The Fellowship (Australia)

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The Fellowship was the label given to a group of people within the Presbyterian Church of Australia. Located in Melbourne, it was estimated to involve between 300 and 400 people.[1] The Fellowship was labelled by opponents as a "secretive cult". [2]

History[edit]

The Fellowship was started by Ronald Grant and Alan Neil, who had both served as missionaries with the South Seas Evangelical Mission in the Solomon Islands. While missionaries, both were profoundly influenced by widespread[3] experiences of "the conviction of sin and deliverance from demons"[4] during their participation in a revival in the Solomon Islands.[5] Dissatisfied with perceived persecution from evangelical circles following their requested resignation due to "doctrinal differences"[4] the pair started house meetings in their homes in the late 1930s. Communicants of these meetings would later be labelled as members of "The Fellowship".

Alan Neil died in the late 1960s, and Ronald Grant was involved in the group until his death in 1995. During the following year, members left their current churches and joined one of three Presbyterian churches: Clayton, Mount Evelyn and Camberwell, reportedly at the direction of the Fellowship.[6] In 2002, people accused of being in the Fellowship were removed from membership of the Mount Evelyn church.[7]

Characteristics[edit]

The Fellowship was strongly opposed to Freemasonry. A theory of "generational curses" was taught, which encourages repentance if a member's ancestors were Freemasons.[2]

The Fellowship emphasised the importance of what it calls "walking in the light",[8] referencing 1 John 1:7. In the context of The Fellowship, "walking in the light" means the public confession of sin to one another and being completely transparent with others to keep one another accountable. The doctrine argues that God's forgiveness depends upon such public confession of sin.[9]

Stuart Piggin suggests that they combined "remnant" and "revival" mentalities, and that occasional visitors to their meetings "have been impressed by the Christian calibre of those who attended and could not fault the Scriptural teaching."[10]

Criticism[edit]

The Fellowship was criticised for broken relationships between Fellowship members and their families. Allegations were made that non-Fellowship people were unable to see their grandchildren, and that Fellowship people refused on occasion to attend funerals of non-Fellowship family members.[11] However, these relationships have been mending, with families being reunited and grandchildren forming very close relationships with their grandparents, even aunts and uncles who were once distant. Fractured Fellowship makes this case based on primary sources, including private letters, that have never been published.

Actions by the Presbyterian Church[edit]

In February 2006, the Presbytery of Melbourne East excommunicated all 15 elders of the Camberwell congregation because of their handling of a complaint of emotional abuse against an elder.[12]

This decision was appealed to the State Assembly, which upheld the decision of the Presbytery at its meeting in October 2006.[13] Some members of the Victorian Assembly then appealed the decision to the General Assembly of Australia on the grounds that the Victorian Church had set up its own processes for discipline rather than operating under the General Assembly's Code as required and that the decision of the Victorian Assembly was made based on information that was not available to the Presbytery of East Melbourne when making its original decision, against its own process of discipline.

These appeals were upheld by the General Assembly of Australia at its Commission in August 2007.[13] The clerk of the General Assembly, Dr Paul Logan, said that many felt that natural justice had been denied by the processes used.[13] As a result of this decision the elders were reinstated.[13]

The General Assembly of Australia established a committee to investigate material published about The Fellowship, including allegations of errors in doctrine and behaviour, promising to re-hear complaints.[13]

The Victorian State Assembly was instructed by the General Assembly of Australia to take several actions including withdrawing from publication Fractured Fellowship: A Presbyterian Case Study and temporarily moving the parish of Camberwell from the Presbytery of Melbourne East to the Presbytery of Melbourne West until the matter could be settled. At its Commission in May 2008 the Victorian Assembly handled the private report of the committee of the General Assembly in public session, rejecting its instructions to retry the matter. Rev. Douglas Robertson from Scots' Church in Melbourne, who at the same meeting was elected the next Moderator of the Victorian Assembly, accused the General Assembly of Australia of censorship and unconstitutionally exceeding its authority.[14][15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Zwartz, Morag (2004). Fractured Families: The Story of a Melbourne Church Cult. Boronia: Paranesis. pp. vi. ISBN 0-9587955-1-7.
  2. ^ a b Zwartz, Barney (4 March 2006). "Breaking the Fellowship: a bitter-sweet crusade". The Age. Fairfax. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  3. ^ Gideon Fangalea. "SPIRITUALITY: THE SOUTH SEA EVANGELICAL CHURCH IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS" (PDF). Melanesian Journal of Theology: 8.
  4. ^ a b Stasse, John (1999). Fractured Fellowship: A Presbyterian Case Study. Melbourne: Presbyterian Church of Victoria. p. 72.
  5. ^ Alison Griffiths (1977). Fire in the Islands. Harold Shaw. p. 202. ISBN 0-87788-264-9.
  6. ^ Stasse, John (1999). Fractured Fellowship: A Presbyterian Case Study. Melbourne: Presbyterian Church of Victoria. p. 8.
  7. ^ Barney Zwartz (4 March 2006). "Breaking the Fellowship: a bitter-sweet crusade". The Age.
  8. ^ http://www.religionnewsblog.com/13751/the-fellowship-inside-out.%7Cauthor= ABC Radio Interview Rachel Kohn, Morag Zwartz, Heather Mills
  9. ^ http://www.religionnewsblog.com/22586/fellowship-bruce-teele-heresy%7Cauthor= Summary of article by Barney Zwartz The Age 30 September 2008
  10. ^ Piggin, Stuart (2004). Spirit of a Nation: The Story of Australia's Christian Heritage. Strand Publishing. p. 118.
  11. ^ John Stasse, ed. (1999). Fractured Fellowship: A Presbyterian Case Study. Melbourne: Presbyterian Church of Victoria. p. 75.
  12. ^ Barney Zwartz (25 February 2006). "Church excommunicates 15 for cult membership". The Age. Fairfax. Retrieved 3 August 2008. The Presbyterian Church's Australian head, Moderator-General Bob Thomas, said yesterday the presbytery removed the elders because it considered they discharged their duties unsatisfactorily and not in accord with the code of behaviour expected of elders.
  13. ^ a b c d e Barney Zwartz (3 August 2007). "Cult elders back in church fold". The Age. Fairfax. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  14. ^ Barney Zwartz (10 May 2008). "Presbyterian church split over cults fate". The Age. Fairfax. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  15. ^ Barney Zwartz (12 May 2008). "State Presbyterian Assembly rights the national wrongs". The Age. Fairfax. Retrieved 3 August 2008.

External links[edit]