Elizabeth Dias, a Wheaton College graduate and TIME magazine reporter, just gave notice of another formerly-large church that has embraced “gay Christianity” as a legitimate spiritual state. The church is GracePointe Church of Franklin, Tennessee. The location of this one gets your attention: this is a Bible belt church.
The pastor, Stan Mitchell, just preached for over forty minutes on Luke 24:13-16. Here is the biblical text:
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him (Luke 24:13-16).
The connection Mitchell draws between the passage and the legitimacy of same-sex orientation is that of “epiphany”: once God appeared to his disciples, surprising them, and he now manifests himself afresh. The epiphany Mitchell presents is that the church should, because of “a divine wind,” as he calls it, embrace same-sex orientation.
Mitchell’s rhetoric reaches fresh heights of self-congratulation: “One day I will write a memoir, and a large portion of that memoir will be about this life-giving experience. The book is not to be written yet, because the final chapters are yet unwritten.” He speaks to the difficulty of the issue at hand: “I have been broken almost to the point where I despaired of life, but I have been encouraged.” Finally, he compares the struggle before him to the civil rights cause: “Could you be a church in Selma and not march, just handle your own community? I don’t think I can do that. We are on the front edge of a movement that means so much.”
I bear no animus against Mitchell. I don’t know him and have never heard of him. I’m deeply sorry to see him reject biblical truth, and I pray he turns back from his sin. I pray he repents in sackcloth and ashes, in fact. It appears that he has followed the advice of country singer Carrie Underwood, who according to Dias goes to the church and spoke at it in favor of “marriage equality.”
Having said those things, let’s get to the core of the matter (echoing this earlier post, which regrettably bears repeating). The move that Mitchell is making is not a heroic one. It is a cowardly one. It doesn’t cause true believers any trepidation. It deserves no applause. It merits no commendation. This is a moment of shame for this pastor, not a moment of acclaim.
I hear the verdant tones of self-aggrandizement. I see the storied hand of history raising up a humble servant to the misty heights of heroism. But pause that for just a sec. Cancel the memoir. Forgo the book tour. Postpone the Oprah appearance.
If you fear man, God will become small to you. The approval of fellow sinners will matter more to you than obeying God by the witness of his Word. I’m reminded by what CBMW Executive Director Grant Castleberry said to me recently about the honor of God. Consider this passage:
Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed (1 Samuel 2:30).
Who will defend the honor of God? Who will speak for the righteousness of the King of Israel? Are there any Davids left? We remember what David said when the rest of the Israelite warriors trembled before Goliath: “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26). David’s brother’s went so far as to rebuke him for these words. They tried to silence him, to shut him up. Those around David bristled with anger at his boldness.
But David would not be silent. He said to Saul:
God, as we know, gave David the victory. David defeated Goliath not by his own strength, but because the Lord honored the young man who honored him.
Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God (1 Samuel 17:36).
Many professing evangelicals today have no appetite to honor the Lord. They recognize that the winds of culture are against them. To the core of their being, they are afraid. Biblical Christians recognize, ultimately, that no person is our enemy. We have no Goliath to slay. We do have a spiritual force against which we fight, one who would undo us, who would stop our mouths, and who would have us strain ourselves to win the honor of man instead of the honor of God.
Are there any in the new Israel, the church, who will honor God? Are the pastors of God’s people boys, and not men? Will we defend the righteousness of God when Satan assails it? Or will we fall silent, grow fearful, and drown out our proclamation of the truth in a series of jokes, qualifications, and selective put-downs of David-like Christians?
I pray that Stan Mitchell and David Gushee and Ryan Meeks and Danny Cortez and other pastors and leaders out there who tremble before Goliath will be given eyes to see that they fear man, and not God. They are setting themselves and their congregations up for destruction. Gospel Christians do not cheer this downward spiral. We yearn for those who profess Christ to do the loving thing, which is to say, to repent and turn back to the obedience of faith.
This shift will continue. We have not seen the end of this trend. More pastors will capitulate, and will applaud themselves in public for it. More of them will compare themselves to civil rights heroes. More of them will tell us of impending memoirs. More of them will publicly weep under the weight of their courageous decision. More will, without a hint of self-awareness, congratulate themselves on their culture-sanctioned ethical uprightness. More churches that have no confessional foundation, and that are anchored in man-centered ministry, will travel this path.
But there are many, many, many other churches that will not. They will not bend the knee to Goliath. They will not submit to the yoke of the Philistines. They have fire in their blood, and Spirit-given courage in their hearts. They will defend the honor of God. They will lovingly preach the gospel of grace to sinners just like them. To the extent that leaders like this serve God’s people, the church created and powered by God will endure. To the extent that church members tolerate this kind of shameless cowardice, the church will suffer. Praise God that many one-time GracePointe members have recognized the path of destruction this assembly is traveling, and have left it.
In such a moment, we don’t need more exquisitely-calibrated contextualizers. We need more men and women of courage. In the pulpit and the seminary, we need more Spurgeons, more Calvins, more Cranmers, more Husses. You cannot make yourself palatable to the forces of secularity. Be winsome, and be shrewd, but do not be confused. There is no way to remove the stain of the blood of Christ. It is painted on the doorways of the household of God. It is there for all to see. Do not white it out. Don’t paint it over.
Today, we need many more Machens, fearless and clear in their convictions, and many less Fosdicks, bending with the culture and afraid of its condemnation.
The church of the Lord Jesus Christ–not the church of the Most Holy Culture–needs leaders who will remember that, whatever happens to them on this earth, there are higher stakes than being liked and approved of by a sin-cursed world. Such leaders are not sad about defending orthodoxy. They are not slow to speak up on Christ’s behalf. They joyfully wake up every day with their blood pumping, and with these immortal words on their minds:
Those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.