Idolatry, Apostasy and Heresy!

May 25, 2012

Last Sunday was an interesting one.

I visited two churches while in Seattle for the weekend.

First, I visited one of the fourteen Mars Hill locations.  We sang some good songs, and watched a sermon via video recording from Mark Driscoll.  Having seen Mark speak at Catalyst, I have to say he’s more engaging in person, but the video was very well produced.

Later that night, I visited St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.  The sanctuary is one of the most magnificent rooms I’ve ever occupied.  It’s square shape, wooden beams, great columns and glass panels at the front vaguely reminded me of how I imagine Solomon’s temple looked.  I was there to hear a choir of monks singing.

Two churches which could not be more different.  And their differences didn’t stop with style.  If you were the kind of person who gambled, which church would you bet on still being here in a hundred years?

Old School Contemporary

Mars Hill has a lot going for it.  You could not find a more contemporary feeling church, with it’s worship music, it’s ultra-modern facility and its use of technology.  They have fourteen franchises, er campuses, and we were told it takes two-thousand man hours each week to keep the Mars Hill machine running.

And they have Mark.  Mark, Mark, Mark.  Mark Driscoll in a lot of ways strikes me as the polar opposite of the church he runs.  He’s old school.  When it comes to theology or contemporary social issues, he’s unabashedly, hard-headedly conservative.  And he makes no apologies.  The sermon he was giving was about the dangers of apostasy (backsliding) and how tolerating sin leads to the death of churches.

And yes, he did mention adultery, fornication, and homosexuality as three biggies when it comes to apostasy.  You probably already know he’s very outspoken about all three of those.  And he’s preaching in a city that loves all three of those things.

Progressive Traditionalism

Contrast that to St. Marks.  If you have never visited an Episcopal service, you should at least once in your life.  It’s full of pagentry and drama.  They really know how to create the feeling of God’s presence.

What was unusual about St. Mark’s that night were all of the young people.  And they weren’t just sitting quietly in the pews.  They were scattered around the communion table, where the priests do their work.  They were laying on the floor, on pillows, on their backs, wherever they found a comfy spot.

The church was also decorated with very long banners, streaming across the ceiling, all converging at the highest point of the room.  They came in every color of the rainbow.  I was impressed…for a few minutes.

Then I remembered…

Just before the monks sang, the church was holding a gay and lesbian “mixer.”  I wondered how many of these young people were leftover from that.  The streamers across the ceiling were no longer just colorful cloth.  They were every color of the rainbow.  If you had asked Mark Driscoll, this church was completely apostate, and in danger of collapse.

Who Will God Strike Down First?

So, if I lived in Seattle, would I become a member of either church?

Yes, I want gays to come to church.  But how far does a church have to go to be welcoming to everyone?  How high do we have to fly the rainbow flag?  I’ve seen pastors wearing rainbow colored robes, and they weren’t playing the part of Joseph.  When you fly rainbow streamers over the cross at the front of the sanctuary, what is the focus?  When all you do is affirm, affirm, affirm, are people ever going to be able to focus on what God is saying to them?  I didn’t see any heterosexual banners to welcome me.

On the other hand, I could choose a conservative but undoubtedly strong church like Mars Hill.  But there’s no doubt that Mars Hill is the Mark Driscoll Show.  He’s a great communicator and leader.  But there’s no way he knows the spiritual needs of the people.  You might even be able to argue that he’s not really a pastor.  People complain in big churches when their pastors are unapproachable.  Now multiply that by fifteen.  The man is not even physically present.  But he’s present in digital form.  And he’s present in written form in the bookstore (which carried all of his books and not much else.)  It is unthinkable to conceive of Mars Hill without Mark Driscoll.

Now, which one is more idolatrous, apostate, heretical and in danger of collapse?  The cult of homosexuality…or the cult of personality?

48 responses to Idolatry, Apostasy and Heresy!

  1. Damn, Matt. I’m going to be thinking about this for a long while. Wow…

  2. At this point, after centuries of oppression, it’s hard to imagine a Christian church being “too affirming” of the LGBT community. I do not think it is possible. Whether it survives or not is irrelevant. The Episcopal Church will be remembered as one of the first and few brave Christian communities to passionately reach out to this disenfranchised people group.

    • So Ric, just to play devil’s advocate, does the LGBT crowd get a permanent pass because of the church’s past sins?

      • Hopefully “permanent” won’t be necessary. But then, that is entirely up to the church. As long as mainline churches continue to marginalize these people, Christians will need to go out of their way to show their gay and lesbian neighbors that Jesus does in fact, love them.

        Put another way, the sins of the church on this issue are not yet past. The church has enjoyed their free pass for quite some time.

        • So let’s say you have a church like Mars Hill which doesn’t affirm homosexuality as a viable lifestyle choice. How would you strike a balance between the affirmation of the Episcopals and the principles of Mars Hill. Put another way, how can Christians who don’t affirm homosexuality still welcome, love, and affirm homosexuals in the name of Jesus?

          • My advice for both sides of any issue: “Don’t be a jerk about it.”

          • After about a 1000 years of open affirmation (to *balance* out the 1000+ years of open condemnation), we *could* simply treat people the same. We look past a host of “sins” (as defined in the bible) to strike up relationships with people. All. The. Time. Why we’re fixated on the “behavior” of less than 5% of the populace while ignoring the 95%+ is not explainable with logic.

          • Yes – we could simply treat people the same! But one might ask your same question, but reversed – why should a church focus on affirming 5% of the population, rather than just treating people equally?

            By the way, thanks for putting up with my banter. :) I in no way mean offense – Im just enjoying the back and forth.

          • For the same reason that we treat all victims with an outpouring of grace, love, respect, and even honor. When we realize we are the ones who victimized, this becomes even more of an issue for us as Christians.

            And I’m not taking your comments or questions as offensive. Not at all.

  3. Darnit, I had this whole big rambling response written but my computer pooped out. Anyway, here’s the basic jist of it–

    1) You probably don’t see any heterosexual banners because THE WHOLE DARN WORLD is a heterosexual banner. As a heterosexual your “lifestyle” is affirmed every day of your life. Not as exciting as having a banner, sorry. I’ll make one for you if it makes you feel better.

    2) I don’t think ANY of us can predict which churches are going to survive. It’s way too point fingers and say “That batch of idol-worshipping backsliders over THERE is going to be wiped out”–notice that no one ever talks about their OWN church that way?
    In the end, I think that God’s the only one with the final tally of which churches will still be around when it all goes down. And right now, He doesn’t seem to be giving us any hints.

    3) I’ve been an Episcopalian for about ten years now and these are some things that I’ve appreciated about it–
    —the visuals. My husband is an artist (and wasn’t a Christian when we got married) and has told me that he’s been more affected by our church’s stained glass than any sermon he’s heard. I would not have been able to get him into the door of a church that resembles a conference center.

    —the way women are treated. Women can be ordained the same as men, and while at my church we still have women doing Sunday school and coffee, it’s understood that those aren’t the only things available. I’ve read the scripture during services for a number of years now (which I really enjoy), and I wouldn’t be allowed to do that in some churches.

    —it’s actually fairly “apolitical”. You’re experience in Seattle wasn’t really representative of many Episcopal churches. I live in the Midwest–our church has a few gay couples, but we’ve never done rainbow banners or gay mixers. We get a few gay folks, some old folks that tolerate the gay folks but don’t really “approve” of them, and no one really makes a big fuss over either group.

    • Apologies for the many typos. Hope it’s still readable.

    • You make some great points, Abby. I love the Episcopal experience. I don’t really want a heterosexual banner in churches – that was a bit of hyperbole. But I think it raises the same question in my mind as when I visit a monastery and the central focal point is the virgin Mary – who or what is the focus? Is the focus on Jesus and blessing him or on us and blessing ourselves?

      • Hmm. I think “who or what is the focus” but I don’t think you’re ever going to get a nice, neat answer without becoming some kind of mind reader.

        You see, you could go to a liturgical type of service on any given day, and you’ll find people that are focused on the minutiae of the ritual itself instead of the reason behind it. You’ll also find people that use the rituals as a method of becoming more focused on Jesus (I find that it helps keep my mind from drifting toward the impending coffee and donuts :)

        Likewise, you could go to a more non-traditional service and there will be people that are there because of the big crush they have on the celibripastor or they’re focused on getting their philosophical ticket punched (hey, I hate gays and feminists, too–I must be okay!) Still, there will be folks that really do have Jesus revealed to them through a famous pastor or a worship song on a jumbotron.

        So, it does no good to dismiss a particular tradition as “not focused on Christ” when different people are going to come away with something different. Every church (and every person) will have the same opportunity to screw things up!

        • I meant to say “ a good question” in that first sentence. I’m really batting a thousand today.

  4. Your tweetr drew me in. I thought – the “contemporary” church will have to change as the culture does in order to still be around in 100 years. But that is what the “traditional” church is doing, right? One is changing its style to change with the culture and the other is changing its doctrine to change with the culture.

    Time will tell. I’m just happy that both are reaching out to people for Jesus!

  5. I doesn’t matter they are both pulling the bait-and-switch. Jesus is on the advertisement but something else is being promoted fervently.

    BTW this “The cult of homosexuality…or the cult of personality?” is a brilliant finish for this post.

    • Thanks Ken! Interesting contrast between you and the previous comment. She says both are proclaiming Jesus, but you say they are both pulling a bait and switch.

      • Jesus is on the placard but is He at the heart of the message? I may just be a cynic today. I’m thinking more along these lines

        “Mars Hill is the Mark Driscoll Show” and “The streamers across the ceiling were no longer just colorful cloth. They were every color of the rainbow.”

        It seems there is a promotion of something other than “Jesus and Him crucified.”

        But, then again, I can be pretty jaded sometimes.

  6. Things are accelerating at an ever faster pace in life. People are mad if they have to wait for a return phone call. We want instant everything, and that is the same for church, for God’s presence, and for pop-religion.

    I truthfully don’t think that God is concerned about what church, what traditions, or what legacy is left. Every church tradition seems to evolve into a formula, and then slowly passes away.

    What God cares about is faith, love and hope, and the greatest of theses is not popularity.

    I think that within a 100 years we are going to look much more like the Chinese house church movement. Mainstream Christianity will have a cost greater than it’s perceived religious value (it’s already happening). It’s not going to be popular to be persecuted for pop religious beliefs, tradition and dogma.

    In some ways it sort of makes me happy. I am tired of the religiousness without the relationship. I am tired of powerless debates, and unless God is actually at work in tangible ways, I have no interest at all.

  7. Great post! I agree with Ken, that last line was spot on. That’s the danger of the megachurch…not all of them. It becomes more about the person delivering the message than the actual Message. Thanks for the thoughts!

  8. Ok…time to wade in. It is ridiculous to me that the most liberal churches hold most tightly to traditions and rituals while denying the very power of the Word of God! All they have left is tradition and affirmation to attract people. That is why those churches are dying (the mainlines). In revelation 2-3 Jesus was in the church closing business; he threatened to close the loveless churches, the tolerant churches, the lukewarm churches, etc. The church is owned and operated by Jesus Christ. It is a redemptive force in this world, a bridge from heaven to earth; an outpost of heaven on this planet. We are not here to fly rainbow flags, american flags, or any other flag, we are here to proclaim Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.

    Paul certainly didn’t dance around the issues when he addressed the Corinthian church. Holiness is not an option on the buffet line of Christian Golden Corral. Jesus calls the shots. The Holy Spirit leads us. The Bible is the playbook. Jesus defines me…I don’t define Jesus.

    I am ticked off! The anti Christ in 1 John was marked by watering down and diminishing Jesus. The church is simply here to exalt His glory, grace and truth no matter how uncomfortable, how politically incorrect and how offensive it may be to ANYBODY!! The power is in the blood. I am sick of sinners – whoever they might be – asking me to affirm and celebrate their sin. I will not. Jesus came to set us free, not affirm our bondage!!

    I am no driscolite, but the episcopal church sealed their fate when they traded the Bible for relevance and cultural acceptance.

    • I respect your right to your beliefs and your interpretation of scripture. I do not agree with it but I respect your openness and honesty.

      I do, however, see the Episcopal church’s stance on homosexuality as courageous and not at all “trading the Bible for relevance and cultural acceptance.” In 1976, they basically affirmed gay Christians as real, authentic Christians. 36 years ago. They have been leading an uphill charge for the LGBT community. They are definitely going against the grain and against the cultural norms.

      I have stated this in the past and I’ll repeat it again here: The church has been in bed with the culture on the “issue” of homosexuality for its entire existence (1600 years). If anything, we, the church, have allowed the cultural ostracizing of gays (gay men in particular) to infect our theology.

      Once the clear majority of our society support gay relationships (i.e., marriage) and gay marriage prohibition laws/amendments are being *repealed* by general election votes, then yes, if a church coincidentally shifts their stance at *that* point, one would wonder if they were doing so based solely on gaining cultural relevance and acceptance.

      • I think you are right, Ric, in that the Church treated and is treating homosexuals as if they had committed the unforgivable sin rather than treating all sins as equal (which is closer to God’s view of sin) and in thinking that the Church is the arm of God’s judgement and His agents of change rather than acting in humility and letting God’s Holy Spirit bring conviction and change. And the Church has forgotten that even WHEN other Christians sin, we are still dearly beloved, treasured children of God, regardless of the particular type of sin we commit and are deserving of full respect as children of God. Even people who are not Christian are deserving of the full respect and honor due to them because they are made in the image of God.

        In a conversation with Matt, you talked about having the church change its position to make up for the 1000+ years of how it has treated the LBGT community. To be honest, that smacks of trying to make the Church atone for mistreatment and there is nothing the Church, or anyone else for that matter, can really do to atone for wrong things they have done. The only acceptable atonement for mistreatment of the LGBT community was made by Jesus on the Cross and our responsibility, which should also be an act of joy, as Christians and as the Church when we have done wrong is to repent and seek forgiveness from those who were wronged. Our responsibility, and our joy should be to forgive those who have wronged us.

        So, as a member of the Church and as an individual, I confess to you that there have been times when my thoughts and speech have focused on judgement rather than mercy and pride rather than humility in LGBT issues. Please forgive me and know that even though you and I don’t necessarily agree on whether or not homosexuality is a sin, I respect you and your confession of faith in Jesus Christ and consider you a brother in Christ, acknowledging that God is working out your sanctification, just as He is working out my sanctification in His own good time.

        Peace be with you.

        • Hey Kris,

          Thanks for your comments. My suggestion of the 1000+ years of the church going out of our way to make the LGBT community feel welcome (and, more importantly, safe) is meant to be facetious. I would hope it would not take 1000 years of being overly sensitive and welcoming to achieve the desired result.

          As of right now, the Episcopal Church might appear to be going too far. Perhaps the church Matt visited did indeed go to far. However, my position is it’s very hard (for me) to imagine “too far” when it comes to our church(es) rolling out the welcome mat for the LGBT community.

  9. Great job, Matt. What strikes me is in reading your article is that the church with the traditional architecture has a modern message and the church that looks thoroughly modern has a traditional message. So in some ways, both churches are playing the “bait-and-switch” method in many ways. Or maybe just that appearances can be deceiving and that we really need to listen to the messages that the church/pastor/priest is giving and making sure it is in agreement with what is in the Bible.

    And my answer to your question about which is more apostate, the cult of personality vs. the cult of homosexuality is neither. They both worship the created rather than The Creator. The good news is that God takes care of apostate churches, either by taking them out, or by turning them back to Him.

  10. I understand that church leaders can have devotees, but does Mark Driscoll make his church about _him_ or are there just people in the church who idolize him? (I’m really asking…I have no idea.) If he has mandated that every campus a) has a bookstore that b) only carries his writings, then he’s likely got some ego problems. If the campus you went to has some autonomy (again, I have no idea) and decided on its own to have a “We love Mark Driscoll” Store, then the issue isn’t him as much as it is them. Now…the shepherd should know his flock and should do his best to stop them from fawning over him….but I’ve found asking people to take you off of a pedestal to be counter-productive – it usually lets them then fawn over how humble you are….so when you get a group of people who are personality-worshipers, there’s very little you can do about it except just stop being a “personality.” But unless that’s God’s current calling for MD, he should probably stick with what he’s been called to do.

    So yes….the “cult of personality” is wrong imo, but the blame doesn’t _necessarily_ fall to the personality himself. People are just naturally idolatrous and strong personalities are very attractive to idolatrous people.

    That’s not to say that MD hasn’t done some encouraging of his “cult,” but it’s not _necessarily_ the case. (And I, honestly, have no idea.)

    And growth isn’t necessarily a sign of good theology, etc., but it _could_ be a sign of it. When the church is acting like the church should, then it will by its very nature be attractive to the community…and will grow…just like in Acts. I don’t know if that’s how Mars Hill acts or operates, but if, for the most part, it’s bringing people to Christ by being a good representation of Him to their community and as a result is growing…but there are people in the church (all of whom are sinful) who instead of following Jesus are idolizing Mark Driscoll….well….what should be done about that? Church discipline? I don’t know….

    Long, rambley post even longer and more rambley….I think your point is good…my rule of thumb for evangelists is that if they name their ministry after themselves, they’re probably in it for the wrong reasons (Billy Graham being the notable exception to the rule). But I think that the “personality” him or herself isn’t necessarily to blame for the morons who are allowed to “follow” them.

    And as for the other…well, I doubt what you saw represents all of Episcopalian-hood…but regardless, my mom used to warn me not to be “so open-minded that my brain fell out.”

    As for which will fall faster….probably the cult of personality because the personality is bound to screw up at some point and if there’s one thing that idolaters do quickly it’s start to throw stones….and then latch on to the next “big” personality.

    • My impression is that the Mars Hill leadership is very strong and consolidated. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means it’s a good organization, and wherever you go, it’s bound to be a very similar experience, much like a restaurant franchise. I dont think the campuses would be airing MD videos while the campus pastors really do very little speaking unless it illustrated that point. I think the desire from the top and from the seats is that everyone hear MD’s messages.

      • That’s not my preferred style of “church” (i.e., the “franchise”), but then again, it shouldn’t be about me.

      • Doesn’t that put quite a bit of undue responsibility on one guy, though? It just seems bizarre to me to have ONE GUY be the only voice for a church–to such an extent that he’d rather be beamed holographically to another location rather than let someone else deliver a sermon?

        I mean, what happens if MD has a heart attack, or even just gets burned out and needs a break? Is the whole organization going to collapse? Or are they just going to keep running old MD videos that they kept archived?

      • I know that some churches will have a teaching pastor and a community pastor. The last two I have attended have that pattern. The community pastor does the discipling, counseling, etc. So it might be that all the campuses get to hear Pastor Driscoll preach on Sunday and that he and the elders develop the vision and mission of the church, but that pastors at each campus are to help in the adminstration and shepherding of that particular campus.

        I have only read two of Mark Driscoll’s books, _Radical Reformission_ and his doctrine book, which he co-wrote. Based on the first book I mentioned, I would not be too keen on having Pastor Driscoll as my counselor. For that matter, the teaching pastor in Illinois was not a very good counseling pastor and tended to make things worse when he tried. I still respect the man as knowing very well the Word of God and presenting it in layman’s terms because no one is perfect.

        I really appreciated Melissa Jones’ comments about whether MD is encouraging people to idolize him or if that is what his congregation is doing in spite of his efforts to point them to God. If the church lasts beyond his retirement, then it can be called “God’s church” and if it doesn’t then maybe it really was a cult of personality.

  11. Greetings from Houston! Land of ginormous churches lead my pastors larger than life. I don’t know which church will survive. I’m guessing God cares more about The Church–the body of believers–than any one congregations. I could go on and on about missional versus attractional, but I’ll spare you. My faith is simple: Love God and people, live in community with one another and serve the world. Simple, not easy.

  12. Mars Hill does have a cult of personality going on. And it does not have the sacraments and the assurance found in them (in the external, visable Word)…so, inevitably the focus turns to the self, in one way or another.

    The Episcopal Chrurch has a lot going for it. And a lot to criticize. Churches ought not be in the ‘sin affirmation’ business…a dn that is exactly what they are doing with openly gay clergy.

    Plus, that whole historic episcopate thing is just another add-on to the finished work of Christ and therefore dilutes the gospel.

    My 2 cents.


  13. Great post. Really interesting to ponder which church will be around in 100 years. Perhaps neither, but I am certain Jesus still will be.

  14. Over half-century ago I attended Easter morning service at St. Mark’s. Same building, but same church? And there was no Mark Driscoll.

  15. This post speaks and throws more questions in this little redneck mind of mine (not that I think like a redneck or enjoy killing animals and cleaning their insides on my front porch. I just live in a redneck town). I find the struggle of church and love to be exhausting, but worth it.
    I just wonder what God thinks about our hearts in the heat of this battle?
    Someday you should visit a little redneck church.

  16. I found your link on Twitter and started reading. I think you lost me prior to this point, but definitely here, “But there’s no doubt that Mars Hill is the Mark Driscoll Show. He’s a great communicator and leader. But there’s no way [Mark] knows the spiritual needs of the people. You might even be able to argue that he’s not really a pastor…” If you want to go the “cult of personality” way then use an example that fits better, like Joel Osteen, who sells nothing but happiness and sunshine, and who was groomed to take over after his father. Mark speaks the truth of God’s Word each week and as much as that church does revolve around him it is not because of him, but because of what he teaches. And it isn’t just him. He isn’t the pastor of all the campuses or even the only pastor of the main campus. In fact, he isn’t even in charge of his main campus, but is only one of three “Executive Elders” who lead the Elders and Deacons (hundreds of them) along with local campus pastors. He may be the visionary and face of Mars Hill, and his teachings are rightfully on sale on campus and available free online, but it is not a cult of personality and Mars Hill would survive just fine without him as we’ve seen with other churches who have transitioned from one lead pastor to another. Too often in Christendom, we think it’s cutting edge to attack or distance ourselves from “successful” leaders. While we should distance ourselves based on theology we should not simply because the church is large or has multiple campuses. (I don’t go to Mars Hill, have never been there, and don’t even live in the Western half of the U.S. But I am a fan of good teachers and Mark is one and should be affirmed and applauded for his consistent teaching of the Word and his efforts to plant churches through Acts 29.)

    • Scott, I applaud you bringing a contrary point of view, but it sounds like you are no more an authority on MH than I am. I only gave my impressions. Mark may be preaching sound theology, but MH is all about him, with 14 or so campus pastors not teaching or preaching. If it really was about the message, then theoretically he could send sermon notes to those 14 other guys and they could give the message in person and it would be the same effect.

  17. Matt, you are correct that neither of us are authorities on MH. The difference between us is that I’m not taking cheap shots out of my lack of knowledge. Instead I’m calling on you to show charity and grace towards Mark and MH. I’ve read a bunch of negative posts from you and others you link to and there is always a lack of information and knowledge that unfortunately never seems to stop the poster from sharing their opinion as if they had all the info. There are things we can debate Mark over theologically – I’m not 100% in agreement with him, but who is with another Christian? – but it should be in love and towards an end goal of relationship and fellowship as believers.

  18. Matt,

    I just found your blog via a tweet and I have found the few posts I’ve read so far driving me to more thought and consideration. (And now I have another blog to read)

    Having pastored myself for a short while (long enough to discover I am not meant to be a pastor) i get the idea of a place for sermons that don’t “make the cut.” Lol

    It’s funny that I should read this post after visiting a church today that falls directly into one of those “Why did I come here again?” places. I truly wonder if we, the church, have forgotten where the focus should be… Cults of Personality, Dogma, Ideology, Pageantry, Compromise, Liberal, Conservative, Ancient, or Post-Modern, they all seem to disregard the Who in the story in favor of attention on what makes them “unique.”

    In any case, great post and I think I will enjoy reading.

  19. Theodore A. Jones June 12, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Rom. 1:18-32. Maybe you should use your time to discover what that lie is which has caused what you see. Maybe you should use your time to reason about the Lord’s illustration of the TWO trees. For the good tree CANNOT produce bad fruit! But contemporaneously all the branches of a tree are producing the same bad fruit. Comprenda?

  20. In response to the rainbow banners at St. Marks: that church is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the (for lack of a better term) homosexual center of Seattle and Washington State. I grew up in Seattle and have also been to both churches.Everyone sitting on the floor at St. Marks was different than the Episcopal church I went to in college. I attended the main Ballard campus of Mars Hill and saw Mark Driscoll in person several times. Once he showed a video of himself interviewing people at Hempfest about their religious views. My college friend Fred McElroy is a cantor at St. Marks. I don’t believe they are monks as he majored in Music Education and has a wife and kids. I sang in a Compline Choir with him in college and I’m definitely not a monk. Hope this gives you a little more background.