“By now most everyone has heard of the couple arrested in Perris, Ca., for child abuse. This happens to be the town my church is located in. Many are making mention of the fact that this couple was homeschooling their children and ultra-religious. The Grandmother even told reporters the grandchildren would memorize long passages in the Bible, and some children tried to memorize it in its entirety. She also claims her son was “Raised in a Christian home all his life. Gone to church all his life.” So, here’s my one and only question. What church did the family attend? I think there in you will find the problem.” Facebook post Jan. 18th January 18, 2018 on the arrest of David Turpin and Louis Ann Turpin.
I don’t often quote myself, but the above quote I made earlier demonstrates an important problem within Western Christianity. While the secular media is quick to point out the fact that these children were homeschooled (something the state will inevitably use to try and bring regulations and restrictions against homeschoolers at some point), I don’t think that homeschooling is the issue here. Neither do I think the problem is their religious upbringing or rigorous Bible memorization methods. While many will point out that the family was fanatical about homeschooling and Christianity, this is in no way indicative of either movement (any rational person has already come to this conclusion). However, the issue here rather is heterodoxy of the parent’s concept of “the church.”
When I posted on Facebook initially, I had no concrete evidence whether or not this family was a part of a church. According to a TIME magazine article, the grandmother had been quoted saying her son was, “Raised in a Christian home all his life. Gone to church all his life.” So, while the media was quick to claim them as Christians, and imply they were church goers, I was quick to point out that if you asked them what church they attended, you would find that they didn’t go to a local church. A few hours later a friend texted me confirmation, that they indeed were not part of a local church. However, despite what seems to be the clear evidence against the couple, the grandmother stated, “I feel they were model Christians.” She implied that the parents taught their children the Bible, and made them memorize scriptures, and that this was in some way proof they are good parents. Here is where we see the breakdown in their logic, and in properly defining what a good Christian is.
Heterodoxy, for those unfamiliar with the term, can simply be defined as unorthodoxy or “a doctrine at variance with an official or orthodox position.” While I am in full support of parents’ homeschooling their children and teaching them the Bible, I am not in support of a man self-proclaiming himself a pastor, prophet, or home church leader, without accountability. The grandmother (and most people) would simply say this man was a Christian, but he just didn’t attend a local church. We meet many people who think this way. But let us be clear, this man, nor his wife are Christian, in the Orthodox or true sense of the term (by orthodox I simply mean, true historic teaching, not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox Church). This couple may have been raised in church. And let us assume for the sake of argument that this was a good, gospel teaching church. The facts are that this couple separated themselves from the church, and thus should not be considered as faithful Christians
As the Belgic Confession clearly states:
“We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation
is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, people ought not to withdraw from it, content to be by themselves, regardless of their status or condition…And so, all who withdraw from the church or do not join it act contrary to God’s ordinance.” Belgic Confession Article 28.
If this wasn’t clear enough the Confession goes onto say in Article 29 how we may discern true from false Christians:
“We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church…We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it…The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments…it practices church discipline for correcting faults…By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church—and no one ought to be separated from it.”
In short, the Reformers were clear on what made one a Christian, and what made a church a church. If someone claims to be a Christian and is not accountable to a local church body there is a problem. Now, I suspect this man may have also believed he had established his own church and ordained himself a pastor (this is not confirmed, but simply my suspicion). If this is the case, then the issue is that his church is not operating under what the New Testament and the Reformers considered a “church”(For a more detailed breakdown of what I mean by such terms see my article on “Christianity, Community, and Communion” ). To be a true church there must be three things as the Belgic Confession states,
1) the true preaching of the word.
2) The sacraments (baptism and communion)
3) The proper accountability and administration of church discipline, which is the duty and right of every Christian.
So, rather than making the issue about homeschool regulation, proper parenting, or parents forcing their children to memorize scripture, the issue that should be addressed is that this man removed himself from the church of God and had gone rogue, worshiping in his own idolatrous system of worship and child rearing. All while sinful and harmful things can and do happen within churches (thus the need for church discipline), we can be assured that in this specific situation, being part of a local body of believers would have not allowed this specific situation to occur. You don’t need a perfect church to notice child starvation, stunted growth, and obvious signs of abuse.
Editor’s note: For clarification sake, the implication is not that if someone is not a church member that they are unsaved or unregenerated. We cannot see the beginning from the end, and there may be believers who are not part of a local church who do exhibit true faith in Christ. For a time, due to whatever circumstances, there may be those are not committed to a local congregation, nevertheless, the Reformed confessions and scriptures are clear that this is the biblical norm. And even hardship, trials and persecution, if they were to arise, should keep us from joining a local congregation, serving and submitting ourselves to it out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). Those who do so willfully and purposely are to be considered covenant breakers and called to repentance.