Tale of an Aussie who escaped from the clutches of Yankee Imperialist religion.
I was converted to Christianity in the early 70’s whilst travelling in Europe and Africa. I returned to Australia and became part of the Foursquare movement, attended Bible College and soon after pioneered a church in a small coastal town in West Australia.
The Potters House was still part of the Foursquare Gospel movement in those days and was experiencing phenomenal growth, especially compared with the other Foursquare Churches in the area. Their pastors preached extremely well, the converts were zealous and fruitful and by en large the ministry was very appealing to a young pastor like myself who had come to know Jesus out of the 70’s culture.
I eventually gave over the leadership of my church to a young Potters House “disciple” and “sat in the body” of the first Perth Potters House assembly for a few years. The fellowship had a tremendous vision for unbelievers and heaps of energy. The preaching was motivational and it was actually a lot of fun to be in the movement.
My wife and I did have reservations about some things but kept them to ourselves rather than confuse others in the movement. For one thing we were concerned about the attitude of many in the group towards outsiders. People from other churches were termed “religious” or “Lukies”. Some even doubted folks in other churches were really saved. It irritated me somewhat that my previous service for the Lord was termed as being “religious”.
However, this and other concerns were largely squashed in the frantic struggle to prove ourselves as worthy men and women of God to go out and pioneer a Potters House Church. There was a tremendous honour placed upon pioneer pastors. Couples were sent out every year at highly motivational conferences.
We finally got our chance and were “planted” on the East Coast of Australia. We were well supplied with equipment and funds to advertise and hold meetings. Our church grew quite quickly despite the high level of commitment we espoused. We were soon running 2 services on Sundays, midweek service plus Tuesday night Bible studies as well as numerous Friday and Saturday night outreaches and regular weeklong series of “revival” meetings. The pace was frenetic! It was difficult to find time to spend with our growing family. (We have four children) However, after 8 years of this and some church in fighting we decided to give pastoring a rest for awhile and returned to our “mother church” in Perth.
For awhile we simply enjoyed being free from the responsibility, preaching occasionally in some of the smaller churches. However, now that we had time to look at what was actually going on we started to feel rather uncomfortable about the movement.
Whilst pastoring I had largely ignored some of the “decrees” coming down the line in the form of letters or announcements at conferences and leadership meetings.
One example was marriages. Private receptions were barred, couples had to be married during a Sunday service and the bride was even forbidden to walk down the aisle! Whilst pastoring I ignored this decree along with others as I thought them rather silly and an aberration of North American Bible Belt culture (Potters House or CFM was founded in the Southwest of the USA.) However, seeing these sorts of things rigorously enforced in the “mother church” was quite depressing.
There were many little “laws”. For instance women were not allowed any public expression accept in front of other women and even that was frowned upon to some degree. Neckties were compulsory for preachers and any other male on the church stage. (Even the band members and ushers had to wear neckties). TV and movies were a huge issue. Leaders and their wives were forbidden to own a TV or ever go to a movie (chorus band members were under this ban as well). Any Christian who owned a TV was regarded as a “Lukie.” (This was extremely hypocritical as many of the leaders took every opportunity to watch TV in motel rooms whenever they could.)
You could not question these “laws” in any way. To do so was to lose any position or office you held and to risk public ridicule and or be regarded as a “rebel”.
The church was very “American”. Even though the Potters House has been in Australia 20 years and has over one hundred churches here, the senior pastor remains an American despite Wayman Mitchell’s espousing a vision of an indigenous church. As disciples we had to endure a constant stream of how wonderful it was in the USA compared to Australia. One Australian pastor was actually castigated for preaching against this at a conference when trying to foster some Australian pride. (He preached about the spirit of the Australian “diggers” (soldiers), at Gallipolli and in Vietnam.) Mitchell had come to the conclusion and preached and taught that Australian’s are by in large withheld shy, retiring individuals that needed some American “can do” to fire them up. It is amazing that as red-blooded Aussies we endured such crap for so long!
It was also quite scary to even consider leaving the “fellowship”. To leave meant friends and even relatives might disown you. I know of folk who remain in the group despite having serious reservations simply because they don’t want to lose their friends.
In fact the group was extremely isolated from the outside world. Your circle of friends was almost entirely within the group. Mixing with Christians outside the group whilst not forbidden was treated with great suspicion. It was very rare in the Australian churches to have pulpit ministry come in from any source other than the fellowship.
At an Australian conference several years ago one of the leading pastors preached that “We have never preached that we are the only church, but we do have an understanding of the Church that no one else does.”
This sort of elitist thinking was typical throughout the fellowship and developed a ”We are the only ones” mentality.’
Leaders publicly ridiculed and attacked any type of negative “press” from without the fellowship. Consequently there began to develop a real ‘We are the martyrs or victims’, mentality. In hindsight I see this type of attitude as extremely dangerous. People who view themselves this way can easily be manipulated into all sorts of bizarre behaviour as evidenced by some of the self-destructive religious groups and cults of recent times.
After a tremendous two-week holiday with my family on the Northwest Coast, I returned to Perth to discover that one of my pastor friends in Sydney had not only left the fellowship, but also taken his whole church with him! This was unheard of in Australia before. (Within the last 3 months of writing this 3 more churches have left!) The senior pastor (Mike Mastin) pointedly preached a sermon dedicated to proclaiming that this pastor had basically lost his mind! The rest of the sermon I felt was aimed at me, (partly because I had missed a few meetings whilst I was away!). I got quite annoyed at this (to say the least) and left the building at the end of the sermon and telling my wife I was never returning, (I never have!)
I was hesitant to confront the pastor in his foreboding office across his huge imposing desk, because he had a reputation for getting angry and abusive when people talked to him about leaving. Consequently, I wrote a letter of resignation without explaining my reasons, with the aim of meeting him in a neutral place such as a coffee shop. He never responded to my letter in any way, which was amazing after our devoting 12 years to the ministry and adding two churches to the fellowship. It was like I ceased to exist! Only one pastor friend dared to contact me after I left. (He and his wife have since left the fellowship themselves. Praise God!)
It was not until I left that I began to realise the depth of control mechanisms exercised over the people. In fact I remember praying when I was still in the fellowship and asking God what it was that was troubling me so. All I could hear in reply in my spirit at that time was the word “CONTROL.” One of my friends whom also left the “Regime” or the “Firm”, (as we now call it), calls it “the sound of cracking whips.” There is much more detail that I could write but I feel I have said enough.
There are many sincere, dedicated folk in Potters. I have no axe to grind with any of them. They are simply the fruit of a movement bound in religious legalism, elitism, authoritarian leadership and isolationism. If you are reading this article and you are still in the movement I suggest you look closely at what is going on around you. In writing this I have not exaggerated the details. Talk to some folk outside. You are not the only “REAL” Christians! There is in fact a truly wonderful Christian church outside the walls of CFM filled with folks full of the love of Jesus.
I thoroughly recommend you join us there!