Setting Captives Free repents of focus on sin and repentance...

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The problem with my original writings was the focus on sin, the labeling of people according to their sin, the sharing and discussing of sin, and the constant reminders of the sin. This is Old Covenant law-oriented, problem-focused doctrine and not according to biblical truth, and it hurt many people to whom I’ve recently been apologizing.

- Mike Cleveland, announcing his repudiation of thirteen years of work with Setting Captives Free

One change in the past quarter-century that has been terribly destructive within the Church and Her households is the ubiquity of the internet through smartphones, tablets, and laptops. These tools have enabled the private consumption of horrendous moral filth and Christian men and (increasingly) women have found this wickedness almost irresistible. The percentage of young Christian men who have succumbed to internet fornication on a regular basis is likely close to ninety percent, and now women have joined men and are consuming thirty percent of the internet filth.

At Clearnote, we've given ourselves to working closely with men and women repenting of this sin. A critical part of our work with those repenting of this sin is that each man and woman has been required to enroll in an internet discipleship program called Setting Captives Free (SCF).

For this reason we were quite sad to be notified recently by several men of our congregation that SCF is now repudiating and will no longer be offering their former courses, including the Way of Purity (for heterosexuals who are struggling with sexual sin) and Door of Hope (for homosexuals in the same position). After a preliminary investigation, one of our elders wrote "it would appear [they] are watering down the gospel by shifting focus away from sin and the need to repent from it."

We contacted SCF to express our concern and this was their...


From: SettingCaptiveFree Support []
Sent: Wednesday, August 12, 2015 11:07 PM
To: [John Doe]
Subject: RE: Ticket: [_____]


Thank you for the kind and encouraging words.  We will pass them on to the Board of Directors for their consideration.

We do apologize for your disappointment in the upcoming change to the Setting Captives Free ministry. Most of the current course materials will still be available in a printed format through Focus Publishing and other online retailers such as,, etc.

Below are some thought from Mike Cleveland specifically explaining more behind the Boards reasons for changing to the new ministry format; we hope you will find them helpful.

Thank you for writing. I appreciate your comments. I’ve wrestled through this issue too, as you might imagine. It wasn’t easy, and I’m happy to share some of my findings and realizations with you. The Board of Directors did pray a lot about this very issue too.

The reason that Setting Captives Free had to go was because it was flawed. The problem with my original writings was the focus on sin, the labeling of people according to their sin, the sharing and discussing of sin, and the constant reminders of the sin. This is Old Covenant law-oriented, problem-focused doctrine and not according to biblical truth, and it hurt many people to whom I’ve recently been apologizing. Setting Captives Free had to go because it was like any typical program that started with people’s sin and gave them principles to apply to be free. This is typical behaviorism, “put off-put on” type of an approach. It was very much like the law, which contained principles for living, instructions for directing our lives, and yet it actually sent people away from God for they were unable to be perfect through the law. The gospel, on the other hand, draws us to God where we find real intimacy:

18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. Hebrews 7:18-19 (NASB)

I also mistakenly taught principles at Setting Captives Free that were not contextually biblical, that were law based and rules oriented. Let me give you one example. The principle of radical amputation which comes from Matthew 5. The statements of Christ in Matthew 5 were not designed to be a principle for freedom, but rather to show us the extent we would have to go, the radical things we would have to do (cut off our arm and pluck out our eye), if wanting to be righteous under the Law. That is one example of a passage taken entirely out of context and made to say something the passage did not teach.

At Gospel Growth Ministries we are bringing in a better hope, through which we draw near to God. It is the method Christians have used for thousands of years to bring hope and freedom to others.

While you have found the material to be helpful, we have had numerous Setting Captives Free mentors say things such as this, “I am so thankful to be out from under the sin focus, the old covenant focus, and under the new gospel ministry. I had heartburn after about 2 years mentoring over there, and was considering leaving, and now I’m delighted to see that the problems have been fixed and the focus is right.”

It is a fairly common thing for people to think that they must have help for their specific sin, in their timeframe, in the manner they think they need it. A case in point is Naaman (2 Kings 5) who came to Elisha because he had leprosy, and he expected specific help from the man of God, and he had certain expectations of exactly how that help should come.

Yet the man of God did not do as Naaman expected nor required; he had Naaman do something very humbling instead, sending him off to dunk in the Jordan river 7 times. What did dunking in a muddy river have to do with curing leprosy? The two seemed unrelated. Here was Naaman’s response:

Naaman replied, “11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.”

We might imagine Naaman saying “I came here expecting specific help in curing me of my leprosy, and what you’re telling me to do is of no help. Yes, it’s good to bathe in the river, but it certainly wouldn’t help me with my problem. Leprosy is a much deeper problem.”

And yet Elisha knew what Naaman needed and so did not change his instructions. The man of God did not focus on Naaman’s specific need, but rather that which would humble him first, and then cure him. I'm sure you know the end of the story, when Naaman humbled himself and submitted to the truth he dunked in the Jordan river 7 times and came up cured.

This is what we are doing at Gospel Growth Ministries. Yes, some will not want to “dunk in the gospel”, especially not seven times (over and over) and will go away mad that we did not address their specific issue in the way they thought we should. And yet this truly is the way to freedom. “Gospel dunking”, over and over, has produced more truly free people over the thousands of years than any specific, problem focused method ever would. This is how people have been finding freedom for two thousand years, long before there ever was a Setting Captives Free or all the numerous programs and methods like it.

It’s difficult to change, I understand that. Jesus said it this way: "And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'" Luke 5:39 (NIV)

And yet the truth is the old is not better; the new wine of the gospel is better, it is just that it is an acquired taste. And Jesus does not allow both to exist together, the old and the new, and simply give people their choice. No, it is the gospel or nothing. We hope you’ll continue “dunking in the gospel river” and see how it would indeed free someone who comes. It just doesn’t free them in the way that they think it should.

I hope this makes sense to you. I appreciate your comments, and as I said above I have wrestled and prayed through this issue for a long time. So you are voicing something I struggled with for many years, and have come down firmly on the side of where we are now.

When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. Hebrews 8:13 (NASB)

We hope this information is helpful to you. If we can assist further, please let us know.


Webservant Setting Captives Free

There are a number of men in our congregation who, in the hard work of sanctification, have been greatly helped by the very curricula Mike Cleveland now is apologizing for. How sad.

Likely, here on Baylyblog there will soon be more about this sad reversal by Mike Cleveland and the two men who serve as his board.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!