Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Gospel for Asia Lawsuit: On How Christians Should Respond


It is now widely known that a class action lawsuit has been filed against Gospel for Asia (for more go here and here).  In previous posts I have raised my own concerns about this mission which has apparently evolved into a kind of Episcopal Church with the "Metropolitan Bishop" KP Yohannan as its head, and ordinands vowing submission to his 'rule'. Though aware of the allegations of misappropriation of funds, I chose rather to give attention to what wasn't only alleged.  I wrote instead about the Believer's Church and the unique (and troubling) role that KP plays in that Church.

I have written since only briefly about Gospel's for Asia's use of donor money. 

Over the last several months EFCA has stripped GFA of its membership; and GFA has - in the meanwhile - been forced to face increasing scrutiny; and now a class action lawsuit. 

How should Christians and GFA donors, in particular, respond to these developments? 

First, we should pray for KP and GFA.  As a long time supporter of this organization I have been heartsick about what has transpired in the last year.  Early in 2015 I was still staunchly in their support.  I refused to hear criticisms, and I was prepared to be loyal no matter how the 'enemy' sought to undermine their work.  That is how I saw it at the time.  But facts are stubborn, and I couldn't ignore them forever.  I have loved KP and GFA for a long time.  Though I am opposed to Believer's Church and while I am grieved at the mission's apparent lack of integrity and the alleged misappropriation of funds, I still love KP.  We need to go on praying for him. 

Second, we should oppose the lawsuit.  Paul asks, "Dare any of you having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?  Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?  and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest manners?... But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.  Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another.  Why do ye not rather take wrong?  Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded (1 Corinthians 6:1-7; italics are mine!)?"  Let the authorities do their work.  If KP and GFA are guilty of criminal wrongdoing we can trust that the authorities will make that discovery.  It is, however, unseemly when a believer sues another believer as seems to be the case here. 

There is a great deal of anger toward GFA... and much of it unrighteous.  Numbers of us feel that we have been defrauded and it may turn out we have been.  But God asks, "Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?"  Why not take the wrong?  Perhaps our donations given in faith were not used as we had hoped.  Instead of supporting orphan children it may be we were supporting something else entirely.  But we gave those gifts in faith and trust to the Lord; and if we gave them to Him we can be sure He received them.  It is enough that our Lord took pleasure in the gift.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  He did not need the widow's two mites, as He does not need yours.  Nonetheless, He took pleasure in the widow's generosity which spoke so well of her heart for Him.  The money may be lost, but your gift in love to God is not.

Third, we need to be careful that we are not rejoicing in iniquity but in the truth.  We would do well to read over 1 Corinthians 13.  I have noticed in conversations across the internet a spirit of rejoicing at the announcement that a lawsuit has been filed.  I find that baffling.  This is cause for mourning not rejoicing.  [I speak not of the lawsuit itself but the alleged criminality of KP and GFA.]  Think of the honour of our Saviour.  Will His dear name be blasphemed among the nations because of these proceedings - as sin and criminality are uncovered? What is there to rejoice in that?  Has a brother fallen into sin?   Should we not rather grieve for him?  Christian, here is cause for deep sorrow not gladness and celebration!  

Fourth, we need to remember the grace wherein we stand.  Be angry and sin not.  Be careful of pride lest you too should fall.  There is a proper, indeed  Biblical, way to deal with sin.  Of course, KP is not part of my church nor (likely) yours.  In fact, he is the head of his own.  We are limited, then, in what we can do.  Still, we can be careful that our handling of this man's sin does not involve sin also on our part.  The man needs to be corrected, but we must do so in a spirit of grace and meekness.  He needs grace not hatred.  He is entangled in sin...  I have no doubt about that.  But it could have been me or you.

So, how would you want a brother to help you in your sin?  Think of the Saviour's gracious dealings with you.  His aim (remember) was not your exposure, your shame, or your condemnation.  His aim was your recovery.  He sought you in order to have you reconciled to Him.  Let us aim - in our own way - at KP's recovery.  Stop giving to GFA, but do (gently and graciously) let them know why... and then pray and plead for him. 

I am certain of this: If our aim is actually his recovery we will be careful of what we say.  Please be careful of the things you say; and if we will call on him to repent let us in our turn repent of those times when we have spoken in anger rather than love.

My hope and prayer is not only for KP and GFA but also for the broader testimony of the Church.  We want to see GFA brought to repentance.  We want to see KP repent personally.  We want to see Believer's Church functioning as the Church ought: confessing the crown rights of King Jesus and bringing all glory and honour rather to Him.  But I also hope that we might be a testimony to the world in the way that he handle one another.  It is hard because this man is not part of my church or yours.  Still, we can speak the truth lovingly. We can make our aim this man's restoration.  And we can - with God's help - be gracious.  Let us be careful lest we be found out as the unmerciful servant.  We have been forgiven a far greater debt than KP could ever owe us.  Let's be willing, then, to extend him mercy. 

I believe it is good and, indeed, necessary to raise awareness about what is happening.  The truth needs to be brought to light.  Still, we need to be careful of our motives, and careful that we pray for this man more than we talk about him. Make no mistake.  I believe grievous sin has been done.  I believe the sin needs exposing.  I believe Believer's Church should be reformed or shut down.  I am truly thankful for the work of Warren Throckmorton and others.  Nonetheless, I worry at the testimony of the Church in all of this.  I worry when I read comment threads and see people heaping up criticisms on a brother.  This is not helpful. 

We do need to get the truth out there for the sake of the gospel and the honour of our King - but let us be sure of our  motives.  We want this man's restoration.  We want his recovery; and we want all honour and praise to be given unto our glorious King Jesus.  Remember these things as you comment and post and text... and for every comment, post or text pray and then pray again. 

If Gospel for Asia has taught us anything it is the blessing of the Church.  This is why God has given us under-shepherds (elders, presbyteries, synods): for our accountability - so that what happened to KP couldn't happen; so that men who begin to wander into sin may be reclaimed; and so that oversight might given when so much is at stake.  


[February 18, 2016: After a helpful conversation with a brother in the Lord I have decided to add the following clarification to what I have written above.  I don't personally question the motives of the couple filing the lawsuit.  They are undoubtedly acting in faith doing what they believe necessary for the good of the Church.  Still, I am convinced there is a better way.  Better to let the criminal investigation unfold.  Let the authorities decide whether or not there is criminal behaviour that needs prosecuting.  I simply cannot see my way around Paul's admonition.  It seems many of us have been defrauded.  So - says Paul - suffer the wrong.  Setting aside the lawsuit itself I admit am worried that those of us who have suffered wrong may be tempted to unrighteous anger, and so rejoice at the public discovery of sin and its fallout.  Of course, we want the sin to stop even as we hope donations may be directed to more worthy objects.  But our attitude toward these discoveries is my main concern.  We should be mourning rather than rejoicing!  Even as we pray for KP and GFA let's pray also for this couple and many others trying to faithfully respond to sin.]      

17 comments:

  1. Can we treat KP as a brother? Is he a truly saved man? If we know a tree by its fruits, then it is hard to consider him as a believer and a brother. Just my thoughts.

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  3. Dear Brother Steve, Have read your article above, share your concerns and I agree wholeheartedly. I'd not investigated the reports of the class action suit, but if it is believers...I agree with you that such have no Biblical right or warrant for what they are doing and we (as believers) should keep in mind the same instructions you have quoted re going to law with a brother. Thank you for your thoughtful article. I trust that it may clarify the underlying scriptural principles for all believers who read it and that we might all be reminded of the necessity of heeding clear scriptural instructions when relationships among God's people "go sour"! How we would normally react is rarely how God instructs us to!

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  4. Thanks Bruce for your feedback. You are right, "How we would normally react is rarely how God instructs us to!"

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  5. Hi Steve, very well put together and thoughtful. Thank you. We also have supported GFA and have desired to see that ministry continue to be fruitful and powerful. The fact that we have to move away from them and call for repentance is a reason for sadness, not fraticidal triumphalism. We'll pray for restoration and thank God for those who have persisted in calling for reform.

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  6. Thanks John for your feedback. Yes, we will pray for restoration.

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  7. Thank you for your gracious article. Indeed believers ought to heed the Scriptural warning not to go to law against one another, but rather accept wrong. I also grieve at the uncharitable comments on many of the blogs. Let us be sober-minded and pray often that repentance would come in this situation.

    I would ask, though, that if a believer is caught in his sin and refuses to repent, even after private confrontation, confrontation with one or two witnesses and even after having it told before the Church, ought he not to be treated as an unbeliever?

    And if that be the case here, do we any longer have the situation of a believer going to law against another believer?

    Is it possible it is more in keeping with God's heart that believers ought not tolerate known sin? Could it be that bringing this suit against an unrepentant church leader is actually more honoring to God than not? Might unbelievers looking at this actually appreciate the integrity of the Body of Christ to say "no more" to such cheating and lying?

    KP is not just hurting this couple bringing the suit, but rather continues to bring shame to Christ's name without account. He harms not only the kingdom, but the many donors, his staff, his family and even his own soul.

    If this lawsuit is able to force him to give an account, does this not ultimately benefit the kingdom as well as KP, himself, before he stands in judgment before a holy God? We could wait for the authorities, but ought not judgment to begin with the household of God, and are not the courts open to us as tools to force an accounting in this world?

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  8. Thanks Natalie for your comments. First, I want to agree with you that it is, indeed, "in keeping with God's heart that believers ought not to tolerate known sin." I think a great part of our witness in this is that we confront this man's sin graciously. It does need to be confronted!

    Second, KP has not been properly/formally disciplined by the Church. He is still a professing believer and a member of the Church of the Lord Jesus. You can imagine the chaos that would ensue in the Church if every time one believer and then two or three believers (Matthew 18) confronted another Christian that (unrepentant) Christian was then treated like a pagan. There is a third step as you acknowledge. It is to be told to the Church as we see in 1 Corinthians 5. In other words, it is to be brought to the elders. The elders, then, acting with the authority of the Church have the power (the keys of the kingdom) to put the man out.

    That has not been done here. We may wish it had been done and we may appeal to the Church of which KP is part to do so; but we can't have Christians excommunicating each other. That is the work of the Church. Until that is done we have no choice but to treat KP as a believer.

    Third, I agree with you that judgment should begin at the household of God. But there is a difference. Here it is exercised not with the power of the sword (as it is in the courts) but with the power of the spirit. What has happened with KP is a sad illustration of the Church's weakness in this generation. Christians are turning to the courts because they don't know how to make use of the Church. Our ecclesiology is weak and confused.

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    1. "we can't have Christians excommunicating each other. That is the work of the Church. Until that is done we have no choice but to treat KP as a believer."

      Another question: Must all people who claim to be Christians automatically and always be treated as believers unless they go through a formal discipline process by a local church - even if they don't attend or submit to any local church? If so, how can the Church properly address independent false teachers?

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    2. Also, many senior pastors and church elders have rebuked KP both privately and publicly. But he is not a member of their churches so they do not have any authority over him. KP submits to no man.

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    3. Unknown, you asked "how can the Church properly address independent false teachers?" See my answer to David Smith below.

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  9. Thank you, Mr. Richardson for your reply. I understand what you're saying about needing to go to the highest authorities for church discipline and agree that it would be chaos if we all took such matters into our own hands.

    I have one question, however:

    What if KP has no authority over him? What if there are no believers that are higher than himself?

    I refer you to The Believer's Church constitution as posted in this article:

    http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/files/2015/10/MetropolitanPowersBC-Cons.png

    If you read this document you will find that there is no provision for discipline of the Metropolitan Bishop. KP is, in fact, the First Metropolitan, and if you refer to the document you will see that he may hold office for as long as he wishes to do so.

    In the States, KP attends no church but worships at churches at which he speaks or his own chapel. He has no pastor over himself. He is the President of Gospel for Asia. Additionally he has refused to be accountable to even his board members, over which he is the Chairman.

    See the following post for an example of how KP responded to a long-time board member's attempt to bring KP to repentance and accountability, dated Dec. 1, 2015.

    http://www.gfadiaspora.com/communications-history

    Please do tell what other steps could be taken in your opinion besides what was done according to the Gfadiaspora.com website.

    Thank you!

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    1. It's a mess isn't it? The form of government that has been adopted by the Believer's Church [called Prelacy] is unbiblical and ungodly; and the consequence is leadership that is unaccountable. I have no argument with the steps taken according to the GFA diaspora website. They were working with what they had.

      In my opinion the lawsuit is another matter. I just don't see it as an option at this point. To take this man to court as an unbeliever is premature. Until the Church has dealt with this man and properly excommunicated him we must treat him as a believer. The fact that the Church is so divided and so confused that we cannot properly deal with him is reason to lament and pray and work for reformation.

      Natalie you raise difficult questions. It is easier to say what ought not to be done that what should be done. If KP were part of my denomination he would have been lovingly dealt with a long time ago. He would either be restored or deposed...

      I will give some more thought to your questions and get back to you. I must say that from my perspective what is most grievous about this whole affair is the way in which KP has embraced an episcopal (prelatic) form of government. He has usurped the place that belongs to King Jesus.

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    2. Natalie, I spoke today with an Amish friend who joined the Amish community in the 60s. I am asked him about their perspective on lawsuits. This may not surprise you but he thought the question of whether a person is believer is quite irrelevant. The Amish believe it is never right to file a lawsuit. As believers, he said, "we are called forgive."

      To answer your question, however, I would say that a church body (depending on what denomination you - or this couple - are part of) can bring the matter to Believer's Church. If they respond that they will not or cannot do anything because of their polity I suppose you would have to excommunicate the entire denomination. It would mean little to them but would be (in my opinion) a powerful symbolic gesture if done by a major US denomination.

      But when they are excommunicated is it then okay to file the lawsuit? I would say no. Then there is nothing left to do but forgive our debtors. In this sense quite literally.

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  10. Stephen, you said "Until the Church has dealt with this man and properly excommunicated him we must treat him as a believer." You realize we are dealing with a false teacher, and a known swindler. And certainly you realize that consensus from the Universal Church is not possible nor is it what the Bible calls for in church discipline cases.

    Therefore I ask you: what is the process in which the Church ought to be dealing with this man? Is there any such process which would be able to end with an official excommunication?

    If there is, please describe it here in sufficient detail that it can be carried out by the church(es) in question.

    If there is not, I respectfully submit to you that your statement is incorrect and that by his personal fruit and his standing as a false teacher and swindler, we the Church at large ought to expose him before the whole Church and treat him as an unbeliever even now.

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    1. David, thank you for your comments. I admit it is hard to work within a broken system. I think assumptions are being made about KP that we haven't a warrant to make at this point. But you asked about the process. Since KP is not part of my local church or your local church you simply cannot excommunicate him. In Scripture there is something that can be done in the universal church. In Acts 15 all the church leaders came together and made decisions. In Presbyterianism oversight is given to all the churches. If a local church won't deal with sin the presbytery can; and if the Presbytery won't the Synod can. If another pastor was sinning I would go to his presbytery. If the presbytery wouldn't listen I would go to the synod. In at least one extreme case the Church of Scotland officially/formally and publicly excommunicated a man who was actually a member of the Anglican Church. Theoretically I suppose the same could happen here.

      The couple that has filed this lawsuit needs to go the Church. Perhaps in this case the best they can manage is to have it brought to their denomination and hope that their denomination might appeal to the Believer's Church and then if they refuse to respond publicly excommunicate him from the Church of Christ. But most Christians are members of Independent churches. In Independent churches there is no authority beyond the local church... and so they have no recourse except to leave it to God and the Civil authorities.

      David, this whole episode is an illustration of the need for good ecclesiology. In the prelatic system there is no accountability. You see that here. No one can hold KP accountable. He pretends to be the head of the Church. In the Independent system (Baptist churches, home churches, etc.) only the local church can hold its members accountable.

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