Plenty of folks are lamenting Andy Stanley’s decision to host a pro-gay conference this weekend at his North Point mega-church.
Good. We all should grieve when influential pastors embrace heresy. But this was predictable before it was lamentable.
What else could we expect from a pastor who rebuked a parishioner 11 years ago for being in a relationship with another man, not because it was homosexual, but because the other man was married? (See HERE) Or from one who recently preached a sermon extolling gay churchgoers, gushing “The men and women I know who are gay, their faith and their confidence in God dwarfs mine.”
One of those problems is our habit of either winking at a leader’s serious error, or reacting to it way too long after the fact. A heretical drift in leadership calls for 911.
“Who You Callin’ A Heretic?”
Stanley’s not alone in that drift. By hosting a pro-gay conference he joins the ranks of other teachers who gained influence then morphed from Gifted to Bad to False. (Think Rob Bell; Jen Hatmaker; Joshua Harris) False doctrine and heresies are, after all, Biblically guaranteed tragedies plaguing the faith from New Testament times (Acts 20:29) to End Times (I Timothy 4: 1-2) We can expect more the follow, although we can’t predict which teacher will go south next until the drift is evident.
Nor should we use the term “heresy” lightly, so let’s keep some distinctions in mind.
Doctrinal error, to some degree, is unavoidable. Even Calvin, who surely considered himself a doctrinal scholar, noted that no theologian is more than 80% right.
But a false teacher perpetuates significant error as a pattern, while remaining unopen to correction. (See HERE) “Name It And Claim It” preachers come to mind, as do men who keep insisting they’ve got the inside scoop on the date Christ will return.
The heretic goes even further, teaching distortions of essential doctrines that W. Robert Godfrey describes as “theological errors so serious that it would deprive one of salvation.”
Since homosexuality is listed as a sin disqualifying someone from inheriting the Kingdom. (I Corinthians 6: 9-10) any pastoral legitimization of that behavior can and will encourage homosexuals to embrace it, at the expense of their salvation. That’s not just error, that’s heresy, as Fr. John Whitehead wrote: “Teaching that a sin is not really a sin is both sinful and heretical.”
Under those terms Stanley, an admirable communicator who’s made significant contributions to the church in the past, now promotes heresy.
“The Fault Lies Not In The Stars, But In Ourselves”
But his isn’t the only problem, so back to ours.
We make stars out of gifted people who start their ministries on solid ground, but when they get numerically big and doctrinally sloppy, we too often drop the ball.
Sometimes it’s because our ears itch, and these guys have just the right scratch. Paul saw that coming when he described the rejection of sound doctrine for false notions people will prefer. (II Timothy 4:3)
What plenty of today’s believers prefer to hear is truth without edge, a nicer, more “affirming” Orthodoxy denying the existence of hell, the sinfulness of man, or the clarity of God’s intent for marriage and sexuality.
(Case in point: Stanley’s gay-affirming conference is already sold out. The itch is out there; the demand for a scratch must be high.)
That’s on us. Unlike the noble Bereans, who wouldn’t even take Paul’s word for something unless it squared with Scripture, (Acts 17:11) we tolerate glaring errors of teaching or behavior from our Stars, continuing to swell the ranks of their megachurches and buy their goods long after we should have said, as openly as Paul did to Peter, “You’re wrong!” (Galatians 2: 11-13)
Small wonder Christian celebs feel immune to correction or consequence, and bold to error. We may not be able to prevent their error, but we can sure do something about our own itch.
The LGBTQ Ministry Void
We can also do something about our own reluctance to tackle this issue in
our own churches.
For decades, ministry to same-sex attracted people has been relegated to parachurch organizations or professional counselors. Both have their place, but it never should have been front and center.
Stanley was right when he complained that Christians struggling with homosexual temptations feel alone in their churches. Many are afraid to admit their struggles, leaving them without accountability, counsel, or support. When they eventually give up, abandoning their church for the embrace of the gay community, we lament what could have
That’s why I view my own journey out of homosexuality with gratitude for the church that welcomed me.
When I repented in 1984, I did find an invaluable ally in a terrific Christian therapist. But good as he was, the real healing came through relationships in my local congregation, where I found intimacy, mentoring, and exhortation, three finds I rely on from my church to this day.
Stanley’s also right in claiming the answer for same-sex strugglers is affirmation from the church. But he’s dead wrong in assuming that affirmation should be for a person’s sexuality, rather than the person.
I was relentlessly affirmed by my congregation. They welcomed Joe Dallas the man, believer, and brother, who incidentally experienced homosexual temptations. Rather than affirm the temptations, they saw them as part of my old nature, something to be mortified, overcome, and freed from. As fellow pilgrims with battles of their own, they asked nothing more of me than they asked of themselves – obedience, honesty, engagement, self-denial, and spiritual discipline.
They were disciples. They expected me to be one, too.
Allowing people to be honest about their struggles, without condoning a surrender to them, creates an environment that keeps strugglers from seeking the false refuge of gay-affirming religion. Where love and truth are evident, people don’t go away hungry.
My therapist was the supplement; my church served the meal. The supplement from a professional helped, but the main course from my congregation healed. It’s way past time other churches “Go and do likewise.”
Ignorance Is No Excuse
Lessening our tolerance for heretical teaching on sexuality, and repenting of any desire for convenient truth over sound doctrine, is a good start. But all of us – pastors and laity – also have to drop the “I don’t understand the issue” excuse.
Barna recently found that nearly 50% of pastors surveyed felt “limited” in their ability to address social issues, LGBTQ prominent among them.
But does “limited ability” give any of us a pass? David Wilkerson, a middle-aged Assemblies of God minister, must have felt limited when he ventured into New York to minister to drug addicts and gang members in the 1950’s. Could he relate to their specific struggles? Doubtful. Could he relate to struggle in general? Definitely, So he did, and the thousands of lives transformed through Teen Challenge are the result.
Chuck Smith, widely viewed as Father to the Jesus Movement, had little common experience with the hippies he served at Calvary Chapel in the late 1960’s. Surely he felt limited ability when these barefoot Flower Children crowded into his church, but there’d be no Calvary Chapel movement or Marantha Music if he’d let that stop him.
Stanley’s says we need to affirm lesbians and gays. Others say we need new and improved approaches to them. But I would argue a different need: the need to make better use of the Word we already have.
Sure, numerous Christian books have been written on this subject. I’ve written some myself, so of course I see their value as supplements.
But in Scripture we find the ultimate, foundational concepts, guidance, and insights necessary to serve parents with LGBT children, same-sex strugglers, young people with questions, and Christians with concerns.
Through both Testaments, we find our Creator’s intentions for marriage and sexuality; we understand the struggle we all have living within those intentions; we value Body Ministry; we accept the mandate to disciple with the full counsel of God; we recognize potential mentors, prayer partners, and accountability resources within our own ranks; we embrace the need to provide ready answers; and we celebrate the living and powerful Word no matter how antagonistic the surrounding culture may be to it.
All of which shape the solid rock any effective ministry is built on. We need to know the Word better, live it more fully, and apply it more boldly. It’s
That’s how we can answer the falsehoods of Stanley’s conference with the truths he’s neglecting. That’s also how we can prevent tomorrow what we’re lamenting today.
Cue Hebrews 6:3: And this we will do, if God permits.