It appears that after nearly three years since the sex abuse scandal and cover-up involving several Sovereign Grace Ministries leaders, chief among them C.J. Mahaney, things in the denomination have not changed. Sure SGM has restructured, becoming more of a formal denomination and C.J. has been replaced as head of the denomination by Mark Prater, but when it comes to manipulation of the sheep by those in power have things really changed?
As evidence of the ongoing manipulation of the members by those in authority in SGM I submit an article published on March 12, 2014 by Mark Prater on the SGM blog. (As an aside, I have issues with blogs that don’t allow comments. They strike me as either cowardly or arrogant. Cowardly in that they are afraid that their opinions might be refuted if others were allowed to comment, or arrogant in that they believe what they say is irrefutable truth, the final word, if you will.)
Prater, in the longstanding tradition of C.J. Mahaney, chooses to use an athlete to lend credence to the gospelly-centered lesson which he would like the SGM faithful to take to heart. It seems Rashard Mendenhall has chosen to retire from the NFL while in the prime of his career. Mendenhall lists several reasons for the decision; what appears to me to be one of the minor ones, mean-spirited criticism via public internet forums, is the one Prater seizes upon to make his case that our words should always be positive, building people up, not tearing them down, and giving grace to those who hear them. Reading between the lines I can only guess that those in positions of authority within the SGM denomination have grown frustrated with the ongoing criticism of C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries found all over blogs and twitters. Prater is undoubtedly also aware that looming in the near future is the criminal sexual abuse trial of Nate Morales. This trial threatens to bring to the light of day a host of ugly facts that will not reflect positively on SGM leadership; therefore a preemptive strike, cautioning the rank and file against negative speech, seems like a good strategic maneuver to limit, as much as possible, damaging truths being spread across social media. Prater likely wishes he possessed papal authority so he could issue a papal bull announcing “accursed is anyone who speaks, writes or reads anything negative about SGM.” Lacking that, he is savvy enough to not come right out and say it, instead quoting a few bible verses with the not-so-subtle message that negative words about SGM leadership will not bode well for the faithful on judgment day. Below I quote the pertinent sections of Prater’s article:
“As I read Rashard’s article, I was reminded again that our words matter, especially for Christians. The words that we use whether spoken or written matter to God. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 12:36 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Words matter so much to God that He will ask us to give an account for them on that Day!
But do we lose that biblical perspective when we communicate our words, as Rashard says, “behind our computers and smartphones?” Living as Christians in a virtual world, we must be vigilant not to be careless with our words, especially when we are sitting behind our computers, or tweeting our thoughts from our phones. In fact, the words we use as Christians are to be distinctly different from the “bold coarseness” culture that Rashard describes on the Internet. Scripture says our words are to build others up, not tear them down as found in passages like Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Our words matter because God uses them to give grace to those who hear.
Rashard’s counter-NFL-culture decision to retire at 26 is an opportunity for all of us to consider whether the words we use are counter-cultural. Do the words we use, whether spoken, written, posted or tweeted build others up? Do they give grace to the hearer? May we be a family of churches who live aware that our words do matter! And may our words bring the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to all who hear or read them.”
I can also quote a few bible verses which would seem to counter that everything spoken by a Christian is to be only “happy speech”:
“The first to plead his case seems just, until another comes and examines him.”
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James,he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?””
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish?”
“Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.”
“I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!”
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”
-2 Corinthians 4:2
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
“Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice.”
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
-Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
“I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” -Ezekiel 34:15-16
“The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.”
For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
-2 Corinthians 2:17
“Putting away falsehood, speak the truth each one with his neighbor”
“Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them.”
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
In our efforts to proclaim truth and expose error “happy speech” cannot always cut it. As Kenneth L. Gentry states:
“The progress of the orthodox apprehension of truth almost always has been over sincere and spirited debate.” -“House Divided: The Break-Up of Dispensational Theology”
In the same book Gary North, a Christian scholar not known for his “happy speech” has this to say:
“I have tried to model my polemical writings after Martin Luther’s tracts against his theological opponents, of whom there were many. Had he confined his criticisms to a strictly academic defense of his 95 theses, he would not be remembered by anyone today except a handful of specialists in church history, who would probably be Roman Catholics. (Have you ever read the 95 theses? Yes, I mean even you seminary professors.) Had Luther persisted stubbornly in a purely academic strategy, he would eventually have been burned at the stake. But he understood the possibilities for radical institutional change that were offered by the printing press, and he pioneered the polemical pamphlet. You can find few examples in subsequent history that match Luther’s tracts for invective, vitriol, and contempt for one’s opponents. I am only a pale imitation of Luther in this regard. Yet the heirs of Luther’s Reformation click their tongues and shake their heads at my style, as if they did not owe their very freedom to criticize me to the social and political effects of Luther’s pamphlets. They act as though they believe that the Reformation was little more than a scheduled debate in the faculty lounge… Predictably, this practice has not won me Th.D.-holding friends or influenced tenured people. It has also embarrassed some of my colleagues within the Reconstructionist movement, who still hope that a place for them on campus lies ahead, if only I would substitute verbal pleasantries for my practice of calling a spade a spade — especially a spade that the user fully intends to dig theonomy’s collective theological grave. They do not recognize the plain fact which our opponents do recognize: this is a war to the death of rival views of Christianity. No prisoners will be taken on this intellectual battlefield. Van Til took no prisoners either, which is why he was hated and feared… P.S. Neither Dr. Bahnsen nor Dr. Gentry is responsible for my “unchristian, offensive, insensitive, uncharitable, confrontational, argumentative, arrogant, unscholarly” style, as it has been described on occasion. They are both certified for seminary employment. As for me, I prefer off-campus bonfires.” -Gary North, “House Divided: The Break-Up of Dispensational Theology”
Stephen Smith, in his excellent blog “Liberty For Captives” states:
“In some authoritarian climates, Matthew 18:15-17 is unfortunately used as biblical license to enforce the “can’t talk” rule. The “can’t talk” rule silences people by labeling them as the problem if they notice a problem! If they speak out loud about a problem, they are the problem! …Speech is articulated thought. Articulated thought calls to action. Action shapes reality. Therefore, whoever controls speech, controls reality. Would be dictators learn this in Tyranny 101 class. By using Mt. 18 as a speech-control template (through well-meaning ignorance, conflict avoidance, or malice) leaders can manipulate a group of individuals and thus control and shape a community’s experiential reality: a reality that too often accrues to the material, social, or psychological benefit of leadership.”
Here are some other words written by Rashard Mendenhall in an article titled “Having An Open Mind.” Mark Prater would do well to consider them:
“However I think our pride becomes a problem because our natural tendency is to side with people who think like us, act like us and agree with us. At the same time we push away people who disagree with us, challenge us, question what we believe, or just don’t see things the way that we do. We often have the attitude that even if a person didn’t grow up in the same neighborhood, with the same parents, and share the same religious and political background as me, they should see things exactly the way that I do because I’m right basically 95 percent of the time! It may sound ridiculous, but is our mentality really very far from that?
The problem with having such a closed mind is that nothing can ever get in! So in your own mind, where some of us never consider the possibility that we are wrong, you will actually remain correct most if not all of the time. But when we’re not open to learning something new or hearing a different perspective, we can think one thing and actually be dangerously far off.”
As Matt Redmond has said: “I don’t want to be afraid of offending the powerful but I do want to be afraid of not caring for the marginal.” And again: “The older I get the more I believe it is not the strong with the answers who we should be listening to. But the weak who’ve had to ask all the hard questions in search of strength beyond themselves.”
So my fellow Christians, especially those of you who attend a Sovereign Grace Church, don’t be intimidated into silence by leaders attempting to prevent you from voicing your opinion on matters of concern to you. The history of Christianity is one of individuals who have had the courage to voice their convictions in the face of powerful forces who would prefer they remain silent.
Update: I have just been pointed to this article that highlights the effects blogs have had in exposing abuse in Christian organizations.