Sovereign Grace Ministries Polity – Will Anything Really Change?

"Polity is important and vital to the long-term effectiveness of the SG churches. Where doctrinal foundations are healthy, good polity has great potential to keep them on track. However, a robust view of sin militates against treating polity as a panacea for problems. No polity can protect a church or a family of churches from problems and difficulties or from sin and its effects. It is inherently dependent upon the fallen men implementing it."

Sovereign Grace Polity Proposal (page 2)

Drop of Water

The SGM Pastors Conference has come to an end, and now it's back to the real world.  It appears the Sovereign Grace Polity Proposal (dated October 28, 2012) was made available just a few days before the Pastors Conference.  Why the delay?  Did they want to prevent SGM pastors from conducting a thorough review of the polity proposal prior to the pastors conference?

To read the treatise yourself (which is 79 pages long!), click on the above link.  I have perused the proposed book of church order and would like to highlight some of the parts that caught my attention.

First, I found it interesting that the polity proposal outlines the shared values of Sovereign Grace Churches, which are: (page 17)

a. Reformed soteriology

b. Gospel-centered expository preaching

c. Continuationist pneumatology

d. Complementarian leadership in the home and church

e. Elder-led churches

f. National and international outreach and church planting

g. Interdependent churches united in fellowship, mission, and governance

These values were listed early in the proposal (page 6) when ecclesiastical unity was described (see below).

"Fifth, ecclesiastical unity is part of our own shared history.

For over 30 years, SG churches have flourished as a result of their ecclesiastical unity. We moved in unity through the various winds and waves that were so prevalent in the 70s and 80s, particularly in charismatic churches. We have embraced as an ecclesiastical body the shared values that are, in part, what define us and give us doctrinal distinctives as SG churches. We are Reformed in our soteriology, gospel-centered in our preaching and teaching, continuationists in our pneumatology, complementarian in our view of leadership in the home and in the church, committed to church planting, and passionate in our corporate worship. SGM has been a great means of grace to our churches, and every SG elder has tasted the benefits of the ecclesiastical unity that SGM facilitated. We are loathe to abandon the rich legacy and fruitfulness of a true and thoroughgoing gospel partnership. We have lived in it for decades, and it is the hope of this Committee that our unity will continue, even as we seek to bring reform and refinement to our polity. "

Some would challenge whether there was true unity as changes were being implemented over to years to ride the "winds and waves" of change in Christendom.  It certainly appears that this "family of churches" has had an identity crisis over the years.  One has to wonder whether the name "Sovereign Grace Ministries" will soon go the way of Take and Give, People of Destiny, and PDI . . .   Why has C.J. Mahaney and his cohorts been so willing to hide behind a new name?

Church discipline is strongly emphasized in polity proposal – so what else is new?  Here is an excerpt from page 10:

"3. The Rules of Discipline

Church discipline promotes the glory of Christ, the purity of the church, and the restoration of the sinner. Agreeing upon rules of discipline for all SG churches will create an appropriate degree of uniformity in practice, help to avoid partiality and inconsistency in discipline and provide accountability for all members, pastors, and SG leaders.

Local elders are responsible to faithfully carry out the rules of discipline for members under their care."

The concluding paragraph, which is under the heading Rules of Discipline, contains a rather odd sentence.  Can you spot it below?

"The Regional Judicial Review Committee has responsibility for the public censure and removal of a church. SG has no right to a church’s assets. An elder who believes his case was mishandled by a Judicial Review Committee has the right to appeal to the SG Court of Appeal, and the SG Court of Appeal may review Judicial Review Committee rulings at their discretion." (page 10)

For those churches wishing to affiliate with SGM, the book of church order makes it very clear that they must conform to SGM's standards.  The polity proposal states (page 31):

"All the elders of the joining church affirm and submit to the polity of the Sovereign Grace churches as stated in the Book of Church Order, without taking any exceptions to it."

No exceptions!!!  We are 'in charge' – you must play by OUR RULES!  How many churches will be inclined to join this denomination given that hard-nosed position?

One of the most alarming sections of the SGM polity proposal is as follows (page 33):

"Beginning with the adoption of this SG Book of Church Order, any local church planted with the financial assistance of SGM cannot leave SG for 10 years without repaying any and all financial assistance that they received. Although this policy is not retroactive to church plants recently funded by SGM, it would be honorable for any church planted in the last five years choosing to leave SG to pay back voluntarily the church plant grant in subsequent years as it is reasonably able. This repayment would honor both the intention of the grant to plant a SG church and the intention of SGM donors to support the planting of SG churches."

It would be honorable for church plants leaving SGM to pay back their seed moneyThat is NOT biblical!  Can you imagine the Apostle Paul making such a request of the churches he planted? 

With regard to SGM women serving in ministry, the polity proposal 'informs' us that: (page 55)

"Although we wholeheartedly affirm the vital importance of the ministry of women in our churches, individual churches may differ on the acceptability of having women serve in the role of deacon. If a church decides to appoint women deacons, it is essential that the responsibilities of that role not violate other Scriptural commands that define and delineate the respective roles of men and women in the home and the church (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 11:3)."

There can be no doubt that women deacons who may be installed in SGM churches will "serve" in the most mundane of ways.  Since Capitol Hill Baptist Church has women deacons, SGM must follow suit. . .

Regarding the legal battles SGM is currently facing, perhaps this portion of the polity proposal was written for that reason:

"A member of a congregation must be enabled to pursue such accusations against leaders. Without this layer of accountability the possibility of some version of tyrannical leadership is easy to imagine." (page 49)

Page 43 discusses "paid elders" – an important hallmark for SGM congregations.  Perhaps having elders earn a salary is an effective means of controlling them?

And finally, the 'role of the congregation' is discussed on pages 55-59.  Five whole pages!!!  Yep, congregants are SO IMPORTANT to the SGM leaders. . .

I can't help but wonder whether these changes will make one ounce of difference.  After all, the same leaders are still "in charge".  It reminds me of the phrase "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."  It just looks SGM's modus operandi has finally been put in writing.  

Is SGM paving the way for polity changes that may be sweeping through SBC churches soon? 

We are just getting started discussing these important polity issues in Sovereign Grace Ministries.  What sections of the proposed polity stood out to you?

Lydia's Corner:   Leviticus 15:1-16:28   Mark 7:1-23   Psalm 40:11-17   Proverbs 10:13-14


Sovereign Grace Ministries Polity – Will Anything Really Change? — 58 Comments

  1. There can’t be a change of polity without a change of heart, and there won’t be a change of heart without a conviction of wrongdoing.

    But putting it all out there in writing sure makes it easier to enforce and reproduce, doesn’t it?

  2. “SGM: Maintaining Spiritual Contact… ‘Mission Impossible’ ? ”

    Is the Sovereign Grace Church Book Of Order…

    (out of order?)


    C.J., “The more you tighten your “grip”, the more SGM churches will simply slip right through your fingers…”


  3. In a word: no freakin' way!!! (Oops, that was three words, but still… ;))

    Seriously: no. It is cult-like and the members will never, ever have any say. They've always had things presented to them as faits accomplis, because after all, GOD spoke to the leaders and… (I know this from long-time observation of both CLC and Fairfax; also from my own 30+-year involvement in churches that came from the discipleship/shepherding movement. God does not deign to speak to the lowly – i.e., ordinary members – in these places – or so They would have you believe.) *

    On another note: Graham Spanier (former pres. of Penn State) finally got charged for perjury, conspiracy (et. al.) by the PA Attorney General in the ongoing grand jury investigation of Sandusky and PSU. Now *maybe* the faculty and can vote to remove him from the payroll entirely… he's still a faculty member, due to having tenure. (Which sets my hair on fire, but that's another story entirely! :))

  4. Pingback: Sovereign Grace Ministries Polity – Will Anything Really Change … |

  5. numo

    I hope Mahaney is watching. If these things went on under Mahaney’s watch, he is morally culpable and anyone who defends him shows the underbelly of SGM. All of their books and conferences are for naught.  To all of them I say “It’s the victims, stupid.”

  6. Honestly, I shuddered while reading that. So much micromanagement, so much control… it’s very creepy.

    If I were a Pastor, I would take one look at that and run far, far, far, far, far away. Without looking back.

  7. Searching,

    I had the very same reaction.  The number of pages devoted to the power and privilege of the ‘elders’ is mind-boggling.  Where is the Holy Spirit who works through all believers? 

  8. Searching and Deb,

    I had the same reaction as well. All designed to “elevate” the elders to the office of a Pharisee.

  9. “The human mind is peculiarly open to the approach of religious delusion. Man is naturally religious, but prone perhaps to mix with the pure gospels of a pure system, something of a grosser sort, and is inclined to bring the latter down, and to square it with his own poor humanity, when unable to raise himself to the level of an exalted faith. Hence we find the success of these new pretenders to new revelations, to be due less to the merit of what they teach, than to the weakness of their victims.” Nelson Winch Green

    There comes a point when it becomes apparent that what one thought was a real expression of the Christian faith, known as SGM, was, in fact, a delusion. And it is at that point, armed with an awareness of the truth that was suppressed under a corrupt system, coupled with the courage that springs from love for God and the courage of true convictions, one leaves SGM behind and walks away, ne er to return.

  10. @numo, Spanier will (a) have to be convicted first and (b) the crime will have to be one of “moral turpitude” to get him the left foot of fellowship from his tenured position. He’s 64, and I’d personally wish he would take early retirement, but it would harm his Social Security benefits for his spouse (he is married). I don’t think she should suffer because of his actions. I expect him to retire on July 18, 2013 (when he turns 65).

  11. It never ceases to amaze me how many different forms human beings’ desire for power and control can take. What strikes me about SGM’s approach, though, is that it lacks subtlety inasmuch as it pretty much blatantly admits that power is concentrated in the leaders and nowhere else.

    There are movements in Christendom that accomplish this much more subtly by portraying detailed doctrinal correctness (including very specific positions on things that are absolutely nonessential) as the source of power to a far greater degree and then having the leaders mediate this and spend a lot of time defining just who measures up to it and who doesn’t. This makes the standards appear objective and allows followers to internalize them and begin applying them themselves, which gives the illusion of shared power and a sense of not just belonging but exclusivity. The bottom line reality of power at the top differs little in this model, but it’s certainly easier to sell. It also creates some real monsters.

    It seems to me that SGM hasn’t quite mastered this more subtle approach, and I hope they never do.

    Lord have mercy on us and deliver us from all such temptations.

  12. Who are the elders? Are they CJ and other high ups in SGM? I can’t say that I’ve ever been to a church that has paid elders.

  13. (this is a continuation..accidentally hit the post comment button)

    From that standpoint, there comes the awareness that one will never find within SGM a true experience of the Christian faith. That is not to say that Christians are not to be found within the association of the “family of churches;” it means that the “association” under which their fellowship is shaped and informed can never reach the expression of true Christianity because it lacks the potential. The true gospel of Jesus Christ has been torn apart and replaced with a model that borrows certain phraseology, but in practice comes nothing close to the liberty that God wills for His children to experience through faith in Christ within the New Covenant.

    SGM is like Christianity, made in China. A cheap knock off that upon closer inspection reveals its nothing but a cheap imitation. It might look the same on the outside, but its value is FAR different.

    Buyer beware!!

  14. Evie,

    It is absolutely astounding to me how SBTS and SEBTS have embraced C.J. Mahaney. He will be one of the speakers at Southeastern’s 20/20 conference in February.

    I was shocked when Mahaney spoke at the very same conference in 2009. Four years later, they are stil promoting him. Shame on them!

    I will be warning my younger daughter who is in college NOT to attend.

  15. “I had the very same reaction. The number of pages devoted to the power and privilege of the ‘elders’ is mind-boggling. Where is the Holy Spirit who works through all believers? ”

    This is where Al Mohler is trying to take SBC churches. Where best to start that process? Teach them in seminary. But my all time fav is Dever who proclaims a congregational polity but operates as a shepherding cult.

  16. “It is absolutely astounding to me how SBTS and SEBTS have embraced C.J. Mahaney. He will be one of the speakers at Southeastern’s 20/20 conference in February”

    Akin, Pres of SEBTS, also embraced Mark Driscoll. Now, it is Mark who? A few weeks ago Akin gave an address at SEBTS that it would go “Calvinism over his dead body”.

    Wonder how he feels about groups like SGM who train their pastors to protect pedophiles? Seems he has no problem with it.

  17. Evie

    How sad that SGM is exporting their peculiar brand of Christianity to other countries.

    Knock-off is a great description!

  18. How sad that SGM is exporting their peculiar brand of Christianity to other countries. — Deb

    Cancer tends to metastasize.

  19. Anon 1,

    It’s hard for me to believe that the year Danny Akin preached through the book of Jude, I attended EVERY SINGLE chapel service! I learned a lot from him, but now he disappoints me. I would like to hear the sermon to which you referred. What was the title of it?

  20. I don’t get it either Deb. It’s like they’ve all conspired to capitalize on Christianity, and build themselves a mini Tower of Babel. May God confuse their language!

  21. Anon 1

    For clarification, I heard all of Akin’s sermons from Jude that year but only selective messages by other speakers.

  22. Evie, I have called our local evangelical non Calvinist mega church a Tower of Babel built to man….for years. It is also a 501c3 non profit for high paying jobs in ministry.

    It is not just the Calvinistas building great empires. They ARE better at it and with “no free will” doctrine have more inherent loyalty from the pew sitters much longer. After all, they remain totally depraved and need the anointed to teach them.

    Our job is to get the pew sitters to wake up.

  23. HUG

    When the truth about AMWAY became public knowledge, they had to start exporting their business scheme to other countries. Now the majority of their sales are derived from outside the US.

    Now SGM seems highly motivated to export its brand. Could it be for a similar reason?

  24. I haven’t read the polity document as yet, though I have skimmed through parts. And I’ve also been absorbing what I can from the SGM-insider comments of those who read it thoroughly and been analyzing/interpreting it. Those are helping me formulate my core questions for when/if I do go through the document myself …

    * What will I look for on the surface of the proposed system? (What do THEY say that it says?)

    * Then, what are indicators of inherent (but hidden) system issues within the *context* of the polity, and the specific *people* who will carry it out? (These create integrity problems that negate what’s been stated, or that amplify any strategically flawed “spiritual DNA” in the polity.)

    * How does what they declare and what they do line up with each other?

    * How do both of these line up with scripture? And are there indicators of spiritual abusive practices in either that taint both?

    Systemic and cultural and personality-idiosyncratic things like that … that’s what I’ll be looking for. Why? Anything can look great on paper, but see it alive in the actual system it creates, and that can be something entirely different. It’s like, it’s one thing to dissect a goldfish and analyze all its features. It’s another thing to consider if you’re watching the effects on it of swimming in an utterly polluted aquarium for years. Knowing the context changes the analysis. (I’m sure that’s one of the things we’d learn about systems analysis if House M.D. came to God’s House!)

    But, I do have three preliminary conclusions which don’t need to wait for “objective” analysis (as if there actually is such a thing). These are based on years of observing and thinking about systems similar to those of Sovereign Grace Ministries, whether the theoretical ones on paper, or the practical ones in real life.

    1. Legalistic systems that remove appropriate decision-making ability and responsibility from the everyday disciple neuters the gospel … or, dare I say, “Legalism irrevocably ungospels the Gospel.” Either you depend on the work of Jesus Christ for salvation AND on the work of the Holy Spirit for sanctification, or you depend on the theological certainty of your leaders and on their dictates for how to live perfectly.

    2. Sustainable social transformation happens in inverse proportion to the degree of authoritarian control over the so-called transformational organization. Restated: The more you focus on controlling your organizational strategies and structures and the people under your umbrella, the less constructive impact you have on the world around you.

    3. If an organization’s emphasis on paper and/or in practice is actually all about power, it’s not a spiritually balanced organization. Jesus said that the non-Kingdom people lord it over others; power is the nature of their kingdom. So, if strategies and structures and the people carrying them out are more about control of power than about compassion for people, that’s a red-letter from-the-lips-of-Jesus kind of an indicator it is a worldly system.

    Based on all the declarations and demonstrations from SGM insiders — and about SGM and SGM insiders — this much seems fairly clear: It’s attempting to portray itself as a big, healthy fish (but it’s in a huge toxic pond) and it’s trying to have significant impact for the gospel (but at the same time negating the reproductive and transformative power of the gospel through its theological and organizational legalism) and it’s trying to portray its past and current leaders as humble, mature, and skilled men (but won’t acknowledge the power issues involved or how it’s orbited around the conflicts and controversies of certain men for years, while Jesus seems to be standing at the door and knocking).

    Maybe I don’t really need to read the whole thing anyway.

    But I probably will. This just seems too strategic and providential of a lesson for us as a learning community not to.

  25. It would be honorable for church plants leaving SGM to pay back their seed money? That is NOT biblical! Can you imagine the Apostle Paul making such a request of the churches he planted?

    No, nor do I imagine him suing departing congregations for their money and property as the Episcopal Church has done. I belong to an Anglican congregation in Northern Virginia which lost its property, along with a substantial sum of money, earlier this year thanks to a court decision in favor of the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

    Getting back to SGM, it appears their authoritarian and legalistic agenda hasn’t changed one bit. I wonder how much longer the charade will last.

  26. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul making such a request of the churches he planted?

    No, but I can imagine Simon Magus not only making such a demand but going to court to get it.

  27. Before getting all uppity about their documents and reading them through the lens of what we know about certain leaders and their behavior, let’s not forget to consider that NONE of what they are doing is new.

    The whole “Book of Church Order” thing is a trait shared by nearly all Presbyterian and Reformed church bodies. The whole idea of churches “walking together” with a connected ecclesiology is to ensure uniformity in doctrinal and key practical issues. It also serves as an objective source of accountability for leaders: No one person is ever above the BCO, and changing the BCO requires general consensus and jumping through multiple hoops. Other traditions, like Methodist, have a “Book of Discipline” which serves a very similar function.

    This is how churches who reject congregational autonomy band together with other like minded groups to form denominations. I think it is a good thing. If ALL churches belonged to homogenous denominations, it would be easier to know which ones to avoid.

    Having “paid elders” is also nothing new. Most congregations pay their pastor a salary AND consider him an “elder.” In the Presbyterian tradition, you have teaching elders and ruling elders. The former are the seminary trained who are typically staff, while the later are lay persons.

    It seems that SGM is moving toward a more Presbyterian type of structure. This could be a very good thing and provide much more accountability. It also might have been motivated by some of their recent troubles.

    However, knowing what we do about the character of certain key players, I wouldn’t consider being part of such coalition without reading the BCO fine print VERY carefully. It could still be a pseudo-federalist facade to mask a secret oligarchy.

    These polity changes wil NEVER take hold in the SBC. The Baptist tradition is dogmatically committed to congregational autonomy. It’s one of many reasons I left.

    I don’t see anything fishy about the congregation only getting 4 pages. Would you feel better if they were given a longer list of responsibilities? I bet this is comparable to other church bodies.

    I don’t care at all for the “nobody has the right to tell ME what to do!” mindset when it comes to church structure. I believe in mutual accountability going both directions for everybody involved. Congregational autonomy does NOT provide this, but rather presents opportunities for successful religious entrepreneurs to become dictators of their own personal empires (like Driscoll).

    IMO, this is potentially an improvement.

  28. One thing that I haven’t been able to find in the polity is any real checks/balances, especially checks and balances of top leadership within SGM. That IMO is one of the major problems with SGM; top leaders, especially Mahaney, act more like “popes” with no accountability. Perhaps if there were more checks/balances then SGM wouldn’t have gotten to where they are at.

    Sadly, SGM Leaders really don’t think there is a problem with them or their actions including Mahaney’s. Thus this “new” polity is more of IMO a smoke screen to give the illusion of change when it isn’t addressing the real problem. It has also allowed upper leaders to tighter their grip on local SGM churches.

  29. @ Brad/Futurist guy:

    I think the Roman Catholic Church blows your #2 out of the water. EVERY organization has systems of authority. There is no such thing as pure mob rule: total anarchy is the exact opposite of organization itself. The question is not “is there authority?” but “who has the authority” and “are there checks and balances.” The Vatican has a ton of control over the Roman Catholic Church, and they have had a larger impact than any other religious organization in history. Organization with bad structure and malevolent leaders produces tyranny, but organization with good structure and benevolent leaders can lead to efficiency and effectiveness.

    As to #3, denominational structures are not about “lording it over people.” That is a anti-authoritarian straw man. They were created to foster harmony and unity so that groups agreeing in doctrine and practice can work together effectively on mission. Most “lording it over” comes from hyper-independent churches where monarchs are free to enforce their own agenda. Do you need examples of this?

  30. 2 small bones to pick with the shared values, aside from the obvious:
    b. Gospel-centered expository preaching
    So EXPOSITORY preaching is the only acceptable style? Isn’t there a wide variety of gospel-centered preaching by Christ and the Apostles? What percentage would be considered “expository” by modern preachers? Christ’s exposition of Isaiah 61:1-2 (in Luke 4) comes to mind. And his exposition took what– one minute? Plus an interruption where others were talking? And no sermon the next week on the next verses, after the little incident on the cliff!
    f. National and international outreach and church planting
    Long ago, I was on a church committee for Outreach and Evangelism. How did evangelism come to be replaced by “Church Planting”?

  31. @ Miguel on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 03:33 PM and 03:44 PM.

    I had a few thoughts, for what they’re worth, on some of the points you brought up.

    The Roman Catholic Church may blow PART of #2 out of the water. I’ll reflect some more on your point about when there are some decent structures and benevolent leaders, and there is externalized ministry with constructive impact.

    However, I think the rest of your own paragraph may prove another part of #2. I didn’t state my assumption, but had in mind leaders whose character shows them to be UNqualified for public service (due to spiritual immaturity, mismatched spiritual giftings, or development lack in ministry skills) or DISqualified from public service (due to unrepentant sin, abusive behaviors, misuse of authority to overlord people) who nevertheless create an organization of control that orbits around their “cult of personalities.” The organization may talk about missional impact, it may look like it makes social impact for change, but doesn’t prove so in the long run — it’s caught up with internal focus on its celebrities.

    The same unstated assumption about unqualified/disqualified leaders was behind my thinking on #3. When power and prestige are the actual focus — despite statements about unity and harmony — the decision-makers in the organization also seem to end up the beneficiaries. I’m not against authority, I’m not for anarchy or authoritarianism. I’m for accountability and responsibility by everyone in a system, and for trust and entrustment into leaders who demonstrate themselves as qualified by mature, Christlike character, and solid service to others.

    As Price Pritchett wisely suggests in *The Ethics of Excellence*, “The organization can never be something the people are not.” It seems to me a related idea ~ For better or for worse, the organization will be what the leaders are. – is relevant to SGM. Jesus said that when a pupil has been fully trained, he’ll be like his master. Perhaps *some* presbyterianish structure is reasonable for codifying things when you have trustworthy authority and a genuine desire for communal discernment. But when it merely codifies the theories of those who in practice seem only to have created a track record of control, conflict, and controversy, the start-up polity is infused by pollution.

    Which is why I tried to illustrate the differences between studying a fish in an isolation lab, versus observing it in its real-world context.

    And perhaps that is why you yourself stated in your earlier comment, “However, knowing what we do about the character of certain key players [in SGM], I wouldn’t consider being part of such coalition without reading the [Book of Church Order] fine print VERY carefully. It could still be a pseudo-federalist facade to mask a secret oligarchy.”

  32. Well, I have to say that I am impressed in one respect – they have thought about it and have written 75 pages about it. That is more detail than I would have expected from people with this profile.

    I am not going to read the 75 pages, mind you.

    I did not see anything about a head apostle.

    Also, I could not really figure out from your summary what the relationship between SGM churches and the higher ups is.

    They have ecclesiastical courts, which means they must have some authority. It’s clear that the churches own their own property. That’s good.

    But what would SGM do with a church that made a decision it did not like?

  33. Anonymous –

    They’ve gone 30 years without structure and the structure they want to put in place (this is proposed polity . . . but not really) does not include the congregation’s input at all. It is a hierarchy with only elders deciding anything and the group above decided over the the group below.

    BTW – CJ has already placed his most ardent fans all around him. The co-elders at his church are his son-in-law, his brother-in-law, and his best friend and enabler for the past 30 years. How could they judge anything brought against CJ? They have all run off to Louisville from CLC with CJ. Would anyone in their right mind approach this group with an issue regarding CJ? Would the other three ever bring something to a local board regarding CJ? CJ has created a little place of refuge for himself.

  34. @ Brad/Futurist guy:

    Well said. I can’t explain why, but I have some sort of extremely naive optimism when it comes to federalist ecclesial polity. I understand there is no substitute for good leaders, but I have to believe that good leaders design and implement good systems so that future generations will have the tools to protect themselves from bad men who somehow gain higher positions.

    The reason I am so assertive about better structures is because bad teachers are just short of promised to us in Scripture. To not be prepared for them is foolish, imo. I’ve suffered in churches where nobody had the guts to stand up to the pastor, or they were angry enough but felt too dumb to argue with him. So people just slowly leave over time and a once vibrant ministry dies off.

    I’m not nearly as optimistic that SGM will do an about face with their track record. But I do know that Ligon Duncan belongs to the PCA who, IMO, has one of the more exemplary denominational structures, and the fact that SGM even uses the term “Book of Church Order” just smells like LD may be taking a guiding hand. He ain’t getting that idea from Dever or Mohler, that’s for sure!

    If SGM had PCA polity this whole time, I strongly doubt they would have been able to conceal the abuse in their midst, and people run over by the pastors would have had a much more objective, non-kangaroo court with levels of appeal. But instead, they have Charismatic polity, in which the lead personality is anointed of God and above questioning. Having done time in that system as well, I readily embrace the red tape of denominational structure because I see it as a safety net. I hope SGM builds one, but I’m not holding my breath.

  35. @ Anonymous: It probably depends on the decision. Mauve carpet? Nothing they can do about it. Cessationist doctrine? Grounds for expulsion. These things tend to be not so much about control as uniformity. The idea is that if your church wields the SGM logo, they should reflect SGM doctrine, and their methods should be derived from this doctrine. If you’re committed to Arminian theology, you have no business in this group. The group should have the ability to draw self-defining lines. However, if, as Bridget says, the highest court of appeals is the same ring of culprits, then we really haven’t made any progress at all, have we?

    I wonder how the other SGM churches feel about this. If CJ and Co have a monopoly on the highest court, this actually gives them more control. If they follow more traditional federalist polity with some sort of General Assembly being the highest court of appeal, then every Pastor in the denomination gets a chance to speak out against CJ.

  36. Miguel,

    I really appreciate the information you shared about Presbyterian polity. I don’t know much about it.

    Based on your remarks about SBC polity, you must not be aware of recent trends in some Southern Baptist churches (primarily reformed ones) regarding polity. There is a definite trend toward elder led SBC congregations. I have had personal experience with this kind of church polity as has Dee. Perhaps I will write about it next week.

  37. Deb –

    My guess is that Mohler and many in the SBC would just love to have a polity like the one above . . . no need to have any accountability to the congregants. They just get in the way.

  38. I’ve been part of 4 SBC churches that were “Elder lead.” The difference between that and Presbyterianism is that each individual congregation’s elders answer to nobody outside themselves in an autonomous church. The elders, or “session” in a PCA church are accountable to the Presbytery, which is made up of elders from all the churches in a region, and the Presbyteries answer to the Synod, which is a larger geographical area of several Presbyteries, and the Synods answer to the General Assembly, held once a year. This is typically considered the highest authority in the system, and it’s held once a year or so, and every congregation has the ability to send elder representatives to participate in the decision making. I learned about it from a PCA minister whose church I almost joined. Believe me, the SBC will never go there. Their congregations are too proud of their independence. The whole idea of federalism in church structure is to emphasize interdependence so that we have to cooperate together in misson. The Christian Missionary Alliance also uses a similar structure. It’s based off of early NT church models prior to the development of the Episcopal model and older Jewish synagogue governance ideas from as far back as Moses and the 50 elders.

    It sounds painfully complicated, full of meetings and litigations, but the goal is that every injustice gets its day in court. The predominance of Presbyterianism among early Americans had a significant influence on the way the Federal Government was set up: checks and balances.

  39. Eagle – I just discovered the Rick Ross site last week when I was trying to find information on Landmark Forum – there was a huge realm of information. I’d be interested in anyone’s experiences with those intensive type experiences? (btw not going, not interested and find their marketing using former and current friends extremely pushy)

  40. In an earlier comment [Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 12:32 PM] I said in point #2: “Sustainable social transformation happens in inverse proportion to the degree of authoritarian control over the so-called transformational organization. Restated: The more you focus on controlling your organizational strategies and structures and the people under your umbrella, the less constructive impact you have on the world around you.”

    That was sort of an intuitive conclusion I’d come to over the years. I thought about it some more the past few days, trying to put in the mix Miguel’s comments, which gave me a helpful push-back to clarify my assumptions and conclusions. Here’s what I came up with as a more analyzed reasoning behind the intuition.

    This is kind of how the chain of questions and observations occurred to me last night and this morning:

    * How much social transformation is about justice issues? A lot …

    * How many justice issues deal with an individual, a group or class or country bullying other individuals or groups? Hmmm …

    * So, if we want to role-model social justice and spark cultural transformation — i.e., “minister in the marketplace” of society — we’re going to have to deal with various forms of bullying: in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, in our churches.

    * But, if we haven’t resolved bullying in our own organizations, how can we have an authentic missional presence about how people as individuals and as communities can be changed? The organization can never be what the people are not; the organization will eventually be what the “leaders” are.

    * And, the more we focus on social control inside our organizations, the more probable it is that bullying is going on [and this is where some really helpful clarification came from Miguel’s comments] DEPENDING ON THE CHARACTER OF THOSE IN CHARGE. As the Apostle Paul quotes from a secular proverb, “Bad company corrodes good morals.” Despite surface appearances and social niceties and endorsements by outsiders and insiders, it all boils down to actual character and whether someone is qualified to lead through appropriate maturity + spiritual gifts + skills, unqualified due to lack in those areas, or disqualified due to bad character and abusive behaviors.

    * If self-serving people are in control, whether through highly organized structures (compliance) or less organized structures (chaos), the tactics of coercion and manipulation typically include guilt, shame, and fear. These people are the ultimate beneficiaries of the system (through power, privilege, funds, etc.); they’ll manipulate as needed to get what they want.

    * An organization that orbits around coercion and control (whether by compliance or chaos) demonstrates a lot of activity, but that is not a forward trajectory. It’s just anchoring itself in toxicity and can almost never reach health and sustainability. [About the only example I know where a “cult” changed is the Worldwide Church of God, and I plan eventually to do a case study on that to see how they went from legalism to freedom.]

    * When the energies of the people in the organization are on conformity and perfection — not unity and purpose — it is toxic. It can only reproduce what it is … more malignancy … not personal or social transformation.

    From what experiences I’ve had in difficult non-ministry situations, these principles may also apply in businesses and social organizations and non-profits and universities that have no explicit spiritual intent — but can allow just as much bullying behaviors as malignant ministries do.

    So, in what I’ve seen thus far of Sovereign Grace Ministries, the uber-organization is orbiting around the mega-drama created by a limited cast of characters and their personal issues and interpersonal conflicts. There is significant evidence of perfectionism and a strongly controlled systems culture of compliance, such as Robert Jay Lifton describes in his classic 8 criteria of the “psychology of totalism.” I am hard pressed to consider SGM as healthy, missional, sustainable. It is internally corroded and is likely to implode. Revisions in polity rarely help when the revisers still seem to be the prime beneficiaries of the power that is apparently just being redistributed — but within a system that is unjust.

    (And I do think I’ve personally observed a few situations where a presbyterian form of polity actually worked well, but then, the leaders involved were transparent, humble, wise people who inspired trust.)

    Hope that’s of some help in fleshing out some earlier statements …

    In case interested, I’ve gone through Lifton’s 8 criteria in a three-part series that starts at the link below, and I know others with survivor blogs have addressed these a lot, too:

  41. Great comment Brad. This really stood out to me:

    When the energies of the people in the organization are on conformity and perfection — not unity and purpose — it is toxic.

    Awhile back I read some books on abusive types of relationships and one, by Patricia Evans, described how there is a separate reality, as it were, that some people live in. Rather than living in a reality in which relationships are entered into on the basis of “mutuality and co-creation,” there are those whose relationships are characterized by competition, dominance & control. Another way of saying “mutuality and co-creation” would be “unity and purpose,” as you stated.

    What was described in the book “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” helped me understand and deal with the problem of the toxicity that results when you have two separate realities competing for acceptance. What often happens, and I can attest to this from my own experience, is that the person who approaches a relationship on the basis of mutuality & co-creation assumes others do too, and continue to relate to them out of their reality without recognizing or accepting that it is an impossibility to get someone living within a reality where relationships are about control & dominance to build on the basis of unity & mutuality. It isn’t until the separate realities are recognized that necessary changes can be made, and expectations are adjusted.

    I once heard someone observe, “The devil hates reality, because in reality, Jesus Christ is Lord.”

    I think the bible attests to there being a warfare going on over whose reality is going to be THE reality. Christians know that the Word of God defines reality, and that those who conform their lives to the truth are those living the most closely to reality. The devil can only create false realities, counterfeits of the real thing, in an effort to keep people the darkness. The nature of deception, in my view, always involves an attempt to draw people into a reality that is, at its basis, not founded on the truth.

    This, I believe, is the reason born-again believers who have been translated out of the realm of falsehood, end up vehemently opposed to SGM. And this is why I refer to the organization as a cult. Why? Because they have built a reality that is false, and they have done so by using the Name and the Book as weapons in their deceptions. Those who agree with the organization they have built, or don’t experience it as a problem, will not see the reality

  42. Good facebook post from
    Brent Detwiler
    Sovereign Grace Ministries Aborts Simplicity of New Testament Polity
    Eph 4:7-8, 11-13 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…
    Like · · Share · 24 minutes ago ·

  43. Hey Dave A A,

    Brent Detwiler gets on my tit (to borrow the British expression).

    I know some of what he says makes senses and is applicable. And good for him for documenting so much and sharing it as evidence of the “pride, deceit and hypocrisy” of CJ Mahaney that he points out.

    He spent a great deal of time building up SGM along with CJ Mahaney. He keeps mentioning those who have “deep love” for CJ, and he has stated that has been his position in all of this as well.

    But what I hear him saying is that he has deeply loved CJ, just as Josh Harris has. Just as the “18 men” who “were all loyal and devoted friends and followers of C.J. Their lives and ministries were largely built around C.J. and his leadership” just as Brent Detwiler’s life had been.

    He then writes, “What the Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesian churches were in NT times; Gaithersburg has been throughout the 30 year history of SGM.”

    Seriously? Um, that’s hardly the case. I think Brent thinks that way because he hasn’t recognized that his own contribution wasnt as rooted in New Testament Christianity as he would like to believe. If he were to think anything else, it would amount to him having realized and admitted to having had his hand in creating something that is biblically unsustainable precisely because of the way it was built. Because of how he helped build it.

    I don’t think SGM isn’t changing because CJ isn’t “repentant” like what Brent is waiting for him to become. I think it’s not changing because CJ Mahaney is the same as he’s always been. It’s all just more of the same. And Brent needs to see that what he contributed to was something fundamentally flawed. It’s notthing somethign that was once like a NT church. Detwiler must still envision himself as some kind of apostle, like he was once referred to in SGM, who planted authentic NT churches rather than help lay the foundations of a cult.

  44. Hi Eagle –

    Well, that is a loaded question. Can I ask which SG church he is in and how long has he been there?

    It sounds somewhat crazy, but the closeness to the epicenter, and the amount of years that someone has been drinking the doctrine, do seem to have a large impact on how people process what is going on there. Add in someone’s involvement with inner circle leaders and you have an even harder shell to crack, so to speak.

    If you would like to have Dee send me your email, we can take the conversation off line. I could be more free with where I am coming from in my journey as well. I have changed my thinking drastically in the past 18 months. In fact, I have changed so much it surprises me! At the same time, Jesus has become ever more near and dear to me 🙂

  45. SGM also encourages the establishment of robust child protection policies and procedures based on best practices.

    Best practices??? Really?

  46. Exactly, Victorious – so robust they prevent people from exercising their First Amendment rights by calling authorities.

    I’ve been ranting about this on my blog. Their behavior is so predictable. Why do they need to issue THREE press releases about this lawsuit unless it’s about their image. Yea, my pastor was all about his image, too (oopsie, daisie, he even removed part of his “press release” on his website without telling anyone – good thing for screen shots, eh?). I find being concerned about one’s image to be contrary to what scripture teaches on humility. They could easily pull the persecution card, (woe is me, the victims are persecuting us by taking us to court) but even if they did that, they should remain quiet and humble, not carrying on with 3 press releases.

    They should have studied behavior of spiritual abusers in lawsuits to know how to behave. There are schools for this: Creepy Spiritual Abuse School (CSAS).

  47. We are saddened that lawyers are now, in essence, seeking to violate those rights by asking judges and juries, years after such pastoral assistance was sought, to dictate what sort of biblical counsel they think should have been provided.

    Yes, how dare the law get involved? Are these people for real??? Do they not know the difference between “biblical counsel” and breaking the law?

  48. “We are saddened that lawyers are now, in essence, seeking to violate those rights by asking judges and juries, years after such pastoral assistance was sought, to dictate what sort of biblical counsel they think should have been provided.”

    Really makes you want to try pastoral assistance if there’s no appeal allowed.

    Also, I guess that 3 year old girl forced to confront and forgive her abuser should just keep quiet about the quality of biblical counsel she received, being she was in a sufficient place of mental and emotional maturity to decide who to trust for wise counsel.

  49. Also interesting (rather I should say disgusting) is the mention of “years after” as though time makes the incidents less significant.