Mourning the necessary death of Mars Hill

by Marvin Olasky

Posted on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, at 3:47 pm

The poet-warrior David posted this 3,000 years ago when not a church but a bad king died: 

“How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice …”

Some Seattle residents who despise Christianity are rejoicing now at the demise of the organization known as Mars Hill. But they don’t realize that a church is not a building and not an organization. It’s a group of saints who once were sinners and still do sinful things. We sin by using ministries for personal glory, or by lording it over others, or by idolizing others, but J.I. Packer’s three-word summary of the gospel is succinct and true: “God saves sinners.”

Those who rejoice don’t realize that because the church is made up of people, it doesn’t die when an organization dies. Some who suffered abuse will give up, but many Christians sing in church that we should “put no confidence in princes.” The Mars Hill saga is more proof that we should put our confidence in God alone. Or, as Earl Atnip—the uneducated but wise deacon who heard my first, weak confession of faith in 1976—told me, “People will always disappoint you. Christ never does.”

WORLD is a strange creature within the journalistic world. We’re a Christian publication but not a movement organ, so we publicly criticize Christian leaders and organizations when they haven’t responded to the private criticism that always follows abuses of authority. But we publish in the streets of Ashkelon while knowing that Christ came into the world to forgive all who put their faith in Him. That’s why we don’t have to cover it up. Within the limits of our resources, we will not leave it to the secular press to expose wrongdoing within the church.

We investigate problems within the redemptive hope that God turns weakness into strength. We hope and pray that those who grasped the gospel through Mark Driscoll’s vigor won’t give up the message because of the messenger’s tragedy. We hope and pray that many strong, local churches will grow from what Mars Hill planted. We see this downfall not as an end but a beginning. After all, as Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24, ESV).

And we hope and pray that God will use Driscoll himself, after a period of contemplation and repentance, in a powerful way. I hardly know him, but I suspect that this is a period of great suffering for him, and I do know that the grace of God is sufficient for him. As Robert Murray McCheyne said, “There is great want about all Christians who have not suffered. Some flowers must be broken and bruised before they emit any fragrance.”

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism. Marvin resides with his wife, Susan, in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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