Never Mind Andrew’s Sin, What About Mars Hill’s Sin?

Derek Ouellette —  January 25, 2012 — 20 Comments

About a quadrillion people read Matthew Paul Turners article the other day about a guy named Andrew, a member of Mars Hill (Mark Driscoll’s church), who had committed a sin. Andrew was engaged when one night he messed around with a woman who was not his fiancee. He stopped short of sex – feeling convicted – confessed to his fiancee the next day and also to a leader and friend in his study group. Soon other leaders knew about his sin – the sexual one and the deceit of not confessing sooner – and the leaders sought to help him. He willing submitted himself to their authority. He endured meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting. Okay. Fine. Situations like these take time to work through. I get that. But the problem here is that the meetings involved so many people. These are delicate situations that need to be handled delicately. If Andrew was repentant, cooperative and actively seeking restoration, than the proper pastoral thing to do is to keep the situation as tightly knit as possible. That means the fewer the hands involved, the better.

After several months of these meetings, Andrew surprisingly received a “disciplinary contract” outlining his sins and responsibilities. I could see how this could be very confusing. He had spent months submitting to the leadership of the church, cooperating and confessing repeatedly. Is a ‘disciplinary contract’ really necessary (or even biblical)? I suppose when a church becomes an institution everything becomes red tape.

I wonder how many counselling sessions the man living in sexual immorality in the Corinthian church had to endure before he was considered restored (1 Cor 5)? The difference here (and this is a big difference) is that the man in sexual sin in Corinth was not interested in repentance, so Paul instructs the church to put him out. But Andrew was the one to bring up his sin and seek repentance. Don’t underestimate the significance of that fact.

When the man in the Corinthian church finally repented, lets face it, he probably poured his heart out before God, had a long conversation with his leaders who then forgave him and allowed him back into fellowship. We can’t be sure, but at the least I doubt he had a million meetings to endure and a disciplinary contract to sign. The church is more organic than that. It’s Christ’s body. The man repented and sought forgiveness. Let it be done. If he needs counselling that is a separate matter from “church discipline”. If he’s being counselled it’s because he needs help, but if he’s being disciplined it’s because he’s in rebellion and sin. Which of the two – given Andrew’s actions up to the point of the “disciplinary contract” (based on the information we have) – should he have undergone, counseling for help, or discipline for sin and rebellion?

Paul tells the Corinthian church after the man repented and sought forgiveness, “you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Cor 2:7). Let’s get one thing straight: the leaders of Mars Hill should have done this MONTHS ago, right after Andrew confessed his sin, repented and sought help. THAT is when forgiveness and affirming love should have taken place. The meetings should have been approached not as discipline, but as discipleship(!) and a ‘disciplinary contract’ should have never seen the light of day (Consider the dire parallel: if we still require discipline after we repent and seek forgiveness, should God still punish us by sending us to purgatory? Or have we been forgiven? And should not the church then do the same, remembering that God will only forgive us according to the measure we forgive others! Matt 6:12?).

At this point Andrew realizes he’s in the wrong place. He was correct to sense intuitively that the leaders had entered – intentionally or not – into an abusive posture towards him. This was no longer a God-honoring direction. What should he have done? Who could he have gone to? Should he have just laid down and allowed these charades to continue? When would it have stopped? He knew that he had to go. It was the only option that would prevent him from becoming the victim. There are other godly churches and other godly leaders who could help him.

So Andrew sent a reply removing himself from the situation and from Mars Hill. A leader sent him a reply to his reply urging him to reconsider and, in fact, warning him that leaving will result in “escalation”. That “escalation” was a published letter to the congregation announcing all of Andrew’s sins and instructing them on how to respond should Andrew seek to talk and hang out with any of them.

The way the church leaders handled the situation at Mars Hill is precisely backwards to Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians. Paul tells them to send out the unrepentant sinner and when he repents, to embrace him and forgive him and reaffirm their love for him. But Mars Hill excommunicated the repentant brother and rather than affirming him, they publically humiliated him.

The leaders seek Matthew 18 as grounds for their actions. There’s a problems with that. In Matthew Jesus is talking about someone who is unwilling to concede his sin and seek repentance whereas Andrew was a repentant believer who was seeking restoration. There was no need for “two or three witnesses” to go to Andrew because it was Andrew who sought to confess to two witnesses. Therefore the escalation of Matthew 18 does not apply to this situation.

Now, the thing is, while not minimizing Andrew’s sin, I’d like to point out that the leadership of Mars Hill has effectively lead their entire congregation into sin. We have been talking about Andrew’s sin, but what about the sins committed by the leaders? The sin of abuse of power? The sin of manipulation? The sin of twisting the Bible to keep a brother down? Who’s going to hold the leaders of Mars Hill responsible?

I understand the desire many of us have to hope and see the best in our spiritual leaders, but my rose coloured glasses were knocked off my face in 1997 – and a few times since. Abuses in church leadership happen as leaders develop a sense of entitlement. I know. I can count a half a dozen different and unrelated instances that I have witness first hand. The temptation for authoritative abuse is substantial and addictive. It spreads like cancer throughout an entire leadership team. It becomes like a drug you don’t even know your addicted too. We should not minimize this sin. We often look at pastors who have scandalously fallen into “moral sin” which often means sins having to do with sex or money. But abuse of God’s people and a misuse of God’s word is also a moral sin (James 3:1).

This is one of the problems with how we run the church today. Corporate Christianity, it comes in all shapes and sizes. And who’s going to hold the boys at the top responsible? Until now there has not been much by way of widespread accountability (since leaders of the same chicken coop tend to cluck together). But the blogosphere is changing that. For the better or worse, the broader Christian community has for the first time the ability to stand up – the multitudes who have been victimized by authoritative abuse by church leaders – and hold them accountable. Just read the hundreds of comments left under Turner’s post. Each one tells a story of abuse. And of course, I have my own story to tell.

I should point out that I serve on the board of my church and have loads of respect for my pastor. I have no axe to grind toward church leadership in general. But at some point we have to admit, in terms of our Christian culture, that we have a real problem and misunderstanding of what “authority” means in the body of Christ today.

[Addendum: I realized that Matthew's post only tells one side of the story. Fair enough. But if that story is only 50% true - I'm inclined to think it's more than that, but for sake of argument - that still leaves us with a church leadership that has abused it's power. Nobody is minimizing what Andrew did (and certainly not Andrew who willing confessed and underwent months of counselling), but there were plenty of serious sins committed by all parties involved. At least Andrew has shown an attitude toward repentance. It'll be interesting to see if Mars Hill will make any public statements on the matter from the pressure of the blogospher. Though experience in these situations tells me it is unlikely.]

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://miketodd.typepad.com Mike Todd

    I don’t want to go anywhere near this conversation, other than to point out that if “we have a real problem and misunderstanding of what “authority” means in the body of Christ today”, then we have a real problem understanding what it means to be the body of Christ. Period. Full stop.

    That’s the conversation we really need to have.

    • http://redemptionjunkie.blogspot.com HeidiRenee

      I’m with you Mike, this is the ugly fruit of some seriously rotten roots, but I am thankful that this is all coming out into the light.

      Good thoughts Derek!

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    People trying to re-invent the wheel again.

    Think about how this would have been handled in an Orthodox (or Roman Catholic) context.

    Confession 1:1 to a priest with an expression of repentance/contrition on the part of the one confessing the sin. Absolution. Possibly an appropriate penance. The priest would be bound to keep the matter confidential.

  • Holly

    Yes….and then you throw in the thought that the woman (his fiance) does not seem to be receiving any of the same treatment. She is a leader’s daughter. That goes along with the theology of male dominance at Mars Hill – women are weaker vessels, so they can not be culpable, even if it is consensual. The man would always be the one to lead her into sin, and thus open for discipline. Yet another level to the abuse.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Yup, that is one of their rationale’s.

      • Aaron

        Seriously?

        • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

          According to Turner, because of Mars Hill’s emphasis on men as being the spiritual leader in male-female interactions, any responsibility for consensual sexual encounter falls on the shoulders of the guy who was responsible either through action or inaction for leading the woman into it. She gets off scot free and he has to sign a disciplinary contract.

  • Brian MacArevey

    Wow Derek! This is one of the practical dangers of experimental predestinarianism. The person’s works are what provides assurance rather than the work of Christ. It is the outworking of the so-called “doctrines of grace”, at least from a puritanical perspective. I have seen, participated in, and experienced this sort of behavior as well. It was one of the reasons why I ultimately had to part ways with traditional federal Calvinism. Great insights! I couldn’t agree more…

  • Jon Doe

    I can speak both as a member of Mars Hill and as a personal friend of Andrews. I feel that he is being abused in this situation. Mars Hill is to busy Managing his sin rather then looking at the fact that he confessed his sin asked for forgiveness and sought out help from a church elder. It is actually very hurtful as not only a Christian, but also as a Member of the church that this would happen to a fellow brother in Christ.

  • http://nailtothedoor.com Dan Martin

    I have nothing to offer but absolute, unqualified endorsement of what you’ve said here, Derek. This is an important article, pointing out an important reality in the misappropriation of authority by church leaders. Mars Hill may be one of the most egregious cases extant, but the cancer of authoritarianism has metastasized throughout the church.

  • http://www.drewchapados.net drew chapados

    This is not biblical the idea of that contract–there are serious problems with what this church has done in this situation. Luke 17 lets it out straight–one thing you mention–most things in church discipline is concerning the person who will not repent–it is not the person who confesses and repents. One thing this does in churches–it makes us into different classes of sinners. If the fiancee continued to have a problem (which is her business not the church’s) then she needs to break it off with him and free them both from being burdened. Big question for any church leader: if God has forgiven a sin of a brother, what will happen to us if we continue to hold it over him?

  • http://amblessedbeyondmeasure.com April

    This is definitely not the way church discipline is to be used and I am blown away that this happened to him! There is so much I could say to this and so many Scriptures I could quote, but basically all I can say right now is WOW. I feel for this young man and pray for his healing in terms of his thought about church leadership and discipline in the future. I know that God will bless Him for trying to make it work but also for noticing that this was NOT what God wanted.

  • TJJ

    All of what you say here may be true. Or all of it may very well not be true.

    Asw you admit, you are getting one side of the story only. That may be enough for you to form an opinion, fine. But to then take that and publically bash a church and its leaders too, whom you have never talked with, and knowing full well you may not have all the fact…..well IMHO is irresponsible and inappropriate too. There may be more to this story that would more fully explain the church leaders actions. Or there may not be. But without knowing that, IMHO you are judging others without sufficient information to do so, and that is wrong too. IMHO.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      If the story is only 50% true my post was necessary. Don’t forget, 10,000 people at Mars Hill also only got one side of the story, and it wasn’t Andrew’s! Who’s going to stand up for the little guy? Obviously not you.

  • http://strawberryroan.blogspot.com Shanyn

    The greatest thing I see lacking in this situation from the leadership on down, and back up again is grace. Grace for Andrew who is trying to be reconciled. Grace for a leadership which has forgotten the fruit’s of the spirit (praying they haven’t forsaken the pursuit of them for legalism) and grace for those who jump in to the conversation. We aren’t to judge but we are supposed to pray. Pray for this church and the leadership there to have their hearts filled with the love and grace that is from God, pray for Andrew and pray for those who are hurt and confused by this. Small churches and large ones can be very vulnerable to creating celebrities instead of nurturing leaders. Having experienced ‘church burn’ many times in my life I feel that one thing that has been missing in those situations and this one is concerted prayers by God’s children. It is our privilege and duty to pray for one another. Can we commit to that? Publicly and privately? Where is the call to prayer that defies boundaries of denomination, gender and geography?

  • http://imperfectlyordinary.blogspot.com Jodie Anna

    thanks for adding a voice of reason to this topic, Derek! If I was still a Protestant, I think I would be working toward reform in this very area. Here are my thoughts from an Orthodox perspective: http://imperfectlyordinary.blogspot.com/2012/01/repentance-forgiveness-and-absolution.html

  • http://Svaonline.org Marie

    My 23 Year old Son Attends Mars Hill. This Story is true and it breaks my heart as a mother and a Christ Follower, My son has asked me to stop questioning him about Mark Driscoll. I have bitten my tongue. But
    I pray and ask your prayers for all the young men who are embracing this twisted theology. Mark Driscoll has no accountability in that church or outside of it for that matter, as he is not affiliated with any denomination.

  • Lisa

    Did I miss something here? Where’s the fiance in all of this? Did she forgive him? Is she a part of all this or did Andrew and her work it ? I doubt Andrew (or any other person ) will ever be as anxious to “come clean” and confess to his leaders again. The appropriate place to confess was between him and his fiance. Goodness, gracious. Church, mind your own business.

  • Red

    Lisa,

    Read Matthew Paul Turner’s posts, I believe it addresses some of what happened between Andrew and the fiancee. Interestingly, she has disappeared into the woodwork. Not sure if she removed herself from the situation or if the leaders just didn’t think that a woman should be held responsible for consensual sexual sin.

    TJJ, your point is well-taken. However, it still leaves us with a problem. If there is spiritual abuse going on, who would ever be qualified to hold the church accountable for it? Any person coming out of an abusive situation could simply be labeled “a disgruntled ex-member who’s only telling one side of the story.” Eventually, you would get to a point where no church could be held accountable for any sin against a member, because no wounded member would ever be “neutral” enough to satisfy the blogosphere.

    Mars Hill has made it very clear that they are not going to share their side of the story (as per their web site). In that case, what would you have the rest of the Christian community do? Ignore what seem to be dangerous warning signs, and then lamely apologize 20 years down the road to all the people that were hurt because no one stepped up and said anything?

  • ryan

    Frustrating. Troubling. Disconcerting. Sad. Frightening. I will freely admit that I underwent my own church discipline in 2000 at Overlake Christian Church and this story horrifyingly reminds me my own account, with much pain and trembling, even 12 years later. My heart BREAKS for Andrew. My flesh CRAWLS at reading this article. We are to be Jesus with skin on. We are to faithfully administer God’s GRACE in its various forms. Legalistic tarring and feathering of God’s chosen people, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, does NOT result in better community or better growth. It results in an impoverished church, a beleaguered sense of trust in God and the body of Christ, and cultivates a climate of fear-based worship where God’s children are walking on eggshells. I can only imagine what Andrew must feel right now. Andrew, I love you in Jesus’ Name. You are repentant, you have repented, and you are forgiven. I do not know you, I have never met you, but you are LOVED IN JESUS’ NAME. I am deeply proud of you for bringing your sin into the light, and for bringing Mars Hill’s leadership’s sin into the light as well. Knowing church discipline all too well, I can freely also admit that one sin that cost me my position of leadership, my community at the church, my connection to the body of Christ there, etc., also eventually lead to an even greater sin which cost me my freedom and sent me to prison. I do not blame my actions on the church or the leadership, but I will indefatigably say that there is an inexorable tie between the church discipline / excommunication I received from Overlake Christian Church, and my eventual crime. Do I wish I could take back my crime? Yes. But I also wish with all my heart that I could take back the church discipline I received, and replace it with something restorative like a warm hug. Alas, warm hugs are not mentioned in Scripture for those undergoing church discipline. And such a legalistic, grace-lacking approaches only send us further down the drain, with no hope of compassionate restoration. Wash your hands of us if you will, you beloved megachurches, and in the process so subsequently condemn yourselves as unloving, uncompassionate, and unbiblical. Jesus loves me the same that he does me, and that is my Amen, because truthfully I’d rather ALWAYS be the guy beating his chest, saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner” than be you.