Item 1: Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, recently preached his sermon "When Gracie Met Truthy," in which he strongly left the impression that he does not consider homosexual practice to be a sin on the level with adultery (which he also, apparently, construes somewhat more narrowly than Jesus did). Stanley's message unmistakably suggests that open homosexuality is compatible with both membership and leadership at North Point. Note: There is no way to link directly to this sermon, but "When Gracie Met Truthy" is sermon number 5 in the series "Christian" and is merely one click away from the first message in the series, which is available here. Hat-tip to Peter Lumpkins, whose blog was the first I saw bringing this to the world's attention.
Item 2: In response to Stanley, Dr. Albert Mohler posted on his blog yesterday an article (rightfully) criticizing Stanley's message. Mohler gave his essay the provocative title, "Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?" Mohler's is a solid and helpful treatment of the issues raised by Stanley's sermon.
Item 3: In response to Mohler's response, Rick Warren challenged Mohler, not to much to defend Stanley as to reject the analysis that Stanley's waywardness is about megachurches rather than being about something else. Warren was incensed that thousands of other megachurches are implicated by Mohler's essay.
Stanley's sermon makes me sick. The capitulation under pressure to normalize the homosexual heresy makes me sad. His clear use of a Christological passage to do so is what I find most offensive—people aren't content merely to sin; they have to blaspheme along with it by pretending that Jesus Himself would campaigning against Proposition 8, although the books of the New Testament, and really all of the Christian scriptures, condemn homosexuality as an abomination.
So, Stanley's sermon makes me sick. Mohler's response does not offend me at all. But I do think that his analysis is a bit off the mark…not quite precise enough…when he connects Stanley's error with the megachurch phenomenon. The problem isn't the megachurch. Rather, it is (to coin a word) the monochurch.
The prefix "mega-" comes from Greek and indicates about the size of something that it is large. The prefix "mono-" also comes from Greek and indicates about the relationships of something that it is alone.
Now, Stanley's North Point Community Church certainly is a megachurch. It has five campuses and averages more than 24,000 people in weekly attendance, according to Wikipedia (therefore, it must be true). This is a behemoth-church. It is very large.
Stanley's church is also a monochurch. It has no denominational affiliation. It has no formal relationship with any other sibling churches. It is accountable to no one. I'm writing today to suggest that Stanley's radical non-denominationalism, rather than the size of his church, is the problem most responsible for the error of his ways.
To be fair to Mohler's essay, he clearly is not indicting every megachurch, and when he talks about megachurches he rather obviously has in mind not merely a size threshold but also a cultural and historical phenomenon. Missed is the opportunity, however, to identify the factors that make the difference between the megachurch as a force for good in the world (for example, the Conservative Resurgence) and the megachurch as a force for evil in the world (for example, Andy Stanley on this subject or Joel Osteen in general). Whatever the exhaustive analysis of those factors might be, I think that healthy affiliation with sister churches in a denomination is important among them.
Baptists prize local church autonomy. I am among them, and I am zealous about this point. Denominational accountability can survive quite well without the denomination's owning the title to the church property or retaining the legal ability to oust a pastor. I'm calling for nothing nearly so draconian. Rather, what churches need is a clear standard of faith and order upon which valued peer relationships with sister churches has been predicated. The transgression of boundaries results in the loss of the relationships. Nothing more, and nothing less. The loss of these relationships is a powerful indication to the members of a congregation that something momentous has changed in the theology of the church and is a powerful deterrent, even if it seems to have very little worldly power behind it. Local church autonomy is, in essence, the belief that churches admonishing wayward churches should do so as peers rather than as alleged superiors and with spiritual weapons alone rather than with recourse to coercive material weapons of law or warfare.
It remains to be seen how well the Southern Baptist Convention can provide this needed influence for orthodoxy. We have a great statement of faith, but our structure does not make it, or anything else, a clear standard of faith and order serving as the foundation of our relationships with one another. My state convention, on the other hand, is a confessional fellowship of churches. A church can only enter and remain within the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention by affirming the Baptist Faith & Message. The Southern Baptist Convention needs to be ordered in the same way, restricting membership in the convention to those churches that share a common set of basic beliefs.