Isa 30:9-14 These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction.  They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.  Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!”  Therefore, this is what the Holy One of Israel says: “Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit,  this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant.  It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or scooping water out of a cistern.”
This is the story of the southern Kingdom but it is also the story of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Judah relied on oppression and depended on deceit in order to reject the message brought to them by the Holy One of Israel. So too, the leaders of SGM have repeatedly employed the same means because they were unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. But this sin has now become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly. “Oppressions and deceit had been the ‘wall’ they built to assure their safety and prosperity, but it will be shattered to pieces” (NIV Study Bible). C.J., Dave Harvey, John Loftness, the interim Board, and current Board are the most culpable.
We now have a situation in Sovereign Grace Ministries where multiple crimes were allegedly covered up by the President, Chairman of the Board, and pastor over the Pastors College. C.J. has a long and documented history of covering things up. John has a 19 month history of doing the same during his nine months on the interim Board (Jul 2011-Mar 2012) and ten months on the current Board (Apr 2012 to present). I am not surprised by the attempts to cover them up but I am shocked by the extremely serious nature of the charges. For instance:
- “The facts show that certain individual Defendants and other predators not named repeatedly physically and sexually abused children.” (C 1)
- “Defendants negligently hired sexual predators.” (C 25)
- “Defendants concealed the ongoing sexual predation in order to avoid any financial or reputational harms to the church.” (C 31)
- “Paul Poe was repeatedly sexually assaulted by two men. The primary perpetrator was a pastor and teacher. The secondary perpetrator was children’s ministry worker.” (C 37)
- “Karl Koe was seven years old when he was repeatedly sexually molested (approximately ten times) by the male son of a Church pastor.” (C 53)
- “Defendants, including the pastor father of the predator, failed to take any steps whatsoever to prevent the juvenile sexual predator from preying upon other children.” (C 56)
Complaint 1 refers to “individual Defendants.” Tomczak is named for physical abuse but who are the other Defendants accused of sexual abuse by the Plaintiffs?
Complaint 25 says “Defendants…hired sexual predators.” How many Defendants hired predators? How many predators? Were the predators pastors? Were they children’s ministry workers?
Complaint 31 (and many other Complaints) alleges a massive cover up.
Complaint 37 references a pastor-teacher and children’s ministry worker. Who are these individuals? They no longer work at Covenant Life Church according to Joshua Harris but are they still in ministry? Is this pastor-teacher one of the Defendants, a current pastor-teacher in SGM, or a former pastor-teacher? Same for the children’s ministry worker.
Complaint 53 and 57 allege “the male son of a church pastor” repeatedly molested minors and the pastor-father did nothing to stop it. Who is the son? Who is the father? Has it stopped?
C.J. knows the answers to these questions better than anyone. What has he covered up? Is the Board of Directors aggressively investigating him? Why hasn’t he been put on a “leave of absence”?
There are 143 Complaints in the class action lawsuit. Directly or indirectly, they all point back to C.J.’s leadership as senior pastor of Covenant Life Church for 25 years and President of SGM for 22 years.
This lawsuit will prove to be another chapter chronicling the ethical demise of Sovereign Grace Ministries and its key leaders.
But this demise has been allowed to happen because many pastors in SGM have refused to face the facts and deal with the truth. They say “See no more visions! and Give us no more vision of what is right! Some glory in their ignorance and pride themselves in their restraint. They refuse to read anything “negative” about SGM in obedience to their superiors. They will not immerse themselves in the facts and show distain for the evidence. Such is their rebellion against God all the while congratulating themselves on avoiding “devilish slander.”
Then there are those pastors who understand the truth about C.J. and SGM but will not take a stand for righteousness. They are the largest group. They know lying, deceit, hypocrisy, favoritism, injustice, and oppression have been on full display the past 1½ years (and longer) but will not speak for fear of being put out of the synagogue. They will not press hard questions upon the Board or demand an accounting from C.J. They take no resolute action. They will not reprove the abuse and corruption that is so evident. They capitulate to the ruling powers. In the name of “gospel unity” they remain silent. To be honest, I have no respect for them.
John 12:42-43 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;  for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
Fear, love and praise. They all go hand in hand. Notice, these evangelical leaders loved praise from God but they loved praise from men MORE! They were afraid to take on the spiritual power brokers of their day who could damage their reputation, impede their advancement, destroy their religious livelihood and cut off their social network. They would not speak up and confess their faith because they coveted recognition by men more than approval by God. They were compromisers.
Such persons are silenced by the love of praise and the idol of ease. They crave life in the synagogue and abhor death on a cross outside the city. They will not trouble themselves. They appease and enable; they don’t reprove and correct. They make terrible pastors because they want everyone to like them.
Not being put out of the synagogue also equates with not losing favor with the Reformed community and its powerful leaders. To speak against C.J. is to invite their rejection and hostility. The Reformed “big dogs” not only bark, they bite like pit bulls. It is my hope and prayer that more of them will begin to honestly evaluate the mountains of evidence against C.J. and other SGM leaders in the coming year. They too have enabled C.J. and contributed to the demise of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
People have feared C.J. and coveted his praise. Such fear and coveting remains pervasive in SGM. It has destroyed the movement. The “audience of one” has so often been C.J. It is a harsh reality but leaders and pastors have frequently been motivated by the praise of C.J. more than the praise of God.
C.J. has great power to harm you and great power to help you. So does his inner circle. Very few friends have been willing to risk being on his bad side. Those who have are no longer friends. They were cut off. Though he still retains great power, his power has been diminished. That is a gift from God. The Lord has seen fit to remove Dave Harvey also. John Loftness will be next.
The story of Jesus healing the man born blind in John’s gospel provides a paradigm for how the fear of man operates among Sovereign Grace pastors.
 The Jews [i.e., the leaders that were hostile to Jesus] still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents.  “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”  “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind.  But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.”  His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.  That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”  He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”  Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”  He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”  Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses!  We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will.  Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
Here are a few observations that fall far short in expositing the full meaning of the text. The parents didn’t disown the son but they did disown Jesus. They believed Jesus was the Christ but they would not acknowledge it because they were afraid the Jewish leaders would put [them] out of the synagogue and cut them off from Jewish society.
The parents of the blind man were nominal believers but not genuine disciples. They knew Jesus had healed their boy but instead of saying so they lied. They wouldn’t identify with Christ. They refused to be honest about what they knew to be true. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. They also passed the buck. Don’t ask us, ask him!
How often I have seen this in Sovereign Grace Ministries when “hostile” leaders have interrogated timid pastors. “Are your reading Brent’s documents? Do you access his blog? Do you believe what he is saying?” “Have you been in contact with him?” These timid pastors respond like the parents of the blind man, “Don’t ask me, ask someone else!” They believe what I’ve written is true (or largely true) but they will not say so for fear of being put out of SGM. Nor will they identify with me.
The same is true of many associate pastors who disagree with their senior pastor’s support of C.J. and SGM. They will not take the senior pastor to task because it could cost them their job.
Isa 51:7 “Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults.”
In contradistinction, you’ve got to love the response of the man previously blind! He is direct and he is sarcastic (e.g., Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?... Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.). He defends Jesus and he corrects the powerful leaders. What did he get for his courage and outspokenness? And they threw him out – that is, out of the synagogue! The consequence his parents feared, he did not fear. They lied and passed the buck. He spoke the truth and suffered for it.
Cowardice and its resultant compromise are rampant in SGM. Numerous doctrines have already been altered, concealed, or marginalized in order to win the favor of men outside the movement. Charismatic experience as defined by Paul is at an all-time low inside the movement (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11, 27-31; 14:26-33). The malignancy of self-promotion and self-preservation continues to metastasize. It puts even the gospel at risk in the future (cf. Gal 5:11; 6:12).
Few Sovereign Grace pastors have been willing to suffer rejection and persecution over the past 18 months. Despite the obvious evil of oppression and deceit, they will not testify against C.J., Dave, John, the interim Board or current Board. Like Jesus told his disciples, the world cannot hate you (John 7:7). It is this unwillingness to be hated, despised and rejected that imperils SGM. When a pastor becomes preoccupied with saving his life, rather than losing his life, he forfeits his soul (cf. Matt 16:25-26; Mark 8:35-36; Luke 9:24-25). It is time to get out of the ministry. No one should follow a pastor who has demonstrated no willingness to suffer.
There is no going forward in SGM unless there is a going backward. The sins of the past must still be acknowledged. Hundreds of leaders and thousands of people remain unreconciled to SGM. No one on the leadership team, interim Board, and current Board should be nominated, elected or appointed to positions of leadership under the forthcoming polity agreement. Nor should anyone on the former Polity Committee. Not only did the proposed SG Book of Church Order reveal the hearts of Board members, it revealed the hearts of men like Jared Mellinger and Matthew Wassink. Now of these men should serve in future leadership positions unless they are willing to address the past which they have thus far been committed to cover up and leave unexamined.
“Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit,  this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant.
Sovereign Grace Ministries is like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly. Providence has made that clear! And yet SGM continues to hype its accomplishments on the website. They really believe press releases and a new polity are the answer. They forget, God will bring down their pride despite the cleverness of their hands (Is 25:11b).
Blind to the irony, SGM recently highlighted the nine students attending the upcoming Pastors College after 15 years of operation. Six of the nine men come from churches led or overseen by a former or current SGM Board of Director. Hint! Moreover during the last fiscal year, $871,394 was spent on the Pastors College according to the Audited Financial Statement just released. That is incomprehensible. The Pastors College is now a failure by all objective measures.
Discerning pastors don’t want to immerse pastoral candidates in the leadership culture modeled by C.J. and those around him. That is one of the stated reasons Covenant Life Church pulled out of SGM. I suspect the Pastors College will be swallowed up by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I can't imagine it will survive.
Thirteen churches have left SGM in the last seven months including the first, third and sixth largest. That equates to over 7,000 people which is more than 25% of all members and that number doesn’t take into account the thousands of people who have left SGM churches. For example, hundreds of people left each of the churches in Orlando, Knoxville, Ashburn (VA) and Richmond. Richmond saw 400 out of 750 people leave. The exodus continues in many SGM churches and will only worsen.
Giving to SGM has also plummeted. For the fiscal year ending August 31, 2012 (not Dec 31, 2012) contributions dropped by 1.7 million or 36%. As a result, SGM had to use up 1 million in savings and liquate 250k in assets in order to meet budget.
Since August 2012, the financial crisis has only worsened. Eleven churches left after that point. Many that remain with SGM have stopped giving or severely cut back. People’s confidence has continued to take a dive and deservedly so. How can people and churches continue to give anything to SGM?
Last fiscal year, SGM spent 400k in donor’s money on the relatively worthless work done by Ambassadors of Reconciliation and the Three Review Panel. Their combined efforts effectively soft pedaled or covered up all the serious issues in SGM. And to this day, SGM remains unwilling to release any figures regarding C.J.’s past or present compensation.
Now there is a class action lawsuit against SGM, its President, its Chairman of the Board, and its pastor over the Pastors College. How much money will this cost donors in lawyers’ fees? Who is going to pay out the millions in damages if awarded to the growing list of Plaintiffs in the future?
The serious problems that exist in SGM are now widely affirmed by Christian leaders and notable publications in the United States. C.J. has discredited himself. Dave Harvey was removed from all ministry in SGM. John Loftness and Gary Ricucci are at the center of the class action lawsuit. Jeff Purswell has nine students in the Pastors College. These are the main players plus Bob Kauflin who has enabled C.J. as much as anyone.
Believe it or not, I still hope for a miraculous recovery of SGM. But that will not come until men are willing to address the oppression and deceit that has caused SGM to break in pieces like pottery. I’m afraid the sailors in the ship who threw Jonah overboard had more sense than most SGM pastors.
The sailors got to the bottom of things and addressed the problem – Jonah. They didn’t fear him. They feared God. Not so in SGM. Though the sea has gotten rougher and rougher no one is willing to address Jonah’s rebellion (so to speak) and assign fault. Until that happens the raging sea will not grow calm.
It is the praise of men and the fear of being put out of the synagogue that has silenced the majority leaders and pastors in Sovereign Grace Ministries. Until that radically changes the violent storm surrounding SGM will grow even wilder than before.
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