So we should probably say something…

about the current implosion of Mars Hill. For those of you not currently aware, there is some serious turmoil at the church right now and many questions over the leadership of their pastor, Mark Driscoll. Over the last couple of years there has been a curiously high rate of employee turnover at Mars Hill. Some of their locations are on their third pastor in that span of time, which is a lot.

More recently, Mark Driscoll was accused of plagiarizing sections of his book Real Marriage. Then, it was discovered that he used Church money to buy a bunch of books in order to vault it to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers. Remember all those pastors who left the Church? Well, this issue brought many of them out of the woodwork publicly sharing a litany of bad – even abusive experiences. Many of these former employees are calling for Driscoll to step down.

The last two days have been by far the busiest days of DriscollWatch as far as traffic goes. The reason is that our site was linked in this story from alternet, which has since been reprinted at Salon and a few other blogs that provide commentary on abusive pastors. If you’ve found this site through any of these other sources I’d like to offer you the warmest of welcomes. My guess is that you’re unlikely to find any of our content that interesting, but if you’d like a good example of the type of thing we do I’d suggest reading this article we wrote about celibacy and the Catholic Church.

But while we’re here I’d like to make just a couple comments on this issue as seen from a Catholic perspective. (Warning: I’m Catholic to the core and love the Popes, even the bad ones)

  • Protestants confuse me. The whole reformation started as a big rebellion from centralized Church authority, however Protestants nowadays willingly place themselves under much more authoritarian pastors than even the most oppressive of Popes. Protestant Pastors like Mark Driscoll have sought to control aspects of their congregants lives that no Pope I can think of ever has. So what’s the deal, Protestants? I don’t get it.
  • Many people who have been involved with abusive pastors and congregations would probably think that Catholicism is the last place they’d ever want to go. Because, again, that Pope, man. He’s so oppressive! If that’s the way you think, let me point out that the Pope lives in Rome. He doesn’t know you and he isn’t going to try and coerce you into joining a community group so that his spies can report you and your sins to him so he can send you a letter explaining that you need to tithe more.
  • It is also worth pointing out the way the Catholic Church is structured in terms of money. When a parishioner puts money into the collection plate at a Catholic parish, the money stays in that parish. We don’t send the money off to Rome to be counted by the Pope’s henchmen. In fact, it doesn’t even go to the local bishop! It stays at the parish and the pastor is responsible to make sure it is used well. Of course, there is a very real possibility that the local pastor of neighborhood Catholic Church is corrupt. Well, in these cases the parishioners can inform the bishop of this and he can investigate and actually do something about it – and the bishop has nothing to gain financially by allowing abuse to continue. If you want to complain about your bishop and the way he manages money given to the diocese, you can inform Rome and Rome also has nothing to gain from allowing abuse to continue. The fact that money given to the Church stays local can help parishioners to ensure that their money is spent well and allows the Church to be more transparent with its funds. (there is a tax that parishes have to pay to support the operations of the diocese, so not all funds stay in the parish, but the point is that the bishop doesn’t tough most of the funds that come into the parish)
  • Don’t get me wrong. I’m aware that there are abusive pastors in the Catholic Church right now. I’m aware there have been horrifically sinful bishops and sinful Popes in the history of Catholicism. I’m aware that money has been abused by Catholic Clergy, is being abused by some Catholic clergy, and will be abused by some Catholic clergy in the future. But if modern evangelicalism has taught me anything, its taught me that church abuse can’t be cured through a changing of Church law and decentralizing power. Many Protestants have tried to avoid ecclesial sins by changing ecclesial structure. It hasn’t worked and I think its time to admit that. All of this is to say that the sins of priests, bishops, and Popes should no longer justify schism within the body of Christ. As long as the Church is run by humans, there will always be scandal or threat of scandal in the body of Christ.
  • Finally, Protestants need to confront the reality that schism is a scandal and nowhere in the Bible does it say that breaking away from authority and starting your own Church is a legitimate way to address the sins of people in authority. Let that sink in. The way Protestants have dealt with sin in the Church has been to start other Churches, but this is not what the Bible tells us to do. The fruit of schism has not been fewer scandals.
  • There are wonderful stories of reform in the Catholic Church that I think Protestants should know and reflect on. Take for example the story of St. Catherine of Sienna. St. Catherine was a talented young woman who loved the Lord and loved the Church, and she lived in perhaps one of the worst era’s as far as papal virtue goes. The Popes of her day basically abdicated their responsibility as shepherds of the Church and went off to France to live in a huge palace in the city of Avingon. St. Catherine convinced him to repent of his sins and move back to Rome to care for the people. The purpose of this is to show that reform is possible without schism. All schism weakens the body of Christ and, as history has shown, it has not done anything to protect good people from sins against clergy.

The Catholic Church is far from flawless, but history shows we are reform-able.  We have reformed and we will reform again.  We’ve made mistakes but, thankfully, we’ve also learned a lot of lessons from 2,000 years of mistakes.  Crusades have happened, and we know not to do them again.  Heretics were burned at the stake, and we learned not to do that again.  Children were abused at the hands of our members, and we learned that we need to take steps to ensure their safety.  Our Church is far from pure, but we are being purified.

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16 comments on “So we should probably say something…

  1. Aaron says:

    Well put. You’re thoughts are most appreciated!

  2. Nick says:

    Thanks for keeping me up to date on this. I had heard very brief stuff here and there of what was going on, but I paid little attention because I hadn’t seen you post anything until now.

  3. Just a gentle chide: If you’re going to use the term “Catholic” through out, you need to keep “Protestant” capitalized. Otherwise, you could be construed as being very rude. And as an atheist, I have no fur in this theological cat fight.

  4. Dan says:

    Indeed you should post something, and well you did.

    You must be getting more traffic due to the current goings on, so I just wanted to say something that may help some new readers here. I received a copy of the book Theology of the Body for Beginners from you. Thank you for that, it was very helpful.

    Comparing it to Mark Driscoll’s inaptly titled book Real Marriage, one can see that Driscoll’s (and many others) theology is about an inch deep, while Catholic theology is miles deep. It was very refreshing to read after all the unreal theology from Real Marriage.
    Please continue posting. I always enjoy it and learn something from it.

  5. Dayn Warren says:

    Just found this site through a news article, would love to chat with the author! Can you e-mail me?

  6. Clinton says:

    Very glad I found this sight. I hope you keep it peaceful and truthful, as it looks as if you have thus far.

  7. Theophilus says:

    Protestants don’t believe the Pope is infallible. Everyone is fallible, except Jesus. Read the 95 theses that Martin Luther posted. It is not about the people, it is about the authority. Jesus Christ is infallible, the Pope is not. For Protestants, Jesus Christ is the authority for the Church and Bishops and Elders are undershepherds of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus. The confession of faith in Christ as Messiah is the Rock upon which the Church is built per Protestants, not Peter himself, which explains why Protestants have issue with apostolic succession through Popes. Peter himself acknowledge the ministry through the apostle Paul in 2 Peter 3:16, so why would he want to elevate himself above other apostles? He even chose to be crucified upside down to express his unworthiness. The Church is built on faith in Christ, not people. The history of corruption through the ages of which there is much, further supports the Protestant view that Christ alone is infallible and perfect. The rest of us are sinners in need of our Savior, following Him as His sheep. These are the fundamental issues; the rest is secondary. Your point about schism is well said, but some division may not be resolved this side of glory. Charity, love and mercy will hopefully prevail in all our dealings with one another. But the gospel and sound Biblical teaching should not be sacrificed on the altar of tolerance for the sake of unity.

    • zeeehjee says:

      This is not a helpful comment because it does not engage with the topic of the post. The topic of the post is that Christians at Mars Hill Church have treated Mark Driscoll as though he is infallible. If you want to deny that, then that’s fine. Many evangelicals will disagree with you on that, but its your opinion. But please stay on topic if you wish to comment here.

      • Theophilus says:

        Protestants treating their pastors like popes even when their popes are abusive. Pot calling the kettle black. Isn’t that your topic? I addressed both infallibility and schism from a Protestant perspective since you are seemingly addressing Protestants, are you not? Am I the lone challenger to your ideas? And you want to consider me off topic, interesting.

        Jesus alone is infallible. Not the pope. Not Mark Driscoll. People follow their leaders, but their leaders are undershepherds. We are called to follow our ultimate leader Jesus Christ. if our undershepherds become corrupt and don’t follow the faith, are we not to listen to the voice of our Chief Shepherd and follow him? When Martin Luther attempted to address the horrific sins of authority during the time of the Reformation, what happened to him and to those who agreed with him?

        Regarding Schism: it is throughout history and throughout Scripture including Jesus very words in Matthew 10:34-36 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

        I think my comments are more closely linked to your true topic then you wish to admit. I just happen to be a competing voice, and that is uncomfortable for some people.

  8. Theophilus says:

    It appears to me that this “Driscollwatch” may serve a purpose to marginalize some Protestants in an atttempt to do some sheep poaching. In plain terms, get some people to leave and join Roman Catholicism. I read your bullet points and that seems to be coming through loud and clear to me. If dirt can be dug up on a Protestant undershepherd, and characterizations made about Protestantism in general, then perhaps some people will want to leave and join the Roman Catholic Church. Oh, and ignore all the history that caused the Reformation to begin with, and any abuses by priests. History is important to study so as not to repeat it. The core issue of the Reformation is still in play. Infallibility of the Pope. Many people distrust “organized” religion as well they should. I encourage people to do 2 things: read your Bible. Read history of the Church.

    Protestants may leave one Pastor to follow another, but the true Christian is listening to the voice of Jesus Christ, his Chief Shepherd. We listen to the sermons and teachings, read our Bibles and like Bereans (see Acts 17:11) test to see if the teachings are consistent with Holy Scripture. Then when our Pastors start leading in a direction that Holy Scripture condemns, the true sheep will bleat like sheep, and if our undershepherd refuses to listen, we look for another undershepherd who is faithful to Jesus teachings and the Holy Scripture.

    Here is John 10:1-5 which should give us the context for why we listen to our Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ: ““Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

    Jesus is the Good Shepherd, see Psalm 23. Follow Him.

    • Theophilus says:

      To be clear, I do not endorse Mark Driscoll nor attend his ministry, nor read his books nor listen to his teachings. But I don’t think switching from Protestantism to Catholicism is the answer to questionable leaders. Instead, expose the errors and the sheep will look for better pasture.

    • zeeehjee says:

      I’ll defer to other commentors to sort out the questions at hand.

  9. BG says:

    I was relieved to find this site because I debated starting one myself almost 10 years ago when I first heard Mark’s caricaturing of the Catholic Church. It stung because it only sought to distance his congregants from Catholics and he did it for what seemed to be pure shock effect. It of course bothered me more that he was raised in the Church and didn’t seem to really convey any solid reasons for his scorn. He always has had a good Catholic grit to him; growing up in a working class family, Midwestern grandparents and parents, and of course the Irish blood. These things made him who he was and made him an interesting character but then he turned around and used his pulpit to lampoon the very Church he was baptized in. In the process he misinformed many young Catholics that visited Mars Hill or listened to his sermons. Young Catholics that maybe hadn’t yet dug into the tenets of their faith. It also misinformed many young non-christians and Protestants who were so hungry and attentive at his sermons for knowledge.

    Anyways, thank you for taking the time to write the blog. I hope it was read by people starting back in 2010 when you started it. I never ran across it, but he said so many things that irritated me and even further complicated my life with my Protestant wife (why I attended with her) that I truly hoped others would be aware of the misrepresentations. It did however, push me to re-evaluate my own faith which led to a wonderful reawakening and re-commitment to Catholicism.

    My only serious exposure to a Protestant and non-denominational church was at Mars Hill and it struck me as sad that many of the people there had left other small churches that then folded. Now that Mars Hill is going through a shrinking process, I can’t help but lament the time, money and talents that have all been invested to then have people move on to yet another church community and start again. Just an observation. As for Mark, I have actually always prayed and will continue to pray that he one day considers his first Church and recognizes that its arms are always open.

  10. Peter Laman says:

    Thank you for writing this. For me, as a protestant, and a charismatic evangelical it is good to read these comments. Concerning the things you’re referring to, there’s no reason for us to boast. The church is made up of people who are not perfect and who all need the grace of God. I’m sure you’ll agree with that!

    I’ve given a lot of thought about the many models of church organization that exist and the first thing I have to say is that the bible isn’t very elaborate on this. Yes, the New Testament speaks about pastors, elders, overseers (episcopoi, bishops), but their roles and responsibilities are not described in detail. So it’s hard to call an existing church model ‘scriptural’, or ‘unscriptural’. Being aware of this should make us humble in these matters.

    However, there are a few aspects of your blog, I’d like to address here:

    First, You wrote that “…nowhere in the Bible does it say that breaking away from authority and starting your own Church is a legitimate way to address the sins of people in authority…”. Fact is, the reformers didn’t intend to do so and they didn’t. Martin Luther didn’t post his 95 theses to break away from church authority, but to start a discussion. It was not uncommon in those days for professors to post theses as the basis for discussion with their students. Yes, Luther challenged some practices (such as selling indulgences), teachings (grace versus performance) and the abuse of power by church authorities, but he definitely didn’t want to break away from it. Neither did he intend a schism, nor starting a new church. That happened much later, because he was excommunicated. The church leadership didn’t accept anything he said, didn’t want to talk about it and only demanded that he should renounce all he’d said. In the end they threw him out and he could do no other thing then to worship outside the RC church structure. I don’t think the comparison to Catherine of Sienna is fair, because her criticism was not as profound as Luther’s. He wanted fundamental change and they didn’t even want to talk about it. I’ve read Luther’s 95 theses. Many of them apply to issues that don’t exist anymore. It actually requires study to find out what these underlying issues actually were. But other issues the church did heed, some completely, others in part. I’m sure many present day Catholics would agree with quite a lot Luther wrote. In 2017, it will be 500 years since he posted those theses. I think it would be good if protestants and Catholics sat together to evaluate what these theses still mean today. Many can be dropped as obsolete, others are not really a problem anymore, because both the RC church and protestantism didn’t stand still. Some will still cause disagreement, but those may provide a good basis for communication.

    Second, your post refers only to church organization. But (and I’m confident you’re aware of this), the issues were not only about church organization, but primarily about theology. How much I would like it not to be true, but there are so many profound differences on essential issues. I think it will be very difficult to harmonize RC and protestant theology and that’s what basically keeps us from becoming one church denomination again. And, I think these issues are far more important than the organizational issues.

    (BTW I’m aware this has little or nothing to do with Mark Driscoll, as he does not represent protestants, evangelicals, or charismatics in general. But I think your blog is not about Driscoll either, this time).

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