A Story of Church Discipline at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Part 2

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?

8 thoughts on “A Story of Church Discipline at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Part 2

  1. Andrea Francine January 27, 2012 / 3:31 pm

    Regarding #1, I tried in the other post’s combox to clarify so here I will just say that if there is anything I am doing it is NOT weighting more the Mars Hill account or waiting for more from Mars Hill. I do not prefer the machine to its defenseless and wounded. I cannot seem to make myself clear, so I will just leave it at that. Regarding #5, good question. These grave concerns need to be surfaced. Accountability is not just top-down/you-first proposition; it should also be in reverse, as well as horizontal between peers in positions of authority in the Church. I do not have a church right now, but if I did I would be taking this to my church leaders for prayerful consideration on how/when they could lovingly engage/confront MHC leadership. To be clear, I’m not saying individual Christians should refrain from lifting up their voices in protest or making their own appeals. It just seems that all the anger and grief over hearing Andrew’s story (which is still quite new, folks are still reeling) will become destructive to the Body if it does not eventually evolve into a form (or forum even) to borrow Chesterton again, that will give room for the good things of God through Christ to run wild. Pax.

  2. BrianD January 27, 2012 / 4:19 pm

    "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?"Yeah. Good luck with that.

  3. BrianD January 28, 2012 / 1:50 am

    Please forgive my cynical and not-quite-helpful remark (although I believe the heart of it is true). Your eight points are amongst the strongest criticism I have read of the church, while non cynical and non sarcastic. In other words, you're talking straight, the same way I presume the MH leaders would position themselves as talking to someone who has done something very wrong…like Andrew.I would say that you have nothing to lose. You're out of Acts29. Though you have relationships with people in that network and at MH, not being a part of either you are in a sense an outsider. Conversely, those MH members, and especially the MH pastors and Acts29 pastors, would have to weigh the cost of speaking out versus the cost (and benefits) of staying silent. And, if they are willing to pay the price for speaking out. (Some of these guys may opt for a third option: speaking behind the scenes – which could be the best way to speak to church leadership.)In my limited observation of the church scene, people opt to stay silent more than speak out. God may in fact be telling them to stay out of this, don't speak up, go behind the scenes. Or….some may have decided that it's better to maintain relationships and affiliations than to challenge those who can take those things from them…

  4. Anonymous January 29, 2012 / 1:36 am

    "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?'"Hmmmm, so a church is WRONG to ask for a certain amount of church attendance of a member?Is marriage counselling legalism? IT IS required in MOST churches, yet is NEVER exclusively spelled out in scripture?Wearing a "Hooters" shirt wouldn't send someone to hell, but am I a Pharisee if I tell a church guest that they need to change before coming into church wearing THAT?What about my old favorite band's t-shirt that said in huge letters "F*$K RACISM!"–is THAT allowed in church?

  5. Anonymous January 29, 2012 / 1:44 am

    Good article.HOW indeed can the church walk the balance between the authority the local church is to walk in along with love and compassion versus powerlessness and NOTHING being done to evildoers in congregations, ESPECIALLY when those evildoers are in LEADERSHIP (not really the case with the young man at the center of this controversy)?

  6. notesfromthewell January 29, 2012 / 2:06 am

    "But even though there are certainly very good pastors involved with Acts 29, I would not attend one of their churches."it deeply saddens me to say this, but i feel the same way. the last two churches i've attended have been acts 29 affiliated, but for all the good that's come of my time there, i couldn't go back as long as they remain affiliated with anything that looks like mars hill looks.i'm frightened of a church that thinks that this type of discipline is acceptable, and even more so, of a church that is unwilling to stand up and say that something is wrong in leadership.thanks for your post.

  7. Wenatchee the Hatchet January 29, 2012 / 10:51 am

    I've been unable to shake a few thoughts about the points you raise in this post:1. wouldn't the other side of the story be Andrew's ex-fiancee with whom he was sexually active? The other side of the story is not necessarily Mars Hill as a whole here and there's more than one "other" story2. MH has scrubbed out family information about campus pastors on their websites. Andrew's being engaged to a pastor at the Ballard campus raises some basic questions about whether or not the disciplinary process at Ballard was potentially tainted by nepotism, double standards, conflicts of interest, and plain old retaliation. Would Andrew have been reamed this hard by pastors at Ballard if he hadn't been sexually involved with his fiancee (a pastor's daughter) and then also admitted to a one-night sin with an old associate?3. The letter A sure has been emblazoned on Andrew but the shunning letter avoids mentioning the member was a pastor's daughter4. It appears that the signs of repentence are pretty steep if you were unlucky enough to tick off a pastor. Sadly it may be the more Andrew sincerely confessed the more these confessions were used against him to designate him as a wolf. What we can't know is whether or not the pastor's daughter admitted to sex with Andrew. What signs of repentence she may be required to display I don't really want to think about.5. All the voices of reason on earth won't make a difference if Mars Hill leaders won't listen to reason. I've lost confidence that the leaders at the top are interested in listening and the people at the bottom need to keep their jobs.6. Andrew confessed to things leaders didn't know about and they construed their own ignorance of his sins as proof of his deceit. I think the question that has to be raised is how the leaders can be so certain that Andrew and a pastor's daughter having sex while engaged and not telling them constitutes deceit on Andrew's part. 7. Perhaps the most troubling thing about this situation in light of Driscoll's justification of his complaints about the British church is that Mars Hill takes the luxury of dishing it out but refuses to take it. This double standard has become increasingly obvious to people OUTSIDE Mars Hill but the whole community seems willfully blind to this problem. Thus there is a "gospel" that amounts to a checklist of social mobility moves that signify divine favor. I've considered the backdoor legalism of this church before during the courtship fad, but the current disciplinary situation with Andrew highlights that8. Obviously this is nothing close to an isolated event. The firings of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer have shown us that the roughest disciplinary treatment you can get is if you happen to offend the wrong pastor at the wrong time.

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