When leaders of City Church in San Francisco (see “Blindsided” in WORLD, July 11, 2015) recently decided to offer membership to same-sex marriage partners, investment banker Liza Hing says “a lot of people in the church were totally blindsided.”
Others see such a change as inevitable. But that’s not the way it has to be, even at churches in cities with large gay populations. Redeemer Presbyterian Church Pastor Tim Keller has shown how to attract thousands of young New Yorkers while remaining biblically faithful.
The Acts 29 Network is also attracting many young Christians to the new churches it plants. Its president, Matt Chandler, criticizes those who say, “Let’s soften the stances of the Bible in order to win people to Jesus.” He says, “It’s not just those issues that are offensive; it’s Jesus Himself. What goes out the window next is the atoning work of Jesus Christ.”
Chandler adds, “To back away from the teachings of Scripture around issues that our culture finds offensive is to wave the white flag on human flourishing. It is to say, ‘Our Creator God does not know what is best for His creation. Creation knows what’s best, not the Creator.’ That’s madness.”
Nevertheless, pressures on pastors are likely to become even greater. How can church members—without roasting their pastors for Sunday dinner—take precautions against being blindsided?
Some basics: Take note of psychologese-filled sermons that speak only of God’s love and leave out God’s holiness. Be sensitive to family pressures affecting the judgment of pastors. Be wary when the words of trendy theologians show up in church bulletins.
Administratively, church members should be concerned if the pastor handpicks elders and deacons who are economically dependent on staying in his good graces. Members should critique opaque financial reporting and watch for bylaw changes that centralize power. It’s a bad sign if those who leave are signing nondisclosure agreements.
When a church sings the hymn “For All the Saints,” with its hope that “thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,” but avoids discussing current front-line issues, that’s also trouble. Jim Johns, owner of a San Francisco asset management firm, recalls at City Church “no discussion of gays as members.”
Recognizing how church leaders may be pressured to make ungodly accommodations to the gay lobby, church groups should discuss ways to respond and read solid exegetical books such as Kevin DeYoung’s “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” (Crossway, 2015).
Junior pastors committed to Scripture have to be bold and courageous. When the senior pastor of one church wanted to perform same-sex marriages and ordain gay ministers, he said members were free to disagree but tried to isolate them by refusing to hold public forums and purging his staff. A younger pastor raised a ruckus behind closed doors and eventually forced an open discussion that led to the senior pastor’s resignation.
Critical to all of this is thinking through what compassion means. Former lesbian Rosaria Butterfield (see “Journey of grace,” WORLD, March 23, 2013) emailed me: “The idea that a church cannot be welcoming without being gay-affirming on membership issues runs exactly counter to my experience. … Welcoming people to sin—and twisting the meaning and purpose of church membership in the process—does not welcome anyone to Christ. When my gay-affirming friends ask me why I do not support gay ‘marriage,’ I tell them that Christians are called to be good neighbors and good neighbors who never put a stumbling block between a fellow image bearer and the God who made us.”
Butterfield noted a critique from one of her readers who “said my orthodox Christian apologetics lacked ‘relevance’ to gay people. This was someone that I know well, so I wrote back and said, ‘Hard is the new relevant.’” As Matt Chandler pointed out, it’s not cruel when Jesus points out sin: “That’s gracious. What would be cruel is if God went, ‘Do you know what? You’re right. That’s what you desire. Go.’”