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|Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Darwin Fish, Al Soto, and "The Sojournal"|
ARWIN FISH is his real name. He has nothing to do with those little "darwin fish" symbols atheists and humanists like to put on their cars. He is a real person who has started a dangerous cult that is no joke. He regularly labels well-known Christian leaders "false teachers" and publishes diatribes against them. He emblazons a long list of men he despises on practically everything he toucheshis Web site, his car, and even his followers. Darwin clearly does not believe anyone but Darwin Fish is faithfully teaching the truth of God's Word.
In one of his early replies to this FAQ, Darwin claimed that is "simply a bold-faced lie." But Darwin's own FAQ now concedes the point. He admits he cannot name one other Christian leader outside his own little band of followersanyone who has lived in the two millennia between the death of the last apostle and the advent of Darwin Fishwho has remained faithful to the truth. In a post made to a Web forum on October 04, 2002, Darwin's favorite lackey, Al Soto, succinctly stated the central belief of all Fishites: "If you do not believe like we do and follow our doctrine you cannot be saved."
In 2002, Darwin changed the name of his group from "God's Word Fellowship" to "a true church"employing the indefinite pronoun to obscure a disturbing fact: Darwin and his followers cannot identify any other "true church"not a single onein nineteen hundred years of church history! (Well, there may have been "a church in Murfreesboro, TN, but that has since dissolved.") As far as the Fishites know, the light of truth has been utterly obscured in Christendom from the close of the New Testament canon until the sun finally dawned again on their leaderDarwin Fish.
Darwin was not always such a strict loner. At one point Darwin was a follower of Rick Miesel, a similarly-obsessed exposer of well-known evangelicals. But the two of them split over the question of whether Martin and Deidre Bobgan are hell-bound heretics. (Fish said yes; Miesel balked. So Fish now declares Miesel a false teacher, too.)
I have received a number of requests from people who have seen Darwin's material on line and would like a response to it. I stress that this is not an official response from my church to Darwin Fish; the church's official response is already a matter of record (see below). But this is my attempt to gather the most frequently-asked questions about Darwin and his "ministry" into one document for easy reference:
- Is "Darwin Fish" truly his real name?
- What is this group that labels themselves "a true church" and where is it?
It is a small house-church cult founded by Darwin in Southern California in the early 1990s. During in 2008-09; cult headquarters moved to a remote spot between Peggs, OK and Moodys, in a rural area about fifteen miles north of Talequah. From the mid-1990s until 2008, their headquarters were in Lake Hughes, California (a remote community near the desert about an hour north of downtown Los Angeles). In 2002, they changed the name of their sect from "God's Word Fellowship" to "a true church." The lower-case letters and the indefinite pronoun reflect a mock humility. In reality, Darwin and his flock believe they represent the true church. Though they vehemently deny this, they cannot identify a single other church or Christian leaderfrom the early church until todaywhom they would be willing to fellowship with as brethren.
The members of GWF/atc often use the Lord's Day as an occasion to picket and disrupt other churches, thus magnifying the shameful public reproach they have already brought on the name of Christ. They also like to picket large public events (especially evangelical gatherings) with signs and slogans contrived to be as offensive as possible. For years, Fish and his minions have walked in front of the Tournament of Roses Parade carrying signs that extol God's anger and blame Jesus for the events of 11 September 2001.
|Darwin Fish parades his false christ at the Tournament of Roses.|
Click for more pictures.
The group also apparently "evangelizes" by leaving ugly graffiti here and there. Click here to see a sample.
- What is the gist of Darwin's unique message?
Darwin's favorite theme is condemning other pastors and church leadersespecially well-known ones. He solemnly assures people they will go to hell if they follow other teachers besides him. Here is a typical excerpt from one of the familiar screeds Darwin has published in various Internet discussion forums:
ARE YOU ON YOUR WAY TO HELL?
If you follow any of the men below you are (John 10:5). Watch out! Most churches are led by false teachers (2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:3; 2 Peter 2:1-3). John MacArthur, Greg Laurie, Dave Hunt, Billy Graham, Charles Stanley, Neil Anderson, Charles Swindoll, Chuck Smith, James Dobson, Jack Hayford, Martin and Deidre Bobgan (et. al.). Also erroneous are the "Early Church Fathers" (Catholic lies), Charles Spurgeon (ecumenical), KJV onlyism, Alcoholics Anonymous, Christian Psychology, Biblical Counseling, and certain holidays (e.g. Christmas). Call or write for FREE facts (Psalm 119:104).
Translation: follow Darwin Fish, or you will go to hell. Darwin denies that he is that exclusive, but the point is easily proved. Simply accept Darwin's invitation to call his toll-free hotline: 1-800-HOW-TRUE. (If you get the answering machine, either call back later or leave a number where Darwin can return your call.) Then when you get Darwin on the phone personally, ask him this simple question: "Can you recommend one other pastoreither someone living now or a known historical figure since, say, A.D. 150who is sound enough that you can vouch for his books or tapes?" You'll discover that the only Christian leader Darwin Fish will endorse without reservation is Darwin Fish. Name virtually any other teacher, and Darwin will warn you that the other person's teaching is a one-way ticket to perdition.
There's a clear reason for this. Darwin Fish hates Christianity, so he designed his own religion.
Being self-deceived, he thinks that is a false accusation. He insists he hates only false Christianity. But if you ask him to name any living or dead representatives of true Christianity after the apostolic era, he will have to admit that outside his own little cult of followers he does not know of any "true" Christians (by his definition). And if you decline to follow him on every single point of doctrine, Darwin will declare you a false Christian, too.
Darwin does not even see that this is the very height of arrogance, even though he once admitted to me that many people have told him he exudes carnal pride. Darwin obviously finds it easy to dismiss such criticisms, because he has already concluded that anyone who disagrees with him is a hell-bound heretic anyway. Thus he has hardened his heart to any real correction.
- Does anyone take Darwin Fish seriously?
At least 25 or 30 devoted followers certainly do; they have followed him from California to Oklahoma, and they continue to do his bidding in every detail of life. Now and then an eccentric Internet denizen will read Fish's Web site and e-mail me some inspired rantings defending Darwin's views. But these people invariably find that if they are not willing literally to abandon their lives and families and join the cult, they are soon on the receiving end of Darwin's anathemas, too. So his actual following remains fairly small.
Self-styled "discernment" expert Rick Miesel once placed his coveted imprimatur on Darwin Fish. (In 1994 Fish and Miesel were making plans to start a church together near Miesel's home in Indiana.) But then Darwin began declaring Miesel a false teacher. Now Meisel desperately tries to evade responsibility for his early influence on Fish.
Mr. Miesel and Mr. Fish are kindred spirits. Fish began his career as a disciple of Miesel. (Miesel's own list of "false teachers" is better known thanand nearly as long asFish's.) And that is precisely why they are no longer friends. Both Miesel and Fish believe there is no such thing as a minor or secondary point of truth; all truth is ultimately essential and fundamental. In practice, both Miesel and Fish make their own personal judgment the final arbiter for any disputed doctrinal fine-points. Predictably, when they found a point on which they could not come to agreement, they responded by anathematizing one another.
Both men are also practically incorrigible, impervious to rebuke or correction. Darwin Fish insists this too is a false accusation, citing as proof a list of his own tapes that he has withdrawn from circulation. But an examination of the list reveals that most of Fish's "recanting" consists of retracting positive comments he once made about the Puritans, Charles Spurgeon, John MacArthur, or Martin and Deidre Bobgan (all of whom Darwin now declares hell-bound heretics). The rest of his "retractions" are trivial or silly corrections, such as one tape that was withdrawn because "Darwin felt he could have dealt with the subject of flatulence in a more mature manner." Rather than demonstrating his willingness to recant error, the list of no-longer-available tapes proves that Darwin Fish cannot distinguish that which is vital from that which is trivialand the only substantive changes he is making to his teaching are taking him further and further from the historic and biblical Christian faith. In other words, even his list of "retractions" demonstrates that he is devising a cultish system no one before him has ever been able to find in the Scriptures.
Despite Darwin Fish's bold claims that he speaks as a "pastor," he is actually an excommunicated layman who remains under the discipline of the church he attended before he founded his own cult. This fact should be carefully borne in mind by anyone tempted to give credence to his accusations against godly men. See Matthew 18:17; Romans 16:17.
- What are the doctrinal peculiarities of Darwin's teaching? Does he deny the deity of Christ or anything like that?
Darwin keeps multiplying the bizarre novelties in his poisonous home-brew theology. Here are a few outstanding ones:
Darwin attacks doctrine of the Trinity with an odd and unusual do-it-yourself doctrine of the Godhead. Here is a section from the The Sojournal, VOL. 1, NO. 3, JULY 1995:
V. THE "TRINITY" FALLS SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD.
This is a HOT one! The Bible NEVER uses this term, and typically how
this term is used today, it falls short of what is revealed in the Word of
God about who God is.
It is true that there is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as
God, Matthew 28:19-20. It is true that God is plural in person hood,
Genesis 1:26-27; 11:7-8; Isaiah 48:16.
But, the word that "Christianity" (starting with the early church
fathers and the Catholics) has used to describe Him (i.e. the "Trinity")
falls short in what is revealed in the seven Spirits of God in Revelation.
Please see Revelation 1:4-5; 4:5; 5:6; & Zechariah 4:1-10. There are seven
spirits describing the Holy Spirit clearly portrayed in Scripture.
Typically, these seven are brushed aside by preachers today as the
seven-manifold manifestations of the Holy Spirit (read the commentaries on
the Revelation passages above). If we simply take the Bible for what it
says (take God at His word), we see that the Holy Spirit is described in
Revelation and Zechariah as seven. Just as there is only one God, yet we
have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (plural in who He is). There is one
Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), yet in describing this one Holy Spirit the Bible
reveals Him to be seven (plural in who He is). This is definitely hard to
understand, but nonetheless this is what the Word reveals (Romans
11:33-36). More on this can be heard on the tapes, Jesus, 100% Man, 100%
God, and For The Record, Part 1.
Darwin has also recently published a bizarre article arguing on the basis of Exodus 15:3 ("The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is His name") that God is actually human, and that the Almighty exists in a physical body "in human form." We wonder if someday Darwin will encounter Psalm 18:31 ("who is a rock, except our God?") and declare that God is an inanimate man of stone. How then will he fit Psalm 84:11 ("the Lord God is a sun") into his hyper-literal hermeneutic?
A Different Gospel
Darwin overthrows the gospel by implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) denying the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide). In his message "Blessed are the Poor" (preached 2 May 1996) he taught that literally selling all one's unneeded possessions is a prerequisite for entering the kingdom of God. While occassionally giving lip service to justification by faith (see letter 2 below), Darwin regularly qualifies and adds to the terms of salvation, so that when he is finished, "grace is no more grace" (Romans 11:6). In practical terms for Darwin's followers, the true cost of "salvation" boils down to this: you must do precisely what he tells you and agree with everything he says. If you step out of agreement with him at any point and are unwilling to be "corrected," you will be branded a hell-bound heretic who has "played the harlot." In fact, he believes if you turn away after hearing the "truth" from him or his group, you have committed the unpardonable sin. Thus he employs craven fear to try to keep his disciples in the group.
Many (if not all) of Darwin's disciples regard his authority as apostolic. We have heard from a former member of the "fellowship" that Darwin's long-time henchman, Al Soto, claims Darwin's teaching authority is tantamount to that of the Apostle Paul. Meanwhile, Darwin insists on the right to examine his disciples' private mailin order to make sure they are "walking in the light."
Also, more than one eyewitness has told us Darwin is extremely brutal in his application of "the rod" to his own childrenand encourages his followers to do likewise. In an on-line discussion on these matters, one cult member cited Proverbs 20:30 ("The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly"), suggesting that proper spanking ought to leave bruises on a child. Shortly afterward, an anonymous Fishite (whose misspellings looked suspiciously like Al Soto's) chimed in, citing Proverbs 23:13-14 ("Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."). He declared: "Beat, is just that, beat. You can not get around it."
Judging from the stress Darwin puts on this aspect of parenting in his teaching, he certainly has an unwholesome preoccupation with rigorous corporal punishment. People who have left the cult, as well as some who have had relatives join, tell us that men in the group are even encouraged to "discipline" their wives with physical punishment.
In fact, according to Darwin, "The reason women even exist is not so that they can be independent entities. The reason they exist is so that they can help men." Furthermore, Darwin says, "It doesn't matter if the husband is a believer or not (1 Peter 3:1), the wife is still to submit to him, even if he beats her."
At least one member of the Fish cult abandoned his wife and infant child because the wife did not want to move to Lake Hughes. The man's own mother says that in a year's time, he paid only about $40 in child support for his own child, while giving regular "offerings" that went to support Darwin Fish and his family. Apparently, the men of GWF/atc think they can safely ignore 1 Peter 3:7 ("You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered") and 1 Timothy 5:8 ("If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel")especially if the wife refuses to follow the husband into the cult.
Polygamy and Concubinage
More recently, Darwin has published an article justifying polygamy and the keeping of concubines. He points out that polygamy was a fairly common practice in Old Testament times, and he claims "the Lord never condemns the practice."
That is quite wrong; an implicit condemnation of polygamy is undeniably clear in the Bible's first description of God's plan for marriage in Genesis 2:24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they [two] shall be one flesh" (Ephesians 5:31). But Darwin pretends that the principle of two becoming one flesh is in no way compromised by polygynous relationships. He writes:
Whether it be in a monogamous marriage or a polygamous marriage, the two still become one flesh. The man becomes one flesh with each of his wives. We know this by the fact that even if a man has sex with a harlot, he nonetheless becomes one flesh with her (1 Corinthians 6:16). Therefore, the two becoming one still applies to each union in a polygamous marriage.
One frankly wonders how this belief will work out in practical terms among the Fishites. Darwin's article seems to imply that he would not advocate polygamy in any society where bigamy is forbidden by law. He says,
If the law of the land dictates polygamy not to be legal, then we are to submit ourselves "to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake" (1 Peter 2:13; see also Romans 13:1-5). Polygamy, under these circumstances, should not be practiced. But, if a believer lived under a government that recognized polygyny as a legitimate form of marriage, no one could Biblically condemn the man for having more than one wife.
But bigamy is illegal in America only if one registers the second marriage with the state. Most states have no laws that forbid men to cohabit with multiple women. To quote another ostensibly Christian Web site where polgamy is advocated, "Bigamy is the criminal offence of registering a second marriage when a first marriage is still recognised. Polygamy can be practiced without breaking the law simply by registering no more than one of the marriages."
By using a similar rationale, Darwin and his followers could easily justify polgamy and concubinage in their own cult. If they are not practicing it secretly already, they certainly hold no moral convictions that would keep them from doing so. When a narcissist with a predatory personality like Darwin's begins to advocate the keeping of concubines, that is just one more major reason to steer clear of the cult he has founded.
A Theology of Hate
Darwin and his cohorts love to talk about God's hate, and they hate to talk about God's love. They have turned the biblical picture of God's character on its head, so that the god they proclaim is a trigger-happy killer who generally hates humanity and delights in judgment and damnation. The posters Darwin displays in his public picketing typically say things like "Jesus Caused 9-11-01"; "God Kills"; "God is Angry"; and so on.
In practice, this means Darwin thinks believers should be hateful, too. In his article on Kieth Green, Darwin writes, "Keith did not trust in the Lord. If he had, he would have hated Catholics, especially the priests." Darwin loves to quote Psalm 119:104, 128: "I hate every false way." He also quotes Psalm 139:21-22 to justify making people the object of his own human hatred. And the way Darwin teaches his followers to "hate"including the way he himself models hatredis an ungodly, unkind, philistine kind of hatred that is puffed up with egotism and self-conceit, and has no proper place in the lives of any of Christ's followers (see Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:14, 20-21; 1 Peter 2:23, etc.).
In a message I sent to Al Soto I pointed out the group's undue obsession with hate, which is made even more notable by their almost complete silence about God's love or the believer's love for his neighbors. Mr. Soto replied, "OK, I miss your point here. God hates....right? That's what Scripture teaches. If God hates then.....uh....He is hateful."
Converts to Darwin's cult often become overtly hateful to relatives and friends who express any concerns. According to close family members, the young wife of one convert was told by several men in the cult that she was a "whore, stubborn and going to hell with her baby if she did not move to Fish's church. She did not move. [She] is a young, tiny, woman with a baby. Three or four, counting [her husband], went into her home and took all her furnishings and fridge, and food from fridge, took the firewood outside, and left this girl who has been married only one year with a baby. [She is now living] with her unworking Mom and disabled stepdad, who lives in a one-bedroom unit."
More Errors Yet to Come. . . ?
Most cultists typically borrow their errors from historic heresies like Pelagianism, Socinianism, Arianism, and Gnosticism. Darwin seems to be inventing his doctrinal anomalies on the fly. Having already denied the Trinity and remade God in the image of man, Darwin would seem to have no reason to stop reinventing "Christianity." After all, Darwin has already repudiated every preacher and theologian in the history of the church as a "false teacher." That means there are absolutely no doctrinal moorings in his system. Darwin's interpretation of Scripture is subject to no rule but his own whims. So it remains to be seen how far from orthodoxy he will travel.
In the meantime, it is not without significance that Darwin is spending his time trying to justify masturbation, attempting to build a case for polygamy, advocating harsh discipline of children, and continuing to condemn everyone who does not agree with himwhile having little or nothing to say about Christ or the gospel. The Fish cult has attracted at least one convicted child molestor, two or more men who have abandoned their wives, and several other men who treat their wives like chattel. The men of the cult boast of their freedom to drink and smoke, while some of them are living in open disobedience to 1 Timothy 5:8. Wives and children are the most pathetic victims of this cult. It has become a fraternity for men who are worse than infidels (1 Timothy 5:8).
- In what sense is Darwin "factious?"
Darwin's factiousness stems from his belief that all truth is equally portentous. His entire ministry therefore consists of straining at gnats while insisting they are camels, and while arguing fiercely that Scripture makes no essential distinction between the gnats and the camels.
For example, in Darwin's assessment, someone who is in error about the mode of baptism or the timing of the rapture is as guilty of "heresy" as those who deny the deity of Christ or justification by faith. (This is no hyperbole. Both in his sermons and in our private conversations, Darwin has affirmed that this is exactly what he believes.) So people who err in any point (translation: those who disagree with Darwin)especially people who refuse Darwin's "correction," must be exposed and pronounced damned.
In fact, Darwin once taught that communion ought to be served with a common cup and a communal loaf. Those who served small cups and crackers were judged to be handling the elements in an unbliblical way and were anathematized for it. Darwin has since recanted that opinion, but he still regularly declares Christians hell-bound over similar picayune matters. His theology, his lifestyle, and his treatment of others are all utterly and completely without grace.
The predictable result is that Darwin has cut himself off from fellowship with everyone who dares to disagree with him on any aspect of his teachingin effect isolating Darwin and his congregation from the whole of Christendom. Darwin is neither shaken by this nor appalled at it; he is proud of it! He brazenly admits he cannot name anyone besides himself since the apostolic era who has ever understood and affirmed the real "truth" of Scripture. This does not matter to him, and he will tell you so with a smarmy, self-assured haughtiness. He despises every historic stream of Christianity. But instead of soberly viewing his renegade status as a matter of concern and a reason for self-examination, he regards it as an occasion for boasting! He is convinced that he is right and every pastor, theologian, and church leader he knows aboutdead or aliveis simply wrong. If you disagree, Darwin will automatically consign you to the "hell-bound" category.
Darwin declares, for example, that Charles Spurgeon, all the Puritans, and all other five-point Calvinists are false teachers, damned to eternal perdition for teaching "limited atonement." It is evident from Darwin's presentation, however, that he doesn't have the most basic understanding of Calvinistic doctrine, and he clearly does not even understand the concept of substitutionary atonement. On this point in particularas well as on many things he makes issues ofhe simply does not know what he's talking about.
But it's clear that teaching what edifies is hardly Darwin's top priority. Nearly all the preaching and publications that emanate from "a true church" focus on condemning other ministersespecially well-known ones. Darwin and Al Soto used to spam Christian Usenet forums with a "False Teachers List"a list of well-known evangelical leaders under Darwin's anathema. He even paints his vehicles with condemnation of other ministers. Indeed, Darwin's penchant for labeling Christian leaders as hypocrites and heretics is virtually the trademark of his "ministry."
- Is it true that Darwin received pastoral training under John MacArthur?
No. Darwin was once a member of Grace Community Church and briefly participated as a non-paid leader in the youth ministry. Instead of becoming a pastoral intern or following any of the established tracks for leadership training within Grace Church, however, he soon dropped out of ministry there and became a severe critic of the church, and of John MacArthur in particular. He began meeting not far away with a small group of followers who were willing to submit to his authoritarian style. He declared himself a pastor; he has never submitted to pastoral training or examination of any kind from any biblically-qualified elders.
In 1994 Darwin was disciplined by Grace Church for brazen factiousness. He was first warned in accordance with Titus 3:10. He refused to repent, however, so he was excommunicatedpublicly put out of membership in the church (the church's final recourse when a sinning member refuses repentanceMatt. 18:17).
- But Darwin has produced a letter where John MacArthur endorsed his ministry in 1993. How do you explain that?
Darwin makes this claim: "[W]e have a signed letter by John MacArthur himself recognizing the ministry at God's Word Fellowship . . ."
A look at the letter itself shows the reality behind this false claim. Darwin wrote to John MacArthur in 1993 suggesting that MacArthur was refusing to work with the underground church (unregistered churches who had met in secret during the Communist era) in the former Soviet Union. Darwin also sent MacArthur some of his material on Christmas, suggesting it is sinful for Christians to observe "pagan holidays" and arguing that Christmas is thoroughly pagan.
John MacArthur's response was simply an extremely courteous reply to a letter many would have thought belligerent and accusatory. In paragraph 1, MacArthur answered Darwin's query about the underground church. In paragraph 2 he very kindly explained that he was too busy to read and respond to Darwin's diatribe against Christmas. (MacArthur also enclosed a copy of his book on Christmas as a gift for Fish.) Then in paragraph 3, he closed with a polite one-sentence signoff: "I pray that the Lord will richly reward your ministry to Him"the type of standard closing MacArthur always uses with correspondents who identify themseles as pastors or lay ministers. Such an informal blessing is by no means an endorsement or recognition of the validity of all Darwin's activities. At the time, MacArthur knew little or nothing about Darwin Fish. In particular, he had had no exposure to Darwin's factious arrogance. Neither could he foresee that Darwin would abandon biblical Trinitarianism. As far as MacArthur knew, Fish was simply an overzealous but possibly teachable young man leading a home Bible study involving mostly his own family members. So MacArthur had no reason to withhold the standard blessing from the end of his letter.
For Darwin Fish to latch onto that brief closing remark and publish it as a formal endorsement of him as a pastor or suggest that it represents John MacArthur's official "recognition" of his factious ministry style only reveals how far outside the boundaries of truth Darwin is willing to go to establish a false credibility. The fact remains that neither Grace Church nor John MacArthur has ever laid hands on Darwin Fish or endorsed the factious behavior he calls "ministry." Had Darwin pursued pastoral training or sought to minister under the actual oversight of our elders, a man of his character certainly would have been disqualified and removed from any position of leadership very early in the process. Perhaps he understood that, and that may explain why he ultimately entered the "pastorate" with no credentials but his own inflated view of himselfand no accountability to any duly constituted body of elders.
- Darwin claims he was disciplined unbiblically. Is this true?
No. I was personally involved in Darwin's discipline; in fact, I initiated it. Here's how it came about: In the spring of 1994, we had a large influx of people joining Grace Church. On one Sunday evening in particular several hundred people joined in a large group. After the service that evening I went to the front of the church to greet some of the new members. There I overheard Darwin rather loudly telling a young woman who had just joined our church that John MacArthur is a false teacher, and that he was concerned for her soul, and that she should leave Grace Church and come to God's Word Fellowshipwhich, he assured her, is the only church in all of Southern California where the truth of Scripture is faithfully proclaimed.
This was my first-ever exposure to Darwin Fish. My first impression was that he resembled Timothy McVeigh with a crew cut and a wispy goatee. I made some inquiries and found out who he was. I also discovered that he was still a member of Grace Community Church.
The following day I phoned Darwin and asked for a meeting at The Master's College later that week. Meanwhile, I listened to several of Darwin's taped messages and discovered he was routinely making public accusations of heresy against certain elders of Grace Church.
Two other elders from Grace Church were present when I confronted Darwin. I first reminded him that when he joined our church he took a public vow to submit himself to the leadership of the elders, to support and encourage them, and to participate in the ministry of the church (all in accord with the New Testament instructions to believers in Hebrews 13:17). I pointed out that as long as he retained his membership in the church, the vows he voluntarily took were binding. I suggested that he had rather blatantly broken the church covenant. I also told him it was the unanimous opinion of our elders that his actions were factiousand under Paul's instructions in Titus 3:10 he was subject to discipline if he failed to repent of his factiousness.
Darwin refused, saying he would not respond to the charge of factiousness unless we were first willing to engage in debate with him about his specific accusations against John MacArthur. He claimed unless we first refuted all his claims from Scripture, we were not entitled to threaten him with discipline. I pointed out that Titus 3:9-11, the very passage that instructs us on how to deal with a factious man, explicitly forbids us to engage in unprofitable discussions with him. Our biblical responsibility was to demonstrate from Scripture how he has sinned, and call him to repent. This I did, reading aloud to him from Titus 3:9-11; Romans 16:17-19; Hebrews 13:17; Jude 9-16; Proverbs 16:27-28; Deuteronomy 23:21-23; and several other passages clearly showing that he was deliberately 1) violating a vow he had made publicly, and 2) being factious. Until he repented of those sins, we told him, we would not debate other points of theology with him. We assured him that If he repented of his sinful actions, we would discuss his theological concerns about the church's teaching as long as he liked.
Darwin flatly refused to repent, claiming his membership vows were nullified because he believed our elders were guilty of heresy. The fact that he retained his membership in the church was, he insisted, a mere "technicality."
We replied that we did not view a public vow to God as such a minor issue, and we pleaded with him to reconsider. We gave him a few days to think it through and pray about it. When he did not call within the next few days to say he wanted to repent, a member of our pastoral staff phoned him to warn him a second time about his factiousness, again in accord with Titus 3:10. When Darwin still refused to repent, it was publicly announced in our next communion service that he was being put out of the church (Matt. 18:17).
- Darwin claims he has never been shown where he was in error, and that the elders of Grace Church failed in their responsibility to reprove him "with great patience and instruction" (2 Tim. 4:2, NASB). Wasn't he disciplined rather quickly?
Certainly 2 Timothy 2:24-25 teaches that "the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." The elders of Grace Church were not unmindful of that injunction when they disciplined Darwin. I personally spent several hours pleading with Darwin, in that long face-to-face meeting, on the phone, and by letter. In each case I pointed out carefully to Darwin how he was in violation of God's Word. My letters to him (below) reflect the tone and nature of all my communication with him.
What I consistently refused to do, however, was discuss the merits of Darwin's accusations against the various church leaders he had accused. As a matter of fact, 2 Timothy 2:24-25 appears in the context of this instruction: "Foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes" (v. 23).
A simple reading of Paul's epistles to Timothy and Titus will reveal that many of his commands to these young pastors stress the importance of refusing to engage in endless discussions about trivial or insignificant matters (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 6:4, 5; 2 Tim. 2:14, 16; Tit. 3:9). Since Darwin Fish denies that any point of truth can be trivial, all dialogue with him on matters of doctrine inevitably devolves into arguments about "foolish and unlearned questions" that are wholly unedifying.
Furthermore, having patiently demonstrated to Darwin that his factiousness was a sin, we were bound by Scripture to reject him without engaging in further debate (Tit. 3:10).
Nonetheless, I continued to pursue Darwin and attempted repeatedly to help him see the seriousness of his sin. Again, readers may examine the letters below and judge for themselves the spirit of our dealings with him.
- Don't you have a duty as an elder to give a biblical refutation of Darwin's doctrine (Titus 1:9)?
I do and I have. What I have declined to do is engage in unprofitable disputes with Darwin himself and with those who are already sold out to his cult (cf. Titus 3:9-10; 2 John 7-11). I have replied to all earnest enquirers about Darwin's teachings, and on a few occasions I have gone to public forums where Al Soto has posted his spam, refuted him, and challenged him directly about his hateful bullying of people who are weak in the faith. His response invariably has been to exit the forum after posting one or two evasive or dismissive "replies." Although Al and Darwin have issued many public dares taunting people to refute them, whenever someone actually does refute them, they instantly renounce the critic as evil and refuse further dialogue. They have thus been utterly unteachable and impervious to correction. For those who are interested in reading my dialogues about Darwin's teachings, I have posted a page of several e-mails and public posts that show my replies to Darwin and the Fishite doctrines.
- Is Darwin wrong about everything?
Of course not. His published critiques of popular evangelical leaders contain many valid points. It is true that we live in an age of people with itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Much of the popular preaching in so-called "evangelical" culture today is either woefully shallow, bankrupt of solid biblical content, or out-and-out heresy. The modern "evangelical movement" is by no means synonymous with Christ's true church. My own annotated Web links point out hundreds of fallacies that have gained popularity in contemporary evangelical culture. Some of these, according to the Bible, are damnable (2 Peter 2:1). In particular, we who love Christ are to have nothing to do with those who preach a different gospel (by altering the message of justification by faith or denying the centrality of God's graceRomans 4:4-5; Galatians 1:8-9), or those who set forth a different Christ (by fatally corrupting the doctrine of the incarnation, diminishing Christ's deity, or otherwise redefining the Godhead2 John 7-11; John 8:24; 1 John 2:22). But Darwin himself fails both standards, because his teaching nullifies the grace of God and fatally corrupts what the Bible teaches about the Godhead.
Darwin is simply a wolf who takes advantage of those who are unwise, poorly taught, and biblically ignorant, in order to abuse and devour them. He is not a shepherd who is in any way qualified to lead and feed Christ's sheep. Whatever "truth" might be included in his message is so tainted with error, inaccuracy, illogic, vainglory, human speculations, and fleshly distortions that it is a seriously deadly poison. The proof is in the fruit it produces (Matthew 7:16-18): division, hatred, strife, seditions, heresies, contentions, outbursts of wrath, and the like. These are works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Meanwhile, the fruit of the Spirit ("love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control"vv. 22-23) is virtually absent from the visible lives of Darwin's disciples.
- Who is Al Soto?
Al is Darwin's chief sycophant and spin-doctor, dutifully echoing whatever Darwin teaches, and desperately trying to paint Darwin's critics in the worst possible lightusually labeling them "lewd," "wicked," blasphemers," and "scoffers." He has been Darwin's most ardent follower as long as I have known Darwin. Al is the one who distributes Darwin's teaching via the Internet. In the past he has used AOL, Usenet, and various on-line services to try to gain a forum. Now he maintains a Web site promulgating Darwin's views.
- What is "The Sojournal"?
It is a newsletter Al Soto used to distribute on line, featuring Darwin Fish's denunciations of well-known evangelical leaders and articles that reflect what Darwin teaches. "The Sojournal" seems to have been superseded by the Web site, and many of the articles first published in "The Sojournal" are now archived on the Web site.
- Darwin and Al claim their Web site exposes Phil Johnson as a liar and a deceiver. How do you respond?
First, I'm in very good company. Darwin Fish has also denounced virtually every man of God in the annals of church history as a liar and deceiver. I am frankly flattered to be categorized with men like John Calvin, John Owen, the Puritans, Charles Spurgeon, and John MacArthurall of whom have influenced me greatly, but none of whom I am worthy to be compared with.
Second, notice that Darwin seems incapable of believing anyone might ever be mistaken or miscommunicating. And he doesn't appear to recognize that language can sometimes be misunderstood or ambiguous. So when he reads or hears a statement he disagrees with, he immediately insists the other person is guilty of "lying," "deceit," "false teaching," or some similarly abominable misdeed. His Web site targets me in particular with a laundry list of ungodly accusations about "lying," "deceit," "slander," and truth-twisting. I have responded to some of his specific accusations by correcting or clarifying my own statements to remove ambiguities or unintentional inaccuracies. But Darwin's response in return was merely to suggest that I "changed some of [my] deceit"ostensibly out of wicked motives.
Here is one example of how unreasonable Darwin's incessant finger-wagging about "deceit" can be: In the original version of this FAQ, I wrote, "Darwin has been known to show up on Sundays in the Fishmobile at Grace Community Church, with his entire 'congregation' in tow. They stand on the streets surrounding the church . . ." The sentence contains an unintentional ambiguity: The participial phrase "surrounding the church" naturally modifies the noun closest to it (streets); but it could be read as if it modified the main verb of the sentence (standing). I meant it in the former sense: Darwin and his group stand on the streets and sidewalks that surround our church. Darwin insisted on taking it in the latter sense, as if I were claiming he had brought a group big enough to link arms and surround our church's entire campus at once. He wrote, "[We] stood on the public sidewalk near the front of the church. We in no way surrounded the church (it's too big!)." Since I had already stated that Darwin's congregation is a small, living-room-sized group, my meaning would have been perfectly clear to most readers. But Darwin insisted on citing his misconstrual of my words as "proof" of my "deceit."
The truth is, if I wanted to reply in kind, I could accuse Darwin of "lying," because some of his followers have also stood and passed out their literature and insults from behind our church (not just "near the front" of it). But I'll extend him a courtesy he rarely extends anyone else: I'll assume his inaccuracy was neither deliberate nor essential to the point he was making.
In any case, I do not intend to be goaded by Darwin Fish into wrangling about words to no profit. But I do invite readers to analyze his accusations carefully and notice that despite the harsh and insistent tone of his complaints about my supposed deceit and duplicity, his "proofs" are without any real substance. Notice also that he loves to nitpick about the incidental details of his critics' statements, but he consistently misses the big picture.
Update: Apparently, sometime after 2001, Mr. Soto quietly removed most of the material "exposing" my "lies" from his Web site. Perhaps it was pointing too many prospective converts to this FAQ, where they were fueled with questions Soto and Fish had difficulty answering. I'm not certain what led to its removal. I certainly never complained about their little "expose." I am quite willing to wear any odium they want to pour on me (Matthew 10:25-26).
Meanwhile, click this link for a reply to an article that remains on their site, titled "Our Side of the Story."
- What is the Fishmobile?
Darwin used to drive an old full-size sedan with a wooden plank bolted in place of the rear bumper, featuring a hand-lettered sign condemning John MacArthur, James Dobson, Charles Swindoll, and other popular teachers. Also prominently hand-lettered on the wooden "bumper" was Darwin's toll-free telephone number 1-800-HOW-TRUE. We haven't seen the Fishmobile in some time.
Darwin recently reappeared, however, with a well-used van some are calling "Fishmobile II: The Beast." Unfortunately Darwin has taken full advantage of the larger panels and is now bringing a reproach on the cause of Christ on our freeways with bigger, bolder lettering than ever.
Darwin has been known to show up on Sundays in the Fishmobile at Grace Community Church, with his entire "congregation" in tow. They stand on the sidewalks near the church, yell hateful slogans branding Grace Church's leaders false teachers, and distribute anti-MacArthur literature to people arriving for the services.
- What happens if I call the toll-free number?
You'll get a recorded message from Darwin, warning you against having itching ears and urging you to join him in hating every false way (Ps. 119:104). If you call at the right time, he may personally answer the phone. If not, he promises to call back if you leave your name and number.
- Where can I find out more about the Fish cult?
There isn't much well-researched information on line, unfortunately. But there is currently active an online "discussion" forum (more of a free-for-all, really), started by a dear, anguished woman whose son abandoned his wife and infant child in order to move to the Fishite compound. See: the "God's Word Fellowship/A True Church/Darwin Fish" forum on Factnet. Al Soto and a couple of Darwin's other henchmen joined the fray for a while there, but left when called to account for the cult's unbiblical excesses. The forum is occasionally marred by undocumented hearsay, deliberately abusive posts (on both sides of the discussion), and one rather persistent guy who thinks the forum ought to be shut down completely because he is convinced it is just not nice to argue about anything. But in the midst of the melee a number of interesting facts have emerged about the rather unique culture of Darwin's sect. It seems "a true church" has begun to acquire the piquant aroma of "The Jerry Springer Show."
- Can I have permission to reprint and distribute parts of this FAQ in order to warn people about Darwin and his cult?
- What about your written correspondence with Darwin?
Before the following letters were posted publicly, Rick Miesel claimed he had read my letters to Darwin and found them "scurrilous" (i.e., "given to the use of vulgar, coarse, or abusive language; foul-mouthed"). Readers may judge for themselves whether Miesel is telling the truth. (Darwin himself has copied and distributed my letters to him, so I'm not violating any etiquette by making these public.)
5 April 1994
God's Word Fellowship
Green Valley, CA 91350
I'm replying to a couple of letters from you. One is
the letter you wrote Jerry Wragg on March 18. The other is
a letter dated March 22 that you have mailed to a number of
Grace Community Church members, including some elders.
I want to state as clearly as possible for you that
what we appealed to you to repent of is your factiousness.
According to Titus 3:10, we are commanded to "Reject a
factious man after a first and second warning." Factious,
according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means "given to
faction; seditious." Seditious is defined as "engaged in
promoting disaffection or inciting to revolt against consti-
The Greek word translated "factious" is hairetikos,
which means simply "causing division."
Darwin, you publicly accused the duly constituted
elders of our church after you had taken an oath to support
this church and its elders--and you did so without personal-
ly speaking to any of these men first. Moreover, the charg-
es you have made are of the gravest sort. You have accused
godly men of teaching damnable lies--false doctrine for
which you suggest they will be condemned eternally to hell.
You made those charges in a public forum outside the
church, then brought your tapes and divisive accusations
into the church and spread them among young believers, new
members, and other vulnerable people. I personally over-
heard you talking to a woman who had joined Grace Church
only moments before. You were telling her that John
MacArthur is a dangerous false teacher to be avoided. And
you were standing at the foot of the pulpit when you made
those statements! You are a textbook example of factious-
When Lance Quinn, Jerry Wragg, and I confronted you
about these things we explained all this to you in detail.
Your letters give the false impression that we did not
sufficiently make these things clear to you. Your letters
are filled with other lies, misrepresentations, and
distortions of the truth that need to be corrected.
In your letter to Jerry, you stated, "Jesus was very
factious with His teaching." That is simply untrue. In no
sense was He "factious." When he denounced the Pharisees'
unbelief, he did it to their faces (cf. Matt. 23:13). He
did not make Himself a member of their group, publicly vow
to support them, act as if he were a member in good standing
in their congregation, then skulk around attacking them and
accusing them in other forums. He did not make railing
accusations against anyone. Your tactics bear no relation-
ship whatsoever to His ministry. It is offensive that you
would attempt to draw such a comparison.
Also in your letter to Jerry, you said this:
All of you would be a much greater help to a man like
myself if you could show from the Word of God that what
I have said (not the way I went about saying it), is
not true. . . . I would like to encourage you toward
one thing. The next time you get someone claiming John
MacArthur is a false teacher, care enough about the
man's soul to show him from the Word of God that he is
wrong in his conclusion (not wrong in his mannerism,
unless dealt with secondarily). Because that is what
would truly benefit him the most, and lead him to the
knowledge of the truth.
Darwin, we did not discipline you for your "mannerism" or
your methodology. We disciplined you for your factiousness.
We did show you from Scripture where you were wrong: Titus
3:9-11; Romans 16:17-19; Hebrews 13:17; Jude 9-16; and
Proverbs 16:27-28. I read all those verses aloud to you in
our meeting. You refused to heed them. You showed contempt
for the Word of God where it applies to your own sin. We
are therefore commanded by Scripture to reject you (Titus
3:10). To dispute with you about specific points of doc-
trine while you remain unrepentantly factious would be use-
less and unprofitable (cf. Titus 3:9). If we engaged in
that form of dialogue with you now, we would be in violation
of God's clear commandment.
In other words, we are concerned for your soul--and
in a far more solemn sense than you evidently realize. You
brought railing accusations against various leaders of our
church in violation of 1 Timothy 5:19. You profaned the vow
you made publicly when you joined the church. You have sown
conflict and discord in the body of believers. You have
tried to set church members against their leaders. Strife,
disputes, dissensions, and factions are works of the flesh,
according to Galatians 5:20. We cannot, and will not, over-
look your sinful factiousness in order to engage you in
further disputes and controversies about points of doctrine.
If we did that, we would be sinning.
All of that brings me to the misrepresentations that
need to be corrected in your March 22 letter, which has been
distributed by mail from you to members of Grace Church,
some of whom have told me they do not even know who you are.
In this letter, you state:
The only "factious" thing I have done is that I have
exposed John MacArthur's erroneous teaching publicly
(via my taped sermons to the congregation at God's Word
Not true. You came to Grace Community Church on the night
we admitted 400 new members, drew one of them aside after
the service, then stood at the front of the church for an
extended time making your accusations against John MacArthur
loudly enough that I overheard you. No reasonable person
would deny that your behavior that night was factious in the
extreme. Now by mailing letters that distort the facts to
church members whom you don't even know, you are simply
proving what a factious man you are, and heaping more guilt
The leadership at Grace caught me in a manmade doctrine
of church membership (since I was still "on the books"
as a member).
Wrong. You voluntarily joined Grace Community Church and
vowed before God and the entire congregation to support the
church and submit to its doctrine and leadership. You
knowingly kept your membership active; I know this because
at the beginning of our meeting with Jerry and Lance, you
stated that you were a member. You were very aware that you
were still on the membership rolls. We did not entrap you
in any way.
Furthermore, our charge that you violated your vows is
not based on any "manmade doctrine." Scripture says, "If a
man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind him-
self with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his
word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his
mouth" (Num. 30:2). "When you make a vow to the Lord your
God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in
you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you.
However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in
you. You shall be careful to perform what goes out from
your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord
your God, what you have promised" (Deut. 23:21-23).
Do you think those verses do not apply to you? You
could have freed yourself from the membership vow at any
time by withdrawing your membership, but you did not.
Again, we plead with you to repent of this grievous sin
against God and renounce your factious behavior.
In our meeting I pointed out to you that you had never
been faithful to your duties as a member of the body at
Grace Community Church. Although you joined the church at
least a decade ago, you never involved yourself in any
ministry that gave you any degree of accountability to the
elders or the duly constituted leaders of this church. You
claim that for many years you respected John MacArthur as "a
godly man whose example [you] desired to follow." Yet for
all those years you avoided direct accountability to John
and all the other elders and ministry leaders. Why?
You also write,
If a pastor of a church can not examine and expose
publicly what he feels to be dangerous doctrine taught
by another pastor in the area, then we are again under
a Protestant popery.
That is a baseless allegation. As I noted above, you have
been unfaithful as a church member. For you now to claim
for yourself the prerogatives of a pastor is sheer effron-
tery. We have called you to account for your actions as a
member of our church. We do not recognize any pastoral
authority that you may have usurped for yourself. If you
felt God was leading you to be a pastor, why did you not
seek some form of ministry under the elders' oversight? Is
it not one of the qualifications even for deacons that they
"first be tested; then . . . serve as deacons if they are
beyond reproach" (1 Tim. 3:10)? How much more crucial is
it that an elder (or pastor, as you call yourself) first
prove himself before he takes on the role of spiritual
overseer? You failed to prove yourself in any regard during
your years in membership here. You have no right to demand
that we now recognize you as a pastor.
But the most galling and fallacious portion of your
But, the worst part about it is this, THEY COMPLETELY
REFUSED TO DISCUSS OR CORRECT ME IN REGARDS TO WHAT I
TAUGHT IN MY EXPOSITION OF MACARTHUR'S TEACHING.
Darwin, that is simply a lie. I told you several times that
I was "willing to discuss doctrine with you all day," if you
would first repent of your factiousness. I personally
promised to answer every one of your allegations against
John MacArthur, Wayne Mack, and Lance Quinn if you would
acknowledge your sin in having tried to undermine church
leaders whom you had vowed to support. In fact, one of our
chief points to you was that if you honestly felt these men
were sinning, you should have confronted them personally
with your allegations before you attacked them publicly (cf.
Matt. 18:15). Once you made your charges a divisive matter
within the church body, however, the principal issue that
needed to be dealt with was your sin of factiousness.
You add this misleading comment:
They asked me to recall the tapes stating I was wrong
in the manner in which I presented the material. They
explicitly stated they were not asking me to recant on
the tapes' content.
That badly misrepresents what we said. First, we explicitly
stated that we had listened carefully to your allegations
and were convinced that you were in error on virtually every
point you made. We also explained that Scripture forbade us
at this point from engaging you in a doctrinal dispute. We
pointed out that you had violated Scripture by being fac-
tious (not simply in the "manner" of your presentation).
And we made it clear that we were asking you to repent of
all your factious behavior. We stated that we were not at
this time insisting that you recant on the points of doc-
trine. We said this to underscore the fact that we were not
attempting to use the threat of discipline as leverage to
gain your acquiescence to our doctrinal convictions. But we
repeatedly stated that we believe your teaching itself is
seriously in error. We pleaded with you to repent of your
factiousness precisely so that we could discuss the points
of doctrine you had raised. Your refusal to repent despite
clear biblical proof of your own wrongdoing left us with no
choice but to reject you, in accordance with Titus 3:10.
Darwin, I did not know you, or even know of you, until
that night when I overheard you proselytizing a new member
at the front of Grace Church. Since that time, several
people who evidently do know you have come to me on their
own initiative with even more concerns. I have been told
that you frequently beat your children until they are
bruised. (Perhaps that explains your obsession with John
MacArthur's supposed lack of emphasis on "the rod.") I have
been told that you sponge off other people, even to the
point of living in their homes, and that you have never held
a steady job that would support your family. (If that is
so, you are worse than an infidel, 1 Tim. 5:8.) I have
heard that you dominate the lives of your "disciples" and
exhibit some of the same characteristics we saw in David
Koresh, Jim Jones, and other cult leaders.
I do not yet know the facts behind those accusations.
I do not say they are true. I pray that they are not. I am
even willing to assume they are false until I see proof to
But many aspects of your character I have observed
firsthand are consistent with that of a cult leader: your
pattern of avoiding accountability, your inflated view of
your own spiritual importance, your bizarre applications of
Scripture, your refusal to obey Scripture where it clearly
applies to you, your willingness to make railing accusations
against godly men, your underhanded methods of beguiling
naive and unsuspecting church members into your sphere of
influence, your proclivity to ad hominem attacks on the
most visible church leaders, your penchant for deceiving and
twisting facts (as you have shown in these two letters),
your disdain for authority, your self-willed behavior, and
your factiousness. Notice how many of those same character-
istics are spoken of in 2 Peter 2 and Jude, where they are
applied to the lowest variety of false teachers--dogs who
lick their own vomit, and pigs who wallow in their own muck
(2 Pet. 2:22).
Darwin, as I told you that day we met, I fear for your
soul. God is graciously calling you to repentance. You
have been put out of the church. According to Matthew
18:18-20, heaven is in agreement with our verdict against
you. I plead with you not to harden your heart. "Therefore
repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that
if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven
you" (Acts 8:22). Don't remain in the gall of bitterness
and the bondage of iniquity.
Sincerely in Christ,
Phillip R. Johnson
Elder, Grace Church
14 August 1994
God's Word Fellowship
Green Valley, CA 91350
Thank you for the tape you sent last month in response
to my request for your teaching on justification by faith.
I listened to it immediately but have been so bogged down
with an editorial deadline that I am only now able to take
time to respond. Please forgive me for the delay.
While the tape itself barely touched on the issue of
justification, what you did say about justification
sounded orthodox. I was grateful for this, because as I
mentioned, I believe Scripture makes the distinction between
the true gospel and "a different gospel" hinge on the
doctrine of justification by faith. This is, in effect, the
central message of the entire book of Galatians and of
Romans 4. (And Romans 4:4-5 clearly makes justification by
faith the doctrine that separates true believers from all
As I said, you made only a passing mention of
justification by faith in your sermon. I want to encourage
you to contemplate the centrality of this doctrine in
relationship to all gospel truth. You have asked me to show
you where your teaching is in error, and while I will not
engage in any kind of doctrinal debate with you while you
remain unrepentant about your factiousness, I do want to
suggest that you should reflect deeply on the significance
of justification by faith, because it goes to the heart of
what seems to make you so factious.
You tend to view every error as a fatal heresy. It
seems that if someone even uses a term like "self-esteem" in
any context other than a critique of the self-esteem
movement, you automatically label that person a heretical
false teacher and damn him to eternal destruction. I detest
the self-esteem cult with all my heart, but I'm not willing
to consign to the flames of hell every teacher who casually
speaks of "self-esteem."
If a man preaches the gospel of salvation by grace
alone through faith alone in Christ alone--acknowledging the
supreme authority of Scripture--he is a brother in Christ,
although he may be in error on other points of doctrine. It
is one thing to disagree with or even sternly rebuke such a
person (cf. Gal. 2:11), and entirely a different matter to
pronounce a sentence of eternal damnation against him. You
have not carefully distinguished between doctrines that are
fundamental and those that are peripheral. Consequently,
you are often in the position of condemning those whom God
has justified (cf. Rom. 8:33-34). That is a grievous sin,
and I urge you to examine your heart on this.
Francis Turretin, in volume 1 of his Institutes of
Elenctic Theology, includes a very helpful section on
distinguishing between fundamental and incidental matters;
also Herman Witsius has a chapter on this in volume 1 of
The Apostles' Creed. John MacArthur's next book,
Reckless Faith, due for release this fall, will also have
a chapter that deals in depth with the question of which
matters are fundamental. If you're interested, I will give
you a copy of the book when it is released.
Meanwhile, Darwin, I urge you again to examine your
heart on these things. I fear for the discipline God will
subject you to if you harden your heart against the
discipline the church has placed you under (Heb. 12:5-6;
Matt. 18:17-20). I know that many besides me have warned
you about the symptoms of pride that reveal themselves in
your preaching, your demeanor, and especially the way you
have responded to the elders of Grace Church. Please ponder
thoroughly these repeated warnings which God in His goodness
has enabled you to hear.
Sincerely in Christ,
Phillip R. Johnson
1 September 1994
God's Word Fellowship
Green Valley, CA 91350
When your letter arrived, I was in New Zealand. A
large stack of correspondence was waiting for me when I
returned, but I want to respond at length to your letter
first of all. It contains a number of significant
misunderstandings that I am eager to clear up.
First, at no time have I stated that you are on your
way to hell. Unlike you, I am content to leave such
judgment to Christ. "For not even the Father judges anyone,
but He has given all judgment to the Son" (Jn. 5:22). You
evidently feel free to intrude into an office reserved for
Christ alone; I do not. What I have said consistently is
that I fear for your soul because of the way you have
hardened your heart against church discipline. Our Lord
said He is in agreement with the verdict of a church of
believers acting in His name (Matt. 18:18-20). That
certainly ought to make you tremble as the time draws closer
when you will stand before His throne to give an account.
But it is He who will judge you in that day; I in no way
wish to usurp that prerogative here and now.
That is perfectly consistent with my statements about
justification by faith. If you truly believe in Him who
justifies the ungodly, He will reckon your faith as
righteousness, no matter how inconsistent your present
behavior is with perfect righteousness (Rom. 4:5-8). The
key question is whether you truly believe. Certainly your
failure to heed the discipline of godly elders seems to call
the reality of your faith into question (Matt. 18:17)--but I
am quite content to leave all judgment to the One who knows
all the secrets of your heart (Ps. 44:20-21).
Second, I did not say that justification by faith is
the only test of whether someone is in the faith. But it
is certainly the most telling doctrinal test. Many people
believe in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the
authority of Scripture, yet remain outside the true
household of faith. (This is surely the spiritual state of
millions of Roman Catholics.) Scripture does not promise
eternal life to people who believe in those
doctrines--unless they are trusting in Christ alone as their
That was the point you evidently missed in my reference
to Romans 4:4-5. This passage clearly makes justification
by faith the watershed between true faith and unbelief. It
states plainly that all who believe in the true Christ alone
for their justification have righteousness reckoned to them.
They are genuine Christians. God justifies them. We can
safely conclude, therefore, that justification by faith,
properly understood, makes the difference between heaven and
hell. Indeed, that conclusion is confirmed by more than
just these two verses. It is the whole point of Romans
3:20--5:21, as well as most of the epistle to the Galatians.
See also Luke 18:9-14 for our Lord's teaching on the
importance of justification.
This is certainly not to say that justification by
faith is the only doctrinal test of true faith. The faith
that justifies encompasses all other essential doctrines.
You cannot consistently affirm justification by faith and
deny the deity of Christ, for example, because the perfect
righteousness essential to our justification hinges on the
truth that Christ is God in the flesh.
There are many other fundamental doctrines besides
justification by faith and the deity of Christ that are
essential to true faith. How do we know which truths are
fundamental? They are identified as such by the Bible it-
The deity of Christ, for example, is plainly marked as
a fundamental doctrine (1 Jn. 2:23). Likewise, the bodily
resurrection of Christ is said to be essential, precisely
because our justification depends on it (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor.
15:14). We could add several other articles of faith that
Scripture expressly classifies as necessary for true faith
(e.g., Jn. 14:6; Heb. 11:6; 1 Jn. 1:6, 8, 10; 2 Jn. 7).
Ultimately, they all center on justification by faith,
because this is the very heart of the gospel. That is why
it is the doctrine that cults and false teachers inevitably
attack. The curse of Galatians 1:8-9 is leveled at those
who would corrupt this very doctrine. Numerous passages of
Scripture can be cited to prove that justification by faith
is the sine qua non of sound doctrine (Rom. 3:27-28; Gal.
2:16--3:29). It was an error on this very doctrine that was
at the heart of the apostasy of the Jewish nation (Rom.
This is precisely why John MacArthur has publicly
attacked Robert Schuller's self-esteem teaching but has
refrained from placing James Dobson in the same category.
Schuller's teaching deliberately and explicitly denies human
depravity and justification by faith. He has clearly
abandoned the fundamental doctrines of Christ. Dobson, on
the other hand, affirms justification by faith, human
depravity, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, and
the inerrancy of Scripture. We disagree strongly with
Dobson's self-esteem teachings and his reliance on
psychology. (This is abundantly clear from John MacArthur's
writings.) But unlike you, we are not prepared to ascend
the Great White Throne and consign a man to eternal doom who
declares that he trusts Christ alone to be his righteousness
and who affirms every doctrine Scripture says is essential
to eternal salvation. "Who will bring a charge against
God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one
who condemns?" (Rom. 8:33-34). Darwin, you are far too
eager to pronounce doom and damnation against people who
testify that they trust in Christ alone. Doesn't it concern
you that you may be damning people whom God has justified?
I am astonished at your declaration that "the Bible
makes no such distinction" between fundamental and
peripheral doctrines. That statement, it seems to me,
betrays the reason for the appalling lack of discernment
that underlies virtually all your errors. If you really
mean what you seem to be saying, it would be impossible for
genuine believers ("especially after they have been exposed
to the truth") to disagree on any point of doctrine. Are
you saying that Presbyterians who have been exposed to
Baptist arguments yet persist in sprinkling babies are
therefore on their way to hell? Do you believe that all are
eternally doomed who hold to a different eschatalogical
scheme from the one you deem true? Are you suggesting that
all evangelical Arminians are headed for a Christless
eternity? Those are judgments that go beyond any
pronouncement of God's Word that I am aware of. Are you
certain you want to elevate yourself to that height? If
not, you must acknowledge that not everything Scripture
teaches is of equal importance. On some issues people can
be wrong without peril to their salvation. This is clearly
affirmed in Scripture.
Romans 14, for example, a chapter you would do well to
master, contains an in-depth exposition of this truth that
you claim is nowhere found in Scripture. Paul could have
settled matters that remained questionable among the Romans
by a simple apostolic dictum. Instead, he called for
charitable forbearance on all peripheral matters: "Now
accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose
of passing judgment on his opinions" (Rom. 14:1). This
surely lays down the principle we ought to follow in all
matters not explicitly identified by the Bible as essential
doctrines. (Here Paul is talking about things as
significant as Sabbath observance and dietary laws,
certainly prominent issues in the Old Testament economy.)
Regarding such issues the apostle Paul ultimately says, "Let
each man be fully convinced in his own mind" (v. 5). And,
in a verse I urge you to take to heart, he writes, "But you,
why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you
regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand
before the judgment seat of God" (v. 10).
First Corinthians 3:11-13 also makes a distinction
between the foundation and that which is built upon it.
There Paul indicates that many will build with wood, hay,
and stubble. He is not describing unbelievers who attempt
to destroy the foundation, but believers who build on that
foundation with shoddy materials. All their wood, hay, and
stubble will be incinerated in the purifying judgment. The
one who has employed such materials will see his work burned
up. "He shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved,
yet so as through fire" (v. 15).
One of the rather serious errors of the Pharisees was
that they confused the fundamental and essential (the moral
law) with the peripheral and changeable (the ceremonial
law). They substituted the latter for the former. Like
them, you seem to place more weight on the peripherals than
you do on the essentials. That is why I sincerely rejoiced
to hear that you do believe in justification by faith alone.
But I am still grieved that you give this truth, the very
heart of the gospel, such scant emphasis in the aggregate of
One final misunderstanding persists in what you say,
despite the fact that we have covered this ground
repeatedly. You were not disciplined "just because a
division occur[ed] as a result of [your] actions." (As far
as I know, no serious division has occurred within Grace
Church because of you.) You were disciplined for attempting
to draw people away from Grace Church while you were still a
member here. You disseminated tapes and written accusations
against the men God placed in leadership over the church
where you kept your membership. You publicly labeled
several of these men heretics without first sharing your
concerns privately with any of them. You did this in
flagrant defiance of the vow you once made in the presence
of our whole congregation that you would love, encourage,
and support these men as leaders duly ordained by God. I
don't know of a Bible-believing church anywhere in the world
that would not discipline you for that.
You cited 2 Timothy 2:24-26 against the way we have
dealt with you. I would advise you to back up one verse and
read 2 Timothy 2:23: "But refuse foolish and ignorant specu-
lations, knowing that they produce quarrels." Your
failure to obey verses 23-26 is precisely why we had to
initiate discipline against you. And in accordance with
Titus 3:10, we were forced to reject you after a first and
Several times you have made the statement that the word
translated "factious" (hairetikos) in Titus 3:10 refers to
doctrinal heresy rather than divisiveness. Therefore, you
say, we are obligated to refute "the issues [you] have
raised against MacArthur's teaching." Please allow me to
respond to that in two ways. First, John MacArthur is not
under discipline; you are. A discussion of the merits of
your accusations against him would in no way resolve the
charges that your design in airing those accusations the way
you did is manifestly factious. As I have told you
repeatedly, when you confess and repent of your factious-
ness, I will discuss whatever concerns you have about John
MacArthur's teaching for as long as it takes to resolve
Second, hairetikos and its cognate hairesis both
come from the primary verb haireomai, meaning "choose"
(cf. Phil. 1:22). Hairesis appears nine times in the New
Testament and is translated "sect" (Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5,
14; 26:5; 28:22), "heresies" (2 Pet. 2:1), and "factions" (1
Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20). As you can tell from those verses,
it can, and often does, encompass the idea of destructive
false doctrine. But there are other times (as in the 1 Cor.
11:19 reference) when it simply refers to the needless
separation of brethren into warring factions. The root
meaning of the word is the idea of division, not false
doctrine. In fact, false doctrine is labeled heresy
precisely because of its divisive effects.
Hairetikos is found nowhere in Scripture except Titus
3:10, where the context describes a person who creates
unnecessary divisions and strife between Christians by
stirring up foolish controversies that needlessly separate
brethren or rip the ecclesia asunder. Look up
hairetikos in Colin Brown, or any of the standard New
Testament dictionaries. The mark of the factious man's
error is that he tends to draw his followers off into a
faction, or sect, where they isolate themselves from the
rest of the body of Christ, spurning the brethren who will
not follow all their factious leader's pronouncements.
That, Darwin, is exactly what you have done. Since you
insist that every doctrinal question is fundamental, you
don't see any controversy as worthless or unprofitable
(cf. 3:9). To you, every nuance, every point of dis-
agreement about doctrine, even every variation in emphasis
is a matter of eternal significance. That perspective has
made you both factious and proud.
You have asked me to show you your error from
Scripture. I have done so again and again, and you have
consistently refused to hear. You say you want the truth,
yet when confronted with your sin, you refuse to repent.
You broke a public vow you made before the whole church, but
you shrug that off as "a technicality." Scripture does not
treat this so lightly (Deut. 23:21; Eccl. 5:4-5). In my
April 5 letter to you I documented several lies in the
letter you were distributing. You ignored the facts and
continue to disseminate the same lies. You acknowledge that
many others have confronted you about your pride. Yet your
response is arrogance rather than mourning (cf. 1 Cor. 5:2).
It seems clear enough that you have no intention of yielding
to what the Bible demands of you. You insist that we must
first defend John MacArthur against your factious accu-
sations. And thus you only compound your sin with further
This is at least the third lengthy letter I have
written you. In each case I have appealed to you carefully
from Scripture. Yet you insist that you have been
disciplined without being shown where you are in error. You
continue to mail your accusations to people all over the
country who have no involvement in any of these issues (thus
further demonstrating your factiousness). Many who have
received your mailings have written to ask us for the truth
about your accusations. I want you to know that wherever it
is necessary to answer questions you have raised in people's
minds, I will distribute copies of the letters I have
written, so that people can see the true basis of the appeal
we have made to you. I see no need to keep my corre-
spondence with you confidential if you are going to continue
to widen the circle of involvement through your mass
Perhaps you cited 2 Tim. 2:24 because you don't feel we
have corrected you gently enough. Please forgive me if
anything about the manner of my approach has been a
stumbling block to you. I have frankly struggled with
whether sharp rebuke or gentle entreaty is the most
appropriate way to deal with you (cf. 1 Cor. 4:21).
Realizing the gravity of the sin of factiousness, I have
tried to appeal to you as I would my own brother (1 Tim.
5:1). My sincere desire for you is that you would see your
sin, repent, and be restored to full fellowship with us. I
have been deeply grieved by your response--the hardening of
your heart, the puffing up of your pride, and the theatrics
of your campaign to distribute your broadsides against the
elders of Grace Church. How can you justify these things
biblically? Do you really imagine that the Lord is pleased
by what you are doing?
Like Paul, we rejoice and will rejoice whenever Christ
is preached, however ill the motive of the preacher (Phil.
1:15-18). That's why I was encouraged greatly to know that
you affirm the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Again, however, I would suggest that this crucial doctrine
deserves much, much more prominence in your preaching than
you are currently giving it. In all your messages that I
have listened to, the only place I have heard you refer to
justification is on the tape you sent after I expressly
asked to hear your teaching on that doctrine. Your comments
about justification were very brief, barely an offhand
reference in what was a very long sermon. I think you spend
so much time attacking others that you often forget your
first task is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Surely justification sola fide is an infinitely more
weighty eternal issue than a lot of piffle about whether
John MacArthur might here or there employ a word that you
believe has psychological overtones. Since John has
repeatedly and vigorously condemned the doctrines of psy-
chology and self-esteem (for a recent example, see his book
The Vanishing Conscience, especially chapter 4), your
public attacks on him as a purveyor of humanistic self-love
amount to little more than "a morbid interest in controver-
sial questions and disputes about words" (1 Tim. 6:4).
Objective hearers who have read or listened to enough of
John MacArthur's teaching immediately recognize your
factiousness. Unfortunately, those who are undiscerning or
unfamiliar with John's message are confused and misled by
what you say.
I offer these things with a final appeal to you to
repent of your factiousness and your arrogance against men
of God whom you once vowed to love, encourage, and support.
I don't intend to write you again until you have dealt
with your own sin against the body of Christ and the
leadership of Grace Church. Reading this and my previous
letters to you, I believe I have given you ample evidence
from Scripture that you have sinned and need to repent. As
long as you choose to continue in your sin and justify
yourself, Scripture is clear about the course we must take
Sincerely in Christ,
Phillip R. Johnson
Elder, Grace Church