Mark Driscoll has scared me for a while, with his unbiblical perspectives on gender and what can only be termed overgrown schoolyard bully antics. I keep hearing that, yes, he is a little much, but at least he has good (or standard, depending on your perspective) reformed theology. To this, my general reply would be, as per James: You believe that there is one God – good – even the demons believe that, and shudder. You see, even demons can have good theology.
What is bothering me particularly at the moment is the recent news of what seems to be an abuse of power in Driscoll’s church. Yes, I realize that with so many denominations there is a lack of Christian accountability, and this is what they are reacting against. And yes, I think there is something wrong when someone compares a church covenant to the agreement you click on iTunes (interesting aside question: does the cavalier way that such programs have taught us to enter into contracts compromise the Christian practice of letting our yes be yes and our no,no?). But from what I can tell, it does seem that the response of Mars Hill to Andrew is grounded more in an exaggerated defensive stance against “sissy” Western culture than in sound Biblical exegesis. Yes, maybe we are supposed to treat Christians under discipline as we would treat tax collectors and sinners – but then again, our model of how we treat tax collectors and sinners must be Christ rather than the Pharisees.
In short, this looks like abuse of power, and it worries me greatly, given Mars Hills’ seeming lack of accountability to other churches. You see, people often make the assumption that institutionalisation kills churches, that it would be so much better if we went back to the good old spontenaeity of the early church. I would rather suggest that, in its ideal form, the Christian institution exists to protect us from the abuses of Biblical and Christian language by those abusing that spontenaeity. You see, when I think of corrupt Christianity, I do not think of the tottering and awkward bulk of the institutionalised church – it is often too bumbling to be able to maintain the prideful appropriation of Christian language for too long – God is always humbling it through its sheepish awkwardness. No, the abuse I fear is when people say we should “just” pray, or “just” be more biblical, or “just” be more discerning, or “just” listen to the holy spirit (just should be treated as a four letter word in the Christian vocabulary). Surely we should do all these things, but the problem is that such advice sets itself beyond appeal; anyone who questions whether its use might be self-serving rather than humble and Christian is accused of setting themselves against these good things – as if pointing out their abuses were the same as dismissing them altogether. And it seems to me that Mars Hill is guilty of this; it is the Biblical church (let me just say here that no contemporary church is Biblical in the way churches think they mean when they advertise this), and questioning it is tantamount to questioning God. This is particularly scary given that Mars Hill is hardly in submission to or under the discipline of two thousand years of Christian belief – it is in submission to and under the discipline of Mark Driscoll. While it may be exceedingly corrupt at times, Christian tradition, practice, and the communion of saints exist to keep pastors – shepherds – from becoming abusive celebrities. Church discipline is important, yes, but I think it should only be practiced by churches insofar as those churches are being the church in all aspects. If Driscoll is so keen about Christian submission to discipline, he should consider submitting his own church to the authority of a two thousand year old Christian tradition. And since he so dearly loves blood sport, I do not feel particularly bad in hitting below the belt and suggesting that he start by studying a certain Council of Trent, presumably undertaken with people like him in mind.