Christians living in the 21st century have a grave misunderstanding of the law of God. Many believe the law has been supplanted by grace. Others believe the law stands in tension with grace. Steven Furtick’s now infamous 2-minute excerpt from a July sermon is proof enough of a common thread of ignorance when it comes to biblical theology.
Furtick is clearly not alone in believing “God broke the law for love.” The phrase itself sounds radically gracious, heroic, and courageous. It was so moving when first preached that Furtick received a roaring ovation. I’m often quick to jump the gun on heretical statements like this, sounding the heresy-police-siren for all to hear. But as I’ve reflected on Furtick’s statement my heart has been broken by the glad acceptance of Bible teaching that sounds enough like the gospel to appear true, but actually contradicts the gospel and Christianity.
The erroneous teaching point from Furtick along with the positive response from Furtick’s congregation and many I’ve encountered on social media expose five realities:
1. The pastor needs to embrace his role as resident theologian for his congregation.
Pastor-theologians should not be limited to conference stages or seminary classrooms. Pastors should work to help their people see how the Bible fits together (biblical theology) and how the whole Bible addresses individual topics about God, man, Christ, salvation, church, etc. (systematic theology). Error flows from the pulpits filled by men who fail to embrace their role as resident theologian.
2. Doctrine shapes the overall culture of a church.
Because of his short illustration and point that “God broke the law for love” Furtick has given his congregation, and many others through the Internet, a category for understanding the law and gospel. He has taught a form of antinomianism (anti-law) that produces apathy toward the law and holiness in general. There are countless applications that could be drawn from his sermon that lead to an unhealthy church culture. If God broke his law in order to love his people, then why would we not also violate the law for love? Though the Bible clearly condemns unrepentant sexual immorality, should we simply ignore these “laws” in order to love our brother who is addicted to porn?
I’m not saying Furtick or the people of Elevation Church make these applications, but there is nothing, doctrinally speaking, for any of these applications to be farfetched realities. This is because the doctrine espoused by the preaching and teaching ministries of a church directly impact the daily culture of a church.
3. Churches trust their pastors and what they say each week from the pulpit.
Yes. Intelligent people will follow the teaching of the pastor because he is the man on stage. If they remain uninformed and ignorant of biblical and theological doctrine, they will find themselves roaring with applause over a statement that contradicts the very reason they claim to be in the church.
4. The preaching of the Word should take priority over other (important) ministries.
Preaching is viewed by many churches as little more than a motivational pep talk for another week of service in other areas of ministry. Furtick’s preaching amounts to little more than this, which is why I’m not at all shocked at the revelation of his false teaching. But the reason droves of church-goers struggle to even see a problem with teaching like this is because they have never heard solid, biblical preaching. They have never been a part of a faith family where the preaching of the Word takes primary priority in the life of a pastor. When preaching takes a backseat, false teaching can seep into the fabric of a faith family.
5. The preaching of the Word shapes worldview convictions.
Whether taken as priority number one or not, the preaching pastor has the ability to shape the worldview of his congregation. Pastors are responsible for the spiritual health of their congregation. This is why church membership is so serious. The preaching event is an act of worship, but also a declaration of victory. It is the work of a herald who has received the greatest news in the history of the world. The Lord has communicated his word and will in the 66 books of the Bible. It is the job of the preacher to declare the truths communicated in the Bible as they were communicated in the Bible. Preachers communicate their own worldview, which should be the biblical worldview, and urge their hearers to align their view of the world with that of the Bible. So, for good or ill, the preaching of the world shapes worldview convictions of a congregation.
Pastors and church members alike should guard their hearts from deception and realize the impact of preaching and doctrine on their lives. Church members, judge what flows from the pulpit on the basis of God’s word, not what is culturally trendy at the moment. Pastors, realize the weight of your responsibility and the range of your influence. What you teach and preach shapes the worldview and culture of your congregation. See yourself not as a creative inventor, but rather as a faithful herald, ready at all times to proclaim the truth that the King has come in both righteousness and love to bring his people home.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.