Kanye West claims to be a Christian and declares Jesus is Lord, Savior, and King. Some exclaim, “Praise the Lord for our new brother!” Others mutter, “Let's wait and see if he is a real Christian.”
As Christians, we want to honor Christ and love Kanye West as our neighbor, but what do we do with his public profession of faith?
The two options seem to be an uncritical affirmation of his faith on the one hand and critical rigorism on the other. Critical rigorism says, “Let's wait and see until there is enough time and evidence that proves he really has been converted and born again.” But the other side quips, “You didn't doubt your conversion, so why doubt his?” Both sides accuse the other of judging too quickly.
I don't want to be judgmental in my attitude. Instead, I want to celebrate grace! At the same time, I don't want to be presumptuous. As a pastor, I regularly think about and personally affirm or withhold affirming someone's profession of faith. Pastors do this because the Bible teaches how to publicly affirm someone professing faith in Christ. So I believe that we don't need to be confused or judgmental.
What is the way forward? I suggest we celebrate, hesitate, and contemplate.
Celebrate Kanye's verbal profession that he trusts in Jesus. Praise God for the Bible studies he's having with the faithful pastor and Bible expositor Adam Tyson of Placerita Bible Church. I personally trust Adam’s gospel ministry. Thank God for Pastor Adam's testimony that he has spent time with Kanye and believes Kanye's faith in Christ and repentance from sin is genuine.
Notice how Kanye seems to be repentant in the way he challenged his wife dressing immodestly. In addition, have you listened to his album Jesus is King? Give God credit for giving grace in Kanye making an album that quotes Scripture and testifies to Jesus's lordship. Identify evidence of God's grace, whether saving or common grace, and celebrate it from your heart.
Now comes the sticking point that I haven't read in any article to this point. Hesitate in publicly affirming Kanye's faith.
With all of these evidences of God's grace to celebrate, why on earth would we hesitate in affirming Kanye's Christian beliefs? Now this might sound crazy, but the more you think about the Bible, the more it should make sense.
The reason you should hesitate is that you yourself are not a local gospel-preaching church, and King Jesus has given the keys of the kingdom to the local church to publicly affirm on earth who is a gospel citizen. Listen to King Jesus:
The church exercises binding and loosing “on earth” what has been bound or loosed “in heaven.” For heaven, the local gospel-preaching church makes or withholds this declaration, pronouncement, and affirmation of faith on earth.
But what is a local church? A local church is an assembled group of Christians collectively responsible for each member's profession and practice of faith in Jesus. What does collective responsibility entail? Collective responsibility entails (1) gathering regularly, (2) proclaiming the gospel, (3) communicating (in-communicating via baptism, re-communicating via the Lord's Supper, and excommunicating via church discipline), (4) and discipling one another, their neighbors, and the nations.
So here's the thing. Kanye isn't a church. His Sunday Service is not a church. Pastor Adam, who I personally love and admire, is not a church. Those who write articles or music affirming Kanye's faith are not a local church. Only the local church has the King’s authority to declare on earth who is and isn't a Christian.
As a pastor, I tell others, “I may think you're a Christian, but it doesn't matter what I think. I'm not the local church. Has a local church affirmed and assumed responsibility for your profession of faith?”
When someone like Kanye professes to have converted and become a Christian, the initial next step in following Jesus is baptism. Churches baptize professing Christians. In baptism, both the church and the one baptized publicly affirms that this person is a Christian. 1
The best churches baptize on a credible profession of faith, not hastily. It is not done on mere profession of faith, nor should it be delayed based on a critical rigorism that requires Christian maturity. Baptism into the local church fellowship is the first step for the professing Christian, not the tenth.
So what evidence would prove the profession is credible? A willingness to be discipled and disciplined to obey all that Christ commands (Matt. 28:20) under the authority and accountability of a local church. This is not a rigorous standard of theological maturity or a track record of public changes. It's simply a willingness to obey all Christ commands as he learns the Bible. And according to Matthew, Jesus authorizes the church to teach (28:20), baptize (28:19), take the Lord's Supper (26:26-29), and practice restorative discipline (18:15-20).
Taking the Lord's Supper with the church renews and strengthens this public commitment to Christ, his commands, and his church. Church membership is the mutual understanding of commitment to one another's discipleship. Kanye needs a church to baptize and disciple him as he also disciples them. A church is made up of friends, not fans or employees. He needs a church where some people neither know nor are impressed with his art but love and care for him as a professing Christian and member of their church family.
Has Kanye been baptized? Is he a member of a gospel-preaching church? Though much has been said I haven't heard him or others around him claim that he has taken these first steps. What if a local church refuses to affirm him? I’m sure some churches will be too rigorous. But if any gospel-preaching church affirms his faith publicly then I think Christians like me should recognize that affirmation unless we have clear reason to disagree.
Therefore, Christians should hesitate in affirming Kanye as a public Christian if neither he nor a gospel-preaching church publicly professes his Christianity.
Finally, contemplate the consequences of affirming Kanye's faith before he gets baptized into the fellowship of a local gospel-preaching church.
When we uncritically affirm his faith, we give Kanye confidence in his profession apart from Christ's church. He will have to fight indwelling sin, temptations from the world, and from the tempter who seeks to destroy him — alone. If he is continually affirmed without having a church family exercising collective responsibility, he will lack the gospel structure to strengthen and protect his gospel faith.
Another consequence I fear is that those teaching Kanye the Bible will lose their impact in teaching him to obey all Christ commands. If Bible teachers continue to prematurely affirm Kanye's faith publicly on the one hand while urging him to join a church on the other hand, they hollow out the urgency.
Is it more impactful for Bible teachers to tell Kanye, “I'll publicly vouch for your Christianity even if you are not baptized and joined to a church, but you really need to do that” or to say, “I may think you're a Christian but I'm not sure and I won't vouch for you publicly because Christians obey Christ and the first and most basic step of obedience after conversion is baptism into the fellowship and care of a local church?” I fear it weakens their authority while it strengthens Kanye's temptation to build his own affirmation and spiritual ecosystem.
I don't blame Kanye for not feeling the need to get baptized and join a church. He's professing faith in Christ in a context where churches and pastors don't carefully practice communion.
Lastly, when you affirm Kanye's churchless profession of faith you weaken the opportunity for Christ's exaltation in his church. We miss the opportunity to instruct other professing Christians of their privilege and responsibility to join a local church.
So, celebrate God's grace in Kanye's life and art, hesitate in affirming his faith apart from his baptism into a church fellowship, and contemplate the consequences of uncritical affirmation on the one hand and critical rigorism on the other. This is a middle way that avoids judgmentalism and presumption.
Be encouraged by the evidences of God's grace. Pray for Kanye to follow King Jesus in the fellowship of his church. Pray for God's name to be honored as holy and for his will to be done in Kanye and his family's life. Pray for salvation, growth, joy, holiness, obedience, love, and the spread of the gospel through Christ's people.
But wait for a church to publicly affirm his faith before you do. If you don't, you'll either judge the judgmental or weaken the resolve of the many “churchless Christians” to obey Christ's commands. If you pray and wait you'll honor the Lord's loving commands, edify Kanye, and properly prioritize Christ's local church where every member publicly recognizes that Jesus is King.
P. J. Tibayan is a member and pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Southeast Los Angeles County where he lives with his wife and five children. He blogs at A Christward Life (saintpj.com), helps lead both Shepherd LA and The Gospel Coalition Los Angeles Regional Chapter, and holds a doctorate in biblical theology from Southern Seminary.
Editor’s note: this article was originally published by the SOLA Network in 2019.