A New Trial for the Local Church?

Sat tonight with my old roommates and my wife, reenacting the time honored tradition of watching Mark Driscoll sermons. Back in the dorm, we would crowd around and watch Driscoll or sometimes Piper. Driscoll said what we were saying, and indeed what much of conservative evangelicalism was saying, just in a fresh way. His theology seemed spot on, and his exegesis meant proper application to today’s situations.

The last several months have seen some change, either in my perception of him, or in what he’s actually doing. Increasingly, his sermons have been generalized pieces of eisegesis. Was anyone else concerned… even grieved… as he went through the list of twenty “negatives” based on 2 Timothy 2 at the Gospel Coalition? There were many laughs, plenty of imprecision, and a lot of imposition on the text. I was continually reminded of John Piper’s sermon from the 2006 Together for the Gospel conference, where he strongly warned against making the pulpit a place for overabounding humor. That is primarily what Driscoll did that night, and many other nights. Do any of his mentors talk to him about this?

And then, tonight’s viewing of last Sunday’s sermon at Mars Hill. There was massive eisegesis of 1 Peter 5:2, where he applied a Prophet, Priest, King model to divide elders into three different types, essentially denying “able to teach” from 1 Timothy 3:2 and siding with the Presbyterians who have a ruling/teaching elder model. He essentially took the ways that Scripture identifies our Lord, and applied them to a business model for a healthy megachurch. Very discouraging.

But even before that, and by far the most serious… Mars Hill has for years practiced a multi-site approach to their church plants in Seattle. Each church gets to see Pastor Mark preach live across the city. I have mixed feelings about this, but it could possibly work. 9 Marks wrote a recent eJournal arguing in favor of the idea. I need to think about it more. But when he announced that one of their new campuses would open in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and that his sermons would be recorded and then given to that church a week later… and that this would be the model as they expanded to other places… my heart literally skipped beats. Not to mention that this was a local church that was now going to be airing Mark’s messages as part of their main service.

What about the local church? One of the other people in our group echoed my thoughts… even if it’s not intended, it casts an awfully suspicious light on Pastor Mark’s motives, which is ironic if not outright sad on a Sunday where the sermon title was Humble Pastors. The series is on trials for the local church from 1 Peter… but I wonder if Mark hasn’t created a new trial for the local church by essentially signaling that he’s okay with undermining its autonomy.

Two thoughts I had: 1) that I really hope I’m wrong. Perhaps Mark’s sermon in Albuquerque will just be an add-on, something people can stick around for but isn’t the main preaching time. Otherwise, this is basically subverting the autonomy of the local church. 2) I know from Reformissional Rev that Driscoll essentially adopted a model that was more suited for a megachurch that would be run like a corporation. That always irked me… the last 1/4 of that book really made me wonder where the church would go. And I think this is some of the fruit of that: when a church takes on business principles instead of Scripture as its modus operandi, something will always be compromised.

Pray for them… for the witness of the Gospel in Seattle and wherever Acts 29 church plants are found, not to mention the upcoming conference on the resurgence of the “local church.” Will this just undermine the message of that conference? I am weary of pragmatism, and really was hoping its fruit would be curtailed in Mars Hill’s ministry. This may be the event that many who were once ardent supporters of Driscoll will look back on as the moment when the ministry visibly made a major turn for the worse. I really pray I’m wrong, and that others in his circles will have the gumption to write and talk to him about this.

Am I going overboard? What thoughts do people have?

Pertinent blog posts here and here. The sermon that we watched tonight can be viewed here.

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  1. #1 by Dwayne Forehand on May 5, 2009 - 11:33 am

    Mark used to teach about the dangers of denominations that owned the church building, etc because of how it undermined the autonomy of the local church. No longer does that though, because that is what they are doing.

    He used to hold high the fact that his vote was only one vote amongst all of their elders, but he can’t do that now, because the voting is basically limited to the “kings of eldership”.

    He used to teach about the dangers of only listening to “radio preachers” because they preached to the anonymous masses and therefore couldn’t contextualize the message to the local hearers as lead by the Spirit. No longer does that either though, because that is also what they are doing.

    I don’t think hardly any folks will have the experience that you described at the upcoming conference. That’s based on this personal experience with friends: People can’t see Mark as doing anything seriously wrong until he himself has acknowledged it first. It’s weird, but that’s been my experience.

    I’ll pray with you though of course. 🙂

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