On November 30, 2017 voting for the elder candidates closes at The Bridge Fresno. This post is just a quick article about the issues at stake and what could happen if The Bridge Fresno is theologically hijacked. This post is inspired by what I witnessed at Deaf Church on Sunday and why that unique community needs to be made stable for those in it.
“Trust, but verify.“
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 NIV
When I attended The Bridge Fresno and was listening to the announcements I learned that this EFCA church is voting on new candidates for their Elder Board. The EFCA follows a congregational model, which is a very fascinating form of church government. After the information meeting on November 20, 2017 the church opened up the voting process for eleven days. The final day to vote is November 30. I was pressed to get out two other posts in the previous few days leading up to this one. But this post I hope will inform people on the last day of voting.
Does the Elder Candidate Understand the Differences Between Grace and the Doctrines of Grace?
The Bridge Fresno as a conservative church is probably leaning on the qualifications from 1 Timothy 3:1-7. I would expect that and while I have no qualms with that part of scripture being used the reality of the situation is that there is a lot more that should go into the elder selection. For example, do many people at The Bridge Fresno know the difference between grace and the doctrines of grace? Can that be articulated by the members of The Bridge Fresno? What about the elder candidates themselves? Have they made themselves clear, and open as to where they stand theologically? If you were to ask the candidates who influences them and what books are the reading, would they say in an open and honest way? Are they reading people like Thom Rainer, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Jonathan Leeman or other individuals? Are they podcasting John Piper or Matt Chandler? Do people who are voting know where the candidates stand on Neo-Calvinist theology? There are reasons why this needs to be asked.
What The Bridge Fresno can Learn from McLean Bible
The Wondering Eagle has been writing about the theological hijacking of a mega church in the Washington, D.C. area. It is the church where David Platt became the Teaching Pastor. The church is called McLean Bible. Now for context for those reading this from The Fresno/Clovis area I want to tell you a story, but I want you to imagine this happening in The Peoples Church which is off Herndon and Cedar. Imagine a situation where the assistant pastor to the senior pastor allegedly developed a relationship with Mark Dever from Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Imagine that this relationship goes on behind the back of the senior pastor. Imagine when the senior pastor is out of town that Mark Dever is invited to the staff meeting where he pushed 9 Marks. Imagine that this is all going on behind the senior pastors back. Now imagine that there are concerns and some people from the staff reach out to the elder board for the church and express their concerns. The elder board allegedly dismisses the situation
Meanwhile the elder board gets infatuated with a pastoral candidate and introduces him to the church in time. His Neo-Calvinist doctrine is downplayed and dismissed. After all they point to all the books he has written and the fact that he serves as president of the SBC’s International Mission Board. Behind the scenes close to 130 staff are forced off the church with some taking buy outs. As they leave a coup of Neo-Calvinist graduates from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary at Wake Forest are brought in and placed into strategic positions of the church. Imagine a disturbing congregation meeting where the pastor replacement (who is backed by the elder board) is introduced to the church. After a vote the church is flipped, and people start to realize what happened. People are leaving and losing their church home. Meanwhile church programs are allegedly being cut and are being phased out.
This actually happened in the Washington, D.C. area. It was troubling to watch from a distance. I have been receiving some emails here and there by people who are upset. It was done covertly and at a crucial time in the church’s history the elder board failed. This can happen anywhere, to include The Bridge Fresno.
If The Bridge Fresno is Hijacked this is What is at Risk
When people vote on these elder candidates they need to know what they are getting. Many Neo-Calvinists are stealth in that they also hide their beliefs. Often times you learn about this after everything has happened. If something like this happens at The Bridge Fresno what would happen to the church.
The main staff of about 20 people could be let go. Imagine individuals like Dave Cowin, Jeff Loven, Sam Jessup, and Richard Parr are let go. In their place comes young Neo-Calvinists from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary or Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Celebrate Recovery program is ended and Robert Smith is let go. In its place is either a nouthetic counseling or something by Ed Welch and the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. Its highly fundamentalist and people are losing their program. Imagine a situation where because of a hard core complementarianism women are not even allowed to assemble materials. Sp Becky Garcia and Jane Peters are let go. Now you see children’s programs cut, and then you also have Deaf Church eliminated and Keith Catron is let go. With all this money spared up now The Bridge Fresno is suddenly doing church plants while cutting back on foreign missionary support. So the money that was used for Deaf Church is now being used to launch an Acts 29 church at an elementary school near River Park. The Bridge Fresno loses its life and the church is cannibalized.
I Want to See The Bridge Fresno Be Healthy, I do not Want to Write About a Theological Hijacking
That story I wrote above while disturbing can happen. Never assume that it will not happen. Watching McLean Bible be hijacked, David Platt be dishonest in a congregation meeting was troubling. But it happens, and I hear about it. One of the ways it happens is that Neo-Calvinists take over the elder board and then they steer the church in a direction that is not the church they once were. I write this late at night as a warning. Make sure that the elder candidates are vetted properly. Its my understanding that Clovis Evangelical Free went to the darkside a few years ago. I wrote about their senior pastor in “Is Wil Owens, the Senior Pastor of Clovis Evangelical Free Still Drooling Over C.J. Mahaney?” But the pastors at The Bridge Fresno would also be spiritually abused in the process. The people in Deaf Church which I wrote about in “The Bridge Fresno’s Deaf Church, can this be a Model for the EFCA When it Comes to Church for those Who are Deaf?“could lose their home. I have listened to Jeff Loven a couple of times and the vibe I get is that his heart is in the right place. Keith Catron is an incredible asset that I witnessed this past weekend. Chris Calvert has a tender and caring heart, at least when I spoke with him after the service he seemed kind. James Alvin and Sam Jessup seem like kind, and warm people. You don’t want to go through anything like this. Plus I do not want to write about such a thing one day. When it comes to power plays like what I described you don’t need to know the Bible. What you need to comprehend is George Orwell. But by being wise and thinking critically and being on the alert about those who espouse the Doctrines of Grace” can prevent that from happening.
I want The Bridge Fresno to become healthy in time. It would be neat if there is an evangelical church that bucks the issues associated with the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” You can read about that topic in “From Mormonism in Montana to Sovereign Grace in the Washington, D.C. Area; The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Comes Full Circle.” I am not trying to be alarmist I am trying to be realistic. That is the goal of this quick post.