Thinking Out Loud

February 2, 2012

My Letter to Andrew

Andrew is the central character in a story about church discipline at Mars Hill Seattle which has blown up in the Christian blogosphere since Matthew Paul Turner posted part one on January 23rd.  (Covered on this blog, here.)

Or at least he was the central character. More of the recent conversation concerns ecclesiology, and church discipline in general and opportunity for ad hominum remarks concerning Mark Driscoll.

So I’m wondering if anyone is really reaching out to Andrew in all this…

Dear Andrew,

It’s never a good idea to offer advice where it wasn’t asked for, nor is it a good practice to listen to unsolicited advice from people you don’t know.  I’m admittedly half a continent away, and equally separated by age; and there are those close to you who more suited to speak into your life.

I just wanted you to know that besides re-blogging what Matthew Paul Turner wrote, I also prayed for you. James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways…” Welcome to the community of the broken.

In hindsight, you probably weren’t ready to get married. You know that now, and I know there is much remorse attached to your story. You are no doubt much wiser today than you were just a few months ago. Of all the fruit of the Spirit, self-control is the most needed when facing temptation that is being constantly fed by a 21st century worldview of sexuality.

One of the things about your story struck me very early on in MPT’s version of it: “Andrew was born and raised Independent Fundamental Baptist, so not only was Andrew accustomed to Mark’s anger-laced fiery style of sermon, he had a deep appreciation for it.”  It never really occurred to me that people could be attracted by an authoritarian leadership style, but if that’s what you grew up with, I can see that it might have been a comfortable fit, once you got past a few of the doctrinal differences.

But then — and at this point someone would normally write, ‘through no fault of your own,’ except that it was, after all through a fault of your own’ — you saw the other side of how this authority plays out when someone apparently crosses the line from “in” to “out.”  To be labeled a “wolf,” or called a “predator.”  That’s strong language. There are some who would say you had suffered enough at this point; you were repentant, remorseful and humbled (if not humiliated) and that it was time for restoration; time to move on to the next phase, of living and walking in the fullness of all God created you for, because if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We can know the feeling of being ‘washed clean’ of our sin and get back up on our feet standing in the righteousness of Christ.

Galatians 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…

I don’t get the spirit of that verse playing out in the email you received when you felt changing churches was the option you wanted to pursue, and I certainly don’t get it from the letter that was sent to the membership.

But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter what men do or even what church leaders do.  Your ultimate judge is God himself.  He is the one you answer to. Yes, under his sovereignty pastors and leaders are appointed, and we’re told to honor that office and pray for them, but they are fallible.

In the meantime, Andrew; hang on to God.  Keep praying.  Continue to read and study your Bible.  Find a place where you can engage in corporate worship with other believers who don’t know you or know this story.  Maybe find a Christian counselor or mentor who can continue to help you work all this out over time.  But don’t allow discouragement or disillusionment to take over your life.

And pray for the people at Mars Hill.  Not a prayer that comes from a smugness nor from bitterness, but simply pray that God will lead them to be both forthright in their application of the gospel, but agents of grace in how they allow that to play out. Pray for them to get better at it, to improve in their understanding of the mystery of grace.

Pray because there are going to be other Andrews.  There’s going to be a ‘next time’ involving someone else, and the next Andrew may not be able to handle it in the manner that you did.

And don’t write that church off, either.  Church congregations are like small cities, with as many stories taking place as there are people.  There are, to be sure, countless people there who are doing good, growing in faith, and deepening their understanding of the ways of God; because of the leadership there, and sometimes in spite of the leadership there. 

Nor should you be in distress when someone you meet follows the instructions given to them in the membership letter and shuns you.  It’s far easier for humans to believe something bad about someone, and people subject to authoritarian church leadership will, after all, do what they are told. 

In the meantime, church history is filled with people who experienced rejection for a variety of reasons, including rejection from the religious establishment so you’re actually in good company.

As you choose a permanent place of worship, and enter into future relationships, I know you’ll do both with a wisdom you have gained from this process.

Your brother in Christ,

Paul Wilkinson.

2 Comments »

  1. I feel horrible for Andrew after reading his story, and especially after seeing that contract. Repentance and forgiveness doesn’t look like this, it’s a matter between a person and God. This and examples like it are reasons why young people are fleeing churches in increasingly large numbers, and are downright hostile toward religion. I remember a quote I heard before, one that I believe in: Religion is man’s effort through works to impress God, while true Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Andrew needs a gentle fellowship based on that; a group who understands no person even Christians are ever perfect and will sin again. It’s in our nature, we are not perfect and while we may strive to mirror Jesus’ perfection, we will at times fail miserably.

    Comment by Joe — February 2, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

  2. Paul…a very well written letter and one that I’d be very happy to receive if I were Andrew.

    Comment by Isabel — February 3, 2012 @ 9:11 am


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