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.

Dear Exhale, Abortion Isn’t Peacemaking

Steve Peacock over at WND reports that pro-choice “pro-voice” group Exhale is touring the country telling “hopeful” stories about murderous “mothers” who are “brave” enough to speak.

My open challenge to Exhale is this: visit the site and discuss with me how you can call abortion “peacemaking.” Your pledge reads:

I am pro-voice.

I believe open, honest, vulnerable storytelling is a powerful and radical act of courage that can change the world in the midst of hostility, attacks, and demonization.

I trust that connecting through diverse personal experiences can humanize toxic conflicts and reveal complexity hidden within “us vs. them” divisions.

I pledge to be pro-voice in my everyday life by listening openly, speaking personally, connecting respectfully, taking leadership, and building community around polarized issues and stigmatized experiences.

I’m honored to follow a long and powerful line of peacemakers.

Lots of observations are in order:

  1. “I am pro-voice” is a euphemism for “I support the butchering of children.”
  2. “Radical act of courage” is straight-faced hypocrisy by people who sacrificed their own children for their selfish desires. The strong executing the weak is never considered “courage.”
  3. Pro-lifers are not the ones making ” ‘us vs. them’ divisions.” Pro-choicers are the ones tearing babies limb from limb.
  4. “Listening openly” in this context means nothing more than “condoning weepy-faced murder.”
  5. I almost can’t believe you wrote about any “long and powerful line of peacemakers.” How again is abortion “peacemaking”? Who is at peace? Is Exhale trying to help serial killers be at peace with their scream-less victims and their screaming consciences? And are you proud of this?

For reference, I stand and have always stood on this simple logical breakdown:

Premise #1: Murder is always wrong.
Premise #2: An unborn child is a full human being.
Premise #3: Abortion ends the life of an unborn child.
Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is always wrong.

Feel free, Exhale “Pro-Voice,” to disagree. But do so along logical principles. Are you “brave” enough to tell us your logical principles?

Ignoring the Marriage Context is Evil

Susan Baer, in the poorly-titled “A Family Learns the True Meaning of the Vow ‘In Sickness and in Health’” from The Washington Post on January 5, 2012, tells the true story of a woman (Page) who divorced her mentally ill husband (Robert) to marry an old high school sweetheart (Allan). A key section:

Allan felt uneasy at first, guilty about befriending a man [Robert] with limited cognition while starting up a romance with his wife [Page].

Page tiptoed into the subject of dating with Robert, telling him that she and Allan were beginning to be more than just friends, and asking if he understood and was comfortable with that. Robert told her it was fine. “He’s a really nice guy,” Page says he told her…

Page felt 30 again but was racked with guilt. “I believed my vows so strongly that they just kept ringing in my ears.”

She consulted her minister, who told her that by continuing to take care of Robert, she was still honoring those vows.

A few observations are in order:

  1. Allan felt “uneasy” and “guilty” about befriending Robert because he was committing adultery against him. No wonder. No amount of “I’m ok, you’re ok” from Page or their minister (see below) can take away the guilt one feels before God’s law.
  2. Page also “tiptoed into the subject of dating with Robert” because she was committing adultery against him. The fact that her husband misunderstood the context of their marriage bears no weight of the intrinsic meaning of their marriage.
  3. “What God has joined together, let no man separate” applies to husband and wife, too. Or do we think too little of verses like Matthew 19:6? Yes, our own sins and weaknesses are the reason we need such vows.
  4. Page’s minister ought to be fired. Whoever this “minister” is, he wickedly ignored the context of Robert and Page’s marriage vows. Those vows are taken as husband and wife, not as nurse and patient, not as mother and overgrown child, not as friend and friend – as husband and wife. A minister who understands this not ought not advise others, au revoir.
  5. The WP trumpets a lie. Apparently, WP and author Baer want to applaud Page for her courage to “stick with” her former husband and yet “find happiness” with  her new one. In pursuit of that self-congratulatory end, they controvert the meaning of marriage.

Which brings us to some final thoughts:

  • Remarriage, part deux: What happens when Allan, Page’s new husband, becomes mentally ill or disabled? Will she divorce him, continue to care for both him and Robert, and marry a third man? Which one will be her children’s father then?
  • The media and the meaning of marriage: How soon will The WP and other confused media outlets begin reporting on simple divorces that end happily? How long will it take us to see that they have an agenda in promoting divorce, broken families, and unhappiness?
  • An offense against God: The most important person in any discussion is God. When will we see that, when we seek to redefine what God has already spoken, we are shaking our tiny, childish fists in the face of the Almighty? Do we really expect to be “ok” when we mock His ways?

May the Lord Jesus give us grace to listen here, learn, and repent.

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