A long line of hungry people can be seen standing outside the Immanuel Ministries’ (IM) Freestore near Chicago, Illinois. They wait patiently for a banana box full of food that has been packaged by the members of IM. Coming from as far as Minnesota, these dozen or so members not only sort and pack banana boxes with donated food at this location but they also call it home. These men and women have chosen this “mission field” because they believe they have answered a call from Jesus Christ as preached by Larry Miller, the charismatic and influential leader of IM. With a resounding yes, they are answering Miller’s question “Should we from time to time sell lands and houses and lay them at the church leadership’s feet for distribution to those in need?” They have committed themselves to the purpose of feeding the needy in order to spread the gospel.
But underneath the kind deeds are stories of lives and families that have been seriously damaged by the leadership of IM. The members are manipulated and deceived. They were required to sell most of their belongings to become a missionary at IM. Works of service became necessities to cleanse oneself from the blood of the lost that would be placed on your hands for not feeding the poor. When interviewed, all stated that they believed leaving IM would forfeit their place in heaven. False doctrine, works salvation, sleep depravation, scripture twisting, controlled lives, weight loss due to regimented diets, false prophecies, and emotional abuse are the rotten fruit of this troubled ministry.
The purpose of these articles are multifaceted. First it compares the teachings of IM in the spirit of the Bereans, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (NIV; Acts 17:11) Also, Jesus warned His followers to “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing” (NIV; Matt. 7:15) His warning had nothing to do with how they dressed (they would look like sheep) or the ministries they performed (“didn’t we prophesy in your name?”) but rather what they taught and how it squared with His written revelation.
The second reason is to document the stories of the ex-members of IM and how their experience has affected them and their families, focusing on what this leader teaches and how the members practice that teaching. As a concerned Christian, the author interviewed over a dozen ex-members, families of ex-members, families of current members and/or friends of Larry Miller, to document their stories.
The third purpose is to bring awareness of those abuses and teachings to inform donors, potential donors, missionaries, pastors, and prospective converts of IM’s abuses and false teachings so that they may make a more informed decision about supporting its work with the time, talent and treasures. Larry Miller is the originator for the teachings at IM, so his doctrine will be the primary focus of this evaluation. He has been referred to by ex-members as a Prophet of God which would some say make his words as binding as the Holy Scriptures.
In addition to the above, these articles will analyze whether IM is a cult/abusive ministry. The commonly accepted way to determine whether a group is a cult is to look at their theology and their sociologic model. Under the theological model, a group is considered a cult if they deviate from the historical biblical faith on a matter of primary importance such as the Trinity, Christ’s Deity and humanity, salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Deviating on the important but secondary issues such as methods of baptism or style of worship are considered examples of liberty.
Under the sociological model, a group is evaluated based on their behavior and its leadership. Does the leadership misuse spiritual authority for their own benefit? Is control maintained through fear, guilt and manipulation? Do they see themselves as the ‘only true church’? Is exiting the group difficult and potentially regarded as leaving God?
– Salvation In A Banana Box: Discerning Larry Miller’s Immanuel Ministries
by Steve J. Hogel, Spiritwatch Ministries