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Covenant Life Church Announces Plans to Leave Sovereign Grace Ministries

No church has loved C.J. and Sovereign Grace Ministries more than Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.  From its inception in 1977, CLC has served as the model church for all the churches in SGM.  The members of CLC have worked harder and given more to serve the interests of C.J. and SGM than any other church.  What the Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesian churches were in NT times; Gaithersburg has been throughout the 30 year history of SGM.

Starting in 2002, the headquarters for SGM was housed in the newly expanded CLC facility.  So too the Pastors College.  In addition, conference after conference was held in their building.  The members of CLC have always sacrificed their time, used their talents, and given their money to make Sovereign Grace Ministries a success for the glory of God.  CLC has a church population of approximately 5,000 persons. 

Joshua Harris moved to CLC in 1997 in order to be trained by C.J.  He lived with the Mahaney’s up until he was married.  After 8 years of discipleship, C.J. turned the church over to Joshua and installed him as the sr. pastor.  In 2007, C.J. added Joshua to the SGM Board of Directors.  He planned to turn the ministry over to Joshua next year when he turns 60.  Joshua was C.J.’s chosen replacement.     

All that has changed.  In July 2011, C.J. abruptly left Covenant Life Church without talking to any of his pastors about his decision.  In April 2012, he abruptly decided to relocate the SGM headquarters to Louisville, KY without talking to any of the pastors.  In September 2012, he started a new church even though he was unreconciled to his old church and the pastors.  Tens of thousands of people have watched C.J. destroy the ministry we began in 1982.  Friends and supporters throughout nation and many parts of the world have been shocked as they’ve observed C.J.’s pride, deceit and hypocrisy over the past year and a half. 

After being ever so patient and forbearing with C.J., Joshua recommended last night that Covenant Life Church end their partnership with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  All 18 pastors were in complete agreement with Josh.  This is in stark contrast to July 2011 when Dave Harvey, the Interim President of SGM at the time, said the following when Josh stepped down from the Board of Directors. 

“The important thing is that Josh and the [SGM] board continue to affirm our ministry partnership together.  Josh’s resignation from the board is not a grand statement about our future together.  It’s not even an indication that we disagree on most things.  We don’t.  In fact Josh and the board agree on about 98% of things, especially on our shared mission we have been given to see churches planted and built in this country and around the world.” (Dave Harvey, “Where we differ, where we agree,” July 14, 2011)

Only someone who has been a part of Sovereign Grace for a long time can fully appreciate the magnitude of this action by the CLC pastors.   These 18 men were all loyal and devoted friends and followers of C.J.  Their lives and ministries were largely built around C.J. and his leadership.  None of them ever imagined having to leave SGM because they no longer trusted C.J. or the Board of Directors given their abusive leadership practices and unethical conduct.  Many other churches in SGM feel the same way.  A few have left.  Many more will follow. 

Last night, Joshua provided detailed explanations to the church for why the separation from SGM was necessary.  He covered seven different areas.  It must have been the hardest and easiest thing Joshua has ever done.  Hardest, because of his deep love for C.J.  Easiest, because the reasons were compelling and the choice obvious.  It was time to leave. 

The pastors have taken this action now because they don’t need to wait for a final SG Book of Church Order.  They have set this direction primarily because the moral problems in SGM are flagrant and C.J. remains unrepentant.  Over the past 18 months, they have experienced up close and personal, the same C.J. described in my documents.  They’ve also experienced the trickery of Dave Harvey, the heavy handedness of Mickey Connolly, and the partiality of John Loftness.  Churches in SGM are going to leave in large numbers for two reasons.  Unethical conduct and unbiblical polity.        

Per the CLC constitution, the entire church must vote on this recommendation.  That’s why the pastors announced a direction, not a decision, to separate from SGM.  They will hold two “Coffee and Conversation” meetings on November 11 and 18 to answer questions.  Two weeks later, an online vote will be taken over a three week period.  Then the votes will be tallied.  A 51% majority is needed in order to sever ties with SGM.  The pastors hope to wrap things up by mid-December.

From my perspective, C.J. began to build a “Tower of Babel” around 1996.  The Sovereign Grace tower reached to the heavens by 2010.  But now in 2012, the Lord has come down and begun to scattered it over the earth.

Genesis 11:4, 8

[4] Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”… [8] So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

Making a name for one’s self always invites God’s judgment.  It is this love of reputation and desire for greatness that has brought about the downfall of C.J. and Sovereign Grace Ministries.  The well-known proverb is true.    

Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

But here’s the good news.  Unlike the King’s men with Humpty Dumpty, the Holy Spirit can put contrite men back together again.  In his mercy, the Lord gathers after he scatters.  It continues to be my prayer that God will raise up and strengthen pastors and churches characterized by humility, honesty and courage. 


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