One of the episodes of Christianity Today‘s Mars Hill podcast series was actually about the problem of sexual harassment at Christianity Today (to their credit, after exposing the cultic nature of Mark Driscoll’s control over Mars Hill–in the sense that Jim Jones was the leader of a cult–and the abuses attending the Driscoll cult, CT blew the whistle on itself.)
Is CT A Ministry?
Repeatedly in the episode, however, Mike Casper, the now familiar narrator of the CT podcast series, repeatedly describes CT as a “ministry.” Let us be very clear about this. It is no such thing. CT is a news and opinion magazine (and now a podcast) of interest to evangelical Christians and others. That is it. That is not a small thing, but Jesus Christ did not institute CT. He did not authorize CT to preach the gospel, administer the holy sacraments, or to use church discipline. Those are the marks of the ministry, which Jesus, who is Lord of the church, entrusted to his visible church.*
CT is a product of the neo-evangelical movement. It was born of the desire of the neo-evangelicals to move beyond the narrowness of the fundamentalist movement. It was founded by the godfathers of the neo-evangelical movement, Carl F. H. Henry, Billy Graham, and Harold John Ockenga, among others. It was the fruit of the same movement that gave us Fuller Seminary.
As David Wells noted in 1993, in No Place for Truth, CT is a bellweather of the neo-evangelical movement. I found the same thing in the 1980s when, to try to figure out what was happening in Christianity, I parked myself by the CT collection in Love Library (University of Nebraska) and read every issue from its founding, in 1956, until the early 1980s. The change in the 1970s was marked. Even though I did not then appreciate who Carl Henry was, the decline of the quality of the magazine was palpable. I recall seeing reports from G. C. Berkouwer, who was attending Vatican II. Ed Clowney wrote a humor column, “Eutychus and His Pin.” Carl Henry was a serious thinker. It was a magazine of substance. By the mid-70s there was less substance, more mainline influence, and more fluff.
One of the great weaknesses of the movement spawned by Henry et al. is that it was intentionally church-less. They sought to marginalize the visible church. The Boomer children, the grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren of Henry & co. have continued that churchlessness. They were getting away from the nasty church fights associated with Machen and his “Warrior Children.” In the post-WWII period, every endeavor by the neo-evangelicals became “a ministry.” The every-member ministry ethos, aided by dubious exegesis of Ephesians 4, spread like wildfire through neo-evangelical circles.
So, it is not surprising that, as they work through the problem of sexual abuse at CT, Cosper et al. invoke the now familiar language of CT‘s ministry–yet this is part of the problem. A sexual abuser should be turned over to two authorities: the magistrate and the church. If an investigation finds that untoward behavior was occurring, then that person should be dismissed. This is what magazines, which are businesses, do. CT is an evangelical-oriented business.
What Is A Church?
Just as our newest Supreme Court justice, the hon. Kentanji Brown Jackson, in her Judiciary Committee interview, was ostensibly unable to say what a woman is, so too modern evangelicals have struggled greatly with the doctrine of the church. As I have been arguing for some time here, it is not too much to say that they do not have one. The Reformation churches do, however, have a doctrine of the church. The Reformed are very clear about what the visible, institutional church is.
In Belgic Confession art. 27, the Reformed churches confess the holy catholic church but that church always comes to visible expression.
We believe and confess One single catholic or universal church, a holy congregation and gathering of true Christian believers, awaiting their entire salvation in Jesus Christ being washed by his blood, and sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit (emphasis added).
Note that the churches qualify their doctrine of the holy catholic, i.e., universal (not Roman) church with “gathering.” The invisible church, i.e., the universal church, the ecumenical church, the church catholic—”spread and dispersed throughout the entire world, though still joined and united in heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith”—becomes visible in local congregations.
This is made clear in art. 28:
We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition (emphasis added).
One unites oneself to the church visible. One separates oneself from the church visible. According to the Reformed churches, Christians are bound to join themselves to the visible church:
But all people are obliged to join and unite with it, keeping the unity of the church by submitting to its instruction and discipline, by bending their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ, and by serving to build up one another, according to the gifts God has given them as members of each other in the same body.
In the sixteenth century, as now, it could be challenging to discern which congregation is the true church. Then, as now, “all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of ‘the church'” (Belgic art. 29). So, with all the Reformed churches we confess that the true church has certain “marks” (indicators):
The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks:
- The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel
- It makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them
- It practices church discipline for correcting faults
We also confess that there are marks of a true Christian:
“As for those who are of the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely
- by faith
- by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left
- they crucify the flesh and its works.
Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.”
How A Real Church Could Have Prevented The Mars Hill Disaster
The Reformed churches inherited the ancient Christian conviction, a biblical conviction, that Jesus Christ established a visible, institutional church. He gave to the visible church the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16). He authorized and empowered the visible church to preach the gospel and administer the holy sacraments (Matt 28:18–20). He commanded the visible church to practice church discipline (Matt 18).
One of the faults of the CT Mars Hill podcast series is that it claims, without proof, that a connectional polity would have made no difference. We do not know that. Perhaps a real, genuine connectional polity would have failed, but had Mark Driscoll presented himself to Classis (i.e., Presbytery) Southwest of the United Reformed Churches in North America as a candidate for ministry he would have been asked some basic questions:
- Of which church are you a member?
- Which consistory (i.e., local assembly of ministers and elders) is presenting you as a candidate for ministry?
- Where did you attend seminary?
By his own repeated and highly publicized admission, Driscoll would have failed these three tests. He was not qualified for pastoral ministry. As a seminary prof since 1997, I have seen several young men who were charismatic (not in the theological sense), who had leadership ability, who could communicate well, who were not (yet) ready for ministry. For all his considerable natural ability, Mark Driscoll was not ready for ministry. He was (and remains) an entrepreneur. He is not and never was a shepherd of the sheep. When push came to shove, and it did, he did not lay down his life for his sheep. By his own boast, he got into a bus, fired up the engine, and drove over the sheep.
No real ecclesiastical body saw gifts in Mark, tested him, sent him to seminary for a proper education (and further testing), and then evaluated him as a delegated assembly of churches.
Once a man is admitted to ministry as a candidate and called by a congregation, he remains subject to the discipline and correction of the regional and even national (e.g., synod) assemblies of the churches. Driscoll was never subject to any such authority. When churches, over whom he was the CEO, did try to address him, he crushed them like the pope he was. The CT podcast interviewed those bodies years after they been run over by the bus and they are still recovering. Some of them have PTSD.
Had Driscoll behaved as he did at Mars Hill under the discipline of the Reformed churches, I trust that he would have been challenged, called to repentance, and, had he shown himself to be as impenitent as he did, he would have been removed from ministry and placed under discipline. More than anything right now, Mark Driscoll needs to be held accountable by a real church with the Christ-given authority to make a determination whether he has the marks of a true Christian and, if not, to be declared to have shown himself what he is.
Do the confessional Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) churches always get this right? No. Have P&R churches sometimes turned a blind eye to abuse and malfeasance. Much to their shame, yes–but at least the potential for discipline exists and we do use it. We need to use that mark of the church more in trust that the Lord will use it to bring about repentance and true faith.
Mars Hill was never a church. It always lacked the marks of the true church. It is no wonder that things went as they did. Likewise, CT is neither called nor qualified to do any of those things. They are qualified to report on the work of the church and the ministry of the church but they are not the church. They are not a ministry. The Christian radio station is not a ministry. The Christian bookstore is not a ministry. The pro-life organization is not a ministry. These are all and each good and necessary things, but none of them is the church and none of them is a ministry. Failure to grasp this distinction and to act in its light has adversely affected the lives of many Christians.
That the confessional P&R churches claim to have the marks of the true church and to have legitimate, divine authority to conduct the ministry of Word, sacrament, and discipline places a great and holy weight on their shoulders. As we call evangelicals to emerge from their sects into the true church, we must be that church we claim to be. The Great Shepherd of the Sheep is watching how we care for his little lambs, for whom he obeyed, for whom he died, for whom he was raised, for whom he is interceding, and for whom he will come when he returns.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
* Consider the uses of the noun διακονια (diakonia or ministry) in the New Testament.
- διακονια (diakonia) in Acts 1:17, 25 is ecclesiastical
- the διακονια of Acts 6:1, 4 is an ecclesiastical ministry of food distribution within the visible church.
- The διακονια of Acts 11:29 is ecclesiastical poverty relief
- The διακονια of Acts 12:25 is ecclesiastical
- The διακονια of Rom 12:7 is ecclesiastical
- The διακονια of Acts 20:24 is ecclesiastical, i.e., Paul’s ministry/service as an apostle, ordained and sent by the church, the chief work of which was to plant churches
- The διακονια of Acts 21:19 is ecclesiastical
- The διακονια of Rom 11:13 refers to Paul’s work of church planting among the Gentiles
- The διακονια of Rom 12:7 is written to the visible church in Rome and describes the ways ministry is conducted within the visible church
- The διακονια of 1 Cor 16:15 is written to the visible church and describes the ways ministry is conducted within the visible church
- Paul’s διακονια in Rom 15:31 is ecclesiastical
- The διακονια of 2 Cor 3:7–9 was ecclesiastical under the OT and continues in the New Covenant whenever the preacher preaches the law
- The διακονια to which Paul refers in 2 Cor 4:1 is his ministry in and through the visible church
- The διακονια to which Paul refers in 2 Cor 5:18 and 6:3 is his ministry to the visible church(es)
- The διακονια of 2 Cor 8:4 and 9:1ff is the church’s ministry of poverty relief within the visible church
- Paul specifically mentions the visible church re his διακονια in 2 Cor 11:8
- The διακονια in view in Eph 4:12 is ecclesiastical, i.e., within the Ephesian church
- Archippus’ διακονια in Col 4:17 is almost certainly his ordained pastoral ministry. In any event it is ecclesiastical
- Paul’s διακονια in 1 Tim 1:12 is his ecclesiastical ministry to which Timothy has also been ordained
- Timothy’s διακονια in 2 Tim 4:5 and Paul’s in v. 11 is ordained ministry within the visible church
- Rev 2:19 is written to the visible church and refers to the ministry of the visible church
There are there three outliers: διακονια is used in the NT in the broad, even secular (i.e., common, shared) sense of “serving,” as in serving dinner, e.g., Mary & Martha in Luke 10:40. Such uses hardly warrant extra-ecclesiastical “ministry.” It is also used of angels in Heb 1:14, which doesn’t show us extra-ecclesiastical ministry since Campus Crusade/Navigators etc are not angels.
διακονια (ministry) is used overwhelmingly for the ministry of the visible, institutional church. She has ministers.
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