2 Samuel 16:9,11 - "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head...let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him."

Matthew 7:15 - “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Matthew 24:11 - “…and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

We Must Assume Mac Agrees with Jimmy: Catholics are Cult Members

Let's review the musings of Jim Smyrl in the past few weeks:

- Catholic priets are "cult leaders"

- the Catholic church is a "cult"

- Catholics voting for Obama should be denied communion

- Christians who voted for Obama committed a "sin" that must be repented of

- Christians who voted for Obama may be guilty of "breaking fellowship" with their church.

Jim made these statements on the official website of the FBC Jacksonville. Go here and read them for yourself.

They therefore represent the views of every single member of the FBC Jacksonville. We are members of the church just as Jim is, and he is representing the views of our church to be those I listed above.

Don't agree with that? OK, let's take another approach.

Mac Brunson is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville.

Jim Smryl is the Executive Pastor of Education. Jim Smyrl reports directly to Mac Brunson.

The church marketing firm "The A Group" manages the church website. Mac is very close to Maurilio Amorim, the owner of "The A Group". We could say Maurilio reports directly to Mac Brunson.

If you or I were the pastor of a church, and one of our subordinates wrote hurtful and provocative statements on our church website that might harm my church's ability to fulfill its mission, that might unnecessarily offend the very people my church was trying to reach with the gospel, you or I would have that person remove them from the website in the blink of an eye. We would call the webmaster and have them removed. Especially if the dummy posted them the very week our school is beginning its enrollment campaign.

We would remove them immediately...unless....unless...

...unless we agreed with the statements. Unless I agreed with, and was proud of the cleverness of my subordinate's assertions. Then, and only then, would I allow them to stay up on the church's website for which I am ultimately responsible. I wouldn't make it a matter of his "free speech", since its not HIS website, but its the website of the entire church. The things stated on the FBC Jax website are those that represent all of its members. Its not Jim's and Mac's website, its the official website of FBC Jacksonville and the members who's money funds the site.

Did you get that Mac and Jim? The FBC Jax website is not a place for you to pop-off about other denominations and to declare others a "cult" for the purpose of being "cutting edge" and offending those we are trying to minister to. Its not a place for you to declare those who vote a certain way that they have sinned. Do that on your 501(c)3 websites. If your views are so wonderful and insightful and so "cutting edge", they will draw traffic to your 501(c)3 website. Heck, you might even get someone to get their MasterCard out and donate money to your 501(c)3 when they read with your wonderful Catholic and Obama insights.

So I will assume, as I'm sure will others in our community, that Mac's INACTION in removing Smyrl's statements from our church website means that Mac concurs with them. Certainly Mac would have removed them if he thought they were improper, or if he agreed with them BUT thought them harmful to our church's ministry.

Mac or Debbie Brunosn could make one phone call to either Jim Smyrl, or to Maurilio Amorim, and have the statements removed from our website pronto.

So Mac, your inaction to remove those statements by Jim implicates you. We now know that you agree with Jim Smyrl. Catholics are in a cult. Catholics in our city are cult members. Their priests are "cult leaders". You know, like other notorious "cult leaders" like Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Jim Jones. Mac must also believe that Obama voters committed a "sin", and must repent. Perhaps in the Sunday alter call Mac can call for all Obama voters to come forward and "get right with the Lord" or "rededicate their lives". Interesting, isn't it, that Mac and Jim have no words of condemnation for Bob Gray. No words of rebuke against Darrel Gilyard. But boy, Mac and Jim have to put those pesky Catholic cultists in their place.

I hope the Catholic priets in Jacksonville remember this when Mac tries to get press coverage by hosting the "Day of Prayer" at our church. The Catholic Cult is not allowed.

Can you tell us, Jim and Mac, what other Christian denominations are a cult? Perhaps as you let us know what books are acceptable to read, you can also tell us who we should not associate with because of their "cult status".

Our church is getting more bizarre by the day.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Klouda Family: "What We are Thankful For"

Readers: below is an email I received Thanksgiving morning from Dr. Sheri Klouda, professor of Biblical Studies at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Dr. Klouda wanted to share with the readers of this blog the blessings she has experienced this past year, despite the many trials they have endured.

For new readers who don't know how Sheri Klouda's circumstances became a topic of conversation on this blog, visit here and here.

Below is Dr. Klouda's letter. I am so happy that things are going well considering the challenges they have faced, and I'm so happy that readers of this blog and other SBC blogs have stepped up to help the Kloudas in their time of need - you all have shown genuine Christian love and charity to the Kloudas.

Dear Blog Readers:

As I begin to reflect on this last year, I am reminded of all that our family can be thankful for.

We are thankful that Abigail adjusted to Indiana. She has gone on to realize success at school, and as a senior, she is involved in student government, she manages the wrestling team, she participates in gymnastics, and she is editor of the school paper. She is beginning the process of applying to college, and she made it through adolescence with fewer scars than many kids. We enjoy a candid and strong relationship, and she continues to grow spiritually in her walk with God.

We are thankful that we were able to clear up our medical expenses from Pinky's trip to the hospital at Thanksgiving last year through gifts from our church and individuals, and we were able to travel to Dallas for Christmas last year. Our family has been amazed at the generosity of people who do not even know us, but who felt led to help us through our difficult circumstances. We were ready to get Pinky's defibrillator put in this month when he ended up in the hospital three weeks ago with chest pains and shortness of breath. They detected a blockage in his carotid artery, but they were unable to proceed because it was the weekend. We had also hoped to get the defibrillator put in while he was in the hospital to save money, but they could not do that on the weekend either. We incurred significant hospital expenses as a result, and yet, we are thankful that he is still with us this thanksgiving, and ready to eat capon and stuffing! We are also thankful that he was able to apply for Social Security and we began receiving it last week.

I am thankful that our family has heat and food, that I continue to be healthy, and that I had the chance to apply for promotion for next year. I am now teaching a big Hebrew class, realizing and using some of the skills I developed previously. We were able to remain in the house we rented because the owner was unable to sell it this summer. I appreciate my colleagues and fellow church members at UCC, and notes of encouragement and the prayers of many throughout America on behalf of our family before and after the judge ruled on the lawsuit against Southwestern. I am especially thankful for those who continue to demonstrate their support through maintaining the truth on the web and defending us against those who seek to malign our family or misrepresent the truth. And we are thankful for the outpouring of love from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Finally, I and my family are thankful for the grace of God through our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ,and his sacrifice for us.

Blessings to You During This Holiday Season, The Klouda Family

FBC Jax Members and other Watchdog readers: if you feel led to donate money to help the Klouda's, Pastor Wade Burleson has already set up a benevolence fund where 100% of all recepits will be given to the Klouda's, and your gift will be tax deductible.

Send your gifts to:
Emmanuel Baptist Church
2505 West Garriott
Enid, Oklahoma 73703

Designate your gift "Sheri Klouda Fund".

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving from the Watchdog

Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving. The Watchdog will be taking the weekend off to enjoy a turkey leg and some fellowship with his family and friends, and will return to blogging on Monday. Comment moderation will be infrequent until then.

Blessings to all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanks Be Unto Our Pastor

I don't know if you've visited the FBC Jax website, but there is on the front page a letter from the President of the Trustees, A.C. Soud, and the Chairman of the Deacons, Dave Bristowe, expressing the "THANKS" they have in their hearts for the incredible, wonderful job Mac Brunson is doing. Not giving thanks to God, or expressing thanks to God for our pastor, but thanks to our pastor for being so wonderful.

Remember people: we must view everything that is done with a skeptical eye, as to the "marketing" strategy behind it. I wonder if that letter was the brain child of the two men whose names are on it. I mean really, its one thing to express thanks and love to the pastor...but the detail that they go into about WHAT it is they are thankful for sounds disingenous to me. Why? Because most of the things they say about Mac and how great he is AREN'T TRUE, and they seem to address the very concerns expressed on this blog. This looks to me, and I could be wrong, but it looks to me like an attempt to manipulate the average church member who is beginning to get concerned over Mac and his antics. This letter is a way to try to show the congregation that despite people being concerned over Mac's leadership, he has the full support of the two top lay people.

This looks more like a letter composed by Trey or Honey and passed to A.C. and Dave for their approval...especially since the first version posted on the website had some editing comments in it until the church took it down. I challenge either man to post here and say that they stand 100% behind the content of that letter, and maybe even address a few of the comments below.

But let's look at phrases used:

The opening line: "Thank You, Dr. Brunson, Staff, and Members:"

So this is addressed to everyone...but the content doesn't address the staff or members...it is a love letter to Mac and his family, but the person writing this started by thinking they would express thanks to everyone, but they forgot and just addressed how GREAT Mac is!

"...our deepest gratitude to you, Debbie and the family for all you mean to First Baptist"

So its to "you" (Mac Brunson) not to the members and staff. And of course we need to let everyone know that we thank God that we have the entire family, Mac, Honey, and Trey...they have saved us from the terrible course we were on. Let the record show: from Day 1 we have had to pay all three for their service.

"...we are not only thankful for your embracing the legacy that we have enjoyed for more than 60 years..."

What are they talking about? The man came here and told us to stop "worshipping the past"...his only "embracing" of our legacy are those parts of the legacy that HELP HIM! If he needs to convince us to tithe, pull out the Homer Lindsay, Sr. and Jr. quotes. If he doesn't get 150 prayer partners, he lashes out at us and says that "six years after Homer Lindsay raised up men I can't find 150 men that will pray with the pastor." If Mac wants us to love him, he will remind us we loved and respected the other guys. He presumes to know what Homer, Jr. would think about something when he never met Homer. And let it be noted that Mac has actually done what he could to take slaps at our legacy to SUIT HIS PURPOSES. While speaking at SWBTS and Criswell College in November, he has said that our church lied to Homer, Sr. when he came, about the amount of our debt. Mac says that Homer, Sr. was wrongly attacked by the deacons when he purchased a "neon sign"...and he decided to tell a story painting Homer, Sr. as a legalist by demanding that people don't clap in church. So spare us, Dave and Judge Soud, the statement that he "embraces" the legacy. The only part of the legacy that he wants to embrace is the total power and control we granted the other guys, and he wants the same respect that they had.

"...thank you...for the establishment of the First Baptist Academy..."

A bit premature, don't you think? Let's hold our thanks until we see how the school starts and if we can fund its start-up. It is NOT yet established. There is no school yet. No students, no teachers, no computer equipment. Just a Children's Building, a pastor's suite, an unannounced vote to take $500,000 form the general offerings (which we don't have) to hire the headmaster and pay the A-group for a website and promo videos and a sales and marketing strategy. Its a bit premature to give thanks to Mac for establishing that which doesn't exist yet.

"Thank you...for the Theology Driven Ministry that educates and promotes knowledgeable Christian living..."

Yep, thanks to Mac and Jim for small groups. What would we have done without TDM? Is what we see from Smyrl - attacking Catholics on our website in the name of "educating" people about their poor theology in the most offensive terms possible using the words "cult" and "cult leader"...is that what we are thankful for in TDM? I'm not thankful for TDM. TDM should go in the trash can. We don't need a gimmick ministry method...just do the right thing for our church, be open and honest, and implement things that will help lead people to Christ and disciple believers. And please don't tell me, that according to the TDM we MUST do small groups if we're going to do life application. That's an insult to my intelligence.

"thank you...for your personal integrity in assuring the transparency of all opertions of the Church and its ministries."

Wow. Transparency? Where's the transparency? Maybe transparency if you're on Team Brunson or the Trustees or the head Deacon man. But no transparency whatsoever for deacons or the regular church member. Where was the transparency when our bylaws were changed?Where is the transparency on the land gift given to Mac by ONE OF OUR DONORS? What would Mac do if he found out his staff was accepting gifts from our church donors? Would he put up with that? OF COURSE NOT!!! He would tell his staff: "We pay you, and you are not to accept any money from church members, especially very large gifts." So please don't tell me about Mac's personal integrity and transparency. Our church is NON TRANSPARENT, and Mac has only served to make it LESS TRANSPARENT than it was when he arrived.

"...thank you..most of all for your humility before the Lord and your faithfulness to the Word of God and His pulpit.."

Oh my..."humility"? The guy is the picture of arrogance every week in the pulpit. This makes me wonder, who is writing this letter? This is a letter written to counter the claims on this blog..."they say he's arrogant on the blog? He slandered Sheri Klouda and doesn't have the humility to simply apologize to us for using our pulpit to speak ill of a woman who has suffered greatly. Let's put in the letter saying that MOST OF ALL we are thankful for his humbleness." Give me a break."

We know you have come to realize that the people of FBC Jax are some of the most faithful, dedicated, and loving folks on the face of the earth."

Dave and Judge Soud, you left off Mac's descriptions of us as the "most legalistic, most past worshipping, biblically illiterate, scared, frightened, unloving, poor listeners, 'sitting and not doing what the pastor says'..." and so many other things that pastor has accused us of, both in the pulpit of FBC Jax and out of it. He "built a case" against us to tell us just how sorry we had become right before Chest of Joash, then followed that with a sermon to tell us HOW AWESOME HE IS IN ALL THE INITIATIVES HE HAS BROUGHT. All you have to do is watch his preaching and his condescension towards us and its so obvious to see how little he cares for his congregation and what his low view of us is.

So there you have it...another manipulation technique...let's use "Thanksgiving" as a way to express "Thanks" - not to God but to the pastor for being the great wonderful leader that he is accused of NOT being on the blog. The only problem is this: just saying something, and putting it on the FBC Jax website doesn't make it so. We are much smarter than Mac, Honey, Dave, and Judge Soud give us credit for.

Much smarter.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Questions for First Baptist Academy at FBC Jacksonville

Dear Readers in Jacksonville, Florida:

You will see on the FBC Jax Academy website that registration and tuition information is now available for the school, scheduled to open in the Fall of 2009.

If you've never visited this blog site and are not a member of FBC Jax, perhaps you've stumbled on this blog while researching the school. You will see this blog is very critical of the leadership of our church in many areas, and some of these issues MIGHT concern you as a prospective parent desiring to send your child to a Christian school that is funded and operated by FBC Jax. Do NOT assume that this church is the same church that it was in years gone by. There is a new pastor, and mostly all new staff, and you need to be a wary, skeptical shopper. Also keep in mind that our church has invested heavily into marketing and promotions into its operations with the help of a Nashville-based church marketing firm, so make sure that claims made about the school are confirmed by a visit and your own first-hand interview and inspection. Don't trust the brochures or promo videos.

So to help you in your decision to send your child to FBC Academy or some other Christian school, you might want to consider asking the following questions, which are NOT in the FAQ section of the school website:

1. Some of your members on a blogsite have expressed deep concern over the lack of transparency and accountability of the pastor at the church. Knowing the abuses that occured at a large fundamental church, Trinity Baptist Church, whose theology and church governance are very similar to yours, and for many years was led by an authoritarian pastor who was lavished with praise and who demonstrated little willingness to be accountable....what assurances can you make that there is appropriate oversight and accountability for the current pastor and his leadership team? Is the church and school committed to full accountability of the pastor?

2. I've heard that the church has recently amended its bylaws to give authority to the pastor for appointing trustees. To have so much power concentrated in one man in the church concerns me...can you tell me if the same authority structure exists for the school? If the pastor is appointing his own trustees, can you explain what is the system of accountability to ensure that all complaints and allegations of abuse or mis-deeds are thoroughly investigated by an independent board? Is there an independent board of trustees for the school that oversees and holds the pastor accountable for decisions involving the school? May I have a copy of the school bylaws and articles of incorporation?

3. Does your church believe that those who are members of the Catholic church are cult members and that Catholic priests are "cult leaders"? Would my child, if he/she were Catholic, be welcome in this school, or would they be shunned as a member of a "cult"? Will my child be taught that their Catholic relatives are cult members? I've read your Executive Pastor of Education's articles on "Catholic Cults" and these views concerns me greatly...especially since he is the pastor of EDUCATION at the church. Will you also be teaching intolerance to the children regarding other Christians? What churches do you consider to be "cults"?

4. I've seen the pastor preach on TV, and he seems to exhibit quite a temper, yelling at his congregation and berating them almost every Sunday. Is this how the pastor will behave when conducting chapel services? Will he act angry and condescending to children at the school? Will this be the recommended style of teaching doctrine at the school, in an angry, belittling manner?

5. I've heard that your the church's pastor believes the FBC Jax church to be a "hotbed of legalism". Is this still true? Are the people who will be running the school "legalists" like many of the church members, according to the pastor? The pastor claimed that members of the church have "...a list of rules, but no real relationship with Jesus Christ." Is this true?

6. I've heard from some church members that in the last year your church has outsourced its security and that the church does not have direct control and supervisory authority over exactly who is on the property acting as security guards. Is this true? I am greatly concerned about security of my child being downtown so close to the bus terminal and downtown circle where there are homeless wandering. Does your church conduct its own background checks on and provide training for the security forces at the school?

7. I'm concerned about funding for the school and its long-term viability. I understand that the funding for the start-up of this school is from money taken from the general offerings of your church and that the money is not actually set aside. I also know that you have had trouble raising enough money to even pay for the repair of the roof on one of your children's buildings, and don't have enough money to replace air conditioning systems - yet money was spent to put the pastor on a nationwide TV station and to pay your pastor and wife huge salaries as evidenced by their huge house and expensive cars. Have you begun making purchases for the technology that you say you will be using in the school, and what assurances can you give me that funds will be available for hiring and paying for the teachers and administrators while your church is also expanding to satellite churches? I know that starting a school can be an tremendous financial burden on a church, so what assurance can you give me that funds will be available given all of the other "Next Generation" inititatives in 2009? Can you show me the 2009 church budget and explain where the funding will come from for the school start up in 2009? Have the members committed to giving the amount of the church budget during the 2009 year?

8. I've heard that one of the bylaw changes made in December 2007 at your church is that members agree to have any and all disputes settled by arbitration and not by lawsuit. Is this same provision in the bylaws of the school? Must I forfeit my right to sue the school or the church in case my child is harmed through negligence of the school? If I am a member of the church, does that mean if my child is harmed or abused I have agreed to not sue the church?

9. Does your church really view people who voted for Obama as having "sinned", and might not be worthy of fellowship? I read the article of your Executive Pastor of EDUCATION on your official church website where he seemed to insinuate this very thing - in fact he expressed agreement with the Catholic priest who said parishioners who voted for Obama should not take communion. Is this the sort of "doctrine" that will be taught at your school? If not, why are you putting this sort of thing on your website? Will this man, Jim Smyrl, have any direct contact or duties at the school where he would be teaching his intolerance to the students?

10. With the relatively high tuition as compared to other more established schools in our area, can you clearly articulate just what are you providing at your school that dictates such a tuition? Where are the computers? Where is the play area and outdoor recreation area for the children? Where is the library? What is the long term prospect for a middle school and high school and sports program?

Those are some hard-hitting questions that wise people considering this school should ask. The promo videos look wonderful, and Jim Daniels seems to be a very capable and qualified headmaster. But remember, prospective parents: our church is big into MARKETING and PROMOTIONS. Nice videos and slick marketing and sales pitches don't equate to a quality, safe Christian school. Visit the school/church and ask the tough questions. And compare what you see at FBC Jax to other top-notch, reasonably priced Christinan schools located on all sides of town.

Cults Can Have "Good" Theology

Its so unfortunate that Jim Smyrl has decided to go forward with publishing on the FBC Jax website his series of articles entitled "Catholic Cult". As I've blogged previously, those articles serve no useful purpose other than to anger our Catholic friends - many of whom only loosely associate with the Catholics and their doctrine but will be put off by the arrogance of a Baptist minister to label the Catholic church as a "cult", and even to be so arrogant as to call Catholic priests "cult leaders". The views Jim is espousing should either be put on his own website...or if he's honest and his purpose is genuinely to help educate Christians at FBC Jax so they may best witness to Catholics, then he should teach a class on this to interested people at the church. There is no bravery, Jim, in purposely and publicly offending the very people you are trying to reach with the gospel. Its actually very foolish. Shame on you, Jim.

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".

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Catholic Cult Series" - Please Don't Do it Jim

Update: As soon as Jim begins publishing his series on the "Catholic Cult", I will begin publishing articles here pointing out how FBC Jax is no longer the church it once was, but now has begun to exhibit signs of becoming a cult itself! We will warn unsuspecting people who may be signing up their children to attend the First Baptist Academy (which again ironically is beginning its enrollment push for 2009) that this is not the church it once was under Homer Lindsay, but now in a new regime we are taking on the characteristics of a cult. So let's go for it Jimbo! Let's see who is a cult!
Jim Smyrl is getting ready to publish a series of articles on our church website to educate everyone in Jacksonville just how cultish is the Catholic Church.

Please don't do it, Jim.

It's not necessary, Jim.

It will harm our church, Jim.

Most of us know the differences between Baptists and Catholics. Unlike Mac thinks, we're all not a bunch of idiots who are reading cultish books and are confused over theology. Unlike Mac inferred this morning, we don't need him to tell us what books are OK to read, and we definitely don't need you to educate the city of Jacksonville on the doctrinal differences between evangelicals and Catholics.

If you want to bash our Catholic friends, please, PLEASE do it on your own 501(c)3 website. Do not use our church website, and our church name, to push your anti-Catholic views.

There is a danger that by writing about how the Catholic Church is a cult, ON OUR OFFICIAL CHURCH WEBSITE, that you will bring unnecessary media scrutiny and harm our churches ability to reach Catholics. Whether they meet the definition of a cult or not, that is not my main concern here...its the damage that you will do to our ability to reach Catholics if you use the church website to call them a cult.

Isn't it ironic that the very same week that our First Baptist Academy website now contains registration information and tuition rates to start attracting people in Jacksonville who might want to come to our Academy, that Jim Smyrl is going to use our church website to unnecessarily offend and belittle the faith of some of the people who might be interested in attending our school.

Mac, or Honey or Trey...or MAURILIO....our TRUSTEES....or DEACONS....IS ANYONE OUT THERE??? Please show your leadership by pointing out to Jim his folly and encourage him to not put this series of articles on the church's website.

You will only be inviting the scrutiny and humiliation of the media who wonders why we are attacking the Catholics...when we ourselves are beginning to show "cultish" signs as we allow Mac to enrich himself, and as he declares that he can tell us what books are OK to read.

Don't do it, Jim.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"Heart" and "Annointed" Preaching

Many, many church members who have attended First Baptist Church for an extended time, who have sat under the preaching of the Lindsays, Vines, and now Brunson - they know that there is an "emptiness" in Mac's preaching. There is something VASTLY different in his sermons as compared to Vines and Lindsay. I wish to share my thoughts here on what this difference is.

For many, its hard to pinpoint the emptiness, or to even express what it is. What is it about his preaching that leaves one with the feeling that you perhaps have heard a good "speech", but not a heart-stirring, convicting, loving, encouraging yet challenging, sermon from a Bible preacher? You get in the car, and its hard to even discuss what his point of the sermon was. The kids didn't quite get it, and perhaps the wife was lost in the history and emotionalism and theatrics as well. Those who sat under Vines and the Lindsays KNOW what I'm talking about. The sermons emanating from the pulpit of FBC Jacksonville were clear, simple yet profound, basic for the young yet deep for the mature - and they were life changing. Little theatrics, there was no introduction video, much smaller imag screens, no moving from the top platform to the bottom, no open weeping. But they for sure were life changing messages - and the accumulation of these messages in the hearts of people built one of the greatest churches in our land.

After watching the theatrics of Mac Sunday night, weeping, crying, then yelling and then crying again...with very few visible tears (watch the video - look for the tears), I am going to try to explain it. Maybe my explanation will resonate with some of you.

Let me try to explain it by defining "heart" and "annointed" preaching.

Jerry Vines wrote two books on preaching, "A Guide to Effective Sermon Delivery" and "A Guide to Effective Sermon Preparation". I understand these are textbooks used in many seminaries.

In the book on sermon delivery, Vines explains all the mechanics of how to effectively deliver a sermon; the mechanical, mental, and rhetorical methods. A very technical explanation. Like Jerry Vines - it is a book that is very detailed and technical, but easily understandable! I can see how this is a book read by many preachers preparing for the ministry.

But his last two chapters in this book he discusses two aspects of sermon delivery: "heart preaching" and "annointed preaching".

Vines' points out that a preacher can have all the other aspects of sermon delivery mastered in his book, but if you are not a "heart" preacher (sincere, concerned, loving) or if you are not an "annointed" preacher (the Holy Spirit working through your sermon), its all in vain. Its empty preaching.

In my opinion, and I know my opponents here will disagree, Mac is not an annointed preacher. This to me has been very apparent for some time. Why do I say he is not an annointed preacher? I guess I'll explain it in my own layman's terms like this: Mac is less interested in the Holy Spirit bringing conviction to his listeners, than he is in FORCIBLY getting his listeners to agree with HIM...he FORCIBLY, sometimes angrily, will try to get people to see their shortcomings. He believes himself to be loving. But he speaks with heavy condescension to his listeners. Nowhere in scripture do I ever see Jesus condescendingly, angrily, preaching to people (except for the Pharisees, the arrogant religious leaders of his day - but never to the sheep). Mac preaches from a mountain down to the plebe. His over-use of history is very selfish as he expects his listeners to share his own love for history else they will be lost or confused as many don't uderstand the historical contexts. In short, he doesn't seem to trust the Holy Spirit to take his words and fit them to each of the listeners' hearts, to bring convinction to the lost to be saved, or to convict the saved to repentence and service.

The preaching of the great preachers of the past (Vines mentions Criswell and Truett and R.G. Lee) like Vines (still preaching!), Lindsay, and Rogers...these men would preach and all ages and all conditions of men would be touched by the Holy Spirit in one single sermon - and it wasn't even intention in most cases! The people of FBC Jax and BBC and FBC Dallas know what I'm talking about. Children could learn and understand their sermons. The lost man was convicted of his need to be saved. The backslidden Christian would be compelled to return to Christ. The lazy church member who wasn't serving as he should was moved to serve - and all this in one single sermon heard by thousands of listeners. For Mac, many of the children get nothing as they are lost in his history and scared by his anger...the lost man and visitors are put off by his arrogance and unloving attitude towards those he SHOULD love (his church members)...and the Christians aren't touched perhaps as they should be because of his unloving complaining and harping and condescension. I believe the whole package of his delivery, his attitude, his "aire", his condescension; it all serves to squelch the Holy Spirit's ability to do what He wants to do.

Mac and Smyrl place great emphasis on formal seminary training for even lay people - but the truth is a man may have a doctorate from a seminary, but the Holy Spirit can much more use a non-seminary, uneducated layman to deliver God's word than an un-annointed preacher with a list of degrees after his name- and those at FBC Jax that have been touched by the sweet bible teachers at our church in Sunday School know what I mean! This is another reason, by the way, perhaps that Mac is meeting great resistance to his scheme of forcing us into small groups. We are not being fed by his sermons and now of all things he is wanting us to huddle in small groups to discuss some predetermined questions - when what we want in the Sunday School hour is an annointed, heart, loving, bible teacher to teach a lesson - and they do NOT need to be taught "Old Testament 101" by Jim Smyrl or Rush Whitt to be qualified to deliver such a bible lesson. Am I getting through here?

But not only is Mac not "annointed", he also is not a "heart" preacher. He doesn't show any love toward his people in his preaching. If he really does love his congregation it NEVER comes out in his preaching. It doesn't even come out in his announcements when he does them. He may be a great guy in his office or after the service or at the restaurant, but 90% of his listeners will never have the opportunity to know him and share an evening or meal with him. What we know about Mac, the REAL Mac must come forth from his preaching. And the Mac that comes forth is angry, unloving, boastful, arrogant. And this is totally separate from the fact that he has been preaching a legalistic form of Christianity (service and tithing out of DUTY not love). I'm not even talking about that, but just his lack of genuine heart-felt love for his people. Now, if he is not angry, unloving, boastful and arrogant in real life, one on one...then he really needs to bring his preaching in line with the real Mac. Otherwise its just a show - he's a performer. People that knew Vines and Lindsay knew that what they were in the pulpit was what they were in real life. They weren't showmen.

I'll leave you with this: for Vines to point out that "heart" and "annointed" preaching are the ultimate requisites for effective preaching, is to also say, sadly, there are preachers lacking in those. And we have one that I believe is lacking in both.

Here is an excerpt from Vines' book, from the chapter on "heart" preaching:

"Perhaps the reason there has been a recoil against heart preaching is the extreme to whch some preachers have gone. There is an insincerity that is obnoxious in the pulpit, if not embarrassing. The preacher who sheds crocodile tears and who purposely works up his congregation to accomplish his own ends is not actually a heart preacher. Such preaching is basically insincerity covered with a pretense of emotion."

That is where WE are at. And its so painfully obvious, I don't know why men who should be Mac's mentors like Vines and Hunt, won't read Mac the riot act and help him to change his ways - that is if it is possible at all. If Vines is sitting idly by, and criticizing anonymous bloggers while he is letting Mac behave as he is, he shares in the guilt of the destruction of our church.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Alert: Members Need to Pay for Pastor's Conference

Hey FBC Jax...just want you to know that if you plan on attending any of the "premium" sessions at the Pastor's Conference, you must visit the church website and register, and pay $50 for the men, and $30 for the women's premium sessions. Yep, Mac and Maurilio, the marketing geniuses, have devised a way to get just a little more money from FBC Jax.

If you want to hear Mike Miller, H.B. London, Steve Farrar, or Tommy Nelson, you need to pay $50. Yep, you who have sacrificed and given money for decades to build the facilities in which the event will take place...those of you that have tithed to meet the budget and help pay Trey's salary to coordinate this...those of you who have given the money that is used shameless to pay Maurilio and the A-Group and the Conexus the promotions consultant...YOUR MONEY, FBC Jax members, paid for all of this that is even allowing Mac to have a Pastor's conference...you better come up with $50 if you want to hear some of the speakers.

Women of our church...if you want to hear Diane Strack...please fork over $30. The thousands you and your husband have given to the church over the past year just aren't enough. Mac and Maurilio and Trey need an extra $30 from you. Oh, Master Card and Visa are accepted.

What a sad day at our church. Marketing. Sales. Promotions. Greed.

And the trustees allow it to happen.

Thanks Stimler and other trustees. We appreciate it you watching out for the flock.

Here's some screen shots from the Pastor's Conference website in the members registration section. Keep in mind...this is extra programming set up JUST FOR CHARGING MEMBERS FOR THE PREMIUM SESSIONS. Your tithes and offerings paying Maurilio to design a website to charge you registration fees at a conference your tithes are also paying for. God love 'em.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Budget Approved, New Trustees Voted On

The budget was passed tonight unanimously. No questions were asked. The pastor was on the platform and did not show any leadership in answering any questions, or explaining any aspects of the budget for 2009. Just a vote. No leadership whatsoever. Didn't explain how we would pay for the maintenance of our buildings that were an "emergency" and we didn't raise all the funds. Didn't explain why all categories were cut except "Communications" and "Business Admin". Nothing. No explanations. Good job, Mac. Thanks, "yes men" deacons.

Then, after the vote was approved for the budget, Dave Bristowe announced the new trustees that were "nominated" for the year 2009. A vote was called for and the new trustees were approved.

Judge A.C. Soud is again the president of the trustees

Tom Stimler is again the "Treasurer, Trustee". The man touring Europe with Mac the week after we collected a special offering to pay for our facility maintenance is again our treasurer. Mac and Stimler didn't plan for the facility maintenance in our 2008 budget, and apparently didn't put it in for 2009!!! But boy they had enough in their own budgets to take a tour of Europe. I'm sure that Stimler will go with Mac on the "Holy Land Trip" next spring. Great. We can be assured that Stimler is not beholden to Mac.

Three other gentlemen were nominated for "Assistant Treasurer, Trustee"

Who nominated these people for their positions?

Mac Brunson, the pastor. No elections. Just selections.

How does the pastor nominate the trustees with no input from the congregation?

Because Mac changed our bylaws in December 2007 with no explanation whatsoever that allows HIM to do the nominating of our trustees. No announcement was made as to who they were prior to tonight, and no announcement was made we would be voting on trustees tonight. I maintain that the December 2007 bylaw changes was a cleverly disguised way of moving our congregation from a congregation ruled church to that of an "elder led" rule. And Mac picks the "elders", known as "trustees".

You might wonder, what is a "Treasurer, Trustee" and "Assistant Treasurer, Trustee". Well, I'm told that part of the bylaw changes made in December 2007 were the dissolution of the finance committee, and the creation of the "Treasurer" and "Assistant Treasurer" positions on the Board of Trustee that will serve as the finance committee. And Mac picks them.

And Mac has the nerve to go to SWBTS and Criswell College two weeks ago and say that the image of mega church pastors ruling over their churches is false. Mac is a liar and a deceiver. He attempted to lie and deceive the students at Criswell College about his wealth, his income, his cars, his house....and the power he has given himself at our church. More on this later.

So we're set for the 2009 budget year. Newly selected trustees hand-picked by the pastor, and a new budget.

Now for you stupid, biblically illiterate, recalcitrant sheep who don't bring your bibles...you have no input at all into the budget. Your pastor won't even answer any questions asked of him about the budget. He won't even take 2 minutes in the business meeting to vote on the budget to explain how things will work next year, why we cut ministries but increased communications and business, what he has done to prepare us for the coming recession. And you aren't told in advance when they're voting on trustees, and you're not explained why the bylaws were changed in a significant way to alter how our church is governed.

You just have to shut up, applaud and amen the pastor on his cue, don't say a word about small groups, don't act worried...just GIVE THE MONEY. GOT THAT? DON'T ASK QUESTIONS, JUST FORK OVER THE MONEY TO MAC AND STIMLER AND THEY'LL TAKE IT FROM THERE. And please choose between cherry and grape Kool Aid as you leave the building.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jim Smyrl - Catholic Priests are "Cult Leaders"

Read Smyrl's November 14th article on our church blogsite. Catholic priests are "cult leaders" according to Jim Smyrl. And those voting for Barack Obama need to repent in order to be worthy to partake of the Lord's supper. That's the world according to Jim Smryl.

What happened to the Jim Smyrl we knew?

When he began preaching here in the 90's, he was a young preacher with so much promise. He seemed to pattern his expository style after Jerry Vines.

He left our church, got his PhD, pastored for a few years, then came here to earn the big bucks as Mac's education man. Unfortunately now that he is under the tutelage of Mac Brunson, he is not the same preacher. He has taken a decidedly darker, legalistic tone in his ministry. What a shame.

And now he has gone overboard in his latest blog entry on our church's official blog site.

In Smyrl's November 14th blog entitled "Voting Yourself Out of Fellowship", Smyrl calls Catholic priests "cult leaders", and then has the audacity to voice agreement with the a South Carolina Catholic priest's decision to recommend that congregants who voted for Obama refrain from taking communion to keep their souls from being dammed. He also equates voting for Obama as "sin" of which the Christian needs to repent. Need to read his blog entry carefully, because as I have pointed out before he writes in "spiritualistic" code, where the meaning of his words is not always clear on the first reading.

How on earth does Smyrl defend using our church website to call our Catholic friends "cultish", and Catholic priests "cult leaders"? How does that help us minister to the city of Jacksonville? How does that further our church goal of reaching this city for Jesus Christ? No doubt that Baptists and Catholics have many doctrinal disagreements - but in the classical definition we don't universally consider them to be a "cult" as there are some points of doctrinal agreement, such as the critical view of the Trinity. And no doubt we have points of moral agreement such as the topic of abortion and the sanctity of life.

But I guess if our own pastor sees no problem in berating his own congregation week after week, and declaring that we are a hotbed of legalism where we have no real relationship with Jesus Christ...if our own pastor has such a low spiritual view of his own congregants....then certainly Brunson sees no problem in his #2 man in offending all of our Catholic friends in Jacksonville on our church's blog site. And just for the record: Brunson himself invited a singer in 2007 to perform at our church who is an ordained minister of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church - which is in many circles considered to meet the definition of a "cult". Several of our church members were very hurt that our pastor invited an SDA minister, as they have family members who have been greatly harmed by the SDA.

Look at this sentence in his closing paragraph:

"...Who alone can cleanse us of all sin. Whether it is the sin of voting in a manner that misrepresents God’s character or the sin of maliciously dividing fellowship with other believers, Christ is the answer for reconciliation. "

So those of you who voted for Obama, don't let Smyrl find out. He will perhaps bring you to the discipline committee and ask you to repent else you'll be considered by Smyrl and Mac to be unworthy of fellowship . And of course if you're like me and "maliciously dividing fellowship with other believers", you too will eventually be expelled from the fellowship.

Read again the title of his blog: "Voting Yourself Out of Fellowship"...this to me is scary stuff. Jim Smyrl and his Theology Driven Ministry concept should be expelled from our church. If you ever doubted what TDM is about, its about teaching a legalistic view of scripture, throwing the Holy Spirit out and replacing Him with Mac's unannointed preaching, and a set of questions to be asked in small groups. And if you don't join in and believe exactly as Smyrl and Brunson, and if you don't bow to their demands in the practice of your faith, if you dare to ask questions or express worry, you're unworthy of fellowship.

Jim and Mac. What a pair we have. When will the men of our church rise up and say NO MORE!

P.S. Please, do not try to compare Smyrl's words here to Vines' words about Muhammad in 2001. Completely different, no comparison. Smyrl's words are not TRUE. Catholic priests are not "cult leaders".

Questions on the 2009 Budget

Readers - Wednesday night 11/19/08 there will be a business meeting to vote on the proposed 2009 FBC Jacksonville budget. The proposed budget was handed out during the 11/12/08 Wednesday night sermon.

Since I know that most of you didn't have a chance to pick it up, I want to summarize it here for you, and then give you a copy of an email I sent to the pastor yesterday (11/17/08) with 12 questions, some of which I hope he can address PRIOR TO the vote on Wednesday. As our country heads into what may be some very tough economic times, he needs to address how our church is preparing. As he preaches to us he considers himself to be the bastion of courage in these difficult days - but in addition to telling us to be courageous (and to keep tithing), he needs to also be pragmatic and explain the implications of the tough economy on our church budget and operations and ministries - and let us know that he is demonstrating leadership in taking prudent steps. Here is a summary of the budget:

There are several interesting aspects of this budget requiring explanation:

1. Why is "Communications" and "Business Admin" increased substantially, while other areas are cut?

2. Why did giving to the Cooperative Program under the "Missions & Evangelism" category increase 10% from $500,000 to $550,000? Wouldn't it be best to hold this constant giving our overall budget is unchanged? (I have my own views as to why this is so, but I'll save that for later)

3. Apparently the much needed "emergency" repairs that Mac arrogantly and abrasively asked us to give in two weeks to avoid going into debt are NOT budgeted, since the facilities budget was not increased. Perhaps it is there, but it doesn't look like it. We hope that the difference between the actual amount given in the special offering and the needed $1 million dollars are included in the 2009 Facilities/Maintenance budget.

But here is the email I sent to Mac on 11/17/08 that covers these three items and some others. If any of these are concerns of yours as well, please email Mac at pastor@fbcjax.com. He didn't respond to my email as he does not reply to anonymous emails. Feel free to send any response you get to me, or post them directly here in the Comments section.
Hello Mac - I understand that we are voting Wed 11/26 on the 2009 budget this coming church year, and I have some questions about the budget. I understand your policy on anonymous emails and I respect that, but still I do feel compelled as a member to write you anonymously for my own personal reasons. If you don't provide a personal response because of your anonymous email policy, perhaps you could provide answers to some of these questions from the pulpit in advance of the vote Wednesday night. I do understand trustees were present last Wednesday after the service for questions, but many members, including myself, were not aware that the budget would be discussed and were not present to ask questions. But here are my questions:

1. I am concerned about the cuts in ministry that are made in all but two of the ministry areas. Can you tell us what the amount committed to the budget was on the Chest of Joash day? How does the amount committed compare to the amount committed last year?

2. I am concerned that this budget shows no detail whatsoever on salaries and benefits paid to our employees. How might we find out detailed information on at least the salaries that are included in each of the categories?

3. Under which category(ies) does your's and your wife's salary and benefits fall?

4. As most companies and non-profits are tightening their financial belts in anticipation of the pending recession, can you share with us what leadership you are providing in prioritizing expenses and perhaps cutting the lower priority costs? Have you looked at personnel cuts and restructuring of staff responsibilities as a way to prepare for the difficult year ahead?

5. Related to question 1.: can you explain the decision making process that leads to a reduction in the budget for ministry areas, but an INCREASE in "Communications" and "Business Administration"? In tough economic times I would hope that cuts could be made in business and communications BEFORE we cut ministry, and certainly wouldn't expect to see INCREASES in Communications and Business Administration while ministry is being cut.

6. I see zero expenditures on the "Pastor's Conference" line item under "Community Life". I assume the revenues and expenditures related to the Pastor's Conference are off-budget, perhaps in another 501(c)3 organization. How might a member find financial information on these expenses, and the anticipated revenues from the pastor's conference from both attendee enrollment and the selling of pomotional space? What is this 501(c)3 organization?

7. Have we considered cutting the expenses of our consultants like the A-Group and Conexus Group and doing some of these tasks in house with our staff and support staff to save money? How might a member concerned with our expenditures on marketing and promotions consultants find enough detail in our financials to see what are the amounts of these expenditures in the last fiscal year?

8. In that the "Facilities" line item under the catetory "Facilities/Maintenance" is cut by 4% from last year, does this mean that the portion of the $990,000 needed for the repair of our facilities that has not been raised through the special offering, is NOT included in this budget? If so, why is this? Why are we not paying for ongoing maintenance of our facilities in our budget?

9. About the Communications budget, which is increased by $400,000 dollars over last year, can you explain what this money is being spent on? We are concerned that this represents TV ministries on the INSP network that might be a low priority, given that we are archiving on the 316 network. Again, clarification as to why "Communications" spending is increasing over last year while ministry budgets are cut is a major concern.

10. Our cooperative giving budget was increased from $500,000 to $550,000. Can you tell me why this is so, and why we are cutting local ministry expenditures but increasing cooperative expenditures? Would it not be more prudent to simply hold that budget expenditure to last year's level?

11. The costs of starting the satellite next year: can you tell us what category these new costs for 2009 are located in the budget?

12. I understand from several deacons that questions were asked by deacons who wanted to see more detail. Were the deacons who had questions given the detail they requested prior to asking them to vote on the budget?
Thank you for reading my email, and I'll await your response via email or from the pulpit.

FBC Jax Watchdog

Monday, November 17, 2008

Theatrical Preaching

Yesterday we were treated to two masterful performances by Mac. In the morning service he gave us another tongue lashing that was one of the best (worst) that we've had. No grace. No love. Just a beating to tell us how we needed to stop being hypocrites and talking behind each others' backs, that in these difficult days more than ever we need to give our tithe, our time, and our talent (and get up out of our lazy boys), and he again complained of our displeasure over small groups by saying he was going to FORCE us into small groups, and it MUST be done so that we can apply scripture. "Love each other, darn YOU!!" was the message Sunday morning.

In the morning, we got angry Mac. It was the "You'll do what I want you lazy, recalcitrant sheep, and you WILL like it " Mac.

But in the evening, we got "cry over the grace of God" Mac.

Red hot anger in the morning. Sorrowful, crocodile tears in the evening.

Watching Mac Sunday was like watching the transformation of Michael Corlioni from the soft spoken, shy young man early in Godfather I and then fast forwarding to see Michael transformed into the ruthless family leader who ultimately turns on his own family members in Godfather II....Mac shows us two opposite sides. Is it Mac, or is it Mac performing for us? Is he a performer like Al Pacino that can play one role in the morning and come back in the evening and play another role?

After watching Mac Brunson Sunday night cry and weep like a baby over God's grace as he read out of the book of Genesis to show us just how tender hearted he is, while that morning Mac showed NO grace whatsoever, I realized something very profound. I've known for sometime he is less of a preacher and more of a performer, but I couldn't quite put my finger on something. Watching Mac "perform" in his sermons in this manner I've always felt like it was something I'd seen before. There was a strange familiarity with Mac's obnoxious style. But I knew Vines and Lindsay didn't bounce and jump and bob and weave all over the platform. I knew that they didn't constantly contort their faces, rub their eyes and forehead, yell and scream, take the glasses off and put them on and stare us down and amen themselves....so where is this "deja vu" feeling coming from as I've watched the Mac Brunson Show for 2 1/2 years? All my life I've listened to preachers who stood mostly behind a pulpit and calmly spoke. They exegate the scriptures - for the purpose of teaching and edifying their sheep. I could concentrate on what they were saying, thinking about what they were saying, and not having to watch a guy do "preacher gymastics" while I also am processing his message.

But watching Mac cry Sunday night I immediately knew where I had seen this sort of theatrical, emotionalism preaching.

Jimmy Swaggart.

If you go back and look at Jimmy Swaggart in his prime, he was the same kind of theatrical preacher that Mac is today, with maybe a few more moves than Mac. Swaggart never stood still. He had to move about. His face would be twisted and contorted as he preached. His eyes would squint, and then they'd peer. He'd be up on one level of the platform, and down, then up again. He'd whisper one minute, and projecting his booming voice across the auditorium the next. He'd "strut". There was an aire of arrogance about Swaggart- nothing humble about Swaggart's tone or delivery. He often spoke very condescendingly to his audience. He was "the man" up on the stage, and he was going to give you his sermon as a performance, as an actor. And his people LOVED IT! They would hoot and holler as he was "working" the auditorium.

Swaggart was a Bible preacher, but that wasn't his main gig. Swaggart's schtick was he was a great theatrical orator. He would take one scripture and chase rabbits, and make his points. Very little explanation of scripture, it was more the use of scriture as a springboard into what his points were that he wanted to make. Mac is similar in that he loves history, and loves to use the his Greek interpretations and historical illustrations to springboard from his bible text into his points.

And nobody could cry on cue like Swaggart. Swaggart knew the power of a tear. He knew that Christians respected someone as very spiritual if they wept publicly over Jesus, or over lost people. Mac doesn't do it much, maybe a few times he has gotten choked up. But Sunday night was classic. I have never before seen a man in front of an audience of thousands openly weep...then yell, then yell and weep in the same sentence. I am certain only an actor can do that.

Below is Mac's crying performance if you missed it, along with examples of his less "grace-ful" side. Tomorrow I'll post some thoughts on just what is it about Mac's preaching that leaves so many of us with a spiritually empty feeling.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

First Baptist Church Ocala: A Church in Turmoil

Keep your eyes on the events unfolding at First Baptist Church of Ocala (Florida) with their new pastor, Mark Cummins. They are eerily similar to events here at our own church, only in hyper- speed motion.

FBC Ocala is a church of about 4000 members in a city located about 30 miles south of Gainesville. Their pastor of many years retired last year, and the church hired Mark Cummins from a church in Hollywood, Florida. After a year at the helm the church is embroiled in a very public, heated controversy that spilled out of the pews in the middle of the Sunday service.

Here is a brief synopsis of events leading up to today. Notice the similarities at our church.

The pastor search committee stumbled upon Cummins in South Florida in 2007 while they were interviewing another pastor. The search committee and Cummins hit it off and Cummins was hired by FBC Ocala with a 99% vote. The congregation knew very little about Cummins. They trusted the search committee, heard Cummins preach, and he was hired. He is a very dynamic speaker, full of energy and vigor in his preaching. Here's the news story from the Ocala Star Banner newspaper announcing the new pastor.
The hallmark of Cummins' first year was one of rapid change. Much of it has been welcomed by the church after years of slow to no growth. He and his family are were introduced as "Team Cummins".

Firing of "The Ocala Six": Several associate pastors left the first year of Cummins' tenure, but not a big deal apparently. However things began to spiral out of control two weeks ago when six of the associate pastors of the church with a combined 80+ years service at FBC Ocala were fired. They were fired after they sought a meeting with the deacons and trustees of the church to air grievances against Cummins questioning his "integrity", "trustworthiness", "credibility", and "drive for power". While its not quite clear the chain of events, the 6 associate pastors ended up meeting with the personnel committee who deemed their grievances without merit, and after the "Ocala 6" failed to show up for another meeting they were dismissed by the committee.

When the church was notified by the deacons and trustees of the firing of these 6 associate pastors, and no detailed information was given other than "insubordination", "rufusal to work with Cummins", and "violation of God's word", the members went into an uproar demanding answers how these beloved and respected ministers could be sent packing so quickly. Parrishioners this past Sunday began to storm the pulpit, yelling and demanding answers from Cummins.

After the blow-up at the service this past Sunday and the events were reported in the local paper, news reached the church members of Cummins' previous church in Hollywood, Florida. A rather lengthy online discussion began (those pesky blogs!) in the Ocala Star Banner news discussion forums between FBC Ocala members and those of Cummins' previous church.

Guess what? The events at FBC Ocala didn't surprise the people in Hollywood, Florida that were WELL AWARE of how Cummins operates. In fact a blogger who was well aware of the M.O. of Cummins from Hollywood blogged his experience with Cummins, wrote an article here earlier this week. Most recently he shared some lessons to be learned from the Hollywood/Ocala fiascos under Cummins. Both of these links are worth reading.

Comments from the Hollywood church members about Cummins that the people in FBC Ocala wish they knew before they hired Cummins:

"He was a very charismatic guy. We thought this guy was a tremendous candidate We cut short our search thinking he was the one.""

"He inspired us. We loved him."

"Soon, however, some unsettling changes took place, laying the foundation for events that tore the congregation in two."

What did Cummins do in Hollywood that began the church to question his leadership? 1. Changed the name of the church; 2. Some arbitrary and cruel changes that weren't well explained; 3. Lied in the pulpit or said things not consistent with things said outside the pulpit; 4. Twisted scripture.

People began to see that Cummins wanted to centralize power to himself and got rid of staff members who might challenge his leadership, and he was willing to turn church members on each other.

Any of this sounding familiar FBC Jax?

According to the Hollywood people, when Mark Cummins stepped in, members said you were either "for Mark or against Mark".

Cummins also was questioned in Hollywood about why special collections, separate from regular giving, were lumped into one account with no accountability to ensure that money given for a special cause was spent on that cause. Are our special offerings being accounted for separately at FBC Jax? We aren't even told by our staff what the final numbers are of the special offerings, so who knows if the money just goes into the general fund or not.

Said one of the long term staffers at Hollywood who left shortly after Cummins was hired: "It was cultish, and I recognized it immediately. I work for people who take the high road, not for people who take the low road. I did not want any of Mark Cummins' words, or influences, or decision-making to penetrate my ears or distill itself inside me. I wanted to get away from Mark Cummins clean. I fired him from my life, and I'm proud of that. Everybody else he manipulated out." The joke among former church members who left was whether people still at the church "were still drinking the Kool-Aid."

He goes on: "He turned friend against friend, brother against brother, sister against sister. People who were friends for years became adversaries. That is the biggest problem, because Mark Cummins destroys relationships. I hurt for the people of the First Baptist Church of Ocala, because I know what those people are going through. Unless they do something, it's going to get worse."

Here is a link to the lengthy online discussion at the Ocala Star Banner.

Here is a link to the story this morning in the Ocala Star Banner, and another story about Mark Cummins' view of events.

There is always Cummins' side of the story. And more will come out in the coming weeks. Will Mark Cummins' perhaps humble himself and admit that he handled things wrongly? That he should have provided leadership to prevent the firing of these men and give them a fair hearing?

A few comments:

FBC Jax readers, make no mistake: Mac is doing many of these same things at our church. He has gone just a bit slower...he has made sure to make alliances with the trustees and key people in leadership. What you see is at Ocala might have erupted at Jax, except we have the money to pay large severance packages to departing ministers, and we're paying big bucks for marketing and promotions consultants. This advice Mac has received has allowed Mac to change the bylaws to be in his favor so pesky church members or staff members can't make a public scene calling for his dismissal. Pastors like Mac and Mark Cummins view themselves as dictators, men put into the position of "pastor" to be the deliverer of God's one Holy plan for the church, which MUST be implemented. This is quite dangerous, because these pastors then view those who question them or express dissenting views daring to oppose the Holy plan as faithless, those who go along as faithful. Mac in fact views himself as "baptized in the holiness of God" with a vision straight from God, and he is willing to divide our church to implement it, as we'll see in the new $20 million capital program. You're either for Mac's plan, or you're against God. You question Mac's plan, if a deacon voices concern, they're "not trusting Jesus." Express concern about "Theology Driven Ministry"? Please leave. Sitting in the pew? You're "sinning against the Holy Spirit". Mac threatens us that he may make members sign pledges of our responsibilities to serve and to tithe and behaves as a bully in the pulpit. His disparaging remarks about us when he is out of the pulpit and willingness to slander women when preaching are hurtful. And now his willingness to pervert our pastor's conference into an advertising and marketing bonanza is almost too much to bear.

But you have to hand it to Mac: not only is Mac doing similar things to Cummins, but he has gone the extra mile and enriched himself and his family at the same time and still has the people giving him standing ovations. Can you imagine if in addition to all of these things about Cummins, it was found out that Cummins had taken large gifts from wealthy members when he arrived? What if he had put his wife and son on staff in newly created positions? What if they had found he slandered a SWBTS professor from the pulpit or aired commercials in the middle of his sermons for the family that gave him a large gift? What if he arrived and began selling Holy Land trips to the wealthiest members and took trips to Europe with the finance committee chairman?

And about bylaws: when these kinds of problems arise, its good for the members to know the bylaws. And any pastor that comes to a church to make changes and in the process changes the bylaws in the most secretive manner that he possibly can - that speaks of his trustworthiness and should cause members to be very suspicious of just what was changed in the bylaws and why.

Lastly I'll say this: if someone at the Hollywood church had written a blog about Cummins, perhaps the Ocala folks might have been warned and not hired Cummins, or at least they would have set up an employment agreement, some structure to the position of pastor to ensure that the same problems he had there were NOT repeated. As I've said over and over...pastoral abuse comes in many types...but when the abuser is not held accountable and called out, he will repeat his behavior. And note that these two men, Mac and Mark, likely are men of high moral integrity, wonderful fathers and husbands - but their one flaw is the abuse of their churches and the disdain they show for the people of God in the house of God.

And as Kev McCord said: it is dangerous for a church these days to elevate to senior pastor a man that we don't know inside and out and know his positives and negatives. The mistake FBC Jacksonville has made and FBC Ocala has made is they handed the reigns fully and completely to a man they didn't know.

And we're both paying the price.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When Good Men Do Nothing

Update: Readers, please see the comments section and read the excerpt that I have placed there from Dr. Vines commentary on the scripture of Jesus driving the moneychangers from the temple, and the relevance of this scripture to the modern day church. Oh that our staff and lay leaders would call on our pastor to repent.
When one looks at the fact that our pastor and his son, along with their marketing firm and promotions firm are selling advertising at the Pastor's conference - ads on the Imag, print ads in the brochures, time in the pulpit - TV ads in the dining room - and even charging Christian ministries $750 just to put a table in our buildings during the conference ....we have to ask this question:

Where are the godly leaders in our church who will stand up and say this is wrong - who will drive out the money changers for Jesus?

Or are all the men in our church: the deacons, the trustees, the Sunday School directors...are they now "yes men" and afraid to stand up to the pastor and his wife?

OK, maybe the men won't stand up. I do know that our church is FILLED with discerning, godly women. Perhaps it will take women to stand up to Mac and Honey and Trey and the A-Group?

Let's do the roll call:

"OK, those of you men who have served as ministers and lay leaders under Homer Lindsay, Jr. and Jerry Vines...which of you will dare to stand up and tell the pastor you won't stand for our church facilities to be sold for advertising? Which of you will demand that Christian ministries NOT be charged $750 for the privilege of setting a table in our church facilities that were built for the glory of God and the furtherance of the gospel, NOT for money-making conferences? OK, here's the roll call...."

"Rev. John Blount, Jr" - you and your family have a long heritage of service at this church. You know this is wrong. Have you tried to stop it? When you became a "reverend" a few years ago did that mean you now are more loyal to the pastor than to the Lord?

"Rev. Steve Clifton" - come on Steve, put a stop to this. Don't be afraid for your job. Go to the pastor and tell him, and he won't listen, go with another. You have a stellar reputation and will have no problem finding another church if your stand gets you bounced out (I mean if God "calls" you somewhere else). If the pastor doesn't listen, then bring it before the church.

"Rev. Kevin King" - you served under Homer Lindsay in lay leadership, and now are in full time ministry. You KNOW Homer would never stand for our facilities to be sold, for advertisements on the I-mags to be sold, for time on our platform to be sold to advertise products. Make Homer proud and stand against these abuses, sir.

"David Kaye" - you're in a powerful position, sir. You know its wrong to market our facilities, don't you? Even if the money raised is going to offset costs in other areas, is God's plan for us to use facilities built with the money of God's people to now sell access to businesses and ministries? But maybe you won't stand up to Mac because Mac wrote a blurb for your new book just months after he arrived. So perhaps you owe him your loyalty for that and can't say anything. OK, we understand.

"Rev. Jim Smyrl" - you wrote a blog article calling for financial accountability in churches - something tells me that before you came here and subjected yourself to Mac's leadership that you would not have stood for a church to seek out advertisers to put commercials on TVs in our dining room, ads on I-Mags in the main auditorium - and certainly, you who have modeled yourself after Jerry Vines would know that accepting money from advertisers to give a "testimony" on the main platform on church on Sunday is a stench to the Lord's nostrils. Surely you know that this sort of thing drew the ire of our Lord who threw the "money changers" out of the temple. But is your cush job and six-figure salary keeping you from standing up to this?

"Rev. Whitmire" - you are perhaps the most godly man on our staff. We can tell you are a man who walks with Jesus. You knew Homer and Jerry and Adrian. You sat under Adrian Rogers' preaching for years. Never did Adrian Rogers seek to use the facilities built for the worship and glory of God to raise revenues by selling advertising space. Please Jim, be the voice of reason - we need a godly, MATURE man of God to bring reason to this madness. Its "amateur hour" down there at FBC Jax - we're being run by twenty-somethings who don't know any better and by marketing consultants in Nashville. We need you Jim. Perhaps you were brought to us for more than just filling the gap between Rodney and the next guy.

"Miss Nancy and Miss Shelly" - you knew Homer and that this sort of marketing bonanza was never envisioned for our church. You are VERY respected in our church. You can make a difference. Stand up to them. If they fire you, you will be fine.

"Rev. Allen, Jr." - as an executive pastor now, you can make a difference. You grew up at our church and know that saints didn't build the facilities so that we could charge advertising space. You heard Homer preach that some things might not be sin, but they are moving towards sin and should be avoided. You can't argue that selling advertising in our Pastor's Conference isn't leading us in a direction we want to avoid. Speak up, young man. If you get fired, we'll know what for, and the Lord will use you elsewhere. You are a fine young preacher and the Lord will take care of you.

"Dr. George Kemp" - we know you came with Dr. Brunson from Dallas, and won't say anything. We understand. But you're a discerning man, perhaps you can work behind the scenes to tell Mac that this is WRONG.

"Trustees" - we know you were hand-picked by Mac for your position. Many of you are friends with Team Brunson. Some of you have traveled with them and dined with them. But you are not beholden to the Brunsons. Your job as Trustee is to look out for the long term health of our ministry. Surely you men know that this is wrong. Don't rubber stamp it.

"Deacons" - remember, you are to serve the members...you are not agents of the pastor. Your loyalty should be to the Lord and His church, and NOT to the pastor. Surely, there are some of you who find this promotions plan offensive. OK, then speak up. And if you believe there are deacons who are not aware of it, you should let them know.

OK, that's a roll call. Who will it be? Who will step up? Who will be the first? Who loves the Lord more than they love their jobs and financial security and status with the pastor?