Members Recast As: Judas Iscariots
Most Life Groups are not Christian fellowships. They are groups of people managed for their resources by church leadership teams. The unsaved are often encouraged to join these groups where salvation is secondary, if it is that high on the list at all. The membership drives are conducted for any and all so long as they’ll be manageable for resources. That is the impetus behind community outreach projects, and the reason an emphasis is on the surrounding community instead of focusing on the body of Christ, the Church, as a separate entity. That sort of divisiveness would preclude growth as defined in corporate business models.
In Life Groups, members are confronted with Christianity-by-the-numbers, or with formulas for Christian living, designed by the leadership. The leadership’s goals for growth and perpetuity of the organization are more attuned to self-preservation than they are to edification of the saints. It follows for leaders to assess group members as potential capital. They are to be utilized for their labor, in volunteering; for their facilities, using homes; and for their money, collected in tithes, offerings, and sales for church products and productions. There are several tactics employed to obtain these resources, and Life Groups provide an opportunity to work over members more personally in an intimate setting until they conform to the vision.
Many churches publish their Life Group resources online making it possible to obtain examples of human capital management in rather sordid detail. Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, California applies a particularly shameful example of coercion for raising finances from group members in its Life Group curriculum the “ABC’s of Financial Success.” In one lesson from the program Judas Iscariot is psychologically examined in such a way as to make it possible to negatively profile some members of the group. After guided reading in the gospel of John, chapter twelve, group members are asked to share what they think went though Judas’ mind at the pouring of the ointment from the alabaster box onto Jesus.
We know what Judas said because it is recorded. Judas protested that the ointment should have been sold, and the money given to the poor (John 12: 5). The group members are prompted for their answer this way:
Often time [sic] we think of Judas just as an evil traitor but we must remember that he was not always thinking of betraying Jesus. He left everything he had to follow Jesus and as far as we know he followed faithfully until his betrayal. Based upon this information…share your answer.1
The surface lesson might be that the love of money can cause one to miss sight of what is most important, but there is an obvious attempt at subliminal stimulation here that is atrocious.
The ulterior design of this prompting seems to be in persuading individuals to presume themselves candidates as likely as Judas to betray Christ. The unraveling of their faith made possible by their retaining any reservation in turning over their finances in the percentages prescribed by the church, Satan was sure to enter into them effecting their eternal damnation. The way in which these scriptures are handled in this exercise reveals both a gross manipulation of people, and the facts.
As far as we know, Judas was not faithfully following Jesus up until the betrayal. The text tells us very plainly that Judas cared not for the poor, a fact others might have suspected and that John already knew, and an attitude opposite what one would expect from a person who had faith in Christ. Furthermore, the same text reveals Judas was the one in the group who carried money purse, and it is clearly pointed out that “he was a thief” (John 12:6). For how long Judas had been stealing we are not told, but he already had been stealing by this point, and had probably been doing so for a long time. Contrary to what’s being implied, there was no sudden incident of a born-again Christian coveting a fortune affixed at his numerical breaking point and losing his salvation on account of it.
In another exercise, Life Group members are guided in reading the parable of the talents in Matthew, chapter twenty-five. The facilitator is supplied with leader notes that correctly interpret what the parable represents, and the identities of the persons in the parable; except for one tragic error. The leader notes bunch all the servants in the parable into one category, and instruct the facilitator to proclaim: “The servants represent us.”2 A cursory examination of the details of the parable shows clearly that the one-talent servant was not one of us, that is he could not be considered a true Christian, but was in fact a professor only. In spite of this, group members are asked “Which one of the servants do you most relate to? Why?”3 Here again, the underlying motive for blurring the lines between the saved and the lost can be traced to raising capital.
The parable runs from verse 14 to verse 30, but the guided reading stops at verse 26, and this seems to be purposely guided so as to obscure, for the moment, the unsaved character of that one-talent servant, and his doom. The end of the parable reads:
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mat 25:28-30)
The fact that the parable is short, and human nature is inquisitive, means that it is a safe bet to assume that many readers will, on their own, find out the fate of the one-talent servant. By not covering it in the group, leaders can avoid fielding the salvation issue, and can instead let the implication stand that this fate awaits those who refuse to tithe to the church.
The one-talent servant buried his talent in the ground thus showing that he did not have Christ. Those who have not Christ will lose even the life that they have. There is no defense for such scandalous mistreatment of persons and misapplication of scriptures. Nowhere in the leader notes is there any instruction or caution for ensuring the salvation issue in a group member’s life who identifies himself as the one-talent man upon examining this parable. So it cannot be said that by identifying all the servants as “us” in the parable the church was merely acknowledging the saved and unsaved mixture of their Life Groups; else it is horribly negligent in the care for souls, and in the proclamation of the gospel. The reason for the church identifying all the servants of the parable in the same group is to use fear of cursing to motivate group members to give money.
1. Shepherd of the Hills Church (Pastor: Dudley Rutherford), “Bondage,” ABC’s of Financial Success. (Leader Notes) http://www.4lifegroups.org/leaders/leader-notes/abc-s-of-financial-success-leader-notes/bondage. (accessed January 14, 2020).
2 -3. Shepherd, “Funding,” ABC’s of Financial Success. (Leader Notes) http://www.4lifegroups.org/leaders/leader-notes/abc-s-of-financial-success-leader-notes/funding. (accessed January 14, 2020).