By Kevin Reeves
(author of The Other Side of the River)
It was a cool evening for summer, and as the neighborhood was some distance out of town, the area was quiet and dark. The night and solitude worked in our favor, for the gathering itself was not of the barbecue fellowship variety, and I, for one, wished to avoid unwelcome stares from neighbors. I felt ill at ease in the evening atmosphere of the event. It just didn’t feel right, like we were involved in a perversion of something.
About ten of us stood in the backyard of elder Bob Matson’s [not real name] house, knotted together in the gloom and listening intently to instructions. Jason Klein [not real name] stood as the usual centerpiece. Handing out the bread, which in our case was individual saltine crackers, he reminded us of the importance of our presence there and of the power of what we were about to engage in. He began to pray, and with the bread in our hands, we bowed in agreement with him. I looked around. If others felt fear or nagging doubt, they didn’t betray it. Maybe I was the only one out of sorts, just not as spiritual as I should have been. Again.
Putting the crackers to our lips, we ate half, then crumbled the other half and sprinkled it on the ground as we walked in single file around the perimeter of the property. We made a full circle and declared that the body of Christ sanctified the ground. We then did the same with the wine, or in our case grape juice, drinking half and pouring the remainder onto the ground to conform to the property boundaries, thus forming a “blood line.” Then came the final prayer:
Now we give notice to all demons that have inhabited this area that your time is ended. We command you to go now, in the name of Jesus! This property has been claimed for the kingdom of God, so go!
Amid all the smiles and rejoicing, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was glad to just go home.
Learned from Gwen Shaw’s book Redeeming the Land,1 this practice was utilized in our church for “breaking the curse of the enemy” upon our town, as we liked to put it. This was one of a host of methods for removing the stranglehold of sin and religious stodginess over both the people and the land. As matriarch of End Time Handmaidens, a “prophetic” group composed mostly of women who minister throughout the world via publications and in person, Gwen Shaw spoke with authority. I met her once, when she was invited to speak at our congregation of New Covenant Fellowship, in the late 1980s, and I have to admit being impressed with her angelic face and what I then perceived to be a godly demeanor. An attractive woman probably in her fifties at the time, she spoke humbly, and as we sang some of the old hymns I love that were never a part of our group’s corporate worship, she won me over without a struggle. Attended by another older woman whose name I’ve long forgotten, Mrs. Shaw’s sermon focused on the doctrinal abuses within the Catholic Church, spotlighting the specific practices of certain penitent of the Roman clergy. Priests would abuse their bodies to the point of death with self-imposed penance in order to secure acceptance into heaven. Having spent twenty-four loyal years within the ranks of Roman Catholicism, even memorizing the Mass in Latin, I was understandably horrified. Yet I well knew that such abuses were indeed possible. The Catholic Church’s emphasis of salvation through an unceasing battery of good works was a fertile breeding ground for fanaticism.
So I was quite taken with Gwen Shaw. Were we purposely duped? I suppose it depends on your definition of the word purposely. The sincerity with which she presented her case seemed genuine. And the books she brought with her for sale (and there were lots of them) seemed to speak powerfully to the need of our community. We were a cutting-edge church, and these were the tools to get the job done. In the back of one of her books, an advertisement showcased a supposed recording of the angelic host singing along with a choir—I was wowed and wanted to hear it. In Redeeming the Land, when Mrs. Shaw outlined a host of demonic entities, their specific abilities, and their assignments over geographic locations, I was enthralled. In that same book, she presented the testimony of one man who said he had died and was taken by the angel of the Lord to view and record all the demonic principalities and powers so that the church might more successfully prevail against them.2 Hearing this, I craved more.
Although she obviously believed them, the very practices and teachings outlined in some of these volumes presented tremendous obstacles to a Bible-believing Christian. And the group’s extreme preoccupation with angelic beings led to extra-biblical beliefs and manifestations, some of which are documented in the book Our Ministering Angels.3 This compilation of anecdotes and supposition mixed with a certain amount of Scripture merge doctrine and personal experience to convince the reader that people resemble their assigned “guardian angel,”4 that the “photograph” of angels over a coffin is genuine,5 that angels are seen in the most unusual places, such as a car hood,6 and that an angel joined in worship at the community of Engeltal.7 Mrs. Shaw claims she has had many interactions with angels. She writes that once while walking in Jerusalem’s Garden Tomb area, she heard the spiritual hosts singing the resurrection hymn sung by them on the morning of our Lord’s rising from the dead.8 Of course, she acknowledges that precedent for this cannot be found in Scripture, but she heard it nevertheless, and the reader is left with the impression that to argue with her is to deny spiritual reality. Hers seemed to be the voice of authority.
Her strange doctrines found willing ears and hungry hearts in my former congregation.
What needs to be understood is that most, if not all of us at New Covenant Fellowship [not real name], were truly desirous of serving the Lord and fighting the good fight of faith. Like so many other independent charismatic churches, we wanted to see souls saved and the miraculous power of God manifest in healings, deliverances, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But there was an underlying factor, a premise woven throughout the fabric of our church probably from its inception—elitism. We were the fortunate ones, called to walk in the authority that the church was so bereft of in these last days.
Through its own incompetence and adherence to legalism and dead religious doctrines, we were repeatedly told, the body of Christ had surrendered the wisdom and power that came from knowing Him. It was up to us at New Covenant to demonstrate that God’s kingdom power was real and available to every Christian in our town. This prideful mindset was a recipe for disaster. Our heartfelt desire to belong, a need to submit to spiritual authority, and the hidden agenda of the flesh to be one of the super-anointed took their toll on our church’s scriptural integrity.
My former congregation was not alone in its beliefs then, nor are they now. All across the world, many groups like this are given over to the excitement of carnal manifestations, esoteric wisdom, and elitist mentality. In fact, this thinking within the charismatic community has grown so common as to minimize the legitimacy of those who simply want to serve Jesus and know the Word of God. Anymore, that’s old hat. The “new thing” demands subservience to the experiential, and the current trend of gross subjectivism doesn’t allow for old fashioned adherence to Scripture as the basis of faith and practice.
These are critical days for the body of Christ. We are in the epoch of church history spoken of by the apostle Paul as “perilous times” (II Timothy 3:1). What makes the danger all the more imminent is that not much of the church believes it. Many of us have owned the glorious but erroneous vision of an end-times remnant walking in unconquerable power, transforming entire societies. The result has been nothing short of catastrophic. How soon we forget. Every cult in the world has sprouted from the fertile soil of deception, always initiated by a drastic move away from the primacy of the Word of God into the nebulous, self-defining atmosphere of experience. At New Covenant, our desire to accumulate otherworldly wealth (i.e., supernatural power) had ushered us into a contrived system of personal spiritual elevation . . . .
In the case of my former congregation, our pre-supposed love of the Word of God, along with our ignorance of and opposition to nearly every scriptural warning about false doctrine and seducing spirits in the church, left us open to bizarre teachings and practices. As we embraced mysticism, our biblical parameters melted away. Yes, we were sincere, but what we were wanting was diametrically opposed to our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Like physical signs of pain, there were signs in our church that something was terribly wrong. But just like the person who ignores the pain and avoids going to the doctor, we too ignored what should have been so obvious. That is, until it got so bad that avoidance was no longer an option.
Why do people ignore warning signs? It’s like a motorist painting over his oil pressure gauge so he won’t notice the depleting measure. But the reality of the situation will become evident enough when his engine seizes up, and the car comes to a sudden halt. I’ve discovered that in the spiritual arena most people will do exactly this: they take pains to look the other way when something bumps up against their doctrine. As a Christian, there’s no quicker way to start a fight with a friend than to tell him that some of his most fervent beliefs are wrong. I know. I’ve lost my share of friendships that way. The problem comes when folks aren’t willing to deal with the uncomfortable. And the horror of it is that in spiritual matters, we’re dealing with eternal things. While the person who ruins his vehicle can at least purchase another, the human soul is irreplaceable.
What we believe and place our trust in will certainly determine our eternal destiny, regardless of our sincerity. . . .
In my own case, association with a cutting-edge group offered me security and personal power, and for years, the paranoia of offending God kept me from asking too many unsettling questions. It’s ironic that, in a fellowship that taught a watered-down version of the fear of the Lord, it was fear that motivated me to stay put.
Many other Christians find themselves in this same predicament, especially those with a genuine heart for the truth. When some doctrine foreign to biblical Christianity is introduced into the congregation, they want to inquire about its origin and validity, but fear holds them in check. If it comes from the pastor, who surely must be more spiritual than the rest of the group, then God must simply have approved it. Therefore, questioning or opposing the pastor or church leadership is seen as opposing the Lord Himself.
But God doesn’t work that way. Throughout the Bible are examples of those who love the Lord who questioned authority when it was wrong. And what’s more, “prove all things” is clearly God’s instruction to the believer (1 Thessalonians 5:21). (from Chapter 1 of The Other Side of the River by Kevin Reeves)
That Dreaded Word . . . HERESY!! by Kevin Reeves
Gwen Shaw and Her End-Time Handmaidens, a story of Heresy, Plagerism, and Necromancy by Mark Scheiderer (testimony of former member of End-Time Handmaidens)
1. Gwen R. Shaw, Redeeming the Land (Jasper, AR: Engeltal Press, 1987)
2. Ibid., pp. 107-113.
3. Gwen R. Shaw, Our Ministering Angels (Engeltal Press, 1986)
4. Ibid., p. 52.
5. Ibid., p. 6.
6. Ibid., p. 117.
7. Ibid., p. 136.
8. Ibid., pp. 69-70.