Lessons from Watching Mars Hill Church Burn to the Ground

Kalapana Gardens burning

Kalapana Gardens burning

Five years ago, I listened to Mark Driscoll regularly and followed Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. I’ve heard a good 2-3 dozen of his sermons and read several of his book excerpts. I thanked God for what He was doing there, and I benefited from their teaching and ministry. Unlike some, I don’t have a doctrinal axe to grind. I’m a complementarian who fully supports the Scripture MHC has often stood on to support their position (of course, the ways they have gone about that are questionable). I have lots of disagreements with them, but they are biblical, not stylistic. I’m someone who is, though from afar, a close enough watcher to know what MHC is about.

And what we’ve witnessed over the past 15 months at Mars Hill is the absolute incineration of a a local church. The charges of heresy, plagiarism, money laundering, misuse of funds, workplace bullying, and the like were bad enough – then they were found to be true! And instead of repenting, the founding pastor, Mark Driscoll, resigned. Resignation isn’t repentance.

MHC subsequently announced that they would be breaking up their separate campuses and going their separate ways, which is all for the best.

It sounds rough, but Mars Hill going down was what had to happen.

  1. Driscoll wasn’t going to and didn’t repent. He never showed signs of true repentance, like, you know, listening to other elders, naming and taking responsibility for specific sins, and remaining under the discipline of the church. No, he just left. That’s not repentance; that’s self-removal.
  2. The ongoing leadership structure was harmful, not helpful, to the church. Anytime a group of men can unilaterally make decisions and cover their own behinds, bad things tend to happen. In a local church, this is toxic. See the charges against Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD, for another illustration of what happens in a similarly governed body.
  3. Therefore, Mars Hill SHOULD CLOSE DOWN. The leaders their, Driscoll in particular, had a chokehold on their people, their precious sheep they were called to be under-shepherds for. The simple fact that so many continue to defend MHC and Driscoll after every charge has been validated just goes to show that we, like sheep, so often blindly follow even when the truth says otherwise.

Thus, several lessons are in order for local churches and their leaders particularly:

  1. Church Leadership Structure Matters. Please don’t be so naive as to think that MHC’s top-heavy leadership didn’t play a MASSIVE role in all of this. Scripture teaches that churches are to led by a plurality of elders yet governed by the entire body (Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 1, et al.). Mars Hill wildly distorted this teaching, turning the elders into various sub-groups and boards that all reported upward to Driscoll’s henchmen. How do I know? When you listen to Driscoll’s teaching enough, particularly to other pastors, you hear him lampoon congregationalism in favor of his corporate America eldership apart from Scripture.
  2. Church Leadership Character Matters. Are we really to believe that these elders, helping cover up Driscoll’s and others’ sins, were men of integrity? Are we really to believe that the warning signs were not present earlier in their lives, in their decisions, in their families? Or were these men so pliable that they had to bow to Pastor Mark? Either way, the first elder cover-up should have been grounds for discipline. Which leads us to . . .
  3. Unilateral Decision Making is a Bad Idea. Every statement out of Mars Hill seems to come from some lofty Executive Elder Board or “Board of Advisors and Accountability.” Where are the poor, lowly members? Mars Hill had no structure for the church to practice accountability and discipline, as in Scripture. What happened at Mars Hill, time and again, is that a select few elders got together and made decisions to keep their own jobs, not to shepherd their people in the gospel.
  4. Elder Idolatry is a Real Thing. Sabbaticals are healthy – take a break, guys! It doesn’t all depend on you; it depends on Jesus. Mark Driscoll, friends, is not the end-all be-all of Christianity in the Great Northwest; and shame on some of you for acting like it. Jesus will march on in Seattle – without Mars Hill Church to boot.
  5. Public Repentance is a Command, Not an Option. So many Driscoll defenders say he repented. I challenge any and all DD’s to find one place in the last two years where he specifically and publicly named his sins. It’s not possible because he didn’t do it. Vague apology letters don’t cut it. Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” The charges came from dozens of people, but the rebuking publicly . . . ummm, that didn’t happen.

“Mars Hill Church burns to the ground” might sound tough. People were hurt, right? Sure they were, but this article and the campuses closing didn’t do it. The leaders did.


Isolated and Jointless

Your Body is Meant for a Bigger Body

Reflecting on the recent Atlantic article by Stephen Marche about how loneliness is on the rise, particularly with internet users, I remembered God’s words in Ephesians and Colossians about how the local church is held together by its “joints and ligaments,” in other words, by its relationships.

If people are the parts, the joining-together-ness (to coin a rough word) must be their relationships.

And if, as Marche says, “Loneliness is at the American core, a by-product of a long-standing national appetite for independence,” then we as Americans are particularly tempted to isolate ourselves. Westerners, it seems, are self-separators, more likely to retreat than truly connect.

In other words, since we value independence, we implicitly value our own rights to stay away from other people. Other people are messy, other people are time-consuming, other people are sinners.

Yet the Bible tells us at this point that the sins, time, and gifts of others are exactly what we need. Why else would God tell us to forgive each other and bear with each other in the church, if we aren’t even interacting enough to wrong each other? These are surely not the commands of loneliness.

So we must ask ourselves:

  • Do I feel isolated and jointless?
  • Am I self-apparently a lonely person?
  • Do I invest significant time, daily and weekly, into the people who ought to be most important to me?

Disciplining ourselves for godliness means disciplining ourselves for
costly, time-consuming, needy relationships that matter most in
eternity. God surely didn’t give us those relationships to throw away, and the deepest of them ought to be in the immediate family and in the local church.

The Nations Are Always Bigger

Why God Wants Us to Grow a Passion for the Nations

As I longed to move overseas recently (this has been a lifelong desire, recently stoked by a teaching trip), I realized that, even when I get to whatever country foreign country God may send me to, I still won’t be in all the nations. I won’t even be ministering in two. Likely only one.

In other words, even in my desire to go to the nations, I can really only go to one at a time. The nations are always bigger than me.

For all of our evangelical talk about “reaching the nations for Christ,” there tends to be a rather individualistic (yay America!) tone to it all. It seems we’ve forgotten: the nations are always bigger than us.

And this is the way God intends the nations, as a term and as a reality, to be: always bigger. We need to know that we always need God more, need each other more, need other churches and churches from other countries more, than we had realized.

God wants us to grow a passion for “the nations” for two big reasons: to grow in our love for the God of all the nations and to feed that first love with a love for all the nations, even while we toil mainly in a single area of this vast world.

God’s design is that the pursuit of the nations undercut our “look at us!” pride and give us great hope in the God who can answer and save.

“Our Religion is What We Do”

An Investigation into the Ethos of One Mainline Liberal Protestant Non-Profit

Mainline liberal Protestantism has a lot of ills, which are better chronicled and dissected elsewhere; but, in a recent conversation, one came to the forefront. This is how it went:

  • Mainline liberal Protestant leader: We want you to understand that we are a Christian organization, but we’re not religious.
  • Me: What does that mean?
  • MLPL: Well, we believe in the teachings of Jesus, and we teach our children about a relationship with God and a belief in a ‘higher power.’
  • Me: So what is this relationship with God based on?
  • MLPL: Our religion is who we are, it’s what we do, it’s how we live.

Now, to understand the context, we need to back up. This organization for which the MLP leader spoke does present itself as a Christian operation, even taking their name from one of Christ’s miracles. As with many Christian social aid organizations, they receive donations from both individuals and Christian organizations, including (in all likelihood) several local churches.

So, at the very least, churches that are supposed to beacon the gospel are support this organization instead. But, someone might read this and say, what’s so bad about that?

Deceptive and Disorienting
From the first statement, I knew where we were headed: this leader meant to confuse and mislead people by her use of terms. To say “we are Christian, but not religious,” in her own usage, means that Christ is a personal tiny-idol who has no bearing on their operation but to be a prayer cuckhold.

Now, this is surely worth another post, but only in the Bible belt could we countenance such Christ-hating lies (see below) with a smile. Only in the South could such a leader raise money under the name of Jesus, then turn around and spit on His name. And to have the gaul to say that this is the essence of “Progressive Christianity.”

“We’re a Christian organization, but we’re not religious,” only means, “We want everyone outside to think we’re Christian, but our program will refuse to follow Him so as to remain acceptable to all the unbelievers involved. We are dry water, living death, holy idolatry.”

Anti-Truth and Anti-Theology
The second statement, that this organization holds to the teachings of Jesus and teaches students about a persona dei non descripta and their relationship with him (her? it?), is a clarifying summary of many MLP’s approach to truth and theology. This is to say, that in any biblically recognizable way, many don’t believe in truth or theology.

“Whoa! That’s a big blanket statement! Aren’t you being unfair?” Well, with respect to this one conversation’s context and intent, no. To this particular leader of this particular organization, the Bible’s truth had no bearing on her leadership, the program’s goals, and the lives of their students. Worse, this truth had long been divorced from the Christ who is its depth of meaning and rich fountain of life:

  • Jesus is the Truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).
  • Christ is the Storehouse of wisdom and knowledge: “In whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Colossians 2:3).
  • Christ is the personal revelation of God’s truth: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (John 1:17).
  • Truth leads back to Christ: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15).

In other words, an organization who cares not to describe God according to the Bible cares not for the real Jesus Christ, who is the personal fulfillment and embodiment of that truth.

God-less, Christ-less Religion
This all brings us to the last statement, which now is particularly revealing. When pressed on the basis for her beliefs, all this leader could answer was: “The religion I’m talking is all about me! Me! Not God! Me! It’s how I live, not who He is!” To her, following Jesus had nothing to do with faith, but everything to do with works.

To put it another way, she had all cart and no horse. The cart could be hitched to anything; here it is hitched to a vague deity of your own choosing, who happens to look a lot like you. Such a statement is me-magnifying idolatry of the lowest order.

Me-centered religion is no religion in the old sense of the term at all. It is no face-to-face-ness with God, no worship of Him at all. It excludes God and His Christ for an image made in the likeness of man. This leader’s god was found in the mirror, not the Scriptures.

Stop the Charade; Warn the Wicked
Because of these things, I’ll be writing the board of this particular organization to notify them of the God-hating things that they have authorized in the name of Jesus. No organization should take Christ’s name and spit on His face in the Word, and we must rebuke the wicked. “But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul,” (Ezekiel 33:9).

The Spirit and the Bride Say, “Come”

I love the simple beauty of the Scriptures. Today I was struck by this simple phrase, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come,’ ” (Revelation 22:17).

Just a few amazing things about this little passage:

  1. Call: After all the judgments, warnings, exhortations, proddings, visions, terror, and joy of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (aka, “Revelation”), the Holy Spirit and the Bride speak together. They say, “Come. Come get some living water. It’s free. Come on, come now, come all.”

    Not to make the Bible out to be merely a book of God’s pleadings, as though (like J.I. Packer so deftly put it in his excellent essay-introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ) God were pathetic and wringing His hands at how sinners reject Him, but God’s Spirit and His church here close the entire Bible by pleading with sinners! “Come!”

  2. Church and Spirit: The church and the Spirit speak in agreement here. The church and the Spirit are on mission together. The church and the Spirit speak the judgments and the joy of God, then they call, “Come. Come to Jesus. Come take His free water. Come.”

    This must give great hope to missionaries the world over. Wherever we work and whatever we do, we are called to call others to Jesus. It can be as simple as explaining the end of the world and commanding, “Come. Come to Jesus.” His Spirit is speaking with us!

  3. Word: The church says what the Word says, the Spirit says what the Word says, the Spirit says what the church says. The local church is meant to be in full agreement with God’s Spirit and His Word. There is no division. United are the three.

    Hope must spring from knowing that God’s Word, Spirit, and church cannot fail. His Word won’t return empty, His Spirit moves and saves wherever He wishes, and His church even stands against the gates of hell!

So say it with the Spirit and the Word. “Come. Come, take the water of life, without cost.”

Church, Love All Your Families

From Pastor Kevin DeYoung, in “Love for the Big and the Small

Think of all the trouble we get into in the church, and on this issue in particular, because we assume the worst. Big families assume smaller families are being selfish. Smaller families assume big families are out to prove something. Parents assume their children are rejecting their choices when they make different ones. Children assume their parents would have acted like them if they were more spiritual. And everybody assumes everybody else is assuming something about them!

This is not the way of 1 Corinthians 13 love and it has to stop. Let’s assume the best of each other on this issue and not assume we’re being judged because someone else feels strongly about the way they do things.

Finally, a Good Lesson from the NBA

NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle, on what made his underdog team so special:

It’s not about what you can’t do; it’s about what you can do. It’s not about what your potential shortcomings are; it’s about what we can accomplish together.

And later:

Dirk [Nowitzki] and JET [Jason Terry] . . . have made a statement that’s a colossal statement – not just about our team, but about the game in general. You know, playing it a certain way, trusting the pass, playing collectively, believing in each other. Our team’s not about individual ability; it’s about collective will, collective grit, collective guts.

It reminds me of how the church is supposed to function – we’re not supposed to the smartest, the wealthiest, or the most influential (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). We are supposed to be the people that hold on together (Ephesians 4:12-17) to the only thing that matters – Jesus. And, in holding on together, we accomplish more by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Lost “Christian” Schools

A friend of mine recently took a job at an Episcopal school in the (American) South. Their website explains “What It Means to be an Episcopal School” like this:

The work of [school name] is steeped in the graceful spirit of the
Episcopal Church belief statement, which describes a “God of creation,
redemption and constant presence and love.”

Later, they expound further:

[School] is committed to diversity, seeking to be inclusive of all faiths. As an Episcopal school, spirituality is practiced using the form and traditions of the Episcopal Church. It is our intention that if you come to this school and identify yourself as a Catholic, Methodist, Muslim, Jew, or any other faith or denomination, you will find your own faith enhanced and your own loyalties confirmed.

Hmm. So . . . the entire page on beliefs never mentions Jesus Christ once, and only describes God as one of “creation, redemption, and constant presence and love.” This is a description with with non-Trinitarians (Unitarians, Muslims, Jews) can also agree, and that’s the design here. Even worse, their teaching is so unclear on Christ that it enhances even pagan faith.

Is This “Christian” School Christian at All?
All of this begs the question: how can this school call themselves “Christian” at all? They don’t even name Christ in their public creed!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for respecting people of other religions, but enhancing their faith? No way. That’s not in the job description of a Christian school, unless “Christian” has been so moronized that it means nothing more than belief in your own god – oh wait, that’s what it means here.

Christians schools like this are “Christian” in name only, but they shouldn’t take Christ’s name at all. They ought to call themselves something far more vague, like, “Center for Universal Edification” or “School of Your Own Personal Religion.”

Cash or Christ (Not Both)
We ought to finally remember – and be warned – that you cannot love both God and money. You have to choose whom you will serve. Sadly, for schools like this one, temporary cash too often trumps the eternal Lord of the universe.

Administrators want a fat bottom line more than a faithful front line. I can think of no other reason that such schools would aim to support pagan religions. God, be merciful to us and bring repentance.

Doctrine-Less Unity?

Musician Michael Gungor has recently responded to Rob Bell’s No Hell controversy by waiving the white flag of doctrine-less unity:

Unity.  That’s what Jesus seemed to want for us more than anything else.

Unity under what?  That we would all believe the exact same doctrines?  That we would all have the same opinions about the afterlife?

Is the foundation of our faith Jesus AND our thoughts about the Bible and salvation and miracles and heaven and hell…etc  Or is the foundation of our faith Jesus and Jesus alone?

So we’re presented with dichotomy – either Jesus OR doctrine. Unity in Jesus vs. doctrine about  Jesus. You can have one, some say, but not the other.

Such a division in thought is false, and always has been. People with little concern for the truth of the Bible tend to scorn the theological statements of others, as did Erasmus to Luther (and Luther identified his tactics).

Without Truth, No Jesus
One of the embedded problem with “Jesus vs. Doctrine” is that some doctrine (though not all) is absolutely essential to understanding Jesus at all:

  • Who is Jesus? Is He God, or man, or both, or some hybrid?
  • How did He live? Did He ever sin?
  • What about the cross? What did it mean?
  • What about the resurrection?
  • How are we united to Christ?

The Bible’s answers to such questions are more than ideas; they are truths upon which we know Jesus Christ. Without truth, we know nothing of Him.

Theology is More Than Opinions
A second embedded problem with “Jesus vs. Doctrine” is that doctrine is more than “opinions.” Gungor likes to say that arguing about the afterlife is a matter of division and strife precisely because it is a matter of mere individual opinion. He writes, “Unity under what?  That we would all believe the exact same doctrines?  That we would all have the same opinions about the afterlife?”

His view is that knowing the person of Jesus has nothing to do with what we believe from the Bible – “Is the foundation of our faith Jesus AND our thoughts about the Bible and salvation and miracles and heaven and hell…etc?” To Gungor, all knowledge outside of Jesus’ person is less than fully knowable. It is all “opinion.”

But Mr. Gungor is wrong. At the risk of a pun, what we believe about the afterlife is truly a matter of life and death.

The White Flag is a Lie
People that cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace (Jeremiah 5:14, 8:11, 8:15, 12:12, 14:13) are often called “false prophets,” while the apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 that such divisions in the church are necessary so that God’s family will know whose teaching to follow.

Now, Paul also warns often against evil divisions. They certainly can and often do hurt the local church, so we would do well to understand the twin differences between negative divisions and positive ones: a positive division is one conducted in a holy, loving manner, only over those foundational doctrines that are worth dividing over.

Mr. Gungor would have us believe that the Bible’s teaching on heaven and hell is not one of these doctrines; but Moses, the prophets, Jesus, Paul, and Peter would all disagree, since they spend quite a bit of time teaching on the subject and linking it always to the gospel. As the Jeremiah verses well show, false prophets are the ones who call out a false peace when there can be none.

Defending Justification by Faith: An Exchange

In response to musician Michael Gungor’s post, “Missing the Point (Rob Bell Pt. 2),” Mr. Gungor and I held a lively discussion on justification by faith, the role of works and faith in the Christian life, and the nature of the gospel.

This comment from the original article got me thinking:

All I know is I feel like on both sides of the argument, so many people have lost the point. I don’t think the point to any of this is to have concrete human ideas about God, the Bible, salvation, heaven, hell…etc as much as it is to live in a different kind of way in the world.

Part of my response highlighted the need for a truly biblical theology:

If we can’t build a theology out of the Bible, Mr. Gungor, how will we every awake churches and deepen our understanding of God Himself? Will it be built on our knowledge of our own good works as we “live a different kind of way in the world”?

He graciously responded in the comments over at his site, and here’s our exchange:

MG: Thanks for the response Britt, I’m curious about something… How do you make sense of the parable of the sheep and the goats?

I have never said that what you believe doesn’t matter or that our theology shouldn’t be built upon Scriptural truth… I am simply arguing that your theology doesn’t line up with Scripture.

BT: Michael,

Thanks for reading and getting back to me. Good question about the
sheep and the goats (Matthew 25). That’s one of my favorite parables!

The way Jesus tells the story shows that He’s evaluating faith (that works itself out), not works mainly:

1. The two preceding parables (the ten virgins, then the talents)
both deal with faith. The five faithful virgins await the bridegroom
because they long for Him. The one servant who gets his master’s
condemnation reveals that he failed to steward his talent well because
he believed differently than the other two.

2. In verse 34, the King says that the kingdom was “prepared” for the
sheep who are “blessed by My Father.” In the Bible, this always points
to God’s grace through faith (Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:3-12, John

3. Jesus calls the sheep “righteous” in verse 37, another phrase that
points not to their own goodness (Romans 3:9-20) but to Christ’s
righteousness imputed by faith (Romans 3-5).

4. The sheep reveal in verse 37 that they didn’t even know they were
helping Christ. They weren’t even trying to gain Jesus’ “brownie
points.” They were walking by faith, not by sight. They believed Him and
lived it out. They didn’t do works for works sake, but out of faith in

Finally, Michael, I’d pose you this question: do you think that this
parable explains the gospel, the good news of God – how hell-aimed
sinners are rescued by Jesus’ precious blood? Is it meant to explain the
gospel itself, or one of the (many) ways were are to live it out? How
would you interpret it?

Note the context: the Gospel of Matthew doesn’t conclude here. It
heads straight for the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which
are ours not by our good works but by faith in the Savior.

MG: Britt, I would agree with you if you are saying that the biblical
concept of faith and works cannot be separated from one another. To
believe is to live out. But according to Jesus, we are judged by our
fruit, not our belief. I just pointed out that parable because I think
it shows a faith and an eschatology that is a bit richer and more
complex than “believe this so you can go to heaven, or if you don’t
believe this, you go to hell.”

BT: Michael,

Thanks for keeping this going. I’m sure it’s time-consuming, but you obviously care a great deal.

The problem with your response is that it isn’t careful with
language. Jesus isn’t judging, as you say, “our fruit, not our belief;”
He’s judging whether we had true faith or not.

Christ was talking to a bunch of folks who though they could claim
doctrine without it touching their hearts, but that’s not biblical
faith. I’m not talking about empty, unconverted faith here. I’m talking
about true, Spirit-wrought, grace-bought conversion. Jesus is simply
giving us another way that He’ll judge believers versus unbelievers
here. True believers in Christ are loving people in His name all over
the place; unbelievers couldn’t care less.

As Hebrews 3:14 teaches, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if
we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” Sure,
there is perseverance and fruit and love (“if we hold fast” proves it),
but it’s all based on grace through faith (“we have become partakers of
Christ” is where it began and continues. Perseverance is simply the
evidence of true faith.

Michael, I’ve been a musician and am a teacher. You have a platform
as a musician, people listen to you, and you are more accountable for
how you articulate the gospel. So please don’t say and teach things so
sloppy as “Jesus judges fruit, not faith.” Biblically, that’s false. He
judges whether faith is true or not, and here He does that through
faith-filled fruit.

“For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the
law,” Romans 3:28 (cf. Galatians 2:14). Believe it! Don’t believe
works! Believe in Christ crucified and risen! Don’t teach law. Don’t
teach works. Don’t teach “do stuff.” Teach the gospel. Only the gospel
changes; not your good works.

for grace through faith in Christ,

MG: Britt,

16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from
thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears
good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear
bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that
does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus,
by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of
heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in
heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not
prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name
perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew
you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ [Matthew 7:16-23]

I think saying that Jesus teaches us that we will be judged by our
fruit, not our faith, is a very biblical thing to say. Of course, a
broad Scriptural reading would argue that it is from faith that this
good fruit comes up from… but the point is, believing some sort of
doctrines in our minds… That doesn’t mean very much. Believing
something in our hearts does. I think modern Evangelical Christianity
has put FAR too much emphasis on believing something in your mind and
not nearly enough on looking at the fruit of your life to see if this is
actually something you believe in your heart. As far as not teaching
“do stuff”, maybe you should critique Jesus’ words, he seemed to say a
lot of that kind of stuff. Certainly far more than “believe this
doctrine” kind of stuff.

BT: Michael,

Hey, thanks again for writing. I appreciate the sharpening.

Once again, though, a more faithful reading of the context will show
that Jesus is, in fact, talking about true faith versus false faith
here. Verse 22 is the famous, “Lord, Lord” passage, and in it Jesus
teaches that faith is what is in question.

Why? Precisely because the false teachers point to their fruit! They
stand at the gates of heaven and say, “Let me in; I did stuff. I did
really good stuff.”

See, the fruit of a believer is simply that – the fruit of faith.
You’re definitely right – we place too much emphasis on mental assent,
but I’ve already said that’s not what the Bible means by “faith.” Faith
is all-encompassing, changing the heart, mind, soul, actions, words, and

“Do Stuff” isn’t the gospel. Faith is.

In other places, Jesus explains this very connection using the good tree and the bad tree:

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad
and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of
vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the
abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good
treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil
treasure brings forth evil. (Matthew 12:33-35)

The question is, “If Jesus says we have to ‘make the tree good,’ how
does that happen?” The answer in the Bible is that heart-change is given
by the Holy Spirit through repentance from sin and faith in the gospel.
The heart (the type of tree) must be changed! “How can you speak good
(do good, act good) when you ARE evil?” Jesus says we must be changed.

That happens by faith, not by doing stuff,


[END EXCHANGE] So, any thoughts from my readers here? Do any of Gungor’s arguments hold up under scrutiny? Is this the historical Protestant position, a false gospel, or something in-between?

Sorry, You’re Missing the Point

Dramatic Irony in a Blog Post Title
Over at the band Gungor‘s blog, band leader Michael Gungor responds to the Rob Bell / Love Wins / Universal Love / No Hell controversy with the equivocating assertion that those of us who fight over it all are “Missing the Point“:

I’m sad that the people that claim to follow Jesus are so divided against each other. I’m sad that so much of Christianity has become about ideas and systems and theologies rather than about celebrating and moving towards the miracle, the event, the life-changing reality that is God. Jesus prayed for us in the garden that we would be one, and here we are fighting about what happens to us when we die. Our pastors get up in the pulpits and take sides and proclaim their biblical interpretation as the true revelation from God. And we are secure and safe in our little bubble of self-righteous knowledge. And it all just makes me sad.

So, according to Gungor, those of us who happen to care about little things like hell, eternity, and the gospel are just fighting to make ourselves feel better.

In fairness, Mr. Gungor does make some good points later. We ought to care about love and unity (as he says) – but not at the expense of the gospel. We ought to disagree in love, but he seems to think that disagreeing vehemently over important things is necessarily unloving – or maybe he just thinks there are no truths important enough to disagree over…

The “Be a Better Person” Bad News
… which brings us to the heart of his view:

All I know is I feel like on both sides of the argument, so many people have lost the point. I don’t think the point to any of this is to have concrete human ideas about God, the Bible, salvation, heaven, hell…etc as much as it is to live in a different kind of way in the world.

Here again is the clarion call of the emergent/seeker/liberal false gospel: “Just live differently than the world. Just be a better person than those around you. It doesn’t really matter what you believe.”

Isn’t that what this musician says? “I don’t think the point to any of this is to have concrete human ideas about God, the Bible, salvation, heaven, hell, etc.” According to Gungor, our understanding of God doesn’t matter, just so long as we are different than the world.

This bad news (no real gospel here) is all about us.

Luther and Erasmus
All of which reminds me of a discussion Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus had about 500 years ago. Against Luther, Erasmus wrote in On the Freedom of the Will, “I am so far from delighting in assertions [doctrinal truths] that I would readily take refuge in the opinions of the Skeptics,” except that he was bound by Scripture and church law, so he submitted himself to their authority whether or not he understood why.

Luther blew this argument to bits, responding in On the Bondage of the Will, “It is not the mark of a Christian mind to take no delight in assertions; on the contrary, a man must take delight in assertions or he will be no Christian.” And later, “The Holy Spirit goes to such lengths in asserting,” that, “the Holy Spirit is no Skeptic.”

Luther likens the Skeptic-Christian (if there could even be one, in his view) to a poet who doesn’t learn to write before he tries to rhyme, a general who fails to prepare for war, and a builder who fails to count up his money before he constructs a tower. He asks, “What is Christ’s verdict on him?” (See Luke 14:25-33.)

Dead Churches Come from Which Type of Theology?
In the end, Gungor offers his own woes – “Woe to our dead churches and shallow theology” – but its his own assessment that rings dead and shallow. If we can’t build a theology out of the Bible, Mr. Gungor, how will we every awake churches and deepen our understanding of God Himself? Will it be built on our knowledge of our own good works as we “live a different kind of way in the world”?

Or is it, as Luther said, that the Christian who is anathema (cursed) is the one “who is not certain and does not grasp what is prescribed for him”?

The Main Difference Between Planting New Churches and Planting New Campuses

The main difference between planting new churches and planting new campuses, as far as I can tell, is this: churches that plant new churches want to spread the gospel in the name of Jesus Christ, while churches that plant new campuses want to spread their own name.

I know, I know, lots of “church health”-type folks have said it before, but a recent video from a related church got me thinking – why are they planting another campus instead of another church?”

The answer from the video is, “Because our name is well-known in this new area.”

Hmm. It seems that if this particular church was known for the gospel, they would have no problem just planting a church with any old Christ-centered name. Instead, they must plant a new campus with the same church name. Instead of planting something like “Westside Presbyterian Church” won’t do, it has to be, “Eastside Presbyterian Church, West Campus.”

So, the planting church’s stated priority is not multiplying churches in Christ’s name but multiplying campuses in their own name. And maybe they’ll get to multiplying Jesus’ name later.


So, dear brother-churches and church members, care not for your own church’s name! Care for Christ’s name! Plant churches in His name, whatever the cost! Pray and work and teach for healthy congregations that function as their own bodies, not as some parody of some other church down the road.

When you care more about His name, you’ll plant churches in His name, not your own.

Worship in the Local Church

Over at theResurgence blog, Pastor Mark Driscoll lays out six biblical principles for corporate worship in the local church:

  1. Corporate worship is to be God-centered
  2. Corporate worship should be intelligible
  3. Corporate worship is to be seeker-sensible
  4. Corporate worship is to be unselfish
  5. Corporate worship is to be orderly
  6. Corporate worship is to be missional

And he reminds us of the the elements of corporate worship:

  • Preaching (2 Timothy 4:2)
  • Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Table (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:17–34)
  • Prayer (1 Timothy 2:1)
  • Reading Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13)
  • Financial giving (2 Corinthians 8–9)
  • Singing and music (Colossians 3:16)

This post was very helpful for me in thinking through the Bible’s teaching on worship in the local church.

Is Your Church Characterized By Commands or Christ?

Is your church characterized by commands the leaders give or by the person and work of Jesus Christ. Sadly, various issues in the church – alcohol use, school choice, political beliefs, positions on tattoos and smoking, dietary choices, positions on dancing and attire – tend to characterize the family of God, when it should be all about Jesus.

Jesus is the blazing center, the one who fills all in all, the beginning and goal of all things in the universe and in His church. Dear local church, does your life and doctrine show that?

Here are six ways to tell:

  1. Sunday Service: When people walk out of your Sunday service, do they remember the music style, the way the pastor dressed, the movies he referenced or railed against, or the gospel?
  2. Conversation & Life: When your church members get together, do they tend to discuss political issues, school choices, and dietary decisions or the great work of God in their lives?
  3. Watching World: When unbelievers talk about your church and its members, do they tend to notice that they are characterized by idiosyncracies or by the living Christ?
  4. Small Groups: When your church gathers in small groups, do the leaders focus on what members should and should not be doing or what they should and should not be believing?
  5. Diversity: It’s not an absolute judge, but is your church is characterized by a specific socioeconomic class, a particular musical preference, a small age or life situation demographic, one or two ethnicities, or by a diversity of people (as much as geographically possible) ralled around Jesus?
  6. Pastors and Leaders: Brother pastor and leader, does your teaching focus more on what your people are to do or not do or on who they are to trust?

Each of these is a strong indicator as to whether your church is characterized by commands or Christ. Together, they serve as a helpful guide to assessing the Christ-centeredness of your local body.

But why care about that? Even if your church does stand out more for opinions than for the Savior, why does that matter? Here are 5 reasons:

  1. Glory: Jesus gets more glory when He is the center rather than issues. And His glory is what He deserves.
  2. Goal: Check out Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 sometime, God doesn’t aim for our divisive opinions to take center stage. That’s for Christ alone.
  3. Good: In the biggest ways, the health of your church depends on your God-given ability to focus on Jesus, not on everything else that clamors for our attention. Politics, opinions, and false laws don’t feed faith.  The people will prosper in the Lord as you point them to Him.
  4. Glue: From places like Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3, we learn that the church becomes very sticky when it is stuck on Christ. And that’s the point – focusing on Jesus leads the church to grow in the gospel, guard the gospel, and go hard for the gospel together. A church united in the gospel won’t be divided over weaker matters.
  5. Gospel: The gospel becomes and remains very clear when we labor week after week, year after year, to keep it clearly shining forth from the Scriptures. It becomes clear to the church, who in turn makes it clear to the world. The endurance of your people and the salvation of the world depend on your single-minded, violently-vigilant focus on Jesus Christ.

So, brother pastor, leader, or church member, is your church characterized by commands or Christ? Even biblical commands aren’t meant to overshadow – but rather point to – the Son of the Living God, perfect, reigning, sacrificed and risen, gracious and just, God and man, powerful and returning. Will your church be ready?

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