Hateful preachers are like cassette tapes. Why do people still listen to them?
A few years ago, I criticized Pastor Mark Driscoll’s angry, self-righteous, antics. At the time, I had only read praises of his popularity, and thought I was one of the few critics. Turns out I am far from alone. The entire zeitgeist of Christian blogs is starting to turn on this guy. Examples include Rachel Held Evans and sojouners magazine. Free speech and the internet topple tyrants: whether they rule Middle Eastern countries or Seattle area churches.
Is it over the top to call Driscoll a tyrant?
You can judge it for yourself if you read the story of “Andrew” in part one and part two. Please read through it in its entirety, but here’s the skinny if your in a rush. A young guy named Andrew attended Mars Hill. He became engaged to one of the elder’s daughters, but then fell into sexual sin with another girl. He confessed to his fiance, his small group leader, and others of his own volition. The reaction was not positive. They demanded that he sign and agree to a contract, in which he would have to share -in detail- his sins and was forbidden to date. Andrew felt that this was both invasive, creepy, and voyeuristic. He decided to leave Mars Hill. When he announced this, a letter was circulated to the Mars Hill community, detailing his “lack” of repentance. It detailed instructions on how members of Mars Hill were to treat him. According to Matthew 18:17.
Here is the verse:
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But he does not listen to you take one or two more with you so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every face may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. -Matthew 18:15-18 NASB
Now, Driscoll thinks that last verse means that you should shun someone from your community and publicly shame them. I ask you though, how did Jesus treat gentiles and tax collectors?
What makes the Driscoll method of church discipline so horrid is not that it is a bit cult like, but that Andrew was doing the right thing. No, not that he cheated on his fiance and lied about, but that he actually had the courage to come out and confess it. So is this how confession is supposed to work? That we should muster courage to confess, and then become chastised for it?
I’ve already discussed what I think confession could look like for evangelical protestants and why it directs us to what people already want their churches to be. Here though, is the Book of Common Prayer. The church leader responds to someone like Andrew with this statement:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinnerrs who truly repent and believe in him of his great mercy forgive you all your offense; and by his authority committed to me, I absolve you from all your sins: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Likewise, if a Lutheran minister says something like this after a prayer of public confession:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and for the sake of the sufferings, death, and resurrection of his dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, fogives us all our sins. As a Minister of the Church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare unto you who do truly repent and believe in him, the entire forgiveness of all your sins: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
In both cases, the reference to “authority” is an allusion to Matthew 18:18 (“whatever you bind on earth…”). Leaders, ministers, and lay people are given an “authority.” We are given the authority to represent Christ to penitent sinners like Andrew. How should we represent him?
Andrew confessed his sin. He confessed because the Holy Spirit convicted him. There was no “finding out” and no coercion. He confessed it to the person most hurt by it. He went further confessed it to leaders. Mark Driscoll does not seem to think this enough “true repentance.” Forgiveness must be earned. Sign the fuckin’ contract, or we’ll shame you.
How would you do it?
I will admit, I have heard only a few confessions in my life. Many people reading this have probably heard more. I have never been involved in a addiction recovery group. I am completely ignorant of how church discipline is handled in charismatic circles. Neither am I a pastor or official leader. Of course, you don’t have to be to hear a confession. I’d like to know though, how would you react to Andrew? What is your church’s policy? How would your leaders react to some dark secret a member shared with them?
In closing, I am happy that Andrew had the courage to not only confess, but to leave a church that he felt abused by. That could not have been easy, since he is several states away from home and family. If he ever wants to, he could do what many evangelical diaspora do. He could check out a local Lutheran, Episcopalian, or otherwise “liberal” protestant church.
We’re a pretty fun bunch, actually.