Last night Phoenix Preacher published a letter to Calvary Chapel pastors from Gospel for Asia CEO and International Director K.P. Yohannan. I am not sure if it went to all CC pastors or just those who have had dealings with GFA in the past. I did get confirmation from multiple sources that the email message went to multiple Calvary Chapels around the country.
Calvary Chapels, a movement associated with the late Chuck Smith, are especially important because so many of them support GFA. If you Google Calvary Chapel and GFA, you’ll find well over 100 CCs which support GFA in some fashion. I am still surveying CC pastors and attenders at this link. I have 53 responses as of now but would like a few more before I go with the results. Currently, most respondents are dropping support or never supported in the first place and are not inclined to start. Yohannan’s letter appears to be a response to growing unrest among CC pastors and congregations about the integrity of GFA.
Michael Newnham at Phoenix Preacher commented on one aspect of the letter and I encourage readers to examine his comments about Yohannan’s treatment of former GFA staff. I will extend those remarks here.
Below is the email with my comments and questions for Yohannan added. The entire email without comments is provided at the end of the post.
Dear Pastor ———-,
Greetings to you. I am grateful to God for the relationship He’s given us over the many years. I appreciate your heart to reach the lost world with us, and this is why I am writing to you today.
For the past several days, I have been ministering to around 15,000 believers who have been savagely persecuted and ostracized for their faith in Christ. These meetings were arranged well over a year ago and some believers traveled for days just to get to the conference location. Even with much happening in the US office at this time, I couldn’t cancel this trip and let them down.
This sounds like quite a conference. I am surprised that a gathering of 15,000 persecuted believers didn’t merit an article in Christianity Today or the Christian Post or some other Christian publication, especially with the Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church coming up. I would sure like to know more about that meeting.
Even if everything Yohannan says here about a conference is true, that does not explain his silence before and just after October 2 when the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability terminated GFA’s membership. The allegations rocking GFA have been public for months.
Most of you are now aware that ECFA recently terminated our 36-year membership with them. I know, reasonably so, that this has caused great concern and raised questions about the integrity of Gospel for Asia and the handling of our financial matters. ECFA affirmed the funds given to the ministry were accounted for. We have honored our sponsors and donors designations. There were some processes and standards for ministry where we fell short of their standards. During the review process, which we are very grateful for, each time ECFA pointed out something that they felt we could improve on, we took it seriously and began to implement changes without delay.
Yohannan says that ECFA affirmed that “funds given to the ministry were accounted for.” This claim is not enough. At least $90 million from 2012-2013 is unaccounted for in public records in India. Does the ECFA and GFA expect the public to simply take GFA’s word for it? Without some explanation, this isn’t enough for me,and it shouldn’t be enough for donors.
What is not explained by Yohannan is why the ECFA board voted GFA off the island. If GFA did everything ECFA recommended, then why terminate the membership? Active termination of ECFA membership has only happened one other time since 2013. It is serious and requires explanation. Yohannan’s letter suggests that ECFA kicked GFA out even after GFA complied with ECFA suggestions. That is a big stretch and requires evidence. For starters, GFA should release the ECFA report.
In retrospect, we realize that we have should have sought experienced outside counsel at times to help us in dealing with the complexities that come with a ministry of our size. To strengthen our ministry and further improve our processes, we are working hard toward becoming eligible to re-apply for ECFA. GFA’s eight board members are standing strong and aiding the ministry in these matters.
Without some disclosure of what ECFA objected to, reinstatement to membership will erode ECFA’s credibility without doing a thing to build GFA’s status. GFA could really take a step in the right direction by releasing the ECFA report with a stated plan for how the board and leaders plan to correct the problems.
It is surreal to read Yohannan’s affirmation of his board when three Calvary Chapel associated board members (Gayle Erwin, Skip Heitzig, and Damian Kyle) just resigned. In Erwin’s opinion, Yohannan kept the board in the dark about important issues including the related party transaction of $20 million from India to the U.S. for home office construction expenses in 2013. Yohannan ignores the fact that three board members just resigned with one of them accusing the CEO of misconduct.
Furthermore, if his board is standing strong, where are they? Why haven’t they stepped up in public to offer full-throated support? A first step would be for GFA to identify those that remain.
One question which raised concerns is in regard to the kind of church structure on the mission field. The structure (which is explained here: gfa.org/bc/about, is the result of God’s leading in the lives over 100 of our senior leaders in Asia, including myself. About ten years ago, after much prayer and fasting, the decision was made to register Believers Church with the Asian governments in order to gain the protection offered over the assets and work that many of you invested in, and that our missionaries and pastors here have given sacrificially to establish. For the sake of the Lord’s work and by His leading, our leaders on the field chose a form of church structure that is accepted by the government known as “constitutional episcopacy” (this is not the same as an Episcopal church, instead it is the governance of the church), which means the church is led by episkopos (bishops) (1 Timothy 3:1-2) and presbyteros (elders) (Acts 14:23). In order for any pastor to legally conduct weddings and other legal matters for the church, each one must be licensed by the Magistrate from the judicial system, or be ordained by a bishop of a church within constitutional episcopacy.
Other churches operate in India without this structure. Regarding weddings, there is reason to question Yohannan’s statements. Christian and Hindu weddings are governed by different laws in India. According to the sources I have consulted (Indian embassy, and Indian government, see the links), no religious ceremonies are required and the legal aspects of marriage is handled by a Wedding Officer (link, link, link). In other words, religious ceremonies may be performed, but the legal recognition of a marriage is a civil matter.
On the governance of Believers’ Church, one should consult the Constitution of the church which places K.P. Yohannan on the throne. Contrary to what he told his staff (he said he has no legal authority), Yohannan is on all church boards and is the final administrative and religious authority.
Also, just so you know, the practice of ring kissing has not been taught or encouraged in Believers Church. The video of the pastor’s ordination being circulated about me does not show people kissing my ring, but rather them kneeling down to be prayed for and then touching my hand to their forehead, which is a very common cultural gesture of respect in India. I myself have done this many times.
Cody Carnine, former co-Director of Development at GFA told me, “It is interesting that KP continues to deny that kissing his ring was not practiced. Some people actually left Believers Church on the mission field because they could not in clear conscience take part in the ring kissing ceremony. I understand that ring kissing is not currently practiced by Believers Church but there are plenty of witnesses who have seen it in the past. Even current staff with Gospel For Asia have seen it happen.”
Travis Helm, the other Director of Development, added, “I was personally told by KP in person while driving him from a church meeting in Virginia in late September of 2014 that “the ring kissing tradition was one we (Believers Church) was trying to move away from.”
Neither ring kissing nor bowing and touching hands with foreheads are required by the Indian government. Whatever is happening in that video ceremony (and it looks like those ordained are kissing something), it appears to be an elevation of Yohannan to his Believers Church Constitutionally required status of “His Grace, the Most Reverend.” I will leave to readers to determine if Yohannan’s claim of humility is supported by the Believers Church Constitution and the video above.
The expression and practice of worship in Believers Church are liturgical in form. This is culturally understood and accepted in South Asia, though it is a less common form of worship for evangelical denominations in the West. A typical church service in a Believers Church consists of 30 minutes of congregational worship, 40 minutes of systematic teaching through the Word of God with practical application, intercessory prayer and confession of the faith. While the expression is different, the substance remains the same. Our statement of faith, commitment to historical Biblical Christianity and philosophy of ministry remains unchanged. It is the governance of the church that has changed.
Believers Church is in the unique position of having over 2.5 million believers, who speak nearly 300 languages, and of whom as many as 80% are illiterate. The interactive portion of the liturgy allows all to participate in the service, while reading through major portions of Scripture once every few years. It is the desire of Believers Church to keep these believers unified in the faith while growing in the Word and knowledge of the Lord.
For more on Believers Church liturgy, see this description of the Communion liturgy. In my view, Believers Church is much closer to Anglican and even Catholic beliefs about Communion than to your average Calvary Chapel.
We thought we were communicating effectively to you regarding these changes made to Believers Church and the reasons for it. We put up numerous pages on our GFA website. We hosted many, many Calvary pastors on the field and never hid our church from anyone. With some pastors we spent hours explaining the reasons for these changes; and we thought it was understood. However, we now realize, by comments made to us, that we did not communicate as effectively as we thought we had. We are truly sorry for this. Please know that it was not intentional. In the future we will work harder to communicate better.
One place Believers Church was hidden was in the 2013 audit. GFA in Texas sent more to Believers Church than to GFA in India in 2013. While hospitals and for profit schools were going up with GFA money (an Indian court affirmed that donor money was not spent as intended), GFA failed to disclose that millions was being sent to Believers Church.
There are some former staff who have been quite vocal in expressing complaints they have against my leaders and I. We have taken this seriously and actively sought, according to Matthew 18, to reach out individually to these former staff members to ask for forgiveness. As leaders, we would agree that we have not always represented Christ in the right way. But our conscience is clear before God that we have always tried to. And we continue to try. We have not disclosed the “other side of the story”; the personal lives of many of those whose testimonies have been shared. Some of them we spent hours counseling out of addiction and sin. Some of them we fasted with, prayed with and wept with during times of personal struggles and family tragedies. We have protected them and their reputations. God knows, and in fear of Him and of judgment we will continue to pray for them.
Phoenix Preacher nailed this. Michael Newnham wrote:
In one small paragraph the GFA Diaspora and others who have left the group are slandered with the vilest of faux pietistic innuendo as addicts and sinners and are implicitly threatened with disclosure of private pastoral issues.
Thus, all their accusations and information are dismissed.
They are no longer brothers and sisters, but sinners and addicts who cannot be trusted.
There can be no more wicked and evil abuse of ecclesiastical authority.
This is an abomination to God and His church.
This tells you every thing you need to know about K.P. Yohannan.
This is an unprincipled attack on former staff and not an appropriate commentary about the merits of their complaints. Yohannan leaves it up to the imagination of the reader which staff are addicts, and which are serious sinners, thus impugning their character.
Some people have asked if my lifestyle is different in reality than what I have written in my books. I’ve even heard people saying I live in a mansion and drive around in a classic European sports car! In reality, my “European sports car” is a restored 1962 VW bug which I bought 19 years ago for $1800. My wife drives a Honda HRV. In my life I have taken a total of 4 family vacations. I currently have one house in the Dallas area that I am trying to sell. It’s in a nice neighborhood hardly two minutes from the previous location of our ministry. It’s about 3,000 square feet, has 4 bedrooms, my office and my wife’s office. In Asia, the only house I live in is owned by the church. It’s about 1,400 square feet. Some pastors have seen it during their visits to India. My salary is set by the Board of Directors of Gospel for Asia. It is about $100,000 per year, including housing allowance. My wife and I don’t need that much to live on, but this is what the Board decided to give us. We give a significant portion of it back to the ministry. I have never taken any royalties from the 250 books I have written. Although I have been called foolish for not taking them, writing books has never been about the money, but about reaching the lost world and encouraging the saints. This is the way I have chosen to live my life. Like you, I try to hear from the Lord and do what He asks of me.
Many former staff contacted me about this point. A former staff couple told me that they were required to live on half of Yohannan’s salary with a much larger family. Another family of four was paid one-third of Yohannan’s wages. Some qualified and received WIC benefits to buy milk and supplies for young children. Others had to go on the insurance exchanges to get health insurance. Many staffers I have spoken with told me they were not able to save and had to ask for extra money from their own accounts when needs came up.
Yohannan mentions his books. Recently, I spoke with two of Yohannan’s ghostwriters. Bill Bray told me earlier today that he wrote “every word” of Revolution in World Missions back in the mid-1980s. Yohannan was involved and Bray interviewed and spoke with Yohannan and his wife frequently about the content but, according to Bray, Yohannan did not do the writing. Another ghostwriter said 13 books were penned by taking notes and sermons and putting them into manuscripts with Yohannan’s name on them. I await Yohannan’s comments about these claims and will be glad to print his rebuttal, if he has one.
I have attempted to live before God and man humbly and faithfully. There have been many times that I have fallen short and failed. But I ask God for forgiveness and make things right with those who allow me to. And I look forward to the day I will see my Lord face to face.
If you have any specific questions for me, I would be happy to talk with you. You can also direct your questions to my leaders, Daniel Punnose, John Beers or David Carroll. I have included all our email addresses below.
Well, apparently, I can’t direct my questions to the GFA trinity. But then the letter was addressed to Calvary Chapel pastors. Despite the fact that GFA’s non-profit status requires them to operate in the public interest, the public’s interest is only welcome if they are giving GFA money.
For now, I will again say that I will publish any evidence or comments GFA cares to provide. I have always done so. What I won’t do is simply accept statements without evidence and ignore discrepancies that are unexplained simply because you claim to be doing ministry.