By Bob Allen
Members of Pastor C.J. Mahaney’s Kentucky church plant “don’t fully grasp” their privilege, the embattled Calvinist leader’s defender and friend Mark Dever told the congregation of Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville June 2.
Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., spoke at the church that meets in a Louisville hotel days after joining Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler and Presbyterian Church of America minister Ligon Duncan in a joint statement expressing confidence in Mahaney, who is named in a lawsuit being described as the largest evangelical sex-abuse scandal to date.
The trio, who with Mahaney lead a biennial preaching conference called Together for the Gospel, originally posted the statement on Facebook, but after more than 100 negative comments appeared in the first 24 hours it was moved to the T4G website.
In his sermon, Dever appeared unfazed by the backlash, perhaps alluding to the controversy when he told the congregation of hearing “gossip” about Mahaney the day before while attending the wedding of Mohler’s daughter.
“There were three Christian leaders standing there,” Dever said. “I overheard them talking about C.J., and I stepped in to listen. And all three of them know him, and all of them were bragging on him and his integrity in a number of ways, one of which is the way he’s begun in leading this church plant.”
“So you all who are here in this church, and particularly if you’re visiting or if you’re sort of new to Sovereign Grace, you have a privilege in having this man as your pastor that you don’t fully grasp, and that’s absolutely fine,” Dever said. “Just thank God for him and enjoy the word of God as he brings it from a life and a heart full of the gospel, and know that I am delighted to be here. It’s a privilege to address you brothers and sisters.”
Mahaney, founder and former president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, an 80-church network that embraces Calvinist theology and charismatic worship styles, is at the center of a lawsuit filed in January alleging a conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse of children at two SGM congregations in Maryland.
A judge recently dismissed most of a second amended complaint on legal grounds, but lawyers are asking her to reconsider the ruling and indicated that if that effort fails they plan to appeal.
The lawsuit claimed that Mahaney and other SGM pastors shielded child molesters from arrest, forced children to meet with and “forgive” their abusers and dismissed as gossip church members reporting abuse to outside authorities.
All the alleged activity took place in the name of “discipline,” a method of handling sin popular in churches that follow a model that goes by names including Neo-Calvinism, the “doctrines of grace,” and “young, restless and Reformed.”
“The Sovereign Grace Churches in general that I’ve had to do with have marked fruits of the Spirit, more marked than any other group of Christian churches I know of, and I am thankful for that,” Dever said.
Dever, 52, currently serves as a Southern Seminary trustee and was one of 19 members of an advisory task force on Calvinism that recently issued a report in advance of this month’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston.
From 1995 until 2001, he served on the steering committee for Founders Ministries, a pastoral movement for biblical teaching and healthy church life within the Southern Baptist Convention based on Calvinist principles.
Dever isn’t the first Calvinist leader to endorse Mahaney from the Sovereign Grace pulpit in Louisville. John Piper, founder of Desiring God Ministries, praised Mahaney in a February sermon delivered not long after he and 76 other evangelical leaders were urged in an open letter to refrain from promoting Mahaney or inviting him to speak at events until questions about his fitness for ministry are resolved.