A Story of Church Discipline at Mars Hill Church in Seattle

One of my favorite bloggers has posted links detailing a case of church discipline at Mars Hills Church in Seattle. I was not an Acts 29 pastor but I was a pastor at a church that was planted as one and now no longer is. Get all that?

Regardless, this has the ring of truth to my ears. And not just because I’m cynical. Or disgruntled.

There is a breed of person who should probably not read this story. At least not yet. If you think it cannot be true or you are blinded by celebrity worship, then move along to the bow of the ship with your instruments.

Those who want to proceed, go ahead and hit the link above and then come back here…

Are you back? There are a lot of things wrong with this but in my mind the gravest is the letter sent out on The City. But maybe that’s because I’ve been the subject of discussion on The City. And it was not edifying discussion. Only because a good friend alerted me to it, did I know and was able to defend myself. I was not able to access site personally.

I’d much rather write about Flannery O’Connor than this. But these kinds of things need to be discussed, especially if Driscoll is going to hold up his congregation for the world to see as the standard.

Let me make myself clear hear. I believe in church discipline. The great majority of the theology taught at Mars Hill, I adhere to. And love.

But this reeks of something other than caring discipline. It has all the hallmarks of authoritarianism. Or something worse. Remember this guy went to them and confessed. Again. And again.

Feel free to discuss in the comments. All attempts to go after me will be left up and laughed at. 😉

15 thoughts on “A Story of Church Discipline at Mars Hill Church in Seattle

  1. Jacob Riggs January 25, 2012 / 2:50 pm

    I also believe in church discipline, although I've never been a part of a church where I knew it was happening. I don't see how this situation applies to Mt 18 because the individual did not have to be approached by someone who knew about his secret sin. He confessed and repented because of the Spirit working in him already. Everything else that happened afterward seemed superfluous. Also, why didn't the female involved have all those meetings and have to sign a contract? Maybe that wasn't mentioned.Also, the response on MPT's blog was crazy. A TON of people angry at the church that this situation isn't going to help.

  2. Woody January 25, 2012 / 6:42 pm

    sounds like mormons to me, masquerade?

  3. Rachel Garcia, CD(DONA) January 25, 2012 / 7:34 pm

    It's sad on so many levels. 1) the fact that HE confessed and they turned around and said he was living in "unrepentant sins." He repented. He was willing to do what he needed to (many meeting) to show his contrition and willingness to hear them out. 2) This type of abuse will not encourage an honest community there at MH. Pretty sure that if any of those deacons/elders are struggling with pornography (which recent studies show that 60% do) they will definitely NOT be telling their peers. And why would you? There is no safety. There is no reason to feel that you would be loved, cared for, given the grace that comes from confession and healing. 3) It makes me so sad because I am a recovering legalist and I know that I would have fit very well into the MH congregation. Oh, he did this, you say. WELL CRUCIFY HIM. Im sure that in Matt 18, "bring it to the church" would have included a testimony from the person being disciplined. But OH NO, that's too risky.. he's a liar.. see he was lying this whole time. Good grief, is there any ability to see the glaring PLANK in their own eyes. I am thankful that others are covering Adam in prayer and support and that he is getting counseling. And don't get me started on the theology that it was all Adam's fault because the lady is the weaker vessel. That's a load of crap if I've ever heard any. Good gracious. Their judgement will be heavy in that day because these "teachers" are putting an insane yoke around the necks of the men in their church. Gross misuse of God's Word. Gross misunderstanding of Church discipline and a GROSS lack of Mercy and grace for a fellow believer that had the courage to confess. I bet half that congregation would NEVER confess the daily sin they hide. And sadly from them, will never experience true freedom.

  4. Brian Fulton January 25, 2012 / 8:48 pm

    Many things here I think for Mars Hill: 1) We are only hearing one side. 2) Why would Matthew Turner ask this guy permission to post this world wide when it was not meant to be public on the internet? Why would this guy agree? What is Turner's intentions here? 3) We do not know all the details. Many things I think for the dude in the story and others like him: A) The scripts on how to respond are too "authoritative." State principles, not scripts. Low Control and High Accountability should be the posture of the church leadership. B) A churchwide email to the entire body may be too large of a scope (thousands) of who needed that letter. C) This is the problem when churches get so large, it becomes herding cattle. Pastors are specialists, not pastors. Why wasn't this stuff done in person?D) Remember, restoration is the goal of church discipline.Its really hard to objectively respond without more details. Therefore, I really feel like the blog post by Turner is not a beneficial. I hate the non-believing world knows Christians by our attack of each other.

  5. Anonymous January 25, 2012 / 9:09 pm

    Church discipline is necessary in cases of EXTREME hardheartedness and unrepentant members. This does not seem to be the case at all. I have a unique perspective on Church discipline. When I was 14 years old my father was excommunicated from our Reformed Presbyterian Church. This came after 20 years of hiding the abuse of my mother, many sexual transgressions I shudder to think about, and the neglect of his responsibilities as a father. While the pattern of sin had a long history, the church elders had quite frankly turned a blind eye to this behavior. Then we had a fresh young pastor who refused to. To make matters worse, I still feel guilt for being used as a witness against my father. You see, he had a mental illness that was not being factored in to the equation at all. He refused to jump through hoops to satisfy their judgement of "godly sorrow unto repentance" and was excommunicated in a special ceremony right before communion one Sunday. Of coarse, my mother and all of her children were unaware of this decision/timing and were traumatized and humiliated as we sat in our pew. My father and mother were never reconciled, as was the elders hope. My siblings and I grew up with little to no contact from the only father we knew and loved. My brother was ostracized from his only positive male influence (Boy Scouts/ Awanas) and subsequently spent a majority of his adolescence in Juvenile Dentition and group homes. Several of my sisters and I were sexually molested because we were easy targets without a father to protect us. THIS is all a direct consequence of ill fitting church discipline. And I barely scratched the surface. More than that, a soul that will never die might have been hardened against a loving, forgiving, merciful GOD. Oh, that we could be more like him.

  6. Matthew B. Redmond January 25, 2012 / 9:25 pm

    Anon, I really appreciate this. I am sure it's not easy to deal with still. And I think you are totally correct.

  7. Matthew B. Redmond January 25, 2012 / 9:31 pm

    Brian, This IS the other side of the story. One that no one would have asked for within the Acts 29 community and Driscoll fan base. They were instructed to not even ask, only shun.

  8. Andrea Francine January 26, 2012 / 7:08 am

    I am sorry that my first post on your blog is to somewhat disagree, Mr. Redmond, but I am not sure that a couple of blog entries with attachments (however sad and troubling) gives more than one side of a story of church discipline, a story which cannot but have many sides, most of which are not and should not be posted on the Internet.Mark Driscoll is not someone who engenders the benefit of the doubt, so I can see why some would attribute the basest of motives to the Mars Hill Church (MRC) leadership. I know that they are supposed to be a bunch of knuckle-draggers with antediluvian beliefs but maybe, just maybe, something other than puerile power-tripping made them think that accountability measures were necessary. Confession and repentance are not synonyms. One is necessary for the other, but repentance is about reconciliation, not solely an admission of wrongdoing or feelings of remorse. MRC’s reconciliation process included a discipline plan that was excessive on some points, but the church was not necessarily wrong to have a plan at all. To hear some people tell it, the problem was not that discipline was inordinately severe but that it was even introduced, as if any attempt by a church to administer discipline is a blatant contraction of Christ’s teaching. I wonder if the nature of the sin has something to do with it. What if instead of engaging in pre-marital consensual sexual activities, a man confesses to cheating an employee or a customer? He confesses, attends a bone-wearying marathon of meetings with church elders, confesses separate but related sins, until finally he is asked to submit to a plan of discipline. Would that be out of order? He has confessed, he is repentant, he is forgiven and loved by God and church, all. Does that mean there should not be any accountability measures, even where there is demonstrable weakness? And if he refuses to submit to the discipline plan, what then? I will agree all day that there ought to be some sort of appeal process, but if a church member outright refuses to submit to a plan of discipline, what is a church supposed to do? Just take his name off the list, as was suggested? Maybe it is the inner ex-Catholic in me, but that makes farce of the Sacraments, which include church discipline. Of course, as we have seen from this story, church leadership can have its own way of making a farce of things.The situation is sad all around.

  9. Andrea Francine January 26, 2012 / 7:48 am

    P.S. For some reason I was reminded of this passage from the essay "The Paradoxes of Christianity" in “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton: “Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things – pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people. But if we ask ourselves (as we did in the case of pride) what a sensible pagan would feel about such a subject, we shall probably be beginning at the bottom of it. A sensible pagan would say that there were some people one could forgive, and some one couldn’t: a slave who stole wine could be laughed at; a slave who betrayed his benefactor could be killed, and cursed even after he was killed. In so far as the act was pardonable, the man was pardonable. That again is rational, even refreshing; but it is a dilution. It leaves no place for a pure horror of injustice, such as that which is a great beauty in the innocent. And it leaves no place for a mere tenderness for men as men, such as is the whole fascination of the charitable. Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. It was not enough that slaves who stole wine inspired partly anger and partly kindness. We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”The last few lines especially resonated with me in thinking about what happened. The propriety or logistics of church discipline aside, this was an opportunity to make room for the good things to run wild, and it was missed to the heartbreaking loss of all involved. May God be with them all.

  10. Matthew B. Redmond January 26, 2012 / 2:38 pm

    Andrea, I am sure there are some who have questioned the legitimacy of discipline in any case. I have now read about 20 posts on this situation and yet to find one though. I am certainly not of that opinion. You and others keep saying there must be more to the story – there is another side to the story. Here's the thing, this is the other side of a story sent in a letter to thousands.

  11. Anonymous January 27, 2012 / 3:57 am

    I am so flabbergasted and grieved that it is difficult to put together a reasoned response. Where is the weeping with a brother? Where is love and compassion for someone who is devastated by his sin and crying out for help? This young man asked for bread and has been given a stone. Is the goal of discipline to beat down or to build up? To destroy or to restore? Should not his confession have helped this young man to feel a load roll off his back rather than have more weight heaped upon him until he could barely stand? Where is the wise and godly man who has been down the same road (and there are many!) and can come alongside, counsel, guide, and teach, even to hold accountable?Is this how we treat our children? If so, they learn to keep quiet about their sin rather than to confess and ask for forgiveness and help. This is the climate in which Pharisees are nurtured. Then we call ourselves successful because our children are "good." In this kind of church, believers dare not let down their guard for a moment lest they too be ground under under the jack boot of the graceless and merciless law. Sin must be hidden and denied. Safety is found in adhering to the law.I've always loved the Chesterton quote, Andrea. I so appreciate your insight and wisdom. And I'm challenged by the reminder that compassion for the one who has been treated wrongly should not obscure the need to love those who are involved in that treatment."Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." I Cor. 8:1"…he who comes to me, I will in no wise cast out." John 6:37Ellen

  12. Andrea Francine January 27, 2012 / 5:13 am

    Hello, oh, I know, I saw the response upthread. It’s surely dull to keep hearing something that seems nothing so much like willful denial of the self-evident, so apologies for being a bore. I just see things a bit differently. A story like this will have at least two sides but not only two sides. Maybe it is wrong to use the word “sides,” and rather than get lost in sides and angles and other geometry, I will say that what has been made public are only managed glimpses into something personal and painful, and something it feels like a betrayal to even look upon. When I say I think there is more to the story, I am not taking the word of a “religious machine” over a penitent man. I mean that while I may cry havoc over a method or severity of discipline, I am not in a position to pronounce whether discipline in this case was or was not legitimate. I don’t know what transpired during those counseling sessions and/or harangues, and I am not looking for even wider glimpses into a harrowing experience. But my saying all that is not an attempt to bestow some kind of sanction on the “shun” letter that MHC sent to its congregants or the way that the church leadership meted out discipline. Nor is it to deny that someone was treated with somewhat less than the dignity and care he is due as an image bearer of God and a brother in Christ. Maybe it seemed like I was an MHC apologist because I mentioned the letter only in passing when I first posted. That was my oversight; I got stuck on the question of discipline, accountability and reconciliation and never moved off of it, I guess because most of the posts I had come across had focused on that. Thank you.

  13. Redeemed January 27, 2012 / 5:13 am

    Matt and Brian,We were also shunned by our community group at Mars Hill, by our friends. I was not privy to how this was directed (in community group or via the City), but not one friend came and asked us for our side of the story before agreeing to cut us off.Read the letter again…they instruct them to cut off the person and not allow them to express their side only try to discuss their sin and discipline! Brian you can read my story at the wartburg watch. And we did not sin, unless you consider disagreeing and questioning and choosing not to continue attending or becoming members a sin.

  14. Andrea Francine January 27, 2012 / 5:28 am

    Hello Ellen, just a note to say that the first sentence of your post flawlessly encapsulates why it has been such a challenge for me to articulate my thoughts. Flabbergasted, grieved, straining for a reasoned response indeed.Blessings.

  15. Andrea Francine January 27, 2012 / 1:50 pm

    …gah, what seemed clear at night, in the morning is somehow even more obscure…in the first paragraph “managed glimpses” was referring to the ordered and interpreted account in the MHC letter, not only the account on MPT’s blog which provided context, perspective and counter to the other account.

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