Google “C.J. Mahaney” and you’ll find numerous commentaries concerning his recent leave of absence from Sovereign Grace Ministries. The Christian Post has a good summary here. C.J. is a vibrant and charismatic pastor/preacher. Much of his writing, sermon, and pastoral philosophy has influenced me and blessed me over the years. For 25 years, he pastored Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD and even more importantly, he mentored and established Joshua Harris as his successor to lead Covenant Life. I’ve tried to understand what is going on in Sovereign Grace without gossiping or inadvertently feeding any prideful tendencies to “be in the know”. As I’ve waded through some of the correspondence and primary documents, I’m once again shocked by how the Internet and social media can exacerbate a situation. I’m also stunned that the charges of pride and unapproachability would warrant such serious actions and responses (I’ve been sifting through a WikiLeaks-type document outlining the situation and circumstances. It’s unreal.) C.J. is not stepping down because of sexual sin or financial misgivings, nor because he agrees with the charges. It is rather a time to examine and be examined as to the veracity of such accusations. Still, I must say that I am very confused about several things:
1. Keep your friends close? The pastor who summarized and exposed these charges against C.J. really took a lot of time and energy to publish primary documents -emails, meetings of minutes, etc. – in order to objectively substantiate the charges of pride, hypocrisy, and immunity to correction. This pastor was at one time a close friend and on the board of directors with C.J. I couldn’t help but but be fearful that such a close friend and partner in the Gospel could publicly divulge so much information. It made me fearful and confused about the kinds of relationships and transparency I should have with friends and co-workers. How do I know that something or someone won’t publicly expose me?
2. That notwithstanding, the tone of the document and the charges were so weird. One would expect the language and tone of such an accusatory document to be full of anger, spite, bitterness, and resentment. Strangely, the tone was full of love, admiration, and compassion. This confuses me. While publicly exposing C.J.’s habits and tendencies to avoid correction and to not receive it openly, the tone was trying to reiterate the motive as love for C.J. I could understand if this was a conversation between the pastor and C.J., but to publicly broadcast a well-crafted document on the Internet, and to veil it in the most loving and compassionate language possible? It just seems odd and contradictory.
3. Pride is a serious matter. I had to take pause in my spirit that I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized C.J. was not stepping down because of sexual or financial sin. “Oh, it’s just pride,” I said. It’s just pride!? How have I ordered my list of sins such that when a pastor is guilty of sexual sin it’s really bad, but pride is not!? I understand that there’s more to C.J. and Sovereign Grace’s situation than just pride (there are several polity issues as well), but I would be remiss if I did not see how serious an issue pride is. Some would say that it lies at the root of every other sin. I’ve got to be an guard and watchful.
4. That said, I am reminded to take serious the call to examine my life and doctrine closely. When it comes to pride, who will examine me? Am I open to correction and rebuke? I know that I don’t do everything well. Who in my life and ministry is pastoring me to tell me when I’m not? Related to my first thought, who do I let close enough to do so? When someone does try and correct me, do I respond with such intensity and demand for examples that it snuffs out the original loving intention?
I pray for C.J. today and the maturing process that God is leading Sovereign Grace through. I pray that God would spare this important movement from being torn apart by pride, inciting gossip, and resentment. I pray also for healing and that the reconciling power of the Gospel would be on display for not just the rest of Sovereign Grace, but also for the wider audience of evangelicalism and the secular media that is trying to understand this as well.