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Friday
Nov092012

My Appeal to the Pastors of Covenant Life Church for Biblical Transparency

On Wednesday, I wrote the Covenant Life pastors appealing for biblical transparency.  I requested they lift their restrictions on members of the church that required silence regarding the pastors’ reasons for recommending separation from SGM.  I also appealed to the pastors to provide clear biblical and ethical categories regarding their reasons for leaving.  I’ve not heard from them.  If I do, I will post their response.  Here is my letter.

From: Brent Detwiler
Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2012 3:27 PM
To: Adam Malcolm; Ben Wikner; Bob Schickler; Braden Greer; Corby Megorden; Dave Brewer; Don DeVries; Eric Sheffer; Eric Simmons; Grant Layman; Issac Hydoski; Jamie Leach; Joe Lee; Jon Smith; Joshua Harris; Keith Welton; Kenneth Maresco; Mark Mitchell; Matt Maka; Robin Boisvert
Subject: An Appeal to Lift Sanctions 

To Joshua and the other brothers, who serve as fellow pastors. 

I will be brief in my appeal for biblical transparency. 

After our crisis intervention with C.J. in August 2004, Joshua, Grant, Kenneth and Bob, enabled C.J. to continue in his sin by implementing no accountability, requiring no personal confession, cutting off the apostolic team, turning against me, and supporting C.J.’s ongoing abusive patterns of sin.  I suffered greatly as a result.

Fast forward.  In June 2011, I appealed that you fulfill your biblical responsibilities and rebuke C.J.  You refused.  That is one reason I was forced to send out my documents to the SGM pastors the following month.  You abandoned your duty and left me alone to contend with C.J. and SGM.  See In Need of a Corporate Rebuke – An Appeal to the Covenant Life Elders (June 17, 2011).

In August 2011, I appealed to you again.  You remained silent and unwilling to take a stand.  See The Need for Crisis Intervention by the Covenant Life Pastors (August 29, 2011).

In June 2012, Josh told CLC that C.J. was not disqualified from ministry.  That he was taking a “balanced position.”  I wrote all of you about this unbiblical assessment and offered to drive to Gaithersburg to talk about it in private.  I received no response or explanation for Josh’s compromised position.     

“Some of you have told me that you think we should have publicly disciplined C.J. or should speak against him serving as a pastor.  I disagree with that.  I do not believe C.J. is disqualified from ministry.  And so I wish him success in his new church plant and pray that he will prosper…. So I find myself in what I think is a balanced position—not agreeing with C.J.’s strongest critics or his most vocal supporters.” (Joshua Harris, CLC Members’ Mtg., June 28, 2012)

See C.J. Still Not Qualified to Lead Sovereign Grace Ministries on the One Year Anniversary of Sending Out “The Documents” (July 6, 2012). 

On many other occasions, I have written you.  On many other occasions, you have been unwilling to speak out and take a stand for righteousness.  Over the past 8 years, you have failed to hold C.J. accountable.  Your silence and inaction has allowed him to continue in his sinful patterns without interruption to the detriment of so many precious lives.  

Gentlemen, I have treated you equitably; both commending you for evidences of grace and correcting you for departures from Scripture.  I have not been partial in your favor or impartial in my judgments.  Once again I come to you on the basis of Scripture. 

Joshua, here is what you said at the Members’ Meeting on Sunday night. 

“I realize my request to keep these matters “in house” is generating a lot of questions. 

“The reason we made this request is we believe members deserve to understand our reasons for leaving SGM but we’re not interested in publicly criticizing SGM.  Leaving SGM (if the congregation affirms the direction) is criticism enough.  We don’t think these internal reasons need to be broadcast on the blogs for the whole world to read.

“But we’re not trying to keep it a secret that we’ve presented to the congregation that we think we should leave SGM and will be taking a vote on this.  It’s fine for people outside our church to be aware of this. 

“And I don’t think Jesse Jarvis’s letter is a good reference point for all this.  If I understand it correctly, Jesse never intended for his letter to be made public.  He shared it with a few pastors and then one of them sent it to Brent without his permission.

“My desire in all this is to honor Jesus.  So I ask, “Is the gospel served by the whole world hearing about the details of our concerns for SGM?”  I don’t think so.  I think these are matters for our church to work through in making this decision.” (Joshua Harris, Member’s Meeting, Nov 4, 2012)

Josh, I am glad your prohibition is generating a lot of questions.  It should because you have imposed an order upon the members of Covenant Life Church that is contrary to Scripture.  You do not have a right to bind the consciences of members in this manner.  You have overstepped your boundaries as a shepherd because you are requiring obedience to a directive without biblical sanction. 

First, there is no harm to the gospel if people know why CLC is leaving SGM (I believe the opposite is true).  Second, it is not slander to provide people outside CLC honest explanations for why the pastors have proposed such a monumental course of action.  Third, it helps all the churches in SGM to know your reasons for leaving.

But let me go further.  I believe you have a biblical responsibility to make known your reasons for severing ties with SGM if they are of an ethical nature.  I assume your reasons for leaving are not related to church governance since the SGM polity proposal has yet to be voted upon.  It could be rejected. 

Moreover, if you are recommending departure to CLC as a matter of preference, then such amoral reasons should be provided less people assume otherwise.  But if you are leaving over abusive practices and unethical conduct, you have a biblical responsibility to make that clear.  Let me be more specific.

In the case of personal sin, here is how we are to proceed.

Matt 18:15-17

[15] “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. [16] But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

The first step is confidential.  It is one on one.  The second step is confidential.  It involves 2 or 3 people.  The third step is public.  The entire church is told.  The fourth step is public.  The world is effectively told.  This protects the gospel from harm.  The watching world knows the church is serious about sin and avoids the charge of being hypocritical when handled in this manner. 

In the case of an elder’s sin, here is how we are to proceed.

1 Tim 5:19-20

[19] Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. [20] Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

The first step is assumed in the passage.  The elder has been approached in private.  The second step is assumed.  Two are three have gone to the sinning elder in private.  The third step is introduced by Paul to Timothy.  A public rebuke of the elder must occur in front of the church so the other elders don’t think they can get away with the same kind of hypocrisy.  This protects the reputation of the gospel because leaders are not treated with partiality or favoritism.  The fourth step is not referenced in the text.

C.J. is the President of Sovereign Grace Ministries, not just a local elder!  That has been true since 1990 when he assumed the position.  If he were only a pastor, no effort need be made to tell his sins and rebuke him publicly outside the local church.  But that is not the case with C.J.  In the New Testament, local leaders were reproved locally.  Extra-local leaders were reproved locally and extra-locally.  Such disciplinary action was never avoided because an apostle or “President” wasn’t “employed” by a particular church.

Take for example Paul’s rebuke of Peter.  Paul included it in his epistle to all the churches in the region of Galatia.  He did this even after Peter repented of hypocrisy.  Paul wanted all the churches to know about the incident and learn from the incident.  That action protected the gospel.  It put a lot of people on notice.  Paul was not slandering Peter, he was being honest about Peter. 

Galatians 2:11-14

[11] When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. [12] Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. [13] The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

[14] When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

Such a reporting and reproving of sin protects the gospel.  “Leaving SGM (if the congregation affirms the direction) is criticism enough.”  No it isn’t!  It is that kind of thinking that has allowed C.J.’s sins to grow and flourish on your watch.  Great reproach has come upon SGM and the gospel because you have been unwilling to deal with C.J. over the years in a biblical manner.  It is not silence that serves the gospel.  It is silence that destroys the witness of the gospel and the credibility of the church.  In part, I believe God raised up SGM Survivors (2007) and SGM Refuge (2008) because of your disobedience. 

Josh, you said “We don’t think these internal reasons need to be broadcast on the blogs for the whole world to read.”  Not true.  The whole world would do well to read the “internal reasons.”  Then the world would understand how serious the issues are in SGM instead of being deceived by the constant spin put out by C.J., John and the Board of Directors.  Furthermore, the Christian world and secular world would know that CLC pastors are not intimidated by the SGM leaders when they threatened to falsely accuse you of gossip, slander and divisiveness.  You must stop caring about their condemnations.  Their manipulation must be stopped and exposed.  Your silence is a capitulation to their coercion. 

Brothers, you know C.J. has continued in his sin and you know the men around him have imitated his example.  Why do you protect them when you are commanded to expose them?   None of these men have taken warning because none of them have been rebuked by you or others.  How can you say C.J. is above reproach and blameless and yet you are leaving SGM over his (and other’s) abusive leadership and unethical conduct? 

Let me add an important point.  It is insufficient to tell CLC you are recommending separation over disappointments and disagreements of a morally neutral nature (i.e. differences with how past how past issues were dealt with, differences in handling disagreement; differences in leadership methods, decision making and what to communicate, and differences in polity). 

The church must be told about the sin that produced the disappointments and disagreements (i.e., pride, hypocrisy, slander, partiality, favoritism, deceit, lying, lording, cover up, spin, heavy handedness, etc.).  You owe God’s people biblical explanations, not generalizations that sound like simple disagreements arising from different perspectives rather than from sinful actions and practices. 

For example, C.J. secretly recruiting members in Covenant Life Church to start a rival church in Germantown, MD if Covenant Life leaves SGM is an ethical issue.  I reported on these plans last Spring when Mickey Connolly was telling other pastors about SGM’s commitment plant churches in any city where a church dared to leave SGM (if they had the resources).  He did this with the knowledge and support of the Board of Directors.    

Brothers, we honor Jesus when we follow his Word, not when we break it.

“My [Joshua’s] desire in all this is to honor Jesus.  So I ask, ‘Is the gospel served by the whole world hearing about the details of our concerns for SGM?’  I don’t think so.” 

The sins of C.J. and SGM are not trivial and they have not ceased.  They are serious and that is why you are leaving the movement.  In answer to your question, the gospel is most definitely not served by silence.  It is the lack of prophetic utterance that has  allowed C.J. to continue down the road of ruin.  The whole world needs to know the collaborating evidence of CLC.  The SGM churches need to know your experience with C.J. is like my experience with C.J. which is like the experience of countless others. 

Please follow the advice of Wayne Grudem and stop enabling C.J.  He needs your loving rebuke and redemptive discipline.  It is still not too late to obey Scripture.    

“Paul’s command to rebuke a sinning elder publicly means that some statement of the nature of the offense must be made to the church (“rebuke them in the presence of all,” [1 Tim 5:20]…. Such a public disclosure of the sin of a leader will signal to the congregation that the leaders of the church will not hide such matters from them in the future.  This will increase the confidence of the church in the integrity of the leadership board.  It will also allow the sinning leader to begin the gradual process of rebuilding relationships and trust with the congregation, because he will not have to deal with people who have a hundred different speculations about what his sin was, but with people who know the specific sin, and can see the genuine repentance and change regarding that area of sin in his life.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 899)  

“When churches have to discipline a church leader, an easy mistake to make is failing to take Paul’s command seriously [to rebuke him before the church], thereby failing to give adequate disclosure to the church of the nature of the sin involved.  If that happens, the congregation only hears that a leader was removed from office because of some sin (or maybe a general category of sin is mentioned).  But this is not really an effective public rebuke.  Because it is so vague, it will only result in confusion, speculation, and gossip.  Moreover, serious divisions can arise in the church because in the absence of information some people will think the discipline process too harsh and others will think it too lenient, and the church will not be united in supporting the process.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, footnote 20, p. 899) 

More than any other church, it is your responsibility to reprove C.J. (and the Board) “in the presence of all.”  Why do you cover up for them and leave them off the hook for grave patterns of sin?

I am also appealing to you in private to lift your sanctions on Covenant Life Church.  You have no authority to impose these kinds of restrictions on the members.  No one need obey you when you require silence.  If they do, they only contribute to the problem and follow your poor example.  I hope you will post the audio of the Member’s Meeting immediately.  Lastly, please provide me a fuller explanation for your actions and as always I welcome any refutation of my position you care to give.

For the good of the gospel and the greater glory of God,

Brent

Post Script

Jesse’s letter is a great point of reference for you because it was open and honest.  He shared those reasons with friends and pastors.  I did not receive his letter from a SGM pastor.  Nor was there any indication it was confidential. 

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