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Mike and Brian don’t mention their withdrawn from membership in their letters but it is implied.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.