Should Churches “Unhitch” from the Old Testament?
Andy Stanley is the Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church and North Point Ministries (NPM). There are six locations throughout the greater Atlanta area. Each week, more than 30,000 people attend services at NPM. He is the son of Charles Stanley who serves as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The elder Stanley is the founder and president of In Touch Ministries and served two one-year terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1984 to 1986.
Charles Stanley rarely gets involved in theological controversy. Andy Stanley is often in the news over some theological issue related to doctrine and ministry application. For example, at a recent conference, he argued, that church unity was more important than “theological correctness.” Church unity is very important. But what is the church to unify over? There are non-negotiable theological positions that define what it means to be a Christian, otherwise, any religion that’s unified, no matter what it doctrinal base, is legitimate.
The latest controversy concerns comments he made about Christians and the Old Testament. The following is from the Christian Post:
In the final part of a recent sermon series, Stanley explained that while he believes that the Old Testament is “divinely inspired,” it should not be “the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.”
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To justify this, Stanley preached last month about Acts 15, which described how the early church decided that Gentile converts did not need to strictly observe Jewish law to become Christians.
“[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures,” said Stanley.
“Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.” (Christian Post)
If by these comments Andy Stanley means that Christians are not bound by the sacrificial system, circumcision, and other ceremonial laws, then there’s nothing to disagree with. The New Testament makes it clear in various places that many parts of the Old Testament were designed to point to the coming of Jesus who fulfilled what the blood of “bulls and goats” could not (Heb. 10:4). That is the overarching theme of the book of Hebrews. Nowhere in the letter to the Hebrews are Christians admonished to be “unhitched” from the moral precepts of the Older Testament.
David Prince writes, “Conveniently, for his argument, Stanley does not point out that James grounds the council’s pronouncement in the Old Testament text of Amos 9:11-12 (Acts 15:16-17; see also Jer 12:15 and Isaiah 45:21).”
Other New Testament books address the same issue. Paul confronted Peter “to his face” (Gal. 2:11) because the apostle was imposing a number of ritualistic laws related to the Older Covenant on Gentiles, including circumcision. The apostle Paul condemns such a view in short order.
There may be a few Christians who claim that the Old Covenant ceremonial laws should be followed today, but they are few and far between.
What’s troubling about Andy Stanley’s comment that while he admits that Old Testament is “divinely inspired,” he goes on to say that it should not be used as “the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.” Circumcision and blood sacrifices I get, but “any behavior”?
Andy Stanley has taken this position in an attempt to be relevant to contemporary culture. This certainly wasn’t the approach of Jesus and the New Testament writers. Jesus reproached the Pharisees because, “neglecting the commandment of God, [they] held to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:5). As a result, they “nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep [their] tradition” (v. 9). God’s Word — all of it — is designed to challenge the traditions of men:
All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
No one needs a savior from sin if there is no behavior that is sinful. How does a non-Christian know that he or she needs a savior? By reference to God’s commandments regarding morality, a point that’s made repeatedly in the New Testament. The New Testament writers don’t shy away from the law often quoted directly from the Older Testament. David Prince writes:
Stanley summarizes his view of the Old Testament by saying he thought about putting up a slide that read, “Thou shall not obey the Ten Commandments,” but decided against it in fear that people would take a screenshot of it to post online. He might as well have posted the screenshot himself because that is exactly what he is arguing. Stanley contends that the sexual ethic of the New Testament is severed from the teaching of the Old Testament and is simply to “treat others as God in Christ has treated you” and that “Paul is explicit about morality but does not tie it to the Old Testament.” Of course, the New Testament says far more about sexual ethics than Stanley suggests and what it teaches is in complete continuity with the Old Testament.
The New Testament writers did not “unhitch” Christianity from some (many?) of the moral values of the Older Covenant. The laws from the Ten Commandments are repeatedly mentioned. Paul writes:
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY [Ex. 20:14], YOU SHALL NOT MURDER [20:13], YOU SHALL NOT STEAL [20:15], YOU SHALL NOT COVET” [20:17], and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Lev. 19:18]. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8-10).
Keep in mind that a summary does not nullify what it summarizes.
How does a person know if he’s loving someone? Love isn’t a feeling, good thoughts, or an emotion. Love is an action based on objective morality. Love means not to wrong your neighbor. You show love toward a neighbor by not killing him, committing adultery, or stealing his property.
Not even consensual sex is permitted:
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst (1 Cor. 5:1-2; cf. 7:1-3).
Paul references the Old Testament law (Lev. 18:8; Deut. 22:30; 27:20). Ultimately, loving our neighbor means following God’s commandments. Keeping God’s commandments is an indication that we love God.
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3).
If you were to ask a Christian, “Who said, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself?,’ most people would say, “Jesus” (Matt. 19:19). Jesus was quoting Leviticus 19:18, from a chapter sandwiched between Leviticus 18 and 20. It’s in these two chapters we find condemnation of same-sex sexuality that the New Testament condemns in no uncertain terms. Paul writes “that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8-11). You don’t know if you’re loving someone if there is no fixed objective standard to gauge your love.
Andy Stanley adds the following:
Will we prioritize our oneness over our politics? Will we continue to allow the kingdom of the world to divide the Kingdom of God that is in this world because of politics?
The kingdom of God includes politics, just like it includes, family, education, business, law, economics, and everything else. Addressing these specific topics does not mean they are prioritized over the kingdom of God. A preacher would have to ignore large sections of the Bible to avoid them. The Bible is filled with politics. There are two books of the Bible titled “Kings.”
Politics concerns morality. There are commandments that speak directly to theft and murder that apply to politicians. Politicians aren’t above the law. If God has given the command not to steal, He did not exempt politicians. The same is true about murder.
For the sake of unity in the church, is Andy Stanley saying that pastors should not teach on what the Bible teaches about politics (civil government) and thereby ignore the atrocity of killing unborn babies and politicians using confiscated tax dollars to fund Planned Parenthood?
I’m sorry, but I’m not into that kind of unity.