Definitions

ACIM church movement

Great Commission church movement

The Great Commission church movement is a broad term used to describe the entities associated with an evangelical Christian movement formalized in the USA in 1970. The largest of these organizations today is Great Commission Churches (GCC). Other associated organizations include Great Commission Ministries (GCM), Great Commission Latin America (GCLA), and Great Commission Europe (GCE). The movement has grown in size and scope through its focus on church planting in the United States and abroad. Between 1978 and 1994, the movement attracted criticism for alleged authoritarian practices and a high degree of control over members (see Criticism). GCC formally acknowledged these criticisms in 1991 (see 1991 GCC Statement of Church Error). GCC is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and one or more organization within the movement has continuously been a part of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability since 1992.

History

The Great Commission Association of Churches (GCAC) is the current name of an Evangelical Christian association of churches that started as a movement in 1965, though not generally recognized as a movement until 1970. The movement at first avoided any denominational affiliation, becoming known in the early 1970s as "The Blitz" or "The Blitz Movement," then as Great Commission International (GCI) when leaders formed a formal organization in 1983. In 1989, GCI became GCAC ("Great Commission Association of Churches"), and the campus and international mission agency for GCAC became known as Great Commission Ministries (GCM); the campus ministry prior to this was known as Great Commission Students (GCS), although GCS did not employ full-time missionaries or do international work. Today, the "right hand of fellowship" ministry to international churches and ministries is known as the Great Commission Association (GCA). GCAC generally refers to itself as Great Commission Churches (GCC) in public communications.

Background

Roots

In 1965, 20-year-old Jim McCotter (James Douglas McCotter) left his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado and moved to Greeley, Colorado in an attempt to recreate the New Testament Church, a church model he believed no existing Christian denomination was emulating fully.

McCotter, whose family's religious background was with the Plymouth Brethren, has stated that his desire to form the movement stemmed from his belief that God had shown him in the Bible's Book of Acts a strategy instructing Christians on how God wanted to use church planting to "reach the world for Christ" within one generation. This strategy came to be known as the "Heavenly Vision", and was a cornerstone belief of the early movement. McCotter also believed that the Bible was instructing every Christian to emulate the actions of the Apostle Paul's life as he imitated Christ and that this was the model life for all Christians to imitate based upon Paul's exhortation in 1 Corinthians 11:1.

Early members believed they were returning to the lost lifestyle of the first century Christians. This lifestyle included a devotion to discipleship which has been criticized and compared to the "Shepherding Movement."

After arriving in Greeley, McCotter attended and began sharing his faith at the University of Northern Colorado campus. According to McCotter, by the end of the first year 12 people had joined him, after 1966 there were thirty, and in the following years it "doubled and tripled." The movement eventually spread to other cities in Colorado, as well as Las Cruces, New Mexico, in the form of missions or "works".

McCotter dropped out of college to focus on ministry full-time, and was planning to move down to Pueblo, Colorado to continue his efforts; however, in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, he was drafted into the United States Army. During basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, McCotter met Dennis Clark and on McCotter's return from Vietnam in 1970 he met Herschel Martindale. Clark and Martindale would become two of the founders of the movement in the summer of 1970.

"Blitz Movement" Begins

In 1970, under the leadership of Jim McCotter, Dennis Clark, Herschel Martindale, and others, approximately 30 college-age Christians embarked on a summer-long evangelical outreach known as "The Blitz" to several university campuses in the Southwestern United States. "The Blitz" was named after the Blitzkrieg military offensive of World War II. These 2 or 3 day events used singing, tract distribution, and sidewalk canvassing to draw crowds and spread the word. As the movement expanded, additional mission outreaches and training conferences took place. In the summer of 1973, nearly 1,000 people attended the movement's national conference. The conference was followed by the "blitzing" of fifteen new campuses and by the end of 1973, about 15 "works" had been established. In the late 1970s, selected newspapers, former members, and select watchdog groups began to publicly criticize the movement's practices. This continued into the 1980s and early 1990s. (See the Criticism section for more information.)

Great Commission International

In 1983, Great Commission International (GCI) was formed. Led by Jim McCotter and Dennis Clark, it was formed to provide services such as publishing and fund raising for the developing association. That summer, GCI launched the first summer Leadership Training conference which attracted college students for a summer of intensive training in evangelism and discipleship. The LT program continues today under the leadership of Great Commission Ministries.

In 1985, GCI undertook a mass outreach and expansion effort called Invasion '85. During this effort, teams were sent to 50 college campuses with a goal of starting new campus ministries. While many "works" were successfully established during Invasion '85, most of them did not continue. According to GCAC, "team members were not properly trained nor were they given adequate support."

GCI continued to be scrutinized in some newspapers and by former members of the movement, and in 1985 several conferences were held with the purpose of helping former members of churches that were part of GCI "recover from the emotional and psychological damage they'd experienced" while in the movement. Shortly thereafter, Wellspring Retreat and Recovery Center, the world's first accredited cult and abusive religion recovery center, was formed by several ex-members of the movement.

In late 1986, founder Jim McCotter announced his resignation from GCI, stating a desire to utilize his entrepreneurial abilities in an attempt to influence secular media for Christ. Two years later, McCotter moved to Florida and has not since attended a church affiliated with the movement, with the exception of the 2003 Faithwalkers conference.

At this point in GCAC history, its churches claimed approximately 5,000 members.

GCAC and GCM formed

In 1989, Great Commission International changed its name to the Great Commission Association of Churches (GCAC), and is known today as Great Commission Churches (GCC). Also in 1989, Great Commission Ministries (GCM), under the initial leadership of Dave Bovenmyer, was formed. Its aim was to "mobilize people into campus ministry by training them to raise financial support and by equipping them for campus ministry."

In 1996, the Internal Revenue Service selected GCM as a test case to eliminate the common practice known as "deputation", (allows non-profit mission organizations to raise funds for its activities, while allowing contributors to claim income tax deduction) "setting off alarm bells throughout the Christian parachurch community." The IRS reaffirmed GCM's non-profit status.

Today

Approximately 60 churches in the United States are affiliated with GCA, and approximately a dozen internationally in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Together these churches claimed over 43,000 members in 2005. According to a 2001 Ivy Jungle report as cited by John Schmalzbauer of Missouri State University, there were 6,900 college students involved in GCM. GCA maintains an administrative support staff in Columbus, Ohio.

GCC publishes the periodical "Daylights" and other doctrinal papers, written principally by pastors within the movement. Regional and national conferences are attended by both leaders and members of churches in the movement. Conferences include Faithwalkers, High School Leadership Training (HSLT), and National Pastor's Conferences.

Beliefs and Values

Statement of Faith and Core Values

GCC's Statement of Faith can be found on their website GCC also maintains a Core Values Statement

Other beliefs

Women and authority

GCC does not believe women should have authority over men in the church, or be in a position where they would teach men in the church. In its GCLI materials, GCC reproduces a part of John Piper and Wayne Grudem book "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism" and endorses the Danvers Statement, an attempt at a consensus among Evangelical leaders representing the complementarian view in 1988, now advocated by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Authority of local leaders and church government beliefs

According to GCC, its churches are "independent under the Lordship of Jesus Christ", cooperating within the association in conferences, mission efforts and for accountability in doctrine and ethical practices. Being part of the association requires that a church agree to Biblical and ethical standards set by the association. Final authority rests with the pastors of each local church.

Leadership education

GCAC states that it places great emphasis on raising leaders from within its congregation, based on the character qualities detailed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This is contrary to the more common practice among Christian denominations of hiring pastors from other churches/cities. It is not required that GCAC pastors have formal seminary training. However, a number of GCC pastors and staff have received training from partnering with specific Bible Schools and Seminaries. GCC also founded the Great Commission Leadership Institute (GCLI) in 1999 to support the development of pastors within the local churches. The GCLI program includes teaching materials written by pastors and leaders from across GCC as well as regional "Going Deeper" conferences for discussion of doctrine and values.

Partnerships

GCAC, and its associated bodies, is a member of several evangelical organizations including the National Association of Evangelicals, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Evangelical Fellowship of Missions Agencies, and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association. GCAC works with a number of organizations that share its aims including Samaritan's Purse, Global Pastors Network, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, Wycliffe Bible Translators and Reformed Theological Seminary. GCM maintains a Council of Reference. These members do not run or manage GCM, but affirm their support for the ministry and serve as a source of counsel for GCM leaders. Chi Alpha, the campus ministry of the Assemblies of God, suggests parents check out GCM, among eight others, if there is no Chi Alpha on their students' campus.

Subsidiary organizations

Great Commission Ministries

Great Commission Ministries (GCM) is the campus and international mission agency for Great Commission Association of Churches.

In 2004, Boundless webzine (associated with Focus on the Family published an article listing GCM as one of the "ten top college ministries across the U.S.", saying that their strategy of "seeking to incorporate students into the starting of a church based campus ministry" "has been effective to attract and involve thousands of students." The article also stated that "Their outstanding Board of Directors and dedicated staff are committed to world missions and leadership development and thus supplying the church around the world with a fresh supply of equipped laborers.

Following the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, GCM's Virginia Tech campus church New Life Christian Fellowship (NLCF) received widespread media coverage. NLCF pastor Jim Pace was a guest on Larry King Live and Good Morning America, CNN created a video of their memorial service Several newspapers, magazines, and radio shows carried quotes from NLCF pastors.

Later that year, another GCM church was again in national news as rescue workers and volunteers combed the forest for Jacob Allen. Allen, an 18 year old autistic man, was a lifelong member of Chestnut Ridge Community Church along with his parents.

The largest financial supporters of Great Commission Ministries are individual donors. In 2002, 92% of GCM's income came from contributions of this nature. GCM missionaries are required to raise 100% of their support goal, which includes base salary, benefits, and ministry expenses. Twelve percent of all funds raised goes toward administrative overhead. GCM has been a member of the ECFA since 1992.

Other subsidiaries

Great Commission Latin America (GCLA) is a Latin American outgrowth of Great Commission Ministries founded in 1974 by Daniel Sierra, a Cuban-American missionary from Florida Bible College and directed by Nelson Guerra since 1981, a native Honduran and former president of the Honduran National Association of Evangelicals. As of 2007 it consisted of 25 member churches.

Great Commission Churches (GCC) is a fellowship of churches in the Great Commission Association, which helps coordinate ministry activities in the U.S., including Great Commission Leadership Institute (GCLI), GCLI "Going Deeper" Regional conferences, Faithwalkers National Conferences, and national GCA Pastor's Conferences.

Great Commission Northwest (GCNW) is a regional association of North American GCA churches, spanning from Chicago to Seattle.

GCC has several regional subsidiaries as well, including GCC Regional Ministries (GCC-RM) and Great Commission Northlands (GCN) (which coordinates church planting, leadership training, and church coaching in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin).

Past Ministries and Organizations

During the 1980s, a number of ministries and organizations were formed and then discontinued by the late 1980s in an attempt to "penetrate key centers of influence," including: Americans for Biblical Government, Great Commission Academy, Alpha Capital, THEOS (The Higher Education Opportunity Service), Communication Forum, and Students for Origins Research. A campus ministry similar to the current Great Commission Ministries (GCM) existed prior to 1989 under the name of Great Commission Students (GCS).

Publications

Under the direction of Jim McCotter in the 1970s and 1980s, the movement started several magazines and newspapers, including The Cause, America Today, Today's Student, U.S. Press, Potential, and the Life Herald. These projects were short-lived or were discontinued in the late 1980s.

Several Relevant Magazine articles have also been written by GCM staff and members.

Exodus International's website republished an article by Greg Van Nada from the GCM Connect Newsletter in 2005.

Criticism

Criticism in newspapers

In March 1978, the first public criticism of the movement and its practices was reported by the Iowa State Daily, after an Iowa State student spent 18 days in a psychiatric ward, followed by another 23-day stay in another, due to emotional problems his psychiatrist attributed to involvement with the movement's Iowa State campus ministry. Subsequent criticism of the movement appeared eight months later in a front page article by the Des Moines Register, in which campus pastors expressed concerns over "manipulation" and "a kind of brainwashing. Throughout the late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, similar criticisms were published by newspapers in Ohio, South Carolina, Maryland,, New York , Illinois , Toronto, nationally across Canada, and in other locations, particularly those near college campuses where the movement was active. The movement was often accused of authoritarian practices, and some accounts quoted former members and cult researchers who accused the movement's leaders of "brainwashing" and "mind-control" techniques.

Criticism in research papers and books and magazines

Two research papers critical of the movement were published between 1988 and 1995, as were three books that included the movement in its lists of "abusive Christian groups" , one with a sequel which mentions dissatisfaction with the group's efforts. In a 1992 Group Magazine article by Ronald Enroth, one ex-member described the movement as fostering a "learned helplessness" in members.

University of Guelph ban, and excommunications

In 1989, the GC's campus ministry was banned from the University of Guelph, located in Ontario, Canada.

Between 1976 and 1986, an estimated 500 individuals were excommunicated, or "shunned", by churches within the movement. Several former members of the movement have stated that they were only able to leave the movement after family members intervened and hired a professional "deprogrammer." In 1985, Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, the world's first accredited cult and abusive religion recovery center, was formed by several ex-members of the movement.

Maryland Political Controversy

In 1986, 12 members of a GCI church ran for state office in Maryland, prompting attention from the national media, and speculation from Maryland political leaders that it was a concerted effort by GCI to enter the political arena. None of the GCI church members running for office were thought to have had prior political aspirations, yet many filed papers to run on the same day, June 30. In a Washington Post article, GCI leaders denied formal involvement, stating that each person's decision to run was made independent of GCI leadership. Former and current members were quoted in the article as saying that GCI took an active interest in politics, was heavily involved in member's personal decisions, and had instructed members of GCI churches during a two-month training seminar to distribute campaign literature for church member candidates, with canvassers being advised to "cover religious bumper stickers on their vehicles with political ones." On August 30, at a news conference held by Republican and Democratic Party leaders, a "shouting match" broke out as the GCI candidates rebuked Democratic and Republican leaders for "raising religion as an issue in the election and labeling their beliefs as 'cults.'" Republican Chairman Albert Bullock accused GCI candidates of practicing "deceptive campaign tactics", and said: "If this (campaign) isn't orchestrated, then this is an incredible coincidence." On September 11, 1986, The Montgomery County Sentinel reported that none of the candidates won election.

see also: Dominionism

Cult and "Aberrant" labels

In 1988, the movement was classified as a cult by the American Family Foundation (AFF), the (pre-Scientology) Cult Awareness Network, and the Council on Mind Abuse. The Council on Mind Abuse ceased its existence in 1992, while the CAN was taken over by Scientologists in 1996 after years of legal issues. The movement was classified as an "aberrant Christian group" by Martin J. Butz in his 1991 research paper and by Paul Martin, a former leader of the movement, in 1993.

In 2002, ex-member Larry Pile said he would not refer to the movement as a cult, but instead as a "Totalist Aberrant Christian Organization". Pile believed the movement was "Christian because they hold orthodox beliefs", and yet "aberrant on secondary issues."

Responses to criticism

Tom Short, 'Setting Great Commission's record straight'

On April 21, 1988, "The Diamondback" published an article by GCI's National Student Director, Tom Short, in which he defended the movement against an article written by Denny Gulick, professor of Mathematics at the University of Maryland, which charged that the movement was a "destructive cult." He also defended the movement against charges from the Cult Awareness Network that the movement was a cult. In part, he wrote:

Anyone who believes that a person can have a genuine, life-changing experience with God becomes the avowed enemy of CAN (The Cult Awareness Network). ... I’ve been a member of Great Commission for more than 14 years. When I joined my mom didn’t understand my conversion and deep interest in the Bible. She feared I was in a cult and would only serve to make the leaders rich. Now that I’m a leader she knows better! As she has gotten to know dozens of people in GCI, her fears have subsided and she thinks the world of our church. Could it be that Dr. Gulick would feel the same way if he took the time to look into GCI with an open mind?

1991 GCC Statement of Church Error

According to GCC, "During the late 1980s and early 1990s a concerted effort was made to reach out to people who felt that they had been hurt by GCI and its churches. At the initial urging of Tom Short, the GCI leaders and pastors published a paper as part of a plan to follow the Biblical standard of humility and reconciliation in relationships. This effort towards reconciliation, formally called Project CARE, was led by Dave Bovenmyer and was instrumental in building unity with Christians within and outside of Great Commission."

In 1991, GCAC released a public statement acknowledging church error and weakness. Bovenmyer wrote:

We, the local pastors and national leaders of the Great Commission Association of Churches, are preparing this statement with the hope that we might accomplish three goals. First, it is intended to be a clear statement of the mistakes we believe we have made and the steps we have taken, and will continue to take, to rectify them. Secondly, the statement is a confession and a request for forgiveness from those who have been hurt by our errors. Finally, we have prepared this statement with the hope that it will be an important part of our plan for reconciliation, where possible, with former members, leaders, and others who, for various reasons are now estranged from us.
In the statement, GCC clarified its position on many issues, and admitted responsibility for mistakes grouped into two categories; problems resulting from a "prideful attitude", and problems as "a result of a misapplication or misinterpretation of Scripture." Issues discussed in the statement include:

  • Failing to distinguish between a command, and principle, and preference.
  • Authoritarian and insensitive leadership.
  • An "elitist attitude" towards other Christian organizations.
  • Excessive and unbiblical church discipline.
  • Improper response to criticism.
  • Lack of emphasis on formal education.
  • A belief that every man should become an elder.
  • Treating dating as a sin.

The statement also listed steps taken, or to be taken, to correct these issues. No specific people or incidents were named in the statement, other than Secretary David Bovenmyer, whose signature was printed at the end of it. Their statement in its entirety is available at the GCC website in the external links section below.

Response to Statement

As of 1994, many former members felt the Weakness Statement was not enough or that it left-out other concerns, according to Ronald Enroth's book Recovering From Churches that Abuse:

Dr. Paul Martin, director of Wellspring and a former member of Great Commission International (as the group was formerly called), concurs with the opinions of many other former members:

Some encouraging reforms have occurred in recent years after the founder, Jim McCotter, left the movement in the late 1980s. However, the current leadership has not yet revoked the excommunication of its earlier critics. The admissions of error so far have been mainly confined to a position paper, the circulation of which has been questioned by many ex-members. Furthermore, Great Commission leaders have not yet contacted a number of former members who feel wronged and who have personally sought reconciliation. There has been some positive movement in that direction, but most ex-members that I have talked to are not fully satisfied with the reforms or apologies and feel that the issues of deep personal hurt and offense have not been adequately addressed.

External links

References

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