Why I wrote to the Elders of GVCC
I half expected a bad reaction when I wrote it. So why did I do it? I had five reasons: Responsibility, love for God, rebuke, love for the members that suffer, and to summarize what I have learned. In some ways, I felt like the lepers in 2Ki 7. I leave GVCC, still thinking there is nowhere else to go, but knowing that I am right in my contention that the elders of GVCC abuse their authority. Once I get outside, for seven years I find massive confirmation in the Bible and Church History. I get better teaching and fellowship as well. I felt like I had to explain how comparatively rich it is outside GVCC, that they might enjoy it too. Not by leaving or dissolving GVCC, but by reforming it.
Of the five reasons, the one the elders appreciated least was that of rebuke. I rebuked them because they had sinned in their lives and their doctrine. They had directly sinned against my wife and me in particular. They ignored my rebuke. It is convenient to dismiss charges of sin as the mere writings of a know-nothing. Ditto for saying that a brother can’t speak to you when you have wronged him, others, or God.
They had sinned against others that have since left GVCC. Talking with Robin Warner, the Lindvalls and the Natales got me off my seat. The knowledge of what implicitly goes on at GVCC, and how it affects the lives of the members got me to write. They continue to sin against the members in their care. That is the main thrust of my letter.
GVCC seems to pride itself on bridging the gap between the Reformed and Charismatic worlds. That is why I challenged them on distinctly Reformed grounds. (Though Charismatics are admirable for their zeal, I find little truth in their doctrinal distinctives.) The Reformation had to handle most of these issues when it made the break with Roman Catholicism. The Reformers would be quite surprised to find that a Protestant church had fallen into the old Roman error.
Additionally, I challenged them on Reformed grounds because I believe it to be the correct interpretation of Scripture. I also did it because GVCC used various misinterpretations of the Larger Catechism in “counseling” the Lindvalls.
Finally, in my opinion, most of the disagreements on the authority issue at GVCC come from people who just want to be free, not from those who feel it is unbiblical. This may confirm the elders of GVCC in the notion that those who leave are antinomian. I take a very pro-nomian view in my letter, stressing the importance of the proper authority of elders and pastors versus GVCC’s view of it. They cannot brush off such a critique so easily.
GVCC is not really Reformed. They are somewhat so in their doctrines of salvation, but everywhere else, they are not. My letter was partially meant to point that out to them. Pastor Mathew is a bright man who graduated at the top of his class from what was one of the best Reformed seminaries. He knows the Reformed position. I will not accuse Pastor Mathew of being intellectually dishonest, but it is hard to reconcile his raw intelligence with his doctrine.
Their Response and my comments to them
The following is a fair sample of the responses I received from the elders, with my responses to them. I have omitted the names; I don’t want to get personal and petty. Also, I have left out the most venomous stuff — that does no one any good.
1) Please take my name off your mailing list.
This was in 13 of 14 letters. I don’t have a mailing list. I mailed something once, with no intention of repeating it. Weird comment.
2) You are divisive.
Anyone who insists on the truth against an error is divisive. Unity within Christianity is not a goal to be sought for its own sake. When people share the truth and live uprightly, there can be unity.
I only wrote the elders of GVCC, not the members. I gave them a chance to reform, rather than write their members. Writing the members would have been a legitimate course, but one that I felt would not work. It is best to appeal to the people who have sinned against you, rather than others of the group that they have sinned against.
3) You are a man without theological training.
Guilty. That disqualifies almost all of the elders of GVCC as well. I am unaware that one needs to be theologically trained to rebuke his brother of sin. Also, I specifically had four of the brightest pastors in the RPCNA review my paper for doctrinal error. They said it was correct, though they thought it would go over the heads of the eldership of GVCC. Did it? I don’t know; I almost hope so, for their sakes; it would make them less culpable.
As an aside, one of the pastors said my paper was one of the best modern defenses of Christian Liberty he had read. He’s wrong, but I appreciated the compliment. My own pastor commended me for doing this, and told me he was proud of me for dealing with those I had cared for in the past.
4) One was insulted that I do not consider them Reformed.
It’s not just me. Let them try to join some wider Reformed body and see what happens. Historically, the Reformed churches have held, and do hold, the views I expressed. I did not dream these ideas up myself; I merely applied them to the current situation of GVCC. So many of their errors are repetitions of the errors of Roman Catholicism, that warning bells go off in the heads of some who visit GVCC. Also, when I was there many Charismatics joined GVCC, but few Reformed people did.
5) One did not like the way I use the word “heretic.”
If I had it to do over, I would have removed the words “heresy” and “heretics,” and would have used the words “error” and “erring brothers.” Those words are stumbling blocks to evangelicals today. I thought the elders of GVCC might be a little more educated, but it seems I was optimistic. Heresy means doctrinal error, and a heretic is one who maintains a heresy. This is the common English meaning. In the Scriptures, a heretic was one that separated from the apostolic teaching to choose doctrines of his own fancy. If the errors denied the gospel, they were damnable errors.
One of elders of GVCC disputed that. (Perhaps I touched a raw nerve.) He said that heresy was causing division in any church body over trivial points, and then he accused me of it. He used the NIV Study Bible as a support. Nice try, but because many evangelicals do not believe in normative doctrines outside the narrow gospel, the footnote writers must support a view like that.
Some heresies are worse than others. Denying the gospel is damnable. Binding the conscience is severe. There are few things more dear to God than his Lordship over the hearts of believers. In the individual covenant that God has with each believer, He wants to be the leader, guide, interpreter, etc. The Pharisees took the Law in its internal aspects, and created external rules that were easy to apply. In one measure, this lightened the internal burden of believers by removing the need to search one’s conscience, and thus removed God from the throne of the conscience. But it substituted a harsher taskmaster of human that had to be obeyed out of moral duty.
What constitutes work on the Sabbath? That is an issue of conscience. It is left between the believer and God. Certain things are directly specified and proscribed. Outside of that, people need to ask whether what they do on the Sabbath is for reasons of piety, mercy, or necessity. This will tighten their relationship with God, as they deal with the application of the general principle to the individual situation.
6) Besides that, there is some poor exegesis. The thing that surprised my pastor was how little exegesis there was, good or bad. (He said he would have responded in a similar situation.) A few verses were quoted, but mainly to show me that God hated my action. There was little comment on the content of the paper itself. Did they read it? Were they afraid to? I don’t know.
7) “I must say that I am appalled… appalled that a person who declares himself to he a Christian has not forgiven someone who has allegedly wronged them seven years ago.” [ellipsis his]
So said one elder in response to my cover letter. I hold no bitterness against the elders, and I stand ready to forgive any one of them the moment he says, “I repent.” I have no authority to forgive sins unless someone repents. I ask God to give the elders of GVCC a spirit of repentance. Beyond that I cannot go, not because I don’t want to (humanly speaking), but I can’t do it without nullifying God’s justice. To forgive without repentance is the same spirit that motivates liberalism: God forgives you even if you don’t repent.
8) “I stand with the men you have accused. They have proven to me their faithfulness to God and what the Bible teaches. As for you, I have no idea what you have done for the past seven years, or what you embrace as the fundamental doctrines of the historic Christian faith.”
No one outside GVCC can receive any respect under this. They knew me for six years. They respected me until Ruth and I left. I have not changed dramatically. Even the letter I wrote sounds similar to the way I was when I was with them.
Just because one has a good experience with someone does not indicate the truth or goodness of what they say and do. The Scripture is our final authority. I did not ask them to judge their lives against mine; I asked them to evaluate my Scriptural arguments.
9) “Further action on your part will be interpreted by me as harassment.”
Two said this in different ways. It is a convenient way to shut me up, but not Biblical. I think it is cowardly. They can press charges against me in the RPCNA, and even pastors in the denomination who know me as a friend will give them a fair hearing. I can say nothing to them, or else it is harassment.
10) I pray you can use your time in the future in more productive service of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I agree, but for different reasons. I spent my time well, but it would have been better spent if they had repented. I like to see fruit, but I could not tell in advance whether I would get any or not. I cast my bread on the waters. (Ec 11)
11) “Do not forget that I knew you when you had nothing. Whatever success or stature you may have obtained does not justify your spiteful, derogatory, and unfounded allegations against this Christian community. Your attempt to mask your hatred behind theological argument is contemptible.’
So said one elder who I particularly liked. It is fascinating that they think they can plumb the depths of my heart. There are things that God knows about a man, and perhaps the man knows, that an outsider can only guess at, but not know. I tried in my paper to stick to things that I could document. I avoided imputing motives, as they had done to me in the past.
12) “The council of elders of Grace Valley Christian Center, when in need of some spiritual counsel, will seek it from leaders of our own denomination as well as from competent and pious theologians of reputable conservative seminaries.”
When have the elders of GVCC done this? At some points, when others have tried to intervene, the elders of GVCC have raised the drawbridge. From what little I have seen, GVCC accepts outsiders if they do not threaten the eldership’s positions. By the way, what denomination does GVCC belong to?
13) “It’s ironic that when confronted by legitimate church authorities (which you willingly pledged allegiance to), you refused to listen and repent. Yet you expect us to listen to you. Where do you get your credentials? Your concept of confrontation and repentance is conveniently one sided.”
I refuse to acknowledge the elders of GVCC as legitimate. They are de facto, not de jure. I have no credentials, but neither do they. They are self-appointed. I am their brother; that is my only credential for stating what I state.
If they gave me some Biblical ground to repent over, I would. They never have. As for mistakes I made when I was younger (i.e. pledging allegiance to the elders of GVCC) — I sinned; I learned the truth; I confronted them; they were unrepentant; I left.
14) “Regarding your correspondence, we have the leaders of our denomination and other reputable theologians to see for matters of church life and doctrine. My time is spent in study of the scriptures, the works of the Puritans, Spurgeon, Edwards, Sproul, etc., leaves me with little time for the essays of a man with a chip on his shoulder.”
According to this, every man who rebukes his brother has a chip on his shoulder. This is a catch-22. If I have a relationship with them, I have a chip on my shoulder. If I don’t, I am a proud busybody.
Again, I only summarized what the Reformation taught. The Puritans, Spurgeon, Edwards, and Sproul, all agree with me. Ask Sproul. He will tell you.
15) “I find it high-minded of you to lay such charges against this body of believers and the leadership of Grace Valley Christian Center.”
I lived with GVCC for six years. I am not a stranger. According to this, almost any man who rebukes his brother is proud. Besides, I only rebuked the eldership not the membership. Pride is not the issue – the issue is whether what I wrote is true. If you cannot beat the logic, impugn the person.
16) “In all your words and apparent knowledge of doctrine, you obviously have taken no real interest in the accuracy or truth of your serious accusations.” [emphasis his]
How does he know? This was written by the only one that was not there at the time we were. It is not possible to read my mind and heart.
Additional comments on the word obey
I wish I had run across this before my letter. It would have made it stronger. (Compliments to my pastor for bringing this to my attention.) While I was there, GVCC made a great deal out of Hb 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” There are several different Greek words they get translated obey in English. There are different kinds of obedience that are promised to God, parents, civil rulers, husbands, and Church authorities. But they all get translated obey, or submit.
They word obey in the prior verse is pitheo. It means to trust, have confidence in, be persuaded, believe, obey. It is a word that shows a need to be convinced of the truth of the matter. It is not often translated obey — that is rarely the natural meaning. It is not blind faith, nor the duty that children owe to their parents, or the fear that is due the civil authorities. There are other words for those.
Thus the verse they hang so much on does not really mean what they say it does. In order for the elders to expect obedience, they need to be teaching nothing less than the truth contained in the Word of God. It is not a blank check that can be used toward any end.
I tried really hard to avoid imputing motives, or stating anything I did not have hard evidence for. They didn’t in their responses. Some of them forgot major aspects of my character. I don’t bear grudges. I am easy to get along with, despite strong opinions. If we could discuss things civilly and on a level playing surface, I might never write something so long. I would just talk with them. But I can’t; and so I write one long one, knowing I will never get another chance to write.
I tried not to be creative in writing my paper. 75-80% of it is Calvin and the Westminster Standards. At best, I ended up adapting some of their ideas to fit the present day, because they did not have to deal with Protestant heavy shepherds – if they did, it would be interesting to see what they ended up saying. It would have been odd, because the errors of Romanism were timewise and culturally near. Perhaps some critiques of the Anglicans of their day?
So it goes. I ended up with pretty much what I anticipated. I leave it all in God’s hands. He can do with it as He wishes. He doesn’t need me; I just pray he reforms GVCC rather than dismantling it piece by piece.
David J. Merkel
PS — If anyone wants to discuss what I have written with me, feel free to contact me. I realize not everyone will agree with what I have said, or the way I have said it. Though I believe my position firmly, I am always willing to have a two-way discussion. Would that I could really have one with the elders of GVCC.