For those of you following the conversation about Andy Stanley’s controversial message, a few remarks by way of update:
1. Scot McKnight weighed-in today, and he thinks that critics (including yours truly) have improperly put Stanley on a slippery slope. McKnight also highlights a statement I made in an interview with CT last week in which I said this about Stanley’s sermon: “It was ambiguous at best. It was a total capitulation to the spirit of the age at worst.” After reading my remarks, McKnight wonders what my “best” read of the situation is as opposed to my worst read. My “best” read is that Stanley believes in the Bible’s teaching about human sexuality, but for whatever reason muted that belief in his sermon. If that is the case, then the question becomes whether the ambiguity was intentional or unintentional.
If it was unintentional, certainly he could have clarified the matter by now. The audio of his most recent sermon is not yet available, but The Christian Post’s coverage of the message doesn’t indicate that any clarification was forthcoming. If it was intentional, then for what purpose did he do it? To steer clear of divisive subjects while in the pulpit? To make North Point a more attractive place for homosexuals to attend? Or perhaps he just thought adultery was the only relevant moral question in the story he was telling. Whatever the reason, it is difficult to imagine a good reason for intentionally leaving the impression that adultery is sin while homosexuality may not be.
It’s pastoral malpractice to believe the truth in private but not to affirm it plainly from the pulpit–especially when a pastor invokes the issue in a way that seems calculated to communicate something about homosexuality which the pastor really does not believe. The text that comes to mind is 2 Corinthians 4:2,
We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
So from my perspective, even the best case scenario may still be a cause for some concern.
2. This conversation is as much about ecclesiology as it is about the moral status of homosexuality. Much of the disagreement stems directly from differences over the meaning of church membership, church discipline, and pastoral care. As I said in my earlier post, the failure to practice redemptive church discipline is an open scandal in countless evangelical congregations. It is for this reason that so many non-Christians look at our churches and conclude that the pews are full of hypocrites. When churches fail to discipline, the critics are right. Eventually, there will be no difference between the church and the world where redemptive discipline is absent.
3. Readers have directed our attention to North Point’s student ministry volunteer application. There is a section in it that addresses “sexual behavior.” Here it is:
Regarding Sexual Behavior
We teach that sex was created by God as an expression of intimacy between a man and woman within the context of marriage. Volunteers who embrace lifestyles or behaviors that conflict with this teaching will eventually find themselves having to pretend to be something they are not or believe something they don’t. In an effort to protect you from a potentially awkward situation, we ask the following:
• If you are involved in a sexual relationship and are not married, we ask that you not volunteer in family ministry at this time.
• If you are pursuing a same sex relationship, we ask that you not volunteer in family ministry at this time.
• In the spirit of being a good role model, if you are single and living with a member of the opposite sex, we ask that you not volunteer at this time. We do not want to put you in the awkward position of having to explain your arrangement if members of your group visit your home.
• If you are married and are currently involved in a sexual relationship outside of your marriage, we ask that you not volunteer at this time.
I don’t think this statement is perfect. It’s framed as if the main concern is to keep potential volunteers true to themselves rather than to emphasize the church’s commitment to holiness and integrity. Having said that, this statement would have been very useful if Pastor Stanley would have alluded to it publicly. Simply restating the first line of this policy in his sermon might have prevented listeners from concluding that homosexual behavior is permissible among members/volunteers at North Point. But there again we are left with our earlier question: Why didn’t he bring it up?