Sincerest greetings to all Free Grace readers in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ who, "loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5).
As many of you know by now, I have recently begun writing a series of articles for the Grace Family Journal from the Duluth Bible Church titled “The Tragedy of the Crossless Gospel.” The purpose of this series has been initially to alert believers to the problem of the “crossless” gospel being propagated today by a few key teachers and leaders in the Free Grace movement, principally through the Grace Evangelical Society . A second primary objective of this series (especially as it relates to future articles) is to provide believers with a Scriptural and exegetical basis to discern the true gospel of Christ from this recent false form of the gospel.
The response to the two articles thus far has been overwhelming. I have been encouraged that so many Free Grace brethren have come forward and personally expressed support for the doctrinal position that the Grace Family Journal and I have taken on this subject. While the majority of responses we've received thus far have been very much in favor of our doctrinal position and the objectives stated above, a few believers have questioned whether we adequately addressed this problem on a private, personal level with those who hold to the new “crossless” gospel before we went public with the articles. In one instance, on an Internet blogsite, one of the authors whom I cited in the first article even expresses doubt as to whether we actually did attempt to address this privately with those advocating the “crossless” gospel position, as we stated in the Summer 2007 edition of the Grace Family Journal. (See The Tragedy of the “Crossless” Gospel, Pt. 2 . [Note comment #28 in the thread posted by Jeremy Myers on July 11 @ 3:55PM.] Also see How I Evangelize at Till He Comes, which is Jeremy Myer's blogsite. [Note comment #7 in the thread posted by Jeremy on July 14 @ 3:12PM])
It is in response to these concerns, and particularly the doubts caused by posts on public Internet sites, that I am now constrained before the Lord to offer the following clarification of our actions.
Though many Free Grace believers will not need the following explanation, I trust the following account of the facts will be sufficient for those who now have doubts about the veracity of our published statements. It will be helpful to know first of all that attempts WERE made to initially address this on a personal level; and secondly, it will be helpful to know the chronology of how we proceeded before the articles were published.
In the fifteen years or so that I was a member of the Grace Evangelical Society, I and a number of other believers and fellow pastors (with whom I was in discussion) became increasingly concerned at the number and magnitude of doctrinal departures taking place within the organization. Increasingly, we felt uncomfortable aligning ourselves with G.E.S. We also began to see how these doctrines were increasingly stumbling believers and even causing divisions among Free Grace brethren. After observing these things and discussing them privately for several years, Pastor Dennis Rokser (the editor of the Grace Family Journal) and I began discussing the possibility of writing something publicly to address these doctrinal problems. We are convinced that this growing burden was, and still is, the leading of the Holy Spirit to publish these crucial articles on the gospel. These specific discussions with Dennis Rokser about addressing this publicly began in early June of 2005.
As we discussed the possibility of publishing some articles about these doctrinal problems in the Grace Family Journal, we agreed that the best course of action before the Lord would be to FIRST contact the Executive Director of the Grace Evangelical Society, Bob Wilkin, in order to express our concerns on an individual level and hopefully resolve them. What followed was then a three-month attempt, from July-September of 2005, to address my concerns. My personal interactions with Wilkin consisted of an initial phone call, one face-to-face meeting at a conference in Chicago at the end of July, and a three month email exchange, mostly on the subject of the “crossless” gospel. Dennis Rokser joined our email correspondence at Wilkin’s invitation in the months of August-September of 2005.
After determining that Wilkin was unwilling to change his mind about his “crossless” gospel but instead offered repeated correction of mine, my interactions with Wilkin reached an impasse and I decided to end my correspondence with him in early September of 05, though he and Rokser continued briefly thereafter to no avail. It was also at the end of our correspondence that I formally resigned as a member of G.E.S. and asked Wilkin to have our church removed from the G.E.S. church-tracker list to any further association with G.E.S., which he agreed to do. From our perspective, Wilkin was unreceptive to biblical correction from the start. After expressing to Wilkin in my initial email to him that G.E.S.’s doctrines had even caused some problems within the local church I shepherd, Wilkin in his first reply in early July offered to visit our church and have an “open forum” and even “debate” on the subject of the gospel. I assured him in my reply (only my second email to him) that I had no desire to do this.
In addition to all of this, I disclosed to Wilkin in the summer of 2005 that there was the distinct possibility of me writing some articles on this subject to appear in future editions of the Grace Family Journal. He was also informed that I was planning to go forward with plans to teach two workshop sessions on the subject of the “crossless” gospel at the 2005 Fall Bible Conference at Duluth Bible Church, barring any repentance on his part. I share all of this at this point lest some in the Free Grace community be led to believe that somehow the Grace Evangelical Society was unfairly caught off guard by the recent articles in the Grace Family Journal. Here at Brother Martuneac's site readers were given a misleading impression by a comment stating that Bob Wilkin and Zane Hodges "have had no contact with either of these men [Tom Stegall and Dennis Rokser] within the last two years." (See The Tragedy of the “Crossless” Gospel, Pt. 2 . [Note comment #28 in the thread posted by Jeremy Myers on July 11 @ 3:55PM.])
In addition to my correspondence with Wilkin, my efforts to address the “crossless” gospel on a private level included writing an email to Dr. John Niemela, expressing my concerns over the content of his theological journal articles. Initially, Niemela responded back by saying that my concerns seemed genuine to him and worthy of a reply with more Scriptural substance, which he would provide within a couple of weeks when he had more time. However, I received no further emails from him. After two follow-up requests to him, I still received no further reply. I do not know what Dr. Niemela's reasons were for not responding. There may have been perfectly valid reasons for this that are unknown to me. I mention this only to show that genuine efforts were made to interact with prominent men who hold to the new, “crossless” gospel.
I did not try contacting any other representatives of the “crossless” gospel position to address this subject with them. In the meantime, as Dennis Rokser and I prayed and waited upon the Lord for His timing and leading, we intentionally decided to hold off and not go forward with the publication of any articles on the “crossless” gospel until just recently in the Spring 2007 edition of the Grace Family Journal. For various reasons, we did not believe it was the Lord's perfect timing to address this matter in written form. Now, in hindsight, we see that the timing of these articles being released in late May of 2007 was providential and that they are addressing a critical need that exists within the Body of Christ (as many emails and positive conversations have indicated).
Between the fall of 2005 and the release of the first article in late May of 2007, we observed that the problem of the “crossless” gospel was growing rather than waning. It was being taught at a variety of different conferences around the country and appearing in newsletters and theological journal articles. Still, we waited. We heard over time about others who tried interacting with Free Grace men who held the “crossless” position and how deeply rooted their convictions about the “crossless” gospel had become. In one instance, at a conference in the Fall of 2006, three men from Minnesota discussed the subject of the “crossless” gospel at length with a staff member of G.E.S., Jeremy Myers. (I and Dennis Rokser are very closely associated with these three men, one of which is the pastor of a sister church, and the other two men are part of Duluth Bible Church, with one of them being an elder at D.B.C.) Though this was not an "official" meeting with Myers and the conversation was cordial and pleasant, Myers nevertheless expressed that he and Bob Wilkin had both listened to my two workshop sessions on the “crossless” gospel from the previous Fall 2005 Conference in Duluth. They concluded that though I was wrong in my doctrinal conclusions about the gospel, they also expressed that they at G.E.S. needed to do a better job of clarifying their views. After Myers had listened to over two hours of my own teaching on the subject, as well as interacted with these three men for a couple more hours on the “crossless” gospel, Myers clearly was undeterred in his beliefs. This is just one example of other conversations with prominent “crossless” gospel teachers, which I was informed of.
What then followed was decisive in determining the timing of publishing the series on “The Tragedy of the Crossless Gospel” in the Grace Family Journal. In the Fall 2006 edition of the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, which came out in the winter of 2007, Myers had an article titled, “The Gospel is More Than Faith Alone in Christ Alone.” In it, he stated that "the gospel" contains upwards of 50 different items found in the New Testament, including water baptism (#5) and the Lord Jesus baptizing the world with fire (#9)! What was most bothersome was his overall doctrinal conclusion that "You do not have to believe the gospel to receive everlasting life, you only have to believe in Jesus for everlasting life." With doctrines such as this being published in the Free Grace movement's oldest and most widely read theological journal, we perceived that things were further progressing from bad to worse with G.E.S.'s understanding of the gospel; and the time had arrived to finally go to print.
I have shared all of this in order that people would understand that we did not approach the publication of these articles lightly, hastily, or ungraciously.
In addition, I must make one final point in order to give biblical balance to what I've written above. It is my understanding from Scripture that when people have publicly taught error, then they must be publicly held accountable. In the case of those teaching the “crossless” gospel, they have been teaching their views in their books, theological journals, and at conferences around the country for several years now—virtually unabated! The example of Paul publicly confronting Peter, Barnabas, and the men from James (Gal. 2:11-14), which I referenced in my second article, is certainly appropriate for the situation we currently find ourselves in today.
Though I agree that it is preferential as a courtesy to address matters privately first, this is not what Paul did with Peter in Antioch of Syria according to Galatians 2:11-14. Nor is this required anywhere by Scripture. In the case of private sins committed against an individual, I believe that Scripturally the offended party (the "victim") should go to that person who sinned and privately address the problem (Matt. 18:15). But that is a separate matter entirely from the problem of the public teaching of the “crossless” gospel occurring with G.E.S. today.
No doubt some in the Free Grace movement will still believe that I do not have the right to publicly critique in my articles the doctrines of fellow Free Grace men until I have gone to each of them individually and attempted to resolve our differences privately. This expectation is neither Scriptural nor practical. Furthermore, this is not the approach that Free Grace men themselves have taken with proponents of Lordship Salvation over the years. I am not aware of any Free Grace author, who has been expected by his fellow Free Grace brethren, to first go to MacArthur, Reisinger, Sproul, Stott, Piper, Belcher, Gentry, Horton, Boice, Crenshaw, et al, before they can critique their doctrines!
I wish to conclude this clarification with just a few more essential points. First, I want to reiterate the same point that I already stated in my past two Grace Family Journal articles. I truly do desire unity within the Free Grace camp. I had hoped that my articles critiquing the “crossless” gospel would not even be necessary. Now, for true unity's sake, I am convinced that they are necessary. Genuine spiritual unity must be based upon the truth of God's Word; otherwise we will have a false, pretentious unity that is displeasing to the Lord. The unity that God desires is the kind in which we are all preaching the same gospel (Gal. 1:6-10).
Secondly, I wish to say in closing that I did not want to write this clarification anymore than I wanted to go ahead with publishing my articles in the Grace Family Journal; and yet I felt constrained to do so in order to clarify the truth. It would be tragic if our disagreements over the “crossless” gospel degenerated into personal attacks against each others’ motives and characters, instead of objectively (though still passionately) interacting on a doctrinal and Scriptural level. I do not question the motives of those men who hold to, and teach, what others and I have come to identify as a “crossless” gospel. For that matter, I believe their motives are sincere, as they are sincerely seeking to clarify and defend the gospel of grace. However, someone can still be sincerely wrong.
Finally, it is not my desire or intention to address the subject of our pre-publication actions any further. To continue doing so only unnecessarily distracts us from the serious issue at hand of defining, defending, and preaching the one true gospel of Christ to a lost and dying world.
Sincerely in the Lord Jesus,
Pastor Tom Stegall Word of Grace Bible Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is originally from Minneapolis, MN. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and following high school attended seminary with a desire to become a priest. However, upon reading the Bible and through the testimony of a few saved friends, he came to place his faith in Christ alone for his eternal salvation and was born again by God's grace in 1987. He was actively involved in the Duluth Bible Church. from 1988 until 1998, where he became equipped through the accurate teaching of God's Word and the faithful shepherding of his pastor, Dennis Rokser. At D.B.C. he met his wife Debbie, a native of Duluth, and they were married in 1997. The Lord has blessed them with three children. Pastor Stegall attributes his primary preparation for pastoral ministry in Milwaukee to his decade of personal involvement in his local church in Duluth. He was further prepared for ministry by completing a five-year course of study through the Grace Institute of Biblical Studies, a ministry of the Duluth Bible Church; and he is also a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and the University of Minnesota.
For more complete information on the position that has come to be known as the “Crossless” gospel read from the series, The Teaching of Zane Hodges.
August 6, 2007
Sincerest greetings to all Free Grace readers in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ who, "loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5).