I first met John Piper in 1997 when C.J., Dave Harvey Steve Shank and I traveled to Minneapolis to spend time with him and his staff. In particular, I remember a wonderful evening of prayer and fellowship in his home over a meal.
Last Saturday night, I knew three things when I went to bed. One, John Piper was preaching at C.J.’s church in the morning. Two, John Loftness would be announcing his resignation in the coming week as Chairman of the SGM Board. Three, Craig Cabaniss had already resigned from the Board and was surveying his church about their future relationship with SGM.
I did not know why Piper was visiting however. Just before I fell off to sleep, I texted a friend saying I feared Piper would endorse C.J. but hoped he was there to announce C.J.’s resignation as President of SGM. I also went to bed hoping the SGM Board of Directors had requested Loftness’ resignation (they did not) and that Cabaniss had resigned due to his reservations about SGM (I don’t know if that was a factor).
The next day my fears regarding John Piper were realized. He desperately wanted to preach at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville (SGCL) in order to express his thrill and excitement for all things Sovereign Grace. Here’s how he began the message.
“Thank you C.J. I chose to be here. No body forced me. He is a pretty persuasive guy but I really, really wanted to be here. And therefore when the opportunity arose I snatched it. And I thankful for it.
“I wanted to be here because I am excited about what God is doing in this church plant. I’ve been following it from a distance. And I’m thrilled with what is in the offing here in the mix of this city. I’m excited to be here secondly because I love Sovereign Grace and what God is doing in it across the country and the world.
“And most emotionally significant, I’m glad to be here because C.J. is right, he is my friend and he has meant a lot to me over the years both at the encouragement level of preaching and professional life – though nobody in the ministry is a professional – but even more at the personal family level of caring. So it is real easy for me to stand here and be with you. It is what I want to do.
“And I said to him [C.J.] when I walked in, ‘I’m pumped about this message.’ I love the Word of God. I love to preach. And I love this Book and I am going to talk about this Book because it matters that this church plant relate to this Book in a certain way. Think about it in a certain way. Feel about it in a certain way.”
John then proceeded to exposit 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and laid out six reasons for believing in the Bible. When it came time to talk about the profitability of the Bible he said the following.
“The world really cares about whether one of the evidences of the truth of the Bible is whether it makes Christians good. And they should. They should. It produces good works. May this church be devoted to doctrine, that is, all the truths of the Bible that are designed for what, to equip you to produce a life of godliness and beauty and goodness which will then circle back and authenticate the doctrine and the Bible. So the Bible aims to make you godly and in that profitability of producing a new kind of loving, humble service; life very much like Jesus, the Bible will show itself to be true so don’t leave it.”
At the end of the last sentence, you can hear C.J. in the background saying “yes” and “excellent” (minute 52:07). Oh my, how I wish it were true! C.J.’s failure to practice the doctrine he preaches has produced godlessness not godliness, desecration not beauty, badness not goodness in far too many ways.
John Piper should have preached on James 1:21-27 instead of 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
James 1:22 (NASU) But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
James 1:27 (NIV) Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Here is the Brent Detwiler “living translation” of verse 27.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the families and victims of sexual abuse in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by protecting pedophiles and covering up their crimes against humanity in your church.”
On Tuesday of this week (two days after Piper’s sermon), Vince Coakley, the former news anchor for WSOC (channel 9) in Charlotte, interviewed Susan Burke, co-counsel in the class action lawsuit filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries. The “class” continues to grow as more victims come forward. I’ve not included the entire interview due to length. Here are some important interchanges.
Q. What is the reason behind the lawsuit? What does it stem from?
A. Well, as it sets forth in the legal papers, there are a series of people that have been victimized by predators and by the churches covering up of those acts of sexual predation.
Q. What is also a mystery to people…why would human beings allow pedophiles to continue to interact with children because that is one of the allegations here? You’re actually saying they knew this activity was taking place and still allowed that activity to continue.
A. Yes, that is the case. There [are] multiple occasions in which they were put on notice. They knew in fact, several of the predators have been convicted, and yet none the less the church covered it up, church members covered it up, put those pedophiles in situations in which they had unfettered access to children. It is quite troubling circumstances. Unfortunately, you say it is humanity, the reality is these things are not aberrational. We’ve see it in other settings. This is not the first time that you see this type of misconduct. Institutions tend to try and protect themselves. Hierarchies within institutions work to do that.
Q. And for a lot of these people, and the picture you are painting here is one where people, where victims and their family members, very much feel powerless here to be able to address this thing because they are going to experience the ire of their church leadership if they pursue this.
A. That’s correct. There was a lot of intimidation. A lot of effort to stifle discussion. A lot of effort to prevent people from taking steps to inform others who had young children about the situation.
Q. How many victims are we talking about here?
A. At this point, I don’t know the total but I can tell you is that we continue to receive people contacting us. The problem is widespread. It is for that reason we are actually seeking to have it certified as a class in order to protect everyone who has been harmed in this way.
Q. What does the law require in these situations?
A. You cannot participate in wrong doing regardless of your status as a pastor. They don’t have the right to put people into harm’s way. And they don’t have the right to step in the middle and obstruct justice. So there are duties imposed by law that when you know that you have somebody who is harming people, you are not allowed to let that person keep harming people.
Q. What do you hope will come out of this? Obviously you are looking for some sort of remedy for the victims involved in this, but there’s got to be a bigger message here too and hope in terms of issues of justice.... There’s something broader at work here, is there not?
A. There definitely is and I would just encourage everyone when they are in circumstances where they’ve learned of information they should contact the police. They should contact secular authorities and not try to participate in any form of cover up. It is that type of activity that really harms everyone. Keeping it quiet. Keeping it silent. Keeping it in the dark. So we hope the lawsuit and speaking out begins to shine a light on what is really going on and as with many forms of wrong doing, shining a light is the best way to make it stop.
Q. Can you give us an idea of a likely time table of development in this case?
A. We will be going to trial on the case sometime between September of this year and February of next year. We’ll get a precise trial date when we go to court on March 8.
Q. For those people who may be listening, maybe there are people still out there who have had something happen…connected to this case. If it is connected to this what should they do?
A. They should call me. My phone number is 202-386-9622. Or they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also find it on the internet. And they should just give me a call and tell me what occurred.
Q. How has this affected you emotionally hearing these stories?
A. It is very depressing. It is just so sad. We all I think have a special place in our hearts for children and to hear what has happened to very young children. It is very heart breaking and certainty my co-counsel, Bill O’Neil and I are highly motivated to do everything we can to seek justice for these people.
[End of Interview]
This is one of the many comments I received this week in response to John Piper’s endorsement of C.J. and SGM. Thousands of believers throughout the world and in the United States feel the same way and are expressing the same sentiments.
Are you going to address John Piper speaking at SGCL [Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville] last Sunday?
I know you included him in your letter addressed to 70+ pastors/leaders of ministry but his recent remarks of support for both C.J. and SGM, well, frankly they make me want to cry.
I have listened to John Piper’s sermons/podcasts for years and read most of his material.
I can speculate as to why he is supporting C.J. and SGM but honestly I cannot understand it in my spirit. It is so grieving.
Thank you for listening.
Your Sister in Christ
John’s unqualified support of C.J. and SGM has made a lot of people cry and grieve. Especially the victims of sexual abuse that occurred in SGM churches under C.J.’s leadership. I sent John the lawsuit on February 6. Why did he express no concern for the victims’ plight on February 17 at C.J.'s church? I find his abject silence incomprehensible.
There should be weeping and howling throughout Sovereign Grace Ministries. Instead, John Piper is telling everyone how thrilled and excited he is about C.J. (when so few trust him), the church plant (that was born out of division), and Sovereign Grace Ministries (which is being opposed by God). The imprimatur of John Piper is not the imprimatur of God.
John has always taught preachers their emotions should parallel the text they are expositing. If it is a joyous text, be joyous. If it is an intense text, be intense. Be happy, when God is happy. Be sad, when God is sad. John’s emotions were way out of line with the “text” before him – C.J., the church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. He should have been weeping, instead he was exalting. It was grotesque.
John introduced his message thusly.
“And I said to him when I walked in, ‘I’m pumped about this message.’ I love the Word of God. I love to preach. And I love this Book and I am going to talk about this Book because it matters that this church plant relate to this Book in a certain way. Think about it in a certain way. Feel about it in a certain way.”
Last week a senior pastor from SGM wrote me after receiving my “20 Hard Questions to Ask Your SGM Pastor.” John Piper is not attacking me like this misguided pastor, but I would point out to John the same reality regarding the lack of obedience of Scripture – that is the proper way in which C.J., the church and SGM should “relate…think…feel…about this Book.”
From: Brent Detwiler
Sent: Friday, February 08, 2013 5:59 PM
To: [Senior Pastor]
Subject: RE: 20 Hard Questions to Ask Your SGM Pastor
I am not harassing my friend. Nor am I trying to play God. I am simply following the instruction of Scripture. Oh, how I wish you and others would have insisted on the application of 1 Timothy 3, 5, Titus 1, Matthew 18 and host of other passages. You have not been submitted to the authority of Scripture. You can call me anything you want but that is not the real issue. As Luther said to the Papists, “Scripture, Scripture, Scripture!”
C.J. should have been publicly rebuked and removed. He is not above reproach by any standard. Serious patterns of sin have been repeatedly addressed in his life since 2000 and yet you make excuses for him. Lying, deceit, hypocrisy, partiality, favoritism, manipulation, cover up, injustice, lording, etc. have filled the last 19 months. So many lives have been devastated by these and other sins. And now we have the cover up of sexual predators and the silencing of victims and more. I tremble.
[When you say], “Let the Lord deal with it” [that] is not biblical. That is a complete abdication of responsibility. Worse, it is a transgression against the commands of Scripture. You are called to rebuke and reprove such flagrant sins! I should not being doing your work for you.
I agree, I am not your “ruler and judge” but Scripture is. I hope and pray you will begin to obey it. But no, you must call me “angry, bitter and sick” for holding you accountable to the clear teaching of God’s Word. You can despise me. It matters little. But oh how I pray you will stop despising the Holy One of Israel by rejecting His Word. Must God destroy SGM before you learn that He is not mocked?
C.J.’s love of reputation has led him to transgress hundreds of passages of Scripture. I am speaking in literal terms. For instance, C.J. said the following to all the pastors and wives of Sovereign Grace Ministries on November 7, 2009 at the Pastors Conference.
“It is stunning when anyone in any modern American institution takes honest responsibility. I want you to know, it should not be stunning when pastors take responsibility. It should be the norm. And in Sovereign Grace we are not about damage control. It would be a complete contradiction of this passage [James 3:1-2] and what we believe about the doctrine of sin for us to engage in damage control. We do not engage in damage control. There will be no damage control in Sovereign Grace. We will seek to walk humbly before God and when we stumble we will not seek to engage in damage control. No, instead we will humbly acknowledge with sorrow that we stumbled – we stumbled. No damage control.”
C.J. made this bogus claim generally for all of SGM. Nothing could be further from the truth as has been proven time and again. C.J. has a long history of covering up sin that would make him look bad.
But what is worse, C.J. specifically made this claim in relation to how he and the pastors in Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax were dealing with the sexual predators operating in their midst. It was a boldfaced lie. One only needs to read the lawsuit to see how sexual predation has been covered up in SGM.
Since the amended lawsuit was filed on January 11, I’ve become aware of other churches in SGM not cited in the lawsuit who have conducted themselves in the same fashion. They too need to come clean, tell their congregations about their error, make amends with the victims, and clearly state their policy regarding the notification of members and the involvement of law enforcement. All evangelical churches need to stop putting people in harm’s way. See GRACE (i.e., Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) for helpful information at http://netgrace.org/.
Before you given someone an unqualified endorsement you better do your homework. The scholarly John Piper has not done his homework in C.J.’s case. Or in the case of Sovereign Grace Ministries. He has talked to C.J. and his supporters but he has not studied the 2,500 pages of hard evidence presented against C.J. adn SGM. Nor has he talked to the 70 plus pastors who have severed ties with C.J. over the past 7 months due a lack of trust and serious concerns for the leadership culture he has created. Nor has he interviewed the devastated families and victims of sexual abuse in SGM. John said in his sermon he has never read the SGM Statement of Faith. I hope he has read the class action lawsuit with its 143 Complaints.
I appreciate John Piper and I thank God for his theological contributions to the Body of Christ but he has blundered in this case. His personal affection for C.J. has exceeded his concern for the glory of God. God is disciplining SGM. Piper should be doing the same.
It is disillusioning but here is what we learn. Not even John Piper is immune from playing favorites or being partial in his judgments. I’m am extremely concerned for the celebrity culture that exists among elite preachers in this nation. Whether in ignorance or not, John is covering up for C.J. when he and other national leaders should be dealing with C.J. in a forthright manner.
It goes to show that godly men like Piper will disobey the Bible when idols in their hearts become more important than the righteousness of Christ and the truth of God. To be honest, it is hard to listen to some of these men preach any longer because of such hypocrisy. They protect their own, while their own harm others, and there are no consequences for their actions. In this way, they do not follow the Bible.
1 Tim 5:20-21 Those [elders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.
Pastors and churches will continue to leave Sovereign Grace Ministries. More information will come out. The class action lawsuit will grow and further expose leaders in SGM. John could have intervened on Sunday. Instead he enabled C.J. by expressing no concerns whatsoever. He was there to singularly endorse C.J. without qualification. How disheartening!
SGM has been producing a new governing document called the Book of Church Order. This week, one of the 18 churches that have severed ties with SGM posted this explanation for leaving.
“The new [governing] polity proved to be a catalyst that caused us to reexamine the decisions and responses of SGM over the past 18 months. We realized that there was, as one pastor put it, ‘consistent divergence’ between our pastoral and leadership instincts, and those of SGM. After much consideration and prayer, the pastors of Grace Community shared with the congregation our perspective about these differences and our recommendation that we leave SGM.”
If John had just examined, not reexamined, “the decisions and responses of SGM over the past 18 months” he would be withdrawing his support of C.J. until things were corrected and confessed. John has tolerated in SGM what he would never tolerate at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He has made exceptions for C.J. that he would never make for a church member.
John is thrilled and excited when he should be terribly concerned and taking action to address a decade of lying, lording and cover up advanced by C.J. I suspect the Lord will one day put John in a position where he will have to admit his mistake in uncritically defending C.J. That may come after a court trial.
C.J. should not be a Council Member on the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, The Gospel Coalition, or The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. And John Piper should not be preaching at SGCL unless he is willing to publicly address the serious issues at hand and call C.J. to repentance. I’ve written 77 national recognized leaders in the Body of Christ regarding C.J. and the class action lawsuit against him. Will any of them speak out in public and take action?
My counsel to John Piper is the same as my counsel to Tim Challies from one and half years ago when he defended C.J. and condemn me as a slanderer on his blog.
“I hope you will read all of my documents and also my posts at BrentDetwiler.com. That’s required reading if you are going to post about me. What you fail to realize is the pervasive and profound nature of problems in SGM. Hundreds, if not thousands of people have been mishandled and mistreated. You don’t have two anti-SGM blogs, SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge, because of disagreements between C.J. and me. You really must get educated about the depth and breadth of ungodly practices that have existed in the movement. You haven’t done your homework. You also fail to recognize the long term and serious nature of C.J.’s sins. Many men have brought many charges for many years against C.J.” (Brent Detwiler, A Brief Response to Tim Challies, August 17, 2011)
C.J. quotes himself on his church’s website.
“The preaching event, being addressed by God through the reading and proclamation of His Word, is the most important event in the life of this church every week. - C.J. Mahaney”
That makes the preacher the most important person in the church according to C.J. I believe in preaching but less and less in celebrity preachers whose pride is so swelled they often act as though above the Word they preach (Matt 23:3).
Some of the greatest preachers in America have enabled C.J. in his sin when they should have been confronting his sin and taking action. These men continuously promote one other’s books, conferences, ministries, and celebrity status. It looks like a mutual admiration society and it often leads to a double standard of living.
For example, I am concerned that Together for the Gospel is equally about together for Mohler, Mahaney, Dever and Duncan. Joel Osteen promotes “health and wealth.” Too many Reformed leaders promote one another and thrive off the recognition (and money) they receive in return.
These are disillusioning times unless our affections are set upon the Perfect Savior who never deceives or disappoints. He plays no favorites and is wholly just. Jesus is our only firm foundation. All other ground is sinking sand. Therefore, fall in love with Him and build your life around a Person, not a personality with a preaching gift.
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