By Levi Secord
I like Matt Chandler. I’ve benefited from both his books and preaching. On many central and secondary doctrines, we are closely aligned. In this way, I view him more as an ally than a theological boogeyman. But, I’ve noticed his normal clear thinking is lacking when it comes to issues of race in America. I found his MLK 50 message deeply troubling when he called parishioners who left his church ‘fools’ and when he endorsed racially-based partiality in hiring. I believe such comments are unbiblical and unhelpful. Then this video of Chandler preaching popped-up in my newsfeed. I watched it and felt I should write a reply.
I realize that Chandler is out of my league and that he will likely never see this article, but if by providence he does, then I hope he carefully considers my critiques. In fact, I write this with a heart motivated by Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” These are “wounds” from a friend, not someone trying to snipe from social media. Though I don’t know Chandler, we are both pastors of Christ’s flock, and in some respects, this makes us peers.
To be fair, Chandler affirms some glorious truths in this clip, including that all the world is the church’s blood-bought “inheritance.” For this reason, none of life is off-limits to the Christian witness. But, much of the rest of what he says is off-base, contradictory, and unhelpful. I am only engaging with this clip of his larger message for two reasons. First, The Village Church chose to promote this clip in its current form. Most people who interact with this video will only watch the shorter clip, and so I respond in kind. And second, I cannot engage in a point-by-point critique of an entire sermon in this format.
Six of Chandler’s statements deserve closer scrutiny.
“The predominant leader there [of the Civil Rights Movement] was Martin Luther King Jr.—who we really like right now because he’s dead. I have to believe that if Martin Luther King Jr. were [alive] right now, he’d be a liberal, socialist that everybody despises, but we’ll quote him now because he’s not here to offend us in the now. This is what Jesus means when he says that ‘you love the prophets that are no longer with us, but you don’t like the prophets that are here today.’”
There are two parts of this statement that need breaking down. First, Chandler asserts that King would be a liberal-socialist if he were alive today. This is Chandler’s guess, with no real basis in fact. Based on this assertion, Chandler argues we wouldn’t listen to King today if he were still alive. But, if MLK were a socialist today, he would not be the MLK of history; he’d be a completely different person. One of the reasons King was successful was he appealed to Scripture and the Christian assumptions of our culture that all men are created equal. The greatness of King’s activism was that it pointed to a true, universal moral standard. The wickedness of modern liberalism is that it relativizes everything and turns all problems into struggles for power without any universal morality. This makes the modern Black Lives Matter movement doomed for failure. If King had converted to socialism, then Christians would be right to reject his message. Moreover, it wouldn’t have brought the success it did.
Second, Chandler asserts that based on King’s potential socialism and our subsequent rejection of him, that he is like the prophets of old. He points to Jesus rebuke of the people because it is easy to honor dead prophets (Matt. 23:29-36). Chandler is out on a very thin limb. Jesus’s point was not that the Old Testament prophets’ would change their message and that’s why they would be rejected. Rather, Christ’s point is that the prophet’s message would offend every generation. That message is the call to repentance and faith. In contrast, Chandler argues King’s message would fundamentally change, and that’s why we would reject it. The Pharisees and Scribes, who Christ is pronouncing woes on when he said this, are targeted because they rejected the fulfillment of the prophets’ message—the Messiah.
The modern BLM movement is no fulfillment of the Civil Rights Movement. Instead, it has abandoned the universal principles of Christianity for the wicked ideologies of men, something Chandler admits. If King were to deliver his same message today—that we should judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin—then he would be roundly condemned by many social justice warriors. In this way, King and the modern social justice movement more closely mirror Jesus’s rebuke in Matthew 23:29-36. If King were alive today and did as Chandler said he would, good Christians would be right to rebuke and correct him. Thankfully, no such MLK ever existed.
“In the sixties, the Civil Rights Movement was born out of the church. You study Martin Luther King, there was this pattern—they would meet, they would pray, they would worship, they would go over kind of the rules of the protest, and then they would march. And this was a rhythm that was established by King, so that it was rooted in the church that the church led out, in a very real way, on the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties. And now one of the things that has happened is that the church by-in-large has refused to participate, which means we have turned over—God help us—we have turned over what is our inheritance to dark ideologies.”
There is much truth in these words, but some important context is missing. During King’s time of leading the Civil Rights Movement, dark ideologies attempted to overshadow and overtake it. It is wonderfully true that many in the church, including many white people, supported King’s work (also, many didn’t). Yet, Charles Sykes tells of how King’s message moved northward across the country, it faced many challenges. One challenge was the lessening of the general Christian influence that marked much of Southern life. But chief among the challenges King faced was a radicalization of the Civil Rights Movement. This included calls for violence, something King opposed. Ironically, this radical agenda was supported by the white liberal elites in the North (A Nation of Victims, 67-73). These elites largely rejected King in favor of evil beliefs. These demonic ideologies contended with the church and King for the soul of the civil rights movement. Sadly, such ideologies have largely taken over the movement aided by years of brainwashing in higher education. Therefore, I am not sure it is fair to say the church abandoned the Civil Rights Movement. It seems more accurate to say that after King’s assassination, the Christian influence of the movement was abandoned for lies.
Chandler implies that many Christians refuse to discuss these issues. I, for one, am not a one of these Christians and I know many who have tried to bring the Christian worldview to bear on these issues only to be publicly maligned, attacked, and threatened. Of course, this should not stop our message, but sadly much of these attacks come from those bearing the name of Christ but who are actually following these godless beliefs. I know many good pastors and Christians who desire to have an honest and open discussion about race issues today, but the atmosphere of our age, even within the church, largely prevents this from happening. I say this to our shame—much of the thinking about racism in the church is thoroughly worldly and marked by these ‘dark ideologies.’
Unless these lies are confronted, and unless good-hearted Christians with differing views on this issue can sit down and talk to one another, then nothing will change. Pastor Chandler, you are in a position to help change this reality. You could set up such discussions between brothers who have differences on this topic, will you? This would require bringing together people more on your “side” to sit down with Christians, like Voddie Baucham, who are concerned with the influences of cultural Marxism. If you would do that, those in the broadly Reformed movement would greatly benefit. If you’re not willing to do so, then I fear your words ring hollow.
“Like when you say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to get involved. Let’s just preach the gospel to that. Which, by the way, I find so hypocritical. You don’t just preach the gospel to sex trafficking. You don’t just preach the gospel on the issue of life and abortion. No, you act! It’s like this brain-broke disjoint that’s got us acting absurd.”
Chandler’s point here is well-made, though inconsistent. The secularization of the Christian faith is a major issue. It is unbiblical to exile our faith only to ‘spiritual’ realities. To any who say Christianity doesn’t address problems in law and culture, I too decry such naiveté. Yet, Chandler fails to note there is a big difference between racism and abortion. Legally, abortion is allowed and protected by the systems of power of our day. The Christian witness must demand the evil of government-protected abortion to cease. Racial discrimination, in many ways, is illegal, according to the Civil Rights Act and anti-discrimination laws. The systems of governmental power are now decidedly against discrimination and have repented of the sins of Jim Crow laws. This informs some of the differences between why we call for “action” on abortion and emphasize heart change (which still includes actions) for racism.
Many Christians support actions and reforms. Unfortunately, Black Lives Matter is calling for the abolition of the police, and this sheer idiocy is something I assume Chandler rejects. Right now, in Minneapolis, they are discussing making it easier to fire bad police officers by lessening the power of the police union. As long as this process of removing officers is fair, I am in total support of such a measure. Conservatives have long lamented the unintended negative consequences of modern unions. My question to Chandler is, “What actions should Christians support?” Defunding the police is a non-starter, but what other actions does Chandler promote? I am all for weighing such things before God’s word, just name them, and we can discuss their validity.
“You cannot point out all the flaws in this current movement while you have abandoned the place we were meant to play.”
At several points, Chandler tells us there are “dark ideologies” and “demonic” influences in this current movement. I am thankful he admits this, but this reality makes his above statement puzzling. Why should we speak against some dark ideologies (racism), and remain silent in the face of others? Doesn’t the gospel call us to confront every sinner? If we refuse to call out people following these demonic beliefs, do we not leave them in their own damnation? How is that loving?
It is true that we do not point out every flaw all the time, but if there really are demonic influences in this current movement, then how can the church ignore that and remain faithful to her mission? This is no small question, and it is one Chandler must explain. Again, many Christians are attempting to retake our proper place, but this means opposing all the dark ideologies. Yet, I’ve found it is exactly these people, the ones calling everyone to repent, who get brushed aside by comments similar to Chandler’s.
“And ignore the sorrow and lament of 12 to 13 million image-bearers in our country. You can’t do that. We mourn with those who mourn.”
Throughout the current discussion, many Christians have appealed to Romans 12:15 to support their cause. In this verse, we are commanded to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” This section of Scripture is set within the framework of the local church and Christian unity. Moreover, it is set in the context of genuine love, one that hates evil and clings to good (Rom. 12:9). To put it another way, the moral standards of Scripture must inform who we weep and rejoice with.
For example, if someone is rejoicing in the unjust killing of George Floyd, Christians certainly shouldn’t join in with it. But doesn’t Paul tell us to rejoice with those who rejoice? The truth and morality of said action must guide our response for our love is to be “genuine, hating evil and clinging to good.” Of course, I would gladly mourn with people who knew George Floyd and who were deeply impacted by this apparent injustice, assuming they understand it truthfully. Yet, since Chandler admits there are demonic forces behind the current social justice ideology, what if those forces are driving some of this weeping? Should we weep with those weeping if this sorrow is the result of following darkness? No, of course not. I will not weep with those who use tragedies as a way to manipulate others. I will not weep with those who push dark and demonic agendas through their weeping. I will not weep against an injustice if that weeping has been weaponized to push another injustice. The call to weep and rejoice with others is not a blanket, universal command. Rather, it must be done according to the morality of Scripture. As we rejoice and mourn with others, we must do so rightly.
“And yes, there are demonic and evil ideologies at play, but there is the people of God are meant to run with light and the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
This is where Chandler appears to contradict himself. Earlier, he told us not to just preach the gospel, but here we are to bring the gospel in. How and why? When is it okay to preach the gospel, and when is it inappropriate? If it is true that demonic beliefs have infiltrated this movement, then aren’t Christians duty-bound to call such a movement to repentance? What standard governs Chandler’s thinking on when to employ the gospel and when not too? Are we only allowed to preach if we pay the proper cultural dues first? I wish Chandler would have fleshed this out more because he appears to contradict himself.
I’m encouraged that Chandler recognizes the presence of demonic influences behind the current social justice movement. But if this admission is more than a rhetorical bone thrown to people like me, then the presence of these dark beliefs must inform our Christian response. Chandler says he wants the church to take the lead, but to do that, we must speak uniquely as Christians, not as individuals following these dark worldviews. Will Chandler back up his words here? Again, as a leader in the broadly Reformed movement, he could reach across the divide to people like Voddie Baucham, Darrell Harrison, John MacArthur, etc. to formulate a unified approach. The broadly Reformed movement would greatly benefit if those who lean in Chandler’s direction would sit down and discuss with their brothers who are concerned about the influence these dark ideologies are having on the church. In order for such a discussion to be beneficial, it needs to be frank and needs to include those who actually disagree on substantive issues. Above all, these discussions must be had with our Bibles open.
If Chandler and others truly desire for the church to be that light, to lead this discussion in a distinctively Christian way, then the sniping from behind cameras needs to stop as well. I wait hopefully for Chandler to make such a move, for, without it, the church will never lead our nation in this discussion. Instead, we will either be stuck following these godless beliefs, or remain distracted by our in-fighting as the world burns around us.
Levi J. Secord serves as a pastor at Riverview Baptist Church in West St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree. Levi, his wife, and their three boys live in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they spend their time slaying dragons.