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Sunday
Apr212013

Restoration of the Church - Are You a Pioneer or a Settler?

It’s taken 30 years but we finally have the answer to this question.  Settler!  Sovereign Grace Ministries has settled for the traditional and stopped pioneering the biblical with the ratification of its new polity on April 12.  A commitment to the restoration of the church has been replaced by commitment to the establishing of a denomination.  

Sovereign Grace Ministries was once whole heartedly committed to the authority, simplicity and sufficiency of Scripture.  No longer.  Over the past year, its leaders have abused, twisted, and set aside Scripture in order achieve pragmatic ends.  SGM used to be characterized by a radical obedience to Jesus Christ; we were little concerned about the opinions of men.  We were glad to be foolish for Christ and despised in the eyes of the world (religious and otherwise).  We danced, shouted, spoke in tongues, and cast out demons.  The Book of Acts was real to us.       

The Sep/Oct 1994 issues of our magazine was titled, “What Do We Do When the Spirit Says…Jump!”  The Nov/Dec issue was titled, “Times of Refreshing – Overwhelming Encounters with the Spirit of God.”  For over a year, churches throughout SGM were being overwhelmed by powerful encounters with the risen Lord which resulted in changed lives.  People by the thousands were being baptized in the Holy Spirit and filled with the Spirit.     

From our inception in 1982, we desired all the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be in operation for the purpose of evangelism, church planting and church building.  The premier issue of the magazine in Sep/Oct 1983 was titled, “Restoration of the Church – Are You a Pioneer or a Settler?”  The next three issues were successively titled “Evangelism as a Lifestyle,” “Apostolic Team Ministry,” and “Becoming a Prophetic People.”  C.J. wrote the featured article on becoming a prophetic people because he was a prophet as noted in his biography.  Here are several quotes from his article. 

“Although Jim’s church contained godly people, it lacked prophetic leadership and Christians committed to obeying God regardless of the cost…. They need a prophet.  A man who can bring revelation of the person of Christ and the radical church he desires, and who exposes sinful attitudes that hamper its coming forth.”  

“God has given prophets as gifts to the body of Christ.  It is our responsibility to identify them and response to the word of the Lord they bring…. God’s desire is not only to have prophets recognized, but to have them bring forth a prophetic people.” 

“Religious excuses abound as to why we are not giving ourselves to see God’s house restored.  People say we need to stay balanced, which at times is a way of encouraging compromise…. A prophet exposes religious excuses, and a prophetic people are ruthless in dealing with them.” 

“Today, God is raising up prophets, as well as other leaders who can’t be manipulated or intimidated and who will never settle for “the time has not yet come [for the Lord’s house to be rebuilt” (Haggai 1:2)].  Instead they respond and respect God’s word even if others don’t.” 

“When we see that God’s purpose for the church today is not merely survival but triumph and worldwide impact and influence, we too will be affected like Nehemiah as we view the present state of God’s holy city, the church.  It will affect the deepest part of us when we contrast the pitiful state of the church today with God’s purpose for her.  If we are unaffected, then we are either selfish or we’ve yet to see God’s purpose for his church in this generation.” 

This was the Christ loving, Word submitted, Spirit led C.J. we loved and respected.  We were not about charismatic hoopla.  We were about charismatic churches as biblically defined including the five-fold ministry of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.     

This paragraph appeared in the editorial on page 1.  

“God has used the charismatic renewal of the past twenty years as a booster to propel millions into the life in the Spirit.  Now, as this essential phase is winding down, God is intent on launching us into a new phase—the restoration of his church.  The challenge before us is clear: we must continue forward as pioneers, or we will eventually stagnate as settlers.”

Two weeks ago, Sovereign Grace Ministries officially became a denomination.  The very thing prohibited by the Statement of Faith since 1983.  The movement is no longer moving.  It has stagnated.  It is no longer pioneering.  It has settled.  

Like Esau of old, SGM has sold it birthright for a pot of porridge (i.e., pragmatic and worldly concerns). 

Gen 25:29-34 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. [30] He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) [31] Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” [32] “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” [33] But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. [34] Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. 

SGM leaders believe the Book of Church Order is a step forward but it is a step backward when judged by Scripture.  The 62 men, representing 62 elderships, representing 62 churches that voted in favor did so with their eyes wide open.  New Testament polity has now been supplanted by a denominational polity.  That which is supported by Scripture has been replaced by that which is unsupported by Scripture.  SGM has settled for being a religious institution with a multi-tiered and convoluted hierarchy.  It has stopped pioneering the restoration of the church.  It has repudiated its  historic and audacious (not arrogant) commitment to Scripture.  

The Church Is Not a Religious Institution or Denomination
Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 5:03 PM
Brent Detwiler 

http://abrentdetwiler.squarespace.com/brentdetwilercom/2013/3/23/the-church-is-not-a-religious-institution-or-denomination.html 

“God by his Word and Spirit creates the Church, calling sinful men out of the whole human race into the fellowship of Christ’s Body.  By the same Word and Spirit, he guides and preserves that new redeemed humanity.  The Church is not a religious institution or denomination.  Rather, the Church universal is made up of those who have become genuine followers of Christ and personally appropriated the Gospel…. All members of the Church universal are to be a vital and committed part of a local church.” 

This definition is found in the Statement of Faith for Sovereign Grace Ministries.  It affirms the Church universal and the local church.  It repudiates the formation of local churches into a religious institution or denomination as something not found in the New Testament…  

When I put together the section on “The Church” in the Statement of Faith, I purposely broke it up into two paragraphs.  The first paragraph defined the Church universal.  The second defined the local church.  I also spelled out the relationship between the Church universal and the local church.  Why?  Because these are the only two ways in which the Bible talks about the nature of the church.    

Local churches in the New Testament were never joined together as a “unified ecclesiastical body under a common government.”  That kind of polity is foreign to Paul the apostle and all his apostolic associates… 

That is why I wrote “the church is not a religious institution or denomination.”  In other words, local churches were never formed into hierarchical institutions.  The relationship shared between churches in the New Testament was non-institutional and non-denominational.  You find no official “body of churches” formed into “an expression of the body of Christ.”…  

Will the Book of Church Order be voted down?  No, it will be ratified.  Why, because there is so little integrity and so much hypocrisy in Sovereign Grace Ministries.  SGM becomes a denomination in three weeks.  The ethical and theological demise continues.   

##

The vision God gave us from Scripture for New Testament Christianity is gone.  The Book of Acts has become a story book, no longer a guide book.  What God graciously gave us to steward has been squandered.  SGM has become another Reformed denomination.

From the beginning, we aspired to build churches like the one in Jerusalem.  Here is Luke’s description.

Acts 2:42-47

[42] They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. [43] Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. [44] All the believers were together and had everything in common. [45] Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. [46] Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, [47] praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Like architects we labored to build upon the foundation of the gospel with the “gold, silver and precious stones” (1 Cor 3:10-14) found in this text.  We wanted all 17 characteristics to characterize all our churches, not just preaching on Sunday mornings.  I often said if Luke were alive today, I hoped he would write the same kind of description about us.  I believe that is God’s revealed will for all churches.  By God’s grace, we were blessed to experience these realities for many years.  We were an apostolic team intimately involved in building New Testament churches like the one in Jerusalem.

  1. Devoted to teaching
  2. Devoted to fellowship
  3. Devoted to the breaking of bread
  4. Devoted to prayer
  5. Filled with awe
  6. Wonders and miracles
  7. Always together with one another
  8. Having everything in common
  9. Selling possessions and goods
  10. Giving to anyone with need
  11. Meeting daily in the temple courts
  12. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper in homes
  13. Sharing meals with glad and sincere hearts
  14. Praising God
  15. Enjoying favor with all people
  16. People being added to the church daily
  17. People being saved daily

This kind of radical life style has greatly diminished in the churches.  There has been significant decline.  The young leaders in SGM today have little idea what we were privileged to experience in our first 15 years.  Passion, piety, friendship, trust, sacrifice, family, mission, joy, integrity, commitment and zeal are words that come to mind.  Our Celebration events, Small Group Leaders Conferences, and Pastors Conferences were glorious experiences of grace, freedom and fellowship.  No one was paying attention to us.  We were not trying to please men.

Today C.J. has gained notoriety in the Reformed world but over the last three years he has lost half the people who were once a part of SGM.  His pride, abuses and hypocrisy have devastated the lives of so many people that once knew and trusted him.  People are understandably distraught and disillusioned – many shipwrecked in their faith.  It is tragic and heart breaking.  And even though C.J.’s false humility and pious pretensions have been exposed, his inner circle do nothing to admit wrong, address past injustices or help those that have been harmed. 

In the May/Jun 1995 issue of the magazine, I was asked to answer the question, “Briefly describe PDI’s doctrinal position?”  I summated my answer in one sentence, “We hold to an essentially Reformed understanding of Christian doctrine but with a significant charismatic dimension to our faith.”  In the Mar/Apr 1997 issue of the magazine we laid out our Reformed soteriology with articles on election, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.  At the same time, we changed the name of the publication from “People of Destiny Magazine” to “Sovereign Grace – The Magazine of PDI Ministries.” 

We were essentially Reformed but the charismatic dimension was still significant (e.g. imparting gifts and grace through the laying on of hands, powerful fillings of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, prophecy, singing in the Spirit, spontaneity in worship, participation by members in meetings, inexpressible joy, extended times for ministering to people, healings, gifts of faith, works of power, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, prophetic preaching, deliverance from demons, angelic interventions, dreams, visions, supernatural guidance, etc.).  Today the charismatic dimension is insignificant.  Mark 16:15-18 is now a discarded textual variant.  It used to be something of our experience. 

That’s because SGM is no longer essentially Reformed, it is almost entirely Reformed!  Don’t get me wrong.  I was the one who introduced Reformed theology to SGM and taught it best tenets with joy and faith.  But let’s be honest.  You can’t believe and practice the things above and be welcomed in Reformed circles.  John MacArthur is not going to have C.J. out to preach in California or show up with C.J. at Together for the Gospel in Kentucky if he is a charismatic practitioner.  And let’s also be clear, I am not talking about the theology and showmanship of Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, or Ken Copeland!  They are imposters.  I’m talking about the wide spectrum of supernatural experience outlined in the New Testament.  It has ceased (or been terribly watered down) according to Reformed pneumatology which by definition quenches the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 5:19) like water puts out a fire.

There is a considerable difference between “essential” and “entire.”  Essential means apostles and prophets can still be part of your polity.  Entire means they must be eliminated from your polity.  Or, essential means you can believe Christ died for all mankind.  Entire means you must believe Christ died for the elect alone (i.e., a limited atonement).  Or, essential means you can celebrate the Lord’s Supper in your home with a group of Christian friends.  Entire means it is confined to Sunday morning and officiated by the elders.  Or, essential means you can still prophesy, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”  Entire means stop it!  Or, essential means there is room for Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening.  Entire means the phenomena he sanctioned can’t have a place in our churches.  God forbid people are “slain” in the Holy Spirit when he suddenly falls upon them in divine power.   

The list goes on and on.  A theology of doubt has strangulated the once dynamic movement.  Skepticism has replaced faith in many respects.  Tongues have effectively ceased.  Prophesy is functionally despised.  Spiritual songs are forbidden.  Apostles (i.e., men called and gifted to plant and build churches, not write Scripture) play no part in polity. 

A continuationist pneumatology like C.J.’s means nothing unless the manifold power of God is being experienced.  “Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God’” (Matt 22:29).  Cessationism is error but so is continuationism if it remains in the theoretical realm.  It is one thing to preach 1 Corinthians 12 and 14; it is another thing to experience 1 Corinthians 12 and 14.  We err when we argue away Scripture with dispensational notions.  We also err when our orthodoxy doesn’t result in orthopraxy.  Simply put, we must earnestly desire, pursue, and practice all the gifts of the Holy Spirit not just “believe” in them.  

Things radically changed for SGM when C.J. announced to Dave Harvey, Steve Shank and me that he had changed his position on the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophecy and singing in the Spirit.  This occurred in January 2007 on an apostolic team retreat.  Sometime I will write about this historic occasion.  In a nutshell, he changed to “third wave” but the wave he (and Jeff Purswell) promised never reached shore.  It continues to recede.   

I told C.J. he needed to explain these changes to the SGM pastors and let them know there were theological differences on the team.  He disagreed.  In the months that followed, I continued my appeal for C.J. to be open and honest about his new positions.  This was never down.  As a result, the pastors at large were kept in the dark.  Instead C.J. and Jeff Purswell worked to progressively remove our charismatic theology.  Four months later, I was removed from teaching on “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit” at the Pastors College having taught the course for over a decade.  Oh well… 

How could this happen?  In 1995, C.J. began to pursue nationally recognized leaders outside of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  This benefitted the ministry in some respects but  compromised the ministry in other respects.  It put C.J. in a position where had to deny, deflect, or defend our position on apostles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  For instance, I remember C.J. telling us about his first meeting with John Piper in 1996 when John asked him directly, “So C.J., is it true you call yourself an apostle?” C.J. broke out in laughter anticipating the dreaded question before responding in the affirmative. 

At that time, C.J.’s star was on the rise.  The same year he began to feature prominent endorsements by well-known leaders in the annual ministry overview issue of the magazine.  Men like David Powlison (1996), Jerry Bridges (1997), Wayne Grudem (1998), Ken Sande (1999), Mike Bullmore (2000), Mark Dever (2001), John Piper (2002) and John Bettler (2003) heaped profuse praise upon him.  He could do no wrong.  Little did they know all the “wrong” we were confronting in his life which culminated in our landmark confrontation in August 2004 (see Response Regarding Friendship and Doctrine, pp. 16-28). 

C.J. knew if he was going to move ahead in Reformed circles he needed to do three things.  One, cover up our dealings with him.  Two, do away with apostolic ministry.  Three, change our charismatic theology.  He’s managed to accomplish all three goals but at great price.  His response to our correction destroyed his integrity; his doing away with apostles produced a denomination; and his repudiation of charismatic theology killed charismatic experience.   

In March of 2004, C.J. still believed in apostles.  At that time, Mike Bullmore (Chairman of the Practical Theology Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and his leadership team asked us to adopt their church in Wisconsin but also registered their disagreement with us over the use of the term “apostles.”  We had to turn Mike down.  It was a “deal breaker” for C.J.  He told Mike, “I don’t think it would be wise to formally adopt your church with this difference and that makes me very sad.  (See “Addendum – Mike Bullmore” below for more details.)

But erosion in C.J.’s conviction was underway.  He didn’t want to lose Mike over the issue of apostolic ministry.  Two years later, he radically changed his position regarding the relationship between apostles and local churches.  It occurred at our June 2006 team retreat when we were discussing possible changes to the Membership Agreement for the churches.

Upon questioning by me, C.J. confidently asserted that “Paul considered churches independent and autonomous in relation to himself.” I could not believe what I was hearing.  I challenged the notion but C.J. stood his ground even though he could provide no biblical defense for his position.  Dave Harvey and Steve Shank were willing to support him.  I immediately knew that was the end of apostolic ministry. 

But something else was driving C.J. to make these changes.  The fear of lawsuits.  Specifically, potential lawsuits against SGM by church members whose families had been the victims of sex abusers.  I had no idea C.J. was aware of pastors in SGM who were protecting predators, obstructing justice, mishandling victims, and putting children in harm’s way.

As a result, C.J. and Tommy Hill (our Comptroller) wanted to put legal distance between SGM and SGM churches/pastors.  Tommy provided us a list of “Legal Definitions for Membership Agreement” with one line explanations that included the following.

“Except for the limited purpose described in the document, no legal relationship exists between churches and Sovereign Grace.  i.e. Churches and Sovereign Grace act independent of each other contractually.  No agency (partnership, employer/employee, subsidiary, etc.) relationship is intended by this agreement.” 

“Commitment to undertake insurance…. Statement from member churches that they would commit to purchase adequate property/liability insurance for their church…. This provides a level of protection from lawsuits to not only the local churches but Sovereign Grace.  If the local churches have adequate insurance, Sovereign Grace is less likely to be a target.” 

“Churches agree to hold Sovereign Grace harmless and keep them exonerated from all loss, damage, liability or expense occasioned or claimed by reasons of acts or neglects of the church or his employees or visitors or of independent contractors engaged or paid by the church. (This would address an issue like a child molestation case in a local church not reaching beyond the local church liability.)” 

These disclaimers will not hold up in the class action lawsuit, however, because they are contradicted by other statements in the Membership Agreement and also by the superior Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. 

The proposed Membership Agreement ended with this line.  “The signatures represent agreement by the member church and Sovereign Grace that they have read this document and commit to the terms and principles contained herein.”  The required signatures were from the SGM Executive Director, the apostolic team member working with the church, and the senior pastor.  At the time, I was responsible for 23 churches.  I knew I could not sign the document.  I had to make my position clear to C.J., Dave and Steve.  I actually wrote it out before communicating it to them.  Here’s what I said. 

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sign the Membership Agreement without violating my conscience because I do not believe churches were governmentally independent and autonomous in relation to apostolic ministry in the New Testament and because I do believe the teaching of Scripture on this subject is still relevant and applicable in our day.  Maybe C.J. could sign the Membership Agreement for churches in my sphere.  If I ever lead a church, maybe the document could be reworded for me.  I’d love to exonerate Sovereign Grace of all legal responsibility for any of my actions, etc.  Perhaps other language besides independent and autonomous could be found to accomplish the same objective.” 

Over the next three years, I was confronted on several occasions by C.J., Dave and Steve for maintaining my biblically held conviction that churches are not autonomous.  I was told I was proud and unteachable for not changing my position like they did.  In so doing, these men abused their authority, judged my heart, and required I change a sincerely held belief they now whole heartedly endorse.  This was one of countless illustrations I wished to bring up at an adjudication hearing but like all the others, it never saw the light of day.  I admit their present day hypocrisy is exasperating. 

All of this positioned C.J. for the first “Together for the Gospel” conference in April 2006 with Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, R.C. Sproul, John Piper and John MacArthur.  He covered up the character issues, did away with apostles, and became a confessing continuationist.  He was now acceptable in the big tent!  But he made one major mistake.  He didn’t grow but pride, deceit, abuse, ambition and hypocrisy did.  Abuses only multiplied.  The rest is history.

In March 2012, John Loftness announced C.J. would be Chairman of the Polity Committee.  In April, Phil Sasser joined him as Co-Chairman.  In June, I wrote a post about SGM continuing to be “C.J. centered.”  In July, C.J. was dropped as Co-Chairman.  It was all for appearance sake.  C.J. was the driving force in setting direction for the committee. 

My convictions regarding apostolic ministry have remained consistent since 1983.  C.J., Dave and Steve have been all over the map.  In 2006, C.J. was adamant about his assertion that the Pauline churches were completely independent and autonomous in relation to Paul’s authority.  Therefore, all churches in SGM must be the same.  As a result, this paragraph was included in the revised Membership Agreement when it came out that September.

“Member churches and Sovereign Grace as independent and autonomously governed entities jointly agree to be responsible for all respective claims, loss, damage, liability, or expenses occasioned or claimed by reason of acts or neglects of their own employees or visitors or of independent contractors. Accordingly each entity whose alleged action or inaction gives rise to third-party claims against the others will indemnify and hold harmless the others for any such claims or expense.”

All that has totally changed.  The Book of Church Order expressly says SGM churches are now governed by Regional Assemblies and other ecclesiastical bodies.  The polity that has been ratified goes FAR BEYOND anything I ever taught, proposed or practiced regarding apostolic ministry.  For ten years (1997-2006), we debated the nature and extent of apostolic authority and the nature and extent of local church autonomy.  In the end, C.J. took up a radical position.  Apostles have absolutely no authority over churches and churches are absolutely autonomous.  Now C.J. has totally contradicted himself by putting forth the Book of Church Order and he has done so without providing an explanation for his radical reversal. 

The polity requirements set forth in the 112 page Book of Church Order exceed the prescriptions of Paul the apostle in the New Testament.  I am serious.  And yet this is all perfectly acceptable when you are starting a denomination.  No one in the Reformed community is charging C.J. or SGM with lording it over the saints or going beyond Scripture.  You can’t believe in living apostles but you can believe in denominational control.  

The day of the ratification vote, Mark Prater posted on the SGM website. “Today is no ordinary day in Sovereign Grace…. It is a historic day…. Today, the churches of Sovereign Grace vote on this polity.  A simple majority carries us into an ecclesiastical union that contains denominational structures with a unifying Book of Church Order.” 

The next day, Mark posted again.  “We are pleased to announce that the Sovereign Grace Proposed Polity and Book of Church Order was ratified yesterday.  Thank you for your partnership in prayer at this significant time in the history of our ecclesiastical union…. God has been good to answer your prayers.  Now let us pray with faith for our future asking God to glorify His great name through our new ecclesiastical union.” 

That night I went to bed feeling like I just returned from a good friend’s funeral.  My heart was grieved and sorrowful.  I pulled “Restoration of the Church – Are You a Pioneer or a Settler?” from my library shelf and began reading.  I recalled fond memories but I also mourned the death of a vision inspired by Scripture.    

C.J. now has his own denomination but he’s had to pay a steep price.  In the process, he lost most of his close friends, stumbled tens of thousands of people by his actions and torn out sections of his Bible.  His celebrity in some circles may be intact but that must leave him empty knowing all the ruin that has followed in his wake.  The extraordinary cover up of abuses and rewriting history that continues can never alleviate a guilty conscience or reconcile relationships. 

C.J. and SGM have fallen so far and so fast over the past three years.  It is hard to comprehend.  But C.J.’s fall is not over.  Nor is SGM’s.  God’s opposition will continue because the same patterns of sin continue.  Becoming a highly controlled denomination doesn’t shield you from God’s discipline and further disintegration.  

Under the new polity system, men will be tempted to jockey for power and compete for positions.  There will be deal making, arm twisting and intrigue.  I’m afraid Sovereign Grace Ministries will be full of political theater.  The most popular and well-connected leaders will climb to the top but once there must be preoccupied on pleasing those below. This much is certain, over the next few months a complicated bureaucracy will descend upon the denomination.  In such a system, the Executive Director won’t have to be a leader.  He can be a politician 

I must be honest.  I don’t view the “new ecclesiastical union” as an answer to prayer for which God should be thanked.  Nor do I see it as an expression of God goodness.  God has permitted it, and he may use it, but it was never his original intent for us.  We once enjoyed a vision for the restoration of the church including apostolic ministry and charismatic activity.  We were full of life and fruit was abundant.  God was with us not opposed to us. 

Addendum - Mike Bullmore

From: Michael Bullmore 
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2004 10:46 AM
To: C.J. Mahaney
Subject: CrossWay and Sovereign Grace

C.J.

We have made great progress over these past months and are now at a point of formally requesting adoption into the Sovereign Grace family of churches.  We see between Sovereign Grace and CrossWay a deeply shared vision of the church and its mission, a deeply shared passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ and its transforming power, and a broad spectrum of deeply shared values… We are very excited by the prospect of family relationship with Sovereign Grace.  We believe this is God’s leading.  CrossWay as a whole is in good faith about this.

As a matter of integrity we feel obligated to communicate one point of doctrinal difference.  We are not sure of the significance of this difference and are submitting it to you and the other guys on the team to determine its level of significance.  It has to do with the use of the term “apostle”.  C.J., I know that you guys have had to deal with this kind of thing countless times and I know it can be wearisome to have to do so.  We are submitting this humbly as a matter of honesty before you… 

I have attached a summary of our present understanding on this issue and we are asking the team to consider it as you consider our request for adoption.

Your grateful friend,

Mike

From: C.J. Mahaney
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2004 11:35 AM
To: Brent Detwiler; Dave Harvey; Steve Shank; Pat Ennis
Subject: FW: CrossWay and Sovereign Grace 

Well, it is certainly good and wise that Mike has not prematurely identified with Sovereign Grace.  I will send you the documents he has sent.  Because of the book I have only glanced at them but the point would appear to me to be a deal breaker though I would hope the Mike and the church could continue to attend everything etc. 

Let me know what you think as soon as possible since I understand he wants to hear from me right away. 

Thanks, 

CJ

From: C.J. Mahaney
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2004 12:52 PM
To: Brent Detwiler
Subject: RE: CrossWay and Sovereign Grace 

I want to study his paper in more detail but if I understand it at first glance it is obviously not an option for us to alter either our understanding of apostolic ministry or allow a church to describe their relationship with us differently. 

From: Dave Harvey
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2004 1:13 PM
To: Emily Wise
Subject: RE: CrossWay and Sovereign Grace 

What a bummer!!!  

Many things to talk about here, but I’ll throw back some random thoughts and then we can discuss more at a time of your choosing.  

  1. Can SGM accept churches that don’t believe scripture supports present-day apostles?  I don’t think we can without the likelihood of losing this distinction.  This one runs pretty deep, and I think it is different than being a “third-waver”.  Yep, it’s a deal-breaker. 
  2. I believe there is probably more evidence in scripture for present-day apostles than there is for the “leadership gift” designation that they are more comfortable with.  That’s a little perplexing, but when it comes to Mike and the gang, I assume that I am missing something. 
  3. This is very sad.  

Dave 

From: C.J. Mahaney
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2004 2:04 PM
To: Mike Bullmore
Cc: Brent Detwiler; Dave Harvey; Steve Shank; Pat Ennis; Jeff Purswell
Subject: RE: CrossWay and Sovereign Grace

Mike,

I was only able to glance at the document and read through it quickly.  If I were you I would want some response as soon as possible.  So I will give you my immediate response but I will need time to study the document and obviously we will need to talk on the phone so I can make sure I understand your position and perspective…

I don’t think it would be wise to formally adopt your church with this difference and that makes me very sad.  Obviously I need to read the paper again and hear from the other guys on the team but I would be surprised if they thought we could either alter our understanding of apostolic ministry or allow a church to describe their relationship with us differently.  And if they did want to adopt this approach they would have a lot of work to do to convince me.  We will certainly discuss this on our next phone call as a team but I want to prepare you for what I anticipate to be the agreement of the team on this issue…

Your friend (see, no change here),

CJ

##

Sovereign Grace Polity Ratified
April 13, 2013

We are pleased to announce that the Sovereign Grace Proposed Polity and Book of Church Order was ratified yesterday.  

Thank you for your partnership in prayer at this significant time in the history of our ecclesiastical union.

The details of the vote were shared with Sovereign Grace Senior Pastors earlier today.  We pass on that correspondence to help inform your continued prayers for us. 


Good Morning Guys,

Yesterday members of the Provisional Council of Elders were involved in an historic day for our family of churches by participating in the polity ratification vote.  I’m eager to send you the results of yesterday’s vote:

  • 67 churches participated in the vote.
  • 62 churches voted “yes” to affirm the polity.
  • 5 churches voted “no” to not affirm the polity.

According to our Book of Church Order, the polity needed a simple majority (51%) to be ratified.  Based on the ballots cast yesterday, the new Sovereign Grace Polity and Book of Church Order was ratified with 92.5% of the vote!!  This morning, let’s give God thanks for providing clarity through the voting process for the results of the vote communicate an overwhelming support of our new Polity and Book of Church Order.  Let’s look to the future with faith in God that as we implement our new polity.  He will give us grace to be even more effective in planting and building churches with the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Next week you will be receiving a “Letter of Intent.”  The signing of the letter indicates that your church intends to be a part of our ecclesiastical union (Sovereign Grace Churches).  The initial deadline to sign the Letter of Intent is May 3rd.  You may sign the Letter of Intent anytime after May 3rd but you won’t be able to participate in or have a vote on the Regional Assembly of Elders or have a vote on the national Council of Elders until you sign the letter.  In the days to come we will also be sending you specific steps for how our new polity will be implemented. 

Thank you for praying for the polity ratification vote.  God has been good to answer your prayers.  Now let us pray with faith for our future asking God to glorify His great name through our new ecclesiastical union. 

Thanking God with you,

Mark Prater


After sending this, Mark desired to add that 6 churches refrained from the vote for various reasons. We thank you for your continued prayers for the work ahead implementing our new polity. 

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” Psalm 115:1

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Mark Prater: This Day In Sovereign Grace History
April 12, 2013

Today is no ordinary day in Sovereign Grace.

For our small family of churches passionate about advancing the Great Commission through church planting, it is a historic day.  At least, we feel that way.  Here’s why:

Over three years ago the Sovereign Grace Leadership Team began a process in reevaluating the polity of our ministry.  This led to much study, dialogue, presentations, debate, drafts, and revisions of a proposed polity and Book of Church Order we hope will serve the churches of Sovereign Grace for decades to come.

Pastors and members alike engaged in searching the Scriptures to reevaluate historically held convictions related to church government.  This was a healthy process allowing us to engage in respectful debate from God’s Word.  The result of this multi-year process was the proposed polity presented February 25th this year.

Today, the churches of Sovereign Grace vote on this polity.  A simple majority carries us into an ecclesiastical union that contains denominational structures with a unifying Book of Church Order.  As Phil Sasser (Chairman of the Polity Committee) wrote, “We have no illusion that that [this] represents a perfect polity, but we believe it gives us the needed structure and guidelines to begin a new chapter in Sovereign Grace’s history…we anticipate that the Council of Elders will continue to make changes and refinements for years to come.”

We owe much to the Leadership Team, Board of Directors, Polity Committee, Sovereign Grace pastors and members for bringing us to this day of voting upon a proposed polity.

As we’ve given special attention to praying for the unity of our churches these past 10 days, we appeal for your fervent prayers especially today.  We are confident that whatever the outcome God is working for our good and his glory, even in the challenges we face.  We are assured that God is on his throne doing all that he pleases and that he is the one building his church.

Thanks for your participation and your prayers.


Mark is the acting director responsible for church planting and church care for Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Mark has served as an elder at Covenant Fellowship Church since 2002.  In 1996, he led a church-planting team to Pittsburgh in order to begin Providence Church.  Mark has also served as the director for the Sovereign Grace Ministries Church Planting Group and regional representative overseeing the Northeast region of churches in the United States.  He and Jill have three married daughters and a growing number of grandchildren.

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