Friday, February 17, 2012

Driscoll's Big Schtick is Making Some Walk

It's almost too easy.

Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll has enjoyed building a reputation of raunchy Calvinism at his Mars Hill Church.  And make no mistake about it - it is HIS church.

Just ask the guys who've been kicked out of it.  One of them, admittedly, committed sexual sin and decided that the way Driscoll's handlers wanted to discipline him was too oppressive.  Another was a staff member who balked after Driscoll re-wrote the church bylaws one too many times in favor of consolidating his power even further.

On January 23, the sexual sinner's story went public.  Then on January 29, Bent Meyer went public with his version of why he was fired from his job at Mars Hill Church.  Ever since then, unbeknownst to me, the Christian blogosphere has been humming with fallout from these revelations.  I say it was unbeknownst to me because I spend very little time in the Christian blogosphere.  Seriously.  I have a blog because I have things to say, but I don't particularly enjoy arguing with people, which is what often happens on these blogs.  Neither do I think many of the discussions I've seen in the Christian blogosphere have any more impact on society and culture than sports fans who pontificate on sports sites.

But today, this frenzy over Driscoll and his heavy-handed church discipline finally caught up with me in a story I found on mulling whether Driscoll truly knows what repentance means.  And that story led me to which provides even more details on the goings-on at Mars Hill Church.

It would have been too easy for me to pick up right where I'd left off, back during this past Advent, when I was criticizing Driscoll over his salacious sermonizing about sex.  It's as if Driscoll uses his own hyperbole and arrogance as an invitation for others to tear him down.

The Discipline of Church Discipline

But this is a little different.  Church discipline, perhaps unlike Biblical sermons on sex, really is an under-respected component of Christian church life.  Many congregations have been corrupted by the lack of Biblically-structured church discipline.  So I think we need to be careful when it comes to people who complain about instances where church discipline is actually used.  Maybe, as a number of his detractors are claiming, Driscoll is running his church like a cult.  But maybe it just seems that way because our society doesn't know what true discipline looks like anymore.

In Matthew 18:15-17, we have a simple flowchart with instructions for how healthy church discipline is to be meted out:

15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

First, you deal with it individually.  This is probably the toughest step, because it requires that somebody take a personal risk and approach the offender who might be a friend or even somebody in authority over them.

If that doesn't resolve the problem, then you're to take it up a notch, and get a couple of other people to join with you in urging the offender to repent.  If that is unsuccessful, then you take the issue to the full congregation so that everyone knows the situation.  This also involves "excommunicating" the offender from the fellowship, something that will probably be unpleasant for everyone involved.

But it's what Christ teaches, is it not?

I've only ever seen church discipline on this level once.  Our female organist, a wife and mother of several kids, was having an affair with a medical doctor, who was also an elder in our church.  The organist's husband was an airline pilot who helped run the church's sports program on weekends.  So this sin affected two popular families involved in highly-visible ministries.  I didn't hear anything about it until one Sunday morning, the worship service ended early, and the elder board gathered at the pulpit and announced that after repeatedly advising the couple to return to their respective spouses, both of whom were open to reconciliation, they had asked the doctor to step down as elder, and they'd fired the organist.

We were instructed not to contact the man or the woman, nor were we to engage with them socially.  The elders had instructed the man and woman not to set foot on our church campus until they were ready to repent.

Which never happened.  They both promptly divorced their current spouses, got married, joined another church in town, and apparently led a happy life together until she passed away last year.  I saw her obituary in the paper, a write-up that didn't sound like the woman I'd known at all.

Driscoll's Swagger Has Repercussions

Obviously, I don't know much about the circumstances at Mars Hill Church that have brought about the charges of Driscoll's oppressive discipline.  But frankly, discipline isn't easy when you're a kid and your mamma has the wooden spoon in her hand, and it's probably even harder when you're a grown adult in a culture where everybody seems to get away with everything.

From what I've read, it sure sounds like the short-statured Driscoll may have a Napoleon complex.  I haven't heard anybody say he's not a tyrant at Mars Hill Church.  He excuses his extraordinarily blunt mannerisms and coarse language as culturally acceptable, if not conventionally Christian.  Combine his churlish demeanor with the dictates of discipline, and should anybody be surprised it all gets misinterpreted?

Still, couldn't part of that misinterpretation come from the fact that Matthew 18:15-17 is so counter-cultural?  It's no secret that many people in the North American church have an impure estimation of marriage and sex, and of all his faults, Driscoll does not seem to be anxious for such ambivalence towards infidelity to take root in his church.  And as far as Driscoll's aggressive leadership controls are concerned, that's simply one of the many pitfalls of a non-denominational church founded by an extroverted type-A person.  Sure, his pastoral style may have severe faults, but why should his own parishioners be surprised by that?

On the other hand, of course, is the fact that we really don't know how the Matthew 18 scenario was applied in these cases.  Were the men whom Driscoll and his staff deemed offenders truly approached in loving and caring ways by people who wanted God to be honored in these situations?  How much time was given to the prayerful interaction between the concerned parties?  Were any resources offered to help guide the "offenders" towards how Driscoll wanted them to respond?  Or was it all pretty much "my way or the highway," without what I would call an attitude of grace, as would appear to be Driscoll's preferred style?

Ahh, grace!  I'm not talking about grace that lets people off the hook.  But I do think there are times when grace can put a little extra effort in working overtime to make sure God's standards are respected, and at the same time, offenders know God still loves them.  Church discipline isn't an opportunity for leaders to lord their authority over wayward members, but an opportunity to extend God's merciful forgiveness.  I know it may sound a little uncharacteristic of me, but sometimes the Holy Spirit works in a timeframe we may not consider expeditious.  For an example of how true grace can work wonders in a delicate church situation, read my blog essay from yesterday.

Meanwhile, if Driscoll really has run roughshod over these men, then he's only getting a taste of his own medicine as they tell their stories to the outside world.  The lewd way Driscoll preaches about sex, it's no wonder people in his church get confused about what's right and wrong when it comes to the sanctity of marriage. And if he's intransigent when it comes to his authoritarianism within his church's governance, then maybe Driscoll needs to be reminded Whose that church really is.

Before, perhaps, we learn that it isn't.

Christianity Today has an update on this controversy.

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