As more facts come out about the ongoing campaign of coverup and intimidation, we have updated our letter which responds to the specific threats made against us and others.
The last several years have been a wonderful journey of seeing folks come to the Lord and fellowships emerge in highly improbable places. In my own life, the roots for this go back to my dad and mom, Bob and Mary Jane Wright.
In the 1970s and 80′s, the Lord used them as pioneers in what we’d now call “organic” church – before that term became popular (even though today it unfortunately can mean nearly anything).
Forty years ago, they helped birth a regional network of open, participatory fellowships in Maryland, where people could find and express the vibrant life of Christ in dynamic gatherings as everyone ministered one to another – rather than having directed, hierarchical meetings.
May 15, 2013 (updated May 18, 2013)
Re: Author and “Apostolic Worker” Frank Viola
Dear Mr. Zens:
I am providing this preliminary response, both personally and on behalf of our fellowships, to your letter of May 10th and to your many related statements on Facebook. I thus write for myself and as an elder within those fellowships.
Your letter was on behalf of Christian author and “apostolic worker” Frank Viola and your fellow “worker” Milt Rodriquez, and was co-signed by Bart Breen.
The context of your letter, and this response, is our ongoing belief that the facts and public warnings asserted against Frank Viola for abuse and sexual exploitation by his former church were properly issued.
Furthermore, those warnings have not been factually refuted and thus warrant an open response by Mr. Viola. Any such response should be at least as public as his own public claims of being a leader in, and to, the Body of Christ.
Unrepentant evil will never fess up to its own culpability, and always play the victim.
Fruit seems to be a touchy issue these days.
Jesus tells us to be fruit inspectors, and even says that we are to be known by our fruit. See Matt. 7:15-27.
We shouldn’t, therefore, be bashful about looking for and asking about fruit when discerning someone’s ministry, doctrines and practices – even if they find that offensive.
However, it’s one thing to look for fruit, but it’s another thing to be wise fruit inspectors.
Over the last several years, I’ve been learning to surrender my vision of community to the Lord, to just be part of community, and to let it express itself in all its wonderful diversity – in His timing, as He wants.
God gives different gifts, callings and motivations to different people. It’s OK to be different!
Yup. It’s true. I killed ekklesia (the Greek word often translated in the New Testament to mean a local “church”). Now, several years later, it’s time to finally come clean and confess.
Although we all love the “glory stories”, we also need to tell of our failures – because it’s our failures which often teach the most.
So here’s my sorry story of having killed a fellowship.
Maybe, by owning up to my failures, it will help others trying to form an organic fellowship, home group, simple church – or whatever you want to call an open, participatory gathering of believers ministering one to another in smaller, relational fellowships.
The ‘New Legalism’, by Anthony Bradley
I totally agree with this article. The hyper-intense organic and/or missional folk have lost sight of simple truths like family, vocation and existing community. When following Christ comes at the expense of the basics, rather than taking root there, it won’t last. Eventually, they burn out.
The older I get, the more I realize that maturity is having the wisdom to understand there are consequences.
David Lim, an international leader in “organic” missions, wrote an important and probing article called Towards Closure.
Basically, he discusses (from a more academic but still very pragmatic standpoint) the difference between an “imperial” and an “incarnational” approach to church planting, the Great Commission and bringing Christ into new communities and contexts.
Like me, Dr. Lim is an advocate of organic (or simple) churches because he sees them as not only faithful to New Testament examples and principles, but as best able to fully express Christ in all His gloriously diverse ways in different communities and cultures.
According to him, when such churches emerge within the context of local communities, Jesus then becomes more fully “incarnational” (i.e., embodied and alive) in and through those communities.
He also makes another very important point: By allowing the Lord to adapt to each culture and setting, without imposing some intense, cookie-cutter concept of Him – and how His Church must look and operate – we avoid the trap of “imperialism”.
Last night was the second week in a semester-long class Marianne and I are teaching, through Nathan’s Voice and our fellowships, on pastoral counseling. We had a full house (literally!).
We previously taught this two years ago, and many are now ministering grace and healing in our county to those trapped in the bondage of addictions, past abuse, and controlling emotional wounds.
About half of the class comes from our fellowships, and the rest from other churches in the area.
But this morning, I’m tired…
Everybody’s all for “ekklesia” (the Greek word in the New Testament often translated to mean a local “church”).
Folks blog about it, post on Facebook about it, create online groups about it, and write books about it.
Yup. They all love “ekklesia”….
Except when a particular “ekklesia” follows Biblical procedure and issues a pubic warning under the mandate of 1 Tim. 5:19-21 against some leader the “ekklesia” boosters have placed on an untouchable pedestal – but who had been part of that church, only to then immediately leave and refuse to be accountable when it tried to address his issues of abuse and exploitation.
Too often folks anxiously try to fix the fix that God has fixed to fix some problem. Never works. Never has, never will.
If you’re in a fix, own it and let God do His perfect work.
If someone else is in a fix, let them own it so God can do His perfect work!
A good article that provides much needed perspective on sexually exploitive church leaders. In Marianne and my experience with Nathan’s Voice, a ministry of our fellowships which has helped literally hundreds of abuse survivors over the years, this is spot on. It describes the typical personality, motives and means of predation by those who use their emotional and spiritual position of trust to sexually exploit others.
It is always painful when we learn that a beloved church leader has used his position of trust to sexually exploit those under his care. The recent disclosures about Frank Viola are no exception. But when it’s confirmed by multiple witnesses, how should we react? Fortunately, the New Testament provides clear instructions.
Sexual Predation by Christian Author and “Apostle” Frank Viola, by Nathan’s Voice
After months of investigation, Nathan’s Voice has confirmed through multiple witnesses a history of abuse, sexual predation and cover up involving Christian author and self-proclaimed “apostolic worker” Frank Viola.
Nathan’s Voice is a ministry created two years ago by a network of fellowships in Virginia to help stop abuse by church leaders and to aid victims.
They have issued a public warning so other churches that might consider relating to Frank Viola – as they had been, thus prompting them to do some background checking – need to know about his history of leadership abuse, sexual predation, and misleading claims about his church involvement and church “planting” expertise.
Nathan’s Voice has worked with and helped hundreds of abuse victims over the years, and successfully taken on some high visibility church abuse cases. It has learned through experience that where a leader has violated his position of trust by willfully abusing those under his care, then absent open confession and repentance – which is at least as public as the influence and leadership he continues to seek – there is no assurance of adequate safeguards to protect against additional deception and victims.
- Jon Zens and Frank Viola – A Public Response (crossroadjunction.com)
- A Response to Bart Breen (crossroadjunction)
- Leadership Abuses: Private and Public Sins (crossroadjunction.com)
As Nathan’s Voice states on its web site, it is a ministry run by a number of churches I am affiliated with here in Virginia. I – along with others – helped found Nathan’s Voice on behalf of those churches several years ago. Over the years I have worked with Nathan’s Voice to help many victims, and to deal with abusive church leaders, in various roles – including as an attorney, a pastoral counselor and an elder in the Body of Christ. ~ Jim Wright
Relational unity must be built on relational truth – and never on lies.
Create a fractured persona. Falsely project empathy, expertise and success as a trusted church leader – while covering up a pattern of infidelity, sexual predation and exploitation, persistent detachment from any accountable local fellowship, and failed churches. Appeal to unity and loyalty, personalize everything as hateful attacks against you by spiteful people, and turn on your well-rehearsed charm (and if that doesn’t work, fall back on lies, threats and intimidation) to silence those who dare ask troubling questions. Work behind the scenes and through others to purge all dissenting voices and any contrary information – both in your churches and on public forums like the Internet. As you then bamboozle folks with your enticing but fraudulent persona and fictitious history, they’ll became compliant pawns to your narcissistic deceptions.
- One Church’s Original Public Warnings and Multiple Witness Statements About Frank Viola (Internet Archive)
The pattern outlined above is something I have seen time and again with inflated church leaders who learn to manipulate people and then cross the line into sexual exploitation and predation with what eventually becomes a personality cult – which they sustain through outward charm and behind-the-scenes intimidation. The documents found at this site are yet another example, involving Frank Viola.
God’s not into pendulums. He’s into plumb lines. Big difference!
Create a fractured Holy Spirit. Tell folks that what we personally feel the Holy Spirit say today is higher revelation – and more trustworthy and authoritative – then His external Word of scripture. Mesmerize hurting people with your deeper life teachings, until they confuse their own need for meaning, significance and belonging with the voice of the Holy Spirit – while weaning them away from scripture as the external standard for judging the validity of what they feel He’s said. As they mistake your ability to charm, entice and inspire with the Holy Spirit’s authentic internal voice and authoritative external Word, they will come to believe that following your message means following Him.
Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. By Greg Allison
This is a GREAT book. I’ve often used it as a reference when researching some of the crazy claims you see on the Internet – like the doctrine of the plenary authority of scripture originated with the Constantine church or the Protestant reformers. Wrong! It goes back to the earliest writings of the church, including pre-Constantine.
I highly recommend this book for those interested in understanding that the essentials of the faith have been consistently affirmed throughout the entire history of the church. We need sound scholarship to refute popular but unsubstantiated claims to the contrary, which are frequently touted on the Internet.
For the next several days, it is on sale for only $5.99 (it’s normally many times that price, and worth it!).
Gregg Allison is Professor of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a recognized expert on historical theology.