Can You Be The ‘Worst Sinner’ And Yet Never Be Wrong?

September 13, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

In a comment left the other day, a reader shared about her life as a single mom in PDI’s (People of Destiny International’s) earliest days.  This was long before PDI morphed into Sovereign Grace Ministries, with all its attendant respectability among Reformed Big Dogs like John Piper and Al Mohler.  And although certain general attitudes present in PDI’s culture back then were still much the same as one might experience today, one of my thoughts while reading this person’s account of her experience was, “Wow – SGM has sure come a long way since then and REALLY changed what they teach!”

Some of what this reader described sounded downright quaint.  For instance, she was assigned a “discipler” to whom she was expected to submit.  She was  instructed in no uncertain terms that her “place” (even as a single mom) was to stay home with her child, which meant that she had no job, no real means of support, and was forced to live with other families from the church.   And the church openly advocated some very harsh parenting practices.

When readers share stories from long ago like that, a frequent refrain that I’ve heard from SGM’s defenders is, “Oh, but that was long ago!  Everything has changed since then!”

And yes, that would appear to be true.  Which is a good thing.  I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing that SGM no longer advocates the stricter practices of the “Shepherding Movement.”  It’s a good thing that SGM doesn’t automatically tell all single moms that they are “more biblical” if they live off of welfare and stay home with their children.  It’s got to be a good thing that SGM has moved away from officially instructing parents that “the rod” is the only “truly biblical” method of discipline, and to use “glue sticks” to spank their children…it’s a good thing that they’ve quit offering parenting classes where they pause the recording devices so they can talk about bruises and welts and how to avoid getting in trouble with Social Services.

There’s some debate, of course, about some of the changes that SGM has made over the years.  For instance, many within SGM would not agree with how they’ve changed their stance on the Holy Spirit baptism, softening the language in their doctrinal statements to avoid appearing to believe that one needs to speak in tongues.  Some folks are still scratching their heads over how their church was able to transition from an openly and overtly Arminian and Charismatic ministry to one that merely has a “significant Charismatic element” and seems to spend most of its time advocating a Puritan style of Reformed thinking.  (“All the guilt and sin, with none of the comforting confident assurance of salvation.”)

But yeah, definitely – Sovereign Grace Ministries has changed over the years.  A lot.

Gone are the days of having “carpet time,” of “laughing in the Spirit.”  Gone is the strict promotion of and adherance to Ezzo-style parent-directed feeding of babies, even newborns.  Gone is the strict promotion of a singles ministry where the sexes can mingle only in groups.

But yesterday, as I was thinking about how much SGM has changed since the crude and clearly fringe practices that our reader described, it occurred to me that I’m pretty sure very few of these changes were ever openly and publicly discussed from the pulpit.

Yes, I think Josh Harris has given a couple of talks where he described ways in which his I Kissed Dating Goodbye book might have been taken to legalistic extremes.  (In other words – it wasn’t ever his book’s fault.  It was his readers’ fault, for misapplying the stuff he penned back when he was a young man barely in his twenties.)

But aside from that, I’m not sure that SGM has ever openly and publicly admitted to being wrong about anything.  They do morph and change, which is a good thing in many respects.  But it’s morphing and changing done mostly under the radar.

They’ve never openly repented or recanted on the crazy errors of PDI’s early days. Seriously, folks – think about that. C.J. Mahaney has been at the helm and in control of the organization this whole time. Lots of his leaders have been around for decades, even back when the crazier shepherding stuff was happening. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, NOBODY has ever gone on the record to publicly acknowledge that they really missed the boat back in the early days. Nobody has ever stood up on Covenant Life Church’s stage (or wherever) and said, “Here are some things that you need to know, people – even though this happened 20 (or 30, or 10, or 5) years ago, and it’s old news, we’ve since come to realize that we got it wrong, so anybody who is still thinking this stuff needs to quit.”

And they also ought to apologize to anyone and everyone they can think of who were disciplined for not going along with the errors that SGM has since corrected.

Take reader and commenter DB, for instance.  She was disciplined and disfellowshipped for taking a stand against the Ezzo stuff that was being taught, at that time, as DOCTRINE.  Think about that.  SGM doesn’t openly teach the Ezzo rules anymore.  They’ve realized that, in effect, DB was RIGHT.  Yet – they have, to the best of my knowledge, never contacted her to apologize. She’s been quite open about who she is.  Her story even appears in the Wikipedia article about SGM.

Considering that it’s a FACT that SGM has (at least technically) moved away from the very position that DB took and which caused her “dismemberment” from SGM, SGM so totally owes DB and her family the most heartfelt apology!  (I say it’s a fact that SGM has changed because if anyone approached SGM’s leadership now to ask about the extreme Ezzo approach to parenting, they’d be told that SGM absolutely does not promote that approach.)

How can anyone defend SGM’s lack of action here, even in just this one situation?  Why has nobody contacted DB to repent of the wrong that was done to her and her family? Even though she’s cool with stuff now and no longer cares about SGM, SGM’s leaders owe it to her, and to themselves to right this wrong.

What’s worse, though, is that these errant teachings – the harsh parenting stuff that resulted in bruises on kids’ backsides, even the crazy shepherding thinking that turned single moms into a second-class (third-class?) citizens back in the day – have never been openly acknowledged and clearly and publicly corrected. In other words, there are still plenty of folks within SGM who have those teachings buried somewhere in their memories…with NO CORRECTION presented to officially tell them that this stuff is no longer viewed as OK.

Especially in relation to parenting, SGM needs to publicly recant. Leadership needs to GO ON THE RECORD as having changed their minds about some of this stuff.

Otherwise, it does not really matter whether they no longer PROMOTE it. Until they repent and recant openly, it’s still being subconsciously approved of and promoted by all the people who swallowed these teachings whole back when they were first presented as truth, as “Biblical.”  Especially with respect to SGM’s parenting teachings, those things are still being passed down unofficially, from the older generations to the younger.

I think it’s fascinating that you can have an organization that talks so much about sin, and the “worst sinner” status of its leaders, and yet never seems to openly acknowledge actually being WRONG about anything.

What’s up with that?