In Southern California there is a group of Evangelical Free Churches known as the Anthem “Family of Churches.” They are Neo-Calvinist/Reformed, members of The Gospel Coalition and the brainchild of Matt Larson. Is this Anthem “Family of Churches” trying to duplicate themselves after C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace “Family of Churches?” If so my question is this…will the Anthem movement engage in child sex abuse cover up as C.J. Mahaney has allegedly done in Sovereign Grace?
“Anthem is a family of churches helping people find their way back to God. The Anthem family of churches is united around shared mission, vision and values and submission to the Lordship of King Jesus. In our cities, we are working to obey Jesus in helping people find their way back to God.”
How Anthem describes itself as a “Family of Churches”
“The bottom line from our perspective is that churches affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries have a specific DNA. The pastors who have worked in this system also possess that DNA. SGM perhaps more than any other denomination has exhibited harmful ‘shepherding’ behavior and a patriarchal approach to ministry.”
How Deb Martin describes SGM at The Wartburg Watch
“My God what is wrong with these people? No, no and a thousand NOs”
Noel’s painful story of the sexual assault of her child at Sovereign Grace Fairfax
Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering.
Exodus 3:7 NLT
Southern California is congested, over built and the population is currently around 22 million people. Southern California is classified by the counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura and Santa Barbara. Today’s story comes out of Ventura county but before I get ahead of myself let me give you some background information about Ventura. Father Junipero Serra founded San Buenaventura mission in Ventura in 1782. It was the final mission that was planted in California and part of Spanish colonization. Thomas Bard is considered the father of Ventura city and Union Oil Company was founded in Ventura in 1890, and Shell Oil Company also played a part in the oil discovery here. Ventura county grew in the oil boom that happened in the succeeding years. As society changed and the automobile became more crucial Ventura became more accessible to Los Angeles. Today Ventura County has a population of 823,000 people. The biggest cities are Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Ventura, and Camarillo. Within Ventura county there is an interesting group of churches that are known as the Anthem movement. They refer to themselves as the Anthem “Family of Churches.” They are Neo-Calvinist/Reformed and members of The Gospel Coalition. This movement is the brainchild of Matt Larson, but as we also analyze this movement the question must be asked, is the Anthem movement healthy? But before we get into the organization we must ask the question…who is Matt Larson?
Who is Matt Larson?
Matt Larson is the Senior Pastor of Anthem Thousand Oaks. You could also say that he is the father of the Anthem movement. Matt is the son of Steve and Connie Larson, Steve Larson planted and grew the Evangelical Free Church of Conejo Valley. I wrote about Steve Larson in this post called, “Did Tim Sherreitt Theologically Hijack The Bridge of Newbury Park (Formerly Evangelical Free of Conejo Valley) When Steve Larson Left?” You can read Matt’s reflection on his Dad in the following post which was penned when his father stepped down. “Stuff my dad taught me (couldn’t think of a better title…)” Matt started serving in student ministries in 1998 and he was married to his wife in 2001. Matt was a Youth Pastor at Sunland Neighborhood Church and he stayed in that position until November 2002. Then he moved back to Conejo and took a position in Conejo Evangelical Free Church where his father was the Senior Pastor from December 2002 to June 2008. Matt went to seminary at BIOLA – The Bible Institute of Los Angeles. He earned his Bachelors from 1998 until 2001, and obtained his Masters in Divinity from 2001 until 2006. You can read more about Matt Larson here, here, and here.
History of the Anthem Movement
When Matt was at Evangelical Free Conejo Valley he was asked by the Elders there to put together an explanation of why young people, 20 something’s and young families weren’t connecting at the Evangelical Free or any church for that matter. A team was put together to study and analyze the younger generation. They eventually came to the conclusion that church buildings and closed relationships became a barrier for the next generation. Matt decided that they needed to start something that was new. He had heard of what was called a multi site church in Chicago called Community Christian Church. Community Christian Church has 11 locations in the Chicago area to include Chicago Lincoln Park, Chicago Lincoln Square, Carillion, Montgomery, Aurora, Naperville, Lemont, Shorewood, Plainfield, Naperville Downtown, Romeoville, and Yorkville. Matt got permission to leave and attend the multi-site practicum. Matt learned that everything they were about to do was wrong, and while there he bumped into Dave Ferguson who is also the director of the New Thing, which is a church planting network. Matt left his position at Evangelical Free Conejo Valley to participate in a program at Community Christian Church called Leadership Residency. He would have to fundraise his salary, and move to Chicago for a year and participate in a church launch. After doing that that for a year Matt moved back to Southern California to participate in the first church plant in Thousand Oaks which became the first church of Anthem “Family of Churches.” This occurred in 2009. Those who participated on the staff team of this launch is Kevin Bailey, Ryan Hinkle, and Matt Larson. Matt was firm that the new DNA, the new culture had to be established in this church plant so that it would reproduce itself. As part of that effort it was also planned to make this “Family of Churches” strongly Neo-Calvinist/Reformed and a part of The Gospel Coalition. Remember the DNA for this network of churches was established by Matt Larson. The next church plant in this “Family of Churches” that was done is Anthem Camarillo which, like Anthem Thousand Oakes is a Gospel Coalition Church. This occurred in 2011. In addition the Anthem movement helped plant Restored Church (Uptown) in 2012 in San Diego, California. They also helped plant Restored Church (South Bay) in 2015. The next part of the Anthem “Family of Churches” was launched in 2015 as Anthem Ventura. The next church that was helped to plant I do not believe is part of the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). All the other churches I have mentioned thus far are a part of the EFCA. Imago Dei in Downey was planted, and in 2016 Restored Church in Los Angeles was planted in 2016. The next church plant to come is Journey Church which will be launching shortly. Anthem Ventura is led by Bert Alcorn, while Anthem Camarillo is led by Kevin Bailey. Matt Larson leads Anthem Thousand Oaks. Here is the Join Anthem blog which while inactive still has the current Tweets feeding into it.
Anthem’s View of Membership
At the Anthem “Family of Churches” Jonathan Leeman of 9 Marks is adored and his version of church membership is adopted. Here is how it is described.
In joining with the other members at Anthem Church, you are committing yourself to taking responsibility for the other members, using your time, abilities, money and spiritual gifts to encourage, edify, and equip them for works of service. You are also submitting yourself to the other members, including the elders, being accountable to them in your own pursuit of Jesus and receiving encouragement, edification and equipping from them. (Romans 12:5-8, 12:13, 13:13-14, Ephesians 4:11-12, 4:25, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Peter 4:10)
“From the non-Christian’s standpoint, a local church is a voluntary association. No one has to join. From the standpoint of the Christian life, however, it’s not. Once you choose Christ, you must choose his people, too. It’s a package deal. Choose the Father and the Son and you have to choose the whole family—which you do through a local church.” (Church Membership, Leeman, Jonathan, 2012)
At Anthem Jonathan Leeman’s book on Church Membership is pushed as are the following 9 Marks articles to further pound this issue.
- Is Church Membership Biblical? (Matt Chandler)
- Twelve Reasons Why Membership Matters (Jonathan Leeman)
- You Need a Pastor and Church, Not Just a Podcast and Speakers (Geoff Ashley from The Village Church)
To those members from Anthem who are reading this I would like to share some resources with you. Since 9 Marks is held in high esteem at Anthem here is an article that I wrote (actually one of the most read articles at this blog) that shows how Mark Dever made 9 Marks worthless. You see when C.J. Mahaney ran and fled from church discipline at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland and hid behind Mark Dever’s ass at Capitol Hill Baptist Church here in Washington, D.C. church membership was made null and void by this camp. “9 Marks: What is it? How Mark Dever Undermined it and Made it Worthless.” Then there is this article where I draw upon my graduate level history work, and knowledge of theology to draw comparisons between the Berlin Wall and Neo-Calvinist church membership covenants. “Neo-Calvinist Membership Covenants: The New Berlin Wall Amidst a Theological Cold War?” Finally as I close out this section let me remind members of the Anthem “Family of Churches” of a sordid and dark scandal that happened in Matt Chandler’s The Village Church. Matt Chandler’s church attempted to practice church discipline on a woman who annulled her marriage to her husband who was addicted to child pornography. Karen Hinkley is one of my readers, so if Matt Larson or any other member of Anthem tries to do the same thing I would be more than eager to write about it here. “The Explicit Gospel” at Matt Chandler’s “The Village” Includes Child Pornography, Church Discipline and Membership Covenants.” (Side note I like that title of that article I borrowed the intro from one of Matt Chandler’s books.)
Matt Rodgers from Restored Church in San Diego
There is a reason why I asked readers to read and study the website for Restored Church in San Diego. “Practicing Discernment: Restored Church in San Diego, California” Restored Church came from Anthem and Matt Rodgers was on staff at Anthem before launching Restored. I did that post as a means to teach people how to practice discernment as I was laying the foundation for a couple of articles about the Anthem “Family of Churches.” Matt Rodgers church promotes and features Mark Driscoll, C.J. Mahaney, and Wayne Grudem. Lets briefly review those individuals. Mark Driscoll is known for calling women “penis homes.” He also said that that a repentant women gets down on her knees and performs oral sex on her husband. To those of you who are men at Restored Church in San Diego didn’t you know the savior of the world bore the weight of the world and all its sin, just so that you could get a “Gospel Centered” blow job by your wife in your bedroom. But there is more to include Mark Driscoll’s treatment of Paul Petry, Bent Meyer and Rob Smith and his “Gospel Centered” plagiarism. In the last week Mark Driscoll said the following in a sermon. “If you’re frustrated with your wife, let me tell you this: she is a garden with a gardener.” So the penis homes analogies are here to stay! (Sorry Matt Rodgers) Here are a couple of articles that I have written about Mark Driscoll. “Why is the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) Silent on Larry Osborne’s Strong Support for Mark Driscoll and The Trinity Church? Does the EFCA Also Believe Women are Penis Homes?” and “A Wolf Rises in Phoenix: Mark Driscoll and The Trinity Church.” There is a lot more you can find in my index.
When it comes to Wayne Grudem I find it troubling that many Evangelical Christians struggle with discernment and critical thinking skills. That is part of the reason why I exist, to educate, inform, and to work to protect people from the wolves that exist. Wayne Grudem is one such example, as he is advocating a view of the trinity that goes against the Nicene Creed and orthodox Christianity. You can read more in this following post, “Wayne Grudem’s Un-Orthodox View of the Trinity and the Question that Must Be Asked: Can the ESV Bible be Trusted?“ I think we need to ask the question…is Wayne Grudem the Joseph Smith of our time? There is a lot to say about C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace but I am going to dive into that below as I do not want to be repetitive. Other than all those theology flaws I love the fact that Restored Church is a sister church at Anthem! What a healthy church! You can see the close relationship between the two in how Matt Larson is written up in this Restored Uptown webpage.
Is Anthem Trying to Duplicate C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries?
When I was working through EFCA West as I was calculating the growth of Neo-Calvinism in the district and I came across Anthem Ventura I was struck by something that was bothering me. I was amazed by the language of the church. When I saw the connection between other Anthem Churches and how they prefered to call themselves as a “Family of Churches” I wondered to myself….is Matt Larson trying to create his own version of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) in Southern California? The language and the way the pastor was elevated in the Anthem model also stood out for me. In addition I saw other indicators of a church movement that is apparently trying to duplicate SGM. For example in Anthem they call their get together “Family Meetings.” Also as I touched on above I see a church model that brown noses to Mark Dever’s 9 Marks especially with Jonathan Leeman being quoted on the website. These were some of the many observations that I made as I analyzed the movement. For me this raises deep concerns about the health of Matt Larson’s movement. Plus it makes me wonder what are the potential problems under the surface? If Matt Larson is trying to duplicate C.J. Mahaney’s movement will he also duplicate the allegations of criminal behavior as well? Will Matt Larson also follow C.J. Mahaney and allegedly cover up the sexual assault of children and engage in blackmail as C.J. Mahaney has allegedly done? If SGM is the model is that what Matt Larson is trying to duplicate? These are just questions I have but before continuing let’s review some of the dark and sordid allegations coming out of Sovereign Grace Ministries. After all this blog was birthed out of an incident from a former SGM church in the Washington, D.C. area.
An Overview of the Problems in Sovereign Grace and the Criminal Accusations and Corruption
SGM went through several name changes but I am going to start with its original church planting name called People of Destiny (Doesn’t that name sound like the Heaven’s Gate group in San Diego?) and grew out of the Washington, D.C. Jesus movement. It had two people who were involved in leading and teaching those people were C.J. Mahaney and Larry Tomczak. PDI practiced the heavy handed “shepherding movement” in the 1970’s. Pastors became the final say for many actions to include where people could go to school, make an appointment with a doctor or take that job. Individuals in PDI took covenants or oaths to follow their leadership. The church network grew out of the Washington, D.C. with I believe the first plant being in Cleveland, Ohio which is where Larry Tomczak is from. However, there was another problem that was growing. C.J. Mahaney wanted to take PDI in the direction of Reformed Theology especially as it was popular and had its headliners such as John Piper, Matt Chandler who were becoming popular. But Larry Tomczak didn’t believe in Reformed Theology and there was a growing rift between the two leaders of PDI. Then it was learned that Larry Tomczak’s child allegedly committed a sex crime, and he confessed it to C.J. Mahaney. Mahaney used the information to blackmail Larry Tomczak and drive him from the organization. Larry Tomczak I believe went down south and planted a church there. At the helm Mahaney turned the organization into a charismatic, Neo-Calvinist network of churches. It was proclaimed to be a “Family of Churches” The organization was known for its strict authority and use of church discipline. For example people gave so much money, and often under the threat of church discipline that in the shadow of the United States capitol of Washington, D.C. in some of the most wealthiest counties in the country people were giving so much that they could not properly feed their families and were having oatmeal for dinner and forsaking meat. While that was going on C.J. Mahaney was using money to corrupt and buy people’s allegiances. For example Al Mohler had received $200,000 while Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist received $10,000 (plus I think it is more…) while Wayne Grudem also received a large chunk of cash from SGM. All together now can we say “Gospel Centered” bribe! While all this was going on SGM was known for its patriarchy and cult like behavior. For example C.J. Mahaney boasted of demanding sex from his wife Carolyn while she was hugging the porcelain god because she was dealing with nausea from morning sickness. Nothing says manhood more than grabbing your wife while she is grabbing for the toilet. But another dark scandal would also hemorrhage out of SGM, and its this issue. SGM became notorious for covering up child sex abuse in the denomination. In 2008 a blog appeared which documented the issues of spiritual abuse in SGM, and it was called SGM Survivors. In a separate post I will reprint some of the stories that have been condensed. But let me tell of about two of them from one of the main churches in the SGM network, that of Sovereign Grace Fairfax. That of Noel and Taylor as told on SGM Survivors.
In the story of Noel the teenage son of her best friend sexually abused her child. In the modus operandi they were discouraged form going to law enforcement about the sexual assault. They were encouraged to forgive and let go. When she took the child to the doctor her former best friend pleaded with her not to go to the doctor as her son would be reported to social services. Noel was told not to speak about the sexual abuse as it was deemed “gossip.” The county of Fairfax pressed charges and not they as the SGM church discouraged it. The SG pastoral leadership requested that Noel and her husband overturn the charges on the boy who sexually assaulted their daughter. They refused, and they later learned last minute that there was a court date, they showed up and had a statement read asking that the charges not be overturned. The situation dragged on and they eventually left SG Fairfax.
In the case of Taylor she discovered that her husband had been sexually abusing her 10 year old daughter. She was discouraged from going to law enforcement and was told that she was being “a Godly example” by not going to law enforcement. Their marriage had deep problems including the fact that her husband was not only into regular pornography but into child pornography. The SG Fairfax leadership told Taylor to put a bolt on the inside of the door to the 10 year old’s room to keep her husband out. She was also encouraged by her church leadership to have more sex with her husband as a means to prevent her daughter from being sexually abused. Eventually she got a divorce. You can read the stories in this link here in further detail.
My question to Matt Larson and the Anthem network still stands…is SGM the model you are trying to duplicate? If so will it be EFCA policy to allegedly cover up child sex abuse? Will it be EFCA policy to tell people they are “Godly” for not reporting criminal sexual assault allegations to law enfacement? If there is a case of someone sexually abusing their child will the leadership at Anthem tell the mother to put a bolt on the door and encourage them to have more sex with the alleged sexual offender? These are questions that I am asking as I connect the dots and analyze this “Family of Churches” in Southern California.
Resources on Sovereign Grace Ministries Written and Gathered at The Wondering Eagle
These are some articles I have written, and from other sources that help document Sovereign Grace. This is for members and people considering the Anthem “Family of Churches.”
- “Sinfully Craving a New Church Name? Sovereign Grace Fairfax Becomes Redeeming Grace Church” How Sovereign Grace Fairfax changed its name to Redeeming Grace Church.
- “How the Sovereign Grace Lawsuit Helped me Resolve the Problem of Evil” How the SGM lawsuit helped me resolve the problem of evil and my thank you to Pam Palmer for filing the lawsuit and asking others to finish the job and hold C.J. Mahaney accountable.
- “Redeemer Arlington’s Incredible Potential Against the “Legacy of Ashes” of Sovereign Grace Ministries” This is about why the final SGM church plant in the Washington, D.C. area needs to repent of its history of SGM.
- “TLC Cancels the Duggars, while Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney Continue Preaching; Why Does the World Have More Ethics than Some Evangelical Christians?” This is about C.J. Mahaney resuming his preaching career and asking the question why does the world have higher standards and a better understanding of ethics than many evangelical Christians?
- “Why Does Cru at George Mason University Recommend Sovereign Grace Fairfax? Is that Wise?” This asks why the local Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) chapter is recommending Sovereign Grace Fairfax? Can Cru practice discernment? Do the leaders have the ability to think critically? Or is it Cru policy to recommend their students attend a church that is led by a wolf (Mark Mullery)
- “Has God Foreordained an Alleged Child Sex Abuse Cover up in Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches? Is that why CJ Mahaney is so Sacred?” C.J. Mahaney is resuming speaking at T4G. My question in return in the spirit of Neo-Calvinism has the Lord foreordained that allegations of criminal activity and child sex abuse be covered up? This also has the transcript of C.J. Mahaney’s blackmail.
- “Is CJ Mahaney the “Bill Cosby of Neo-Calvinism?” The Mahaney Conversation that Thabiti Anyabwile Needs to Have” This asks if C.J. Mahaney is the Neo-Calvinist equivalent of Bill Cosby in that he continues to be dogged by allegations of criminal activity and the evangelical church still refuses to discuss it. It was inspired by an article by Thabiti Anyabwile.
- “What Al Mohler and Mark Dever can Learn from Marquette University’s Public Rebuke of Bill Cosby” My alma mater made national news for revoking Bill Cosby’s honorary doctorate and distancing themselves from the disgraced comedian. Why Al Mohler and Mark Dever can learn form Marquette in distancing themselves from C.J. Mahaney
- “Why C.J. Mahaney and the Evangelical Christian Church Need to see Spotlight” The title is self explanatory.
- “When it Comes to C. J. Mahaney; What the Evangelical Christian Church can Learn from Deep Throat and Watergate” In the growing SGM scandal what can be learned from Watergate and what Deep Throat told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men.” To understand the corruption you need to follow the money.
- “Washingtonian Magazine Writes about Sovereign Grace Ministries and Child Sex Abuse Problems; Analysis of the Article” Washingtonian magazine does a comprehensive article about the issue of child sex abuse in SGM, and the allegations of criminal cover up. This is the analysis of the most significant press scandal which shows that many evangelical churches are no different than the Roman Catholic church in covering up child sex abuse.
- “The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch” The article by Tiffany Stanley on the cover up of child sex abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministries.
- “Time Magazine Writes about Sovereign Grace’s Child Sex Abuse Issues, Yet C.J. Mahaney is Still Scheduled to Speak at T4G; Eagle asks Why?” Time magazine writes about the issue of child sex abuse in SGM.
- “C.J. Mahaney Preaching at T4G? My Response Based Off Charlie Chaplain’s Mocking of Adolf Hitler in “The Great Dictator” In response to the rise of Adolf Hitler in Europe Charlie Chaplain made a movie that became a classic that mocked Hitler. As C.J Mahaney was getting ready to preach at T4G I did the same thing, and wrote an article that was based off what Charlie Chaplain did. This was me mocking Mahaney who is a fraud and should get out of ministry. You can’t preach the Gospel and allegedly cover up the rape of children and engage in criminal activity.
- “What Would Repentance Look Like for C.J. Mahaney? What Should the Church Accept?” What should the Christian church accept when it comes to Mahaney repenting of his allegations of criminal activity?
- “Kevin DeYoung Claims C.J. Mahaney is Above Reproach, Jenn’s Comment from SGM Survivors, and a Dark Anniversary” Kevin DeYoung claimed that C.J. Mahaney is above reproach. His article at The Gospel Coalition contained more horse manure than could be found in the states of Texas, Montana, Oklahoma and Kansas combined!
- “The History of Eric Simmons’ Redeemer Arlington: Formerly of Sovereign Grace Ministries now of Acts 29” This is the history of the last SGM church plant in the DC area and all the articles associated with it.
- “Brother CJ Mahaney: He’s Done Gone and Joined the Southern Baptists!” About C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Louisville becoming SBC from Dee Parsons at The Wartburg Watch.
- “What You Should Know About Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries – Part 1” History of SGM from The Wartburg Watch.
- “What You Should Know about Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries – Part 2” From The Wartburg Watch .
- “Brent Detweiler: An Overview of Allegations That Hush Funds Were Paid by SGM to Keep a Pastor/Father Quiet About Alleged Abuse by an SGMPastor’s Son” Did C.J. Mahaney use money to buy a SGM pastor’s silence and keep them from joining the lawsuit?
So if Matt Larson is still interested I am sure Pam Palmer would be happy to speak with him about SGM. She was the public face of the lawsuit and is currently trying to change Maryland statute of limitation laws. If there are any people that were hurt by Anthem, or issues of child sex abuse in this “Family of Churches” The Wondering Eagle is ready and willing to write about it and pursue it with not just the church, but Steve Highfill and EFCA West. But I honestly hope that never happens. Take care guys and know that I love you!