Christianity,  Theology/Bible

An “evangelical” church in Nashville embraces gay marriage

A couple weeks ago, I noted Elizabeth Diaz’s feature-length article in Time magazine arguing that evangelicals are changing their mind about gay marriage. Today she has a follow-up piece about Nashville, Tennessee’s GracePointe Community Church which has become “one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to openly stand for full equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ community.” The church’s pastor, Stan Mitchell, made the announcement at the end of a sermon a few weeks ago. You can watch it above beginning at 44:52.

What strikes me about this sermon is that it reveals that the church’s transition actually occurred three years ago, not three weeks ago. But the church’s identity is so bereft of biblical ecclesiology that they apparently don’t realize it. What do I mean?

Pastor Mitchell says in the sermon above that when the church began their “conversation” about sexuality three years ago, they extended “partial membership” to practicing gays and lesbians. That “partial membership” consisted of welcoming them to be baptized and to the Lord’s table but of barring them from leadership and from the “sacraments” of baby dedication and of marriage. The only thing that changed three weeks ago was that those final three barriers were removed. So what gives?

Well, in the evangelical tradition, baby dedication and marriage are not sacraments. The only two sacraments (or ordinances) are baptism and the Lord ‘s Supper. Those two ordinances are defining marks of church membership, but leadership, baby dedication, and marriage most assuredly are not. That means that GracePointe crossed the theological Rubicon years ago, but apparently no one noticed.

And this underlines a problem that makes many churches vulnerable to the same kind of error that has now emerged at GracePointe. Churches that do not have a biblical ecclesiology will be more likely to fold than those that do. A biblical ecclesiology is God’s provision for sound teaching, qualified leadership, and meaningful membership—all three of which are essential to a healthy church and which are certainly missing at GracePointe.

Another item that emerges in this sermon is that the pastor reveals that he no longer believes in meticulous sovereignty. He left that view years ago and became fully convinced of process theology and of open theism. Process theology and open theism are related, but they certainly aren’t the same thing. Nevertheless, Pastor Mitchell says that he embraced both for a time and that he’s now somewhere in between pendulum swings. He wasn’t altogether clear where he’s landed, but he does reveal that Greg Boyd will be filling GracePointe’s pulpit in the very near future. One does not have to believe in meticulous sovereignty to be an evangelical, but the positions this pastor embraced in place of meticulous sovereignty are not pathways to biblical faithfulness.

This pastor’s theological journey is relevant because it raises questions about his evangelical bona fides. This man does not have the theological profile of a committed evangelical but of a person who is considering various theological trajectories that lead out of evangelicalism. Diaz’s report says that after this recent announcement, GracePointe’s attendance and giving dropped to about 50% of what it was this time last year. If it was unclear before, it is now no longer unclear what theological direction this church is going in. And about 50% of their membership have left as a result. For this reason, I question whether we can really point to GracePointe as the future of evangelical churches. It looks more like an example of how to kill evangelical churches.

Nevertheless, Diaz argues that Pastor Mitchell’s sermon illustrates all four marks of Bebbington’s quadrilateral of evangelical distinctives:

But churches that are shifting, like GracePointe… are not only retaining their faith, they are also using their very evangelical roots to come to these new decisions. There are four hallmarks of evangelicalism, according to the historian David Bebbington–Biblicism, a high view of Scriptural authority; crucicentrism, a focus on the sacrifice of Jesus; activism, living out this gospel message; and conversionism, transforming their own lives.

Yes, that is Bebbington’s framework, and it is one that I believe to be largely correct. But Mitchell’s sermon is not in fact marked by these emphases. “Biblicism” is not merely using the Bible to make a point. Even theological liberals in mainline churches do that. Biblicism in the evangelical tradition gives the Bible the ultimate authority. And that is certainly not on display in Mitchell’s sermon, which deals with none of the relevant texts related to homosexual behavior or marriage.

Likewise, “conversionism” is not self-improvement or turning over a new leaf but is a specific commitment to the necessity of the new birth and to repentance and faith. None of these latter items are evident in Mitchell’s sermon. In fact, the sermon makes clear that the church now no longer requires members to repent of certain sexual sins. This is a far cry from anything resembling evangelical faith.

I think GracePointe Community Church does exemplify a trend, but not the one that Diaz thinks. Gay marriage and homosexuality are going to become the occasion for a great winnowing of the evangelical ranks, and we are going to be seeing a lot of that in days to come. Those churches that have been evangelical in name only and that have not been conducting themselves with biblical integrity are going to get exposed on this issue. Many of these “evangelical” churches will buckle under pressure (like GracePointe) and will be known as “formerly evangelical” in very short order. For that reason, GracePointe’s falling away is not the future of evangelicalism but of former evangelicalism. And that is a big difference.


  • Rob Defio

    I think what this situation emphasizes, more than anything else, is the value of a godly elder board. If our teaching pastor ever said what Stan Mitchell said from the pulpit, he would have been fired.

  • Derek H Miller

    Did Pastor Mitchell actually say, previously, that membership was extended to “practicing gays and homosexuals” or simply people who were “not heterosexual or straight”. There is an important difference here, I think, especially to the point of ecclesiology, as you point out. To include members in the ordinances who simply have a same-sex orientation is not, inherently, poor ecclesiology. I’m just not sure he said “practicing gays and homosexuals”. I don’t mean to split hairs, but this does seem important to your point as to whether Grace Pointe had “crossed the theological Rubicon years ago” or not.

    • Denny Burk

      Derek, I don’t think that’s splitting hairs. That is an all-important issue. The TIME article says that they are now accepting gay marriage, and he himself says that the so-called “sacrament of marriage” is now extended to non-heterosexuals.

      • Ian Shaw

        I too fail to understand how or where he thinks that baby dedication and marriage are sacraments, and baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not. Makes me question what he thinks/believes baptism truly represents.

        Denny, is this GracePointe the same GracePointe church/ministry that has church plants around the country (part of their ministry is large scale church plants?) I ask as I have friends that go to a GracePointe in my state as well

      • Derek H Miller

        Yes, their current stance is clear, but to say that they crossed the line theologically years ago does not seem to be a fair characterization. To offer membership and communion to same-sex attracted (gay) Christians does not seem to be rooted in a weak ecclesiology.
        Similarly to characterize a ecclesiology as weak because it holds to less sacraments seems strange to me. I know you having a Baptist ecclesiology influences your words here, but is it really fair to say that also Anglican, Catholic, or Orthodox churches have a weak ecclesiology?

  • Lily

    This guy is far too into the dramatics about how he “feels” about everything instead of being grounded and rooted in the Word of God. What a shame.

  • Lily Cole

    This guy is far too into the dramatics about how he “feels” about everything instead of being grounded and rooted in the Word of God. What a shame.

  • Bob Cowgill

    I can almost hear God’s initial verbal response to this church: “Seriously?”
    The 50% exodus of former members should be viewed as a blessing to them under their new guidelines. Just think of all of the pew space and leadership opportunities that will be available to their new LGBTQ (“Q”?) members!
    Perhaps their next church sponsored foreign travel tour will be to the former locations of Sodom and Gommorah!
    I can recall over the years wondering what it must have been like to be a believer during the time of Israel’s disobedience.
    I don’t wonder any more.

  • Sean Dilton

    The one thing I don’t understand about Greg Boyd and to not say that he is a brilliant man is just silly; is that in his journey to open theism how he can, essentially, deny that God sovereignly led him through the trials of his life, and he’s had a few, and as a result put his feet on the path to knowledge and then ultimately led his to the feet of Christ is just mind boggling to me. Clearly not the point of Denny’s post but every time I think of Boyd I can’t help to think of his hostility towards Calvinism.

  • Dan Kreider

    “I’m not sure I’m right, but I’m sure I sense the presence of God, and I’m doing my best.”

    Blind leading the blind. So heartbreaking.

    • Ian Shaw

      Dan-from the church’s website:

      Our Mission Statement:

      “GracePointe exists to provide a safe place to better understand and experience God’s love and full acceptance of us, as we are, and His commitment to the process of making us whole in Christ.”

      What we believe:

      “GracePointe Church welcomes you to experience Christianity as a journey and a way of life. Our faith is so much more than a set of dogmas and doctrines demanding total agreement. We invite you to join us as we seek to discover the ageless meaning of the gospel for our time. We experience God through creation, tradition, reason, scripture and the every-day moments of life. We believe in the liberty of individual conscience, the call of every person to live out their own journey, and the responsibility of each of us to be the express image of God in the world.

      God loves us immensely and is not to be feared. At GracePointe we believe that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection teach us who we are – the beloved children of God. We love God best when we fulfill our lives’ purpose of loving ourselves and others.”

      Again, not nit-picking, but there’s something in there that screams for Commander Riker to tell Mr. Worf to go to “red alert”

  • Esther O'Reilly

    Now, this is a bit unfair. Many faithful Christians believe marriage is a sacrament. I believe marriage is a sacrament. Just because they’re Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, or some similar denomination doesn’t mean they’re ready to jump the shark on whether two men can get “married!”

  • Steve L.

    If the church growth movement is going to put the emphasis on the popularity of the Pastor … then a Popular Pastor will eventually Prosititute the pulpit.

  • Kevin Spence

    Esther, ALL faithful Christians agree that communion is a sacrament. They jumped the shark there years ago – this is simply the splash from that landing raining down…

  • Christiane Smith

    I didn’t know that the concept of a ‘sacrament’ was present within the teachings of various evangelical faith communities. I had known that within the Churches of the SBC community, both ‘the Lord’s Supper’ and Baptism are called ‘the ordinances’, and are not considered ‘sacraments’ as defined within Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox, or the Anglican communion.

    Perhaps the word ‘sacrament’ for some has a meaning all its own, but I cannot know that unless those who embrace that different meaning share their thoughts.

    • Kenneth Abbott

      The Westminster Confession of Faith’s (a Presbyterian standard) treatment of sacraments: Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ, and his benefits; and to confirm our interest in him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word. There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the gospel; that is to say, baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained. The sacraments of the old testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new.

      • Christiane Smith

        Thank you, KENNETH, for that help.

        We also have the sacrament of Baptism, of which it was said, this: “See where you are baptized, see where Baptism comes from, if not from the cross of Christ, from his death. There is the whole mystery: he died for you. In him you are redeemed, in him you are saved.” (St. Ambrose)

        We have also the sacrament of communion, which we call ‘the Thanksgiving, or the Eucharist’. Of this sacrament was written:
        “They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.” (Gospel of St. Luke 24:35)

        Here is this is a dramatic illustration of the ‘last rites’ which we see as a sacrament.

  • Don Johnson

    What certain sexual sins did he not ask people to repent from?

    It is possible to read Scripture (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) as not saying that all homosexual acts are sins. Of course some translations say that all homosexual acts are sinful, but they can be incorrect and in this case I think they are.

      • Steve Lynch

        Here’s the thing… this is only a problem for Calvinists.

        When a person is saved … all sin they’ve ever or will ever commit is covered by the blood of Christ.

        … unless you’re a Calvinist.

        So if the shoe fits Denny…

        • Dal Bailey

          If the person repents, all sin is forgiven. I have never heard any different from the church I attend. Or any church for that matter. The condition is, you can’t keep doing it.

          I sense someone is holding hate in their heart….

          • James Bradshaw

            Dal, the problem comes when someone acts in good conscience and doesn’t believe they are in error. How can one repent of something one doesn’t believe is a sin? Whether you think the Bible is clear on homosexuality is irrelevant. People think it’s clear on other matters of ethics and theology that others will disagree with.

            John Calvin was, I’m sure, acting in good conscience when he ran Geneva like a tyrant and made life miserable for other Christians including the Anabaptists who he said should be “exterminated” in a letter to the Marquis Paet.

            As such, I don’t sit in judgment on the state of John Calvin’s soul or the soul of gay Christians. To me, sincerity matters. I have no doubt that we will all be one day fully enlightened and find that even in our best days we committed errors and offenses against God and others. If we have sought to live according to the light we have, we will reject what we should.

        • Ken Abbott

          “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who have died to sin still live in it?”

          • Steve L.

            Have you got any verses that revoke the work of Christ? Or are you just making bad Calvinist ideology your “go to” defense?

              • Steve Lynch

                1. Calvinist Evangelism ideology of “Repentance first” before “Belief” automatically drives a Homosexual away from the Gospel.


                Because according to NARTH’s Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Homosexuals derive their Identity from the Act of Homosexuality… so when we ask them to “Repent”… we are in essence asking them to repent from their very existence (in their minds).

                That’s virtually impossible for most of them to do.

                2. The true conversion model of the New Testament calls us to “Believe” first. (The word “repent” doesn’t even appear in John)

                How Homosexual conversion takes place:

                Belief in the Death, Burial & Resurrection of Jesus according to the scriptures is what provokes us into the state of Repentance to him and the revelation of HIS Identity.

                At that point Homosexuals start the sanctification process of taking on the identity of Christ… this is what nourishes them and grows them into new life, transformation… or being “quickened”.

                It rarely happens overnight… it is a growth process… a turning away. This sin is like trying to turn an Aircraft Carrier… it doesn’t spin on a dime. But there are conversion stories in the bible that track the same way, i.e. Nicodemus and Mark.

                (And my name IS in full at first response in this thread ~ Steve Lynch)

        • Mike Ekim

          Steve, The Calvinist teach that once save always perseverent. John says “they cane out from us because they were not of us”

  • Ryan Davidson

    There seems to be a running effort here to restrict application of the term “evangelical” to those who adhere to the narrow doctrinal standards of certain Calvinistic strands of evangelicalism. The term “evangelical” was widely used in the US in the 1800s, well before the advent of the birth of neo-evangelicalism in the 1940s. Yes, GracePointe probably doesn’t fit the narrow confines of Carl Henry’s neo-evangelicalism, but neither do many churches that have their roots in the revivals of the 1800s.

    David Bebbington’s view definition of “evangelical” probably works a bit better here, which defines a much broader group of Christians than the small (but vocal) band of Calvinists who make up the dying remnant of Carl Henry’s project.

    • Colin Kerr

      I too would like some clarification here. Are there any sort of fairly objective conditions we can lay out for who is can be called an evangelical apart from “the people who think the most like me” and the “former” evangelicals as “the people who have deviated on X controversial issue”? I feel like whatever the standard is, it needs to have some relevancy beyond being used as a rhetorical weapon against supporters of same-sex marriage.

      • buddyglass

        I think for many people “evangelical” just means you’re protestant but not part of one of the liberal mainline denominations.

        • Bob Cowgill

          Without previously realizing it, I think this definition of evangelical is probably the one I have applied over the years.
          BUT, I reject ANY attempt to impose yet another artificial division on the Body of Christ. I am wearied to the point of exhaustion by those who claim Christ as savior but cannot fellowship with one another due to the manner in which they conduct baptisms, the day of the week on which they hold worship services, whether or not they use musical instruments in their services, etc, etc, ad nauseum.
          From anything I can read in the Bible, God recognizes TWO denominations:
          1. The “saved” (see requirements for salvation, eternal life, etc,) and:
          2. The “lost” (everyone who fails to meet the above referenced requirements).
          ANYTHING beyond this is simply man’s compliance with satan’s “divide and conquer” strategy which has (so far) been VERY successful!
          Granted, there are some beliefs and practices that cannot stand the test of the simplest reading of whatever version of the Bible you may favor (ANOTHER division!), and those errors should be spoken to, but should NOT serve as means for disfellowship except in the case of rejection of Godly correction.
          If you consider this to be an oversimplification of an issue, the debate of which is better left to only those with the proper initials following their name, I respect your right to hold such an opinion, however much I may disagree.

          • Ryan Davidson

            Agree. I think division can may be helpful for pragmatic reasons. For example, I would have difficulty attending a church that was not baptizing covenant infants. Even so, I don’t see that as a “heaven and hell” sort of issue. As long as people hold to the ecumenical creeds in good faith, I treat them as a brother or sister in Christ. I fear that we too often elevate our “pet issues” to litmus tests of orthodoxy.

              • James Bradshaw

                So what is your stance on contraception within heterosexual marriage? If there’s no room for error, is it advisable to refrain from any sexual act within marriage that is not open to procreation?

                Further, if one’s sexual ethics (or lack thereof) can exclude one from Heaven, what is your position regarding the salvation of men like Abraham and Kings David and Solomon (all of whom had multiple wives)?

              • Steve Lynch

                That’s an abuse of the text of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10… It does NOT say they will be “excluded”… it says they will “not inherit”.

                Salvation and Inheritance are NOT the same thing.

                The bible also says Flesh and Blood shall not inherit… do you want to apply your exclusion interpretation to that?

            • Ken Abbott

              Pragmatism–the besetting sin of American Protestantism. We should rather commit ourselves to what is true rather than what is practical or serves our own ends.

    • Ryan Davidson

      I think “Biblicist Christians” would probably be a more accurate description. After all, most of the Protestant defenses of a per se ban on same-sex relationships I’ve read rely on fairly biblicist hermeneutic (similar to the advocated by Al Mohler in the Five Views book on inerrancy). Other hermeneutical approaches would at least lead us to question the wisdom of same-sex relationships in many instances, but they would probably not support a per se prohibition. Given that I’m an evangelical (but not a biblicist), I’m content with permitting a limited accommodation and letting the issue play out.

          • Ryan Davidson

            Well, Jesus’ use of the Old Testament shouldn’t give biblicists a whole lot of confidence. That’s not to say that biblicism is invalid, as Jesus would presumably have a bit more liberty to reinterpret the text than those of us who are not God.

            I appreciate biblicists’ concern about constructing a prophylactic fence around Scripture, so as to avoid some of the problems that emerged in the late 1800s in Germany and elsewhere. I just don’t see that the fence is all that necessary.

            • Kenneth Abbott

              Would you mind defining “biblicism” for me? I’ve reviewed some uses at other sites but it would help me to know how you’re employing the term.

  • brian darby

    Thanks for that, what a wonderful sermon, got to give the Pastor a lot of credit, he took the final step given his point of view. He just gave them full access. I mean he made a public statement that set out and defined the churches position. So now all those that disagreed they can move on.Those that agree can stay, what is so bad about that?

    • Denny Burk

      He’s abandoning the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), putting his own soul and those of his listeners in jeopardy. Heaven and he’ll are at stake I’m this.

      • James Bradshaw

        “Heaven and he’ll are at stake I’m this.”

        Have they rejected Christ as Savior? Salvation is predicated upon what one believes and one’s relationship to Christ, not on what one does or does not do, correct?

        Go back throughout the history of Christianity and particularly your own denomination. Are there not men who have committed sins far worse than sins of sexuality whose salvation you nevertheless do not doubt or question?

        If entering Heaven is dependent on having the skill and sense of timing to achieve moral perfection before we die, I’d say we’re all cooked.

        • Denny Burk

          The issue is not perfection but direction. If someone claims to be a follower of Jesus and yet continues on a path leading away from him, then he is not really a follower of Jesus no matter what he says. And of course, Jesus warned us that this would be the case (Matt. 7:21-23).

          • Christiane Smith

            it is said in my Church, this:

            ‘the Gospel is not a doctrine to learn or an ethical proposal;
            the Gospel is a Person to follow’

            • John Kreiner

              ‘the Gospel is not a doctrine to learn or an ethical proposal;
              the Gospel is a Person to follow’

              If the church is saying that while Christianity certainly does involve ethics and doctrine, but is not at its heart either of those things, then I can sign on to that. If, however, it is excluding doctrine and ethics from being important, than I have to disagree and say it’s a false dichotomy. Who is the person you are following? What did he say, and what does it mean? And how does it impact and change how you live your life? Answering these questions cannot be done without involving ethics and doctrine.

              • Christiane Smith

                Hi JOHN KREINER,
                I think that part of the answer to your concern lies within sacred Scripture, this:
                (Philippians 2:5)
                “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
                We know that the Apostles were formed according to the mind of Christ and were sent forth into the world. The Holy Spirit’s fire pointed them ONLY to Christ and they in turn pointed people only to Christ. Such is the process of ‘Christian’ formation:
                Christian doctrine is that which reflect the mind and heart of Christ.
                Christian praxis is that which reflects the mind and heart of Christ.
                if not, neither the doctrine nor the ethic are truly able to be called ‘Christian’.

  • Chris Jones

    Does this really surprise anyone?? He’s on his second marriage and from what I’ve heard they are going thru a divorce. From what i understand,He was forced out of Christ Church due to infidelity and this was kept hush,hush. He basically manipulates immature Christians or others who have been hurt by the church in the past. He meets one on one with women that are new or have been visiting and justifies it because they meet in public places(book store,coffee shop,etc). Anyone with half a brain knows a pastor never meets alone with a woman,PERIOD! His stance on inclusion doesn’t surprise me one bit. I’m only surprised it didn’t happen sooner.r

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