Spiritual darkness continues to grow within the visible Christian church. As apostasy increases Apprising Ministries functions with other soldiers against error  to expose it as best we can.

As this Iceberg of Apostasy continues to rise up out of troubled spiritual waters God is opening up a mission field of online apologetics and discernment ministries along the Internet Front of this war for truth.

Sadly, stories like you’re about to see are only likely to increase as Jesus seems to be revealing what was apparently whispered, in secret in order to have it proclaimed on the housetops, as it were (cf. Matthew 10:27).

For example, we’ve recently witnessed the following story, which gives us real cause for concern when Sovereign Grace Ministries Says That In Sex Abuse Case, Courts Shouldn’t “Second Guess” Their Pastoral Counseling.

Especially so, when taken together with what Christian Research Network associate editor Erin Benziger brought out the other day in Las Vegas Man Acussed Of Sexual Abuse While Working At SGM Church In The 80’s:

The Washington Post (WP) reports that a Las Vegas man has been accused of molesting four boys between 1985 and 1990 while working at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Says WP:

The criminal investigation began in 2009 when a man reported to police that he was sexually abused by [Nathaniel] Morales when he was between the ages of 12 and 20. The man told police that his parents had spoken to the church pastor but that no police report was made.SOURCE

It is said that the suspect, Nathaniel Morales, helped at the church “with youth ministries, conducted Bible studies, [taught] at a Christian school and [hosted] sleepovers.”

Covenant Life Church (CLC) currently is under the leadership of pastor Joshua Harris. It was the original flagship church of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) and formerly housed the organization’s offices on its campus, yet recently voted to disassociate from the network of churches founded and led by C.J. Mahaney.

In a statement on the church’s website dated 17 December 2012, CLC shares some details:

Over the past year there has been a growing clarity for our pastoral team that our differences with the leadership of SGM make it difficult for us to remain as a member church. After much prayer and sober consideration, the pastoral team presented their perspective and proposed disassociation from SGM to the members of Covenant Life Church at a members meeting on November 4. On December 12, 2012, the members of Covenant Life Church affirmed the pastors’ decision to end our formal association with SGM. SOURCE

In October 2012, a lawsuit was filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries accusing some in leadership of neglecting to report allegations of sexual abuse and of protecting known sexual predators. In November, SGM responded to the complaint by stating that it contained “a number of misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent.” (source)

Then there’s Lawsuit Targets Sovereign Grace Ministries And Co-Founder Over New Child Sex Abuse Allegations where Washington Post reporter Michelle Boorstein informs us:

A Montgomery County Circuit Court lawsuit accuses past and current leaders of a 100-church evangelical denomination of covering up sexual abuse of minors, forcing small children to “forgive” abusers and ostracizing families who wouldn’t hide the alleged crimes.

The lawsuit filed Friday adds more accusers and more accused to a complaint filed last fall against Sovereign Grace Ministries, a movement founded in the 1970s in Gaithersburg. Among those named now is co-founder Larry Tomczak, who was a key figure in the movement’s early years but split from it bitterly in the 1990s.

Eight alleged victims are named. Tomczak is the only alleged abuser named. He is accused of forcing a victim over a period of 25 years to strip “against her will” and assaulting her. (source)

As far as Tomczak himself is concerned, Boorstein reports that:

Tomczak became well-known with Sovereign Grace leader C.J. Mahaney years ago for launching what is now a thriving trend of neo-Calvinism. Neo-Calvinism teaches that people are steeped in sin and need strict spiritual oversight.

Tomczak is a pastor in Tennessee. Mahaney moved Sovereign Grace’s headquarters last year from Gaithersburg to Kentucky amid controversy within the churches over his leadership.

The movement’s flagship church, Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, became independent a few weeks ago after public disagreements over views of pastoral authority. (source)

Summing this up, Benziger also tells us that:

According to Susan Burke, the lawyer who initiated the case, this latest indictment “supports our lawsuit’s allegations of extensive wrongdoing by Sovereign Grace Ministries and its pastors.” (source)

Finally, in Former Sovereign Grace Ministries Founder Calls For Christian Leaders To Separate From CJ Mahaney Due To Class Action Sex Abuse Case CRN contributor Christine Pack of Sola Sisters informs us:

Brent Dentwiler, one of the Sovereign Grace Ministries founders, has called for prominent Christian leaders to separate from Sovereign Grace Ministries pastor C.J. Mahaney due to an ongoing sex abuse class action lawsuit that has been brought against Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Mahaney, who is currently a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and The Gospel Coalition, is a well-known speaker at Christian conferences, and is scheduled to speak at the upcoming Gospel Coalition National Conference, scheduled for April 8-10 in Orlando, Fl.

Some of the leaders Detwiler has called upon  to separate from Mahaney are John Piper, Voddie Baucham, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Paige Patterson and Ed Stetzer. (source)

This is the background you need to understand why, with these kinds of accusations of alleged pastoral abuse now surfacing, I believe it’s important to at least help draw these things to the attention of the Body of Christ.

With all of this fresh in your mind then, I now point you to Calvary Chapel’s Tangled Web by David Sessions. Sessions is no lightweight as he:

covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He has written for SlatePolitics DailyNew York,The Daily and others. He is the founding editor of Patrol, a blog about religion and politics. (source)

Concerning what Sessions referred to as a “tangled web” around Calvary Chapel,  he’s reporting that:

A pastor whose family was murdered in New Mexico belonged to a large association of evangelical churches that, critics allege, stands behind misbehaving pastors and looks away when they are accused of sexual abuse and other misdeeds.

Greg Griego, who was slaughtered along with his wife and children, allegedly by his 15-year-old son, Nehemiah, last week near Albuquerque, was a beloved minister. A born-again gang member, he seemed to serve anywhere he would be had: as a minister in Albuquerque’s fire department, at a detention center, and in the prison ministry at Calvary Albuquerque, a megachurch affiliated with the Calvary Chapel network of more than a thousand similar churches. After allegedly committing the horrific crimes, Nehemiah reportedly spent hours hanging around Calvary Albuquerque, telling church members his family died in a car accident.

The Albuquerque massacre wasn’t the first time lately that a Calvary Chapel–affiliated church found itself part of a grim news cycle. Calvary is one of several large evangelical denominations beginning to draw national attention as lawsuits pile up over abuses allegedly covered up by pastors and church leaders. Over the past decades, Calvary has been plagued with accusations ranging from unaccountable leadership to covered-up sexual abuse, raising questions similar to those faced by Roman Catholic hierarchy about what kind of role the church’s top leaders were playing behind the scenes.

Unlike the centralized, bureaucratic Catholic Church, some upstart evangelical denominations have less explicit authority structures that remain opaque even to members. Because networks of churches like Calvary Chapel and Sovereign Grace often have an ostensibly informal relationship with the flagship church, denominational leaders can find themselves in the difficult position of having to take responsibility for the abuses of an affiliate church—or, more often, refusing to do so.

This tension is especially acute in Calvary Chapel, where pastors are given a great deal of individual authority, but it seems have sometimes found senior Calvary leaders asserting their prerogative in doctrinal, financial, or administrative matters. Turned off by the micromanaging he saw in other evangelical denominations, Chuck Smith, Calvary’s founder, developed a church model based on near-absolute sovereignty of the senior pastor. “I feel my primary responsibility is to the Lord,” he explained to Christianity Today in 2007. “And one day I’m going to answer to him, not to a board of elders.” Though Smith described church budgeting as a collective process toChristianity Today, Calvary Chapel pastors have little requirement to disclose church finances to members or even other leaders, according to other Calvary members who say they were given the cold shoulder when they asked for more information.

Though Smith’s Calvary “distinctives” (PDF) exalt the authority of individual pastors, Calvary churches are never completely exempt from meddling by Smith or other powerful figures in the movement. One of those figures is Skip Heitzig, the founding pastor of Calvary Albuquerque, and perhaps the most prominent public face of the evangelical community’s mourning of Greg Griego, who also served as a pastor there.

The story of Heitzig’s exit from and return to Albuquerque is a perfect example of how “independent” Calvary churches can be quite entangled with the larger movement, both structurally and financially. When Heitzig departed to pastor another Calvary church in California, he chose Pete Nelson as his successor. Heitzig remained on the board of Calvary Albuquerque, and, with the help of other board members who did not live in New Mexico but were also powerful Calvary leaders, tried to force financial decisions on the Albuquerque church, according to the Christianity Today report.

Heitzig attempted to create a “mega-board” that would place the Albuquerque church and its two radio stations under his own management, according toChristianity Today. Nelson eventually resigned, citing Heitzig’s attempts to concentrate power in his own hands and push out dissenters. A group of five church members, including a professor at the University of New Mexico, created a group to call for increased accountability from the church’s leadership. Greg Zanetti, a former church elder and general in the New Mexico National Guard, also went public with accusations that Heitzig had moved expensive stage equipment from Albuquerque to his new church in California and had forced Calvary Albuquerque to subsidize Heitzig’s money-losing radio program.

Nelson’s departure led to an uproar in the Albuquerque church, with nearly 2,000 members signing a petition supporting Nelson, and others publicly questioning Heitzig’s lack of financial accountability. Heitzig resigned from the Albuquerque board—with his supporters reportedly handing him a severance of more than $300,000—only to return as senior pastor a year later. Heitzig denied (PDF) the accusations of abusing his authority.

Chuck Smith has injected himself into conflicts in other Calvary churches, almost always on the side of authorities accused of abuses. According to the Christianity Today investigation, Smith protected several Calvary pastors who were accused of having affairs and sexually harassing women on the grounds that they were “great Bible teachers” who would be “totally destroyed” if they weren’t helped by the church. Smith rehired at least two leaders who had been fired by other Calvary churches for sexual misconduct. According to Christianity Today, another employee of one of Smith’s churches in California, who was arrested for having sex with a 15-year-old girl, had already been fired from a different ministry at Smith’s church for having sex with a woman on church property. Smith denies that the employee’s initial firing was sex-related, but several leaders and pastors confirmed it to Christianity Today. (source)

You can read the rest of this report by David Sessions right here.

HT: Apostasy Watch

Further reading