My experience visiting a church that practices heavy shepherding, legalism, seminary pride, and “cultic” ideologies  

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Recently my wife and I were searching for a new church closer to home. While we were visiting churches, we had heard of a newly planted church here in Redlands, that being The Anchor Bible Church (ABC). ABC was a sister church to Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. Since my wife and I appreciate John MacArthur’s teachings, we added ABC to our list of churches to visit.

Our visit lasted five weeks. Their pastor (Todd Barnett) was a nice man, but never in my life did I hear so much emphasis on “seminary.” Moreover, the emphasis was only on their own seminary (which is also located on campus with their ‘parent church’ GCC.) We all heard about his completion of “seminary” to ad nauseam.

Then one morning during a men’s study on ‘Ecclesiology / Biblical leadership,’ one of the men asked pastor Todd Barnett, “Is attending seminary Biblically required, to qualify a person to be an Elder or Pastor in the church?” He answered “yes!”

After hearing a couple other things that were not biblically correct; I asked the pastor if I heard him correctly. He reaffirmed that his answer was “yes.” I respectfully asked him in the presence of the other men, to show us this belief in the Scriptures. Either with a chapter and verse, or through hermeneutics, he did not. More about this later.

A consistent pattern that I have noted over the years, of those that tend to go off the chart of sound doctrine, is that most of them hold an M.Div. or higher. In the eyes of man education is great, but in the eyes of the Lord it means nothing. With some, their education has become pride, and a form of idolatry. A seminary driven church, can be just as bad as a purpose driven church. We must RUN from churches filled with extra-biblical opinions.

Brethren, if you do not have a formal Christian education, don’t let anyone discourage you from His service. However I would encourage you to pursue one, as it is much better to have a higher education than not.

In those five weeks spent at this church, I learned the following. All of which many other men also heard, at the same men’s’ study. Their pastor stated the following.

  1. That is was “Biblically required” to attend a seminary, to be qualified for Elder or Pastor.
  2. That is was “unbiblical” for Christians to do any form of Christian outreach or evangelism, without the approval of his church leadership.
  3. That he did not want any of his church members to attend any other Bible studies, events, or conferences apart from his church.
  4. That the only people he desired to attend his church, were those that would agree with him on everything. He stated “I don’t want my members to ‘agree to disagree on anything.”
  5. He stated that there was only one other church in the greater Inland Empire (other than ABC) that is “Biblical.”
  6. They have no Elders.

Regarding #1: Had he stated that it was his own personal preference, and/or the policy of the church, I would have appreciated his policy. I too am for high standards. But to say that it’s “Biblical,” and then when asked to show that belief in the Scriptures, but he was not able to, that is wrong. It’s actually a form of false teaching. The Bible says that the Lord has used even those that were uneducated.

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Regarding #2: I understand that it would be better to have their approval (as I do from my current elders,) for issues such as sound doctrine, accountability, discipline, and etcetera. But again, when asked to show that command in the Scriptures, he was not able to support his opinions with Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible state that your elders shall first give you permission to evangelize.

Regarding #3: It is good and right for a shepherd to strive to protect his sheep from false teachers. But he should not Lord over them, or control them. I am so thankful for all the conferences and misc. events that the Lord provides us with.

Regarding #4: Folks if you ever belong to a church, where the pastor says that you have to agree with him on everything, RUN as we did. This pastor even admitted that when a lady recently left his church, that she accused him of being “cultic.” I can understand why she said that. They really act as if they are ‘the church.’

Brethren, anytime we become more loyal to our church, leadership, or denomination, than to the Lord and the truth of the Scriptures; that becomes a form of ecclesiastical idolatry.

Any time that we place so much trust, and reliance on our education, we need to repent from that idolatry.

Regarding #5. It’s PRIDE! Several times over that 5-week period, this pastor proactively told several of us men “I am humble, and still teachable.” Anytime someone proactively claims to be humble, they usually are not. Anytime someone proactively claims to be teachable, the usually are not. That is usually the same with love. We see people that claim to ‘love,’ but often it is a man-centric unbiblical worldly love.

Regarding #6. The ABC had no Elders assigned to this church. Though on their web site they showed “Phil Johnson” as an “Elder at large,” but Johnson was an attending Elder at GCC, which was 80 miles away. Understandably Johnson was not able to see or discern the aforementioned issues that a visitor could witness (and I was there for only 5 weeks). A plurality of elders is Biblical. Amongst many other things, Elders prevent the pastor from heavy shepherding, from becoming a legalist, etcetera etcetera.

Todd Barnett is the same pastor that frequented a Starbucks (simultaneously,) while sisters from his church were being assaulted, as they labored outside a nearby abortion mill (though they were not ‘sent out’ by ABC).

Barnett’s the same pastor that opposes Biblical open-air preaching. One day he referred to open-air preachers as nothing but men “standing on the corner with a bullhorn yelling at people.”

This is the same pastor whose young assistant pastor attends the same seminary. His assistant pastor (who is bi-vocational) admitted at a men’s Bible study, that he’ a social liberal. He then went on to complain that he only gets paid “minimum wages” at the restaurant which he works at. He also stated that any Christian who does not believe in tax paid social welfare programs, is “un Christ like.” Of course he started this political rant by prefacing it with, “I don’t usually wear politics on my sleeves, but…”

We all fall short in sound doctrine, we all fall short period (myself included). But when there’s a ‘consistent continual practice’ of unbiblical, and/or extra-Biblical errs, it’s time to say enough. I rarely pull the legalist card, as the Lord knows many have wrongfully called me a “legalist.” But when a pastor legislates his own extra biblical rules, expectations, restrictions, and/or requirements that are outside the Scriptures; that is legalism.

In closing. Long before this church visit experience, back in 1990 Todd Barnett’s own sending pastor (or church) wrote an article entitled “What should I look for when choosing a new church home?” The Anchor Bible Church has a lot of repenting and growing to do (and so do to).

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