Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Follow the money"

Where's all the muscular people? 

I'm left thinking of Biblical parallels like the man who built his house on sand, v. the man who built his house on rock:

Mars Hill Church announced on Sunday the closure of three of its church locations due to financial strain, with a possible fourth on the horizon.

Downtown Seattle and U-District churches in Washington will be consolidated with Mars Hill Church Ballard as of October 12th. The Mars Hill Church in Phoenix will close its doors on September 28th. The organization also announced that it has ceased development of a Los Angeles church plant and may be forced to close its Huntington Beach location if it is unable to raise funds by the end of the year.

"We have found ourselves in a serious financial situation, as giving and attendance has declined more than we had anticipated over the last few months," Mars Hill Communications & Editorial Manager Justin Dean told HuffPost by email.
The primary problem, of course, is someone else's fault:

It is your continued support that is needed now more than ever. While we were able to end the fiscal year strong, giving and attendance have declined significantly since January. Specifically, we have seen a substantial decrease in tithes and offerings these past two months, due to the increase in negative media attention surrounding our church. 
Live by good media, die by bad media; so it goes.  The air is really leaving this balloon:  having raised $3 million in 2013 for a the Phoenix and Huntington Beach churches, it has also removed from its calendar a much-touted "Jesus Festival."

And now people have found out what he said 15 years ago; but it's just icing on the cake of financial mismanagement and a determination to the be center of power of this ever-expanding church cum mini-denomination.  A power base now collapsing like a bad souffl√©.

If you've paid attention to the rise and fall of mega-churches and "evangelical" ministries, you can't really be surprised by this.  The landscape of the last few decades is strewn with the disasters of Jim and Tammy Faye, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, even Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral.  There are a lot of minor players who enjoyed their moment in the spotlight and faded away; and American history is full of charismatic figures who eventually stopped being charismatic and found the spotlight had moved away from them.

Of course the media burial of Marc Driscoll for comments made 15 years ago (and still offensive) is just the easy handle by which to grasp this crisis for Mars Hill.  The real problem is Marc Driscoll, who literally wanted to replace God as the power in his congregations.  The offerings stopped flowing and the attendance stopped growing because Marc Driscoll proved to be a petty tyrant:  not because people suddenly realized his theology was offensive.  Read that NYT article and you'll see that Mr. Driscoll's problems began in 2007 when two church elders were fired ("Fired"?  How does one fire a church elder?  Were they also paid employees?  Huh?) as Driscoll began to collect the power and finances of the church into his hands.  His complementarianism, made plain and ugly in those old Internet posts and comments, is not what turned people away.  By and large, church members liked that:
“We’ve seen how he has changed so many lives, and to see him treated this way is just sad,” said Rachel Harris, a Mars Hill member who created a Facebook group made up of supporters of Mr. Driscoll. “There’s positive stuff about our church that’s not being heard, and it feels like a family member is getting bullied.”
 I think it's clear which family member is getting bullied, and it isn't Marc Driscoll, who has "apologized" for his statements this way:

“In the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over,” he wrote in a letter to his congregation in March, “to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father.”
Still not getting to the root of the problem, and still not admitting he is the problem.  Which recognition should be a basic tenet of a Calvinist, since "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" doesn't included an asterisk for "Except leaders of churches, especially very rich churches."

It is the idolatry that is the problem here.  "Complementarianism" is just another way of setting one group above another, when the clear message of the gospels is "The first shall be last and the last first" and "The first of all shall be last and servant of all."  I know that doesn't jibe with "muscular Christianity," but I can't help that.  There are so many clear indications that Jesus of Nazareth treated women equally in a social order that treated them as barely human.  His was a much more radical stance in that time than any "feminist revision" of the gospels that is advocated today.  I even understand the need for Christianity to speak to the people around it:  Paul's exhortation to the church in Corinth is as much about selfishness as it is about conforming to social custom (a lesson Marc Driscoll clearly needs to learn again).  The Dream of the Rood is a classic example of retelling the crucifixion story in terms accessible to Vikings (although it isn't that far from the Johannine passion, where Jesus doesn't die but rather hands over his soul to God).   Understanding the story in your culture can be a revelation; but it can slide over into idolatry.

Christians wrestle with the claims of the scriptures upon them; they wrestle with the revelation as understood by the clouds of witness extending from the disciples to the present day.  From the gospels Christians have always understood themselves to be subject to the community of believers.  That's not an easy thing to do, but it is a necessary one.  There are a lot of lessons in the fall of Marc Driscoll and Mars Hill, but the primary one goes back to something the prophets raged at Israel about:  building false idols and proclaiming them holy.

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