MY YWAM DAZE
A Testimony by Gregory L. Robertson
Original version written for the book
Lead Us Not Into Deception by Dr. Alan Gomes, 1986.
[The book, Lead Us Not Into Deception is now available as a pdf file from Dr. Gomes' website.]
It was an exciting day for me as I drove off into a new life, working "full-time for the Lord." I had prayed much about the decision, attended a crusade at Yosemite National Park, and received what I thought was confirmation from the Lord that this was His will. I was confident that Youth With a Mission was one of the most "in-touch-with-God" organizations in the whole world.
I was twenty-three years old and had been a Christian for about two years. I was leaving a job as a skilled metal-man in a camper factory. After four years of building mobile homes and campers I was ready for a change.
My November 1, 1973 arrival at the YWAM houses in Sunland, California was not met with any fanfare. I arrived, asked around until I found out who was in charge of hospitality, and was shown to my quarters: a bedroom which slept six people in three bunks.
My first position as a new YWAM staff member was as a maintenance man around the houses. Everybody seemed friendly and it felt good to be part of a group where I felt like I really belonged. I wanted, more than anything in the world, to be used of God to bring people into His kingdom.
In less than two months as a full-time YWAMer I had the opportunity to learn printing and fill the position as printer at the international administrative office in Tujunga, a few miles from Sunland. At the office I had daily contact with members of the international council and other important leaders.
Early in my YWAM experience I became aware of Moral Government's presence. My job in the office included some shipping tasks. I sent packets which included Gordon Olson's Moral Government of God booklet to School of Evangelism (SOE) applicants. Also, our tape department reproduced and distributed Gordon Olson's forty tape series on Moral Government, "The Messenger, Message and Method of Sharing Your Faith."
In January 1975 I attended a three-month SOE in Bozeman, Montana. My first systematic exposure to Moral Government was at this SOE. Looking back at my notes, I found that the only theological system we were taught was Moral Government. An influential YWAM leader named Leland Paris did the Moral Government teaching.
After I completed the SOE, I returned to my printing work at the international office in Sunland. John Dawson, a leader in Sunland, led a Discipleship Training School (DTS) which featured George Otis Jr. as a resident teacher. I attended the evening lectures. During the day I often printed papers and tests for the Moral Government teaching which was going on in the school. I printed a twenty-page paper entitled "Research Concerning Omniscience of God" by Howard Elseth which was the predecessor of his book, Did God Know? This paper - true to Moral Government teaching - argues that "God does not know our future choices."
The teachings at the DTS produced in me a revulsion toward Augustine, Calvin, and all who held similar views. These great historical figures were portrayed as mindless idiots who believed in a tyrant God whom the world was sure to reject. The Moral Government view was portrayed as the only correct view because it gave God the glory due His name. Other views allegedly made God responsible for sin, but the Moral Government view made man responsible.
After two years and seven months in YWAM I had met hundreds of YWAMers from all over the world, knew and had worked with international leaders, attended four crusades, had heard George Otis Jr. and other Moral Government teachers, and had been through an SOE and parts of a DTS. By now Moral Government was the only system I felt made any sense.
At leadership's suggestion, I prayed and felt led to work with the main printing ministry of YWAM in Hurlach, West Germany. I applied, was accepted, and arrived at the base on June 1, 1976. I was shown my room in the castle, purchased for the 1972 Olympic outreach in Munich. My first room was on the third floor with seven roommates.
Gordon Olson and Harry Conn were regular speakers at the Swiss and German bases. I purchased "The Moral Government of God" tape series by Harry Conn and attended Olson's lectures during one of his visits to the German base. When Olson taught, I used a YWAM copyrighted edition of his theology to follow the lectures. In the print shop we printed some of Olson's tracts in an Eastern European language so they could be smuggled behind the iron curtain. When Elseth came out with Did God Know?, we used several feet of bookstore shelf space to stock the copies ordered. Moral Government was as popular in Europe as it was in the states.
I eventually started to question some things that were happening at the Hurlach base. These questions had to do with the practice of shepherding, which made leaders into "spiritually advanced," infallible little popes. [Concern About Shepherding A letter by Pat Robertson in 1975.] Several rank and file YWAMers had been ostracized. When someone was ostracized we were told that they were having some kind of "problem" and we should not try to counsel or help them because "if too many people got involved they would only become confused." The leaders said they were working with them and would take care of it. One girl - who had been with YWAM for years - was sent home to England. This greatly upset me because I strongly respected her as a spiritual, wise and godly woman. She had become friends with a guy and they were getting together and talking. They made the "mistake" of talking about problems they saw at the base. An elder of the castle family ordered them to quit seeing each other, and they refused because they did not feel they were doing anything wrong. She was forced to leave.
Another person, who had only been a Christian for a matter of months, was told to give up his smoking habit. After one week he was still smoking and was put out on the streets. Finding a place to stay was his problem.
There were other things that bothered me too, and I was starting to voice my disagreements to leadership. I did not think it was scriptural to make full-time workers pay for staying at the castle. I felt it was wrong to make an older girl working forty hours a week for YWAM -cleaning toilets, mopping floors, etc. - pay for staying at the facilities. Nor did I like the idea of a young ex-heroin addict who came to us from a rehabilitation center, being required to pay when he was working full-time with the maintenance crew. One time I looked up all the Scriptures about widows, orphans, and the poor and wrote a list of the ones I felt applied to the castle situation. I presented the list to the director of the castle [David Boyd] and asked him to look it over and tell me what he thought. He said he would get back to me and never did.
I started believing that YWAM leaders were using principles of "discipleship," "submission," loyalty," etc., to control the sheep. When I disagreed with my flock group leader I was labeled "rebellious." He said if he was wrong, but I submitted anyway, he would be held responsible before God and I would not be. I could not agree with such unscriptural teaching.
I still agreed wholeheartedly with Moral Government teaching although there sometimes seemed to be inconsistencies with it. But I could not agree with the treatment my fellow workers and I were receiving. I felt I needed a time outside YWAM to look at everything objectively. I gave notice on February 1, 1979 - after much prayer and fasting - that I was going to leave in one month. Leadership did not agree with my conclusion and applied psychological pressure to make me stay. The elders convened a meeting to "pray about" my situation. They said they had "one of the best prayer meetings ever" and that God had "spoken to them about me." Yet, God supposedly would not let them disclose what He had revealed about my situation just yet. I was supposed to deal with my "root of bitterness" first.
Charles Grandison Finney, the well-known 19th century revivalist, is highly praised in YWAM and I spent a lot of time reading his material. Finney said that God would bring about revival if only we would use the "proper means at our disposal." I felt we were being hypocritical because we did not do all we could to bring about revival. My heart was set to see revival but revival did not come.
After speaking out an objection during a staff meeting, I was commanded by my flock group leader to remain silent in all meetings. It became extremely hard to cope with YWAM. I now wanted to get out at any cost.
On March 16, 1979 a respected leader was addressing the "castle family" - explaining what God said to him during the night (all about how God was going to bless us, a kind of "peace, peace" message). I could no longer endure and stood up in the meeting to contradict him. I spoke about God's demand for holiness and how revival would come if we met it. Two elders grabbed me by the arms and took me into an office away from the meeting. Another castle leader joined us and they decided that I must have a demon. When one leader asked me to say "Jesus is Lord" (presumably based on I John 4:3 or I Corinthians 12:3) I came out with a little sermon on the deity and lordship of Christ. When I was told that everything would be all right if I would just submit to the castle leaders and do what they said, I insisted that I would only submit to the Lord Jesus and do what He said. After some further interrogation they tried to cast a demon out of me, saying things like "You're not Greg! You are a lying spirit! Give us Greg back! Let him go!" When that availed nothing, they "turned me over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh." I was given one week to get out of YWAM, was put on visitor status, and was not allowed to attend any meetings. Other loyal YWAMers have experienced similar things!
It was Saturday, March 24, 1979 when I left the castle with no one to see me off. A Christian family in a neighboring town offered me their living room couch for a few days, and then an Assembly of God pastor at a military base in Augsburg (about 30 kilometers away) invited me to stay in his apartment until I could get organized, go to Frankfurt, and fly home.
During my five and one-half years as a YWAMer I traveled to ten nations, went through the SOE and other schools, went to staff conferences and outreaches, and had many "spiritual" experiences. But when I returned to Corona, California, my home town, I was discouraged. Our evangelistic efforts were not very effective in YWAM, and the revival I so desperately wanted to see never happened. At home some of my old friends were now mature pastors and youth ministers, while I was a printer and bindery worker who believed things that were unacceptable outside YWAM. Except for a former YWAM leader [David Berner] from my home town who taught Moral Government in a home Bible study, none of those around me defended such views. And because this former YWAMer was extremely loyal to YWAM, I could not relate to him. I was in a real predicament! But even though "outnumbered" I did believe Moral Government theology and would "defend the character of God" arguing with others about Moral Government concepts.
One day I caused a great disturbance after a church meeting because the speaker had declared that "we couldn't keep the law." The people could not understand why I got so upset and angry over the issue. To them it was normal doctrine. But to me, after five and one half years exposure to Moral Government thinking, it was equivalent to blasphemy. I felt I was living a sinless life most of the time and to say that God had asked us to be perfect when it was impossible, made Him a horrible tyrant. Unfortunately, I could out-argue most Christians about the views I held because they took absolute foreknowledge, inability to live sinless lives, etc., for granted. I had all the Moral Government answers down pat. Their inability to refute me left me all the more confident of my position.
The Moral Government teaching did more harm to me than it did to some who did not try to live consistent with it, or who simply went along with it but did not really believe it. I harbored secret feelings of superiority over others because I was the one with the "right views." I found a job in a printshop in Anaheim, Ca., and preached repentance to my fellow workers, condemning them for not obeying the Lord. It seemed impossible to truly love those who, with no sinful nature or depravity, chose out of simple selfishness not to obey God. Sometimes I made printing deliveries around Orange county and listened to radio evangelists and Bible teachers, such as Pastor Chuck Smith, Prof. Walter Martin, and J. Vernon McGee. I felt they were not really Christian because they often spoke of such concepts as depravity and inability to live sinless lives. I was beginning to believe that I was the only Christian outside YWAM that lived the sinless life God demanded of us. Of course, I felt that anybody who smoked cigarettes or manifested some other outward "sin" was not really walking with God. in effect, the Moral Government teaching had made me into a perfect Pharisee. I was proud, self-righteous, superior because of my uprightness and understanding of the truth - and it was all in the name of humility, truth, and spirituality!
Then one day I met Cal Beisner, a researcher at the Christian Apologetics: Research and Information Service (an organization in Orange County, California specializing in apologetics and cults). [The following link is to a paper written by Mr. Beisner about the meetings we had: Evangelical Heathenism] Cal was different from the others I argued with about Moral Government. Cal studied it and disagreed with it on a scriptural basis. Over a period of months, Cal and I met many times to discuss and argue these views. I had been taught that people who held views like Cal's were against evangelism and didn't use their minds. His views were supposed to be held by those who were only seeking excuses for their sin. Yet Cal was involved in evangelism, and he was successful. He lived conscientiously for the Lord, and he had authority with Scripture like I had never seen in YWAM. He also had intellectual capabilities I had never seen in YWAM. But he wasn't lifted up in pride about it. I could beat Cal in chess, but otherwise I was dwarfed in his presence. This was a real blow to my pride. I thought I really understood theology. I thought those who were influenced by "biblical scholarship" were taught many false views about man and God. I now began to wonder if it was I who had been deceived.
At this point I was really mixed-up about YWAM and Moral Government. Maybe I was to blame for the problems I experienced with YWAM. Perhaps I did have a "root of bitterness." Sometimes I would go through agonizing times of introspection, wondering if I should "repent" and ask their forgiveness.
But crushing blows kept coming and I was becoming convinced that the problem was not just with me but with YWAM and its teaching. I met a girl who tried to commit suicide after the SOE group she was a part of in Lausanne, Switzerland tried to cast a demon out of her when she became sick in 1981. She jumped out of a third story window. After months in the hospital, she was able to walk, but her body was permanently disfigured from the impact. It was heart-breaking to see her cry, saying she could never forgive them for what they had done to her.
When an acquaintance of mine questioned a prominent YWAM leader from Sunland, he was told that "the Moral Government problem was about eight years ago and the person (!) responsible was no longer in YWAM"! I was well acquainted with the leader from my Sunland days and knew he was aware of the extreme Moral Government presence in YWAM, himself (at least during my Sunland days) arguing for the view.
Taking a class in the History of Christianity and doing my term paper on YWAM theology opened my eyes to a lot more deception I had been under. I was greatly disillusioned when I discovered that more than 200 pages of Finney's Systematic Theology were "abridged" by Harry Conn, one of YWAM's Moral Government teachers. Conn edited out many of Finney's Arminian views which did not agree with the contemporary Moral Government teaching and I found that the theology would be considered heresy even by Arminians.
Through Cal Beisner I became acquainted with Alan Gomes and read his analysis of Moral Government. [Mr. Gomes has since become Dr. Gomes and is a professor at Talbot Theological Seminary in La Mirada, California.] I believed Alan took the views to their logical conclusion and his representation of them was accurate. In time, rumors were started about Alan. It was said that he had misrepresented Moral Government views; that he was hopelessly "reformed" in his theology and consequently would not tolerate other views; and that he was excommunicated from his church for writing such an inaccurate representation of the parties involved (when in fact Alan teaches an adult Bible class at his church and an elder from his church helped finance this present edition). I had come to know Alan and the situation well and knew that these were slanderous accusations.
Alan has accurately represented these teachings. However, when taught in their "natural environment" (i.e., YWAM), they are put in such a light as to be irresistibly convincing to someone with little or no Bible training.
I became completely disillusioned with the view I had so zealously defended. The trauma was so great that for a time I wanted to forget God and Christianity altogether. But God is faithful! Actually, I am a more mature Christian today than I was under the "old covenant" (the Moral Government way of salvation):
Therefore the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:24-26 [NASB]).
As a result we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is our Head, even Christ (Eph. 4:14-15 [NASB]).
My disillusionment led to a theological reformation. I now understand what the Bible means when it says that we are saved by grace through faith as a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9).
I recently finished my second year at Christ College Irvine, in California. I am in the pre-seminary pastoral program, lead the High School youth group at Church, and plan to do graduate work in apologetics (i.e., the defense of the Christian faith). With my experience in being deceived I have found that I now have a compassion and understanding for others who are deceived by false religion. Although YWAM is not considered a cult by most definitions, I can identify with those who have been deceived by the false teachings which cults propagate. I never wanted to be deceived by non-biblical Moral Government teaching, yet I was (contrary to the Moral Government saying, "you are only deceived if you want to be deceived"). Millions involved in cults today were not looking for deception, but for a worthy cause, fellowship and love, and a purpose in life.
This testimony is in no way comprehensive of my YWAM experience. The first draft was thirty pages and even it left out a lot. My experience was not all bad, and not every one that joins YWAM leaves with a testimony like mine. Some may have had a more positive experience than I - though I know individuals who had worse things happen to them. In writing this testimony, however, I have spent hours and hours reading over old diary entries, school notes, papers I printed as a YWAMer, and books we printed and distributed in YWAM. I also listened to many tapes by popular YWAM speakers. I actually found that Moral Government is more widespread and deeper than I formerly thought. In all this I have tried to be perfectly accurate in what I have said. Many things were deleted from the manuscript simply because my memory was a little unclear and I had nothing in my diary about it.
Contrary to what YWAM leaders will probably say, I am not writing these things because of "some hurt I received." I have watched and waited, and have come to the conclusion that YWAM is making no serious attempt to remove the heretical teaching and unethical practice which has become common place in their midst. In my opinion, the removal of Moral Government from the organization is only on the surface - a YWAM tactic for good public relations.
I believe that people like Alan Gomes, who take aberrant theology and shine the light of Scripture on it, should be commended for their service to the Church: ". . . holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9).
Gregory L. Robertson, July 1985
The book, Lead Us Not Into Deception is now available as a pdf file from Dr. Gomes' website.