Is Church Discipline Cultish? A Response to the Mars Hill Drama
Mars Hill in Seattle is in the news again, but this time Mark Driscoll seems only vicariously linked to the controversy. This time, the issue at hand is apropos to all evangelical churches instead of reflecting on merely the character of Driscoll. This event has brought the concept of church discipline itself under scrutiny, and as the pastor of a church that seeks to practice accountability in a biblical way, how this shakes out can make a difference as to how our folks and our visitors view the process of church discipline.
The controversy began when a young man named Andrew decided to go public with the story of his own experience of church discipline at Mars Hill. In brief, Andrew was engaged to the daughter of an elder at Mars Hill. By his own admission, Andrew was unfaithful to his fiancee. Andrew confessed his infidelity to his community group leader, was admonished by the community group leader, and after this the process of accountability began. As Mars Hill admits, this process did not go as it should have. In response to the controversy, Mars Hill put out a statement. In it, they write:
Regrettably, a letter that was meant to be privately read aloud to a small group of about 15 people in close community and friendship with Andrew was instead posted to that group’s private online community page…In both cases that have been brought to light, things did not go as they should have, and well before they were ever written about in a public setting by bloggers and journalists, Mars Hill leadership stepped in to investigate. As a result of those investigations, it was determined that the leaders involved had a pattern of overstepping their authority. As such, they were released and are no longer on paid staff or in formal leadership in any capacity at Mars Hill Church.
There is plenty of blame to go around in this ordeal. First, Andrew sinned against his fiancee. Then, Mars Hill mishandled the accountability and counsel by overstepping their authority. But whose authority did they overstep? Did they overstep their authority in Andrew’s life? Or did they overstep the authority of Mars Hill by taking matters too much into their own hands? To whom ought these lay leaders confess? To Mars Hill leadership or to Andrew? Has Andrew received an apology?
There is much to consider here. Mars Hill is correct when they write, “It’s important to understand that church discipline is a necessary and biblical part of the Christian life.” Jesus himself taught about this kind of accountability in Matthew 18:15-20. Personal accountability and church discipline are not options that can be safely discarded due to the messy process of rebuke, correction, and repentance. Nor can they be neglected for fear of public backlash. After all, many outside the church complain that the church is filled with hypocrites. The church can hardly be criticized for being a haven for hypocritical sinners and at the same time be castigated for the very process meant to hold people accountable for hypocrisy. But since there is such danger, the church must be as careful as possible in this process to keep from abusing the trust of her members.
Mars Hill failed at several places in this process, and I fear that unless they repent from a few things, and unless they become wiser in others, the charge of being somewhat “cultish” in their practice of discipline will stick. The first error they made was publishing the offense beyond the circle of those immediately concerned. What happened with Andrew is gossip candy. Think of how quickly word of his infidelity would spread after this email went out to the group. He was engaged to an elder’s daughter! This should have been handled more discreetly. If you have a man or a woman addicted to pornography, you do not send an e-mail out that says, “Brother Joe is looking at pornography. Please pray for him as he strives to overcome his addiction.” The reason for this should be readily apparent, but in case it isn’t, it is bad for three reasons.
1) It violates the instruction of Jesus by skipping two-steps of accountability.
2) Every struggle with sin is intensely personal in nature, and if someone’s struggle doesn’t immediately affect someone, it is none of their business and only gives occasion for gossip and a judgmental attitude.
3) Anything you put in writing should be judged public domain even if it is not intended to be.
Forwarding an e-mail is as simple as a few clicks. Scanning a discipline sheet and sending it to the world is very simple. If you do not want something public, then do it privately, face to face, man to man or woman to woman. If not, you may wind up as a headline without context and bring reproach upon yourself and humiliation to the one you love.
Second, it must be said that when your pastor acts like a bully, you should not be surprised if your community group leaders do as well. Mark Driscoll’s famous touting of “masculine” manhood that includes UFC smackdown, braggadocios inclusions about personal accomplishments (i.e., constant references to personal fruitfulness, planting a huge church in the “most unchurched city in the USA,” seeing visions from God, etc.), and bullish confrontation of those who are in error has consequences. Mark Driscoll’s machismo colors the entire process of his church’s discipline. If he acts this “manly” out in public, why would anyone be surprised if his community group leaders “overstep their authority” in their groups? Students emulate their teachers.
Having said all of that, my sympathies lie with Mars Hill. First, Andrew signed up for accountability and the church’s process was clear from the start. Second, his infidelity was a big deal that needed to be addressed by the leadership. Third, he should not have went public in the manner that he did because he knew the process going into membership, and Mars Hill conducted an investigation into the matter before Andrew went public. Mars Hill did act in the situation, and prior to Andrew’s publication of the events, people were reprimanded for their handling of the situation (See update 2/16 of Mars Hill’s response). Fourth, we have only one side of this story, and it is coming from the guy who was unfaithful to his fiancee (who he again hurt by making this even more public). Mars Hill is right to answer this as vaguely as they can; they still have the privacy of those involved to protect. Plus, Andrew breached faith with the church by going public with the personal failings of his community group leader. That’s a two time faith-breaker, and he gave his story to someone who was going to gouge the church to boot. Finally, I know as a pastor that proper accountability is hard, messy, and rarely goes as planned when the issues are intense and personal. Yes, Andrew has a legitimate complaint about how this was handled, but the church was trying to do the right thing by him. The man cheated on his fiancee, and the leadership of the church acted just as they said they would in the church membership agreement.
The last thing I want to tackle here is whether or not a mega-church can properly handle church discipline. At our local church, we have around 80 people on a given Sunday with five elders, and we agonize over any case requiring accountability. We agonize because we personally know and care for every member, and we know that any time someone is rebuked there is the potential for congregational blowback. We wrestle with issues in order to walk as wisely as we can. How is a group of elders supposed to have oversight of 7,800 people? They have entrusted this ministry of discipline to their local community group leaders because they cannot do it. Going forward, the only possible way that this can work is if they have an elder or elders personally discipling each community group leader, and by discipling I do not mean by e-mail or letter, but by relationships which include eating together, talking together, and getting to know one another. Perhaps they have this in place, but if they don’t, they must do it or there is another train wreck on the horizon.
Church discipline is not cultish. At least, it shouldn’t be. It is a necessary component of church life and personal sanctification. We all need personal accountability, and that is the essence of church discipline. But it must be practiced wisely by friends, with much prayer, and above all, it must be done in love and humility. No Christian, whether male or female, will ever be more chastened than when they realize that, in love, Christ suffered the lash of the whip and the agony of the cross for them. We are rebuked by Christ’s suffering for us. Elders must be men who have felt the sting of that rebuke, who intimately know the pain of their own folly. This is the only antidote for fleshly pride, and feeling it is the only school that prepares a person to be qualified to deliver a stinging rebuke. No one should ever fall under the lash of discipline who has not first felt its scourges from the Lord God Himself (Hebrews 12:5-7). Mars Hill Church would do well to remember this, and so would your church and mine.
Your “sympathies” lie with Mars Hill? WOW. Here is a guy (Andrew) who also sympathized with Mars Hill and then once he made a mistake and chose to walk in truth, Mars Hill chose to trample upon the grace they THEMSELVES received from our Savior, and chose to play the part of the Matthew 18 wicked servants. Instead of choosing to employ grace and loving, gentle restoration, they instead chose to impose a man-made, graceless laundry list of prescribed browbeatings, stipulations, and oppressive rules…and then they ultimately excommunicated him when he thought about it and said, “Hmm, after careful consideration, no thanks.” Your sympathies should be with the real victims in this case: clearly the woman who was cheated on first, then ANDREW, time permitting and once they THEMSELVES have undergone church discipline, Mars Hill’s leadership. I believe in Church Discipline; it is biblical – but the way that Mars Hill handled it in no way resembles what the Living Word teaches us. Did you even READ Mark Driscoll’s OWN reply to his church’s fault in this? http://marshill.com/2012/02/13/a-response-regarding-church-discipline
I know where the shift key is too.
I read it. I linked it twice in the article. Did you read the article that I wrote? Why should I take Andrew’s testimony over that of the church itself? Do you believe that he has given you all of the story of what went on there? Did you notice that I pointed out the church’s error? Does that excuse Andrew? Do you think that because I am sympathetic to the church that I am therefore un-sympathetic to Andrew?
Take a moment to read the post again. I did my best to be fair to all concerned.
I appreciate that you are concerned with Church discipline. That’s good! But have you ever been an elder who had to walk someone through it? Someone who rejected your counsel and the counsel of elders and then went out and made you sound like a nut? I have, and it is no fun.
I’m not saying that the community group leader handled this well. I think he didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I am throwing the CHURCH under the bus. They disciplined the community group leader BEFORE Andrew’s piece came out. Think about that.
No, I won’t think about that; your article said it all. And no, they did NOT discipline the church leader before Andrew’s piece came out. Are your that blind? It’s called backpedaling. It’s called saving face. It’s called image management. I guarantee you they did NOTHING until they heard about this case coming out. Nobody ever does beforehand until they know that they’re in trouble! Whatever. It is what it is. Just another megachurch grown bloated fat on desire for power, with a disconnected leader at the helm.
So you think that the church lied in the article that you linked? Because they said that they were handling this before Andrew came out with it. It seems to me that you are content to believe the worst of an entire church on the testimony of one person. That is not Biblical. Paul said it like this, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. 5:19). So far, we have Andrew’s account. That makes one witness, and he is directly involved.
You do not know everything that went down there, do you? All you have is Andrew’s testimony, and the testimony of the church. They do not agree with one another. Why do you believe Andrew over the church?
I do think they lied, absolutely. And you’re not reading clearly – I am criticizing the church LEADERSHIP, not the church as a whole. Try to read clearly, ok? Mars Hill’s church leadership, like any big organization, is full of men. Flawed men. Human men. Deceitful men. Men full of problems and deceit…the heart is desperately wicked beyond cure…who can understand it? Don’t think you can fall back on the 1 Timothy 5:19 “immunity clause.” So if an elder sexually abuses a child, and only the child comes forth, the elder is innocent. Do I understand you correctly? OK, got it.
I have been in another megachurch that functions exactly the same way as Mars Hill, and their entire elder board is about to be sued. The church will most likely fall. When the leadership was humble and contrite and genuinely sought God, it thrived. It is no longer thriving. Mars Hill’s time will come as well. It’s a shame, because I believe that Mars Hill at one time was a pure bride, but it has become soiled. You’re quite obviously a member there, and have blinded yourself to the truth when you signed your own life away to the leadership there. Perhaps you would do well to learn the true meaning behind “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James). And, oh – if you’re going to write an incendiary and controversial article, try to grow up and realize that there are bound to be dissenting opinions, especially if you’re deluded, which it appears you are. No offense intended, just speaking truth. Good luck.
I appreciate you coming over and trying to save me from my delusion. Let me help you dispel a few of yours as a return of the favor.
1. You cannot convict anyone, anywhere on the testimony of one witness. Not even an accused child molester. Without another witness and evidence that serves as witness, they will not be convicted.
2. I do not go to Mars Hill church. I would not join Mars Hill church. I am a cessationist pastor in Alabama.
I do promise to try to grow up and realize there will be dissenting opinions in the future. Thanks for that!
You’re welcome. Good luck.
1. Sure you can. Check your local prison.
2. Uh-huh. Right. OK.
Anything I can do to help!
PS, funny statement there: “I would not join Mars Hill Church.” Hmm…wonder why? Kinda shot yourself in the foot there huh? Oh yeah, I get it – it’s because you’re all the way far away in Alabama, and it would be a heckuva commute, right? Got it. :-)
Brad, good article. That whole situation is such a mess. As an elder, imagining shepherding a flock of 7,800 in mind boggling.
Ryan, you seem to have major issues with Mars Hill indicated by your insults and capitalization. I would suggest you take them to Mars Hill, if in fact that’s where your issues lie, and take it easy on my brother here, seeing how he’s deluded and such.
@Matt: You bet, will do. After all, MERCY triumphs over judgment, right Brad?
Your last comment was completely out of line. Matt said nothing even close to what you insinuated–as an editor and administrator it is my job to make sure comments are fair and charitable. I thus deleted the comment. Any further comments by you that do not fit that criteria will also be deleted. Please be fair and charitable to anyone you interact with on this thread.
I can vouch for the fact that Brad is indeed a pastor in Alabama and not a member of Mars Hill. He was my pastor for a short time and has been my friend for years. As proof of this, I know that he plays the djembe and the banjo (seriously) and makes reference to “The Lord of the Rings” almost as much as I do. He is indeed delusional about some things (his assumption that people enjoy banjo music, for instance), but not about this article. He called both Mark Driscoll and the group leader bullies, so I’m not sure how he can be accused of taking sides with Mars Hill. Brad, I thought your article was fair, well thought out, and biblical. Keep up the good work.
Another carefully considered and well communicated posting, Brad. I always appreciate hearing your thoughts. Well done.
Ultimately I don’t really care what you people think of me. I have a right to my opinion, even if it’s a dissenting one. Mars Hill is out of line with its bullying, oppressive church discipline practice and ultimately for its EXCOMMUNICATION of its fellow brother in Christ. THIS IS NOT BIBLICAL. We won’t all always agree on everything and that’s fine. The fact remains that MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGMENT. You can’t convince me of anything else.
But you do realize the irony in the tone you’ve taken when trumpeting “mercy triumphs over judgment”?
Short answer: Nope.
no, because I’m speaking clear biblical truth. Why cloak it in a perception of supposed irony? Plain and simple, mercy triumphs over judgment and God designed us for fellowship, not excommunication. PERIOD.
@Ryan…I believe the concerns you bring up were addressed directly in the article. I also believe you were the judgmental one towards the author when telling him he needs to “grow up”, saying that Mars Hill lied, judging that Mars Hill has grown “fat on power”, and even saying that it’s obvious that the author was a member at Mars Hill. These were all judgmental actions that you showed no mercy in.
Maybe you should take your own advice.
See? Now you’re just being plain hypocritical. You can judge Andrew, you could judge the church if you wanted to. But I can’t judge a fellow Christian too? Do I understand you correctly essentially you hold the franchise on who can be judged, how, why, when? Your article was written in judgment of Andrew. There are undertones and connotations that he was in the wrong at Mars Hill was completely in the right. I judge that. And I have the right to judge that, and you, because, by the same token you use that very right to judge Andrew at the church. Don’t make this out to be one sided… The door swings both ways, and you know it. All of us who are commenting on your blog are in one way or another judging one person, one entity, or another. Don’t take this moral high ground and stand at your bully pulpit and say “I can judge, but you can’t.”
@ Ryan. Maybe you should explain your “mercy triumphs over judgement” statement better. See, the ‘clear Biblical truth” is that God will judge everything and his mercy won’t triumph over everything, but his wrath. It seems to me that you are using this statement to condemn Mars Hill and their excommunication of this person. I do not know the details, but if this person is in unrepentant sin while under the accountability of the church, then excommunication is exactly what the Bible commands. Mercy does triumph unrepentant sin. So, although made for fellowship, there is the proper time and place to excommunicate.
Well, here it goes…..Nazi Germany.
Sure… That’s the answer. If excommunication for unrepentant sin is the answer, then let’s just kick everyone out of the church. Not everyone who sends repents not every repentance is clear. If you read the stories and the blogs in the accounts of Andrew online you will find that he was in fact repented it’s just that Mars Hill chose to turn around and pounce on him and prescribe this massive laundry list of impossible stipulations and unreasonable expectations. I would have left too. I went to church discipline myself, that’s my honest answer and it was for something that I was clearly repented over, clearly saddened by, clearly was in accountability for. But my own church chose to condemn me, to tar and feather me, to kick me out, to isolate me, and just spiritually emasculate me. If that is Christian then I don’t want your Christ. I’ll stick to my own, thank you.
In previous post, it should read, “Mercy DOESN’T TRIUMPH UNREPENTANT SIN”.
Big difference there.
The big problem here is that whatever there’s a conflict that comes to the surface and attains media attention or public exposure, everyone in the congregation, or at least the vast majority, are quick to defend a system. No one seems to want to rush to the defense of the individual, the one who is hurting, the one who is desperately in need of Christ’s love and desperately in need of affirmation. The one who needs to be redeemed is the one who needs to be love and defendant. Not uploaded church system grown fat On power, and which thrives on oppressive measures towards “restoration. What about the Scriptures that say if anyone of you is caught in sin, your brother should restore him gently? GENTLY.
Paul Harvey moment.
PS, in my previous comment, it behooves me to add that the first person who is desperately in need of Christ’s love and affirmation and encouragement is obviously the victim in that case. Quite obviously. Nonetheless, there were two sinners crucified with Jesus, and the one who was repentant, he forgave, even though that person had sinned. We don’t know whether or not he was repentant BEFORE he repented on the cross, but the bottom line is that Christ loved him. Christ’s mercy triumphed over the People’s judgment. And that’s what we as a church need to do. Employ mercy and grace and love… even towards the “unlovable.”. Mars Hill excommunicated Andrew long before they publicly excommunicated him. They wash their hands on him privately long before they didn’t publicly. For goodness sake, they even instructed their congregation how to and not to interact with him. They restricted conversation. They condemned hanging out with him. They frowned upon spending personal time with him. Boy that’s sure biblical love!
You are ranting, bro. Unless you are really Andrew in disguise, all you know is what you have heard from him and from Mars Hill. Their testimonies do not line up. I’ve given the facts of what we know and had my say. You’ve had yours as well. Time to move on, man.
If you would like to talk about this further, you can email me and I’d be glad to talk to you. For now, give some other folks space to talk if they would like.
Can I offer an alternative testimony? First of all, I think what Mars Hill did was a horrible mishandling of the idea of church “discipline.” I also think (as the article states) that Mark Driscoll is at fault. But let me show you how difficult it is to do things right.
I was involved in a fellowship of believers for a few years. This was a small, intimate group who shared just about everything and supported each other implicitly. One member confessed to struggles with pornography, and since he was involved in leadership he was required to confess before the body. Members shared their terror of death when dealing with health issues, doubts over God’s existence, and habitual sins that they weekly struggled against. They also shared the blessings God worked through their lives, the faith that kept them going, and (time and again) God’s provision–sometimes nearly miraculous–and comforts. This was an amazing community.
It had to split. The church leadership needed a church plant, and divided the congregation geographically.
My wife and I didn’t want to move to the new church, even though we were supposed to. We said we’d stick with the old ones. Eventually, we had members of the church leadership in our house, saying that we’d committed to the group, and either we should support our church in its mission, or we shouldn’t consider ourselves as part of the “core.” (We would be welcome at services either way, but it was clear that we had to choose to either commit or abandon the church’s mission.)
Partially because of the leadership’s gentle, prayerful attitudes, and their sensitivity to our struggles, and the fact that they’d been through a previous split and left their home church, we accepted their church discipline and joined the new church. After an adjustment period, it went great.
For my wife and I, because of that church “discipline”–because the body of the church took a hard line and said “either follow us or don’t,” we had a chance to repent of our love of comfort, go out on the limb, and see the rewards of faith. What could have been our grumbling acquiescence turned into our faithful choice–because the leadership told us what was expected, and gave us the opportunity to join them in their journey.
This situation was nothing like the Mars Hill situation, of course. Everyone we talked to cared for us, and knew us intimately. But when Brad Williams speaks of his “sympathy” with Mars Hill, I think it’s because, as a pastor, he knows how horribly these things could have gone. Personalities could have sparked, people could have acted foolishly, and a very different story would have emerged–one that left us bitter and alienated.
When Brad says that “the last thing I want to tackle here is whether or not a mega-church can properly handle church discipline,” I think he expresses cynicism as to whether the sort of leadership I experienced could happen at a church at Mars Hill. At such a big institution, it’s hard to have the sort of personal relationship that allows for healthy leadership, and healthy church management. This is one reason why I, like Brad, could not join Mars Hill.
But I think if what Brad was saying–and I know this is what I believe–is that the sort of positive church discipline I experienced is good, even if it isn’t possible at Mars Hill. The horrible tragedy that went down there may be evidence that megachurches are a horrible idea, and that the type of church leadership they want just isn’t possible at their scale. It certainly seems to be the case that some people acted foolishly and sinfully, putting their need to feel insulated from scandal above their responsibility to lovingly interact with their congregation. I can’t just say that Mars Hill is a monster, and leave it at that. I have to recognize that Mars Hill’s mis-use of authority is understandable, even if it isn’t acceptable. And if I can understand it, part of the horror is that I, if I ever become a church leader, might make similarly bad decisions.
But if I can understand how things might go wrong, hopefully I can try to avoid those mistakes, and prevent further moral tragedies from happening.
I’m kinda curious about what disciplinary measures were brought to bare on the elder’s daughter, ex-fiancee, who was sleeping with Andrew. That point seems to get pushed under the rug with this mess. And the accusation that Andrew was cheating because he “made out”, short of intercourse, with another girl, is a pretty big one compared to that. That’s a theological point I’m not sure I quite understand with Mars Hill, that it’s almost always the man who leads the woman into sin.
I remember a few instances growing up in my Baptist churches where a deacon’s daughter would be involved with some guy, and without fail she’d receive a slap on the wrist or a three day vacation from school, and he’d be expelled.
I think, and not to entirely side with Ryan here, but often those of us who are younger and not elders/pastors/clergy, choose to side with the individual because we’ve seen positions of authority be blind to individuals and abuse their authority at times. It’s why we often don’t trust the government because politicians lie. History has taught us this.
I don’t believe church discipline is cultish, but I have seen it abused in my own personal life (and again on a grand scale), and it’s often on a sliding scale based on relationship or power.
The same system that throws Andrew into the gutter forgives CJ Mahaney. But one is a leader and one is a sheep.
@ Brad: So? People perpetuate the issue, and I have a right to respond. No one holds the franchise on Biblical understanding, and people who just love to crack down on sinners without employing grace and the love of Christ that results in genuine fruit and genuine restoration – need to be confronted back. And I’m here to do that. Balance and counterbalance. I am not Andrew, I’m not a friend of his; but as someone who has gone through an oppressive, unreasonable and highly legalistic church disciplinary process, my heart goes out to him entirely. NOT to the system that is oppressive, unreasonable, and highly legalistic. Tell me where I’m wrong in that, really.
@ Scott: You’re the first wholly reasonable person I’ve experienced on here. “Partially because of the leadership’s gentle, prayerful attitudes, and their sensitivity to our struggles…” says a LOT, and is exactly what was missing in Andrew’s case as well as my own. I appreciate your gentle humility and the fact that you are acting like Jesus with skin on: identifying with, getting low to the ground with, reaching out and touching, rather than scorning and casting away. Like I said in my very first response, “I believe in Church Discipline; it is biblical.” I will say it again, as I said in my very first response, “I believe in Church Discipline; it is biblical.” What Mars Hill did was very UN-biblical as it stretched the very meaning of grace, tangling it up in a web of man-made vengeance- and control-based policing. That is NOT grace.
@Brad, I respect the balance you bring to your analysis. You’re right on the notion that bullies in leadership beget more bullying. I’m not sure I agree with your analysis of Andrew’s situation, though I admit I’m reading into the limited evidence at least as much as you are. I see at least two points of concern. First is the downright punitive accountability plan (don’t date anybody for two years, etc.) imposed by the leadership. That plan seems to me designed to either (a) whip the miscreant into submission or (b) set him up for further failure by demanding that he remain not only celibate but essentially devoid of any female companionship. Christian chastity does not require becoming a monk.
Second is the sense I get from reading the whole situation, that the “accountability plan” was not worked out in dialog with the offender, but rather imposed on him. In this I see a parallel with @Scott G’s story, in that Scott also describes a decision imposed upon him and his wife by “the leadership,” not a decision arrived at by the body. I realize I bring an Anabaptist perspective to this topic that isn’t particularly popular among Christians of many stripes, but I believe that church leaders making decisions behind closed doors and then imposing them upon their flock is flatly unbiblical and a direct violation of everything Jesus taught about power during his own ministry (this post of mine may provide further insight if you’re interested).
I’m finally troubled by a feeling that Andrew’s real “sin” in the mind of the Mars Hill crowd wasn’t even the sex or sex-like behavior…it was failure to acknowledge the unquestioned supremacy of the power structure. Nothing could be more antithetical to the way of Jesus.
@Dan Martin: AMEN.
You can respond all you like. Get your own blog. Here, comments can be moderated because this isn’t your house. You are a guest here. You have erred by projected your own experience onto Andrew’s. You do not know all the facts in this case.
It would be irresponsible of Mars Hill to talk about what happened with the daughter of the elder, don’t you think? There is no reason to make her personal, private counsel public. And I would also add that we do not know if Andrew was thrown under the bus. We only have his side of the story. We do not know what attempts were made by others to reach out to him.
As for C.J. Mahaney’s restoration, he seems to have undergone a pretty rigorous restoration. He stepped down for a while. Publicly repented, and was apparently walked through some kind of accountability like Mars Hill prescribed for Andrew.
I do know that abuse of power is real, and it is easy. But we simply do not know enough to say that the church flung Andrew under the bus wholesale. We do know that corrective actions were taken before he went public with his community group leaders. We know that this event has lead the church to re-think its procedures of discipline. Those are positive things.
@Brad: You’re right, we don’t know if the church flung Andrew under the bus wholesale, but it sure looks like that, and there is enough rumblings and information circulating around the web to support this position. You ALSO do not know all the facts in the case, yet you yourself project that you in fact DO. This is where YOU have erred. I will continue to support the repentant sinner, thank you very much, and you can continue defending the massive legalistic oppressive graceless bloated system called Mars Hill. I urge you to listen to what Dan and Stuart are saying. And, ahem, “Get your own blog.” ?? Really???
@ Brad, very much agree it would be irresponsible. And I’m making a big assumption thinking that not much happened to her. Also assuming that Andrew is being entirely truthful here, or if it’s just a viewpoint, same as Mars Hill’s.
Ultimately the best thing to come out of this, from my standing, is that it helped knock down the idol of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll I had erected in my life. He and them seemed to fix most if not all of the problems I’ve seen in the church, yet I realize now that they are not perfect either.
Regarding CJ, he did go through a period apart from SGM, but still seemed to retain a celebrity status and guest speaking wherever he went. I mainly was using him as an example of the differences between laity and clergy. Although I would like to see CJ and SGM doing what they can to retroactively fix everything that happened, even doing book recalls and rewriting vast amounts of materials to do away with the ideas that led to these problems. (Is it really justice if you are allowed to keep all the money you stole? Again, just an example, not accusing CJ…)
I used “under the bus” just as an expression, my apologies for insinuating anything bigger with it.
PS, call it “ranting”, call it “erring”, call it “Andrew in disguise”, I’m not trying to be argumentative with you. I am merely stepping up for Jesus and confronting ignorance and “oppression in the name of Christ” by a megachurch. Honestly I half expected you to simply pull the old “knock and block” – slam me publicly and then block me from this blog. Prove me wrong! Excommunication is the de facto method churches use to silence anything even approaching the appearance of dissension. Doubtless, because I disagree with Mars Hill’s approach to church discipline (which is in fact oppression-based; not restoration-based as in Galatians 6:1, and therefore ultimately unbiblical) I’ll myself be labeled deluded, a sinner, unrepentant, and divisive. Fine. Churches are notorious for shooting their own wounded, and I’ve been shot before, I don’t care. But people need to know what biblical church discipline really is, and Mars Hill’s version is NOT biblical. Again, mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).
All these articles are becoming jumbled in my head now. Was the two-year ban on dating imposed by the leadership further up the “chain”, or was that what the local community group guy said. Where was that detail included?
Like yourself, I do think that this was botched. I hope I made that clear. However, I do not think that every act of discipline has to be decided upon by the entire body. If the offender thinks his elder is being too harsh, then he can take it before the church to decide. But if not, the elder/brother/elders can and should handle it. You may think so too, but were only speaking of times in which the parties disagree.
Two years off from a relationship with women is dumb. However, if it came to our attention that a young man was in a sexual relationship with his girlfriend, who was a member of the church also, AND that he cheated on her by getting physical with another girl, we would definitely be having some accountability meetings before I would say, “Sure, you should date again!”
That goes for goose and gander.
I remember hearing an elder at a former church say that if a man had been sexually active or looked at pornography even once, he shouldn’t be allowed to date anyone (post repentance) for at least three years…
Needless to say, men “shaped up” or else quit being honest and lived in fear that the ticking clock would be reset every day.
That’s dumbness. People look at pornography, mostly, because they want to have sex. The outlet for that drive happens to be marriage, not more celibacy. But wise elders have to know how to work through these issues on an individual basis. After all, it isn’t only single men who have these problems.
The point of ‘discipline’ is restoration. Not just to the church, but to a sound mind. Sin is pure madness, and what we need is someone to come along side of us and help us see that.
What I’m saying is that a statement like, “No girlfriend/boyfriend for TWO YEARS!” is not wise counsel. If it is a couple that is in the church and sexually active, the counsel may be more like, “Brother, sister, it is better to marry than to burn. Or fornicate. Let’s talk about responsibility.”
So much better.
@Brad, I don’t remember myself who imposed that celibacy contract. I’m not sure we were ever told…what I recall is something to the effect that Andrew was presented with this contract by the leader who was handling the discipline. My principal point was that it was developed and imposed (so goes what limited evidence we have) without dialog between the “discipliner” and the “disciplinee.”
I did not mean to suggest that every issue must always be brought before the whole church, so much as to say that no issue should be the purview of only a select class of leaders. There should be no such thing _ever_ as leaders who are not accountable to the body they lead. “I’m the leader God has put over you, and your job is to submit” is a common refrain among conservative Evangelicals, and it comes not from the Bible, but from the pit of hell.
and @Ryan, while I appreciate your agreeing with me, and while I (obviously) don’t fully agree with Brad’s take, your abrasive, in-your-face manner of commenting is doing no favors to the cause of Christlike justice. Whether or not Brad is completely correct in his interpretation (and I think he has both good and not-so-good points), he made a calm, reasoned, fact-based argument. Your frank disrespect and hostility in this comment thread is wholly uncalled-for.
Oh and @Brad, I agree with you completely that the appropriate response to sexual impropriety is accountability –for both parties. Just because I think MH went over the top does not mean I advocate libertine behavior.
i concur with ryan…the bride of Christ has no business conducting itself this way!
Hey look at that, I’ve been censored! My last remark never made it to the “light” of day here at christandpopculture.com. Practically on my way to excommunication from yet another Christian organization. Another martyr for Christ, at the hands of his own people. Wow.
@Ryan: “Another martyr for Christ, at the hands of his own people. Wow.”
Bullshit. See 1 Peter 4:14-16:
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet eif anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
You are being censored for being a troll (“meddler” maybe?), not for the name of Christ.
Wow. Profanity. Very nice for a professing Christian. The truth comes out and the monster is revealed. Watch, my non-profane comment will be censored, and yours will not. Watch.
Actually, that was vulgarity, not profanity. Cheers.
Doesn’t matter. Vulgarity, profanity, whatever. Try a taste of Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4 and perhaps you should go back to the Nicene creed after all. You just proved my entire point about church leadership being backward – it’s amazing to me how you think you’re taking the high road with all your nice-sounding arguments and whitewashed logic. You imply an air of superiority with your syntax, your verbose delvings into all things Jesus. Yet the Jesus you just revealed is far from the real Jesus I came to know, and the Jesus that in fact IS. It is because of YOU that some will not make it into heaven. The real reason people deny Christ is because of Christians like you, who talk out of the side of their mouths one way and then, when pressed, are revealed by the obscenities they spew. The church leadership at Mars Hill is also like this: when pressed, they reveal who they really are, and they shoot their own wounded. I have genuine concerns about any who follow your non-Nicene-creed-believing blog and are also led astray. You would do well to start finding a middle of the road between head knowledge and heart knowledge, so that you don’t miss heaven by a few inches. Wait…what’s that I hear? Is that another profanity-er-vulgarity on the way?
I’m signing off now. All I’ll say in response is that Jesus came to call the sinners to repentance, not the righteous, and mercy triumphs over judgment. Let’s all read our Bibles and understand that God is Love: anyone who claims to live in Him must love as He did. Period. Again, I believe in and support church discipline, but sans love, it’s as hollow as we all sound on this blog. Good day.
No, I think those are the badgers. They always tend to get this way when they’re waking up. Nocturnal little beasts. Not very clean either.
A friend who doesn’t quite know his way around the internet yet, asked my husband and me to do a search on Mars Hill Church. He was concerned because he had heard that it may be a cult, and one of the young men he has mentored in the workplace attends Mars Hill, in Albuquerque.
In my google search, I found this article. I am very favorably impressed with the coherent, sane, informative, and balanced way this article is written.
I wish I could say the same for the comments! I had to stop reading after the first half dozen or so. Life’s too short, and I’ve got more important things to do.
Thank you for the compliment on the article. I am less proud of the comments. :(
@Brad – you handled yourself admirably despite the provocations.
This is a big freaking mess. I sympathise with all involved. The key for me is that Driscoll has nurtured a bullying culture at his church and that culture was tested with this Andrew fiasco. Sadly, no one came out edified or sanctified because of it. No one.
Andrew did wrong – he repented but seems to have been badgered with more hoops to jump thru to effectively earn his place back in the congregation. But again – I don’t know the whole story and I have to wonder if Andrew held back anything. I do feel though that the disciplinary process went too far and I’m sorry but the whole “whoops, sorry, we didn’t mean to post the letter to the whole community” excuse seems so very flimsy. They dropped the ball, got called on it and are making excuses now. I appreciate very much the idea of church discipline but it seems at MH, it’s more a battering ram of public humiliation than gentle restoration of private counsel, strict accountability with trusted few and lots and lots of prayer.
Andrew’s fiancee, being the elder’s daughter, seems to have gotten a sweet deal and mostly been left out of the disciplining process and public scrutiny (from what I can tell from the facts we know anyways). I’m sorry but if Andrew and her were sleeping together, clearly, it took two to make it happen. @Brad, you’re right to say that MH leadership should have addressed that issue as well as Andrew’s cheating on her.
And now the community leaders over Andrew’s group have been let go. More rending of the Church body. ARGH. Huge mess doesn’t even come close to describing this situation.
@Brad – I appreciated your thoughts in your post, I don’t agree entirely but people more eloquent than I have stated their reservations so we’ll leave it at that. Keep up the good work – don’t mind the comments, it’s the Internet, it happens =)
Grace to all of you on this thread, God have mercy on all of us.
Wow, y’all moderators are far more tolerant than I would be. :-)
Brad, I think you’ve done a very thoughtful job of sifting the matter. I appreciate the detail, and the consistency of your judgment, and your reflection on that in light of the lived experience of church leadership. Your question whether a megachurch *can* do that job, and your recommendations for amelioration of the obvious problems, are especially on-point.
“in the mouth of two or three witnesses let every fact be established.” Even Jesus didn’t except himself from that standard.
…happened to check back here, and cannot *believe* how blatantly “Ryan” is taking the “Hi! I’m from Corinth and I’m proud of my embracingness, however defined!” approach…. http://www.esvbible.org/1+Corinthians+5/
@Elaina, I know nothing about Mars Hill in Albuquerque, but don’t assume a linkage on the basis of the name alone. I do see from their website that Mars Hill Albuquerque (along with quite a few other locations) is associated with the Washington Mars Hill of Mark Driscoll. On the other hand, Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, MI is the church that until recently had Rob Bell as its senior teaching pastor…and you don’t get two Evangelical pastors much more different than Bell and Driscoll.
Not advocating here, just pointing out that due diligence goes beyond the name…
I agree Elaina.
I know I’ve got trust issues with leadership after 12 years in a church 500+ but I feel encouraged that they aren’t so bad now.
Many thanks to the team at CaPC for endeavouring to have conversation with difficult people. Your patience, grace and concern are inspiring.
Reading this series of comments made me sad. In your desires to explain your positions and to state your cases, you let Ryan slip through the cracks. Ryan was in severe pain. This whole topic was intensely distressing for him. It didn’t matter if he was right or wrong. It didn’t matter whether he stated things politely. He is struggling to hang on to Jesus Christ in the face of Christians who don’t seem to care about him. I don’t know what all is behind his pain, but he has been hurt severely, and the exchange above added to that.
He needs healing not admonition. Yes, he kept arguing his point, sometimes rudely, but he also said REPEATEDLY that he had been seriously hurt. He wants Christians to be forgiving because something happened where Christians condemned rather than forgave him. He wants Christians to show mercy because he feels that he did not receive mercy. I wish some of you had been willing to do this for him.
I have to vehemently agree with Michelle. You were hardly gentlemen to Ryan, and clearly didn’t care much for being gracious toward him. Brad in particular doesn’t come off as anything Christlike to me.
I am not trying to sound rude here, but what would you have done then?
I admit I’m myself am not sure how I would have responded to ryan’s comments, but how would you have handled the exchange?
@Michelle, I appreciate and receive your admonition. May I offer a gentle counter, however? Ryan came to this blog swinging and hostile. It wasn’t until his tenth post (I just counted) that he revealed that his anger might come at least in part from having been burned himself.
Having myself been burned by church discipline, I understand the anger. I try to make a point not to lash out at those who weren’t part of it when I discuss discipline. Ryan did not make such an attempt. Ought we have detected his wound and perhaps attempted grace (which might or might not have been received given his hostility, but I grant that’s not a condition of grace)? Yes. Guilty as charged.
But I ask you to offer a little grace to Brad, me, and others who responded negatively as well. We had already taken quite a few shots before the evidence of wounding was offered, and I, to be perfectly honest, missed it in the flurry of Ryan’s angry words.
Not an excuse, just an explanation…
Discussions and debates are good ways to learn the nuances of an issue. When a number of people are involved, a wide variety of perspectives can be expressed. I appreciate the opportunity to read comments to blogs and articles. But, when someone starts sounding hostile, it’s easy for us to get caught up in defending our own position. I’m not trying to criticize any of you. I just wish someone had noticed what was happening in time to reach out to Ryan. It was a lesson to me, personally to try to slow down and pull back from discussions that turn negative and try to get a better perspective
Noah, I can think of ways to have handled the discussion, but it is after the fact. There were a couple of places in the discussion (which I was reading the day after it occurred) where I wished someone had said, “Wow, Ryan, this topic is very important to you. Has something like this happened to you?” and started a conversation focused on him and what he experienced and how he felt. Maybe some of you could have helped him.
Again, I wasn’t part of the discussion. I read it the next day. I didn’t feel that anyone was deliberately trying to hurt Ryan, and I understand why some people took offense at some of the things he said and responded defensively. I am praying for Ryan, and I hope he hangs on tight to the only One who can truly heal his pain. I hope all of you will pray for him too.
I have followed this Mars Hill controversy quite closely and it’s all rather tragic for the church, for Andrew, and for Mars Hill. What’s also tragic is arguments like the one on this blog. What has happened to the church in the last 40 years? I see more Christians arguing with each other online than I can bear some days.
Christ is not glorified in any of this. I’ve come to believe in the last few years that the church has been reduced, in some aspects, to a bunch of men arguing with each other. They seem to do it mostly online.
It just makes me sad. I’ll go away now.
This is a good article. Others I’ve read on the subject have all been anti-Mars Hill, but this one looks at both sides and finds flaws on each. This greatly helps me in not judging one side harshly, but rather seeing the humanity involved. If that makes any sense.
In regards to the comments…I think one reason people get so heated in debates on message boards and comments sections is because no one sees each other. I know I’ve gone into a rage on boards in the past, and I don’t think it’s the kind of thing I would do to someone’s face. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t feel like I was arguing with a real person who was loved by God, but with an idea that I disliked and wanted to shut down. The problem, of course, is that, when one tries to do that in this sort of forum, it just fuels said idea and causes factions supporting the opposing sides to rise up. Either that or one person is swinging wildly at everyone else surrounding him/her, and he/she doesn’t feel like he/she can get out.
I’m not condemning anyone for anything here. Just analyzing. Which is weird, because I didn’t study psychology or sociology all that much…
John and Michelle,
Ryan called me delusional and a secret member of Mars Hill church, the latter is untrue. The jury is still out on the former. We allowed Ryan to have his say, and I even wrote this,
“If you would like to talk about this further, you can email me and I’d be glad to talk to you. For now, give some other folks space to talk if they would like.”
Ryan was making it difficult for others to engage, and he was name-calling. We don’t mind folks adding their comments, but we don’t won’t it to get to the point Ryan got to. It seems rather odd to me that a guy can come on to a blog where he is a guest, commandeer the comment section through calling someone’s opinion delusional, and even allow several comments in this vein, and then we are the ones being ungracious. The toughest thing I said to Ryan was that he was ranting.
So, Ryan, because he is hurt, gets to lash out and call names, and when we put a stop to it, we are ungracious? I even offered to exchange emails with the guy. For myself, I do not believe that the first one with hurt feelings wins, and if anyone wants to engage in substantive discussions they can. But when you start accusing commentors of “white-washed logic”, that “the real reason people deny Christ is because of people like you”, and etc., we have a real problem.
Personal email is the best I can do. In the meantime, this blog post was not about Ryan. It was about Mars Hill and the handling of church discipline. Ironically, we had to put our foot down with someone in the comment section that we thought was out of line. Many agreed. Some didn’t. That’s interesting in and of itself, don’t you think?
Can someone put a muzzle on “Ryan”? Please.
The victim here is God. He has been sinned against.
Andrew couldn’t keep his peepee in his panties so rather than repent, he whines to a local blog. Nice move there. If you can’t handle the Truth, go back to Texas brother!
Well, 4givenmuch, that’s simply not true. And very unforgiving and graceless.
You cannot fight fire with fire.
Or to be specific, you cannot fight mean words with mean words.
If fighting fire with fire were biblical, than Jesus should’ve annihlated humanity as opposed to dying on the cross.
I generally try not to comment on blogs, but I’m making an exception here. I’d like to first interact with the content of the blog itself, and then maybe make a few observations about the war that ensued in the comments section.
I really appreciate Brad’s observations. (Also, hi Brad, I’m Dwight, nice to meet you. I felt weird calling you by your first name when I don’t know you.) I ultimately disagree with him, but I appreciate his grace towards both parties. I think I can learn a great deal from this since I just got mad at Mars Hill when I first found out about this mess. I realize I don’t have both sides of the story, but I think that Driscoll has cultivated a culture of fear and anger at Mars Hill that led to this. I hold Mars Hill responsible, but I realize I’m in the non-pastor camp and have a definite bias. I definitely think that church discipline should be practiced, but it should be done in grace and love. I’m not sure I see a lot of that in Mars Hill’s response.
I’d like to tell a story, one that I don’t disclose normally. When I was 18, I was in a youth group at a church in my home city. I was really involved there. I led Bible studies and preached to both the youth and the full congregation. I met regularly with the youth pastor for discipleship, so he knew me pretty well. I made a stupid decision and started dating a 14 year old in the youth group. I was really struggling with a lot of identity issues and this girl was enamored with me and it made me feel good, it boosted my self-confidence. I was young, reckless, and didn’t really think my actions had any consequences. We didn’t have a very physical relationship. That’s really important to understand. We kissed once or twice and that was about it. Her dad was really abusive and one night she called me crying. I picked her up and took her to a friends house to get her away from him. I also came from an abusive household so I understood what she was going through. I didn’t think this through either. That’s important. Her dad was, of course, pissed. His answer to this was to go to the youth pastor and tell him I had sex with his daughter. Remember, completely untrue, we had kissed twice. My youth pastor, who ironically introduced me to Mark Driscoll, decided to believe him and not believe me when I told him repeatedly that I hadn’t slept with her. I found myself facing church discipline for a sin I didn’t commit. I was told I had disqualified myself from ministry and wasn’t fit to be a pastor. I was made to feel absolute disgrace, all over something I didn’t even do. After a long conversation in which I got chewed out and no one was interested in listening to me, I walked out of my mentor’s office and I never looked back. I moved away to college and decided that church wasn’t for me. I decided I didn’t want to be a pastor anymore. And after awhile, I decided I didn’t want to be a Christian anymore either.
The Lord is gracious. He sent me a wonderful man who has discipled me now for 5 years. I was restored to Christ during the second semester of my freshman year of college. I was a big fan of Driscoll during this time, and he is a big reason I’m still a Christian today. In the past couple of years, as I have been studying theology at college and seminary and as I have taken a few classes on pastoral ministry, I have become more critical of Driscoll and MH. The above story is why I was quick to just get mad at Mars Hill over this debacle. I’ve been in Andrew’s shoes. It’s not fun. It almost made me walk away from Christ altogether. I’ve been in Ryan’s shoes. I’ve gotten mad at anyone and everyone who disagreed with me and I felt personally attacked when people would take the side of church discipline. It’s now been almost 6 years since I was mistreated in my church and I have spoken with that youth pastor and we have a restored relationship. I have forgiven him and he has forgiven my anger at him. I’m now serving as a pastoral intern at a church I started going to in college. I decided to not go to full time seminary so that I could continue to serve there. I’m being trained to be a pastor by men who know and love me and have confirmed my calling. I pray that Ryan will experience a similar forgiveness in his own life towards whoever hurt him. I pray the same for Andrew and Mars Hill.
It’s easy for us to sit on this blog and make pot shots at everyone involved. We have the benefit of not knowing each other and remaining anonymous. That’s not healthy. The comments section on anything on the internet always brings out the worst in people, and I see that clearly in Ryan and in some of the responses to Ryan. Ryan overstepped many lines in his comments. He shouldn’t have personally attacked anyone. But the responders shouldn’t have attacked him back. Jesus commands us to turn the other cheek, and it’s hard to do that in a comment section when it’s much easier to just get mad in return. I’m not placing blame on anyone in particular, and I know my responses would have probably mirrored a lot of what happened on here. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I think this whole comment section could have been handled in a much wiser and graceful way.
Brad, thank you for posting a thoughtful and gracious post.
Thanks for the helpful way you thought through the issues here.
I think that the mega-church thing might be part of the problem too – I got the impression that they tried to apply a kind of ‘one-size-fits-all’ church discipline approach, which ultimately was not helpful.
Telling people how long they need to be single? Seriously? no wonder the world wants to stay home and watch football.
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