In the last post, I described why it so important for churches to exercise discernment and caution when deciding who will become a member. Though not referenced explicitly in that post, it is just as crucial for individual believers to exercise discernment and caution when selecting a church to join, or when weighing a decision to stay in a church.
The extreme dangers of both are exemplified in an article in the January 26 issue of TIME entitled “A Change of Heart.” The article provides an overview of the varying positions on homosexual marriage within evangelicalism. The church that is spotlighted in the story is Seattle-area EastLake Community Church. The article’s lead paragraph describes all of the ways that the church “looks like a lot of other evangelical megachurches,” but is really praising the trendiness of the church. And before I address that church’s stance on homosexual marriage let me address this trendiness issue. The TIME article says that EastLake “boasts 13 weekly services at six locations…; the head pastor is a bearded hipster; and the main campus is a warehouse turned sanctuary where greeters serve coffee, a tattooed band rocks out beneath colored lights and attendance swells whenever the Seahawks are not playing.”
That these are the characteristics considered common among evangelical megachurches does not speak well for evangelical megachurches! None of those descriptors amount to a thing when it comes to faithfulness to Scripture. God is far more concerned that a pastor is a Bible-proclaimer than a bearded hipster. His desire is that church members actually serve each other and their communities; I suspect He could not care less whether or not the greeters serve coffee. (Actually, if the coffee becomes a focal point or a distraction, I suspect He does care, and He is not in favor). I feel equally confident that God is far more concerned with the lyrics of the songs and the hearts of the singers than He is with the bodily adornment or the colored lights. And if the church’s attendance fluctuates considerably (which “swells” would imply) based on whether or not the local NFL team is playing, I think God would have a question or two about the level of commitment to Him that would be found in the members/attendees of the church. See, I may be wrong, but the notion of church attendance swelling when the Seahawks are not playing makes me think that going to church is the next-best thing to do on a Sunday morning in Seattle for those whose presence “swells” the attendance at EastLake. If the church is a trendy, fun or “hip” place to hang out when there’s no football, there is a problem. (See also: my many previous references to the need for church to be uncomfortable).
All of that aside, the real point of the introductory paragraph of the TIME article is this conclusion: “It [all of the happenings of the church described above] is almost enough to make you miss what is really going on at EastLake this winter: the congregation is quietly coming out as one of the first openly LGBT-affirming evangelical churches in the U.S.”
I will go ahead and say it, and the fact that many will disagree with me or call me intolerant, biased, opinionated or discriminatory matters to me not one bit: “LGBT-affirming evangelical church” is a contradiction. It is something that cannot be. Once a church becomes “LGBT-affirming” it ceases to be evangelical. If “evangelical” means affirming the teachings of the gospels and the authority of Scripture, as I believe most definitions suggest, then affirming homosexuality is simultaneously ceasing to be evangelical, since the Bible is quite clear on the fact that homosexuality is a sin. In other words, one cannot both affirm homosexuality and affirm Scripture. One cannot be both LGBT-affirming and evangelical. That is, of course, unless and until one embraces the relativism of our age, when there is no real meaning to anything and one can pick and choose any combination of things and put them together, ignoring the fact that they are mutually exclusive. We are not talking about toe-may-toe versus toe-mah-toe here; these are not matters of preference or opinion.
TIME goes on to explain that the transition to being “LGBT-affirming” happened slowly for EastLake. “For the past six months, the church has played a short welcome video at the start of every service that includes the line “Gay or straight here, there’s no hate here.” Ignoring the fact that the line is incredibly cheesy, I would agree that there should not be any hate found within the church toward people. The sinful choices of people, however, should be of concern. No church can be faithfully teaching Scripture and be making homosexuals feel welcome at the same time. Beyond the saccharine tag line, the church’s other efforts at welcoming and affirming homosexuals include the facts that the church’s first gay wedding took place in December, and that “one of the pastors now sends a wedding gift on behalf of the church every time she hears that gay congregants are getting married.” (Therein, too, the TIME author unwittingly provided further evidence of the fact that the church is not really evangelical; just as clear as the Scripture’s teaching that homosexuality is a sin and marriage is between a man and a woman is the teaching that women are not to be pastors).
Ryan Meeks, the pastor of EastLake, says that a “turning-point” for him came when he learned that “one of his staffers had been afraid to tell him she was dating a woman.” Says Meeks, “I refuse to go to a church where my friends who are gay are excluded from Communion or a marriage covenant or the beauty of Christian community. It is a move of integrity for me–the message of Jesus was a message of wide inclusivity.” Sadly, there is no integrity in the “move” at all, since it denies the authority and teaching of the very Scripture it purports to support and uphold. The message of Jesus was widely inclusive in one way–that salvation is a free gift for anyone who believes. At the same time it is incredibly narrow and intolerant in all other ways. After all, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.” There are five resounding statements of intolerance there; Jesus said He is the only way.
I could say plenty more about the contents of the TIME article, and at some point I may. (I have, after all, addressed only the article’s first two paragraphs!). I believe, however, that I have made my point: churches need to be careful about who can become a member, because the members determine the direction of the church. Believers need to be careful about the churches they join, too, so that they do not unknowingly join themselves with a body that does not affirm and teach the Bible. (Encouragingly, the TIME article does point out that EastLake has lost 22% of its income and 800 attendees in the last year and a half, signaling that at least some of its members were unwilling to remain part of a church that no longer taught the Bible). Discernment and caution are imperative.