Why Redeemer Arlington Separated from SGM Ministries; Eric Simmons View of SGM and the 9 Marks Elephant Again in the Room

This explores Eric Simmons view of SGM which helps explain why Redeemer Arlington broke away from the denomination. Redeemer was the fifth church to separate from the denomination. This also looks at another angle of Jonathan Leeman’s view of para-churches and asks where would an SGM church submit to a para-church ministry?

“When two people decide to get a divorce it isn’t a sign that they ‘don’t understand’ one another, but a sign that they have at last begun to.”

Helen Rowland

“In other words I suggest that SGM be a para-church ministry that member churches join for local relationships, planting, and the benefits of the training ministry of SGM, but not denominational governance.”

Eric Simmons to the SGM Polity Committee in June 2012   

 I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.

I Corinthians 1:10 NLT


The document below helps give one understanding as to why Redeemer Arlington broke away from SGM. This was written by Eric Simmons and submitted to the SGM Polity Committee in June of 2012. At the time all SGM Pastors were encouraged to submit position papers to the SGM Polity Committee. The positions and the committee eventually created the Book of Church Order. The Book of Church Order was ratified in May of 2013. Four months after Eric Simmons submitted this polity paper Redeemer Arlington broke away. I’ll let you read this and then I will do some analysis of this below.

Gentleman, the decisions set before you are significant for the future of this movement.  We face a watershed moment and the floodwaters are high and gentlemen, you have your hands on our rudder.   

I do not envy the position you have and I pray to God who has control of you to lead you and that gives me peace.   

I will be brief, the premise of my paper is that consensus across the churches on the topic of extra-local governance is unrealistic and untenable.   

Therefore, my point is that SGM should become a para-church network and not a denomination.     

Since the redefining of Apostles at T4G, there has been an unintentional polity vacuum created in SGM and men/elderships have filled that vacuum with their own papers and thoughts on polity and governance and it would seem those thoughts are held tightly.   

We are diverse in our views as a movement.  I have talked to men who have formed a congregational polity, a Presbyterian polity, a little “a” apostolic function polity as well as a full blown apostolic ministry that has ecclesiological authority over churches, and some who just don’t care at all and just want to move on.  

In all my conversations with men who hold these differing views I have found that their arguments are thoughtful and biblical (in their view).  But, that is the problem, isn’t it.  What is “biblical”?   

Brothers, for the past 3 years I have studied the texts as well as almost all the books you listed on your bibliography (some multiple times), and the challenge is that frankly there are many “biblical” ways to govern.   

In my opinion some are sounder than others, but every man thinks their position is “biblical” and thus there will be an impasse if we seek to pick one.  To insist on one definition may create a crisis of conscience for some. 

That is the challenge we face isn’t it? Coming to consensus on what is “biblical” with texts that can be interpreted and synthesized in different ways.  

Brothers, as you know the topic of polity is inherently divisive because the texts are not as thorough and clear as we would like them to be and to force our movement into “one” way at this point is more divisive than unifying.  

K.N. Giles who wrote in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament & It’s Developments says the following “The question of how the earliest churches were organized and governed has been fiercely debated from the time of the Reformation. The diverse interpretations are due partly to the scarcity of information available and partly to the deficiencies in methodology adopted.  The limited and divergent data have all too often been read ahistoircally and uncritically, and as a result the same texts have been made to substantiate opposing positions.   

He goes on to say the following, “This approach demands that contemporary cultural experience and ecclesial commitments be laid to one side as far as possible, as the text is studied.  It means that we recognize there are profound differences between the social and ecclesial world of the early Christians and those we take for granted.  It also means that in coming to the text our concern is not to prove or substantiate any viewpoint already held but to hear the text itself. This leads to the second principle basic to a critical theological methodology, namely, that dogma or doctrine must not be allowed to determine in advance the conclusion reached.” (DLNT pg. 219) 

I think K.N. Giles has summed up our context pretty well.   

As I said before, I have read through many documents from SGM pastors and had conversations with many SGM pastors who hold different positions than I do.  I have found their positions to be thoughtful and as best they can, biblical.

Yet, I think for all of us, we cannot get outside our opinions, our doctrines, and the context of the debate (we are in a conflict as a movement).  I am concerned that the conclusions we are reaching may be more about using the texts to substantiate our own positions than a sound methodology.   

So here is the challenge we face, over the past 2 years I think many have come to “real conviction” on their own polity and what extra-local partnership looks like. 

At this time, I will not be able to convince you of my congregational position as much as you cannot convince me of your position of apostolic function or other polities you hold.  I think this creates an impasse that could lead to splits and fractures if we press this too hard.   

For instance, I think Jesus gave the keys to the church. Some think Jesus gave the keys to the elders, some think Jesus gave the keys to the apostles which now translate to a more Episcopal form of government, some think that Jesus was not thinking about the modern ecclesia in Matthew 18 at all, and some think that the keys are a moot point and that what matters more is Ephesians 4 and the pattern in the NT of little “a” apostles like Titus and Timothy. 

I think this diversity of opinions is actually good and healthy and I have found all my conversations to be charitable and quite stimulating.  Yet to try to pick one way of governance may do much harm to our movement. 

I think to force a polity on elderships who have genuine, biblical convictions according to thorough biblical and historical study is a bad move.  I hear echoes of Acts 15 in this discussion. 

Brothers, the following issues are very debatable: 

  1. What parts of Acts are prescriptive and what are descriptive?
  2. Who did Jesus give the keys to in Matt 18?
  3. Were the apostles and prophets spoken of in Ephesians 4 gifts for today, men who have gifts for today, or was he speaking in redemptive-historical categories based on chapters 2 and 3?
  4. How did Paul think of Titus, Timothy, Barnabas, Silas?
  5. Is there an apostolic gift without an apostolic office?

I am sure in the papers you are reading right now you are seeing a diversity of opinions.  My point is that I don’t think we can synthesize those opinions into one polity.   

So, my suggestion is to base our polity on an irreducible polity minimum. 

I suggest that the irreducible polity minimum be elder led churches in relationship with other churches for training, and local planting, and advisement. 

From all that I have read by SGM elderships and in conversations, two things consistently emerge. 

  1. All the churches believe that elders should lead the church
  2. They want their local church connected to other churches in their region.

My suggestion would be that we create a “union” of like-minded churches who are independent and autonomous, but come together for advice and assistance in order to safeguard gospel truths and plant churches.    Chapter 11 in Owens’ book The True Nature of the Gospel Church is a great summary of how this could work.  

I think the quality control that leadership is looking for can come through increased venues of training and dialogue not policy and governance.  

I do not think that leadership of command will ensure the quality control you are looking for.  I do think that leadership of influence through pulpit ministry, colloquiums, classes, and conferences will ensure doctrinal purity and strong philosophies of ministry will ensure quality control more than policies, ordination, and a book of church order.  I am not seeking to create a false dichotomy ( I can hear people saying, well can’t it be both) I think governance can be local and relational and not authoritative.

My opinion is that SGM should center on a few (not more than 5) core convictions, delegate planting and accountability to the regions, and centralize training and resource development, such as music and materials.  I also think that SGM should have a cooperative fund for international church planting. 

I do not think there should be a governing body over SGM churches, but I do think there should be a team of gifted men who lead SGM in training and teaching.   

In other words I suggest that SGM be a para-church ministry that member churches join for local relationships, planting, and the benefits of the training ministry of SGM, but not denominational governance.  

I do not think para-church is a four-letter word.  I think this could be a modern expression of a  “union” of churches that were historically formed in the past.  

I think SGM could be a good teaching ministry that churches could rally around and I think the mission of local planting is what all the churches want (at least the ones that I have talked to). 

Brothers, SGM is at a real watershed at this point and I think the temptation is going to be to centralize around policy and I think that is a mistake.

I think the way forward is to remember that we have partnered together in deep relationship, a common love for the gospel, and a commitment to plant churches.

I think we should keep it that way.    

 “Family of Churches” vs. Denomination

There is one thing that made my blood pressure soar as I read this polity paper by Eric Simmons, and before I get into it let me explain. When I was being invited to Redeemer Arlington by a friend, we we’re having issues talking about faith because of the problems that Sovereign Grace posed. The corruption, and issues loomed large and I had no desire to explore faith in a church affiliated with a system bleeding painful stories online. After the first break up in the friendship with Andrew one of the things he told me is that Sovereign Grace was controversial because its a “Family of Churches.” I heard that phase frequently and I rejected it. To me Sovereign Grace was a denomination. Its like calling the Assembly of God, Evangelical Free, Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, or Christian Missionary Alliance a denomination. But instead I kept hearing about this “Family of Churches.” This alone led to some discussion at the time and a few spars.

So let me fast forward to today…May of 2016. Here it is nearly 5 years after contesting this issue that of “Family of Churches” vs. denomination, and what do I learn? Publically SGM churches like Redeemer were referring itself as part of the “Family of Churches.” And then at the same time you had a member and an outsider who disagreed and clashed over this topic which was one of many. Meanwhile behind the scenes the Senior Pastor of Redeemer Arlington was referring to SGM as becoming a denomination.

My question is this…why couldn’t SGM and Redeemer Arlington be transparent? Why couldn’t they be open and public about a denomination? Why did something like that have to be hidden? Why did an organization like Sovereign Grace have to be touchy, and sensitive about the name “Family of Churches?” But most importantly why did they have to be secretive about this issue. Redeemer and other churches are supposed to be that…churches. They are not the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency or Office of Naval Intelligence. In other words they are not organizations that demand secrecy. Did the leadership of Redeemer consider the ramifications of such secrecy and how the lack of transparency affected others like myself, and even members of their own congregation? Did Andrew White and I have to spar over “Family of Churches” or denomination claim? I was at the doctor’s office yesterday afternoon contemplating this and it just made me boil. None of the fighting that took place was worth it, but when I read this, I saw how the back handed efforts in a way almost encouraged conflict. And the reality is that all this conflict was so unnecessary.


The Para-Church Issue and 9 Marks Conflict

This position paper also shows a critical flaw in 9 Marks as promoted by Jonathan Leeman that I am going to continue to pound away on my keyboard. Before I get into this issue with Sovereign Grace let me tie this issue to a recent post I wrote about Garrett Kell over at Del Ray Baptist. Recently at The Gospel Coalition Garett wrote a post about the role that Campus Crusade for Christ played in the role of his coming to faith. You can read that post right here. Before I get into the problem that exists I need to discuss what Jonathan Leeman has taught about para-church ministries:

In March of 2011 Jonathan Leeman published an article at 9 Marks that was called, “How Church Discipline will Save the Para-Church. In that article I would like to draw attention to three paragraphs that I believe are crucial.

Third, we who work for parachurch ministries should be willing to heed—somehow—acts of local church discipline. Now, I’m a congregationalist, which means that I don’t think one church’s act of excommunication formally binds another church or a parachurch ministry, the way I would if I were Roman Catholic. But I do believe that prudence recommends some measure of deference in the face of this kind of action by the Jesus-established local church.

No doubt, prudence-guided deference will look different from case to case. When a parachurch ministry (or another church) has the luxury of carefully investigating the circumstances of such an action, it might choose either to affirm or to contravene the original church’s decision. When it does not have the luxury to investigate, time being scarce, I would encourage the parachurch ministry, in most circumstances, to defer to the local church. Yes, that might mean reconsidering someone’s employment status or publishing future.

I expect this might sound radical to people, but let me point again to two biblical principles. First, a Christian ministry’s primary concern must be with the reputation of Jesus Christ in the world. Second, Jesus authorized the local church to exercise the keys. Every other ministry must understand, therefore, that it plays a subordinate role.

So basically if a para-church ministry is not going to submit to the local church then really it has no right to exist. In its purest form that is what Jonathan Leeman is pushing for. Going back to Del Ray Baptist and Garrett Kell, he talks about the role Campus Crusade for Christ played in his conversion. Now here is the question…Del Ray Baptist is a 9 Marks church and Garrett Kell tows the party line as well. So my question is this…if Campus Crusade for Christ did not exist would Garrett Kell be a Christian today? Let me take this question one step further…would he be the Senior Pastor of Del Ray Baptist today? This is a critical flaw in 9 Marks and reveals how ridiculous this policy is in many ways. So before we greedily reach for more Kool-Aid lets look at what Eric Simmons suggested about SGM.

Remember many Sovereign Grace Churches are also 9 Marks churches. When I look at the 9 Marks church finder I see that Covenant Life Church, Solid Rock, Sovereign Grace Fairfax, and Redeemer Arlington are all members of 9 Marks. Please read what Eric Simmons proposed instead:

In other words I suggest that SGM be a para-church ministry that member churches join for local relationships, planting, and the benefits of the training ministry of SGM, but not denominational governance.  

I do not think para-church is a four-letter word.  I think this could be a modern expression of a  “union” of churches that were historically formed in the past.  

First of all this puts Eric in conflict with Jonathan Leeman because what he is advocating for is a para-church ministry to be over local SGM churches but not in governance. How could a para church ministry of that size and scope – if it came to be –  submit to the local church?  My question is which SGM Church should a “SGM Para Church ministry” submit to? Redeemer Arlington, or SGM Fairfax or another, or all of them? The idea of creating a national para church ministry would create problems, I would think for Mark Dever. Unless as we know money trumps doctrine, and if C.J. Mahaney led a para church ministry then I am sure some kind of exception would be created in the end. After all when C.J. Mahaney fled Covenant Life Church Mark Dever violated 5 of the 9 Marks of a healthy church in taking in Mahaney.

I am not trying to be difficult instead I am trying to highlight the systematic issues in 9 Marks churches and policy. Plus I am showing how many people in leadership of 9 Marks churches are divided and unsure of what people should practice. For me personally, what I do to navigate this problem is to recognize that there are some roles the local church serves, and some roles a para church serves. Each is unique, and each has features that neither one can duplicate. For example there are some features of discipling and connections that the local church can do well that the para church can not do well. Then on the flip side there are things that para churches can do exceptionally well that local churches can not do well. For example meeting and working with college students on campus is something that Cru does well. Plus there are also para church ministries that work on military bases and even deploy with the military. (Side note do you think we can deploy Jonathan Leeman to build a 9 Marks ministry in Afghanistan?) I personally strike a balance and give a lot of peace to both, and recognize the importance of both.


Some Musings on Redeemer Arlington’s Divorce from SGM  

Here is one thing that stood out for me that also bothered me when I read this, but to be fair I also want to give Eric Simmons the benefit of the doubt. So the reason why Redeemer Arlington broke away was because it didn’t believe SGM should be a denomination and instead a para-church ministry. In the end Eric Simmons and SGM had conflicting views of how the church should be. That is how I am interpreting this and as always I invite feedback or criticism. To Eric Simmons, Jordan Kauflin or Jon Smith if I am off then I invite correction.

Now here is what troubles me but in this area I do not know and like I said must give Eric Simmons the benefit of the doubt. Last year I heard that the reason why SGM Indiana, Pennsylvania broke away is because Mark Altroggee was upset over the allegations that C.J. Mahaney practiced blackmail. Mark allegedly didn’t believe that C.J. should teach because of the seriousness of what transpired. I find that encouraging and a breath of fresh air in many ways. Now here is what I don’t know….did Eric Simmons take advantage of the SGM scandal to break away? Or was Eric Simmons and the leadership also deeply distressed over the allegations of criminal activity from C.J. Mahaney? Did the information about Mahaney’s alleged blackmail influence and play a role in the parting of ways? What role did the Mahaney scandal play in the divorce from SGM? If it was just the differences of polity and that is all they cared about then I would find that deeply distressing and a strong indicator that Redeemer Arlington is not healthy, nor sound. Again I do not know and thus I am thinking out loud in my questioning.

What you see above is my take on the situation. I encourage your feedback and insight. If you were a former member of Redeemer or SGM I would welcome your thoughts. Eric, Jordan or Jon you are welcome to push back if I am mistaken.  I am writing this from an outsider perspective in many ways. As always I love you guys, and take care!

3 thoughts on “Why Redeemer Arlington Separated from SGM Ministries; Eric Simmons View of SGM and the 9 Marks Elephant Again in the Room

  1. “Family of Churches” vs. Denomination

    I always look upon that as another Newspeak vs Oldspeak.
    Or the George Carlin bit about how “shell shock” became “combat fatigue” became “post traumatic stress disorder”; each more wordy and with more wiggle room for those who hold the whip.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Some Thoughts on the Latest Post at SGM Survivors, and a Note that Other Blogs, Including The Wondering Eagle will Help Also | Wondering Eagle

  3. Pingback: How Healthy is Redeemer Arlington’s Culture? What About Other Former Sovereign Grace Ministries Churches? Should You Get Involved? | Wondering Eagle

Comments are closed.