Moralistic Therapeutic Marcionism
Andy Stanley is the pastor of North Point Community Church, a megachurch in suburban Atlanta. He is also a heretic, for having preached Marcionism, the second-century gnostic heresy that said the Old Testament was completely non-binding on Christians. The Christian Post reports:
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.”
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.”
Stanley argued that it had to be done for the same reason the church in Acts 15 did so, which was so that “we must not make it difficult for those Gentiles who are turning to God.”
Stanley’s sermon series was addressed to Christians who had left the church, and to those who stayed away from the church, because they believed the church was too exclusive.
Wesley Hill has Andy Stanley’s number. Excerpts:
Stanley’s error is more subtle still. The Old Testament is “divinely inspired,” he insists. But—following centuries of anti-Judaic interpretations of early Christian history, in which Jewish parsimoniousness is ranged over against Christian liberality—Stanley reframes the Old Testament as narrow, exclusive, hidebound. “I’m just not there yet,” he has the Jewish apostle Peter, clinging tenaciously to his Torah observance, say when asked, “What about God loves everybody?” Calling the Old Testament “God’s contract,” Stanley sums it up as a tit-for-tat economy: “It’s ‘I will if you will.’” By contrast, now that the “stand-alone” Jesus-event has erupted onto the scene, “God’s arrangement with Israel should now be eliminated from the equation.” A more complete supersessionism is hard to imagine.
It is wearyingly predictable where all this ends up. Zeroing in on the so-called apostolic decree narrated in Acts 15, in which the Jerusalem apostles asked Gentile Christians to refrain from sexual immorality, Stanley concludes:
This was a general call to avoid immoral behavior[,] but not immoral behavior as defined by the Old Testament … [rather,] as defined by the apostle Paul. … The apostle Paul was explicit and specific about sexual immorality but he did not tie it to the Old Testament. … The old covenant, law of Moses, was not the go-to source regarding sexual behavior for the church. … The Old Testament was not the go-to source regarding any behavior for the church.Above all, this is bad exegesis. New Testament scholars such as Markus Bockmuehl have demonstrated that the rules for Gentile converts outlined in Acts 15 themselves go back to the Old Testament’s guidelines for Gentile sojourners in Israel. And Brian Rosner and Richard Hays have shown, for instance, how Paul’s moral instruction for the church in Corinth was modeled directly on Deuteronomy’s legislation, so that, in Hays’s words, “Paul seems to have translated and transferred the basic disciplinary norms of Israel’s covenant community over onto the church. … Paul in effect addresses the Gentile Christians as Israel. God’s word to Israel has become God’s word directly to them.” One cannot pit Paul’s sexual ethics against the Ten Commandments, from which they stemmed.
This is true as far as it goes—Jesus and Paul both agree that the heart of the law is love and that the whole law can be summed up in the twofold command to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves—but it misleads by what it leaves out. In a fallen world, talk about love can mask a kind of relativism. This is why the catechetical tradition of the Christian churches has been united in its use of the Ten Commandments: precisely because it has recognized that we Christians so often fail to discern what real love amounts to, and we need the Old Testament’s commandments to shine a spotlight on our slippery self-justifications. We may intend to treat a sexual partner as God in Christ has treated us, we may try to act toward them out of self-giving love, but the distorting effects of sin mean that we must be told what love looks like in action if we’re not to get it wrong. That divine telling, sadly, is what Andy Stanley’s sermon would keep us from hearing.
Read the whole thing. It shouldn’t be necessary to say this, because everybody should know that argumentum ad hominem is a fallacy, but here it is: Wes Hill is a gay man living chastely out of religious conviction; he has skin in this game.
Within five years, Andy Stanley’s church will be calling itself “inclusive” and “affirming,” because that’s where suburban Americans are, and are headed. Stanley is providing a religious rationale for what his middle class congregation wants to believe in the first place. He is preparing the ground by teaching explicit heresy from the pulpit.
The relationship between Christians and the Old Testament is complex. We cannot cast it aside, as Andy Stanley says, but we are not strictly bound by it either. Christ said that he came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill their teaching. The early Church and theologians of the patristic age discerned what this meant for Christians. As Hill indicates, the teaching of Jesus Christ cannot be properly received outside of the framework God provides in the Old Testament, which is the record of His covenant with the Hebrew people.
Some atheists think they’re really onto something when they cite a verse in Leviticus telling God’s people not to mix textiles or something, and then turn on Christians and say, “The Bible tells you not to do that, but you hypocrites do it. So why don’t you accept gay relationships?” I don’t know that I have ever heard that question asked by someone who truly wants to understand the relationship between the Church and the Old Testament. In the Orthodox Church, we consider the Old Testament to be equal to the New Testament. Both testaments have to be read together to understand who God is, and what he expects of us. It’s not hard to learn about how the early Church understood the relationship between the two Testaments, and the ways that Christians are to understand their relationship to the Law.
What you can’t do is cast aside the Old Testament, as Andy Stanley has done, or to say that Christians are bound to the Law in the same sense that Orthodox Jews are bound to it.
Anyway, I expect Moralistic Therapeutic Marcionism will become quite popular among Christian congregations looking for reasons to abandon the authoritative teaching, via Scripture and Tradition, on homosexuality, without feeling bad about it.