Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Church Membership: Any Exemptions?

The SGM story continues to evolve in it's bumpy manner.

I think one of the difficulties here is that the Word of God does not lay down specific instructions for every event that the church may meet. Rather it lays down guidelines - but just as importantly the Holy Spirit has fallen upon His church and inspires, guides, empowers and prompts the servant ministries that the risen Christ has given. Word and Spirit are both needed to stave off disaster!

The SGM family (especially those at Covenant Life Church) seem to be incredibly upset by the decision that C J Mahaney made to not continue attending CLC but instead go to his friend Mark Dever's church nearby in Washington. Here's a comment from the SGM blog from an CLC member;


Andrew, CJ is a member of CLC, and part of the membership agreement states that you will regularly attend YOUR church. I can understand if you wanted to go to a Sunday night meeting at another church, but to leave the church you are a member of to attend another church full time is against the membership agreement. CJ is supposedly bound by the same agreement as the other members of the church. If not, please explain why. If the pastors agreed to him leaving CLC and attending another church then they should have asked for him to resign his membership at CLC. No partiality, no "unique circumstances". CJ is as accountable to Josh as I am. If he doesn't like the way Josh is handling the situation then he is free to leave and move his membership elsewhere, just as his sons have. I am really growing weary of the doublespeak coming out of SGM. Let CJ stand or fall on the system he has created over the last 30 plus years.

The "unique situation" that SGM's Director of Comms refers to is the fact that C J has made this decision by himself (although with "support" from the SGM Board). What is clear in the comments is the issue here is one of authority.

Namely - who covers C J? He is not a pastor. He is a member of CLC. Therefore technically (as Brent Detweiler has consistently argued) C J is under the authority of the Covenant Life pastors. However he does not seem to be acting as though he appreciates that authority and is responding to their guidance and advice. Does the "President and Chairman" then have any form of accountability?

Who knows the right answer - and indeed who has the clout to make C J Mahaney do what they feel is best? He doesn't seem to be a chap who responds well to correction and advice if he doesn't want to do it. I do think the issue here is consistency and justice. Namely;

If an ordinary member of an SGM church was in trouble of some sort (we all agree Mahaney is not under disciplinary action) then would they have the freedom to go to another non-SGM church for a bit if they felt like it?

All my SGM friends are very clear (and my experience matches this). If you miss one Sunday you may get away with it but if you start missing regular Sundays then you will be called to account as to your whereabouts. So if SGM members can't get away with this - then should C J?

Heroes of Faith: Interviews with Terry Virgo

I was so excited to see these set of videos have been posted on Terry Virgo's website. He mentioned on his Twitter account that he was being interviewed for this series - and here they are! It was a bittersweet moment to be present at the last "Together on a Mission" in July. One of the highlights of that conference was the opportunity to hear Terry - one of my ultimate living heroes of the faith - speak regularly. I probably have not heard "now" words from God from any other preacher alive other than this great man.

So here are the videos;

Revelation TV interview part 1 from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

Revelation TV interview part 2 from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

Revelation TV interview part 3 from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dave Harvey (Acting President of SGM) Responds to Questions

It's really great to see Dave Harvey addressing questions and concerns for the SGM family. Here's the video;

Even if we don't agree with his approach or answers - credit must be given for the new approach in honesty and openness.


I had a good question since posting this from an Anonymous reader. What don't I agree with? Dave made a comment about apostles -

"That is one reason why we have refrained from using the term "apostle" for those who serve as Sovereign Grace Ministries regional representatives to our churches - see, as our understanding of polity has matured, we have become cautious of conveying any type of authority to SGM leaders that no one has today - an authority that is reserved for the first generation apostles. See - authority is never in a man, it's in the Word of God".

I think it's disappointing Harvey seems again to have adopted the pragmatic approach of tailoring theology to match experience. They've become scared of potential abuses by using the term "apostles" so they have abandoned the term and the post. By refusing to use the term - SGM deprive themselves of the benefit of true biblical apostles as say - Terry Virgo would define it.

Authority may be in the Word of God - but surely the Word of God makes space for giving biblical authority to men?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Report is out on SGM!

The long-awaited report from "Ambassadors of Reconciliation" is out for the SGM Board of Directors. For those who this saga only concerns C J Mahaney's return to public ministry - they will be disappointed. The AoR have left this decision and delegated back to the SGM Board - Dave Harvey - the acting President - accepted this. As I understand it, a panel of a few SGM pastors and one Board member will be called to deal with Mahaney.

I've read the report carefully and find it actually quite encouraging - for two reasons.

One of the key problems with SGM for me has been their reluctance to "pursue reconciliation" with those many who have left or been kicked out of their ranks. The attitude of SGM seems to be "if you've left us - it's your fault". Here's the examples that come to my mind;

1. Larry Tomczak has spent a good part of a decade seeking reconciliation with C J. It was C J who said; "Let's do it!".

2. Brent himself has been reaching out to C J - as I read it, there was no move on C J's part until the documents began coming.

3. The two families from Fairfax Church who suffered awful child abuse had no course but to resort to posting their stories on "SGM Survivors" - granted the church leaders had their "Family Meeting" expressing regret and reaching out recently.

4. My own story was only closed and reconciliation brought thanks to Steve W (my friend from SGM Survivors) moves via Pat Ennis and Bob Kauflin. I had no contact from the UK SGM leaders until I personally emailed Pete Griesley (a now SGM Board member) on the back of Steve's mails.

That is why I am encouraged that the AoR team advise;

"Before engaging the help of other Christians ... we remind the SGM Board members of their biblical responsibilities to INITIATE action for reconciliation ... It does not matter whether we believe we have been sinned against ... or if the other person has something against us - we are to make EVERY effort to make peace.

Note also our responsibility to go and be reconciled is not excused simply because another indicates he does not want to meet".

Interesting - after I wrote to the SGM Board after my "excommunication" detailing my horror at the way I had been treated, I was sent a short note by Dave Harvey devolving all responsibility to Peter Griesley. Peter himself sent me a terse email noting they felt I was "wrong" but they would meet me "if I wished". At the time I was not willing or able to meet any SGM leaders after I had experienced my first (and only I hope) excommunication and informed him so. In Pat Ennis's opinion - that refusal to meet devolved them of all responsibility in my case.

I must note - Peter Griesley has since very graciously apologised for his email which I deeply appreciated.

But I am glad that AoR have noted this as a recommendation. I really hope SGM act on it - I think gestures of reconciliation from the leaders would have healed many past splits far sooner.
They go on regarding reconciliation - this is a REALLY good statement;

"Scripture does not excuse us because we are fearful our words might be twisted. Scripture does not excuse us if we think the other person may not listen. Scripture does not excuse us if the other party has widely shared his complaints against us. Scripture does not excuse us if the whole world has read about the complaints against us in public media ... thus our first counsel to the Board of Directors is to make every effort to "go and be reconciled".

It's good - not just for SGM - but for any Christian who finds themselves split from other fellow Christians. Now I suspect that the "anti-SGM"-ites will seize on "every effort" and be waiting for pounce for giving up in the case of Brent Detweiler. The AoR report doesn't allow that;

"Although we heard from the Board and observed in the documents (Brent's) that C J has made numerous offers to meet with Brent that were not accepted, we were not convinced that every effort to reconcile has been made by the Board".

Even once "every effort" has been exhausted - then the AoR report allows for calling in "others". So - C J Mahaney ... is he or isn't he?

Essentially AoR won't make the decision for SGM (cop-out maybe - some may feel!). But I can understand why they take this step. SGM by-laws state that only Board members may remove a board member (which C J is both President and Chairman). They do suggest a due process to consider this (which Dave Harvey states SGM will accept) which is;

A blind draw to select some SGM pastors and one Board member to decide on C J's eligibility.

Haven't encountered that technique before! But it seems a fair approach. Brent and C J will both be permitted and invited to come and present their cases and steps taken from there. It does seem a bit "one-sided" in terms of Brent appearing before an "SGM" panel - knowing the weight that C J holds over most of SGM. But there will be an "independent facilitator" present (nominated by AoR) who will bring a degree of neutrality which I think is important.

One final point which is VERY important;

"One disappointment for us was the lack of proclaiming God's grace to one another that seems apparent in this dispute".

I am glad this was stated. I read Brent's documents a couple of times and to be honest was left with a rather sour taste in my mouth. These sort of men - C J, Brent - are my heroes. I sometimes day dream about what it would be like spending time with them - being able to email them and so on. The email after email (with the cursory; "Hope you are enjoying God's grace") between the men involved seemed to me to question why we need the devil as an accuser - with all these accusations and counter-accusations.

"When confessions were made (whether orally or in writing) we observed no evidence of proclaiming God's forgiveness to the one who confessed. The Scriptures teach otherwise".

They cite 2 Samuel 12 where Nathan convicts but proclaims forgiveness, Psalm 32:5, Proverbs 28:13, Luke 7:48 (he who is forgiven much loves much) and 1 John 1:9. There is an important discussion to be had (I think) about the "indwelling sin" emphasis but this surely is an essential element that AoR should bring. If you are going to meet in accountability groups and the sorts of things SGM do - at the very least, proclaim forgiveness!

It is done!

I really hope and pray this report brings healing, reconciliation to these dear people and they can learn, grow and get on with planting churches across this much needed desperately dry world. Especially more in the UK!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Buck Stops Here

A few SGM-related thoughts.

In the NHS the highest paid individuals are the Chief Executive, the Board and the consultants. Why? Because they have to carry the responsibility for the well-being of patients. It's often said that the CEO is the one most likely to lose their job in the NHS.

So I don't have a great amount of pity for C J Mahaney. I suspect he is the highest-paid individual in SGM (and that pay hasn't stopped during his 'leave of absence' - unlike Brent Detweiler who faced bankruptcy when his SGM-Board salary was stopped abruptly). He has massive royalties I am sure from his books - including of course, the tome teaching on "Humility" - irony. He is/was the President and he is responsible for the salary he takes. Don't like the heat C J? Take that youth pastor job you kept saying you wanted so badly.

The pity and heartache I have is for in particular Josh Harris but also for the people in SGM. The pressure that Josh Harris must have been under when this blew - and still is - as the man trained up by C J (and reportedly tipped as C J's successor for head of SGM when he retires at 60 - I wonder if that's still the case). Josh took a very bold stance many people felt - honestly admitting his sermon after this on "The Father's Discipline" - stating that God was "spanking SGM". Huge amounts of people in SGM feel he's right - aside from the SGM Board and C J himself clearly.

So in a transcript I was sent from the last Covenant Life Members Meeting I was staggered - to say the least - to read that the reason that C J is going to his friend Mark Dever's church during this leave, is because of the statements that Josh made apparently putting C J in a difficult position. Poor C J! And even better - C J gets to have an "independent mediator" when this is all over - to patch things up with Josh and the CLC pastors who have so upset him. What?! Did the vast amounts of people (myself included) who got kicked out of our SGM churches get to go to the churches of our friends while we were being excommunicated? Did we get paid-for mediators to patch things up? No! We had to take the first step ourselves and go and meet these pastors to achieve the reconciliation we felt God wanted of us.

I must be honest.

C J seems to me to be angry and upset that he has been confronted by the monster authoritarian system he has created. Even his fans (Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan et al) admit there are "issues" in SGM polity - which Josh Harris is seeking bravely to address. C J admits honestly he is "proud" but yet seems to stop short of the issues that it has caused. The heartache and pain for his church. As I understand it - he is still a member of Covenant Life Church and thus under the elders (including Harris). However the increasing number of members of CLC commenting on the various blogs make it clear - CJ isn't regularly seen at CLC and doesn't participate in church life.

I think we must be honest - and leave aside the discussions of Matthew 18, Brent Detweiler and the documents. Because it is a grey area.

The key issue here for me is the hurting people in SGM looking to their leaders for care. The Board seem ridiculously desperate to protect and validate C J as soon as they can manage without public outrage. The so-called "independent panel" hired and paid seem made up of C J fans. The question has got to be - where is the glory to God in this? What does the world think?More importantly what does God think?

C J - you can't cope with the expectation and pressure? Get out of the firing line. Retire. Resign. Give it to Josh Harris who can admit he's got it wrong and is trying. I think anyone can accept honesty and transparency. What we don't like and don't tolerate is someone who takes a fat salary and should take responsibility whining "like a teenager" (Dave Harvey's term for CJ). It's like my consultant surgeon blaming me for mucking up my treatment and care.

As Harry Truman said - "The buck stops here!". Claim leadership of a denomination? You must take the fall when it goes wrong. You don't get "free passes" in the real world! Bad luck C J - you wanted to be head boss? You got it! And the answer isn't to be found by hiding in the church of your mate.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Blessed Be Your Name!

I was going to write a blog tonight on the on-going SGM saga and my thoughts about the dear people within and the effects on them. But while I was running on the treadmill at the gym, Matt Redman's wonderful; "Blessed be Your Name" came on my iPod. It made me cry (always humiliating when surrounded by people working out!).

But this thoughts came to my mind.

One of the hardest things I have been struggling with recently has been the absence of the manifest Presence of God. When you love and enjoy ministries such as Terry Virgo or Rob Rufus especially who share such faith-building stories, it can grate at times when one's personal experience cannot match up to the accounts of servants of God such as these. It strikes me in this situation that there are two options;

1. Adjust your theology to match your experience (as per heroes of mine such as Dr Stanley Jebb and C J Mahaney have done). Speaking of which, Andrew Haslam (Greg Haslam's son) tweeted an excellent quote;

"The great irony of cessationism is that, in an effort to defend the Bible, one is actually teaching an unbiblical idea".

2. You carry on walking in faith hoping for more!

I must confess I have allowed the absence of God's wonderful manifest Presence (aside from touches such as at "Together on a Mission 2011" in Brighton) to first spur me, then hurt me, then wound me, and gradually make me almost wonder if we are in an Ezekiel 8:12 position. It would be easier to adjust theology to meet my (desired) lack of experience - I could join the ranks of "restless reformed Calvinists" conference hopping.

But Matt's song does not allow such a change of theology;

"Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name".

Ironically here's the Brownsville Revival singing it;

So I asked myself (while sweating and in pain on the treadmill) - does the absence of His manifest Presence get included here? It's got to hasn't it. "My heart will CHOOSE to say". I would rather keep on believing in the God I read of in the Bible. The God who it is said of; "the more glorious covenant". Reading the Bible speaks volumes of an interventionist God who loves to encounter His people! Some of my favourite quotes on this;

"The essence of the Christian position is experience - experience of God! It is not a mere intellectual awareness or apprehension of truth. That can be of the devil ... If the experience is not an experience of the living God through His Son who has come to live and to die again in order to give it; if it is not through the Holy Spirit, it is not a true Christian experience" - Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

"Yet the great need of the hour is for thousands of men and women in this generation to encounter God in the way that Isaiah did and be overwhelmed with God's glory as a result. Only this will result in the kind of Church we all long to see and only this will produce the kind of joy, lasting happiness and peace that the world so craves but is never able to manufacture. Real joy - the God kind - doesn't come in a bottle, can't be swallowed in pill form, can't be injected and won't be found in any thrill-seeking endeavor anywhere in the world. Pure joy is only found in the Presence of God". Greg Haslam.

However ...

My concern is that we must not use the sovereignty of God and His right to manifest Himself when He so pleases to excuse our pleading and "knocking on Heaven's door" (or banging on heaven's door in some cases). It was interesting the next song on my iPod was this;

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jesse Phillips on Experiencing God

I wonder if any readers remember Jesse Phillips - one of the wonderful pastors at Metro Life Church in Florida. It's a church on my hit list to definitely visit one day when money permits not least to finally meet Jesse and Janelle! But Jesse used to run a brilliant blog I loved called; "Prophetically Speaking". Due to demands on his time he had to sadly discontinue it. But I was sorting out my computer files today and found a Word file I am so glad I kept. When I knew that he was going to stop the blog, I saved all his blog posts for just such an occasion.

I was refreshed by reading this again and re-challenged!

Here's some of what he wrote. We need sensible charismatics who can argue from Scripture when you have cessationists such as Phil Johnson attacking charismatic doctrine (and not arguing from Scripture but experience I might add);

Cessationists can be driven by experience

What if I told you, "We need to go start a revival"? Or, "We need to experience more of God's power and have some amazing encounters with the Holy Ghost"? Or, "What the church really needs is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts"?

How would you respond? You'd probably be concerned that I was turning into some kind of wild revivalist. You would think back to your own experience of how people abused the gifts and would be concerned that I was headed in the same direction.

You may say something like, "I know where that goes and we don't want to go there again." There is certainly much wisdom to be gained from experience. It does not make sense to keep repeating the same mistakes again and again.

There is, however, a universal human tendency to overreact to abuse and misdiagnose the problem. Whenever someone is shot and killed on the street, all of us face the temptation to ask how the criminal came into possession of a gun before asking why hatred filled his heart. Guns can be misused, but they are not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is in the person doing the abusing not the thing that is abused.

As good as wisdom from experience is, it also has limitations. It can lead to these misdiagnoses of problems.

And so, if you were to tell me, "I know where that goes" I would venture to ask, "Even though that's where it led last time, is it possible that it might not lead to the same place this time?" What if we were able to pursue the same things, yet learning from the abuses, be able to enjoy them in a way that is proper this time around?

There is a fine line between gaining wisdom from experience and investing authority in experience.

One of the reasons why people warn against things like revivalism and hot pursuit of the spiritual gifts is because some revivalists are emotionalists, placing authority in experience rather than scripture.

But here's my argument: it's just as easy for people who have had bad experiences to be driven by those experiences, rather than scripture. People who move away from the 'experiential' can, ironically, be just as driven by experience, either their own or others that they want at all costs to avoid. This is simply a different form of experientialism.

Many cessationists and others who have seen the abuses of the spiritual gifts would rather 'not go there' because of bad experiences. They invest authority in percieved bad experiencs and this motivates them toward avoidance, allowing their experiences to unduly influence their opinions on what is true and right.

Is there really a difference between being driven by bad experiences and idolizing good ones? Aren't both things different sides of the coin of experientialism?

I think that cessationists can be experientialists in as much as they think, "This can't be God's will, look at all this abuse." It's one thing to defend your view from scripture (which many cessationists, to their credit, try to do), and quite another to base it on your experience, good or bad.

I think that many cessationists and 'functional cessationists' are somewhat experiential, perhaps a bit more influenced by bad experiences, or the potential of, or the report of, than they they might be aware.

The person who has had a bad experience, and doesn't want any more bad experiences is just as driven by experience as the person who strongly wants a positive experience. The only differences that one is driven positively and the other driven negatively.

We must recognize the differences between abusing the gifts and the gifts themselves. We must also recognize the limitations of the wisdom that comes through experience. Finally, all of us, cessationists, charismatics and everyone in between, must learn to pursue experiences without investing them with authority.

There's one thing we can all be certain of: we'll never fully experience anything that we pursue only cautiously, God or his gifts.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Groanings of Creation?

Most of us in the United Kingdom (and friends from across the world) have been following the news over this past week with horror - watching the riots that have taken place in our nation's capital of London, my own home city of Birmingham and other cities. The police have been stretched to the hilt trying to contain and control the violence as well as bringing the criminals to justice.

I had some quite frightening personal experience of the riots on Monday and Tuesday night. I was due to be working night shifts on intensive care and was asked to help out with the hospital's Major Incident Control team. We were informed by the police that there was some talk on Twitter that the looters were planning to "hit the hospital" as it stands opposite the city's police station. So we had to put the hospital onto lockdown (literally locking all doors) and watch and wait as a couple of hundred youths milled around the hospital wrecking things.

Many of the nation's population are of the fervent opinion these are mindless criminals and deserve to behind bars. Maybe that is true - and something for the courts and the judges to decide. But watching the news, I felt a slightly different view;

"For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now ... For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are" - (Romans 8:19)

While watching on TV - and actually looking into the faces of these hooded young people - I felt nothing but sympathy and empathy with them. They are angry! They are frustrated! They are bored! Do they need a water cannon to beat them back (as some bloggers have suggested)? Do they need a jail sentence to further cement their anger against society?

Or is there an alternative?

To my mind and un-trained theological understanding - this verse in Romans speaks directly to the situation we are facing today here in the United Kingdom. I saw groaning and suffering in the face of these looters. If they had a preferable future to work towards, they would not be willing to throw their lives and futures away for the sake of a few iPods and laptops and trainers. They would have hope! Not in a human government but a glorious God who is out-lived and out-worked in a glorious Church. The manifest sons of God - walking in the manifest Presence of a heavenly Father who loves them. A church who regularly demonstrates the outbreaking of heaving in a time-space world through signs and wonders and miracles - healing the sick, mending the broken-hearted, reaching the poor.

The world has been waiting and it is getting tired of waiting. It sees a church that gets involved in petty squabbles. In authoritarian leaders who feel it is okay to abuse their followers. In hypocrisy. In sexual and financial misdemenours. In pride and arrogance. The world is tired of waiting and it is getting impatient! And this impatience (I think) is expressing itself through violence. British justice will lock these youths up if they find them. But will that solve the issue? Locking them away for a few months/years? They will have spent that time with fellow criminals and will emerge back into society possibly more angry and more resentful than ever before.

My heart aches for the unveiling of the sons of God. That finally these youths would see a church not to be ashamed of but to be proud of, intrigued by, broken by. One of my favourite pasttimes is to visit Soul Survivor (a youth conference in Somerset that I went to twice in my youth) and I think is doing a great work. It never fails to move me to tears to see the leadership issue a call to salvation and see hundreds of young people come forward in response! Surely we should be seeing that but more - time after time - city after city across the nation! Am I excusing their sin and misdeeds? No - but I AM stating all this was covered at the Cross of Christ and it is time the church demonstrated the glorious freedom of that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More "Constant Change" from SGM

I was saddened although not surprised to read an email from a friend of mine who attends Covenant Life Church. Apparently last night they received an email from the elders announcing that two of their pastors (Brian Chesemore and Mike Bradshaw) are resigning as pastors and leaving the church - both men happen to also be C J Mahaney's sons-in-law. I thought the Mahaney situation would make life difficult for them - but they cite their unhappiness with the way that Josh Harris has taken a stance on seeing God as "spanking SGM" through this period.

It is sad - I am sure these pastors were loved and appreciated, and ANY form of schism in God's church is never glorifying to Him. I hope God really heals and continues to bless CLC as I do really believe Josh Harris is the most response leader in SGM through the current events, genuinely prepared to put God first before men he greatly admires. I think it does demonstrate the difficulty of having family relations in church leadership also (not impossibility - just difficult) - it is never going to be possible to take objective stances when considering things like the charges levelled against Mahaney.

Dear Members of Covenant Life,

We (the pastors of Covenant Life) are writing you with heavy hearts. What follows are two separate letters—one from Brian Chesemore and one from Mike Bradshaw—announcing their decision to resign as pastors and withdraw their membership in our church.
We deeply love and respect both of these men, and this has been a difficult challenge. They are both Christ-exalting ministers of the gospel—hard-working and faithful—and we consider this a loss for our staff and for our church. More than that they are dear friends.

Both Mike and Brian informed us of their decision in letters a few weeks ago. Because of vacation schedules, we weren’t able to meet until last week. We hoped that we might convince them to change their minds. We spent two full days discussing extensively our differing points of view, talking together, asking questions, listening carefully to one another, and reviewing our disagreements (Proverbs 19:20). By God’s grace our discussions were marked by mutual love and affection that was peaceable, gentle and open to reason (James 3:17). We sought to soberly consider their concerns and learn from them. We also shared where we’ve recognized that we could have better led in the past month and voiced a desire to continue to examine ourselves.
As we discussed our points of disagreement, we shared with Mike and Brian that we didn’t believe that these issues warranted separation. We want a diversity of perspectives on our team. We asked them to reconsider the decision to resign. While we sincerely love these men and want to support them personally, we also expressed our disagreement with their decision to leave. We did not want them to leave at this time or in this way. We urged them—many times through tears—to stay and press through this difficult season in light of our shared gospel priorities and unity (Colossians 3:13).

Mike and Brian repeatedly communicated their appreciation for our counsel and concerns. We believe they truly listened to our perspective, but sadly we were not able to persuade them to stay.

Mike and Brian requested that they be able to write open letters to the congregation, and we wanted you to have the chance to hear their perspective. At the same time it is important for you to know that your pastors disagree with a number of issues raised in their letters. We have a different perspective on their assessment of the past few years and our relationship and view of Sovereign Grace. And we differ over how they characterize our leadership of the church since Brent’s documents were released. Most importantly, we don’t think that these issues rise to a level that necessitates a separation. That being said we know they are men of godly conviction and are acting in accordance with their consciences. We also recognize that in light of the unique family dynamics created by this situation, they’re seeking to do what they think is best for their families.

We want you to know that we’re glad to discuss any of these issues more fully with you. Please bring us your questions. Whether you agree or disagree with Brian and Mike, we welcome your thoughts and concerns. Ultimately, we believe the gospel is bigger than any of these issues and that we can walk in unity as we wrestle through them together (Ephesians 4:1-6).
As you know, through this trying time we’ve made some course corrections in our leadership. Though we’re imperfect and weak, we believe we are leading according to God’s Word and doing our best to be faithful pastors to you. We also recognize that we could be wrong in different areas and not realize it. Our commitment to you is that if in the future God shows us we’re wrong through his Word, your correction, or through the counsel of others, we will seek to humble ourselves, admit that to you, and make appropriate changes to how we are leading. Please pray that we would be both courageous as we lead but also humble and quick to admit our faults.
A word for parents. If your children have sat under Mike Bradshaw’s skillful leadership, the news that the beloved “Mr. B” will no longer be a pastor will no doubt be very difficult information for them to hear. Mike has made an incredible investment in their lives through his teaching on Sundays and at Summer Celebration. We’d encourage you to be thoughtful and prayerful in how you share this news with them. Set aside time for an unhurried conversation. Give them time to ask questions. Give them time to grieve. With our own children we’ve sought to share that sometimes Christians who love Jesus have different opinions. (Sharing the story of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 might be a good introduction to the subject.) Tell them that what is most important is that we love Mr. B, and that Mr. B loves them, and we all love and want to serve Jesus.

Mike and Brian (along with their dear wives and children) are brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s remember that this isn’t changing. The gospel of Jesus Christ has brought us into relationship together, not our agreement on secondary issues. In light of Christ’s love we want to exhort you to continue to love Mike and Brian and their families. Don’t remove your love and affection toward them in any way. In situations like this where there is real disagreement or a change in relationship, we must still be guided by gospel priorities in light of Christ’s reconciling, atoning work on our behalf. We believe Colossians 3:12-15 is an appropriate place to direct our attention in this time:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

This is not the first time Christians have agreed to disagree. And it won’t be the last. We thank God we agree on what matters most—the gospel of Jesus Christ. We love and respect these men and can commend their ministries to others. We pray that God will bless them in ministry and shower his grace on their lives. And we will always count them our friends and dear brothers. That will never change for us.

We will be holding a Members Meeting this Saturday, August 13, from 6-8 p.m. in the Auditorium. We would hold this sooner, but the WorshipGod conference this week (and a wedding on Sunday) make Saturday the only day that works. We hope you can join us.
Let’s continue to trust the Lord together. He is with us. “In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever” (Psalm 44:8).
For the Glory of Jesus,

Adam Malcolm
Ben Wikner
Braden Greer
Corby Megorden
Dave Brewer
Don Devries
Erik Sheffer
Grant Layman
Greg Somerville
Isaac Hydoski
Jamie Leach
Joe Lee
Jon Smith
Joshua Harris
Kenneth Maresco
Kevin Rogers
Mark Mitchell
Matt Maka
Robin Boisvert

A Letter From Mike Bradshaw

Dear Covenant Life Church Family,

It is with profound sadness that I write to inform you that I have resigned from my role as one of your pastors. Among the greatest joys and highest honors of my life has been to serve you and your children these past eight years (Philippians 1:3-5). I deeply love you and the pastoral team. So it is with a heavy heart, but a sincere desire to serve and care for each one of you and my family, and most of all to honor God, that I make this decision. Please know that this is not an emotional response or impulsive reaction but a careful conclusion I’ve come to through much prayer, deliberation and counsel.

My reason is simple: I can no longer, in good conscience, support the leadership of the pastoral team on key issues, in particular how they have led our church in addressing the accusations brought against C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

I first received Brent Detwiler’s documents the afternoon of June 17th 2011, along with the entire pastoral team. Subsequently, we spent many hours discussing the accusations and seeking wisdom from above in order to best serve our church and the people involved (James 3:17). We were all saddened by these accusations. Josh Harris graciously took time to hear from each pastor, giving us the opportunity to voice questions and our varying perspectives during this most critical time. On multiple occasions I was able to express my perspective. I believed my voice, along with others, would be represented and honored at the member’s meetings. However, on the evening of July 10th it became clear that the questions I raised and perspective I brought had little impact on the direction Josh was taking in addressing these matters. When my subsequent appeals were ineffective in altering the course of the following members’ meetings, it became only more evident that I could not support the leadership of the pastoral team on these critical issues and therefore, must resign.

My primary reasons for resigning are as follows:

The failure to biblically process accusations brought against an elder at our July 10th Member’s Meeting, and subsequent meetings, as laid out in Scripture (1 Timothy 5:19-21, Proverbs 18:17, Deuteronomy 19:15-20, Proverbs 18:13, Proverbs 11:13).
The encouragement to read Brent’s documents and the blogs void of guidance and evaluation from the Scriptures; Josh’s specific encouragement for heads of households to read Brent’s documents to examine their desire to be a part of Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries – a statement that brought creditability to these slanderous documents (1 Peter 2:1, Leviticus 19:16, Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 17:9, Proverbs 10:18, Exodus 20:16, Psalm 50:19-21, Ephesians 4:29-32).

I’m grateful that three weeks after making these statements Josh expressed his regret for not leading us to God’s Word in addressing these matters. However, much damage had already been done.

The failure to publicly and specifically confront gossip and slander among our congregation in a timely manner (2 Timothy 2:14-17, 1 Peter 5:2-3, Ephesians 4:30-31, Proverbs 6:16-19, Acts 20:29-31, Ephesians 4:1-6, 2 Timothy 2:24-26, James 3:1-13).
The misrepresentation of C.J. Mahaney’s character and growth in sanctification at the Members’ Meetings (2 Timothy 4:14-16, Matthew 12:36, James 3:1-13, Psalm 130:3-4, Philippians 3:12-17).

The concern that Josh’s statements regarding Sovereign Grace Ministries were imbalanced, unnecessarily critical, and illegitimately applied to all of Sovereign Grace. Additionally, there has been the absence of appropriate appreciation for the vast fruitfulness of this ministry and our thirty-year partnership in gospel-advancing work both here and abroad (Philippians 1:3-5, Philippians 4:15).

I do not question the motives of your pastors. I believe they truly want God’s best for Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. They are men I respect and deeply love and am personally indebted to. They are my closest friends! However, I believe they have made serious errors at this most critical time that have led to significant consequences for our church. I am also concerned by the trajectory that these decisions, and the perspectives behind them, point to for our church. It is these factors that compel me to such decisive action.

I too want God’s best for Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. I believe I can make no greater statement of my love for you than by making this painful decision.
As I have for the last eighteen years, you have my enduring commitment to pray for you and your pastors.

“And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11

With love and affection,
Michael Bradshaw (Mr. B)

A Letter from Brian Chesemore

Dear Pastors and Members of Covenant Life Church,

I love Covenant Life Church deeply and it broke my heart to recently arrive at the settled place where I believe it is necessary to write this letter of resignation. My hope is that what follows adequately explains the reasons for my transition from the pastoral team I have loved, served, and respected over these last eight years. Coming as this does in the midst of this challenging season, I realize that my decision may well seem sudden and surprising to some, and for that I am very sorry. This is not a decision I have come to quickly and lightly. I have sought to persevere through my concerns, “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3). With this gospel-exhortation before me, I have made my decision prayerfully and soberly over the last year.
My reasons for resigning are twofold.

First, I have observed over the last two years an undeniably diminishing enthusiasm amongst members of our pastoral team for the partnership we share with Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Since 1991, I have had the privilege of attending and serving in three SGM churches. I am passionate about our family of churches and the doctrine, relationships, values, and mission that we share. Although we are in a difficult season as a relatively young movement, I believe God is continuing to guide and grow us in our gospel-mission. We may be hearing a tremendous amount of criticism right now, but because of grace there is a far greater display of gospel-fruitfulness in the churches of our movement.

I returned to Covenant Life in 2003 after a church plant in part because of this church’s strategic partnership with Sovereign Grace Ministries. But for the last two years I have had growing questions and concerns regarding our relationship with Sovereign Grace Ministries which I’ve expressed to Josh, the board of elders, and various members of our pastoral team.
Many discussions have led me to believe that the majority of our pastoral team seems to think there is little to learn from Sovereign Grace. Under our board’s leadership, we have spent far more time criticizing in matters of polity and mission than building up and partnering with SGM even though SGM has been in the laborious process of leading us in polity refinements for almost two years (Eph. 4:29; Neh. 4:1-20). And our trajectory has been a steady move away from Sovereign Grace, which deeply disappoints me. I’m not suggesting that Covenant Life won’t remain a SGM church. I pray and have a strong hope that it will. But I believe our church has minimized and neglected the privilege of our long-standing partnership with our friends in Sovereign Grace.

I would disagree with this direction and believe our partnership has been historically beneficial and should still be vital. We have the uncommon gift of a “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5). We don’t exist in this partnership solely to reform it. It is meant to be mutually beneficial, and I believe we impoverish ourselves when we neglect or minimize the wisdom, experience, and relationships that reside in Sovereign Grace. To go further, I believe Covenant Life’s recent history reveals that we need more help from Sovereign Grace, not less.
I shared my concerns and perspective with the board numerous times and I believe they have faithfully listened. But these conversations did not produce the results I prayed for. Not wanting to react quickly, I chose to persevere in both prayer and appeals for greater appreciation and partnership with the Leadership Team and churches of SGM. However, my efforts failed to bring encouraging changes in this direction.

For twenty years I have had a passion to serve Sovereign Grace, our weaknesses not withstanding, but I don’t believe I can sufficiently fulfill that desire here at Covenant Life. My decision to resign is rooted in this reality.

I had hoped and planned for a transition much farther down the road, and in a manner that would cause the least amount of pain to people I love and would prefer to spend the rest of my life pastoring. However, the pastoral meetings and recent members’ meetings related to Brent Detwiler’s accusations have expedited this decision for me.

Which brings me to the second reason for my resignation: the failure of the pastoral team to lead in a biblical manner by providing a Scriptural framework through which to view Brent’s documents and the events that followed.

On July 10, 2011, Josh led our church into a season of publicly interpreting Brent’s documents and what he believed to be God’s perspective in these times. No doubt, the writing and release of these documents required a massive call for discerning and courageous leadership. While I believe Josh has only the best of motives, and wanted only to walk in truth and transparency, I think he failed to provide the essential biblical categories for interpreting these accusations and in so doing neglected his primary pastoral duty as a shepherd (2 Ti. 3:14-4:4). The alternatives to clear scriptural guidance have serious consequences. I believe the pastors neglected to biblically define Brent’s documents as accusations against an elder and as slanderous (1 Ti. 5:19-21). Instead, Josh expressed sympathy for the documents and encouraged heads of households to read Brent’s accusations to see if they would want to be a part of Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

I could not in good conscience exhort heads of households to read Brent’s documents and I am grateful that Josh later expressed regret for this recommendation. While the documents contain some truth about the sins which C.J. Mahaney has confessed, they also contain large amounts of sinful judgment, claiming even to understand C.J.’s motives (Matt. 7:1-5). They are unreasonable and entirely one-sided (James 3:17; Prv. 18:13, 17). And they should not have been considered without adequate due process in which C.J.’s side was heard. I appealed to this end, and the men heard my appeal, but did not agree.

Our team’s failure to demonstrate adequate impartiality and to bring clear and specific biblical guidelines gave credibility to Brent’s accusations and this has resulted in speculation, gossip, and even slander of C.J.’s character. For over thirty years C.J. has labored to serve faithfully as a pastor. He’s not perfect because he’s not Jesus. But he is a man who has walked with integrity and remains qualified as a minister of the gospel unless clearly shown otherwise through a biblically just process.

Because this didn’t happen, the pastors of our church failed to lead at a critical time. I believe this has had a detrimental effect on our local church, and that our example has had a detrimental effect on churches beyond Covenant Life. I love these men dearly, but for the sake of the gospel, I cannot continue to serve where I have a growing concern about our direction and our adherence to God’s Word when leaders receive accusation. I don’t want to feign unity. From my perspective these are matters that are closely tied to the work of the gospel. And though I love Covenant Life, I believe I’ve arrived at a Paul and Barnabas moment (Acts 15:36-41). I pray that our separation produces the fruit that these two men experienced in their latter years of ministry.

I understand that this letter presents my perspective and may not represent the view of other men on the pastoral team. But with sadness I must submit my resignation.
The pastors and members of Covenant Life will be the daily object of my prayers and gratefulness. I love my fellow pastors and I am indebted to them in more ways than I can name. And the privilege of caring for the dear members of Covenant Life has simply been, and will remain, one of the greatest privileges of my life.

Brian Chesemore

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Qualified for the Ministry?

Over the last couple of days a number of various blogs have raised the whole issue of what qualifies or disqualifies a minister of the Gospel - and it's been useful to consider the whole issue. I guess in a way this is a "blog-spot";

1. Phil Johnson of the "Pyromaniacs" has written a devastating critique of the danger of charismatic theology. His rationale (or lack of) is not Scripture but anecdotes on Paul Cain and his moral fall. According to Johnson - Cain's moral fall disqualifies not only Cain as a prophet but indeed charismatic theology. I am writing a response to Phil Johnson because I think this requires a longer answer.

2. Dave Harvey of SGM has blogged again reflecting on the independent panel assessment declaring C J Mahaney fit for ministry. The whole question seems to be whether C J was right to step down before declared fit or unfit - and the question as to whether the sins of pride, arrogance, legalism, blackmail and so on disqualify him - the panel think not.

3. Brent Detweiler has blogged a good post considering the SGM situation from his point of view. He rightly and acutely points out that we are not quite sure what C J has really confessed to - so how can we know whether that disqualifies him or not?

It is an important question. Dave Harvey uses the words; "public scandal" - and seems to think that the involvement of a public scandal would be the deciding factor. So therefore from Harvey's logic - we could assume that sexual or moral and financial failure (money, sex) would be the contributing factor. But what occurs to me is where they get this justification from. Scripture?

I've been discussing this issue with Pete Day and he noted some other well-known leaders and some of their sins of humanity. He said a good point regarding Johnson and Harvey's "logic";

Would he say that the whole of Martin Luther's ministry should be invalidated because of his hatred of Jews? Or indeed the whole reformation????

Would he say that Calvin's ministry should be invalidated because of his alleged consent to the burning of heretics?? Or indeed the whole of Calvinism????

Would he say that Paul's ministry should be invalidated because of his bust up with Barnabas???? Or indeed all of his epistles????

Friday, August 05, 2011

Keep on Believing!?

I had a strange experience last night. I had an excellent first day at work at my new job on the Intensive Care Unit and came back quite encouraged but ended up getting into an interesting discussion with my best friend about God - the manifest Presence of God - why some Christians such as Rob Rufus seem to enjoy experiences of His glory while others (like me) don't - and so on. We didn't really have any answers. We were just discussing.

And suddenly and unexpectedly I found myself breaking down into tears.

The agony of silence and the feeling that the heavens are brass just got too much. By the mercy of God I was able to chat to my dear friend Pete online and he was able to encourage me that this is the cry of hunger. I've never wept I don't think before that God isn't answering prayers or speaking but I'm encouraged if that means maybe there is light on the horizon!

This song is so unbelievably trite but sometimes it is the simple that keeps you holding on - when you can't stomach the theological heavyweight hymns! Although I love them too.

Crikey - I couldn't even watch that video while posting without crying again. Maybe there's something to this faith thing after all! Either that or I'm pregnant ... scary.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Update: Another Sex Abuse Survivor Comes Forth

This really turns my stomach after my recent post on child protection.

Another sex abuse survivor has come forth from Covenant Life Church and told her story. AGAIN the pastors seem to be all about cover-up and protecting the perpetrator.

My heart just aches for these victims. I know too well the screw-ups left on their lives. I'm 33 and I'm still sooo messed up.

Come on church - sort it out!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Brent Detweiler joins the Blogging World!

Brent Detweiler always historically was one of the SGM apostles who hovered just below my radar until the last Celebration UK. I was aware of his name - but Scott and I went to just one day of the final Celebration UK and heard C J Mahaney speak in the morning. This was typical "C J" on "resolving conflicts" (ironic) - but the highlight was one we weren't expecting - Brent Detweiler spoke on the power and Person of the Holy Spirit in the evening. He spoke powerfully and with great impartation (one of the marks of a true apostle in my book) and this was followed by amazing ministry from prophetic and healing ministries.

I didn't really monitor Brent's ministry (although I knew he was very important to my friend Jesse Phillips) until I noted he had left/been removed from the SGM Leadership team/Board of Directors/Apostolic Team (*delete as appropriate). I was saddened - I realised by then that Brent Detweiler was the last truly charismatic/Pentecostal leader on the team (Brent's documents attest to the truth of that).

But of course when the recent month's drama broke - we all realised how crucial Brent Detweiler is in this whole process. I don't really know what a part Brent has played in the contributing of this present state in SGM. I'm sure he's not without blame in legalism. But are any of us? What I do believe is that he actually cares about C J Mahaney - and is prepared to lose his public reputation and any hope of his position in SGM by acting on his convictions. So for that - he has my respect and my interest.

And he's started a blog here: Brent Detweiler dot com.

His first blog is focused around the initial findings of the "preliminary panel". His conclusions?

"Here's the stunner! I totally agree with their conclusion! Based on C.J.'s publicly "confessed sins" he is not disqualified. Why? Because he acknowledged next to nothing and nothing specific except for his treatment of Dave and me eight to nine years ago! So based upon his public confessions, the three man panel is correct - C.J. is "still fit to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a pastor to others." Thanks Kevin, Ray and Carl for making that clear to all of us".

Grace and Glory Conference - South Africa

The "Grace and Glory Conference" fathered by Rob and Glenda Rufus most definitely share the top position along with "Together on a Mission" for the conferences that have had the most impact on my life. Although I've only made it to the first one in Hong Kong (so far) I always listen to the audio and love the teaching and impartation that comes from Rob, Fini, Isi and others.

I have greatly enjoyed following the most recent conference blogs by my mate in South Africa - James Preston. It sounds like they have been having an amazing time! Here's the links (audio messages are here);

Glory & Grace, Durban 2011 - Diary 2

Glory & Grace, Durban 2011 - Diary 3

Glory & Grace, Durban 2011 - Diary 4

The important thing to know about Grace and Glory conferences is that if you come simply wanting impartation of theology and knowledge you will be disappointed. There are other conferences you can go to for that. Rob particularly always does lay foundations of grace but the emphasis is on encounter with God. And there is no substitute for that!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

So he's back?

I read this on the Sovereign Grace Ministries blog;

Any surprises?

Child Protection at All Costs!

I have just come back from a 'Child Protection' study day at my hospital I work at. It was a very interesting day and one I find quite hard to stomach. I have always found the prospect or thought of innocent children being abused in a physical, emotional, sexual or neglectful way very hard to cope with.

During the study day, the subject of child abuse in religious circles came up. The lecturer mentioned the well-documented abuse in the Catholic church but it was also interesting to factor in the child abuse cases that have happened within SGM circles. The Child Protection specialist wasn't particularly horrified or surprised by the SGM accounts -it seemed quite normal to him. This shocked me more than anything. Shouldn't he be horrified? The church - "the hope of all the world" - the glorious end-time church and there is CHILD ABUSE happening within it's ranks? And a non-Christian Child Protection specialist isn't particularly surprised that church leaders aren't dealing with this?

A caveat - I remain optimistic that the Sovereign Grace Fairfax church leaders have confessed their wrong-doing in allowing treating the molester and the victim on an equal footing. "Sorry" covers a multitude of sins.

But I remain disturbed, upset, angry that the church STILL persists in treating different sins on different levels. For example - I confessed struggling with sexual orientation (including some "slips") and was confronted with horrified panic. Oh there is no doubt homosexuality is seen as "uber-bad". Ted Haggard - a well-known evangelical leader in the USA - was discovered having made a moral fall and was widely and publicly disqualified from leadership. Financial misdeeds? I think we can also admit that theft of money would be something else that would discredit a church leader from the ministry and would indeed call a movement of churches into disrepute.

Yet - why is child abuse not seemingly treated as seriously as these other sins?

Hear me. I believe that ALL sins are the same in the sight of God. Jesus Christ had to die ONCE and once for all. God sees all sins as worthy of death - and that ONE sacrifice not only covers the homosexual but the child molester and the adulterer and the thief of money. But this discrepancy in the church? What's going wrong? Why are we not treating our children as precious beyond words?

Angry? Too right I'm angry. I was abused at a Christian school my parents spent thousands of pounds sending me too. And the mission statement of the school and the thing it prided itself on was that in that environment we were safe from the "evils" of secular education. We were in a spiritual greenhouse where we could grow and flourish until strong enough to "go out" into the world. And yet someone who should have known better and was in a position of trust did that to me when I was in my formative years. I know what sexual and physical abuse does to a child and how it can screw you up for years.

So what is the answer?

I think if the church is going to maintain integrity in this day and age - we have got to lose sight of the fact that the church is somehow set apart from the state. Church leaders should make it a PRIORITY to cooperate with child protection policies in all churches (which to give them credit - Sovereign Grace Fairfax are doing - albeit too late). Of course those with a history of child molestation should be welcome in church (just like homosexuals, thieves, murderers, transvestites, prostitutes) but they should NOT be allowed anywhere near children. If there are accusations made within the church then full cooperation should be made with the authorities. Surely transparency will be far less damaging in the long-run than cover up and financial support given to the family of the molester (as has been alleged in SGM).

We were taught on the study day how to make child protection referrals - and I believe that all children workers in churches should be educated how to do this - to the same level as healthcare workers - should concerns arise. Child molesters in church? Sin is sin and sin has consequences and I do believe that a prison sentence is no less than appropriate for even church members convicted of this most grievous of offences.

Not a pleasant subject and I'd far rather be discussing Ern Baxter or Rob Rufus or revival or the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit but it is one I feel passionately about. Our amazing Lord Jesus loved children - and we should do no less in protecting them to the best of our abilities. Hopefully a church environment where our children are protected against all odds will be an environment where families can flourish safely and we can move on to focus on our true mission.