THINKING ABOUT C.J. MAHANEY AND SOVEREIGN GRACE MINISTRIES BIBLICALLY

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The fact is, if leaders within evangelicalism were doing their jobs speaking up for those who don’t have such platforms you’d have never heard of online apologetics and discernment works like Apprising Ministries.

Part of the work AM is doing is apprising you of issues as they develop. Unfortunately, one that I was not able to cover initially was the controversy surrounding C.J. Mahaney,1 president of his Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM).2

You’re probably aware that later I did bring you Lawsuit Claims C.J Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries Concealed Sex Abuse Allegations and Copy Of Lawsuit Filed Against Sovereign Grace Ministries of C.J. Mahaney.

Then in Beware Of Spiritual Abuse I gave you some of the sordid hyper-charismatic history of Mahaney’s SGM, once known as People of Destiny Inernational (PDI). I also told you  about The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought.

That work was edited by respected evangelical theologian Alister McGrath and he, “associated PDI [now known as SGM] with the shepherding movement and described it as having ‘informal links with Bryn Jones,’ the UK house church leader.”3

This was also referenced in Kerrin’s Story, part i over at SGMsurvivers.com. You may also find it interesting to note that New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) “Apostle” C. Peter Wagner has told us his “mentor” who helped him “make a paradigm shift” into the “spiritual principles of church growth” was the late “John Wimber.”4

Wimber, you’ll recall, was “founder of the Association of Vineyard Churches and Vineyard Ministries International.”5 Wagner, who is a leading innovator of the man-centered Church Growth Movement, tells us a key  component of these NAR churches is “a recognition of present-day apostolic ministries.”6

The point being: 1) PDI/SGM has indeed been associated with the hyper-charismatic and legalistic shepherding movement and 2) we see remnants of this shepherding movement slither into the growing glut of self-proclaimed “leaders” with their unbiblical membership covenants.

Space allows just one example; consider Do You Trust Your Pilot? by New Calvinist, and Elephant Room co-host, Mark Driscoll. It sure seems to me, he’s all but demanding cult-like obedience. All you need to do is substitute the word “I” for “they” below:

Working for an organization, including a church or ministry, is kind of like a plane in flight. The senior leaders are up front getting data from private channels and have a perspective out the windshield that no one else has…

Assume that they have way more data and training than you. Assume they see stuff out of their window you don’t see out of yours. Assume they did the right thing, even if you are wearing your drink, your luggage came flying out of the overhead bin, and you need to buy new underwear to replace the ones you were wearing… (source)

With this in mind then, as food for thought, I’ll point you now to a post today by well-respected Christian blogger Tim Challies called Thinking Biblically About C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Challies brings out the pertinent background information:

These have been troubling days for C.J. Mahaney and everyone associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Once a thriving and growing group of churches, SGM has recently seen many of its key churches and leaders disassociate themselves, including the flagship Covenant Life Church under the leadership of Joshua Harris.

This turbulence has followed allegations that C.J.Mahaney has proven to be unqualified as a leader, having damaged many important relationships through pride, judgmentalism and deceit. These charges forced a leave of absence, decisions about church governance, discussions about the jurisdiction of denominational leaders, and so much more.

As churches have separated, friendships have been disrupted and long-time working relationships severed. In the midst of all of this, SGM’s ministry headquarters relocated from Gaithersburg, Maryland to Louisville, Kentucky, where C.J. has planted Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.

More recently, the ministry has faced allegations that many years ago there was significant sexual abuse within Covenant Life Church and its associated school. Though none of the current SGM leaders have been implicated in this abuse, a lawsuit that will soon go before the courts alleges that they responded unwisely when it was reported to them and that they failed to take sufficient action on behalf of victims. National media outlets have taken up the story. SGM has sought dismissal of the suit on the basis of the First Amendment and on the basis of unclear allegations. (source)

In no way can Tim Challies be classified as “an angry blogger” or an online apologetics and discernment ministry (OADM). Challies explains that he doesn’t really know C.J. Mahaney and “I write as an outside observer rather than as a personal friend and write this article primarily for the benefit of other outside observers.”

Challies continues:

This situation is unfolding before a watching world that loves nothing more than to see Christians in disunity, accusing one another, fighting one another, making a mockery of the gospel that brings peace. You and I are responsible to do well here, to be above reproach in our thoughts, words and actions.

We are responsible to be marked by love whether evaluating a difficult situation or taking appropriate action. We can make the gospel look great or we can make it look insignificant. (source)

I would certainly agree with Challies’ over-all point. That noted, the world—not to mention the Christian community—is also watching to see whether the truth will come out and wondering if cult of celebrity preachers will be dealt with; or will they be given a pass like the world sees in its own political systems.

For you see, this kind of thing can be a mockery of the Gospel as well. Challies is right when he reminds us, “The great theme of the Bible is God’s unfailing love.” However, true love doesn’t just stand by as alleged victims are possibly being abused by leadership within churches that are out of control. True love confronts evil.

Tim Challies then offers:

The Christian’s attitude toward others, especially in difficult times, is to be one of optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than doubt. We, of all people, should be slow to put aside hope and belief. This means that I owe it to C.J.Mahaney, to SGM and to those who have levelled allegations to believe the best about them, to hope all things for them. (source)

Again, there’s truth to what he says; at the same time, love is realistic in looking at a given situation. What Challies says above ends up sounding like we shouldn’t try and do anything but hope the situation just kind of works itself out as we merely believe the best about all involved and hope for good things to come to everyone.

Chalies goes on to say:

As it pertains to the sexual abuse lawsuit I do not take this to mean that I necessarily presume innocence until guilt is proven (since, after all, there are professed Christians as both accusers and defenders) but rather that I am to do my best to withhold judgment until the God-ordained civil authorities have been able to do their work.

It is for them to evaluate the case and to pass judgment, it is for me to withhold judgment until that time, especially so since these are, by their very nature, allegations and not yet proven facts. (source)

No one’s arguing we should be judgmental as “civil authorities” do their work; but at the same time, the Bible does say:

Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. (1 Corinthians 6:5-7)

Let me be clear; from the evidence I’ve seen in this case it would seem to me that, after SGM and its powerful friends circled the wagons around C.J. Mahaney, the victims really had no choice but to then go ahead and file a lawsuit. As far as I can see, there’s been problems within PDI/SGM for years now.

Challies informs us, “Because I am not a part of SGM I am not forced to take a side and, therefore, will not.” Of course, he needs to follow his own conscience. On the other hand, this is also why alleged abuse is allowed to go on. People don’t wish to get involved and leave it to others to try and sort it all out.

Here Challies’ analogy shows itself to be rather off target as he says, “Keep in mind, though, that Jesus did not protest his innocence and that people took this as a sign of his guilt, though he, of all men, was completely innocent.” True; but then again, Jesus wasn’t accused of abusing children sexually either.

Finally, Tim Challies expresses the view of too many Christians who were/are not willing to become involved, which is what allows Satan to get away with what he’s done within SGM:

If you are a member at a SGM church this issue is very urgent, and particularly so if your church is considering withdrawing from the association. However, the majority of us are far on the outside with very little at stake. For this reason many of us simply do not need to have an opinion.

The farther we are from being stakeholders, the less the likelihood that we are equipped to helpfully evaluate the facts and that we can do anything helpful with the information we learn. The farther we are from being close to those involved, the greater the likelihood that we are drawn more to the scandal of it all than any noble purpose.

Not all knowledge builds us up; not all knowledge helps us; not all knowledge helps us love God and love one another in deeper ways. The fact that today’s media allows us to have access to facts, does not necessarily give license to avail ourselves of them.

If it is true that I am called to love other Christians, that I am called to believe and hope all things, that I am far outside this situation, then I think I do well to learn less rather than more. I need to know only enough to understand that I don’t need to know anything more! (source)

Here I’m reminded of something Edmund Burke once said:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,

Further reading

Endnotes

  1. http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/about-us/leadership/cj-mahaney.aspx, accessed 2/28/13.
  2. http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org, accessed 2/28/13.
  3. http://bit.ly/WTSyBA and see http://bit.ly/VYptcm, both accessed 2-28-13.
  4. C. Peter Wagner, Gen. Ed., The New Apostolic Churches [Ventura: Regal, 1998], 14. In fact, on this same page Wagner informs us he dedicated this book to Wimber
  5. Ibid., 14
  6. Ibid., 19.