in 2013 we had the misfortune of coming in contact with Vine Christian Church in Kingston, Tasmania.
We showed up at this local church just wanting a service to attend while we were unable to attend our own church due to Jo's naptimes being in the mornings at the time. [He's one of those babies for whom if we didn't adhere to his schedule very strictly, it would result in entire day's and night's worth of fussing/crying/no sleep at all] Also being new to the area, I just wanted to get to know more people.
On our very first visit to that "church" I was invited to join their playgroup even before we'd ever had any conversation about "joining" their organisation. [from henceforth I shall refer to that group as an organisation, because their usage of the word "Church" is not the same as most other Christian's] I thought it was a great idea - even if we didn't join this organisation, I'd love to go for their playgroup just for fellowship with other Christian mums.
During the 10 months we were there, they showed us a lot of "love" for which we were so touched and grateful at the time, thinking that they really cared. They invited me over, went for walks together, etc.etc. I thought to myself "this is really great, how blessed it is to be in the family of God!" Of course we reciprocated in a similar manner, spending a lot of time with them, often meeting up with them 3-4 times a week. We' know that we are to love others sincerely as Romans 12:9 exhorts us to.
At some point a few months later, I felt that something was spiritually amiss with this group - the leader, Nic Rowcroft put excessive pressure on me to join a course he was running which he said was a foundational course on Christianity. having been a Christian and regular church attendee for the last 30 years, I did not feel the need to do another foundational christian course [I'd done several in my lifetime] So I declined. but Nic Rowcroft kept pressuring me to join, first by sending Philip Price, his elder to ask me why I didn't want to join, and asking me if I'd like him to come over and discuss it with me, [isn't that putting excessive pressure?] and after I said no politely, going to my husband, telling him to instruct me to alter my decision and join the course, and failing that, sending the elder's wife,Vanessa, to ask me out for a walk, with the hidden agenda of getting me to join the course. He required that all new members of the church do this course. After all these events, I sensed that something was amiss with this group and immediately decided to leave. Alarm bells were ringing - this is exactly what a cult would do to reprogramme each new member.
However, I wasn't sure exactly what it was and not wanting to hurt their feelings, used Jo's changing schedule as the reason we couldn't continue attending an afternoon service and switching to a morning one would suit us better - which was all true. I didn't want to offend them so I said I'd keep coming to their mum's group, just to show that there were no hard feelings and I still wanted to be friends.
Imagine the shock and disbelief when I was suddenly told that I shouldn't go to their playgroup anymore because "You should go to your own church's mums group", "You can't go to X church and come to Y's playgroup", and "now that you've left this family, why would you still come here to eat?" [these were the exact words from the pastor/elder's wife!!!] Can you BELIEVE that Christians can actually talk like this? I was completely dumbfounded because this is just unbelievable!
some other reasons Vanessa [the elder's wife] gave for telling me I shouldn't come to their group anymore:
-If you come to our mum's group it'll be confusing because you're a member of another church but coming to Vine's mums group. [confusing to whom? only the very intellectually challenged]
- You chose to leave Vine, so now you can't come to our mum's group. [eh? what's that got to do with it? sounds like a lot of bitchy-ness to me]
- You might come in the way of Vine's mums connecting with each other. [!!!???? this reason is so stupid doesn't deserve a comment]
- You might teach our Vine mums wrong theology now that you're in another church. [yet another cult warning sign! isolating their members to prevent any outside input so that they can practice their own brand of Christianity without being accountable]
Of course, still thinking that she was a friend I tried to talk to her, explaining that since we're all part of the same family in Christ, there was no need to exclude me from a social group, since it's just a social group where non Christians go to as well but she just refused to understand/listen, and just rigidly stuck to her position even after I'd told her my own church didn't have a playgroup. how ridiculous is that?
Also she said that I wasn't a priority anymore now that I wasn't in their organisation as "we only have limited time and resources so we must practice relationship triage". I was only talking about coming to their mother's group, which is just a casual social thing, not asking them to marry me!
Still thinking that this couldn't be true, we talked to the pastor and his elder for 7 hours to see whether this was the actual church's position, as it was so unthinkable to us. It was!
For these "reasons":
- to establish that organisation's identity as distinct from any other organisation's, members of other organisation's should refrain from attending that org's meetings
- a member of 1 family shouldn't go to eat/stay at a cousin's or auntie's house
- an org only has so much time & resources, so it should be spent on its own members, and non-Christians.
the 1st reason makes sense in the secular world but in the family of God - no organisation's rules should ever be put before God's people's interests. If you can be a blessing to someone, even if they're not part of your group, why shouldn't you? Remember how Jesus often chastised the pharisees for using the law to hit people on the head in an unloving manner?
the 2nd reason is really sad and wrong. That's not how a true family should be... my auntie let us stay with them for more than 6 months during that time we were in need and ha no jobs. That's how real family should be! If a family member is in need, how could you, a Christian... not help them? 1 John 3:16 - we are to love other believers sacrificially! [not superficially! and not just the believers in your little group]
I didn't expect them to still spend the same amount of time with me as before [obviously!] but I really didn't think that my attending playgroup with them was a problem. Besides, as mentioned before, i was invited to join their playgroup even before we'd ever talked about joining, so I assumed it was open for all. ALL playgroups run by [real] Christians around here are open to everyone!
I truly regret ever setting foot into Vine Christian Church's service that day.
They are an isolationist cult for these reasons:
1. Isolationist. Members are instructed not to spend time with believers from other churches in case they [from the other churches] influence them with their deviant teachings, and they should be "investing" all of their free time only with other fellow members of this group. They are told to "de-emphasize" their relationships with believers from other churches and emphasize more on their relationships with people within their group. Sounds cultish?
2. Misinterpretation of Bible verses. taking one verse in the Bible and twisting it to mean something else and basing their entire organisation's philosophy on that misinterpretation! they took 1 Tim 3:15 "if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" to mean that each church group should be separate from others and the members must not attend another church group's meetings. what A STRETCH!
I don't think this point deserves anymore comment as it would be insulting to you, my reader's intelligence for me to go on about how the meaning they derived from it is so far removed from the actual text that it's just ridiculous.
3. Excessive pressure on me to complete a course - this level of control on member's lives in an area that's clearly my right whether to join or not is clearly excessive and rings alarm bells
4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world - afraid that a mum from a different church would teach the Vine mums some wrong theology and lead them astray!
5. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances. - later I met 2 other families who also left Vine Christian Church and were treated badly as well, all relating the same pattern of events that happened with us.So I wasn't the only one!
6. Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.
thankfully I met some other real believers from St Clement's Kingston who ran a mainly music group that was so welcoming, so much fun and full of mums and children from many different churches - but all coming together to enjoy fellowship and learn about God. Nobody was confused. I think it's clear now who was confused!
Also the ladies at Little Squirts at the CRC allowed us to join their playgroup although we were not part of their organisation and some of them have really encouraged me in the faith and we've become good friends over the years.
Thank God for real believers!
I want to end with this very encouraging quote from a friend at church last Sunday:
"Look up!" -Rebecca Van Tol