Remnant Fellowship: A Brief History And A Dire Warning
By Adam and Maria Brooks
Over the past few years, our lives and our faith walk have been profoundly changed by our participation in Gwen Shamblin’s WeighDown Program. Early on, we found that participation in the program helped invigorate our spiritual walk, calling us back to the Bible and a deeper relationship with God. We lost weight and refounded our marriage on solid, spiritual ground. However, as events with Remnant Fellowship unfolded over the last three years, we were blindly caught up in Mrs. Shamblin’s call for faithful followers to leave their churches. As a result, in the summer of 2001 we left our church for a brief period and nearly joined Remnant Fellowship.
For us, that experience gave us a traumatic taste of what it is like to be recruited into a cult and to experience "cultic mind control." Through the course of our rescue by God and through our healing, we have been given a firsthand view of the difficult and painful process that one experiences when being recruited by a high demand religious group. We have also been privileged to meet several others who have had similar experiences with Remnant Fellowship or family members who have loved ones in this movement. You can access the whole story of our recruitment to and rescue from Remnant Fellowship at www.midwestoutreach.org.
In our involvement with former members of Remnant Fellowship, we have begun to see similar trends in how the movement recruits and retains members and in the effects of belonging. We wanted to provide updated information to those who are seeking insight on whether to join and to those who have family members who participate in Remnant Fellowship. What follows is a brief description of the founding of Remnant Fellowship as well as our observations of its basic characteristics. Our information comes from our own experience and the experience of other former members and family members who have been affected.
The Weigh Down Beginnings
Remnant Fellowship was founded in the spring of 1999 by Gwen Shamblin, the diet guru of the very popular Weigh Down Workshop. The Weigh Down Workshop is a diet program which employs Christian principles to help followers lose weight. The program has been offered in thousands of churches and homes across the nation, and internationally as well. The program and Gwen Shamblin received much positive press in the late nineties, and she became very well known in the evangelical community, especially amongst women who participated in the program.
The Weigh Down Workshop employed a few basic principles to help people lose weight. Participants were encouraged to eat less food by eating within the bounds of natural hunger and fullness, and to eat only when physically hungry (most often defined by the growl of the stomach). Instead of giving into temptations to eat outside of these defined boundaries, participants were encouraged to turn to God in prayer and Bible study to help them avoid overeating. Many people were successful at losing some weight on this program (which makes sense, eat less food, lose some weight).
In our opinion, a couple of problems are evident with the original Exodus Out of Egypt program. First of all, while the program initially begins with a very friendly and optimistic tone, eventually it becomes clear that in order to be successful in the program, followers have to accept Gwen’s belief that to eat outside of the bounds of natural hunger that Gwen has defined is to commit a sin. In other words, followers begin to accept that to be obedient to God is to be obedient to the WD diet. This axiom is established in the program through the use of various scriptures that condemn gluttony. Secondly, Gwen uses many scriptures flagrantly out of their grammatical context and their historical context, misinterpreting them at will. If at face value a passage of Scripture seems applicable to her beliefs about dieting, Gwen interprets it in that fashion, even if the passage was contextually about something else. And finally, Gwen encourages her followers to downplay the advice of scientific authorities on food and weight loss in her diet plan. This mistrust of science begins to funnel her followers’ loyalty and trust towards herself rather than anyone in the scientific or medical community.
Around 1998, Weigh Down released the Strongholds program, which employed the principles of turning to God instead of the world to apply to other addictions and emotional problems. Again, adherents were encouraged to turn to God and Scripture instead of turning to their addiction (e.g., lying, overspending, nicotine). Strongholds was offered widely but never gained the same traction or following that the Weigh Down Workshop did, and in fact was often attended by former WD participants who wanted to try the new program.
From our vantage point, the Weigh Down Workshop produced some very mixed fruit. Many adherents were successful at losing some of their target weight loss. However, there is little-to-no hard scientific evidence on weight loss. Gwen Shamblin has not released any statistics demonstrating that her program is more successful than others, and tends to rely on testimonial evidence. Therefore, it is not clear in the long run whether people are successful in keeping the weight off. Undeniably, many followers do lose some weight permanently, and many followers also report that being in the Bible and prayer so intensely did wonders for their spiritual lives and their relationships with God.
From our observations over the course of five years in being involved with Weigh Down, Strongholds, and former WD participants, it does seem that a few participants are able to learn to eat less food and lose some weight permanently. Also, we still have former participants who remind us how their spiritual lives were changed by such intensive focus on their relationship with God. However, we can also remember many people who left the program early because it wasn’t working for them, as well as people who felt condemned and guilty because they were not able or willing to accept Gwen Shamblin’s food intake standards as God’s will for them.
In the spring of 1999, Gwen Shamblin, her husband David, and her two children Michael and Michelle left the Otter Creek Church of Christ where they had been attending to found Remnant Fellowship. Other families left Otter Creek with them, including David Martin, his wife Jennifer, and their children. They began worshipping in the shipping warehouse of the WD headquarters. The group remained small for a while. WD employees were encouraged to check out Remnant Fellowship.
In 2000, a few watershed events occurred. Unhappy with the slow growth of Remnant Fellowship, Gwen Shamblin began recruiting her employees more aggressively to attend Remnant Fellowship. Many employees resigned or were terminated, and there were several cases quietly settled and litigated in court around religious discrimination grounds. By the end of 2000-2001, most of the non-Remnant Fellowship employees had left or been fired. Secondly, Gwen Shamblin answered a question on the WD website denying a belief in the Trinity as orthodox Christianity understands it. This was probably the action that most upset her evangelical followers and church hosts, and many, many participants dropped the program. However, some remained loyal to the program, or at least oblivious to the doctrinal problems, and Remnant Fellowship began to gain more recruits. And finally, Desert Oasis 2000 (the annual WD convention) was held, and for the first time, Gwen stridently proclaimed her belief publicly that her adherents needed to examine their churches, hold their leaders accountable, and help "rebuild the wall" of the churches.
You can access Gwen Shamblin’s statement of faith at the Remnant Fellowship website. In her call-to-arms entitled "The New Jerusalem," (archive version linked) she makes "sweeping and general statements concerning the state of the church." Overall, her indictment is based on the idea that true Christians will offer complete obedience to God, and that it is this obedience, or "DOING," which saves us. She compares a struggling Christian to a participant in idolatry, and sees the churches as complicit in deluding modern Christians with a "false grace message." In our opinion, her arguments are patchworks quilts of scriptures lifted out of context and misinterpreted. However, without a lot of careful searching and study, her arguments can be quite convincing. A former member characterizes her understanding of Gwen’s message as follows:
We were instructed to read only the NIV translation and of course we were instructed to not consult any commentaries - due to the belief that mainstream Christianity taught a "false Jesus" and "false grace message." Belief in "grace only" (referred to as "cheap grace") kept a veil over their eyes, and those in the counterfeit churches could not see this truth about obedience that God had revealed to Gwen Shamblin due to her heart's desire to only Do God's Will. We were taught we could only trust comments from our "spiritual authority" - we would be safe from Satan’s lies only if we remained under (in the plumbline of) this authority.
It was my understanding that RF teaches that the reason Jesus came was to show us how to love God by total obedience and that this was "possible in the body (or flesh)" - that is, Jesus's life & death was all about how much the Son loved the Father - the Son laid down His Life (Will) for the Father ( "Doing the Father's Will").
Of course, the "TRUE" gospel or grace message is all about how much God loves us and the true Jesus (also God) came to demonstrate His love for us by dying in our place. Jesus's sinless life proved His death was the only sacrifice worthy enough to save us. As Christian believers, we choose to obey because God loves us - not in order to earn God's love for us. We could never earn His love – this is the true grace message.
Accepting Gwen Shamblin’s message also means accepting the logical consequences of believing that all modern churches are "counterfeit." True Christians will "get off a sinking ship" by leaving their churches and separating from counterfeit Christians. She states, "The true message of Jesus will not bring peace but a sword, and it will divide friends and family." In our experience, this is indeed the case, and it seems to happen frequently in the families of Remnant Fellowship members.
Characteristics and Membership of Remnant Fellowship
As of September 2002, Remnant Fellowship is made up of anywhere from 70-100 small home churches, concentrated primarily in the United States. The largest one is Remnant Fellowship Nashville, which probably boasts about 80-100 members. There are other large ones, such as Remnant Fellowship Oklahoma City, which seems to have anywhere from 20-30 members, including children. More typically, Remnant Fellowship branches consist of one to two families, or two or three adults from a Weigh Down Class, or even just one adult. As of August of 2002, the formal Remnant Fellowship membership list counted about 450 members, including children, worldwide.
Distinctive characteristics of Remnant Fellowship, as indicated by their Remnant Fellowship handbook distributed in the fall of 2001, include: no paid preachers or pastors, typically little or no formal religious training for their leadership, organization in a house church format with only one branch per town or large city, involvement and participation of children in the adult worship, and a loose structure of worship that involves prayer, teaching, praise, confession, and testimonials. Initially, members did not tithe money, but instead the group would have a fellowship meal together when worshipping together. Recently (summer of 2002) Remnant Fellowship leadership began encouraging followers by formal e-mail correspondence to begin tithing money to Remnant Fellowship International (the leadership in Nashville).
With such a small and scattered following, leadership places a lot of emphasis on travel and electronic communication. Regular mass e-mails are sent out to encourage and instruct members. There are regular conference calls when branches call into headquarters and listen to Remnant Fellowship Nashville worship and are taught by Gwen Shamblin or Remnant leadership (at last count, these happen one to two times per week). Followers are also encouraged to make regular trips to Nashville for weddings, religious celebrations, and Remnant weekends. Remnant Fellowship members also often vacation together and meet at an annual camp at the lake where the Shamblins keep their houseboat. Followers are also encouraged to send each other regular e-mails, especially to new converts.
Observance of Religious Ritual and Festivals
Over the past year (Fall of 2001 to Fall of 2002), Remnant Fellowship also began to observe several of the Levitical Feasts and Celebrations from the Hebrew Law. Last fall, members observed the Feast of Ingathering and the Feast of Harvest. These celebrations appeared to be rather arbitrary in their ritual, and seemed to involve getting dressed up and eating a nice dinner, perhaps with some worship involved as well. In spring of 2002, the feast of Passover was initiated as an annual celebration to be observed. Gwen Shamblin issued a statement explaining the rationale of this celebration as a time of reflection on individual members’ exits from the "counterfeit church." From a ritual standpoint, members were to enter their houses for the night of Passover and stay in prayer. Eating the Passover meal was also encouraged. Following Passover, Nashville members shared in a time of reflection and testimony on how God led individual Remnant Fellowship members out of the "counterfeit church".
Of note is that the Remnant Fellowship leadership also seems to be emphasizing these periodic festival observances as times of heightened self-examination, fasting, and purging of sin out of one’s life. Mrs. Shamblin’s rationale and exhortation at the time of Passover was the following: "I pray in the name of Jesus Christ that like Josiah, we clear all idols out prior to the Passover-the event established by God in order for the Destroyer to pass over God's true children but not pass over the counterfeit churches. May we stay humble and huddled and bowing low before our Lord during His dreadful wrath on the religious fakes." (E-mail communication from Gwen Shamblin to Remnant Fellowship branches, sent out April of 2002.)
Single members are encouraged to marry within the ranks of Remnant Fellowship. Over 2002 three marriages have been performed. Most notably, Michael Shamblin married over the Labor Day weekend. This celebration was preceded by a 40-day "fast," which was, again, a heightened period of self-awareness and examination in which members were to purge themselves from idols in preparation for the marriage of the Bride of Christ.
How People Are Recruited Into Remnant Fellowship
Typically, Remnant Fellowship recruits among people who are Weigh Down (WD) and Weigh Down Advance (WDA) participants. Recruits are likely contacted at Rebuilding the Wall weekends, when Gwen Shamblin will come to speak in different cities across the country. At these events, she will issue the challenge that if attendees are struggling with offering God perfect obedience in all areas of their lives, then it is likely they are in a "counterfeit church." By her definition, a counterfeit church is any church that allows one to "keep their idols" and still fellowship. "Keeping one’s idols" is a flexible standard that is largely defined by Gwen’s interpretation of various sanctification passages in the New Testament. Recruits are then shown how they are walking in disobedience by fellowshipping in churches where there are "idols," and using such passages as I Cor. 5 and Ephesians 5, are challenged to leave these "counterfeit churches" and come to a body with "no idols." In the New Jerusalem essay, she phrases it as such: ". . .the last holy cells better jump ship before it sinks and join up with a holy priesthood of believers who would be scared out of their minds to flaunt an idol in the face of THE LIVING GOD." At the same time, potential recruits (those that don’t walk out!) are "lovebombed," or affirmed and doted on with special attention. They may return home to a deluge of encouraging e-mails and phone calls from Remnant Fellowship members they met at the weekend event. Note an excerpt to the observation posted on a church's website in 2002 on this practice
"Shamblin obviously utilizes Weigh Down Advanced as a means to indoctrinate people into Remnant Fellowship, a religious group claiming to be a remnant of called-out believers forming the "true church." Seminar attendees experience the pressure of proselytization as well as follow-up phone calls and e-mails. In the Weigh Down Advanced materials she boldly attacks Christian pastors and churches as "the counterfeit church" and "the prostitute church" and encourages people to leave their home churches to join Remnant Fellowship (Tape 10, Side B). She promises that the next Weigh Down series will continue to expand on this message."
Recruits are also first contacted in WDA sessions. In WDA, Gwen uses much of the same approach to convince people to leave their churches and join Remnant Fellowship. Ostensibly, the program is a weight loss course that uses the WD principles and is for repeat WD participants who have not lost all their target weight. In WDA, Gwen exploits guilt feelings that participants may feel for not having lost all their weight. Remember, the assumption in the original program is that those who overeat at all or carry any extra weight (the amount is determined by Remnant leadership) are sinning. This failure is labeled as "disobedience" and the blame is pinned on the "counterfeit church" which the participant attends. Weekly, the participant is inundated with the message that they need to examine their church and worship with a "pure" group.
Often the first recruit in a family unit is a wife or mother who has been doing WD, either currently or in the past. Children and spouses are then involved gradually, depending on family dynamics and their level of spiritual discernment.
Is Remnant Fellowship a Cult?
In our opinion, yes. Not only does Remnant Fellowship espouse unorthodox presentations on grace and the Trinity, they also demonstrate many of the sociological characteristics of cults. They emphasize conformity, denigrate and shame independent thinking, have rigid authority and hierarchy structures, move people by group thinking, use fear as a motivator, and quickly and permanently expel anyone who persistently questions. Followers are typically encouraged to avoid reading articles critical of the group, and are warned against speaking to former members. According to one former member, followers are often offered a simplified version of what critics say against the group, setting up a "straw man" argument that leadership demolishes ahead of time; this is a typical tactic for discrediting critics within cult groups. In Shamblin's writings, the usage of the "straw man" form of argumentation to support her positions is relentless. For more information on how cults in general are structured, view www.howcultswork.com.
Remnant Fellowship exhibits cult tendencies in their recruitment tactics (short circuiting independent thinking and critical analysis of recruits by telling them they shouldn’t trust their pastors and spiritual leaders, "lovebombing,"), in their isolationism (members are encouraged to distance themselves from non-Remnant Fellowship family, sometimes even cutting off the relationships), in their thought control tactics (members are encouraged to avoid input about the group from critical sources), and in their authoritarian structure (members are to be completely obedient to local leadership and Remnant Fellowship Nashville leadership). Authority seems to rest most firmly in the hands of Gwen Shamblin, who is also known as "prophetess."
What Are The Possible Effects Of Participation In Remnant Fellowship?
Honestly, it is too soon to tell. Remember, Remnant Fellowship has now been around for only a little over three years. Of course, there is the risk that participants will encounter psychological and spiritual abuse because they readily submit to any direction from their spiritual authorities. Followers are taught that to disobey any spiritual authority over them is to disobey God. Opportunities for the misuse of shame and guilt abound. Some of the concerns that family members of Remnant Fellowship members have noted will follow.
Changes in Behavior
Family members have noted that Remnant Fellowship members demonstrate profound change in their attitudes towards organized religion, and refuse to attend events that are hosted in denominational churches. They become argumentative when religious subjects are brought up, and they begin to manifest changes in their personalities. Family members have reported that their Remnant Fellowship family member seems much more angry and critical, and that they have to "walk on eggshells" around them. Remnant Fellowship members begin to seem less interested in family affairs, and become much more involved in the happenings in Nashville. They often drop friendships with Christians who do not belong to Remnant Fellowship. They may begin to entertain the idea of moving to Nashville, or moving to be closer to a Remnant Fellowship branch. They may suddenly become unavailable several nights of the week, hosting or attending WD, WDA classes, and attending multiple worship services.
Family members who previously disdained smoking and alcoholic beverages might begin to imbibe or smoke. Remnant Fellowship leadership teaches that to the "pure, all things are pure," so smoking, drinking, viewing R- rated movies and listening to explicit music that might otherwise be considered objectionable all become less problematic.
Isolation from the Christian Mainstream
According to a former member, those who belong to Remnant Fellowship are not only not to read any information that is critical of Remnant Fellowship, but they are also not to listen to any music or read any authors who referred to the "false grace message" or the "false Jesus." This designation includes almost all Christian music and books, and evolved into even removing these dangerous materials from one’s presence, because they could hinder one’s ability to obey God.
In exchange, as per an e-mail sent from David Martin on June 24, 2002, members are "recommended to use the New International Version" of the Bible only in their study and worship. The reasoning for this choice, according to Mr. Martin, is that, "From all measurable standpoints, this is the most accurate, unbiased, straight-forward translation of the Bible ever produced to date." Conformity to this standard is appealed to on the basis of remaining "united in how we represent this movement to the world," and followed up by a quote from Gwen Shamblin which seems to indicate that perhaps even the NIV is not to be trusted. She states "One problem I have is the creeping influence of twisting the sinful attitude of ‘stubbornness or rebellion’ into ‘our human weakness.’ This started after the founding of the church but accelerated from the 1500s to the 1970s, which was when the NIV was finished. I believe this twisting of meanings has impacted both the NIV and the KJV." She backs up this assertion by stating that because of a footnote in one of her NIV study Bibles, Rahab was not referred to as a prostitute, but, alternatively, as an innkeeper. Gwen sees this as evidence that the meanings of passages have been twisted in translation over time.
Mrs. Shamblin also encourages members to study out of a newly republished version of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which chronicles the lives of martyrs throughout history. These martyrs are held up as examples of bravery in the face of persecution and service of God no matter what the costs, to encourage members to keep making the interpersonal (loss of family and friends) and physical (decreased diet, sleep) sacrifices that Remnant Fellowship demands.
Disruption of Family Relationships
There have been many family relationships that have been stressed and strained by one member’s participation in Remnant Fellowship. Remnant Fellowship leadership interprets several of Jesus’ sayings (notably, Luke 12:51-53) to justify causing division between family members if non-Remnant Fellowship family persistently question or attempt to demand that the Remnant Fellowship member leave the group. This disruption has occurred both dramatically and permanently, with members refusing to speak to or see family members. More frequently, gradual and unstated separations where the Remnant Fellowship member just drifts out of contact also occur.
Two typical nuclear family disruptions appear to happen in Remnant Fellowship with steady frequency. First, Remnant Fellowship recruits many college-age students, and these students are often offered positions on the phone banks at WD, or performing nannying services or menial work for Remnant Fellowship members. Sometimes the students change their majors or interrupt their educations to be more involved in Remnant Fellowship activities and purposes. Very often these college-age students have church backgrounds, so their parents are upset when their son or daughter refuses to attend their home congregation. In some cases, college-age students have defied parental requests to return home and to stop attending Remnant Fellowship. Sometimes a distancing in the relationship, or, in rarer cases, an entire disruption of relationships accompanies these power struggles.
Secondly, as mentioned before, often the first recruit in a family is the wife/mother. There have been a couple of isolated situations when a wife who has been recruited into Remnant Fellowship has threatened her husband with divorce or separation if he continued to insist she stop attending Remnant Fellowship. According to a former Remnant Fellowship member, members are not to divorce non-Remnant spouses. Rather, wives are to be submissive and subservient, because the husband is the authority over the wife; disobeying any authority is like disobeying God. However, Gwen Shamblin asserts that this obedience cannot include submitting to spouses who forbid the attendance of Remnant Fellowship worships and events, because "meeting with the saints is ‘of the Lord’." (Statement made by Gwen Shamblin, Milwaukee, 7/14/02).
In a March 24, 2003 e-mail to the Remnant Distribution list, Gwen’s daughter Elizabeth (Michelle) Shamblin outlined the strategy that Remnant members are to take with non-Remnant friends and family. Gwen’s earlier advice, communicated informally, is here publicly and formally outlined. Her advice is cultic and divisive in nature and is structured to keep Remnant members from being influenced by non-Remnant members. She states:
I think that many are still missing the point when it comes to dealing with those around us who DON’T believe what we believe. Those people on the outside don’t understand, nor do they want to understand, that they have GOT to DO the will of the Father and get rid of ALL idols and greed in their hearts to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. If you have shown the TRUTH to someone and they have refused it, we have got to understand that they are no longer “sweet friends who unfortunately missed the mark . . .” they have now, by blatantly showing that they do not want to do 100% of God’s will-that they are an outright enemy of the Lord’s Troops . . . These people have had the chance to learn to lay their idols down but have refused to want to learn more . . .they have refused the very GOD of the universe-and so my friends, they are no friend of God’s, and therefore they are no friends of mine . . . My friends, we cannot win the world over by submitting to what it wants us to do! If that is how we were to win them over, we would have to indulge in what they want us to indulge in!
However, we WILL be able to win some over by STANDING FIRM IN THE FAITH, AND NOT GIVING WAY TO FEAR! It is time to stand up, Remnant Nation. It is time to stand up for what you believe in and stop hiding the God that you are so proud of! Obviously in certain situations in which you have already warned someone of the wrath that is coming on the disobedient . . . if they have refused your knowledge-you dust your feet and move on to find more exiles-and you remain silent in their presence. Remember, “Muzzle your mouth in front of the enemy . . .” and “Do not throw pearls before swine.” However-if you are in constant contact with the enemy . . .as it says, “a man’s enemies are the members of his own household” – if you ARE in daily contact with people who constantly try to get you away from the Fellowship-you have GOT to stand FIRM! Stand up for what you believe in! Do you mean to tell me that if the unbeliever told you to commit adultery that you would submit to that in order for peace? OF COURSE YOU WOULDN’T!!!
So-when the unbeliever tells you to forsake the assembly-which is a command of God to NOT forsake-that you would do it for the sake of men? Stand up, men and women, for what you believe in!! And do not fear mortal men that cannot save or harm you. Men of earth are powerless against the God that created them all. Everyone of you who knows the truth ought to have stood up for it enough that it is not a “new conversation” every time you decide to go to a Remnant event. Nor should it be odd for you to take your children to worship with you. Your family and friends should know by now that meeting with the saints is top priority- for you feel it is the will of God. (Any of you having trouble with standing up for this should call in to Leadership and they can help walk you through the steps in order to be SET FREE from the oppressor.)
The above excerpt from this recent e-mail is particularly disturbing because of the blatant attempt to estrange members of immediate families from each other. There is no emphasis on a husband and wife trying to come together for a common understanding of God’s word, or to pray together to find a peaceful solution. Rather, Ms. Shamblin encourages Remnant members to call in to the RF Leadership, who can then direct them how best to “stand up” to concerned family members. Also, it is disturbing that members are given direct instruction to not engage in any dialogue or discussion about their choices. They are “to remain silent” about them. Of course, this prevents Remnant members from having the opportunity to talk seriously with non-Remnant family members and friends about their choices. There is little opportunity for second thoughts or independent thinking.
Dramatic Changes in Physical Habits
It is highly likely that many participants are not getting enough food, and are dropping to unhealthy weights. Participants who do not lose all their weight have been encouraged to fast, and the type of diet being followed does not have any safeguards to ensure that there is any nutritional balance in member’s diets.
Former members are also reporting that during their time in Remnant Fellowship they found themselves waking several times during the night nearly every night. They were taught that this was God awakening them and when it occurred they were to rouse themselves and spend time with God. This is a group behavior that sprang out of lessons on the WD and WDA videotapes indicating that God often wakes Gwen Shamblin up in the middle of the night to spend time with her (originally intended, we think, to illustrate how one can find satisfaction in spending time with God). However, this became another example of God testing the members of Remnant Fellowship. Not awakening and getting out of bed to worship became labeled a disobedience to God if one did not get out of bed to listen to what God had to say. Needless to say, such sleep deprivation can take a toll and wear down reasoning abilities over time.
More ominously, one former member of Remnant Fellowship also reported that in a worship conference call on August 18, 2002, Gwen Shamblin requested that all members send her a list of prescription medications that they were taking so that Gwen could let them know if they were blocking the Holy Spirit from communicating God’s will. Given Mrs. Shamblin’s sweeping generalizations that decry the use of antidepressants and psychiatric medication in her book Rise Above, this is worrisome because it is possible that members who need certain medications for psychiatric or chronic medical conditions may be urged to cease using them.
Changes in Child Rearing Approach
More recently, some disturbing trends are beginning to manifest in the rearing of children within the group. The same standards of total obedience to authorities are applied to the youngest of children as well as adults. Children may be disciplined for the slightest of infractions, and are expected to demonstrate complete control over their emotions and their diets. Children are expected to sit through hours long worship services without any fidgeting or demonstrating inattentiveness. Needless to say, this could have long-term deleterious effects on a child’s well being. Over the past year, Remnant Fellowship Nashville has begun hosting children’s camps to which the parents of all Remnant Fellowship branches are encouraged to send their children. The goal of this camp is, among other things, to raise the level of discipline to which the children are accustomed and shape their behavior to be more in line with group norms.
Some of the more permanent consequences of participating in Remnant Fellowship may come within the spiritual and relational growth areas. Because Gwen Shamblin is arbitrarily interpreting rules to the group to follow that are not found in the Bible, members need to listen to their spiritual authorities and suppress their own spiritual discernment of her teachings. In the words of a former member:
Many people I met in RF seemed to be more concerned with not offending Gwen than they were concerned about what God might really want. Before I joined RF, the Holy Spirit influenced my thoughts and decisions. While I was a member of RF, I was instructed to "get under authority." Although I was instructed to pray for God to reveal His Will in order for me to follow in "obedience," God's "revealed Will" had to line up with what Gwen was teaching or I was "resisting leadership." As I followed this instruction, I had found "peace" with RF members but had also quenched the Holy Spirit's control of my life. This in effect placed Gwen's authority over God's authority - as "a false prophet" Gwen actually becomes an idol that many in RF blindly follow.
Unfortunately, leaving the group does not mean that former members will immediately begin to trust the discernment of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. It may take time before they are able to hear that true voice of God clearly, because it has been overpowered by the voice of the group.
Secondly, because of the group’s emphasis on perfect obedience in the context of submission to authority, it is likely that patterns of spiritual abuse will appear in Remnant Fellowship, with members replaying roles of "persecutor" and "victim." Those in spiritual authority may eventually begin to come across as dictatorial to those under their authority. Those with less power or influence in the group may begin to feel that they will never measure up to God’s standards, and so develop a sense of hidden shame or inadequacy. Such shame will most likely be punctuated by periodic feelings of "finally getting it right in trying to DO God’s will" (the group’s will), and then followed by chastisement from leadership for inexplicably falling short. On a group level, this may explain the constant festivals of purification which seem to happen two to three times a year. It is possible the entire group begins to go through this process of exaltation followed by shame en masse.
Smoke And Mirrors
In Matthew 24:24, Jesus warns that false prophets will appear and that "they will deceive even the elect, if that were possible." We should not be surprised that Gwen Shamblin is teaching a patchwork gospel made up of every obedience passage she can find in the Bible, nor should we be surprised that she is calling herself a prophetess. Christ also warned that wolves would come in sheep’s clothing and savage the flock. What we should examine more closely are the motivations for why people are falling for her skewed (false, even) presentation of what the gospel is really about.
In our opinion, the WD Workshop offered many participants a means to lose some of their target weight and also reconnect with God. Because Gwen Shamblin reminds the participant repeatedly that it is she that has brought these truths out so plainly, it is not surprising that eventually this once-helpful Christian program took a turn towards becoming a personality cult. When someone who has struggled with weight for a long time hears Mrs. Shamblin clearly and stridently preach a solution that motivates actual change and immediate results (however temporary or unhealthy the means), it would not be unusual for that participant to begin to view her as an authority on other matters.
Of course, for a participant who has had some weight loss success, this loyalty becomes a strong pull that could lead them into Remnant Fellowship. Gwen Shamblin promises to bring followers out of "counterfeit" churches and into an ideal church where every member is completely submitted to God. Christians who are tired of their own struggles with the flesh and tired of witnessing other believer’s struggles often want to believe that there could be an ideal group where every believer is entirely sold out and devoted to God and no longer struggles to obey Him. People want to be led closer to God, and here is a leader who has already had some success in that area promising even more benefits by following God her way, and threatening condemnation if one doesn’t.
Unfortunately, this is a false hope, and Remnant Fellowship as a pure group like the New Testament church is only smoke and mirrors. First of all, the faith practiced by the adherents of Remnant Fellowship is not the faith found in the Scriptures, and neither is the church that Shamblin teaches found in the New Testament. She points at I Corinthians 5:13 and states in her New Jerusalem manifesto, "The early church stayed cleaned up and could expel the (one) immoral brother." This is a gross oversimplification of the state of the early church. In most of Paul’s letters (including, ironically, I Corinthians), he instructed churches how to deal with the immoral conditions in their ranks. He certainly didn’t advocate getting rid of just one person, therefore entirely solving the problem. Rather, it is clear that the early church struggled with immorality and fleshly desire across the board, and that this was a constant struggle within the church. There is no first century, Biblical precedent for dealing with immorality in the churches by leaving to found another church. Jesus himself actually offers more examples and precedents for staying in churches and dealing with the problems (Revelation 2:18-3:6).
We hope that this article also illustrates that the image of Remnant Fellowship as a totally committed group which has no "idols," and which is totally in line with God’s will, is also no more than smoke and mirrors. This image is a façade which is not created by the Holy Spirit working in and among members to foster unity, but rather is created by powerful internal group pressure to keep members living up to group expectations.
For More Information And Resources
If you have a family member who has joined Remnant Fellowship, don’t give up hope. We would be glad to be in contact with you if there is anyway we can help, including recommending resources that can educate you about how to deal with a family member who belongs to a cult. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
For those who want to do more Internet research on Gwen Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship, we recommend the following links. Don Veinot of Midwest Christian Outreach has also written two fairly recent articles on the theology of the movement, which can be obtained by writing him directly at email@example.com.
We join in prayer with you for "the release from darkness for all prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1).
Adam and Maria Brooks
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