Responding to some members who accused him of “bowing to Caesar,” Pastor Andy Stanley of Atlanta’s North Point Community Church explained why his church decided to suspend services until 2021. The decision, he said, is not “left-wing, Marxist agenda,” but based on what’s central to the Christian faith.
In a video message, Stanley said the megachurch’s decision is based on the true stance of the Christian faith.
“We did not suspend services because of government pressure; there was none," he emphasized. "We’re not afraid, we’re not bowing to social, cultural or political pressure.”
There’s a storm of confusion right now due to three things, the leader of the multi-campus church pointed out.
One, everything is politicized, he said. There are no neutral topics right now — from school reopenings to masks and the virus; everything is politicized and no one is neutral, he explained.
Two, he said, cancel culture is prevalent. “If you say something I don’t like … or agree with, I’d discount everything you’ve ever said and everything you’ve ever accomplished in your life,” he noted.
Stanley told church members he’s been at the receiving end of the cancel culture.
“I’ve gotten quite a few voicemails, emails and actual letters to my home from longtime church attenders who are leaving or who’re telling me they are leaving our churches because of our decision to suspend services for the remainder of this year,” he said.
Some have said he’s “bowed to Caesar” and adopted a “left-wing, Marxist agenda,” and therefore they’re leaving the church.
Stanley added that he’s been calling almost everyone who’s responded in such a way and whose numbers he could find. He said when he convinces them that it’s wise to suspend services, they acknowledge how much the church means to them and their children.
Every such conversation ends on a friendly note, the pastor said, adding that he hopes they don’t actually leave the church.
Three, there’s a version of Christianity that “I’ve worked very, very hard to help avoid.” And that’s "culture-war Christianity."
“This is the version of Christianity consumed with winning,” he explained. “It’s a version that sees itself perpetually under attack and consequently feels the need to attack back. It requires an enemy for sustainability.”
He said he knows this version well because he grew up with this version.
It is a “perversion of our faith,” he stressed, adding that it also “sets the church up to be a tool of politicians rather than the conscience of the nation.” This type of Christianity is more concerned about winning than loving.
During His earthly ministry, everybody wanted Jesus to take their side. But Jesus refused to do so. Quoting Philippians 2:6, the pastor said, Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”
Unlike the 21st century people, “Jesus did not play to win,” he said. “Jesus played to lose.”
And “that’s because He was playing a completely different game that had completely different rules with a completely different win.”
“Jesus played to lose so that the other team, which includes you and I, could win,” Stanley added.
The pastor then read Philippians 2:7, “Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
He explained, “The church looks more like Christ when we are defending other people’s rights, rather than our own.”
He said his church has chosen to suspend services “not because that’s best for us.”
The “best thing for me (or for us) is to open up as soon as possible,” he said. “That would be a win for us. That would be a loss for our community both in terms of what could happen and in terms of the message it sends.”
While making the announcement about the suspension of services last month, Stanley said, “Based on the uptick in COVID-19 cases, the results of our attendee surveys and the experiences of churches that have already reopened we’ve decided to suspend in-person adult worship services for the remainder of the year.”
Writing on Facebook, he explained that it was a difficult decision to make as the church was hoping to start gathering again on Aug. 9 but the pandemic disrupted that plan.
“Now as you would imagine, that was not a casual decision. In fact, back in May when we announced a possible August 9 reopening, the COVID numbers were actually moving in the right direction. That has changed. Consequently, we cannot guarantee your safety and that’s a big part of this decision,” Stanley said at the time. “Even if we did reopen, we certainly would not be able to create a quality adult or children’s worship experience with social distancing protocols in place.”
The Summit Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Durham, North Carolina, whose pastor is the denomination's president, has also announced that it won't be holding services for the remainder of the year due to COVID-19. Instead, it will be hosting small home-based gatherings in a push toward making disciples.