Church Check: Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California

Basic Church Information

Church Name: Grace Community Church

Senior/Lead Pastor: John MacArthur

Board of Elders/Leadership Staff: Leadership & Elders Pages

Address: 13248 Roscoe Blvd. Sun Valley, CA 91352

Phone: 818-909-5500

Email: N/A (See Question #5)

Website: gracechurch.org

Social Media:

Online Services: https://www.gracechurch.org/teaching


Church Specifics


Denomination: Calvinist / Reformed

Preaching Style: Expository/Verse-by-verse

Worship Style: Traditional/Hymns

Membership Requirements: Yes

Tithes/Compelled Giving: Yes

Financial Transparency: Unknown (See Question #3)

Affiliations: The Master’s Seminary, The Master’s Academy International, Grace to You, The Master’s University


Red Flags of Spiritual Abuse, Exploitation/Opportunism, and/or High Coercive Control


Spiritual Abuse Definition: Any attempt to exert power and control over someone using religion, faith, or beliefs can be spiritual abuse.


Coercive Control Definition: Coercive control is a form of emotional abuse or intimate partner violence that can cause psychological trauma. Here, we use it to describe a specific form of abuse practiced in the local church setting by men and women in church leadership positions. It describes a pattern of behaviors a perpetrator uses to gain control and power by eroding a person’s autonomy and self-esteem. This can include acts of intimidation, threats, and humiliation. Coercive control also refers to a pattern of controlling behaviors that create an unequal power dynamic in a relationship. In the local church setting, these behaviors give the church leader power over their Christian subordinate, making it difficult for them to leave the church.


Spiritual Exploitation/Opportunism: “Spiritual opportunism refers to the exploitation of spiritual ideas (or of the spirituality of others, or of spiritual authority): for personal gain, partisan interests or selfish motives. Usually the implication is that doing so is unprincipled in some way, although it may cause no harm and involve no abuse.”

I see potential for spiritual abuse and coercive control in multiple ways at Grace Community Church, and also signs of exploitation/opportunism. I will list them in this section.

Please note that my observations in this section of the church check are not purely factual, although they are based on facts about the church and facts about coercive control, spiritual abuse, and spiritual exploitation and opportunism, but they also include my personal opinions based on my knowledge and experience with various types of abuse, coercive control, exploitation, and religious cults. I am not a professional psychologist or therapist of any kind. Some professionals and resources on these issues worth looking into if you’re interested in learning more would be:

Diane Langberg

Steve Hassan

Wade Mullen

Jeff VanVonderen

Dave Johnson

ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association)

Spiritual Abuse Resources


Now, on to the red flags!


1. On Grace Community Church’s About Page, it says this about church:


Church, however, is paramount because of its absolute uniqueness. While "Grace" and "Community" were our choice in defining who we are, "Church" was mandated by God — as revealed in His Word…”


The claim that church is actually mandatory according to God Himself as revealed through the Bible (which they don’t back up with Scripture), is a red flag of exploitation and spiritual abuse.


Claiming that an outward work or deed like attending a local church is mandated by God is not only unbiblical but also spiritually abusive because it uses God’s power and authority in order to control and manipulate the actions of individual Christians: “You have to go to church because God mandated it in the Bible.” Nowhere does the Bible mandate official church membership or attendance, and GCC has no Scripture to back up this claim.


2. Grace Community Church is very clear that they have official church memberships, authority and power belonging to only male elders and other church male leadership, that members must submit to them, and that they practice church discipline as defined by their interpretation of Matthew 18.


All of this can easily lead to spiritual abuse and coercive control.


First, a contextual reading of Matthew 18 will reveal that Christ isn’t talking about church discipline as executed by “church leadership,” but how we are to handle interpersonal relationships with other Christians, one-on-one. So many churches use this single passage to justify monitoring, controlling, and disciplining the personal lives of other Christians. We should never use a singular passage out of context to establish doctrine or church practice, especially when it contradicts the unity of the rest of Scripture.


The entire New Testament, and the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, is all about grace, mercy, love, and peace. The laws of God are written on our hearts, and we are convicted by the Holy Spirit directly. Church discipline policies, man-made authority and power over others, and the unequal power dynamic created by churches like GCC are an open door for spiritual abuse, and antithetical to the Gospel of grace, love, and truth.


Cherry-picking Matthew 18 out of its context leads to abusive and cult-like practices such as spying on people and instructing or encouraging church members to spy on their brothers and sisters in Christ, monitoring peoples’ personal lives, controlling every aspect of their lives to line up with the church’s definition of “holiness,” and witch hunts that not only end up in excommunication, but worse. Slander, libel, unwholesome, unloving speech, and all sorts of abuse toward our siblings in Christ is the inevitable rotten fruit of this teaching, and it’s common practice in many churches today.


Nowhere in these passages do we see a directive specifically and solely for church leadership, pastors, or elders to execute these instructions on church members. These directions are for ALL believers, not just those in leadership positions. Jesus wasn’t only talking to pastors or elders in these passages. He was speaking to all of His disciples present. Most churches, however, do not respect the right and authority of the individual believer to practice these instructions by their own God-given right and authority in Christ. They only respect discipline if it’s coming from someone in leadership (that THEY appointed), but that’s not what Scripture teaches at all.


Any church that points to Matthew 18 for “church discipline” and “accountability”, claims it’s their leaders’ job to enforce it on the lowly congregation, forcing each member to sign a one-way contract or agreement submitting to this unequal balance of power, is not safe, in my opinion.


If leadership does not submit themselves to accountability from the congregation, at least in the same way they require you to submit to them, then they’re not trustworthy as an under-shepherd of their local church body, and are likely spiritually abusive.

3. The Church’s “Affirmation of Commitment”


The GCC’s Affirmation of Commitment, which is simply a member agreement contract, touches on what we just pointed out in the previous red flag. It binds the church member to certain ambiguous and vague practices and behavior, such as having a lifestyle that “exhibits both true Christian love and personal holiness,” and “doing all you can to stimulate love and good deeds in others as you seek to exercise your spiritual gifts in faithful service,” but what these statements really mean in execution isn’t specified.


What is a holy and Christian lifestyle according to Grace Community Church? Most Christians disagree to some extent on what a holy Christian life actually looks like. Does it simply mean being a loving individual, or is there an unwritten checklist that needs to be checked in order to qualify, at least at this church?


Not knowing what the church means by these statements while signing an agreement to abide by them can back you into a corner later on and get you into trouble for things you never thought would be a problem as a Christian. It makes sense to live a holy and Christian lifestyle, but what that actually looks like depends entirely on the church’s ideas, not what you think, or even what the Bible says. You are submitting to their ideas of what that looks like, and they are telling you that if you don’t, you will be disciplined.


There are also some specific expectations as well in this Affirmation. The agreement to consistently contribute “time, talent, and resources,” is pretty cut and dry: you must support the church financially and invest as much time and energy into it as you can.


So even though John MacArthur admits that tithing isn’t a New Testament mandate for Christians today and that giving to God has always been voluntary, he is essentially contradicting himself here by requiring that you pay for church membership with your time and resources. Also remember that church, according to GCC, is a “mandate” by God.


This is exploitative, plain and simple.


Another requirement for membership:


“Will you always be willing to both give and receive admonition and instruction with meekness and in love?”


This could be a very dangerous thing to agree to. What if the admonition and instruction the church wants you to receive is unbiblical? Exploitative? Abusive? How can you agree to always be willing to receive instruction with meekness and love, however that’s defined by the church, when you don’t know what you’re going to be instructed to do? When you don’t know what the church means by “love” or “meekness” or “admonition”? These vague demands are a spiritually abusive situation just waiting to happen. You’re being expected to blindly trust men. When has that ever been a good idea?


If you trust GCC leadership and know what they mean by these statements and have full confidence that the church won’t take this vulnerable position they put their members in as an opportunity to spiritually abuse, exploit, and control you, then by all means, do what you will, but know that you are signing a legal document. A contract. An oath.


That means you are swearing to do what these people, not God or Jesus, but this local church’s leadership, want you to do. It even states in their own church bylaws that: “Members of this church who are under discipline by the church, as defined in the previous paragraphs, forfeit and waive the right to resign from this church. Resignations from membership are possible only by church members who are in good standing and who are not under any disciplinary action.”


That means you cannot resign your membership with the church if they decide to put you under discipline, and they can put you under discipline for anything they deem “sinful.” And you’ve already agreed to receive all of their instructions with meekness and love. You’ve agreed to submit to their “leadership.” Red flag? Absolutely.


4. John MacArthur’s Teachings about Women


Then there are MacArthur’s teachings and comments about women, which are very controversial, and dare I say, spiritually abusive, as well as signs of coercive control.


There are of course still many churches, denominations, and pastors today that refuse to allow women into leadership or teaching positions, which is spiritual abuse in my opinion, but MacArthur takes it a step further with some of his comments. The ones that strike me as the most troublesome:


“If women are in charge, we’re in trouble.”


“...Over the course of the sermon, MacArthur laid out his belief that women are not just ill-equipped for spiritual leadership but for any kind of leadership role. He said that “typical women’s sensibilities,” which in his mind include “compassion,” “mercy,” and “kindness” make women “more vulnerable,” which is why they need men to “protect them from deception...”


Rather than getting into a long-winded dissertation about why I disagree with MacArthur and how these statements are spiritually abusive, I will simply point you to my upcoming post on the subject, once it’s published. In summary, I will cover why I think it can be and in many cases is spiritually abusive to bar women from leadership positions in the local Christian church. Also, I will cover how MacArthur’s specific comments are particularly troubling, and open the door for spiritual abuse in his own church.


To summarize those points for now, no one, neither men nor women, are “in charge.” The head of the Church is Jesus Christ, and all authority has been given to Him. For MacArthur to think that men are “in charge” of anything related to the Body of Christ is a red flag for me. God is in charge, and the only way for any of us to do anything worthy of His Church is through the power and work of the Holy Spirit within us. Not through men or women.


And lastly on this red flag, to say that women need protection from deception because their sensibilities make them more vulnerable to it leads me to ask the question: who is more likely to be deceptive toward women? Certainly not women, John MacArthur. That would be men, due to their “sensibilities,” right? And if that’s the case, why would I ask men to protect me from deception? Wouldn’t that be like asking a wolf to watch the flock?


It’s God that protects us from deception with the truth. This constant placing of authority and power on men, rather than God, is a red flag for me.


5. Calvinist Theology


If you don’t know the history and teachings of Reformed/Calvinist theology, but you’re considering becoming a member of a Reformed church such as Grace Community Church, I would strongly suggest you get familiar with them before you dive headfirst into the excruciating trap of Bad News that is John Calvin’s “Gospel,” which is really no Gospel at all. Because when you have a church without the Gospel, you have spiritual abuse.


John Calvin, whose teachings Reformed Calvinists follow, had his own theocracy over the city of Geneva, Sweden in the mid-16th century. In this theocracy, John Calvin beheaded, tortured, imprisoned, and killed anyone that opposed or failed to obey his laws or agree with his doctrines. He was a bloodthirsty tyrant, and his fruits proved it.


In a theocracy like Calvin’s, and in the level of legalism that exists in Calvinist churches today, essentially creating their own little theocracies, it’s almost as if Christ hadn’t died for anyone’s sins at all, and they are instead trying to reinstitute the Old Covenant Law.


I’ve already made this Red Flag Section the longest I’ve written yet, so I’ll try to be brief here. Truth be told, whole books have been written on the doctrines of Calvinism that have become a resurgence in the local Christian church today. I hope to write one myself someday. It can all be summed up with the statement “you will know them by their fruits,” church checkers, and Calvin’s fruit was not good. Furthermore, Calvinist doctrine turns God into a psychopathic, despotic dictator that contradicts the biblical God’s gracious, just, merciful, and loving character.


To learn more about Calvinism and its abusive fruits, check out the following resources:



Let’s move on to the next red flag.


6. John MacArthur’s Salary & the Doxing of Julie Roys


Julie Roys is a Christian reporter who routinely exposes fraud, abuse, and other misbehavior amongst our Christian “leaders”, including the gargantuan salary of John MacArthur, which is estimated to be about half a million dollars a year according to Roys’ report.


It’s ironic, considering MacArthur speaks out against Prosperity Preachers regularly, condemning their greedy lifestyles and teachings. Meanwhile, he has multiple homes worth millions of dollars. Added to the fact that the church owns at least five buildings together with the church, this to me is evidence of opportunism and exploitation. While he preaches against the Prosperity Gospel and correctly teaches that tithing isn’t a Christian practice but that giving to God is voluntary, MacArthur also compels and pressures giving through church membership, which requires the giving of “time, talent, and resources.”


Additionally, the Director of MacArthur’s Broadcast Ministry apparently doxed Julie Roys shortly after she published her report on the pastor’s luxurious lifestyle. This kind of vindictive retaliation is a red flag waving in your face, church checkers, if you didn't notice it.


7. MacArthur Reacts to Criticism with Impression Management Tactics


Here is another article written by Julie Roys, which points out the abusive and manipulative reactions by MacArthur to being criticized, questioned, and confronted about some of his more deceptive claims and behavior:


https://julieroys.com/macarthur-criticism-persecution/


8. And last, but definitely not least, are the accounts of abuse, scandal, and corruption collected and documented by Brent Detwiler.


Brent Detwiler is a former pastor and one of the men that started Sovereign Grace Ministries, a Ministry that has come under serious scrutiny for abuse and covering up abuse over the past several years. Brent spent years early on in the Ministry trying to expose the abuse and call leadership to accountability and reason, all to be refused and shut down.


Now, Brent works to expose abuse in the local Christian church in any way he can. And as it turns out, C.J. Mahaney, the man he’s attempted to expose and hold accountable for years within SGM, is affiliated with John MacArthur and Grace Community Church. Check out Brent’s website to learn more. For now, I will share the red flags of abuse that directly relate to John MacArthur and Grace Community Church that are exposed on Brent’s site:



And before we move on to the Questionnaire, as usual, if you attend this church, are a member, or are considering becoming a member, please walk yourself through Dr. Steve Hassan’s BITE Model and Undue Influence Continuum (below) to make sure you’re not being abused by your church’s leadership.


BITE Model of Authoritarian Control Handout Oct 2 2020
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Download PDF • 124KB

Influence-Continuum-2019UPDATED-1200x1038-converted
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Download PDF • 145KB

Also, go to julieroys.com to read all of Roys’ reports on John MacArthur and Brent Detwiler’s website to read more on his interactions with MacArthur and GCC leaders.


Questionnaire


I have emailed several addresses for Grace Community Church and I’ve also emailed the “Give” department. I have been ignored by everyone I’ve emailed except one person, who agreed to answer a few questions, and did so very vaguely. The Give department did respond as well, but has been ignoring my follow-up email for clarification. I was able to get answers to most of the questions myself, with only a few being uncertain due to vague non-answers from the staff at GCC. Read the Questionnaire below for more details.


1. What is the church’s official position on the topic of tithes and offerings?


While MacArthur correctly teaches that tithing is an Old Testament tax on the people of Israel, not a part of the Christian believer’s freewill giving, and never taught or commanded in the New Testament, he still compels and seems to require financial support for the church in their Affirmation of Commitment.


He contradicts himself by saying on one hand, “...Giving is never to be by coercion. It is never to be by fundraising. It is never to be by compulsion. It is - any gimmick is offensive to God...” And on the other hand, the Affirmation of Commitment says that members must agree to “...consistently contribute, as a good steward of God’s blessings, such time, talent, and resources…”


So while MacArthur doesn’t technically preach “tithing,” and claims that coercion and compelled giving is offensive to God, they still compel it and coerce it through membership requirements, and possibly other teachings which I haven’t come across yet. MacArthur has an entire sermon series on the topic of giving and finances. I wonder if he compels giving to the church or pressures it in any way in those teachings.


2. Does the church have official membership? Does it include a membership agreement or contract?


As mentioned multiple times throughout this check, GCC does have official church membership. It includes an “Affirmation of Commitment” which is the membership agreement/contract. You can read that contract here.


Not included in the affirmation is the requirement to get baptized, if you have not been previously baptized to the church’s satisfaction (by immersion, by the right people, etc.). See question #7 for more information on the church’s requirements surrounding baptism.


Additionally, according to the church’s bylaws, the process for becoming a church member is as follows:


“All requests for membership shall be made to a Pastor, Elder, or Deacon. Upon making such a request, the person shall be given an application for membership, along with a copy of the Statement of Faith contained in the Articles of Incorporation and a copy of the Bylaws. A Pastor, Elder, or Deacon shall meet with the applicant following receipt of the application. Each applicant shall assent to the Statement of Faith, subscribe to the Bylaws, and shall testify publicly before a duly appointed Committee of the Board, per Article VI, Section 17 of these Bylaws, at a regularly held meeting for prospective church members. Any questions about or disagreements with the Statement of Faith or Bylaws must be indicated on the membership application. A duly appointed Committee of the Board will evaluate these questions or disagreements to determine whether the request for membership will be approved.”


Lastly, the member applicant must attend three membership classes and write their testimony to be reviewed by the church.


3. Is the church financially transparent or accountable to either the local church, a third party (such as an auditor) or the universal Church Body/non-member believers?


Grace Community Church used to be a member of the ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), but resigned their membership less than two weeks after Julie Roys asked them for a copy of their financial records. They apparently wouldn’t provide her with any financial information, so I don’t imagine they’ll give us any, but I did contact the “Give” department at GCC on July 8th. After a week and no response, I followed up on the 15th and got this response:



I asked them to expound on what kind of financial information they provide church members, but I haven’t received an answer to that question.


The other person that responded to my email had this to say about the church’s financial transparency:


“In brief – yes, the church is financially transparent. We discuss the budget every elders’ meeting, during the open session (with church members present).”


I’ve sent a response asking what kind of financial information is shared with members at this meeting, such as whether it compares with the information we could find on a Form 990 as non-profits are required to provide for the IRS, but churches are not. He forwarded me to another man in the church’s leadership, who won’t be in