Matthew Paul Turner of Jesus Needs New PR has a rough story that just rips at my heart. A member of Mars Hill church was confronted about some of his actions by the MH leadership. And what follows is commonplace in rural fundamentalist Calvinistic churches…but I didn’t realize how intrinsic it was to the Neo-Calvinist resurgence.
Part 1 of the story is essentially this: A church member Andrew was engaged with another church member, cheated on her, the relationship ended and Andrew confessed his sin to his accountability group friend. After the church leadership got involved with many meetings, each time Andrew felt more and more ground under their feet. Andrew learned he was “under church discipline” and what that meant:
Something in his spirit told him not to trust them. Something caused him to believe that the men sitting in front of him were far less interested in restoring him than they were in having control, feeling powerful, throwing their spiritual weight around. Beating down a sinner like Andrew.
Andrew says that many of Mars Hill’s men feel beaten down. “Because that’s what happens there, especially when you question a pastor. You get beaten down. Until you submit.”
Andrew was offered a discipline statement to sign. Jesus Needs New PR has it on their blog post, but it entails (edits by MPT, CG = small accountability group):
Andrew will attend XXX’s CG and meet with XXX on a regular basis (define).
Andrew will not be involved in serving at MH.
Andrew will not pursue or date any woman inside or outside of MH.
Andrew will write out in detail his sexual and emotional attachment history withwomen and share it with XXX.
Andrew will write out in detail the chronology of events and sexual/emotional sinwith XXX and share it with XXX and Pastor X.
Andrew will write out a list of all people he has sinned against during this timeframe, either by sexual/emotional sin, lying or deceiving, share it with XXX and develop a plan to confess sin and ask for forgiveness.
So far, this is okay. I’ve done a behavior covenant before with a parishioner who needed it. That’s okay if a individual needs it and in your pastoral concern it would seem helpful. Fine.
Part 2 of the story gets REALLY scary: Andrew declined to sign it and told the pastoral leadership that he was leaving the church. The leadership wrote back that he would still be “under discipline” if he left and it would be “escalated.” Andrew had no idea what that would entail: Mars Hill posted on the church’s private social network an extensive letter about Andrew’s sins and how the church parishioners should act with Andrew in public in “permissible” and “impermissible” ways. For example:
What is not permissible? Refrain from associating with Andrew in social settings, such as eating a meal, attending a concert or movie together [Scripture references]. Such disassociation from Christian Community is designed by God to help him realize the seriousness of his sin and need for repentence (gospel shame – 2 Thess 3:14)
Read it all here. Amazing.
While others have written that this type of church discipline is closer to John Wesley than the UMC might be, I’m more interested in the term “gospel shame”
The term “gospel shame” is taken from 2 Thess 3:14 which says in the Common English Bible:
Take note of anyone who doesn’t obey what we have said in this letter. Don’t associate with them so they will be ashamed of themselves.
But how often do the Church Discipline crafters go on to the next verse 15:
Don’t treat them like enemies, but warn them like you would do for a brother or sister.
As the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary states:
On the one hand, the larger church has the authority to shame the erring ones because of the latter’s deviation from the writer’s word as given in the letter (v. 14). On the other hand, the parameters of the reform are clearly prescribed: The larger church must not regard the erring ones as enemies, but (as in 1 Thess 5:14) they must “warn” or “admonish” them as believers.
Maybe I’m from the University of Phoenix of religions, but I think that refraining from social contact, posting a warning to other churchgoers about a forsworn former member, always reminding him in every social interaction that he is “unrepentent” sure is treating the individual more like an enemy than a brother or sister.
So…Gospel shame? Is this the Gospel? I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure it’s mainly shame, or the relying on psychological and sociological pressure to enforce biblical rigidity rather than relying on the Gospel and the love of Christ to transform hearts and minds.
I think this is a situation that reminds us all to examine our church disciplinary norms and procedures and see if we are treating the other with love or with rancor, with a twisting of Scripture to exert control.
As MPH closes his blog series with:
When I first read this letter, I was sitting in Starbucks, and I was shaking. Shaking because I was hurting for Andrew. And too, I was shaking because I was so angry that somebody (heck, a lot of somebodies–not just Mark) would use the words and messages of Jesus in such away.
And if this is how they plan to treat Andrew–as an “unbeliever”? How in the world do they treat people who really are non-Christian? (And not to mention the fact that Jesus hung out with Gentiles, tax-collectors, etc.)
Fine. If they don’t want Andrew to be a member of their church, take his name off the list! But this? I mean, seriously, did any of this letter, except for perhaps the “heavy heart”, infer that Mars Hill loves Andrew? Oh I know they think their actions represent love. But really, many of us have experienced firsthand that kind of “love,” and we know very well that it’s an abuse of the term.
I honestly wouldn’t wish this so-called “gospel shame” on Mark Driscoll, let alone somebody I know personally, somebody I’m called to love, somebody I am hoping to help restore.
And you know what’s sad? Many (not all) of Andrew’s friends (from Mars Hill) are “obeying” the advice in this letter. While every one of them has implied that they believe Mars Hill is completely out of line and blowing this out of proportion, they all end up using some variation of the words that Mars Hill told them to say.
Indeed. Thoughts?(Image credit: MG_4003 by Mars Hill Church, posted under Creative Commons license)