When Church Discipline Leaves it’s Mark (Driscoll)
Mars Hill is taking a public hit on the chin for its handling of public discipline toward a member named Andrew:
Then he made a mistake that found him cast out: He cheated on his fiancee with a community college classmate. The fury over Andrew’s experience—and his decision to publicize the church’s internal disciplinary procedures—has led to accusations by other Christians that one of the most powerful evangelical voices in the country, Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll, employs a cultlike leadership style. Now, for the first time, Mars Hill is speaking out in response to its former member’s charges.
Now, as even fellow evangelical Christians express concern about how Andrew was shunned, the church must confront questions about whether its disciplinary practices are misunderstood and biblical, or disturbingly controlling. Is Mars Hill’s PR drama a lesson in how even the best institutions will have disgruntled critics, or a case of an increasingly powerful organization abusing its members’ trust?
I believe that Andrew needed to be held accountable, and we all must realize that when we hear Andrew’s side, we are only getting one side. Still, I have at least two major concerns as I follow this story that is pertinent to my church, which seeks to practice church discipline in a Biblical way with the aim being restoration.
In the Slate piece, Ruth Graham writes:
As a church grows from a tight-knit community to a group of thousands, discipline becomes more difficult. That’s why churches like Mars Hill encourage participation in small groups, in which members can be accountable to one another in their personal struggles. Moral development, as old-fashioned as that term may sound, can be a beautiful, transformative part of the work of the church.
The question that Mars Hill members must confront is whether the atmosphere at their church is one of respect or shame. Dean says that the church would welcome reconciliation with Andrew, but Mars Hill is not backing down from its strict definition of repentance. The unspoken implication seems to be that Mars Hill itself has done nothing it needs to repent from.
First, I have to wonder if a ‘mega-church’ can practice discipline very effectively. The smaller the church, the more personal discipline can be, and the elders can have a better knowledge of the situation. (The elders of Mars Hill admitted as much.)
Secondly, I fear that Driscoll’s bravado has led to the church being perceived as over-bearing in general, which colors this specific case of church discipline as more MMA smack down than gentle restoration of a sinning member.
This case saddens me and at the same time encourages me. It saddens me because it puts out the wrong message about discipline, but it has encouraged me to examine my own church to be certain that every issue of accountability is handled with the wisdom and care the Bible demands.