Sovereign Grace Churches (Ministries) – A Troubled Church Planting Network

"Former church official Brent Detwiler, however, believes Mahaney knew more than he’ll ever let on. “Nobody worked longer or closer with C.J. in all the history of Sovereign Grace Ministries than I did,” Detwiler says. He believes it’s impossible for all these pastors to have known about abuse and not to have told Mahaney how they were handling it. 'It just didn’t work that way.' ”

The Washingtonian

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A church planting network that has greatly troubled us since before launching our blog is Sovereign Grace Churches (formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries). Prior to 2002 it was known as PDI International and before that, People of Destiny. We believe the routine of changing a ministry's name may be an indication that there are some underlying problems. As God's Word says – "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold." (Psalm 22:1 ESV)

In our first seven years of blogging, we discussed various angles of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). Our concerns ranged from authoritarianism (by pastors), to shepherding (of the flock), to various forms of abuse (involving women and children).

Then on Valentine's Day 2016, The Washingtonian published an explosive story entitled The Sex Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch: Inside the rise and fall of Sovereign Grace Ministries. (link) Tiffany Stanley conducted extensive research on this network of churches that was once housed inside the walls of Covenant Life Church, the megachurch that C.J. Mahaney pastored for 27 years.

The Washingtonian article explained how the origin of Sovereign Grace goes back to the 1970s when Larry Tomczak and C.J. Mahaney organized a weekly Bible study in the Washington, D.C. area that attracted thousands of young people. The movement was called "Take and Give" and its success led to the formation of a church called Gathering of Believers. The name of the church was later changed to Covenant Life Church (CLC). A church planting network was established, and Larry Tomczak was primarly involved in this effort while C.J. Mahaney served as CLC's. From all outward appearances, it seemed that CLC and what eventually became Sovereign Grace Ministries were being blessed by God; however, there were serious problems underneath the surface, as explained in The Washingtonian article.

Several years ago The Internet Monk asked us to write a guest post about Sovereign Grace Ministries and the problems that plagued this church planting network. What follows is Dee's excellent post that was published on the Internet Monk website. (see below)


What's Up with Sovereign Grace Ministries? (link)

by Dee Parsons

Thank you for inviting us to do a guest post for the Internet Monk. We have followed this site for years and, in our opinion, it represents the best of the Christian blogs.

Deb and I have never attended a Sovereign Grace church. So why are we so interested in the story of serious conflict within this group of churches? About five years ago, prior to starting The Wartburg Watch, we were involved in a rather disturbing pedophile situation at a former church. We were distressed about the response of the church and decided to do some searching to see if other churches had responded in a similar fashion. It was then we stumbled over SGM Survivors (link) and SGM Refuge (which has since closed).

Sovereign Grace Ministries arose out of the shepherding movements in the 1970s under the leadership of CJ Mahaney and Larry Tomczak.  This Wikipedia article does a good job of  outlining the history of today’s SGM. CJ Mahaney describes himself as a former pothead who did not pursue education beyond high school. The movement underwent several name changes until it became known as SGM. It was part of the  Charismatic renewal movement and adopted Calvinism in the late 1990s. Its charismatic roots are now somewhat downplayed. This was the alleged reason that Larry Tomczak left the movement. However, as we would learn, there was a darker reason.

This group of churches prefers to be called a “family of churches” rather than a denomination. Until a few years ago, CJ Mahaney and the leaders of this “family” referred to themselves as apostles and have since ceased referring to this belief. However, there seems to be some movement to bring back the idea of apostolic ministry. They also formed a Pastors College, a nine-month training course, which would then make it possible for a man to become an SGM pastor. There was no pre-qualifying degree necessary to attend this college and even those who had advanced degrees, like a Masters of Divinity, were required to attend this “college.”

SGM was successful in planting about 100 churches, usually in upper middle income areas. This attracted the attention and support of Calvinists within the SBC along with individuals such as John Piper, Al Mohler and Mark Dever who were looking for successful models of church planting.

Several years ago, TWW uncovered large donations to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary being made by CJ Mahaney and SGM.  We predicted that SGM headquarters would somehow link to Louisville, although many would disagree with us. In fact, today SGM headquarters has relocated to Louisville and CJ Mahaney has started a new SGM church in the area.

However, there was a dark side to this group of churches which Mahaney referred to the “happiest place on earth.”

The hundreds of stories that we read at the SGM blogs were, quite simply, shocking. There was example after example of what we considered strange and abusive practices. Here are a few of the allegations:

People who asked questions about church polity were accused of “sinfully craving answers.”

Pastors of churches who had joined in the network were suddenly “degifted” and replaced by graduates of the Pastors College. One former pastor was accused of pride and made to work as a janitor in the church that he had built.

Everyone was required to be a member of a care group. The care group leaders were asked to secretly keep notes on who said what and these notes were given to the pastors. People were confronted about their comments and questions.

SGM used the controversial Ezzo material on raising children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued warnings on this method, and SGM ultimately stopped insisting that the Ezzo teachings be used in their churches. However, before that when one woman expressed concern about the material teaching this method, she and her husband were thrown out of their church.

Women are discouraged from having any input into church polity unless it is through their husbands.

However, the major issue that disturbed us was story after story regarding child sex abuse. This is what has led to the current lawsuit.  When we read the following story on SGM Survivors and also read others that mirrored these experiences, we became alarmed.

In one story, a tiny child was dragged into a room and asked to forgive her pedophile. The description of this child being pulled out from under a chair is deeply disturbing.

Deb and I became so concerned that we quietly approached a well known Reformed mega church pastor in our area and begged him to say something to his friend, CJ Mahaney. We were hoping that some input from pastor friends might lead to some sort of change in business as usual. We were accused of “character assassination” so we gave up on that idea!

The following is a chronology of events since that time.

Brent Detwiler, a former SGM pastor and member of the inner circle, posted emails and correspondence that he had kept for years. These were disturbing. Besides showing CJ Mahaney in an unflattering light, it was apparent from the documents that CJ Mahaney had forced Larry Tomczak out of the ministry by implying he would make public a private confession by Larry Tomczak’s son.

CJ Mahaney temporarily stepped down, left his church in SGM and attended Mark Dever’s church. This enraged members of SGM who were not allowed to the leave the church during times of personal discipline.

A historic tribunal was formed consisting of Ray Ortlund, Carl Trueman and Kevin De Young ,along with internal SGM pastor committees , who promptly pronounced CJ fit for his position. See also this link.

Ambassadors of Reconciliation were asked by SGM leaders to intervene and review the issues. The final report stated that there were a few problems but nothing out of the ordinary.

We believe that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although there seemed to be some effort to reach out to the families who had children who were abused, very little happened.  It is our opinion that, had AOR convinced SGM  to reach out specifically to these families and apologize in a humble manner, this problem would have gone away. However, the families felt that their stories had essentially been ignored.

There was further conflict in the leadership of SGM. CJ Mahaney decided to move the headquarters of SGM to Louisville without any input from the churches. His sons-in-law, all pastors in SGM left with him along with some of the board members.

Approximately 20 churches have left the umbrella of SGM, including its founding church, Covenant Life Church, with Joshua Harris at the helm. There are rumors that others may follow. This has led to some concerns about finances for the organization.

An initial class action lawsuit was filed, alleging the aforementioned issues regarding child sex abuse link

The basic allegations against SGM involve: (1) Failure to report child sexual molestation to the police, (2) Encouraging affected families not to report child sex abuse, (3) Counseling accused pedophiles on how to avoid arrest.

An amendment was then filed to add five more names to this lawsuit.

There is a high likelihood of other names being added.

There has not been any acknowledgement of these lawsuit by members of The Gospel Coalition or Al Mohler. TWW has kept track of the days of silence which is now over 110 days. This same group excoriated Joe Paterno long before his court appearance. In the meantime, CJ Mahaney is speaking at major conferences, churches and seminaries.

Last week, John Piper spoke at CJ Mahaney’s church in Louisville in seeming support of SGM.

SGM attorneys have filed for dismissal of the lawsuit, in part based on the First Amendment, prompting outrage in the press.

Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” can go a long way in averting a disaster. I believe that had a sincere apology been issued, a long time ago and other pastors on the outsides such as the megachurch pastor we approached, had intervened, there would have not been a lawsuit. Unfortunately, it appears the stubbornness of CJ Mahaney , who wrote a book on how to be humble, prevented this from occurring.


We will be updating the Sovereign Grace Ministries Churches saga soon and providing a list of links to our extensive posts on SGM.


Comments

Sovereign Grace Churches (Ministries) – A Troubled Church Planting Network — 58 Comments

  1. There was no pre-qualifying degree necessary to attend this college and even those who had advanced degrees, like a Masters of Divinity, were required to attend this “college.”

    No, of course not. Mahaney has no formal education himself. He graduated from high school and started a church just a few years later.

    I have known well a number of people that were formerly of CLC/PDI. That church demolished them. Liberty got a number of people from PDI Virginia Beach, and most of them came against the wishes of PDI. Once they got to Lynchburg, they never went back to PDI/SGM because the IFB Baptists were less abusive and controlling. Kinda scary.

  2. Of course he knew we would be foolish to think otherwise. These men have already shown themselves to be dishonest so anything they say from the point they covered up I wouldn’t believe anything that comes from their mouths. We will never get the truth. The only way that will happen is if they truly get right with the Lord in all that mess. I’m not holding my breath on that one. It would be great but I’m going to judge this by their history and strong stance that he supposedly knew nothing

  3. Ah, yes.
    The People of Destiny(TM) and their self-proclaimed Head Apostle(TM).
    With the North Korean-style musical revue Tributes to the latter.

  4. ishy wrote:

    Once they got to Lynchburg, they never went back to PDI/SGM because the IFB Baptists were less abusive and controlling. Kinda scary.

    Especially with the IFB reputation for cultic abuse, right up there with Scientology.

  5. Once again, great idea to put the resources together in one place. The SGM reporting has really been top notch. And I’m sure it will continue to be so.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    Especially with the IFB reputation for cultic abuse, right up there with Scientology.

    IFB Baptists are an interesting lot, but they emphasize freedom a lot more than you might think. PDI/SGM were sort of mildly charismatic with definite roots in shepherding cults, and I think they were one of the precursors to the Calvinista movement, as they heavily emphasized absolute obedience.

  7. Thank you Deebs for continuing to keep SGM and C.J. Mahaney at the forefront. The man and his ministry should never have been endorsed in any way by Christendom. Unfortunately, he is still alive and well and now working his charms as an official Southern Baptist … thanks to Al Mohler. I believe Mohler was not so much drawn to Mahaney because of his preaching/teaching ability (since he has little), but because SGM had stumbled onto a church planting scheme that was working. Mohler needed a church planting model to send his YRR army into, to plant reformed theology. So Mohler rescued Mahaney from the SGM scandal and brought him to Louisville. For some strange reason, Mahaney is still important to the New Calvinist movement and idolized by the new reformers. Actually, this whole sad SBC chapter with its new league of leaders and drifting message gets stranger by the day … one of the greatest forces for evangelism on the earth is being silenced from within.

  8. Max wrote:

    For some strange reason, Mahaney is still important to the New Calvinist movement and idolized by the new reformers.

    Cult Founders/Leaders are usually the real objects of worship, Gods Come in the Flesh.

  9. ishy wrote:

    PDI/SGM were sort of mildly charismatic with definite roots in shepherding cults, and I think they were one of the precursors to the Calvinista movement, as they heavily emphasized absolute obedience.

    I was in-country at the height of the first flush of the Shepherding Movement in the Seventies.
    When God demanded Worship Bots like North Korea on pain of Being Left Behind.
    They called it “Discipleship” and looked forward to the “pop” after which you were Assimilated.
    The damage is still there.

  10. ishy wrote:

    Once they got to Lynchburg, they never went back to PDI/SGM because the IFB Baptists were less abusive and controlling. Kinda scary.

    One of my favorite topics. Jerry in the beginning and before Thomas Road much less before Liberty got into a tussle with some IFB ‘leaders’ over something which sounded like church politics at the time. They denied to give him approval to start a church in Lynchburg IIRC since there was already and IFB church there. Of course, Jerry just parted company and plunged ahead. Anyhow, when Jerry thrived in the church and education businesses he made it a point to continue being who he was and where he was going and it was not in the Bob Jones or Tennessee Temple or such direction. Some IFB folks did not like his lack of fanatic legalistic fervor but free tuition for preacher’s kids to go to college certainly got some there in the beginning. It is funny how a little money can smooth some paths a tad.

    When RE was there Liberty had some religious quirks, but it was waaaaay more reasonable than the IFB preacher’s family of my daughter’s friend at the time, for example. And waaaay more reasonable than some IFB/ Bob Jones people who ended up in our little FWB church where we were.

    I assume you know all this and more, but I have grabbed the opportunity of your comment to get it said for those here who may not know this. Thanks. I appreciate your letting me do that.

  11. Over at Imonk, the article written by the Deebs had some really good comments. This one from ‘Martin’ who is replying to our Eagle:

    ““I was struggling with my Acts 29 friend and we had an intense discussion. I told him that when his daughter is molested (since God ordains evil of course) that he should take his molester out, buy him a beer and praise God that he was obedient. My friend went through the roof. But as I see it its the logical conclusion to a theology that teaches that God ordains evil and hates people. ”

    Eagle, You have to add that the child’s molestation is not that big of a deal because that child is a sinner, too, just like the molester. That is what SGM taught and used as leverage when the victims families went to the SGM pastors. It would be one thing if only one pastor taught this but it was system wide.”

    From the comment stream, you can see how it follows that the neo-Cal view of a hateful ‘god’ who ‘ordains that evil should happen’ feeds into the idea that children ‘are sinners too’ which puts them in the same ‘category’ as their molesters (!)

    Once they have all that kind of garbage in place in their ‘theology’, of COURSE you would see tremendous lack of responsibility to the crimes of paedophiles against innocent children. And the treatment of women …. but that is how they hold the whole mess together: the system is built to support and defend bullies who ‘do God’s will’ by being evil, as ‘god is the author of evil’. What a mess! Evil that turns in on itself and perpetuates itself and keeps growing in intensity. You wonder how ANYONE cannot see through this darkness into the heart of the errant theology.
    Child rape and beatings and misogyny on steroids = CULT

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    Especially with the IFB reputation for cultic abuse, right up there with Scientology.

    I keep hearing people who think this, but to put IFB with Scientology is a stretch too far. And, if I may say this delicately, within the social stratum among whom some IFB churches and schools have the most success, at least as I have experienced it, there are people who believe and practice certain things as their lifestyle regardless of where they go to church or even if they go to church. I am talking culture-subculture actually. Cultural attitudes. Long held practices and beliefs and attitudes, some of which became an issue at the hospital where I worked and which had nothing to do with religion.

    When I was at Carver School in one class in cultural anthropology as it applied to missions the problem was discussed and discussed as to how much was culture and how much was religion that one encountered in unevangelized people groups (as they are now called). It is an interesting topic. What we see in IFB, and for that matter other groups here, contains a lot of culture right along with the religion.

  13. Christiane wrote:

    Over at Imonk, the article written by the Deebs had some really good comments. This one from ‘Martin’ who is replying to our Eagle:

    “I was struggling with my Acts 29 friend and we had an intense discussion. I told him that when his daughter is molested (since God ordains evil of course) that he should take his molester out, buy him a beer and praise God that he was obedient. My friend went through the roof. But as I see it its the logical conclusion to a theology that teaches that God ordains evil and hates people. ”

    Now THAT is one hellacious comeback line!
    AKA Coming out swinging!

  14. Christiane wrote:

    You wonder how ANYONE cannot see through this darkness into the heart of the errant theology.
    Child rape and beatings and misogyny on steroids = CULT

    The racket of tearing out my kitchen and tearing out the downstairs ceiling and the constant roar of the dehumidifiers has driven me mad. That is the story that I am sticking too. It explains why I am being reckless.

    One very public and politically significant religious group, not primarily centered in the US. permits sex with young people at an age which our laws forbid; uses public beatings as a form of punishment, and includes some who practice misogyny on steroids. For the sake of peace I am not mentioning the name of the religion that sanctions these religious and cultural behaviors.

    Personally I think that I do see through to the errant theology which permits this.

  15. okrapod wrote:

    When RE was there Liberty had some religious quirks, but it was waaaaay more reasonable than the IFB preacher’s family of my daughter’s friend at the time, for example. And waaaay more reasonable than some IFB/ Bob Jones people who ended up in our little FWB church where we were.

    Good summary.

    The PDI/SGM dislike of Liberty and Falwell were mostly in part because they weren’t PDI, and only PDI institutions were “allowed”, just like in most Calvinista churches now. And they were a bit charismatic, and I don’t think Jerry cared for that aspect and they knew it.

    We got a lot of Bob Jones and Pensacola transfers because Liberty was the only accredited school at that time that would accept them. When some of those kids and their parents realized they couldn’t do anything with a BJU or PCC degree, they got out of there. PCC was especially notorious because they would require students to work a certain amount on campus, then refuse to let them take enough credits each semester, so they effectively trapped students there for 6-7 years, and working didn’t pay near enough of the tuition and fees. But many of those kids were much more brainwashed into believing that legalism was the way to salvation.

  16. ishy wrote:

    I think they were one of the precursors to the Calvinista movement, as they heavily emphasized absolute obedience.

    There was an ugly strain of that running through many churches for decades. I remember the regular admonition from many church leaders for a “covering”, you, the parishioner, had to have one, couldn’t do a thing, not even a Bible study, without your pastoral covering.

    I’ve recounted this before, but my wife once was organizing a metro area event and had been told by our mega that it must not proceed without a covering, so we got together about eight pastors to come to an organizational meeting and it took about 15 minutes of prayer and small talk and pleasantries before one of them started bragging about the size of his mega church, and another from a smaller church took offense and shot back some pointed comments, then everyone started talking about how the event should proceed, and pretty soon they were talking over each other, getting louder and louder, then they were arguing argument over how the event should proceed and before we knew it, they were shouting angrily across the room at each other and if we hadn’t just shut the meeting down I wonder if there might not have literally been a fight. A disaster. Unreal!

    Later my wife was praying pretty desperately for the Lord to provide a pastoral covering since our efforts on that front had failed pretty catastrophically and she said she heard Jesus say to her in her spirit, very directly and unmistakably: “I AM YOUR COVERING!” And that was that, we paid no attention to the pastors and sundry leaders afterwards and ignored all the know-it-alls who told us the event would be subject to spiritual attack without a covering.

    The event went off well, by the way, the only spiritual attack we received was from the room full of pastors in the organizational meeting.

  17. Law Prof wrote:

    Later my wife was praying pretty desperately for the Lord to provide a pastoral covering since our efforts on that front had failed pretty catastrophically and she said she heard Jesus say to her in her spirit, very directly and unmistakably: “I AM YOUR COVERING!” And that was that, we paid no attention to the pastors and sundry leaders afterwards and ignored all the know-it-alls who told us the event would be subject to spiritual attack without a covering.
    The event went off well, by the way, the only spiritual attack we received was from the room full of pastors in the organizational meeting.

    I used to live in a city with four megachurches, one of which everybody here has heard of. The more I know about megachurches, the more I am convinced they are not what God intended. For example, no pastor who wants to run a megachurch or plant satellites plants them in areas that actually need churches. No, they plant them in the most affluent areas. It’s all about money and getting more and more bodies in the seats, not about building up and teaching Christians. I think it’s one reason why so many Christians have been swayed by controlling pastors.

  18. ishy wrote:

    I used to live in a city with four megachurches, one of which everybody here has heard of. The more I know about megachurches, the more I am convinced they are not what God intended. For example, no pastor who wants to run a megachurch or plant satellites plants them in areas that actually need churches. No, they plant them in the most affluent areas. It’s all about money and getting more and more bodies in the seats, not about building up and teaching Christians. I think it’s one reason why so many Christians have been swayed by controlling pastors.

    We now live in a smaller town where a mega is pretty much defined locally as >500. We had one local mega of about 1,000 move from meeting at the local high school to their own building out in the burbs not far from the most exclusive development in the area. Big white warehouse-looking thing, corporate-looking, right down to the huge logo that looks like it was designed by an ad agency. Really leader-centric place, by the way, saw a sermon on their website about “coming under authority”–of course, not Jesus’, but head pastor’s. Anyway, not one year goes by before a mega in a city 50 miles away sets up a new branch location in our area and the brand new building for this local “mega” is exactly one half mile down the road from the other church. Another architectural monstrosity with the corporate logo. They’re competing, like Target and Walmart, for the bucks.

  19. ishy wrote:

    No, they plant them in the most affluent areas. It’s all about money and getting more and more bodies in the seats, not about building up and teaching Christians. I think it’s one reason why so many Christians have been swayed by controlling pastors.

    Glad to see this page up and running.

    I wouldn’t say at least the SGM Churches are planted in the “most affluent areas” but they certainly usually are in upper middle class areas. You typically don’t seem them planting churches in poorer and low middle class areas.

    One other thing I remember Gene Emerson talking about his (at the time) church planting a church in Fredericksburg VA. Gene said something along the lines that by contributing to this plant you would be bringing the gospel to Fredericksburg VA. I always wonder how he could say that when there are plenty of churches in that city. It isn’t like bringing the Christian message to somewhere like a foreign country where they haven’t heard it.

  20. Law Prof wrote:

    We now live in a smaller town where a mega is pretty much defined locally as >500.

    I generally define megachurch as over around 3000, and all four of those fit that description. The largest has something like 13,000 members.

    They definitely do compete, though. And new ones popped up all the time, and you can tell they are copying the others.

    SGM doesn’t go for the inner-cities, though do they? I mean they have DC, Annapolis, Baltimore, and more up there, but it’s always suburbia.

  21. ishy wrote:

    SGM doesn’t go for the inner-cities, though do they? I mean they have DC, Annapolis, Baltimore, and more up there, but it’s always suburbia.

    Like robbing banks, “That’s where the Money is.”

  22. Law Prof wrote:

    Anyway, not one year goes by before a mega in a city 50 miles away sets up a new branch location in our area and the brand new building for this local “mega” is exactly one half mile down the road from the other church. Another architectural monstrosity with the corporate logo. They’re competing, like Target and Walmart, for the bucks.

    So true.

  23. ishy wrote:

    SGM doesn’t go for the inner-cities, though do they? I mean they have DC, Annapolis, Baltimore, and more up there, but it’s always suburbia.

    SBC’s new church planting program (following SGM and Acts 29 models) has also targeted suburbia at 32 “send” cities in the U.S. and Canada (https://www.namb.net/send-cities). Most of these will be, no doubt, staffed by young reformers fresh out of SBC seminaries, with 1,000 new plants per year scheduled for years to come. This is more about planting reformed theology than churches. It’s the quickest route to reforming the Southern Baptist Convention, while baby boomers die off in traditional SBC churches; within 20 years, their mission will be accomplished.

  24. Max wrote:

    Most of these will be, no doubt, staffed by young reformers fresh out of SBC seminaries,

    Most of the planters don’t reveal their educational institutions. The few that do: SBTS, NOBTS, The Masters Seminary.

  25. @ okrapod:
    LOL with all that is going on, you needed to get that kind of stuff out ….. you are among people who have also had contractors in the home forever and believe me, in all sympathy I tell you ‘go for it’ …. you can do no wrong while you are going through the ‘contractor crazies’

  26. ishy wrote:

    Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:
    Especially with the IFB reputation for cultic abuse, right up there with Scientology.
    IFB Baptists are an interesting lot, but they emphasize freedom a lot more than you might think. PDI/SGM were sort of mildly charismatic with definite roots in shepherding cults, and I think they were one of the precursors to the Calvinista movement, as they heavily emphasized absolute obedience.

    There’s IFB, and then there’s IFB. I know a wonderful IFB guy who is a true Christian gentleman. But there are others who are crazy-legalistic. The now defunct site StuffFundiesLike was replete with horror stories that would make your hair curl. Apparently one of the crazy-cultic-legalistic motherships is right here in my neck of the woods.

  27. Max wrote:

    SBC’s new church planting program (following SGM and Acts 29 models) has also targeted suburbia at 32 “send” cities in the U.S. and Canada (https://www.namb.net/send-cities). Most of these will be, no doubt, staffed by young reformers fresh out of SBC seminaries, with 1,000 new plants per year scheduled for years to come. This is more about planting reformed theology than churches. It’s the quickest route to reforming the Southern Baptist Convention, while baby boomers die off in traditional SBC churches; within 20 years, their mission will be accomplished.

    This is what the NAMB has to say about Phoenix:

    The Southwest and mission influences mark Phoenix with large numbers of Catholic and Mormon adherents. And, surprisingly, a relatively large number of evangelicals call Phoenix home. Evangelicals are estimated at 12.6 percent of the population.

    We obviously have a long way to go to reach the people of Phoenix with the gospel. There are 297 Southern Baptist congregations in the three-county area covered by Send North America: Phoenix. That leaves an SBC church-to-population ratio of 1:18,497.

    In the most recent release of Barna Group’s Barna: Cities, the researcher listed the most and least “Bible-Minded” cities in the United States. Phoenix ranked 89th out of 96 as one of the least Bible-minded metro areas in the U.S.

    https://www.namb.net/send-cities/phoenix

    My interpretation: “Well there are a lot of people and a lot of churches. But they aren’t OUR people and OUR churches.” And we have a lot of Calvinista reformista churches here. We really don’t need any more. Maybe they’ll all plant in Scottsdale and Gilbert and Chandler and stay away from Mesa.

  28. Catholic Gate-Crasher wrote:

    There’s IFB, and then there’s IFB. I know a wonderful IFB guy who is a true Christian gentleman. But there are others who are crazy-legalistic. The now defunct site StuffFundiesLike was replete with horror stories that would make your hair curl. Apparently one of the crazy-cultic-legalistic motherships is right here in my neck of the woods.

    Most of them are very legalistic, but it’s different from SGM/shepherding cult legalistic. Shepherding cults don’t let you make any decisions for yourself. IFB is also not centralized, and churches are autonomous. If you wanted to leave and go to another church, they may get mad, but they’re not going to come after you.

    If someone in an IFB church said they wanted to go be a missionary and plant a church in Zimbabwe, an IFB church would likely cheer and wave you on your way. SGM would demand to be in charge of every aspect and that you make no decisions on how that church is planted or run. This is actually a real example because on SGM Survivors there’s a story about a church they planted in the Philippines where this exact thing happened. Those that were missionaries wanted to make the church match indigenous culture, but SGM wanted a perfect SGM American model, and they wanted to retain control over all decisions even after gaining a Filipino pastor.

    There are some things that many IFB churches are a bit cultic about. The control factor comes about more inside families than from a top-down church approach. Marriage is one. There are a lot of arranged marriages in IFB churches, where parents pick out their child’s spouse. But elopement is also pretty common.

  29. I will add that there’s also a number of ways to sort of trick the system in IFB churches, as long as your parents are on board with your decisions. They are super big on parental control, but less so on church control.There’s also a very definite way to speak and act by calling constantly on Jesus and being super penitent, and if you have that down, you can talk your way out of things that they might otherwise get legalistic about. I was able to talk my way out of several situations with IFB’ers in college just by knowing the right things to say. I didn’t do anything to really get in trouble, but for example, wearing pants (yes, really)–talked my way out of it.

  30. Catholic Gate-Crasher wrote:

    Apparently one of the crazy-cultic-legalistic motherships is right here in my neck of the woods.

    If I am correct you and I are basically in the same neck of the woods. There are several large-ish IFB churches and schools around here, but I am not aware that any or much less all are crazy or cultic. As to legalism, can we talk about that?

    Legalism is a term which can be used to mean to merely convey disagreement with the other person’s religious subculture. In my experience in just living (no special claim to experience that all people do not have) all cultures have ‘how we do and how we don’t do’ an that tends to be enforced to varying degrees. Yet the term legalism tends to be used mostly? only? against conservative protestant groups.

    But, I would be interested in knowing which group around here you mentioned in your comment. You could use initials, or perhaps the name of the street, or perhaps a hint as to which town using one initial only-hide your location but if you can give me a hint that only locals would recognize I would appreciate.

    Here is why. I have a remote history with conservative baptist faith and practice, and I get rather itchy when I hear legalism said when I don’t see what the person is referring to or what they consider over the line with rules and expectations.

    So here is a test for location. Does SB mean anything to you? Oldest IFB around here to my knowledge.

  31. I’ve been thinking on it further, and there’s an easy explanation for the difference between SGM and most IFB churches. In SGM, the power was/is centralized with the SGM board over all the churches.

    IFB churches, on the other hand, are autonomous, and most are congregational in that they vote on issues. Now, they may not let everyone vote, and many only let the men over a certain age vote. The power usually isn’t with the pastor, who can be fired, but with the deacon board. As many IFB churches are small, they might have a 12-member deacon board which would basically represent all the patriarchs in the church. The patriarchs in the church are usually the ones determining what rules their families have to follow to be considered a “good” Christian. That is legalism.

    As okrapod said, legalism doesn’t quite define what SGM does, since they are top-down controlling. They also aren’t really patriarchal in the original sense of the word, and that is very much like the Calvinistas. They might want you to believe they are, and they might say they are, but true patriarchy rests its power in individual family patriarchs, not a central figure. They also do so not really for reasons of good or bad, but for power for that central authority. That’s what cultic behavior is. I do think it’s wise to understand the difference.

  32. ishy wrote:

    I didn’t do anything to really get in trouble, but for example, wearing pants (yes, really)–talked my way out of it.

    So your local Pharisees wanted you to go commando?
    😉

  33. ishy wrote:

    The patriarchs in the church are usually the ones determining what rules their families have to follow to be considered a “good” Christian. That is legalism.

    There is also the aspect that many times it is the matriarch in the family who actually determines what the rules are, then she credits it to the patriarch, threatens the children with ‘when your father gets home’ and when he does he dutifully exercises discipline (which keeps her happy and keeps the children more or less in line) but nobody is fooled as to who it is who has to be kept happy. I have heard men say that well they think that they would probably not have gone that far, but that they appreciate what the wife does about the children.

    And, I have no idea that the men (i e ‘real men’) are about to let the preacher tell them what to do in their own home. Because, after all, he is the man of the house, a thing of which his wife will remind him whenever necessary. Hence, like ishy says, the power of the board of deacons. And, IMO, under those circumstances putting women on the board of deacons upsets that apple cart for both the men and the women. It dilutes the men’s power and power facade and makes them less capable of winning a standoff with the pastor because the appearance of who has what power has been changed.

    That does not sound like what you all are saying about SGM or neo-cal teaching.

  34. okrapod wrote:

    There is also the aspect that many times it is the matriarch in the family who actually determines what the rules are, then she credits it to the patriarch

    That is absolutely true. Some of the men I knew who bragged the loudest about being in control of their households turned to mush when their wives were around. Everyone just pretended that the men were in charge, but often it was the women. I guess that’s an aspect of legalism, too, that for the “good of society” you pretend things were a certain way even though it was common knowledge that they are not to keep everything “harmonious”. Then if you mess up by their standards, you pretend to agree to be harmonious even if you really aren’t.

    That’s not to say that it can’t lead to abuse, and I think it’s more likely that abuse gets covered up in those situations because it’s often by your own family. But it isn’t really cultic. It’s just not based on religion, but the same kind of thing that happens in atheistic families in abuse situations.

    It may be a reason why these groups have been rushing to force members into covenants. It’s part of the process of centralizing their power away from the members.

  35. BTW, in case you did know, SGM somewhat started the covenant movement, and much of the Reformed Baptist and Calvinista adoption of covenants comes from them. There were groups that did it earlier, but not to the mass degree that SGM did when they were changing over from PDI to SGM.

  36. @ okrapod:

    “…For the sake of peace I am not mentioning the name of the religion that sanctions these religious and cultural behaviors.

    Personally I think that I do see through to the errant theology which permits this.”
    ++++++++++++++

    i think i understand.

    it is very easy to see through errant theology of a religious group the farther removed (in experience and space) one is from the heady environment of that religious group.

    it is very easy to miss the errant theology (or shall we say the h0rse$h|t) of one’s own religious group the closer one is its environment. the fumes people breath extend pretty far, but thankfully dissipate at a certain point.

  37. ishy wrote:

    BTW, in case you did know, SGM somewhat started the covenant movement, and much of the Reformed Baptist and Calvinista adoption of covenants comes from them. There were groups that did it earlier, but not to the mass degree that SGM did when they were changing over from PDI to SGM.

    By “covenants” do you mean the membership agreement that SGM has?

    I have hear of “covenant” used in other circles where it was totally wrong for someone to ever leave a church. My understanding that was sometimes the case with Maranatha Ministries for example when those who left (if if they remained as Christians but in another church) were called “covenant breakers” by Bob Weiner the group’s leader. Bob would even chastise other members for fellowshiping with these “covenant breakers.”

  38. Steve240 wrote:

    ishy wrote:
    BTW, in case you did know, SGM somewhat started the covenant movement, and much of the Reformed Baptist and Calvinista adoption of covenants comes from them. There were groups that did it earlier, but not to the mass degree that SGM did when they were changing over from PDI to SGM.
    By “covenants” do you mean the membership agreement that SGM has?
    I have hear of “covenant” used in other circles where it was totally wrong for someone to ever leave a church. My understanding that was sometimes the case with Maranatha Ministries for example when those who left (if if they remained as Christians but in another church) were called “covenant breakers” by Bob Weiner the group’s leader. Bob would even chastise other members for fellowshiping with these “covenant breakers.”

    Steve240 wrote:

    By “covenants” do you mean the membership agreement that SGM has?
    I have hear of “covenant” used in other circles where it was totally wrong for someone to ever leave a church.

    Correct, they started writing out their rules and making people sign them.

  39. Muslin, fka Dee Holmes wrote:

    https://www.namb.net/send-cities/phoenix

    My interpretation: “Well there are a lot of people and a lot of churches. But they aren’t OUR people and OUR churches.”

    Exactly! SBC’s church planting program is more about planting theology, than churches. The SBC pew ain’t got a clue where their Annie Armstrong offering is going! Nearly $70 million of those funds collected each Easter are now directed at the church (theology) planting effort under Kevin Ezell’s leadership at NAMB (he was formerly Al Mohler’s pastor – go figure). The majority of SBC members are non-Calvinist and would not agree with starting new works that have a belief and practice contrary to theirs … but they are uninformed, misinformed, or willingly ignorant as their denomination slips into the hands of the New Calvinists.

  40. Nancy2 wrote:

    Most of the planters don’t reveal their educational institutions. The few that do: SBTS, NOBTS, The Masters Seminary.

    Yes, they sneak their way into pulpits through stealth and deception. Unfortunately, most SBC seminaries are now firmly under the control of New Calvinist presidents. At one time you could trust a fresh seminary graduate from Southwestern Seminary (Texas), but no more. While it is still the most non-Calvinist seminary in the SBC portfolio of educational institutions, the New Calvinist influence is pervasive on the campus. It’s the cool thing to be rebellious and kick those old timers out of their churches, because they have the “right” theology, you know.

  41. Max wrote:

    It’s the cool thing to be rebellious and kick those old timers out of their churches, because they have the “right” theology, you know.

    How strange these men are who cannot make upon themselves the Sign of the Cross in honor of God for fear of ‘idolatry’;
    but who will instead set themselves up as ‘heads’ and command that women bow down in silence before their ‘theological superiority and wisdom’???
    And in order to strengthen their ‘theology’ of male superiority, they create their doctrine of ESS and rewrite their bible???? I guess when you replace God, you get to re-write His Word also in your own image????

    curioser and curioser

  42. Catholic Gate-Crasher wrote:

    I know a wonderful IFB guy who is a true Christian gentleman. But there are others who are crazy-legalistic

    To what would you attribute the DIFFERENCE between these men?

  43. Max wrote:

    It’s the cool thing to be rebellious and kick those old timers out of their churches, because they have the “right” theology, you know.

    Chairman Calvin’s Red Guard, on-fire with Purity of Ideology.

  44. Christiane wrote:

    How strange these men are who cannot make upon themselves the Sign of the Cross in honor of God for fear of ‘idolatry’;

    Too ROMISH.

  45. Max wrote:

    It’s the quickest route to reforming the Southern Baptist Convention, while baby boomers die off in traditional SBC churches; within 20 years, their mission will be accomplished.

    oldthinkers unbellyfeel INGSOC.

  46. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    Christiane wrote:

    How strange these men are who cannot make upon themselves the Sign of the Cross in honor of God for fear of ‘idolatry’;

    Too ROMISH.

    actually I wouldn’t expect them to do this, but the REASON they likely didn’t would have been the excuse of ‘it’s idolatrous’ (?)

    but then these self-made idols turn around and ask women to keep silence and to bow before their ‘superiority and wisdom’

    They can’t see the irony. 🙂

  47. Christiane wrote:

    but then these self-made idols turn around and ask women to keep silence and to bow before their ‘superiority and wisdom’
    They can’t see the irony.

    All depends on WHO’s being worshipped.
    “MEEEEEEE, not Thee!”

  48. @ Steve240`:
    Hi Steve,
    I read that O’Reilly’s targets reported that he was particularly obnoxious in the way he approached them for ‘sexual favors’. Reportedly, his behavior went on at Fox for years.

    I wonder at Metaxis’ comments. I never saw O’Reilly in the same light myself. There is no accounting for tastes. 🙂

  49. Christiane

    That is a shame hearing reports that that O'Reilly's behavior went on for so long.

    Unfortunately, many times when a speaker is popular or perhaps has a following people are many times willing to overlook what he does for the sake of the cause they want. Look at Mahaney's sin and hypocrisy and how so many wanted to overlook it and some still do. Then there is Bill Clinton with similar actions to O'Reilly and Clinton's actions are basically overlooked.

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