Extending Grace Within Sovereign Grace Ministries

One of my biggest concerns since Brent Detwiler released his Sovereign Grace Ministries documents back in July is that we would become a movement that is filled with suspicion. And in some ways that has happened. We’ve become suspicious of each other, suspicious of leadership, and suspicious that there might be some sort of elaborate cover up taking place that we’re not aware of. I’m concerned about the effect that this is going to have on each of us personally, as well as the effect that it’s going to have on our churches.

Here’s why I’m concerned. Love doesn’t flourish in the midst of suspicion. The affection of Christ Jesus doesn’t bloom in the midst of suspicion. The gospel doesn’t move forward in the midst of suspicion. In some ways, suspicion is like bitterness – it eats us from the inside out. It’s like a parasite. Personally, I don’t want to live a life dominated by suspicion. That sounds like a really unhappy way to live.

Now, I can imagine what you’re thinking. “Stephen, did you take stupid pills this morning? Haven’t you read Brent’s documents and what people are saying about Sovereign Grace Ministries? Are you trying out for the role of Captain Naive?” Yes, I have read most of Brent’s documents. Yes, I’ve read the blogs. And the truth is, I have concerns and questions just like everybody else. I’ve spent many hours talking with various pastors and leaders in SGM, raising questions and voicing concerns.

But I think what’s crucial in the midst of all this is the way that we raise our questions and the way that we speak about one another. In fact, I believe that our attitude toward one another matters to Jesus just as much as the actual questions themselves. Do we extend the grace and love of the Lord Jesus to one another? Do we extend the grace of the Lord Jesus to the leaders within Sovereign Grace Ministries? Do we mock and bite and belittle and criticize, or do we extend the grace and patience that we would like to have extended to us?

Here’s the truth: we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been bought by the precious blood of Christ. To angrily criticize and lash out at someone is to lash out at someone who is precious to Christ. Does that mean we shouldn’t disagree? No, of course not. Does that mean we shouldn’t raise concerns? No. Does that mean we shouldn’t voice our disagreement? No, definitely not. Is raising questions and concerns being divisive? Nope.

It does mean that all of our criticisms, critiques, questions, and concerns should be wrapped in the love of Christ.

I find the example of the Apostle Paul to be convicting. The Corinthian church was an absolute nightmare. There was a man sleeping around with his step-mother. There were people getting drunk during communion. The church was like a crazy spiritual gifts circus. Folks were dragging each other off to court. And yet in spite of all this, Paul could say:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge?even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you?so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The reason that Paul could give thanks for the Corinthians was because he was confident that God is faithful. That’s my ultimate confidence as well. I respect the guys on the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and I believe that they are seeking to follow the Lord through this difficult situation. But ultimately my confidence isn’t in them. It’s in Jesus. The King of Kings. The ruler of the church. He cares about my church and your church and Sovereign Grace Ministries more than we do.

That’s what can keep me from being dominated by suspicion.

Comments

  1. says

    Stephen,

    Like your last post, this is very helpful in personally thinking about the issues at hand. Thank you for again highlighting the most important spiritual issues—God's faithfulness, grace, and trustworthiness displayed through the Gospel.

    This reminder served my soul today. Thanks!
    -Nate

  2. says

    Well said and applicable outside the SGM struggles.
    Good wisdom here:
    "The gospel doesn’t move forward in the midst of suspicion. In some ways, suspicion is like bitterness – it eats us from the inside out. It’s like a parasite."

  3. fredokie says

    Satan loves conflict.
    We are human.
    We fail.
    We are dead.
    Jesus died to save us.
    We live.
    Stay focused on the cross.

  4. anonymous says

    So what would you have to say to those who are or were in the SG flock who actually saw this coming years in advance, but were ignored and treated as if we were not in compliance with what the church WANTED or was believing? Many of us are curious to know. Despite our understanding of grace and forgiveness there is still pain and suffering….. Just as Christ felt the pain and suffering upon the cross as he forgave us with grace for all of our sin.

    • StephenAltrogge says

      Hey Christina,

      I would love to talk to you about how you were mistreated. I hope that I wasn\’t responsible for that, and if I was in any way please forgive me. I would want to talk in person to every person who was hurt or offended in our church. I really hope that you would be willing to do that. Where wrong has been done, we want to make it right.

  5. Steve Bassler says

    In general, I agree wholeheartedly. If we can’t love each other, anything else we try to say to each other will just be useless noise. I was with you right up until this point: “I respect the guys on the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and I believe that they are seeking to follow the Lord through this difficult situation.” I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy that. To be fair, I have NOT talked or spent time with any of the principals in the conflict, so I’m sure you’re hearing stuff that I’m not. (Although I would caution you about taking everything you hear at face value – be very careful about swallowing that Kool-Aid.) All I have to go on is their public statements, and I have to say that I am not encouraged by what I see coming out of SGM. The lack of transparency, the hiding behind AoR and the panels, the apparent inability to simply say “Yeah, we blew it, we’re sorry, please forgive us” – that’s what makes me suspicious. It’s the kind of behavior we’ve come to expect from politicians, not men of God.

    Paul extended grace to the Corinthians. He thanked God for them and rejoiced in the work God had done in them. But he also confronted them directly and even talked about their sin in public. He spoke the truth in love. He did not allow his love for them to blind him to their need for correction or let them dictate his actions.

    • says

      Respectfully, I am in wholehearted agreement with Steve B., Johanna, and Christina. People wouldn't be suspicious if SGM leaders (including the board) were truly honest and humbly ask for FORGIVENESS for where they blew it not just saying that they, "made mistakes". We, as an SG flock were never taught to repent by simply saying that we made mistakes. Rather, we were taught to ask for forgiveness for specific wrongs. In addition, there would be no suspicion if information was talked about openly and honestly. Care group leaders don't even know the scope of what's going on unless they read the blogs or The Documents. Rather we were/are taught that they are "sinful" and "slanderous". In my opinion, people can think for themselves and have the RIGHT to know what is going on in a minstry that oversees their local church and to which they tithe and serve. The truth isn't slander. Thirdly, people should feel free to disagree and voice their disagreement without the fear of being "marked as divisive" as CJ instructed.

    • Jenn Grover says

      I think it is dangerous to label all suspicion as ungodly or assert that love cannot flourish when suspicion is present. Suspicion can be a protective measure when the party in question has demonstrated a lack of trustworthiness. That is love. I think the manner in which you juxtapose them creates a false dichotomy.

      • Jenn Grover says

        I would agree with Steve regarding the trustworthiness of the board. They should not need a panel or a report to tell them when to apologize. It is hard to trust guys who, despite years of teaching us not to use neutral language and how to specifically confess and own our sin, cannot find the words to identify where they were wrong, and make efforts to change. Moreover, their refusal to be transparent only heightens the suspicion. We do have a culture of suspicion, but it was created by the board, not the blogs or Brent.

    • says

      Steve Bassler, that's exactly right.

      God is faithful. I may not always understand what he is doing but I am comforted by his presence and character in this trial. That doesn't mean that SGM will survive and prosper though. I hope so, if that is God's plan. But God is bigger than SGM. God doesn't need SGM. I rather suspect that a lot depends on whether they respond humbly to the Lord's kind correction in this season (which the SGM board seems to deny is even happening)….

      I don't want us to be swallowed by suspicion either, but I also don't want us to "believe the best" if the "best" is falsehoods and deception. Unfortunately, I think I have believed the best in the past only to find out now that what was presented to me wasn't exactly reality in SGM. Now I want to believe the truth. That requires testing everything to see what is so – to see if the life and conduct of those who want to be my leaders comports with Scripture. Is that suspicion? Maybe – but not necessarily.

  6. Johanna says

    Hi Christina, I believe a missing factor is the necessary ownership of how the current problems in SGM play out in local churches. The imbalanced view of authority that is now tumbling down like castles in the sand, has IMO helped create this air of suspicion, because suspicion is the"natural" temptation/response when secrecy exists. Suspicion of the board has resulted because people are waking up to the fact that this kind of "submit in silence, without thinking" mentality which has been propagated, disrespects saints. Submission does not require silence or denial. The dam has burst on this cultural view that silence=submission. What is the line between discernment and suspicion? GOD GIVES discernment to warn us. As you've suggested, some of us would argue there was warning. The question now is how do we all best love our brothers and sisters, within and without, yet acknowledge openly the fact that something ain't right in Oz., therefore it is so helpful that Stephen is initiating open conversation, and giving a helpful reminder that love comes first. In order for folks to cease from suspicion however, it seems to necessitate an acknowledgement that a flaw in the view of authority in the culture has helped to plant those seeds. If my husband is secretive regarding important issues and does not seek out my insight, I would be hurt and rightly conclude that he is not loving me. Gratefully, my husband is open, values my input and respects me, as authority is meant to function, THEREFORE I trust and submit willingly to him. Praying for all my brothers and sisters in SG as well as those who have departed.

    • Christina says

      Respectfully Johanna I agree. This is why, Scott and I choose to refrain from casual out and about gossip with our fiends and others about what has finally come to surface. HOWEVER,If someone comes to us and asks us..well, WE'RE GONNA BE HONEST, but with out harshness, ridicule and slander, always ending our conversation with the fact that they need to be following Christ for their direction and not us, others or the gossip they may open their ears up to. Even before the closet opened, I would encounter times where I was confronted with Slander of SG, by fellow believers! And while I could see what was going on inside and did not agree, I knew It wrong to participate and found myself offended…. But, I do not find my offense to be my own, but rather that of Gods. I hold no bitterness, Anger, or resentment towards SG, but there is hurt and even hurt can hold an abundance of LOVE for its fellow brothers and sisters.

  7. Lynn says

    If SGM doesn't want any one to think they are covering stuff up, then they need to be honest. Why take down CJ's confessions? If AoR told them about the way they do confessions in the summer, then why not take it down during the summer? Why after the Pastors conference? If anyone is suspicious in sgm, is because they can never ever give a straight answer. I rememberf at my former sgm church, i would ask a question and get a different answer from each pastor I asked.

    Thanks though for doing this blog post. Thanks for saying it is not dissive to ask questions or have concerns.

    I do have a question, you said in another post you had concerns with Dave harvey he disagreed with. How long ago was this? And what did you disagree about? And you may not know this, but I'll ask anyway, are there other pastors in sgm disagreeing? If there are, I think it needs to be told by sgm because then it wont look like clc is the only one and the clc pastors wont have to stand alone.

  8. Lynn says

    When I look at some comments, I notice that they had a negative like, and shocker…..they were all having concerns about sgm. I did fix them and make it equal. This is what I mean when you cant disagree about anything in sgm. All I did was ask questions and give my opinion about why there is a suspicion in sgm, but since it wasn't sgm is the greatest it got a thumbs down. I really don't care about the like or dislike button, but it just proves that you still cannot voice concerns or ask questions in sgm.

  9. Rick Malament says

    Stephen, I can't disagree with anything you stated, maybe even the part about the "stupid pill" (just kidding!) But you really just zoomed past the obvious. There IS great suspicion about the leadership and an apparent coverup, and for good reason! Information continues to be censored and tightly controlled (re: Micky's admonishment to Crossway last week) In some way you are sounding a bit like Rodney King (1992 LA riots) when he made that famous plea "Can't we all just get along?" I agree that we must address our issues and concerns in a Godly and loving manner as proscribed by scriptures, but that doesn't exempt God's leaders from total and complete honesty. Total and complete, no compromise.

  10. Eric Grover says

    Stephen,

    I like your humor posts better. Stick to those until next spring and the AoR report is out. I think you and many others may be surprised to find that there was plenty of reasons for loving, God glorifying suspicion concerning our past and current leaders.

  11. says

    Stephen – appreciate your thoughts but I'd like to suggest that you're not thinking about this correctly. First, you start w your concern about suspicion when you should starting w trust – suspicion exist because of a lack of trust. The pertinent issue is this – why is there widespread mistrust regarding SGM and the board? Here's the important thing to realize – trust is a byproduct, a result of trusted behavior. The reason mistrust and suspicion exist is because trust has been broken and SGM has not acted in a way that promotes and sustain trust.

    Second, you mix the issue of mistrust w your concern that people not "angrily criticize"or "lash out". You're mixing categories – no one should support or condone angrily lashing out at anyone but by the same token, SGM should not expect trust to be extended without condition. Many of us love… yes, you read it right… we love SGM. We are also asking for change and doing so strongly… we are asking for openness and fairness. And, SGM leadership should have the courage to concern themselves less w CJ/Brent and more with acting in a humble, open way. If they do so, trust will be extended and suspicion will dissapate

  12. Rick Venglarcik says

    Stephen,

    In essence, I agree with the focus of your post. The road of suspicion hardly ever meanders its way to the home of trust and happiness.

    You stated "I have read most of Brent’s documents" and you indicate you have "read the blogs."
    If you read ALL of Brent's documents,and review the horror stories of abuse and systemic problems within SGM, and you are staying on top of how the actual AoR process is being manipulated, controlled and structured by SGM, (see, e.g., http://www.brentdetwiler.com; specifically his post "Sovereign Grace Panels Are of Little Worth In Determining C.J.’s Fitness for Ministry,"), I would find it extremely dubious if you were to continue to stand behind your statement, "I respect the guys on the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and I believe that they are seeking to follow the Lord through this difficult situation."

    Sometimes, the obvious needs to be pointed out: If it wasn't for the work of Brent and the blogs, NONE of these needed changes in SGM would even have come into the light! Do the hard work…READ IT ALL, LISTEN TO THE HOLY SPIRIT AND OPEN YOUR EYES.

    You cited the example of Paul's thankfulness for the Corinthians. It is a good one. So are John's words in the Revelation:

    Revelation 3:1-6 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. 4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

    Any man who is convicted by the spirit and confesses his sin, then steps down for MONTHS to more fully evaluate himself (as CJ did), who then retracts his confession by stating "what I should have done is postpone any confession statement until both panels had ruled,” clearly needs to be reacquainted with Scripture and the Holy Spirit.

    When all of this began, I hoped things would finally change within SGM and God would ultimately be glorified by a movement I gave ten years of my life towards. I had hoped we would see positive change in polity following a period of grieving, mourning, confession and restoration. Every week has shown little more than the same old pattern of manipulations, lies and spin…AND THE WHOLE EVANGELICAL WORLD IS WATCHING.

    I have truly begun to fear for the leaders of SGM. I am astounded by the depth of their blindness.

  13. Bob Dixon says

    The reason folks are suspicous is because SGM leaders will not confess their sins against the people, ask for forgiveness, and enjoy the fruits of reconciliation. This entire mess is not complicated. Sadly, the SGM board is leading the way in NOT doing any of the above and it is offensive that they are waiting to have A of R tell them what they need to repent of when they already know full well what they need to repent of. I'm afraid you have believed the best to the point of becoming deceived. God is systematically dismembering SGM because they will not acknowledge or repent of the long standing and extensive abuse they have proagated against His people. Do not make it more complicated than it is.

  14. says

    Along the lines of what Bob Dixon is saying, a good reason for suspicion is how little (if barely at all) SGM has admitted their sins and errors in the past. SGM might change practices and beliefs but rarely if ever do they admit that what was done in the past was wrong. Again they may change a practice but won't admit that the past practice was wrong.

    Maybe the SGM Leaders haven't read this passage in Proverbs:

    Proverbs 28:13
    He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.Proverbs 28:13
    He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.

    Especially Mahaney should think about this passage.

  15. steve240 says

    Stephen

    I believe you were at the SGM Pastors' conference where Mahaney basically trivialize his sin despite the Detwiler documents showing Mahaney did some egregious sins. Is it any wonder that people would be suspicious of SGM Leaders when you have the group's leader (some say pope) making this king of a statement?

    Have you seen CLC's statement on this? They said:

    "One of the most significant moments of the Pastors Conference was when C.J. shared with all the pastors and wives about what he’s learned during his Leave of Absence (LoA). Our pastoral team was disappointed by the tone and posture of C.J.’s remarks, and we feel strongly that it’s appropriate for you to read them, because they reflect apparent changes in his thinking about his LoA and his confession to our congregation at the July 10 Members Meeting. "

    CLC also said:

    "We’ve asked the SGM Board to make the audio and/or transcript of this session readily available to our church, but we have not heard back as of this writing. We look forward to sharing our thoughts with C.J. and the SGM Board directly and hearing from the Board on whether they support C.J.’s statements."

    It will be interesting to hear if the SGM Board comments on what Mahaney's said. By not supporting what Mahaney stated they could do a lot to help reduce suspicion.

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