August 12, 2014

Please, Tell Me So

by Eric Davis

We’ll keep this brief. Not much more needs to be said about the Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill situation. Just three quick items for consideration as we’ve had a few days to consider some of the responses.

  1. It’s necessary to pause in all this and think carefully about what we can learn.

1111121549Despite the feeling of some, it’s not a breach of compassion to pause, think and talk through the situation, in order to make some good, humble, robust, soul-searching application to our own lives.

It’s no more unloving to do so than it was unloving of God to use the Israelites as an example for the NT reader to learn from (“these things happened as examples for us…” 1 Cor 10:6) or for God to use the over-grown-vineyard-broken-down-wall guy (Prov 24:30-31) as an example for us of what not to do.

In a spirit of love for others and humble teachability, there is much to learn from things like our own sin, the Israelites’ sin, broken-down-wall guy’s sin, and Driscoll’s sin. Those are opportune times to stop and grow. Challies did an excellent job demonstrating this yesterday.

  1. Before we affirm a Christian leader, it’s a good idea to make sure he’s affirmed.

Regarding pastoral qualification, Challies said this yesterday:

“As the situation comes into focus through scandal after scandal, it becomes increasingly clear that there are, and always have been, systemic issues at Mars Hill. Many of those issues are directly related to the sins and weaknesses of the church’s founder and leader.”

solaIt’s widely known that Driscoll entered ministry on the basis that God spoke to him and told him to, among other things, preach the Bible, train men, and plant churches. And to be fair, he also mentioned a few years ago that he was not ready to plant a church at the age he did.

Nevertheless, there appears to have been a problem from the start, namely, the lack of biblical affirmation to pastoral ministry. Therein lies much of the problem.

Imagine, for example, if we approached the world of brain surgery with that kind of subjective, unverifiable way as it pertains to qualifications: “Hello, doctor. I’m all ready for you to open up my cranium and crank out that tumor. By the way, what are your qualifications for brain surgery?” “I had a vision one day and heard a voice which told me this is what I need to be doing.”

If we would not approach surgeons or doctors in such a way, why would we in something as weighty as pastoral ministry?

Driscoll’s launchpad into ministry seems to have been a subjective, unverifiable experience apart from the careful examination from existing biblically qualified elders. But a man cannot qualify himself. Supposed visions or dreams of God speaking our qualification into existence have no biblical grounds. This is a form of self-qualification, which is insufficient qualification.

ordinationPaul, for example, exhorted Titus, not to find men grounding their qualification in visions and dreams, but those whose lives corresponded to a long list of objective, verifiable criteria (Titus 1:5-9). Doing so required careful examination of potentially qualified men in transparent community under the care of at least Titus. The full weight and authority of Scripture (alone) was brought to bear on the man before he would be considered qualified for the sacred task of eldering. This is where it starts for every man considering pastoral ministry. This is how God helps us know who we should and should not be following.

I understand that many godly men affirmed him later in his ministry through indirect means (i.e. ministry affiliation and conference invites), but they probably should not have. And it would not have been less loving, but more to go back to the start and examine if there ever was a sound biblical affirmation for pastoral ministry.

Ordination is not everything, of course. But pursuing pastoral ministry without some form of biblical affirmation and ordination means we are likely off from the start. That becomes practical in thinking through things like, “Who should I follow, be influneced by, sit under, and be shepherded by?” Before we affirm a Christian leader, it’s a good idea to make sure he’s affirmed.

  1. We greatly need discerning people who can say to us, “I told you so.”

Let’s think back for a moment to how we got to where we are. As we do, we will notice somewhat of a cycle in all this. First, Driscoll came on the scene and began making waves about ten years ago. He conducted himself in some questionable ways. Sound men began warning us and expressed necessary concern. Many YRR’s and others plugged their ears and cried foul. Commenting on those warnings, Challies humbly admitted, “At the time I was tempted to take this for pessimism or a curmudgeon’s spirit.”

told-you-so-meter1As time passed, the waves would settle a bit, sort of. More questionable situations would arise with Driscoll. Those who had more discernment than many of us—who could see things as they were in a way that many of us could not—continued to expressed concern. Many of us continued to plug our ears and immaturely play the “that’s-unloving” card. And the cyclical slide continued to where we are now. Many of those who previously plugged their ears are now saying things like, “OK, I don’t really agree with Driscoll, but how dare you say that we should’ve listened. Whatever you do, you must not say, ‘I told you so.’”

But something is amiss. What has been peculiar, though not surprising, in all this is that response. It’s profuse enough that it almost seems like the cardinal sin to say, “I told you so.”

Now, if what one means by this is something like, “Do not fill your facebook and twitter posts with a narcissistic horn-blowing call to self so that all would applaud you and say, ‘You were right, you must be a prophet,’” then point taken, received, and amen.

I could have my head in the sand, but I haven’t seen much of that. The warning almost seems like a boogeyman. Many of those blogosphere warnings seem to have another odor to them.

Why is a huge chunk of the responses to the scandal filled with warnings and exhortations against affirming and reminding us what was true all along? Why the many warnings against the truth? Are we not to be a people of truth? Are we not to be a teachable people? Are we not to be a people of humility, eager to receive sound correction and change?

“A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise” (Prov 15:12).

Perhaps there has been a little cyclical scoffage going on. But as many ironically scoffed at the needed warnings, let’s remember: This is not the world, it’s the church. We are to operate differently; humbly. It is a mark of godliness to admit when we’re wrong. The kingdom into which we’ve been saved is an upside-down kingdom by world standards. That means things like seeing, grieving, confessing, and turning from sin are good things, though ego-shattering. If we have been scoffer-like over the months or years in response to reproof in all this, then we ought to humbly address that.

As Challies said:

Some of [the men who have had long and faithful ministries] said, with regret, that they were convinced his ministry would eventually and inevitably explode into scandal at some point…then Driscoll’s ministry exploded into scandal. Now I have to see it as wisdom—wisdom that comes from many years of observation and many years of searching the Scriptures. These men knew what we overlooked: Character is king.

please tell me soSo, let’s flee the “I-told-you-so” warnings. They did tell us so. And they were right. We should be thanking them right now. The church’s response to this should be a loud, “You were right. Thank you for telling us so. Would you please tell us so more from here on out? And pray that our good God would help us to listen when you tell us so and give us discerning ears to hear and humble hearts to receive it. Thank you for loving me enough to tell me so. That’s what you are called to do as leaders and shepherds and Christians. Do not stop telling us so.”

To all of you out there hard-working enough and discerning enough and loving enough to tell us so, thank you. Thank you for telling us so. And may God so love his church and the world that he would give more and more sound men and women like you who will tell us so.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • h

    “Paul, for example, exhorted Titus, not to find men grounding their
    qualification in visions and dreams, but those whose lives corresponded
    to a long list of objective, verifiable criteria (Titus 1:5-9). Doing so required careful examination of potentially qualified men in transparent community under the care of at least Titus.”

    And not only that, but those qualifications are held view of the entire congregation. It’s clear that the Mars Hill congregation has been screaming that Driscoll no longer met those qualifications for many years now, and instead of submitting to congregational authority, it would appear the seedy American political church scene took over…don’t think this is an isolated or uncommon incident. This type of thing is still alive and and well, sadly, in many places across America.

  • I think you make some good points, and I think as long as we are battling the flesh we will have issues of pride among the brethren.

    That isn’t to say we shouldn’t call for repentance, but I suppose we should have a certain certainty that until the Lord makes all things new, we will encounter this.

  • Michael W. Henry

    Thank you for your usual thoughtful, reasoned and biblically clear post.

    “Challies humbly admitted, “At the time I was tempted to take this for pessimism or a curmudgeon’s spirit.” Humble? I think not. Where was “Chailles” when Driscoll was cussing, having x rated God given dreams, etc. etc.? Like so many Pastor bloggers, he hid behind a carefully constructed blog, gently but rarely confronting what little people who are not Pastor bloggers had been screaming about for years and are now found to be right. Compare Chailles, the “Gospel Coalition” in it’s entirety, and virtually every name in Evangelicalism that has name recognition, and almost to a letter they attended conferences while Driscoll by his own words threw his church under the bus. Those who had positions and stood by while Driscoll did what he did are not responsible for what he did, but it’s time to ask “where were you when Driscoll floundered in a sea of sin and needed real men to call him out in love?”. In it’s own way, “I was tempted to take this……” is more of a Driscoll spin than anything close to admission of being wrong.

    Your post would stand on it’s own merit, it hardly needs the blessing of Chailles.

  • tovlogos

    I appreciate the humble way you approached this issue, Eric.

    Driscoll is an obvious case; however, the problem I find when we focus too much on one stumbler, the less we sometimes “soul-search…our own lives.” Notwithstanding the things you say are scripturally appropriate. Yet, I believe we as Christians/disciples very often fall short of the Love presented in 1Corinthians 13 (especially verses 4–8); without which we are no better off than anyone else. Despite the fact that we are held to a higher standard (James 3:1). That standard is more than “appearing to be good.”
    I read an article in the Christian post a year or so ago. It covered the apology of a minister who apologized, after 50 years of leading his church, for being racially hateful. But he became aware while he was still in the flesh — good.

    So, after we are scripturally approved to fit the office of Minister, there is sometimes still a long way to go. The Holy Spirit’s position is clear.
    If I “do not have love, I am nothing.” (1Corinthians 13:2)
    When I read that years ago as a young man, it really struck me deeply.
    Thanks Eric — great post.


  • Ian

    My two cents:

    In 2008, an unorthodox preacher called Todd Bentley became prominent in a section of the church. His followers were saying “God is doing great things through him”. Many leaders in that part of the church supported him. A few people, mostly bloggers, said “this man is dangerous”, but they were ignored and derided by the majority. It later emerged that Bentley was having an affair (amongst other things) and his ministry unravelled.

    In the mid 2000s, an unorthodox preacher called Mark Driscoll became prominent in a section of the church. His followers were saying “God is doing great things through him”. Many leaders in that part of the church supported him. A few people, mostly bloggers, said “this man is dangerous”, but they ignored and derided by the majority. It later emerged that Driscoll is an abusive tyrant (amongst other things) and his ministry is currently unravelling.

    I’m not suggesting that Bentley and Driscoll are directly comparable. But it strikes me that there are a lot of similarities between the two situations.

    So perhaps the Reformed world is not actually that different from the Charismatic world:

    * Both focus on success and celebrity
    * Both tolerate sin
    * Both ignore someone’s behavior if they believe the right things
    * Both are unwilling to police themselves
    * Both have leaders who place their own interests above the application of Biblical standards
    * Both attack those who ask questions

    I could go on…

    The saddest thing about this whole sorry affair is the way Driscoll was promoted by pillars of the establishment. They have some explaining to do.

    • Dan Freeman

      There are certainly many similarities, although I’m not certain it is accurate to say that they are from different “worlds” (Reformed vs. Charismatic) since Driscoll is himself a Continuationist.

      It is so sad to see all of this, especially when from my understanding it could have easily been avoided by following biblical guidelines.

  • vinas46

    Thanks Eric for this. This is a well thought out one.

  • JC

    There is usually a small percentage of the body that reacts with too much “self” involvement and judgement at any cost, and there is a small percentage of the body that reacts with too much “quick to rationalize” (history, personality, experience). But i think the majority of the body that has been informed of the bad doctrine, bad behavior, and bad pastoral care, are MOSTLY grieved and frustrated by what has happened and is happening. In this situation, discipline and removal IS gracious.

  • Kyle

    From (all emphasis mine):

    God saved me when I was 19. I was a religious guy, moral and spiritual—I didn’t know Jesus. I was like the guys in Malachi. I would say I believed in God, and I was going to do whatever I wanted. And then when I became a Christian at 19, God spoke to me at a men’s retreat for my church. And it was an awesome church. I’m glad I didn’t have to unlearn a lot from my first pastor. He was awesome.

    God spoke to me. He said, “Marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, plant churches”—four things. Audible voice of God doesn’t happen a lot. So, I was unsure. This had never happened to me, so I took it to my pastor. I said, “OK, here’s what I heard. What should I do?”

    Because there’s nothing worse than a 19-year-old guy with a “Jesus told me” flag. You 19-year-old guys are like, “Jesus told me. Jesus told me that you’re supposed to be my wife.” Really, really? Ask her dad if that’s what Jesus put on the flag. You know, go ask. “Jesus told me to be an elder.” OK, Jesus told me it’ll be 50 years. Hmm, interesting how we both got a call. You know, there’s nothing worse than somebody running around with a “God told me” flag. So, if you think you’ve got a “God told me” flag, take it to godly leadership and see if godly leadership agrees it’s a flag that Jesus gave you.

    So, I came to my pastor and the elders and I said, “Here’s what I think Jesus told me, but you’re my pastor. I don’t know, what do you think?” He said, “I’m going to think about it, pray about it. We’ll get back to you.” “OK, thanks.” He came back and said, “I believe that was a word from the Lord. That’s what you need to do with the rest of your life. I’ll pray for you.” “OK.”

    He started discipling me and encouraging me. He said, “OK, you are supposed to preach the Bible. You’re not ready. You should plant a church, but you’re nowhere near ready. You should marry Grace if she’ll have you, and you’re not ready.” I was like, “OK, so there’s a lot of work to do.” Just because God calls you doesn’t mean you’re ready. I had a lot of work to do.

    I married Grace at 21. Pastor did the service. We graduated, moved back to Seattle. I did college ministry for a while. At the age of 25, started Mars Hill Church in the fall of 1996, and I wasn’t ready. I should have waited longer. I should have gotten more training. I learned how to fly, you know, while in the air with passengers. OK, so, those who have been around a while will be like, “Oh yeah, I got really sick.” I’ll tell you why, rookie pilot, OK? I needed to sit in the other seat with a seasoned pilot before I ever got on a plane, but God was gracious and kept it out of the trees.

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