PAGES IN THIS ENTRY:
- The Fellowship (Australia)
- The Fellowship - Fractured Families
- The Fellowship (Australia) - Research Resources
Upon the publication of Fractured Families: the story of a Melbourne church cult, by Morag Zwartz, the Australian Presbyterian magazine published the following article by Tracy Gordon:
One particular birthday cake stands out in my childhood memories. It was my 13th birthday and, being a diabetic, I had not enjoyed a birthday cake for years. When I came home from school and found a beautifully decorated cake sitting on the dining room table, my heart skipped a beat with excitement. “Finally, I can feel like a ‘normal’ person for an evening, and have a real birthday cake,” I thought, assuming that someone had found a special recipe for sugarless cake. I can still recall my sinking feeling when the family had gathered, the candles on the cake were burning and, to my horror, someone leaned over and lifted the cake from the plate to reveal a series of books underneath! My family had decorated a cardboard box with icing.
There is a very real and acute pain that issues forth from the promise that is false, from the counterfeit, from the lie. For it is not only that you do not get what you are expecting to receive (where the primary outcome would be that you end up back where you started), but you are left to deal with a host of unmet expectations, disappointments, hurt and pain. You are left worse off, sometimes much worse off, than when you began.
Religious cults have a particular ability to inflict this sort of pain and disappointment. Not only do they not teach the true Gospel which gives life, but they lead their followers to trust in that which cannot save us – be it works, mysticism, legalism or a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. A book released last month – Fractured Families: the story of a Melbourne church cult, by Morag Zwartz – explores the brokenness that has followed the counterfeit Christianity that many believe is practised by the Fellowship in Melbourne.
As with many Christian groups, the Fellowship was formed out of the earnest and sincere desires of a likeminded group of people who wanted to share and deepen their faith and encourage one another. The founding families mostly lived near each other in Melbourne, worshipping at a variety of mainline churches. The gatherings started informally in the homes of Ronald Grant or Alan Neil, the two founders, who had met when they were young men. Along with some other founding families, they came from conservative evangelical families in Sydney and Melbourne.
Meetings were held monthly, and were by invitation only. The Fellowship hid itself in some Anglican and Presbyterian churches, apparently seeking legitimacy within the structures of mainstream denominations. The ties that bound Fellowship members together were very strong – many joined through family connections or married into the Fellowship. The original members had many things in common, and some occupied positions of some distinction within the business community. Former members have expressed concern at the level of affluence enjoyed by Fellowship members.
The Fellowship, one of a number of church-based cults to have arisen from the holiness movement, has now existed behind a veil of secrecy and exclusivism/elitism for more than 60 years. While members were sincere and earnest in their desire to experience the fullness of God, they misunderstood some of the foundational truths of the Christian faith. As one person Morag Zwartz interviewed told her: “They are not intrinsically evil, but they’re deceived, they’re not living the freedom Christ offers.” There is a great deal of emphasis on sanctification, but apparently not appropriately balanced by the doctrine of justification.
According to Zwartz, Ronald Grant and Alan Neil were heavily influenced by traditional Keswick holiness teaching. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says of this: “The themes of Wesleyan holiness teaching, sinless perfection or entire sanctification, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and second blessings, were underlying planks of the Keswick Convention which, significantly, aimed to provide a ‘spiritual clinic where defeated and ineffective Christians may be restored to spiritual health’.” As such, Ronald Grant appeared to have an elitist vision for his followers.