"I'm here because I love my friend Mark Dever who I often refer to as O Captain, My Captain … and that's said with full affection and because nobody more effectively orders me to do things than Mark does. And I love it; he just bosses me around and tells me what to do, and it's a pure joy to follow him, so I'm here because I want to learn from him and the other men speaking and because I want to serve him in any way I can because I am indebted to him."
C.J. Mahaney (1:55 mark)
Mark Dever and C.J. Mahaney have been close friends for quite some time, and I wondered for several years when they became acquainted. When Mahaney spoke at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in February 2011, he confirmed that he and Dever met 15 years ago. See our post Mark Dever – C.J. Mahaney's BFF.
In case you're not familiar with the phrase "O Captain! my Captain!" (Mahaney's description of Dever), it is the refrain in Walt Whitman's poetic tribute to Abraham Lincoln. Whitman penned this extended metaphor poem in 1865 after Lincoln's assassination. (link)
In September 2009 (6 months after we launched TWW), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) co-sponsored a conference with 9Marks (Dever's ministry) called God Exposed. The above quote is from Mahaney's Expository Faithfulness message. Here is how he began that talk:
"I love 9Marks, but I’m more of an 8Marks guy, and I’m very grateful for Mark’s understanding of congregationalism. I respect him for his conviction, and how do I put this delicately? I totally disagree with him. Um Nah. So, I was at a members meeting; I was privileged to be there, and they were voting on Michael Lawrence if my memory serves me and whether they should invite him, welcome him, as part of the pastoral team. And I just got caught up in that, I thought well, most definitely, he should be a part of the pastoral team. You’ve talked about that, the process has taken place, and it was just one of those memorable moments where I thought I must participate and after I did participate, then I felt just guilty for just a moment because I thought no one here seated around me knows who I am so I turned to the older gentleman next to me and I just said I’m not a member of the church, but I just got caught up in the proceedings, and I'm a fan of Mark Dever, and he was very polite and kind to me and so that was my experience and that's why I voted, and I'm glad I voted." (followed by the Mahaney cackle)
Much has happened in Sovereign Grace Ministries since that 2009 conference, and it is appears that congregationalism continues to be a contentious issue. Since Mahaney affirmed that he only embraces eight of the nine marks put forth by 9Marks, I am making the assumption that the mark with which he takes issue is membership (which involves congregational input through voting at Dever's church).
A year ago Jonathan Leeman, a regular contributor on the 9Marks website, wrote a post entitled The Kingdom Gain of Congregationalism, in which he stated:
"Congregationalism is administratively inefficient. It provokes quarrelling and divisiveness. It caters to the most immature members of a church. It cultivates individualism. It undermines pastors. And it just might add to global hunger, strife in the Middle East, and the commercialization of Christmas.
These are the types of things for which congregationalism is sometimes dismissed.
Furthermore, congregationalism is crucial for the growth of Christ’s kingdom on earth."
Why does Leeman believe congregationalism is so important? He explains:
"With authority comes responsibility. The head of a family, a company, or an army battalion bears more responsibility than every other member of the group. That’s not to say that other members of the group don’t bear any responsibility, but they do not bear it for every member of the group the way a leader does.
In a congregational church, every member jointly shares the authority, and therefore every member jointly owns the responsibility. By giving every new member a “vote” (in some cultural contexts) or by requiring some type of congregational “consensus” (in other cultural contexts), congregationalism says to every member joining the church, “You now have a share in the authority of this congregation, and therefore you now have a responsibility for this congregation and its gospel witness.” "
In other words, congregationalism involves more than participating in the life of the church. It involves owning a church’s gospel witness. Pardon the business analogy, but you become a shareholder. By joining, you are taking ownership of what your church teaches and of every single member’s discipleship. And with ownership and authority come responsibility."
Given Mahaney's strong aversion to congregationalism, I find it fascinating that Covenant Life Church, where he pastored for 27 years, will be engaged in this process in the coming weeks. Earlier today Brent Detwiler published a post entitled Covenant Life Pastors Ask Members to Support Separation from SGM in the Best Interest of Church. Here is a portion of a letter sent to CLC members by the pastors:
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
We hope this note finds you well. As mentioned in Monday’s blog post, today we’re providing fuller details on the voting process that’s coming up.
We see voting as a simple mechanism to help us move forward in peace and unity. We thought it would be wise to specifically ask you to support your pastors in the decision to end Covenant Life’s formal association with Sovereign Grace Ministries. We have sought the Lord together over a long period of time and believe that taking this step of separation is in the best interest of our church.
Voting opens November 21 and closes December 12.
Members will receive an e-mail reminder on November 21 that voting has opened. Members without e-mail addresses will receive notice via U.S. mail.
The question on the ballot will read: “Do you support the pastors in the decision to end Covenant Life Church’s formal association with Sovereign Grace Ministries?”
Members will select “yes” or “no” and also certify that they are casting the ballot on their own behalf.
The tally will include only those who vote, so we encourage every member to do so via electronic or paper ballot.*
Considering what Mahaney stated above about church members voting, one can only imagine what he thinks about this process that will be taking place at his former church. Not only that, CLC appears to be in the process of adopting a new constitution, which you can read here. Although CLC will continue to be elder-led, the proposed constitution stipulates that the congregation will have voting responsibilities.
Finally, it is fascinating that Covenant Life Church will be hosting a conference in January called The Gospel at Work, featuring Mark Dever and several other speakers. One has to wonder whether C.J. Mahaney still refers to Mark as 'O Captain, my Captain'.
Despite the shake-up in Sovereign Grace Ministries, C.J. Mahaney has several upcoming appearances in the coming year including:
- 20/20 Conference at SEBTS called Gospel and Mission (aimed at college students)
- The Gospel Coalition's World Missions Conference. The topic Mahaney will address has not yet been revealed. Interestingly, Mark Dever and Joshua Harris (who spoke at the last TGC National Conference) are not included in the list of speakers at the upcoming national conference (which will take place at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando – where the SGM Pastors Conference was held). You might be interested to know that SGM processes the registrations for the conference, according to The Gospel Coalition website (see below).
Sovereign Grace Ministries provides event registration for The Gospel Coalition, T4G, and other ministries in addition to its own group of churches. (link)
It is an interesting time for the Young Restless and Reformed (YRR) crowd, which appears to be living up to its name. There appears to be much restlessness, which causes me to wonder whether they truly believe in the sovereignty of God. He is in control. . .
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 2:1-3:51 Mark 11:27-12:17 Psalm 47:1-9 Proverbs 10:24-25