Religious Tyranny: A Case Study; Chapter Four, The Arrival of “Ravenous Wolves”
Throughout the 1990’s Clearcreek Chapel was riding high atop the biblical counseling movement. Tenets of the movement framed Clearcreek ministry overall and Dr. John Street’s pulpit ministry as well. For many it seemed that the Chapel was a place where church was finally relevant. However, with this said, something needs to be qualified.
The power of God and the changed lives experienced at the Chapel during that time were due to a brushing against a small element of God’s truth; specially, what we might call intelligent life-application of God’s word. Simply stated; an emphasis on rightly applied obedience. Until this time, the church had a confused and complicated relationship with obedience; in the church, obedience and trepidation always walked hand in hand. This resulted in a church that lived by biblical generalities in regard to obedience and sought outside experts for help with the deeper problems of life. Church was alright for dealing with everyday problems, but the deeper problems of life were labeled as medical problems requiring outside experts. This, in reality, marginalized any difference between secular life and church life.
As we will see in more detail further along, this is due to authentic Protestantism’s singular perspective on obedience, sin, and law. Instead of a literal new birth changing the relationship of these three to the believer, original Protestantism denies a biblical definition of the new birth and the relationship of these three remain unchanged in regard to the believer. Therefore, Adam’s model was merely an improvement on an already confused model of Christian living that was a hybrid of authentic Protestantism and Americanism. Yet, because Adams’ counseling model was closer to the truth, it yielded a revival of sorts. It also made the model vulnerable to accusations of “legalism.”
Nevertheless, aggressive sanctified living was working well at the Chapel and life was good. Street founded the Chapel in 1985, and his ministry peaked along with the biblical counseling movement during the 90’s. But there was a glitch of sorts sometime between 1992 and 1994. The glitch has a name: Pastor Russel Kennedy.
Kennedy was born in 1956 and was raised by missionary parents in the Congo. He would later follow in his father’s footsteps and become a pastor. According to Kennedy, he pastored a church in Germany from 1985 to 1991 before returning stateside in 1991. He began attending the Chapel a short time later and was given opportunity to teach Sunday school. Initially, his teaching was a big hit among the Chapel congregants until he began teaching on predestination. Street’s ministry style avoided controversial subjects that have a history of being unsettled. While Street didn’t avoid controversy per se demonstrated by the fact that he openly opposed the use of Psychology by Christians, he did avoid subjects that rarely end with definitive conclusions that people agree on such as election and end-times prophecy.
Clearcreek was a startup church from the General Association of Regular Baptists which is not lacking in the Reformed tradition, but congregants at the Chapel claimed that it wasn’t so much the topic of predestination that caused a stir, but Kennedy’s rude approach that supposedly belittled anyone who disagreed with him on the finer points of election doctrine. At any rate, long story short; Kennedy caused a controversy that threated to split the church. Coincidentally perhaps, he was offered a pastorate in Illinois during that time which he accepted. But, the Clearcreek sendoff wasn’t a pleasant one. John Street and the associate pastor at the time, Rick Wilson sternly rebuked him and assured him the offer in Illinois was very good timing.
Kennedy lasted in that position about three years. After his move to Illinois, he became a follower of Dr. John Piper and consequently a rabid adherent to the Neo-Protestant resurgence. John Piper is one of the more notable leaders in the movement sometimes referred as “New Calvinism.” Some refer to Piper as the “elder statesman of New Calvinism.” It is unclear as to whether someone at the church in Illinois converted him or he was converted through an outside source.
We will pause here to reiterate a major characteristic of the movement: the movement was a true return to the original Protestant gospel that had been lost after being integrated with Enlightenment ideas of individualism; what has been formerly referred to in this study as “Americanism.” When these ideas were integrated into Protestantism after the American Revolution, Protestantism became a confused hybrid of individualist and collectivist ideas manifested in a contradiction between function and intellect.
For example, a typical Protestant would proclaim once saved always saved while yet proclaiming himself a “sinner saved by grace.” A “sinner,” according to the Bible, is an unregenerate person. So, if one is still a sinner grace is an ongoing need. “I am [present tense] just a sinner [unregenerate] saved by grace” [a sinner who obviously needs continual grace, viz, salvation]. This implies an ongoing need for salvation which is stated Reformation orthodoxy. Once saved always saved implies that salvation is a finished work in the believer and is closer to biblical truth about the new birth. The new birth fared well with enlightenment ideas because it suggested a strong enablement of the individual. As promised, this will be articulated later in the study, but the main point for now follows: the real Reformation gospel, in fact, had been lost, and reintroduced to the Christian community at large by the Australian Forum. A detailed account of how the Australian Forum came about can be found in the book, “The Truth About New Calvinism” (TANC Publishing 2011).
All of that is said to say this: the New Calvinist resurgence is nothing less than a crusade. Its proponents rightfully claim that they are returning the church to its true roots. This reality invokes a specific character exemplified in most adherents of the movement. It is a modern-day crusade that takes no prisoners. Hence, when Kennedy was sent packing back to Springboro, Ohio for plagiarizing a John Piper sermon from the pulpit in Illinois, he came back to the Chapel in 1998 and began exhibiting aggressive behavior after he manipulated his way back into leadership positions at the Chapel.
Plying what respect was left for him at the Chapel previously and endearing himself to the rest as a new and improved Russ Kennedy, he created a divisive atmosphere amidst the leadership culture at the Chapel. Primarily, he created animosity towards pastor Street among the core leaders. This culminated into an accusation that Street was misappropriating church funds for his own personal use. This not only greatly offended Street, but it was during a time when he was being aggressively recruited by Pastor John MacArthur’s church in California. Street accepted a position at MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary and fulfilled his dream of ministering with his longtime mentor.
Once the vacancy for senior pastor was created upon Street’s announcement that he would be accepting a position in California, he was appalled to learn that Kennedy was being considered for his replacement. This is where the disrespect for Street that had been sewn behind the scenes became evident; the leadership ignored Street’s literal pleadings, some public, to reject Kennedy as a possible candidate. Kennedy was subsequently installed as the Chapel’s senior pastor in 1999. Shortly thereafter, Kennedy began to implement his plan for making the Chapel a major headquarters for saving the church from the false gospel of evangelicalism that had strayed from the true Reformation gospel. In essence, the Chapel would quickly become the face of religious tyranny.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves – Matthew 7:15
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock – Acts 20:29
Chapter six will describe the ravaging of the Chapel’s flock that took place after Kennedy’s appointment as pastor, but first, chapter five will describe his transition team. At some point, we must examine why Protestant parishioners remain faithful to such overt tyranny.
Chapter Five: The Transition Team
Chapter Six: Elders Behaving Badly