Again Mark Driscoll’s ministry at Mars Hill Church is embroiled in controversy. Cause of the controversy is a recently published article by Jonna Petry, wife of the former Mars Hill elder, attorney Paul Petry, who was dismissed from his position at Mars Hill by Driscoll in 2007. The article, entitled ‘My Story’, has produced a fevered response in the Christian blogosphere, for the Petry’s have told their side of the story for the first time after four years of silence.
A church pastor is fired
In 2007, Pastor Mark Driscoll decided to rewrite the bylaws of Mars Hill Church. When church elders, Paul Petry, a lawyer by profession, suggested some amendments, because he believed that the new bylaws put too much power into too few hands, Mark Driscoll was very displeased indeed. In a sermon referring to Nehemiah 13.25, Driscoll said that ‘there are a few guys right now that if I wasn’t going to end up on CNN, I would go Old Testament on them, even in leadership in this church… Here’s Nehemiah’s deal, Romans 13 says we need to obey the Government, so you can’t just walk about beating people up, tragically [laughter from congregation]—it does just simplify things, there’s no attorney’s, blogging; just like, I punched you in the mouth, shut up.’ See video of sermon.
Immediately following this sermon, at a specially arranged meeting, Driscoll fired long-standing church elder Pastor Paul Petry, with immediate effect.
Article in Seattle Times (November 19, 2007)
The recent firing of two pastors is causing turmoil at Mars Hill Church,Seattle’s largest congregation. About a month ago, Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired from their staff positions. Some Mars Hill members contend the pastors were removed because they challenged proposed changes in church structure that those members believed would consolidate power in the hands of top church leaders.
A current church leader disputes the interpretation, saying the church intends to share power, not hoard it. The firings and changes to church bylaws, passed last month, have prompted lengthy exchanges in an online, members-only church forum.
Mars Hill leaders said in forum postings that one fired pastor was removed, in part, for “displaying an unhealthy distrust in the senior leadership.” They said the other was removed for “disregarding the accepted elder protocol for the bylaw deliberation period” and “verbally attacking the lead pastor” — charges the fired pastor denied, the leaders added.
Petry also was removed as an elder; Meyer remains a church elder but is on probation. At Mars Hill, elders are men who hold positions of authority in the church. Some are on paid staff and some are not. Petry and Meyer declined to comment.
Needless to say, Paul Petry and his family were devastated by this turn of events. Even more upsetting for them was the fact that Mars Hill congregation were told by church leaders that the Petry’s were to be shunned. In the hope of achieving reconciliation the Petry’s remained silent for five years. But other controversies over Mars Hill’s church discipline have prompted Paul and Jonna Petry to tell their story of what happened when they were ‘disciplined’ by Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. Paul and Jonna Petry have published their story on their newly created blog, Joyful Exiles. Read My Story by Jonna Petry here:
Conduct of a false teacher
Our Lord warned of the danger of false prophets (He called them ravenous wolves) in the Church:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn-bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7.15-23)
According to Scripture, Mark Driscoll’s ministry must be judged by its fruit. A bad tree bears bad fruit. Our Lord said to his followers: ‘By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13.25). So the distinguishing mark of genuine believers is that they love one another. And the apostle John had a stern warning for those who profess to be believers, yet hate fellow believers. ‘He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes’ (1 John 2.10-11). The apostle draws the obvious conclusion: ‘If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also’ (1 John 4.20-21).
The following points emerge. A false teacher, who dresses in sheep’s clothing, is a ravenous wolf in reality. The one who hates his brother is blinded by the darkness in his heart, and walks in darkness. The one who claims to love God, but hates his brother is a liar and a hypocrite. With this knowledge of Scripture, dear reader, let us examine the Driscoll controversy.
Church or Cult?
An article in the The Stanger, entitled ‘Church or Cult? The Control-Freaky Ways of Mars Hill Church’, by Brendan Kiley, published 31 January 2012, gives a well researched account of the Mars Hill story, and comments on the number of people that have been harmed by church discipline.
The Mars Hill Refuge
This is a website set up to record stories of abuse that have occurred at Mars Hill. The website explains: ‘We exist to allow a place for people who have left Mars Hill to tell their stories. This is meant to be a safe haven for those who have been wounded by their experience with Mars Hill Church. We have our own story (see Our Story). We have found many stories in various places on the internet, but we believe that those who are starting their “exodus” from Mars Hill need a place to find stories like theirs. When we started seeing red flags, we were very confused and felt “crazy” because you become so immersed in Mars Hill “culture” that you are not sure…’
Here is the link: http://marshillrefuge.blogspot.co.uk/
Discerning the truth
What is so striking about this story is the lack of love that Mark Driscoll and the eldership of Mars Hill Church showed towards Paul and Jonna Petry. There is no question that the actions of Mars Hill caused real suffering and pain to their fellow church elder, and his wife and children. Is such conduct consistent with the Christian faith? The apostle John has warned the Church about the man who says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother. Such a man, says the apostle, is a liar. Driscoll says, ‘I love God, but, and this is the test, does he love the Paul and Jonna Petry? Was his action in firing Paul motivated by anger and hatred? Scripture tells us that genuine love is patient and kind, seeks not its own, thinks no evil, and is not easily provoked (1 Corinthians 13). Are Driscoll’s actions consistent with the biblical view of love?
The harsh approach of Driscoll, who seems determined to lord it over his fellow elders, is at complete variance with Scripture. The apostle Paul teaches that ‘the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient’ (2 Timothy 2.24). A church leader must not be involved in strife, but be gentle with all men. Was Driscoll gentle in his attitude to Paul Petry? The apostle Peter teaches that elders must ‘shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly… nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away’ (1 Peter 5.1-4). Did Driscoll use his position of leadership to lord it over his fellow elders?
Jonna Petry wrote: ‘Although it is still called a church, I think a more honest and accurate name might be “Mark Driscoll Ministries,” not unlike the name for Billy Graham’s organization, a man who Mark has said he greatly admires. I think what we are seeing demonstrates a confused ecclesiology and I fear this is also being taught to many other young church planters through the Acts 29 Network who want to “have” a church just like Mark’s.’ Her assessment shows great discernment, for she is right to question whether Mars Hill is a true church.
And this is the question, dear reader: Can a false teacher, who does not love his brother, who lords it over the flock, be a shepherd of God’s people? We think not!
You can learn more about Mark Driscoll’s ministry in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing. The book is available from belmonthousebooks.com/