Danny Cortez and New Heart Church have clearly communicated their stance to Southern Baptists in Danny’s most recent blog post. Here’s a response from a fellow Southern Baptist pastor in the same Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association. The state and national convention have already disfellowshipped New Heart Church. The Los Angeles association will vote on the matter this coming Saturday.
Unity, the Lord’s Table, and God’s Grace
Jesus prayed for unity among his disciples (John 17.20-23). This unity is not an institutional unity like the Roman Catholic Church supposes, but a spiritual unity of all true believers united to Christ Jesus being born again by the Spirit with repentance of sin and faith in the gospel message. This spiritual unity should be expressed relationally and practically as opportunities arise. This is what Danny wants within our association and convention. But this unity is seen most clearly in the local church, which is the frontline expression of God’s kingdom to the world around us. Secondarily, this unity is seen in our evangelical unity across denominations centered on the gospel message. This is not a prayer against denominations as if there should only be one denomination. Denominations in evangelicalism are groups disagreeing on secondary matters but united on the evangel (the gospel), thus an evangelical unity. Denominations are institutional. Evangelicalism is not. Jesus is not praying for an institutional unity but a spiritual, commissional, and doctrinal unity centered on the gospel message.
Danny thinks the biggest impediment to the spread of the gospel is our disunity on the denominational level evidenced by our willingness to disassociate from some churches. That is a misunderstanding of Jesus’ prayer as a prayer for a single denomination that doesn’t disassociate from others on secondary issues within evangelicalism. That is misunderstanding Jesus’ prayer as a prayer for institutional unity that would squash legitimate diversity. Danny wouldn’t argue for a single denomination, but I don’t know how else to apply his understanding of unity to denominations. I look forward to him clarifying his understanding on this point.
Our churches and convention also want places that affirm we are one body, with one Lord, and one faith. New Heart is not the only church wanting that though he frames that as a contrast with us. But there are still good reasons for denominations to affirm evangelical unity while disassociating denominationally. Danny agrees that there are some disagreements that separate professing Christians. He holds the line on Triniatarianism which excludes many who profess Christianity. I agree with that line. But my point is that even Danny agrees that there should be “disunity” at some point. He just draws his line at a different point than the Southern Baptist Convention. We have good reasons for drawing the line where we do. Danny’s lines and reasons for them are not so clearly articulated because he frames his church’s position under the banner of unity without addressing the necessary corallary of disunity with those who are not under that “united” banner.
One must understand that if being inclusive leaves at least someone out then being inclusive also necessarily involves being exclusive. No Christian should affirm that all humans are united as Christians just by virtue of being human. Or American. Therefore Danny’s vision also excludes some. Danny states that they don’t want to move away from others but with others. Southern Baptists wanted to move away from them in terms of associating. But why? Paul tells us to disassociate from people (2 Timothy 3:5; 1 Corinthians 5.9-11). So does Jesus (Matthew 18.17). When Danny quotes Jesus from Matthew 7, it’s quite telling that he stops short of the full paragraph. He conveniently stops at verse 4: ““Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? But what does verse 5 say? How does Jesus end the thought? “Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Danny has little place for what removing specks are from others’ eyes, confronting sin, exercising church discipline, and refuting error. Except for the area of disunity.
That is why we have different ideas of administering grace. Danny defines administering grace as leaving space for disagreement while sharing in the Lord’s table. I understand administering grace as proclaiming and applying the forgiveness of God for all sins through one’s repentance from sin and faith in Jesus’ death for sins. All, everyone, without exception, who comes to God through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from sin are welcome and able to experience forgiving grace. But those who don’t repent or trust in Christ can’t experience such grace.
The Problem with Third Way Theory
Danny claims that the SBC is already third way on the issue of divorce, remarriage, and the resulting adultery. He’s right that Southern Baptists have been inconsistent with our practice of biblical divorce and remarriage. Pastors have performed weddings for illegitimately-divorced spouses leading them into adultery. Pastors themselves have been illegitimately divorced and yet the churches and associations affirm their pastoral ministry. This is sinful and wrong. It is displeasing in the Lord’s sight because it dishonors him, marriage, our churches, and those we lead. We must repent, confront the sin, and seek to correct this trend among our ranks. This requires public confession for some of us. Our convention unanimously affirmed a public resolution on this in 2010. So it is on us to practically and publicly repent and hold our fellow pastors and churches accountable.
Third way theory implodes at the Lord’s table. The Lord’s supper is where we remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s where we show unity as a church body, affirming each others’ discipleship in Christ. As Mark Dever says, the Lord’s Supper is for sinners, but only repentant sinners. The Apostle Paul expects this standard in 1 Corinthians 5.9-13 and 11.19, 27-32.
Danny argues that though his church members disagree on whether LGBT activity is sinful, they still unite taking the Lord’s Supper together. This shows their professed unity in Christ. But it also shows that those who think LGBT activity is a sin also affirm the Christianity of those who are actively living a monogomous LGBT lifestyle. So while they say it’s a sin, their sharing the table is “gay-affirming” in the sense of affirming the Christianity of LGBT professing Christians. You either include or exclude those professing Christians who are active in same gender sexual relations. In that very important and biblical sense, Danny and New Heart are NOT a third way church but the “gay-affirming” church he said he’d step down from if that’s what the church became. That’s what Danny doesn’t seem to understand about Al Mohler’s point. At the table you are not a third way, you either affirm the profession of Christianity by those who are LGBT practicing or you don’t. If you take communion with them you affirm their profession of faith. If you don’t take communion with them then you don’t. There is no third option or way at the table. You can’t half take communion.
Unless you allow everyone to come to the table, then you’re inclusivity of some is exclusivity of others. Danny called it segregation. Can Mormons come to the table at New Heart Church? Or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or Roman Catholics? Or unrepentant adulterers who are convinced their sexual activity is not sinful?
This brings us to the reason for the state and national convention decisions. Our denomination and association actively uphold associations with churches. By maintaining association with a church that affirms LGBT practicing professing Christians by admitting them to the table, the local association and conventions are affirming the practice of this church as being acceptable within the association of churches. If we maintain our association with New Heart Church as they currently stand, then our association now becomes LGBT-affirming as well. In other words, for the association, the third way is inherently inconsistent and impossible to sustain once the Lord’s supper and formal association of churches are considered.
So What about Danny and New Heart Church?
Danny is trying to create space for this discussion and debate within our association and convention. He says that we can’t know for sure so we should be open and continually learning. But on this issue, he fits the description that Paul asserts in 2 Timothy 3:7, “always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Is Danny Cortez a brother in Christ? I hope and pray so, but I don’t know for sure. Is he a false teacher? On this point he is teaching something false. He believes LGBT sexual activity is not sinful. He also teaches that churches and Christians should make space for disagreeing on this point while at the same time admitting them to the table and affirming them as truly Christian. That is false teaching. Is he a qualified pastor? No, since pastor/elder/overseer must be “holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (Titus 1.9). Do the New Heart Church members have the right as a group to recognize Danny as a qualified pastor? Yes, it’s a free country and they can do that if they like. That doesn’t mean they’re correct biblically or obeying God. So are you saying that the members of New Heart Church are sinning in affirming Danny as their pastor? Yes, because they are actively affirming and following Danny Cortez as their leader when he’s leading them to sin in affirming LGBT practice as permissible within Christianity by sharing the communion table with them. If the members of the church who think LGBT practice is sinful before God according to Scripture, then they should not affirm Danny Cortez as their pastor nor share the table with those who do not see the LGBT practice as sinful. What should the Los Angeles association (LASBA) do? LASBA would be sinning by continuing association with New Heart Church. So they should disassociate.
So how should we serve those who are professing faith in Christ and practicing LGBT sexual activity?
We should love them by allowing them in our gatherings, talking to them, listening carefully to their heart, pain, and perspective, speaking the biblical truth in love, and calling them to faith and repentance. Then, if moved to repentance by God’s grace and kindness, we can and must take communion together and celebrate God’s manifold grace to all of us sinners.