Since I posted and linked about the church discipline case at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, I have heard from a number of people, nearly all finding this kind of thing abhorrent. But a few others have pushed back a little and defended the actions of Mars Hill. Others think I and others have been too quick to judge. I’ve heard from a few folks once connected with Mars Hill and all were not surprised. I also heard from a Mars Hill pastor. He thinks I have made a mistake in judging them.
I’d like to list out some responses and sundry thoughts which have been brewing in my mind over the last couple of days.
1. The first thing that needs to be discussed is the opinion of those who think this (Andrew’s story) is only one side of the story and we need to reserve judgement till we hear the other side. This is not only ridiculous, it is also false. Andrew’s story is the other side of the story. Remember, the letter was sent out first to thousands of people on The City. Would the Mars Hill leadership have wanted anyone in the congregation to seek out the other side of the story after sending out that letter? Actually, we know the answer. They told them to shun him and to only communicate to him his need of repentance. We already know what the leadership thinks of Andrew and his behavior. The only people who think we need to wait around to hear more from Mars Hill are the kind of people who take the word of the respected megachurch leader over the defenseless.
2. “But Matt, don’t you think he needs accountability?” If by accountability you mean authoritarian control straight out of a cult group’s handbook, then no. No one needs that kind of accountability. There is nothing of the sort laid out for us in Scripture. If Christians want to voluntarily subject themselves to such a thing among friends, then fine. OK, have fun with that. But for a church to require accountability that demands such personal and intimate details has veered into a legalism that only makes sense in the worldview of cult-like leaders and followers.
3. I didn’t have a sister growing up. But Julie “Jules” Head Groves was pretty darn close. Her big brothers are some the best friends a guy could have. When she read about all this, she said, “They might as well have stamped a letter “A” on him.” It’s a brilliant point. I wish I had thought of that literary allusion. It’s perfect. if you’ve read Hawthorne’s sad masterpiece, it would be easy to find the Mars Hill leadership in the story. And the contract. And the “letter” sent out on The City.
4. Who are we to require more signs of repentance than Jesus did? Whatever happened to, “Go and sin no more?” I have not read the parable of the prodigal son in a while but if I remember correctly there was no contract to sign, just grace. I mean, maybe the leadership of Mars Hill thinks asking the repentant to sign a discipline contract is like a hug followed by a party.
5. Where are the voices of reason within my own theological tribe? Where is John Piper and D.A. Carson, et al? Do they not care about this? Do they only care if Driscoll cusses but not about the church culture he has created? If TGC and T4G and all the Reformed bigwigs say nothing, then we can assume they have no problem with Mars Hill’s discipline contracts.
6. The neo-calvinistic folks love to wield the word gospel around like a whip with which to keep others in line. OK, let’s do it. This is a gospel issue. Either he is forgiven by God without having to jump through hoops or not. Andrew is either repentant or not. Why the need for hoops? When I read Horton’s Putting Amazing Back into Grace years ago, I remember one particular chapter in particular. It was all about the hoops we all felt like we had to jump through to gain God’s favor. Why should Mars Hill require hoops when God required Jesus? John Piper once asked what I thought was a great question, “Why should the doors of the church be more narrow than the gates of heaven?” So I ask “Why should any church require hoops God does not?” “I know Jesus forgives you but, well, we need you to sign a contract to make sure you really, really mean it. Really.”
7. I am now part of the story of two Acts 29 churches. One’s core group was a ministry I started. The other is the church I recently resigned from but has not been an Acts 29 church for almost a year. The reason I was attracted to this church planting group was the prophetic urgency of the gospel of grace. But even though there are certainly very good pastors involved with Acts 29, I would not attend one of their churches. The prophetic voice is always directed elsewhere. Where is the Paul, who will look in the eye of Peter and call him on it? For some reason we think it’s so courageous to have a famous Acts 29 pastor go to a very broad conference and hit a home run and blow away the ones with poorer theology. What’s so courageous about that? Courage would be saying publicly, “I am an Acts 29 pastor and I’ve had enough.” Why will this not happen? Because they are either afraid or think it is no big deal. Or church discipline contracts are laudable.
8. Last thing. Let’s assume for a moment that this is an isolated incident. Some seem to be taking it as such. “Why are you so worked up about this?” Just a couple of weeks ago we heard an interview in which the leader of Mars Hill challenged a British interviewer by pointing to the success of Mars Hill compared to the small church the interviewer goes to. Maybe you think that is OK….not sure how, but maybe you do. Here’s the thing, should we not be able to evaluate a church based on how it treats its members? And not only by how many members and attenders there are? If you can point to the numbers and proclaim success to the world, can’t others point to a church discipline contract and say, “legalism?” If this is not legalism, then what is?