Friday, May 18, 2012

Obey the Bishop

Today I was reading through some of the very early Christian writings.  These are writings not included in the Bible that can give us a look at some of the practices and beliefs of the church not too far removed from Jesus.  How much weight you want to give them is up to you, but I enjoy reading them here and there. 

Mark Bullen makes frequent references to the early church writings, so if you are considering attending his church, I'd recommend reading through them to see what you're getting into, especially Tertullian.  You don't have to buy them, many websites have the complete texts, click here for a good one

One thing that stands out to me in much of these letters, is the constant reference to disunity and the need for obedience to the bishop.  This must also stand out to Mark Bullen, because his answer to church disunity is to simply obey the bishop.  That actually would have worked really well if everybody would do it.  My husband's problem came about when 2 particular men in the church constantly came complaining to him, so my husband would then go straight to the source, Mark.  Well, since the other two people just preferred to complain behind Mark's back, my husband was labeled the rebellious complainer.

We were actually very willing to comply and submit, looking back, we were WAY too willing to comply and submit.  But when I read the Bible and the early writings something about it drew me into this idea that if you practiced "biblical authority" everything would play out just as it should.  Imagine a church where people were getting sanctified?  Where everyone practiced modesty?  Where nobody lied or had sexual addictions?  Surely if the church was set up biblically, it would solve all the problems we had experienced in the "world's" churches.

It was a rude awakening to see that how Living Faith Christian Fellowship was structured it actually ENFLAMED these problems.  The idea seemed to be if the rest of the world would get cleaned up enough, then I wouldn't struggle with lust, or anger, or jealousy, etc.  The "being in the world, but not of the world" didn't extend much further than the clothes we wore and the way we did church.   Men in the church struggled with pornography addictions to the point where even though all us women were dressed so conservatively, they still were not able to control themselves (hmmm, maybe the women aren't the problem?)  The pride of hunting gear and greed for money and a good deal was actually worse than I had experienced in the world.  I think this is because going to auctions and hunting are one of the few things they're allowed to do, and if a person is inclined to be prideful, they'll find something to brag about. 

One of the most discouraging times for me was listening to a woman pray for a sick person in the church and going on about how wonderful they were and what a contribution they made to the church, when I knew that behind her back she always said the OPPOSITE.  At that moment I realized the Bullens had always had a way of establishing a pecking order in the church and throwing out their criticisms of different families behind their backs, I'm ashamed to say that I joined in on one or two occasions.

I'm not meaning to nit-pick, my point is that the clothes don't fix the heart, nor are they any indication of the heart.  I had more love for God, my fellow man, my husband, my children, and life before I went to Living Faith Christian Fellowship.  When I first became a Christian, my life was transformed by God's love for me and forgiveness of my sins and Christ's work on the cross inspired me to daily follow him and it changed my life.  First my thinking changed, then my behavior, and eventually my clothes.  Nobody had to harp on it to me.  It just kind of happened.

Something about never being able to live up to a person's (changing) expectations kind of sucks the life out of you.  Oh, and also being considered property, like a car.  Being demeaned for sincere questions you have, having scripture twisted, a leader that you're supposed to obey flipping back and forth, it nearly destroyed my faith. 

Simple obedience to a bishop is never mentioned by Christ, he said not to call another master and that leaders like to lord themselves over people.  His desire was that all would be brothers. 

My focus is now to live out the words of Jesus and return to my first love.  I'm hitting some bumps in the process and some days are better than others.  But I'm striving and asking God to help me.  If I cannot from my heart forgive others, bless and pray for others, and be cheerful at home, a headcovering and a plain dress won't help me.  I ask your prayers as I reach for God.


  1. Hello Noelle,
    Recently I emailed Will and Vivian Stoppel, the former Holdeman Mennonites who wrote the excellent article "Finding the New Testament Church". They sent the most gracious reply and I thought you might be encouraged to read it. Enjoy and be blessed!

    Dear Deborah,

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. We are in our fifties, too, but we were young when we joined the Holdemans at thirty. We have a theory why people become idealistic and join cults or can never settle down with a church....I think it's the same reason people try to create (politically) a perfect environment where everybody has equal shares and nobody is hungry and nobody fights. That's how God created our world in the beginning--perfect! But man fell, sin entered in, and man has been warring and stealing and taking from his neighbor ever since. And every attempt at a perfect "village" always fails through human corruption. But deep down, just guessing, down in the basic blueprint of man's soul, we all know the world should be better. So we keep trying, forgetting that man will always bollix things up through his sinful nature.
    And Christians, by the same token, know the church should be better. After all, where else could anyone ever expect to find the closest thing to perfection but among redeemed and born-again people in the fellowship of the saints, filled with the Holy Spirit, guided by the Word of God? We are dismayed by reality--church splits and hypocrisy and lukewarmness--and we know deep down it should be better. So we go looking for the "true" church, the "real" church--the folks that finally got it right! And then we're cult bait. For what we usually find (and thank God fervently that you and your husband never had to go this route!) is a group of Pharisees who legislate a rigid conformity to what looks like a closer walk with God. Alas, such a detour land one in a much worse situation, always in bondage and usually in heresy and false doctrine.
    So the good news is that yes, someday Christ will present to Himself the Bride pure and spotless. The bad news is it won't happen down here under man's hands, even in the church. That old flesh is still causing problems and will to the day we die.
    What we learned in our 18 years in a cult is that with all the flaws in the the local church, in the first century and today, this is as good as it gets. There are many churches that preach the Word of God faithfully and exhort one another to walk with Jesus in obedience. We are thankful to have been worshipping with some dear folks in just such a church, asking God's grace to live in love with one another with all our collective warts and scars and foibles and follies--our flesh. "Who shall deliver us from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ!" Someday....someday.....

    In Christ,

    Will and Vivian

    1. Beautiful!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Wonderfully edifying. Thank you Will and Vivian. At some point in all of our lives we "grow up" and mature in the Christian walk. We realize that when we become true disciples of Christ and seek to be like him then we will also be heirs to His sufferings too. There is no earthly paradise, no perfect society. Only heaven for which we await until the time God calls us home.


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