Update: As of September 23, 2016, the brave leaders of 9Marx have removed all comments from Jonathan Leeman’s 9Marx article! I had a screen shot of 2 comments, which you can find at the end of this article.
“Across the country, parishioners are now being challenged to take oaths, perform vows and sign covenants. These things would have been unheard of in generations past for one simple reason. These things used to be forbidden, or only permitted under the gravest of circumstances. A few decades ago churches founded their beliefs sturdily upon the rocks of historical creeds, documents that have withstood the test of time and human whim, and which have imparted to each new generation an understanding of the major tenets of the Gospel faith. Now, in our latter days of dumbed-down Christianity, a minimal number of people in the pews know the creeds, have studied them, or even know about them!
…Oaths and covenants are a new form of legalism entering the church like a flood. They require more of us than Scripture requires. It is a horrible new form of bondage, accomplished in the name of a new church for the 21st century. This is a “transformation” not a “reformation.” It would return the church to the dark ages of oppressive State Church. This movement did not arise from God, but from the rapacious desires of evil men.
There is a signature line and a date at the bottom of these covenants for people to sign, indicating their commitment to abide by this new church structure. Some churches require that their members sign the covenant yearly. Others only require it upon membership.
If you have been caught up in this whole extravaganza and are marching in this parade, it is time to slow down, stop and reflect. If you have taken an oath to one of these new covenants, you can repent. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ does not require so much of us.”
“The Shepherding Movement Comes of Age” by Lynn and Sarah Leslie.
“9Marks Ministries is excellent at training pastors to use cloak and dagger techniques to “reform” existing churches because they have come to be experts in the field….On the surface, 9Markers presents acceptable Christian principals, but to be fooled you must pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
“9Marks Leadership Linked to Calvinism,” – Churchfight.com blog
It is evident that the 9Marx parachurch organization has been experiencing an increasing amount of push-back by the proletariat; well deserved I might add. Victims of their heavy-handed, authoritarian abuses (of which I number myself) are taking to social media in ever-increasing numbers to let their fellow pew-sitters hear about the outrageous abuses they have suffered in churches who have implemented the 9Marx manifesto. The video above was a made to advertise a break-out session at the T4G 2016 conference held this past April in Louisville. The conference marked C.J. Mahaney’s return to big time “Christian” celebrity status and it attracted around 10,000 individuals, many of them pastors. Most of the conference-goers demonstrated no concern that Mahaney, credibly charged with blackmail and covering-up sexual abuse of children in his denomination, was returned to the stage with the blessing and aid of the celebrity preachers they all idolize. 9Marx leader Mark Dever and his trusty lieutenant, Jonathan Leeman, saw this as a perfect chance to indoctrinate the pliable young preachers into the 9Marx way while reassuring them that the horror stories of abuse they may have heard about were simply errors of a few overzealous young preachers who lacked wisdom. (One might rightly wonder what this says about Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, ground zero for 9Marx indoctrination, and the institution of choice for many Mark Dever wannabees.) I give credit to Dever and Leeman for their video. They engage their critics head-on in the folksy, disarming manner that Dever is known for.
There is one problem with Dever’s narrative; the abusive, heavy-handed authoritarian mannerisms prevalent among some 9Marx pastors cannot be relegated solely to the young and inexperienced.
I quit United Christian Church of Dubai over matters of conscience. One major takeaway I gained from my time at the 9Marx United Christian Church of Dubai is that I will never again join a church that requires a “membership contract” or “membership covenant.” You will find these covenants are being pushed by 9Marx and are becoming ever more prevalent among evangelical churches. I do not believe that they can be justified biblically. The main purpose of these contracts seems to be to discipline members who have fallen out of the good graces of church leaders. They particularly like to utilize the clause “We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.” I have had this used against me when I quit UCCD. UCCD church leadership did not want to remove me from their membership roster because I chose to attend an Anglican church. I was told by a UCCD elder that the Rector of the local Anglican church was not even a Christian and therefore I was not in compliance with this clause!
In the end, common sense prevailed and they backed down from this crazy accusation. However, I have another friend who asked to be removed from the membership roster of UCCD because he no longer believed the institutional church model was biblically correct. He chose to go to a home church. It boiled down to an issue of conscience. UCCD excommunicated him, essentially proclaiming they have the right to bind a man’s conscience.
The senior pastor of UCCD is not some young, inexperienced man. I would guess he is in his late forties, a former lawyer who worked for a powerful North Carolina Senator. He was converted by the direct efforts of Mark Dever, went to SBTS to obtain his M.Div and then returned to Capitol Hill Baptist Church where he served as an assistant pastor under Mark Dever for several years prior to accepting the senior pastor’s job in Dubai. Dr. Albert Mohler gave him an award for distinguished work as an SBTS graduate. He remains good friends with Mark Dever, talks to him frequently and has had him in Dubai on three or four occasions for seminars. All this to say that Dever’s characterization of problematic 9Marx pastors does not reside solely with the young, over-enthusiastic pastors short on life experience. I, therefore, conclude there must be something systemically wrong with 9Marx teachings, particularly as it relates to church membership and discipline.
We are now six months removed from the T4G conference and the break-out session Dever and Leeman conducted on 9Marx doctrines. It would appear that many pastors who subscribe to the 9Marx doctrines are still not getting it right, as stories of abuse continue to surface. The 9Marx moniker seems to be gaining usage among the proletariat while the official 9Marks moniker is losing respect. Time for Dever’s lieutenant, Jonathan Leeman, to spring back into action and attempt some “brand enhancement.”
This brings me to the impetus for today’s blog. As one who has been combatting both physical and spiritual abuse in the evangelical church, I have been privileged to make many new friends. Many of them are victims and/or family members of victims. One such woman wrote a book review on Amazon’s website on Mark Dever’s “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.” Below is a screen shot of her review.
In theory, 9 Marks seemed like a viable plan for how a church should be run. I was a member of a 9 Marks church in Northern California, which I will never do again. In practice, 9 Marks creates an insufferable, authoritarian, rigid, legalistic, abusive, controlling, spiritually abusive church. Adult members are infantilized and have no say in the running of the church, power is concentrated at the top (and the leaders, pastors/elders have no one to make them tow the line), and legitimate questions to church authorities are punished with threats of being factious, deceived, unsaved, and finally with excommunication and shunning (akin to the Salem Witch Trials). “Church Discipline” is applied capriciously and to dissenters. A godly doctor at my church (married for 40+ years) was ordered to be excommunicated and shunned for raising legitimate questions to the pastors/elders about how the church was being run. It was heartbreaking and evil. He had done no moral wrong. Next, I was ordered excommunicated and shunned where I had been a member for 8+ years. My “crime”? I’d discovered a convicted sex offender on Megan’s List in our church while I was doing research for a prosecutor. My pastors/elders will not protect children from him, said he’s “harmless”, and did not tell all adults. They said he was “coming off Megan’s List”; the California Attorney General called that “total lies”.
Many of Dever’s own former church members, on the internet, have said that they were placed under “church discipline” and ordered to be excommunicated and shunned because they simply wanted to leave CHBC and CHBC wouldn’t let them. Dever has been crticized for giving shelter to Pastor CJ Mahaney instead of having him ‘face the music’ about the horrific abuses in his own congregation. After 9 Marks, you will need to buy a book on spiritual abuse, like The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen or Healing Spiritual Abuse by Ken Blue.
Note: I bought the earlier edition of this 9 Marks book.
Note: For a full description of what Grace experienced at her 9Marx church check out her blog here.
I would say she went easy on her ex-church. She discovered a convicted sex offender is attending the church and questions why the pastors and elders have not brought this to the attention of the adults. Their response is outrageous! They lie to her, saying he is harmless and coming off Megan’s list, refuse to alert the membership to the perverts presence, and then excommunicate her. Are you kidding me? They should be sued for reckless endangerment of church members. As a minimum, all the men who took part in this travesty of justice should be removed from their positions. This is not easy to do in a 9Marx, elder led church. Typically the senior pastor surrounds himself with a pack of yes-men for elders and the congregation has an impossible task of removing the tyrant. This being the case the godly members have two options, walk away from their church or cease financial support.
Remember, in the video above, Dever and Leeman are attempting to sell us the narrative that the abusive leadership style is just with a few young, overly enthusiastic pastors. Grace’s pastor, like mine, was in his late forties.
Leeman utilizes this book review as a teaching moment for the 9Marx faithful, after all, in the video above he states “We’re all going to be in a kind of a learning process about how to do these things well, and I think this is just a part of the growth process for all of us.” Dever then chimes in with a “Yeah, amen.” Aside from the troubling fact that 9Marx church members are relegated to the status of lab rats while the 9Marx boys are engaged in their learning process, what type of learning process is required to know that, as a pastor, you must warn church members of a convicted sex offender in their midst? If you don’t understand that you have no business being a pastor.
We suffer no shortage of men in the ministry that are sorely lacking any real world experience. Also sorely lacking is a lick of common sense. They have spent their lives in academia and once they graduate they want to write books and speak at conferences telling us how it’s all to be done.
“Woe also to you experts in the law! You load people with burdens that are hard to carry, yet you yourselves don’t touch these burdens with one of your fingers.” That’s Jesus speaking, not me. Check it out – Luke 11:46
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s examine what Leeman has to say. Below is a screen shot from his article. I suggest you read the article, which can be found here.
Let me begin with the positive. The following are some comments Leeman made that I readily agree with.
“Something I appreciate about Mark Dever is that he’s not short on strong opinions, but if you spend any time with him, you’ll discover that he is one of the stronger advocates of Christian freedom I know. I’d even say he cultivates a sanctified irreverence toward so many evangelical false pieties. We’d do well to do the same.”
I like guys with strong opinions, I acknowledged this in an article I wrote two years ago concerning Dever’s views on baptism. Glad to hear he cultivates a sanctified irreverence toward so many evangelical false pieties. I don’t need to do much cultivating, mine are pretty much thriving!
“We want to cultivate the humility and freedom of honest uncertainty. The person who has difficulty saying, “I don’t know,” in the best case, will just come across as a know-it-all. In the worse case, they will give answers where Scripture doesn’t actually give them, and impose on people what should not be imposed.”
I wonder if Leeman gardens as a hobby? He seems to like to cultivate! I agree with the statement above, just not sure I see much uncertainty emanating from 9Marx.
“The abusive use of authority, as much as anything, is about wanting control and respect. It roots in a kind of idolatry and godlessness.”
True statement. I and hundreds of others who formerly attended 9Marx churches can testify to this.
“Mark 10: Beware of giving more authority to your heroes than to the Bible.”
Amen to that Mr. Leeman. I know of at least 10,000 pastors that need to “cultivate” this truth.
“There’s a temptation young pastors and 9Marks-types are susceptible to: we can love our vision of what a church should be more than we love the people who comprise it.”
Yep, again, hundreds of hurting, abused former 9Marx members will attest to this fact. This may be a good place to insert another 9Marx horror story that I have knowledge of. A small baptist church I attended prior to moving to Dubai was doing well. There were about 150 members. After I had moved to Dubai the pastor left for a bigger church. He was replaced by a young 9Marx devotee who shortly thereafter brought in an assistant pastor who was rabidly 9Marx. Within about 2 years they managed to decimate the church. Many people left, many deeply hurt. Membership is now 25-30 people. The two pastors have moved on, where they can continue their learning curve at some other unfortunate church’s expense. My old church is struggling to keep the doors open.
The following statements I have issues with.
“Anecdotally, most (or all?) of the unfortunate cases of church discipline I have heard about in recent years have occurred in non-congregational churches, where the elders are free to impose their will on the congregation. I’m sure congregational churches have failed in this area as well.”
I disagree with you on this Mr. Leeman. Most I have heard about, including the two I have personal knowledge of, are congregational. Of course, the definition of “congregational” varies greatly. Your friend at UCCD claims to be congregational, but in reality, it is (to quote a former member in my care group) a “benevolent dictatorship.” This from a guy who sincerely loved the pastor, but he called a spade a spade. At the time I agreed with his assessment, but I would now drop the first word of the two-word description.
“I don’t often hear criticism with language this strong; maybe one or two other times.”
I am not surprised Mr. Leeman. You need to get out more. Seriously, though, I would guess you spend the majority of your time with guys who treat you like MacArthur is treated above. Additionally, many in your tribe don’t want to hear from people like me on social media. Tim Challies no longer allows comments on his blog. Albert Mohler probably never did. And then there is this:
Note: Check out this post to see why Thabiti Anyabwile blocked me. (Anyabwile is a Gospel Coalition Council member , frequent speaker at T4G conferences, and served as an assistant pastor under Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He now is senior pastor at Anacostia River Church.)
“We should be very reluctant to require anything not expressly set down in Scripture. For instance, the leaders of the Shepherding Movement of the 1970s were rightly concerned about the weak commitment, shallow community, and general worldliness characteristic of so many American churches. But they wrongly required things not required by Scripture, such as membership in a house-group or having life-decisions “covered” by their But they wrongly required things not required by Scripture, such as membership in a house-group or having life-decisions “covered” by their house-group leader, elder, or pastor. Decisions to be covered included where to live and work, whom to marry, or even whether to make a doctor’s appointment. They also adopted other unbiblical authority structures.
Now, you and I might disagree about what Scripture requires. Fine. But let’s agree that’s the standard.
…Admittedly, a church might require a few things unspecified by Scripture. Our church requires membership classes and interviews and signing a statement of faith to join the church, for instance. It’s our judgment that these are prudential forms for implementing the biblical element of church membership. You have to adopt some form, after all. The Bible doesn’t quite say how to join a church. But beyond these few things, I cannot think of anything else we require not required in Scripture.”
Herein lies the crux of the matter Mr. Leeman. You and I agree that the standard is what Scripture requires. I also agree with your statement that “we should be very reluctant to require anything not expressly set down in Scripture.” Your membership classes and membership contracts are very hard to justify Scripturally, I am of the opinion that they cannot be justified. I would even say formal church membership in a local church cannot be justified. Membership contracts along with the misapplication of church discipline are where the majority of the problems within 9Marx churches originate.
A friend of mine wrote the paragraphs below. He states much more eloquently than I could ever hope to do, the problems with church covenants/contracts.
“I’m not aware of a single instance in scripture where there is a covenant between individual men, whether monopleuric or dipleuric, that results in these men uniting and functioning as the people of God, worshiping in spirit and in truth. The efforts to justify this practice scripturally are so poor in hermeneutical principal that it baffles the mind. One of the primary justifications for this practice was the appointment of deacons, in Acts, to properly minister to the church’s widows in Jerusalem. The argument is that because they could identify the widows, this implies church membership; therefore membership is biblical and necessarily implies a man-made agreement. Additional arguments of a similar vein will be used (the appointment of elders, the expulsion of the sinner in first Corinthians, etc.). Each of these arguments requires a quantum leap in hermeneutics and exegesis that borders on the ridiculous. All other attempts that I’ve seen as justifying this practice scripturally are equally unsupportable by any acceptable hermeneutical method. I firmly believe that this is a fleshly attempt at making “covenant members” fulfill their biblical responsibilities towards one another and towards the lost world in which they live by working towards the pastor’s vision. It is akin to the Judaizers in Galatians requiring circumcision, with even less justification, because there was at least a way to use the Old Testament scriptures to attempt to justify that practice. No such scriptures exist that can be misapplied to justify this practice. The true children of Abraham, the true circumcision, the true Israel, the true children of God will worship in spirit and truth through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, by God’s sovereign design out of a changed and thankful heart.
In my research of the current emphasis on the accusation of radical individualism if one dares question leadership’s strategy or disagrees in matters of conscience in the practice of one’s faith and the disturbing trend of many churches to require a membership contract as if somehow this will eradicate the dreaded individualism and enforce community, I’ve found two constants:
- Roman Catholic literature is filled with the similar terminology and consistently emphasizes the idea that the Reformation and the Reformers individualized the nature of faith, conscience, and practice; it considers this as an attack on the true nature of the church and as detrimental to the true practice of Christianity: a Christianity that they define as a faith that is wholly centered in and subject to the authority of the centralized church and its traditions.
- The same ideas and terminology are found throughout Marxist/Communist literature and in this literature, individualism is a detriment to the healthy function of a society and results in capitalism and greed. Oh, and by the way, anyone who dares question the decisions of leadership in these systems are purged as well (run over by the bus?).
It appears to me that radical individualism/narcissism has been confused with the individualism of the reformers: Christians who dare use their mind, study the scriptures, the church fathers, and writings of old, daring to be the Berean, asking questions of authoritarian leadership when they are operating outside of scripture in faith and practice. It’s as if they are undoing the reformation, not by reuniting with Roman Catholicism, but by creating a new centralized, authoritative structure where pastors are “little popes” who speak ex-cathedra and establish divine direction and practice for the congregants.”
“Covenants, Contracts, Community, Catholicism, Communism and Extra-biblical Visions (or The Shepherding Movement: Alive and Well in 2014), solafivereformed blog, August 21, 2014
Below is a screen shot of two of the comments removed from the 9Marks website. Typical of the M.O. of these boys. They cannot allow free discussion of ideas, but must be in control at all times. When they don’t like the conversation they delete it. This is a perfect example of how their authoritative, controlling culture starts at the very top of the organization.
Five Reasons to Say “No” to a Church Covenant
Is 9Marks the New Shepherding Movement?