"Victims of their heavy-handed, authoritarian abuses (of which I number myself) are taking to social media in ever-increasing numbers to let their fellow pew-sitters hear about the outrageous abuses they have suffered in churches who have implemented the 9Marx manifesto."
Todd Wilhelm, our friend in the United Arab Emirates who blogs at Thou Art The Man, has put together an important post about 9Marks, which he has given us permission to re-publish.
For those who may be new to TWW, Todd contacted us several years ago while he was still a member of the United Christian Church of Dubai (UCCD), a 9Marks affiliated church. UCCD's senior pastor John Folmar was led to Christ by Mark Dever (which Folmar revealed in an SEBTS chapel message). Dever and Folmar were colleagues at Capitol Hill Baptist Church for a number of years before Folmar was chosen to lead UCCD.
Todd, who is an avid reader, was approached by leaders in his church to head up the book ministry (actually, bookstore). Prior to moving to Dubai, Todd and his wife had been members of a church in Arizona that was affiliated with C.J. Mahaney's Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). While stateside, they became concerned about Mahaney and SGM. When Todd was approached about the book ministry, he explained that he could not promote Mahaney's books. Given the close friendship between Mark Dever and C.J. Mahaney, you can probably imagine how Todd's position regarding Mahaney was received by the UCCD pastors.
Church leadership then realized Todd was not the right man for this responsibility. Not long after, Todd and his wife submitted their resignation letter to the church. The UCCD elders expected the Wilhelm's to join another church in short order since they had signed a membership covenant mandating it. Todd and his wife wanted to take their time in choosing another church, given their negative experiences. Six l-o-n-g months went by, and the Wilhelms found out secondhand that their names had finally been removed from the church roll at UCCD.
A couple years ago Todd traveled to Washington, D.C. and Dee and I (along with others in the TWW community who live near D.C.) had the tremendous opportunity of meeting him. We are so proud of our courageous friend Todd. Without further ado, here is his post.
It is evident that the 9Marx para-church organization has been experiencing an increasing amount of push-back by the proletariat; well deserved I might add. Victims of their heavy-handed, authoritarian abuses (of which I number myself) are taking to social media in ever-increasing numbers to let their fellow pew-sitters hear about the outrageous abuses they have suffered in churches who have implemented the 9Marx manifesto. The video above was a made to advertise a break-out session at the T4G 2016 conference held this past April in Louisville. The conference marked C.J. Mahaney’s return to big time “Christian” celebrity status and it attracted around 10,000 individuals, many of them pastors. Most of the conference-goers demonstrated no concern that Mahaney, credibly charged with blackmail and covering-up sexual abuse of children in his denomination, was returned to the stage with the blessing and aid of the celebrity preachers they all idolize. 9Marx leader Mark Dever and his trusty lieutenant, Jonathan Leeman, saw this as a perfect chance to indoctrinate the pliable young preachers into the 9Marx way while reassuring them that the horror stories of abuse they may have heard about were simply errors of a few overzealous young preachers who lacked wisdom. (One might rightly wonder what this says about Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, ground zero for 9Marx indoctrination, and the institution of choice for many Mark Dever wannabees.) I give credit to Dever and Leeman for their video. They engage their critics head-on in the folksy, disarming manner that Dever is known for.
There is one problem with Dever’s narrative; the abusive, heavy-handed authoritarian mannerisms prevalent among some 9Marx pastors cannot be relegated solely to the young and inexperienced.
I quit United Christian Church of Dubai over matters of conscience. One major takeaway I gained from my time at the 9Marx United Christian Church of Dubai is that I will never again join a church that requires a “membership contract” or “membership covenant.” You will find these covenants are being pushed by 9Marx and are becoming ever more prevalent among evangelical churches. I do not believe that they can be justified biblically. The main purpose of these contracts seems to be to discipline members who have fallen out of the good graces of church leaders. They particularly like to utilize the clause “We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.” I have had this used against me when I quit UCCD. UCCD church leadership did not want to remove me from their membership roster because I chose to attend an Anglican church. I was told by a UCCD elder that the Rector of the local Anglican church was not even a Christian and therefore I was not in compliance with this clause!
In the end, common sense prevailed and they backed down from this crazy accusation. However, I have another friend who asked to be removed from the membership roster of UCCD because he no longer believed the institutional church model was biblically correct. He chose to go to a home church. It boiled down to an issue of conscience. UCCD excommunicated him, essentially proclaiming they have the right to bind a man’s conscience.
The senior pastor of UCCD is not some young, inexperienced man. I would guess he is in his late forties, a former lawyer who worked for a powerful North Carolina Senator. He was converted by the direct efforts of Mark Dever, went to SBTS to obtain his M.Div and then returned to Capitol Hill Baptist Church where he served as an assistant pastor under Mark Dever for several years prior to accepting the senior pastor’s job in Dubai. Dr. Albert Mohler gave him an award for distinguished work as an SBTS graduate. He remains good friends with Mark Dever, talks to him frequently and has had him in Dubai on three or four occasions for seminars. All this to say that Dever’s characterization of problematic 9Marx pastors does not reside solely with the young, over-enthusiastic pastors short on life experience. I, therefore, conclude there must be something systemically wrong with 9Marx teachings, particularly as it relates to church membership and discipline.
We are now six months removed from the T4G conference and the break-out session Dever and Leeman conducted on 9Marx doctrines. It would appear that many pastors who subscribe to the 9Marx doctrines are still not getting it right, as stories of abuse continue to surface. The 9Marx moniker seems to be gaining usage among the proletariat while the official 9Marks moniker is losing respect. Time for Dever’s lieutenant, Jonathan Leeman, to spring back into action and attempt some “brand enhancement”.
This brings me to the impetus for today’s blog. As one who has been combatting both physical and spiritual abuse in the evangelical church, I have been privileged to make many new friends. Many of them are victims and/or family members of victims. One such woman wrote a book review on Amazon’s website on Mark Dever’s “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.” Below is a screen shot of her review.
Note: For a full description of what Grace experienced at her 9Marx church check out her blog here.
I would say she went easy on her ex-church. She discovered a convicted ex-offender is attending the church and questions why the pastors and elders have not brought this to the attention of the adults. Their response is outrageous! They lie to her, saying he is harmless and coming off Megan’s list, refuse to alert the membership to the pervert's presence, and then excommunicate her. Are you kidding me? They should be sued for reckless endangerment of church members. As a minimum, all the men who took part in this travesty of justice should be removed from their positions. This is not easy to do in a 9Marx, elder led church. Typically the senior pastor surrounds himself with a pack of yes-men for elders and the congregation has an impossible task of removing the tyrant. This being the case the godly members have two options, walk away from their church or cease financial support.
Remember, in the video above, Dever and Leeman are attempting to sell us the narrative that the abusive leadership style is just with a few young, overly enthusiastic pastors. Grace’s pastor, like mine, was in his late forties.
Leeman utilizes this book review as a teaching moment for the 9Marx faithful, after all, in the video above he states “We’re all going to be in a kind of a learning process about how to do these things well, and I think this is just a part of the growth process for all of us.” Dever then chimes in with a “Yeah, amen.” Aside from the troubling fact that 9Marx church members are relegated to the status of lab rats while the 9Marx boys are engaged in their learning process, what type of learning process is required to know that, as a pastor, you must warn church members of a convicted sex offender in their midst? If you don’t understand that you have no business being a pastor.
We suffer no shortage of men in the ministry that are sorely lacking any real world experience. Also sorely lacking is a lick of common sense. They have spent their lives in academia and once they graduate they want to write books and speak at conferences telling us how it’s all to be done.
“Woe also to you experts in the law! You load people with burdens that are hard to carry, yet you yourselves don’t touch these burdens with one of your fingers.” That’s Jesus speaking, not me. Check it out – Luke 11:46
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s examine what Leeman has to say. Below is a screen shot from his article. I suggest you read the article, which can be found here.
Let me begin with the positive. The following are some comments Leeman made that I readily agree with.
“Something I appreciate about Mark Dever is that he’s not short on strong opinions, but if you spend any time with him, you’ll discover that he is one of the stronger advocates of Christian freedom I know. I’d even say he cultivates a sanctified irreverence toward so many evangelical false pieties. We’d do well to do the same.”
I like guys with strong opinions, I acknowledged this in an article I wrote two years ago concerning Dever’s views on baptism. Glad to hear he cultivates a sanctified irreverence toward so many evangelical false pieties. I don’t need to do much cultivating, mine are pretty much thriving!
“We want to cultivate the humility and freedom of honest uncertainty. The person who has difficulty saying, “I don’t know,” in the best case, will just come across as a know-it-all. In the worse case, they will give answers where Scripture doesn’t actually give them, and impose on people what should not be imposed.”
I wonder if Leeman gardens as a hobby. He seems to like to cultivate! I agree with the statement above, just not sure I see much uncertainty emanating from 9Marx.
“The abusive use of authority, as much as anything, is about wanting control and respect. It roots in a kind of idolatry and godlessness.”
True statement. I and hundreds of others who formerly attended 9Marx churches can testify to this.
“Mark 10: Beware of giving more authority to your heroes than to the Bible.”
Amen to that Mr. Leeman. I know of at least 10,000 pastors that need to “cultivate” this truth.
“There’s a temptation young pastors and 9Marks-types are susceptible to: we can love our vision of what a church should be more than we love the people who comprise it.”
Yep, again, hundreds of hurting, abused former 9Marx members will attest to this fact. This may be a good place to insert another 9Marx horror story that I have knowledge of. A small baptist church I attended prior to moving to Dubai was doing well. There were about 150 members. After I had moved to Dubai the pastor left for a bigger church. He was replaced by a young 9Marx devotee who shortly thereafter brought in an assistant pastor who was rabidly 9Marx. Within about 2 years they managed to decimate the church. Many people left, many deeply hurt. Membership is now 25-30 people. The two pastors have moved on, where they can continue their learning curve at some other unfortunate church’s expense. My old church is struggling to keep the doors open.
The following statements I have issues with.
“Anecdotally, most (or all?) of the unfortunate cases of church discipline I have heard about in recent years have occurred in non-congregational churches, where the elders are free to impose their will on the congregation. I’m sure congregational churches have failed in this area as well.”
I totally disagree with you on this Mr. Leeman. Most I have heard about, including the two I have personal knowledge of, are congregational. Of course, the definition of “congregational” varies greatly. Your friend at UCCD claims to be congregational, but in reality, it is a (to quote a former member in my care group) “benevolent dictatorship.” This from a guy who sincerely loved the pastor, but he called a spade a spade. At the time I agreed with his assessment, but I would now drop the first word of the two-word description.
“I don’t often hear criticism with language this strong; maybe one or two other times.”
I am not surprised Mr. Leeman. You need to get out more. Seriously, though, I would guess you spend the majority of your time with guys who treat you like MacArthur is treated above. Additionally, many in your tribe don’t want to hear from people like me on social media. Tim Challies no longer allows comments on his blog. Albert Mohler probably never did. And then there is this:
“We should be very reluctant to require anything not expressly set down in Scripture. For instance, the leaders of the Shepherding Movement of the 1970s were rightly concerned about the weak commitment, shallow community, and general worldliness characteristic of so many American churches. But they wrongly required things not required by Scripture, such as membership in a house-group or having life-decisions “covered” by their house-group leader, elder, or pastor. Decisions to be covered included where to live and work, whom to marry, or even whether to make a doctor’s appointment. They also adopted other unbiblical authority structures.
Now, you and I might disagree about what Scripture requires. Fine. But let’s agree that’s the standard.
…Admittedly, a church might require a few things unspecified by Scripture. Our church requires membership classes and interviews and signing a statement of faith to join the church, for instance. It’s our judgment that these are prudential forms for implementing the biblical element of church membership. You have to adopt some form, after all. The Bible doesn’t quite say how to join a church. But beyond these few things, I cannot think of anything else we require not required in Scripture.”
Herein lies the crux of the matter Mr. Leeman. You and I agree that the standard is what Scripture requires. I also agree with your statement that “we should be very reluctant to require anything not expressly set down in Scripture.” Your membership classes and membership contracts are very hard to justify Scripturally, I am of the opinion that they cannot be justified. I would even say formal church membership in a local church cannot be justified. Membership contracts along with the misapplication of church discipline are where the majority of the problems within 9Marx churches originate.
A friend of mine wrote the paragraphs below. He states much more eloquently than I could ever hope to do, the problems with church covenants/contracts.