When church loyalty goes too far…

January 14, 2008 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

My sister is a regular reader of the site, and the other day, she made a comment that really got me to thinking.  She said,

“Some of these Sovereign Grace defenders sound so passionate, emotional, and almost IRRATIONAL about the perceived attacks on their church that it seems like they think people are attacking Christ.  It’s almost as though their CHURCH has become so entangled in their thinking with Jesus and their entire Christian faith that they can hardly distinguish the difference between them!”

At first blush, I didn’t think my sister was right.  After all, I could already hear my Sovereign Grace friends practically shouting at me, “Sovereign Grace Ministries is about the GOSPEL!”

But then I got to thinking about it, and I sort of wonder if maybe my sister is onto something.

First of all, I’ve never yet encountered a Sovereign Grace person who did not believe that his church was simply the the only church for him.  In fact, that was an early red flag for us, when we’d constantly hear people saying, “I’d never live ANYWHERE where there wasn’t a Sovereign Grace church!”  I can remember sitting there in our Care group, listening to someone give her testimony, and as I heard that same phrase come tumbling out of this lady’s mouth, expressing her utter loyalty to all things Sovereign Grace, I couldn’t help but wonder if she didn’t somehow believe that no other church quite “got it right.” 

I realize, of course, that there’s nothing wrong with feeling (and expressing) strong loyalty to one’s church.  It’s somewhat normal for people to believe that wherever they’ve chosen to worship and put down roots is the best thing going, and that THEIR church does the best job of “working out” the Christian faith.

But being the questioning type of person that I am, I’d imagine what would happen if one of these fervent “Sovereign Grace Only!” types were to be offered the opportunity of a lifetime – a fantastic job, perhaps, or a chance to have a much simpler and happier life, moving closer to family, for instance – but the only “catch” was, the opportunity involved living in a town nowhere near a Sovereign Grace church. 

How many of these people would automatically decide, then, that the opportunity simply could not be God’s will for them?

I don’t know the answer to that question, of course, but I do have my strong suspicions.  After all, what does it mean if you say over and over again, “I’d never live ANYWHERE where there wasn’t a Sovereign Grace church”?  Don’t you pretty much mean exactly what you’re saying, that somehow, God would never lead you to a location where you’d have to attend a non-Sovereign Grace church?

And what is at the root of such fervent exclusivity?

Doesn’t this passion for Sovereign Grace Ministries exceed normal or typical devotion to a particular way of “doing church”?  Isn’t there contained within these kinds of statements an implied superiority to other expressions of Christianity?

And could this possibly be right?  Could this possibly be the way that the Lord intends for us to think?

Could God possibly want a very small group of Christians to believe that their little “family of churches” is the only one that “gets it right”?

I don’t think so.

But even stranger than the Sovereign Grace folks’ defensive reactions to perceived criticism, and even more troublesome than their attitudes of exclusivity about their church, is the statement that many Sovereign Grace people have made whenever anyone points out their church’s cultural oddities.

What do they say when people assert that SGM’s focuses on homeschooling and courtship, for instance, are a little odd or out of balance?  Or that perhaps the “accountability relationships” are too intrusive?  Or that their church discipline process is too harsh and does not reflect true grace?

They reply, “Well, Sovereign Grace isn’t for everyone!”

These two beliefs – the belief that Sovereign Grace is the only church that gets it right, and the belief that Sovereign Grace isn’t for everyone – make REALLY strange bedfellows!

Sovereign Grace people are talking out of both sides of their mouths.  Out of one side, they’re saying that they are part of the BEST church.  But out of the other side, they’re quick to say that this BEST church is not for everyone.

Apparently, it’s only for the “special” people…the ones who can deal with all the extra requirements, the heightened focus on “rooting out sin,” the more intense “accountability” relationships, the unquestioning submission to authority.

What sort of “Gospel” is this, anyway?

© 2008, Kris. All rights reserved.