January 27, 2021

MPT Posts on Church Discipline — and I Suggest a Better Way

NOTE: This post is not about a certain well-known pastor, even though it involves the church he leads. In the discussion that follows, I am not interested in having us talk about this pastor personally. So don’t. Please keep the conversation on the subject of church discipline itself, more broadly. We focus on these articles because they present a detailed description of a church discipline process that gives us a rare inside look at how a congregation attempts to deal with Christian sin, repentance, and restoration in the church.

• • •

In two emotionally-charged posts, Matthew Paul Turner has given a detailed account of the church discipline process in one well-known congregation. Here are links to the articles:

These pieces tell Andrew’s story. As a young man, Andrew set out on his own in an effort to find himself. So he moved to the big city and joined a well-known megachurch. He began dating a daughter of one of the elders and they became engaged. During their engagement, he spent an evening with an old fling and acted inappropriately. Feeling extremely guilty afterward, he confessed to his fiancee and another member of his small group. Then to his small group leader. Soon Andrew was involved in meeting after meeting in which he confessed other relational and sexual failures he had experienced in his life, including the fact that he and his fiancee had been intimate. A month later, he was informed in another meeting with a pastor and his small group leader that he was “under church discipline.” Soon he was sent a “church discipline contract” that listed the “background issues” (a list of his sins) and the “plan of discipline” they had set up for Andrew. (You can read the details of the contract at Turner’s first post.)

In the second article, we learn what happened next. Andrew waited and thought before signing the contract, and then decided not to sign. Instead, he contacted the pastor and informed him he was leaving the church. When asked why he made this decision, Andrew replied, “Because I felt that the contract was legalistic, voyeuristic, and controlling. I felt like it was putting them in the place of God, determining when my heart was right or repentant enough. I didn’t want that.” The pastor wrote back, warning him that this would lead to more severe action. Citing Matthew 18, other church members were notified via the church’s internal social media system that Andrew was under discipline and that church members were to treat him “as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17). The communique gave specific examples of the kinds of interactions that would be permissible and impermissible, along with practical examples.

Matthew Paul Turner takes a dim view of this “gospel shame” process of discipline:

Where do I even begin? Honestly, this letter speaks for itself in my opinion. The harsh heavy-handed “theology”. The misuse of scripture to validate their reasoning. The carefully worded instructions on what to say, how to act, etc. The term “gospel shame”? The assumptions that their decisions are to be viewed equal to God’s decisions. At times, this letter comes off like the Roman Catholic church during the Dark Ages.

…And if this is how they plan to treat Andrew–as an “unbeliever”? How in the world do they treat people who really are non-Christian? (And not to mention the fact that Jesus hung out with Gentiles, tax-collectors, etc.)

Fine. If they don’t want Andrew to be a member of their church, take his name off the list! But this? I mean, seriously, did any of this letter, except for perhaps the “heavy heart”, infer that Mars Hill loves Andrew? Oh I know they think their actions represent love. But really, many of us have experienced firsthand that kind of “love,” and we know very well that it’s an abuse of the term.

I encourage you to read these articles in their entirety. Then come back and share your opinions about how “discipline” should be understood and practiced in the local church.

As for my opinion, the whole process described here seems askew. I recognize that we are only getting one side of the story, and that is an important caveat to keep in mind. But if we are to take Andrew’s word as anywhere near accurate in the description of what he went through, then I would make the following observations:

  • First, the “sinner” came forward and confessed of his own free will.
  • Second, Andrew makes no mention that anyone he talked to offered him forgiveness or pointed him to Christ.
  • Third, instead of absolution and restoration, a seemingly endless series of meetings began which only served to dredge up more sin and more shame, but still provided no word of forgiveness.
  • Fourth, the end result of all these meetings and all these confessions was that Andrew was issued a discipline “contract.” This written and signed agreement gave him a list of “works” that he had to perform in order to “prove” that he was repentant, including detailing all the sins he could recall with regard to relationships, sexual behavior, and deception.
  • Fifth, when Andrew rejected these demands, the entire church was notified and instructed to shun Andrew, only excepting conversations in which congregation members could appeal to him to repent.

As far as I can see, this approach to “church discipline” was misguided, counterproductive, and counter to the Gospel.

  • It ignored the principle that if we confess our sins, forgiveness and absolution should be granted (1Jn 1:9). It ignored the example of Christ, who said simply and immediately, time and time again, to those who came to him, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.”
  • Instead, it stirred up more and more talk of sin and repeated that talk in ever-widening circles until finally the entire congregation knew about it. In contrast to the Gospel — “where sin abounded, grace much more abounded” — this process just seemed to cause discussion of sin to abound. It put all the attention on this young man’s sin, repentance, and works.
  • The contractual requirement that this young man write out his “sexual and emotional attachment history,” and give a “full chronology of events and social/emotional sin” seems invasive and inappropriate. Why document such things and why should anyone want to read them? That feels really creepy to me, not only encouraging morbid introspection, but also voyeurism. Manifestly unhealthy!
  • Rather than count on Christ and his finished work, this “discipline” process put the onus on the sinner to feel sorry enough, to be repentant enough, to do enough works to prove his contrition and thus “earn” forgiveness and restoration from the church. That is not the Gospel.

Here is yet another instance where the evangelical world needs to listen to the traditions of the church. No system practiced by humans will ever work perfectly, but how much more like the Gospel is the simple practice of confession and absolution, the administration of the “Office of the Keys” that has been practiced for centuries?

Regarding the practice of confession, the Augsburg Confession states:

But of Confession they teach that an enumeration of sins is not necessary, and that consciences be not burdened with anxiety to enumerate all sins, for it is impossible to recount all sins, as the Psalm 19:13 testifies: Who can understand his errors?

And Luther (who knew something about a tortured conscience and endless confessing of sins!), wrote in the Smalcald Articles:

But the enumeration of sins ought to be free to every one, as to what he wishes to enumerate or not to enumerate. For as long as we are in the flesh, we shall not lie when we say: “I am a poor man [I acknowledge that I am a miserable sinner], full of sin.”

In the Small Catechism, Luther then describes how the pastor should respond when such a confession is made:

Then shall the confessor say:

God be merciful to thee and strengthen thy faith! Amen.


Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?


Yes, dear sir.

Then let him say:

As thou believest, so be it done unto thee. And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive thee thy sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Depart in peace.

But those who have great burdens upon their consciences, or are distressed and tempted, the confessor will know how to comfort and to encourage to faith with more passages of Scripture.

“As thou believest, so be it done unto thee.” Go in peace. Because of Jesus, God forgives all your sins. Rise to walk in newness of life.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Gospel. So much better.


  1. I have just read through the docs and I am going to be a bit contrarian here.

    I am going to say if (and that’s a big IF) this guy has a history of sexual problems/encounters that stretches back he could be a danger to people in church. What did they mean by unrepentant sexual behaviour? What if his problem stretches back years and he has had numerous relationships? The documents do not say, but if that was true it would cause that type of a reaction.

    Hey gang, it is not a Sunday school picnic out there. There are guys who come to church and have serial sexual relationships and church leaders need to take this seriously and nip it in the bud.

    And if he happens to come from the normal American cultural attitude that it’s not wrong he could shout to high heaven about his righteousness.

    If what the church says about his behaviour is true beyond a doubt I would say he should be watched by his men’s group. Sexual sins are not easy to overcome.

    On the other hand, if he is completely right that he confessed all and was cooperative and they did all this, I would say turn tail and run, you have control issues that will not be resolved.

    BTW to set this in perspective: in my former church someone was warned by the RCMP that organized crime was sending young men into congregations to try to get some of the young women and get them into the sex trade. Apparently they like christian young women.

    • Of course, I can’t prove anything specific about this case one way or the other, but if you read Matthew Paul Turner’s blog today, you will find a post by “Andrew’s” brother that you might find interesting. Nothing that I have read, including this, gives me any indication that Andrew poses any kind of “danger” in the church. He actually sounds like a pretty normal young man to me. In today’s society, that means, unfortunately, that he has been sexually active.

      • “He actually sounds like a pretty normal young man to me. In today’s society, that means, unfortunately, that he has been sexually active.”

        But wasn’t his pastor (who remains nameless) also sexually active as a young man? Isn’t that what he admits to in his tell-all book? Doesn’t that also make him a danger to the congregation? How can this NOT be a referendum on…you know who?

        • Wenatchee The Hatchet says

          dumb ox, a campus pastor wouldn’t be writing a whole lot of books so the documents actually make it clear that “that” person wasn’t involved as “that” pastor doesn’t have any children old enough to be legally engaged to anyone.

      • The Previous Dan says

        CM –
        Although I agree that the contract Mars Hill tried to make him sign was downright weird, I wouldn’t characterize “Andrew” as “a pretty normal young man.” Hooking up with a girl from his community college behind his fiancée’s back makes him a sleaze-ball in my book. In all likelihood “Andrew” does have serious sexual issues to work through before he is a fit mate for any young woman. My issue with Mars Hill’s handling of this is that their contract doesn’t appear to be the instrument that will help him become the man he needs to be.

        • I’d say he is normal for that sub-set of Christianity. However, even out of that sub-set or cult group, he is within the range of “somewhat regularly heard of” failures within Christianity. Nothing was criminal or deviant in the way of sexuality, though it was sinful and moral. The “danger” claim is a facade.

          Sleazeball? I suggest that is a reactionary narrative. He acted without integrity but the temptation to classify him as a sleazeball is inconsiderate of all of his good actions (which don’t minimize or justify bad actions but should impact how we classify people) and points to bad motives on your part. Here is what I mean. Someone does something wrong, it is not a picture of their entire person. We may say, in that instant or for those acts, that person acted in a sleazy manner or without integrity. But seeing he sought remedy tells me he does not warrant this wholesale categorization whether you meant to categorize him in a wholesale manner, you did.

          As to Mars Hill and the larger concern, they are constantly arrested and deforming the Scriptures for their cult but who gives a “condemnation”? Certainly not celebrated and allegedly informed people like John Piper, Mark Dever, or Al Mohler. They’re busy selling things like books and conference tickets. Vomit.

          • “sinful and immoral” that is.

            As to “tell it to the church” (assembly), never minding the contextual combats which arise, the expression, “tell it to the church” does not necessitate the view that everyone in the church is to be informed of someone’s sin if it gets to a point of having to “tell it to the assembly”.

            Take the example of “the state”. When “the state” presses charges, everyone in that state is not personally pressing charges, the appropriate representatives of that state do on the people’s behalf. Assemblies have officers who regularly act on behalf or in the interests of the whole without informing the whole of every detail, only of its essential parts.

            This is the view the Lutheran church uses in many places, that excommunication is done via church officials and the expression, “treat them as a tax collector or pagan” of course is in reference to their church membership, i.e. they are unfit for membership in that body.

            Now it might be that the whole body is informed of the excommunication but it does not seem the nature of the excommunication or its details require disclosure since those officers are trusted to act as informed and with spiritual judiciousness.

    • I think I was thinking of the general case, what if you had someone who did come from a background of sexual brokenness. In that case, I think a church has to take special precautions.

      I have friends who work with people like that in a Christian setting.

      Will read his blog today.

    • Ken…you almost make it sound like Andrew was a pedophile…just looking for opportunities to exploit people. I’m sorry…this sexual story sounds no different than stuff I heard in college or high school. People make mistakes. If they are habitual…even so. What would Brennan Manning do at Mars Hill? He was a habitual alcoholic! But you almost make Andrew to be like Jerry Sandusky.

      • If you do not make mistakes – you never learn, and never attain wisdom. From what I read the guy allowed himself to get into a vulnerable situation, easy to do if you’ve had a previously close relationship with someone. He relaized that it was wrong and stopped. Not only that but he did the right thing by telling his fiance, in full knowledge of the probable consequences. Huge learning experience. That a group should go on to torture him while there are skeletons in their own closet- wrong.

        It sets a precedence that one needs to be perfect all the time. yes, we should try to attain goodness but sometimes we fall. And if we fall we need support, not a continual kick in the teeth.

      • My point is this, there may be genuine reasons that they took those steps, and if we don’t hear the other side we really are hearing a biased version of things.

        It is easy for us to form a kangaroo court and decide that church is wrong based on 1/2 the story, just as some of us have been judged on 1/2 the story.

        The job of leadership is to protect. Mars Hill may be dead wrong in this. If they are the guy should turn tail and run, and I can’t blame him for going public.

        But since the broader question Mike had was to do with Church Discipline, I am saying that strong measures may be justified in some cases.

        • Ken, I agree that there may be such cases. At face value, and the more I have thought about it, this was not one of them.

          The young man confessed to the appropriate person but then it got beyond the two of them and the machinery started working. If we really want to apply a Scripture like Matt 18 to the story as it stands, the process should have stopped with him confessing to his fiancee. He sinned against her. It was her forgiveness he needed to seek. In my opinion she was the only one with whom he needed to have a conversation. Unfortunately, he shared it with others, including small group members and the leader. Pretty soon the big boys were involved (was this because it was an elder’s daughter?) and it just kept getting more complicated from that point.

          So, for me, the problem was not only what happened when the church leaders got involved. The whole thing got started on the wrong foot. The matter should have been kept within appropriate bounds at the beginning — between Andrew and his fiancee. They should have then decided together (with whatever guidance from trusted others they thought best) how to proceed with counseling or some other form of help. In my view there was no reason this should ever have become a matter of “church discipline” the way it did. If, in the course of counseling, it was recommended that the young man had a habitual problem that needed attention, then perhaps church leaders could have helped with that if appropriate.

          • What concerns me here Mike is that we really have only heard one side of the story. Have you heard anything from the other side?

            I have been around long enough to know that people can paint themselves in way better light than what they really are. And having another family member testify still does not mean a lot.

            We may be trying and convicting this church without ever hearing the full story, which is troubling.

            I think there are times when a person may need to have leadership in their face on this type of issue, and I guess I worry that one may be tempted to say that just because that church overstepped boundaries the whole idea of forcing accountability is wrong.

            BTW, I agree with you completely, it should have just stopped exactly as you said and gone no further, if what he said is true.

            I guess I am having a hard time believing that a Christian church could be that stupid

            • Ken, many of the comments got away from the original intention I set forth, which was that we not look at this and talk about the particular church or pastor in question, but to look at an example of a process of church discipline, accepting the report at face value for the purpose of discussion. Apparently, some feel so strongly about Driscoll and Mars Hill that it just wasn’t possible to keep the personal side out of it.

      • The Previous Dan says

        Brennan Manning’s drinking, or some anonymous persons pride, gluttony, whatever is far less serious than “Andrew’s” sin. As a father of teenage daughters I wouldn’t want this guy anywhere near my girls. That doesn’t mean I think that his sins are any worse than mine when we stand before the Great White Throne. It means I understand that in this life a sexually weak and unfaithful man can break a young woman’s heart, shatter her self-esteem, or change the course of her life in a way that someone’s personal drunkenness, gluttony, blah, blah, blah, never could. “Andrew” did need to be dealt with, just not in the way his church went about it.

        • TPD, I’m also a father of daughters. And I trust them apparently far more than you trust yours. And even though I love my daughters – as I am fully confident you love yours – I hold them just as accountable for any sexual sins or mistakes they make (assault notwithstanding). I don’t hew to the line of making the boy/man fully or 90% responsible for the actions of two beings with free will.

          Andrew, from the writing, sounds like a fairly normal, fully human, young man. The mistake was, for all we know, an anomaly, a moment of weakness, and something he deeply regretted. His actions show that he was earnestly and honestly interested in never making that mistake again.

          And while I think it’s a dangerous road deciding which sins are “worse” than others, I think this is yet another example of evangelicalism showing its ridiculously puckered up sense of purity at sex. Assuming we’ve been told the truth, this isn’t a case of a serial sexual predator or even cheater. It’s a guy who made a bad judgment call, followed the flesh, and deeply regretted it. As for being sexually active with his fiancee….I can’t and won’t condemn him for that (as long as they were being smart and safe). I see Mars Hill’s cultish reaction and desire to invasively control Andrew’s life as far, far more toxic and spiritually harmful than a young man wrestling with the hormones that are likely seeping out of his ears.

          • I have a number of daughters too, the oldest in the secular age of dating. I am not sure what it is like in your neck of the woods TPD but in mine the guys are all looking to score. I am in agreement with Michael that both have to be accountable and it takes a lot of vigilence with my wife and I fully involved to keep my daughter strong so as not to go off on a road she will later regret. As for the guys, they think to advance as far as they can is normal behavior – even the guys from the good families, with all the peer pressure around. That’s why they get to come and talk with me before they go anywhere with my daughter (and we only promote dating in groups at the moment). Being I can look a bit scary at times it works to my advantage ; )

            That being said, I agree that this was a moment of weakness for both, not some kind of Lifetime man stalks woman for sex crazed story, and losing a fiance over it was a mighty high punishment in itself. He probably won’t do that again (unless he is a sex crazed hormone lovin bad guy….)

          • The Previous Dan says

            Michael and Radagast –

            Like you both, I have a reasonable amount of trust in my daughters and I believe they are solely responsible for their own actions. But I interpreted Andrew differently from you. When I read the article I assumed I was reading his side of the story and that it presented him in a favorable light. So I see him not just as a guy who admitted to having a sexually active past BUT as the kind of guy who had no problem hooking up with an old girlfriend even though he was engaged.

            I think you are naive to asume it was as innocent a meeting as he made it sound. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t intend things to go as far as they did, but I don’t believe his motives for the meeting were completely pure. Would you meet an old girlfriend behind your fiancée’s back? Maybe he thought he would just enjoy her company and a little bit of flirting. Then he thought, oh just one kiss. Then just a little more, and so on.

            Afterward he feels guilty, well OK, so there is hope for him yet. But this guy has a problem; he doesn’t seem to possess the ability to be faithful to a woman. Coming from a betrothed that is the sort of thing that will break a woman’s heart and crush her self-esteem. Deep down she will wonder if it is her fault, she isn’t pretty enough, skinny enough, or whatever. That is what I mean by not wanting this kind of guy around my daughters.

            And yes, sexual sins are of the most serious sort. I think Paul agrees in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 among other places. How many of our society’s problems have a sexual component? Broken families, poverty, sickness, etc. Nothing effects the whole person: body, mind, spirit, quite like sexual sin.

        • Dan….

          I hate to break it to you…BUT… There are guys who use girls for sexual purposes, and there are girls who use guys for sexual purposes. Unless its rape, date rape, a drug being given to make a person unconscious with the intent to violate them, etc…; there are people who for lack of a better term are horny who use each other. Girls are not necessarily more innocent. Girls can and have used guys. But on top of that what do you think the term “Friends with Benefits” is all about?

          People make mistakes, and if some people are sexual in a responsible manner…then that’s fine. What would probably amaze you is what would shock you IF you truly knew about your family’s freinds and their kids. Image means nothing..I’ve been quite surprised to be in situations and learn that the guy or girl who push or teach sexual purity, etc. in chruch have also engaged in sexual activity at the sime time. Very little shocks me today. No when I was in the Christian bubble I would be shocked. But part of growing up is making mistakes and even exploring sexuality.

          • The Previous Dan says

            I’m not sure what your point is. I know what the current state of our society is. I’ve lived here a while and seen most of what there is to see. I don’t have illusions about the innocence of any particular set of people. My point here is that if this guy can’t be faithful to a woman when he is engaged, he probably won’t be faithful to her when they are married. He needs some serious growing up in this area or he will end up as another divorce statistic and deeply hurt the woman he ends up marrying in the process.

  2. I have a friend who was married to a man, who for any lack of a better team, I would scrape off the bottom of my shoes if we met. He was a deacon at a little evangelical church, and they used a similar model where if you sinned you had to confess in front of the whole congregation. As so often happens with models like this, he used it to embarrass his wife into ‘obedience’. It worked so well, that after she divorced him, she took a lover who later became her husband. Then after they broke up she finally got past it and settled down. But you will never get her near the doors of a church again, chalk another win up for God!!

    When I was seeking out a home church one question I always asked was how they handled church discipline, you can tell a great deal about the grace level of a church based on how they respond to that question. Institutions like Mars Hill long ago stopped being churches where you can find the mercy of God, instead its about adhering to a strict interpretation of the Gospel, and questioning or individuality cannot be allowed. Its all cloaked under the guise of loving someone, when in reality it’s the SAME EXACT MODEL that cults like the Mormons or JW’s use to deal with dissenters from doctrine.

    We are ALL, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US, SINNERS. There’s no getting past that, until that is established we can’t go any further. And being a sinner is not about who sinned the most, to show how great God is, man do I hate when people declare how bad they are, to show how good God is. It’s like a humility race, where the contestants are tripping each other to get to the humility finish line.

    Pastors, Deacons, and Leaders need to be trained on how to deal with confessions, they should be kept private, they should be dealt with gently, and for Gods sake they should be empathetic. Forgiveness is Gods domain, not theirs. Christ didn’t do elaborate contracts and deals with sinners, he forgave them out of love and grace, and sent them on their way healed with a full heart. If we can’t do the same then need to stop calling ourselves Christians and admit that we have become something darker.

    I realize that sometimes tough things need to be said, but it should always be done in full and loving trust, and you shouldn’t dwell on it over and over and over. The young man showed more maturity and Grace than many Pastors I have known over the years, I’m just sorry that he didn’t fight back sooner. Had they started down that path with me, they would have quickly regretted that decision. I’m all for taking constructive changes, but that place is a Church (well maybe), and has no hold over that young man. That last part where they sent out a letter to the congregation is borderline slander, maybe it’s just me but I would not have let them push me around like that.

    Now I need to drink a beer to lower my blood pressure 😉


  3. Christiane says

    That’s it !
    Every single one of us sin . . .

    this post makes going to confession in my own Church look pretty good compared to the cult mentality of some communities with ‘Church Discipline’ committees. Yikes!

  4. Just a simple observation…it appears to me as if that church acted not out of love and concern but out of control and manipulation. As I read the letter that the lead pastor wrote to the congregation, I didn’t feel that it was of Christ. We have such a perfect example in the Gospels of how Jesus treated sinners.

    It concerns me greatly that such a large and well known church has it’s foundations set in the soil in which that letter was written.

    Very illuminating.

  5. As a Gentile and a tax collector myself, I naturally feel a certain knee-jerk reaction. However, on reflection, I see that Holy Scripture presents us with exactly the same sort of contract, only between God and man. We have zero say over what the contract stipulates–our place is either to “sign” (so to speak), or be damned (literally).

    If you feel that this pastor is “legalistic, voyeuristic, and controlling,” well, then you will find God legalistic, voyeuristic, and controlling, which is a sure route to earning God’s enmity. Or from a more positive perspective, those who repent may enjoy the comely delights of the “pastor’s daughter” (i.e., the Church).

    • If you feel that this pastor is “legalistic, voyeuristic, and controlling,” well, then you will find God legalistic, voyeuristic, and controlling, which is a sure route to earning God’s enmity.

      say what???

      i sure as hell don’t find God “legalistic, voyeuristic, and controlling…”

      those in leadership at Mars Hill, pastor & elders included, can be categorized as such, but only because the Standard they are measured against is accurately recognized…

      there would be no controversy here if the Mars Hill Seattle leadership actually mirrored the very Lord & Savior they claim allegiance to…

      and your theological perspective seems a bit, well, over-the-top on the “do as i say, not as i do” aspect of dealing with the issue presented. either i misread your implied perspective or you have a bit of clarification to provide…

      • Douglas G. says

        It’s very good that you do not find God “legalistic, voyeuristic, or controlling.” Because God is watching us right now, and sees even our hidden thoughts, so if anyone DID think such thoughts about him, that person would be damned. That’s why we must agree to God’s contract (testament), the Holy Bible–otherwise the Son can in no wise shield us from the Father’s terrible wrath, when our sins too are “shouted from the rooftops” (posted on the church’s wiki) and we are shamed forever.

    • Ummm… the pastor = God… is idolatry.

      • Douglas G. says

        Indeed. But he stands in relation to his sheep as God to man (and as man to woman, and master to slave). But the issue is not the pastor–it is the sin of brazen premarital frottage. I too have some reservations about seeing described on the internet for all to see, but as long as it is in the context of shaming fornicators (engagement being different from biblical betrothal, which would allow frottage).

        • Douglas, one “tiny” difference…GOD is never WRONG, and see hearts, not just behaviors.

          And “frottage” is okay in some legal settings…..sorry, brother, but you have got law on the brain, and it is sad…..and potentially dangerous.

          Go read “The Ragamuffin Gospel” and get back to us.

        • sarahmorgan says

          It stuns me that all the church leaders who want to use Matthew 18:15-17 as a cudgel don’t even look at Matthew 18:21-35. In that parable, church leaders are represented by the unmerciful servant in that story, not the King settling the accounts!

        • Douglas, shaming any sort of brazen sinner who has confessed and repented is, well…Islamic. I suppose may be one of those “I’m a Christian so I no longer sin” types, in which case there’s no satisfying the lust for control over the conscience of those who are in obvious sin, and no convincing you of your deception, perhaps until the brazen consequences of your own sin begin to surface in your life. You’re “hidden thoughts” betray you.

          Your contractual view of the Christian is perhaps the root of this. The testament, or covenant, is signed and upheld by Jesus Christ, not the believer. It would be nice if we could all pretend that we basically uphold the commands of God, wouldn’t it? Thoughts and all? But the faith is different than Islam, which you seem to be blending with Christianity a little too much for my taste.

  6. Jordan Bradford says

    Matthew 18:15-17 is about telling a brother or sister that they’re sinning and what to do if they refuse to repent. It’s about initiating correction in another person who is either ignorant or willfully disobedient. Andrew confessed on his own — HE initiated it, HE took the first step by confessing to his fiancée and to a friend in his small group. Matthew 18:15-17 doesn’t even apply in that situation, so there was no need for church discipline.

  7. I was a member of a small pentecostal church in VT (cue spooky music) that had very similar ideas about church discipline for the same reasons: IT WAS A CULT TOO!

    The only time where church discipline is to be applied according to scripture is when someone is still actively pursuing their sin. It would also seem that the sin needs to either fal into one of two categories: gross obvious moral lapses or sins against another member.

  8. This story spoke to my heart.
    I think I have I experienced a similar thing twice
    if my understanding is correct.

    We need to pray not only for the young man,
    but his fiancee. And the elders of the church involved.

    Had it been some girl in the back row , this would
    never have happened. But she was an elders daughter
    caught in “sin”. He had to be dealt with.

    Any organization like this has much power.
    And job one for powerful folks is to maintain
    that power. Christian or no. A scandal at the top
    HAS to be proactively dealt with. Its not personal.

    The system requires it. And the people at the top
    at some point stop driving the system and start being
    driven by it.

    This is not the only sexual impropriety in the congregation.
    it is just one that involved the power center.
    its not about discipline but about containment.

    And its not about him. its about HER.
    She’s an elders daughter!

    Personally I hope she leaves the church and joins him.
    But I doubt she can do that.

    Just my opinion, I could be right 🙂

  9. petrushka1611 says

    With most people, I think, there is a deep-seated need to confess (and I’d argue that sometimes it shows itself in bragging when confession does not meet repentance); and many Christians do confess their sins to others, if for no other reason than to ask for prayer. Of course, this is usually done with nary a thought of the Office of the Keys. I’d never heard of the Office until I went to a few Lutheran services. I was predictably shocked by the pastor absolving the congregation, but I looked at the wording more closely and could find nothing to argue against. And, I thought that the idea of confession at the very beginning of the service was brilliant.

    My church was obsessed for years with “testimony time,” and sometimes it would take the whole service and there wouldn’t even be a sermon (I know…). I remember once when a woman who had recently been saved and had lived a very rough life confessed openly that she was still having fits with drugs, and couldn’t bring herself to break up with her lesbian lover. It was awkward, of course, but powerful at the same time. And I know she’d had some counseling before that. But I still wonder if counseling that followed closely the ritual of Lutheran-style confession would have helped by reminding her of her forgiveness in Christ.

    Since Satan will be ice-skating to work before evangelicals take up the Confessional, pastors and leaders who think there might be value in it could adapt the wording above quite easily. People confess in conversation and in classes and support groups all the time, so why not have a Biblical response?

    I wish the Lord’s Supper would take its rightful place back from the altar call, though: it’s a perfect way to put the focus back on Christ’s completed work, and more Christians would seek forgiveness of sins during the time of preparation than would ever go to the altar. In strictly numerical terms, you’d have more people coming to God …and isn’t that one of the main reasons for church?

    I apologize in advance for any unclear wording; it’s tired and I’m late.

  10. Another Joseph says

    I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean anything by it, as this is a Protestant website, but your article is sprinkled with images of Catholic priests and the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation. There is a stark contrast with Catholic Confession and the events described in the article. What this poor man experienced is not a fruit of the Catholic Sacrament and occurred in a Protestant church (and was extremely odd and disturbing based on the account). I just want to make sure that the two aren’t equated.


  11. This kind of public persecution and humiliation by church leaders creates an environment where people are afraid to be open and transparent about their failures and shortcomings — and we all have struggles and issues with sin, from Pastor Pius Perfect to Joe Shmoe on the back row.
    So what you get in the long run are church bodies that are deeply infected and weighed down by hidden sin and the secret shame that goes with it, while the less scrupulous become masters of illusion and hypocrisy.
    I think it boils down to a skewed value system in which maintaining a spotless public image is given higher priority than things like truth and love and mercy.

  12. I have been in Andrew’s place and I was disciplined by leadership in the church for actions that I had done. What I could not see then, that I can see now, is that there was a pattern of sin in my life that the leadership was trying to get at and wanted to see it change in me. They saw the danger that I was in (I could not at the time) and were looking out for the best interests of me and the flock. When I read this whole thing I saw a pattern in Andrew’s behavior; this was not a one incident, but a pattern of sexual misbehavior. I believe that this is what the church was trying to get at and to help him see. I know from personal experience how hard it is to look inside and see these patterns and idols that I had been holding on too. It has been a year since the discipline and I did not always handle it the best way, but I stayed. I put myself under the leadership of the church and I am so glad that I have. God has taught me so much about the gospel and myself and because I did not run and I am actually seeing those patterns change. We hear one side of the story and jump to all kinds of conclusions, but honestly, being in leadership is hard and you are called to protect your flock and you will be accountable for that to the Lord. So, with that in mind, I must remind myself that the church will not be perfect and neither will leadership, but I do believe that they are trying to follow the Lord and do what is best for all. There is a place, ALWAYS, for grace, but sometimes there also has to be tough love. Jesus give tough love to the rich young ruler and in the end, the rich man walks away.

    • +1 great perspective

      • Matthew

        At least for me the issue wasn’t the discipline itself. Rather how it was applied. Some of the requirements were voyeuristic and frankly rather intrusive. Why should he or anyone for that matter list out all of their previous sexual sins? Isn’t strange that there is no mention of grace or mercy?

        I would suggest that a much better solution would have been for them to set up some counseling sessions and work through some of the issues over a period of time. The goal behind the document was not repentance and restoration. It was really humiliation and vengeance.

        • The Previous Dan says

          Agreed. Mars Hill’s solution may not be on track to help this boy grow into a man, but then either is 5 minutes with Father O’Malley. There does need to be something more extensive than just a trip to the confessional.

          • I am not suggesting a trip to the confessional. I am suggesting a mentoring/discipleship type of program. I really don’t believe that Mars Hill or most mega churches think along these lines.

          • The Previous Dan says

            My confessional comment was concerning the original post not your comment.

    • Matthew… Wow!!! Talk about drinking the kool-aide. I get the impression that after being brainwashed you were almost smiling while loading your own gun before handing it over to the Pastor who was going to execute you. I did check out your blog and I wonder if the fact that you recommend Mark Driscoll’s podcasts is what led to your kool-aide ingestion.

      • Well, that was a rude comment.

        • My comment was from my experience. I am from a church in Dallas with no affiliation whatsoever with Mars Hill. My brother-in-law and really good friend is on staff there. The discipline I received was not perfect, by a long shot, but I knew the heart of the people involved and trusted them; I was also willing to put myself under their leadership because it was God who had given them the position of leadership. God, in that time was continually showing me I Peter, over and over; in sermons, from the radio, in my own study, it was everywhere. And I believe he wanted me to learn about patience, suffering and respect for those God had placed in authority.

          “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
          Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:13-25 ESV)

          I believe God used this discipline to finally wake me up and help me hear the gospel of Jesus for the first time. There is nothing I can do to have God love me more or less. I am a changed person, able to give up idols of relationship and sex because God has already given me everything I need! I believe it!(I am also in a loving relationship now that is amazingly good and working to refine me)

          Now was it perfect, the discipline? No, very far from it. But we are called to submission to leadership and to Christ, the Head of the Church. We have to be humble enough to face ourselves and admit, we may be wrong and we might not be in the best place to judge that. I do believe that there needs to be grace and counseling and Stephen ministry(my own SM has been a huge blessing in my recovery) involved in restoration. I also know we have to stop being to individualistic; our sin has massive consequences on those around us, especially sexual sin (I know first hand, being guilty myself). I guess my plea is, let us be humble, admit we don’t know everything, we will stubble in restoration some times because the church is made up of fallible people; but this does not mean we should just up and walk away. The only way out is through. So walk through your pain and sin to the cross and lay it at the feet of Jesus; and ask your church family for help and when you do, be willing to be humble and realize that you might not be comfortable as God sifts you and refines you; it is always painful but always necessary.

  13. This is an interesting take on the contract. It was posted over at the Warburg Watch by a lawyer. Its their take on the “disciplinary” contract that Mars Hill gave Andrew.


    Back in the Dark Ages, I went to law school and emerged with a law degree. I had to learn a LOT about contracts (two semesters’ worth, four hours a semester, as a matter of fact.) A real contract has both parties doing certain things for a particular goal. Example: you make a contract with a bank to buy a car. The bank lets you drive the car and use it during the term of the contract, but, in exchange, you have to make payments on the car and keep the car insured up to a certain level. The contract is fulfilled when the note is paid off, and you get the car title in the mail.

    When I looked at the “contract” Andrew was asked to sign, I was boggled. It’s not a real contract, because all the performance was on one side–Andrew’s side. There was nothing in this “contract” about what would be the consequences of failing to fulfill provisions of the contract, what Mars Hill and its pastor was required to do as part of the contract and how both sides would know the contract was fulfilled (i.e., a particular time period, or some other marker).

    No, this document wasn’t a contract, it was an attempt to enslave Andrew to Mars Hill. A real contract would have the things I mentioned above: consequences for failing to uphold your end of the contract, how long the contract would last, and what Mars Hill would do to uphold its end of the contract. Andrew did the right thing in walking away.

    tl;dr: A real contract has provisions that both sides have to complete. This “contract” given to Andrew by Mars Hill only went one way, and wasn’t a contract, but an invitation to slavery. Andrew was right to walk away

  14. The church is wrong in that it is attempting to use man-made rules to mimic the act of righteousness, rather than having a true righteousness which comes from regenerated hearts. That is, as Christians we should be bound together with such great love and affection that we can not help but confront sin when it comes into the church. If we love each other and are very active in each other’s lives, then we will wage war with our sin and help others to do the same. Unfortunately the church’s response looks very much like the Pharisees in Jesus’s time, who attempted to wash the outside of the cup but not the inside. However,this also reminds me of the story of the rich young ruler in Mark10:17-22. He was unwilling to leave sin and thus left the church. If you really love Jesus, you will at least make the effort, even if you fail miserably at first. I’m not saying there should be “contracts” you have to sign, but to be honest, I don’t think anyone in the church outside my immediate family has EVER confronted me for living in sin, when I clearly was/am. The church is so focused on being non-confrontational as a means of “evangelizing” but then we are refusing to carry each other’s burdens as we should. But as a member of the Christian body, I guess I am guilty of this sin as well.

  15. What am I missing here? What those guys did to that young man was not church discipline. The wanted him to write out his sexual history so they could read it? They’re dirty old men masquerading as church elders and pastors. They told at least part of his story online? That’s invasion of privacy. If I were him I’d hire a flamboyant attorney to put them in the spotlight nationwide and sue them so they will stop abusing people in the name of Jesus. How self-deceived is it possible for “church” leaders and those who follow them to be?

  16. I’ve come to the (perhaps temporary) conclusion that there is an big gap between their theology of discipline, and the practice of it, and that this is potentionally due to the impersonal nature of mega churches.

    For example, I think the idea behind things that the contract asks are not themselves bad, but the implementation is a kind of one-size-fits-all approach that can steam-roll the differences of individual situations.

  17. Charles Joshua Lake says

    Not sure if anyone here has read Death By Love, by ‘that’ pastor, from which you can get a more colorful narrative of a handful of similar sex related ‘confessions’ being handled under similar circumstances within this ministry. Perhaps someone else can better explain it than I do.

  18. Ecclesio21 says

    I read the iMonk article and all of the related MPT posts with great interest. As a pastor I am frustrated by the lack of gospel-centered community in the American evangelical church. One of the missing pieces, it seems to me, is the lack of biblical church discipline, or what might better be called the lack of nourishing and admonishing relationships within the body of Christ.

    I recently joined the staff of a small-ish church, and was asked to mentor a young man. Long story short, a few weeks ago he assaulted his wife, and it became known that he had been doing so for quite some time. I presented their case to the elders of our church. In this particular case confession would be enough to continue in fellowship, but it wouldn’t protect his wife (who has MS and weighs less than 90 lbs) or their three children under the age of five. The elders decided to surround this couple with the resources of the church, but also required them to engage with a counselor and a mentor and assigned one of the pastors on our staff to monitor and report on their participation and progress.

    There is much more to this story, but I wish to address the original question. I do believe that the church has the right and responsibility to tell her members when their behavior is destructive and leading away from Christ-likeness (Driscoll-likeness is another issue entirely). We wanted to make it very clear that he could not continue to assault his wife and be in good fellowship within the church (I think I Corinthians 5 is much more relevant to church discipline than the oft-referenced Mt 18). However, a person’s attitude toward their sin makes a world of difference. At face value, “Andrew” was so sorrowful over his sin that he confessed it willingly, and then confessed several others. Yes, he does need the church’s leadership. He does not need endless meetings, texts, and contracts. The church could have given Andrew a mentor or a group to help him (why couldn’t his current Community Group have loved him through this difficult time?). Their intentional nourishment and admonishment isn’t the issue. Shame, humiliation, and endless wallowing (“list all of the other sins you’ve committed during this time”) are not only unnecessary, but counter to the Gospel. Christ took our shame and humiliation.

    I don’t know if we handled our situation perfectly. Our elders wanted to establish clearly that this behavior is not going to pass unchecked, but also to show that we were willing to partner with them in facing the enemy. We enumerated clear steps and some clear consequences if they chose not to follow those steps. I think this should be the goal of church discipline. The Mars Hill case sounds much more like penance and bondage to me.

  19. I believe this is a well thought out and well written response to all that has been said. http://marshill.com/2012/02/13/a-response-regarding-church-discipline

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