As has been widely reported this week, Andy Stanley and North Point Community Church recently hosted an LGBTQ-affirming event called the Unconditional Conference. The church’s pastor Andy Stanley defended the conference in his Sunday morning message. He also argued that following Christ might be “unsustainable” for some Christians but that churches should nevertheless recognize them as true followers of Christ. If that seems like a contradiction, that’s because it is.
And that’s precisely the problem with Stanley’s approach. It’s fundamentally at odds with the Christian faith. Anyone who claims to follow Christ but then denies him by their deeds is lying, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4-5). In such cases, Churches must not recognize nor treat such unrepentant sinners as born again. To do so would be unfaithful to Christ, but that is apparently what Andy Stanley and North Point are doing.
As this sad falling-away has unfolded into full view this week, I have been ruminating on at least two things that churches need to be thinking about.
1. For North Point in Particular
The congregation at North Point needs to understand that they are at a fork in the road. They can either turn back from the road that Stanley has led them down, or they can cease to be a New Testament church. Consider the words of Jesus to the congregation in Pergamum who were tolerating false teachers:
Revelation 2:15-16, 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
Consider Jesus’ sober warning to the church in Ephesus in which Jesus threatened to remove their lampstand after falling away from their first love (Revelation 2:5). Jesus threatened to remove his own presence so that they would no longer be a church at all.
It’s difficult for me to tell from this distance how far down the “affirming” road North Point already is. Perhaps the congregation and its leadership are at odds with their pastor over this. Or maybe the church has already passed the point of no return. I have no idea.
In case they haven’t, however, they need to know that they have a decision to make now. They can continue on the present course to apostasy, or they can come back to God’s word and faithfulness to Christ. But they can’t do both. They have to choose: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
There is no question that Stanley will have to give an account for what he’s done (Hebrews 13:17), but so will every member of the congregation if they fail to act now (Romans 14:12).
2. For Churches More Generally
Understand the times that you are living in. We are not living in an age that wants to go-along-to-get-along with Christians. Our culture in countless ways day after day displays open contempt for what the Bible teaches about sexuality and gender. They really do hate it, and some of them therefore really hate us (John 15:18-20). They try to gaslight and claim that Christians are the ones waging a merciless culture war. In reality, the sexual revolutionaries are the ones pushing the envelope and demanding conformity to a new religion. That is why your HR department at work is not trying to have Bible studies or tent-revivals among employees, but they are insisting that you use transgender pronouns. There is a culture war, it is largely being waged by sexual revolutionaries, and they are winning.
Some Christians and even some Christian leaders are responding to all this with courage and conviction. Others are responding to the pressure with cowardice and capitulation. The latter claim that we can make peace with those who are rising up against the faith once for all committed to the saints (Jude 3). They don’t say it in so many words. Rather, they dress it up in Christianese to conceal from folks their true motives. These are the wolves that Jesus warned us about: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). The wolves always try to make themselves look like sheep. Be on your guard.
That is why it is so important for churches to have their convictions about these things clearly stated in writing. If your church doesn’t have a clear statement of doctrinal conviction about sexuality and gender, you need one. Someone may object, “But our church doesn’t have any problems with these issues. We are all on the same page theologically.” That is all the more reason to commit yourselves to a doctrinal standard now before the controversy comes. You will be in a weaker position if you wait until the controversy arrives, and it will eventually arrive.
If you don’t know where to start with this, I recommend that you get your church to consider adopting The Nashville Statement as a doctrinal standard. It’s free and in the public domain and will cost your church nothing. My own church adopted it just last year. This is a sound statement of biblical conviction addressing homosexuality, gender identity, the definition of marriage, and more. It draws the lines that need to be drawn while holding out the hope of the gospel to all sinners (gay, straight, or otherwise). It has been adopted by countless evangelical churches and ministries already. And I recommend it to your church as well.
One of the key affirmations from the Nashville Statement is Article 10. It says this:
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
When the Nashville Statement first appeared, this article was perhaps the most controversial. But it’s also perhaps the most necessary for our time. One of the primary tactics of false teachers is to try and convince congregations that Christians can agree to disagree about gay marriage or same-sex relationships. They try to convince Christians that good and godly people can disagree while remaining in fellowship with one another. But this is precisely what the Bible says we cannot and must not do.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
We cannot “agree to disagree” with apostasy. Nor can we “agree to disagree” with wolves masquerading as sheep. We cannot “agree to disagree” at all with those whom the Bible says will not inherit the Kingdom of God. To do so would be deeply unfaithful to Christ and unloving to those who need to repent and believe the gospel.
So if your church hasn’t prepared for this controversy by adopting a clear statement of conviction, I urge you to do so and to do so as soon as possible.