Pat Robertson vs. the “Shepherding Movement”

In the midst of the ongoing tragedy of the recent tornadoes here in Tennessee and around the South-east, I received a most interesting document: an exchange of 1975 correspondence between Pat Robertson and Bob Mumford (and some other items) re Pat’s objections to the “shepherding movement” in vogue at the time.  That movement was the Protestant counterpart to the authoritarian covenant communities Catholic Charismatics were embracing, and which I rejected for myself in 1977.  There was a great deal of interchange between the two “halves” of the movement, which shows that ecumenical dialogue is not per se a good thing.

You can read the letters for yourself, but my comments are as follows:

  • Pat’s willingness to “go to the mat” with the likes of Mumford and Derek Prince was a bold move in a world where “go along to get along” is very much the rule.  These men and others were ministry colleagues.
  • Pat lays out a Biblical case against the movement.  That’s in contrast to the assumption of its proponents that a top down, authoritarian structure for the church was God’s way and that was it.
  • Mumford’s retort that Pat’s “going public” with his objections violated Matthew 18:15 is a common one amongst fans of authoritarianism.  Bill Gothard invoked it routinely in his heyday, and Steve Clark did so even after he had consented to an interview!  The root problem here is that Evangelical Christianity has never properly implemented this injunction of Our Lord, either at the local church level or above.  That’s because…
  • …as Pat pointed out, authority in the church was and is problematic.  I deal with this knotty problem in my piece Authority and Evangelical Churches but Pat’s take on it is as follows:

There was clear cut authority in the New Testament, yet it was never really used. In today’s church what is the authority? The Pope? The World Council? The National Council? The Assemblies of God? The Church of God? The Methodist or Episcopal Council of Bishops? The Archbishop of Canterbury? The Full Gospel Business Men’s Board of Directors? Oral Roberts? Billy Graham? CBN? Rex Humbard? Five teachers in Fort Lauderdale? Juan Ortiz? The Southern Baptists? Ten pastors in Louisville, Kentucky.

None of these? Every pastor? The Holy Spirit dealing with a priesthood of believers?

If the Jerusalem Council which included eleven men who lived personally with Jesus, was very cautious and reserved in dealing with their fellowmen, how can any little group of charismatics in our confused state be so terribly dogmatic in trying to dominate others?

Pat’s objections to the “Shepherding Movement” took a lot of the wind out of the sails of this idea in Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity.  Unfortunately the same did not take place on the Catholic side.

I also think that this episode puts into perspective some of the subsequent political events in the history of the “religious right”.  There’s no doubt that many of those who went down the authoritarian road for the church were and are prepared to do the same in the political realm.  With numerous ancestors who knew what swearing to uphold the Constitution of the United States was all about, Pat had a different perspective from his colleagues in the political realm as was the case in the church world.

The authoritarians–and they are numerous in Evangelical Christianity even now–had and have forgotten that they key to the success of Christianity in the United States has been freedom, be that freedom at the personal spiritual, ecclesiastical or political level.  Unfortunately that’s not appreciated as much as it should–and that’s true for both sides of the religious and political spectrum.

I am once again indebted to John Flaherty for this excellent material.

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