Mars Hill Church/Mark Driscoll – Church Discipline and Mt. 18

The issue of church discipline at the Mars Hill church of Mark Driscoll, has made the internet world buzz. Such is the down-side of celebrity. Matthew 18 is being cited as the model scriptural justification for “church discipline issues.” Mt. 18 is one of the most abused and mishandled passages in all of scripture.

I know nothing of the specific issues at Mars Hill, and don’t need to. My issue is the misuse of Matthew 18 as a proof text, by ANYONE, for a rigid template of protocol, for any “church discipline” issue. After almost forty years of ministry, I know how leaders think, and I know how this passage is typically poorly exegeted (if at all, normally it is proof-texted), taught decontextualized, and misapplied to the hurt of many, many people.

The matter often has nothing to do with “dealing with sin appropriately.” Too often Mt. 18 is used by authoritarian leaders as a speech, thought, and behavior control template to stifle dissent. I am not saying this is the specifics of the case at Mars Hill. I don’t know. But it could be, as it commonly so. Often, leaders will leverage Mt. 18 for what appears on the front side as a legitimate need to deal with sin, but when you look more closely, “behind the scenes,” pull back the cover of the operational ethos of the entire ministry, it can be much more illicit. It is often all about power and the “unchallengability” of the “sr. pastor.”

The context (what an annoying issue context is!) of Matthew 18 is not  the would-be moral failures or misbehaviors of those in the community. The context of Matthew 18 is a Mosaic theocracy, a civic judicial system based on the law of Moses, and the breaches or rupture of the fabric of the community through illegalities and mistreating of one another.

What is being expressed in Mt 18 is for what we would call in our day, civil or criminal offenses against one another: crime . . . If a brother steals your oxen, etc. If a brother commits a criminal offense, then he is treated like a publican, etc., not just because a brother has failed!! For a full, verse by verse, contextual treatment on this issue, see our book: The Rescue of Matthew 18 at the online mall at

4 comments on “Mars Hill Church/Mark Driscoll – Church Discipline and Mt. 18

  1. Good word. I’m looking forward to next Sunday. I’m working on some advertising pieces for the New Covenant Series and I’m a bit familiar with Mark Driscoll. So when I saw his name and church discipline near the top of your blog my heart paused for a minute. I can’t stand the un-Christlike miss-use of Matthew 18 and for a moment I thought you might be applauding someone for dropping the Matthew 18 hammer. I’ve seen enough of your stuff through Jeanne’s facebook page to know better…

    Anyway… I was glad to read on down your blog and see that you did a great job with two things: (1) pointing out the regular miss-use of Matthew 18 and at the same time (2) avoiding the temptation to toss digital stones at Driscoll. I don’t know the details of that situation either, and I think I’ll avoid reading much about it. 😉

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