As someone who has run campaigns posting the Ten Commandments on billboards across the U.S., I’m both perplexed and not a little outraged at a certain mega-pastor obsessed with diminishing their power and truth.
Recently, Andy Stanley, pastor of churches in the Atlanta area that draw 33,000 people weekly, has doubled down on his trashing of the Decalogue, the most vital, effective and foundational set of laws for self-government in history.
But more than that, his reasoning runs counter to the spread of the Gospel – the one specific duty Jesus gave all disciples to carry out before His return.
Stanley’s entirely wrongheaded rationale for his war on the Ten Commandments is several-fold:
- The Old Testament law is null and void, having been superseded by one better law offered by Jesus that no Christians post on billboards or monuments – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Stanley contends, “Jesus issued his new commandment as a replacement for everything in the existing list” – including “the big 10” and the entire law of the Torah and the prophets. “Participants in the new covenant,” he writes, “are expected to obey the single command Jesus issued as part of his new covenant: as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
- “The church has a terrible habit of selectively rebranding aspects of the old covenant and smuggling them into the new,” he writes. Evidently for Stanley, that includes the prohibition of murder, adultery, stealing and having other gods before us.
- He blames historical crimes against Jews and others in the name of Christianity on believers embracing of the Hebrew covenants, rather than their abuse of them and efforts at replacement theology or supersessionism.
- He contends that, despite Jesus’ vow not to “destroy the law or the prophets,” even adding, “till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled,” He and His apostles did exactly that after his resurrection.
None of these accusations by Stanley is true. It’s all a lie, a deception, a delusion – the kind Jesus and His apostles emphatically warned about and battled by their own accounts in the New Testament before Jesus’ resurrection and after.
This is what I call Stanley’s “Chick-fil-A theology” – no offense to my favorite fast-food chicken stop whose owners also rightly revere the Ten Commandments. “This is why most Christians don’t mind a little bacon with their eggs,” says Stanley. “It’s why you can’t get either at Chick-fil-A on Sunday.”
I will deal with the repudiation of Stanley’s claims by Jesus and the apostles, but for now, I want to ask a simple question about his motives. Why is Stanley so obsessed in his relentless condemnations of the Ten Commandments? Does he think these laws – actually affirmed by Jesus and the apostles – are burdensome, impossible to keep, that they have served a toxic purpose in world history, that following them would have negative results for individuals and societies, that God made a mistake in giving them to mankind?
What is it?
When I was posting the Ten Commandments on billboards around the country, I was doing so for two reasons:
- To remind believers in the essential laws to which God holds all humanity accountable – not just Jews and Christians, what Luke wrote in Acts 7:38: Moses “was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.” Luke calls that law “the lively oracles” for a reason. They are very much alive after Jesus’ resurrection. And they represent a gift of light, truth and salvation to all nations.
- To evangelize non-believers by confronting them with their sin. Paul explains in Galatians 3:24 that the “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Think of what a schoolmaster does – teaching us things we do not know. Once we leave the schoolmaster, we’re on our own. We can learn our lessons and follow the instruction or not. Most of the world has not yet heard those lessons. That’s why the law and its consequences are so important to spread. It’s why the last thing Jesus did in His resurrected state was to direct His disciples to spread the Gospel using the only Scriptures that existed at that time – the Hebrew Bible, including the law and the prophets. And that’s just what His apostles did – turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6) in the first century.
Again, let me pose this question to Andy Stanley and anyone who agrees with his incessant war on the Ten Commandments: Why should any believer, let alone one of the “shepherds,” diminish or repudiate the Ten Commandments? Why should we run away from them? Why should we want to? Have they not provided inspiration to untold millions for thousands of years? Have they not served to bring many to faith? Can you imagine the consequences of the Christian world heeding Stanley’s advice and rejecting the Ten Commandments in the 21st century?
I don’t know about you, but it makes me shudder to think about it.
Let’s talk about Stanley’s other notion that Jesus intended to dump the Ten Commandments along with all of God’s earlier covenantal promises in the law and the prophets.
Does Stanley believe that repentance from sin is necessary for salvation? Since sin is defined in 1 John 3:4 as “the transgression of the law,” how does one repent, since there is no law, according to the Stanley’s Chick-fil-A theology? What is it that non-believers turn away from to be saved so they can enter into Jesus’ Kingdom? He doesn’t say in his recent article, but I’ll assume Stanley would suggest it’s a matter of obeying the one and only commandment he believes Jesus left us with in John 13:34 – “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
Maybe Stanley and his believers think Jesus was making it easier to get saved by following this one commandment. Maybe they think Jesus was lowering the bar to entry in the Kingdom. The trouble for them is that Jesus never did that. In fact, I would say it is much less burdensome and sacrificial to avoid stealing, murdering and committing adultery than loving like Jesus loved His faithful. Why? Because he gave His life for all of them and each of them. And that’s what Jesus is commanding us to do – to love our spiritual brothers and sisters like He did, even by submitting to an agonizing, torturous death. It’s not just a matter of loving each other, it’s a matter of laying down your life for them.
But there’s another problem with Stanley’s reliance on this one new commandment he believes replaces all others. It’s the way Jesus defines how we love Him – not once, but many times throughout the New Testament. Here’s what He says about how we demonstrate our love to our Lord and King in John 14:15: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
Whoa! Jesus said that? Indeed, He did. In fact, He said it in many different ways for emphasis:
- John 14:21: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”
- John 15:10: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.”
Please note that Jesus kept His Father’s commandments perfectly.
Read the Scriptures for yourself and see if Jesus gives any hint of His desire to dump all other Scriptures for this new one. I don’t. In fact, I see Jesus raising expectations for His followers, not lowering them.
Stanley has suggested it would be more appropriate for Christians to build monuments to the Sermon on the Mount than the Ten Commandments. Odd that he would suggest it, because the Sermon on the Mount clearly enunciates Jesus’ overt support for the inviolability of the Ten Commandments, the law and prophets until heaven and earth pass! (Matthew 5: 17-19) Have heaven and earth passed?
Jesus goes even further – and Andy Stanley should take particular note of this Sermon on the Mount warning: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Emphasis added.) Is that not precisely what Stanley is doing in telling Christians they do not need to observe any of the Ten Commandments – not even pay attention to them?
And listen to Jesus’ own words from the Sermon on the Mount regarding two specific commandments from the big 10:
MURDER – Matthew 5:21-22: “Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”
ADULTERY – Matthew 5:27-28: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Does it sound to you like Jesus is scrapping the commandments or raising the standard? By the way, Jesus summarizes the Sermon on the Mount prescription this way in Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Jesus is not only calling us to love believers like He did, He’s calling us to “perfection.”
Jesus affirmed the Ten Commandments strongly in Mark 10:17-19 as He did in the gospels of Matthew and Luke when a rich man asked Him how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus said: “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.”
When the rich man said he had observed all the laws from his youth, Jesus raised the bar again: “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”
Stanley says His apostles threw out the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. There is absolutely no evidence to support that claim, but there is plenty of Scripture to prove otherwise. Long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, His beloved apostle John wrote what we call today the epistle of 1 John. What do we read there in 1 John 2:4? That anyone who claims they know Jesus as their Lord and Savior and does not keep His commandments is “a liar, and the truth is not in Him.”
In fact, in the very last book of the Bible, Revelation 14:12, written toward the end of the first century, many decades after the resurrection, John – believed to be the last living apostle – said this: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
You will notice that it says “commandments of God” – plural. This was another bold, direct and concise apostolic prescription that defies what Stanley claims. The commandments were not forsaken – not by Jesus and not by His apostles. In fact, according to John, there are two requisites for the perseverance of believers – faith in Jesus and keeping the commandments, plural.
Could this be the end of Andy Stanley’s “Chick-fil-A Theology”?
A few have suggested I must be misinterpreting what Andy Stanley is saying about the Ten Commandments. They can’t believe what I have previously written about this one woefully misbegotten column. Therefore, I include it here for your careful review so that you can see his own words in their original context and compare them scrupulously with my response.
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