I read an insightful article on the Shepherding/Discipleship movement of the 1970s. After being compared to Jim Jones' Kool-Aid cult by Pat Robertson (of all people), the original movement in Florida dissolved. However, it covertly reemerged with new-ish leadership soon after, in places such as Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, and Louisiana. Today, the tenets of this cult movement are in fact still going strong. My husband and I, by the grace of God, recently escaped one such movement.
What I am about to share is for several reasons: to warn others about this organization, for hope that the Lord would open the eyes of those who are being deceived, that deceivers will turn to the unmerited grace found only in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross not our own.
It's called One Association Churches based in Sugarland, Texas. There are several churches, I believe eight, under the association's umbrella, both domestic and international (Peru, Indonesia, soon Turkey). My husband and I began attending one of the churches in the Chicago area but ended at the North Texas plant, Remnant Church Denton, where we were shunned for challenging their doctrines and practices.
There is an extra-biblical book that the association's leader/spiritual father/rabbi authored called Discipleship Helps. It is a workbook from which the churches teach repeatedly. At first glance, the book seems to be in line with the Bible, as it uses tons of scripture. However, it's not long before you are introduced to Gematria and other misuses of scripture. Verses are taken out of context to support submission, dying on the alter, spiritual coverings, impartations, five-fold offices, and sacrificing your livelihood to live communally.
Like most cults, they do not force one to live communally. However it is a rite-of-passage if you are willing to "die to self" and "yoke" yourself (and your family) to a discipler/shepherd/rabbi.
One of the women in leadership half-jokingly said to me once, "You know, people never know when they're in a cult." This was in response to her concern about the thought that she may be was living in a commune, given the close proximity of the other members' houses.
I pray she recounts that conversation and realizes that her family will not fall under God's wrath if they leave.
Adoption of Jewish customs like the Feasts and Jewish nomenclature like rabbi, shalom, etc. is common in this group. Studying the Pentateuch/Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Jewish roots of Christianity is good thing.
However, in most cults, the extent to which these customs are practiced are well beyond the scope of simply studying or paying homage. The same can be said of Remnant and One Association churches in general.
My husband and I were a part of a One Association church in the Chicago area for a year before helping to plant Remnant. We sold our home, moved to Texas, lived with the pastor and his family, then gave some of the proceeds to the ministry.
Some leaders in One Association have been directly pressured into selling businesses, properties, and divvying up their savings (see one couple's testimony) as a show of commitment to the association, and faith that God would provide...through the association.
I remember once when the pastor and his wife called my husband and I to a meeting. He told us, "Y'all are really self-sufficient and self-reliant...and I mean that as a compliment. But God is going to snatch that right from under your feet." My initial thoughts were that it sounded like the opposite of Psalm 37:23-26. Also, we trust and depend on God for all our provisions...and what an odd thing that was for someone to say.
In textbook cult fashion, he was shaming personal dependence on God and peddling group-think and dependence upon others.
Leadership would often "joke" that my husband and I we were "lone rangers". A lone ranger is used as a pejorative term often illustrated from the pulpits of One Association churches. It is a person who is not in agreeable lock step or "of one mind" with the group. During our prayer meetings, people would often pray aloud to "bind the lone ranger spirit" or the "spirit of individualism."
You will not find such spirits in the Bible.
Opting to have a quiet dinner at home alone instead of with your "spiritual family" on too many occasions makes you a lone ranger. Going on vacation? They'll want your itinerary. Volunteering at a para-church organization or shelter? They'll accuse you of having "divided attentions" and begin planting seeds about why you should quit. The same tactics will be deployed in regards to friends, family, school, and work particularly if you're a woman. Although, if your family members are Christians, you'll be encouraged to evangelize those "carnal" "nominal" "supposed" Christians.
I noticed a lot of teaching at Remnant on the kingdom, the kingdom within, taking dominion, and five-fold ministry. These new terms sounded strange to me, even as someone who spent their childhood in a relatively free-flowing, long skirt wearing, Pentecostal church. About a month after our arrival to Remnant, the pastor mentioned in a sermon how the gospel was not that Christ died and was resurrected for our sins...but that the kingdom of heaven was here; the focus being on the kingdom. Yet another cherry-picking, misinterpretation of verses like Matthew 4:23 to align with their doctrines.
This was different than the gospel of salvation (John 3:16) that I grew up hearing. This was a kingdom/dominion gospel. Such a proclamation should have sent us all running out of his living room...but it was so astounding that you didn't even believe your lying ears! So you said to yourself, "I'm sure that's not what he meant."
If questioned, they will say they believe in the gospel of salvation. Just wait for the "but" "and" reinterpretations.
That assertion stuck with me. As a matter of fact, I jotted it in my notes that very moment, to be sure. But that's not all that stuck with me. Young couples expressed feeling "weird" about coerced counseling or "marriage enrichment" sessions that allow leaders to ask very private, intimate questions. Intercourse is even scheduled, for which, the couple would has subsequent sessions with the discipler/pastor/shepherd to ensure they followed through. I've also witnessed young families being urged to enter into covenants with other families for business partnerships, with the pastor as a witness, instead of hiring attorneys. These are only a few of the tactics used to prey upon people's vulnerabilities and cement lifelong commitments to Remnant; to the association.
My husband had to teach men's group one night from their Discipleship Helps book. The chapter titled Your Destiny in Lesson 9 discusses "getting a vision." The scripture used was Proverbs 29:18 but the second half of the verse was omitted, whereby, completely changing the meaning. The section in their book starts off:
"In Proverbs 29:18, The Bible tells us that we simply must have a vision. Vision is the God given ability to see the future through the eye's of God's promises."
If you read the second half of verse eighteen in the Bible and the preceding verse, it's clear that the "vision" is simply referring to instructions for life that God has already revealed in his word. Not fortune-telling.
This entire chapter in their book was focused on seeking a vision, (i.e. vision casting), calling, destiny and how it can benefit the church. My husband took issue with the complete butchering of this verse and taught in it's entirety, in context, from the Bible. Unfortunately, it was largely lost on the hearers. The men continued to press my husband "seek a vision."
This happened on the heels of a previous discussion in which the pastor introduced the idea of vision-casting to my husband. I expressed concern over this very mystical sounding term and asked him to find it the Holy Bible. Well, we couldn't because it isn't in there.
A couple of months passed and we both knew for certain that something was awry. Especially when we were reprimanded for opting to spend Thanksgiving with family instead of our "spiritual family." At a men's meeting prior to this, the pastor expressed that the men and their families were expected to spend Thanksgiving with Remnant. Some of the men were disturbed by this, to the extent that one man had to assure his relative, who also attended Remnant, that he should not feel guilty for wanting to spend the holiday with his actual relatives.
One day, my husband was pulled aside by the pastor who expressed concern (not correction, he assured) around conversations I had with some of the young women about discipleship. I encouraged the young women that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth and it was not mandatory to have someone disciple them. They had expressed to me that they felt as though they could not grow in their faith unless they were discipled; believing their lack of sign gifts was a measure for spiritual growth and that perhaps a discipler could impart some gifting.
For context, all but one of the young women at Remnant had dropped out of college and quit their jobs because they said God told them to, so that they could be fully available for discipleship, marriage, and kids. They then all moved into a house, with two equally young couples, to be discipled. The wife of one of the couples quit her full time teaching job (where she ministered to the unsaved children and colleagues) to disciple those within the association and help her husband "live out his calling."
It is a common theme in One Association churches that women are "encouraged" to die to their call so their husband's vision can live. Quitting your career is seen as another rite of passage into the club for those who are ultra-righteous and committed to the agenda of the association. It is taught that the husband's vision supersedes whatever call God gave the wife. It was expressed to me once by leadership that one of the members couldn't be trusted to lead women's Bible study because her husband wasn't saved which meant her "house was out of order." As if she was somehow responsible for her husband's salvation.
Homeschooling is also highly promoted which is fine except discipleship programs take precedent over schooling and all else. Sadly, some of the school aged kids are illiterate and have little to no interaction with children outside the group. Basic education is not considered a kingdom essential. Pulling your kids out of school and away from the world is yet another way to prove your willingness to be "of one mind" with the group. Those who attend Remnant but have not participated in these various rites-of-passage are viewed as "immature" believers, lone rangers, or those who are "unwilling to die to self" so someone else's (theirs) vision can live.
One of the more egregious practices of One Association is the promotion and, in some cases, coercion of drinking even with recovering alcoholics. The premise is this: since you're saved and have been filled with the Holy Sprit...and the Holy Spirit is the spirit of self-control, you should be able to control your impulse to fall back into alcoholism. If you're unable to do that, you are still immature in your faith and likely, not filled with the Spirit. So then, "here, try this shot. You'll be fine." The pastor of Remnant actually said this.
If asked whether they are being a stumbling block, they will ignore Romans 14:13 and instead peg the stumbler as a weak, immature Christian.
On occasion, I would meet with one young lady who was a corporate sponsored athlete an ‘A’ student at a local university, and quite the evangelist on campus. She said that God was telling her to quit school and die to her dreams of future athletic endeavors...because she "realized" they were her parents dreams. What she didn't realize is that the association had their sights on her as a lifelong asset and were planting these seeds from the beginning. She was unsure about quitting school since she had promised her parents that she would finish. I brought her to verses in the Bible about honoring her parents and keeping oaths.
Not long after, all the college kids traveled to Sugarland and had a chat with the spiritual father/apostle of the association. He told them that honoring and obeying your parents are different and that if they felt they were hearing from God, then they must obey God, not their parents. He argued that because they were adults, the verse about obedience didn't really apply. With that, the young lady (and the others) dropped out of school and quit her athletic career. At 20 years old she is now married to the pastor's son, at the behest of the pastors and the devastation of her family, and is now working for her husband's vision. This, all within her first year of attending the church.
Now, following the discussion my husband had with the pastor in regards to my chats with the young women, he explained to me that one needed the Holy Spirit...and a discipler to grow in their Christian walk, as per his conversation with the pastor. I unapologetically took him to 2 Peter 1:3 (a passage written in direct response to false teachers) which states that we have all we need for life in godliness, so no, I would not agree that a person can substitute or enhance the work of the Holy Spirit by adding a discipler, rabbi, or any other method. To even suggest that the Holy Spirit needs the help of men to sanctify us is a gross mischaracterization of the Holy Spirit. Only some other spirit would need to illicit such help.
While a gogdly, biblically sound mentor is great, it is not essential for life in godliness; think of the Ethiopian eunuch.
My husband found more alarming teachings in their discipleship book. In Lesson 10: Serving As Sons, Not Servants, the roles of God the Father and Son are interchanged with human "spiritual" fathers and sons. The focus of the chapter was on Sonship and how being a son is better than being a servant. Sons are loyal and servants jump at the chance to leave or "expose their father's nakedness" meaning, expose errors. Additionally, in the section titled 'God Builds Relationally', it reads:
"God sets us in the body where He wants us to be, as it pleases Him! A person's destiny arises from his relationship where God has placed him or her. Nothing should be allowed to destroy those relationships. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. (Matthew 19:6)
But here's what Matthew 19:3-6 actually states:
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no person is to separate.” (NASB)
So as you can see, this verse specifically refers to the God ordained marriage covenant.
This is just one example of how their book reinterprets scripture to promote the will of men. In this case their message is clear: If you're here with us, then God has placed you here and it's his will that you're here. If you leave, you're going against God.
After a prayerful discussion, my husband decided to speak with our pastor over our many concerns. He had scriptural references written, within proper context, for comparison with their book. Sadly, instead of discussing the concerns and reviewing the scriptures, the pastor accused my husband's motivation as being led by Satan. He also decried "What am I supposed to tell my daughter [about our leaving]?" Ignoring the accusation and guilt trip, my husband was focused on the truth of God's word. He informed the pastor that if he held to the association's many erroneous teachings, then we would have to part ways. The pastor then argued that since he didn't write the book (although, teaching from it regularly) he didn't have any answers. He convinced my husband to meet with the spiritual father/apostle of the association, since he was the author. My husband agreed.
Again, he was prepared to discuss, with lots of scriptures at hand. However, the association leader told him that he wasn't interested in "splitting hairs" over scriptures. He then told my husband that he has seen many people leave when their churches were being planted and it usually "doesn't end well" for them. The two pastors asked my husband if he would be willing to withhold, from other congregants, that we were leaving, until our last service. My husband in his graciousness, agreed. The pastors assured him that nothing would be said of our "convictions" on why we were leaving and that the sermon would be light-hearted. And here I thought sermons were supposed to be led by the Holy Spirt...but I digress.
This was a lie.
And I knew it was a set up. Even so, my husband thought it would be a good idea to allow whatever shenanigans to play out before the congregation, in hopes that people would see the group for what it is; a cult.
Wanting to support my husband's conscience, we attended that final Sunday.
Turns out, the congregants had been given some version throughout the week of our decision to leave. And instead of a light-hearted sermon that day (December 8, 2019 which has yet to be added to their YouTube channel), it was about loyalty and going against God's will. There were even passive aggressive personal jabs sprinkled throughout the message. The congregation was taught, that day especially, about disloyalty, leaving the spiritual family in which God had placed them, and misapplied verses were used to question the salvation of those who were disloyal.
At the very end of service, the pastor called my husband and I to the front, then asked that everyone pray for our departure. He told the congregation to not think of this as a correction but rather, "our convictions" prompted us to leave. Once the prayer ended, the pastor told everyone to not contact us for at least two months to "give us space." Needless to say, most did not contact us again. In fact, my husband was contacted by the pastor that same Sunday asking us to cancel our dinner plans with a family at the church. We of course ignored such a ludicrous, authoritative, demand.
When I finally had lunch with the same friend from dinner months after. I asked her if she was aware that we had been excommunicated that day. She said "Oh yes. We were all aware and the whole service that day was quite frightening and alarming." Yet even she, after that lunch, has ended communication with me. Additionally, a young man that my husband used to meet with regularly told him "I can't talk to you because I have to obey my discipler" that is, the pastor.
In another instance, my husband had coffee with another man from Remnant, who before the meeting, told the pastor he could find no biblical reason for excommunication. While they were having coffee, a few other men from Remnant walked in to the coffee shop. One said, "I thought we weren't supposed to speak with him anymore."
Shame and fear of not living in accordance with "God's will" (their will) are effective manipulation tools for cults. Remnant and One Association are no exception.
I remember on the last day of the 2019 One Association Conference, all of the pastors stood before the congregants. Each pastor represented one letter of the Hebrew word Talmidim (disciples). They each presented different ways and "benefits" of attaching oneself to a man/discipler. The last pastor to present seemed to try and place the focus back onto Jesus Christ. But the association's leader, via an indirect correction, brought the focus back onto man, stating:
"For those of you who are in the "I just follow Jesus" crowd, you're really foolish. Foolish. Jesus Christ ordained men that you follow...as you follow Christ."
He goes on to add:
"You must attach to men that have shown proficiency. You must. There is no other way." (Watch video below at timestamp 1:10:30)
Yet, in Jeremiah 17:5 and 7:
This is what the Lord says:
The man who trusts in mankind,
who makes human flesh his strength
and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed...
The man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed.
I have found that there are more pseudo-churches today than anyone would fathom, that openly subscribe to teachings and practices like blind submission to leaders, spiritual hierachies, "prophetic" singing (and dancing), corporate speaking in tongues, five-fold, impartations, orphan spirts, spiritual coverings, vision-casting, and Kingdom or Dominion theology; all tenets of the New Order Latter Rain and modern NAR doctrines of demons.
In a time where people are yearning for a real relationship with God, the undiscerning and those looking for some experiential phenomenon can easily fall prey and become fertile soil for the "Christ and the Bible are insufficient" teachings of men. They will say you must lay on the alter and die for someone's vision. They will say you must speak in "tongues". They will say you must seek a vision. They will say you should share your wealth. And finally, they will say you must attach yourself to a person/discipler/rabbi in order to grow in your knowledge of the Lord.
But what does the Bible say?
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you." (John 14:26 NASB)
"These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him remains in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you remain in Him." (1 John 2:26-27 NASB)
"God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowing the One who called us to his own glory and goodness." (2 Peter 1:3 CJB)