The Confessions of Saint Augustine is an autobiography of great import. Augustine lived in the Fourth Century and has been called the father of evangelical theology. Martin Luther and John Calvin were indebted to this early church father from Hippo in North Africa. His writings contributed to the Reformation and a theology of grace in the Sixteenth Century. The “Confessions” are a must read for students of church history.
So too C.J.’s confessions in this current climate of revisionist history!
Last week Dave Harvey posted the following regarding C.J.’s six confessions and one “almost” confession.
“We commissioned three outside ministers [DeYoung, Ortlund, Trueman] to review Brent’s documents in light of C.J.’s confessions and render their judgment on his fitness to serve in ministry. In light of their evaluation, they found him to be completely fit to serve…. Months ago [July], an outside panel representing the perspectives of three denominations reviewed the sins C.J. confessed—which includes the most serious allegation against him—and advised that they were not grounds for removal from ministry.”
These “three outside ministers” posted their evaluation of C.J.’s confessions last July.
“Our responsibility, as we understand it, is to offer non-binding advice on the narrow question as to whether C.J. Mahaney is presently fit for ministry based on those sins to which he has already confessed. Our remarks should be seen in that light… Having said all that, here is our conclusion:We do not believe C.J. Mahaney’s confessed sins have disqualified him from Christian ministry. Or to put it positively, from all that we have seen, heard, and read, we believe C.J. Mahaney is, at this moment in time and based on those sins which he has acknowledged, still fit to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a pastor to others…. None of the sins to which he has confessed constitutes public scandal; nor does he confess anything that is not the everyday experience of a Christian in a fallen world…. We do not see a pattern of egregious sins which would dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ should C.J. Mahaney continue to minister. We believe his Christian walk, though flawed (as is the case with all Christians), is still a model for others to follow…. To reiterate: nothing to which he has confessed would appear to us to require his stepping aside…we affirm that C.J.Mahaney has not disqualified himself from ministry.” (Kevin DeYoung, Ray Ortlund Jr., and CarlTrueman, July 27, 2011)
The moral of the story. No one has taken C.J.’s confessions seriously! If they did he would be out of ministry. Confessions 1 and 2 never appeared. Numbers 2 and 3 were not taken seriously. Confessions 4 and 5 were expunged from the SGM website. Number 7 almost appeared but then disappeared forever.
I have excerpted some of these confessions for brevity but cite nothing out of context. Keep in mind, confession and repentance are not the same thing. C.J. acknowledges many serious sins but there is little or no evidence he has turned from those sins.
Confession 1 – August 10, 2004
People have not seen these first two confessions. I’ve held back on releasing them until now. This evidence shows what we were dealing with in 2004 and what I have been dealing with ever since. Nothing has changed. Just like the “three outside ministers,” Dave says C.J. is “completely fit to serve” in spite of the sins revealed in his confessions.
This confession by C.J. was sent to us before the August 20, 2004 meeting with the Covenant Life Church pastors (see RRF&D, pp. 16-28). It was provided for our “critique and evaluation” which never happened because C.J. prevented us from discussing it with him or the CLC pastors. He repeatedly refused to engage us in discussion despite many appeals and promises he would do so. He never asked our forgiveness for any of the illustrations we shared or their adverse effect upon us.
This confession serves as the most enlightening self portrait of his besetting sins. Notice how these are deeply ingrained patterns of sin that occurred in relation to anyone speaking into C.J.’s life and are “far from exhaustive.” Yet, C.J., the SGM Board, and the three man panel, claim none of these sins are serious including “the pronounced and pervasive presence of pride in my heart” and blatant hypocrisy.
C.J. emphatically stated at the Pastors Conference last November that “I don’t believe my sins are uncommon or scandalous or disqualifying.” In context, that included these first two confessions from 2004.
From: C.J. Mahaney
Sent: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 10:04 AM
To: Brent Detwiler; Dave Harvey; Steve Shank; Pat Ennis; Joshua Harris; Grant Layman; KennethMaresco; Bob Kauflin
Below is my confession in this form for your critique and evaluation.
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Hebrews 12:5-6
I am presently experiencing the discipline and chastisement of God as yet another expression of His love for me. How merciful of God to reveal my sin and how kind of you men to be a means of discipline through your correction (Ps 141:5). Though painful this discipline is a loud statement of His love and yours. I trust you feel my gratefulness for your friendship.
I am convinced this discipline was necessary because of the pronounced and pervasive presence of pride in my heart. And I am convinced that my perception of this pride is limited and that we are only beginning the process of discerning and weakening pride in my life. But I am also convinced that with the help of the Holy Spirit, as well as my wife and friends, that I will gradually perceive more of this pride and hopefully grow in humility.
In recent history this arrogance has been evident in the following ways:
- On numerous occasions I have not been easy to entreat or correct.
- I have arrogantly assumed the superiority of my discernment when corrected.
- I can be quick to disagree when I am being corrected.
- I have disagreed with those correcting me before I have sufficiently understood the nature and content of their correction.
- Too often I have failed to humbly ask questions and draw out the one correcting me.
- I have not consistently made the individual correcting me comfortable by inviting and encouraging their correction.
- I have failed to discern the effect of my disagreement upon the one correcting me.
- I can be quick to find fault with the one correcting me thus revealing my self- righteousness.
- I have not sufficiently perceived the effect of my words and decisions upon individuals.
- There has been a pattern of sinful judgment toward those who are correcting me.
- I have not communicated the correction of the team to the CLC men, arrogantly assuming the inaccuracy of their correction and wrongly assuming the agreement of the CLC team with my perspective.
The above list is far from exhaustive. It is merely representative and there are many expressions of pride that can be listed under each one and sadly no lack of illustrations for each one. These numerous expressions of pride are offensive to God and particularly serious because of my position. In my position and because of my position I should be an example of humility and very easy to correct. To my shame there have been many occasions in recent history where my arrogance has been pronouncedand I have not been easy to entreat. That is unacceptable for a Christian and even more for a leader. So there it is as I presently perceive my sins. This is just a beginning and I am sure it is inadequate…
And I would like to express my deep gratefulness to Brent, Dave and Steve for their kindness and patience. I think these sins have been most evident to you and sadly manifested the most toward you men. I am so deeply grieved by this. And yet your response to my many sins has been forbearance and forgiveness. I am unworthy of your friendship and you certainly deserve better leadership than I have provided.
And finally thanks to Josh, Kenneth and Bob. Your example of humility is the most compelling I have observed up close and personal. You men are exemplary in the way you consistently and precisely confess your sin, aggressively pursue correction, welcome correction and respond to correction. I should have followed your example but to my shame I have only admired your example. How kind of the Lord to providentially place me with you men (and now Grant and Pat). In whatever remaining years I have left to serve I hope to resemble your example to some small degree. I have no excuse if I do not…
Confession 2 – October 13, 2004
C.J. is more reserved in this confession when he uses the words “at times” to qualify each of his statements. The love of reputation was a major category I brought to C.J. before, during and after the August 20, 2004 meeting. In his October confession, he was finally beginning to acknowledge the problem in small increments.
C.J. never discussed this confession with us either. He was obsessed with his reputation then just like he is now. That is why he becomes so angry when he feels judged, sinned against or misrepresented by people like Larry Tomczak. In Larry’s case he resorted to public condemnations and private blackmail. Furthermore, C.J. can’t help but put himself in a favorable light because he thinks so highly of himself. Love of reputation and self-preservation are the two major idols I address in my documents. The lying, deceit, spin, and cover up are owing to these functional gods.
From: C.J. Mahaney
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 3:30 PM
To: Brent Detwiler; Dave Harvey; Steve Shank; Pat Ennis; Joshua Harris; Grant Layman; KennethMaresco; Bob Kauflin
Here are the latest sins I have been graciously convicted of by God and with your help:
- I have at times been sinfully concerned about my reputation revealing the presence of pride.
- I have at times put myself forward in a favorable light regarding accountability, more favorable than the facts support revealing the presence of more pride.
- I have at times been easily condemned and discouraged revealing a love of reputation.
- I have at times thought highly of myself and compared myself favorably to others yet another manifestation of pride.
Thanks so much for your care, correction and patience.
Confession 3 – December 16, 2010
I sent C.J. “Response Regarding Friendship and Doctrine” on March 17, 2010. It was 128 pages. I sent him “A Final Appeal” on October 8, 2010. It was 168 pages. C.J. finally responded with this confession.
He acknowledges how little of his sin he understood back in 2004 and how little he still perceives in 2010. He says he is “only beginning to perceive the depth and the pervasiveness of my sin.” He refers to his high view of himself and low view of others as a “pronounced and persistent pattern of sin” that he did not begin to recognize until November 2010.
C.J. also acknowledges as true the serious habits of sin pointed out by Dave and me. These sin summaries are not specific to Dave and me. C.J. affirms they are true in general. That is, “to correct C.J, or to challenge his own self-perception, was to experience a [sinful] reaction...” because C.J. “can become resentful, distrustful or withdraw…judge or prematurely come to conclusions…communicate…too strongly or categorically…lack gentleness…be difficult to correct…”
December 16, 2010
Let me begin with what seems to me to be the only appropriate place to begin, by thanking you for your friendship and your desire to serve me by providing me with these two documents [i.e., “Response Regarding Friendship & Doctrine,” “A Final Appeal”] that express your perspective, concerns, correction and care for me. I am deeply grateful for your friendship over the years and this particular expression of your friendship has helped me to perceive my sin more clearly, experience conviction of sin more deeply and comprehend the effects of my sin more specifically...
And I am certain I am only beginning to perceive the depth and the pervasiveness of my sin. So from the outset I want you to be aware that I have no doubt this written response is both limited and deficient…. My perception of my sin and progress in fighting my sin seems to be so very slow and I often wonder if I am growing at all. But I am resolved to pursue correction and fight my sin in its many forms and I am grateful for this evidence of grace in my heart for I know that apart from the grace of God this resolve would not exist. And I am grateful for your help in fighting my sin. So thank you…
I am looking forward to going through your documents with you personally. So in anticipation of these future helpful conversations exploring my sin and pursuing reconciliation I want to express my gratefulness in advance. So once again thank you…
As for my sin it seems to me that PRIDE is THE sin and the primary category so much of my sin fits under (although other sins are most definitely present as well). So the following are simply headings that I hope capture what I perceive to date as my sin and as I have already stated, I am sure my perception of my sin remains limited and faulty. But I am grateful to God for the gift of sight in relation to the following sins:
- I have been arrogantly confident in my perception of my own heart and my discernment in relation to others. As I look back this is a pronounced and persistent pattern of sin that I did not even begin to perceive until the end of this season of correction. I vividly remember the meeting with a few of the CLC pastors [this meeting included Joshua Harris, Grant Laymen, KennethMaresco, Corby Megorden, Bob Kauflin, Jeff Purswell, Dave Harvey, Pat Ennis, Steve Shank, Tommy Hill, and John Loftness on November 17, 2010] where I began to perceive what I know was obvious to you and others. I proudly trusted my own discernment and consistently disagreed with your correction, dismissed your correction, and, blinded by my pride, failed to inform the CLC guys about your correction in specific and appropriate ways even after assuring you men I would. And I failed to inform you of ways they were correcting me as well…. Too often I have been the one to determine whether someone’s correction of me was accurate or not, and therefore whether it’s worthy of passing on to others. Too often I have been wise in my own eyes, and viewed others with haughty eyes. (Proverbs 12:15; 21:2; 26:12). So you and Davewere accurate in the following assessment of me: “To correct CJ, or to challenge his own self-perception, was to experience a reaction through e-mails, consistent disagreement (without seeking to sufficiently understand), a lack of sufficient follow up and occasionally, relational withdrawal. Along with this, CJ was poor in volunteering areas of sin, temptation or weakness in himself.”
- I was not easy to entreat…. When you and Dave corrected me I would often question your motives, or take exception to your wording or a particular illustration you referenced…. I proudly presumed to address specks in your eyes with logs protruding from my own eyes. This was quite obviously a serious evidence of pride. I wouldn’t have perceived it then. To some degree I do now.
- I often sinfully judged you. I would assume that you were offended with me or conclude that your correction was motivated by an offense without humbly exploring this possibility with you…. By holding a high view of myself and failing to be adequately suspicious of my own heart, my response in the face of an evaluation I disagreed with was to be critical of the one bringing the evaluation.
- My confession of sin to you men lacked specific illustrations of my sin. In my pride I thought acknowledging my sins in general to you and Dave was sufficient. The email confessions I provided on August 10 and October 13 2004 would be examples of this. Often I didn’t agree with the illustrations you and Dave provided because of my confidence in my own discernment.… I was proudly dismissing your illustrations and not providing you with specific illustrations of my sin. This reflected my high view of myself and my failure to adequately allow the gospel to expose my heart, and remind me of just how great a sinner I am.
- I would at times sinfully withdraw from you and Dave when you corrected me. This would be yet another manifestation of pride in my life. Not only did I consistently and proudly dismiss your correction but then I would distance myself from you and withdraw my affection…. It was both proud and selfish of me to withdraw from you at any time but particularly after you had expressed your care for me through correction.
- Although I didn’t perceive it at the time, my pride was particularly revealed when you wouldquestion my integrity. I see that much more clearly now. So at different times (when dealing with topics like confession of sin, accountability; vacation time) I would sinfully react to your observations/concerns and sinfully judge you. Due to a high estimation of myself and my perceived integrity, I didn’t carefully consider your correction/concern. This was my pride both in having a high estimation of myself and in my desire that you share that estimation…. Regretfully, my response revealed my arrogance and this was a pattern when my integrity was questioned. Sadly, it still can be.
- I failed to follow up on my confessions of August 10 and October 13, 2004 with you men. Although I think I was beginning to perceive certain sins within myself and that these confessions were sincere, my pride was still present in assuming these written confessions were sufficient. I should have followed up on these confessions and elaborated on them, providing you with specific illustrations of my sin and drawing you out about my sin.
All of the categories of sin [below] are described on page 10 of your first document [RRF&D]:
- Can become resentful, distrustful or withdraw when he feels misunderstood, judged, or sinned against by others.
- Can judge or prematurely come to conclusions about others based on limited or incomplete information.
- When correcting or disagreeing can communicate his assessment or perspective too strongly or categorically.
- Can lack gentleness and not perceive the unhelpful effect of his words, actions or decisions upon an individual.
- Can be difficult to correct and help because he often disagrees with or has a different perspective on illustrations.
- Infrequently makes us aware of specific sins or the correction others are bringing to him.
I agree with all of your observations. This was often what you and Dave experienced when you corrected me. And if had been more humble years ago I would have perceived them at the time. I regret I wasn’t and didn’t.
Brent, as I stated at the outset, the only thing I am certain of is that this would be just a portion of my sin…. I am eager to meet with you and hopefully this time ask you questions, draw you out, humbly listen and be easy to entreat as I should have been years ago in hope that I can still benefit from your correction and insight into my sin.
One of the issues you brought up was the need for me to confess my sins to a wider audience. I am eager to make a specific confession of my sin where necessary and appropriate. That’s why I am eager to meet with you, and that’s why I’ve already met with a number of leaders I work with—these meetings have included specific confession of my sin along the lines given above. And I thank God that these men have been gracious and forgiving.
I also want to acknowledge that confessing my sin does not end the process God is calling me to pursue in response to your letters. I want my confessions to be accompanied by appropriate repentance and ongoing and specific heart and life changes. And even though I did not fully hear your observations and concerns until now, I believe I did hear at least some of what you (and others) brought to my attention six years ago, and I hope that the men I’m accountable to would observe at least a degree of change in my life since then. I believe that change has only intensified over the past nine months.
Confession 4 – March 11, 2011
The SGM Board has made much of the fact that C.J. provided me two “detailed” confessions. C.J. promised “greater detail” in the second one but didn’t deliver. This confession added almost nothing new. It was primarily a rebuttal and a defense (see CR, pp. 82-96).
One notable development occurred however. C.J. explicitly states “I agree with the observations about my character failings that were brought to me in that [August 20, 2004] meeting.” That’s significant because C.J. and his agents like Bob Kauflin (see RRF&D, pp. 67-68) fought me tooth and nail over those observations for more than a year. I was roundly condemned and confronted. That included four hours of correction from C.J. on one occasion (see RRF&D, pp. 38-39) and harsh treatment to follow for years (e.g., see RRF&D, pp. 68-69).
March 11, 2011
I’m writing at your request for greater detail in responding to your two documents. I write with the hope that this will lead to our getting together to dialogue about these things personally. I continue to hold out the hope that meeting together with an objective third party will enable us to resolve the various issues that separate us and be reconciled…
So on to the specifics.
You and Dave expressed a concern that I wasn’t passing on your correction of me to the CLC pastors or my primary context for fellowship. You identified that as “hypocrisy” and “managing information.” As I said in my first response, my trust in my own discernment and my disagreement with your correction—in short, my pride—contributed to me not informing the CLC guys about your correction in specific and appropriate ways. I have no doubt I was being proud and was blinded by my pride. Was I beinghypocritical? In one sense I was, given that my actions did not live up to what I believe and teach…
Brent, if I might step back from the specifics of your document for a moment and look back over this difficult season for us as a team, I think there were, at least for me, four primary factors (I don’t assume this is exhaustive) that contributed to how I was relating to and leading the team. First and foremost would be my pride in its various forms, which I didn’t fully perceive then and I’m sure I don’t fully perceive now. This was the focus of my first response to your documents. Second was my assumptionthat the correction I was receiving from you and Dave was in some way influenced by offenses I perceived in you men toward me because of certain decisions I made that affected your respective roles and service in Sovereign Grace. Again, as I noted in my first response, this involved sinful judgment on my part…
Back to the documents, and specifically pp. 5-28. Much of the material on these pages leads up to the August 20, 2004 meeting. As I said in my last letter, I agree with the observations about my character failings that were brought to me in that meeting. I believe that I perceived some of them that day, although I perceive far more about my sin now. And let me stress again what I sought to detail in my first response to your documents: my confession of sin was sadly inadequate. It lacked specific illustrations, I failed to humbly explore the illustrations you provided, and I failed to follow up my confession with specific illustrations and questions for you men about my sin and its effects on you.
But let me be clear: I should have followed up with you, Dave, and Steve after the August 20  meeting. You were the ones who brought these concerns, and I should have insured that you heard not only from the local guys, but from me as well. There is simply no excuse for my not doing so. I can understand how this tempted you, how this brought into question the previous confessions I made, and how this undermined your trust in me…
However, in looking back I now realize that I didn’t bring appropriate resolution with you and Dave regarding the issues you had been bringing to my attention. I wrongly assumed that my written confessions—which I now know were deficient—were sufficient. As I noted in my first response, I should have followed up on these confessions, elaborating on their content, supplying specific illustrations, and drawing you men out about my sin…
During this period, you also state that I said, “I never want anyone else to go through what I went through.” I did indeed say this, and this is an expression of self-pity and an evidence of pride in my life. I wouldn’t have perceived that then. But by the grace of God, I do now. I should have been more concerned about my own sin and its effects upon others than I was about how I perceived I was being treated…
Confession 5 – July 6, 2011
This confession and the next one were removed from the SGM website on November 23, 2011. C.J. now laments making these confessions. Dave now laments posting them. So much for transparency.
In this one C.J. refers to “former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace [who] have made charges against me and informed me about offenses…. With the guidance of the SGM board, I would also hope to pursue reconciliation with former pastors of Sovereign Grace during this leave…. Please pray that God would give me the gift of sight where I have been blinded by my sin and others have been adversely affected by my sin.… For the past 5 years or so I have become increasingly aware of…the number of former Sovereign Grace pastors who are offended with me/SGM. I have met with some and by God’s grace there has been reconciliation with men like Larry Tomczak.”
I am in contact with many of the “former pastors and leaders” C.J. alludes to above. Some met withhim. Others talked to him or wrote him. All are disappointed with him and none claim to be reconciled with him and SGM. Moreover, they have all been appalled by the actions of C.J. and the SGM Board over the past seven months.
C.J. cites how important it is to secure “the help of a third-party ministry that has no history of relationship with SGM” so there can be an objective evaluation of charges. We all know this promise was flagrantly broken.
At the end of the confession C.J. says, “My soul can be easily overwhelmed as I contemplate my sin and its effects on others” which seems to “include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.”
Why I'm Taking a Leave of Absence
July 6, 2011 by C.J. Mahaney
With a few potential exceptions, I will be taking a break from updating this blog for a while, and I want to share with you the reasons why and entreat you for your prayers while I am on leave.
Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.
I believe God is kindly disciplining me through this. I believe I have by the grace of God perceived adegree of my sin, and I have been grieved by my sin and its effects on others. I have had the opportunity to confess my sin to some of those affected in various ways by my sin. And I am so very grateful for their forgiveness. But I want to perceive and confess any and all sin I have committed. Although my experience of conviction has already started—and this is an evidence of God’s mercy—I’m sure there is more for me to perceive and acknowledge. Even with the charges I disagree with it has been beneficial to examine my soul and ask for the observation of others. And I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private. Most importantly I want to please God during this season of examination and evaluation.
So here is what I am going to do. I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others. With the guidance of the SGM board, I would also hope to pursue reconciliation with former pastors of Sovereign Grace during this leave. I have stepped off the board and I will not be the President of Sovereign Grace Ministries during this period of examination and evaluation. In order for me to receive an objective evaluation in relation to these charges the board is securing the help of a third-party ministry that hasno history of relationship with SGM. With counsel from that ministry, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward. After processing these findings, the board willdetermine the appropriate steps I should take going forward. This leave of absence will also help remove any impediment to the panel’s exploration that could potentially arise if I remained in my current position, and it will enable me to fully cooperate in the process.
Just so you’ll know, I have also contacted David Powlison and Mark Dever and asked them to review the charges and provide me with their counsel and correction. I have enlisted them to serve me personally during this time and to ensure this process of examining my heart and life is as thorough as possible. And for the past year I have been the recipient of Ken Sande’s correction, counsel and care. That, I am grateful to say, will continue. And as you would expect I will continue to meet with the appropriate men on the board of Sovereign Grace and benefit from their correction, counsel, and care as well. I am deeply moved as I reflect on how rich I am relationally and I am humbled by the time these men are willing to spend serving me and Sovereign Grace.
My friends, I would greatly appreciate your prayers as I continue to walk through this process. Please pray that God would give me the gift of sight where I have been blinded by my sin and others have been adversely affected by my sin. Pray that I will be convicted and experience godly sorrow resulting in reconciliation where necessary and adjustments to my heart and leadership. Thank you for praying in this way for me.
One more thing. For the past 5 years or so I have become increasingly aware of certain deficiencies in my leadership that have contributed to deficiencies in Sovereign Grace Ministries’ structure and governance, the lack of a clear and consistent process of conflict resolution and pastoral evaluation, andthe number of former Sovereign Grace pastors who are offended with me/SGM. I have met with some and by God’s grace there has been reconciliation with men like Larry Tomczak (I wish I had recognized and repented of my sin against him years ago). This brings great joy to my soul. In other cases, appeals for mediation have thus far been declined, but I’m hopeful this process will facilitate further reconciliation. But beyond this, there are still issues that need to be addressed and fixed in our family of churches. And I bear a primary responsibility because it has happened on my watch and under my leadership. I have resolved that I and the Sovereign Grace team can’t effectively lead us into the future without evaluating the past, addressing these deficiencies, improving our structure, and as much as possible pursuing reconciliation with former pastors. So during this leave of absence I will not only devote all the appropriate and necessary time to the independent panel and the charges but also to doing what I can to identify where I have failed to lead us effectively in relation to pastoral evaluation and conflict resolution.
My friends, though my soul can be easily overwhelmed as I contemplate my sin and its effects on others, I am also resolved to examine my heart, address the past, and play my role in preparing SGM for a future of planting and serving churches. And given the mercy of God portrayed in the gospel my heart is filled with hope that his good purpose for us will come to pass and cannot be frustrated. I trust there will be much grace to tell you of at the end of this process.
Confession 6 – July 10, 2011
This confession is narrow in scope. C.J. shares “a few of the ways I believe I have sinned.” Nevertheless, it is important because C.J. acknowledges for the first time what he refused to acknowledge to Dave and me for the past seven years and Larry Tomczak for the past 14 years.
He also states again in passing, “A few years ago I started to realize that there were a number of former SGM pastors who had offenses with SGM and/or me.” He doesn’t go any further. The way C.J. treated Dave and me in 2003-2004 is typical. This has been acknowledged by the SGM Board and theCLC pastors.
“When the SGM board, the CLC governing board, and other involved parties met with CJ in November , he asked the 12 of us who know him best to identify in our own experience the things that you communicated in your documents. All of us could see his tendencies to withdraw when disagreed with, to make correction difficult, to be unduly confident in his own judgments (including his judgments of the motives of others), and to give insufficient attention to process in his leadership…. Brent, this is not an exhaustive accounting of our areas of agreement with your documents, but we hope it is sufficient to communicate general areas of agreement and our sorrow over these sins and failures.” (Dave Harvey, Jeff Purswell, Joshua Harris, and Pat Ennis, March 11, 2011)
C.J. refers to this day in November.
“I spent a day together with these men in November of 2010 where I could hear evaluation from each of them. It was a sad and painful day for me to recognize that Brent was not the only one to experience the effects of my sin, but to various degrees many of the other men in the room had as well.”
He also refers to other examples indicating the widespread nature of his sin.
“There are certainly other examples I could give of these sin categories [e.g. unentreatable, sinful judging, superior discernment, favorable comparisons, resentful]: examples that have hurt others, hindered my leadership, gone against what I’ve taught, and—most significantly—dishonored God.”
In this confession, C.J. makes numerous comments about me that were untrue. I was very willing to meet but not until C.J. fulfilled his promise to provide me a thorough response to my documents. He promised to do this on three separate occasions. He broke his word each time.
C.J. Mahaney's Comments at Covenant Life Church
July 10, 2011
Because of my history with this church and my love for this church, I am grateful for the opportunity to address you. I want to thank Josh and the pastoral team for giving me this time.
I am sure for the vast majority here, what you heard the past week about the charges made against me has come as a complete shock. I understand and I am so very sorry. Let me clarify at the outset that your pastors are not the primary object of these accusations—the accusations are primarily directed at me in the context of Sovereign Grace Ministries. This is about me, not your pastors. It is my hope that your relationship with the pastoral team will be strengthened, not weakened, through this. Please provide them with your support at this time. And if you are angry, I understand. But please direct that anger toward me.
My intention tonight is to share with you a few of the ways I believe I have sinned and some of the failures in my leadership, and help you understand to some degree how we have arrived where we find ourselves this evening.
A few years ago I started to realize that there were a number of former SGM pastors who had offenses with SGM and/or me. So I began to pursue some of them for the purpose of reconciliation. In January of 2010 I sent Brent Detwiler an email asking if he had any offense with me, communicating my desire to meet with him and hear him out. In 2009 Brent had been pastoring a church in North Carolina and leftSGM.
When Brent responded to my email, he informed me that he was not willing to meet with me but that he would interact with me through email and written documents. Two months later I received a 130-page document from him outlining his perspective about my sins and failures as a leader in SGM.
I need to tell you up front that after reading this document [RRF&D] and ones that followed [AFA,CR], I don’t agree with a number of Brent’s charges and conclusions, nor the manner with which he has presented his offenses. However, my purpose this evening is not to criticize Brent or defend myself, but to inform you about various ways I have sinned and failed at different points in my ministry.
The central focus of Brent’s initial document was how I processed, responded to, and led through a relational conflict we had in 2003-2004. This conflict began when Brent and Dave Harvey brought to me correction related to certain character deficiencies and deficiencies in my leadership of the team. Rather than humbly listening to their critique and examining my heart, I reacted sinfully to what I perceived as their deficient manner of presentation, and this began a season where I was resistant to their correction.
Here is what they experienced from me:
- I was difficult to entreat.
- I sinfully judged their motives.
- I was arrogantly confident in my perception.
- I compared myself favorably to them.
- I was offended by what I thought to be a lack of appreciation from them for all I had done for them, and a lack of care for me in a season of trials.
And though we continued to work together, I gradually withdrew from them in my soul. And added to this I arrogantly dismissed their critique and did not inform others of their critique even after I agreed to do so. So I was in effect confirming the accuracy of their correction by how I was behaving.
In 2004 at the end of a lengthy process of correcting me and with the help of my small group I began to perceive some of these sins and ask forgiveness for those sins, and those in my small group were able to affirm some evidences of conviction, repentance, and growth. But in looking back my perception of my sin, my confession of sin, and my follow up with those I sinned against was woefully inadequate. Inever circled back around to Brent or Dave to convey to them where they were right or the changes I was pursuing. And I neglected to inform Josh [Harris], Grant [Layman], and Kenneth [Maresco] about the specifics of Dave and Brent’s concerns.
When I received Brent’s first document, I sent it to a group of men who could help me evaluate the content of the document and these offenses from 2004. God used Brent’s document ]RRF&D] and the correction of my friends to help me see the sins I already mentioned much more clearly; and not just the sins, but the effects of those sins upon those I was called to serve with.
Let me introduce you to another failure of my leadership. I have been poor at establishing a process for resolving conflict and I have at times sought to manage the process on my own. In light of Brent’s offenses I should have immediately asked the SGM leadership team to lead the evaluation process and not attempted to manage the process on my own.
Brent was unwilling to meet with me personally. He insisted that my response be in written form to his satisfaction before he would meet with me personally and for months I let the process drift. I was reluctant to comply with him and thought it best to pursue reconciliation in person. Months passed. I’m sure the time delay [9 months] tempted Brent and I am sorry for this.
In the fall Brent sent a second document [AFA], this one 165 pages in length. In this document Brent further illustrated failures he had observed in my leadership. He pointed out how defensive I could become when my integrity was questioned—which was accurate—and added further illustrations of the sins I already noted. Brent also detailed how he believed my sinful patterns ultimately contributed to his dismissal as a pastor from his church in 2009.
After receiving the second document, I sent it to the SGM leadership team, eight Covenant Life Church elders, and some friends [Steve Shank, John Loftness, ] who have known me and worked with me for many years. I asked them to read the documents and provide me with their honest evaluation of me not only in relation to the documents but any sins or leadership failures they would have observed apart from these documents in their own experience with me.
I spent a day together with these men in November of 2010 where I could hear evaluation from each of them. It was a sad and painful day for me to recognize that Brent was not the only one to experience the effects of my sin, but to various degrees many of the other men in the room had as well. At the end of the day I asked the men to forgive me. I then circled back around to a number of them privately to ask forgiveness more specifically. I then proceeded to write Brent a letter of confession [December 16, 2010] for the sins I was perceiving and appealed for mediation so that we could receive help in being reconciled through an impartial third party. Brent wrote back and informed me my confession was not specific enough and asked that I review the documents again.
At this time, the SGM board assumed full responsibility for the process and I recused myself from any discussion or decisions regarding Brent’s complaint. They asked me to respond to Brent with a more detailed confession, so I asked my friend John Loftness to catalogue all of Brent’s charges and to spend a day going over each one with me so I could respond to Brent with a greater degree of specificity. With the help of John and the board, I then crafted a second confession of about ten pages. It saddens me to report to you that Brent did not find this confession adequate.
Throughout this time I was also benefitting from the counsel of Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries. Ken reached out to Brent and proposed a process of mediation that Brent declined. We then began to discuss involving an outside panel to evaluate Brent’s charges even if Brent declined to participate.
Last month Brent sent a third document [CR], this one 200 pages in length. In this document Brent pointed out my leadership failures in 1997 when Larry Tomczak left SGM after relocating to Atlanta to plant a church. During this time Larry and I had a conflict over how we would describe his leaving SGM. It grieves me to report to you that in a particular phone conversation I sought to coerce Larry to present his leaving as I thought was right. (And by the way none of your current pastors would haveknown this. It involved SGM not CLC.) And when Larry did leave, my public announcement of his departure was self-righteous in attitude and critical of Larry at a very vulnerable time in his life. I highlighted his sin alone, and I was blind to my own. I’m deeply grieved by this.
But I am happy to report that seven months before Brent’s third document arrived, a letter arrived on my desk from Larry Tomczak asking if we could be reconciled. By the grace of God I agreed and this led to a series of meetings we had in Nashville. I am humbled and delighted to report to you that when I confessed my sins to Larry and Doris they freely, immediately, and graciously forgave me. If memory serves me that was in December last year.
Larry and I stood side by side and cofounded CLC. We stood side by side and cofounded SGM. Sin separated us, but I will have the sweet joy to stand side by side with him again in November when he joins us as a special guest at our Pastors Conference. I hope to do the same at CLC to welcome him back. Actually when we do this I think it would be appropriate if I stand off to the side. Larry has been a wonderful example of extending forgiveness.
There are certainly other examples I could give of these sin categories: examples that have hurt others, hindered my leadership, gone against what I’ve taught, and—most significantly—dishonored God. But the past year and a half has helped me see these things and forced me to confront these things in amuch more thorough way than I ever have before. And so, in a way typical of our gracious God, these difficult months have quite obviously been for my good. I believe through these things God is disciplining me for my sin and leadership failures and I am very grateful for this discipline. Hebrews 12 tells how I should respond to this discipline: don’t be indifferent to it, and don’t be overwhelmed by it.
I bear a unique and primary responsibility for all that took place in 1997, 2004, and on other occasionsas well. I am grateful to God that I am perceiving my sins and leadership failures. I’m aware that I am a sinner in need of grace and I am grateful for the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for my sins.
There is however an element in Brent’s storyline that I do not agree with. He asserts that my sins and leadership failures contributed directly to his removal from his church and SGM. I don’t believe I havethe final word on this, nor should I, and I have welcomed the recommendation of the SGM board that we establish a panel of respected leaders outside SGM to study these charges and give us their evaluation of me and the ministry as a whole.
I asked the board for a leave of absence from my position as President so I can have no position of influence in this process or its outcome, and so that every charge can be thoroughly evaluated. The evaluation of the panel will be made public and communicated to you.
But this evening I want to communicate my sorrow for my sin and leadership failures and their effects on others; in particular you, the church I love the most. I want to ask for your forgiveness for these sins and their effects on you.
Please pray for me, but let me give you my greater burden: please pray for SGM. I want to do all I can do to spread the gospel. I want to protect your relationship with your pastors. I want to protect the pastors and churches of SGM. And above all I want to please and glorify God whatever this requires of me. Not surprisingly there are matters of policy and practice that need correction. I bear primary responsibility for this since these deficiencies have been revealed on my watch. Please don’t misunderstand, this is not a blanket assessment of SGM churches or pastors. But we need to make some changes in:
- Our polity and structures of accountability for pastors. We have been hard at work on this one for two years and that needs to continue.
- How we evaluate pastors. In some instances, the way we have evaluated pastors in the past has been inconsistent and, some cases, flawed.
- How pastors correct one another. Again, this is not applicable to every pastor or pastoral team, but where appropriate we want to grow here.
- How we resolve conflict.
Please also pray that Brent and I would be reconciled. We were once good friends. I pray that because of the gospel that friendship would be restored.
Most importantly, pray that God would be glorified through all of this by reconciling broken relationships wherever they may exist in our churches, and by bringing about the fruit and effect of the gospel that has so graciously saved each of us.