YWAM’s [Youth With a Mission‘s] subtitle is “To know God and make Him known.” Catchy phrase; one that would entice most people to want to be part of.
Thousands join YWAM yearly on short term mission experiences, and in this YWAM definitely fulfills the latter part of their subtitle. The former part of their phrase is not so clear however. One should ask, “What is the gospel they are spreading?” Do they really know God – the God of the Bible, or have they redefined traditional and biblical definitions of God?
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The importance of correct theology on important matters cannot be overstated. One needs to look no further than the history of the Christian church to see how much correct belief was valued. Beginning with the Apostles’ Creed, God’s followers have clearly set out the basics of Christian belief which followers of Christ should subscribe to. John 4:24 RSV says “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” Here is presented the fine balance of worshipping God with one’s whole heart, and through the grid of correct doctrine. Both are equally important but are rarely practised in perfect balance by most Christians.
Like many groups birthed out of the Jesus movement in the 1960s, YWAM emphasized the importance of relationship with God rather than the doctrine of God. 1 This led, perhaps innocently, to a devaluing of theology.
While none of YWAM’s early or current leaders came from questionable denominational backgrounds, it seemed like discernment was lacking. This led to YWAM leadership’s introduction of Moral Government theology (MGT) to YWAM students worldwide. 2
This was mostly done in the form of guest lecturers teaching at YWAM schools, who were teachers and believers of MGT. While the majority of MGT input came from these sources, many YWAM leaders also subscribed to this belief system as well. MGT was not the only strain of theology taught in YWAM schools, and in all fairness YWAM did allow other lecturers with an evangelical message to speak. However, to even allow false doctrine to be taught in their schools at all is, at the very least, irresponsible. What is Moral Government theology? I shall provide a summary below, but for those wishing a more in depth study, I recommend getting the book Evangelical Heathenism: Examining Contemporary Revivalism by Mr. E. Calvin Beisner.
|Doctrine||The Moral Government View||The Evangelical View|
|The Counsels of God||1. God does not fulfill some of His own prophecies.|
2. God changes His mind and is not immutable.
3. God does not have sovereign control over earthly events.
|1. Only false prophecies, spoken by false prophets do not become reality (Deut. 18:20,21).|
2. God does not change His mind according to His purposes (1 Sam. 15:29; Is. 46:11).
3. God has sovereign control and will, in the end, work things out (Job 42:2; Rom. 8:28).
|Omniscience/ Foreknowledge||1. God does not know His future actions.|
2. God does not know ahead of time the free decisions of humans.
3. God’s foreknowledge is limited in the area of man’s free decisions.
4. Many of the things God predicted never came true.
|1. God does know His future actions (Is. 46:9,10).|
2. God does know these free decisions ahead of time (Jn. 13:38; 1 Sam. 23:12).
3. God’s understanding is infinite (Ps. 147:5).
4. What God predicts has or will come true (Deut. 19:22; Is. 41:22ff).
|The Atonement||1. The atonement shows a willingness on God’s part to forgive, rather than a desire to punish sin.|
2. God forgives completely out of His grace rather than a need for personal vindictive satisfaction.
3. God never needed His wrath abated because of sin.
4. The atonement does not pay our debt for sin.
5. The devil has deceived us into believing that Christ was a ransom for us, and that he redeemed us by paying for our sins.
6. Jesus did not pay for our sins.
7. To believe that our salvation was literally purchased with Christ’s blood makes God to be vindictive and bloodthirsty.
|1. The atonement is Christ taking the punishment for our sins (Is. 53:5; Nah. 1:3).|
2. Punishment of sin satisfies God’s wrath on sin (1 John 2:2 ).
3. Christ abates God’s wrath through His sacrifice (Rom. 3:25).
4. His death does cancel our debt when we believe (Col. 2:14).
5. We are redeemed through the blood of the Lamb (1 Pet. 1:18-19) [Note: Greek elutrothete – to secure release through payment].
6. Jesus did pay for our sins (Matt. 20:28) [Note: Greek – lutron, a payment for loosing; a ransom price].
7. Christ purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28;Heb. 9:22).
|Justification||1. One is ultimately responsible for his/her own salvation because of free will.|
2. Imputed righteousness is a lie. God does not look on Christians through the garb of Christ’s blood.
3. True repentance means ceasing from all sin before we die.
4. Salvation is not so dependent on whether we accept Christ – it’s whether He will accept us. We need to do more so that He will want to accept us.
5. Salvation is dependent upon our adherence to moral law.
|1. One can do nothing to save oneself (Eph. 2:8).|
2. Our righteousness does come through Christ with the imputation of His righteousness (Rom. 4:5; Phil. 3:9; Heb. 10:14).
3. We are continually falling short of God’s glory; hence the need to rest upon Christ’s sacrifice. It is only through Him, not our works that we are saved (Rom. 3:23-24; Titus 3:5).
4. Christ accepts and saves us where and for who we are (Rom. 5:6,8; Jn. 1:12; Mark 2: 16,17).
5. Salvation is not dependent upon our adherence to moral law (Rom. 3:28).
|The Holiness of God||1. God is holy only because He chooses to use His attributes in a loving way.|
2. God has the ability to make wrong choices or to sin.
| 1. God is holy and is love; it’s in His nature (1 Jn, 4:16; 1 Jn. 1:5).|
3. God cannot sin; it’s not in His nature (Hab. 1:13; Heb. 6:18; Jas. 1:13).
|Sin||1. Our moral character is shaped merely by our individual acts of sin.|
2. If an individual unknowingly commits a sin, it is not a sin to that person and they will not be held to account for it by God.
3. The sin of Adam is not transmitted to us, and it would be unjust for God to pronounce us guilty because of his sin.
4. If God condemns us all because of Adam’s sin, God must also save everyone because of what Christ did (Rom. 5:19). This is universalism, and therefore both parts of the argument must be wrong.
5. Our moral depravity is shaped solely by wrong and sinful choices we make.
|1. Mankind’s nature is naturally disposed toward sinning (1 Jn. 1:8; Rom, 7: 17,20,21).|
2. Sin is sin even if an individual does not recognize it or personally acknowledge it (1 Cor. 4:4; Lev. 5:16; Lk. 23:24).
3. We are born sinful because of Adam’s original sin (Rom. 5:16-18).
4. We are all condemned because of Adam’s sin, but not all saved because of Christ’s work. Each individual still has to personally make a choice to follow Christ (Rom. 5:17).
5. Our moral depravity comes from our sinful nature as well as our individual choices (Ps. 51:5; job 25:4).
|Moral Ability||1. We as humans are able to fulfill the law.|
2. Humans are not bound to a sinful flesh that continually wants to sin. Through good choices and an iron will, mankind can turn away from sin in and of him/herself.
3. One can achieve perfection if that individual sets his/her goals high enough.
| 1. We are not able to fulfill the law; hence the need for a Saviour (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 3:21; 3:16; Eph. 2:1).|
2. Our flesh is in bondage to sin and, left on its own, cannot do good. Once more; a reason for a Saviour (Rom. 7:14,18; Gal. 5:17).
3. We are continually and always will fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23).
The chart above is not original, and is paraphrased from Dr. Alan Gomes’ important book Lead Us Not Into Deception: A Biblical Examination of Moral Government Theology. It was important because it was one of the first pieces of writing that exposed the heresy of MGT. Sadly, it also documented the fact that this heresy was being taught in YWAM schools world-wide. Also of interest in the book is an account of spiritual abuse that happened to Mr. Greg Robertson in the 1970s.
Much like myself when I presented my claims of spiritual abuse to YWAM leadership, Gomes’ findings were dismissed and an attempt was made to discredit him. 3 However, since Gomes had rock-solid evidence, since the book was receiving some notoriety, and since various counter-cult ministries became concerned over the issue, YWAM leadership had to respond. 4
Dr. Gomes and his pastor met with YWAM’s founder, Loren Cunningham, and a couple members of the international council to try and resolve the issues. It was falsely asserted at this meeting by Cunningham that certain MGT books were removed from YWAM bookstores, when only the day before this meeting Gomes had telephoned the main bookstore in Kona Hawaii and confirmed that they were still selling the MGT books in question. 5
Further, Gomes exhorted YWAM leadership to repent for allowing MGT to be taught in YWAM schools, yet the closest YWAM ever came to repentance was the expression of regret that they allowed MGT to become so controversial. 6
In the end, YWAM dismissed the seriousness of Dr. Gomes’ claims as coming from an obsessive Calvinist who wanted to split theological hairs about minor, unimportant differences in doctrine. 7 Moreover, they actually blamed others for distorting the issue, saying “we see that some with a Calvinistic view of the atonement misinterpreted our rejection of a literal exact payment theory . . ..” 8
I continue to receive reports from former YWAMers that Moral Government is currently taught in some YWAM centres – some centres, not all. That does not surprise me, since YWAM has shown that they do not consider MGT to be heresy; for them it is merely another strain of legitimate Christian doctrine.
YWAM actually states that MGT is essentially Wesleyanism, 9 which is absolutely untrue. Since being confronted with the dilemma of MGT in their Mission, YWAM leadership has issued a doctrinal statement 10 that sounds very evangelical, but I believe this is merely to present a good image to the public. One needs to look beneath the veneer of religiosity and see YWAM for who they truly are. They have consistently shown a resistance in being accountable to Christians who care – Gomes, myself, and many others can attest to that. In most cases, we are brushed off as the ones with the problem, as the previous quotation illustrates.
Paul writes in Eph. 4:14 of his hope that the body of Christ will mature through unity, so that “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness and deceitful wiles.” Hence, we “speak the truth in love” (vs. 15), hoping to help our brothers and sisters mature. YWAM leadership has a legacy of rejecting this help and has shown that they are not accountable on issues of theology or spiritual abuse.
Recently, a friend of mine in Kona told me that YWAM’s base there is embracing a controversial teaching called Momentus which, at the very least, is a questionable seminar/teaching according to Watchman Fellowship, and the Spiritual Counterfeit Project whom I contacted. Will YWAM ever learn? Does it care about sound theology? About accountability? I conclude “no,” and assert that with the combined problems of theology, spiritual abuse, and a resistance to correction, YWAM is not a credible organization.
About this article
This is an authorized mirror of a web page written by someone who has been involved in Youth With A Mission. The writer uses a pseudonym.
The article, posted here by permission, dates back to 1996, and reflects information that was current at the time. It has been edited slightly, for instance to introduce a link to Alan Gomes’ book, “Lead Us Not Into Deception,” which is now available online in PDF format, and can not longer be ordered from him by email. The gist of the articles has not been affected.
- This summary is validated by YWAM as well. See unpublished position paper A Statement About Moral Government by Youth With A Mission, 7 Dec. 1988, p. 1. ↩
- Ibid., p. 1. YWAM actually states that “God led some teachers to our mission with a strong emphasis on repentance, the lordship of Christ, and human responsibility for sin.” These men were Conn, Otis, Olson, Elseth, Pratney, and others who were the main theologians of MGT. See also Gomes, Alan W. Lead Us Not Into Deception: A Biblical Examination of Moral Government Theology. Third Edition. La Miranda: (Self-Published), 1986. p. 81. This page contains a photocopy of a newspaper article showing MGT teachers involved with YWAM. This is merely one of many proofs offered in the book. ↩
- This appears to be strategy for YWAM – discredit the messenger so that people will not believe his/her message. It happened to me, and it happened to Dr. Gomes. In fact, the accusations became so intense that Gomes’ pastor had to write a public letter of approval for Gomes and his character. It is quoted in Gomes’ book, p. 103. ↩
- YWAM received inquiries from several counter-cult organizations whom were concerned about YWAM’s acceptance of MGT in their Mission. The most notable of these was The Christian Research Institute (CRI). In May of 1982 CRI issued a statement about their findings and conclusions about YWAM entitled Youth With A Mission and Agape Force. It spelled out their concern that YWAM was allowing and condoning MGT in their Mission, see aforementioned position paper. Further, CRI founder Walter Martin and fellow apologetic theologian E. Calvin Beisner met with YWAM’s founder, Loren Cunningham in October of 1978 to discuss and hopefully resolve their concerns. This meeting produced no fruit in working toward the eradication of MGT in YWAM. Cunningham admitted that he doesn’t understand theological issues very clearly, and made it clear that he was not prepared to get rid of MGT in YWAM. For the minutes of this meeting, see Gomes’ book, pp. 108-110. Last, it has been further asserted by some YWAM leaders that CRI changed its position about YWAM after Walter Martin died. This is untrue. Martin died in 1989, but in the fall 1994 edition of the Christian Research Journal, (pp. 21-23, 41-43) CRI printed another story about MGT and linked YWAM to it. This article was written by Mr. Beisner and showed clearly the heresy of MGT and also how MGT is not Wesleyanism. ↩
- Gomes, pp. 104-107. ↩
- Ibid., p. 105. YWAM also gave a similar explanation in the position paper A Statement About Moral Government . . . that I mentioned. In it, YWAM confesses and repents for “indulging in a spirit of religious controversy.” That’s the closest they’ve ever come to saying that MGT is anti-biblical; in fact this position paper goes on to give a defense of their previous and continued acceptance of MGT in their Mission. MGT is explained away as Wesleyanism by YWAM (which is untrue). ↩
- YWAM alludes to this in their position paper A Statement About Moral Government . . . p. 3 when they say “. . . we see that some with a Calvinistic view of the atonement misinterpreted . . .” Gomes himself felt the devaluing of the seriousness of MGT’s heresy by YWAM, see Email Alan Gomes to Walter Jones [pseudonym] 14 July 1997. ↩
- See YWAM’s position paper A Statement About Moral Government . . . p. 3. ↩
- Ibid., p. 1. ↩
- See doctrinal statement YWAM Statement of Purpose, 7 Dec. 1988, issued to clarify “our commitment to sound doctrine.” ↩