Christianity in America seems to be in a constant state of decline rather than a constant state of repentance. One sign of this decline is the way in which celebrity rather than Scripture seems to have become the lens through which certain pastors are evaluated. This type of bias undermines the witness of the Church to nonbelievers. One recent example is when well-known pastor Mark Driscoll posted a flippant comment on Facebook which gathered over 600 comments in response. Offended blogger Rachel Held Evans responded and the flame Driscoll lit spread across the online Christian community. (Note: Driscoll has replied with the admission of some type of wrong doing to which Evans responded graciously.)
In response to Evans, Dr. Anthony Bradley wrote “Libel is not love” of which this article is a reply offering a different perspective. Regardless of whether or not Evans was correct in her character assessment of Driscoll by calling him a bully, a pastor’s character should reflect that which Scripture sets out in 1 Timothy 3. Verse 7 of this passage states, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (ESV).
Interestingly enough, Bradley states, “Granted, the pastor, Seattle’s Mark Driscoll, seems to draw controversy like a magnet…” Is drawing controversy like a magnet a portrayal of what a pastor’s character should be a noted in 1 Timothy 7? From where I sit the answer is no.
Bradley continues by explaining that the reason why Driscoll draws controversy is because he speaks against societal norms such as feminism from a strong theologically conservative, complementarian perspective. While Bradley may be mostly correct about why Driscoll draws controversy, it seems that the issue in question does not stem from Driscoll’s stance on feminism et al, but in the way he expressed his position. I write this as one who mostly agrees with Driscoll’s conservative positions and disagrees with Evans liberal perspective. I would also retort that I’m willing to take the these made-up man card tests at anytime, but I don’t have to talk about it in a way that belittles others since my life and abilities speak for themselves.
Bradley also expressed that his purpose is not to defend Driscoll and that he would “personally challenge him over what he wrote.” And my observation is, but he didn’t challenge him. Bradley’s focus in his article is on how Christians, with Evans as the example, handle conflict with each other in public. I agree that how public conflict is handled is a thorn in the side of the Church. A question may also be asked about how to deal with pastors, celebrity or not, who publicly start conflict.
The stirring comment Driscoll made on Facebook was, “So what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?” Is this type of popping off at the keyboard pastoral? I would answer that it is not.
So is the proper response to comments like Driscoll’s to approach him via Matthew 18? Bradley thinks so, but I disagree. For example, in Galatians 2 Paul publicly opposed Peter. Also, Matthew 18 is dealing with and individuals who sin directly against another. Even so, Bradley mentions in the comment section of his article that he did go directly Evans in a blog comment and that she has his contact information via Facebook. Well, Bradley’s actions in this case violate Matthew 18. Matthew 18:15-20 states that first the offended party approaches the person individually, then bring others along if they don’t listen; and finally take it before the church if need be. Bradley seemed to skip the last two steps.
Even if Matthew 18 applied in the case of Driscoll, how would it be carried out? Is he personally approachable and easy to contact privately? Can one then take other witnesses along to confront him if he does not listen? And finally, can one take the issue before all of Mars Hill Church to plead the case? I may be wrong, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
There is a unique situation in Christendom today with social media which can reach millions of people in a matter of seconds. There is a sense in which there is no biblical recourse other than to oppose someone publicly as Paul did Peter. When a pastor opens the world to his pulpit via iTunes, Facebook, twitter, blogs, conferences, etc. then he has a level of responsibility to the public. Ordinary pastors sometimes must deal with digital celebrity pastors because their pulpit reach is so large. Biblically speaking, should those with such large pulpits have the freedom to say whatever they want however they want?
The book of James in chapter 3 explains how deadly the tongue is and even cautions teachers about their words James even tells would-be teachers that maybe they ought not teach. If a person cannot control their tongue, or in this case their keyboard, maybe they should re-evaluate whether or not they should be using various social media to “teach”.
Teaching and leading others is more than an intellectual activity for someone who is good at practically applying knowledge. God’s standards tell us that the character of a leader is of the utmost importance in order to qualify as such (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). The character of Christians in general is important even in tough situations (2 Corinthians 6:3-10). And Christians in turn are supposed to emulate the life of Christian leaders (1 Peter 5:1, Philippians 3:17).
This article is not a call for Driscoll to step down or imply that he is unfit for Christian leadership though others may disagree. Rather, to the distaste of some of my friends, I like Driscoll. I am on his side of the theological fence which is why what he says bothers me more than a reply someone, such as Evans for example, may offer.
Sin prevents Christians from being free from conflict and from mishandling conflict both in public and in private. Christians can do a better job in at least two related areas. Inside the church we can do better at loving one another as Jesus loves us (John 15:12). And Christians can answer those outside the church more graciously while praying that God will grant them repentance that they might believe the gospel (2 timothy 2:25).