Finding Christ in the SGM Debacle

Much of what the sgmNation blog engages in falls under the category of polemics which Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as  “an aggressive attack on or the refutation of the opinion or principles of another.”    We’re not on a personal vendetta – we’re seeking to confront Sovereign Grace Ministries in a Christian, brotherly spirit in hopes of spurring change, reform and restoration.

However, as Tim Keller has so astutely pointed out, polemics is about cure, not nourishment of the soul –

Polemics is medicine, not food. Without medicine we will surely die—we can’t live without it…Yet we cannot live on medicine. If you engage in polemics with relish and joy—if polemics takes up a significant percentage or even a majority of your time and energy—it is like trying to live on medicine alone. It won’t work, for the church or for you.

Friends, we need to live on food and not medicine.  We cannot allow the SGM debacle to dominate our lives.  It is so easy to get entangled in the SGM narrative and lose perspective.  If we allow this to happen, we will be poorer for it.   So how do we find Christ in the midst of the SGM narrative?    How do we engage this conversation about SGM without losing sight of God?

I’d like to share one theme that I’ve been meditating on and I hope that in some small way, you might likewise find it helpful.

Theme: Jesus Christ – the Great Shepherd Leader who leads perfectly, rules justly and shepherds us graciously when our earthly leaders fail us.

Let’s face it – beyond the polity issues and communication missteps, it’s the ethical leadership failures that hurt the most.   As I’ve interacted with many members and get to the essence of their disappointment and frustration, it’s really about the ethical failures – the double-talk, the leaders who act inconsistent to their professed values, shepherding without care, the posture of arrogance, favoritism, etc …   Frankly, our disappointment is a result of setting our hope on leaders who are limited in understanding and flawed in character.

It struck me in the past several weeks that we’re not unlike the Israelites in this regard.   Let me explain – much of the Old Testament is a picture of God’s people in search of leaders who would lead them into God’s glorious purposes.   There were judges who led Israel – some honorable, others less so but all ultimately unsatisfying as leaders.   The Israelites turned their hopes to a king – hoping that the rule of a king would satisfy their longings.  Enter Saul – physically impressive but ultimately proving to lack the requisite character.  Surely, David would prove to be the king they long for – a man after God’s own heart , a king appointed by God Himself and a warrior mighty in battle.   Even though the Davidic rule was the “golden age” for Israel, it ended sadly for David – his kingdom didn’t endure, his rule tainted by scandalous sin, his family legacy in ruin.   And so it continued throughout with Solomon…

You see, the backdrop of this “frustrating” Old Testament narrative simply sets the stage for the appearing of the Christ – the one true, unfailing King who rules perfectly over His people.

Jesus is the eternal Son of God who served by condescending to save us – dwelling among us, taking the form of a servant, dying for our sins, rising in victory.  (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus is the Good Chief Shepherd who pastors us even when under-shepherds fail us.  (John 10:11-13)

Jesus is the Ruler who can unite a disparate multitude from many nations, tribes and tongues (Galatians 3:28, Revelation 7:9)

Jesus is the King who rules with justice and loving kindness.  (Psalm 89:14)

Jesus is the One who is always consistent and true in word and deed. (Psalm 119:160)

Friends, many of us are deeply hurt and disappointed because we expected so much more – we long to be led by leaders with integrity, strength of character, trueness of word and deed.   Here’s the harsh reality – we will not find this kind of leadership in the men who lead us.  In fact, we are not meant to.    We may have fine pastors – I couldn’t respect my pastors more but they are not equal to this.    Here’s a point to consider – what if this sad SGM narrative serves as both a backdrop and catalyst to reset our deepest hopes in Christ alone?  Is he not the leader we need and long for?   May no earthly leader gain entrance into such honor.

This by no means excuses the failures of the SGM leadership or their incongruent behavior but let’s not be captive to this episodic mess.   Let us cast our eyes on Jesus – the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:2).

Praying for both effective medicine and food for the future.

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New SGM Board Update – Why It Does Not Inspire Confidence

The new SGM Board – appointed hastily and without affirmed support by some of the key local church leaders within SGM – has rolled out an update on their priorities for the upcoming year.  The following are major portions of their update with my comments interspersed in italics.   I confess that I found the update disappointing.   My comments are strongly worded – hopefully not uncharitably – but at this critical moment, I think it is important to speak honestly.   

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Excerpt:  First, we decided to create a polity committee to consist of two members of the Board, two members of the Leadership Team (including C.J. Mahaney, who will chair the committee), and at least three Sovereign Grace pastors not on the Board.  This committee will pick up the work that has already been done on polity and develop it to give better definition to the ministry, to how SGM as a ministry relates to pastors and their churches, and to policies and procedures for making decisions and selecting leaders.  We are tasking this committee to solicit a broad range of views within SGM regarding how we are governed and how we define our connections between churches and the ministry.  Once the committee’s work is done, they will submit it to the Board for review, amendment, and approval.  The resulting governance and our partnership agreements will then be presented to Sovereign Grace pastors for their review.

sgmNation:  SGM Board – We were told that the interim Board’s role was to adjudicate and to restore CJ as President – a move thought to be temporary.   Why are you not actively seeking a replacement for CJ?  Please tell us what happened rather than have us wonder.  

Frankly, this is clear and undeniable evidence that this new Board does not “get it”.   It had a chance to do something honest, bold and courageous but missed the opportunity.  Appointing CJ Mahaney to chair the polity committee is like setting sail with the captain of the Titanic at the helm.   It is precisely his inability to put polity in place sometime in the past 30 years that has led to this debacle.  Unfortunately, when he tried to clarify this in the past few years, he was unskilled in leading the churches through a collaborative process.   I’m not trying to be unkind but the results speak for themselves.  To be clear – this is not about his qualifications as a pastor but rather his abilities as a corporate leader.  Honestly, there is little evidence that CJ is qualified for this task and it is his top down, declarative style leadership that has frustrated many of the member churches.  Sadly, this Board has responded to the humble appeal from almost 20 churches for a open process with a move that speaks to SGM’s autonomy – their right to do as they please – rather than the spirit of partnership, emerging from the local churches.  This organization’s inability to move beyond the personality of CJ Mahaney is both sad commentary and painful indictment.   Fellow members  – this approach is more of the “old school” thinking that has so pervaded SGM – “we know better, we will figure it out and then we’ll tell you what we came up with”.

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Excerpt:  Second, we expect to receive the Ambassadors of Reconciliation report in the coming two weeks.  We plan to begin discussing the report on a retreat in Louisville April 9 & 10 and then to make plans for responding.

sgmNation:  SGM Board – better than huddling up, discussing and responding is first fulfilling the expectation of churches and church members by releasing the FULL report, without editorial.  Fellow members – I have no idea what SGM is planning to do but I would suggest that we MUST hold them accountable to releasing the report publicly.  If they choose not to do so or to edit the undesirable parts in the style of Thomas Jefferson, then there is no hope for reform.

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Excerpt: This Board will operate differently from the interim Board.  We will not involve ourselves in day-to-day ministry decisions and communication.  Our priorities are appointment and evaluation of the Leadership Team, broad evaluation and strategy for the ministry, advising the Leadership Team on key concerns, and providing accountability to the Leadership Team regarding doctrine, finances, and governance.  Our primary interactions, therefore, will be with Leadership Team members and others who can inform us about the ministry and counsel us regarding decisions.

sgmNation:  Actually as a body, you appear to operate very similar to the interim Board.  Here’s why – first, it seems from the outside that it”s still all about CJ.  Second, you continue to have a “closed approach” – no church council, no open dialogue.  I wonder if you’ll also resemble the interim Board in this third regard – marginalizing those who disagree. We truly hope not but we’ll stay tuned.

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Excerpt:  This new Board is aware of the significant responsibilities we carry for the future of SGM.  Please pray for us and more importantly, please pray for this family of local churches and your own local church so that we can—individually and connected together—plant and build local churches that proclaim the gospel and bring praise to our Lord.

sgmNation: Amen.  Fellow members – do pray indeed.  Pray for this new Board.   Also pray for local church pastors to discern how to navigate these times with courageous faith for better things than what has been served. 

You may want to ask yourself:   Is my church still financially giving to SGM ?   Is it wise stewardship to continue feeding an organization that is so incapable of moving beyond the “cult of CJ ” and insist on doing things their way with no regard for the member churches?    If the answer is yes, then so by all means, do continue to write those checks.  If you decide no, then please urge your pastors to take appropriate action.

Should You or Your Church Leave SGM? The Case for Staying in the Game

Now that the dust has settled on the announcement of a new Board, what will you do?  Now that you know that the interim Board decided to disregard the wise counsel of approximately 20 churches and over 60+ pastors represented among them… now what?

What’s a regular member to do?   Is this the last straw?  Is this the proof that those in power at SGM-land are not interested in reform or positive change?   Well, as frustrated as many of you may be, I’d like to encourage you to take a deep breath and consider the possibility that staying and seeking real lasting change is better than bailing at this crucial moment.

In short, I’d like to lay out the case for staying and fighting for reform – for members staying in their churches and for churches to stay in SGM…. at least for now.   Here’s why I think individuals and churches alike should not leave –

First, start with this idea – the SGM Board does not own SGM.   They may have the legal right to govern SGM but fellow members, hear this – they do not have a right to SGM in a moral or ethical sense – truth is, they don’t even know what SGM is (more on that in a future post).  Of course, ultimately God owns SGM but humanly speaking, I see no reason to cede SGM to those who seek to perpetuate the status quo of narrow mindedness, flaky legalistic practices, top down management ethic and poor leadership.   They may have a legal right to govern but they don’t have the moral warrant to direct SGM like their own personal country club.  The members of each SGM church collectively have the right and responsibility to voice their opinion on SGM – what it is, what it should be and where it should go.  Don’t cede your right to them but stay in the game – all day, everyday until they change.  They may kick you out but don’t give up the fight prematurely

Second,  you can’t call for change if you have one foot out the door.   Some have questioned why the response letter from SGC Fairfax (at this point, affirmed by 18 churches) asserted that as a church they were not intending to leave – seeking reform,, not separation.   Let me say unequivocally- that is absolutely the right tone and emphasis for anyone seeking change.   If you want a better future – you have to be around to help make it happen.

Third, things might actually change…. or not…. but at least, you tried and exhausted all possibilities.   It may be that the SGM Board will play hardball and close ranks against the “dissenting” churches but if they do so, they are in more trouble than they know.   On the other hand, perhaps the new Board will act courageously and competently – acknowledging the need to hear different views, slowing down, collaboratively working with churches….and maybe something good will happen.   As long as God is on the throne, good outcomes are always on the agenda.

Now, to be clear – staying in the game doesn’t mean just acquiescing.  No, in fact, I think it means being very deliberate and consistent in calling for change and modeling change.  It also means not feeding the machine until the machine gets fixed.  Frankly, I believe that churches who do not agree with where things are going should stop giving to SGM.   As an individual, if you happen to be in a church that is pro-SGM status quo, by all means, please talk to your pastor about reducing/stopping the money flow. Churches that wish to continue giving to SGM should at least afford church members the opportunity to opt out of indirect SGM giving (i.e. via the church).

Let’s also remember that these men who blindly support SGM/CJ are still brothers in Christ, they mean well even if they are poorly motivated and execute terribly.  For the good of the many in the “family of churches”,  they need to be served by hard medicine of truth, humble confrontation and intelligent debate – and that’s what I suggest every member delivers.   Here’s the bottom line –  for their good and yours, stay in the fight for a better SGM until they make you leave.

Introducing the New SGM Board

Below is an announcement (available on SGM blog) wherein the Interim SGM Board announced their intent to install a new board this week.   They believe that the scope of their work was to oversee the adjudication process and to appoint a new board.   It’s disappointing for those of us who have hoped that the SGM Board would heed the urging of almost 20 churches to slow down, wait for AoR report and initiate a collaborative process.

Since a new SGM Board will be appointed,  it is hoped that this succeeding SGM Board will engage local church pastors to collaboratively craft a way forward.   I also hope that the SGM Board will discard its old ways of marginalizing those who disagree -a point I made strongly in my last post – and include different perspectives.   SGM can, and apparently will operate as an autonomous entity.  By design, they are not answerable to the churches.    It should be noted that it is their legal right to do so but I would suggest that it is not the way, well run, partnership based organizations function.

Once again, fellow members, what I’ll repeat what I said in my last post – talk to your pastors, inquire where they are leading and ask them about how they plan to engage SGM, in particular as it relates to ongoing giving.   I think regardless of your opinion on SGM, it is your responsibility to engage your pastors in a discussion about this – that’s how healthy families should work, especially spiritual families.

With that, here’s the announcement from SGM

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Introducing Our New Board

This week a new Board of Directors will be installed to replace the interim Board that has led Sovereign Grace Ministries since July 2011. The interim Board’s purpose was largely restricted to overseeing the adjudication of charges brought by a former leader—a process that we completed in January 2012—as well as initiating a broad review of SGM. This new Board will serve by providing ongoing governance of the ministry.

The membership of the new Board reflects certain structural changes that had been underway from 2010 but were postponed with the installment of the interim Board. These changes are primarily designed to increase the Board’s accountability and the participation of Sovereign Grace pastors while maintaining fidelity to our bylaws. Most notably, a majority of members of the new Board are pastors in Sovereign Grace churches rather than full- or part-time staff of SGM. They also meet other criteria: each has more than five years of pastoral experience; is endorsed by his local team for his character, gifts, and ability to work well in plurality; has a proven ability to reason biblically in various circumstances; has strategic and problem-solving gifts; and is committed to our mission to plant and care for churches.

You can read more about the new Board members, listed below, at the end of this post.

  • Ron Boomsma

Sovereign Grace Church of Pasadena

Pasadena, CA

  • Paul Buckley

King of Grace Church

Haverhill, MA

  • Craig Cabaniss

Grace Church

Frisco, TX

  • Mickey Connolly

CrossWay Community Church

Charlotte, NC

  • John Loftness

Solid Rock Church

Riverdale, MD

  • Ian McConnell

Grace Bible Church

Philadelphia, PA

  • Ken Mellinger

Living Hope Church

Harrisburg, PA

  • Al Pino

Palm Vista Community Church

Miami Lakes, FL

  • Phil Sasser

Sovereign Grace Church

Apex, NC

Each of these men was nominated by the interim Board, approved for service by their local pastoral teams, and then affirmed through a feedback process open to all ordained pastors of Sovereign Grace churches. The interim Board also gave careful consideration to comments pastors sent to us about the process and the timing of the process chosen by the Board.  We concluded that implementing changes in our governance, including the process for choosing SGM leaders, should be the responsibility of this new Board.

The new Board begins its work this week. A top priority will be addressing changes in SGM’s governance, which will include participation from a broad spectrum of Sovereign Grace pastors.

Please pray for these men, the ministry, and our future. God has blessed Sovereign Grace churches and used SGM to do much good in our short 30-year history. Our hope and prayer is that God will use this new Board to lead us into a future of even greater fruitfulness as we seek to plant and build local churches through the gospel to the glory and praise of God.

Ron Boomsma moved from the Midwest to California in 1990 to work at The U.S. Center of World Missions, which reflected Ron’s heart to see people reached with the gospel. He became a member of Sovereign Grace Church of Pasadena in 1991 and joined the leadership team in 1997, eventually becoming senior pastor in 1999. In keeping with Ron’s heart to reach people with the gospel, Sovereign Grace Church of Pasadena has planted churches in San Diego, Kansas City, and Orange County. He is currently pursuing ongoing education at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Paul Buckley has a PhD in material science and an M.S. in material engineering from Johns Hopkins University.  He has served in pastoral ministry for eleven years.  For the last ten years he has served as the founding pastor of King of Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts.  Being in the Boston area Paul has had opportunity to teach at Gordon Conwell Seminary and serve as a pastoral mentor for M.Div. students.

Craig Cabaniss has a B.A. In Religion from Baylor University and an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary.  He has served in pastoral ministry in SGM for 22 years.  He has planted churches in San Diego, California, and Frisco, Texas where he currently serves as the lead pastor.  He serves as an SGM regional leader with the churches in Texas.  He has taught a Systematic Theology course in the Pastors College since 2004.

Mickey Connolly has served in pastoral ministry for 26 years and has a B.S. from the University of Maryland.  He served as senior pastor at Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Maryland, from 1989-96 and then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to serve CrossWay Community Church.  Since 2002 he has served as senior pastor.   Mickey serves SGM as their regional representative in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  In addition he has taught various courses at the Pastors College since its inception in 1999.

John Loftness received a B.A. from Houghton College in 1978 and has studied extensively at the Masters degree level at Fuller Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He began his career as a pastor in 1981 when he joined the staff at Covenant Life Church.  Over the years has served in a variety of roles in local churches and in SGM, primarily as a pastor.  From 1990-2007 he served exclusively at Covenant Life.  In 2007, John left Covenant Life to become the senior pastor of Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Maryland.

Ian McConnell has an M.A. in pastoral theology from Bob Jones Seminary and has twelve years of pastoral ministry experience.  Ian replanted Grace Bible Church in northeast Philadelphia in 2005 where he continues to serve as lead pastor.

Ken Mellinger has been a part of SGM since its inception and has 20 years of pastoral ministry experience.  He has served as senior pastor of Living Hope Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania since 1993.

Al Pino has an M.A. in theology from Reformed Theological Seminary and has served in pastoral ministry for the past 27 years. For the last 15 years he has served as founding pastor of Palm Vista Church in Miami Lakes, Florida.  He had approved for a PCA church plant in Miami but was then introduced to SGM through Larry Malament in 1994. Al also serves SGM in the Caribbean, currently working in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Phil Sasser has more than 30 years experience in pastoral ministry. He also has a B.S. from Ohio State University and has completed graduate work at Ashland Theological Seminary.  Before joining SGM, Phil served as an elder in an independent charismatic church in Ohio from 1976-89.  Since 1994 he has served on the pastoral team of Sovereign Grace Church in Apex, North Carolina, where he became senior pastor 2001.  Phil has taught apologetics at the Pastors College since 1999 and will teach a course on Christian ethics this coming year.

SGM Board Responds to the Response Letter

Over a week ago, SGC Fairfax wrote a letter, which was affirmed by 16 other churches urging the SGM Board to slow down the process of a new board appointment, collaborate with local churches to construct a new polity and to address some of the current challenges we face as a “family of churches”.    In my judgment, the letter was wise, gracious and gospel-motivated.   In the past week, SGM Board has replied to churches with the following email below.   In it they explain why they did what they did but substantially did NOT address some of the concerns of the Fairfax letter which apparently are evident to all objective readers except them.

Like what, you say?   Well, like the fact that the new proposed Board does not include representation from 2 of the largest churches in SGM, namely CLC, SGC Fairfax.  Neither does it represent the spectrum of views within SGM, including those of international churches.  Interestingly, it appears that all qualified nominees share the “business as usual” view of SGM’s future.  Rhetorical question: could it be that CLC, SGC Fairfax and other churches were excluded by virtue of their humble desire to see reform?    My friends, if true, this is what is called stacking the deck – a game appropriately played by card sharks but not by gospel motivated church leaders.  SGM Board, I mean no ill-will by my comment – just please convince us otherwise by including a broader set of views and in particular, by including one or more of CLC, SGC Fairfax, Grace Church San Diego and other churches who have been calling for reform.

Who cares, you ask?   Well, a lot of us do.  We may be “just members” but we’re stakeholders with a voice – we’ve given money, time, energy to this grand “family of churches” enterprise.   We just want to know that the leaders appointed to the board represent the spectrum of views within our churches, are qualified by virtue of ability (not just character) and are above reproach (btw, this is more than just keeping free of adultery and embezzlement).

What else?  How about the seemingly unwise decision in appointing the board before the AoR report is released.  What’s the hurry if not to preempt what the AoR report might reveal?  Their explanation that they wanted a new board in place before the release of the AoR report is ludicrous for its logic.

Why does this matter?  Well, what if part of the AoR report sheds light on some of the practices of SGM that are actually practiced by some of the board members?   Wouldn’t that influence the election of these members?   What’s the hurry – why not exercise wisdom through restraint.   Furthermore, there are serious questions about at least a couple of the members of the proposed board who are also members of the interim board.    In my mind, nothing is more disappointing than to have these two “old school” board members continue as board members in the new board.

Friends – you need to find out where your pastors stand, where they are leading your church and be prepared to engage them in conversation.   In particular, ask them how much your church is giving.  In view of this non-response and self-perpetuation of seeming incompetency by SGM Board, should that giving continue?  

With that said – here’s the reply from SGM Board.  “Happy” reading!

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Dear Brothers

Thanks so much for getting back to us regarding the proposed board nominees. We appreciate you taking the time to let us know your thoughts. We realize that for some, the time frame we gave for responding may have seemed short given the seeming importance of this, and for others the process we have undertaken in establishing a new board has raised some questions.

We wanted to give some explanations as to why we’ve done it this way in the hope it may bring some clarity.

Is this a new polity?  Our goal in this process is not to create a new polity.  If fact, it’s just the opposite.  We are seeking to avoid creating new polity at this point and instead are transitioning to a board that will work in partnership with our pastors to move the polity process forward.  We believe the appropriate way to accomplish this transition is to honor our current polity while at the same time strengthening accountability for it.

The board has always had the obligation to appoint board members, the freedom to expand the board, and the responsibility to appoint the leadership team.  The interim board is acting under the authority of this current polity.  However, we are advocating a board that will increase the involvement of SGM elders in our governance, broaden our leadership base, increase the accountability of the board to our churches (by subjecting them to an affirmation process for appointment and reappointment), and increase the accountability of the leadership to the board (by separating the two bodies and ensuring most board members are not SGM staff). These modifications don’t reflect a change in polity, but they do inject a level of accountability into our structures that we believe is necessary and helpful, and that is consistent with our communications with pastors and our general polity direction.

We understand that some pastors are advocating more sweeping polity changes, but to lead in such a process is beyond the interim board’s mandate.  We agree with pastors who desire clarity on our polity, but we don’t agree that we will arrive at that clarity without a new board in place that has been explicitly affirmed by our pastors to take responsibility for that process. The board of the next few years will carry an enormous responsibility for our movement and it seems wise that they be installed for that task intentionally, not just as an accidental byproduct of what happened in July.

Why the rush?  We understand this process felt rushed to some.  We could have communicated better about this board, and we apologize for not doing so.  The interim board turned its attention to focusing on seating a new board after we completed the priority assignment of evaluating the charges against C.J.  After determining a process for establishing a new board, we were left with a small window of time before the release of the AoR report. It was important to get a new board in place in order to respond promptly to that report—we know you men are eager to get to work on the changes that lie ahead of us and we didn’t want to delay that process unnecessarily. Regardless of what board is in place when we receive it, decisions concerning the AoR report will fall to the new board. The need to have a board in place to respond to the report placed some limits on the response time afforded our elders to register their affirmations or concerns for the proposed board members. However, since the only changes to the board configuration involved those that increase SGM elder-involvement and accountability, we felt the board could be formed within the necessary time-frame. We could have explained this much better at the outset of this process, and apologize for the confusion created by our failure to do so.

How were the nominees chosen?  We are grateful for the many encouragements passed on about the men nominated to the new board.  Some had questions about how this slate came about that we thought it would be helpful to address.  We listed the most important criteria in the letter we sent, and we believe each man solidly meets these standards.  We also sought a theological diversity—within the bounds of our doctrinal unity, the men represent a range of views on issues such as polity, pneumatology, and mission. We sought men who would bring a depth of pastoral experience, combining the strength of long pastoral experience with some younger men who brought fresh perspectives.  We also wanted a diversity of experience: senior pastors, church planters, urban and suburban pastors, etc.  Finally, we sought men committed to and experienced in our mission. SGM is fundamentally given to gospel expansion through church planting and care. So we sought to establish a new board comprising men with vision, wisdom, and experience in gospel mission as well.

There are a number of questions outstanding that will need to be addressed as soon as practically possible.  For this reason, we have wanted to get a new board in place that can do all that is necessary to serve SGM in working through these issues. Although we are not able to constrain the new board, we will be recommending—and it is the intention of present board members who are nominated for the new board—that they find ways to gather the thoughts and considerations of the pastors of SGM in ways that effectively allow for dialogue and interaction over these vital subjects.  We feel the new slate of nominees has the desire, gifts, and abilities to serve all of us as we move forward together.

Thank you again for your patience, feedback, and support.  We are eager to move ahead together in the mission of the gospel.

The SGM Board

Discussing Apostolic Ministry – Insights from Wayne Grudem’s Interview

Adrian Warnock, a minister in the UK interviewed theologian Wayne Grudem on a number of topics in 2006, including polity and apostolic ministry.   Without rehashing the entire interview, I thought that Wayne Grudem’s explanation of apostles and local eldership are very insightful.   Bear in mind, these quotes are taken from the context of an interview so they are not a treatise on church polity.  Here’s what Dr Grudem says about the biblically established pattern for plural elders.

“… biblical pattern for church government, which is plural local elders governing a church, with the pastor or senior pastor being one of those elders.   That seems to me to be the pattern in several verses of Scripture where we have indications about church government.  James writes to all the churches in the Roman Empire at that time and he expects that there will be “elders” who will pray for the sick in every church (James 5:14).   Paul appoints “elders” (plural) in “every church” (Acts 14:23) and he wants Titus to appoint “elders” in “every town” in Crete (Titus 1:5).   There is a consistent pattern of plural elders governing every church.”

Regarding apostles, Dr. Grudem clearly states his position – which is that apostolic ministry was established for a unique purpose and in operation during a specific time in church history.

The whole issue is – what replaces the apostles?   Everyone agrees that apostles were in charge of the churches at the time of the New Testament.   The Roman Catholics say that the bishops and Pope have replaced the apostles.  But the Protestant position has generally been that the writings of the apostles – that is, the New Testament Scriptures that were written or authorized by apostles – have replaced living apostles in the church.

There is no record of the apostles appointing successor apostles to fill in for them when they were gone.   Peter sends not a replacement apostle, but an epistle to the churches of Asia Minor, telling them he is doing this so that “after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15).   Paul tells the Ephesian elders that “after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock,” but he does not tell them to be subject to some new apostles whom he will send, but tells them to look to Scripture: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

And I do think that the apostles had absolute authority to speak words of God and govern the churches as Christ’s direct representatives, a kind of authority that no human being has today.”

There’s more to his interview but in view of the recent release of the “In Defense of Apostolic Ministry” paper from an SGM church,  I thought this might be interesting way to initiate a discussion on the topic of apostolic ministry.  I hope to offer my thoughts on that paper after I’m done reading all 52 pages but it’ll take a few weeks – I’m a slow reader.

More to the point of this post-  some of you have asked about the provocative statement in my prior post – “the office of the Pope has more biblical justification than the apostolic ministry as historically defined by SGM.”.    I hope it didn’t offend anyone but I was simply suggesting the following – if any church body (SGM for instance) is going to advocate for the existence of an authoritative apostolic ministry or a contemporary “office of an apostle” , it will need to justify the legitimacy of that office.  For instance, the Roman Catholic church justifies the  authority of the Pope through a succession line from the original apostles, specifically Peter.   Likewise, the Episcopal church recognizes the authority of the bishops as partially and indirectly traced from the ministry of the original apostolate. (for reference: “Who Runs the Church – 4 Views on Church Government”, p 36).  I may be terribly mistaken but I believe that there is no current established episcopal system (one that involves a tier of ruling bishops over local church pastors) that does not draw the authority of the bishop directly or indirectly from the original apostolate.

In case, you’re wondering, I’m not advocating for the Roman Catholic apostolic succession.   However, my point is simply this – it’s not clear how SGM apostolic ministry traces the source of its authority.  I am merely suggesting that any attempt by SGM to reestablish the apostolic authority amidst their churches, begs an answer to this question – from whence does any SGM apostle/regional leader/board derive his authority?   Or put another way, who grants SGM apostles/board the authority they seek to exercise over local churches?

As Dr. Grudem rightly stated in this interview, most Protestants have long held that the authority of the apostles is now encompassed in Holy Scriptures – a view I hold and greatly rejoice in.    It also leads me to conclude that there is no apostolic office functioning within the Church today and by extension, certainly not in SGM.

Why the Response Letter to SGM Board is Not Divisive

It’s been suggested by some that the letter from SGC Fairfax, currently affirmed by 16 churches, is divisive or an act of rebellion.   I understand why some might say that, especially if they have been steeped in legacy SGM culture that values compliance and conformance in the name of loyalty and humility.  Friends, this is not a healthy part of our church culture and I want to gently address the ill-founded  view that the response letter from SGC Fairfax is rebellious.   In the event that some of you hear that viewpoint bandied about in your local church, I want to equip you to address that with your local church brethren, including pastors if necessary.

First, let’s be clear on one thing – SGM is an organization that has NO formal authority over its associated local churches.   Each church is autonomous – SGM cannot remove or discipline local pastors – it cannot exercise any form of governance over the local church.  As a matter of principle, you cannot rebel against a body that has no authority over you.  For instance, I cannot rebel against my local library – it has no authority over me even though I am a card carrying member.   It is also why you will never hear of a 33 year old man rebelling against his parents – by the time you’re 33, you’re fully an adult and your parents do not have authority over you.   Because SGM exercises no authority over local churches, it is impossible for any local church to rebel against it.   Could local churches be disrespectful in their communications to SGM?  Yes, absolutely!   But please read the letter again and tell me that it is anything but kind, collegial and gracious.

Second, from my limited understanding, SGC Fairfax did not actively solicit other churches to participate.   There was no organized methodology in play to gather a mob of signatures.   Apparently, other churches heard of this letter and requested to affirm it.   To be clear – even if any church sought to do so, it should be simply viewed as like minded churches offering an exhortation to slow down the process, wait for AoR report and discuss matters of church governance together.   That cannot be conceived as rebellious by any objective observer.

Finally, let’s not forget one more thing – SGM Board asked for feedback regarding the proposed appointment of the new board.   The letter is nothing more than grace filled feedback.   It should be welcomed by humble Christian men with joy and gratitude.  It is hoped by this member that such men exists on the current SGM Board.

Friends, we must get beyond this totalitarian mindset that seeks to marginalize alternative viewpoints as divisive, rebellious or slanderous.   It is founded in poor handling and application of scripture.   To be clear, I’m not for slander or rebellion but this gracious letter is not it.   May we have more fruitful, brotherly dialogue about important matters that affect us all.