Saturday, 1 November 2014

MARS HILL: THE LESSONS WE MUST LEARN



Having followed the saga for this long I guess I had better say a few words about the final demise of Mars Hill that was announced yesterday.

Some may wonder why I have concerned myself with this particular scandal when there is so much in what purports to be evangelicalism that is manifestly so much worse.

Well, in a way that’s the point.

I don’t waste a lot of time on the really obvious cranks of the Charismania/Prosperity Gospel variety because I figure that someone who hasn’t realized after all this time that these people are not a part of biblical Christianity is probably never going to.  

 It seems reasonable to me to assume that the folks who follow the Hinns, Jakes’ & Copelands of this world do so because they actually enjoy being deceived in this way. Certainly they have been warned often enough for us to be able to say that they are now without excuse.

 There is such a thing as “being given over” to deception and once it has happened then there really isn’t much you can do about it. Others may disagree, and say that we ought to continue to warn, and that is fine. I still do so myself on occasions but I consider these men to be way too far out on the fringe to waste too much time on. 

But my point is that Mark Driscoll was never in that category.  

Mars Hill had a sound theological base and until very recently Mark Driscoll moved in the circles of the most respectable evangelical leaders in the US. 

He had credibility.

That was why he became such a problem. Driscoll looked for a long while like the real deal (and maybe in the beginning he was) and men whose judgement we trusted certainly assured us that he was. I have said previously that I have myself been blessed by his ministry in the past. 

It is really easy (or ought to be) to spot the obvious villains with their twirling moustaches but Driscoll came with a cloak of plausibility that made him - in my judgment - far more dangerous than an out-and-out heretic like a Copeland or a Hagin.

These, we are are assured by the Word, will always have their falsehood made manifest to all in due course (2 Tim 3:9) - to all the true sheep of Christ, that is.   

 But Driscoll's sins were subtler than theirs and fewer saw through him until nearer the end. John MacArthur serves as an honourable exception to that rule & risked unpopularity within the Reformed Club for his stance. 

 John Mac Arthur's rather austere style and radical cessationism means that he is never likely to rank amongst my favourite preachers, but he did us all a service on this issue and ought to be credited for it.

Others were too close to Driscoll to be willing to risk his exposure, which brings us to another problem.
 
 There is a warning here about the formation of cliques within the Church. The Pipers and the Chandlers were always going to find it difficult to disassociate from Driscoll when his character flaws started to show simply because they had become so firmly hitched to his wagon.

 It is always hard to criticize “one of our own” whom we have shared a conference platform with on a regular basis. If we are wise perhaps we will learn to keep these associations less formal, less personal and less, well “cliqueish” in the future.  

Moreover Driscoll's surface Calvinism - I use that term because in reality Mars Hill's ecclesiology was about as Reformed as the Council of Trent - apparently made it difficult for many in Reformed circles  to signal him out a a problem.

Further lesson: your theology must never give your morality a free pass.
 

 What strikes me today is how quickly the whole organisation has hit the buffers after the departure of its senior pastor. The Mars Hill bus stayed on the road for little more than two weeks after Driscoll’s resignation.

That is telling.

For all MH’s claims to have been “all about Jesus” no one really believed that piece of spin. Mars Hill was all about Mark Driscoll, a self-publicity vehicle for one man’s personal ambitions.

Anyone who has doubted that in the past must surely now see it. If the band stops playing immediately after one man leaves then you know that it was a one-man band. 

A local church that really is “all about Jesus” can survive the departure of any single individual, even if he is the senior pastor, and even if he is leaving under a disciplinary cloud.

 A further lesson for us all in this is the unbiblical nature of so-called “multi-site churches” seemingly so trendy so in the US where a single (celebrity?) pastor has his sermons piped in to various different church buildings in different states.

 I consider this a dubious practice on so many levels, and I would refer you this earlier post that links to an excellent demolition of the model at the 9Marks blog.

  I have no problem with calling something a single multi-site church if all of the sites are within the same city. After all, we find that concept in the 1st Century where a single congregation in a large city such as Rome or Jerusalem would meet in various locations.

 The city itself provided the local church unit with its singular identity hence Paul could write to “all who are in Rome” (Rom 1:7) knowing he was addressing a single church despite their disparate locations. 

 Even then the likelihood is that the various house fellowships would have gathered together on occasions to maintain their unity as one local body (Acts 2:46).

 But this is a far cry from the modern multi-site concept where different congregations are often not even in the same state!

 To all intents and purposes these are wholly separate local entities and if they wish to associate under one banner then it would be more accurate to term them a denomination than a single multi-site church.

But then, of course, we couldn’t maintain the fiction that such-and-such celebrity pastor has a church of so-many thousands could we?

That is the point. What needs to die after this affair is the whole notion of the celebrity pastor.

 The only reason why Mars Hill cannot continue in its multi-site format without Mark Driscoll is that the remaining elders know that no one else in their midst has the fame and charisma to draw in thousands of people in another part of the country just to hear a video sermon. 

This was the problem all along.  I have said before: the only Person in your church who is that big is Jesus, and He is the only One whose departure your church ought not to be able to survive.

We ought to wish the surviving broken up remnants of Mars Hill well as they set out on their Driscoll-less future. They have an opportunity now to model for the rest of us, not a new way of doing church, but rather a very old one.

One that is built on the one true Foundation