I deliberately waited several days to give my thoughts on Matthew Paul Turner’s posts about Mars Hill and a guy named Andrew. I knew that if I were to write something immediately after reading those posts (Part 1 & Part 2), I would not be very nice to Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll. Even in my tweets and Facebook posts, I wasn’t very gentle with my language. But it’s been almost a week since I read the first post, so I’ve had a little time to cool.
First off I need to say that with a church community as large as Mars Hill is, I think there ought to be codes of conduct in place from which the leadership staff can effectively protect and serve the congregants. If someone comes across as seemingly reckless with their lifestyle, I think the leaders and elders ought to go out of their way to protect everyone else while ministering to that individual as best as possible. Honestly, I’d rather read a story about how Mars Hill kicked someone out than about how someone was either raped or murdered in one of their community groups. All of this to say, I commend Mars Hill on erring on the side of caution.
And yet, I think they still erred in handling this particular situation. No, I don’t know Andrew or anyone from Mars Hill so I can’t tell you whether or not they erred in understanding the actual situation. But there was a certain passage of Scripture used to justify what “Pastor X” deemed “church discipline”:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector,” – Matthew 18:15-17
Several things pop up given the story from Matthew Turner’s blog: 1. Andrew sinned against his fiancé, not “Pastor X,” 2. The matter between her and him was handled appropriately (he went to his community group leader and then a pastor as an act of repentance), 3. “Tell it to the church” apparently meant describing Andrew’s “sins” to the entire Mars Hill Church instead of only Andrew’s community group, and 4. “Gentile and a tax collector” apparently meant excommunication – or, rather, leaving Mars Hill “not in good standing.”
That last point is probably the biggest one I noticed, but I didn’t know why initially. After some time spent in Matthew 18, though, I started picking up on what Jesus was actually saying here. To get there – and to see just how powerful of a statement Jesus is making – we need to back up.
In the ancient Jewish context, Gentiles were allowed to reside within the Israelite community. In fact, when discussing “outsiders” or non-Israelites, the Torah gives no indication that they are to be banned from the community, unless inherently impure (i.e. a leper). In Deuteronomy 7:1-4, we see a ban against marriages with the seven Canaanite nations, but, as Hannah Harrington points out, “[not] on account of ritual impurity; rather, it is on account of idolatrous influence,” (Purity Texts, 112). This is the heart of the Torah, mind you.
In the Second Temple time period, which is when Jesus lived and died, we see much more animosity towards Gentiles.
“The Torah labels idolatry, and, in particular, Molech worship, ‘impure,’ but Jubilees extends this impurity from the practice of idolatry to the idolater, i.e. the Gentile. […] Jews begin to avoid not only contact with the sin but with the sinner. Physical consequences now apply for mere contact with Gentiles, not just for participation in their idolatry. People, not just principles and behavior, are considered impure.” – Harrington, 113.
The Community at Qumran takes this theme of treating the Gentile as an impurity and makes rules governing interaction with them: Not allowed to send a Gentile to do a Jew’s business on the Sabbath; cannot sell clean animals, servants, or agriculture to Gentiles; and they definitely could never accept a sacrifice from Gentiles. If there was any social interaction with a Gentile, the Community member must immediately ritually purify himself and remain “impure” until sundown.
Now that we see a common mentality toward the non-Jew, we can hopefully see just how bold Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:17 are, “Let him be to you a Gentile and a tax collector.” Why is it so profound? Because He used the same language as many of the Jewish sects, but completely inverted its meaning. When someone said “Treat them like a Gentile” it didn’t mean “heal them” (Matt. 8:5-13). And if you were to treat them like a tax collector, you most certainly would not eat dinner with them (Matt. 9:10). And yet Jesus did both of these things. His words in Matthew 18:17 have such a weight because he turned the meaning around: “Don’t throw them out; love them.”
Again, I appreciate the fact that this particular pastor within the leadership of Mars Hill sought to protect the rest of the congregation. But when using Matthew 18 as a justification to amp up punishment and discipline over someone seemingly errant in their ways, I am compelled to adamantly disagree. “Treat them like a Gentile” can no longer mean, “treat them as if they weren’t a part of the congregation.” Instead, it means, “Welcome them in all the more.”
For what is Scripture’s definition of love?
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres,” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Mars Hill’s response to Andrew’s errors was not acting in love. They were not patient, they were not kind. They sought their own agenda instead of Christ’s commandments. They kept a record of Andrew’s wrongs and even made it public. And they neither trusted nor hoped in Andrew and his walk with Christ. Jesus wants a church set apart from the legalistic mindset – a church different from the religions of the world.
Mark Driscoll seems to have little to do with the whole situation, but really, those protocols from which “Pastor X” operated are only in place because of Driscoll. He theologically beats people down until they submit, which is exactly what “Pastor X” sought to do with Andrew. Thankfully, though, Andrew would not submit.
I used to have a ton of respect for Driscoll and Mars Hill. I liked what they were about and I thought they were truly bringing Christ into the world. And maybe they still are. But Andrew’s story is an indication that there might be another agenda added in. It seems as though they want people to believe in Christ, but only if they agree with every word of Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. I am hoping and praying that something dramatically changes – especially with Mark Driscoll’s ego. But I’m also praying for Andrew as he seeks to follow Christ within a truly loving community.
Being “set apart” means loving when no one else will. It means going the extra mile, giving the extra dollar, and refusing to give up on someone – even if they’ve already given up on themselves. If there is ever one doctrine to believe in, it’s this: To live as Christ commanded in light of what He did. Treat the tax collector just like He did; have dinner with him. And treat the Gentile like He did; help to heal him.
P.S. For another response to Mars Hill & Andrew’s story, please read Kurt Willems’ post: Treat Them Like a Tax Collector: Reflections on Matthew 18, Church Discipline, and Andrew