mars hill discipline: how to treat a pagan or a tax collector

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Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

mars hill discipline: how to treat a pagan or a tax collector

if, over the last couple days, you were to take a peek at the theological social media circles i run in, you’d be hard-pressed to miss the stunning story that matthew paul turner shared on his blog. delivered in 2 parts (part 1 and part 2), he shared the story of a guy named andrew who, until recently, was a member of mark driscoll’s mars hill church in seattle. you can read turner’s posts to get the full story, but in essence, this guy became subject to church discipline for confessing to sleeping with his fiancée and for having an inappropriate (platonic) relationship with another girl.

along the course of this ordeal, we find that andrew rejected a “church discipline contract” (which you can read here), citing its legalistic, voyeuristic and controlling spirit. at that point, the mars hill pastor tells him that he is “leaving as a member under discipline not as a member in good standing”. the final blow is the most astounding part of the story. on mars hill’s online network, the city, a letter was sent to each member. here’s the letter:


a few things jumped out to me when reading through this story and the aforementioned letter, specifically.

  1. while in seminary, i did some study and research on historical cults. this, my friends, is textbook language and tactics of cults. i’ll leave it at that…

  2. think about the phrase “gospel shame” (used in the letter about socially dissociating with andrew). sounds like something jesus would’ve said, right? wrong. jesus wouldn’t have used this phrase because it’s an oxymoron. “gospel” is about freedom and joy and boldness and anything but shame. it’s an invented and co-opted phrase that is an unfair interpretation of the 2 thessalonians scripture they cite.

  3. more than anything, what got to me was the sad interpretation of matthew 18:17, which states:

    If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

    the mars hill interpretation of “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” means to discard them as if they are a bag of trash. it’s as if being a “pagan or a tax collector” means a clean cut from all social interaction.

    well, the problem with that interpretation is that there’s this guy jesus who really screws things up. why? because jesus didn’t treat “pagans and tax collectors” as refuse, but rather as friends and dinner companions and those in particular need of grace and compassion. jesus did exactly what mars hill instructs its member not to do. while the story of zacchaeus is an obvious example here, let’s just think about the (probable) author of the book of matthew. what did matthew do before becoming one of the chosen 12? he was a despised tax collector. according to mars hill’s membership policies, jesus would be put under church discipline for having dinner with zacchaeus and befriending matthew.

    so how do we treat people “as you would a pagan or a tax collector”? well, you kill them with kindness and grace and love and unconditional acceptance. sure, you challenge and encourage them to be repentant, but you do it the way jesus did it: in relationship.

i’ll be checking back to see if matthew paul turner offers much in the way of updates. i have a feeling this story isn’t going to fizzle out in the next couple days. many damning things (some fair and some unfair) have been stacking up against mars hill and mark driscoll, specifically. this might be one of the most telling things yet. it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.