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.

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38 thoughts on “Why the Response Letter to SGM Board is Not Divisive

  1. Very well said – I posted this quote on my FB the other day:

    On unity & uniformity:

    (a). Unity implies diversity; uniformity eliminates it.
    (b). Unity makes us different but one; uniformity makes us the same.
    (c). Unity creates an organism; uniformity craves an institution.
    (d). Unity combines and includes; uniformity confines and excludes.

    – Wade Burleson

      • Uniformity is dangerous because we think we are agreeing because we are right when we are only conforming to win peer approval.

      • EMSoliDeoGloria – yes, our hearts can deceive us. What are the pressure points of uniformity that you’ve observed and experienced? How did you deal w it?

  2. From your second point:

    “even if any church sought to do so, it should NOT be viewed as like minded churches offering an exhortation to slow down the process, wait for AoR report and discuss matters of church governance together”

    Did you mean to say “not”? (Capitalized to stand out, but not so in original). To my mind, this makes sense without the “not”, and it doesn’t make sense with it in — seems like there ought to be a contrasting clause following if that was the intent.

    Regardless of whether this is a typo or not, I agree with your point, and in fact it’s telling that rebellion even comes up as question.

    • Thanks, PD. Very kind of you – from following Refuge, I know that you and your husband are among those who have been advocating for change for a long time so I appreciate you taking time to stop by

  3. I know that SGM has said recently that they have no actual authority over the local churches, and that may be true at this point, but that is certainly not the way things have been up until now! There may have been no formal/legal authority, but until recently the board did exercise very heavy-handed leadership and authority over pastors and churches. I just wanted to make that clarification, and thank you for what will hopefully be a place for the voice of reason in the midst of this ordeal (I am also a current SGM member who has had mostly great experiences, and i hope to remain in SGM but have significant concerns).

    • arwen – yes, good point. I understand that they have operated in the episcopal/apostolic model for approx 25 years and only made a switch in their approach in recent years. That said, it’s doubly important for members (and I suppose pastors as well) to understand the limits of their influence. SGM influences by persuasion and perpetuation of cultural values. Some of these values are wonderful and some are not.

      My hope is this – as local church members become better educated doctrinally, they will realize that Christians in a gospel centered church have a responsibility to engage with their pastors on matters of church practices, governance and direction. This is not only the responsibility or prerogative of the pastors and caregroup leaders. Any mature and biblically informed pastoral team will welcome that viewpoint.

      • Amen to that – and leadership has the responsibility to be transparent with the church about governance practices, how decisions are made and to seek counsel regarding significant decisions. Members ought to engage, but it is very difficult to do so if there is no transparency from leadership about church membership agreements, decisions, direction and so on. If these things are handed down as “done deals,” and questions are culturally discouraged, we need to be very concerned. And I am very concerned.

      • I was wondering if you had the chance to read any of the by-laws from SGM. According to those, it appears there is an authority that they have….I can’t give you the exact place to find it, but if you can, Brent has posted them on his site.

        Not to mention the fact that when an organization says that you need to give a certain amount of money in order to be a part of it, that in and of itself seems to be a tax, which means that there is a “governmental authority.”

      • Todd – I did read through the bylaws as posted by Brent (not sure if they are current) and also his interpretation. I’m not a lawyer but I’m guessing that I’ve read a lot more contracts and bylaws than Brent has – I would say that his interpretation of some of what those bylaws mean in effect are suspect. Not faulting him but when pastors play lawyers, I’m not sure you’re getting the best view into what those bylaws mean. For instance, he makes a point about article 3 (purpose) – when all it says is that SGM wants to provide apostolic oversight to churches – it’s just a statement of intent, not of exercised powers.

        Here’s another example, I think article 7 which Brent makes a big deal about –
        “The spiritual and temporal affairs of the Corporation shall be managed by its Board of Directors, which may exercise all such powers of the Corporation and do all such lawful acts and things permitted by statute, the Articles of Incorporation, or these Bylaws.”
        Once again, this is just a statement saying that the Board of Directors is the managing body of SGM… what’s the news there?

        I don’t want to make it sound like I’m criticizing Brent – I’m not – so I’ll just stop at this point but there are a couple of other examples where I think he is extrapolating the wrong conclusion

  4. I would encourage each SGM member to ask who is on the official board and also ask for a copy of the local church Bi-Laws. In those Bi-Laws you may find that SGM has more legal control of your church then you think. I am very familiar with one of SGM’s docs, and at that time, if the church decided to leave SGM, they would also surrender all their assets to SGM. Depending on the SGM branch, you my find similar verbiage in the Bi-Laws. Take a close look.

    • Chief – I obviously cannot speak to all churches in SGM-land but the ones that I have contacts into, are independent entities with no legal obligations to SGM. Your comment about assets though is something that churches need to be aware of – case in point: Anglican churches that object to the unbiblical practices have been forced to give up property when seeking to leave the Episcopal Church structure. If anyone wonders if bylaws and polity matters, you can refer them to this present case

      • I agree with you that they are independent churches, however it is also very important to know who is on the “legal” board of your local SGM branch. The mind set of many of these board members has been more binding to SHM then any legal document. I hope that is changing. One other thing… If you begin to bring up the ” let’s be independent thoughts”, be prepared to be kick out.

  5. Good Stuff!!! Nice to see someone speaking out from the inside of SG. I encourage all SG members to reachout to your pastors and have them join the Fairfax letter. The rush to appoint a new board is inexcusable.

  6. Thanks for starting this blog, sgmnation. As a longtime member who has concerns over recent happenings, I appreciate what you are doing here and will encourage other members to read here as well.

  7. @SGMnation –

    RE – pressures to uniformity

    What I’ve experienced directly is cultural peer pressure to
    *like certain high profile authors / books
    *serve and speak or be silent (depending on the setting) and even struggle with sin in ways that conform to sub-cultural stereotypical expectations for one’s gender
    *not ask uncomfortable questions, particularly when members “disappear” from the church
    *not disagree with leadership about anything, esp. doctrine or methodology, and esp. not let anyone else know of differences with leadership – no matter how respectfully stated…
    *a lot of uniformity comes just with absorbing and repeating the specialized language and “catch phrases” of the SGM culture. I’ve sometimes joked about developing an “SGM-to-English” dictionary for some of those phrases that get used so often I’m not sure if anyone even knows what they really mean. And if you refuse to use the phrases, there can be a subtle perception that maybe you just don’t fit in….

    I’ve observed other pressures to uniformity among those in the leadership and those who relate closely with them, but won’t get in to those here because they I’m not as certain of the accuracy of my observations and they could be somewhat localized.

    I’ve dealt with it in different ways, some less wise and gracious than others. One tendency is to withdraw from the environment (i.e. minimize my involvement in church life) and invest in settings where I can perceive my contributions as making a difference and I’ve done that to a degree. The other is to engage as heavily as possible – ask challenging questions, request information, follow up, confront omissions, etc.

    • yep – that’s quite a list and I’m sure everyone has experienced their own version. Having spoken to many about this, I will say that overall, I have not as affected as most by the cultural pressure. My wife and I tend to be a little bit outside the box anyways so getting us to color in the lines is a challenge. I must also add that I have wonderful pastors who have been kind to let me express my views and I think genuinely appreciated alternative perspectives. We’ve had differences in opinion from time to time, but as a group, they have grown in this area and I’m grateful for God’s work in their lives.

      • Being outside of people’s boxes should be a good thing – as long as you are following the Lord. Or another way to put it, our boxes should never be smaller than God’s. 🙂

        Glad your pastors have grown in this area. There has been growth at my church too – in some areas a great deal. My local church has plenty of issues, but I’m willing to work through those at this point – I’m more concerned about the “doubling down” on past mistakes impression I’m getting from SGM national.

  8. Been following along on Twitter and glad to see you have blog now as well. Your voice (but especially your tone) are a benefit to the ongoing discussion of reform for SGM.

  9. Old as Dirt, Heavy Heart, Melinda – thanks for your kind words. I’d like to get more current members engaged, so letting your friends in SGM church know about this forum would be great. Blessings to you

  10. First let me say that I am agnostic and haven’t been involved in a church in years since losing faith. I’m active in a number of blogs as I try and figure things out. That said…I really have to say this about SGM.

    I looked into Mormonism when I was in college. In Mormonism there was a culture of deception, re-writing LDS history and out right denial about certain LDS doctrine, practices of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young ,etc.. The Mormon church took great liberty in editing its history. Sovereign Grace reminds me of Mormonism in this way. Seeing speeches, documents, that once were posted – then removed from websites I would think would bother anyone who attends a SGM church. To have that type of deception, denial, changing history, etc.. should bother a lot of people.

    I also think SGM is an indictment on Christianity with all the abuse stories floating around on the internet. There are many churches that do not have these problems. But I also think its sad that Christianity stands by and lets a “wolf” devour and abuse its members. Christian media really needs a Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein who will investigate, expose, and reveal problems. As someone who does know their Bible (from days past…) I ask…where are the Bereans?

    • Eagle – sorry for how you’ve drifted from your faith and I appreciate the need to figure things out. If I can help you in any way along the journey, I would be privileged to do so. Not sure from your response if you were previously an attendee of an SGM church – but I TOTALLY agree that there have been a number of things in SGM that have been a blemish on Christianity. But if that’s the only impression I leave with you, I wouldn’t be representing the good that God has done in a number of SGM related local churches, mine included. I’ve seen families cared for when a mother is stricken w cancer – not just pastors but also members – I’ve seen men without work receiving $1000+ gifts so that they can get groceries, pay utilities, etc… I’ve also heard the gospel preached.

      You will see that I’m no blind booster of SGM – I’ve never been accused of being a company man… I picture a healthy church as one biblically knowledgeable, loving one another and reaching the lost – Yes, we definitely need more Bereans… which BTW, I coincidentally read just this morning. Some things we don’t do so well, other things we do better at.

      Thanks for stopping by

      • No I was invovled in other evangelical churchs (third wave, and reformed) and I had enough kool-aide. What I am trying to point out is that SGM has a lot of similarities with Mormonism. I would think that would be of concern to many. Other Christian churches not necessarily….

        But a healthy church does not leave as much devastation, ruined loves, sexual abuse cover up, spiritual abuse in its wake.

  11. I am assuming, since the article describes there being some criticism of the Farifax letter as divisive, that there has been some kind of statement to that effect. Has something been said that I missed?

    • To be completely clear – no official criticism… but there have been allusions and concerns to that end. That’s ok but I wanted to get this point of view out there because even the notion that this is rebellious or divisive shows how messed up the SGM groupthink can be.

  12. @sgmNation & T.o.d.d.

    Agree w/ sgmNation that Detwiler’s interpretation of the bylaws makes it very clear that he isn’t an attorney. Full disclosure, I’m not either.

    Detwiler does raise some questions that should be asked of the board with regard to how well they are presently adhering to the organizations Articles of Incorp and Bylaws, but if they want to change those, it is a fairly simple matter to do so.

    However, on balance, there are multiple clauses which I expect he is significantly misinterpreting in his take on the SGM corporate documents.

  13. Wow a blog about SGM that’s not filled with slander, hatespeech, or bitterness but with intelligent, gracious, loving and informative conversation. Thanks SGMNation.

    Our local SGM church has been heavily affected by the past leadership structure, episcopal/apostolic that you mentioned, and is currently going through a split. I remember first hearing and reading about the original events with CJ and Brent Detwiler and I thought “This won’t affect us here at my local church”. Unfortunately I was wrong and the polity structure caused some problems, especially with accountability of the senior pastor’s decisions. I see some definite similarities in how the leadership structure caused some notably similar problems, it feels like deja vu, with our local church.

    • Well, people don’t think polity is important until something goes wrong… it’s a little like seatbelts. No one ever buys a car and says – man, that was some kickin’ seatbelts… I gotta buy that car. Seatbelts don’t seem important until you have an accident – then it can be a matter of life or death.

      Not sure if you feel comfortable sharing the church you’re at but all I can say to your situation is I’m sorry to hear it – church splits are no fun and can have long term effects on members that go through them. However, God can also use these situations to purify his people – corporately and individually. Despite what I just said about importance of polity – we are not saved by polity nor is a church ultimately “fixed” by polity – it is God who works on behalf of his people and I’m certain that he’s working in your situation

    • Jim – Notwithstanding wingless7’s comments, I think MANY of us still within the walls of SGM churches realize that you have played an integral role in getting the truth out in the open while being fair to SGM leadership – that includes pastors that I’ve spoken to. We wouldn’t be where we are today without your efforts on Refuge. From just running this blog for a few weeks, I know it takes time as well as emotional energy – probably more so in the “early days”. I hope you hear my appreciation in this reply

    • My apologies Jim I’ve never actually been to SGM Refuge and didn’t intend my commments for Refuge. I was thinking more SGM Survivor, Wartburg Watch and some others I’ve read. I can’t speak to the content on Refuge because I haven’t read it but will remedy that in the near future.

      SGM nation: The local SGM church we’re members of is in Crestview, FL. I’ve heard some other analogies about polity but no seatbelt is pretty good. You don’t really think about it until there’s a problem and by then it’s a little too late.

      • wingless7 – thanks. Have you or other members been able to engage your pastors in conversation about where they stand? It is my hope that the pastors will engage with you in a brotherly/sisterly dialogue. Also, I know of at least 3 churches who are tackling polity issues by forming steering committees/groups of mature members and pastors to discuss and recommend local polity adjustments. I’m presuming these same committees will also tackle the SGM affiliation issue.

  14. wingless7-thank you. I don’t think you’ll find refuge more palatable than the sites you referenced. I certainly don’t. While I don’t share your sentiments re the sites you mentioned, I do agree that sgmnation is refreshingly different. I’m a fan.

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