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Do SGM’s Problems Shake Your Faith?

Kris says:  What follows is one of those posts that some of you (those of you who come here looking for news) probably won’t like, as it’s an editorial of sorts – some of my thoughts about a recent trend I’ve noticed in my email and in comments people have left.  I really don’t presume to be any sort of teacher or profound thinker, so if you’re not usually interested in what I have to say, then you might want to come back another day, when we may finally have some news about things like the release of the report from the Ambassadors of Reconciliation.

That being said, if you’re still here – well, here goes.  :D

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In the previous post, new commenter “Shoreline” said,

I am much more interested in how to salvage shipwrecked faith as a result of the experience of sgm.

This is a theme I’ve been hearing more often lately. A few days ago, “yentl” wrote,

So…if good Christians throughout SGM stand up against spiritual abuse, will I be whole again? Unfortunately, if they find in my favor, my friends will hate me. Either way…I lose.

I get the feeling, from different comments and emails, that the issues with which Sovereign Grace Ministries has been dealing over the past 8 or 10 months or so have caused a lot of upheaval in at least some SGM members’ spiritual lives.

I’m looking at the last sentence that I wrote and realizing that what I just said probably seems really, really UN-profound to a lot of you.  But I think it’s important to understand that for people on the outside of SGM, their ideas about “church” are much more elastic…and much less foundational to their Christian faith.

And, if you find that SGM’s problems are causing you to feel differently about your Christian faith – your walk with Jesus – then that’s quite likely a sign that you have confused the real gospel (the good news of what Jesus has done for us) with something else (the role that your SGM church plays in your life as a Christian).

I believe that because of the way SGM churches were established (for years, SGM’s “missions” efforts were almost exclusively directed toward planting more SGM churches in already-churched suburban neighborhoods where there were already plenty of gospel-proclaiming, Bible-believing congregations), and because of what SGM pastors have believed and taught about church, too many people within SGM have made the way that SGM “does church” the defining aspect of their lives as believers. For instance, if you look at earlier SGM writings like the collaborative Why Small Groups: Together Toward Maturity, it is clear that for decades the leaders of SGM believed that SGM churches’ approach to “biblical fellowship” was the only real way to have sanctification…and of course, while sanctification does not save us (or so the book says initially), sanctification will be taking place if we are “truly saved”…and sanctification cannot happen apart from “biblical fellowship” as SGM defines “biblical fellowship”…so therefore, your SGM church, with its “biblically correct” approach to fellowship is crucial to your sanctification, which is required in order for you to actually be saved. (This is discussed here at some length.)

In addition to SGM’s rigid ideas about what constitutes “biblical fellowship,” SGM has for years marketed itself as practically the only purveyor of “correct doctrine,” because SGM is just about the only church out there that is – on paper at least – both “Charismatic” and “Reformed.”  Moreover, a lot of SGMers have absorbed the idea that pretty much no other church gives its people enough tough talk about sin.

The bottom line for many loyal SGMers is that although they like to defend their SGM churches by paying lip service to the idea that “no church is perfect,” the very reason that they feel the need to defend SGM in the first place is because SGM has in many ways historically believed itself to be “more biblical” than other churches, and about as close to perfect as it’s possible for a church to get in this lifetime.

SGM churches have also been “One-Stop Shops.”  For years, members were trained to look to their pastors for all their needs.  Within SGM, pastors were thought to possess special abilities to know their people’s hearts – abilities to discern a person’s sins better than the person himself could discern them.  From C.J. Mahaney’s Happiest [Dearest] Place On Earth sermon comes the following quote:

We need good and godly pastors to watch over our souls because we are vulnerable on a daily basis to the deceitfulness of sin, the hardening effect of sin upon our souls. So sin is deceptive. That’s the DNA of sin, the DNA of sin is deception, therefore we need the discerning and caring eyes of pastors and others because so – so often I’M BLIND TO WHAT IS OBVIOUS TO THEM.

Also, SGM members were for years taught to have disdain for anything having to do with the mental health profession.  No matter what the issue or problem, the SGMer was trained to seek help only from his or her pastor.  Professional counseling – even professional Christian counseling – was automatically suspect.  While it is true that pastors have been told within the past couple of years (since this issue has been discussed publicly here and on other sites) to tone things down, this stuff was taught to pastors as recently as 2009.  At the 2009 Sovereign Grace Ministries Pastors’ Conference, Andy Farmer gave a lengthy teaching to SGM pastors about The Counseling Process in which he provided ample evidence of SGM’s longtime antipathy for the mental health profession.  In that message, he even suggested that pastors might help members figure out whether or not to take prescription drugs such as anti-depressants:

But, uh, I think in generally speaking, we can engage people in their medications in a very helpful thoughtful way and they could – and they could – they could be, ah – and – and – and – we can become part of that process of the management of it.  [View the context for this statement in paragraphs 12-15 here.]

Back in the day, SGM pastors even believed that they ought to be the primary go-to guys for situations involving child sex abuse, weighing in on whether or not victims should involve law enforcement and the legal system, putting pressure on victims to forgive perpetrators quickly, and basically doing little to support victims while at the same time seeming to take the side of the perpetrator.

The bottom line is that if you’ve been part of an SGM church for a significant period of time, you will have very likely reached a place where you are dependent upon your church and your pastor in a way that simply does not happen out in “normal” Christianity.  You have been required to place so much faith and confidence in your church and your pastors that they really do need to be close to perfect. 

To summarize, you’ve been taught that 1) your church is one of the very few purveyors (if not the only purveyor) of truly “biblical” doctrine, particularly as it pertains to being (supposedly) both Reformed and Charismatic; 2) your salvation is dependent upon your sanctification, which is dependent upon a very particular formula for small-group fellowship; 3) your pastors have superior insight into your heart than you yourself do; and 4) your pastors ought to be the main source for all manner of advice.

With all those teachings, it stands to reason that if you discover your church organization might not actually be worthy of so much blind and unquestioning trust, the way you’ve been living out your Christian faith – with so much emphasis placed on your local SGM church – may start to bother you.  You may begin to question many elements of what you have been taught.

The good news in all of this is, well, the good news - the gospel.  The real gospel of Jesus – what He has accomplished on our behalf, what He continues to do now through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the fact that He never changes, despite what your church may have told you about how “constant change is here to stay.”  If you’re finding yourself feeling like the bottom has fallen out of your Christian life because the SGM organization is struggling to define itself, then maybe that’s a sign that you need to look at your church less and look to Jesus more.

The Bible tells us that Jesus – and not a particular expression of His church – is the author and finisher of our faith.  The Bible also tells us that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  While I believe the Bible also tells us that it is important for us to seek out the company of other believers and worship and study the Word with them, the Bible does not specifically spell out (as SGM has always spelled out) the precise way this must be done.  If you’re finding that your faith is being shaken these days, there’s a good possibility that you may have been putting your faith in the wrong thing.

309 comments to Do SGM’s Problems Shake Your Faith?

  • ExClcer'sMom

    Thank you,SMP. Your understanding brings tears of joy to me. Really.

  • SMP

    ExClcer’s Mom:

    Peace is a fruit of the spirit. To receive it is to receive a gift…. even a reward from the Holy Spirit. You are the recipient of His love and care for you during So Much Pain. (SMP!) To want to live in peace is to say you want to live with the fruits of the spirit. That doesn’t sound selfish to me. I am so blessed by you.

  • ExClcer'sMom

    “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” (1 Peter 3:15)
    “If god is willing to prevent evil, but not able – then he is not omnipotent. If he able, but not willing – then he is malevolent.
    If he is both able and willing – but does not prevent evil -then whence cometh evil? And if he neither able nor willing- then why call him a god?”
    Sometimes, I feel like I ‘fall short’ in being able to ‘give answer to every man’, but then, I actually think that it is not that I cannot ‘give answer’, but rather that they do not want to listen, and I will not argue. Saul would not ‘reason’ with other Christians-he did not want to hear their ‘answers’..It was not until he actually MET Jesus Himself, and then he was changed-ready to give his own life for the very beliefs he killed for before! I can speak, I can argue, facts, ideas, theories; but what is life changing is knowing Jesus personally, and there is simply no doubt to a relationship that is alive.. Those who seek Him, will find Him..I totally understand the whole ‘answer’ to the “Trilemna”-the Bible answers that! But those who do not have ‘ears to hear’ will not be desiring an answer, they will be trying to think of the next ‘argument’..Only God can change one’s heart, so I always choose not to argue. But, I suppose that from conflicting discussions good will sometimes come, so I understand that some people will argue and discuss..I just feel like I have had more than a lifetime’s worth of argument and fighting, and want to live my life in God Love, in peace..Is that selfish? Maybe so..maybe God is just allowing me a resting time, a ‘breather’ so to speak, but for now, I rest/bask in His Love, and His Peace, and my own personal relationship with Him-not what others think.

    But that is what I think SGM and others rob many of most devastatingly: our own personal relationship with Jesus. We should be encouraging each other in knowing Jesus, not ‘follow us as we know Him’..We need to know Him on our own.

  • Yellow is a Happy Color

    Hey there ExClcer———–I like seeing you around here and I think you have a lot to contribute to the discussion on SGM/CLC madness.

    Your posts about your family’s painful history and CLC’s corrupt “care” that I read last summer did sooo much for me to wake up and see CLC for what it really is. I have the door in sight now and it is such a good feeling!

    :D

  • Breeezey

    SGM’s issues do not shake my faith because I know in Whom I believe. We have a number of lurkers that pop in and out and never post. SGM isn’t the only “denomination” with issues that have wrecked the faith of some of its most vulnerable members. So while part of this is an answer to a challenge I’m moreso writing this to build the faith of some of the weakest among us that need to be built up in the faith.

    I’m not an expert on apologetics but nor am I completely ignorant of the subject. Proving the existence of God is relatively easy. Fulfilled prophecy is His signature. The question is where I would start. I would start by letting the person I was talking to know that the Old Testament canon was finished roughly 450 years before the birth of Christ. It was translated into Greek 250 years before the birth of Christ. Therefore the late dating game could not be played because time is at the very least impartial. I could go to Daniel chapter 2 and then from that point give the interpretation of Nebuchanezzar’s dream for the 4 world empires as Daniel lists in order: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greek and then Rome. The same list is in Daniel 7. Daniel 8 lists the entire career of Alexander the Great. As a matter of historical fact when Alexander came to Jerusalem the High Priest met him outside the gates of the city and showed him the scroll of Daniel and Alexander did not destroy the city because of his respect for the Hebrew God. I could then go to various scriptures in the Old Testament and show where they predicted things that happened to peoples and cities that were fulfilled hundreds of years after they were written. This is a short list I could show easily:
    1. Tyre – Ezekiel 26:3-5, 7, 12, 14, 16 (written 590 B.C.)
    2. Samaria – (Micah 1:6 – written 750 B.C.)
    3. Jerico – (Joshua 6:26 – written in 1451 B.C.)
    4. Edom – (Jer. 49:16-18 – written 600 B.C.)
    5. Babylon – (Isa. 13:19-21 – written 712 B.C.) and (Jer. 51:26,43 – written 600 B.C.)
    Of course I could also go to the personage of Jesus of Nazareth. There were 332 prophesies that were predicted about the Jewish Messiah that were written at least 450 years before he was born. Here is a quick 15:
    1. Place of birth – Micah 5:2
    2. Preceded by a messenger – Isaiah 40:3
    3. Teacher of parables – Psalms 78:2
    4. He would enter the temple of God – Malachi 3:1
    5. He would enter Jerusalem on a donkey – Zechariah 9:9
    6. Betrayed by a friend – Psalms 41:9
    7. Sold for 30 pieces of silver – Zechariah 11:12
    8. Money to be thrown in God’s house – Zechariah 11:13b
    9. Price given for potter’s field – Zechariah 11:13b
    10. Forsaken by His disciples – Zechariah 13:7
    11. Hands and feet pierced – Psalms 22:16
    12. Crucified with thieves – Isaiah 53:12
    13. Rejected by his own people – Isaiah 53:3
    14. Garments parts and lots cast – Psalms 22:18
    15. Bones not broken – Psalms 34:20

    The greatest prophecy in the Bible is this one: Daniel 9:24-27 – “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”

    Why is this the greatest prophecy in the Old Testament? Daniel wrote this at about 550 BC. so there are dates in this that cannot be refuted and cannot be explained unless God exists since He is the person that created time and the only one who knows the end from the beginning. Look at this in verse 24 “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people…” and this is in verse 25 “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem until the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks…” We know the date this proclamation was given. This was given on March 14 (1 Nisan) 445BC by Artaxerxes Longimanus. We have confirmation of the date through the Archives of Persia. Then look at this in Daniel 9:26 – “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself…” Sir Robert Anderson of Scotland Yard did the research in his wonderful book The Coming Prince and showed that from the date that Artaxerxes gave that decree (also recorded in Nehemiah 1) until the exact day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey was exactly 483 years (173880 days). If this is not proof that God exists I don’t know what is. Prophecy is the signature of the only One who knows the end from the beginning, the God of the Bible. There is NO other religious book that has His signature, prophecy. Not the Koran, not the Bagavad Gita, not the Book of Mormon, not the Vedas, there is no other religious book that matches the Bible in that area. Its not “arrogance” when the Bible and Christians claims exclusivity. Jesus was the one who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. NO MAN comes to the Father but by ME.” I didn’t say it. He did. Ted Williams once said “Its not arrogance if you can do it.”

    Back to proofs… I could then go to the proofs of the resurrection of Jesus. There was a 2 ton stone in front of his tomb. Who moved it? There is no question Jesus died on the cross. Where is His body? You know if the religious leaders of the day had it they would have wheeled it through the streets of Jerusalem stopping Christainity in the cradle. Why would the disciples die for a lie? (Paul had his head cut off, Peter was crucified upside down, John was boiled in oil. James was run through with a sword. Others were martyred throughout the centuries.) Why would the Roman Soldiers lie? If they were asleep on duty they would be burned alive in their own clothes. Where is the grave site and the body of Jesus? We know where they buried Him but He is not there becaue He is risen.

    As for the trilemma… It is easily answered once the attributes of God and man are carefully explained. God’s attributes are:
    1. Uncreated
    2. Creator
    3. Holy
    4. Just
    5. Merciful
    6. Omnipotent
    7. Omniscience
    8. Omnipresent
    9. Infinite
    10. Loving
    11. Kind
    12. Eternal

    Here is the problem, most people don’t realized that there is a difference between God’s being (metaphysics) and his personality (morals). His being is uncreated. His being is omnipresent. He upholds the universe by the word of His power (omnipotent). On the personal side God is a creator. He is holy and just and merciful.

    Man is a finite creator. Man cannot create matter but he can create his choices. God took a risk in creating a being that can originate creative choices within his own being. It is quite simple then to answer the trilemma once it is realized that evil is not a creation of God but it originates creatively within a person other than God who is holy. Evil is not an independent entity. It is not something that pre-exists and we can choose it. We create evil by our choices. We are independent finite creators. So we can create good and evil by our choices.

    God can get rid of evil whenever He wants to just by judging all men by the standards of His holiness. His mercy is why He sent His Son to pay the price for our sin. His justice is why He needed to send His Son to be the substitute. The substitute could have no sin of its own in order to be the perfect sacrifice.
    God is both willing and able but you MUST add merciful to the mix. You can’t just mix and match attributes to seemingly create a conflict. God could judge us all against His holiness and prevent all evil. There would be no one left alive after that judgment for sin. Where does evil come from. It originates creatively inside each of us.

    C.S. Lewis said that, “… evil is God’s megaphone to a non-believing world. Evil speaks of moral law. Moral law demands a moral Lawgiver, and it is He that we call God!”

    Human beings confuse ‘good’ and ‘evil’ with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ all the time. It is that confusion that fuels the ‘a good God wouldn’t create evil’ argument. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ are human moral issues. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are OUTCOMES, and are entirely in the Hands of God.

    “And we know that ALL things work together for GOOD to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

    Suppose God did eliminate evil from creation? For God to eliminate evil, He would have to eliminate our capacity of choice and thus our capacity to do both evil and good. And such a world is inferior to the one we have: one where love is possible, despite its inherent evil. What kind of God would do this? Only one kind. A God of love.

    In order that we might not suffer the penalty of our evil choices (sin), He, like a loving Father, paid the penalty for our sins. He allowed his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be murdered on a Roman cross — arguably the most evil act in the history of the universe. But this act of great evil gave rise to the greatest act of love in the universe: paying the penalty for the wrong choices we make, which are the result of the way He created us in the first place! Right and wrong are human moral choices arising out of our human moral code. Whether they result in good or evil outcomes is up to God according to His plan. Our job as Christians is to trust Him. God knows what He is doing!

    The greatest evil in the history of the universe resulted in the greatest Gift ever bestowed on mankind.

    “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

    I’m sorry if this post was long but I wanted to give evidences to firm up the faith of anyone reading that was wavering due to the stuff we write about on a normal basis here. God is here. He is loving. He is kind. He will bind up the hurts and pains of anyone who is willing to allow it.

  • The shenanigans that SGM had done with Mahaney where one statement issued by Mahaney sounded as if he was leaving the board and control and and a later statement indicated he was heading up a committee etc. sure sounds like the typical “bait and switch” or tell you what you want to hear then later announce a change. I didn’t really think C.J. Mahaney was going to give up leadership of SGM. SGM just had to try and show that was supposedly happening and then later find a way for this to not really happen.

  • 5yearsinPDI

    Off track comment here, but we just got back from seeing the movie October Baby. We so throughly enjoyed it. I hope ya’ll can get to see it; the movie has a limited showing so try to go soon.

  • xyz

    ExClcer #299,

    “…because if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that indoctrination may be the strongest force of all…”

    Hear hear — well said. I too have learned this. And it’s one reason I’m so astonished at pastors and teachers who wield this influence so carelessly, or worse, intentionally. That’s one of my biggest questions for my former SGM pastors and for the SGM leadership: do they know what they’ve done to some people?

    That’s why, with all the changes seeming to begin at my former church, Fairfax, I’m still waiting to see how the past is addressed (publicly), to know if they truly understand and feel remorse.

  • Unassimilated

    Ex CLCer – I would agree with you in that the church universal for centuries has existed more as a contrast to the the life of Jesus as told in the bible, than as an example.

    Perhaps it is what Ghandi had in mind when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    We continue, as Christians, to ignore the life of Christ, and look to a God made in our own image, a God that serves our desires, a God that is more concerned with building a brick and mortar institution here on earth. It’s sad, because the Bible quotes Jesus as saying,

    “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

    Yet for centuries, ‘Christian’ institutions like SGM have made it about this world. They have created positions and authorities for themselves, that Jesus never spoke of.

    I wish you the best as you live in this world, and would apologize to you simply for having had a part in the hypocrisy that has become the trademark of Christianity. I may not have had any direct contact with you, yet I was for many years part of the problem.

    May you find peace in all that you do.