What follows are excerpts from an extremely powerful message by Joshua Harris preached one year ago today at Covenant Life Church. He spoke like a prophet and without fear or hesitation. He shared openly and honestly. He put the blame for problems in SGM on himself and other leaders. It was a prophetic word to the whole movement. Dave Harvey and Jeff Purswell rejected it. C.J. despised it.
In this message on “The Father’s Discipline,” Joshua points out how SGM is being spanked, humiliated and brought low. C.J. has openly repudiated this divine perspective. That’s one of the reasons he is still clinging to sinful habits and practices and cannot lead the movement into any kind of moral reformation. C.J. doesn’t believe he is being spanked, humiliated or brought low by God let alone the movement. He can’t because he views himself as the victim of evil men and not a son in need of discipline by his heavenly Father.
C.J. and John Loftness (Chairman of the Board) see this past year as primarily the work of Satan brought about by gossipers and slanderers (Ambassadors of Reconciliation takes a similar approach) and those wanting to exploit C.J.’s meager confession at CLC in order to harm him. That is offensive to God. This message by Joshua is of far greater worth than the entire AoR Report to the SGM Board of Directors on April 10, 2012.
If C.J., Dave Harvey, John Loftness, Mickey Connolly and other SGM leaders had believed and applied this message, it would have resulted in personal and corporate transformation over the past year (like Nineveh with Jonah). Instead the word of the Lord has been rejected and the discipline of the Lord has been taken lightly. Nothing of substance has changed. C.J.’s disposition has worsened.
This message from the Lord (through Joshua) reverberated throughout Sovereign Grace churches. It was a clarion call. God was testing the heart of every pastor in the movement to see how he would respond. A few responded with scoff, others with intrigue, some with alarm, how many with sackcloth and ashes?
Those who really heard the word of the Lord (“Verily, verily I say unto you!”) know the problems in SGM are primarily ethical – “out of the heart” – not procedural. Those pastors who have majored on polity (how we are governed) have missed the mark (are those governing qualified). That’s why C.J. continues as a senior pastor and President of SGM. What is on the outside of the cup may look cleaner in November or December but what’s on the inside of the cup matters most to God and will bear fruit that lasts.
Today and tomorrow in Louisville, Kentucky, SGM pastors from all over the United States are meeting with the Polity Committee co-chaired by C.J. and Phil Sasser. Elderships will have the opportunity to present their view on how SGM churches should, or should not be, governed by the Board of Directors and Leadership Team. It is an important time but for reasons other than polity. I pray every presenter appeals to C.J., the interim Board, and the Leadership Team to turn from the pride, unteachableness, independence, deceit and hypocrisy they have modeled the past year. I hope each of the 24 papers includes a clearly spelled out plan to address the ethical decline in SGM. If that does not happen the day is for naught. There needs to be a moral challenge not just a challenge to polity.
It’s revealing that C.J. will meet with the SGM pastors for two days to hear their thoughts on polity (which he does have to follow in the least) but was completely unwilling to meet with the SGM pastors in the context of an open hearing where all could hear charges presented against C.J. and observe his response to those charges before objective judges.
So here we are again. Another historic time for C.J. in the providence of God. Will he take the initiative and ask men to register their concerns for him or tell him their honest thoughts or ask him hard questions about his behavior this past year? Of course not! He could have and should have done that long ago. Instead, he will listen to polity presentations. He will compliment. He will thank. He will crack jokes. Then he will go home with his handpicked committee and implement what he and Phil want. Everyone knows the committee is full of members that support their polity.
So debate SGM polity but call for contrition, humbling, and holiness. These presentations by the pastors regarding the reform of polity will accomplish nothing if C.J., Phil, et al. are determined to go their own way, make no radical reforms, and leave half the SGM pastors and members in their wake.
Pastors, I know everyone will be on their best “Gospel loving” behavior today but don’t confuse that for godliness or humility. There are serious break downs in relationship. John Loftness and Mickey Connolly have been slandering the Covenant Life pastors. The proof has been presented. That is one reason Paul Buckley led the meeting on Friday with the CLC pastors. John and Mickey were mostly silent. C.J., Dave and Jeff were absent. That’s why it was a “good meeting” according to Joshua.
The hardliners on the Board recently presented the decision for C.J.’s return as President as unanimous when it was not. Deceit continues. C.J., John and Mickey have been operating independently of other Board Members and not keeping them informed. There has been little accountability for C.J. personal like the outcome of his meeting with all the Florida pastors in May. I could go on and on. There is an elephant of sin in the middle of the room as you meet. Don’t pretend it is not there and don’t embrace the false theology of “judge not.” There is a tremendous need for discernment and courage in the form of correction.
In these contexts, there tends to be a lot of flattery and little honesty. A lot of charm but little transparency. Don’t be fooled. I remember Prater, Boettcher, and Boomsma listening intently to my presentation at the December panel review only to burn me at the stake later in their report and not include a word I said or any of the evidence I presented. I was forbidden from calling witnesses in my support, cross examining witnesses against me, or even knowing who was presenting the false testimony.
Mark, Warren and Ron’s report was utterly abusive and totally unrelated to the question at hand. They were on a witch hunt, not in search of the truth regarding C.J.’s sinful influence on Harvey, Kauflin, and Emerson and their sinful dismissal of me from ministry. I can’t put into words the excruciating pain I experienced reading their report and knowing I had been set up yet again.
C.J. and Phil may listen and compliment your presentations but the proof will be in the pudding. Do they actually change SGM polity? Far more importantly, does C.J. take the opportunity today and tomorrow to detail the discipline of God in his life the past year?
There is nothing to encourage me (and much to discourage me) but I pray he humbles himself with specific confession that results in real reconciliation and restitution. This is C.J.’s last chance. No pastor or church should stay a day longer in SGM if these two days go by and there isn’t profuse confession.
If C.J., the interim Board, the new Board, the Leadership Team, the Polity Committee don’t respond with humility to God’s dealings not even the outside of the Tupperware will get cleaned in November or December. Heed the call to let go of disobedience! This is my 100th post. The call to let go of disobedience has been in force for a year. Repent quickly of your pride, deceit, hypocrisy, love of reputation, and lording. The anger of the Lord has been aroused and is evident round about you. Break before you are broken.
Matt 23:26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Nahum 1:6 Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.
These are excerpts from the audio with the minutes in brackets. The entire message can be heard at <http://www.covlife.org/resources/3931544-The_Fathers_Discipline>.
It Is as Bad as It Seems [00:00-06:42]
We are walking through what is without any exaggeration the most difficult challenge that we have faced as a church. Last week C.J. Mahaney, a man who help to found this church and led it for 27 years, a man who is a father in the faith to many of us, a dear friend, a beloved teacher of the gospel, who has served as the President of our network of churches called Sovereign Grace. Last week C.J. stepped down from his role as President because of accusations that were being brought to him from several different men, one in particular, accusations of hypocrisy, coercion, deceit, sinful judgment and unentreatability. C.J. has confessed to some of these sins. He disagrees with others but he is committed to searching his life and inviting others into his life to examine these accusations more carefully. He is taking a leave of absence so that an independent panel, a group of people outside of our church, outside of our family of churches, can look into these accusations and provide an objective evaluation of his character and leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
The primary person bringing these accusations is a man named Brent Detwiler who helped to found Sovereign Grace and served closely with C.J. for many years on the leadership team. In years past Brent has preached here at CLC and is a friend to many. Brent has compiled three documents, totally over 600 pages of emails and meeting notes and his own reflections in bringing these accusations to C.J. of his sin. And he sent these to C.J., one at a time over the past 16 months and when efforts at a process of mediation could not be agreed upon the three documents were sent to all the pastors of Sovereign Grace, and subsequently someone posted them on the internet this past week. In just a few days they have been down loaded and read by thousands of people and many, many, more people will be reading them in the coming days.
The accusations and the details that are shared in these documents not only accused C.J. but they also, understandably so, call into question the judgment and the integrity of the leaders around C.J. including myself. People are asking, ‘What did people know and when did they know it? What did C.J. actually do? Is Brent’s interpretation of all these events true and why didn’t the men around C.J. do more to challenge him and help him?
We are going to gathering as a church tonight and we are going to begin a process of seeking to answer these questions. Tonight’s meeting won’t be the only meeting. It will just be the first conversation, the first dialogue in a series of important conversations that we need to have as a church family. And you have the commitment of your pastors that we will speak honestly and clearly and tell you about what exactly we have seen and what we’ve known at every point along the way whether that puts us in a favorable light or unfavorable light. We are committed to walking in the light with you.
In the midst of a crisis like this one, the temptation for a leader like me is to stand before the people that I’ve been called to lead and say two things. It is not as bad as it seems. And it’s not your leaders’ fault. But I can’t say that because it wouldn’t be true. It is as bad as it seems. And it is the fault of your leaders. And we desperately need the help of God and the wisdom and the accountability of the people who have looked to our leadership to sort through this mess.
And that’s why today and I struggle to know what to preach to you today friends. But that’s why today I think the most important topic I can teach on from God’s word is the discipline of the Lord. My role in this moment is to the best of my ability help you to interpret from God’s word what is taking place. And I don’t claim to have all wisdom or all knowledge but to the best of my attempts to pray and understand what is taking place, this is what I see.
Our focus does not need to be on our perceived enemies. I believe God would have your leaders humbly acknowledge that it is our sin and our failure and our faulty structures that have brought this trouble. I don’t believe that these events are an accident. I believe they are the loving discipline of our heavenly Father. And no matter whose fault this is, this is what we cannot get around. This is what is unavoidable. We cannot get around the fact that our church and our entire denomination is being publicly spanked. We are being humiliated. We are being brought low. God is getting our attention. And the word of God tells us in Hebrews 12 that he is treating us as sons.
Let Go of Disobedience [13:20-15:10]
And that’s what we do when we try to run the race in the Christian life clinging to sinful habits and ungodly practices. They weigh us down, they cling to us. And so God says to us, ‘Lay them aside. Lay them aside. Let go of them.’ And sometimes we do and sometimes illuminated by the Holy Spirit, convicted of our sin, we lay the sin aside and we run faster.
But there are other times when we refuse to let go and we hold them close to us for whatever reason, we don’t want to depart with them. We don’t want to go forward without them. And this is where God’s discipline comes into play because God loves us so much that he refuses to allow his children to keep running with those idols and those weights and that sin clinging to them. So in his love he helps us to let go of those things that we are carrying. He helps us to let go. Isn’t that what discipline is? It is someone in authority helping us to let go of disobedience. That’s a nice way to put it. It is pain being brought into our lives. It is challenges being brought into our lives. It is a shaking being brought into our lives that forces us to let go and look to Jesus!
God Gets Our Attention [34:08-38:19]
When we try to come up with discipline for ourselves, it might be a slight discomfort but it won’t really hurt. It won’t bring about the real change that we need. Here’s the point. You will not bring consequences into your own life capable of getting at the most serious issues of your soul. You and I can never do that. We would never write up that plan. The plan necessary to get at the deepest issues of our heart. The real idols that we are holding on to. The real things. We need God to do that. Only God can do that. If we could lay them down by ourselves we would have done so long ago. And that’s why it has to hurt. It has to be painful because only God can bring it and only God knows exactly what we need to let go of those idols. A part of us will hate it as we go through it.
And so I just want to ask you a question. How could God discipline a whole church? How could God discipline a whole denomination? What possible set of circumstances could he create that would force entire family of churches to recognize, to acknowledge, to turn away from deeply entrenched and flawed patterns of leadership and practice and church government? What could God possibly do to get an entire movement to do that?
Well let me just propose a scenario for you. He could allow a chorus of critics on the internet to point out the most glaring failures and inconsistencies of that movement in an unrelenting way. He could allow the issues that they didn’t want to deal with, or have the nerve to change, to be aired in public. He could allow a breakdown in a relationship and the stubbornness of leaders to culminate in a set of circumstances so that all the mistakes and all the relational sins at the top levels of leadership would be written down and posted on the internet for the entire world to read. Do you think that would work?
Brothers and sisters, ultimately it doesn’t matter if the people who are attacking us are unkind or unethical or angry. Imagine how the people of God when he brought the nation of Assyria to attack them. Do you think that seemed fair? And yet God was after their hearts. He is after our hearts.
God, and God alone, has brought this unthinkable sequence of events about. There are no accidents in his universe. He disciplines those he loves and it hurts and that’s the point. And that leads us to point number four. And that is, that we must be trained by it. God disciplines because he loves, it hurts, and we must be trained by it. We must be trained by it.
Resisting the Discipline of the Lord [39:17-41:00]
There is so much joy in becoming more like our Lord and more pleasing to him. When we let go of those weights and those sins that we are carrying we are not going to be sad, we are going to be joyful. It is going to be better. Do you see that promise that God is holding out for us? But we have to allow the discipline to train us. You see there is a response involved on our part. There is a response involved on our part. It is to those who are trained by it. We can either choose to be trained by the discipline or we can resist it.
Look back at verse 5 [in Hebrews 12], because it tells us some of the temptations that we face when we encounter discipline and how we can resist it. Quoting from Proverbs 3 it says, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord nor be weary when reproved by the him.’ When God corrects you don’t become weary. So the first potential way that we can resist or wrongly respond to the discipline of the Lord is to regard it lightly. To not take it seriously. To not see it for what it is. To kind of blow it off and say, “Oh well, you know this is just happening, it’s not that big of deal. We’ll just get through this and we’ll just kind of go on with business as usual. We’ll just kind of keep on doing our thing and this will pass. There is no lesson for us in this. We just need to tweak a few things. Everything will be fine. That is taking the discipline of the Lord lightly.”
Trained by Discipline [47:13-51:34]
Please pray for me. Please pray for all the people that are involved that we would be trained by this discipline. Not that we would just get through it. Not that any one person would be preserved, or not preserved in a position, but that the Lord would train us through this discipline. That we would receive and benefit from everything that he wants to teach us no matter how painful it is for anyone through the process. That we would not short circuit or try to run away from this process.
I just want to share with you some of the issues that God is beginning to reveal in my own heart. I am not seeking to speak for any other person but myself. In this season of shaking, these are the things I believe God wants us to let go of. I am seeing in my own life a spiritual pride and self-righteousness. You know for too long I had the attitude that we were the best church and the best family of churches, the best network of churches in the world. That we had a corner on sound doctrine. That we were both charismatic and Reformed. That we were the best at applying truth and living out our faith and I had a condescending attitude toward other churches. I remember having a condescending attitude toward my own parents and their church. And that is just pride. God is shaking that out of my hands. May God shake that out of all of our hands. I understand why people in our community have viewed CLC as elitist and exclusive because I think that has been in some of our hearts. I am not accusing all of you of this, but I think it is there. I think we need to cry out to God to help us, to reveal it if it is there.
I am seeing an overconfidence in leaders. Now don’t get me wrong. I believe we need leaders. God’s word clearly states that leadership and pastors are his idea. But I also believe in light of the doctrine of sin that we need appropriate checks and balances from the congregation. Our church government as a movement is broken and it is confused. And we have not moved quickly enough or decisively enough to fix it. And for too long we have assumed, as pastors, that we could handle everything on our own. And we have not recognized enough the gifts and the wisdom and the work of the Holy Spirit in the congregation to help us do the work and the leadership that God has called us to do. And that must change. That will change.
I know there is a lot more for me to see. So many of these things have been things I have seen in glimpses. I’ve wrestled with in private. I’m sorry, I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to recognize and acknowledge these things. I don’t have answers or neat solutions. I don’t have a great plan to roll out for you. But I want to invite you the members of this church to partner with your pastors and to join us in the hard and painful process of laying aside the weights and sin. The weights of faulty organizational structures, faulty church government, faulty practices, sinful attitudes. Help us as we sort through this before the Lord. As we lay aside these weights. As we seek to embrace all that God has for us in this discipline process.
Post Script - SGM Says Presentations Are Confidential
The SGM Board has forbidden all pastors from sharing the presentations they have received with anyone who isn’t a pastor (that’s SGM polity at work). Quote: "These resources are confidential materials that are intended for the sole use of SGM pastors." Once again “confidentiality” is used as a justification for concealment. Not even the results of Bible study can be shared with the people of SGM.
Every church member in SGM should be able to view the various presentations being made by other church leaders so they can learn and be part of the process in determining the future of SGM not only their local church. Who is SGM to allow the pastors to receive copies but not allow the members to receive copies? This injunction should be rejected.
What’s to hide? Nothing! Every church member should ask their pastors to post their polity presentation. There are 24 presentations but 100 churches. The other 76 should benefit from the work of the 24. So if your pastors refuse to provide their polity paper, you know they don’t believe in “Jesus ruled, elder led and congregationally accountable” polity. They want you to be ignorant and excluded from being a vital part of the discussion.
Please support my efforts with a financial gift. See A Timely Call to Help the Detwilers. Thank you.