Updated: Apr 29, 2019
The Quick Check
I was almost swindled again. These legalistic churches always fool me with their talk of grace and the Gospel on their website and in their video promos for the church. Then you barely scratch the surface and find a chest full of laws, requirements, rules, and legalism.
Gospel Grace is not gracious or Gospel-focused at all. I almost believed they were, in the beginning, but as always, it’s so hard to hide this level of legalism, even on the website.
While the Questionnaire, as usual, was completely ignored, I’m not too concerned about dishonest gain or greed in this church. They do preach tithing, and require that members support the church financially, but it appears to be out of legalism than materialism.
The Grace Scale
The Political Scale
The Full Check
I recently joined a Utah Christian group on Facebook and asked everyone there if they could recommend a Bible-focused church that isn’t interested in entertaining people as much as preaching the Gospel, or holding me hostage to a list of rules and laws. After a little bit of clarification, Gospel Grace Church was one of the churches highly recommended by one of the members of the group.
So, here I am, Checking ‘em out!
About the Church
On the church’s website, if you scroll to the bottom there is a video with the title above it that says “We all need Gospel Grace.” I figured this would be a good way to get to know the church a little bit, so I watched it. You can watch it too by going here and scrolling to the bottom of the page.
I was expecting something similar to what SMCC’s videos look like, or The Rock, or K2. Something to advertise how welcoming the church is, how cool they are for a “church,” how nice the facilities and people are, or something else that people care about these days. Things besides the Gospel or the Word.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the opposite. Why do we need Gospel Grace? I thought they were talking about their specific church. It turns out they’re talking about the Gospel, and the Grace of God. In the video, there’s a man who says:
“No matter how many times anyone goes to church, no matter how much of their money they put into the tithe, no matter if they’re baptized. None of these satisfy the demands of God. Religious people try to get God to like them by all of their self-righteous deeds, but it ultimately ends in hopelessness. This is because there’s only one way to have your soul freed from the guilt of sin and your life changed...it is by the Grace of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
But I have to say, I sense a lot of emotionalism in this video at the same time.
If you go to the “Who we are” page, it says this:
“We exist as a church to glorify God by making gospel-centered, grace-saturated disciples of Jesus Christ.
As we seek to carry out that mission, we prayerfully pursue the following as marks of Gospel Grace Church…”
A few of the mentioned marks that caught my eye were:
Authentic Worship, Scriptural Truth, Committed to Holiness, and Eternally-Minded Stewardship.
Their notes on these issues do a lot to give us an idea what Gospel Grace is all about, but I’ll save my commentary on these things for the rest of the Check, as they will most definitely come up. So, onto the Check!
Unfortunately, I haven’t received a response to the questionnaire from Gospel Grace yet. Oddly enough, I received a relatively quick response to my initial email to pastor Lukus when I told him I’d like to review his church but just had some questions that needed answering.
I sent the original email to the church on February 24th. It only took one day for someone named Aaron to respond, asking me to specify what kind of questions I had. So on the 25th, I sent over the Questionnaire.
A few days passed. No answer.
So I sent another email on the 27th to make sure they didn’t have any questions or concerns. Another three days passed. No answer.
So, there I was, 5 days later, and once again, I found myself having to answer these questions myself. And believe me, people, I don’t care how much more work it takes when I have to find the answers myself. I will get answers, and if I can’t, that is still an answer in and of itself.
Refusing to answer these questions, and refusing to even respond to an email regarding these questions speaks volumes.
I sent one last email on Friday night (March 1st), practically begging Aaron with Gospel Grace to at least give me a quick email to let me know that he’s working on it. I also explained to him that if my questions don’t get answered, not only does the review suffer, but I’m forced to find the answers myself, and it won’t be as accurate as if the church were to just answer the questions themselves.
I gave him until Monday (today) to respond before I post the review. I still haven't received any response, so...here we go!
Onto the questions!
1. What is your church's official position on tithing?
On their “Who we are” page on their website, while it doesn’t mention tithing, nor does their Giving page, there are a few questionable statements regarding “Evident Faith” and “Eternally Minded Stewardship”:
“As people who have received everything by the grace of God, we commit both personally and corporately to wise and generous stewardship of all that God has entrusted to us. We will not hoard people or resources but will joyfully give to bless the body of Christ. In a world that values what is passing away, we will invest in eternity by valuing people over programs and facilities.”
“At Gospel Grace Church, we want to obey God regardless of the cost and even if we don’t know all the details. We refuse to dig our roots into that which is passing away. We willingly invest our families, our finances and future because we bank everything on the promises of God. We communicate and exercise this faith through our emphasis on corporate and individual prayer.”
While these statements don’t go nearly to the same lengths as places like Real Life Ministries, One Place, or South Mountain Community Church in openly preaching and defending the preaching of tithing, these statements raised a few red flags for me.
In the first statement, which you’ll find under “Eternally Minded Stewardship” on their “Who we are…” page, we see the words “we commit both personally and corporately to wise and generous stewardship of all that God has entrusted to us.” To me, this means that that members must commit to paying money to the church. Or in other words, to pay tithing.
Then they use the words “joyfully give to bless the body of Christ,” just as other churches do. This bothers me. Because the body of Christ is not merely the local church. Local churches are labeling themselves as the Body of Christ and the Church itself as if the Christian has no choice but to give to them if they want to bless the Body of Christ.
No. The Body of Christ, the Christian Church, or whatever you want to call it...is not just the local church. That is a tiny part of the Body, or the Church. Not giving money to the local church does not mean that the Christian is not giving to the Body in any way. There are tons of ways to give, and the local church is only one of them.
Then in the second statement is a serious red flag. “We want to obey God regardless of the cost and even if we don’t know all the details.”
To me, this translates to, “We see the church as equal to, or synonymous to God, so in order to obey God, we must obey the church, and we obey them regardless of the cost and even if we don't understand it at all.”
If I’m right in this assessment, this is not good. Obey God regardless of the cost, yes. But your local church is NOT God, nor are they equivalent to Him at all. You should not obey men, or in other words your local church, regardless of the cost and even if you’re not given any details.
No, no, no.
These statements might not raise the same red flags for most people. They are worded very carefully, and vaguely. But I see some seriously concerning suggestions here.
2. Does your church have a particular set of rules or requirements that members must follow or abide by in order to retain their membership status with the church?
Gospel Grace has an actual membership application on their website. And a “Church Covenant Signature Form.” And a Constitution that you must agree to, in order to be accepted. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself.
There is also a Let’s Get Acquainted Sermon Series where I guess new members can learn what is expected of them as members of the church, and they must listen to all of them in order to be accepted as members. In fact, here is the process that they list on their membership application that one must complete before they are interviewed by a pastor to determine whether or not they are accepted into the church:
1) Attend or listen to the GGC 101: Let’s Get Acquainted Class.
2) Fill out this form including writing out your testimony on one sheet of paper.
3) Fill out the “Getting Involved at Gospel Grace” form.
4) Connect with a Pastor to setup a membership interview to discuss questions and getting involved.
5) Schedule a Sunday to share your testimony with the church and be presented for membership.
Seriously, people, read this application. Read the Church Covenant, which literally contradicts the New Covenant that we have in Christ, written on our hearts and minds, and not on paper or in a law set by religious authorities and men, but by God directly to us. Read their Constitution.
The answer to this questions is a huge and resounding YES.
3. What is your church's official position on the doctrine of salvation? Through grace, works, both?
This is what their Constitution says about their position on Salvation:
“We believe that the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life is a miraculous work of God by grace alone, through faith alone, (Eph. 2:8-9) in Christ alone. (John 14:6; I Pet. 1:18-19) It is the unmerited demonstration of God’s love, available to all those who repent (turn from their sin) and trust in Jesus’ atoning death and victorious resurrection. (2 Cor. 7:10; Luke 13:3; Heb. 9:28; John 1:12) It is only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ that man can be justified, sanctified, and ultimately glorified. (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 8:30).”
4. Are you transparent with your church's financial information? How much does your church bring in through donations and tithing, and how is that money distributed? What do your profit on average?
Right now the answer to this appears to be no, since they haven’t answered my questions and I don’t see anything in their Constitution, Covenant, or anything on their website to suggest they tell members anything about their finances whatsoever.
But, we can do some math and come to a reasonable guesstimate now that we’ve done this a few times and know the averages based on congregation size. So let’s do that, shall we?
Their Facebook Page has nearly 1,400 likes and followers. I’ve recently figured out that on average a church’s Facebook page will have a lot more likes and follows than actual members or attendees to their church. SMCC Draper has over 2.3k likes and follows, but they only have about 1,400 members. Calvary Chapel has about 1,000 members, but their page has nearly 4k. Christian Life AoG has more than 400 likes and follows, but they only have about 120-150 members.
Based on these numbers Gospel Grace probably has at least 500 members or attendees of their church. On average churches bring in a million dollars in donations per 1,000 members, so Gospel Grace might bring in somewhere around $500,000. That is just a guess though. Unless they tell us otherwise, we have nothing else to go off of.
5. Which denomination does your church align with the most, if any?
According to their “What we believe” page I think they’re actually Baptist.
6. Is your church's pastor available for other questions or comments regarding the church, its doctrines, etc.?
Well, seeing as how the pastor wasn’t even the one that responded to my initial email, it appears the answer to this is also no.
7. How is your church's doctrinal flexibility and tolerance? If a member has a disagreement with the pastor or leadership on a certain doctrine, how is it handled? Does the church change its position on doctrines fairly often, if at all?
Based on everything I’ve learned about this church so far, I would answer this by saying they are probably not very flexible in their doctrines at all, but I can’t say that definitely, since no one will tell me the actual answer.
There are a few videos as part of the membership application process that you must watch, and some of those include “beliefs” and “identity.” My guess is, you must agree to their beliefs and sign their constitution and covenant agreeing to them, and by expressing disagreement they will find something sinful or wrong with it, and excommunicate and/or discipline you as a member of their church.
This is just a guess though. I can’t say whether that is actually the case. I would have to talk to them directly, but seeing as how they’re ignoring me, I’m forced to wonder.
8. Does your church require that its members be baptized? What is your church's official position on baptism?
They actually do. In order to become a member, one must have been baptized by immersion. It says so right on their Let’s Get Acquainted page. (Emphasis mine)
“To begin the membership process, complete the requirements listed in our membership application. This includes being a believer in Jesus Christ who has been baptized by immersion after conversion, in agreement with our statement of faith, core values and covenant, and willing to submit to our constitution.Once you have completed your application, please take it to one of the Pastors to schedule your Membership Interview. The pastoral team will then present you to the church for membership at a Sunday meeting.”
9. Please describe what a typical service and/or meeting looks like in your church.
I will know more about this personally when I can attend physically, but for now, all I can describe will be the sermon, once we get to that point of the Check.
10. How many people do you have on staff at your church, both paid and volunteer?
They do not list this on their website anywhere.
11. What is the pastor's educational history?
According to the website, Pastor Lukus has a doctorate in expository preaching from Dallas Theological Seminary.
12. How does the church discipline its members with their sin?
Oh, boy. Read what their Church Constitution says on this:
“Termination of Membership – The church shall recognize the termination of a person’s membership after a three-month period of inactivity or absence (without satisfactory explanation to the pastor/elder(s)), after he or she has voluntarily resigned, after joining with another church, or following his or her death. Membership may also be terminated as an act of church discipline upon vote of the members present at any regular or special meeting of the members. The church shall have authority to refuse a member’s voluntary resignation or transfer of membership to another church, either for the purpose of proceeding with a process of church discipline, or for any other biblical reason.
“Church Discipline – Any member consistently neglectful of his or her duties or guilty of conduct by which the name of our Lord Jesus may be dishonored, and so opposing the welfare of the church, shall be subject to the admonition of the elders and the discipline of the church according to the instructions of our Lord in Matthew 18:15-17 and the example of Scripture. Church discipline should ordinarily be contemplated after individual private admonition has failed. It can include admonition by the elders or congregation, suspension from communion for a definite period, deposition from office, and/or excommunication. 9 Upon the exercise of Scriptural excommunication, all membership privileges shall be immediately suspended and all tokens of Christian fellowship shall immediately cease until such time as restoration and reconciliation take place. Instruction and examples concerning this can be seen in Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; 1 Timothy 5:19-20; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5. The purpose of such discipline should be for the repentance, reconciliation, and spiritual growth of the individual disciplined. It should be for the instruction in righteousness and good of other Christians, as an example to them. It should protect the purity of the church as a whole, and the integrity of its witness to non-Christians. Church discipline is supremely for the glory of God by reflecting His holy character.”
And...this is Gospel Grace Church? Really?
As for the Scriptures that are listed as support, they are all being taken out of context and interpreted literally, as legalistic Christians so frequently like to do with the Bible in order to condemn other Christians. So, they are irrelevant. There is nothing in the New Testament that would, when understood contextually, support this kind of behavior within Christ’s Church. It is legalistic, self-righteous, and centered around a mindset that is stuck in the Old Covenant.
We are forgiven, we are free, and we are given grace through Jesus Christ. This legalism overwhelming.
13. How is the pastor compensated (income, benefits, bonuses, etc.)?
Based on the congregation size estimate that we made he probably makes at least $50,000 a year. The only information I have to support this is the average salary of American pastors based on congregation size. Unless someone gives me the real figure, this estimate is the best I can come up with.
14. What is the size of your church and any other space the church owns for meetings and church services?
Once again, I don’t know this, since no one will answer me.
In conclusion to the Questionnaire, I’m pretty disappointed so far. I can’t imagine there is anything I will find in the rest of this Check that will change my mind about the overwhelming legalism in this church. Thumbs down.
The Worship Service
I haven’t attended a worship service at Gospel Grace as of yet, but anyone who has, please add your opinion and experience of the worship service at Gospel Grace to give our churchgoers an idea.
Is it focused on worshiping God, or elevating the talents and performances of man?
Is it aimed at making you feel emotional or have a certain type of experience, rather than turn your thoughts on worshiping God?
Let us know by logging in and commenting below.
Today I’m listening to a sermon from February 24th. You can listen too by going here. Let me know what you think.
Is the sermon topical or a verse by verse study of the Bible?
It is topical, but each topic appears to be based on specific books or sections of the Bible. The topical series may be based on the particular verse by verse study they are currently working on. This week the topic is “Ephesus and City Ministry.” And it looks like this sermon is a study of Acts 18-20 and Ephesians 1-6. Let’s see how contextual it is.
If topical, is the topic focused on the Bible, God, or Jesus? Or is it more about you?
If you go to the their website and find the the sermon online, this is the description of the sermon that they give.
“When it came to missionary endeavors, Paul was strategic, persistent, and prayerful. He had target locations and intentional objectives in his ministry of the gospel. The apostle focused on cities - epicenters of culture and influence. His pattern indicates that when the gospel takes root in places of commerce, education, and politics, it eventually spreads to the surrounding areas. Cities are not the only places for missionary work, but they are strategic places. Roland Allan, a missiologist and author of Missionary Methods, suggests that “All the cities or towns in which Paul planted churches were centers of Roman administration, Greek civilization, Jewish influence, or some commercial importance." That was true of Athens, Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. And as we consider city ministry today, may God help us understand how to reach our context and see the Word increase and prevail mightily in urban populations to the praise of his glory.”
After reading this description, I have mixed feelings. It’s not a blatant self help seminar type of sermon that we hear so often these days, and though based in the Bible for sure, it seems like the bottom line, in the end, is yet another case where people take the historical aspects of the Bible and try to apply it to themselves today.
Sometimes it’s applicable. Many times, it just isn’t. If these Scriptures are actually contextually applicable to us today, then okay. Let’s see. But it appears, so far, the message is about us and how we can use the Bible to help us do something specific today, rather than just read the Word for what it says in context, regardless of how it helps us or not.
How frequently is the Bible referenced or read? Is it interpreted in context, or cherry picked and interpreted out of context in order to support the topical message?
The Bible is used somewhat frequently, although there are more anecdotes and quotes from modern men than I care to hear in a sermon. The Bible is not necessarily taken out of context. Rather, it seems the pastor understands the context of the verses he quotes quite well. The problem I have is that even if applicable, it’s a topic that regardless of the desperation and high importance he places on it, I just don’t find it to be that relevant.
Even if the Apostle Paul’s ministry 2,000 years ago can somehow be made applicable to churches today, why are we focusing on that, rather than the Gospel itself? Why are we narrowing our focus of these Scriptures on something so minor like growing one local church? Of all the things to focus on in the book of Acts and Ephesians, we’re going to focus on Paul’s Ministry strategy in order to grow one local church?
Here’s the thing. If churches insist on doing topical sermons, make it about God. Don’t make it about you. If you’re bored to tears by the concept of verse by verse study, for the love of God, make your topical sermons about God! Please!
The bottom line here is this: The Bible is used frequently. Good. It is technically read in context as far as I know. Okay. It might even be applicable, and might not, but either way, it doesn’t really matter because the topic is about something so minor that it’s hardly even worth talking about at all. Certainly not in a sermon that should be used to feed the flock, not the pastor’s ministry goals and ideas.
In the end, the Scriptures used, while maybe in context and possibly even applicable, were chosen specifically to support the topical message of City Ministry. And I don’t like it when churches make their sermons about them, rather than God.
What’s at the heart of the sermon? Is it God, Jesus, the Bible, or again, is it more a message that has been made to be applicable to you today?
“I want to help our church as we continue to think about the Gospel in this city.”
That’s the goal. That’s the aim. To help the church spread their version of the “Gospel.” The reason I put Gospel in quotes there should be clear if you’ve read the Questionnaire section of this Check.
This church, based on what I know of the Gospel, is not preaching the Gospel. They preach the law, they demand that their members obey their laws, and they operate on their own righteousness, not grace, forgiveness, the message of the cross, or the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s not about God, Jesus, or even the Bible, although it’s used. It’s about how their church (men and women) can become more popular, more widely known, and more successful in its own missions and vision for itself in the city of Salt Lake City.
Church planting. Strategizing. City Ministry. That's the heart. Not the Gospel.
Were you fed the Word of God?
No. I was fed the pastor’s ideas of ministering to the city of Salt Lake City based on his interpretation of Paul’s ministry in the book of Acts.
Spreading the Gospel and ministering to people is a noble and necessary job of the Christian church. But only if the Gospel being spread isn’t “another Gospel,” that Paul was talking about in Galatians 1. This church is legalistic to the core, so I don’t think they should be spreading anything anywhere. They should throw away their membership applications and preach the message of the cross.
The Grace Scale
This church is hands down the most legalistic church I’ve ever reviewed.
Their membership policies are legalistic.
Their church covenant is legalistic.
Their constitution is legalistic.
The way they subjugate their members in general is legalistic.
Their view on tithing according to what I’ve read on their website is legalistic.
Their position on baptism is legalistic.
Literally the only thing I don’t find legalistic about this church is the name Gospel Grace, the video intro on the home page, and their claim to believe in salvation by grace through faith alone. Unfortunately, their actions speak much louder than their words, and for that, I have to put them as far towards legalism on the Grace Scale as I can without dismissing their claims to believe in grace altogether.
The Political Scale
I haven’t noticed anything particularly political about Gospel Grace Church, so I put them in the middle of the Political Scale.
Scandals & Controversy
The only scandal that I find with Gospel Grace Church has yet to become a public outrage, but it should be, and it’s this: that a Christian church this legalistic calls itself Gospel Grace.
They are not preaching the Gospel by insulting Christ’s perfect sacrifice in their regression toward the law. They are not teaching grace by burdening their members with their Church Covenant, their Constitution, their Membership Application, their rules, requirements, and their obsession with obeying law, rather than resting in the grace that God gives us through forgiveness and the freedom we have in Christ.
To me, it’s a controversy.
Legalism in a nutshell = Gospel Grace Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s all there is to it, people.
So, while I don’t think they are serving and striving for more money the way so many other churches are in Utah, they are serving something besides the true Gospel of Christ and the real grace that He brings us, and it’s the Law.
We cannot recommend this church.