Not You, Pastor Tullian!!!!!!!!!

Jimmy Swaggart (kids:  Google) got in trouble because he couldn’t keep his pants up while passing cheap motels on Airline.

Apparently, neither could Tullian Tchividjian.

tullianTchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham with the funny name, admitted a few days ago to having an extramarital affair.  Tchividjian had been pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in the Miami area; he resigned immediately upon admitting the affair.

Tchividjian took over as pastor of Coral Ridge back in 2009, when he succeeded the late James Kennedy.  Kennedy had been a very influential figure in the Religious Right, a founding board member of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and author of the Evangelism Explosion curriculum.

Tchividjian had a wild youth, moving out of his home and living a life of hedonism as an adolescent.  He later came back home, came back to faith, and eventually found his way into the ministry.

Tchividjian’s uncle Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, went through a similarly rebellious phase early in life.  (Preacher’s kid.  What did you expect?)  But now he is back in the fold and all about politics and the culture war.

Tchividjian, however, took a different path.  From the outset, he resolved that Coral Ridge would become a different kind of church than what it had been in the past, by his own admission, a church “widely known for what it was against much more than what it was for”.  Instead:

I wanted the city of Ft. Lauderdale (my hometown) to know that we were going to become a church in the city, for the city. I made it very clear from the outset that we were going to be a church that rolled up our sleeves and got our hands dirty in service to our city. I said that if our ministry was not attracting the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted, then we were not preaching the same message that Jesus preached. Most people loved that!

But some did not.  This led to a contentious split in which several hundred members left and started their own church, which would maintain the commitment to culture-war evangelical Christianity at Coral Ridge prior to Tchividjian.

Tchividjian went on to become a rising star in evangelicalism.  With a dynamic personality, a huge church, a blog, an active Twitter feed, a successful writing career, crazy good looks, and scads upon scads of hipster cred, what was not to like?  His quasi-Lutheran teachings with a heavy emphasis on law, gospel, and the proper distinction thereof, one of the key emphases of Lutheran teaching and belief, were a word which thousands upon thousands of evangelicals were dying to hear.

Tchividjian was part of The Gospel Coalition, a network and speaking/conference/blogging circuit consisting of many of the leading names in Neo-Reformed Calvinism, including Tim Keller, Don Carson, and Russell Moore.  His quasi-Lutheran writings attracted huge amounts of vitriol from the other TGC members, but got them to basically expose themselves as crypto-Papists in the process.  That didn’t sit too well with them, and eventually he was forced out.  So he took his blog and started his own coalition called Liberate, which invited several prominent Lutherans to participate.  Obviously that is now shut down in light of current events.

And now, here we are, with the Tchividjian family joining the list of those that will be having an extremely awkward Thanksgiving dinner this year.

This would be a prime opportunity for all the TGC types who had their noses tweaked by Tchividjian’s writings to come flying out of the woodwork, basically saying, “See?  We told you this guy was weak on sanctification, and look where it got him.”  Hasn’t happened yet.  Perhaps they’re otherwise occupied with the conservative clown show over last week’s Supreme Court ruling, and they managed to let this one slip by them.  But there’s still time.

If anything, this affirms the doctrine of total depravity, which is one of the key elements of the Christian faith.  Most of the TGC guys come from confessional churches, where week in and week out the congregation confesses in some form or fashion that they are all wretched sinners in need of grace.  While most of megachurch evangelicalism is generally resistant to such liturgical flourishes, we still affirm the doctrine of total depravity, which holds that all people are corrupt and sinful and on a path which will, if not for the grace of God, end in eternal separation from God.

So don’t be surprised to see people acting like sinners.  Even big-time pastors.

When Tchividjian took over at Coral Ridge, he said in an interview that “I learned that God’s capacity to clean things up is infinitely greater than our human capacity to mess things up.”  We can only hope that those words prove true in this situation.

And Pastor Tullian, whatever you do, please please please do not pull a Mark Driscoll.  At least give us a chance to miss you before you get back into the ministry saddle.

For an insightful look at what Tchividjian looked like to a real Lutheran and why some of his emphases made real Lutherans uncomfortable even as they envied his success and appreciated all he did to get the law-gospel message out there, read this piece by Lutheran layperson Levi Nunnink.

Mark Galli Has It Right

Despite what you may think, there are some voices of reason in the evangelical landscape.  Mark Galli of Christianity Today offers Six Things To Do after the Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage:

–Rejoice.  Not in the decision, of course, but, as Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always”.

Rejoice in what exactly? Let’s just note the big things: That God has not gone anywhere. That Christ’s death and resurrection remain the power of salvation for all. That the gospel still goes forth. That the gates of the Supreme Court or Congress cannot prevail against Christ’s church. That there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That the kingdom will come—and that there remains a great deal of vital work for us to do in the church and in society until that day.

–Repent.  Instead of pointing the finger at outside political and cultural forces arrayed against the Church, we would do well to focus on ourselves and what got us here.

What actions and attitudes have we imbibed that contribute to our culture’s dismissing our ethics? Our homophobia has revealed our fear and prejudice. Biblical inconsistency—our passion to root out sexual sins while relatively indifferent to racism, gluttony, and other sins—opens us to the charge of hypocrisy. Before we spend too much more time trying to straighten out the American neighborhood, we might get our own house in order.

–Rethink.  Think through what it will look like to show love to the gay people who come to visit your churches.

–Re-engage.  As the American church has lost its privileged status in society, many say that it is now in exile and at the margins.  That is true to a certain extent, but there are still numerous opportunities for the church to engage in what remains essentially a free society.  Use these opportunities for the common good by becoming peacemakers.

–Reach out.  Up until now, gays have seen us as political enemies.  Now that we have lost, they may be willing to engage us as human beings.  Take advantage of these opportunities.

–Rejoice.  We live at a critical point in history, when we are addressing a host of issues related to human sexuality.  How we respond to these issues will shape the way in which believers engage these issues for centuries to come.

Read:  “Six Things To Do after the Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage” by Mark Galli


Outrage: We Got This

That exploding sound you hear in the background is perfectly normal around here whenever the Supreme Court issues a ruling that evangelicals don’t like.

If there is one thing evangelicals and other political conservatives do really well, it’s outrage.  And we have seen a lot of it in the last 24 hours or thereabouts, as conservatives of all stripes are falling all over themselves to see who can sound the most outraged and outrageous.  Here is a small sampling:

Tim Wildmon, president of American Family Association:  “I fear for our country, quite frankly, because this is a spiritual 9/11, I believe. We have said to God Almighty, We don’t care what you say about marriage and your definition of what’s natural and normal.

Mike Huckabee:  “This ruling is not about marriage equality, it’s about marriage redefinition. This irrational, unconstitutional rejection of the expressed will of the people in over 30 states will prove to be one of the court’s most disastrous decisions, and they have had many. The only outcome worse than this flawed, failed decision would be for the President and Congress, two co-equal branches of government, to surrender in the face of this out-of-control act of unconstitutional, judicial tyranny.”

Concerned Women of America:  “In one appalling decision, the Supreme Court has effectively opened the door to the criminalization of Christianity when it comes to the marriage issue … and not just Christianity, but every major religion that supports God’s model for marriage and family.”

Bill Muehlenberg of BarbWire:  “This is a declaration of war by five judges who have spat in the face of their Creator, of marriage, of biology, and freedom. Now a major proper response for Christians and others is massive civil disobedience and defiance of this homo-fascist decision.”

Author Carl Gallups:  “This ruling may prove to be the final death-knell of divine judgment upon our once great nation. For God’s word clearly declares, ‘What God has joined together, let not man put asunder’ (Mark 10:9). Man (The U.S. Supreme Court) has now spit upon God’s word and ‘put asunder’ what God declared as the standard for marriage – one man and one woman joined before God for life.”

Allen B. West:  “The SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage is not about the issue itself — it is about individual religious freedom and the imposition of the State’s will against faith. After all, it is the original reason why the Pilgrims fled England. And since there is no place for men and women of faith to retreat — they will make a stand. This ain’t first century Rome.”

Yep, when it comes to outrage, we totally got this.

What Is the Center of the Christian Faith?

We’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about things that are not the center of the Christian faith, and about people and movements that make these things the center of the Christian faith.  So today I thought it best to take a step back and talk about what is at the center of the Christian faith.

At the center of the Christian faith is an invitation:  “Come to Me.”

Not an ideology.

Not a comprehensive worldview.

Not a philosophical system.

Not a systematic theology or point-by-point doctrinal statement.

An invitation.

Matthew puts it thus:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

John puts it like this:  “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ ”  (John 7:37-38)

Who is invited?  “…All you who are weary and burdened”.  “If anyone…” Jesus said.  All are invited.  All are addressed.  All are included.

Why does this invitation matter?  Because it came from a guy who predicted his own death and resurrection and then pulled it off.  If anyone can do that, you go with whatever he says.  And if what he says is “Come to me”, you come.

This is not an invitation into an ideology or a systematic theology.  This is not an invitation to sign your name to a twenty-point doctrinal statement listing all the things you have to believe in order to be Christian.  This is not an invitation to join the movement to secede from the Union if the Supreme Court approves gay marriage (sorry Baptists).  This is not an invitation to the latest weight-loss scheme inspired by the book of Daniel (sorry Rick Warren).  This is not an invitation to learn better money management principles (sorry Dave Ramsey) or strategies for resisting temptation.  This is not an invitation to get your purity ring and join the purity movement.  This is not an invitation to debate the finer points of total depravity or to join the fight for inerrancy or complementarianism.

This is an invitation from God, into the very heart of God.  All that is asked of us is to come.

If you do not come…

If you insist upon conditions of your own…

If you come to something or someone else…

If you turn the invitation of God into a means to get God on board with your own agenda…

…then you are not answering the invitation.

As Christians, we are God’s ambassadors, authorized and tasked with extending this invitation to the entire world.  There is nothing to add to this invitation.  The fact that we get to make the invitation does not mean that we get to add on our own additional requirements or redefined meanings.

The Gospel has its demands, to be sure, but these must not be heard apart from “First we must come to God, by faith, through Jesus.”

There is no better, higher, more spiritual, victorious, or whatever you care to call it, Christian life apart from coming to God, by faith, through Jesus.

This coming to God, by faith, through Jesus, is not something you do once when you walk the aisle or raise your hand at the church service/crusade/youth camp event and then you’re done with it.  Instead it is something you continue to do all your life.

There is no other invitation except the invitation from Jesus, to come to Jesus.

That is the center of the Christian faith.

Some Advice to Dads and the Ideological World in Which This Advice Makes Sense

Today I wish to direct your attention to an article which recently appeared on the Desiring God website and which was linked approvingly by several of my Facebook friends.  The article is entitled “Dads, Date Your Daughter’s Boyfriend“.

On the surface, this sounds like good advice, a call for fathers to become involved in practicing intentional discipleship towards young men who are in relationship with their daughters.  Yet when I look closely, I see something which makes sense within the context of an ideology in which women count for nothing unless they are under the covering of and in submission to male authority, whether that of their fathers or their husbands.

If you subscribe to this ideology, then it makes perfect sense for a father to insert himself into the relationship between his daughter and her boyfriend.  Since women count for nothing unless they are under the covering of and in submission to male authority, then your daughter’s judgment in choosing whom to enter into a relationship with counts for nothing.  Thus the need for you to insert yourself into the relationship early on.  After all, this is “the man who might be tasked with caring for [your] daughter for the rest of her life.”

This ideology is profoundly anti-Gospel, as it flies in the face of the message that the kingdom of Christ has come and all the world’s ways of doing things are finished.  This ideology seeks to keep in place the distinctions of the ancient Greek/Roman world as reflected in the distant mirror of contemporary evangelicalism, in which men (and specifically powerful men) are leaders and the role of women is to submit to them.  Yet in the new community and kingdom which Jesus has established, all the distinctions of the world, and specifically the distinctions of gender, are finished.  This is not to say that men and women are interchangeable, as the more liberal elements of our society would like us to believe.  The difference between male and female is woven into the very fabric of our being, so much so that male and female are two completely and totally different experiences of being human and it takes a great deal of empathetic imagination for one to understand the other.  Yet this difference is not such as to justify treating women as second-class, and certainly not such as to justify believing that women count for nothing unless they are under the covering of and in submission to male authority.

To quote 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, in my own loose paraphrase:  Woman comes from man, to be sure, but man is born of woman.  And both man and woman come from God.  In light of this, judge for yourselves if it is right to believe that women count for nothing outside the covering of male authority.  Read the article and judge for yourselves if I am making a big deal out of nothing, or if my assessment of it truly makes sense.

Rethinking a Key Passage about Women in Worship

The passage is 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which I quote below:

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is just as though her head were shaved.  If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.  A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.  For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.  But everything comes from God.  Judge for yourselves:  Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?  Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory!  For long hair is given to her as a covering.  If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice–nor do the churches of God.

The traditional view of this passage is that women ought to show submission to men in church gatherings.  Many commentators who hold to the traditional view have speculated that the backstory behind this passage is that there were “wild women” running around the Corinthian church, disturbing the community through their loose morals and lack of self-control, and that Paul is here attempting to bring them into line.

But think about this:  If the traditional view of this passage is right, then doesn’t that fly in the face of what Paul says in other passages and other letters?  Doesn’t that fly in the face of his overall message that in Christ a new creation has come and all the social/cultural distinctions of this world are irrelevant, including the distinction between man and woman?  Not to say that men and women are interchangeable, but that the differences between men and women are not such as to warrant women being accorded second-class status in our churches and communities.

The issues in the Corinthian church, which Paul speaks to in his letters, can be traced back to the overarching theme of dominance:  Those who have social cache were lording it over those who didn’t have quite so much of it.  Influential teachers had arisen and fractured the unity of the community as different believers flocked toward the influence of their teacher of choice.  Cultural values of the wealthy were being imported into the Corinthian church; this led to unequal treatment of those with lesser wealth and status at the Lord’s table and the possibility of lawsuits.  There was an abundance of hubris with respect to spiritual gifts.  There were disagreements on sexual conduct inside and outside of marriage, and on eschatology, especially the resurrection and reigning in glory.

In light of this, judge for yourselves which is a more likely backstory for the passage in question:  The “wild women” theory mentioned above, or this:  Some articulate, eloquent males had risen to prominence in the Corinthian church, and sought to implement some oppressive and misogynistic practices that were contrary to the gospel freedom which Paul espoused.  Specifically, they wanted women to have their heads covered during worship gatherings.  Why?  Because they wanted to display their glory, honor, and supremacy on their heads, and in that culture short hair, bald heads, etc. were perceived as indicators of these things.  And they wanted the women of the Corinthian church to reflect their glory, honor, and supremacy back to them by what they wore on their heads, namely by keeping their heads covered as a sign of submission to them.  In other words, these males were importing the Roman culture of honor and shame into the Corinthian church, and they wanted it to shape what worship looked like.

Back to the passage in question:  Much of the trouble results from thinking that the entire passage is expressing the same theology, and that it is all Paul’s theology.  A more likely view is that the first half of the passage (2-10) and the second half (11-16) represent different theological viewpoints.  Probably the first half represents the views of the male-dominant crowd at Corinth, as reported to him by some from Chloe’s household.  The second half, then, would be Paul’s response.  We see this in verse 8-9 (“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man”), and in verse 11-12, which is Paul’s response to that argument:  “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.  But everything comes from God.”

In other words, some prominent males were requiring that women have their heads covered in worship gatherings.  They operated from views of authority and honor/shame that were prevalent in the Roman world, and they wanted to import that into the Corinthian church.  Paul’s response was basically this:  “Woman comes from man, as you say, but man is born of woman, so this is really a chicken-and-egg scenario.  And both man and woman come from God.  So if you want to talk to me about head coverings for women, well, they already have long hair and that does the job just fine, thank you very much.”

The Corinthian culture which Paul was speaking into is a distant mirror of today’s evangelicalism.  The idea that women ought to show submission to men in the church is very much alive and well.  We see it whenever the issue of women in ministry comes up, and we especially see it in the current discussions on marriage and gay marriage.  The Neo-Calvinist movement, which has gained a great deal of traction in present-day evangelicalism, subscribes to an ideology which says that women do not count for anything before God or in the church unless they are under the covering of and in submission to male authority.  (As an aside, it bemuses and fascinates me to no end to see Beth Moore, who is way more influential than any other Baptist leader except possibly Al Mohler, and all the intellectual and theological gymnastics that Baptists go through to assure themselves and the rest of the world that their complementarian principles are not violated here.)

Men and women are not interchangeable, as the more liberal elements of our society would like us to believe.  Male and female represent two completely and totally different ways of being human and experiences of being human, and it takes a great deal of empathetic imagination for one to understand the other.  But the differences between men and women are not sufficient to warrant treating women as second-class.  That is a denial of the Gospel message which says that Christ has come into the world and all of the world’s ways of looking at things are finished.  It takes a great deal of creative imagination to make a case that, in this one passage, Paul was advocating for something which flies in the face of what his Gospel message is all about.

Lucy Peppiatt and Bruce Winter have both written books about this passage.

Pope Francis on Ideological Christianity

Via OpEdNews.  This is true on both sides of the political divide, but we especially see it in conservative evangelicalism, in our discussions on gay marriage, women in ministry, and other hot-button issues.

In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought” For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?

Two Glimpses of Sex and the Evangelical Purity Culture

Today we are going to talk about sex.

The first item I wish to direct your attention to comes to us by way of the New York Times.  It is a video animation of a recent “Modern Love” column by Arla Knudsen in which she recounts her personal journey out of evangelical youth-group purity culture.  For your viewing pleasure I have linked the video below:

There is much in this story that will trigger the ire of the evangelical “Defenders of the Faith” crowd.  To be sure, there is much to be ashamed of:  he used her as a one-night hookup, and by her own admission, she used him as an accomplice to her rebellion against the sexual ideology of her youth group.

But let us take another look at this.  Let us use it as a mirror to reflect back to us how the outside world, and especially those leaving our midst, see us and our purity culture.

Let us start with an important question:  Where is God in all of this?  Where is Jesus Christ in all of this?  The video is entitled “Losing My Religion”, but Knudsen’s story isn’t so much about walking away from religion as it is about walking away from a particular evangelical tribe and its sexual ideology.  Religion has at best a marginal role to play in this story–an assumed but unimportant presence.

How much more so with God and Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the one whom all this is for–our fixation with sexual purity to the point of obsession is all about honoring the command of God to reserve sex for marriage.  Do not think that anything I have to say today is against sexual purity; reserving sex for marriage is an essential discipline of the Christian faith and there are very good reasons for this.  But in so many evangelical communities, sexual purity is the thing that moves the needle and Jesus Christ is at best an outside observer, an assumed but unimportant presence.

How much of our evangelical culture and practice has reduced Jesus Christ, the very center of our faith, to an assumed but unimportant presence observing from the outside?

The main thing in Knudsen’s youth group (and I would be willing to bet that a lot of you came from youth groups that were similar in this regard) was sex, and the not having of it.  This was elevated to a point where it became THE way you distinguished yourself as a Christian and lived out your faith as a Christian.  Not having sex was how you experienced God and how you showed yourself faithful to God.  This crowded out anything else which could have been said about God or about Jesus Christ, thereby resulting in a stunted, inadequate faith which fully deserves to be walked away from.

Next, let us look at this piece from the blog Love, Joy, Feminism entitled “How Treating Sexual Thoughts as “Sin” Undermines Relationships“.  The author recounts her experience growing up evangelical, expecting to meet a man who would struggle with lustful thoughts so badly that he would meet an accountability partner.  Then she met and married a man who did not identify as a Christian, which was asking for trouble because he would not even be trying to guard against lustful thoughts.  Early on she would grill him about his thought life, trying to ensure that his thoughts did not stray toward other women.  But then she realized that obsessing over his sexual thoughts was getting in the way of their marriage.  In time, she learned to let go and relax.

Do you know what I’ve learned over the past half decade? When you stop obsessing over sex, it’s really not that big of a deal. There is no lifelong battle to be waged. It turns out that the guys who tend to be obsessed with sex are the ones obsessed with not thinking about it.

Think about that:  The guys who are most obsessed with sex are the ones obsessed with NOT thinking about it.  What’s wrong with not worrying about thinking “lustful” thoughts about other women and using that energy to instead build an intimate and satisfying relationship with your partner and enjoy life together?  Believe it or not, it is possible to look at a woman on the street and think “Mmm, sexy”–and then just leave it at that.  There is no causal connection which leads of necessity from “Mmm, sexy” to “I wanna get with her”.  There is only a connection if we put it there.  But if we maintain that there is no difference between “Mmm, sexy” and “I wanna get with her”, then that sets men up for a world of failure when they realize that despite their best efforts they cannot get the thought out of their minds and are therefore horrific sexual sinners.  If it comes to that, then actual cheating will not look all that different.

Again, where is God in all of this?  Where is Jesus Christ in all of this?  If we make sexual purity into the primary means by which we identify ourselves as people of God and show ourselves faithful to God, then there is a lifelong battle to be waged.  One which the vast majority of guys will probably lose.  If sexual purity is the end-all, be-all of how you live out your faith, then purity culture and purity rings make perfect sense.

But again, where is God in all of this?  Where is Jesus Christ in all of this?  Our faith does have things to say about sex and we need to talk about that at some point.  But if we have made Jesus Christ the center of our faith, there will be space.  Space to explore all that God is and has for us beyond the purity culture.  Space to be healthy, balanced creatures who think sexual thoughts but give them the balance they deserve.

Of course this flies in the face of much of what a purity-obsessed evangelicalism has to say about sex.  But just think what a happier and healthier place evangelicalism could be if we could just get this right.

What Is Happening at The Village Church And My Thoughts About It

In case you missed it, The Village Church and pastor Matt Chandler have come under heavy criticism for their handling of a situation in which a missionary couple supported by the church divorced because of the husband’s addiction to child pornography.  In short, the husband experienced some consequences but basically got a pass while the wife was placed under church discipline.  Christianity Today summarizes the story to this point.

The Village Church has issued an apologySome around the web, such as The Phoenix Preacher, see it as an excellent example of repentanceOthers, such as Dee at The Wartburg Watch, not so muchMatthew Paul Turner believes the apology misses the point.

Now, my thoughts on the situation.

First of all, why are we even discussing this?

A common reaction in evangelicalism, whenever a story like this breaks, is to say that it is strictly the business of the church where it is happening and those of us on the outside have no business offering any opinions on the situation.  We aren’t there, we aren’t involved, we are observing everything from the safety of a computer screen some 3,000 miles away, we don’t know what all is going on, what other factors are in play, what other mitigating circumstances may exist, etc., so who are we to judge?  Who am I to judge?

This is understandable.  When two friends are quarreling over an issue and an outsider attempts to offer his opinion, both friends will turn against him.  This is true in marriages and families, and it is true in college sports.  It is not uncommon for Georgia players to get arrested during the offseason, and sometimes get kicked off the team.  Many fans have voiced concern over coach Mark Richt’s handling of the program over the years because of this.  But last year, when Kirk Herbstreit took to the ESPN airwaves to express those same concerns, the entire Bulldog nation was apoplectic.  Why?  Because Herbstreit is a longstanding and well-documented Georgia hater.  Herbstreit played quarterback for Ohio State back in the early 90s.  We punked him and Ohio State in the 1992 Citrus Bowl, and he has been eating sour grapes ever since.

But churches like The Village Church and pastors like Matt Chandler have an outsize influence which extends well beyond the churches themselves and the communities where they are located.  When something happens in churches like this, it creates ripple effects which are felt throughout evangelicalism.  For this reason, I feel entitled to express my opinion.  When a church reaches the point where its influence extends far beyond the church itself and its local community, then those outside the church who are within reach of its influence are entitled to observe and to comment.

About the apology:  It is exceedingly rare for a pastor or church involved in a story like this to issue any sort of apology for their actions, so it is commendable that Matt Chandler and The Village Church were willing to issue at least such an apology as they did.  Having said that:  Though the apology strikes an excellent tone of humility and contrition, it also reads a lot like damage control, like it was written specifically to those who hold to a certain theological way of looking at things as an attempt to convince them and convince themselves that everything is good here and none of their theological principles need to be questioned or changed.  They did not apologize for anything more substantial than not explaining their position clearly enough, though it is possible to read more into it.  In short, this is a start but there is still a long way to go.  You can read the apology for yourself and form your own opinion.

About the issue of membership covenants and church discipline:  The practice of covenant membership is gaining a great deal of traction in certain parts of evangelicalism.  As a backlash against what is seen as a consumeristic approach to church membership which is prevalent in most of evangelicalism, many churches and church networks have attempted to make church membership into a more solemn and meaningful commitment.  Thus they now require you to basically sign your life away if you want to join.  Many membership covenants are legally enforceable documents which control how you relate to the church, what you can do outside of the church, and even limit your right to leave the church in certain circumstances.

Though this practice is now spreading to other parts of evangelicalism, most of the churches which practice covenant membership are in the Neo-Reformed stream.  In these churches, the practice arises from a distinctly Calvinistic way of understanding the concept of covenant.  Proponents of covenant membership claim that it is rooted in Scripture, yet all it does is take a few key New Testament verses and use them as proof texts for a rigid and controlling approach to church membership which is rife with potential for abuse.  We have seen an example of this.

In short:  If your theology allows an admitted child pornographer to get off scot-free (almost) while his wife is thrown under the bus when she seeks to end the marriage, CHANGE YOUR THEOLOGY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This goes back to the issue which I have stated in previous posts:  What sort of people are we becoming as evangelicals?  What sort of churches are our churches becoming?  What sort of a movement are we becoming?  Are our communities safe places where victims of the worst sin imaginable can find support, healing, and restoration?  Or are we becoming a movement that protects its own while extending the closed fist of judgment and condemnation against those who are different from us?