The Church of Wells has been under a great deal of scrutiny nationally, even though it is a very small church in a very small town located in Wells, Texas, a city of fewer than 800 people.1 The Church is very tight-knit, and exclusivistic. This makes sense since they teach that they are among the remnant of God's true believers and that the Christian church has been cursed for the past 2000 years2. This is problematic because it lays the intellectual foundation to teach a kind of "restored" or "true" teaching of Scripture. However, this does not automatically make them a cult.
Additionally, a three-day-old baby died after a couple in the church did not seek medical attention when the child's extremities began turning blue.3 Instead, they prayed. Now, this kind of thing can easily be sensationalized. And, I want to make it clear that the parents have my deepest sympathy. I too have lost a child, and it is one of the most difficult things anybody can experience. However, it is a concern when medical treatment is not sought for a very young child who is obviously having breathing difficulties. If prayer does not quickly alleviate the problem, then the other God-ordained means of healing via medical attention should be utilized. The apostle Luke, after all, was a physician and Paul himself even said take a little wine for one's infirmities (1 Timothy 5:23). So, seeking medical attention is biblical.
Accusations of brainwashing have been rampant, where at least one set of parents (Andy and Patty Groves) have been prevented from seeing their daughter, Catherine, who gave away everything and joined the group. But, an accusation does not a cult make. Apparently, the daughter does not want to see her parents and she is old enough to make that choice. This alone does not mean it is a cult, but as things begin to add up and suspicious behavior becomes more evident, it makes us wonder what is going on.
In an interview with KTRE4, Gardner, one of the elders of the church, said... "We have not in the past or ever intend to arrange marriages." Morris, another elder, said that "Everyone in the church has their own possessions, their own homes, has their own bank accounts, the ones that do," said Morris. "So no we don't have all the money and we don't give allowances that is not how this church operates. That's absolutely unbiblical and absurd."5 These statements are good, but what about the following said by Jake Gardner, one of the elders6...
"Professing Christianity today overwhelming is a cult because a cult is that which is not found in the written word of God which is born by the thoughts of human beings...And the reason why there is so much ignominy and reproach cast upon us is because we're merely endeavoring to get back to what the Bible says and in a generation that is so far departed from the plain understanding and interpretation of the scriptures that is a cult, someone who is trying to return to simply what the bible is, is labeled a cult and that shows the degeneracy of our age,"7
Such a statement is usually born out of a "restored gospel" mentality, or the idea that everyone else is wrong except them.
Is the Church of Wells a Cult?
We cannot say definitively that the church is a cult without first defining what that means. The problem is that there are different definitions of a cult. However, there are basic principles that help to identify cult-like behavior. See the article What are some signs and practices of a cult? Though many legitimate churches might be accused of being guilty of one, two, or even three of the points listed in that article, it does not mean the church is automatically a cult.
Without having been in the church or having spoken with its members, it is very difficult to ascertain which, if any, of the previous points are practiced by the Church of Wells. However, various newscasts and articles on the group reveal some warning flags. And, considering that I have been studying cults since 1980, I think I have an understanding of how many of them work. Now, I am not calling the Church of Wells a cult. However, it does have cult-like practices such as:
- Special Knowledge
- Group Think
- Appearance Standards
Again, it is difficult to make accurate assessments without actual contact with the group, but through the examination of articles written about them and watching the Nightline segment, I must say that they definitely have cult-like tendencies.
I listened to an hour-long conversation between "StreetChurch and the Church of Wells" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0Mvdg3kUMc) where the three Church of Wells elders, Ryan Ringnald, Sean Morris, and Jake Gardner,8 explained some of their doctrines. I've reproduced some of what they taught, along with the time marker for each.
- 23:50, "I believe that, we believe that, um, reprobation is possible for a regenerated Christian um, where a man can, his salvation is lost, and he cannot repent, um, we believe that is Hebrews 6."
- 28:00, Suicides all go to hell
- 29:00, lukewarmness...is also a condition of eternal damnation
- 37:20, one of the elders defines that willful sin..."is presumptuous. It's if you knew what the correct judgment was, knowing the will of God, you did the, you did the opposite. Knowing the law and the ordinance that God has established in his word, you've done the opposite. It's the opposite of an ignorant sin. It's a will where you had to clearly defy and transgress the law of God."
Now, amidst the poorly reasoned examination of Scripture by these elders as made evident in the hour-long discussion cited above, they also taught that a Christian can lose his salvation. This very topic has been debated within Christian circles for centuries, and it is the position of CARM that we cannot lose our salvation. This position is based, in part, on the words of Christ found in two verses. Please consider them in the King James version, which is used by the Church of Wells...
- John 8:29, "And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him."
- John 6:39, "And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day."
If Jesus always does what pleases the Father, and the will of the Father is that Jesus lose none, and that those who are given to Jesus will be raised (to glory), then how is it possible for Jesus to lose somebody? This is a serious issue because there is a hidden danger in the issue of being able to lose one's salvation. The danger is that you must maintain it by keeping the law.
If anybody teaches that we maintain our salvation with God by any works of the Law, then that person is teaching a false doctrine. Paul says in Romans 3:28, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law." What are the deeds of the Law?
- Feeding the poor, Lev. 25:35
- Love God with all your heart and strength, Deut. 6:5
- Giving to the needy, Deut. 15:11
- Showing love for the stranger, Deut. 10:19
- Bearing another’s burden, Ex 23:5
- Love your neighbor, Lev. 19:18
- To wrong no one when buying and selling, Lev. 25:14
Anyone who seeks in any way to attain or maintain God's grace of salvation by by keeping the Law, which includes loving God (Deut. 6:5) and loving your neighbor (Lev. 19:18), is cursed.
- Gal. 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”
- James 2:10, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
Now, we have to ask. Is the Church of Wells teaching that there are requirements of faithfulness and works of the law (such as loving God, Deut. 6:5, and loving your neighbor, Lev. 19:18) that they must abide in, in order to remain in the saving grace of God? If so, then it is most definitely a cult. Let me expand on this.
I am not saying that anyone who believes you can lose your salvation is in a cult. I will expand on this in a bit.
Questions for Sean Morris and Jacob Gardner
In a recent reply to CARM9, the Church of Wells elders stated that there was a lack of specific questions asked of them. In partnership with Tony Miano and Andrew Rappaport we had asked 13 questions for the Elders of the Church of Wells. We hope to receive specific and detailed written or video responses to our questions.
Challenge to the Church of Wells
My desire is to reach out to you and discuss these issues. In that vein, here is a biblical challenge.
1 Peter 3:15, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."
According to the above verse, you are obligated to give an answer. Now, I know that many people might challenge you, but I am desiring an open dialogue with you concerning your teachings about what is necessary to maintain one's salvation. We can do this over the phone, or I would be glad to fly to your location, meet with you, and discuss these issues. I know you have seen this article.
If, however, you reject such an offer, are you then willfully sinning? Here is a verse that you are fond of quoting.
Heb. 10:26, "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins."
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 385-246-1048.
- 1. http://www.kltv.com/story/24667978/church-of-wells-elder-arrested-in-gregg-county
- 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0Mvdg3kUMc, 8:45
- 3. kltv.com
- 4. http://www.ktre.com/story/23385289/chuch-of-wells-elders-speak-out-in-an-effort-to-clear-up-misconceptions-about-their-church
- 5. ibid
- 6. http://www.thechurchofwells.com/elders.html
- 7. ibid
- 8. http://www.thechurchofwells.com/elders.html
- 9. http://www.thechurchofwells.com/open-response-to-matt-slick-from-carm.html