Jeff Maples recently dropped an article at the Pulpit and Pen, a blog run by JD Hall which frequently features attacks against AHA. The post, like many others, is a classic case of asserting something false so often that they finally end up believing it. For this reason, I thought it important to respond to a couple of things while highlighting a few factual inaccuracies, misrepresentations, outright lies, and the occasional bizarre assertions made against the abolitionists.
One of the heresies plaguing professing Christianity in these days is Christian Nomadism. It is a form of Christianity that rejects the local church and consists mainly of self-described traveling “apostles,” if you will, who spend little to no time in organized fellowship, teaching, and edification through a local body, and almost exclusively travel around from place to place for the sole purpose of protesting the institutionalized church.
Jeff begins with a bit of hyperbole. When I consider what might be plaguing Christianity in terms of heresies, a few isolated stragglers with strange beliefs don’t really qualify. Do a quick search of Google and type in “Christian Nomadism” and see how many articles come up which weren’t written by Tony Miano, and you’ll have an idea of how widespread and pervasive it really is.
But as I read his description of what constitutes a Christian Nomad, I’m a bit at a loss because I don’t know anyone who would fit that, especially the line about people who describe themselves as apostles.
One of the most prominent and visible group of Christian nomads today is known as Abolish Human Abortion (AHA).
This is one of his primary assertions. Later on he gives a list of symptoms and says that “If you are guilty of more than just a few of these, you are probably a nomad.” So I thought at this point let’s run down the list to see what on earth he’s talking about:
Symptom 01: You claim to need no teachers to help you understand the Bible.
I’ve never met an abolitionist who believes this, nor have I ever heard of anyone espousing this.
Symptom 02: You misinterpret Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s harlotry and apply them to all structured Christian churches.
I’ve never met an abolitionist who believes this, nor have I ever heard of anyone espousing this. I’ve heard some people in all sorts of groups make parallels between the two and liken some of the problems with Israel harlotry to some modern day church harlotry, but certainly never to ALL the churches.
Symptom 03: You believe God has called or gifted you to separate the tares from the wheat, contrary to Jesus’ own words (Matt 13:28-29).
I don’t know what Jeff is talking about with this. Is he referring to his own blog’s propensity to label seemingly half of Christendom as reprobate false teachers and false believers on a downgrade?
Symptom 04: You make claims like, “I love the Body but I hate the Church” to justify separating from what you claim to love.”
I’ve heard many, many abolitionists say that they love the body, but have never heard one say that they hate the church, which by definition, is the body. I would imagine any abolitionists who said that they hate the church would be sharply rebuked and repudiated.
Symptom 05: If asked by a Christian where you go to church, you get defensive and make a speech about bad churches.
When abolitionists hear this question, they respond all sorts of different ways. Some will cheerfully say “Praise God brother, I’ve been a member in good standing at my church, Fellowship Baptist Church for the last fifteen years.” Some will say “Well, I am an elder at Door of Hope Church in Norman, Oklahoma”. Some will say “I’ve attended Boyle Full- Gospel Church for six years where I serve on the worship team” Or in greeting. Or in youth ministry. Or with the singles ministry.
Some may say “I am part of a home fellowship with seven other families.” and some may be reticent to answer- not because they are not part of a local church, but because they make a distinction between being the church and going to church and think the question is worded improperly. Lastly, others may not answer at that moment because they might discern the questioner of this question may be asking in bad faith, to deflect, distract and discredit, and so they don’t want to go off topic.
I can confirm though, in casual studies done on the Abolitionism page, that something like 80% of abolitionists attend what many would describe as traditional churches, 19% attend home churches or micro-churches, and a few wayward souls who aren’t part of a local fellowship who are routinely rebuked for violating the scriptures.
Symptom 06: You piously assert you answer to no one but God, ignoring what Bible says regarding submitting to godly church leadership.
I don’t know of any abolitionists who say this- that they answer to no one but God. That would be indeed a very bad thing to say. It is certainly not a belief or tenet of abolitionism.
Symptom 07: You are a Pelagian.
I don’t have exhaustive knowledge of all the abolitionists beliefs on such thing, only that anyone suggesting that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts would be repudiated. I don’t know of any abolitionists who are pelagians or who would self-identity as such. I do know a couple who might have what could be described as semi-pelagian leanings, and I would of course disagree with that and view it as bad kimchi.
Symptom 08: You believe you have reached the point of completed sanctification, and you’re proud to let others know it.
I know some abolitionists who believe that after decades and decades of Christian sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit that they will sin less than they did in their youth, and yearn to sin less in their future. I don’t know any abolitionists who believe one day they will achieve sinless perfectionism, but if there are it would certainly be a tiny minority and certainly not a tenet of abolitionism.
EDIT: I remembered that I do know two people who advocated sinless perfectionism, and they were removed from the group and disfellowshipped.
Symptom 09: You fervently study Scripture, but you do it like the Pharisees of old (John 5:39).
Abolitionists study the scriptures because they want to know more about Jesus and his will, out of a great affection for Him due to Jesus saving them and giving them eternal life by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ’s work alone.
Symptom 10: You are part of a group where the leader decided himself that he met the biblical qualifications for leadership.
Not exactly sure what this symptom is intending to communicate. Abolitionists are all part of church fellowships, because they love the church and love the body, and these bodies have pastors and elders and teachers. Is he knocking on home churches here or talking about some sort of romanistic papal-succession of preachers where only the guy who was commissioned by the other guy who was commissioned by the other guy who was commissioned is qualified to be an elder? I’m not able to tell.
Symptom 11: You add obedience to Christ and a militant form of social justice activism to your soteriology.
I’ve never met an abolitionist who believes this, though some screenshots were recently sent to me that indicates a least one person calling themselves an abolitionists communicated a belief that if a pastor does little or nothing about abortion, then they are lost. Without knowing more of the context I can’t speak to this. Certainly not loving ones neighbor in this way this might be one possible evidence that they are unsaved, to say that is proof-positive they are lost is wrong.
Of course though, this point serves to illustrate that a few people having bad beliefs does not represent everyone.
Symptom 12: You place the cause above the cross and you deny or minimize the imputed righteousness of Christ.
I’ve never met an abolitionist who believes this, nor have I ever heard of anyone espousing this.
Symptom 13: You’ve read the other 12 symptoms, you know some apply to you, you’re not in a church, and you really don’t care.
I’ve never met an abolitionist who believes this, nor have I ever heard of anyone espousing this. Any abolitionist who believes this would be rebuked and exhorted.
So strange, right? Its almost as if Jeff does not know or does not understand that abolitionists are a very varied bunch of people.
Some are high-church Presbyterians. Some are Reformed Baptists. Some are Pentecostals. Some are Non-denominational. Some are Anglicans. Some are Methodists.
Some are pastors. Some are elders. Some are laypeople.
Some attend mega-churches. Some attend churches of 400. Some attend fellowships of 50. Some attend churches of 15.
Some are calvinists. Some are arminians. Some are cessasionists. Some are continuationist. Some are complementarians, some are- well, actually 95% are complementarians.
What binds us together however as abolitionists, despite all these differences and disagreements about secondary and tertiary issues, in the midst of a whole rash of different personalities and temperaments and beliefs, is our commitment to the centrality of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, to an ideology expressed via five tenets and two modes, and to our commitment to non-violence.
This makes it very bizarre when Jeff starts to reach for terminology and apply it to us and make blanket statements. When Tony Miano had written on Christian Nomadism in the past, he seemed to have very specific examples in mind, such as when he described a man who had these sentiments:
“As a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ I don’t go to local churches. I am not getting taught by men, but by Christ. Period. The whole Christianity sits in the deepest pit of hell and the Lord Jesus Christ sits outside the churches and not on the inside. Those people who are going to church are not saved they are just religious. When we want to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is it there where two or three are gathered in my name there is the Lord in their midst. So we are NOT going to a local church, but we get an encounter in the inner quarters with the Lord Jesus Christ and hidden. The local churches are swine stables with all kind of false doctrine. None of those churches have the Gospel of the Kingdom or the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ. source.
If that’s what Christian Nomadism is- that’s creepy and fantastically ungodly and I thank the Lord I don’t know a single abolitionist who would even dare to say something like that. Yet it seems like Jeff has co-opted the term and has sought to shoehorn abolitionists into it. This is made doubly sad when we consider no one believes the things he’s ascribing- certainly not the majority of people.
Listen, I’m fully aware that there are people who hold to the AHA ideology that have some issues. Some abolitionists are immature, cruel, immoderate and intemperate. Sometimes they say things they shouldn’t and do things they shouldn’t. Sometimes they are too quick to judge and not slow enough to listen. Sometimes they take offence too easily or take pot shots when they shouldn’t. Abolitionists are sinners, and we sin, and we don’t always get it right, and we have enough legitimate things that we do that are worthy of criticism- that we need to work through and work on without a group like Pulpit and Pen making extra stuff up.
If you want to critique points of ideology or tactics or strategy or beliefs, or want to bring up actual problems with concrete examples and evidences, then that’s awesome. Praise God. As a movement we’re certainly open to that. But to talk about how we’re church-hating nomads? Talk about missing the mark. You might as well criticize us for believing in reincarnation or Deism for all the sense that makes.
AHA has grown into an enormous organized movement of nomads regularly traveling from state to state to protest biblical churches and call them to “repent” of their perceived sin of “abortion apathy.”
This is another untrue and made up assertion. Abolitionism is an ideology to the five tenets and two modes, comprised of people who live out their faith in their own community and are members in traditional churches submitted to their elders, people who are informal members who have served and have been a part of their body for years and years, and people in home churches.
The fact that some people travel to abolitionist conferences once or twice a year doesn’t make them a nomad any more than traveling to attend the Shepherd conference makes the attendees nomads. There’s no one traveling across the country with the express purpose of protesting churches. This is just a strange claim. There are a small handful of people who, when they do travel, do church repent projects at different churches, which looks different each time, but to say there’s an enormous amount of people regularly crisscrossing the country to protest the church, and that there is some sort of organization behind it- that’s just silly.
The movement is decidedly cultish in nature and its adherents are known to place the cause of stopping abortion above the gospel.
AHA in no way meets or even comes close to meeting anyone’s definition of a cult except for a small group of people who have redefined “cult” to ensure that they can make AHA fit into it. Before they heard of AHA, they never would have dreamed of defining it the way they do now. And if they don’t say that we’re a cult- in the absence of any and all evidence, they say we’re “cultish” or “cult-like”- lazy words meant to subjectively impugn without having to bring up evidence to the fact.
Not only is AHA hostile to the local church, they are also emphatically against any form of organized gatherings for any other purpose than to fight abortion.
More outright lies and assertions. 99% of abolitionists are part of local congregations where they serve the Lord and the rest of the body, and the constant exhortation of the most visible “leaders” in the movement has been to tell people over and over and over again “you need to be involved in and be in community with your church family, serving as part of the body.” This is an indisputable fact. Is he talking about Church Repent? A campaign that some abolitionists agree with and others don’t, and in which support is not required in order to be an abolitionist? If so, he should read Church Repent is Church Love, if he’s so concerned.
Apparently Jeff is saying that you can’t call the church to repent or point out areas of weakness, sin, or apathy unless you’re Paul Washer [in which case you can say that half the people in church are lost and half the churches in America are apostate, and you are cheered and given a hearty “amen,”] or seemingly unless you are a contributor to the Pulpit and Pen, in which that is your bread and butter.
As far as the organized gathering thing goes, I have no idea what he’s talking about. I used to believe that Jeff at least had a basic understanding of what AHA was and the ideology and how were all set up and the structure and how ideas and beliefs are transmitted, but I’m really doubting the benefit that he had previously enjoyed with me.
Most recently, a band of AHA members showed up at the Shepherd’s Conference at John MacArthur’s church in California. Broadcasting live from the event was Toby Harmon, one of the figureheads of the movement, stating that one of the objections that AHA gets is “why don’t you go to the leadership of the local churches first before you go to the local church to distribute information?” He then proclaims that they are at the Shepherds conference to confront 5000 pastors and leaders at once.
There is no membership to AHA. There are a collective of Christians who hold to the ideology who were taking part of a multi-day conference who made attending this event one of their many activities, which also included conference talks, open-air preaching, handing out tracts, sharing the gospel, going to clinics and high schools, agitation in the public square, and a whole bunch of other things. Notice that Jeff called Toby a figurehead. Keep that in mind for later.
Except AHA doesn’t consider the pastors and leaders at the Shepherds Conference to be actual biblical pastors and leaders. They hold an absolute disdain for the “5000 or so” pastors and leaders at the conference.
Another falsehood. Says who? Where did he come across this information? Was it on the main site http://www.abolishhumanabortion.com where we lay out all our beliefs? Perhaps it was from the main AHA Facebook page where we pass on information and talk about abolition stuff. Did he see some press release that AHA, as conviction and policy, doesn’t consider these men to be pastors or biblical leaders, and that these views are representative of the “enormous organized movement?”
No. He screenshotted a comment on one guys private Facebook page and declared it defacto an AHA belief- a guy mind you who’s not a spokesperson or head of an organization, but merely a fellow co-laborer in Christ.
This is common sense, right? If some abolitionist says something critical of a person or group of people, that is NOT indicative of the collective opinion of the hundreds or thousands of people associated with AHA, or that the view is enshrined as a non-negotiable belief in the ideology itself that must be held and believed by all.
So for example, I’m an abolitionist who believes the majority of the pastors and leaders at the Shepherds Conference are actual biblical pastors and leaders, but to hear Jeff say it, I and everyone who might agree with me must be misguided or perhaps we don’t count, as someone somewhere who I am not accountable for said otherwise in expressing their private beliefs, and so now I am bound to that.
Another figurehead of the AHA movement, who was formerly an author at Pulpit & Pen before he apostatized into the movement, is Alan Maricle. He had this to say of the people attending the conference:
So a figurehead is a nominal leader without real power- the face of something, if you will. It is true that Alan is a visible abolitionist who has some influence, but he is not speaking on behalf of all abolitionists, and is certainly not a figurehead. But he did make a comment which Jeff is trying to get a a lot of mileage out of, and he’s not very successful at it.
Alan’s comment does not say what Jeff claims it is saying. Read it again. Read it carefully. Is Alan saying that he doesn’t consider the pastors and leaders at the Shepherds Conference to be actual biblical pastors and leaders? Is he making blanket, universal statements towards all of them as Jeff would suggest? No. He’s not. He’s saying the fields are white unto harvest, even if that field is thousands of pastors. He’s saying some [not all] are lost and some [not all] are hirelings.
Later on in that post, Alan goes on to offer some clarification and elaboration which further refutes Jeff’s assertions.
So at the very least, Alan is guilty of saying that he believes some pastors attending the Shepherds conferences are lost and are hirelings. This is undoubtedly true. Are there “quite a few of them?” I don’t know how many that means to him. Is that field “huge?”- that’s questionable. I think a conference like the Shepherds Conference likely has a much higher ratio of true-believers to false believers than most other conferences. If it was some non-denominational seeker sensitive conference I’d be more apt to agree with that, but with Shepherds- there’s some hirelings and wolves there, but probably a small minority.
My take on what Alan said is that it was clumsily worded and I would not say that or go as far as he did, and I even told him as much But here’s what’s important: at best, he did not say what Jeff is accusing him of, and at worst, I disagree with him and I think he’s wrong about it, and he still did not say what Jeff accused him of.
To leave with a final thought, something was pointed out to me by my friend Mike Gulley that I do think is worthy of discussion.
“What Alan wrote sounds like a paraphrase of what Paul Washer said a few years ago.
“When will we realize that one of the greatest mission fields in the West is seated every Sunday morning in the pew? The Gospel Power and Message
If the greatest mission field is in our own church pews…
What does that say about the multitude of pastors supposedly shepherding them?”
That’s certainly an interesting thought. Perhaps Jeff can address it instead of bearing false witness against the abolitionists and proving yet again whenever he writes on the topic of AHA and abolitionism that he has little to no idea what he’s talking about.