Honor As A Defining Principle Of Life: What Should Ligonier Leaders Do?

During this year, much has been written on the topic of honor in Reformed circles. In fact, in May of this year, Ligonier Ministries Chairman RC Sproul spoke at a conference on the fifth commandment and honor, hosted by his son, RC Sproul, Jr. The conference was entitled “Generations: Giving Honor to Whom Honor is Due.”

Ironically, just shortly prior to the conference RC Sproul, Jr. had been defrocked for a number of dishonorable and remarkably unpastoral acts, including ecclesiastical abuse against several families in Saint Peter Presbyterian Church, stealing and illegally using another church denomination’s tax identification number, and a list of additional charges constituting insubordination and vow breaking against the Presbytery that ordained him.

Many were deeply offended that a newly defrocked Presbyterian minister was hosting a conference on “honor” when he had just received the military equivalent of a courts martial and dishonorable discharge.

Unfortunately, some of the recent writing and teaching by several Reformed leaders on the subject of honor has focused almost exclusively on the responsibility of the sheep to act honorably to their shepherds, while largely ignoring the responsibility of the shepherds to lead as honorable examples. Several of these Reformed leaders have openly and publicly sided with the defrocked RC Sproul Jr, not the least of whom was his father.

Frank Vance was ultimately sued by Ligonier Ministries in an effort to silence his criticisms of the dishonorable way that Ligonier Ministries has conducted itself, as well as Ligonier’s obvious lack of accountability. Based upon the Ligonier Ministries lawsuit against a man who professes Christ as Savior, filed only three months after the Honor conference, perhaps it is time to correct the balance of the teaching on this subject by focusing on honor as it applies to leaders.

Honor CodeAs one blogger on the subject of the Ligonier Ministries lawsuit noted, America’s future military leaders (whether saved or unsaved) are expected to adhere to an Honor Code (a code that begins with the words “a cadet will not lie”), while receiving a taxpayer-funded education at our country’s military academies. If unbelieving leaders are expected to uphold such a standard, should not we have even higher standards and expectations of our religious leaders?

The answer to this question is a resounding “Yes.” We should expect more from our religious leaders because the very nature of spiritual leadership involves entrusting the leader with the care and concern for our very souls.

So what is wrong at Ligonier? There are many problems, but one thing in particular especially stands out: a lack of accountability. There is apparently no genuine accountability at Ligonier Ministries, and certainly no accountability comparable with what we would expect to see were Ligonier an integrated ministry of a church denomination, such as the PCA where RC Sproul parks his ordination. One has to wonder why RC Sproul believes his PCA ordination has any real value at all (other than perhaps strictly for image purposes) when he’s done nothing to make himself accountable to the PCA, either through his ministry, or even in the independent nondenominational church that he pastors. In PCA vernacular, RC Sproul is “ministering out of bounds.” In RC Sproul’s case, “Presbyterian” is an impressive label with no real substance.

Just as apparent with Ligonier is the lack of accountability that’s in any way comparable to what we find in our country’s service academies. That begs the question: Why do the unsaved recognize the necessity for accountability in a secular Honor Code, but the ministry led by one of the elder statesmen of Reformed theology has no genuine accountability system in place?

The first part of this answer begins with the rejection of biblical standards: Ligonier’s leaders have tossed aside the Holy and Infallible Word of God. The best current evidence for this is that they filed a lawsuit against a fellow believer. After the fact, when their phones started ringing off the hook with angry calls from their own financial supporters, then they started practicing a form of Pharisaical contortionism in order to justify their unbiblical action. Had Ligonier Ministries been under some form of genuine accountability, it’s unlikely that they would have been able to file the lawsuit in the first place. Until such time as they are brought under biblical accountability, it’s very likely that there will be additional abuses in the future.

During the Exodus, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, suggested a solution to dealing with the disagreements of the Hebrew slaves recently liberated from Egyptian bondage. The system that spared Moses from settling every dispute personally ensured multiple levels of review and accountability. This pattern of biblical accountability, including appeal to higher church “courts” (with “appellate review” capability), is healthy for the church, and for church ministries, for it establishes a hierarchical system of decision-making review.

Again, the secular legal system incorporates just this type of process to protect the rights of either the criminal or civil defendant. Interestingly enough, a good deal of our nation’s Constitutional Republic system of checks and balances, accountability, and right of appeal came as a direct result of the influence of the Presbyterian clergyman and Founding Father, John Witherspoon. Yet the church in America in recent years has, on the whole, largely abandoned these principles of justice that made America the envy of the world, principles that originated back in the time of Moses.

From all appearances, it seems the lack of decision-making review in the Ligonier vs. Vance lawsuit is responsible for the ministry’s failure to examine the second and third order effects of suing Frank Vance. One has to ask “why” no one in Ligonier saw the obvious repercussions associated with suing a fellow believer. The failure to consider fully the ripples emanating from the filing of a lawsuit is a failure of leadership at the highest level of Ligonier, not just the CEO and senior management positions, because it exemplifies the aforementioned lack of accountability and review process.

Moreover, to suggest the organization did not believe Vance to be a Christian is disingenuous at best and, at worst, a lie. Vance has referred to his elders on his website which, by definition, means he is a member of a church with elders and thus should be a presumed believer. If Ligonier had any doubt, they should have just emailed and asked him: “Are you a Christian?” before filing suit. Regardless of Vance’s eternal state, the mere filing of a lawsuit by a Christian ministry is a serious matter, and RC Sproul, Tim Dick, and senior management (John Duncan) should have considered the full range of possible ramifications, as it pertained to their stakeholders (donors and fellow Christians) before acting in such an unchristian manner.

Code of honor -- integrityAnother serious failure that must be placed at all the leadership’s feet is the lack of a dismissal of the lawsuit while simultaneously reporting the suit was dropped via email to a select group of bloggers. Who is in charge at Ligonier – management or the lawyers? The lawyers work for Ligonier, and any senior manager could have easily picked up the phone (even in the middle of the night) and told their attorneys to draft the requisite paperwork for a dismissal and file it when the court opened the following morning. This could have and should have been initiated before releasing a statement claiming that the lawsuit had been withdrawn.

At the very least, Ligonier could have honestly stated, “We have requested our attorney to submit the appropriate paperwork; it is in process, and will be completed soon.” Instead, every member of senior management is now further suspect in light of the blatant distortions surrounding the alleged dismissal, as well as that Thursday’s maneuvering by Ligonier’s lawyers seeking a way to legally serve Vance and thereby prolong the lawsuit.

So what is the solution to the debacle at Ligonier?

To answer this question fully we need to review the chronology of the lawsuit.

  • Ligonier Ministries and Tim Dick, filed a lawsuit against Frank Vance, a professing believer in Christ and author of the Contending for the Truth website, on August 25, 2006, for alleged defamation. (Note that the suit was filed before Vance posted about Don Kistler, so the statement released by Ligonier on this subject is not related to the lawsuit.)
  • Ligonier and Tim Dick requested from the court as relief (1) monetary damages of at least $15,000 plus costs and attorney fees, and (2) an injunction to stop Vance from posting more critical comments on his website in the future (this is known as prior restraint).
  • Along with the lawsuit, Ligonier and Tim Dick filed an “emergency” motion with the court without Vance present (an “ex parte hearing”) to try to obtain an immediate temporary injunction to shut down Vance’s website. The lawyer who signed the emergency motion certified, as an officer of the court, that Vance need not be present to present his side of the story because there was no way to contact him. This, of course, was a lie.
  • Ligonier Ministries personnel repeatedly changed their stories as to the existence of and the nature of the lawsuit. Some even went so far as to deny the existence of the suit, even though it had been reported in the Orlando Sentinel (does anyone read USA Today at Ligonier?).
  • Tim Dick sent an email to a select group of bloggers after close of business on Friday, September 22, 2006, with links to two statements on a private part of the Ligonier website, statements which had been posted two days prior on September 20. Those statements, issued nearly a month after the filing of the suit, included a claim that the complaint had been “withdrawn” which, as we know now, was a blatantly false statement. However, the statements did not include any language of repentance for filing the lawsuit in the first place or for false statements made subsequently.
  • Not only had the lawsuit NOT been dismissed by September 20, 2006, but, based on a court hearing in the case file at the court, Ligonier’s lawyers were petitioning the judge about how to advance the pace of the lawsuit as late as Thursday, September 21, 2006 (the day after Ligonier’s public statements announcing that they had withdrawn the lawsuit).
  • Ligonier ultimately did withdraw their lawsuit, but not until September 27, a full week after they had posted their public statements stating that the lawsuit “had been withdrawn.”
  • Ligonier withdrew their lawsuit, but also stipulated that they did so “without prejudice,” meaning they reserved the right to sue again. Based upon an interview that Ligonier’s attorney, Daniel Brodersen, gave to the Orlando Sentinel, suing Frank Vance again does indeed appear to be their intention.

Regardless of when the lawsuit was finally withdrawn, it is clear that Ligonier management has been the source of too many conflicting accounts and outright lies about the lawsuit. This isn’t just a failure of leadership, it’s a crisis of leadership. No one else is to blame; the lawyers cannot be blamed, the junior-level employees cannot be blamed, the customer service representatives do not share the blame. It is solely the failure of the Ligonier management – including Dr. RC Sproul, Sr. – to provide Christian leadership and to conduct their actions in a biblical and Christ-honoring manner.

So what is the succinct answer to the problem at Ligonier? The leadership needs to do the honorable thing – they need to resign.

If the CEO (Tim Dick) and the General Manager (John Duncan) of a Christian parachurch ministry don’t know the Sacred Text well enough to know that Christians do not sue Christians; if the CEO and General Manager can’t inform the ministry’s lawyers (who allegedly recommended the lawsuit) that Christians do not sue Christians (Are Ligonier’s lawyers professing Christians and if not, why not? And if they are not, then why is Ligonier concerned about Frank Vance’s relationship with the Most High God?); and if the board members are not willing to hold the CEO and General Manager responsible by demanding a public apology (not an unrepentant, self-justifying apology hidden in a special link on the Ligonier website), as well as public repentance, and public contrition on behalf of the ministry; then all the leadership has but one choice: They are duty bound to do the honorable thing, and the honorable thing in this situation is resignation.

A Final Word Concerning Dr. RC Sproul

One of the definitions for honor includes “a keen sense of ethical conduct.” Not only do the machinations associated with Ligonier’s lawsuit demonstrate a complete lack of ethical conduct, the resultant obfuscation, “spin,” and morally bankrupt blame-shifting on the part of Ligonier’s management team demands these individuals do the honorable thing in this instance – resign en masse and spare Christendom any more pain and embarrassment.

However, even if all of Ligonier’s senior managers resign, including Tim Dick and John Duncan, there is still the issue of Dr. Sproul’s, as well as America’s other Reformed leaders’, silence. These men and women (Joni, do you hear this?) need to publicly repent for their poor examples of leadership and failure to hold their fellow leaders at Ligonier accountable for their gross public sin and besmirching of Christ’s visible church. If they do not, then perhaps we need to worry more about the state of their eternal souls than we do about whether these leaders were responsible for filing an unbiblical lawsuit or providing tacit approbation by their silence.

Ligonier Lawsuit: Open Letter to Mr. Lim Seng Hoo

Dear Mr. Hoo,

Though we are separated by thousands of miles of ocean, you and I have some things in common. We share a common faith, the Reformed Christian faith. We also share the common experience of being embroiled in unbiblical civil litigation with fellow Christians.

However, in your case you’re the plaintiff who has filed an unbiblical lawsuit, and in my case I’m the defendant who’s had an unbiblical lawsuit filed against him. In your case you’ve sued your Presbyterian pastors for defamation over what started out being largely a doctrinal dispute. In my case I’ve been sued by RC Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries for defamation because I blew the whistle on Ligonier’s internal corruptions.

Both cases could have and should have been resolved through Christian mediation, not in the civil courts.

In your case you bear responsibility for publicly impugning the testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of your precious “civil rights,” and in the case of Ligonier Ministries they bear responsibility for making a mockery of the testimony of Christ for the sake of protecting their own precious reputation from some alleged “defamation” that they claim that I perpetrated against them.

In your case you’ve twisted and perverted the clear and unequivocal teachings of 1 Corinthians 6 in order to justify your shameful lawsuit. Ligonier Ministries has also twisted and perverted 1 Corinthians 6 in order to strain out some ludicrous escape clause in order to justify suing me.

The only real difference between you two is that you as a layman aren’t held accountable for nearly as strict a judgment, whereas RC Sproul as an ordained Presbyterian minister and Ligonier Ministries as an expository Bible teaching ministry are under the much harsher judgment of James 3:1.

You will be judged for your defiance of biblical law and the public shame that you’ve brought upon the testimony of Christ Jesus, but your judgment won’t be nearly as severe as it will be for RC Sproul and Ligonier Ministries.

I find it ironic that that one of America’s preeminent Reformed ministries could manage to come up with every bit as twisted an understanding of 1 Corinthians 6 as you have, a mere Reformed layman from Singapore. It causes me to wonder what kind of influence Ligonier Ministries has had on you in how you go about interpreting Scripture.

Give up your unbiblical lawsuit Mr. Hoo. Even if everything that you claim is true, “Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?”

Ligonier Ministries Pastors Conference: Encouraging Hypocrisy

Ligonier Ministries’ 2006 Pastors Conference runs October 23-26 in Orlando. Ligonier’s Pastors Conference purports to be “Encouraging those on the frontlines of ministry.” Pastors are often overworked and under-appreciated, so encouraging them is a good thing to do and I’m all in favor of that.

This year’s conference speakers include R.C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan, and Steve Lawson. No doubt what they have to share will be biblically valid and relevant to the church, and hopefully to the culture that the church is attempting to reach with the Gospel of Christ.

There’s just one problem — the publicly exposed sins and hypocrisies of the ministry that’s hosting the event. If there’s one thing that unbelievers are offended by Christians with more than anything else it’s hypocrisy. Ligonier Ministries has managed to garner considerable negative national media attention, including getting themselves mentioned in a front-page USA Today article about bloggers being sued by multi-million dollar organizations trying to silence whistle blowers. They’ve also been written about in dozens of blogs all over the internet, most all of which are very critical of them. Ligonier Ministries has done an incredible job of having their hypocrisies exposed for the whole world to see.

Even atheists have written about the Ligonier Ministries debacle, a debacle turned into a national scandal only because Ligonier sued me:

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.

Because of Ligonier’s unbiblical lawsuit they’ve given unbelievers (and atheists at that) cause to rejoice. Given the scandal they’ve just caused is Ligonier Ministries qualified to be training pastors in how to reach the lost for Christ?

One of the “conference highlights” is “ministry-shaping topical sessions with Q & A with speakers.” An important “ministry-shaping” question I’d like to see get asked during the Q & A is, “Dr. Sproul could you please explain to us how you can biblically justify suing a blogger for defamation? If in fact you were defamed (and that’s debatable) what do the Scriptures teach us to do when we’re defamed? Does it say, ‘Being defamed, we sue’?”

If you’re a pastor that’s planning on attending that conference, don’t expect that you’ll be able to actually verbally ask that question because Tim Dick and John Duncan are already counting on that happening. In all likelihood only written questions will be accepted, and those will be carefully screened.

One of the things that pastors and other people need to hold Ligonier Ministries accountable for their unrepentant sins, lies, cover ups, and hypocrisies is a handy little flyer to pass out, such as a news release. In spite of all the publicity a lot of Christians still don’t know about the Ligonier lawsuit and a lot more Christians probably should know about it.

Ministry Watchman has prepared a news release that you can hand out to friends, family, your pastor, and it might even come in handy to pass out at certain conferences too:

Ministry Watchman News Release 10-20-06.pdf

Ligonier Ministries: Being Defamed, We Sue

“Being defamed, we intreat.” (1 Corinthians 4:13)Ligonier Ministries dances with lawyers

I received an email this week from a gentleman whose name I recognized and whose opinions I respect. His email was about a conversation that he had with a Reformed seminary professor over the Ligonier Ministries lawsuit. I thought his comments were worth repeating here, so I obtained his permission to post the content of his email:

Dear Mr. Vance,

R.C. Sproul has been a great blessing to me and my family. Discovering that his ministry had sued a Christian blogger came as quite a shock. My admiration for Dr. Sproul caused me in my initial impressions of the situation to side with Ligonier Ministries. I tried to find some kind of justification to condemn you, but that only lasted up until I started investigating the details.

I realize now that you’ve probably had to deal with a lot of that. We’ve all got personal biases, and our biases will usually cause us to take sides and defend those we admire and condemn those we don’t know. Few people seem to know who you are, but a lot of people know who R.C. Sproul is, and for the most part R.C. Sproul is a highly respected minister of the gospel. Surely no one wants to believe that the ministry of such a smart theologian could be acting so stupidly, or that R.C. Sproul could have surrounded himself with fools and men of such poor character as Tim Dick.

The easiest way out of all of this is to try and find some logical excuse and some biblical justification for why it was okay for Ligonier to sue you. But as much as I’ve searched for some kind of out-clause in 1 Corinthians 6 I just can’t find it. I’ve seen the allegations that you haven’t proven that you’re a Christian (at least to some people’s satisfaction), and since 1 Corinthians 6 doesn’t explicitly prohibit Christians from suing non-Christians then it’s apparently okay for Ligonier to sue you. If ever there was a case of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel this would be it.

I find it incredible that the Reformation Study Bible, which R.C. Sproul is the General Editor for, clearly condemns the practice of Christians suing Christians, because of the disgrace that it brings upon the church, and how it ruins the church’s testimony for the Lord Jesus. In the commentary for 1 Corinthians 6:7 the Reformation Study Bible says:

“Nevertheless, if the Corinthians understood the serious implications of all the improprieties in their church, and if they appreciated the qualities that should characterize believers (cf. 12:4-7), they would much sooner bear injustice than bring disgrace upon the Christian community by publicly exposing their misdeeds in the civil courts.”

What’s the intent behind this lawsuit prohibition? It’s to prevent the church from undermining it’s testimony before unbelievers. The question shouldn’t even be “Can Frank Vance prove unequivocally that he’s a Christian to everyone’s satisfaction?” The question is “Did Ligonier’s lawsuit bring disgrace upon the Christian community by publicly exposing their misdeeds in the civil courts?” The answer is self-evident and anyone at Ligonier with half a brain in his head should have known that before they sued you.

Anyone who continues to claim that it was okay for Ligonier to sue you, for whatever reason they think they can concoct, are acting just like Pharisees. They’re reading strictly the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law — the intent. That kind of legalism is exactly what Christ blasted the Pharisees over.

I took my family to a conference recently at a church in a neighboring community. The messages by the speakers were very encouraging. All the speakers were Reformed. One of the speakers is a seminary professor that teaches at a small but well respected Reformed seminary. He’s also written several excellent books. Over lunch we had some interesting dialogue about some of our mutual areas of concern, including theological errors that have crept into the church, such as Federal Vision (this man is well known for his opposition to Federal Vision/Auburn Avenue doctrine). We also discussed church discipline, so quite naturally the subject of R.C. Sproul, Jr. and his defrocking was discussed. That then segued into R.C. Sproul’s public defense of his defrocked son, which then segued into the Ligonier defamation lawsuit.

This seminary professor struck me as a man who formed opinions on matters only after careful research and examination. But for some odd reason the Ligonier lawsuit proved to be a standout exception. This man has a personal relationship with R.C. Sproul and based on what he said it was obvious that he’d been talking to R.C. Sproul about the lawsuit. Here’s what he said:

“I haven’t read Vance’s site, but I did get Ligonier’s side of the story. What I was told is that they tried to sit down and talk with Vance. They told Vance that what he’d heard about Soli Deo Gloria was all wrong. But he just refused to listen. He threatened to go public anyway. They offered to settle the dispute with Vance ecclesiastically but Vance refused to give them the name of his church and pastor. So they felt they didn’t have any other choice but to get an injunction.”

So I said, “If you’ve only gotten Ligonier’s side of the story then you haven’t been following this thing carefully. Vance has a lot of detailed information on his blog. He’s covered this story thoroughly since the very beginning. What you’ve been told by Ligonier isn’t what was being said by Ligonier until just very recently. They’ve been lying about a lot of stuff. I hate to say that about them but I’ve experienced it first-hand and so have a lot of other people too. I know because I’ve called Ligonier myself to try and figure out what was going on. Every time I called it was a different story. First they said there wasn’t a lawsuit at all. I asked them how there couldn’t be a lawsuit when the Orlando Sentinel was reporting on the lawsuit. They told me the paper didn’t know what they were talking about. So I called the court and had no trouble getting a case number from a clerk and verifying that there was a Ligonier vs. Vance lawsuit. The next day I called Ligonier again and this time they said it wasn’t a lawsuit it was an injunction, like there’s supposedly a big difference. When I pointed out to the customer service rep that it wasn’t only an injunction but they were also suing Vance for defamation the rep told me my information was wrong. Then when I called again later they finally admitted there was a lawsuit but that they’d dropped it. So I checked with the court and it hadn’t been dropped at all. They haven’t said one single thing that’s been truthful. But even if they were being truthful do you think they have biblical justification to circumvent 1 Corinthians 6?”

This Reformed seminary professor, a man that I consider to be a biblical scholar replied, “God has ordained the civil magistrate to be His minister of justice. There are times where it’s appropriate to have the magistrate step in to resolve disputes, sometimes even against a fellow Christian.”

I agreed and said, “Yes, clearly there are cases where calling on the civil magistrate is entirely appropriate, even against a fellow Christian, at least if it involves some criminal act. But what Ligonier sued Vance for wasn’t a criminal act. What they sued him for and alleged is that he was about to commit an act of defamation against them and they asked the judge for prior restraint in the form of an injunction. That’s something that judges hardly ever do because a prior restraint injunction is viewed as such a blatant violation of free speech rights. It was foolish for them to even attempt it. But my bigger concern isn’t about the civil law but about biblical law. What does the Bible say the Christian is supposed to do about defamation, either before he’s about to be defamed, or after he’s already been defamed? You say that Ligonier was justified in suing Vance because it hasn’t been shown that he’s a believer. So for the sake of argument let’s just go ahead and say he’s not a believer. Ligonier says that Vance defamed them, or that he was about to defame them. I don’t see that it makes any difference whether Vance is a Christian or not. Isn’t Scripture plain in what it says Christians are to do when they’re defamed? It says ‘Being defamed, we intreat’. It doesn’t say ‘Being defamed, we sue’.”

It’s really strange what happened then. Here’s a Reformed seminary professor, a genuine scholar and theologian who espouses the five solas of the Reformation, including Sola Scriptura. Yet his rationale for supporting Ligonier’s defamation lawsuit against you was one of the most convoluted and unscriptural things I’ve ever heard. Not only was it unbiblical it wasn’t even logical or rational. I pressed him several times to support his position from Scripture, which he never did. I’m convinced he didn’t because he simply couldn’t. There’s just no biblical support for it.

I’m very dismayed by what happened in that conversation. That Reformed seminary professor’s defense of Ligonier was absolutely pathetic. The fact is though there just isn’t any valid biblical defense for what Ligonier has done, and anyone who continues to defend Ligonier is just making a fool of themselves. I’ve lost considerable respect for that seminary professor. He’s put his personal friendships ahead of his loyalties for the integrity of the gospel of Christ. He’s also undermined his own faithfulness to Sola Scriptura.

When even such learned men can be so willfully blind the Reformed faith in America is in serious trouble. That seminary professor is training future pastors and ministers. I shudder to think of the ramifications of that.

You’re in my prayers Frank, as are our Reformed ministry leaders. May God convict their hearts to be godly men who will stand firm, refusing to compromise the integrity of the Scriptures for the sake of their personal friendships.

Sola Scriptura,


The problems here as I see it are three-fold:

  1. Ligonier Ministries is lying to its friends and allies about what they supposedly did prior to suing me (I’ve exposed Ligonier’s lies previously, so no surprise there). Not one single thing that RC Sproul privately told that seminary professor is true. That’s not to say that RC Sproul is a liar, but it is to say that Tim Dick is a liar and at the very least RC Sproul has accepted Tim Dick’s lies as fact and not bothered to investigate matters for himself.
  2. Even if Ligonier’s story weren’t a bold-faced lie, Ligonier’s friends and allies (including apparently now even scholarly Reformed seminary professors) would still have to strain out interpretations of 1 Corinthians 6 that just aren’t there in order to say that Ligonier was justified in suing me.
  3. Even though “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34) many Christians are “respecters of persons.” When it comes to RC Sproul, and anything related to him, there are some who treat him as though he can do no wrong. This smacks of man-worship and idolatry.

In spite of men’s personal sentiments for RC Sproul, sentiments which evidently are blinding their abilities to think logically and biblically, Ligonier Ministries has done wrong — very wrong. As Mark Epstein put it in his article, Ligonier: Christendom’s Enron:

“Now there may actually exist a time when a Christian has approbation to use the heathen courts but, as the Bible makes clear, defamation is not a legitimate cause for such action, regardless of the alleged perpetrator’s status.”

David McCrory also has an excellent article on his blog, Covenant Corner, entitled Christian v. Christian which includes quotes from a number of Bible commentaries from 1 Corinthians 6.

The Reformed church in America has reached a new low and nothing demonstrates it more clearly than the Ligonier Ministries vs. Frank Vance lawsuit. The fact that so many Reformed ministry leaders are privately siding with Ligonier only confirms just how far the Reformed church in America has departed from the Scriptures.

Ligonier Ministries is not being held accountable by Reformed ministers for filing an unbiblical lawsuit, as well as repeatedly lying and engaging in a pattern of cover ups about that lawsuit. I’m not aware of one single prominent Reformed minister who has publicly commented on this. Worse yet, at least some of them are privately defending Ligonier’s unbiblical actions. For men who generally seem to know the Scriptures so well they’re now doing an incompetent job of showing it.

Not one single Reformed ministry leader who personally knows RC Sproul and who has shared a speaker’s podium with him has issued a public statement regarding Ligonier’s lawsuit. By their silence these men are demonstrating that they are compromised. If you’re troubled about those Reformed ministers’ apparent agreement with Ligonier’s lawsuit by their silence I would urge you to personally contact those Reformed leaders and express your concerns. Contact information is available at RC Sproul Sinning By Silence. Please comment here with any responses you receive.

Ligonier Ministries Requires Biblical Instruction

balaams_ass_speaksWill 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.

RC Sproul Sinning By Silence

“Could it be that too many of God’s true children are sinning against God by guilty silence? When those whose eyes are opened by the touch of Christ become vocal and active God may begin to fight again on the side of truth. There are moral situations where it is immoral to say nothing and basely immoral to do nothing.”
A.W. Tozer

RC Sproul with Tim DickOver a month has passed since Ligonier Ministries violated 1 Corinthians 6 with impunity and filed a lawsuit against me. In that time not one word has been publicly uttered by RC Sproul, the Founder of Ligonier and current Chairman of the Board, not to mention the official Minister for the ministry. In short, it’s his ministry and he’s nowhere to be heard from.

Ligonier Ministries and its senior management has come under withering criticism over this lawsuit and yet its founder hides in the home that his donors paid for, refusing to comment, refusing to provide leadership, and refusing to be held accountable.

By his month-long silence RC Sproul has sent a message — RC Sproul appears to be in full agreement with the unbiblical and very foolish actions of his “senior management” — Tim Dick and John Duncan. Furthermore RC Sproul appears to be in full agreement with the pathetic public statements issued by Tim Dick and Ligonier’s senior management. To assume otherwise would be naive.

What was called for was thorough and unequivocal confession, contrition and repentance. Instead what we got were just more excuses, lies, cover ups, blame shifting and self-justification. As a donor-funded Bible teaching ministry Ligonier needs to do one of two things:

  1. Publicly explain how its lawsuit is biblically defensible and why 1 Corinthians 6 doesn’t apply to Ligonier Ministries or apply in this particular case.
  2. Publicly acknowledge that Ligonier’s lawsuit isn’t biblically defensible, issue a public apology, and restructure Ligonier in such a way that such abuses can never happen again.

The public statements issued by Ligonier Ministries should have never been penned by Tim Dick and John Duncan. They should have come from RC Sproul. In the midst of such a crisis what’s called for is strong principled leadership. Tim Dick has more than amply demonstrated that he is an unprincipled man. For RC Sproul to hide out in the midst of a crisis and fail to accept responsibility and exercise manly leadership only makes him look like an abdicator.

In his public statement Tim Dick “accepted responsibility” but he failed to admit any wrongdoing. At best all that Tim Dick has confessed to is that he might have “caused confusion,” which is to say he doesn’t think he’s done anything unbiblical, unethical or sinful at all. Nor is Tim Dick willing to come to grips with the fact that he has terribly offended a large portion of Ligonier’s donor base.

However the greater responsibility falls to RC Sproul, for it was he who appointed Tim Dick, a man who clearly has no professional or ministerial qualifications whatsoever. Worse yet Tim Dick has no moral and ethical qualifications. Tim Dick does need to accept responsibility for his own moral shortcomings and incompetency, but far more importantly RC Sproul must accept responsibility for appointing Tim Dick in the first place. RC Sproul must accept responsibility for the consequences to Ligonier and to the body of Christ as a whole for appointing an unprincipled nincompoop.

In the past several weeks many have asked the question, “When will RC say something? When will he issue a public statement?” Ligonier’s supporters are looking to RC Sproul for leadership, but he’s nowhere to be found. This only tends to confirm the suspicions that many now have that the problems at Ligonier don’t just begin and end with Tim Dick.

Several prominent Reformed ministers are personal friends of RC Sproul and regularly share the podium with him at various conferences. These include John MacArthur, John Piper, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan (brother to Ligonier General Manager John Duncan). I’ve received a number of emails from people who are mystified over the silence of these men regarding the Ligonier Ministries lawsuit. It seems that many people are having a hard time knowing what to think about the silence of these men. Many Christians look to them for leadership and from all appearances there doesn’t appear to be any of that being exercised right now.

I’ve been asked repeatedly about that. All I can say right now is that I do find their silence at a time like this to be strange if not inexplicable. I’m reasonably confident that if it were anyone other than one of our own they’d have something to say about it. Reformed ministers find it all too tempting to criticize the failures of the leadership of Evangelicals and Charismatics and Fundamentalists. How they love to point out that “Bad theology produces bad leadership.” The interesting thing about that though is that the Evangelicals and Charismatics and Fundamentalists themselves generally seem to do a reasonably good job of policing their own ranks. They’re generally not afraid to hold one another accountable and, if necessary, publicly rebuke one of their own. But for some odd reason it seems that the Reformed leadership are often unwilling to hold one of their own accountable.

We can say the same of Christian publications that cater to Reformed Christians, such as World Magazine. World Magazine has yet to mention anything about RC Sproul Jr and his entire Session of Elders being defrocked. When’s the last time anyone has heard of an entire Presbyterian Session of four Elders being defrocked? If that’s not newsworthy for the Religion section of World Magazine then I don’t know what is. If Ligonier Ministries suing me isn’t newsworthy for the Religion section of World Magazine then I don’t know what is. Yet once again Marvin Olasky and his “objective” editors have proven how compromised they are. They’re eager to report on gay alcoholic Episcopal Bishops checking themselves into rehab, or the foolish public statements uttered by Pat Robertson, but they carefully avoid reporting on the scandalous lawsuit of a prominent Reformed minister and his ministry (and even of his son’s defrocking). I’m sure it’s just all a mere coincidence that that same ministry that World Magazine has turned a blind eye to also just happens to have spent many tens of thousands of dollars advertising in World.

I find it remarkable that the secular Press started contacting me just a week after Ligonier had sued me, yet the Christian Press is either too embarrassed, too intimidated or too compromised to devote one drop of ink to it. Now just this morning USA Today gave prominent mention to the Ligonier Ministries lawsuit in a front page article. Tim Dick is doing a wonderful job of making Ligonier famous. The problem is that it’s the wrong kind of fame.

As for the silence of various prominent Reformed ministers, I hadn’t particularly thought much about it until just this past week. My assumption was that they probably were doing something behind the scenes and that it might take some time before the rest of us knew what they’d been doing. But now that five weeks have transpired since Ligonier first sued me, and not one prominent Reformed minister has publicly challenged Ligonier over it (or for all we know even privately challenged them), despite two secular newspaper articles, dozens of blog articles and hundreds of blog comments, I have to admit that I’m growing increasingly concerned by the Reformed leadership’s public silence.

Of course it could very well be that some or even all of these men have contacted RC Sproul and advised him to drop the lawsuit. But because they haven’t publicly said anything we just don’t know. For the sake of argument let’s just assume that they all did contact RC Sproul and told him he needed to drop the lawsuit. That would’ve been the right thing to do, but would it have been adequate? Would that have been enough to fulfill their obligations as fellow ministers and personal friends of RC Sproul? No it would not. In addition, a rebuke of their friend and calling him to to repentance — public repentance, is needed and also biblically mandated.

Ligonier’s sins are public sins and therefore public repentance is necessary. Not only has that not occurred but through Ligonier’s “senior management” we’ve heard nothing but excuses and more lies. RC Sproul isn’t ignorant of what’s been going on for the past month, and by permitting it to go on for so long, and by doing nothing to put a stop to it (at least that anyone can see) he’s complicit in Ligonier’s sins. That calls for public repentance and it calls for those closest to RC Sproul to call him to public repentance.

Again, it could very well be that some or all of those Reformed ministers have called RC Sproul to repentance (Matt 18:15-17). But if they have isn’t it now more than obvious that he hasn’t publicly repented? What are they to do now? Are they biblically permitted to maintain their silence in the face of a public scandal? To be silent about sin is to condone sin. The Reformed leadership needs to take cognizance of the fact that they’re setting an example. RC Sproul has set an example that now communicates loud and clear that it’s perfectly acceptable for Christians to be suing Christians.

If RC Sprouls’ minister friends and associates continue to remain silent they’ll be sending a very clear message that they agree with RC Sproul that it’s perfectly acceptable for Christians to be suing Christians. The inevitable result will be that many of those who admire those Reformed ministers will follow their example and they’ll come to believe that it’s perfectly acceptable for Christians to sue Christians. They shouldn’t be surprised when one day it’s one of them who gets sued by another Christian and the plaintiff uses Ligonier vs. Vance to justify it.

Perhaps these Reformed ministers believe that it’s still too soon to speak out publicly, and perhaps they may even be justified in their beliefs. The problem for them is that there are too many troubled Christians looking on who disagree and believe that too much time has been wasted as it is. The continued silence on the part of Reformed ministers is calling into question if any of them can be trusted. As one blogger put it, “This latest scandal has really made me wonder if there are any good ministries out there anymore.” It’s those kinds of doubts that will cause financial supporters to not just cut off Ligonier but also any other Reformed ministry that fails to speak out against the Ligonier scandal.

Some have suggested that I post the names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of RC Sproul’s preacher friends so that they can be contacted and asked what they’ve done to call RC Sproul to public repentance. After giving the matter much consideration I now agree that, in the interest of accountability, that’s probably a prudent thing to do:

Dr. John MacArthur
Grace Community Church
13248 Roscoe Blvd
Sun Valley, CA 91352
phone: 818-909-5500
fax: 818-909-5712

John Piper
Desiring God Ministries
2601 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55406
toll free: 888-346-4700
phone: 612-435-2401
fax: 612-338-4372

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
First Presbyterian Church
1390 North State Street
Jackson, MS 39202
phone: 601-353-8316
phone: 601-973-9104

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
2825 Lexington Road
Louisville, KY 40280
phone: 502-897-4011

C.J. Mahaney
Sovereign Grace Ministries
7505 Muncaster Mill Road
Gaithersburg, MD 20877
phone: 301-330-7400
email form

Mark Dever
Capitol Hill Baptist Church
525 A Street Northeast
Washington, DC 20002
phone: 202-543-6111
phone: 202-543-1224
fax: 202-543-6113

If you call or write any of these ministers please show them due respect: “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren.” (1Tim. 5:1) Here’s an example of a letter that you might want to send them, or use for talking points if you call them. It might be useful at the top of your letter to include the names of all of them so they all know the others have received copies too:

Dear ____________,

My understanding is that you’re a friend and ministry associate of RC Sproul and that you’ve spoken at some of the same conferences. As you no doubt already know Dr. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries sued a Christian blogger on August 25. That lawsuit was withdrawn “without prejudice” on September 27. What that means is that Ligonier reserved the option of suing Frank Vance again and in fact in an article in the Orlando Sentinel it stated that, “Ministry attorney Daniel Brodersen said Thursday that if the group does find Vance, it may file a new suit.”

To date Ligonier has issued two public statements, neither of which offer any apology for Ligonier’s unbiblical and unchristian conduct. Regardless of Mr. Vance’s allegations and methods I’m far more concerned about Ligonier’s unbiblical response and the terrible example they’ve set and the terrible testimony for Christ that they’ve been.

As a personal friend and ministry associate of Dr. Sproul’s I’m wondering where you stand on all this. Do you side with RC Sproul and Ligonier Ministries and believe that their actions can be biblically justified in light of 1 Corinthians 6:1-7? If not I’d like to know what you’ve done to encourage RC Sproul to issue a public statement of repentance. If you’ve already done that then I’d like to know why you haven’t issued any public statements yourself. My concern is that your continued silence will be viewed as an endorsement of Ligonier’s sinful behavior.

In the unlikely event that you’re unaware of these significant events please see the following links:
Ligonier Ministries Sues Frank Vance
Statement From Tim Dick
Statement From Ligonier Senior Management
More Ligonier Lies Exposed By Orlando Sentinel

You should also take note of the fact that on the front page of USA Today, October 3 edition, Ligonier Ministries was prominently mentioned in an article about lawsuits and bloggers. This Ligonier scandal requires immediate damage control and any continued silence by Reformed leaders such as yourself will likely only make things much worse.

Thank you in advance for your concern about this matter and for the godly leadership that I’m confident you will soon begin to publicly demonstrate. I appreciate receiving a timely response to the concerns that I’ve raised here.



If you’ve been a donor to any of the above ministries, or you’ve supported these ministers or their ministries in any other way (purchased their books, attended their conferences, etc.) make that known in your letter or email. Demonstrating a personal connection makes it more likely that your letter will get by the screeners. As you receive responses from these men, please post those responses as comments to this thread, or if a response is very long then email it to me.