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C.J.’s Conundrum Regarding Apostles

A conundrum is “a paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma.”  If C.J. comes out in favor of apostles governing SGM, at least one third of the churches will leave.  If C.J. distances himself from apostles, SGM becomes a parachurch organization with no biblical justification for their existence. 

If C.J. goes with the Bible (pro-apostles), 30 plus churches leave because they don’t trust C.J. and his apostolic team and they don’t believe many of the men on his team are gifted as apostles.  For example, someone like Jared Mellinger is neither trusted or recognized as an apostle.  No one with any sense is going to give him (or Mark Prater or Steve Shank or Mickey Connolly or Dave Harvey) governing authority over them.

C.J. came back as President on January 25, 2012.  His new apostolic team has still not been revealed.  Why is this?  Because of the above.  If C.J. appoints himself senior apostle and Dave, Mickey, Mark and Jared as his fellow apostles, churches will run for the nearest emergency exit.  There are also men on the old apostolic team (a.k.a. Leadership Team) who no longer want to be on the new apostolic team.  They’ve had enough. 

Dissenting pastors who are calling for radical reform are understandably afraid of a centralized SGM.  They are working for a loose affiliation of churches.  Not a tightly defined group of churches overseen by apostles.  If C.J. plays the apostle card there will be an exodus.  These pastors are not about to submit to the authority of SGM.  They want SGM to function as a facilitator not a governor.  I fully understand. The pastors also want a say regarding who serves on the SGM Board of Directors and Leadership Team so they are not self-appointed and some form of accountability to the pastors so Board of Directors and Leadership Team are not self-determined.

If you’ve study Trinitarian theology you are familiar with these terms: ontological Trinity, economic Trinity and immanent Trinity.  These are ways of describing the being, functions and relationships within the Godhead.  Well, there is a new polity trinity in SGM comprised of the father (Phil Sasser), son (in law, Daniel Baker) and spirit (Nathan Sasser, referring to his human spirit).  The father is co-chair with C.J. on the Polity Committee.  The son (in law) wrote “A Defense of a Model of Apostolic Government.”  The free spirit (Nathan of course) wrote “SGM Polity, the Cessation of the Apostolate, and the Authority Question in our Local Churches.”  This triumvirate of polity are working together and putting forth their best arguments for the present day ministry of apostles in SGM.  I applaud them.

Nathan recently wrote the following.  I agree.

“Historically, the Sovereign Grace churches have affirmed the continuation of the office of apostle.  We thought of the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries as apostles.  This justified the existence and activities of SGM.  Like the apostles in the NT, SGM’s leaders were financially supported by the local churches that they served, they directed church planting, and they had authority to ordain, install, and remove elders in local churches.  Their teaching ministry guided the churches…. In 2010, SGM began to teach the cessation of apostles; on this new view, no one after the first generation of the Christian church has occupied the office of apostle…. The rejection of the continuation of the apostolic office raises critical questions of authority and accountability in the local churches. Historically, apostolic representatives of SGM bore the responsibility for censuring and even removing errant pastors (cf. 1 Tim. 5:19-21).  If the office of apostle has ceased, then the representatives of SGM no longer have any basis for exercising authority in the local churches…. So SGM cannot continue to relate to the local churches in the same way as it did before the rejection of the apostolic office.  SGM presently has no basis for exercising any authority in local churches.” (Nathan Sasser, Our Back Pages, April 30, 2012)  

Nathan makes many good points and he is correct when he references Jeff Purswell’s teaching on “the cessation of apostles” at the Pre-Conference Gathering in 2010 before Together for the Gospel.  Who is C.J. going to believe now?  The continuationists, Phil, Daniel and Nathan or the cessationist, Jeff?  You can’t have it both ways.  There is no middle ground biblically, logically or pragmatically. 

C.J. has extolled Jeff as the consummate theologian ever since he came to SGM in 1998 but C.J.’s theological loyalties on the issue of governance have transferred to Phil, Daniel and Nathan.  Jeff was wrong on apostles and it has brought SGM to the brink.  He argued away SGM’s biblical reason for existence.

There are no semi-technical apostles in the New Testament as Jeff asserts.  No such category exists because there aren’t different types or kinds of apostles in the NT.  The Twelve were not one type, Paul another type, and James, Silas, Titus, Timothy, Barnabas, Apollos yet another type.  Some apostles were more distinguished than others but this doesn’t mean they were separated into different classes of apostles.  For instance there weren’t different categories of apostles at the Jerusalem Council in descending order of legitimacy (compare Acts 14:14 regarding Paul and Barnabas with Acts 15:2 regarding Peter and James, et al.).  Peter being one type, Paul another type, James a third type, and Barnabas a fourth type.  They were simply apostles.

With Sovereign Grace Ministries on the verge of becoming a para-church organization, C.J. has reasserted the need for apostles (see Sovereign Grace’s Charismatic Decline and Ever Changing View of Apostles) but it is too late.  It doesn’t matter if the continuationists win the battle for the Bible because few pastors trust anyone in SGM to function as an apostle and for a thousand good reasons.  The triumvirate are correct on apostles but wildly incorrect in their favorable assessment of C.J., Dave and others.        

My blog post entitled Cotton Candy from March 12 is an important read on the subject of polity.  One realizes Jeff’s position on apostles is in direct opposition to the Articles of Incorporation and the Bylaws.  These documents need to be dismantled or upheld depending on your view of apostles.  In that post, I responded to the confusing letter sent to all the SGM Pastors on February 27 from Interim Board (C.J., Dave Harvey, Aron Osborne, Craig Cabaniss, Mickey Connolly, John Loftness, Pete Greasley, Rick Gamache, Mark Prater, Jeff Purswell, Steve Shank).  That letter contradicts everything C.J., Dave and Jeff have taught the pastors since 2004.  Here are two excerpts with my comments in blue lettering.

“Before we [the interim Board] get to the specifics of this step, we want to clarify a few preliminary points.  As we’ve stated at the [2011 Pastors] conference and in our various polity meetings, we continue to affirm and celebrate our existence together as a family of churches.  Although this letter speaks in terms of “the Board,” that is simply a functional term for the governing body of Sovereign Grace Ministries and not an abandonment of biblical principle.  Based upon the precedent of the New Testament, SGM is an expression of extra-local ministry that is connected to local churches, emerging out of local churches, endorsed by local churches, and working with local churches, with the goal of planting churches and serving those churches as they grow toward maturity.  As such (and as will be noted further below), participants in the new Board will comprise both men serving extra-locally as well as elders of churches partnering with SGM.

“Now we are getting to the heart of the matter.  Something needs to be clarified before saying any more.  The SGM Board is reasserting its commitment to apostolic ministry and its authority over the churches.  Of course, they don’t use the word “apostle” but that is just spin.  Their meaning is clear.  Like they say, “Board” is the functional term but “apostle” is the biblical term.  As I’ve pointed out in the past, SGM is reduced to the status of a para-church ministry with no biblical justification unless they believe in “the precedent of the New Testament.”  That is, “extra-local ministry.”  Believe me, they are not talking about traveling evangelists or itinerate prophets.  They mean apostles but are afraid to be honest.  They want to have their cake and eat it too.  But such a subtle distinction, if exposed, will not go over well in Reformed circles.  C.J. is the chief apostle again.  So if you don’t believe in apostles, it is time to get out of your SGM church.

“Sovereign Grace Ministries is a “family of churches” and the Board is “the governing body of Sovereign Grace Ministries.”  The math is clear.  The “biblical principle” of apostolic ministry is not being abandoned.  It is being enforced and it must be “endorsed by local churches.”  Take notice, Presbyterianism is out.  Episcopalianism is in.  Maybe SGM will join the conservative movement in the Anglican Church.  Archbishop Mahaney has a nice sound to it.  Expect him to plant a church in Canterbury, England. J  And oh by the way, notice how churches are partnering with Sovereign Grace, not Sovereign Grace with churches.

“Thus, we will maintain our historical commitment to the pervasive biblical pattern of gifted men leading the church in its mission—planting churches, nurturing churches, and uniting churches in a common mission (e.g., Acts 13:1-3; 15:39-40; 18:27-28; 1 Cor. 16:10-12Phil. 2:19-30Col. 1:7-8, 4:12; Titus 1:5; et al).  The inclusion of church elders on the board will also honor the biblical precedent of local elders partnering with extra-local workers in leadership and mission (e.g., Acts 13:1-3; 15:6).

“Eph 4:8,11 “This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men’…. It was he who gave some to be apostles.”  I appreciate the honesty (yes, honesty – it’s been a long time) conveyed in this paragraph.  “Gifted men,” that is apostolic men, will lead the churches of SGM in planting, nurturing, and uniting.  Note the Scriptures referenced in support of apostolic ministry as practiced in the New Testament.  Planting includes setting priorities, identifying leaders, choosing sites and allocating resources.  Nurturing includes building, equipping and directing churches.  Uniting means setting the terms and conditions for “unity” in theology, practice and mission.” (Brent Detwiler, “Cotton Candy,” March 12, 2012)      

These assertions by C.J. and the interim Board represent a complete reversal of polity and are diametrically opposed to all he, Dave, Steve and Jeff have taught the last 8 years.  They deceptively make it sound as though they have always taught that “’the Board,’…is simply a functional term for the governing body of Sovereign Grace Ministries.”  In fact, they have taught just the opposite.  They have repeatedly said the Board of Directors and Leadership Team have absolutely no authority over the pastors or the churches.     

I am a proponent of apostles and prophets because I believe they are as biblical (and necessary) as evangelists, pastors and teachers.  I believe the five-fold ministry of Ephesians 4:11 is critical for the proper equipping of the saints throughout the church age.  That’s why I put the following in the Sovereign Grace Statement of Faith.

“The ascended Christ has given gift ministries to the church (including apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) for the equipping of Christ’s body that it might mature and grow.  Through the gift ministries all members of the Church are to be nurtured and equipped for the work of ministry.”  (SGM Statement of Faith)

I’ve defended this position for years.  Here is a history of my attempts along with the reactions of C.J, Dave and Steve.  These three men can’t argue for apostolic oversight of the churches now unless they repudiate everything they have said and taught the last 13 years.  My first written records go back to 1999.   

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT – While I have a high view of apostles and prophets, I do not have a high view of SGM.  No one on the interim Board or Leadership Team is qualified to serve in apostolic ministry due to a lack of character (i.e., how they have the events of the past 10 months) or gifting or both.   


February 6, 1999

Dear C.J., Dave, Steve and Bo,

This “paper” on the nature and extent of apostolic ministry is limited in scope and incomplete in many respects.  Nevertheless, I hope it helps our discussion of the subject in a small way.

I chose to confine my study to the 13 epistles of Paul.  I am working with a several presuppositions in mind.  One, Paul’s apostolic wisdom is unique and normative as recorded in canonical Scripture.  Two, our apostolic authority is largely derived from a proper interpretation and application of Scripture (not any on-going revelation given by the Holy Spirit).  Three, the essential role of the apostle has not changed (he is a preacher of the gospel, a church planter and a church builder).  Four, the Pauline model is relevant for us today.  Five, we should model our apostolic ministry after Paul.

While our apostolic ministry should reflect Paul’s apostolic ministry there are some very important distinctions that set Paul apart from us or anyone else.[1]  For instance, he was a writer of Scripture (13 epistles), experienced an appearance of the risen Lord (1 Cor 9, 15), was directly commissioned by the Lord (Acts 9, 22, 26), had a unique understanding of the Gospel (Gal 1), uniquely suffered for Christ (2 Cor 11:21-27), was given a unique sphere of influence (the Gentile mission), had a unique understanding of God’s purpose for the church (Eph 3:1-6), and experienced Christ’s power in unique and amazing ways.

Simply put, the Pauline corpus, reveals the nature and extent of Paul’s involvement in any given church.  Therefore the epistles should be studied carefully.  In particular, I would encourage you to study the material on Ephesians, 1 Timothy, and 2 Timothy.  They all deal with Paul’s ongoing involvement with the church in Ephesus.  As such they provide the greatest amount of material and therefore the most insight for us.  Studying Paul’s long term involvement with the Corinthians would also be beneficial but my treatment is incomplete.

Keep in mind the church in Ephesus was planted by Paul during his 1st apostolic journey (c. A.D. 52).  Paul relocated there for 2 years and 3 months during his 2nd apostolic journey (c. A.D. 53-55).  He met with the elders during his 3rd apostolic journey (c. A.D. 57).  He wrote the epistle to the Ephesians during his 1st Roman imprisonment (c. A.D. 60-61).  He visited the church again during his 4th apostolic journey (c. A.D. 63).   He wrote 1 Timothy (also intended for the church) during his 4th apostolic journey (c. A.D. 63-65).  He wrote 2 Timothy (also intended for the church) during his 2nd Roman imprisonment (A.D. 66-67).

The above doesn’t take into consideration the involvement of other apostolic ministry like Priscilla (with his wife Aquila - Acts 18:19), Apollos (Acts 18:24; 19:1), Timothy (Acts 19:22; 1 Tim 1:3), Erastus (Acts 19:22), Gaius (Acts 19:29), Aristarchus (Acts 19:29) Onesiphorous (2 Tim 1:16-18), Tychicus (2 Tim 4:12), John the apostle, etc.

Conclusion: Paul, with the help of others, remained very involved with the church in Ephesus over its 17 year history.  He freely addressed any and all issues of concern.  His writings clearly convey the expectation that the local elders are subject to him and to Timothy his delegate.  There is no appreciable lessening of apostolic involvement in the church in Ephesus throughout its history.


July 13, 2003

C.J., Dave and Steve,

I have attached a paper entitled, “Biblical Principles of Polity – A Statement of Concerns.”[2]  In this critique, I address issues we have discussed many times.  It is not my hope that anything will be changed[3] in the upcoming Perspectives booklet on polity as a result of this paper.  I am simply writing for the sake of clarity and for the sake of conscience.[4]  This paper is a feeble attempt at presenting my thoughts and concerns.

As you know, I believe that some aspects of this polity statement could have significant negative repercussions for the movement in the future.[5]  Due to time limitations I do not enumerate upon these.  In essence, however, I don’t think this polity statement sufficiently portrays apostolic ministry as presented in the New Testament.  It seems to me a very reductionistic presentation (cf. the attached outline entitled, “The Roles & Responsibilities of an Apostle”)

From my perspective, the paper[6] is more a reaction to how apostolic ministry should not be done (i.e., self-serving, authoritarian, domineering, etc.) than it is a positive statement about the importance and significance of apostolic ministry.  If applied we have very little responsibility and therefore should have very little involvement in the churches.  They [the churches] are essentially autonomous.[7]  Except in extreme cases, we should not take any initiative in seeking to serve them.  The extent of our involvement is determined by the local elders as are the issues we may address (cf. the attached outline entitled, “Propositions on Apostolic Ministry”). 

Of course, my understanding may be badly flawed and my concerns unfounded.[8]  I also affirm that there are many good points in the paper with which I would agree whole-heartedly. 

I also realize that the quotes I use are selective and can be viewed or applied differently than I do.[9] 

Thanks for the bearing with me once again.


Biblical Principles of Polity[10] - A Statement of Concerns 

Brent Detwiler

July 13, 2003

Serving Is Set Against Leading

Quote:  “Discussions around present-day apostolic ministry should not begin with authority but with responsibility.  Authentic apostolic ministry does not begin with the apostle’s rights over churches but with an apostle’s calling to serve churches.” (Dave Harvey, Biblical Principles of Polity, p. 18)

  • Statements like this set “authority” against “responsibility” and “rights over churches” against a “calling to serve churches.” 
  • “Responsibility” involves “authority” and “rights” and does not contradict a “calling to serve.”  In my opinion, setting up this kind of false dichotomy is unwise and unhelpful.

Quote:  “Paul may be able to talk about his apostolic authority, but apostolic models today are better served by emphasizing the responsibly to serve that attends their calling.” (Dave, BPP, p. 19)

  • Authority involves the right, power and, responsibility to lead.  Apostolic authority is given for apostolic leadership which is expressed in apostolic service.  Put another way, the primarily way leaders serve is by leading well.
  •  “We would define authority in general as the right (Matthew 8:9) and power (Mark 1:27; 1 Corinthians 7:37) and responsibility (2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10) to give direction to another” (John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p. 78).

Quote:  “We do not think of apostolic ministry as synonymous with authority nor do I think that is how Scripture portrays apostolic ministry.  Apostolic ministry in a word is not about authority it is about serving…. If you don’t hear this and you don’t feel this, then I have failed, we just want to serve.” (C.J. Mahaney, message at SGM Leadership Conference in 2003)

  • Serving and the exercise of authority are not in opposition to each other.  There is no question we want to serve but serving often involves leading.  We have no right to lead if we have no God given authority to lead.  Authority (i.e. the right and responsibility to lead) is made to sound like a bad thing and contrary to serving. 
  • What does it mean when we say, “We just want to serve!”?  Does it mean we don’t want to lead, provide any direction, give any input, supply any correction?  Of course not, but that is the way it comes across to me.

Positional Authority Is Presented Negatively

Quote:  “When an apostle acts ‘apostolically,’ his motivation must spring first not from a positional authority to act, but from a God-given responsibility to serve and a passion to provide care.” (Dave, BPP, pp. 18-19)

  • Quotes like this minimize the importance of positional authority and present it in a bad light.  It presents the exercise of positional authority as antithetical to serving and providing care. 
  • For an apostle (or pastor, husband, father, employer), servanthood involves leadership which necessitates authority.  This authority is inherent in the position and should be esteemed by those following.  Both these points are repeatedly taught in Scripture. 
  • When there are relational complications due to sin or misunderstanding, positional authority is what serves to keep God given structures and relationships in place.  This is vital.  If this is minimized, an individual (or group) may quickly divorce himself from the God given leadership placed in his life.  Regardless of negative circumstances, a person should respect, value, honor, follow and remain loyal to those in positions of leadership in his life because they are placed there by God.  This is true in the church, home, workplace and society at large.   
  • Paul was continually motivated to act because of his “positional authority.”  That is why he continually referenced his calling as an apostle at the beginning of his epistles.  He took action because he was required to and authorized to as an apostle. 
  • Authority is never presented as a bad thing in the Bible.  Rather it is constantly presented as a good and very necessary thing.  For instance, Christ’s authority over the church is an excellent thing.  It is only the misuse of authority that is condemned. 
  • Matthew 20:25 (ESV)  But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”  
  • We are all against “lording” but we should also be for “authority” – it is a good thing and a God-given thing in Scripture.  This passage does not teach that authority is evil or that leadership is bad.  It teaches that leadership must be exercised with the desire to serve others. 
  • “It scarcely needs adding that he [Jesus] is not objecting to constituted authority as such; there must be people in authority if there is to be ordered government.  He is objecting to the misuse of power that so easily comes about.” (Leon Morris on Matthew 20:25, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 511)

Apostolic Authority Is Relational

Quote:  “’Apostolic authority is relational authority.  In other words, it is limited to those churches who recognize it.’” (Dave, BPP, p. 20)

  • I find this approach dangerous.  God ordained authority cannot be dismissed because one refuses to recognize that authority for whatever reasons.   The “fact” of apostolic authority is not determined by the acceptance of apostolic authority.  
  • If this were true, then Paul would have had little or no authority in the church at Corinth or in the churches in Galatia at the time he wrote 1 Corinthians and Galatians. 
  • In the attached paper entitled, “The Nature and Extent of Apostolic Authority.” I discuss the differences between positional, functional, and relational authority.       

Submission Is Cast as Subservience

Quote:  “The motivation for the elders then becomes the recognition of the blessing that flows as a result of being related to apostolic authority rather than subservience to that authority.” (Dave, BPP, p. 22) 

  • “Blessing” and “subservience” are set in opposition to each other.  Instead, I think it is better to say that godly submission results in blessing and should be encouraged.    

No Biblical Grounds for Use of Fatherhood Metaphor[11]

Quote:  “The NT occasionally references metaphors to describe apostolic ministry.  While no one metaphor is sufficient to fully control or define the apostolic role, it may serve this process and our churches to consider whether some metaphors could be more readily employed to clarify our care.  In dealing with the nature of an apostle’s relationship with a local church over time, one metaphor seems particularly helpful: fatherhood. “ (Dave, BPP, p. 19)

  • The Scriptures cited in Dave’s paper (footnote 66 on p. 19) simply do not support the point he is trying to establish.
  • Attached you will find a study entitled, “Fatherhood – Literal and Metaphorical Usages in the New Testament.”  In it I review all the relevant NT passages dealing with the literal and metaphorical use of the words “father,” “children,” “child,” and “son(s).”  Based on this study, it is not possible to use the fatherhood metaphor as an analogy for a diminishing role of an apostle in a local church as it matures.  In fact, I would argue that the metaphor can properly be used to argue for the on-going involvement of an apostle throughout the life of a church.  Here are the main points in support of this position. 
  1. Jesus Christ is eternally, not temporarily, subjected to the Father.
  2. The Fatherhood of God continues throughout the believer’s life. 
  3. The authority and responsibility of a natural father continues in a son’s life until he leaves to be married.  Obedience and honor are expected from the son while at home (cf., the patriarchal pattern of fatherhood in the OT shows an ongoing involvement in the lives of the children/grandchildren even after marriage; for example, Jacob with his 12 sons). 
  4. Paul and John use the metaphor of a father to establish their authority in order to bring directive input to their audiences.
  5. John “the aged” refers to the established churches in the province of Asia as his “dear children.”
  6. The metaphor of a father is never used to show a diminishing role for the apostle in a local church.
  7. Paul’s fatherhood in Timothy’s and Titus’ lives continued to the very end.
  • From my perspective, the biblical metaphor of fatherhood should not be used to argue for a diminishing role of an apostle in the life of a church as it matures.  At best, the father/child illustration can only be used as analogy taken from our own culture in the 21st century.  The Bible never uses this metaphor in this way.

Elders Have Ultimate Responsibility

Quote:  “Do apostles hold ultimate responsibility for the local church?  Well truthfully, it doesn’t appear that this is a question which Scripture anticipates and answers.  However if ultimate means unchanging, then the answer is ’no’.  But if ultimate means a diminishing responsibility which is never fully relinquished, then the answer is ’yes’.” (Dave, BPP, p. 20)

  • I think the question of “ultimate responsibility” is clearly answered in the NT.  In Paul’s mind, he and his team were ultimately responsible for the well-being of the churches in their care.  This doesn’t mean they were responsible for the day to day operations once an eldership was established.
  • Ultimately, I think God holds apostolic men responsible for the well-being of a local church.  Certainly the elders are also responsible, but not to the same degree as apostles. 

Elders Have Final and Ultimate Authority

  • I don’t see anywhere in the NT where the elders of a local church exercised final or ultimate authority in relation to apostles.  Put another way, I don’t see apostles deferring to elders or functioning in submission to pastors.  
  • Paul and his men didn’t have less authority as churches matured.  Their authority remained the same.  Paul and his team, didn’t have less responsibility for the well-being of a church as it matured.  
  • Rather, as godly and gifted elders emerged and the church grew in holiness and maturity, there was far less need to be apostolically involved.  Apostolic involvement changes depending on maturity.  Apostolic authority and responsibility remain the same.

Apostles Can Only Deal with Heresy or Immoral Leaders

Quote:  “If we dare apply the fatherhood metaphor introduced above, then we might say that apostles enjoy primary responsibility ONLY for a formative season in the local church.  After this, the practical responsibility transfers gradually to the elders.  Indeed the apostolic team will always retain sufficient responsibility to deal with heresy or immoral leaders.  But within a maturing church, the base of responsibility must eventually transition from the apostles to the elders.” (Dave, BPP, p. 20)

  • This section of the paper severely limits our involvement in a local church.  Only in matters of heresy or when dealing with a sexually immoral leader do we have any responsibility or authority to intervene. 
  • This restricted approach differs greatly with the “Apostolic Job Description” in Addendum III (p. 35) which is much broader in application.  These two resources  need to be brought into harmony with each other in one way or another.    

Quote:  “But any remaining [apostolic] authority as a church grows and matures would be restricted to the discipline of heresy or an immoral leader. I think there is appropriate on-going apostolic authority where it is recognized, where there is a relationship, where there is trust, where there is history for the discipline of heresy if present or an immoral leader but as a church grows the authority is resident in the local eldership.” (C.J. Mahaney, message at SGM Leadership Conference in 2003)

  • I think apostolic ministry should determine the extent of their involvement in a local church.  It is not determined for them by the local elders or church.  Nor is it restricted to heresy and immoral leaders.

“Mature” Sovereign Grace Churches Are Essentially Autonomous

Quote:  “We might say that apostles enjoy primary responsibility ONLY for a formative season in the local church.  After this, the practical responsibility transfers gradually to the elders.” (Dave, BPP, p. 20)

  • I agree that the elders take on more and more responsibility as the church matures.  This statement, however, implies that apostolic ministry is not needed once a church emerges from its formative stage.  In my opinion, significant apostolic involvement is needed and desirable even when you have an established eldership.  For example, consider the involvement of Paul and others with the church in Ephesus over a 30-40 year period of time.    

Quote:  “However, if a mature eldership elects to withdraw their support and remove a seasoned church for reasons other than heresy or immorality, the apostolic team should relinquish their trust in a God honoring manner and grant them the freedom to do so.” (Dave, BPP, p. 20)

  • This means we can never intervene except in the cases of heresy or sexual immorality by a leader.  I think this is an unwise and unbiblical limitation we are placing upon ourselves.  There can be a number of additional reasons why we would intervene and seek to salvage a church that was being separated from us.  For example, you could have a smaller church that wanted to remain but the senior pastor did not.  We have an obligation to the people also.

Who Determines Whether a Church or Eldership is Mature

Quote:  “The ‘diminishing’ of a father’s responsibility is typically symmetrical to the maturity of the child.” (Dave, BPP, p. 20)

  • The question of who determines whether a church or eldership is ”mature” is critical but nowhere addressed in the paper.  Reading the paper, however, one would assume that this assessment is made by the eldership not by the apostolic team. 
  • This ties our hands if an eldership determines it is “mature” even though we do not concur.  Per our polity statement there is nothing we can do in such cases.  
  • In the father-son analogy, it is not the son who determines his maturity and need for the father’s involvement.  These are assessments and decisions made by the father.

We Have Less Authority in Churches We Adopt

Quote:  “Does the apostolic authority differ for churches desiring adoption within Sovereign Grace Ministries?” (Dave, BPP, p. 19)

  • Church adoptions don’t lessen the positional authority of an apostle.  I think we must differentiate between positional authority and the exercise of that authority. 
  •  In adoptive situations trust must be earned, competence demonstrated, and friendships established, before one can effectively use the authority God has given him.  Nevertheless, there are not varying degrees of apostolic authority.

We Have Little in Common with Paul

Quote:  “There is much more about Paul that we cannot relate to, that we do not associate with our understanding of apostolic ministry than there is that we do associate with our understanding of apostolic ministry…. It is distinctly different in a number of very critical ways from Paul and we are fierce in our communication of those distinctions and yet we want to be inspired by his example where appropriate and emulate his example where appropriate.” (C.J., message at SGM Leadership Conference in 2003)

  • I am concerned we have distanced ourselves too far from the pattern of apostolic ministry in NT.  Are we becoming functional cessationists when it comes to the apostolic oversight of churches?

We Should Not Build Churches into the Apostolic Team

Quote:  “It is our privilege and passion to build the local church into the pastoral team, not turn the attention or allegiance of the local church away from the pastoral team to the apostolic team.” (C.J., message at SGM Leadership Conference in 2003)

  • I don’t think this is an either/or proposition.  In Scripture, Paul clearly builds the churches into himself and his team of men.  Without the allegiance of the churches and attention given to our collective mission we cease to exist or bear fruit.


I never heard from Dave or C.J. after sending them “Biblical Principles of Polity - A Statement of Concerns” along with other material.  I followed up.     

From: Brent Detwiler  
Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2033 10:08 AM
To: Dave Harvey
Subject: Question

In my mid-July email re: your polity paper I attached a bunch of stuff.  I was wondering if the most important part got lost in the bundle.  Curious, were you able to read the 7 page document, “Biblical Principles of Polity – A Statement of Concerns?“  I understand if you have not had the time or chose not to.



From: Dave Harvey
Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2003 10:17 AM
To: Brent Detwiler
Subject: RE: Question

I reviewed it for new thoughts, saw the similarity with the concerns already discussed and determined that we had covered it.  It appeared to be a final, but clearer summation of your perspective.[12]

Let me know if there is something in particular you want me to look at...[13]

From: Brent Detwiler
Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2003 10:23 AM
To: Dave Harvey
Subject: RE: Question

I get it – you didn’t read it.  Oh well, it was a good try…

From: Brent Detwiler 
Sent: Saturday, October 18, 2003 9:00 AM
To: C.J. Mahaney
Subject: Confidentail: Polity on Apostles

I guess the Perspectives booklets will be out soon and I was wondering if you ever have a chance to read the critique I sent back in July[14] re: the polity statement on apostles and the local church?  Wondering if you found it of any benefit in possibly editing Dave’s paper.[15]

From: C.J. Mahaney  
Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2003 10:22 AM
To: Brent Detwiler
Subject: RE: Confidential: Polity on Apostles 

I read it.  Was there anything new that we hadn’t already discussed?[16]  Please let me know if I missed something.[17]


At our June 20-22, 2006 apostolic team retreat, we finalized the Membership Agreement which included this line. 

“Member churches and Sovereign Grace as independent and autonomously governed entities jointly agree to be responsible for all respective claims, loss, damage, liability, or expenses occasioned or claimed by reason of acts or neglects of their own employees or visitors or of independent contractors.”

I argued against its inclusion.  Here are the notes I used to make my points to C.J., Dave and Steve.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sign the Membership Agreement without violating my conscience because I do not believe churches were governmentally independent and autonomous in relation to apostolic ministry in the New Testament and because I do believe the teaching of Scripture on this subject is still relevant and applicable in our day. 

“Maybe C.J. could sign the document for churches in my sphere.  If I ever lead a church, maybe the document could be reworded for me.  I’d love to exonerate Sovereign Grace of all legal responsibility for any of my actions, etc.  Perhaps other language could be found to accomplish the same objective.

“I don’t believe the NT teaches that local church government was independent and autonomous in nature.  I believe the elders and churches in the NT looked to apostles for governing input.  I believe apostles in the NT thought they had governing responsibilities in relation to the churches.  What was true in NT times has relevance in our day for the relationship between a local church/eldership and apostolic ministry.”

All of this was readily dismissed by C.J., Dave and Steve.  During our discussion, Dave said he “believes the NT teaches that apostles were involved in the governing of churches” but there is “a lot of discontinuity in authority between Paul and us.”  In other words, what was true in the NT is not true today.  Churches were not “independent and autonomous” in the NT but they are now because of the great chasm that separates Paul from us.   

C.J. took a far more radical view.  He disagreed with Dave and said, “Paul considered churches independent and autonomous in relation to himself.”  In other words, Paul did not see himself as one in authority over the churches he planted and built.  That answer was incomprehensible to me and I politely but firmly challenged C.J.  I foresaw the future dissolution of Sovereign Grace Ministries if this phrase (and theology) was included in the Membership Agreement.  More importantly, I believed such an approach was clearly at odds with the NT.


At our June 18-21, 2007 apostolic team retreat, I was confronted for being proud and unscholarly for maintaining my position on the baptism in the Holy Spirit and certain charismata like prophecy.  C.J., Dave, Steve and Larry Malament all conspired behind my back to confront me (see RRF&D, pp. 119-121). This is not an exaggeration.  It was a coordinated effort sprung upon me.  I’ve written approximate 1,200 pages of material to date but I’ve written very little about 2006-2007 when C.J.’s hostility toward me was acute.  There are many other examples. 

During the June 2007 retreat, I was confronted for not changing my position on apostolic ministry and for not being “influenced” by Jeff (i.e., agreeing with his positions).  C.J. pointed out that I was “the least influenced by Jeff” while “the rest of us are the most influenced by Jeff.”  That was true.  I did not agree with Jeff’s view on apostles, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, a dispensational view of the book of Acts, speaking in tongues, prophecy, the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, the discontinuing role of the moral law in the OT, the administration of the Lord’s Supper and the administration of water baptism.  These disagreements were purely on biblical grounds.  I held nothing against Jeff and appreciated his contributions to our theology in other ways.  In these matters, however, I thought he was introducing a theology of doubt, a dispensational hermeneutic and a liturgical approach to the sacraments.  It wasn’t personal.  It was a matter of what the Scripture taught on these subjects. 

In C.J.’s world, however, my positions on these issues were unacceptable and due to my pride and lack of scholarship.  Dave and Steve agreed.  These biblical convictions of mine regarding apostles were based upon extensive study starting in 1979 when I wrote my graduate thesis on “Eldership in the New Testament.”  In that treatise, I talked about the relationship of apostles to elders.  Nevertheless, twenty eight years of study were dismissed as unscholarly and my sincerely held beliefs were labeled as pride by C.J., Dave and Steve.     

Instead of saying, “Brent, we respect your differences because we know they are based upon a serious study of Scripture,” I had to be labeled and chastised.  Dave corrected me for coming to team meetings “armed with assumptions and presumptions intact and locked down” and said I did not have the “disposition of a learner” towards Jeff.  Therefore, I was unteachable.  There was no room for disagreement. 

In particular, C.J., Dave and Steve confronted me on this 2007 retreat for sending them the material above on apostles back in 2003.  That action was offensive to them.  C.J. pointed out how he “took two years to discuss Dave’s polity paper solely for me” because there “was little the others disagreed with.”  He went further and said “resending my position” (i.e., “Biblical Principles of Polity - A Statement of Concerns,” July 13, 2003)  revealed my pride.  Dave agreed and said “after hearing it for two years I didn’t need to read what you wrote.”  Steve said I was “proud, obstinate, and unteachable” for sending the material and for not changing my position on apostles.  C.J. wanted to know “What does that say about my view of him, Dave and Steve when asking them to re-read something I’ve presented over and over again.”  Finally, C.J. reiterated his view that “Paul considered churches independent and autonomous in relation to himself” and said “this is not a minor conviction for me regarding apostles.” 

It is true we discussed the issue of apostles for several years.  It also true that C.J. was never willing to sit down and study the outlines I provided him, Dave and Steve.  Honestly, we never “searched the Scriptures” together to see “whether these things were so.”  I prepared at least a half dozen major outlines based upon careful study that were never closely examined or reviewed as a team.

Please understand, our discussions were always civil.  Not argumentative or contentious.  It was my position on apostolic ministry, not my attitude, that was offensive.  Marvel of marvels, my unscholarly position is now being heralded by the triumvirate of scholarship – Phil Sasser, Daniel Baker and Nathan Sasser.  I’m glad for their scholarship on apostles.  Daniel’s position on apostles is the one I taught him at the Pastors College in 1999-2000.  I recently wrote him regarding his treatise from this past winter.  I am quite critical of chapter 7 but the first 6 chapters largely reflect my theology.  He is arguing my “proud and unscholarly” position on behalf of C.J.  So are Phil and Nathan.  The 52 page position paper by Daniel represents the views of the entire eldership in Phil’s church outside of Raleigh, NC.  I am glad for this development.

From: Brent Detwiler  
Sent: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 1:46 PM
To: Daniel Baker
Cc: Phil Sasser; Nathan Sasser 
Subject: Apostles

Hi Daniel,

You state in A Defense of and Model for Apostolic Government, “Precedent has been used to argue for any number of good and evil actions.  Thus, the strength of the precedent is critical to assess.  Is it an occasional and incidental precedent like Timothy drinking wine for his stomach ailment? (1 Tim. 5:23).  Or is it a precedent that seems firmly established in Scripture as normative for the people of God? (E.g., church planting should be the primary means for the expansion of the church).”

Good point but you don’t apply this principle in your application of the Jerusalem Council [i.e., in chapter 7 on “Acts 15 – Apostles, Elders and a Model for SGM”].  That council is the only such occurrence in the NT.  [You give] one example and the example does not support the application you make.  You can’t build a denomination on Acts 15 and talk about the submission of apostles to a governing board of apostles and elders.  That is not what Acts 15 is about.  Your historical reconstruction is inaccurate.  This statement is not true, “Again we have a strong precedent for apostles serving under the authority of another body of leaders, this one including elders.”

Paul didn’t go up to Jerusalem because he was submitted to them, accountable to them or uncertain about his gospel.  He went there to straighten them out if needed, knowing how much trouble they could cause his Gentile churches if they did not agree with him on the gospel.  The elders were included because the problems came from the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:1,5,24; Gal 2:4,12) not because they were in authority over Paul and Barnabas. 

Paul was not looking to the Jerusalem apostles or elders for doctrinal definition (Gal. 2:2).  Paul’s concern for running in vain had to do with the polluting effect of false and errant brethren upon his gospel and the churches of Galatia.  He didn’t want their false gospel to undermine his work.  Paul was not at all concerned about whether or not his gospel was correct (Gal 1:11-12).  Those who “seemed to be important” (Peter, James and John) made “no difference” to Paul (Gal 2:6).  The “reputed pillars” agreed with Paul, not Paul with them (Gal 2:9).  Paul went to Jerusalem to address the Judaizing element in their midst not because he doubted his gospel or was looking for their approval.  He certainly wasn’t submitted to them. 

I’m afraid your “Four Conclusions from Acts 15” are all wrong and not found in the text or the historical setting.  For example, “Fourth, the governing body should include elders who are not also apostles.”  That is baseless.  Nowhere in Scripture will you find local elders in authority over extra local apostles.  The elders in Jerusalem were included in the discussion because so many of them were confused and in error.  They needed to be adjusted by the apostles and especially by Paul but also Barnabas, Peter and James.  Paul didn’t need the affirmation of the elders but he desired their affirmation in order to fight off the legalistic Judaizers in their church.

You conclude, “Once we include this discussion [on Acts 15] we are ready to lay the framework for a revitalized Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Such a denomination would have (at least) three layers of government.”  [Daniel] there are only two “layers” of government in the NT.  Apostolic teams working with pastoral teams.  Otherwise, the first 6 chapters of your paper are great in many respects.  A couple suggestions.  More later if time allows.   

Don’t forget to use Rev 2:2 in addition to 2 Cor 11:13.  It is helpful in arguing the continuist position since Revelation was written ca. 40 years later.  You should also stop referring to two types of apostles. 

“It seems best to say that we have two types of apostles in the New Testament.”  I don’t think this is necessary or correct.  An apostle is someone sent and gifted by God to preach the gospel and build churches.  1 Cor. 3:10ff. is most helpful in this regard.  He lays a foundation and he builds upon.  An apostle is a “skilled master builder” (ESV) or master architect (Gr. architekton).  That’s it in a nutshell.  That’s why there is only one category of apostles in the NT.  Men armed with the kerygma and the ability to plant, nurture, and protect churches. 

There are not different kinds or types of apostles.  That is not to say all the apostles in the NT were equally distinguished or accomplished or had identical experiences.  They had varying degrees of gifting and responsibility.  Some had distinguishing or unique experiences (e.g., the twelve were with the Lord and eyewitnesses of the resurrection, some apostles were blessed to write Scripture, Christ appeared to Paul, etc.).  These are distinctions but not indicia that are required.  Follow my line of argument on 1 Cor 9:1-6 from my 1984 article on “20th Century Apostles” in People of Destiny Magazine.       

“Some would maintain, however, that it is also necessary for an apostle to have had a personal appearance of the Lord Jesus similar to that which Paul experienced (Acts 22:6-21).  They would primarily base this upon Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:1; “Am I not free?  Am I not an apostle?  Have I not seen our Lord?  Are you not my work in the Lord?”  But is Paul actually saying that it was necessary for him to see the Lord in order to qualify as an apostle?

“This verse must be understood in context.  Paul is simply stating that regardless of his liberty (“Am I not free?”) he will not stumble his brother (1 Cor. 8:1-13).  Neither will he exercise his right to eat and drink (9:4), his right to take along a believing wife (9:5), or his right to refrain from working (9:6) if it would adversely affect the fruitfulness of his ministry.

“Nevertheless, Paul also makes it very clear that his refraining from these things is all the more incredible when one considers his three separate claims to distinction.  He is an apostle, he has seen the Lord, and the Corinthian church is his work in the Lord.  Paul is simply demonstrating his willingness to set aside his rights and go the extra mile.  He is challenging the Corinthians to see that they should be willing to do the same.

“Paul’s statement that he had seen Jesus need not be understood as a qualification for apostolic ministry.  Rather, it is one of many distinguishing factors in this great man of God’s life.  Likewise, Paul does not list the various resurrection appearances and his own post-ascension experience in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 for the purpose of establishing it as a necessary qualification for apostolic ministry.  They are simply given as eyewitness testimonies for the resurrection of Christ (15:4).” (Brent Detwiler, “20th Century Apostles?” People of Destiny Magazine, Jan/Feb 1984)

I don’t believe anyone from the interim Board or leadership team qualify to be apostles but I want your arguments to win out for the next generation. 

You should also avoid your many references to the office of the apostle.  The NT emphasis is not on the institutional but the charismatic.  Acts 1:25, Romans 1:5, 1 Cor 9:2, and Gal 2:9 refer to “apostleship” or if you wish the apostolate (Gr. apostole).  But even here it is not the office that is in view.  It is more accurate to refer to apostolic ministry (a description) than apostolic office (a position).  The emphasis is on function.  By way of analogy, if you have a significant teaching gift you will be recognized as a teacher.  The gift precedes the designation.  So too the gift of prophecy for prophets.  That’s why we don’t use these as titles.  It is not the Apostle Paul.  It is Paul the apostle. 

“Office or officers It is no doubt true and it has significance that in the enumerations in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 it is not the institutional, but the qualitative aspect in these charisma that comes to the fore.  It is not presbyters, bishops, or deacons who are spoken of there, but the charisma of giving leadership, helping, showing mercy.  This points to the fact that even if some of the charisma mentioned here are denotations of specific offices, yet it is not the official-institutional as such, but the material significance of the office that is brought to the forefront.” (Herman Ridderbos,  Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 444)

“It is in the nature of certain charisma that they have not merely an incidental, but a continual significance, and therefore of themselves might lay claim to continuing and regular recognition (for which reason the charismata, too, are not only denoted as powers, etc., but also as persons; cf. 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:8, 11).” (Herman Ridderbos,  Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 445)

You should read J.B. Lightfoot’s eminent, The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians (London, 1865/ Grand Rapids, 1962), pp. 92-101.  He was the first scholar to open the door for on-going apostles.

The gift of exhortation (Rom 12:8) with its wide range of meanings should also be added to teaching and leadership as a necessary gift for an apostle.  Study parakaleo and the related word group.

Sometime you should deal with prophets in your quest for NT polity.  They too are foundational and on-going.  Hendriksen does a good job pointing out that prophets in Eph 2:20 is a reference to NT prophets, not historical prophets from the OT.  Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas (Acts 15:27; 32, 40) were such men.  Silas is also called an apostle.  He fulfilled both roles because of his diverse gifting.

Grace to you!



In April 2009, Dave Harvey wrote me on behalf of C.J. and Steve.  They were attempting to remove me from Sovereign Grace Ministries on the basis on my doctrine (see RRF&D, pp. 106-119).  In particular for my view on apostles. 

“I think the categories we had specifically in mind would include the nature and extent of apostolic and pastoral authority.  From past discussions and experiences, it seems that category has been an area where we have disagreed in rather important ways.” (Dave Harvey, April 17, 2009)

I responded in the following fashion.

“We last discussed the subject of apostolic ministry in July, 2003.  At the time, I expressed a concern that we were moving away from the kind of apostolic involvement that had built a strong family of churches.  My primary focus was not on authority but involvement.  On the issue of authority, however, I acknowledged we had differences.  I felt the authority of apostles exceeded that of elders.

“I also affirmed, and agreed with all, that the extent of apostolic involvement depended on the maturity level of the eldership and its proper functioning.  Furthermore, I whole heartedly agreed that a proper exercise of any authority was based on servanthood, trust and relationship.” (Brent Detwiler, April 21, 2009)

Dave backed off but eight months later C.J. wrote saying, “I know we hold disagreements over doctrine and practice that now separate us from serving together.”  I repeatedly asked C.J. to explain his meaning but he was never willing to tell me what doctrine and practice prohibited me from being a part of SGM.  I was out with no explanation but no explanation was necessary to be honest.  I knew C.J. disagree with my position on apostles.  What excluded me from Sovereign Grace Ministries in 2010 is now being embraced by C.J. and his inner circle.

EXREMELY IMPORTANT: All the years C.J., Dave and Steve were arguing for a diluted role for apostles they were acting with overbearing authority in many situations.  Their hypocrisy was maddening.  For example with Kenny Roberts (Cleveland), Benny Phillips (Fairfax), Keith Jacobs (south Denver), and David Bendinelli (north Denver).  In those situations, I was the one speaking up on their behalf as best I could when they were being mistreated by C.J., Dave and Steve.  That’s why a diluted view of apostles doesn’t prevent the abuse of people when men act contrary to their stated polity.  Polity is important but integrity far more so. 


In March of this year, Kris from SGM Survivors asked if I could answer some questions for her readers.  Here are two regarding apostolic ministry.

From: Kris [SGM Survivors]
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2012 10:50 AM
To: Brent Detwiler
Subject: "Why Good Guys Go Bad"

Question for Brent Detwiler, if it is not too late:

Brent discusses SGM’s “reasserting its commitment to apostolic ministry,” in his Cotton Candy post, concluding with the statement, “So if you don’t believe in apostles, it is time to get out of your SGM church.”

Does this paragraph regard SGM’s disingenuous replacement of the term “apostle,” or does it regard their practice of “apostolic” leadership and authority?

My meaning was, “It’s time to get out of SGM if you don’t believe in apostles” as a matter of biblical conviction.  But it is also true that it’s time to get out if you believe SGM apostles abuse their leadership and authority.  Moreover, as you point out; the “disingenuous replacement of the term ‘apostle’” is another example of deceit and reason to leave.  C.J. needs to come out and say he is the senior apostle.  The spiritual leader of his movement. 

If towards the practice of apostolic leadership, has Brent’s opinion regarding this type of leadership and position in the church changed over the years since he himself was practicing apostolic leadership and authority in SGM?  I am not intending to be critical if his perspective has changed (I would celebrate it), but mostly I am curious as to his thought process.  I remember the days when the role of the importance of the “office of apostle” in the church was much proclaimed in PDI.

I still believe in “apostolic leadership and authority” just like I believe in pastoral leadership and authority.  Both are biblical.  Both can be abused.  Every church should have godly apostles and shepherds (i.e., pastors, Gr. poimen) but not false ones or untrustworthy ones.  Truth and Christian character are the dividing line. 

We started a magazine in September, 1983.  For the first two issues, it was called Christian Destiny Magazine.  The first issue was titled, “Restoration of the Church: Are You a Pioneer or a Settler?” (Sept/Oct ’83).  The second issue, “Evangelism as a Lifestyle” (Nov/Dec ’83).

With the third issue, the name of the magazine changed to People of Destiny Magazine.  The topic, “Apostolic Team Ministry” (Jan/Feb ’84).  Those were the good old days.  The team was comprised of Larry, CJ, Brent, Bill Galbraith, Steve Shank, Che Ahn and Dick Wolohan.  Through the years, everyone but Steve left over, or with, concerns for C.J.

I wrote a lead article in that issue entitled, “20th Century Apostles – They’re As Necessary Today As They Were 2,000 Years Ago.”  That was 28 years ago and I was 30.  I fully believe today what I wrote then.  My understanding of Scripture on the subject has not changed.  I still believe what Larry T. wrote on page 2, “Apostles and Prophets: Past History or Present Reality?”  C.J., Terry Virgo, and Benny Phillips also contributed.

In my article, which was mostly an apologetic for apostles, I said, “Like overseers and elders, an apostle also had to be a man above reproach in his personal life and relationship with others (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  He was a man sent forth from a proven base of ministry where he had been responsible for building the church locally (Acts 11:25-26; 1 Cor 9:1-3).”

Apostolic ministry only works (and can only be trusted) when men are above reproach.  This is the problem with Sovereign Grace Ministries today.  It is full of compromise at the highest levels.  Men cannot be trusted.  They are not above reproach.  In the old days, we had to be “sent forth from a proven base of ministry.”  In C.J.’s case, he left Covenant Life Church in a huff, never consulting with his pastors or asking for their blessing.  Furthermore, the Sovereign Grace Board counseled this action by C.J. without talking to CLC pastors.  It’s a different day.  A sad day. 

The fourth issue of People of Destiny Magazine was “Becoming a Prophetic People” (Mar/Apr ’84).  As Larry said, “The prophet is not just some electrifying preacher or ‘weird-acting’ opponent of sin; he is a submitted [i.e. working with apostles] and anointer seer who brings necessary revelation [e.g. understanding and discernment] and insight to keep the house of God pure and on the right track.”  C.J. does not have any prophets.  They’ve all been slaughtered.  He does have blogs.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: Apostles and prophets don’t equate with abuse.   You can believe in them or not believe in them and have abuse.  For example, you can be a Southern Baptist Church with a congregational form of church government and still be terrorized by the senior pastor.  On the other hand, you can have a high regard for apostles and prophets and not be abusive at all.  Consider 1 Cor 12:28, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then  miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”  Apostles and prophets are first and second in sequence and importance.  This doesn’t mean they have to be self-serving or self-exalting.

Up until I resigned from the SGM Board in November 2007, I oversaw our efforts in the Caribbean and Asia.  I also had responsibility for 23 churches in the southeastern United States.  I endeavored to follow Paul’s example of apostolic ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12.

“[9] For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. [10] You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. [11] For you know how,  like a father with his children, [12] we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and  charged  you to walk in a manner worthy of God,  who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

This text provides a wonderful summary of apostolic ministry then and now.

  • Paul was willing to provide for himself if necessary.  He wasn’t in the ministry for money.  His willingness to sacrifice for them proved his servanthood.
  • Paul’s was gospel centered and God centered not me centered.  He wasn’t building a denomination around himself.
  • The Thessalonians observed his life by nature of his personal involvement with them.  He wasn’t a guest speaker collecting honoraria that caught a plane right after the Sunday meeting.  The church knew he was holy, righteous and blameless because of their personal interaction with him.
  • He exercised spiritual authority over the church like a father with his children.  He was a good father not an abusive father.  You don’t dismiss the role of fathers (cf. apostles and prophets) because there are some bad one.
  • He was concerned for their sanctification.  He exhorted (Gr. parakaleo), encouraged (Gr. paramutheomai) and charged (Gr. marturomai) them like a father to walk in a manner worthy of God.
  • Paul asked the Thessalonians to be what he was.  He was no hypocrite.  He lived what he preached.

Every church needs men and ministry like Paul’s.  Phil Sasser, Daniel Baker, and Nathan Sasser are putting forth good doctrine regarding apostles.  The same is not true regarding their aspirations for a denomination.  I sent the following to Joshua Harris (Gaithersburg, MD) and Mark Mullery (Fairfax, VA) in March.  I want to see apostolic teams and team related churches but not denominations marked by a headquarter.


From: Brent Detwiler 
Sent: Saturday, March 17, 2012 11:09 AM
To: Joshua Harris; Mark Mullery
Subject: Daniel Baker

I just finished a study of Daniel’s paper [A Defense of and Model of Apostolic Government].  His exegesis and application of Acts 15 is incredibly flawed.  A classic example of eisegesis.  He comes to all kinds of unwarranted conclusions.  For instance,

“The massively educated and gifted and insightful Paul saw it as his proper place to take the wisdom of ‘the apostles and the elders’ and to deliver it to his churches as what we could call ‘sound doctrine.’  It certainly affirmed his own sense of doctrine (e.g., Gal. 2) but here we recognize he is not above the decisions reached by a group that includes elder’s’.” 

This is nuts.  He didn’t have a “sense” of doctrine and certainly not a sense of the gospel which was the topic under discussion.  Paul would be laughing his head off at this conclusion.

Here’s how Paul felt about the Jerusalem Council and the leaders (apostles and elders) in Jerusalem.

Gal 2:6-9 (NASU) But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. [7] But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised [8] (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), [9] and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

Of course, Daniel doesn’t deal with this text or others.  Typical of all bad interpretation.  Just use proof texts but not deal with the full teaching of God’s Word.  Pass over inconvenient passages.  Daniel is pressing a denominational polity upon SGM not found in the Bible.  Apostles were not submitted to an outside governing Board.  There is no such thing as a “Board of Commissioned Apostles and Elders” in the New Testament.  You cannot make such a case using Acts 15.  The council served an important purpose at the time but it should not be used as a biblical precedent for building a denomination.  This may not help your cause but such misinterpretation must be kept in mind so no one abuses Scripture to justify their arguments.

I’d rather see you require change regarding the governing of SGM based upon ethics rather than any twisting of Scripture.  C.J., Dave, et al. are untrustworthy and heavy handed.  That’s why changes need to be made.  They should have been rebuked and removed.  No one was willing so now you have to settle for second best.  A denominational structure that restrains their power and holds them accountable.   



Here’s what C.J. should do in light of Scripture.  First, earnestly desire all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Second, come out in bold support of apostles and prophets and renounce his former beliefs.  Third resign from the apostolic team because he doesn’t qualify.  Fourth, have the men who served on the interim Board/apostolic team resign for the same reason.  Fifth, dissolve Sovereign Grace Ministries as a burgeoning denomination.  Sixth, encourage pastors to identify apostles and prophets in their respective regions or countries.  Seventh, encourage these apostolic teams to relate informally to each other like Paul, Peter, Apollos, Barnabas, etc.  Eighth, pray they go into all the world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as portrayed in the Book of Acts.   

Here is what C.J. and Phil wrote all the SGM pastors last month. 

“It is our intent that the changes we make [to our polity] be informed by our common history and involves the robust participation of our pastors, with sound doctrine as our ultimate guide…the Board earnestly and sincerely solicits the theologically informed perspectives of every eldership in SGM.  (C.J. Mahaney and Phil Sasser, Letter to SGM Pastors re. Polity, April 27, 2012)

I believe Sovereign Grace is required to make the eight changes above if “sound doctrine” and “theologically informed perspectives” are really their “ultimate guide.” 

To quote C.J. and Phil again, “Our approach will be…to search the Scriptures for the answers, and to develop a polity that is consistent with Scripture.” (Ibid.)

Sola Scriptura.

[1] C.J., Dave and Jeff incorporated these comments of mine in their later writings and messages in order to distance Sovereign Grace Ministries from Paul’s ministry.  That was never my intent.

[2] I was extremely concerned for the unbiblical aspects of what Dave wrote and C.J. and Steve endorsed.  It was distressing to see how little the Scriptures were used and how easily they were abused in making critical arguments (e.g. the fatherhood metaphor).  I was presented with a moral dilemma.  SGM or the Bible.

[3] They were opposed to me and everything contained in the Statement of Concerns.  They refused to discuss this final appeal.   

[4] I believed C.J., Dave, Steve and Jeff’s evolving position on apostles was in violation of Scripture.

[5] That is, the disintegration of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  The exact thing they are facing today.

[6] That is, Dave’s paper on “Biblical Principle of Polity” which was the precursor for “Polity – Serving and Leading the Local Church” that came out in March, 2004.

[7] The word “autonomous” was added to the Membership Agreement in 2006.

[8] I added this sentence knowing I’d be accused of being proud for not aligning myself with C.J., Dave, Steve and Jeff.  That is precisely what happened in the aftermath.  In 2007 this letter and “A Statement of Concerns” were used against me when C.J. was doing all in his power to label me proud and independent.   Today, C.J. is about to embrace the theology I espoused and for which I was condemned.   

[9] I didn’t really believe this but I was trying to be as “gracious” as possible.  All the men were already upset with me for challenging their unbiblical arguments.  Dave never bothered to read the material.  He had had enough.  This was a last ditch effort.  I knew I’d get in trouble for sending “A Statement of Concerns” but was willing to risk it for the sake of Sovereign Grace Ministries and our fidelity to the Bible.  

[10] This was the name of the position paper on polity that Dave put together for the apostolic team after years of discussion between us.  C.J. and Steve endorsed it.  I opposed basic tenets on biblical grounds.  As a last ditch effort to edit parts of the publication I wrote “A Statement of Concerns.”  It was dismissed out of hand.  In this statement, I quote C.J or Dave and then provide a response next to the bullets.

[11] The fatherhood metaphor has been used by SGM as the dominant illustration for explaining its diminishing role in churches but there is absolutely no biblical basis for such a use.  The paradigm is unbiblical.  It is a 21st Century invention.  I labored so hard to make this point to Dave, C.J. and Steve.  I was embarrassed for such shoddy exegesis and didn’t want this metaphor defining how we viewed apostolic ministry because it had no basis in the Scripture.  I am not exaggerating…this made no difference to C.J., Dave or Steve.  They would not consider my biblical critique on this vital point.

[12] That’s true.  It was a clearer summary – a better summary.  I worked hard to be concise and precise in making this final appeal.  All for naught. 

[13] I told Dave his fatherhood metaphor was of particular concern because it had no basis in Scripture.

[14] Three months earlier.  This was like C.J.  He read it but didn’t agree with any of my concerns so he saw no need to acknowledge getting my material until I contacted him.  We discussed these issues on and off since 1999 but this was the first time I was able to put together such a clear summary with extensive and supportive outlines. 

[15] Nothing was beneficial to C.J. or Dave.  No changes were made to “Polity – Serving and Leading the Local Church.”  I just checked the SGM website and didn’t see this Perspective Series publication for sale.  I believe I’m correct in saying it has been removed because they no longer want to advance a watered down approach to apostolic ministry.  The booklet is a major reason why it will be hard for the Board of Directors and Leadership Team to take up a governing role over the churches.    

[16] We discussed them in bits and pieces over the years.  A thorough and complete review would have been beneficial at this critical juncture in the history of SGM.

[17] In others words, nothing benefitted C.J. and no edits were made to the 51 page booklet.  


Post Script - Sent to SGM Pastors

From: Brent Detwiler 
Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2012 11:01 AM
To: All SGM Pastors 
Subject: C.J.'s Conundrum Regarding Apostles

This post provides the theological and historical background for our past discussions regarding apostles.  Of particular importance is the change in C.J.’s position from 2007 to his apparent position in 2012.  I also provide a critique of Daniel Baker’s treatise on  “A Defense of and Model for Apostolic Government” and Nathan Sasser’s blog post on “SGM Polity, the Cessation of the Apostolate and the Authority Question in Our Local Churches.” 

Lastly, I hope what I’ve written will serve future generations in providing a polity based upon the NT for planting and building churches for the glory of God.

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