All of us who have responded to Andrew’s Story at Mars Hill in Seattle are quite worked up. Glenn Peoples at Beretta Online has reminded us that we are only hearing one side of the story. I am personally grateful to him for doing so.
Andrew has made his case known and Mathew Paul Turner has played the role of the prosecutor. This means he has the burden of proof and must present evidence. In my opinion, he has made his case well. He did not make vague allusions to foul treatment at Mars Hill while calling Driscoll a poopy-head. He demonstrated a specific incident and has included written statements and correspondence from Mars Hill. By your own words, be judged and all that.
Is Mars Hill pointing, or pointed at?
The Defendant Takes the Stand
Mars Hill now has a chance to respond. This is good, because a candid world deserves to hear it. As a detractor of Mars Hill, I am very happy to listen. If you are also not a fan of Pastor Mark Driscoll, then I please put your feelings aside as you read their response. Maybe Andrew withheld some key information from the incident. Maybe we can hear from his former leaders as well. There is no doubt a lot of information that they could share, that would help us understand the situation better. Let’s hear it:
In recent days, there has been some discussion surrounding Mars Hill Church and our process of church discipline. We do not wish to comment on the specific scenario in question, as this is a private matter between church leadership and members, all of whom have voluntarily agreed to this prior to becoming members. We do want to be as clear and forthright as possible in presenting our theology of repentance, forgiveness, and church discipline and make clear that our convictions on this come from our study of Scripture and our deep love for our members and a desire for them to enjoy the freedom that comes from walking by the Spirit in response to Christ’s work on the Cross on our behalf. At the heart of the process is our deep belief that church discipline is about the grace of God, not penance. (Mars Hill Website)
Oh… huh… well at least they offered a link to Driscoll’s book, Vintage Faith, which explains their theology.
Why would Mars Hill not offer a specific defense here? I realize that Mars Hill isn’t under some kind of legal obligation, but I would assume that the church is concerned about its reputation before the rest Christendom. Andrew has went public with this, but I understand that confession is often considered sacrosanct and private. Maybe Mars Hill did not want to break confidentiality. Let’s check that book to see if that’s why:
Members of Mars Hill Church are not guaranteed confidentiality regarding issues of church discipline, and understand that in submitting themselves to the authority of the church, issues of a sensitive or personal nature may become known to others. This includes, but is not limited to, notification of the authorities if a crime has been committed or if a real threat of someone being endangered exists, as well as other violations of scripture that may not result in physical danger.
Oh, I guess not. Though nothing in the Andrew story seemed to imply physical danger or legality. Maybe they wish to stay mum on the details because Andrew decided to leave. This makes sense. If you voluntarily join, and you voluntarily leave, then the relationship is over. I could see why Mars Hill might prefer to let things be.
There is a sense in which you never really let the unrepentant sinner go. Though you don’t associate with him, you keep calling him back. He is put out for the purity of the church but is always admonished to come back.
Okay. So Mars Hill is not tight lipped because Andrew left or because of guaranteed confidentiality. In fact, this seems to imply that they still want to be involved with people who leave. Though I guess Andrew did leave under bad terms, and is considered an unrepentant excommunicate. Maybe Mars Hill is doing the best they can do to avoid tarnishing his reputation anymore than he already has:
If someone under discipline begins attending another church, we notify the leaders of that church that they are unrepentant and have been removed from fellowship in our church.
Nevermind. Mars Hill does the exact opposite. If you have a bad reputation at Mars Hill, they will do their very best to make sure you have a bad reputation anywhere. Mark Driscoll is like Khal Drogo: he doesn’t do anything half way.
If you still feel that Mars Hill is tight lipped because it is “private matter,” don’t forget that they circulated a letter to the congregation regarding Andrew after he left Mars Hill. Also, Andrew has gone public with this, so who are they trying to protect? The best thing I can think of is that they do not want any current member named and “dragged into all this.” That much is fair. However, the response was unapologetic about their actions, and they don’t deny them either. Is Mars Hill simply owning and acknowledging what they did? That they feel everything was right?
The Repentance Smackdown
Mars Hill has done well to present its view of Church Discipline. I realize it is not the entire book, but it still feels a bit lacking. Here then, is what is mysteriously absent:
First, Driscoll’s chapter offers no details how about how a confessor (the person who hears someone else’s sins) should respond. They make no mention of announcing Christ’s forgiveness, assuring the sinners that they are loved by God, whether to stay quiet about what you hear, how you might pray for repentant sinner, and pretty much any other act of compassion that I can think of. Remember, the recent statement from Mars Hill said: our convictions on this come from our study of Scripture and our deep love for our members. Perhaps Mars Hill believes that we should only confess to another person if we sin against that person specifically. Are we to keep silent then, about all other sins?
Secondly, they detail out all the signs of false repentance and conjoin true repentance with a desire to change our lives. Yet that desire for change and actual change is seldom instantaneous. Ask any former substance addict how long they desired change before they had actual change. There seems to be little room for “same time justified and sinner” in Mars Hill’s church discipline.
Third, there is no mention of the sin of withholding forgiveness, or even a way to make forgiving another person easier.
Here then, are questions to consider:
1. If “true repentance” necessarily causes behavior/life changes, could this not become a salvation-by-works in practice even if it is still salvation-by-grace in theory?
2. Who judges whether or not a sinner has repented truely? Church Leadership? Can we trust their judgment as infallible?
3. If someone voluntarily joins a church, then voluntarily leaves, does the church have a right to negatively influence that person’s life?
4. Why is church discipline arranged in degrees of severity of punishment, rather than in degrees of restoration?
5. If you attended this church, had sinned grievously, would you feel comfortable sharing your sins with leaders at Mars Hill (James 5:15-16)? Why or why not?
In interest of fairness
In deference to Glenn’s post, I’d like anyone who comments in this blog to be candid with their comments, but please avoid inflammatory speech. I myself am trying to be as charitable as possible, but it is hard -from their response- to think that the conclusions Matthew Paul Turner reached are false. Still though, if Mars Hill ever wants to offer something more specific, it would be great to hear it.