Christianity: Baptism, Marriage And Leadership Structure

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This report will analyse the New Zealand religious tradition of Gloriavale Christian Community, a small and isolated Christian group located at Haupiri on the West Coast of the South Island in New Zealand. In 1969, Australian-born evangelist Neville Cooper founded the group bound together by a common faith in God and the hope of Salvation, known as the Springbank Christian Community near Christchurch. Cooper intended to see the gospel practised as well as preached. The community began to grow and consequently moved to a more significant property they purchased on the West Coast. The new property in Haupiri Valley was named Gloriavale after Cooper's late wife and is where the community continues to thrive today. Currently, the community of Gloriavale is home to around 600 members, made up of approximately 55 families with an average of eight children per family. The sect with cult-like tendencies follows their literal interpretation of the New Testament and is considered to be ultra conservative due to its beliefs about living modest lives free from the sin and temptations of the outside world. The foundation of Gloriavale is built upon the principles of sharing and holding all things in common as well as strictly abiding by God's commandments.

The themes of Gloriavale are derived from the literal interpretation of the King James version of the Bible, consisting of Salvation, Judgement, Repentance and Forgiveness; Baptism and Discipleship. Salvation is the most important belief in which Gloriavale is built upon. The most common meaning of Salvation is to be saved by God from the consequences of our sin. The community of Gloriavale beliefs sin is any disobedience of God's commands under the New Testament and the only way to Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the commands of God. Anyone can be saved from sin, however only through repenting and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Judgement is another important belief in which influences the community. Judgement refers to the belief that God will judge humanity on their beliefs and actions. Christians believe that God's judgment will determine whether their soul will go to Heaven or Hell. The community of Gloriavale believes that the people living outside of Gloriavale do not see sin as being a problem. Therefore, those residing outside of Gloriavale will not receive Salvation as they are continually sinning by not following the word of God in a literal manner.

Repentance is another strong belief that Gloriavale prides itself on. Repentance is a stage in Christian salvation where the believer turns away from sin. Gloriavale believes many do not acknowledge God's command to repent our sin as it is not deemed as necessary. Forgiveness is another belief that is upheld by the community of Gloriavale. It is emphasised that we need to be made clean from our sin. Repenting is an important aspect of Salvation; however, cleansing sin and forgiving sins we have committed is regarded as just as important. For this forgiveness to be ours, we must believe in Jesus with all of our heart: who He is, what He did, and what He will do for us if we follow Him. To believe is to trust and obey, and that is the attitude of a true believer. When we genuinely believe we will repent and obey the gospel, and God will grant us forgiveness. An essential part of God's plan for Salvation is Baptism. Romans chapter six teaches that baptism is a pivotal act of obedience symbolising the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.

Gloriavale is considered to be a sect with cult-like tendencies. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a sect can be defined as a group of people with somewhat different religious beliefs from those of the larger group to which they belong. Gloriavale is considered to be a sect because their beliefs stem from Christianity but are interpreted in a more literal way, therefore is different from the larger group in which they are associated with. Another characteristic of a sect that Gloriavale possess is exclusivism, which is defined as the belief that only one particular religion or belief system is right. In the case of Gloriavale, the truth has only been revealed to Gloriavale leaders. Elitism is another characteristic upheld by Gloriavale. Elitism is the idea that Salvation will save only their members through that act of following the good of the Lord. However, Gloriavale has also Cult like tendencies because the members abide by the authority of the leaders and practice a segregated lifestyle, free from any temptation and sin from the outside world. The purpose of this report on Gloriavale is to analyse the components of The Role of Women, Lifestyle, Rituals and the Leadership Structure.

The Role of Women

The women of Gloriavale are highly regarded as the carers of the community. Their highest importance is being a wife and mother and has completely devoted their lives to their roles by submitting to their husbands. From a young age, girls have dedicated their lives to be the carers of the community. Children attended preschool, then school, but from the age of six, they rose early to carry out domestic chores. At high school, girls and boys are taught separate vocational subjects. In an interview by NZME, Gloriavale Christian Community School principal Faithful Pilgrim said 'Our aim is to prepare our students for a life of practical service, a life of faith within the community, and are not preparing our students for a life in your society; we are preparing them for a life in our society. Otherwise, it wouldn't be sensible, would it?'. Women learn to cook, clean, teach, become nurses and also take on the prime parental role of child care while men learn carpentry, engineering and farming. The women's responsibilities include cleaning, cooking, washing, sewing and most importantly bear children as that is what God has intended. Responsibilities are divided between all of the women residing in Gloriavale. However, the church leaders allocate a House Mother who is responsible for the budget regarding household and workforce expenses. The main jobs women carry out are preparing and cooking meals as well as washing clothes for the community. On average, women will prepare over 7000 meals and wash on average 8000 laundry items of the community. Women allocated to working in the kitchen are required to preserve fruits, cut meat, make butter and cheese and putting produce that is not needed in the freezer. They are also responsible for serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, which require the use of commercial size machinery. The other women are allocated to the manufacturing and washing of clothes. They are required to make everyday wear such as dresses and trousers, costumes for the production and occasionally soft equipment. Women are vital to ensure Gloriavale continues to succeed as they bear children for the growth of the community and conserve the populations overall well being. Though women are essential for the development of Gloriavale, they are not called to any place of leadership over men in the Church but are to submit themselves instead. They are allowed to pray and partake in ceremonies in the Church with their head covered however must not question or correct the men. Even though women are not called to a place of leadership in the Church, they are still granted equal rights to Salvation, love and respect. According to an interview with Lilia, Tarawa women are 'expected to serve and submit to men, and anything else was seen as ungodly'. Women are to submit themselves to the men of the community because of the communities literal stance towards the Bible. The bible states 'all Christians should submit themselves to one another, and esteem one other more highly than themselves, and not seek to dominate one another or to have their way… The true Church is led by Godly men whom God has chosen, equipped and called for this important task'.

The community, especially women, are to abide by a dress standard. Each sex wears the colour of blue as it complements every skin tone and complexion. On special occasions, sisters may wear pink or pale blue dresses. The community places great emphasis on the principle that clothing must be modest. Modesty has been achieved by the decision made in 1988 to standardise the clothing permitted in the community, preventing the expression of vanity. Also, the purchasing of materials and the sewing of garments became more economically affordable. The community of Gloriavale believes a variety of clothing styles even within the bounds of modesty results in vanity amongst women. After implementing the decision to standardise clothing, women feel more content to have all the same standard clothing. The minimal styles and absence of choice has allowed everyone in the community to feel equal and consequently reduced time spent making clothing. Another practice from the literal interpretation of the Bible is that women must wear head coverings. Head coverings worn by the women of Gloriavale are a sign to the angels that a woman has placed himself in the submission to the authority of the man. I Corinthians 11:3 and four states 'But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ: and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. However, every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head'.

Many factors justify the attitude held towards the women of Gloriavale. One factor is the literal interpretation of the King James Bible, especially the teachings of the Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Timothy 3:11. Ephesians 5:22-33 states 'Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, of which he is the Savior'. The community of Gloriavale have interpreted this teaching literally, demonstrated by the role of women. Another factor that justifies the role of women in Gloriavale is from the publication 'What We Believe' by Gloriavale Christian Community states 'Women are not called to any place of leadership over men in the church, but are to submit themselves'. This statement also from “What We Believe” supports the communities perspective on the role of women. “ Christian wives are commanded to submit themselves unto their own Christian husbands, as unto the Lord, and to obey them in all things, willingly giving to them the leadership of the whole family. In this they should show a meek and a quiet spirit that comes from trusting in God.

From the evidence derived from publications and websites, the conclusion that women are regarded as carers of the community can be made. Women have established this role by the influencing factors of the Bible and leading men of the community by submitting themselves to God.

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One of Neville Coopers main intentions for Gloriavale was to see the gospel practised as well as preached, in which would be achieved by emulating a literal interpretation the bible. The goal is for the community achieve salvation by living a fulfilling lifestyle from birth to death. The main rituals in life that guide the members to salvation are baptism, commitment to the community, marriage, bearing children and taking on responsibilities for the sake of the community.


Baptism is an important ritual at Gloriavale. The ritual involves one being emerged in water as it is a part of God's plan for salvation. Many of the children in Gloriavale are baptised during their years at school and may be baptised earlier if desired. The strong church environment in which they have grown up in has meant children understand was is deemed as right and wrong behaviour. In today's society, children are generally baptised are infants. Within the community of gloriavale there have been debates on the age of baptism. One factor that has influenced the ritual of Baptism is the teaching of Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved”. As the community of gloriavale literally interprets the bible, the conclusion that only believers shall be baptised has been made. Also, they believe that only through the Faith and Belief in God and his word are they able to be baptised into the gloriavale community. Consequently, when children are at a certain age they will be baptised. They will then be of the age to understand the meaning of repenting and what it means to believe in God. In regards to Baptism and the Bible, the bible says a believing person is immersed under water. Through the process of immersion, faith puts to death their sins, buries their old life and rises up out of the water to life a new life free from temptation and sin. The factor influencing the community's perception of Baptism is the teachings of the New Testament. Through the new testament they believe immersion is God's way in which they can identify with Jesus Christ. They can then see what Jesus has done for them through his death and resurrection. Baptism encourages one to follow in the way of Jesus as He willing submitted himself to the will of God and died for us, then resurrected free from sin. Through Baptism, the community is willing to die to their old life of sin by burying and rising again into a new life free from sin and following the will of God each day. Another factor influencing the ritual of baptism is the teachings from Romans 6:3-11 “ 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death…”. The ritual of immersion in the bible has significance to the communities initiation process into the community.


Marriage is another ritual practiced by the Gloriavale community. The relationship between the married couples in the community have been decided by the senior man of the community, like all other facets of their existence. A similarity shared between the community of gloriavale the religions of islam and judaism is arranged marriages. The senior men chasing a woman worthy of being a wife is the equivalent of arranged marriage in other religions. To prevent potential interactions amongst the community, teenagers are discouraged to communicate to the opposite sex until a wedding is arranged. The community of gloriavale in comparison to the society in which we live in is small, therefore are limited options in terms of partners. With the guidance from God and the involvement of the senior men and leaders, partners that have been identified as not too closely related are then arranged for marriage. The leaders have a list of all bloodlines which prove necessary when men ask to get married. The lists are able to provide suitable partners within a certain age bracket that are not related. This process called courtship occurs six weeks before the wedding. From the publication “What We Believe” which states “During their courtship, Christian couples should avoid all amorous physical contact. They should meet together only with the consent of their parents, within plain view of responsible Christian adults, and should be led by their parents and church leaders to a full understanding of all they need to know in order to enter confidently into marriage” is a factor that has led to the ritual of no contact before marriage.

The ritual of marriage is in the hands of God and the leaders. When a man seeks a wife he prays and listens to god's will with his parents and leaders before approaching his potentially wife. During the courtship process, the couple may not have any physical contact. However, use the time to learn to communicate with each other, creating a foundation for their relationship. the courtship is then followed by the wedding day where the Church gathers for a meeting to share exhortations, songs, scriptures and experience. Vows are then made between the couples before the Church as no preacher is to marry them. The marriage is then consummated before God, joining them together in a bond only broken by death. The community believes it is God's plan for the coupled to enter the marriage as virgins and remain faithful for life. As women are the only species to have a hymen, they believe it it holds great significance as she has been created by god. They hymen is portrayed as a seal upon her virginity to show the importance of marriage in god's eyes. The couples marriage is certified with a piece of paper, however the comunmation of a “marriage is not like paper, and cannot be torn up. It is a union that lasts until one partner dies”. The sexual aspect of marriage emphasises the commitment to each other; not just physically but spiritually. Divorce and remarriage among our people is not accepted within this community.

Another point

There are many factors that justify the rituals of marriage and baptism in the community. Points D1-D4 of their publication entitled “What We Believe” includes statements supporting their marriage rituals. Point D1 states “A marriage takes place when a man and a woman freely take one another publicly as man and wife, and consummate that commitment by joining together as one flesh in sexual intercourse. The church does not marry them, nor does the state, nor any other person, but they marry one another, and God accepts them as married, whether or not they are Christians, and whether or not they have a marriage license.” Based of this statement the community practices arranged marriages followed by the ceremony then consummation of the marriage. Also as no preachers marry the couples that are influenced by the publication which states above that the church does not marry them. Point D2 states “Once a man and a woman are married in this way they are married for life, and only death can break that bond. Divorce and remarriage is adultery and is forbidden by Christ and His apostles, whether between Christians or non-Christians”. Point D2 is a factor that influences the ritual of marriage as they do not support divorce, thereof practice arrange mned marriages and communion of virgins to encourage faithfulness

From the evidence derived from publications, the conclusion that the community practices the rituals in a literal way which correlating to the bible can be made. The rituals of baptism and marriage are considered as ways of following God's intentions. The rituals in which the gloriavale community practices are also very different in the society in which we live in. Divorce has become common in New Zealand society as well as sex before marriage.

Leadership Structure

The founder of Gloriavale, Hopeful Christian is also known as Neville Copper, was the leader of the community and was revered as their leader because he has been called and prepared by God to oversee the Church. Cooper was mainly involved in giving sermons and leading Gloriavale in the direction in which God has intended. In 2010, Cooper retired from the board of trustees however still held the title of the 'overseeing Shepard', giving him the power to make decisions in regards to the members still and running of Gloriavale. The community of Gloriavale consists of over 55 families, with an average of eight children per family, divided between four blocks of shared hostel accommodation in which they live. Each floor of the four hostels is managed by a shepherd and a servant leader, which make up the leadership council of 16 men who are responsible for the decisions made in regards to business, education and marriage. How Gloriavale is lead and managed, is solely based on the consensus in which the council of men, come to a final decision at the end of each meeting. The 16 men who make up the council are subservient to three senior men given the title of shepherds who run the tax-free Gloriavale charitable trust. The three senior shepherds, usually the elders of the community, are responsible for the running of profitable business operations and are the trustees of the trust. In general, it is the men that have leadership over the whole of the community. There are also other leaders known as Servants who play an essential role within the community of Gloriavale. The servants are responsible for the management of the six companies of Gloriavale that consist of the early childhood centre, the school and many other aspects of their daily life in the community such as laundry, cooking and sewing.

Factors - Due to their literal interpretation of the Bible, leaders are regarded as being equal with the other members of Gloriavale however, are considered as leaders through hard work, example guidance and counsel they serve their community.


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