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C.J.'s Sons-in Law Resign as Pastors at Covenant Life Church

Last night, C.J.’s two sons-in-law resigned from pastoral ministry in his home church because of disagreements with Joshua Harris and the other 18 pastors over the handling of my documents and a perceived lack of support for Sovereign Grace Ministries by Covenant Life Church.

Three letters were sent to church members last night.  One from the pastors, and one each from Mike Bradshaw and Brian Chesmore.  I am going to quote excerpts from these letters (in italics) and provide commentary (without italics).  Some of what I share will be speculative – my best guess – interesting but only a possibility.  I will also provide excerpts from Joshua’s Sunday morning sermons and also from the CLC Member’s Meetings in July.  Tomorrow I deal with the letters from Mike and Bryan.

The Letter from the CLC Pastors

“We (the pastors of Covenant Life) are writing you with heavy hearts. What follows are two separate letters—one from Brian Chesemore and one from Mike Bradshaw—announcing their decision to resign as pastors and withdraw their membership in our church.”

Mike and Brian don’t mention their withdrawn from membership in their letters but it is implied.  The big question – will C.J. and Carolyn follow them and do the same.  This needs definition.  I expect C.J. and Carolyn will avoid CLC and withdrawal their membership in the near future.  If not, C.J. will apply the leave of absence to CLC also.  To be honest, I can’t imagine C.J. and Carolyn returning to CLC.  I am concerned they are profoundly offended by Joshua and the pastors.  


“Both Mike and Brian informed us of their decision in letters a few weeks ago.”

That’s around July 19.  On July 10 at the first CLC Members Meeting, Joshua assured the church that there was unity in the midst of disagreements.  Well, things fell apart quickly.  I believe Joshua was honest but naive in his assessment.  When you “sin” against C.J., or other family members, they tend to react strongly.

“What I have already asked them [all the pastors] to do is at different points, to feel the freedom to jump in if they want to add anything to what I am saying.  If they want to disagree with a perspective or the way in which I am nuancing something.  These issues we are walking through are so complex.  There are so many different perspectives you can take.  I want you to hear this that our team has really been experiencing a wonderful unity in this process even when we disagree we are working through those things.  We are asking each other hard questions and we are pressing forward together in unity so I don’t want you to be concerned about that at all.  But I do just want you to be aware of the fact that we don’t always see eye to eye on things.  And I want to give these men the freedom to be able to voice things or clarify things or say Josh I think you can emphasize this and so on.” (Members’ Mtg. on July 10) 

Mike and Brian were given the freedom to disagree with Joshua and voice their dissent.  Instead they remained silent and dropped a bomb shell on CLC last night.


“As we discussed our points of disagreement, we shared with Mike and Brian that we didn’t believe that these issues warranted separation. We want a diversity of perspectives on our team. We asked them to reconsider the decision to resign. While we sincerely love these men and want to support them personally, we also expressed our disagreement with their decision to leave. We did not want them to leave at this time or in this way. We urged them—many times through tears—to stay and press through this difficult season in light of our shared gospel priorities and unity (Colossians 3:13).

There was absolutely no necessity for Mike or Brian “to leave at this time or in this way.”  I completely agree.  They should have waited until the work of the independent panel was completed.  They aborted the process.  This will cause grave harm to CLC and even SGM.  In my opinion, they put their own interests ahead of others.  In recklessly departing they made a bold statement against Joshua because Joshua and the pastors took seriously the charges against C.J. (true impartiality) and were open and honest with the church.  Public criticism of C.J. is off limits. 


“It is important for you to know that your pastors disagree with a number of issues raised in their letters. We have a different perspective on their assessment of the past few years and our relationship and view of Sovereign Grace. And we differ over how they characterize our leadership of the church since Brent’s documents were released. Most importantly, we don’t think that these issues rise to a level that necessitates a separation.

The CLC pastors must have the freedom to express their disagreements with Mike and Brian before the church.  Notice the referencing to “the past few years.”  Things have been brewing for a long time and it has to do with the relationship of CLC to SGM.  Or to be more precise, the relationship of Joshua and the pastors to C.J.  If I had to guess, the kids aren’t happy with CLC because C.J. isn’t happy with CLC.


“We also recognize that in light of the unique family dynamics created by this situation, they’re seeking to do what they think is best for their families.”

This statement needs explanation.  How are resigning and withdrawing best for their families?  This raises other questions.  Do C.J. and Carolyn agree with their reasons for leaving?  Do they agree with the timing and manner in which Mike and Brian have left?  In precisely what ways does C.J. disagree with Joshua and the other pastors?  He should answer these questions before the church or in writing.  Believe me, he has definite thoughts about these matters and those thoughts have been communicated to the entire family.  Really, it doesn’t much matter what Mike and Brian think, we need to know what C.J. thinks and how he advised his two sons-in-law.  This is another opportunity for openness, honesty and accountability.  What does C.J. really think?  


"We love and respect these men and can commend their ministries to others. We pray that God will bless them in ministry and shower his grace on their lives. And we will always count them our friends and dear brothers. That will never change for us.” 

I am glad Mike and Brian can express major disagreements with all the CLC pastors and not be declared unfit for ministry.  In fact, they are commended to ministry.  That is a new concept.  Joshua is charting new territory for sure!  This kind of public disagreement with C.J. would never be permitted by C.J.  

So what new ministries should we expect?  Believe me, C.J., Mike and Brian have talked a lot – I can’t imagine they don’t have a plan.  That leaves me and a lot of people with questions.  Does C.J. plan to stay at CLC?  If not, where does he plan to become a member and receive pastoral care?  What church will the Bradshaw’s and Chesmore’s start attending?  Will all three families move out of the area?  Might they move to the Knoxville church?  Or will they start a church in the greater D.C. area?  If so, will that divide CLC?  What happens to SGM in CLC’s basement?  Will SGM stay or relocate?  I hope all these things are being discussed with the CLC pastors but that might be hard since Mike and Brian are not members and C.J. doesn’t attend.  

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Reader Comments (24)

You said " What church will the Bradshaw’s and Chesmore’s start attending? Will all three families move out of the area? Might they move to the Knoxville church?"

Could you please clarify your remark about the Knoxville church? Why is that church specifically named?


- Nat

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterN.W. Clerk

I think the letter from the pastors of CLC is very good and, unusually for an SGM church, full of real grace. How refreshing compared to the SGM board responses of the past month.

Brent, there are four pastors in that family, that is where CJ will be getting his churching. He doesn't need anyone else. Sadly, that appears all too obvious. I'm looking forward to reading what you think of the two letters. They are rather horrid with their focus on standing and pride of SGM rather than a focus on the gospel, or the Grace of God, or, like....Jesus or something; those letters are oddly devoid of theological reasons for separation.

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVivian Louise

Regarding the members meeting on July 10: It was noted by Joshua that Brian and Mike were on vacation, and that is why they were not present that evening. That is why they did not publicly disagree.

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDale

These are fair, just, warranted, and thoughtful engagements on the issue. Am inclined to embrace them. Under these circumstances, I can't see CJ or Carolyn returning to CLC.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonald Philip Veitch

Guess by now you've seen this. Actually, we knew this a few days ago.

Next Letter To Covenant Life Members – “C.J. Mahaney Now Attends Non-SGM Church”

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBB

Dear Brent,

Joshua's most recent response to the letters of the sons-in-laws is more than I had hoped for when I prayed that he would have the courage to do the right thing. He did and the train is now reversing course...perhaps returning to that long ago time in 1979 when you, C.J., and others were young and idealistic and the world seemed like a simple place.

Thank you for your role in all this.

My hat's off to you.


August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanna L. Chan

Do you not think it hurts your credibility by posting letters that seem to be only meant to be read by members of CLC?

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Jordan


Maybe you should stop giving commentary on everything SGM is are starting to sound incredibly bitter and obsessed. You are starting to become just as bad as some of the blogs. Honestly, what good is it to comment on these letters? You know people will use your comments to continue to put a gospel preaching ministry in a terrible light. I know you don't care (although you should) but how is this serving CJ with your bitter remarks? Do you believe he is trying to lead people to hell? If not, then stop.

[Rob. SGM is a gospel preaching ministry. That is why I worked to protect its reputation for so long. Many would say too long. I'm not interested in bitter remarks. I must make truthful remarks. My goal is not to put them in a bad light. My goal is to see them change. I am not a prophet, but the prophets spoke strongly about corporate sin. They were not bitter. It is not just C.J. There are profound problems in SGM. Brent]

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Hi Brent,

As others have said, thank you for having the courage of your convictions to have kept doing part of your job description, and for pursuing CJ for years. I have one question that keeps popping into my head when I hear the pastors of it, what do you say to their reverse charge that you were sinfully judging the motives of CJ's heart? The following being only the latest reiteration I believe:

Part of reading with discernment is recognizing that when you are reading Brent’s documents you’re reading a singular perspective that doesn’t include all the facts and circumstances that could drastically change your perspective of what is described. So while Brent’s documents contain facts in the form of e-mails and meeting transcripts, there are also many places where Brent assumes he knows the motives and intentions of C.J.’s heart. That’s not his place to do—it’s not your place or my place to do either. This is something Scripture expressly forbids. Romans 14: 4 & 10 says, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls … Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLongingforHeaven


The Mahaney family has a close friendship with the sr. pastor and his family in Knoxville. It is also a prosperous church with a nice facility. It would be a "happy place" for them.


August 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterBrent Detwiler

If the documents are slanderous as Brian and Mike claim, then why has C.J. stepped down at all? C.J. and the SGM board have both claimed that there is truth in the documents. Everyone has questions for C.J., Brian, Mike, and the rest of the Mahaneys. Why is everyone answering questions but them? Are they above it

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarian


You will notice in my documents that I repeatedly ask for C.J.'s correction, feedback, defense of himself, etc. I've asked him to be open, honest and accountable in print. If I've slandered him, I'd love to know where and how. I've pleaded with him to make his case. Instead, he refuses (and so does the SGM Board) to address my toughest issues, questions, and illustrations. They just ignore them and label me a slanderer while never addressing the substance of my concerns. Discredit the messenger so you drown out his message.

August 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterBrent Detwiler


The audited financial reports are posted somewhere on the SGM website. They don't give specifics but you can see they have millions in savings and assests.


August 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterBrent Detwiler

Here is the link to the financial statements -

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterInterestedParty

CJ is on a "four month leave of absence" yet appears to be in a Conference with Mr. Harvey in Santa Domingo, as this scribe writes. CJ posts it openly, if not shamelessly, at the SGM blog.

This self-righteous and self-excusatory culture--as the info grows--is obnoxious and odious.

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonald Philip Veitch

It is pathetic Brent Detwiler that you did not post my comment because I challenged are just like all your other bitter cronies that "edit" information for their own purposes. You know the Lord sees your every step right?????

[Rob. It's your attitude not your comment that caused me to pass over your comment. Brent]

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Donald/Brent: Do you think that's why, instead of waiting for the results of the formal independent panel (which will take many months) to decide on CJ's fitness for ministry, SGM engaged a three-pastor panel who provided the interim assessment that CJ is fit for ministry, just in time for him to go to the conference? I know it's wrong to specultate on their motives, but the timing is rather curious, not to mention convenient.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwaiting/deciding

So many times (not to mention a whole teaching series), CJ called CLC the "dearest place on earth". How things have changed!! So now they are doing "what is best for our families". What about CLC? What is best for the church and the many members that have supported CJ for all those years?

I'm an old timer at SGM (and CLC). I support what Josh is doing. The road will be hard and imperfect. We must now walk in the light. No more smoke and mirrors and finely crafted responses. There are many old timers at CLC that feel this way. The new folks are somewhat oblivious...some don't even know who CJ is. We must stand up and fight for the church we love. CJ, Brian, and Mike are not...they've opted for abandonment.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCLCsupporter


Here's my preliminary sense of the interrim panel's ruling. It has mitigations and disclaimers in it that substantially weaken it. This general observation applies to all three: Mr. DeYoung, Mr. Ortlund and Dr. Trueman.

The great surprise to me was Dr. Carl Trueman, a good scholar. Yet, he essentially said: "I haven't read the Mr. Detwiler documents and I hardly know Mr. Mahaney or SGM, but he's fit for ministry." That was academese lingo for, "Don't weigh my view heavily." It sounded like an old church bell rung from St. George's in Grandad and Grandmum's home. It rung loudly.

I read the interrim panel's report several times and that conclusion gains greater traction with me. I intend to write up my observations about it. It warrants strenuous cross-examination.

This is the sense of my thoughts at this point.

Brent, I must reread your 600+ pages. This will be the fourth go-around. I may not always agree, but they warrant the closest analysis.

You may need to write a book.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonald Philip Veitch

I remember CJ saying to us at CLC -- before Josh took over his pastoral duties -- that one day, he [CJ] would turn the senior-pastor job over to someone else, and sit happily in the congregation as a regular member. Different role, same commitment, was his point.

That he would feel the need to escape the only church family he's ever known shows clearly where his heart is, regarding submission and belonging to the system HE himself established and upheld.

Perhaps he will one day develop empathy for the many CLC members who felt it necessary to escape his cruel system of sin-obsessed pastoral "care," to experience true freedom in Christ.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDon
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