Recently one of my pastor friends pointed me to an article about a pastor in Seattle, Washington by the name of Mark Driscoll.  Now I don’t know Pastor Mark at all, I certainly know of him.  In evangelical circles, Pastor Mark (and his church Mars Hill) is a lightening rod.  There are basically two camps: people who believe pastor Mark is a prophet for this generation and people who think he might be the antichrist, with very few people in the middle.  Over the years, he has garnered both the support and the condemnation of very conservative pastors that I like and trust.  On the one hand, most conservative pastors believe his theology is very conservative and pure (with a few variations).  On the other hand, his brash (and at times vulgar) methods have lent many to disassociate from him.  It would take way too much time to rehash the past 18 years of his ministry, to chronicle the ebbs and flows, so I will not try here.  Instead, I will give you a very short rundown.

In his early years, he came to notoriety because he was reaching a difficult and disgruntled group – Generation X.  He believed that this generation was tired of the “same old, same old” and therefore set out to reach them, while maintaining a conservative theology, by whatever means were possible.  He was known for a while as the “Cussing Preacher.”  Even great men like John MacArthur preached series against this “new brand” of conservative preaching, entitle “The Rated R Church” (though MacArthur would probably say he was not solely preaching on pastor Mark, but rather a movement).  It led to a very public spat among many conservative preachers, which was not good for anyone.  All of this reached a boiling point between the years of 2004-2006 (at least that is my interpretation), at which time, Pastor Mark publicly repented for his “angry prophet days” and asked for forgiveness from those whom he had hurt.

If the story stopped there it would be great!  Unfortunately, it does not.  Instead, as is the case with every pastor, Mark continued to be a lightening rod for criticism.  He gained a heap of criticism over his desire to restore manhood and his fights against the feminist movement.  Finally, a few months ago, he made a mistake.  His mistake…he did not cite some sources in his most recent book properly.  He was accused of plagerism and just like that, Christian book stores were pulling his books off the shelves in droves.  Since that time, the accusers have lined up endlessly to bring their causes against him.  It was discovered that he paid a private firm to boost his book sales so that he went onto the New York Bestsellers List…of course the media conveniently forgets to state that this is what every author does, Christian or secular.  Then others accused him of mishandling church funds because of the church’s financial “investments” into his books – though again, the media conveniently neglects that almost every pastor (including folks like Rick Warren, John MacArthur, John Piper, T.D. Jakes, Tony Evans, etc. etc. etc.) who writes a book has the endorsement and backing of their churches.  (On this latter issue, I do believe it is time for the church to reconcile this relationship with the pastor and book company.  It is a difficult issue, with many layers.  On the one hand, it is the pastor’s thoughts and work, so shouldn’t he receive the rewards from it?  On the other hand, he probably wrote much of the book during sermon preparation or on church time, so shouldn’t the church either get his salary back or a portion of book sales?  Difficult questions that the church should address.)  And now, the accusers are bringing up problems from 2000, 14 years ago.  It is a mess!

Undoubtedly, there are people on every side of aisle on Pastor Mark.  I suppose I am somewhere in the middle.  I don’t always agree with everything he says, but his theology is pretty conservative.  On the other hand, he has been, at times, so offensive in his speech that the message he is trying to deliver gets lost.  But as I was reading up on everything that has happened, suddenly a thought came into my mind – “This is a great opportunity to have a conversation about grace.”

Pastor Mark claims that all of the issues being brought against him are issues of the “past”, most of them dating back to 2000 and before.  He claims he has apologized and repented…and there is sufficient public information to say that he has.  Again…I don’t know all of the issues and details surrounding the situation, so I can’t speak with a lot of authority…but no one has denied his claim.  It does appear that what is being brought against him is mainly still issues from the past.  With that being said, I think there are two things to learn.

First, the human condition is not quick to forget.  Pastor Mark and all of us make mistakes.  While we may ask for forgiveness and repent of our transgressions, this does not mean that people will be quick to let those mistakes go and forget they happened.  It would be nice if they would, but it just does not happen.  Our actions have consequences and unfortunately, those consequences sometimes take years to be played out.  We can ask for forgiveness, but left to the natural self, humans are quick to remember those transgressions at a later date, as needed.  Therefore, we must be very very careful.  We must at all times remember that we walk through this journey called life, not in a bubble, but in a glass house.  People are watching, especially those who are not of the faith.  It is interesting that sources such as the Huffington Post cannot cease to get enough of this story.  They are happy that another one of the conservative (at least theologically) has fallen.  They rejoice!  Therefore, we should tread lightly.  Be cautious and candid with our testimony.  Allow our actions to speak of the gospel, because they will tell a story, we just choose which story to tell.

Second, if we believe in grace, we must be intentional about bestowing it on others.  At this point, I will reiterate that I don’t know the specifics of this story.  From the outside looking in, my gut tells me that Pastor Mark needs grace from the church because he will not be getting it anywhere else.  On the other hand, some men I respect, such as Matt Chandler, are separating themselves quickly from pastor Mark – so that gives me some pause that there may be more than just the past that pastor Mark is dealing with.  But…just for our conversation…let’s assume that what pastor Mark is saying is true, that all of these issues are issues from the past that he has already publicly repented of.  In this case, we would do well to give a lot of grace.  If we are not free from our past, then we are not in Christ.  It is this discussion Paul has in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says, “I am what I am by the grace of God.”  Today, I am thankful that God does not judge me by my past, rather, He judges me for what I am IN CHRIST.  And the church needs to be beacon of the gospel.  If God has forgiven in Christ, then we should as well.  Maybe there are new issues that pastor Mark needs to deal with…but if there are not, then it is time for the church to dispense the grace that has been lavished upon us IN CHRIST.  I don’t want you to judge me by my past and I won’t judge you by yours.  If we are in Christ, then grace needs to abound.  This is not the same as dealing with someone who is unrepentant.  If a person refuses to repent of their sin and stubbornly seeks to continue, then the church is given the authority command to rebuke and shun that individual.  But if the individual is repentant, then we must bestow the grace of Christ upon them.

For me, this situation with Mars Hill and pastor Mark is an opportunity to make Jesus famous!  This is a great opportunity for each of us to be reminded that we need to show grace.  Sin has to be dealt with…like Jesus did.  He rebuked the sin and he commanded that it be stopped.  Then he lavished grace and forgiveness.  We should do the same.  When a brother is in sin…we should encourage, exhort, rebuke, reproof in a sincere effort to bring that sin to an end and inherit a brother.  But when that sin is repented of…we should forgive and lavish grace – even forget, because it has been forgotten IN CHRIST!  I am thankful today for God’s marvelous grace!

Held By Grace,

Pastor Chris