Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Church Discipline or Bad Leadership?

From an article in the New York Times:

"Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself."

First off, as per usual, I'd like to point out a couple of things: 1)I appreciate Mark and his preaching. God has used him greatly and I pray that he continues to as well. 2) That this article is the only source I have and newspapers have been known to twist the occasional thing or two. Putting aside for now his Calvinism (I don't want to sound like a broken record) what I wish to address is his "Church Discipline". This is a very important part of church life, and a vital role for the Eldership, inc. the Pastor. Without it you end up with chaos and false teaching, however withit abused what you end up with if you're not careful is a crushed church and a man-lead dictatorship. What needs to be questioned then is how Mark goes about Church Discipline and what he feels warrants it.

We'll start by looking at the main passages from the Bible in relation to this topic:

- 1 Cor. 5:1-13: Here Paul lists certain sins which the Corinthian Church was openly participating in (that is, they are justifying thier actions, rather then being a one off sin) .These are: Sexual Immorality, Greed, Idolatry, revilry, Drunkness and Swindling. He says that you should not have fellowship with any Christian who participates in these to the point of not eating with them.(N.B. This is most likely a reference to a fellowship meal (I.E. Communion), not just eating randomly). Therefore we are to stop having fellowship with this person as they aren't being a good witness to Christ.

- 1 Tim 1: 12-20 : Here Paul speaks of two people who he has "handed over to Satan" because they have "made shipwreck of their faith", in reference to what he claims about Christ in verses 12-17. They are thrown out for, most likely, false teaching but possible Apostacy (I think this unlikely as Pauls purpose was that they may return; "Learn not to blaspheme"). Here then, they are removed from thier position for teaching contrary to the Gospel (False teaching).

- 1 Tim. 5:19-20: Here, in the context of choosing Elders for a church, Paul notes that firstly, as they are trusted people, charges can't be accepted unless it is from the evidence of two or more people. Secondly, that those [Elders] who persist in sin are to be rebuked infront of the whole church as to bring about fear so they will not recommit and one would assume, to serve as an example to the congregation.

- Matthew 18:15-20: Jesus is talking here of when a Christian sins against a Christian. They are to talk to the person as to try and resolve the issue, then if necessary take one or two other Christians with you too with the aim again to reconcile, not to gang up and get your way! Then if they still won't listen they are taken to the church as a last resort. If this doesn't happen then Jesus says to cast them outof the fellowship as a non-believer and a Sinner (Gentile and Tax collector). Which sins, if it even matters aren't mentioned here, but rather what we are concerned with is the process of dicipline. It is also worth mentioning here that this is followed by the parable of the unforgiving servent where Jesus teaches that there is to be no end to forgiving our fellow believers.

From these passages then we can see that:
i)People to persist in sinning unrepentantly, which is a bad witness to Christ, are to be removed from the church so that they may repent and return.
ii) Sins which are included are: Apostacy, False teaching, Sexual Immorality, Greed, Idolatry, revilry, Drunkness and Swindling.
iii) The aim is always that they will repent and return to the church.
iv) The general rule for rebukes are: Personal, group, Church and then if necessary removal.
v) Leaders who are persistantly sinning must be rebuked in front of the Church.

So does Marks pattern follow this? No. Blunt but true. Firstly "break their nose." Now I'm sure he was joking but still! Secondly, questioning the pastor is not a sin, and in fact the idea that the pastor is above the Elders in unbiblical. From the sounds of it they were mearly questioning whether it would be suitable, I would assume, so that the church would run better and serve Christ fully and they paid the price for thier obedience. To be honest if that is how Mark deals with people then perhaps they were right, he does have too much control! No where is it ever mentioned that questioning the pastor is a sin, in fact it seems to be encouraged as were are to test everything we hear. His seemingly immediate severity is wrong as well as he seemed to skip 3 whole stage: Personal, Group and even Church! Now although it reports that the elder refused to repent one may question the validity of asking someone to repent for something which far from being a sin is in fact part of being an Elder; Ensuring the Church is lead in a Godly way.

I suppose what I'm getting at here is that we need to be careful not to get a power trip and that at all levels, from layman to pastor, we need to rebuke in a Godly manner to the ends of saving wayward believers and being better witnesses for Jesus. I'm not even going to start on Calvin but I think you all get the picture. I think I'll stop before Mark breaks my nose.
Till next time!

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