Albert Mohler has a must-read article today that I can only describe as shocking. It’s a long one, but at the heart of it is a sermon recently delivered by megachurch pastor Andy Stanley. You can listen to the sermon below or download it here. The relevant portion begins at the 23:00 minute mark. In the video version, it starts at 24:30.[audio:http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/WeeklyPodcastNorthPoint/~5/j5kqFUxRu3k/christian_part5.mp3]
In the sermon, Stanley told the story of a husband who left his wife for another man. At the end of the story, the wife, her new boyfriend, their children, and the new homosexual couple all end up attending a Christmas service together. Stanley looks at them sitting together and celebrates them as a “microcosm of the church.”
The most puzzling and shocking part of the message was the illustration and the account of the homosexual couple, however. The inescapable impression left by the account was that the sin of concern was adultery, but not homosexuality. Stanley clearly and repeatedly stressed the sin of adultery, but then left the reality of the homosexual relationship between the two men unaddressed as sin. To the contrary, he seemed to normalize their relationship. They would be allowed to serve on the host team if both were divorced. The moral status of their relationship seemed to be questioned only in terms of adultery, with no moral judgment on their homosexuality.
Was this intended as a salvo of sorts? The story was so well told and the message so well constructed that there can be little doubt of its meaning. Does this signal the normalization of homosexuality at North Point Community Church? This hardly seems possible, but it appeared to be the implication of the message. Given the volatility of this issue, ambiguity will be replaced by clarity one way or the other, and likely sooner than later…
What does Andy Stanley now believe about homosexuality and the church’s witness? We must pray that he will clarify the issues so graphically raised in his message, and that he will do so in a way the unambiguously affirms the Bible’s clear teachings — and that he will do so precisely because he loves sinners enough to tell them the truth — all the truth — about both our sin and God’s provision in Christ. Biblical faithfulness simply does not allow for the normalization of homosexuality. We desperately want all persons to feel welcome to hear the Gospel and, responding in faith and repentance, to join with us in mutual obedience to Christ. But we cannot allow anyone, ourselves included, to come to Christ — or to church — on our own terms.
I’ve just finished listening to the story, and it is ambiguous at best. At worst, it’s a complete capitulation to the spirit of the age. I hope that Andy Stanley will come forward and offer a clarification that affirms the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality. Read the rest here.
I agree with all the concerns raised BUT I have another concern, and I feel it’s a big one. Wouldn’t it serve everyone better if before we start speculating what Andy meant that somebody reach out to him and ask before publically making such comments and speculating? I realize words like “if” were used, but really? This is what the national media does. Speculation turns into fact before the end of the day and that doesn’t serve anyone well. Leaders need to be above reproach as much in their writing as they are in their preaching and living.
I have love and respect for both Al and Denny. As my brother in Christ I also love Andy. I think our love in Christ would lead us to reach out to our brother and give him an opportunity to respond before publically speculating about what he was saying. This is a serious charge and serious charged shouldn’t be dealt with in blogs, they should be confronted.
Andy Stanley is in a very high position in his Mega church, the senior pastor! He knows what the Bible teaches and is the inerrant word of God. He has a most important job of teaching and leading the body of Christ. I personally believe he knew exactly what he was saying and it is totally against God’s word!
Yes,confronting is always the best and biblical way. If need be, two go and confront the man,and if no results, three go. To broadcast Andy Stanley’s statement in a negative way amoung thousands without going to him personally , socially stones his character to death and causes unrest within the faith.
Dustin to reach out to him personally would indeed be scriptural as opposed to questioning him publicly. I am of the opinion this article never should have been written without the author having approached Stanley first based solely on Matthew’s directives concerning sin in the church. The Matthew 18 passages certainly concern one-on-one confrontation by the person being sinned against, but this passage could certainly bring some helpful cues in handling this issue privately before chastising him publicly.
Alan, did you approach Dr. Mohler first before writing chastising him publicly by saying “this article should never have been written without…”?
Alan (and others),
Andy’s message is a public message. It was not addressed personally to Albert Mohler or Denny. Matthew 18 says “If your brother sins against you…” Andy has not sinned against them personally. They are not violating biblical principles by responding publicly to a message that has been set out for the general public. Andy has every opportunity to respond to these comments publicly as well.
Andy Stanley made the decision to make these statements public. Therefore, he made the decision that it was ok to rebuke him publicly. However, I’ll guarentee you that he won’t retract the statements and that he believes homosexualtiy is a perfectly acceptable expression of human sexuality.
“I’ll guarentee you that he won’t retract the statements and that he believes homosexualtiy is a perfectly acceptable expression of human sexuality.”
What do you base that on?
Gut feeling. I’d be more than comfortable making a wager.
How can you know that?
Dustin and Alan,
I think both of you guys are making a couple of assumptions here. First, you seem to assume that no one has spoken to Stanley about this. The sermon was preached 15 days ago – several blogs have mentioned this sermon and it is more likely than not that numerous people (possibly hundreds) have reached out to him for clarification. Yet, there has been no word on this publicly from Northpoint or Stanley. It is also quite possible that Mohler reached out to him prior to writing his article and simply did not reveal those details in what he wrote.
Secondly, you assume that Matthew 18 applies here, but it doesn’t. What Stanley did was a matter of public record. I, for one, think Mohler was gracious in opening the door to allow Stanley to respond. He didn’t formally accuse him of anything, but simply showed the problematic nature of his sermon. The example we have of public events being publicly dealt with comes from Paul who mentioned people in his letters who were engaged in sin that was widely known. There is no indication that he went to them privately (or even that he could in the ancient world) before confronting their sin publicly – and in the case of Peter in Galatians 2, Paul himself says he confronted “Cephas before them all.” This was the practice of the Early Church as well, who would write public letters of response to deal with widespread heresy.
So I think we need to consider context here. The context of Matthew 18 is sin committed within a private relationship or a private community. Stanley’s sermons are widely disseminated and publicly broadcast. The same is true of Joel Osteen’s, or Creflo Dollar’s, or Brian McLaren’s, or Pat Robertson’s, or a host of others who are public figures with large followings. If we waited to follow Matthew 18 for each of their public statements, then likely error would never be confronted. Therefore, we must follow the simple context set forth in the Bible – private sin requires private response and public sin requires public response.
I understand the concerns you both have expressed but the nature of the dialogue is different. Public dialogue is not interpersonal relationship. This issue, by nature, began as a public issue. Andy Stanley is a very public figure who has made a very public statement. The spirit of both Al and Denny was gracious and gentle. Whether they have the ear of Andy Stanley or not is a big “if” but as leaders for them not to speak out publicly about a public issue presented by a public figure would be irresponsible of them.
Let’s not confuse the governance of interpersonal relationships with that of public discourse. While there are similarities, there are also differences.
D.R., would it not be safe to assume that if Mohler had reached out to Andy that he would have said as much? Also, if he had reached out to Andy, many of the questions that he placed within his article wouldn’t have been necessary. Isn’t it assuming to say, ” it is more likely than not that numerous people (possibly hundreds) have reached out to him for clarification.”?
To be honest, I wasn’t trying to apply Matthew 18 (but I wouldn’t discount it here). I just don’t see how throwing out speculation about something as serious as this serves the body of Christ. In what ways did this serve the gospel? Commenting on that which is certain is fair game, and I appreciate both Denny and Al for doing this over a long period of time with integrity! But I feel that as brothers in Christ we must at least give the party a chance to respond before we go writing about something this serious in such a public domain.
First, I think again this is a statement made in the public realm. It’s out there. It needs to be dealt with publicly. Even if a private conversation took place, there would still need to be a public discourse about it. Andy needs to answer Mohler’s questions publicly because he’s not the only one asking them. Even if Mohler had a conversation with him prior to posting the article (which there is a possibility of, even without him acknowledging it), then Stanley must still address this. And yes, I do think it is a safe assumption that numerous people (possibly hundreds) have reached out to him for clarification. When Rick Warren said something questionable a couple of months back then entire story went viral and within a few days Warren had responded. Stanley has had 2 weeks now to respond. It’s time for public discourse on it.
Secondly, you must discount Matthew 18 here, if for no other reason than the entire context is sin within the Church. There are no elders and no Church to bring Stanley before in the later levels of discipline. And again, we have Paul’s example that is more suitable to this conversation.
Third, this conversation is really a red herring in regard to what Stanley said. He can clear much of this up by dealing with the issue. Even if Mohler’s interpretation were wrong here, then a public discourse about this has taken place and this is a good thing. But if Mohler’s questions lead to revealing a greater problem within Northpoint and Andy’s heart, then there is going to be much greater fallout about this than simply an assumptive article on a website.
I have just finished listening to the message. It is very clear that Andy Stanley was trying to get this man’s attention by explaining it to him on a level he would perhaps understand.
The sin of homosexuality is present (which this man obviously did not see as sin) and there is the sin of adultery that is present. Andy wanted the man to see that this was clearly sin. So he chose to explain it on a different level. He made it clear that the man was in sin.
Also, Andy had the man removed as a member of the team he had joined. In his church people are allowed to serve in limited capacities prior to membership. However, once this information became “knowledge” they were removed.
I do not understand why Al Mohler chose to chastise Andy Stanley publicly before reaching out to him privately. This is unfortunate.
As a member this is exactly what I thought when I heard it originally. And based on listening to Andy’s sermons for years this is in complete agreement with his style of leadership and discipleship.
I don’t think that Molher had any obligation to reach out, but I do think that it would have been wise to make his point on something that was clear and not understood in a variety of ways.
Before this string of blogs that I have read about outside reaction, I know of no one that thought that Andy’s point was to accept homosexuality. He has been pretty clear that they are open to gay people participating in our church, that they cannot serve in areas of leadership, with children or in a teaching role. But they may serve as greeters or in parking team. It is clear from the church over time that they are trying to reach out to the gay community but continuing to declare homosexuality as sin.
Just to be clear, Andy has had some very strong sermons lately on sex, divorce and he included homosexuality as a clear sin.
But to make a statement now at behest of people like Mohler would do a lot to close the door to the gay community in Atlanta.
As someone not in church leadership, I would hope he just lets the matter pass and continues to reach out. That is essentially how he responded to when people were calling on him to resign because he accepted Michelle Obama’s request to launch her fitness initiative at the church two years ago.
If our best friend, or even an acquaintance, left his wife for another man and I didn’t love him enough to go through the steps of Matthew 18, I certainly couldn’t preach on Love. Not only that, but, Andy doesn’t even love the church God has placed him in. They are a flock unprotected by their own shepherd.
God is also the same today as He was in Ezekiel’s day.
“”When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,'(Romans 1:32) and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked [man] shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.” Ezekiel 3:18
There seems to be some concerning euphemisms going on in this message:
Wreckage, etc. but no mention (at least in that section) on sin
I also don’t think the chatty and humorous approach is a great idea with such a critical issue. Too much laughter for my likes, and for the record, I have done comedy in front of large groups. This was not the place for it!
One of the ironies of all of these questions about whether Mohler should have contacted Stanley personally and whether Matthew 18 applies here is that Andy Stanley clearly failed to apply Matthew 18 to this situation in the first place.
The initial couple are members of this Church and when the husband engages in the affair the very first thing that should have been done is that one of Stanley’s staff should have confronted him. If he didn’t repent of his behavior, then they should have taken him before the leadership of the Church and, if he still didn’t repent, then before the Church itself. If there was no repentance at any of these times, then they should have disfellowshipped him. They should have counseled with the woman and her daughter and personally helped them to get through it. Then they should have continually been contacting the man involved in order to call him to repentance.
The absolute last thing that should have been done here is to have allowed it to get to the point where his poor wife has to confront him about attending the Church. I agree here with Bruce, above, where he notes how unloving this whole thing really is. True love must be tough at time and confront sin and follow Paul’s example in 1 Cor. 5. When we don’t follow Scripture through on Church discipline, we are in essence saying “God I know better than you how to handle this situation.”
What’s curious here is that Andy’s point is about reconciliation and not confrontation. That seems to be missed in the call for doctrinal purity.
I might suggest that Andy’s bigger point isn’t about confronting sin, which he does. It is about seeking out reconciliation between ourselves and others who are in sin. Listen to the clip, the whole thing, particularly in his point after minute 30.
Andy is fine at confronting issues when they are appropriate and he has called out sin for what it is at other places. His desire here, and if I’m wrong I will take full account for this, seems to be to leverage a point about what it takes to reconcile relationships including ones that have gotten far, far outside what many would consider normal.
The reality for us in churches (like many will agree) is that people are inherently messy and in our completely post-Christian metropolitan areas we don’t get to handle people who have wonderful, clean pasts. We deal with people, just like this lady (who is the center of the story) who must overcome sin and hurt to reach out with the Gospel to bring grace.
Why are so many of our denominational leaders quick to criticize and holler about people who don’t frame the condemnation the same way as them?
Notice how Andy calls people to “leave their life of sin” and still talks about extending grace. I am so disappointed with people who are jumping out in front of this.
Listen to the whole message he talks about truth, he talks about sin, he talks about…most importantly, grace.
His point is leveraging a terrible, horrible, disgusting situation to see how we can extend grace to people who have hurt us and live the Gospel along with proclaiming it.
“..the story of a husband who left his wife for another man.”
This is sick, and crazy isn’t it. I mean fornication is normal in the darkness, but not in the light.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”-Paul Ephesians 5:6-11
I think the worst part of this is what Dr. Burk said about Stanley celebrating this as a microcosm of the church. Quite discouraging. Hoping for clarification, but based on what he said there would need to be some retraction because he seemed pretty clear to me.
A few thoughts:
(1) Matthew 18 is widely misapplied to situations like this. Appealing to it now is wrong-headed for a number of reasons, but these issues have been discussed ad infinitum in recent months. So for now, I simply refer you to this excellent article from D. A. Carson on the misuse of Matthew 18: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/36-1/editorial-on-abusing-matthew-18.
(2) Your question is ironic. Why focus on my alleged lack of consistency with Matthew 18 but not focus on Andy Stanley’s? Stanley’s story was a clear case where a process of discipline needed to be invoked, but apparently Northpoint did nothing.
(3) Slander is a “a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report.” I don’t think this discussion is slanderous. Stanley’s sermon is public, and people can listen to it and judge for themselves.
I will be first in line to rejoice if Stanley comes forward and clarifies his comments in a way that lines up with Scripture. I hope he does.
Thanks for commenting,
I think the reason we have all of these untenable situations in the mega church is because they are seeker sensitive evangelical meetings, not church.
The church are the called out ones and yet when we gather in a seeker sensitive setting we expect to have non-believers join us, and work with us. This is all good and wonderful and I do think that there is a place for this. But there should be a meeting place for the church. There should be a distinct gathering for the church, or at least a place where membership is expected and enforced. People should know that this separate meeting is more exclusive than inclusive, that it is for those who are called out to be holy. That there will be discipline and expectations.
This is the fundamental weakness of the megachurch, no accountability and yet all the christian cultural “benefits.” I could go on (and on) but I won’t. haha.
Nate, I am in total agreement with you! God Bless! The “Church” over these many years has come to think all people come to worship God, but the body of Christ should be coming together in true worship to our Heavenly Father, Our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit! But with all the world in the current churches can there be true worship?
This issue with Andy Stanley is where many churches are going but let us not forget 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, we must have discipline in our churches!
One thing that Mohler did not mention but which stuck out to me was the relevance (or lack thereof) of the situation with Charles Stanley’s divorce.
Mohler wrote that “The homosexuality question was preceded by the challenge of divorce.” Is it surprising that the son of a man who refused to honor his promise to resign after his divorce (and whose church did not see fit to remove him from the pulpit) would fail to exercise proper discipline in this situation?
I realize that Andy Stanley is not his father, but couldn’t help drawing the connection.
This is exactly what frustrates me about outsiders trying to hold someone accountable for something. There is no real context and all kinds of assumptions that just are not valid.
There are so many issues I am not sure where to start. How about the fact that Charles’ divorce was one of the reasons Andy left and started Northpoint. Or the very good sermon series about 6 or 8 years ago about the importance of reconciliation even when you have been hurt and wronged. Andy quite openly talked in it about the pain that he felt over his parents divorce and the divide that was between the two of them, but he also talked about the need for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Or the very strong stance against divorce that Andy took just a couple of months ago. Or the connected sermons that very strongly preached against any sex outside of marriage (including homosexuality) that was a part of the same series as the one on divorce.
Or even in this sermon. People are frustrated that Andy did not remove the guys for homosexuality, but are ignoring the fact that he did remove them, personally over real sin. How often do you think that head pastors of 30,000 member churches get involved in church discipline themselves.
Look above to see about why I think approaching this as a sin of adultery and not homosexuality was the right approach.
But I do tire of people wanting to throw easy stones in a situation without actually knowing much about the situation.
As I mentioned in response to the comment below (which showed up publicly before yours did), I wasn’t meaning to assume anything about Andy’s response to his father’s divorce.
It just seemed surprising to me given the prominence of Charles’ divorce that it hadn’t been mentioned, when Mohler was already making a connection between the church’s responses to divorce and to homosexuality. It’s entirely possible that it is completely coincidental and irrelevant, and maybe I’m the only one questioning it.
I don’t assume that. In fact, if I remember correctly, Andy Stanley resigned his post at FBC Atlanta with concerns about his father’s leadership.
But chronologically (if in no other way), the homosexuality questions with regard to Andy Stanley WERE preceded by the challenges of his father’s divorce. I just wondered in what ways the two things might be related. Perhaps it is merely ironic.
When David slept with Bathsheba, Scripture makes it clear his sin was adultery, and nothing about his polygamy was mentioned. Does this make it clear that the writer of Scripture or God himself openly condones polygamy? I think it makes it clear that adultery is very serious – and the rest was left ambiguous.
Why do we think that publicly declaring positions on what behaviors are sin is the most important expression of our faithfulness? Where did Jesus ever declare his position on controversial sin issues and where did he call us to do the same? Why do we need Stanley to make such professions?
Perhaps Andy should start by calling out those who live in the sin of greed. Those who don’t give more than say 10% or maybe even 15% of their money to charity or the church. Perhaps calling out those who lust after other women and commit adultery by this list alone. I can think of plenty of other more widespread son to start with than worry about someone’s sexual choices. Andy would certainly be a busy guy.