republished below in full unedited for informational, educational, and research purposes:
But oil and water don’t mix. The church of Jesus Christ is a particular group of people. This is what the Apostle Peter reminds the early church in his first epistle:
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” 1 Peter 1:13-16In the scripture above, Peter quotes a command of God to the nation of Israel recorded in the book of Leviticus – “Be holy”. This demonstrates that the New Testament Church is an extension of Old Testament Israel. The latter served as a witness that the Messiah was coming, the former serves as a witness that the Messiah has come and is soon to come again in judgment. In any age, the Israel of God serves as a witness to the world while maintaining a separation from the world. In order to serve as a witness, the church must maintain a unique and separate identity. This is what it means to be holy. The Greek term ἅγιος used by Peter and translated as “holy” in the scripture above indicates that the church is to be set apart from everything and everyone that is not the church. The church is to be different from the world. Thus, it is completely reasonable for a church to expect that people who want to be a part of it first change the way they believe and behave. This expectation is in line with the Christian doctrines of regeneration and sanctification. Once a sinner gets saved, to use commonly understood evangelical terminology for regeneration, he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Thus starts the process of sanctification. At this point the believer starts to look like the church and, as Peter puts it, should no longer be conformed to his former lusts. A true believer isn’t merely attracted to the church, he is the church. A church that insists that its membership be holy is merely a matter of salt being salty. Yet, this is off-putting to Andy Stanley. It is also apparently off-putting to thousands of other Atlanta-area residents who were raised in the same church culture as Stanley. These off-put consumers are drawn to NPM and the philosophies of its leader, Andy Stanley. Stanley boldly declares that he “leverages their consumer instincts” and claims that Jesus did the same.
Stanley puts his own spin on what the church is in the second section of his book. This is the section in which Stanley attempts to give the biblical justification for his approach to church. In Chapter Three, Stanley gives a very short and lightly footnoted summary of church history in which he literally anticipates the question “how long is this chapter in anyway?” Once again, Stanley is flippant about theology. Deep and Wide’s chapters which give biblical justification for Stanley’s model of church should arguably be thorough, should arguably be deep. However, Stanley’s pattern is to trade on brief, specious arguments shrouded in humor, pithiness, or some personal account. His writing style is not unlike his preaching style; both lack depth and operate on a surface level. His argument in Chapter 3 is dependent on his treatment of the Greek term ἐκκλησία which is translated as “church” in almost every English Bible. Stanley asserts that the word “church” is not a translation of ἐκκλησία but rather a bad substitution for it. According to Stanley, the institutionalization of the movement, or “church”, that Jesus started led to the ἐκκλησία being associated with a building or a location controlled by an institutional authority. He associates the perversion of the Greek term with the machinations of the Roman Catholic Church and cites the Reformers as those who would be sympathetic to his view. This does not, of course, play out in church history. The seeker-sensitive movement of Warren, Hybels, Stanley, and their ilk began hundreds of years after Martin Luther and other reformers began the task of breaking free from Roman Catholic error and subjugation. The seeker-sensitive movement is firmly planted inside of modern American entrepreneurial pragmatism and is nowhere to be found in first 400 years after the Reformation began.
Stanley is at least partially correct in his treatment of the term ἐκκλησία, however. In Greek culture, the term often referred to a gathering of people, not necessarily Christian or religious. Stanley writes, “An ekklesia was simply a gathering or an assembly of people called out for a specific purpose. Ekklesia never referred to a specific place, only a specific gathering.” This statement is true. At the same time, it is a straw man. That Christ’s church is not a specific location is not the argument of those churches who would insist that church members believe and behave in a certain way. It is a straw man created by Andy Stanley to further his narrative that church is a movement. It’s not. It’s a people. It’s a people sanctified (set apart) to God and for God. No one needs a dedicated building to be Holy but it’s certainly okay to have one. Andy Stanley’s organization has several.
Such buildings are where the church formally gathers for its most frequent event, Lord’s Day worship. It is here where Andy Stanley’s model of church runs into another very serious problem – the world doesn’t honor God. The Bible makes it clear in several places that the world, those not a part of the church and therefore not currently set apart to and for God, are at enmity with both God and His people. The Apostle James wrote:
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’?” James 4:3-5When God’s people gather on the Lord’s Day to praise God they should not expect that unbelievers will want to take part in that worship. Thus, to gear church services to appeal to a demographic (whether it is called “lost” or “unchurched”) is to change the focus of the worship event. The event ceases to be about appealing to God. Instead, it appeals to man. Not only that, it appeals to the unregenerate man. The Apostle Paul wrote:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, e kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11How can unsanctified people find appeal in a Christ-honoring, church-edifying worship service? The same way a goose hatches out of a chicken egg…it doesn’t. It’s another absurdity. Stanley’s method of church is to essentially water down the message of scripture while having the people of God cater to “unchurched” people who have no interesting in serving or worshipping Him in spirit and truth. Stanley turns what should be praise songs and preaching into a concert followed by a motivational speech. It draws numbers, but not holy ones. Stanley’s method not only confuses the nature of the church but perverts its primary weekly event, the worship service, to a form of worldly entertainment. Unchurched people simply don’t love Christ’s church. Unchurched people simply don’t love the worship of God. Thus, a church that unchurched people love to attend is not a church at all. It’s akin to hamburger joint that puts tofu patties between buns, calls them hamburgers, and serves them to people who don’t like beef. It does good business and happily makes thousands of sales…but it doesn’t sell hamburgers.
Stanley rightly points out that “If you want to know what Jesus meant but Jesus said, pay attention to what Jesus did.” One thing that Jesus did was to appoint Apostles such as Paul to oversee the early church. We find the writings of Peter, Paul, James, John, and Jude in their numerous epistles, many of which predate the authoring of the four gospels. These epistles are written by Apostles, in many cases to specific churches, in order to instruct the churches on how they should operate. In other words, the epistles of the New Testament instruct churches on how to be churches. In Deep and Wide Stanley cites the epistle of James thrice (James 1:17, 2:20, and 2:26), the epistles to the Corinthians thrice (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 10:26), the epistle to the Romans twice (Romans 8:28 and Romans 12:2), and the second epistle to Timothy once (2 Timothy 3:16). Through none of these citations does Stanley make a substantial argument about the church should operate or behave. Instead, Stanley relies on descriptive stories from the gospels. Indeed, Jesus reached out to the outcasts of society and challenged the religious authority of his day. However, the brotherly love and evangelism demonstrated by Jesus and his disciples in the gospels do not translate into a church model where worship services center around appealing to the unchurched and finding places of service for them. If readers aren’t careful, they can get so excited about the praiseworthy exploits of the Lord Jesus and not notice that Stanley is not applying them in the proper context.
Stanley is adamant that “every church should be a church irreligious people love to attend.” This premise can be restated as follows: “every gathering of God’s people to exercise religious devotion should be a gathering of God’s people where the religious devotion being exercised is loved by those who are indifferent or hostile to religion“. To defend this absurdity Stanley invokes Jesus. He writes, “The church is the local expression of the presence of Jesus. We are His body. And since people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus, people who are nothing like Jesus should like us as well. This statement does not play out in scripture.
“…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” Mark 1:14-15Jesus’ most vociferous critics, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law, were not like him. Yes, they were the same ethnically but spiritually their hearts were far from Him. Those who accepted Jesus accepted his offer of forgiveness and were called on to turn (or repent) from their sins. In doing so, they could become like him. Andy Stanley not only advocates that the church appeal to the world, he argues that Jesus did so. Jesus, as history shows, had no friendship with the world. Andy Stanley does. In a jab at his critics, Stanley writes, “All of my critics are religious people (It may be the only thing I have in common with Jesus).” The churches being critiqued and rebuked by Paul in his many epistles could have made the same, haughty quip. In reality, Stanley misapplies the exploits of Jesus to justify his brand of pragmatic religious consumerism. Misapplying Jesus is nothing new.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30
The real estate market did not provide First Baptist Atlanta with a feasible environment in which to move in the planned timeframe. To make matters worse, the younger Stanley had a falling out with his father which revolved, in large part, over Charles’s Stanley’s controversial and very public divorce. Andy Stanley would eventually resign his position at First Baptist Atlanta. However, he retained a very large following. He was able parlay his popularity into a new church plant, no longer operating under the authority of his father’s church but still well within its shadow. Stanley was finally free to do things his own way. He has.
During his tenure working with youth at First Baptist Atlanta, a twenty-six-year-old Stanley put on what the deacons of First Baptist Atlanta deemed an “irreverent and unruly” youth event in the church building. Despite a number of decisions for Christ made by attendees, the deacons were very upset at the spectacle. Stanley, ever-pragmatic was aghast at their disgust. After all, hadn’t it worked? Arguably, this experienced helped shape NPM services into what they are today, seeker-sensitive concerts followed by motivational speeches that are in some way related to God. Andy Stanley turned the youth-concert methodology rejected by the stodgy deacons at his father’s church and turned it into a church model. He then put that church right in their back yard. If NPM seems more like a rock and roll youth revival than a church, it’s not hard to see why. NPM and Andy Stanley are shaped out of a rejection of conservative Southern Baptist culture. Unfortunately, they have also come to reject the biblical expectation for churches.
That Andy Stanley devotes the entire first section of his book to his own, interesting personal history is not surprising. Stanley is a part of the NPM brand, it’s his. Arguably, he is the brand. Such personal story telling is not uncommon among church entrepreneurs. In Section One of Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley attempts to establish his authority as a church expert before making a biblical case. By the time readers get to Andy’s “biblical” argument for the NPM model in Section 2, the reader has already subconsciously become an observer of the Andy Stanley story. If the reader isn’t careful, he will miss how the story’s protagonist misapplies scripture to support an untenable church model.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church of which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
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 There are also partner churches in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, and Venezuela.
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 In English this term is transliterated as “ekklesia”.
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