I encourage anyone interested in the operations of Doug Phillips and Vision Forum to read “Jen’s Gems.” Here is the story she tells of what happened when she and her family attended Doug Phillips’ home church, Beorne Christian Assembly. I absolutely love the Vision Forum, their ministry, their media/bookstore, and the conferences they provide. I even would happily promote them, since our family has been enormously blessed by the Vision Forum. But the Vision Forum is a separate entity from the Beorne Christian Assembly, Phillips’ home church.
In researching theonomy, I found the story of Jennifer Epstein. I haven’t read every part of the entire site yet, but I’ve read all the parts to “her story.” I don’t want to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater when it comes to theonomy, or when it comes to the things Vision Forum sets out to do, but I just want to say one thing:
After reading Jen’s story, I am SO glad that my husband and I are at a church where the pastor’s power is limited by a duplicity of elders, the large group of elders–and not the pastor–administer the Lord’s Supper to the congregants and decide from whom to “fence the table,” and the URC has a church synod to which any abused or excommunicated members can appeal. I’m beginning to see more and more why it is so important to have these things in place in a church. In the URC–our denomination–every pastor knows that if he does the sort of thing Doug Phillips did in his “home church,” Beorne Christian Assembly, that pastor would have to pay a very high price in his career, and possibly even come close to losing his ordination.
There is no such thing as a perfect church or a perfect pastor. Even the most orthodox and loving pastors, elders or deacons can get on a power trip if they know they don’t have to answer to anyone else. Especially if people start putting them and their family on a pedestal. No one is immune to the temptation. Would I call them a cult, like Jennifer Epstein is suggesting? No. I haven’t seen evidence of that. But they do have a strong following, so I just hope the homeschool Christians who like Vision Forum so much don’t start following any man, and don’t think ill of Jennifer Epstein just because the Phillips family might.
I’ve seen this before, with Calvary Chapel. A pastor sets himself up with a small number of secret elders who just do as he says in everything, and there’s really no accountability, just the appearance of an eldership. In the case of Calvary Chapel–it’s Pastor Chuck Smith, and then every other pastor practically following the same set-up of church leadership with their own CC church plants: basically the senior pastor gets to nix anyone, anything for any reason, without justification, if he wants to, without anyone being allowed to question it. This appears to have happened with Doug Phillips in his church, too. Any man can fall from a pedestal.