Wirral Christian Centre : Is it biblically sound?
Is the an abusive church? It's a question that has been asked time and again by Christians living on the Wirral peninsula and one that remains . But leading sociologist in this field, Dr. Ronald M. Enroth, suggests that abusive churches can often be identified by characteristics (listed below) that serve as warning signals and cause for concern.
- There is strong, control-oriented leadership.
- The use of guilt, fear, and intimidation by the leadership to manipulate members and keep them in line.
- Many areas of members' lives are subject to scrutiny, and the church standards established are usually based upon the life-style adopted by the leader.
- Rules and legalism abound.
- Subjective experience, especially public or group testimonials (sometimes coached), are encouraged and emphasized.
- Members not following rules established by the leadership (or threatening exposure of the manipulation and abuse) are often labeled "reprobates," "troublemakers," or "dupes of Satan," and are dealt with harshly. Ostracism of former members and excommunication of dissenters are common.
- Followers led to think that there is no other church quite like theirs, and that God has singled them out for a special purpose.
- For members choosing to leave a spiritually abusive church, returning to the realm of normalcy is difficult.
One might also be curious as to a churches history. If past visions have never come to pass then surely one must question the validity of the visions and those who brought them to the church.
The question of how effective a church is surely also worthy of investigating. If a church has a high congregation turnover then curiosity would surely ask the question "Where have all the people who were once here gone, and why have so many left?"
In corporations CEO's and bosses who are ineffective, or have allowed their companies to stagnate, are removed from their positions of leadership and influence. This is not necessarily a bad thing, sometimes a new lease of life is needed to re-ignite the company. Of course churches aren't corporations, but the comparison shouldn't be lost. if a church has stagnated, the congregation numbers have fallen over a period of years, and 'visions from God' have not come to fruition, then surely a change of leadership should at least be considered.
In the case of the the pastor Paul Epton has offered to resign on occasions in the past. Had his offers been serious, and had they been taken, who would run that church now and how might things be different?
Indeed with the Epton family being so involved in the Wirral Christian Centre and it's associated Wirral Christian Centre Trust Ltd (Winston's Place), with its children's day nursery and , could a day when they were not involved even be conceivable?
The entire Epton family are heavily involved in the church leadership under the watchful eye of pastor Paul, and this does rather make the entire enterprise feel something like a family business to some.
Kerry Gillard wrote "God gave us reason and logic to make choices and He made it so that our reason and logic would lead us to Him, even in the face of hearts darkened by sin. That same reason is used repeatedly in the Bible to not only point man to God, but to point out error as well."
He went on to say "God never intended for anyone to follow Him blindly-but for us to examine and test all things (1 John 4:1-4). If folks tested everything like scripture commands instead of being too lazy and letting others do it for them, we would not have cults, aberrant doctrine and such divisions among believers today. The church as a whole, needs to wake up, be diligent in God's word (2 Tim. 2:15) and take up the responsibility of not only knowing God's word, but actively defending and sharing it as well."
LEave it at the cross
At the same time when Paul Epton of the published his book 'Love In Action' Rosemary Radford Ruether a Professor of Theology at Claremont School of Theology wrote. "If I were asked for a yardstick to discern good from bad spirituality, I would suggest three criteria to be detached from: material gain, self-importance, and the urge to dominate others. Unfortunately, much of what is labeled spirituality in America today moves in the opposite direction. It means using the names of God and Christ to promote one’s own importance, and material gain, and right to oppress others."
Wise words indeed, but for many of us it's a lot easier to follow than to lead. Being outspoken is riskier than sitting quietly and 'leaving it at the cross.' It's easier to leave a church where you feel things are going wrong, than to stay and try to address those concerns and help the church get back on the right road.
The lines between following in trust and following in fear might well have become blurred in some cases, blinding us to the fact that it takes bravery to challenge and change such things, the bravery of the faithful perhaps?