Dear SGM Defender, part 2

December 3, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Awhile back, I wrote a post entitled Dear SGM Defender.  In that post – which was a sort of generic response to the folks who write me to tell me that the SGM survivors who post here don’t know what they’re talking about – I offered up some thoughts as to why one individual might be having a great time in his Sovereign Grace Ministries church, while another individual may have had a terrible time.  Today I have another such topic to address.

Dear SGM Defender,

In your email, you said that I should “stop being a coward” and contact C.J. Mahaney or any of a number of other SGM leaders, so that I could hear what they have to say about what people have shared here on this site.  You seem fairly confident that if I go to your leaders, they will have answers for the trail of people that have been hurt by SGM because of the organization’s authoritarian ways.  They will have explanations.  They will convey to me a higher understanding of what so many former members have described, and if I just “go to them” and listen to their explanations, then somehow, everything will be different.

Of all the things that mystify me about Sovereign Grace Ministries, I’d say that the cluster of assumptions behind your suggestion is at the top of my “Most Mind-Boggling” list.

I couldn’t even count how many times I’ve been asked (told) to contact SGM pastors/leaders when I either express disagreement with their teachings or permit readers to share their experiences with these men’s bad behavior.  And what strikes me is that such a suggestion (“Just ask my SGM pastors/leaders to explain everything!”) presupposes a couple of things.  One, of course, is that the pastor/leader is truly open to hearing stuff that could easily be construed as “negative.”  Another is that the pastor/leader will be completely above-board and without guile in whatever he says.

And lastly, entering into a dialog with a particular SGM pastor/leader presupposes that the pastor/leader has some sort of authority over the situation or teaching.  (Otherwise, why would we care what he has to say about it?)

I get the feeling that some SGMers simply don’t comprehend that those of us on the outside of SGM don’t believe in or trust SGM pastors/leaders the way that they do.  For one thing, I don’t believe that many of these men are truly open to dissent or disagreement.  Sure, they may SAY they are, and they may have recently been told to put on a “new openness” and now work a little harder to appear as though they’re actually listening to complaints.  But the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, and unless things change significantly to reflect that the area of concern has truly been addressed, then all that “new openness” is pretty meaningless.

Another thing:  I don’t particularly believe that many SGM pastors/leaders will be completely open and without guile when dealing with their dissenters.  For some of them, this is unintentional, merely the product of what they’ve been taught about how leaders behave.  For some of them, though, to dissemble and deceive is quite deliberate.  I’ve said this time and again, but I will repeat myself – I think it’s the height of naïveté to believe that you can count on the full and unvarnished truth from someone whom you suspect of dishonesty, simply because you ask him whether he’s telling the truth.  I’m sorry, but such thinking is simply STUPID.  If you have reason to believe that a person is being less than fully forthcoming with you, WHY would you think that the person is then going to turn around and be honest about his dishonesty? 

Deceptive people aren’t gonna suddenly own up to their deceptiveness, just because one of their parishioners comes up and asks them about it!  Duh!  If you have reason to believe that someone is dishonest and/or manipulative, then chances are they will attempt to manipulate and deceive you when you confront them about it –  ESPECIALLY when you confront them about it.  Most of ‘em will not cave and fold like cheap lawn chairs and fully confess all, just because a member “brings an observation” to them.  If anything, dishonest manipulators will merely ramp up their dishonesty and deception to another level.  They will clean up the things that got you to suspect them – they will deal with the symptoms – but they will not actually address the real problems behind those symptoms.

And, like I said, some of these leaders/teachers don’t even fully grasp what they’re doing.  They’ve been so indoctrinated and well-trained that they actually believe this is how ministry should be done – that THEY are “the authorities,” and it is their members’ duty to simply put up and shut up.

But yeah…

What I’m trying to get at is that I have no interest in anything that the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries would want to communicate about the things I’ve observed or that others have shared.  It’s not anything against these leaders personally.  It’s just that what the SGM defenders don’t seem to understand is that especially to those of us on the outside of SGM, what the leaders have to say holds no special authority over us.

Moreover, the opinions of those in leadership are no more valid than the opinions that we ourselves form about an issue through our own observations, through what our own eyes and ears (and guts) tell us.  To believe otherwise is to embrace certain presuppositions that I think would be false.

So no, I will NOT be ringing up Corporate Headquarters in Gaithersburg anytime soon.  They’re free to read here and learn whatever they can from what people have shared.  They’re CERTAINLY free to turn from their previous bad behavior and faulty teachings and treat their members with respect, as true brothers and sisters in the Lord.  They can implement changes – they don’t need to dialog with me to do that!

And I don’t need to dialog with them to discern what my own eyes and ears and logic tell me.

You know what else?  Neither do you.  Stop this foolishness of looking to your leaders to tell you what to think.  Start thinking for yourself.



What Is True Humility?

November 16, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

In our discussion about the trend of SGMers’ using their Facebook status to make breathless declarations about the wonders of their Sovereign Grace churches, someone brought up the way that many of his SGM friends also use these Facebook blurbs to talk about their sinfulness and struggles with pride.

Sally Sovereign Grace is grateful for God’s grace because she is the worst sinner she knows.

Sam Sovereign Grace is battling his pride today.

That got me to thinking about the subject of humility, and how “normal” (non-Sovereign Grace Ministries) Christians work toward being more humble. 

You see, in non-SGM Christianity, such outspoken declarations about one’s humility or pride are definitely not the norm…and yet I don’t believe that non-SGM Christians are particularly more prideful or less humble than the Christians in Sovereign Grace churches.

In fact, I’d venture to say that the very act of calling attention to one’s prideful condition – or the very act of making frequent statements about one’s “worst sinner” status as a way to be more humble – would, in the non-SGM Christian world, be viewed as counter-productive to attaining more of the virtue of humility.

Why, you ask?

Well, in the non-SGM Christian world where I come from, at least, true humility is basically defined as self-forgetfulness

And the bottom line of all that chatter about your own “worst sinner” status, your own struggles with pride, your own lack of humility, simply cannot be self-forgetfulness.

Instead, all you’re doing is drawing further attention to yourself.

The Christians I’ve known who have exhibited the most humility have been those who do what Paul tells the Philippians to do:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

                                                — Philippians 2:3-7

That passage tells us that Jesus “made Himself nothing.”  How do we, as humans, follow His example?  How do we GENUINELY and HONESTLY “make ourselves nothing”? 

Do we do this by forever sounding off about what bad sinners we are?  Do we make a point out of introducing ourselves as the “worst sinners we know”?  Do we ramble on about our sinful pride and our lack of humility to anyone who will listen?

Is that really “making ourselves nothing”?

I would respectfully submit to you that it is not.

I would suggest instead that such talk actually produces the opposite effect.

After all, the end result of blathering on about oneself – whether one is celebrating one’s accomplishments or bemoaning one’s own badness – is that one is simply drawing attention to oneself.

Think about this the next time you hear one of your leaders rambling on about his own uselessness or worthlessness before he gets into his actual teaching.  Or when your pastor and the “apostolic” guest speaker are trading “humorous” put-downs during your pastor’s introduction of said guest speaker. 

At first blush, such an introduction might seem to make the leader sound like he’s really humble – that he really doesn’t think much of himself.  But interestingly enough, guess what the leader has done with such remarks?  Yep.  He’s actually made you think about him MORE, rather than LESS.

Sorry, folks, but that’s not “making himself nothing” – that’s making himself the center of your attention.

And when you make similar statements in your Facebook status, you’re doing the very same thing.  You’re just calling attention to yourself.  Sure, it may be (on the surface, at least) negative attention.   But it’s attention nonetheless.

So the next time you’re feeling convicted of the sin of pride – the next time you want to pursue humility – a good place to start would be by shutting up about your big bad sinful self.  Whether you’re on Facebook, or whether you’re just chattering on in front of cameras or from behind a pulpit, every time you direct people’s attention – positive OR negative attention – to yourself, you’re doing something that demonstrates the opposite of true humility.