Which Jesus?

August 5, 2019 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Years and years ago (circa 2007, can you believe it’s been that long?), this site started as a place to post some of my personal musings about our experience in a Sovereign Grace Church. (If you’re wondering what our experience was like, you can click on the tab above that says, “Who We Are And How We Got Here.”)

This was way before the problems with Sovereign Grace Ministries were EVER discussed publicly anywhere on the internet (except for some random comments on an inactive blog I eventually ended up preserving here). I had no idea other people might have felt the same as we did. Certainly, I had no idea anyone had had far worse experiences they wanted to talk about.

But life has a way of happening. Things change. People grow and change. Guy and I have grown and changed.

Just like Josh Harris, we have evolved in our thinking. Just in a way that’s basically the polar opposite of how he’s changed.

If you’re someone who has had a bad experience in your Sovereign Grace Church…if you’re someone who has stumbled on this site because you’ve been reading about Josh Harris’ recent self-proclaimed apostasy…if you’re looking for information about the Sovereign Grace organization’s historical issues…you’ve still reached a safe place where you can share your story, ask questions, or post your thoughts. Feel free to look around. Click on the “Stories” tab above. Read the sermon transcripts and see for yourself what used to be taught within SG churches.

HOWEVER, I feel like i need to explain where we are coming from nowadays. I’ve gotten more than a few emails asking why certain comments didn’t get published. I owe the readers here an explanation.

I seem to do my best thinking while responding to comments. Today, someone posted a comment and I wrote a response, and my response really captures where my thinking is right now. It might also help people understand where we are coming from nowadays. So I’m going to repost it below.

Again, full disclosure, it’s long and more than a little bit rambling. But hey, it’s the best I’ve got right now. So here goes…

This was posted in response to a commenter who asked,

Do honest and authentic Christians still come here to share their rich faith in Jesus Christ, and to rejoice in his faithfulness?

The short answer to your question is, for me, a resounding “Yes.” I find a lot of encouragement in many of the comments.

A more nuanced answer to your question (“Do honest and authentic Christians still come here to share their rich faith in Jesus Christ, and to rejoice in his faithfulness?”) is, it depends on which Jesus you’re talking about.

See, I’ve been on my own faith journey of sorts over the past several years. I think all believers are, actually, if we’re honest. And my journey has taken me some interesting places. I grew up in a really sweet, wholesome, mindlessly fundamentalist small-town Christian culture, going to the same Bible-believing Evangelical church and attending Christian schools the whole time. Some of the mindlessness about Christianity was a product of the era. I know I sound like an old lady these days, but I’m constantly telling my kids, things have changed TREMENDOUSLY in the past 20 years or so. It used to be that if someone claimed the name of Christ, there were certain things you could assume about their priorities, their attitudes, their lifestyle. Nowadays, that has all changed.

But anyway, that’s how I was raised, and for a number of years into adulthood, Guy and I sort of floated along, attending a couple of what were becoming increasingly bland seeker-friendly megachurches. Their statements of faith were all kosher, the preaching didn’t raise any alarms. But both Guy and I were feeling frustrated in a sort of nameless, formless way.

Then, through a series of random events, we found ourselves attending a Sunday evening service at a charismatic church. I was very yielded and eager…and on that night, I had some sort of experience. For years, I have sought to figure out what that experience was. Was it God? Was it my own brain? Was it the product of my eagerness?

Anyway, after that experience, I was hooked. We left our bland megachurch with nary a backward glance. Guy and I rather quickly became ENGULFED in the charismatic church. Despite all my Christian education (one class shy of a minor in theology, decades of decent teaching) there were a LOT of theological things that I didn’t understand at the time, things about hermeneutics in particular. I also rather deliberately shut my mind off. This was encouraged.

For awhile, things were great. The pastor and his wife were viewed as inaccessible celebrities in the little world they’d created, yet somehow Guy and I were singled out for attention. We felt empowered by and optimistic about the name-it-and-claim-it teachings. I mean, yeah, my old doctrinal muscle memory would nag me sometimes about how unbalanced it was to use some random opening greeting from 3 John (“Beloved, I wish above all else that you be in good health and prosper”) as the foundation for basically everything we were taught about how it was always God’s will to heal people and bless them financially. But I silenced those voices, in large part because I’d always come back to my experiences in the church.

After a few years there, though, things seemed to get wackier. Pretty soon, I couldn’t quiet the nagging thoughts that kept bubbling to the surface. I started to do some serious reading and research. Even though I kept assigning my experiences a great deal of weight (like, because I had such a great experience, the teachings can’t be coming from a totally wrong place), I also started critically examining the name-it-and-claim-it stuff.

It was this questioning that eventually led us to leave our charismatic church and find Sovereign Grace. We were drawn in by SG’s purported commitments to charismaticism and “sound doctrine.”

Anyway, warning, seemingly random segue here, but I promise it will come back around…

Mormonism has actually been an interest of mine for years. I educated myself on this religion when I first encountered some friends who seemed so Christian in their behavior but were actually LDS. I had to know how their beliefs differed from my own. I ended up learning so much about Mormonism. (It’s hilarious, when the Mormon missionaries roll up to our doorstep on their bikes, Guy will sigh because he knows I’m going to invite them in, feed them, and have a rousing discussion with them. More than once, they have actually admitted I know more about the doctrinal intricacies of their faith than they do.)

The entire foundation of Mormonism is Joseph Smith. Was he a legitimate prophet? Did an angel come down and give him a new revelation? Why do we accept or reject his claims?

Anyway, how this connects to my faith journey is, one day I was reading about hermeneutics and it suddenly occurred to me: If I’m willing to assign my own personal experience so much weight so that I can put up with teachings that are incompatible with the “whole counsel of God” as it is revealed through a straightforward reading of scripture, then why is it OK to reject Mormonism?

Along those same lines, how do we determine whether something is truly from God? What standard do we use to determine if Jesus is actually speaking to us?

People will talk about meeting Jesus, being encouraged to love like Jesus, encountering Jesus. And all of that is fine and dandy…EXCEPT, why do we reject some Jesuses (like the Jesus of Mormonism, or the Jesus of Marianne Williamson and the New Agers) but not others?

The standard answer has always been, you run it by the Bible. If it contradicts the Bible, if the Jesus you are encountering is different than the Jesus portrayed in the gospels, then your Jesus is a counterfeit Jesus…the product of your own imagination or maybe even of satanic forces.

Likewise, if you are a Christian and feel like you’re being told to do something and you think it’s Jesus/God telling you to do it, the standard answer has always been, does this behavior contradict what is commanded for believers in scripture? If it does, then the desire to engage in that behavior is coming from your unregenerate old sin nature, not the Holy Spirit/God/Jesus.

Nowadays, though, that standard answer is somehow not satisfactory to a lot of people. Nowadays, even otherwise earnest, committed believers think it’s “mean” or “harsh” to say a straightforward reading of scripture condemns something like homosexual activity.

I blame the seeker-friendly movement for some of this wimpiness about the Bible. Many of us have been conditioned to accept incorrect beliefs about evangelism and what “church” is supposed to be. We have been conditioned to see Jesus and church as products we need to sell to people. Our megachurches offer up endless sermons about having a better family, or managing your money better, or improving your marriage. You can find food banks and addiction recovery groups. What’s confusing, of course, is that there’s nothing exactly wrong about any of those messages or services…but all too often, it’s something of a bait-and-switch at best, where our churches first hide the hard truths of the gospel – truths like, you’re a sinner, lost, an enemy of God, dead in your sins, completely helpless and unable to save yourself or make yourself right with God – and only slip the less appealing parts of the Christian faith in later. At worst, the harder stuff is NEVER mentioned, because we’re afraid our “converts” will be turned off to a Jesus that might make demands on their lives or ask them to change anything.

One rationale for the church’s avoidance of addressing specific sinful behaviors is that many of us have also somehow bought into the idea that “all sins are equal in God’s eyes.”

Really, this was actually HUGE within SGM and is why child molesters were regarded as no worse than someone who was struggling with unforgiveness. There has been this TOTALLY STUPID embrace of thinking that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 somehow means engaging in adulterous sex isn’t any worse in God’s eyes than merely thinking about it. Or that being gay – engaging in homosexual behavior and building your entire identity upon the foundation of your sexual proclivities – is no worse a sin than gossiping.

Yes, it is true that all sin separates us from God. That was Jesus’ point in Matthew 5-7, that no one among His Jewish listeners could ever hope to follow the law well enough to please God. Jesus was establishing their need for a Savior, someone who was both perfect man AND God, someone who could keep the law perfectly in both outward AND inward ways.

But Jesus was not saying that if you tell a lie, for example, you are going to experience an equal amount of destructive consequences as the person who sins sexually. Later in the New Testament, Paul explains that sexual sin is in a separate category (check out I Corinthians 6, for example). Sexual sin does unique harm to the sinner.

I’m NOT saying there’s somehow not grace for the person who has fallen sexually. Obviously there is! (Because the Bible says there is…)

But – to bring this rambling comment back around to clearly address the original question – if someone reads here and is asking about “refreshment from Jesus” or whatever, sure. Absolutely! We can talk about Jesus and celebrate forgiveness and God’s love all day long. As long as we are clearly discussing the Jesus of the Bible and God’s love as it is portrayed there, balanced equally with God’s perfect and incredible holiness and our utter abject failure without Christ to approach God and meet His holy standards.

You see, my faith journey has led me to resoundingly reject anything that does not go with a straightforward reading of scripture. You wanna celebrate gay pride like Josh Harris did this past weekend? Do so somewhere else. Wanna talk about how Jesus provides salvation and grace for us? Sure, absolutely – as long as I can tell there’s a balance to your comment and you aren’t leading people astray to assume the Bible has somehow suddenly become OK with behaviors it clearly deems sinful.

Because…I mean…why do you believe anything about Jesus, if you feel like rejecting some of scripture? If you’re basing your Jesus on some experience you had, how do we assess whether it’s the Jesus of the Bible or the Jesus of your imagination that was affected by that bad pizza you had last night? This is where I applaud Josh Harris for at least (for now) pretending to be intellectually consistent in his rejection of the Christian faith because he’s rejecting the Bible’s sexual ethic.

Anyway, I’ve reached a place in my own personal walk with the Lord where I’m not going to coddle people here by shying away from standing up for the truth of scripture. Even if those people have been badly hurt by their Sovereign Grace pastors’ misuse of scriptures. Truth is truth. The good news of Jesus is quite literally all we have between us and an eternity in hell. We get the good news of Jesus from the Bible, and pretty much only the Bible (because all other subjective stuff has to be judged BY the Bible or else it is worth no more than Mormonism). Life is too short and the times are evil.

It’s not “mean” or “harsh” to say so. If anything, it’s the least kind thing you could do, to affirm someone in his or her journey to hell in the interest of being nice.