Sam Emadi’s Disturbing 9 Marks Article Helps Explain Why Neo-Calvinism Struggles with Spiritual Abuse and Why One Should Expect More Scandals

A deeply disturbing article on 9 Marks illustrates why Neo-Calvinist churches are incubators for abuse and problems. First they have a warped view of membership and second they expect people to stay and ride out difficulties. This article helps me understand why Matt Chandler’s The Village Church attempted to place a women who annulled her marriage to a child pornography addict under church discipline. 9 Marks churches are guaranteed to be abuse factories, and Sam Emadi from Third Avenue Baptist in Louisville explains why. 

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

Thomas Jefferson 

“Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”

Thomas Jefferson

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one

Matthew 5:37 NKJV

The Wondering Eagle would like to know when Jesus says let your yes be yes and no be no, does Sam Emadi’s have a problem with Christ’s teachings since he advocates membership covenants? 

 

In writing about Neo-Calvinism there have been a multitude of issues that have happened over the years. There was the abuse and authority issues in Sovereign Grace Ministries. There was the authority issues in Mars Hill Seattle and Mark Driscoll’s and his flight to Arizona. Then there was Matt Chandler’s The Village Church which attempted to practice church discipline on a woman who annulled her marriage to a child pornography addict. These problems keep coming and they keep happening regularly. The question in my mind is why? Why do they keep coming? Why can’t the Neo-Calvinists learn from the failures of Mars Hill Seattle, The Village Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries? Why do these issues keep happening over and over? The other day someone emailed me an article that was published originally on 9 Marks and asked if I had read it. I read 9 Marks regularly but this one I missed as it came out a couple of months back. Reading an article from Sam Emadi published left me with one main impression. There are going to be a lot more Neo-Calvinist abuse scandals that will occur in the near future. The article in question is “Why You Will Join the Wrong Church.”  Before we dissect this article and examine it lets look at who Sam Emadi is. Sam is from Layton, Utah where he studied at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. He currently attends Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville where is working on his Ph.D. Sam is a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville. As Sam is from Utah I want to draw his attention to an article I recently wrote about an Evangelical Free in Utah that is a part of the 9 Marks network. You can read that post in “Evangelical Free Church of Salt Lake City, Utah…Trading the Gospel of Joseph Smith for the Gospel of Jonathan Leeman?” So a person in Utah may go from Mormonism to 9 Marks…where is the good news or the Gospel in that theological trade? My comments below are going to be in red. 


The most read New York Times article from 2016 had nothing to do with politics, culture wars, or comic book movies. Instead, the most-read article of 2016 was all about commitment.

The piece, titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” was written by Alain de Botton. In it, de Botton takes shots at our culture’s idea that the ultimate foundation for commitment in marriage is romantic affection—that feeling of compatibility that means the other person will finally fulfill my needs and make me truly happy.

We all know this is misguided, so much so that de Botton predicts all married person will eventually find inadequacies so severe in their spouse that it will prompt them to ask, Did I marry the wrong person? As he humorously notes, the relational arc of a marriage leans away from idealistic romantic sizzle as “maddening children . . . kill the passion from which they emerged.”

‘Did I Join the Wrong Church?’

As I read de Botton’s article, I couldn’t help but see how much of our culture’s view of love and commitment mirrors how many Christians view church membership. Many Christians’ broken relationships with their churches resemble patterns of the divorce culture and its attendant assumptions about authority, love, and compatibility.

Almost all Christians know what it’s like to question whether they joined the “right church.” After an initial “honeymoon stage,” we begin to see our church’s problems with greater clarity than we see its strengths. The sermons start to seem too intellectual, or not intellectual enough. The church begins budgeting for ministries that don’t seem deserving of the dollar figure on the spreadsheet. The small groups don’t meet our needs in ways we’d hoped.

Okay let’s ask the question…what could be some of the problems in a Neo-Calvinist church culture? Attempting to practice church discipline on a woman who annulled her marriage to a child pornography addict while claiming that the child porn addict is walking in repentance?  Then you have a pastor who taught that women are penis homes and that a repentant woman gets down on her knees and performs a “Gospel Centered Blow Job” on her husband because she has repented and found Jesus, as Mark Driscoll has taught. Or you could have the following situation..a pastor who boasts of demanding sex from his pregnant wife who just was hugging the porcelain God and vomiting. Yup that is the ever humble C.J. Mahaney who once boasted of how he demanded of sex from Carolyn Mahaney. Are those all healthy examples of Neo-Calvinist culture Sam?  You’re an advocate for 9 Marks you can email me an answer. 

More personally, the needs of other church members begin to encroach increasingly on our own personal freedoms. Some members sin against us—even without knowing just how deeply we’ve been wounded. Without even realizing it’s happening, we begin to wonder whether our local assembly is the “right” place for us. Of course, we remind ourselves there’s no such thing as a perfect church—something we’ve even told fellow church members. And yet, we can’t help but grapple with the nagging question: Did I join the wrong church?

The problem with this question is it assumes church life shouldn’t be hard. It assumes that the “honeymoon stage” should continue in perpetuity, or that something has gone awry if we experience significant disappointment or hurt from relationships with other members or leaders.

I never really met anyone who viewed church membership as a “honeymoon.” Truth is in today’s church with the movements within I’d sign an alimony agreement before taking the plunge. And to be honest with the spiritual abusive movements like 9 Marks I wouldn’t enter into a membership covenant so maybe I would pass altogether. I agree that many Christians have a light view of membership but I also suggest that the Neo-Calvinists have a warped view on membership. But when I read Sam Emadi’s post it leaves me to ask the following question…does he know what sin is? Is he aware that churches and leaders can sin also? All I have to do is point to C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler and others and the fact that they are sinners. Sam refers to people who hurt others, well what about the leadership that can hurt people as well? What about pastors in Neo-Calvinism when they hurt people as well. In Sam’s article I get the vibe that people in the pews are identified as the problem and people like C.J. Mahaney are given the pass. As they say in the Marine Corps, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” This is one major problem with Neo-Calvinism is that is looks at the people in the pews not as people but subjects to be Lorded over and controlled. In the end this is about power and control..nothing more. This is what is wrong with Neo-Calvinism is that it is in opposition to Christ’s teachings. Jesus came to serve and not be served. In Neo-Calvinism many pastors expect to be served and the people in the pews to serve them. 

Do the Perks Outweigh the Costs?

But these assumptions reveal a deep and unthinking commitment to consumerism: Only if the perks of membership outweigh its inconveniences will we think it’s worth it to stick it out. Regrettably, many Christians seem trapped in a perpetual cycle of this type of cost-benefit analysis.

I’ve found Christians most often push eject on their membership not because they’re upset at the church’s budget or because they disagree on matters of polity. Christians leave their churches for the same reason people leave their marriages: a lack of relational depth and affection. In other words, many leave their churches because they just don’t seem compatible with the church or because the relationships leave them feeling dry.

Personal relationships, however, were never meant to serve as the foundation for our sense of church commitment. If we pursue relationships as the foundation of our belonging, we’re more likely to be inescapably trapped in the consumerism and “met-needs” mentality at the heart of our divorce culture. However, instead of valuing consumerism, the Bible roots our membership in the idea of a covenant, which offers an infinitely superior alternative.

 While some Christians look at church in a consumerist mindset the reality is that is what many churches have taught people to think. Will any churches own their mistakes? Why does Sam always pass the buck to the person in the pew and never the leadership? Am I wrong for asking that question? And Sam’s comment about people who don’t push eject because of polity shows how out of touch and how much Kool Aid has been ingested. Christians leave churches for many reasons one of them is that you seldom find love. And personal relationships are what attracted many of the followers of Jesus to Jesus in that they just wanted to hang out with him and learn. In the process many learned from each other. 

Covenant Before Community

Tim Keller notes in his marriage book that a covenant “creates a particular kind of bond . . . a relationship far more intimate and personal than a merely legal, business relationship. Yet at the same time, it is far more durable, binding, and unconditional than one based on mere feeling and affection. A covenant relationship is a stunning blend of law and love.”

When the Bible speaks about the church, it refers to it as a covenant community. Church members aren’t just part of a shared interest group. They’re covenanted to one another by a sacred promise to oversee one another’s membership in the kingdom and faithfulness to King Jesus (Matt. 18:15–20). The New Testament unfolds the details of that sacred promise: We regularly gather together (Heb. 10:24–25), bear one another’s burdens and sorrows (Gal. 6:2), encourage one another (Heb. 3:12–14), pray for one another (Jas. 5:16), and forgive one another (Col. 3:13). Many churches helpfully formalize these biblical instructions into a church covenant, a set of promises members make to one another when they enter into membership.

These covenant obligations are the foundations of our church commitment and should function as the backbone to church life. Covenant precedes community. We might even say covenant creates community. The covenant promises members make to one another blossom into the life-giving relationships our hearts crave.

Tim Keller’s assessment of a covenant is over the top in many ways. For many people marriage is more like a partnership then less as a covenant as a couple have explained to me. But what is most disturbing is that Sam views everything through the lens of a covenant. From from membership, to church meeting, to bearing each other’s burdens and forgiving each other. The fact of the matter is that you do not need a membership covenant to do any basic aspects of the Christian faith. You do not need a membership covenant to forgive or to carry one another’s burdens. Actually Sam I would like to know…which shows more love…the person who does something because they signed a piece of paper at Third Avenue Baptist Church and he was obligated or the person who did it because he wanted to do so, and he wanted to do so out of his faith? The evidence is pretty clear cut.

And this third paragraph helps explain why covenants become traps that ensnare people. They become legalistic and binding and in some ways they have also become legal documents as well. That is another reason why covenants should be firmly rejected. The church has consulted a lawyer who is often involved in the drafting in the paperwork yet discourages people from consulting lawyers. So often what happens is that many churches do not follow what they teach. Its problematic and why this covenant movement should be rejected. Covenants do not create community, and I am not saying that form a consumerist mindset. I am saying that as someone who is reading between the lines. Covenants create spiritual prisons. They create problems that prevent the church from loving. Sam in this article is making covenants an idol, and that is what he is ultimately worshiping. Many Neo-Calvinists have made “the local church” an idol and are worshiping that over God. But that is what happens when you engage in idolatry. 

Covenant precedes community. We might even say covenant creates community.

Rooting commitment in our covenant promises doesn’t mean church relationships are nothing but soulless duty. Instead, covenant commitments are the food that nourishes our relationships with other members. The more we hold ourselves to our covenant promises, the more our relationships blossom and endure through seasons of difficulty. Again, as de Botton perceptively notes in his article, “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.” The world argues affection is prerequisite to commitment. But the biblical picture is actually quite the opposite: commitment and service create affection.

I’m amazed at how this principle works out even in my own life. A few years ago, after a couple in our church had a baby, my wife and I signed up through the church’s member-care ministry to bring them a meal. Our act of service, however, wasn’t rooted in a pre-existing relationship with this couple. In fact, we barely knew them. We simply wanted to be faithful to our covenant promises to “bear one another’s burdens.” Yet that service, rooted in our covenant commitment, ultimately blossomed into a sweet friendship between our families. We weren’t expecting a relationship to bloom, but that’s what happens when you hold yourself to covenant promises, even with people you barely know.

In this section Sam again shows many of the issues which plague Neo-Calvinism. Covenants don’t necessarily nourish a soul, that is Neo-Calvinist parlance for controlling a soul. In a church people are ultimately accountable to God which Sam throws under the bus in this article. And yes, Sam and the 9 Marks crowd will say “we’re Elder led and all…” but what do you do when a pastor schemes and has his yes men appointed. How many people in such choices are going to stand up to Mark Dever and say “You’re wrong on this issue..” That just will not happen. I wonder if what has contributed to Sam’s delusion and embrace of 9 Marks is growing up in Utah and being surrounded by Mormonism and facing some of the challenges Christians face in the state. I am just thinking out loud as I write this article.  

Covenants Endure the Fire

The reason God roots the most important relationships in the world—like marriage and church membership—in covenants is to ensure they endure through fire. Have you ever noticed how traditional marriage vows were designed to ensure couples prepare to love one another well in the midst of suffering? Couples pledge themselves to one another even in “poverty” and “sickness” until parted by death.

This same expectation of future trials also marks the promises that members make to one another. We pledge to “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2) and patiently bear with and forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters who wrong us (Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:32). If we make our covenant commitments the ground of our life and relationships in the church, we come to expect the rough patches and prepare to face them with godliness.

While our affections for our church and its members can be fickle, easily dissipating as soon as circumstances shift unfavorably, our covenant commitments never fade. As Keller notes, covenants are by their nature oriented toward the future. They are “not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.” In some sense, the whole point of a covenant is to pledge our love and fidelity for the rough times ahead. Thus, covenants carry us through suffering. Once more, de Botton incisively notes, “Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”

This section is really over the top. Covenants endure the fire? How well did the covenants that C.J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll or Mark Dever do? When C.J. Mahaney was a covenant member of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland and he ultiumatley fled to hide behind Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church; well how did that covenant relationship work? When Mark Dever took in C.J. Mahaney instead of giving him a good kick in the ass and telling him to go back to Covenant Life, did Mark Dever honor or debase covenants at Capitol Hill Baptist Church? What about membership covenants that existed at Mars Hill Seattle when that was in existance. Yes I know Mars Hill was not 9 Marks but it still enforced and had membership covenants. How well did those membership covenants work for Mark Driscoll in teh end. This claim that covenants endure in the fire is so off base, that I would laugh had it not been so sad. Another idea that is warped is the statement that “covenants carry us through suffering” when in reality it should be love. Covenants do not equal love. The role between membership covenant and 9 Marks church I would say is similar to a slave holder and a slave in the years prior to the Civil War. 

Stick with the ‘Wrong’ Church

Joining a church, like seeking a spouse, is daunting. Loving others makes us vulnerable, and committing ourselves to a church immerses us in the needs of other sinners. Eventually, every congregation will find a way to get under our skin, frustrate us, or even wound us—and we will do the same to them.

Our relationships will ebb and flow, as will our affection for the church. But the solution is not always looking for a better fit. Instead, we renew our passion and reignite our sense of belonging by holding ourselves to our membership covenant—sacred promises that bind even the “wrong” people together.

This last section indicates two key problems which I would like to indicate. They help explain why abuse is going to happen in a 9 Marks church. And second they also illustrate why 9 Marks will never learn from its mistakes. In this article that Sam Emadi wrote you can see how they view covenants. Covenants are the foundation for everything in church life. 9 Marks doesn’t take into account the fact that incidents and problems will happen in life. For some people their marriage will end. I hate to say that but life happens and its a given that some marriages will end. In other cases a person may have problems in work and seeking new employment elsewhere and want to leave. Membership covenants do not take those situations into account and when events like the two I described previously happens, hardship and problems are going to set in. People are going to get ensnared and problems are going to escalate.

Now when people have these problems or difficulty they are told to trust the church or just stay. Karen Hinkley ran into that in The Village Church, trust the leaders who didn’t know how to deal with an alleged child pornography addict.  So people can be dealing with a difficult situation, sexual abuse or domestic abuse and 9 Marks expects them to stay and how commitment in their covenant. This ultimately reveals that Sam Emadi just doesn’t get it, that he doesn’t have a clue. Emadi’s approach is a guarantee that 9 Marks churches are going to continue to be abusive and questionable. Its hwy there will be stories in the future about Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Its why there will likely be a story coming from Garrett Kell’s Del Rey Baptist. Its why there is likely to be a story or two from Bill Kynes Cornerstone Evangelical Free in Annandale, Virginia here in the Washington, D.C. area. Its why someone will write about Third Avenue Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky some day. Its why these problems are to continue coming. What is profoundly sad is that Sam obviously hasn’t learned from the prior scandals that exist. He also is not capable of learning either. Now if I were in the SBC and I read this and I saw that Sam was going to eventually graduate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) I would have two thoughts in my mind. The first one of that I would be disappointed that SBTS is cranking out someone like Sam. That is a major disappointment. Second if I gave money to the SBC and this is what is being cranked out I would write the SBTS and ask for a refund. When I read this article it made me realize why 9 Marks is abusive and questionable and why their problems are going to continue to occur with a regular basis. That’s it guys I hope you have a great day. 

4 thoughts on “Sam Emadi’s Disturbing 9 Marks Article Helps Explain Why Neo-Calvinism Struggles with Spiritual Abuse and Why One Should Expect More Scandals

  1. He currently attends Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville where is working on his Ph.D.

    Southern Baptist (after the takeover) — say no more.
    “HAIL CALVIN! HAIL VICTORY!”

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  2. I’m seeing the unspoken assumption in Emadi’s article that you should make your covenant only with HIS kind of church. If someone has made a “covenant” with an entirely different kind of church with very different beliefs, I’m guessing that Emadi would tell that person to dump that church and come join his. All that talk of obligation and binding promises would go right out the window.

    As someone who has been married for 31 years, his “honeymoon” talk is just nonsense. Long-term compatibility is crucial, as is commitment from both parties to try to make it work. Once the honeymoon period is over, if there’s no ability to build long-term compatibility between partners, the answer is not just to stick it out no matter how miserable you are, that’s a recipe for abuse. If it’s just not working, leave before you pour all your energy into something that can never work out. (That’s why I would recommend long engagements for couples, to get past that first flush of infatuation before making any long-term commitment.)

    I see he’s asking his congregation to make a long-term commitment to becoming the members that his church needs, but there’s no reciprocal long-term commitment from the church hierarchy to becoming the church that the members need.

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  3. Neo-Calvinists say that “If you love the church, you would sign this covenant to keep all these promises.”

    I say “If you love the church, you don’t need a covenant. you would do loving acts for the church and for its people as the situation arises.”

    Laws and contracts is only for those without love. So then you let law and contracts “force” you to do the right thing. If you have love, you would always do what is best for the other person.

    Christians only have one covenant: Love God and love all of our neighbours.

    Any other add on to this becomes falsehood. These other covenants tries to define what love is. In reality it is saying when one should over-submit and when one can get away with not loving.

    For example when a husband points a loaded gun at you the wife, but your elder tell you to over-submit to your husband, you should over-submit to him. They of course define this as love.

    And when you that same wife wants to divorce your abusive husband, but your elder tells the church that you a false believer, the church is right to excommunicate you. And the members are commended to break off all communication with you. So the church sides with the abusers to further abuse you the wife. They of course define this as love.

    Hence all these covenant does is try to define what love is, as per the elders. And in their often twisted definitions the true love disappears.

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