NEW YORK — Several leaders of a movement in charismatic churches that often was criticized in the 1970s and 1980s for its authoritarian structure and rigid disciplinary requirements for members have acknowledged that they were guilty of excesses and non-biblical teachings.
The movement, known as "shepherding," was often accused by outsiders and former members of being cultlike in requiring members to obey leaders in all aspects of their personal lives, including selection of marriage partners.
In response to what they saw as a lack of discipline within the tongues-speaking churches--similar to Pentecostalist churches--charismatic leaders Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Derek Prince and Don Basham joined together in 1970 to found an organization called Christian Growth Ministries in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. The movement began publishing the now-defunct New Wine magazine and holding leadership conferences around the country.
At its peak in the mid-1970s, the movement had as many as 150,000 followers. But several leaders have recently admitted to excesses, including Mumford, who said in a recent statement widely circulated among charismatics that there had been an "unhealthy submission resulting in perverse and unbiblical obedience to human leaders."
In an interview in Christianity Today magazine, Mumford said that "people took something that began in the spirit and attempted to perfect it in the flesh. Ends began to justify means. The attitude became, 'I'm going to help you walk straight, even if I have to coerce you.' This is not the spirit of the Gospel."
The charismatic leader said that "part of the motivation behind my public apology is the realization that this wrong attitude is still present in hundreds of independent church groups who are answerable to no one."
Mumford admitted that he had not listened to earlier warnings from the Rev. Jack Hayford, pastor of the Church On the Way in Van Nuys. It was after counseling from Hayford last year that Mumford released his public apology.
Hayford wrote in a recent article in Ministries Today magazine that "hundreds of pastors, like myself, have spent large amounts of time over the past 15 years picking up the pieces of broken lives that resulted from distortion of truth by extreme teachings and destructive applications on discipleship, authority and shepherding."
In addition, Simpson told Charisma magazine, "I have done things that I repent of and I do want forgiveness and I do want to see restoration."
Prince left the movement in 1980 and is now an independent Bible teacher based in Ft. Lauderdale. Basham died in 1989.
In a related development, Maranatha Christian Churches, an umbrella organization of about 70 congregations based in Gainesville, Fla., has dissolved as an international federation. It announced that its congregations will operate independently.
In August, 1984, Christianity Today made public the report of an ad hoc committee of six cult-watching specialists who had been monitoring Maranatha's activities in response to complaints. The report said the organization's "authoritarian orientation" had "potentially negative consequences for members."
All the major personalities associated with the shepherding movement had addressed Maranatha gatherings, according to Lee Grady, managing editor of the Maranatha publication The Forerunner from 1981 until the organization disbanded.
The decision to disband as a federation was supported by Maranatha's president and founder, Bob Weiner, who made the formal proposal at the organization's annual conference in Texas. Weiner has been on a one-year sabbatical since last November. He said he doesn't have specific plans for his activities after his leave ends.