What follows was originally posted as a string of comments, but it struck me as thought-provoking enough to deserve its own post. So here goes.
Commenter “Argo” asked,
Does anyone know if Sovereign Grace Ministries applies the concept of total depravity in the orthodox way, or do they twist it to mean that since you are so full of sin, even after salvation, that you cannot think for yourself and you must have specially appointed pastors to control the mindless, sin-wracked sheep?
I think it depends on what you mean by the word “know.” There’s what we can know about SGM through their official doctrinal statements and through what pastors might tell us if we asked them.
And then there’s what we know about SGM through observing the realities present throughout their long history. There’s what we can know about SGM through watching the role that pastors think they are called to play in members’ lives.
If we were to go by the first concept of “know,” I would say that SGM’s ideas about total depravity harken back to a person’s inability to do anything to initiate the salvation process.
But if we go by the second concept of “know,” I think it’s obvious that your description –
Since you are so full of sin, even after salvation, that you cannot think for yourself and you must have specially appointed pastors to control the mindless, sin-wracked sheep
– would be very accurate.
We can see this view of total depravity at work in the underlying assumptions behind Mickey Connolly’s recent instructions to the members of CrossWay.
I know this might be a bit tedious, but I’m really going to break it down, so we don’t miss any of the implications:
1. Since the meeting was a “Family Meeting,” intended for CrossWay members only, and since being a professing Christian is a requirement for membership at CrossWay, Mickey had to have believed that he was addressing a room full of certified believers (as best as any SGMer could ever experience assurance of his or her salvation).
2. So, Mickey’s remarks at that “Mark Brent!” meeting were directed at people whom he believed to be Christians.
3. Presumably, Mickey believes that Christians have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them.
4. Yet he still felt the need to give very detailed and explicit instructions about what to do to carry out his command to “mark” Brent. He still felt the need to convey to his people a wholesale condemnation of Brent’s documents and “the blogs,” judging them several times to be “gossip” and “slander.” He still felt the need to tell people what they ought to think about the question of Brent.
5. The question is, why would a pastor who, on paper at least, believes that each person in his audience is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Whom the Bible promises will “guide us into all truth,” see the need to try his very desperate best to get people to avoid reading anything contrary to what he wants them to think? And the only answer I can come up with would be that Argo’s statement about total depravity is precisely what Mickey believes about his people.
Sure, SGM pastors would say that they think their church members (who, remember, must be professing Christians in order to obtain member status) have the indwelling Holy Spirit. But SGM pastors also clearly believe that people are still so sin-addled and so stupid and so weak that they need their pastors to attempt to control what they read and think.
THIS is the how-it-works-out-in-real-daily-life truth of what SGM pastors’ believe about the total depravity of their Christian members.
Here are some additional thoughts about the interesting tension present in the way SGM’s ideas about total depravity are really at odds with SGM leaders’ commands to their members to “trust them”:
Y’know, I just can’t get over how bizarre it is that Mickey Connolly felt the need to do what he did in the “Mark Brent!” meeting…and that he obviously believed that people in his audience would listen to him.
Imagine for a moment this same scenario playing out in any other context.
Imagine this scenario playing out in a corporate setting, for example.
You have a company where a former top executive releases hundreds of pages of documents that contain dozens of verbatim emails from all the other top executives, including the CEO. Along with the former top executive’s commentary, the emails clearly demonstrate a problem of leadership-with-zero-formal-accountability within the company. All the shareholders of the company are talking about the documents released by the former top executive. The CEO himself initially steps down…although a couple of months later, he tries to retract anything resembling an acknowledgement of the former executive’s criticisms. He also instructs all the remaining executives to put the kibosh on anyone who openly tries to investigate the matter for himself or herself.
So, one of the other executives gets up in front of a portion of the shareholders and instructs them to trust him. Trust him. And don’t go reading anything related to the documents! The documents are slander! They are gossip! They are divisive! Have nothing to do with the former top executive. Don’t follow him on Facebook!
What would any halfway sane thinking person conclude about the CEO and his remaining top executives?
What would any halfway sane thinking person say about these guys’ motives for telling the shareholders to ignore the former top executive and his criticisms?
Really. Think about this. If this same scenario that is playing out right now within the SGM family of churches were playing out in any other context, about 99% of us would be 99% certain that the CEO and his remaining executives were simply desperate to hang on to their power…and that they were instructing the shareholders not to read the former executive’s documents because they didn’t want the shareholders to be exposed to anything criticizing the company or questioning the CEO’s leadership.
Yet when this scenario takes place within the context of a family of churches, we are supposed to suspend all logical thought and just trust the remaining executives?
This is especially bizarre and illogical when you consider what SGM believes about a Christian’s ongoing tendency toward depravity. SGM believes that its members will always and forever be leaning toward choosing sin rather than choosing righteousness. Either they believe this about all Christians across the board, INCLUDING PASTORS, or they believe that pastors are somehow above the ongoing pull toward sinfulness and are thus worthy of being given the constant benefit of the doubt.
I wonder which it is. Do SGM pastors acknowledge in themselves the same pull toward sin that they are always seeing in their ordinary membership? Or do they believe that they themselves are above this pull?
If they would acknowledge that they, too, remain completely polluted by their total depravity, then why should anyone extend unquestioning trust to them? Why should anyone defy all logic to “believe the best” about them? Why should they expect their people to assume that their motives are totally pure and not self-serving when they condemn unflattering information as “gossip” and “slander” and tell people not to read it?
Since they are expecting unquestioning trust, and since they are demanding that people suspend all logical thought in order to “believe the best” about their motives, it seems pretty clear that SGM pastors actually do not believe that they struggle with the same sinful tendencies as poor plain old ordinary SGM members do.
There’s really no other way to look at this. Either Mickey Connolly’s railings against Brent are legitimate and Mickey is deserving of people’s illogical blind trust because there’s just no way that Mickey could be operating with impure motives…or else Mickey Connolly is just as depraved as any other ordinary SGM member and consequently ought to be regarded with suspicion, ought to be viewed as the desperate-to-maintain-control despot that his actions would make him out to be in any other context.