Ch-Ch-Ch-Changing…Without Explanation

March 28, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

“One of the characteristics of the cults is the way in which their doctrines change over a period of time.  The cults have a marvellous ability to adapt themselves to new situations and arguments. Sometimes they simply change according to the whims of their leaders.”

–Rev. Paul Seiler, in Characteristics of the Cults

“Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.”

–Jesus, circa AD 30

“I the Lord do not change.”

–Malachi 3:6

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

–Hebrews 13:8

“Constant change is here to stay.”

–Josh Harris, circa 2006, echoing decades of previous SGM leadership

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Although it affects a very small percentage of those involved in the churches of Sovereign Grace Ministries, Covenant Life School’s recently announced change to its admissions policies (as outlined in the previous post) has generated a lot of traffic to this site.  People are apparently quite interested in the fact that CLS has now opened up enrollment to non-SGM students.

Just to be clear, I am not in any way criticizing CLC/CLS for changing its policy and now opening up the school to non-members.  I remember when I first heard that church membership at CLC was required for admittance into CLS, and I was stunned at the demonstration of exclusivity.  To me that policy seemed highly cultic.  Then some SGM defenders came around and educated me as to the theology and reasoning behind the position – how it was about assuring “doctrinal purity” and about being under the same authorities, and about better channels for conflict resolution.  At that point, the barring of non-members actually made a bit more sense to me.

And of course, it is absolutely CLS/CLC’s prerogative to do what they believe best.  It’s their right to be exclusive, if that’s what they think is necessary for “doctrinal purity” (or whatever).

My issue – if I even have one – with the policy change is the same issue I have every time SGM apparently changes course.  And that is, if a position was EVER taught as having theological implications or as being “more biblical,” then SGM has a duty to bring people complete and utter full disclosure for WHY they are changing.  And they need to exhibit some level of repentance for the incorrect original position…and they also need to teach the new position with the same level of intensity and in the same venues as they taught the now-defunct position.

Without all of that, the “changes” merely appear to be cosmetic.  They appear to be little more than attempts at image-grooming and spin control.  Like, in recent times, I’m aware that Josh Harris and other SGM pastors have admonished their congregations from the pulpit about thinking that homeschooling is a better, “more spiritual” choice than public schooling, and they’ve commanded people to NOT demonstrate a sense of spiritual superiority over it or to leave people out of their activities.

That’s all fine and good, but in the face of literally DECADES of SGM teachings on how vital it is to keep kids away from bad influences, and how important it is to be “like-minded,” and how homeschooling is a better choice than public schooling, such an occasional admonition from the pulpit is just not enough.  It does NOTHING to address how the thinking behind the original teaching has changed…it does NOTHING to demonstrate any repentance from that original (now-faulty) thinking.

It’s the same exact thing with opening up CLS to non-CLC members.  As my correspondent said, the original position of exclusivity was indeed promoted as though it existed for theological and philosophical reasons.  So therefore – since SGM/CLC/CLS never does anything that isn’t done intentionally – a change in position on this matter would HAVE to indicate a change in theology/philosophy.   And if theology/philosophy has changed, SGM’s leaders simply owe people a thorough explanation of how and why the thinking has changed.  They need to repent publicly and openly for the faulty thinking that led to the original position of exclusivity.  And they need to repeatedly and publicly teach the new openness (along with explanations FOR said openness) in the same sorts of venues in which they promoted the old position.

It’s not enough to tell people, “Constant change is here to stay.”  It’s not enough to tell people to just deal with whatever the leaders have decided to change.  It’s time for SGM’s leadership to be honest with their people and admit when they’ve gotten a position wrong.  They need to explain just how they originally “missed it,” and what caused their thinking to change.

Anything less just looks like a P.R. move, a slithery attempt to diffuse and deflect legitimate criticism.

History In The Making

March 10, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

A reader wrote to me to share that he was surprised to find that Covenant Life Church’s Christian school, Covenant Life School, has recently changed its longstanding policy regarding the church membership requirements for families who wish to enroll their children.  The policy change is so new that (as of this writing) some sections of Covenant Life School’s website have not yet been edited to reflect the change.

Since the school’s inception, policies have been in place that require membership at Covenant Life Church or another area Sovereign Grace church.  The reasoning behind this requirement is that first of all, parents want to be certain that everyone at the school shares the same doctrine.  Apparently, the only way this doctrinal purity could be guaranteed, until recently, was for all families to be committed SGM members.  Secondly, another big area of concern was conflict resolution – in the event that a dispute should arise, the school leaders believed that it was vital to be able to call upon a higher church authority to become involved. 

This sort of SGM exclusivity carried over into other sorts of education-related groups involving SGM members.  Awhile back, we featured one mom’s account of how she was – just recently, within the past year – barred from becoming a part of a homeschooling co-op group once that group’s leaders discovered that she and her family were no longer part of their SGM church (although she assured the group’s members that her family had left SGM on good terms and were now an active part of another well-regarded church in the area).

Even Covenant Life School’s mission statement reflected the centrality of SGM/CLC membership to its identity:

Covenant Life School is a pastoral ministry to the members of Covenant Life Church. Families who are involved in the school must be in agreement with the philosophy, mission, and policies of the school and the church.  Admission to Covenant Life School is an opportunity offered to the children of members in good standing who qualify according to the school’s Admission Standards.

Here is the newest description of Covenant Life School, taken from CLS’s website, which does reflect the new policy:

Covenant Life School is passionate about preparing youth for the unique call God has on their lives.  We are devoted to supporting parents in Covenant Life Church and other local churches who want to educate their children with strong Christian teachers and from a biblical worldview.

Note that the Admissions Application has not yet been amended.  Here are the items parents are still being asked to affirm when seeking to enroll their children at Covenant Life School:

Covenant Life School enjoys a remarkable degree of involvement and support from parents. Your eagerness to embrace the following responsibilities enables us to partner together to provide a distinctively Christian education.

  1. I believe that God has given me the primary responsibility for training my children and providing a suitable education.
     
  2. I desire to have my children receive a distinctively Christian education. I will seek to teach biblical principles and truths to my children and make relevant applications of God’s Word to the circumstances of our family life.
     
  3. My goal for the instruction of my children is academic excellence built on the foundation of theological truth and godly character. I will seek to develop my children’s character according to the standards of God’s Word.
     
  4. I will carry out my responsibility to effectively secure in my children the proper attitude toward authority and the willingness to adhere to the policies, standards and practices of Covenant Life School.
     
  5. I will make a wholehearted effort to attend all scheduled parent meetings and conferences.
     
  6. I will seek to meet the school’s recommended guidelines for my involvement and participation in school.
     
  7. I will endeavor to develop and maintain a Godly atmosphere in my home by exercising control over inappropriate influences on my children and by modeling a Christ-like life to the best of my ability.
     
  8. I will demonstrate my faith to my children through personal devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and through faithful involvement in Covenant Life Church as described in the Membership Agreement.
     
  9. I will maintain integrity in all of my dealings with the school, which includes the full payment of annual tuition for my children’s education.
     
  10. I have read the Discipline Policy of Covenant Life School. I understand and agree with this philosophy and practice and will take advantage of the opportunities that arise through the school’s disciplinary actions to disciple and train my children.
     
  11. I have read the Parent/Student Handbook of Covenant Life School and agree to abide by the policies and practices it contains.
     
  12. I understand that acceptance into Covenant Life School is decided annually, and that continued enrollment is contingent upon satisfying the Admissions Standards.

 In signing this form, I affirm that the above Statement of Agreement articulates my beliefs and intentions for the education of my children.

(If you are not able to sign this Statement with a clear conscience, please include a letter of explanation.)

Note the section in red.

In case there can be no doubt, here is an additional paragraph from the application form that explains how CLS has handled families who are merely in the process of becoming members of Covenant Life Church:

Families who are pursuing membership in Covenant Life Church but have not yet completed the process are eligible to apply for admission to the school no later than July 1.  This means that the custodial parent(s) or guardian (s) are participating in the church’s Sunday worship and are enrolled in the membership class – Starting Point. Eligibility for continued enrollment is contingent upon completing the membership procedure of Covenant Life Church and becoming a member in good standing.

The individual who wrote me to share the news of Covenant Life School’s change in policy had this to say:

I am blown away by this change.  It’s been such a sticking point for CLC/CLS for over 2 decades.  They never said, “We don’t have room for outside kids, so we don’t allow outside kids.”  They always said, “This is the biblical way to do our school…to be equally yoked and likeminded.”  it’s been a doctrinal conviction, NOT an administrative detail. 

So, really…as i’m thinking about it…they’re changing their doctrine again.  And they’re not saying they were wrong for 25 years.  They’re just doing it. 

So, what is driving the policy change? 

Is enrollment down? 

Has some other Reformed Big Dog given them grief for their obvious exclusivity? 

Or did God change his mind?

Will there ever be an official explanation, beyond the 10 minutes rambling aside that Josh Harris made in a recent sermon, where he opined about the many other great Christian schools in the area that were viable options? 

How do they backpedal a 25 year conviction?  If they are the ones whose convictions changed, why aren’t they coming forward openly saying that they were wrong for 25 years?

Good questions indeed.