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An Ecclesiological Thought on Mars Hill’s Dissolving

Mars Hill LogoMany things have been changing in Seattle over the past several months with the challenges presented to Mars Hill Church. With the resignation of Pastor Mark Driscoll, it has been an important time to pay attention to what is going on ecclesiologically with their church. Since Mars Hill was such a significant model for many churches inside and outside the Acts 29 network, particularly with details about eldership and polity, any shift in this mega-ministry will have reverberations throughout evangelicalism.

Today, the leadership board of Mars Hill made the decision to dissolve the church and allow the various multi-sites to create either regional units or autonomous local congregations. You can read about this decision over at the ChristianPost.com site.

This decision is significant and historic. Having just completed my dissertation on the role of local church autonomy in the first two centuries, seeing this kind of shift, as sudden as it has happened, is poignant. As the leadership board of Mars Hill Church has made this move to dissolution and approved a plan to create autonomous churches, they are opting to reinforce a more mindful New Testament model of church that values the nature of the church in the first century. It is an important and helpful moment.

Mars Hill has been a major influencer, on the level of Saddleback, Willow Creek, Northpoint, and some others, on the contemporary ecclesial environment of evangelicalism. It can be said the Pastor Mark Driscoll has been as much an ecclesiological influence as other aspects of his theological ministry. With Mars Hill deciding to dissolve corporately and allow the remaining campuses to take on their own, independent identities, this marks one answer to a lingering question about the multi-site model in contemporary evangelicalism.

Mars Hill’s situation was unique; it was a church with 15 campuses across 5 states. It existed as an autonomous (or free) church ecclesiologically but did not accord that same autonomy to its multi-sites in these ranging locations. One question that seemed to always exist for Mars Hill, and that exists for other multi-site churches, is: what happens with the leader, or major figure, leaves the church? Mars Hill has provided a poignant answer.

For those who fall into a free church, or independent, model of NT ecclesiology, each local church is networksunderstood as an independent congregation that is to be free from external pressure and influence in all matters of governance, finances, and even theological decisions. While associations and networks are free to disfellowship local churches who fall out of accord with them, they are not permitted to have authority in that local congregation. Instead, the members of that local congregation are the ultimate decision makers for all these matters related to their, and only their, local church. (My particular concern is not to address all multi-site churches, indeed many are well within the NT model, but instead to point out that when a local church creates campuses outside of a natural region (where they could easily assemble as one body) they step into a dangerous area ecclesiologically.)

Many multi-site churches, specifically those with campuses outside of their local region, tread a fine line of violating local church autonomy for their extended campuses when they deny these aspects of local governance. These churches end up resembling more of an episcopal parish system than a congregational ecclesiology.

Of course it is also notable that many multi-site churches are personality driven and assemble many followers and members based on the senior pastor who is the primary communicator. Mars Hill was one of these kinds of churches. Their decision is, as a result, notable.

I am thankful that Mars Hill has made the theologically, and ecclesiologically, bold step of releasing their campuses to go off on their own. May we remember to pray for this larger corporate body of Mars Hill and then also for the, now, independent congregations that used to be part of this church. May we also continue to pray for the restoration of Pastor Mark Driscoll to ministry, surely he deserves this and we are better for it. This is a significant move that will, prayerfully, have an impact on how local congregations throughout Christianity better understand and apply the NT model of congregational (or free) church polity. We are stronger as we accurately reflect a proper NT model.

 

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Oct 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Snark and Theological Discourse

One  of the great characteristics of the Millennial generation (which is certainly not limited to them) is a kind of deep flowing angst which manifests itself in copious servings of irony, sarcasm, and nearly perpetual satire that becomes central to much of their communication. Being fluent is sarcasm is not a vice, but, for some, perhaps a virtue. It seems that for so many, good feelings and happy-go-lucky sentimentality only perpetuate a false front for reality which is uncovered through, for lack of a better term, snark.

One example of this came out last evening while I ventured through my RSS feeds to find a post over at Near Emmaus written by Kate Hanch titled “The Mark Driscoll Scholarship for Women Pastors: A Good Idea?

Hanch is responding to a Facebook post by Shane Claiborne where talks about a group, Epiphaneia, who have sponsored a conference which hoped to support a charity titled “Mark Driscoll Scholarship Fund for Women in Ministry.” Clearly this is a theological jab directed at promoting an egalitarian position on women in ministry over and against a patriarchal view such at Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church.

What struck me about this is how it has been sort of a fitting capstone to a series of developing conversations between the complementarian and egalitarian views of gender and ministry roles. Having been involved in some of these conversations for awhile, there has been a growing animus between the sides over the past several years that has been increasingly less charitable. For full disclosure, I am a complementarian (which Pastor Driscoll also claims to be) but of a different stripe than some.

What worries me about attempts (by any of the sides…because there aren’t just two) to make a point at the expense of someone else is that you ultimately a) devalue your point and b) undermine your credibility. 

It seems that as we continue these conversations (and particularly on these issues) there is less accommodation for those who might disagree and more of an antagonism between the sides. During my time in having these conversations I’ve been called all kinds of names (misogynist, hater, bigot, etc) by others in opposite camp in the midst of trying to clarify and discuss these issues. Now, granted, the more sane voices in these conversations don’t resort to such measures, but for too many of their followers this is fair game.

This kind of hurtful discourse also occurs in other theological discussions, most obviously between the Reformed and not campus. Why is it that we feel that the use of snark and sarcasm will bolster our points as opposed to not extending an olive branch of humility and contrition?

One truth is that someone might be able to gain a louder voice in these conversations and end up with many followers by using these tactics and tone. However, as we’ve seen so many times in history, this kind of a voice ends up being stuck in its own generation and does not have a lasting use.

So, more directly to this latest issue: why would anyone feel the need to support an organization that openly detracts from the conversation by impugning another believer’s testimony and character?

For all his strengths and weaknesses, one thing we can know about Pastor Driscoll is that he would not support this kind of movement. Those who are mockingly supporting this kind of scholarship are missing an entire group of leaders who do support the training of women in ministry who might be better leveraged to gain both credibility and real support.

Of course, this isn’t the goal of such declarations. Their goal is to jab us in the eye and sock us in the gut to attempt to gain our attention. Well certainly this has worked, but at what cost? This isn’t to say we can’t have a light and fun conversation. We can. Yet examples like these above clearly intend to go over the line of what is appropriate and easy camp out in the area of what is offensive and unnecessary.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:29-32  29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Perhaps too many of us believe that filling our books, articles, papers, and blogposts with snark will make up for a lack of substantive engagement with each other and the real issues. However, I believe it only limits your voice and confines it generationally. The cause of Christ should echo through the generations.

If you disagree with Pastor Driscoll, tell us why is a reasoned and appropriate way. There are aspects of his theology, and specifically here anthropology and ecclesiology, that I disagree with, but also many aspects that I mutually affirm. Perhaps you are a woman who is called into ministry, go! and get trained at a great seminary. Find a church and be ordained to fulfill your calling. There is so much more that we agree on than we disagree, let’s not let these things stand in the way of the Gospel and its proclamation among those who need to hear.

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