I follow a number of blogs, and a few weeks ago there was a new guest post on Rachel Held Evans’ blog. Rachel asked a former homeschooler named Hännah Ettinger to write about the group of churches known as Sovereign Grace Ministries from a personal perspective. The blog post is a story of one who grew up in an environment where church doctrines were often held legalistically by church members and families.
I thought it was a well written blog post about a personal story, and how the community around the author behaved based on preachings that they heard and books that they read (like “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” and “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”).
Then Stephen Altrogge, a pastor from a church in Pennsylvania, and son of a longtime pastor of SGM, commented on the message.
“I’m sorry, but as someone who grew up in SGM, and is now a pastor in a church that recently left SGM, this is a VERY poor representation of SGM as a whole. This is one young woman’s perspective and it is filtered through the lens of her family experience. What she is communicating was not the systemic experience throughout SGM. Some were abused, yes. But this young woman’s experience is not representative.
We will put aside the weirdness of the fact that he is defending a church he has now separated from, and get to the heart of the matter. Stephen does not put this “plea” out because he wants another person to tell a positive story. He comes from one of the smaller churches that stood under the SGM label, and although he asks for balance, he gives none himself. He doesn’t explain that his experience was good, and that he wishes that SGM would be more unified for the good of the 80 some odd congregations that were under it.
See, the truth is, even though these issues were in the past, the SGM model has been to move old theologies and commonly held ideals aside when problems pop up. They have a tendancy to pretend that the legalism never happened, or that it was fringe group who “misunderstood” what the teachings were about.
Now, if only Stephen had ever admitted that his church could be wrong and was legalistic in the past, which could have hurt people like this Ms Ettinger…Wait, I’ve got it!
Stephen, I would like to quote your own comment on a blog post a couple of months ago.
“Now, have our churches been overly legalistic about a “quiet time”, or whatever you want to call it? Sure. Just as we’ve been overly legalistic about dating, worship forms, parenting, and a bazillion other things. But our temptation is always to swing the pendulum too far the other way.”
These are the things you admitted to, Stephen. Please stop trying to silence those who would tell their story. I would like to echo and affirm the words someone who responded to you in that thread.
Nerio Jove wrote back to Stephen’s comment:
“I’m not sure you understand just how offensive this remark is to me and might be to some of the other readers here, and how effectively it epitomizes the heart problems of SGM leadership, so let me break it down for you:
1. Not only do you freely admit that SGM has been legalistic in its teachings, but that it has been OVERLY legalistic, as if it wasn’t bad enough to act like the Pharisees, but that SGM has taken it to a level that even the Pharisees might think was too much. Given how Jesus addressed the Pharisees on this issue, how might you think Jesus would address SGM if he arrived at Louisville HQ in person?
2. You respond to the question of legalistic zealotry in SGM’s teaching (and by implication, its culture) with the response, “Sure.” Do you truly understand the heartache caused by this teaching, the broken relationships, the twisting of the Truth that has occurred that you admit to, and yet you respond not with sorrow but with a glib remark?
3. You JUSTIFY the legalism with the remark, “But our temptation is always to swing the pendulum too far the other way.” In other words, Yes, SGM has taught and practiced wrongly–we have taught legalism rather than grace. But because it would be WORSE for us to abuse our freedom and become licentious, it’s better for us to err on the side of caution and prescribe all these different rules and practices–however distant our application is from the actual content of the Scriptures–as mandatory for being pleasing to God.
How DARE you say such a thing! If faith in Christ is what justifies us and enables us to come before the father, if in Jesus we are new creations no longer enslaved to sin, how is it possible that addressing Christians as being essentially just like the World could be a good thing to do?!
Mr Altrogge, please consider that your flippant comments on other people’s blogs are hurtful and neglectful. In the future, please realize that people should be allowed to share thier stories without being repremanded for representing their churches unfavorably. It is not your job to be the thought police, and the stories people tell are important.