Apologetics Index

The Fellowship – Fractured Families

Although the Fellowship has existed for decades, very little, if anything, has been recorded on paper. Zwartz writes that the dangerous cocktail of “the sinless perfection concept, the holiness teaching, the emphasis on sin and purity, the elitism, and an attraction to the Pentecostal movement with its second blessings and promise of greater power at hand, together tipped the scales into a dangerous imbalance of focus.”

One of the distinctive features of the Fellowship is its claim to unity, purity and holiness. “In the holiness hothouse of the Fellowship, where for years members had been led to search their every action and motive in order to root out sin and be found pure, where pressure to confess to one another had become an obsession, and where an external standard of unworldliness was expected and complied with, there was always a swirling of undercurrents. Some took years to break the surface. But hand in hand with outside pressures for holiness goes legalism, and where people fall into legalism hypocrisy develops; when they are obsessed with their own failings they notice others’ also; when impossible standards are set, judgmentalism takes root; and where there is an authoritarian hierarchy, resentment brews,” Morag Zwartz writes.

During the 1970s and 1980s the Fellowship was impacted by the shepherding and discipleship movements, which heightened the intrusive, inwardfocusing nature of the group. From the accounts recorded in Fractured Families, when members had sessions with their elders the atmosphere was often oppressive. “Prayer, probing, confession, subjugation, searching out of wrong thoughts or wrong attitudes, recalling of past sins” were all employed to “help” members seek after a purer, holier walk with God and a higher experience of the Christian life. It appears that what the Fellowship regarded as unity could be more accurately described as simply conforming to the standards and expectations of the leadership.

Those members who questioned the authority of the elders, or the teaching they were receiving, or the way the group organised or conducted itself, felt the disapproval of the rest of the group, whether subtly or more overtly, such as being immediately cut off from the Fellowship. Those who conformed were richly rewarded — with many members benefiting from the generosity of other members. Houses were renovated, school fees were paid for, cars were bought, relocation costs were met.

In the more recent past, according to Zwartz, there has also been the influence of a variety of writers and movements — Derek Prince, Pentecostalism, Watchman Nee and Madame Guyon among others.

Fellowship doctrine has also been guided by a particular emphasis on spiritual authority, spiritual gifts, demons, rebellion and bondage.

There are several common denominators in the human histories that are recounted in Fractured Families. Many of the people whose voices are heard through its pages describe the great cost they have paid in the past, and the costs that they continue to pay. Several of the people who have been involved in the Fellowship, when they talk of the way that the group wielded power over others, use words such as “programmed”, “dominated”, “brainwashed” and “controlfreaks”.

Some former members criticise the expectations the group held of women — particularly their place in marriage, where it was emphasised that they should be submissive, quiet and gentle. For some the pathway to marriage was through exhaustive prayer and counselling sessions which seemed to be designed to wear one down and render all objections obsolete — as any protest was simply twisted to make it appear as though the young people involved were not truly attentive to God’s promptings.

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First published (or major update) on Friday, February 24, 2006.
Last updated on February 27, 2006.

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