But Jim Smyrl, the deep theologian that he is, is writing these articles from a pure theological standpoint. He is saying the Catholic doctrines are sufficiently different from scripture and from evangelical doctrines, that the Roman Catholic Church fits the definition of a cult - the definition of Danny Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I could point out that using Akin's grid, there are some aspects of FBC Jax that are cultish. But I want to take a different tact.
What I'd like the members of FBC Jax to consider is that Smyrl's and Akin's definition of a cult is not the only definition. In fact, a church can be "cultish" in its practices, while having very good theology. Having good theology does NOT mean that a church is NOT a cult. What Jim is missing is that FBC Jax can have the purest, most right-on-target theology, but yet STILL be very cultish in its own practices.
Let's take two examples of "cults" that emerged in our city of Jacksonville, Florida - that resulted in incredible harm to real people.
Trinity Baptist Church
Trinity Baptist Church is a fundamental, independent Baptist church. If you ask Jim Smyrl about their theology, he would say they are right on, no problem, same theology for the most part as FBC Jacksonville. Use Akin's cult "grid", and they score very well. Yet, how is it that with the "right" theology, they managed to allow a serial pedophile pastor roam their campus for decades?
Here's the scary part: somehow, with all the right theology being taught, they had a church culture that made them blind to the fact that their pastor was destroying the lives of little boys and girls, and a church culture that put pressure on those that did know causing them to NOT STAND UP AND STOP IT. Did you hear that? With wonderful theology - all of it taught by the monster Bob Gray himself - the church had developed a culture which prevented those who did know that Bob Gray was doing things that were harmful to the church and to people, from doing anything about it.
How did this church get to the point where people couldn't see that a pastor taking boys and girls into his office for "private sessions" was wrong? How did this church with all the wonderful theology sink so low as to have an ordained minister, Tom Messer, feel that he could not expose the sins of the senior pastor? How did this church sink so low that when a teenager decided to finally come forward and expose the pastor's abuses that the leaders of the church ridiculed her and misled the congregation about the allegations?
Shiloh Baptist Church
The other example is the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. They too have very good theology. This church hired Darrell Gilyard in 1993 - Gilyard was mentored by Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson and trained at Criswell College. Gilyard had great theology. But Shiloh hired Gilyard in 1993 despite his known sexual abuses of church members in Texas and Oklahoma. He was KNOWN to have abused his power to seduce women in his church that came to him for counseling. Leaders of Shiloh were warned that Gilyard wasn't fit to be a pastor shortly after Gilyard arrived, but instead of throwing Gilyard out, they instead banned from the church property those who spoke up.
So Gilyard eventually, at some point during his 15 year tenure at Shiloh, continued his sexual abuse. He now is accused of fathering a child of one of his church members, and faces trial for attempting to seduce a teenage girl in his church with sexually explicit text messages.
How did Shiloh - led by a Criswell College trained, and Patterson and Vines mentored preacher...fall so far as to allow this monster to abuse their women? Why didn't they see it? Weren't there obvious signs? Didn't at least SOME know of his abuses?
The answer: both of these churches during these periods exhibited characteristics of a cult-like church. They placed their pastor on such a high pedestal - pastor worship perhaps - he was called "God's Man" and was therefore above being questioned and above being held to normal standards of accountability. The pastor "ruled" the church. At least in Gilyard's case he was given a huge amount of salary way above the average lifestyle of the church members, and his home was lavish and opulent - a sign that he is above the others, a king-type figure worthy of special privilege. These pastors had their way in the church, and people knew not to cross them. They had an inner circle of supporters that would protect the man from "attacks" or accusations. There was a pervasive culture at these churches that those who spoke ill of the preacher "man of God" was to speak against God.
So abusive churches can have good theology, but a rotten culture that allows an abusive preacher to thrive and commit his abuse. And this abuse might be sexual in nature...it might be financial...it might be spiritual.
What should worry the members of FBC Jacksonville is that we now are developing a similar culture that will enable an abusive pastor to thrive! We have allowed Mac Brunson to come here and enrich himself and his family. In a highly unethical act (despite what Mac's defenders say) Mac accepted a $300,000 land gift from one of the church's donors, and he now lives in a million dollar home which is way above the average church member's lifestyle. Mac is "God's man" and we are not to question his ethics and his mean style of preaching.
Mac was allowed to put his wife and son on staff with no stated ministry responsibilities. We constructed a huge library and office suite for he and his wife and his dogs in the most prime space on our campus - the "king's quarters". Our bylaws have been changed allowing Mac to essentially rule the church by granting him sole authority to nominate trustees, and allowing him to select the financial trustees, and preventing the congregation from calling for a vote on his position. And a culture is emerging where those who question the pastor's decisions, or dare to express concern over his leadership...they are labeled as troublemakers and are accused by the pastor as not trusting Jesus. There is even less disclosure now of how church funds are spent, and our church is apparently more interested in raising funds to put the pastor on nationwide TV than we are fixing the roof in our preschool building and other basic maintenance items. Mac regularly preaches as one who is being attacked and persecuted, and he uses manipulative preaching of the word to get his people to have sympathy on him and support his plans. Mac preaches in a condescending, angry tone week after week, as evidence that he is in charge and can act however he pleases. We now watch as he sells advertising space at our pastor's conference.
So that is where FBC Jax is at. An abusive pastor, and an inability of the leadership of the church - trustees and deacons - to do anything about it. Mac is in charge, and you either get on board and shut up, or you are considered "dead weight" and they want you gone. This spells trouble for FBC Jax in the future.
Catholics are a "cult"? I guess we'll wait for Jim to "educate" us all over the next week. But the Catholics might not be the only ones who fit a definition of "cult".