Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In God We Trust (all others pay cash)

I'm interested in this not because of some sense of schadenfreude, but because it shows why the "traditional" church may seem to have been passed by, but really isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Following the news that 21 ex-Mars Hill Church pastors asked lead pastor Mark Driscoll to step down, he returned from his planned vacation on August 24, 2014 and announced he will be taking at least six weeks off while the charges are being investigated. Mars Hill has retained evangelical PR strategist Mark DeMoss, son of the religious right funders behind the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation and former advisor to the Romney campaign, to assist the church during this time.

Earlier this month Driscoll suffered a major career blow when the Acts 29 Network, the all-male coalition of over 500 Reformed evangelical church planters that he co-founded, removed him and his Seattle based Mars Hill Church from the organization’s membership, and asked him to step down as a pastor.

I would also note that there are two scandals that will ruin a ministry faster than anything, and they are the two most often seen when a ministry is in trouble:  money, and sex.  Driscoll isn't accused of any sexual improprieties (aside from harassment, perhaps; which is bad enough), but he has messed with the money:

Mars Hill’s growing controversies remained hidden, due in large part to a drastic change to the church’s bylaws in 2007 that shifted oversight from 24 male elders to a select group of executive elders, with Driscoll as the lead pastor. Those few who protested the change, or any subsequent decisions made by the executive elders, found themselves fired and shunned. Also, many employees are prevented from speaking publicly about Mars Hill due to a non-disclosure agreement they had signed as a condition of their employment.
As the article says, Driscoll was a rising star who, in less than 20 years, seems to have fallen back to earth.  I don't wish that upon him, but simply point out it takes a community to make a church, and no one is above that community.  Driscoll wanted to place himself apart, with his cronies supporting his actions and his hand in the till because, well...that's where the money is.

When I had a church, I left all the money concerns to the church treasurer and the church council.  I knew what the church budget was, and what my compensation was; but who even pledged what amount was something I never paid attention to, and what it took to pay the bills was not something I worried about.  Small churches are achingly transparent anyway; the books are simple, the accounts few, the balances easy to determine by anyone who keeps a checkbook or a savings account.  But I knew pastors who got in trouble, and one of the "go to" charges, even if it was spurious, was about abuse of funds and misuse of church money.  I never let myself get anywhere near that, just to be sure I wouldn't be fighting a charge of misusing church funds.

Whither Mars Hill?  I don't know, but I don't think the prognosis is good.  Every major scandal with a public church figure has effectively ended that ministry and left the church in disarray.  Despite appearances people don't go to church to fight, and they don't give money to the church to see it disappear.   And Mars Hill knows this, and they also fear it:

Now that a former employee has gone public with proof that funds donated to the Mars Hill Global Fund were allocated elsewhere, perhaps others will come forward to unearth documents Mars Hill refuses to release despite repeated requests.

The Vatican Bank may have been corrupt and scandal-ridden, but the church institution protects the local parish from too many repercussions of that kind of problem.  Most Protestant denominations can separate themselves easily from a pastor with sticky fingers, and the institution will survive.

But when one man is effectively the institution, what then?  Mars Hill won't collapse overnight, won't necessarily go the way of Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral or Oral Robert's ministry in Tulsa; but it's best days are behind it now.  It will either settle into being a mini-denomination, with all the institutional trappings thereof; or it will fade away.

And would it surprise you to know that some of the scandal engulfing Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill involves soteriology?  Because apparently all is fair when it comes to saving souls:

"Mars Hill has made marketing investments for book releases and sermon series, along with album releases, events, and church plants, much like many other churches, authors, and publishers who want to reach a large audience. We will explore any opportunity that helps us to get that message out, while striving to remain above reproach in the process. Whether we’re talking about technology, music, marketing, or whatever, we want to tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available."
But apparently "every means available" wasn't limited to technology; it involved marketing as well, such as making a false claim that Driscoll had authored a best selling book.  It's a curious evangelism that says unethical behavior is appropriate when the purpose is to save souls.  It isn't just the urgency there, it's also the question:  save them for what?  Do unethical means achieve ethical ends if the saving of a soul is understood as the greater purpose than all others?  And is that the teaching of Christ and of Christianity:  that salvation is above all and over all and trumps all?

Or is it to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God, and to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself?

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of Driscoll's "evangelical" theology; and that's pretty much why.  I think it puts the emphasis on the wrong person.  If my efforts to save your soul are more important than my efforts to live according to God's ethic, then what am I saving souls for?  In fact, how am I saving them?  By getting people to repeat a simple mantra, but not otherwise changing their lives?  This is the same problem I had with all the fervent Southern Baptists I grew up with, all anxious to  know if I was "saved", if I had "let Jesus into my heart"?  What did that mean, and if it meant only a "Get out of Hell Free" card, what kind of weird moral universe was I being invited to live in?

What is the purpose of this life?  To accumulate souls for some cosmic redemption of mine?  And to accumulate them by whatever means necessary, because it will redeem my evil?

No, thank you.  That theology I need no part of.

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