“Controversy for the sake of truth is a divine command.”
Dr. Walter Martin
“When a group influences its members to trust in the leaders and discourages criticism of the leadership, it creates a lethal combination! Errors can be overlooked and leaders can get away with almost anything.”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (p. 57). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Last month Sovereign Grace Ministries held their annual Pastor’s Conference. They are a denomination suffering from the effects of a sexual abuse scandal followed by what seems to be a major conspiracy among denomination leaders to keep the story from going public. The story continues to unfold as more details slowly come to light. The latest ghastly story of abuse and cover-up was revealed by Brent Detwiler and can be read here. Detwiler’s post is devastating to Covenant Fellowship Church, their leadership and the whole Sovereign Grace denomination. SGM continues to attempt to put a positive spin on things, but it’s rather like putting lipstick on a pig. Approximately 40 churches have left the denomination. The churches that have remained have reportedly suffered large losses in their membership and financial contributions are way down.
C.J. Mahaney, the former leader of the denomination prior to being forced to resign his position from all the negative fallout, did not have a visible role in the latest conference.
Mark Prater, current head of the denomination, spoke at the conference. You can listen to his full speech here.
I thought his speech was an excellent demonstration that the men in leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries still refuse to acknowledge their sin and, in what seems fairly obvious to an outside observer, the judgment of God against their denomination.
Prater attempts to spin the last 3 years as malicious, slanderous attacks from the evil bloggers, and the devil; all untrue and aimed at ruining their organization. He claims God has gotten the victory for them, they have grown stronger and wiser and love their fellow SGM’ers more deeply than ever before, and they are now poised to do even greater things for the advance of “the gospel.” To which I can only say that I now understand what made Prater such a successful salesman of pharmaceuticals in his prior occupation. I would add that to believe his spin you would need to either be under the influence of some powerful narcotics or else drinking deeply from the pitcher of SGM Kool-aid.
Prater also clearly suggests to the audience of SGM pastors that they need to preach strongly and frequently to their members of the evils of slander. This should include not only those who are purveyors of it, but also those who receive it. Translation: your members should speak no evil of SGM, hear no evil of SGM and see no evil in SGM.
Well, this all strikes me as, at best, the ramblings of an abusive leader, symptomatic of the whole leadership team. It shows Sovereign Grace Ministries to be a very unhealthy denomination. Not that you didn’t know that prior to Prater’s speech, but this definitely shows that the denomination will continue their downward spiral. There is absolutely no sign of repentance, which is what would be needed prior to any hope of restoration.
What follows are 4 excerpts from Prater’s speech. Each is followed by quotes from a book titled “Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse.” The book is authored by Mary Alice Chrnalogar and I think she has some very good insights into abusive churches.
“Many controlling groups give the impression that, if somehow you are not falling into line, then the leaders will have to answer to God for your failure. It is as if they are saying: “You’ve got to work with me because I’ve got to stand before God for you. So you have to listen to what I’m telling you.” Sadly, this controlling idea has become reality for thousands in the family of God. You should understand that the meaning of these Greek words translated as “obey” and “rule” doesn’t mean leaders are to rule over our lives,…
There is a big difference between slander and disagreement. We are not to spread false information, but if our leaders are not following the ways of God, we are free to respectfully disagree. But, as you have seen, in some [churches] there is pressure not to disagree. Paul (1 Timothy 5:19-20) indicates that church leaders can be rebuked, and Paul allows us to disagree without being called factious (1 Cor. 14:29).
Compliance is another characteristic of abusive leadership. Submission is equated with compliance with leaders; disagreement and dissent are rarely tolerated. Disciples who speak critically about leaders are frequently labeled as rebellious, divisive, factious, or slanderous. For you to be counted as a slanderer in an abusive [church], your words don’t have to mean anything false or malicious. In these [churches], slander can mean anything negative that is said about the leadership.
Too many Christians are being taught that if one is submitted, one should not care what the leadership does since God placed them in authority. Leaders are accountable to God. This, of course, is the kind of obedience displayed by the followers of Jim Jones and David Koresh, and it flies in the face of what the Scripture counsels: “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21; see also 1 Cor. 14:29).”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (p. 44-45, 50). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“In abusive [churches], we repeatedly see two things considered extremely important: (1) control of criticism and negative feedback; and (2) teaching people to obey even when they don’t feel right about it because “the [pastor] knows best.”
When a group influences its members to trust in the leaders and discourages criticism of the leadership, it creates a lethal combination! Errors can be overlooked and leaders can get away with almost anything.”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (p. 57). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“Controlling groups really make a big deal out of being persecuted. Perhaps your group does. This conditioning produces a strong reaction when something negative has been said about your group or its leaders. This emotional reaction usually causes you to discredit those who speak out against the group, its policies, your leaders, or their teachings. “This is persecution,” you cry. You don’t think about it, you don’t analyze it. You conclude it’s persecution. This is the language of non-thought. Once you believe that almost all criticism is a form of persecution, you won’t be able to see that you are being manipulated to ignore reality.”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (p. 135). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“The blind man turns his face toward your voice. “They are verbally criticizing your leader. Excuse me, but it is incredible to me that you think of that as persecution. Not one person has asked you to deny Christ. No one has tortured you! My brother, no one has cut off your arm, starved you, or gouged out your eyes. Do you really think mere words are persecution?” His empty eyes look you in the face as he says, “Brother, let me tell you the meaning of Christianity. When people criticize you, love them, be kind to them. You are not to think that they are persecuting you when they criticize your church leaders. Peter and Paul were criticized by my brothers and sisters many times, but our mutual respect and love in Christ was never in question!” Why do controlling groups and cults have to impress upon their members that criticism of leaders is persecution? To more fully control or influence members.”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (p. 137). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“If Jesus didn’t teach us to blindly trust the teachers, He certainly did not want blind loyalty given to them. Jesus never taught that men must have loyalty to His messengers because He knew that there would be wolves in His flock too. Jesus wanted loyalty to the teachings of God that were passed down through Moses. Jesus knew that teaching trust and loyalty to teachers would be dangerous because eventually there would be false teachers.”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (p. 32). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“Demands to trust disciplers, accusations that openly criticizing leadership is sin, requirements of loyalty to leaders, demands for commitments not to miss meetings, etc.—none of these appear in the Bible. What we do see in the Bible is room for critical thinking and disagreement with leaders.”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (p. 39). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“Some leaders isolate the words, “no divisions among you,” and “be perfectly united in mind and thought.” By doing this, they can then jump to the conclusion that we are never to disagree with the group—to do otherwise always causes divisions.”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (pp. 141-142). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“When a group stresses “no division” instead of the facts, watch out! They are asking you to be mindless and just accept their view. If you look at all these ideas (i.e., division, unity, being of one mind, being led of the Spirit, obedience, and submission) in a controlling discipleship, you will see a tendency to reduce all of them to a general meaning of don’t keep your opinion but accept ours. Thus your freedom to think and act is restricted. Conversely, disciplers of these groups will almost always perceive you as a virtuous person if you consistently give up your opinion for theirs and acquiesce to their requests. For all of these reasons, “independent” is now a negative word. It means you have different ideas from the leaders and want to keep yours. “Falling away” is another label commonly used to describe those who don’t want to keep the same viewpoints as the leaders. Being accused of “not surrendering” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with not wanting to give up sin, but rather not wanting to give up your opinions for those of your leaders! Are you getting the picture? Everything is starting to mean: Agree with us, think like us, and speak like us. To them, that is what’s right; whereas, going against leaders is almost always viewed as “wrong.””
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (pp. 142-143). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“Some groups make a big deal out of the number of new baptisms for the month. There is a real “pep rally” mentality to pump up the members to get new recruits. They brag about the number of baptisms; but you’ll seldom hear them discuss the fact that they may be losing old members as fast as they baptize new ones. The reason these groups don’t speak about turnover is that their general membership might question why so many old members no longer attend. Members might begin to question the group’s superiority. Leaders want the group to look good. They don’t want to expose any of their weaknesses.”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (pp. 111-112). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“I often hear such phrases as, “This is where I met the Lord.” Then no matter how bad things become, these disciples won’t even think about leaving. Some tell me of a healing that took place, which led them to stay in the group even though they were having problems there. Even members of dangerous groups tell me that they stay in their group because of healings and conversions. Finding the Lord in a particular group or receiving a healing does not prove that this is where God wants you to stay. The good that you found is wonderful, but you need to realize that evil can also exist in a place where good things happen (Eccl. 3:16 NASB). If you see your group has become darker, it may be that God is showing that you need to discuss those problems with others in your church. Then, if that doesn’t resolve the problems, look into other churches. If you have allowed your leaders and your teachers to convince you to think all other churches are “dead,” then you will have a hard time even thinking about leaving.
If you are a member of a controlled environment, you usually will not allow yourself to discuss thoroughly criticism about your group. You may not be willing to validate factual information. You may try to discredit negative information so as not to have even one critical thought in your mind about your group because you think you might be “doubting God.” What makes me think I know how your mind works? I’ve been there. It is normal for you to have a few complaints about situations in your church or group. When you don’t voice one critical thought about your group, big red flags should go up!”
Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2010-05-11). Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches That Abuse (p. 178). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.