool of church-hating leftists has been enough to make me want to…well…dive a lot deeper.
There are many reasons for this, not the least of which are specific and very troubling areas of overlap between things I have personally witnessed firsthand in recent years and things that seem to be present in the MacArthur situation. And by “the MacArthur situation”, I mean to tie together the (still not fully settled in my mind) accusations made in recent reports and the ongoing responses/non-responses from the “Reformed” community.
I want to share these thoughts and explore these subjects because it feels like something big is happening. Much bigger than MacArthur and much bigger than his Grace Community Church. I believe that for all of the dismissive dittos and wagon-circling going on publicly in the “Reformed” community where MacArthur is concerned, there are actually quite a lot of us who are very concerned about what’s going on here. We don’t like what we’re seeing and smelling, and we’re coming to realize two important things:
1. We have been part of the problem, and…
2. We can be part of the solution…but only if we first fully own and repent of our part in creating the sad “church” situation under which we currently labor.
This used to be Reformed worldview 101 kind of stuff, but we haven’t been applying or willing to apply that Spirit to the way we “do church” or the way we treat celebrity “leaders” (even in smaller settings) for quite a while now. This, I believe, is what God is in the process of changing through, among other things, the MacArthur/Gray story.
The goal here is to share thoughts in this area of growing concern, all with an open hand and an open invitation to correction. We’re all works in progress and we’re all learning as we go here, but one essential component of serious learning and growth is a willingness to listen, share, and hash ideas out together.
The first thing I am striving to do more carefully is listen – listen to people with whom I might disagree on many things, listen to people who come from different perspectives or traditions, and listen for truthful or factual details in any stories or presentations that might come my way. Just…listen…
Listen for facts. Identify facts. Cherish facts as components of truth, no matter their means of delivery. All truth is God’s truth, after all.
This requires a good bit of discernment, of course, and will result in a lot of picking out bones and filtering out poisons that sometimes come attached to truthful bits, but that’s what mature adult Reformers do, right?
We can’t let a fact go unacknowledged when it’s spoken by someone we don’t like or is sandwiched between two objectively absurd contentions. We must be better than that. We must value truth more than that.
Because we claim to love, adore, and seek to model the very personification of truth, that’s why. Sometimes He chooses unexpected and downright disturbing means by which to bring certain truths our way. He does this for many perfect reasons, including the occasional need to humble and humiliate us by having important facts delivered by people or groups that we have arrogantly categorized as being practically incapable of being helpful in our education and growth. When we imagine ourselves as being so far beyond “those people”, we can expect that the Lord might just use one of “those people” to put us in our place by shining light onto our idols and idolatry.
If we dismiss uncomfortable facts or revelations because they challenge or compromise a pet cause, a favorite organization, or a favored teacher, the problem isn’t that we’ve been made uncomfortable. The problem is that we’ve allowed our idolatry of a cause, organization, or leader to so profoundly warp our approach to reality that we actively seek to shield that idol from truth. The problem isn’t that our idols and idolatry are being exposed. The problem is that we want to prevent that from happening. The problem is us.
It’s important here to note again that I ‘m not yet clear on exactly how much of what’s been said in recent reports on John MacArthur is actually true. So far, after weeks of digging deeper and trying to digest things, I have only grown more concerned and more convinced of serious problems being real, but I am still reading, researching, and trying to learn more.
As that story continues to develop, I’d like to help move things in a more broadly productive direction by noting several key components of a very troubling M.O. that is becoming clear to me the more I compare the MacArthur scandal with other things I’ve witnessed and heard first-hand accounts of occurring on much smaller “Reformed church” stages.
I hope that by sharing these observations some might be inspired to think more about these things and others might be encouraged to hear and pay closer attention to someone else giving voice to concerns that they have. If we are committed to biblical Reformation both individually and together as the true Church, we can benefit greatly from trying to work through these details and connect dots together, even when the process is awkward, uncomfortable, and convicting.
In that Spirit, I’d like to share the following 10 signs of “Reformed” rot highlighted by the John MacArthur/Eileen Gray story:
1. Shooting the Messenger - This one was covered in some detail in my earlier post. It is also something that I’ve personally witnessed in particularly vile forms within small “Reformed church” settings.
When a cult’s Dear Leader is called out or openly challenged, the response of a devoted cultist is often to defend their Dear Leader by slandering, undermining, and generally going scorched earth on the character of the one bringing the unwelcome report, no matter how many verifiable facts are contained in said report. The more hard-hitting truth is contained in the unwelcome report, the more vicious the personal attacks will tend to be from those desperate to prevent the critique from being taken seriously. That’s just how devoted cultists roll.
While we generally have no trouble agreeing and attributing such activities to cultists, we’re not so keen on acknowledging that this Dear Leader-worshipping cultist vibe has taken root in many authoritarian (or authoritarian-ish) “Reformed” settings. And just to be clear: This approach is wildly unbiblical, which is means it should have no place in any legitimate church setting, Reformed or otherwise.
2. Circling the Wagons – It’s one thing to circle the wagons around Truth, which is Christ. This is obviously a very good thing and would inherently involve our seeking, sharing, and standing on truth no matter where it may lead us, even (and especially) when it inspires us to confront our own idolatry and the sins of those we’ve idolized. It’s quite another thing to circle the wagons around an idol in an effort to “protect” it from painful, unwelcome truth that will make both the idol and its idolators (us) look bad. Unfortunately, the latter approach has become standard operating procedure in much of the authoritarian ruled “Reformed Christian” subculture.
3. Ignoring Abuse of the Bride of Christ – When we forget that the Church is God’s people – people maybe even like Eileen Gray – and that the Church is not a building, business, or “visionary”-led organization, we then also forget that when a Christian woman like Eileen Gray is being abused, the bride of Christ is being abused. When we’re that far gone we not only allow this sort of conduct to occur, we actively enable and encourage it by choosing the abusive system or leader over the sheep being slaughtered passively via neglect and then actively by way of slander and other forms of character assassination once the sheep dares to speak up about earlier stage abuses.
This is a Big Deal, and we need to start treating it that way.
When an organization or a “visionary leader” of an organization claiming to represent Jesus will not stand for truth wherever it leads and instead seems to be more than willing to sacrifice sheep who’ve become a threat to their Dear Leader-centered program, well…we shouldn’t be surprised when the Chief Shepherd steps in and takes care of His bride by exposing and humiliating any “church” that would enable or defend that sort of behavior. However much this may or may not apply to John MacArthur and GCC, it certainly applies to many abuse factories masquerading as churches in the land, many of which claim to be Reformed.
4. Dismissal and Deflection – One component of an enemy M.O. that has taken deep root in many authoritarian church settings is the cultivation of a church culture that promotes the automatic dismissal of any claims perceived as a serious threat to the Dear Leader or Dear Organization. This has been on full display where the John MacArthur/Eileen Gray story is concerned. It’s as if John MacArthur has been unconsciously and preemptively issued indulgences by his most devoted Reformed fans, which is almost as ironic as it is pathetic and destructive.
While there are very good reasons to weigh accusations carefully, and considering the source of an accusation is a part of that process, there is no excuse for avoiding a wealth of well-documented and corroborated evidence offered in support of said accusations.
Here again we see a core defining attribute of many “Reformed” authoritarian settings: Active opposition to the essential practice of listening by actively undermining clear communication. These systems and those who control them cannot allow for the open sharing and consideration of points that may threaten “the system” or “the visionary” that they promote to protected idol status. It is immersion in this authoritarian mindset that has produced hordes of “Reformed Christians” who openly, proudly, and sometimes quite arrogantly parade their disinterest in any details that might threaten their Dear Leader or Dear System.
When someone like Eileen Gray shares the details that she has shared, the first thing we should do is listen.
With our mouths shut and our minds open to hearing and appreciating what she has to say.
This has been one of the most heartbreaking aspects to witness in the MacArthur/Gray saga. Seeing armies of “Reformed Christians” proudly and publicly dismissing Eileen Gray out of hand, sometimes while also deflecting toward John MacArthur’s many long years of excellent service to the Lord as some sort of answer to the charges that they don’t even want to hear of in detail. This is very tragic and very sad, and we shouldn’t be surprised when the Chief Shepherd brings some serious correction into this picture.
Reformed Christians should be the first to understand that when we choose to enable “shepherds” (or wolves in shepherds’ clothing) to passively or actively abuse His bride, we are begging for His correction, and there will be nothing that we can do to dismiss or deflect that correction when it arrives. . . as it seems to have now.
5. Flipping Standards – Another enemy M.O. that has come to define many an authoritarian-run “church” setting is the happy use and abuse of selectively applied standards. This selective application of standards always follows one predictable trajectory by consistently rigging things in favor of the Dear Leader or Dear System while simultaneously slanting aggressively against the annoying no-name sheep who are giving the Dear Leader grief.
Where Scripture plainly advocates for higher standards being applied to those who serve in leadership roles, and we are told that such men are to be “above reproach”, somehow those specifics manage to get tossed out the window in defense of our idols. Then, while we’re told to ditch one set of inconvenient scripture that might expose our Dear Leaders as unqualified to lead, we’re also encouraged to hold the Eileen Grays of the world to the highest of standards, straining for every gnat we can find in their story, character, and history.
This insanely prejudicial and laughably unbiblical approach has become normative in authoritarian “church” settings. We need to take this seriously and repent accordingly before the Bridegroom decides to go a certain route in dealing with those who abuse or enable the abuse of His bride. If we’re going to claim His name and hold up His Word as The Standard for everything, then we must seek and apply that standard consistently and without prejudice, even when doing so will reveal our favored leaders as unqualified to lead.
6. Image Obsession – Because the perceived high character and “spiritual” status of a Dear Leader is essential to said leader’s ability to maintain a position of authority, any threat to that image is perceived as existential by the Dear Leader. His advisors and those playing supportive roles on a leadership team tend to be similarly obsessed with preserving the reputation and image of the Dear Leader for many reasons, not the least of which is their close association with him.
This obsession with image inspires all manner of ugly compromise and trampling of biblical commands to avoid partiality. Once this image obsession takes root, extreme partiality becomes the norm and all manner of evil becomes justifiable in the name of “preserving the church”, with “the church” being an extra-biblical organization that has at this point in its descent become comfortable abusing the bride of Christ in the name of Christ.
7. Narrative Control at Any Cost – Image obsession of the sort described above requires extreme approaches to narrative control, including things like shooting the messenger whenever necessary, dismissing or deflecting inconvenient details whenever possible, and playing with Bible verses like they were Legos or Tinker Toys to be used to construct whatever best serves the Dear Leader or Dear Organization at any given moment.
These tactics are often accompanied by mega-doses of gaslighting in order to help keep the faithful from listening to their gut or paying too much attention to the building mountain of evidence that their Dear Organization isn’t all it claims to be.
Since many authoritarians are acute narcissists, and paranoia is a thing with those types, controlling the narrative is prioritized as a necessary means of maintaining control over whatever group or organization the Dear Leader uses as his platform. Since paranoid narcissist authoritarians tend not to be very concerned with biblical fidelity in practice, they have little trouble promoting or directly engaging in slander and character assassination.
8. Warping Church Discipline into Church Abuse – As we’ve already covered, the Church is God’s people. It’s His sheep. It’s not a building or a Dear Leader-controlled organization.
So when an authoritarian organization decides to heap heavy loads of legalism-drenched extrabiblical standards and obligations on annoying sheep in defense of the Dear Leader, who is simultaneously “protected” from the high standards actually set for real leaders in Scripture, we are witnessing the literal transformation of healthy and loving church discipline into a vulgar counterfeit that enables and promotes the abuse of Christ’s bride.
In settings like this, wicked leaders are enabled to lie, cheat, and slander at will and in the most flagrant of ways while sheep targeted by authoritarian “leaders” might be severely disciplined, shunned, or even excommunicated for a tiny fraction of the sin cranked out routinely by the Dear Leader. This demonstration of extremely abusive unbiblical partiality is often defended by the Dear Leader and his leadership team as being necessary to “preserve the purity of the church”.
9. Sin Minimizing – While women like Eileen Gray and Julie Roys are to have their backgrounds scoured for any tidbit of information that might be used to undermine their credibility, the Dear Leaders of authoritarian “churches” are given every opportunity to radically minimize their sin on the rare occasions that they aren’t allowed to just ignore or dismiss it entirely. When these Dear Leaders lie, slander, or abuse Christ’s bride, they are often excused for doing so with bizarre appeals like, “Yes, what he did might not have been right, but he only did it out of zeal for the body of Christ”.
This crazy talk is even more evil than it is crazy when you stop to think about it.
What more glaring indicator could there be that a Dear Leader is not operating from a Christ-centered perspective than by having his abuses of the bride of Christ excused by claiming that said abuses were only undertaken out of concern for the bride of Christ?
10. Love of Money – One of the main reasons that many Dear Leaders go to such extraordinary (and extraordinarily unbiblical) lengths to protect their carefully crafted image is that they have a lot riding financially on the position of authority that their image allows them to hold. They know that if serious sin or character issues were exposed to the light of day, they would not be able to cling onto their prized position of authority. The same basic concept applies to many yes-men and team-members on the Dear Leader’s staff or leadership team. They too are often financially dependent on maintaining the façade of biblical fidelity and integrity that defines most authoritarian “church” settings.
This financial fixation inherently forces “church” leadership team members into the role of super-enablers for the Dear Leader upon whose carefully preserved reputation they rely. The longer these leadership team members enable the Dear Leader to escape biblical accountability and evade biblical consequences, the more invested they become in maintaining the arrangement since they know that if the Dear Leader’s nature and record are brought to light, so too will their long-running role as enabler.
These are just a handful of examples of evil M.O. components that seem to have taken deep root in many “churches”, particularly those of a “Reformed” authoritarian bent. Maybe they all fit perfectly into the John MacArthur/Eileen Gray story, and maybe they don’t. Either way, I hope to explore each of them in more detail here soon.
In my previous post, I mentioned some specific consequences of engaging in approaches like “shooting the messenger” and dismissing or deflecting from the sins of preferred leaders. These fruits of Dear Leader-ism are worth revisiting at this point:
· It Emboldens Wicked/Sinful Leadership– Every time sin is allowed to persist without repentance, in metastasizes. Every time a wicked leader or wolf gets away with another round of abuse, that wolf is emboldened to not only do more of the same but take it up (or down) to the next level.
· It Further Corrupts Already Compromised Enablers – Every time a wayward Christian “leader” or wolf is enabled to avoid responsibility and accountability for serious sin, those enabling that person become even more deeply intertwined with the evil they are enabling through the man or woman that they will not properly confront and correct. In this the enablers of unrepentant leaders or wolves become worse and worse themselves as they follow their idols/masters down into the abyss one enabling act at a time.
· It Crushes the Spirits of the Abused – When “too big to repent” church or cult leaders are empowered and enabled to crush the sheep under their care with impunity, how do you think that makes those sheep feel? If this happens in a “Christian church”, how do you think this impacts the way that those who have been abused view Christianity? This is why authoritarian pseudo-“churches” tend to produce so many profoundly confused and self-destructive raging Leftist types. Many of those labeled as “woke” transitioned into that category as a direct result of authoritarian abuse masquerading as Christianity. I have seen this up close. It is both heartbreaking and disgusting. Yet the wolves and their enablers just keep on cranking out the abuse and then blame pop culture for the resulting carnage.
So what can we do about it?
What can we do to end the corruption, lead authoritarians to repentance, and, most importantly, protect and encourage those who’ve been abused?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Read, listen, and learn. We’ve covered this a lot already, but it bears repeating. When it comes to the John MacArthur/Eileen Gray story, there’s a lot that we need to know as Christians because there’s a lot that we need to do as Christians to address the problems highlighted in that story even if the story itself turns out to be much less serious over time. Every one of us need to take full ownership of our responsibility to promote biblical approaches to life and leadership in every area of life. Every one of us need to seek out and repent of anything we’ve done or any wrong assumption we’ve made that has promoted authoritarian rule in church settings.
2. After digesting the story, approach someone in church leadership about it. Share with them any information they might need (like the linked articled and videos in this post), ask them to consider it carefully, and request that they get back with you later so that you can continue the conversation.
3. Whether during Step 2 or afterward, ask specific questions about how Eileen Gray was treated in the past and how she is being treated now. Ask questions about how her story might intersect with your local church body. Start there and go as deep and detailed as the ensuing conversation allows.
Do these things with the sort of grace and patience that you’d like for others to send your way when things get tough.
For all of my references to Dear Leaders, Dear Organizations, idolatry and the like, I hope to be plain that I have had a role in encouraging such things in the past and am surely prone to being sucked into the same black hole again. I can make an idol as quickly as anyone. Were it not for the grace of God keeping me from doing so, I would roll on effortlessly in that direction without interruption.
So I will need grace from you just as you will need grace from me as we continue on down this road to true Reformation together, which is what I hope is happening at least in some small way through posts like this.
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