Apr 03 2009

To Reform or Not to Reform

By John Immel

I started on this article over two months ago, long before the current conversation on www.sgmrefuge.com with Protestant Knight (AKA ~John) advocating reform and Jim’s post Let’s take a poll (1) started on March 23 of ’09. It has undergone substantial changes from the original drafts, but as a writer the time comes to abandon a project. That time has come for To Reform or Not to Reform. What started as a 1500-ish word post turned into this 24-page 9,500 word behemoth with end notes.

I’m a wordy sort…what can I say?

This is a Sovereign Grace Ministries (2) related post. While many of you dear readers have no connection with SGM directly and therefore may be inclined to skip this post, please don’t. The concepts within this post are related to the current trend in American history on the political and religious fronts. Indeed, these fronts are inseparable.

I will say this until everyone agrees with me: SGM is a bit player in a MUCH larger societal event. They are anecdotal for the resurrection of long since disgraced, corrupt, destructive, intellectual assumptions. But tragically, people have either lost sight of those realities, never knew them, have been bullied into accepting them, or are willfully ignoring the outworking of those assumptions.

Lots of material will follow. I am setting out to connect a lot of dots. It would be good to read To Reform or Not to Reform a few times. As you digest, visit related posts noted (end noted) throughout the document. I make shorthand reference to a number of concepts that I dealt with in greater detail in other posts. Follow the links and read those posts to help in rounding out the commentary.

Good blog posts are short-ish with narrow focus. This is none of that. This is a long one folks, and since the Internet is a hard place to read long bodies of text, let alone digest a detailed progression of thought, I decided to offer this as a PDF download.  (Click here) Distribute as you see fit: Friends, Family, SGM rank and file. Give the gift that keeps on giving, hilarity, food for thought, or…apoplexy.


Be forewarned, this post is not for the faint of heart or the faint of mind.

Peace out,

John Immel


To Reform or not to Reform?  That is the question.

Yeah, me and Bill Shakespeare…

I’ve been mulling, also known as canoodling, as I am wont to do over Sovereign Grace Ministries and their (apparently) endless string of tyrannies. Actually, better said, I habitually mull over spiritual tyranny and sundry jokes. At the moment, SGM just happens to be at the forefront of that particular preoccupation–the tyranny and the jokes. (You other tyrants I will visit shortly).

It is the cry of many hearts in the blogosphere that SGM reform. Many of you hope that the leadership in that bunch takes a good long look in the mirror and say, “Eureka!”  or “John Calvin!” or “I could have had a V-8″ or whatever they are inclined to say when they discover a thought not found in Sin and Temptation.

This assumes they like mirrors, which in my cynical olderness, I’m inclined to think not so much. Or maybe better said, they do look in the mirror, mirror, on the wall, and it affirms that they are the Fairest Wretch of them all. They knew they were wretched; they saw what they expected, so how can they be faulted for seeing their failings and therefore are utterly qualified to persist?

Hey, it is a twisted logic; but it is their logic.

Many of you possess a secondary hope:  after reading the blogs, the Rank and File SGMers might realize El Primo Doctrinal Mover and Shaker, CJ Mahaney and sundry Hommies haven’t done as much academic and intellectual rigor as they have let folks believe. If these Rank and Filers can SEE the doctrinal inconsistencies, maybe they will hopscotch on across the church threshold.

Reality is most people don’t care about intellectual or academic details. They see theological debates as a waste of time:  a truism that SGM leaders exploit when it serves their interest; meaning when it is their theology under scrutiny. How can you spend time quibbling over non-essentials? How can you hide behind “a veil of theological exactness”? This is why they don’t give one good rip if Jesus “screamed” the cry of the damned, (3) “Cried.” “Wailed,” “Hooted,”  “Hollered,” or just said “Ouch.” Don’t doubt me here. Theological distinctions only matter to this bunch if they are making the distinctions.

Furthermore, most Rank and Filers need to be absolved of the responsibility to think, so debates over details are on par with tooth extraction:  a necessary evil best left to professionals, masochists, or 24-year-old bloggers in their underwear. (Thank you so very much Eric “phenomenal” Simmons (4)).

SGM has people assigned to monitor subversive material, so I’m guessing they know the content of the blogosphere criticism. In brief review, the criticisms have gone like this.

  • Cult!
  • Well, maybe not a cult???
  • CJ is Pope.
  • Dave Harvey is selective with his source material.
  • SGM Sucks!  (But we love it.)
  • SGM doesn’t really have a plurality of leadership.
  • SGM Sucks!  (But we love it.)
  • Danny Jones is incompetent. (But we love it.)
  • SGM is presumptuous with the “First Among Equals!”
  • The Bible has better Polity models.
  • It is clear that the Bible says…
  • SGM has an amazing PR machine
  • SGM Sucks!
  • Why do People go to SGM?
  • The Cry of the Damned?? Did CJ really say that?
  • It is clear that the Bible says…
  • They did WHAT to Noel and Grizzly?????
  • Blah blah blah blah la la ….

Just so you know, I’m confident this doesn’t pass the ‘so-what’ test. How can I be so confident with the Augustinian/Calvin/Kantian Epistemological Axis so firmly entrenched in our Christian Theology? I have this surety because I have special thought microphones strategically hidden in CJ’s office. And I can say he doesn’t think about this much at all. When he does, El Primo Doctrinal Mover and Shaker’s thoughts go something like this:

Calvin and Hobbes…  So funny… Reformed Theology…. So serious…  Lasagna …. So good.  Bloggers in their Underwear….  So what? …. Calvin and Hobbes… so funny…  Bill Belichick (5) … so not humble

And so it goes…

See, one thought in five. Well, I guess that is about 20% of the time, so maybe it is proportionally a lot of thought. But he still says, “So what?”

Uhhh… Errr…

So if SGM reforms what will they be … uh … re-forming?

The theme pounded out on the blogs is that a change of polity will do the trick.

To Polity or not to Polity? That is the question.

I am officially going to quit calling it polity. Polity is a word that carries its own mystic overtone in Christian minds; kind of an Uber spiritual event absent the obvious perils of human governance because GODDDD!  (Turn up the reverb) appointed IT. What is IT? IT is where we all link arms, sing Kumbaya, and polity with each other. Oh the Fraternity, Unity, and Equality!

Yeah, me and Robespierre…

Well, Polity is Government and Government is always force(6) I don’t care how you want to dress this up, what lipstick you want to wear when you kiss me with those lips bearing Polity. You are really kissing me with the FORCE of government:  the collective power to dictate… something.

Hide the guillotine, and get the fire hose!

I will get to what we are dictating to whom in a bit. For the time being, bookmark this point:  Polity is Government and Government is FORCE.

I submit SGM reform is a pipe dream.

No offense to you faith folks who think I’m putting God to the test: All things are possible with God, and all that. Before you all tag me as a big downer, give me a minute to revise and extend my remarks so you can know exactly why I’m a big downer.

Let’s back up a minute.

Since most folks think that reform is a function of government structure, I wanted to get a better sense of what Sovereign Grace Tyrannies really wants in government. So, I hearkened to the posts on www.sgmrefuge.com where Protestant Knight and Jim talked about SGM government structure, also known as Polity, (7) by Dave Harvey. Mr. Harvey is a pastor, of one form or another, at what SGM calls Team Related Churches. I downloaded and read the PDF version (8) of the Polity thingy, browsed sundry blog posts by El Primo Doctrinal Mover and Shaker, CJ–you know, the one where he doesn’t allow comments–to see what I could find.

All writers want something–implicit or explicit–from you, except me, of course. Today I am the definitive altruist, exercising the ultimate expression of Kantian disinterest. My motives are utterly empty and selfless or maybe they are chicks and money like always.


If one can find what the writer wants, it is easy to understand why they write what they write. Sometimes the writer tells you what they want, sometimes their real wants are unstated, and sometimes they tell you but come at it from an angle.

So, what does SGM really want? Well, since Dave wrote the Polity thingy, the question should technically be what does Dave want? However, nothing comes out of SGM that isn’t reflective of El Primo Doctrinal Mover and Shaker, CJ Mahaney (and sundry Hommies) thoughts on the subject. So, Dave is SGM and SGM is Dave.

What does Dave want? Well, that isn’t easy to ferret out. He does want to give a “Biblical” theology of Polity.

He does want to offer up an apologetic (read: defense) of SGM collective “wisdom” the leaders have arrived at over the decades of leadership.

The Sovereign Grace Ministries apologetic stands upon a tripod of principles that lift and support our local-church government:

  1. The Principle of Plurality among Elders
  2. The Principle of the Presiding Pastor
  3. The Principle of Partnership with Apostolic Ministry (page 2)

He does want to illustrate why, in a non-hierarchical body of Christ, there are those who are “First Among Equals” (9)in a pyramid of authority.

“Thus, we begin with an assertion that will ground and guide this entire document. Local-church leadership in the New Testament was a shared endeavor. (page 3)”

And further on addressing the same point:

“The presiding pastor, or senior pastor, is a role drawn generally from the broad pattern of order resonant in Scripture…”

“While neither the pattern nor the application carries in itself sufficient force to sustain an apologetic for senior pastors, they unite to bring greater understanding of the role. Central to this understanding is the fact that the role of presiding pastor must always be based on the foundation of plurality.” (page 6)

He does want to give explanation to his “Reformed Brethren” why the polity structure of SGM is as viable as what they practice. Dave touches this theme on page 4, and then on page 8 he furthers the thought with this:

“Within the Sovereign Grace churches it was not uncommon, early in our history, for local-church polity to follow the Reformed model of coequal plurality, i.e. elderships unadorned with senior pastors. This was an instructive season, and has built in us a respect for all churches that endeavor to exalt Christ through a coequal eldership. Our experience, however, was less than God-exalting, and our “polity postmortem” resulted in the following conclusions: …”

Dave goes on to detail six effective departures from the traditional Reformed Practice related to SGM learned wisdom from said post mortem.

He does not want the official SGM take on Polity to be considered an essential.

“At the outset it must be said that the form of church government is not a major doctrine like the Trinity, the deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, or the authority of Scripture…

“And church history attests that several different forms of government have worked fairly well for several centuries…” (page 2)

These are Dave’s stated wants for his Polity thingy. I didn’t notice that these ideas flowed from one to the next in any particular order. They just are. His Systematic Theology is full of the catastrophic flaws that come with using that academic practice for reading Bible.

If it matters, I have a degree in Systematic Theology. And while I had a real love for the practice, I’ve come to believe it has fatal flaws. And those flaws are at the heart of Christian tyrannies over the centuries.

I contend that Systematic Theology is a cross between academic proof texting and biblical shamanism. Wave a handful of verses that kind of sort of mention the idea you want to promote and Alakazam! Poof! We have a “Biblical Doctrine.” We have an AUTHORITATIVE idea. I know, that was a cynical comment, but it was really good.

Bible VERSES are a disembodied collection of words. It seems strange that I should have to point this out, but … whatever. Just because a couple of numbers sit in the margin to reference six, eight, or twenty words does not mean the words are remotely related to a Systematic doctrine. Nor does a paragraph necessarily represent the original author’s intent or principle teaching. And even more important, nor do those disembodied words represent overarching themes or broad stroke teachings throughout Cannon. Taking disembodied statements from book to book and compiling them like so many Legos to build whatever authoritative doctrinal point is fraught with all manner of intellectual pitfalls.

And Mr. Harvey’s Polity thingy demonstrates some WHOPPERS! As I read his Polity thingy I kept humming the Burger King theme song:  “Have it your way… at SGM now…”

But Dave Harvey is safe from any mass criticism. His arguments are a study in uninspired historical academic regurgitation. For most readers, he is close enough to the land mass of Protestant tradition as to not raise an eyebrow. Which he is quick to point out:  “There is little originality in Sovereign Grace Ministries; …”  (page 8) Oh, the irony in this sentence.

Dave is marginally creative in arguing the foundations of Protestant Papacy, but he comes at this governmental FORM at a sufficiently obtuse angle; citing enough other sources to successfully distribute the blame or credit. And he certainly never calls the doctrine Protestant Papacy, so if one is not really paying attention to the logical conclusion… >shrug< who is going to object?

Mr. Harvey doesn’t say anything scandalous, hedging against critical review by appealing to Non-essentialness — there “might” be other ways to govern a church. In the pursuit of the SGM Polity, Dave comes off as endlessly magnanimous.

So, what is the big deal? Is this a quibble over theological hairsplitting? Am I forcing you into the Theology Dentist Chair? Who cares? Many preachers crack open the Bible and identify similar assumptions from the book and teach some variation of these themes.

What is the big deal?

Here it is:  SGM doesn’t govern–they don’t FORCE with a magnanimous bone in their body. By frog-boiling increments, these men expand the definition of what is an essential doctrine by implicit or explicit demand to adhere to their considered judgments. (Mandatory Date nights? Husbands ordering food for their wives to demonstrate leadership? It is sin to have a Junk drawer because it is a sign of laziness? There is a punch line here, right?)

A massive disconnect exists between the veneer of their magnanimous scholasticism and the direct manifestation of their practice. So, this means something is lurking under the surface. Something is driving the interaction that ultimately skews the outworking: something implicit, some oblique assumption that folks really haven’t caught on.

Most folks believe that the problem resides in the SGM’s Charismatic papacy. CJ, at pyramid pinnacle passing out feudal favors to his spiritual henchmen, is the driving power of the problem.

While that may enable the tyranny, that is not the source of the tyranny. And here is the distinction:  Government forms–congregational, presbytery, et al.–are only structures for philosophical outcomes. What does it matter if you have one man at the top of the pyramid or 20 “First Among Equals” or a mob of congregants if what they are GOVERNING doesn’t change?

And what is government? Force. So the sentence could also read, “What does it matter if you have one man, a bunch of men, or a mob if what they are FORCING doesn’t change?”

The biggest reason the blog conversation doesn’t really pass the “so what?” test is the difference between REFORM and RESTRUCTURE. A different form of government won’t change the governmental objectives. The Monarchies of France and the French Revolution still used the Guillotine with equal passion. The form of government changed, the governing PHILOSOPHY did not. Bookmark this too because I will say more about this in a minute.

Sovereign Grace Ministries fancy themselves the best of the Orthodox and the best of the Charismatic. They have long since decided that the blend effect is what gives them their unique place. They have long since demonstrated the willingness to depart from the logical extension of their “orthodoxy” as it suits them. No academic debate exists. No logical debate exists. So, evaluating “Biblical” polity (FORCE) remains a debate about who has the “authority” to establish “authority.” Since they have decided they are uniquely authoritated to define authority … it seems strange to believe one can out-authority them or out-FORCE them.

Even if they changed the form of government, they would still be governing toward the same end. So, the question that needs to be answered is: what is the Sovereign Grace Ministries’ governing philosophy(10) What integrated ideas drive them to FORCE in all the varied forms that we see described with profound regularity from the blogosphere?

What is the driving governmental premise?

Okay… enough suspense. What is their driving premise? Here is the answer:  You don’t own you.

It is that simple.

Where do I get this from? I am going to show you. Remember what I said about Mr. Dave coming at this conversation at an angle? Notice this tucked into page 12 of his Polity thingy; Dave is discussing Romans 12:6-8.

The Greek word for “leadership” is “proistemi” (proistemi) “meaning…’to lead,’ ‘to direct,’ ‘to assist’… ‘to arrange,’ ‘to apply oneself to’.” 33 Curiously, the verb translated “govern” in the NIV is not present in the original language and was only added to clarify the application of “diligently.” According to John Murray, a more accurate rendering would be, “he that ruleth, with diligence,” 34 a translation much closer to the English Standard Version above.

Let’s track Paul’s progression of thought here:

  1. We all have different gifts (v.6a).
  2. Our gifts are the result of a prior work of grace (v.6b).
  3. The grace God has given determines the boundaries of our gifts and service (v.6).35
  4. Some have been given a distinct grace to lead (v.8).
  5. The grace to lead is exhibited by a “zealous and diligent concern” 36 (v.8).

Whatever Paul’s progression of thought may be, notice the implicit presumptions Mr. Harvey is advocating. His effective logic is:

  1. Our different gifts are given to us (not earned).
  2. Grace determines/necessitates boundaries.
  3. Leadership is God’s manifest boundary on gifts and talents.
  4. “Zeal” and “Concern” is tantamount to Leadership.
  5. Leadership is tantamount to Government.

And… say it with me now: Government is FORCE.

As a brief aside, I have always known I have what it takes to rule the world, (11) but needed an ironclad justification for demanding that one and all “Submit to my Authoritaaahh!” (A little South Park Lingo for you)   After reading Dave Harvey’s Polity thingy, I have finally found it. I have “zeal” and am “concerned” for the whole world. So now, you wretched sinners, bow your mind and then your knee! I am utterly qualified to demand your obeisance. I’m king of the–oops…  I am “First among Equals” for the whole world!


Anyway, Dave’s progression above is an oblique way of advocating “You don’t own you; the Leadership does.” God’s gifts are not yours to lay claim. Therefore, you are not justified in doing what you want or exercising initiative with those gifts. Since God limits you by grace, He limits you by LEADERSHIP because leadership is a manifestation of grace. As far as Sovereign Grace Ministries is concerned, LEADERSHIP means government. By the hallmark of their “Zeal” and “Concern,” they are distinguished to perform the appointed job of administering your life in God’s stead.

Remember I said bookmark this thought: “You are really kissing me with the FORCE of government:  the collective power to dictate… something.”  This is the something that SGM is dictating. They are dictating the sum of you. You are not free to take initiative on the sum of your gifts. And ownership is defined by the freedom to act, the freedom to exercise ambition, the freedom to exploit the content of your life. If you are not free to do these things, you don’t OWN your gift–you don’t own YOU.

I advocate you read CJ’s editorial, Standing in the Very Stead of God(12) found on his blog. The underlying presumption of that entire blog post is that unique men are given the specific job of administrating the revelation of God to the people. God doesn’t speak to everybody; He speaks to some who deliver that message to the masses.

Beyond the horrific display of Exegetics or lack thereof in the post, the presumption should leap off the page and grab you by the throat. For those of you who have kept up with my commentary, this is the assumption of the Demagogues of Dictated Good.  (13) Because God so chose, a select few have been given revelation. To those who steward that revelation goes the exalted task of administering the lives and minds of those whom God has given. The concurrent doctrine that makes for a compliant body politic is pervasive depravity. You are depraved, and therefore, truth needs to be dictated. Ergo, you must rely on those who stand in the very stead of God to dictate truth.

Most folks lay down their minds (14) because they accept the moral premise of their own depravity and its implicit disqualification. They quit defending themselves and the right to the content of their own mind and gifts and substance. Defenseless people willingly accept “Submission and Authority” until it becomes submission to any assertion of authority. The doctrine becomes imprinted on the hearts of people until there are no personal boundaries, no personal ambition(15) and no appeal for wrongs committed because no individual rights exist.

And this is the governing philosophy of ALL Destroyers(16) These philosophical premises are what works in concert to justify any and every governmental wrong and every human atrocity.

Look at history’s tyrants. Listen to their slogans and speeches. Listen to moral premise. Listen to what they implicitly demand. Their polity is founded on the premise that God, the State, the People, the Collective own individuals.

History Lesson

Raise your courage and look. The Feudalism of the Dark Ages held the governmental philosophy of the Three Estates: a Christian Eugenics (17) –some pray, some fight, some work. To enforce the estates, the ethics and politics of the Dark Ages were notorious for utter brutality and human atrocity. In the West, this was a Christian age by any definition yet we have made a joke out of the philosophical outworking with comments like “I’m gonna get Medieval on your ass.” As I said above: the philosophical premises working in concert to justify any and every governmental wrong and every human atrocity.

The absolute Monarchies of Western History, the Divine Right of Kings, meant rulers could do no wrong because God appointed their actions from heaven:  the King owned all (people) because it was God’s will–the philosophical premises working in concert to justify any and every governmental wrong and every human atrocity.

Muhammad rose out of the desert with a revelation from Allah, who owned all, declaring the Infidel fit for nothing but bloody death. If not for the Christian opposition, the carnage that swept across three continents would have consumed the West. To this day, the governmental philosophy of Islam makes it the single greatest threat to the free world menacing daily to terrorize us back to the barbarism of the 7th century–the philosophical premises working in concert to justify any and every governmental wrong and every human atrocity.

The French Revolution occurred almost concurrent with ours, rising against cruelty and despotism of French Monarchies. Yet Robespierre shouted Liberté, Egalité, Fraternity for all the PEOPLE while blood ran thick and deep from the guillotine from those same people–the philosophical premises working in concert to justify any and every governmental wrong and every human atrocity.

It is no accident that the following words came from one of history’s most recognizable tyrants:

It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his people:  that the position and the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the community as a whole.

That above all, the unity of a people’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual…

This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise for every truly human culture…the basic attitude from which such activity arises, the call to distinguish it from egoism and selfishness–idealism. By this we understand only the individual’s capacity to make sacrifices for the community for his fellow men.

Many could go to Church tomorrow and hear these words extolled from the pulpit and believe they have been encouraged to a sound truth. Certainly, the Lutheran Church of the Weimar Republic thought so, not realizing that these same words were the philosophical premise of Chancellor Adolf Hitler (18) that ultimately justified the destruction of roughly 11 million souls.

And Joseph Stalin, not to be outdone by his National Socialist adversary, is estimated to have destroyed between 20 and 30 million souls in pursuit of the Communist Workers’ Paradise predicated on the Marxist assumption that those who HAVE (substance) should be slave to those who do not (have substance).

German National Socialism and Soviet Communism had virtually no government structure in common, yet they both produced the same end. The governing philosophy in every instance is that:

  1. Men do not own themselves.
  2. Man is depraved and therefore needs to be dictated.
  3. Individuals have a moral and corporate compulsion to lose themselves, their gifts, their talents, their substance, to the statist/collective, the Church, the People, and the Greater Good.

Here is the source of all history’s rivers of blood, death and destruction: the philosophical premise that man does not OWN himself.

Make no mistake: this is the measure of serious.

It is no accident that SGM acts the way it does. They set out long ago to emulate historical doctrine because they believed that “orthodoxy” made their body of doctrine unassailable. It never occurred to them to check the “fruit” of those doctrines. It never crossed their mind to evaluate the outcomes those doctrines have perpetrated on humanity every time they have been logically pursued. They were too impressed with their ability to think big thoughts to hear a voice of caution coming from a snot-nosed kid who wasn’t impressed with their bald heads and Enlightened Geriatric Club (19) act.

Can you really believe it a useless historical fact that sinners were fed to the bonfires in Geneva? Do you think that burning Michael Servetus at the stake is an unfortunate event brought on by pervasive depravity? Do you think it mere political zealotry that leads Protestant Queen Elizabeth and her father Henry VIII to kill Catholics with various forms of dismemberment? Do you think it a mystery that Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans fought a civil war in the pursuit of doctrinal purity? Do you believe the burning of Witches is a theological accident of a few misled souls?

Naivete is not an endearing or effective trait.

Burning someone at the stake requires an absolute utter resolve to listen in excess of 20 minutes to the agonizing screams, babbling wail, the endless plea for mercy, and relief. The contempt one must have for human life, for human freedom to perpetrate such an act is absolute. And it must be a CORPORATE RESOLVE. You can’t privately barbecue a man alive. (For heaven’s sake, we don’t even do that to animals for the piteous torture.) The group, the collective, the congregation, the parishioners, the worshipers, the fellowship, must all hold the same contempt because they stand mute, idle, and impotent in the face of the atrocity. Such mass passivity in the face of manifest horror, pain, and suffering requires that the group hold the same philosophical assumptions.

How else can they be willing to stand and listen, stand and approve? They must hold the same assumptions as the person that commands the judgment, as the person who builds the fire, as the person who lights the fire. They must all hold the assumption that individual freedom, individual human life is subordinate to a superior principle–a dictated principle that trumps all other values.

The historic facts above have all been perpetrated because of the integrated ideas that I’ve repeatedly pointed to: Moral Depravity, Dictated Good, Man Does Not Own Himself–the philosophical premises working in concert to justify any and every governmental wrong and every human atrocity.

It is no accident that SGM finds itself repeating historic doctrines and emulating their logical outcome in the way they treat people. I know… I know… they are not burning people at the stake. Don’t be obtuse. A flaming stake is only a matter of degree and the logical extension of: “Do it because I said so.”  When Truth is dictated, it isn’t long before someone reaches for a lighter and justifies their action by saying it was for the Greater Good, because man is depraved, he is exercising an unholy ambition and “needs to be held accountable.”

When Truth is dictated, there is only one way for men to deal with men: Force(20) They must manipulate with fraud or extortion. When that power fades, man must hold other men hostage to the threat of that which they love: their life or the life of another. And mystic despots take this one step further: they lay claim to affecting the afterlife. Not only can they kill your body, they can impact the destination of your soul. Most men cannot stand in the face of such threat, even though it is not provable.

As I said in the Gospel According to John Immel (21)

Chapter 3: 1-3

  1. All people act logically from their assumptions.
  2. It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale, they will act until the logic is fulfilled.
  3. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, find the assumptions, and you will find the cause.

My words above are a summation of the power of Philosophy:  the actions perpetrated from a logical extension of a body of ideas.

For Sovereign Grace Ministries, everything else follows from here. What you have, the sum of your gifts, time and talents, is not yours to lay claim. You need boundaries on your life because you will fail to act righteously and justly with those time, skills and talents. God’s Grace sets boundaries; boundaries mean leadership. You don’t own you because you can’t know you. Ergo, you need someone to dictate to you what you can never know. So, you must submit to those whom God has given the unique power to know you so they can succeed in their ownership of your time, skills, talents, mind, and body. The content of their practice, the specific manifestations of their tyranny, follows the philosophical premises working in concert to justify any and every governmental wrong and every spiritual atrocity.

  • Their relentless defense of Pastoral infallibility. (As Noel (22) and Grizzly’s story shows.)
  • Their twisted use of the Matthew 18 ethic. (As every story in the Blogosphere shows.)
  • The ridiculously heavy-handed authoritarianism. (As the Chesapeake (23) story shows.)
  • Their redefinition of gossip and slander.  (You are not entitled to know anything they don’t want you to know or have an opinion they haven’t given you.)
  • Their institutional paranoia.  (Illustrated by pervasive pastoral kibitzing with gutless wonder care group leaders to find those who don’t toe the pastoral mark.)
  • Their relentless demand on Singles to minister.  (Be Single in SGM and know what it is to NEVER have a life outside the church. You are not FREE to say NO.)
  • Their universal distrust of those people in the pews.  (As shown from their micromanaging of the smallest life detail.)
  • Their treatment of women as intellectual and sexual subordinates. (SGM wives gotta put out on demand and carry no intellectual objection in their head.  Crude, but so very true, just ask them.)
  • Their amazing PR machine(24) (Is it really a mystery that they have an entire propaganda machine to spin for the masses? Every tyranny on the planet relies on the power to filter ideas and keep people from getting the details.)
  • Their utter affront when you exercise any initiative of thought, gift or calling. (Don’t you understand that Leadership has the prerogative to dictate the content and course of your life?)
  • Their rabid displeasure when you fail to devote absolute trust to their judgments. (How dare you distrust us… we are empowered to shepherd your soul.)

Every single last one of these examples is ultimately a fight over some facet of who owns whom:  a carrot and stick to enforce the ownership of time, talents, gifts, body, and mind.

Commitment to the Highest Truth

It is often asked by those observing this unfolding drama with Sovereign Grace Ministries how they can hear the mass criticism and not realize they have a problem. For all their advocacy of humility, how can they fail to approach the onslaught with that humility?

Here is my answer. I submit that SGM leadership sees this as a test of their commitment to higher truths. They see the blogosphere condemnation as a manifestation of persecution for their tenacious stand, for their courageous determination to arbitrate the dictated truth of which they have been made steward. They see their humility expressed in the patient endurance.

To that end, they see the barrage of criticism as invalid. They may have some remorse on specific incidents because the public outcry is embarrassing. They may decide to “Reconcile” with the moral relativistic wand of pervasive depravity:  “We are all sinners saved by grace and as your leader, I must remind you we have an opportunity to practice forgiveness today.” (And forgiveness means taking down whatever bad thing you’ve said on the blogs) They may believe they need to say, “I’m sorry,” but at no point do they see their actions as disqualifying. To the utter contrary, each conflict is an affirmation and a test of their commitment to God’s higher truth.

This necessitates that they see the mass, public condemnation of their practices as presumptuous and self-disqualifying. They take no real action toward interior remedy because they think the problems lie from without. You have failed to make their job a joy. You failed to adhere to a sound biblical teaching that they are morally on the hook to defend, advocate, and enforce. The hurt feelings, the spiritual collateral damage, the individual pressures that arise out of conflict with them are merely signs of selfishness and sin and the natural consequence of failing to embrace the higher truths of their sound teaching. In light of eternity, how could these momentary light afflictions be of any real consequence?

If you only understood that you don’t own you. If only you understood that you have been mandated by God to submit the entirety of your SELF to their care, the conflict would not exist. You don’t own you, so how can you object to a violation of your personal boundaries, aspirations, wants, and desires? It is all sin, and they are doing God’s work by standing in the way of your determination to carry out your sinful self. The pain and suffering is merely the outworking of God’s discipline.

I am going to participate in some self-plagiarism.

I wrote the following in my book Blight in the Vineyard: Getting free of the Myths and Tyrannies of Sovereign Grace Ministries. I self-published this work ten or so years ago when they were People of Destiny International, with the mother church of Covenant Life Church, affectionately referred to as PDI/CLC. God knows if Blight will hit mass production. Anyway, this is what I wrote on the point of reform those many years ago, and it fits nicely here.

For all the reasons we have already discussed, their method and practice affirms their doctrine, and their doctrine affirms their method and practice. Go to them to reconcile and find yourself embroiled in an endless effort to justify the content and conduct of your life. Seek to emulate the Matthew 18 ethic (25) by taking another person with you to establish “every word,” and they accuse you of gossip and slander because you spoke to someone not directly associated with the conflict about their error. Take it to the Church, and they refuse to be accountable to the questionable character of the masses.

These men are in an intractable position.

Tell them they are wrong and, in their mind, you persecute them. Prophesy from God about their error, and they dismiss the words as the ranting of a self-appointed Prophet. Preach something contrary to “Orthodoxy,” and they flip out their list of the “Nine Enemies of Truth.”

To the feeble-minded this is all very heady stuff.

PDI/CLC has been obsessing over Sound Doctrine and Reformed Theology in their own paranoid way since 91-ish and nothing has registered to arrest their descent… yet. Or maybe I should say that whatever God has done to arrest their intellectual progression has not or did not register.

But let me ask this. What is there for God to do? Inflict the leaders of PDI/CLC with some catastrophic disease? What does that do but affirm to them their doctrine of suffering? Maybe He quits sending them money and they have a serious financial crunch. What does that do but affirm to them their doctrine of suffering? Maybe He has people leave the church that have been key member for years. What does that do but affirm that they are preaching hard truth and not everybody can receive it?

Oh, and get this Irony of Ironies: in the very next breath they will point to church growth as a sign of God’s validation. If people leave, it is hard truth and cannot be received. If people come and they grow, it is God’s validation on their truth.

Gag me.

Hey Dave Harvey, where are your mental reflections?

Like I said, their position is simply intractable. They cannot hear anyone who is not their own, and their own would not dream of dissenting with CJ.


It doesn’t matter what governmental form in which this premise is housed. It doesn’t matter how many different government styles one finds in the New Testament. The need for government, the need for FORCE, is related to the premise of ownership of brothers and sisters.

I told you to bookmark this idea:  in the French Revolution, the form of government changed, the governing PHILOSOPHY did not. The French Revolution brought about an absolute restructure of government from the Absolute Monarchy to Democratic rule. But both structures used FORCE with equal passion to compel compliance. They exchanged the Divine Right of Kings with the Absolute Right of the People and proceeded to behead any who did not abandon themselves to the collective.

This is why there is no REFORM in RESTRUCTURE. So, the restructure of SGM is irrelevant. Sovereign Grace Ministries will accept any government model that sustains their assumption:  men do not own themselves.

Their history bears this out. Every evolution of PDI/CLC/SGM has played to whatever body of thinking affirms their capacity to rule by proxy the minds, actions, and content of men’s lives. They could transform their governmental model tomorrow to democracy and they would still perpetrate the same fundamental tyranny because the model would be in service to the philosophy–the interrelated ideas that drive their actions.

It is important to realize these men are not driven by an intellectual integrity. They are driven by an authoritarian integrity. Their ideas are in service to their authority AND their authority is in service to their ideas (which is what makes most of their arguments so circular). Their ideas validate their authority and their authority dismisses any scrutiny of their ideas.

This is why all of the blogosphere Theological pontificating is irrelevant to Sovereign Grace Ministries’ leadership. For all of their vaunted intellectualism, they cannot be moved by a progression of thought: they cannot be REFORMED in their mind. They are stewards of Dictated Good. Truth is dictated, not the product of integrated non-contradictory thinking. No intellectual persuasion can be had.

So, non-essential doctrines are a license to believe what they want, which is precisely what Dave Harvey’s Polity thingy shows as he picked and chose the historical sources to justify this sentence: “Our experience, however, was less than God-exalting, and our “polity postmortem” resulted in the following conclusions: …”

Conversely, essential doctrines are inarguable because disagreement with them is rooted in deception. And being utterly consistent with T.U.L.I.P. (26) if a man is deceived–if a man is blind to the Dictated Truth–it is because God wants it that way. Why bother with an argument?

Make no mistake, dear reader. There is no REFORM with these wicked premises. There is no RECONCILIATION with this intellectual evil. “You don’t own you” is their governing principle. No REFORM exists because we are confronted with this irreducible principle: they own you by proxy. To concede this point is to be served with Mint Jelly. (27)

Do you envision this “Apostolic Team” saying, “Oops. We had the truth, but now we have a better truth.”? How many times can a group of men pound the pulpit and insist they have found the highest dictated truth and remain credible?

If Sovereign Grace Ministries ever changed these governmental assumptions, they would, by definition, cease to be who they are. They flirted with these premises for years as Gathering of Believers, as Take and Give, and as People of Destiny International. Every evolution of their organization has been in service to increasing governmental control. (Notice their participation in Shepherding in all its varied forms.) But in the past, some part of their thinking still held out that people had freedom to pursue their life and the content of their calling. But eventually, the historic Leaven of “orthodoxy” took root and these men pursued that body of ideas to its logical extension because it affirmed their governmental premise and justified the ultimate goal of their practice.

The name change from People of Destiny International (PDI) to Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) marked the point of no return. It marked their utter commitment to the philosophical assumptions:  Moral Depravity, Dictated Good, Man Does Not Own Himself.

There is no retreat from where they stand. The SGM leadership can only recant and disintegrate. And by definition, the Beta males who hold positions in the SGM pecking order based on the tyrannical assumptions handed down by the Alpha males have disqualified themselves as leaders by failing to resist the evil premise that put them in office. And those gutless wonder Care Group Leaders, the SGM Brown Shirts, that use Spiritual Roofies (28) to gain insider knowledge for the express purpose of informing on the spiritual proletariat for failing to toe the pastoral mark… don’t even get me started.

RESTRUCTURE is irrelevant. No REFORM is possible.

The Warm-up Round

For those timid readers lurking about on the blogosphere, you need to understand that this is the warm-up round. SGM is a bit player in this unfolding drama resurrecting historic doctrines that oppress people. Our current culture prevents them from FORCING with the threat of overt physical harm.

(Some of you having suffered physically might debate this.)

But our culture is trending in this direction. There are those on the public stage advocating the premise that you don’t own you, and governmental entities should be empowered to FORCE you. You can find this governing premise advocated from far too many church pulpits, from the freaky Charis-costal (29) gathering to the most staid Main-line denominational church, cable news networks, and political speeches.

By land and by sea, Tyranny is here. Tyranny is here.

This is why there are no “Reformed Big Dogs” (30) or “Charismatic Big Dogs” coming to apply brotherly accountability to the Sovereign Grace Ministries phenomena.

Not that SGM would ever consider lowly, unlettered, experiential Charismatic “equals” in the smallest sense.

And “Charismatic Big Dogs” for all of their talk about “covering” and “oversight” avoid actually doing any covering and oversighting, because they are really, really busy guarding the Prophecy mic, trying to make sure everyone knows that modern day Apostles actually exist, and calling angels to come do … stuff.


(Just close your eyes fellas and wish hard: “We really do exist, we really do exist, we really do exist.”  And click your heels together. You will get home safe.)

So they won’t be coming to the party.  But don’t sweat their absence, the women and children (31) are carrying the fight just fine.

Before someone trots out that Reformed Leadership in, the U.S. is ignorant of SGM. Or that Reformed Leadership in the U.S. is ignorant of the ongoing criticism by masses of blog commentators and venues of condemnation… Are you sure you want to advocate “ignorance” as a defense? How cute is that?

If leaders of other movements aren’t vetting their ministry partners, what does that say of the due diligence? What does it say about a ministry who will demand submission and authority,  (32) claim covering and oversight (33) from the pulpit and fail to inspect ministries that share their stage?

Ignorance would really be no different than incompetence! My advice then: if you are a part of these “Reformed Big Dog” ministries, and your leadership is demonstrating that extraordinary measure of incompetence… RUN!

So, if one does not like the incompetence explanation, that only leaves one real option: The “Reformed Big Dogs” are fully aware of the growing list of criticisms, and it doesn’t pass their “so what?” test.  Which really means that they fundamentally agree with the content of Sovereign Grace Ministry governmental philosophical assumptions: Moral Depravity, Dictated Good, Man Does Not Own Himself.

And I quote myself in part from above:

It is a CORPORATE RESOLVE. The group, the collective, the congregation, the parishioners, the worshipers, the fellowship, must ALL hold the same contempt, because they stand mute, idle, impotent in the face of the atrocity. Such mass passivity in the face of manifest horror, pain, and suffering requires that the group hold the same philosophical assumptions.

How else can they be willing to stand and listen, stand and approve?

They must all hold the assumption that human freedom… human life is subordinate to a superior principle–a dictated principle that trumps all other values.

The “Reformed Big Dog” ministries are of the same mind. The content of your life is to be sacrificed on the altar of their considered judgments. If they do good things, it is as it should be. If they do bad things, well, “Oops, forgive me because we are all just sinners saved by grace.”  The measure of the carnage is irrelevant because the governmental premise remains: Moral Depravity(34) Dictated Good, Man Does Not Own Himself.

I expect that those “Reformed Big Dog” ministries reading this paper are now agitated a bit, indignant that I would dare lay this on their heads. With each paragraph, they are rattling off in their minds a list of teachings that encourage their flock to, on some level, go seek God and take initiative on their own. The foundation of their defense will sound something like this: “We must uphold standards and provide limitations.  We are appointed overseers and take care of A, B, and C but we expect believers to go do H, I, and J. The people are responsible for themselves. We don’t advocate the extremes of what SGM is doing.”

Dear reader, don’t fall for this. It is subterfuge. This is really a debate over HOW MUCH of you they own: 2% to 100%? It really doesn’t matter.  Doctrines that successfully persuade, successfully conclude that they own ANY of you, and the battle is already lost. Because every other subsequent argument becomes about what ownership looks like, and that line always creeps.

As I said above:  “They don’t govern–they don’t FORCE with a magnanimous bone in their body. And, by frog-boiling increments, these men expand the definition of what is an essential doctrine by implicit or explicit demand to adhere to their considered judgments.”

This is the reason that the socialists usually end up losing to the communists. The socialists say they own 50% of a man; the communists say they own ALL of him. The only thing that is left is who will commit the most atrocity; who will follow the logical extension of their philosophy to its effective conclusion. The only thing left is to find out who will use the most FORCE to achieve the fullest end of their philosophical premise.

As of now, SGM is just more consistent with their foundational principle. If they are to be applauded anything, it is that they are more purely diligent with the cause and effect of their governmental premise. They have successfully mastered an ironclad corporate culture that organizes the smallest pastoral conversation. This is the measure of their commitment, a gauge of their determination to take action.

As of now, most other “Reformed Big Dog” ministries are just pretenders flirting with the fringes of the most evil governmental premise ever conceived on planet earth.

Leaven is yeast…

Yeast unchecked produces fermentation…

Drink deep of the spiritual Mojo juice and become intoxicated…

If the “Reformed Big Dogs” ever give themselves over to the intoxicating, rabid, heady tonic that these philosophical assumptions universally create…

If they carry these intoxicating, rabid, heady, philosophical assumptions into the political arena…

If they succeed in persuading a compliant body politic, a mass of people who have laid down their minds such that they are successful in joining the power of civil government with their Mystic Despotism….

I shudder to think….

The Political and the Religious (35)

We are inundated with this governing philosophy on all fronts. In the last ten years, America has made some drastic changes in the founding ideals that define our culture and life. The entitlement mentality is speeding us down the path to collectivism with ever frightening speed. It is no wonder we fail to resist the premise. Most people don’t know they should resist. And those who do resist don’t understand the source of the issue, the philosophy behind the driving moral and social demand. And those who finally do openly resist instantly suffer rebuke and rejection and attack.

Most people do not sustain an inner moral clarity to stand in the face of such onslaught. So they hem and hedge, offering bromides about brotherly love and advocating some brand of Rodney King Christianity: “Can’t we just all get along?” They assume we are in some gentlemen’s disagreement, and if we just comported ourselves with decorum, we would be able to negotiate a peace.

This is not true. Historically, this is the ugliest street fight man has ever engaged. This is the philosophical nuclear war of human existence.

(And people get nervous if you are snarky?? I do sooo love irony.)

For the first time in American history, we have granted mystic status for our governmental leaders–leaders too big and too Messianic to suffer criticism. It is no accident that the founding elements of history’s tyrannies are being openly advocated.

God help us when the Demagogues of Dictated Good join History’s Hitlers. When the civil bonfires of Geneva join mystic despotism, humanity is plunged headfirst into blood. Tyranny floods from the civic and spiritual front, driving all men to worship at a cult of death that only serves one purpose: enslave the minds of men or destroy those who refuse compliance.

This is the Essence of the Leaven of the Pharisees. And it is that very Leaven that joined the religious leaders of the early 1st century with the governmental power of Rome to crucify a seditious sect leader called Jesus.

Make no mistake. This is precisely what Jesus warned His followers to beware. And it is this very Leaven that marks the whole of Church History.

It was no accident that the Lutheran Church misunderstood who they voted Chancellor: they shared his governmental philosophical premise that man does not OWN himself. And it wasn’t long before Lutherans traded one symbolic cult of death for another: the Cross for the Swastika. And then they stood by helpless in the face of the carnage.

How many of you stand helpless in the face of the spiritual carnage being discussed on sundry blogs? How many of you stand mute while you see the metaphoric bonfire kindled for your friends as they walk through a conflict with church leaders determined to govern to the higher truths of “Sound Doctrine” and the “Local Church,” “submission and authority,” and “Church Discipline Leaders” who dismiss objections to mistreatment with the moral relativistic magic wand of pervasive depravity; we are all just sinners so you must forgive, forgive, forgive?

How many of you are guilty of ignoring their cries of pain and suffering because you stood approving?

Dear Timid Reader: if you can’t speak out now, how will you be able to speak out when the spiritual tyrants build a bonfire in your name and turn you into an honorary S’Mores?

Who owns Whom: That is the Question.

[1] Let’s Take a Poll http://sgmrefuge.com/2009/03/23/lets-take-a-poll/

[2] Sovereign Grace Ministries http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/ a ministry based out of Gaithersburg, Maryland with churches scattered around the globe. The leaders of this Group is a CJ Mahaney, former ministry partner of Larry Tomczak. For further information, visit their site for a list of people and their respective roles.

[3] For background info on this doctrinal debate, google (CJ Mahaney + Cry of the Damned)

[4] Eric Simmons comments and response http://spiritualtyranny.com/musing-in-my-underoos/

[5] Link to CJ Mahaney’s comments on Football Bill and commentary  http://spiritualtyranny.com/bill-belichick-and-other-lessons-in-sillyness/

[6] What Government is http://spiritualtyranny.com/speaking-of-church-polity/

[7] Sovereign Grace Perspectives: Polity, Dave Harvey 2004, Sovereign Grace Media, 7505 Muncaster Mill Road, Gaithersburg, MD 20877-3814.

[8] FREE Download http://www.sovereigngracestore.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=Polity&ByName=false

[9] “First Among Equals” is a reference to the Latin primus inter pares http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primus_inter_pares

[10] Humans are the sum of their collective ideas: http://spiritualtyranny.com/not-so-vain/

[11] My plan to rule the world http://spiritualtyranny.com/the-plot-thickens/

[12] Editorial Post: http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Blog/post/The-Preacher-Standing-in-the-Stead-of-God.aspx

[13] Defining Insanity and the Demagogues of Dictated Good: http://spiritualtyranny.com/defining-insanity/

[14] You are guilty and will accept any judgment given, any idea offered. http://spiritualtyranny.com/lay-down-your-mind/

[15] The government needs a compliant body politic http://spiritualtyranny.com/oligarchy-of-mediocrity/

[16] The Destroyers Rise because we let them http://spiritualtyranny.com/from-whence-the-destroyers-cometh/

[17] Collectivism: Historic Destructive Force.  http://spiritualtyranny.com/borgification-of-the-church/

[18] Adolf Hitler: 7 Oct 1933.  You ever heard these words in Church http://spiritualtyranny.com/what-about-individuality/

[19] Coined phrase: find the definition here: http://spiritualtyranny.com/definitions/

[20] I deal with the force of ideas and the force of violence further in this post. http://spiritualtyranny.com/dispassion-to-avoid-distortion/

[21] My Gospel is being written. http://spiritualtyranny.com/gospel-according-to-john-immel/

[22] Read the post and the comments.  LOTS of information in this incident. http://www.sgmsurvivors.com/?p=276&cpage=10#comment-12540

[23] This post begins a series of posts addressing the Ester and the Chesapeake story. http://sgmrefuge.com/2009/01/15/from-esther-in-chesapeake/

[24] PR at its finest.  http://www.sgmsurvivors.com/?p=71

[25] I am referring to the method of conflict resolution that Jesus advocated in Matthew 18.

[26] The acronym: T.U.L.I.P. is used to condense John Calvin’s Systematic Synthesis of Christian Theology.  Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints.

[27] People are sheep. Shepherds protect sheep. But the reason they protect sheep is to be eaten later. http://spiritualtyranny.com/pass-the-mint-jelly/

[28] Unearned Intimacy http://spiritualtyranny.com/spiritual-roofie/

[29] Definition of Charis-costal.  http://spiritualtyranny.com/definitions/

[30] Reformed Big Dog and Charismatic Big Dogs is my way of referring to major ministries of a particular theological ilk and corresponding leadership in American Christianity. Reformed Theology is the predominate body of Christian thought that came out of the Protestant Reformation. Charismatic refers to a Christian movement that started roughly 60 years ago and emphasized the gifts of the spirit: speaking in tongues, healing, demons, et al.

[31] Women and Children First http://spiritualtyranny.com/women-and-children-first/

[32] http://spiritualtyranny.com/the-myth-of-accountability-and-team-leadership/

[33] http://spiritualtyranny.com/the-very-important-things-of-blog-apostleness/

[34] The soil of moral relativism.  http://spiritualtyranny.com/keen-eye-on-the-funny-guy/

[35] Why is it that the church never ends up on the right side of human freedom.  http://spiritualtyranny.com/ecclesiastical-establishments/

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    1. 436
      Chad Brewer

      I was responding to a bunch of comments found after the article, and the fact that you address one pericope of cultic phenomena as part of SovGrace ecclesiastical functionality: Government as force.  I think you would be happy to note that the Church Polity pamphlet is no longer available.  A sign, that positive change is happening :)

    2. 437
      John Immel

      Here is my understanding of the word “pericope.”   A small set of passages that form a coherent thought in the Bible. It would be like reading Luke 4: 16-21 for an effective foundation for understanding the Anointing.

      I checked Wikipedia. This was its definition:

      A pericope:   a set of verses that forms one coherent unit or thought, thus forming a short passage suitable for public reading from a text, now usually of sacred scriptures.

      Not sure how you are using the word.

      I guess in the broadest sense, Government as force describes a “cult”ural phenomena.  Government is the monopoly on force in a society for the express purpose of enforcing … something.  What that something is changes from culture to culture.   But that is the broadest sense of the word.

      In context to Reform or Not to Reform, I highlight the governing philosophy that undergirds the SGM use of force.

      As for my happiness that they took Dave Harvey’s polity thingy out of distribution…  hahaha… that is kinda funny but hardly a manifestation of doctrinal transformation.

      What?  SGM banning books as a manifestation of governmental change?  SGM removing something from public scrutiny that may not be perfectly affirming?  Like that hasn’t been done before.


      What a riot.

      I suspect that what really happened is they realized it wasn’t a good reflection on them and pulled it because it didn’t serve their governmental ends as well as they thought it did.


      They pulled it because it really did capture their governmental ends but when unraveled — and dare I say by moi– they realized it was too effective in its job and caught heat for the reality that in their minds You don’t own You—they do.  They didn’t want to defend that assumption, so they remove any formal statement they can be objectively held to.

      Oh, the memories…

      Good times.

      Chad… I know you love these guys… at least the SGM marketing and packaging. They are like a beautiful woman… at a distance they are easy to be attracted to.  I have certainly been there. But make no mistake … this bunch has been doing what it is doing now for a very, very long time.  They are good and making the most trivial action mean grand things.

      Don’t get sucked in, particularly when, by doctrinal definition, there is no such thing as change because we are “all just sinners.”  The top of the SGM leadership are masters of the Moral Relativistic game when it comes to absolving themselves of the outcome of their actions and doctrines.   And from your first comment, I can tell they have already sold you down that path.

      Never forget this: Pervasive Depravity is really the flip side of the Antinomian coin. And this is the twin whip of how SGM really uses the doctrine: to enforce the concept of Universal Guilt and as a justification for evading what should have rightly closed this bunch down long ago.

    3. 438
      Nick Fitzkee

      Hi John,
      I came across this post today — sorry if I’m a little late to the bandwagon.
      So I guess you’re a Libertarian, eh? :-)
      Generally, I side with you on the idea that people should be free to do what they want, and this influences both my politics and my approach to church.  On the other hand, the verse that kept coming up in my mind was Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church.  Speaking about sin–the primary area where church government comes to play in my life–he writes:  “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1Co 6:19b-20).
      Now, I don’t think this means that I belong to a particular pastor, etc.  On the other hand, there is truth to the notion that I belong to God, and I should work to honor him.  If a pastor (or anyone, for that matter), can help me find a way where I’m not living up to that calling, I am grateful.  My personal approach to this question is to take the input of pastors very seriously, even if I may ultimately choose to disregard some of their advice.
      Now, that’s mostly tangential to the main argument you’re trying to make, and I don’t think it warrants argument in this context.  My main question is simply where you think 1Co 6:19-20 fits into this discussion.  In reading the post, one might infer that we all own ourselves, but that can’t be it, since scripture directly contradicts that idea.  What do you think that verse means?
      It would also be helpful for me to know whether you think there are any times when pastors have authority — I apologize for my laziness, but since you know this blog much better than I do, I would appreciate it if you could link me some of your other posts on what you think pastors should do.

    4. 439
      John Immel

      Libertarian … Libertine… what is the diff?  LOL just kidding.

      And welcome to the bandwagon, Nick. The great thing about this blog is the underlying ideas are timeless.  So, we can pick up the discussion any time.

      You’ve posed some good questions… and Spiritual Tyranny is largish, so I can appreciate wanting a short course. 

      To Reform or Not to Reform
      is my longest post by far, and there is a lot of content.  Some of what you are asking is addressed within: namely, the issue of pastoral authority.  I contend the issue is not a when, but a what. What is authority? And then the question must be asked: “what is  authority in service to?”  Of course, the answer is philosophical assumptions are the driving substance that shape the use of force.  So unless the governing assumptions change, reform is impossible in any authority structure. This was the central theme of this post. 

      Unfortunately, this subject is vast and the elements of this question have lingered with some very specific Christian expectations since before Marcion.  Much of our modern day bible reading has its roots in interpretive methodologies that tend to self-enforce a doctrinal conclusion.  So I’m not sure how I want to tackle your question just yet. Give me a bit to strategize.

      In the meantime, I address some facets of the authority issue in Namaste Nemesis.  Also, if you are inclined, read Engage.  That will give some sense of the broader issues that precede the issue of authority: its use, scope, and function.  The metaphysical and epistemological questions need addressed so we can identify a starting point.

      Also, if you haven’t yet, click the START HERE button: That will help round out the blog in the broadest scope. 

      I’m actually working on a book rewrite… so don’t think I’ve forgotten you if a couple days pass.  I will try to give you a solid response.

    5. 440
      John Immel


      As I reviewed your comments, I realized that in many ways, you have asked and answered the question.  You do accept the premise that people are free to pursue their own life. You subsequently argue that a pastor does not own you, and yet you concede they hold a special place in your interpersonal critique.  I’m not sure why the title pastor necessarily reserves the status of taking their word ‘very seriously’ but beyond that, we seem to be on the same page. As far as I’m concerned, taking any wisdom that seeks towards personal mastery and improvement is worthy of being taken very seriously.

      The operative issue in your comments is in this sentence: “…even if I may ultimately choose to disregard some of their advice.” This is really what I contend is at issue.  In some Christian environments, people do not have this freedom.  The leader’s advice is tantamount to God’s sanction. While I grasp the logic that gets people to this place, I am overtly saying this is a misapplication of truth.

      When I discuss the issue of sovereign individuality, I am discussing the metaphysical starting point of our epistemology.  The axiom of human existence is human existence. So the starting place of our ethical actions directly revolves around Man’s capacity to grasp and know the world in which he lives and modify his actions accordingly.  The doctrinal assertions under discussion destroy that ability at its root and thereby elevate dictatorial power of an elect few to the moral necessity to government force. I contend this is an erroneous starting place and an ultimately immoral conclusion.

      Let us assume you have sex with prostitutes… how exactly can a pastor stop the action? Are you any less morally culpable if a pastor never renders a verdict?  Are you free merely because a church leader consecrates your actions?  The answer is he can’t, and no, and of course not. The only way this becomes possible is for this leader to posses force to compel an outcome. So, the means of grace is the effective imposition of select men to commit violence.  
      Uh… this ultimately makes the “Means of Grace” Flesh.


      As for the passage in Corinthians…  

      Mmmm… how to say this without having to exegete the bulk of Pauline theology…  

      Dare I say this? The trap that Paul laid for himself when he sought to subordinate observance of Torah to what he called the fulfillment of Torah, i.e. Jesus, was the logical conclusion that all action was fair game.  In other words, there was no moral failing, because the Torah had been fulfilled, so what difference did having sex with prostitutes make?

      This conclusion, of course, scandalized Paul, and he was pressed to find an argument that remained constant with his new doctrinal perspective while maintaining the ethical standards embedded in Law.  His argument in Corinthians is effectively twofold.

      1.  That since we participate in the resurrection, we are part of Christ’s body and therefore subject HIS body to our decadence.

      2. If that does not deter sexual use of prostitutes, then don’t you recognize you have been purchased? While you might be free, you are not really autonomous because you are God’s property.

      The underlying issue here is the ideas used to short-circuit the use of prostitutes for sexual release.  Paul is seeking moral grounds to undercut what has been given moral sanction by the logical extension of his doctrine.  His argument is basically this: your individual action ultimately affects another individual—namely God—because you have been united with him in the same absolute measure as that of marriage.

      I contend that this is exactly the starting place of ethical action—the violation or fulfillment of individual identity.  Individual actions have ALWAYS been subordinate to the individual boundaries of other people. So in as much as any man’s actions violate those boundaries, their ACTIONS are not their own. You are not free to take EVERY action merely because all sin has been atoned.  Of course, this is an important point because the logic could have been extended to murder, or theft, or any other over exploitation, and sanctified by the same covenantal fulfillment. So Paul’s argument hearkens to the standards of boundaries and intimacy, and insists they still apply.

      You CAN do what you want… but Jesus’ sacrifice does not eradicate moral responsibility.  The Corinthians were using Paul’s very own doctrine as eradication of moral responsibility, and that was the problem he was seeking to remedy. My advocacy is not to antinomianism. My advocacy addresses the underlying presumption that divine ownership necessarily means individual subordination to a collective slavery.

      We are bought with a price.  We have been taken back from full solidarity with death. The war between men and God has been forever ended, so man is without excuse when he looks at the world and chooses to persist in war against the truth.  That seems abundantly obvious to me.

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