Contending For Truth - Ligonier Ministries Lawsuit Scandal

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ligonier Ministries Requires Biblical Instruction

Ligonier Ministries Balaam's Ass
Will It Take a Balaam's Ass To Speak Before They'll Listen?

For most of my life I've professed Christ as my Savior, and for a number of those years I've also held to Reformed theology as what I believe to be the purest expression of the Christian faith. Because of Dr. RC Sproul's own commitment to Reformed theology, and the lucidness with which he expounds the Word of God, I've for years been appreciative of his labors through Ligonier Ministries, particularly for his books and his radio ministry. I give Dr. Sproul some credit in motivating me in "renewing your mind."

Imagine my shock at discovering that Ligonier Ministries doesn't practice what it preaches. Perhaps the most obvious example of that is their recent lawsuit against me. I wouldn't think it necessary for a layman like me with no formal biblical education to have to expound the Word of God to Reformed theologians like RC Sproul, but evidently that's the case.

Christians shouldn't be suing Christians. 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 not only states that plainly, it even explains why:

1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life? 4 If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? (1 Corinthians 6:1-7)

If Ligonier Ministries as a Bible teaching ministry didn't know the Bible well enough to have figured that out before, then they've probably figured it out by now (whether or not they're willing to admit it is a different matter altogether). After the withering criticism they've come under in the past month they could've figured it out without ever reading the Bible at all. Even if Ligonier as a Bible teaching ministry had never seen 1 Corinthians 6 before, just good old common sense would've by now taught them that suing a fellow Christian isn't a smart public relations move. But even if I weren't a Christian (as some now ex post facto wish to allege in order to find some elusive biblical escape clause), or even if I were a "Muslim" as Doug Wilson has alleged, suing me would still have been an incredibly stupid move.

Prior to suing me hardly anyone had even heard of Frank Vance and his little dispute with Ligonier's President Tim Dick. Suing me has just turned my obscure little blog into front page news in the biggest newspaper in the United States. If I could afford to match Tim Dick's $230,000 salary (2004 figure, probably much higher now) I'd hire him as my PR director. Great job Tim (for me anyway -- not so good for Ligonier)!

RC Sproul's good pastor friend John MacArthur certainly seems to understand why Christians shouldn't sue Christians. In his Study Bible John MacAurthur says:
6:1 Dare. Suing another believer in a secular law court is a daring act of disobedience because of its implications related to all sin -- the displeasure of God: a matter against another....
6:4 ...the basic meaning is clear; when Christians have earthly quarrels and disputes among themselves, it is inconceivable that they would turn to those least qualified (unbelievers) to resolve the matter.
6:5,6. Shame. Such conduct as suing a fellow believer is not only a sinful shame, but a complete failure to act obediently and righteously. Christians who take fellow Christians to court suffer moral defeat and spiritual loss even before the case is heard, and they become subject to divine chastening.
6:7 why...not...accept wrong? ...Christians have no right to insist on legal recourse in a public court. It is far better to trust God's sovereign purpose in trouble and lose financially, than to be disobedient and suffer spiritually.
One of the reasons that we as Christians shouldn't "dare to go to law before the unrighteous" is because it's a lot like disrobing in front of strangers, or as others have put it, "it's like airing our dirty laundry for the whole world to see." Tim Dick and his defenders would argue that it was I who was responsible for airing Ligonier's dirty laundry by posting my articles on the internet. He'd argue that because of my blog anyone in the world could see his dirty laundry and that the Ligonier lawsuit was merely a method of pulling the dirty laundry off the line. In theory that might be true... in theory. In practice however that's completely ridiculous.

Prior to Ligonier suing me no unbeliever had any reason or inclination to go searching for my blog, and the same also applies to the vast majority of Christians. In order to search for something, anything, you first have to know that it exists. Then you have to know how to search for it. Prior to Ligonier suing me hardly any Christians knew about my dispute with Tim Dick, let alone any unbelievers. It's only because of the lawsuit that many thousands of people now know, including a lot of unbelievers who should've never found out.

I'm in no way pleased that so many unbelievers have now found out. In fact I'm very troubled by it. But there's only one reason they did find out -- the lawsuit. My blog comments brought some personal embarrassment to Tim Dick, but on an extremely limited scale. Even Tim Challies is now admitting this. However, Ligonier's lawsuit against me brought shame and reproach to the entire body of Christ and it also reinforces the preexisting biases of many unbelievers that "the church is full of hypocrites." As one "atheist (an agnostic when facing surgery)" put it:
So as you do, I had a little google. And lo, a whole can of worms came forth... and particularly slimy, wriggly ones at that, considering these are supposed to be the 'moral' people. The blogger, Vance Tribe, has issues with the financial management of Ligonier Ministries.

His criticisms are not only managerial, but spiritual and theological, and he's been unafraid of saying so on his blog. Ligonier Ministries is a massive moneymaking publishing affair largely exempt from tax and public scrutiny and it appears that in this instance, as they always do, the leeches have battened onto the credulous faithful. There's defrocked priests, nepotism, hypocrisy and greed, and bad behaviour by the bucketful if you don't mind wading through the sanctimony. Juicy.

It's a interesting story, and doubly so for bloggers, because this religious business is trying for prior restraint to stop blog criticism before it even happens. That has implications for many bloggers if it's successful. If they can do it, so can other churches, and a lot of churches have a lot to hide.
Christians shouldn't be giving atheists cause to rejoice over sin and hypocrisy in the church. Ligonier's lawsuit has brought shame and reproach upon many thousands of Christians and rather than repenting for it they've issued pubic statements full of excuses, self-justifications and more lies. Furthermore, by his actions Tim Dick has just reinforced in the minds of many the fact that he's a thin-skinned crybaby. No doubt the judge thought much the same. One of the running jokes now is that Tim Dick sued me because I called him a "nincompoop." Amazingly enough though it's not just a joke. Tim actually lists that in the lawsuit as one of the reasons he sued me!

Tim Dick is trying to make this whole thing out as a purely honorable act on his part in defending the good name of Ligonier. But anyone who's actually taken the time to read the lawsuit knows that Tim's motives were only about himself:
"8. VANCE has published several false statements about Plaintiffs on his blog including, but not limited to:"
"Plaintiffs" is plural, meaning both Tim Dick and Ligonier. Yet every single one of the thirteen alleged "false statements about Plaintiffs" are about Tim Dick, and practically all of them are only about Tim Dick, and if they refer to Ligonier at all (which is debatable) it's only by extension and the fact that Tim Dick is Ligonier's President/CEO/CFO. Tim Dick didn't act to defend Ligonier's honor. He sued me only because he's a thin-skinned crybaby who was too cheap to hire his own attorney to sue me. So he used Ligonier donor money instead to sue me.

One of the more remarkable aspects of Tim Dick's lawsuit is that he brought matters that are clearly of a religious nature before a secular court. For example:
f. VANCE's August 14, 2006 statement that "Incompetent and unqualified family members are to be found running around (or sleeping on the desk) everywhere in Ligonier, often in key positions, with little or no understanding or appreciation for the Reformed theology championed by Dr. Sproul.

j. VANCE's July 18, 2006 statement that "From everything I've heard, Tim Dick is a very corrupt man. Some have told me that based on his behavior they don't think there's any way he could be a converted Christian. To have such a man heading up an honorable Christian ministry is an embarrassment to the church of Jesus Christ."

l. VANCE's June 27, 2006 statement that "It would be one thing if Tim Dick were qualified for the position... it's self-evident that the man is as unfit to head Ligonier Ministries as is RC Sproul Jr to be a pastor."
Tim Dick alleges that those are "false statements." But no judge is just going to take Tim Dick's word for it, especially through some sneaky ex parte procedure. In order to grant Ligonier's request for a temporary injunction, and then a permanent injunction, the judge would have to first determine if my allegations were false by examining various evidence and the testimony of witnesses. Just one of many problems with doing so is the fact that the above statements touch on questions of faith and religion, and no civil judge in his right mind would get anywhere near trying to determine the veracity of religious opinions.

Judge Nelson likely knew her own jurisdictional limitations, both civil and ecclesiastical and she wasn't willing to touch this case with a ten foot pole. I don't know if Judge Nelson is a Bible believing Christian, but odds are she's not. It wouldn't surprise me if she was mystified over why a Christian ministry was bringing a religious dispute before the civil magistrate.

If nothing else this entire episode has proven to be a valuable learning experience for many other ministry leaders. If ever there was a practical example of the folly of Christians suing Christians this would be it. Unfortunately there are still some who in their pride, and their blind defense of Ligonier, won't take heed.

If there are those who remain sympathetic to Ligonier Ministries (and there are) the vast majority of them are smart enough to keep their unbiblical opinions to themselves. But there are a few noteworthy exceptions. In an article this coming week I'll give honorable mention to at least one of them.


Blogger Jen said...

Frank, it sounds to me as if even an atheist can see that you must be a Christian. Unbelievers just don't talk the way you do.

10/06/2006 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Frank Vance said...

Speaking of Bible preachers who need to be taught in the Word themselves:
Doug Phillips and RC Sproul Jr -- Hypocrisy

10/06/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Anonymous jimmy olsen said...

Ligonier may not have a clue about 1 Cor 6, but John Duncan seems to know a lot about the passage "women are to be seen and not heard" according to Jen's blog. Wait, you mean that's not in scripture? Perhaps it's in the same translation that has the passage "God helps those who helps themselves."

I'm thinking Ligonier's copies of the Reformation Study Bible have a lot of passages cut out and some new ones pasted in, considering their recent behavior. Maybe they need a new copy, with key passages highlighted and the notation "This means YOU!" next to them.

This whole situation screams of a group of people so hard hearted and puffed up from years of being so that it would take a spiritual earthquake to shake them out of it.

Sooner or later God will deal with each of us, and some of us will have smokin' sandals at the judgement seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:15)

10/06/2006 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Truth seeker said...

Ligonier does not care about truth. They have made that plain for anyone who cares to pay attention.

For the same reason I cannot watch a movie with Alec Baldwin in it because I know his politics, I will never be able to take any teaching from Sproul: I know he does not practice what he teaches.

My guess is that Ligonier is taking PR tips from someone now.(Perhaps even buying it with donor funds like the PI) "Keep your mouths shut, this will go away". It will just be on a few blogs.

Even Challies is buying into the lie that this was kept to the blogosphere. And is intent on helping them cover their tracks!

The bottom line is this: If they really want to repent and come clean they will make it legal that they can never sue you in the future.

The unfortuanate outcome is that many are going to be disappointed in other reformed leaders by their silence. Sin does not sell conference tickets.

And for those who think that blogs have no purpose: It was Drudge that brought us Monica Lewinsky. The big media would not touch it.

It was a blog that brought Dan Rather down and caught his lies. What was Dan's complaint? It went something like this: But, there is no institutional authority with blogs.

We have seen institutional authority with Ligonier and it does not please God.

Welcome to the new media. People who abuse authority are apt to hate blogs.

10/06/2006 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger ReformedVictorious said...

In light of your constant harassment, deceitful assertions, and angry name calling, I have no sympathy for you whatsoever. I know that your not going to post my comments, because you've failed to do so in the past and because you've refused to respond to my letters. This just reveals your fear of people actually finding out that the whole premise for all of this controversy was based on a lie. You're a self righteous liar and will be judges for your wickedness.

10/06/2006 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Truth Seeker said:

"People who abuse authority are apt to hate blogs."

All I can say is AMEN!

10/06/2006 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger simplegifts3 said...

Regarding the Phillips/Sproul Jr. link above -- reading that yesterday made something snap inside of me.

Not only did RC Jr. thumb his nose at true authority and make insinuations that justice was perverted in his case, which Peter Kershaw very concisely explained was a lie, RC senior then went on to speak with Jr. at this convention, where they all taught us the importance of being under authority and of honoring our elders.

As a friend of mine said, "the hypocrisy is hip deep."

It is somewhat amusing at this point to watch the Baylys, Wilson, and Phillips all start to write about bloggers, ones with no authority, in such colorful language: "assassins," "barking sheep," committing the sin of "patricide."

When they show they are accountable to authority, then I will listen to them.

I am so saddened by all of this, because for years I have held Sproul Sr. in high regard, and I do not attend a church that would be considered Reformed, even.

I agree they can't seem to see that I Corinthians 6 applies to them in this case. It is so sad.

10/07/2006 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous truth seeker said...

“I know of no surer way of a people’s perishing than by being led by one who does not speak out straight and honestly denounce evil. If the minister halts between two opinions, do you wonder that the congregation is undecided? If the preacher trims and twists to please all parties, can you expect his people to be honest? If I wink at your inconsistencies will you not soon be hardened in them? Like priest, like people. A cowardly preacher suits hardened sinners. Those who are afraid to rebuke sin, or to probe the conscience, will have much to answer for. May God save you from being led into the ditch by a blind guide.”

--Charles Spurgeon

10/07/2006 01:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Wendi said...

Frank, I have another question here about timelines.
I just read the lawsuit more carefully( and had a question.

I brought this up in comments at Jen's blog, and as I hit send realized I should have asked you first to make sure I understand this correctly.
Better late than never:
See page 7 of that suit, in point 22. Here Tim Dick and his lawyers (as evidence that they must shut you up immediately) quote this comment of yours "...Monday is the deadline, Tim, and I don't particularly care about 'time constraints.' Your 'full schedule this week' isn't my problem..."

Your use of quotes there makes me think you are replying to something Tim Dick said to you in an email, and that he, rather than laughing at your accusations (as I would at false allegations against me), or telling you to get lost, is actually pleading with you for more time because he is too busy that particular week to do anything more about it than to write you and tell you that he is too busy.
Is that a correct understanding? Are you, in fact, quoting him directly?

If so, I have to say that while up until reading the lawsuit I had preserved a neutral status about the Kistler stuff in my own mind, if I am understanding that correctly, Tim Dick himself is nudging me over into the 'He's Guilty as charged, your honor' side of things. Because if he was innocent, it would have taken less time for him to email you something along the lines of "I am innocent, you dolt," than it did for him to plead for more patience from you because of his 'full schedule' and 'time constraints this week.'

My second question also goes along with the first- if I am understanding correctly that you are actually quoting directly from Tim Dick that he has a 'full schedule' and too many 'time constraints this week' to address your concerns, then it seems to me that his duplicity is very evident here, as it appears that what was filling up his schedule and imposing all those nasty and inconvenient time constraints upon him was the unbiblical lawsuit he was at that very time in process of initiating.

If you are, in fact, quoting directly from an email from him, it might be interesting to know the date of that email and compare it to the date the lawsuit was filed in court.

I ought to be passed surprise at this point, but I am almost daily more grieved than ever by something coming out of these larger parachurch ministries. Ligonier has, sadly, not only damaged their own credibility, they have splashed mud on other ministries as well- and unfortunately, as others have pointed out, some other ministry leaders seem to want to lie down in the mud right along with them.

Or perhaps they have long been having a roll in the mud and we just never knew it. Sadder but wiser...

10/07/2006 02:55:00 PM  

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