In late 2014, a book, 9Marks of a Healthy Church, began making its rounds at Sapulpa. Its nine points were being taught to young deacons and others and was the topic of discussion in home meetings put on by some staff. To the casual reader this book seamed reasonable and pleasing. Its followers proposed to take the church in a new direction, a “healthier” one, but some noticed a nagging underlying issue. At the time nobody could quite put their finger on it, but there was a reformed movement in the works.
When we got word about FBC Elmore City and their disastrous experiment with 9Marks, people began asking questions. Why was 9Marks such a nightmare there? What happened to the members that were disciplined there? What caused the people of that church to oppose the leadership’s direction and use of funds? Why was this 9Marks system, an obvious failure, being carried over to the church at Sapulpa?
In spite of a growing backlash by a small minority this agenda was being fast tracked at Sapulpa. By early 2015, this program was on the verge of a church-wide implementation with related constitutional changes looming that would make the 9Marks fad a grim reality in Sapulpa forever. The Calvinist origins were downplayed and people were told to quit complaining. When it seemed like the church would soon be converted into an elder-controlled discipline enforced 9Marks church it became obvious that the members were about to be blindsided. It was at that time that The Sapulpa Messenger was formed with the primary purpose of informing and warning the good people of the church.
As the 9Marxists marched on, a wave of information flooded the congregation at the eleventh hour. People began looking into this issue themselves and doing their own research. They realized that 9Marks wasn’t all smiles and sunshine and that the plan was not so innocent. They began to push back. Finally the 9Marks movement was called off, the campaign was in full retreat and eventually the church obtained a public apology by the man behind the plan and a public commitment to not pursue 9Marks at Sapulpa again.
Moving On or Duped?
In the process we learned a lot. The little group behind this had displayed two marks of an unhealthy church. First, that they were willing to lie to get what they wanted. Second, anyone who disagreed with the direction of the leadership was singled out for punishment.
Thus the prevailing themes of this ministry were identified as:
After this, the church, as good Baptists, put aside their differences and made an honest attempt to move on. The church staff removed 9Marks references from the church website and put the material back on the shelves. The 9Marks name became a distant memory but the philosophy would not die so easily. The principals that interested these eager young masters were not abandoned at all. The idea of an elder-run church and the doctrine of discipline were still being promoted but without the 9Marks name.
Eventually several arguments were made for elder-rule church government. We heard that all the other successful churches were elder ruled. In response The Sapulpa Messenger released several articles exposing how horrible these “successful” churches actually were. Some punished whistle-blowers, others enabled the lavish lifestyles of their sadistic pastors, and yet others tolerated and hid child sex abuse. The system was a terror to their congregations. We also heard that church discipline was necessary to “protect the church from evil.” Then we were told that some of our brothers and sisters and even some staff were “evil”. These guys were at it again.
The church thought the issue was settled with an apology and a promise. It was not. The church was deceived. A 2 year grudge by a vindictive leader resulted in church members eventually getting removed from ministries they had been in for years without explanation. Enough time had now passed that it would not look like retaliation. However, the common denominator was these people had a different opinion at some long forgotten business meeting and could not be forgiven. Removed from ministries, shunned, slandered… people who opposed the 9Marks campaign were also systematically hunted down and eliminated. Some people got lied on and left in anger. Others found themselves shoved out of their ministries ruthlessly without warning.
Were the Homosexuals Really Attacking?
Then when the supreme court decision on homosexual marriage came down in mid 2015 the little group of power brokers saw an opportunity to capitalize on people’s fear. They enlisted the help of an attorney and some other members and began work on new membership requirements for the church at Sapulpa. Anyone not adhering to the new membership rules would be subject to church discipline. Meetings were called and a clever ploy was developed. The church was told that they needed to implement new rules to protect the church from the homosexuals. This was just another attempt to progress the church discipline agenda by getting people to sign a contract. The church didn’t buy it and the plot never gained traction. After this was put to bed again, people moved on and hoped for the best, but now they were becoming skeptical of the promises. In the mean time those who opposed this crazy movement and somehow managed to remain were retaliated against once more.
With several failed attempts to consolidate power and put their yokes on the congregation, the power brokers were starting to grow weary. “How long can these old people hang in here? They’ve been insulted, threatened, had their music replaced, and told it’s time for them to get out of the way of the younger generation. Why won’t they just go somewhere else?” They had failed and failed again. It was time to reach for the big guns. There were two giants capable of slaying any rebellious congregation in the SBC; Paige Patterson and Ronnie Rogers.
Two Pronged Failure
Patterson came expecting to pick on someone his own size. His task was to conquer the most problematic group in the church: the senior women and widows. His past experience at putting women in their place made him a natural choice for this task. After verbally assaulting a gathering of senior women he returned home no doubt bursting with pride. Unbeknownst to him his threats fell on deaf ears. Patterson was a bully, but his targets had spent the last year and a half dealing with their own immature tyrant. They didn’t even flinch at Patterson’s hollow threats.
Then Ronnie Rogers would show up early in 2016 to peddle his wares. Posing as a disenchanted Calvinist he would drive home the Calvinist doctrines of elder-control and church discipline at the deacon retreat. We obtained some of his material ahead of time and realized he was falsely teaching that pastors were equal with the new testament Apostles! The Sapulpa Messenger with the help of many church members got the warning out fast. Many of these deacons would have been caught completely off guard and been left vulnerable to his carefully devised and persuasive seminar. However, we called upon the church to WARN their loved ones and by and large the warning was heeded.
These two masters of discipline were supposed to close the deal. They were supposed to have indoctrinated the decision makers in the church and a new government was supposed to have been ushered in. In the end, even two of the most powerful disciplinarian lords in the SBC could not bamboozle this autonomous congregation. Their usual methods of deception depended on an ignorant mass of gullible sheep. Because of previous experience, the church at Sapulpa was anything but ignorant. The plot had failed yet again.
The Discipline Committee
Then the day came we had been warning about. We saw the externalization of the discipline committee. They went door to door and came out swinging on round-up Tuesday. They thought they could make a case for targeting a handful of their enemies that they haven’t been able to force out of the church. They thought they could persuade the church to help them eliminate these people. Again, they failed.
Now the goodhearted long suffering members were growing weary of the constant antagonizing attacks. At every turn, the church had faced lies and witnessed vindictiveness. Power was slowly consolidated, the majority of deacons have been emasculated, and it had become apparent that the elder-rule/discipline plan would NEVER be abandoned. People desperately wanted to move on from this agenda and they had been promised that it would be dropped. We know that as long as the people behind it remain in their positions the agenda will never be dropped.
It may be public or it may be hidden depending on the level of support at the time, but it is always here. Different strategies are used to kiss up to various groups to try to gain enough influence to one day pass the constitution. In times of peace they are at work manipulating some and taking vengeance on others. When the church puts a stop to this bad behavior these little lords just regroup. In the process more people are hurt but they are considered acceptable sacrifices on the altar of the elder-ruled discipline enforced church. This mentality is a failure in and of itself.
The Cost of Failure
Finally, today people are fully aware of what is going on and they are sick of it. The church has been patient and gracious but has suffered immensely. The long leash of freedom that has been given this set of leaders to grow has been abusively fashioned into nooses for the flock. Call it 9Marks, call it elder-rule, call it whatever, people can spot it now and they can’t make their opposition to it any clearer. They just don’t want it. Every attempt to further this agenda at Sapulpa will continue to fail.
But what is the cost of each failure?
- It has cost the church its members. Numerous people have left in anger, desperation, tears, and disgust. There was once 2 FULL morning services in the sanctuary and 1 in the brick. Now even with the children in the sanctuary it is obvious this congregation is dwindling.
- It has cost the church its witness. The community knows the church is not family friendly or senior friendly. They know the message Sunday morning is dark and foreboding and they are steering clear.
- It has cost the church its resources. The church has gone from debt free to over half a million in debt in two years and monthly giving that tracks consistently below budget.
- It has cost the remaining members their vitality. The flock needs to be fed and encouraged but Biblical teaching has stagnated in the sanctuary and the sheep have been battered and abused.
- It has cost the witness to the lost. The most noticeable cost is the one with eternal consequences. The rate of baptisms has plummeted to embarrassing levels for a church this size. The meager numbers we exhibit are consistent with elder-run churches, especially Calvinist churches. How many souls have slipped into the eternal flames of Hell while the church has been chasing its tail?
Spiritually speaking, nobody can afford the cost of these types of failures. The church has tolerated abuse hoping to see some maturity develop but instead this loving patience has been countered with unbelievable vengeance. There is no love and there is no growth and the amateurs are too proud to take council. So how long will a church endure this ineffective regime? How can the church lovingly but firmly set aside these people’s leadership duties?
Two years of dishonesty, vengeance, and relentless domination has got to come to an end. This will continue with increasing hostility until the church has been morally and financially bankrupted and the flock scattered. While the church is in a death spiral, the souls of men have been lost to all eternity. A church of this size and with this much potential requires a full time intentional effort by mature loving Christian leaders to be everything God intended it to be. Instead, because of relentless dishonesty and vindictiveness, the church has been plagued with incontrovertible failure on every level. The problem is obvious. The failures are serious. If we do not seek a change soon, their failures become our failures.