Original Grace Church Statement Regarding GFI and Gary Ezzo

A Statement Regarding Gary Ezzo and Growing Families International

by the Elders of Grace Community Church

This statement was unanimously affirmed by the board of elders of Grace Community Church on 16 October 1997. We have received a flood of inquiries about our stance with regard to Gary Ezzo and Growing Families International (GFI). What follows is a brief summary of why Grace Community Church is no longer affiliated in any way with that ministry. We as elders cannot endorse GFI until these matters are resolved, and we wish to make our position clear. We have delayed making a public statement as long as we held out hope that these concerns might be resolved privately. Unfortunately, that no longer appears possible. We fully realize that many people worldwide have assumed GFI enjoys our full support. Literally dozens of people each week ask for clarification of our position relative to GFI. Therefore we believe this public statement of our concerns is warranted--and even somewhat overdue. It is still our earnest prayer, however, that these things may ultimately be resolved in a way that honors the Lord and is in harmony with His Word.

At an elders' meeting in the Spring of 1993, the elders of Grace Church asked Gary Ezzo to be more accountable to them--particularly with regard to the content of his teaching and the amount of time he was spending in GFI ministries beyond the purview of his responsibilities as a pastor.

Soon afterward, in June 1993, Gary announced he was resigning from the pastoral staff but planned to continue serving as a lay elder, keeping Grace Community Church as the base of GFI ministries. The reason he gave for resigning from the church staff was that GFI now demanded his full-time involvement.

The elders nonetheless urged Gary to follow through with his commitment to be more accountable, especially with regard to the content of his teaching. Gary promised to do so.

The pastoral staff began a review of Gary's published and taped material, and met as a group with Gary in mid-1995 to outline several concerns about the doctrinal and biblical content of GFI materials. (Some of those same concerns are given below.) Gary seemed to receive the criticism well and in a good spirit. He explained and clarified several points, and promised to make changes in his material to alleviate everyone's concerns.

However, in the weeks immediately following the meeting, Gary wrote letters to some of the pastors who had raised criticisms. He characterized their concerns as petty and personal, and indicated he believed the staff's criticism was driven by one or two people's personal agendas. He repeated those allegations in private conversations with church members.

The changes discussed in that meeting were never submitted to the pastoral staff. Instead, Gary resigned as an elder and withdrew from Grace Church completely. Ultimately several of his closest followers left the church as well.

Here is an outline summary of some of the more serious concerns Grace Church's pastors and elders have raised about GFI and its teachings:

1. Confusion between biblical standards and matters of personal preference. The best-known example of this is the GFI emphasis on infant feeding schedules, combined with GFI's zealous opposition to demand feeding by nursing mothers. Portraying scheduled feeding as the true biblical practice, GFI strongly implies that demand feeding should be regarded as an unbiblical, humanistic--even sinful--approach to caring for infants. As elders, we see no biblical basis whatsoever for GFI's dogmatism on this issue. While not opposing scheduled feeding, we would caution young mothers not to adopt any system of parenting that is so rigid that it requires them to quell the God-given maternal impulse (cf. Isa. 66:10-13).

Other examples where matters of personal preference are presented as if they had biblical authority: GFI parents are taught that sling-type baby carriers are too child- centered and therefore incompatible with biblical parenting. GFI curriculum also teaches that mothers should not rock their babies to sleep; that they should not comfort or feed crying infants in the parents' bed--and especially that moms should never sleep next to their babies. Portions of the material seem to place an undue stress on stifling the mother's desire to comfort her children. For example, Matthew 27:46 is used to justify the teaching that mothers should refuse to attend to crying infants who have already been fed, changed, and had their basic needs met. Gary Ezzo writes, "Praise God that the Father did not intervene when His son cried out on the cross" (Preparation for Parenting, p.122).

We find throughout the GFI material a blurring of the line between that which is truly biblical, and simple matters of preference.

2. A lack of clarity on certain fundamental doctrinal issues. In particular, GFI materials tend to be unclear on the issues of original sin and human depravity.

For example, in tape 12 of the "Growing Kids God's Way" tape series, Gary Ezzo says: "It is not the will of the child that is corrupt but the nature that drives the will. It is the flesh that is corrupt." "The will itself is morally neutral." "The will itself is not corrupt, the flesh is corrupt. The will is morally neutral."

However, Scripture clearly portrays our sinful nature as something that holds the unregenerate will in utter bondage (John 8:34, 44; Rom. 6:20). Nothing in Scripture suggests that the human will is morally neutral; rather Scripture teaches that the will of the sinner is bent inexorably toward sin, enslaved to various lusts (Rom. 8:7-8; Titus 3:3). Every faculty of the sinner's heart is corrupted by sin (cf. Gen. 6:5)--and particularly the will. That is the whole point of the doctrine often labeled "total depravity," which we affirm.

The notion that the human will is neutral is the very foundation of Pelagianism, a heresy that dates back to the Fifth Century. We do not believe Gary intends to teach Pelagianism. He has expressly stated his belief that children are born with a sin nature. (Even the statement above seems to hinge on Gary's assertion that "the nature . . . drives the will"--i.e., if the nature is corrupt, the will tends to make sinful choices. But this still stops short of affirming what Scripture does: that the sinner's will is in absolute bondage to sin.)

Again, we do not suggest that Gary means to deny the utter depravity of the sinner. But by over-classifying human faculties and declaring the will "morally neutral," he has left room for serious misunderstanding on the issue. A similar example is found in the GFI book Preparation for Parenting, where parents are told that the child's conscience at birth is a "clean slate"; and then a footnote differentiates between the "higher" and "lower" conscience. All of this seems needlessly to confuse the biblical stress on the utter corruption of the human heart and all its faculties (Jer. 17:9)--even from infancy: "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Ps. 58:3).

3. Insufficient attention to the child's need for regeneration. Potential confusion on the human-depravity issue is compounded by the weight of emphasis given to moral indoctrination, compared to the relatively meager stress on the child's need for a divinely-renewed heart. Parents are repeatedly told that the goal of parenting is to raise a "morally responsible child"; and that they can "restrain the natural corruption by instilling into the child the self-disciplines of life" (Preparation for Parenting, p. 22). The impression is left with many parents that in training a well-mannered and morally innocent child, they have raised their child "God's way."

To be clear, our complaint is not that GFI material denies or omits the doctrine of regeneration. Statements are scattered throughout various GFI publications that do mention the child's need of conversion. But the truths of the gospel and the necessity of divine grace are by no means the essential heart of GFI's instruction to parents. Gary himself once reported in an elders' meeting that GFI material has found a warm reception among Mormons and other non-evangelicals. This would hardly be possible if the truths of the gospel received sufficient emphasis in the curriculum.

4. A tendency to isolationism. GFI parents tend to insulate their children from other children--including Christian children--who are not part of the GFI "community" (i.e., those not indoctrinated in GFI principles). GFI parents have been known to sever all relationships with non-GFI families. To some degree, GFI teaching is directly responsible for encouraging this attitude.

While still a pastor at Grace Church, Gary Ezzo helped found a private "Community School," where children could be enrolled only by personal invitation. Of course, only GFI parents were asked to enroll their children. Some were even encouraged to withdraw their children from Grace Church's own Christian school, and move them instead to the Community School.

Several GFI-trained parents have kept their children from participating in organized church youth activities in order to avoid exposing their children to others not "in the community." Some GFI parents have objected because non-Christian young people are welcome to attend youth- group activities, and because Christian young people in the youth group have been encouraged to befriend and evangelize non-Christians in their schools and neighborhoods.

GFI material does not caution against, but rather defends, that type of isolationism. In fact, Gary Ezzo teaches that to do otherwise could irreparably damage the "moral innocence" of children.

All of those are reasons why GFI materials are no longer available from Grace Community Church. One additional concern has to do with how Gary Ezzo has responded to criticism.

In several instances, Gary Ezzo has declined to listen to concerns from essentially friendly critics--including fellow elders, pastors, and even co-workers in the GFI ministries. His responses to the elders of Grace Church have reflected a repeated tendency to avoid accountability. For example, when the Community School was started, elders from Grace Church's School Council asked for a meeting with Gary to share some concerns about his involvement with the Community School. Gary refused to meet with them. Later, when asked about the Community School in a full elders' meeting, Gary told the elders he had no direct involvement with the Community School. But in fact, he was serving on the School's board of directors. In at least one case he assured a group of concerned elders that he would seek resolution of a long- standing conflict--then later refused to do so. His departure from Grace Church left a disturbing number of conflicts unresolved and concerns unaddressed.

At the same time, Gary has been known to respond with exaggerated and even false accusations against his critics. For example, just before he withdrew permanently from Grace Church, Gary sent an e-mail message to a Grace to You donor in the Midwest. In the message, Gary claimed that several staff members of the church had "gone amillennial in their eschatology"; that attendance at the church had dwindled so that church services were largely empty; and that Lance Quinn (Senior Associate Pastor) had "walked out" on John MacArthur--implying that Lance had left the church staff under less than positive circumstances. (Of course, not one of those accusations is remotely true.) Gary asked the donor to pray that the church would "close out its remaining years with dignity."

Our choice would have been to deal with all these things privately, and that has been the reason for our long silence until now. We consider it profoundly unfortunate that we must issue a public statement such as this. But our efforts to address these concerns privately have been rebuffed or disregarded. Sadly, that has made this formal statement necessary.

Again, our prayer is that all these matters will be resolved to the glory of Christ.

The Elders of Grace Community Church