Treat Them Like a Tax Collector: Reflections on Matthew 18, Church Discipline, and Andrew

Treat Them Like a Tax Collector: Reflections on Matthew 18, Church Discipline, and Andrew January 26, 2012
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Jesus offers a model for reconciliation in Matthew 18.15-17.  Often, these three verses are used for the opposite of this: alienation.  These words operate as a law in some settings, when in fact they are meant to give guidance toward restoring relationship.

Over the past few days, Matthew Paul Turner hosted a series of blogs (#1 & #2) about a guy named Andrew.  It was found out that he engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior and he was placed on church discipline.  After reading part 1 of the series, although I thought the rigidity of creating a church discipline contract was over-the-top, I didn’t know that the actions of the Mars Hill elders were worth fussing about.  After all, when a leader in the church acts in a way that is inappropriate, the way to restore them back to good standing is to raise the bar – so to speak.  We ought to invite people to repent and put their lives back on a good track – good for the people involved and good for the community of faith.

But, after hearing the second part of the story, I knew it was time for me to engage in the conversation.  This is what happened when it was all said and done:

Andrew’s friend informed him that a letter addressed to Mars Hills members had been posted on The City, which is described on Mars Hills’ website as “Mars Hill Church’s online network. Rather than encouraging virtual community, the purpose of The City is to enhance actual relationships within the church…” Andrew described The City to be like “Facebook for Mars Hill members.”  Mars Hill had blocked Andrew’s access to The City. Andrew’s friend copy and pasted the letter (in its entirety) and emailed it to Andrew.

Here is the thrust of that quite public letter:

Andrew [because he chose to leave the church after receiving the contract] did not leave the church as a member in good standing, but instead left the church as a member under discipline.  This means the discipline and consequences of his sin will continue to follow Andrew.  Our model for this is Matthew 18:15-18.  Andrew was confronted in his sin, called to repent and as an act of repentance, submit to his church leaders.  At this point in time, Andrew has, in general, admitted to sexual sin and deceit.  However, he is refusing to take the steps necessary to demonstrate genuine godly sorrow and repentance.  His is also  refusing to own full responsibility for his sin and the ensuing repercussions….  Because of this, Andrew’s actions have put you, his friends and community, in a position to need guidance on what steps to take in your interactions with Andrew.  When a member under discipline refuses to follow the guidance of the church, Matt. 18:17 states:
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.  And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
….In leaving the church under discipline, he has removed himself from the protection, covering, and fellowship of the church.  Andrew needs to understand the church (including you) is unified in God’s discipline process, as led by the church elders.  During this difficult time, please elevate Jesus and the Cross, not Andrew and your relationship with him.

There is nothing restorative about this distorted process.  Many called this scenario a form of “spiritual abuse,” and I agree.  An obvious reason is this letter.  Calling people to essentially end their relationship with Andrew is flat out controlling.  The leadership of this church bases their retributive action on Matthew 18, but I think they are misreading and failing to properly apply Jesus’ words.

First, we need to ask an obvious question – What gives Mars Hill leadership the ethical right to publicize a member’s sins to thousands of people? The text says that a time comes when we must “report them to the church,” but this begs the question, what is the church? In other words, the New Testament never envisioned church as they are manifested in the mega-church model.  The closest equivalent during the biblical period would be a small group.  There’s a big difference between 15 and 5,000 people.

Second – What about the author of this Gospel, Matthew? He was a tax collector!  Perhaps his book has more to say about how to “treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector”?   We do well to note Tim Geddert’s observation: “Everything in Jewish religious culture of the day said: If you are a tax collector, you are not one of us.”[1] Here is an overview:

  • In Matthew 9.9-13 Jesus calls Matthew and then parties with him.  This prompts the pharasees to ask: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Jesus answers: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do… I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”  In this short passage, we find that Jesus accepts and fellowships with “sinners” (even tax collectors).  This would have transformed Matthew’s whole world!  From being excluded to being embraced.
  • In Matthew 10, after having shared his conversion story in the previous chapter, Matthew writes a list of all the disciples.  It reads this way: “…first, Simon, who is called Peter; and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee; and John his brother; 3 Philip; and Bartholomew; Thomas; and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus; and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean; and Judas, who betrayed Jesus.”  Notice that Matthew only lists his profession in this list, as if to say: Look, Jesus treats tax collectors this way!
  • In Matthew 11, Jesus is accused of being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” and Jesus quotes them in affirmation.  You can almost hear Matthew say under his breath “You bet, he sure is!”

Then we arrive at chapter 18 and must ask: How is it that Jesus treats tax collectors and sinners? The answer to this question can lead down several roads: legalism, compromise, or a third option.  Legalism was the approach of old order Anabaptists who would shun a sinner via the “ban.”  This seems quite close to the Mars Hill approach as wellCompromise does nothing to address the sin, leaving the person on a dangerous path.

Then there is a third option, which Tim reflects upon:

Whatever led anyone to conclude that when Matthew, who knows how Jesus treats tax collectors, would write, “Treat him like a Gentile and a Tax Collector,” he means, “Get him out of here!  Have nothing to do with him!”?  I think it means exactly the opposite.  I think it means, “Love him! Accept him! Invite him! Eat with him! And keep on challenging him to be transformed into a faithful disciple of Jesus!”  And how could “Treat him like a Gentile” mean “Get rid of him!” Reject him!” Shun him!” in a Gospel that ends with Jesus’ commission to invite into the fellowship of Jesus Gentiles from every nation on earth?  When Matthew writes, “Treat him like a tax collector,” he surely means, “Treat him the way Jesus treated me.  He loved me, accepted me, invited me!”  When Matthew writes, “Treat him like a Gentile,” he surely means, “Go to the ends of the earth to win him back into a life of discipleship.” (49)

Tim goes on to say:

God expects us to live according to our mutually discerned convictions.  And when someone later says: “Yes, I know that we agreed together, but I am not going to listen to the church!” then the church, filled with sorrow, says: “Then you are for us as a Gentile and a tax collector – We love you… but we recognize that you are opting out of this discerning fellowship.  You are not acting like an insider to be reconciled, but like an outsider to be drawn back.  Won’t you come? Please?… When you do, you will be brought back into the fellowship once more.” (53)

This is what it means to treat a member as an outsider or a tax collector.  We love them like we love outsiders, not through shuns or judgment, but through the love that Jesus demonstrated at Matthew’s party.  This is the key to reconciliation.  This sort of good treatment, when we make our convictions about behavior clear, has the potential to lead to genuine repentance and to a reconciled community.  Public humiliation and shunning are spiritual abuse.

I don’t intend to pick a fight with Mars Hill.  Rather, my prayer is that they will reconsider their approach to church discipline.  I also pray for Andrew.  I pray that he will find a community of Christ-followers that practice the words of Matthew 18 with love.  I pray that he will find healing from his poor choices and will not fall back into a pattern of poor behavior.  And I pray for the countless others abused by a fundamentalist approach to Matthew 18.  May you know what it is to truly be treated like a “tax collector” – to be loved and wooed back into the fellowship of a grace-filled church.




[1] Timothy J. Geddert, Double Take: New Meanings from Old Stories, 46.  The following biblical insights are to be attributed to this book as well.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Well done Kurt, you’ve brought home the message that I also believe Jesus came to us with.  When a church engages in moves that enhance control and power they are not putting love and grace first.  If we cannot love one another then what are we doing?

  • There approach is a complete false reading of Matthew 18… I think the biggest issue is that Andrew came to them and confessed!!!  Matthew 18 is talking about someone who is NOT admitting what they are doing is wrong.   

  • lyounginer

    Do you think I Corinthians 5: 9-13 is applicable in this situation? 

    • Incest is a vastly different deal than premarital sex… and boasting of incest in the name of as Christian liberty as it appears the Corinthians did, didnt fly well at all with Paul. Some 90% + of all Christians engage in premarital sex, but I know none who boast about doing so or preach the practice of premarital sex as an ideal. On the other hand, it does seem many churches do tend to boast and rejoice over greed, and Pauls yeast analogy rings all too true.

    • Mike Ward

      My interpretation of Corinthians 5:9-13 is that churches need to seperate themselves from any member who brings shame on the congregation. Corinth had a member who was brazenly commiting a sin that even the gentile pagans found terrible so by associating with him they tarnished the entire congregations reputation.

      The case at Mars Hill seems to me to be exactly the opposite. Mars Hill has brought shame upon itself by the way they discplined Andrew not because they did not.

  • Thanks Kurt for your perspective…I wish/hope that more Christ-followers would stop using the term “Christian”to give themselves permission to condemn and judge.  This is a message that is long overdue and I for one am happy that the cat is out of the bag…so to speak.  

  • Andrew

    So glad you referred to Tim Geddert’s Double Take. I read it last year (loved it) and now I’m working through his All Right Now (equally as good and very instructive for those in pastoral / leadership positions).

  • Mike Ward

    Appreciate this. It’s very thoughtful.

    I use to belong to a church that took a similar approach to discipline but without the contracts. But the disfellowship process was basically the same. I know some people who were very hurt by it.

    But at the time it just seemed  normal. It was how we did things,and we’d site scripture for it so it just seemed like the way things we supposed to be. I was always aware that other people saw us as nuts, but from the inside it seemed sane.

    It’s kind of strange now looking back on it.

    I was a little surprised that you didn’t think it was too bad until you read the second part, but maybe I was already guessing where it was heading based on my experiences, but even the contract seemed cultish to me. The lists it demand him to make more so than the the contract itself.

  • james

    isn’t it interesting that the 99 sheep parable is before and the how many times do you forgive is after matthew 18:15-17

  • I arrived at the same conclusions as you about Mars Hill’s disciplinary tactics, but by a different route. When Jesus says “let them be to you as a Gentile or tax collector,” I don’t think he was saying “you should treat them how *I* treat Gentiles and tax collectors.” I think it’s more likely he was saying, “You know how you and your countrymen treat Gentiles and tax collectors? You know how you don’t exactly give them a warm welcome? Well, that’s how you should treat this person.”

    Admittedly, that sounds harsh. But Jesus is talking about someone who knowingly, stubbornly persists in destructive behavior that threatens not only them but the whole community. That’s definitely the case in the other passage that Mars Hill cited, 1 Cor. 5, where Paul is dealing w/someone who was tarnishing the whole church’s reputation by sleeping with his stepmother. 

    In other words, this isn’t how you treat someone for a simple case of poor judgment. It’s definitely not how you treat someone who’s owned up their their mistake and is already seeking restoration! “If they listen,” Jesus says,” you’ve won them over.” Case closed, end of story. 

    The harsh treatment (if that’s in fact what it is) is reserved as a last resort. Even then, it’s meant to be restorative. Paul’s other passage about church discipline (2 Cor 2:5-11) indicates that it should stop the minute the person comes to their senses. 

    This idea of making someone jump through a bunch of hoops to “prove” their repentance is just toxic. It’s manipulative. I think MPT is right to describe it as “cult-like.”

    Thanks for sharing your insights, Kurt. Thought-provoking as always… 

  • Jeremiahjob

    I understand the disagreement that is being voiced here, I was just church disciplined a month and a half ago with a letter read to the church body about myself and I know the short comings. However in the NT it is clear that church discipline is necessary and important and at times it may be more than just restorative- that the whole body may fear- Where is the place for this in your thinking?

    • I can’t speak for Kurt, but my short answer would be that discipline does not require (and I might add, faithful discipline precludes) shunning such as described in the letter.

  • Darlene

    Very well written…. My heart broke when I read both of the letter (the contract to Andrew and the message to the congregation). Their approach is so damaging and abusive. I pray for Andrew, bouncing back from church abuse can be a long and difficult process. I pray much for him and for all of the other “Andrews” at Mars Hill who may fall prey to such a legalistic process.

  • Mmoseley78

    I guess we’re being good Christians and not using wisdom here. We’re still only hearing one side of this story people. Clue in.

    • You know, you have a point. We’ve heard only one side, though only one side has been speaking. And there are a mounting amount of people beginning to speak out  in a similar fashion.  Their stories stare a certain congruence that is not easily dismissed. 

      See these posts: and  All those poor souls did was question the wisdom in signing the membership contract.

      BUT, we have not heard to Mars Hill.  Though, given the picture painted of their authority structure and work towards quashing dissent, et cetera, I doubt we will hear from them.

      But, I’m intensely curious as to their response.

      • Anonymous
        • PCG, what did you think of that “response”?

          • Anonymous

            Charity prevents me from getting too far into my criticisms. 🙂 But suffice to say, I hold their explanation up against Andrew’s side of things and I see some inconsistencies with how they say they do things (or, at least, their motivation) and how they allegedly acted. I hold their policy up against the Bible and see pretty glaring inconsistencies, and cannot really support their position at all.

    • Ts

      Yes. We have heard the Mars Hill version of the facts, as they publicly posted in that defamatory letter in which they made libelous allegations about a young man who was not provided any counsel or ability to give his side of what happened. And if this was an isolated incident, perhaps it could be excused or explained away. Lamentably, such heavy-handed, spritually abusive tactics have been well-documented in the press and online and appear to be the modus operendi for the organization. There is an established pattern. The members of MH, and any elders who still have an operational moral compass, should see the handwriting on the wall and flee the coming firestorm. 

  • Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

    I agree with what you have shared here, and I would add that my shock and dismay was not only the process by which Mars Hill deals with people, but how they treated an already repentant member who’d sought out counsel, accountability and had begun making things right (stopping an ungodly relationship, coming clean to his fiance, etc.). He opened himself up in a very vulnerable way, yet they insisted on beating him still further if you will. That, to me, is what screamed unfairness, as well as, abuse of power. After all, he could have withheld from the fiance or never asked for help or whatever…and as the blog writer said, how does that create a place for healing?

  • Newlife4me Nkb

    The ‘good’ shepherd leaves the 99 to go after the “one”….Jesus is ALL about Restoration NOT ‘forsaking’!
    I have never heard Mathew 18 taught that way…but it makes since and certainly goes along with the Heart of our Lord AND savior!! He didn’t come to ‘condemn’ the world but SAVE the world…this is done WITH love, NOT rejection!
    Lord, please open their ‘eyes’ and give them ‘ears’ to hear…and Lord, Please forgive them as they forgive others.
    Please draw Andrew back to you with your ‘TRUE’ love of fellow believers and by YOUR spirit…thank you Lord….

  • I think the most frustrating thing about the entire situation is that, according to Matt Turner’s posts, Andrew was willing to go through whichever hoops Mars Hill was setting before him to show that he wanted to be restored. In other words, in the act of telling his church elders his sins, he was already repenting. And then they demanded further repentance, which – in actuality – is more like compliance.
    Thanks for posting this; my thoughts exactly on how to interpret Matthew 18:15-17.

  • Jonathan Aigner

    Kurt, I really appreciate your words here.  My feeling is that the abuses at Mars Hill need to be exhaustively exposed.  This has been bothering me since I read the story a couple of days ago, and it makes me angry that so many younger adults have become Driscoll groupies simply because he’s trendy and current. 

    • Mike Ward

      Agreed, people need to know what they are in for before they sign up.

      In response to the original articles on Matthew’s blog, I saw two other people relate stories of how difficult Mars Hill made it for them to leave even though neither was even a member at Mars Hill and neither was accused of any wrong doing.

  • Kurt, I wish I could write about this but my anger and trembling hands are simple not ready.  I would not have the courage to show such  passion of this injustice, and yet balance it with humility the way that you have done.  Thank you for posting this and sharing this.  I’m praying peace for Andrew, and for a repentant heart for the leaders of Mars Hill … this is just too much.

    • @facebook-696417661:disqus … Thanks for your kind words friend. I know what it is too be angry 🙂 If nothing else, this gives me a lesson in “what not to do” when we plant a church in 2013.  This sadly shows how a perception of God that is wrathful can lead to wrathful discipline processes.

  • We practice discipline at my church, but it is truly restorative. The door to return is open, although we aim to be rigorous about it when people are excluded. Exclusion comes only after no repentance is shown.

  • Yet another example of taking a singe verse—”Treat him like a tax collector and a gentile”— out of context. In addition to the examples in your post, there is the context of Matthew 18, namely the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Unforgiving Servant which bookend this very verse. I don’t know how anyone can read this verse as anything other than a call to forgiveness. Seventy times seven or seventy seven—either reading means “don’t give up.”

  • Scot McKnight


    Well, this is a tough one.
    1. The biggest issue I see running through the comment thread is repulsiveness toward church discipline, understood to be dis-fellowship for the sake of restoration. Dis-fellowship is not unlike YHWH’s treatment of Israel in the OT, as you are aware. I wonder if your readers think dis-fellowship is ever right. If not, I wonder how texts like Matt 18 or 1 Cor 5 are to be explained; if so, then what MHCC did corresponds at some level with that. (More later.)
    2. I doubt your exegesis of “treat them as a tax collector” since I would agree with the vast majority in the church that this is stereotyped language of exclusion (for the sake of restoration). (Which seems to be left out of some of the citations in this post that are quoting MHCC.)
    3. The publicity of Andrew’s sin makes me cringe; reminds me of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, and so I wonder if it is about shaming. I wonder if the “contract” states that such a thing can happen for “disciplined” people? Do you know?
    4. I can’t condone what MHCC did; I don’t know enough about their rules and regulations and covenant agreements, but if they do specify this sort of action then anyone “in” knows this is a possibility.

    Again, to me the issue here is the viability of church discipline, and how to live out today what we find about discipline in the NT.

    • The problem I have with church discipline is that all too often it’s a board of old white guys trying to impose rules on others that they themselves have failed to live by. And yes, this whole Andrew affair has echoes of Hawthorne’s Red Letter A.

    • @1f0cb0f88d1f99f6e05597a2de7f1949:disqus … thanks for your thoughts.

      1. I personally agree that church discipline is viable… I’m just not sure that it should be retributive.  My perception of this situation is that MH view of God’s discipline and wrath trickles down into how they have applied this passage.

      2. It seems to me that Jesus models what he teaches.  The way he interacted with “sinners” or outsiders seems like the model the NT continues to call us to.  Exclusion from christian community (because someone chooses not to uphold agreed upon standards) is right in some cases, but the ramifications of this should be that our overwhelming love of them as *outsiders* woos them back into the standards and full membership of the community.  That is what I was getting at in this post.  We must “name” the wrong done to us, never ignore it, but must also “name” the people who have fallen.  I think that a point may come where we have to “give them over” but in Corinthians, this seems to be when someone is sinning and publicly lording their sin over the community, causing the community to fall.  They had taken freedom and created a new judgement on themselves.  This is cause for removal from church fellowship… but this doesn’t mean complete exclusion… unless this is the last measure possible to save the church from disunity.  This was hardly the case at MH.  What I think Tim Geddert’s approach provides, is a return to a centered set approach to discipleship, ethics, and “exclusion.”

      3. Scot, I feel the same way.  Cringe… Scarlet Letter… all the same.  The contract that is posted in the first blog does not say anything about consequences.  The closest we get is in the email received by Andrew after he chose to leave the church (feeling that the contract was too dogmatic, etc):

      “If this is your decision, you need to know you are leaving as a
      member under discipline not as a member in good standing. What this
      means is Matthew 18 discipline we discussed in our last meeting will be
      escalated, as there has not been enough time to determine if in fact you
      are walking in repentance. It is communicating to [name of community
      group leader] and me that you are unwilling to follow the leaders of
      your church who have determined you have been in sin and that time will
      be needed to determine if you are in fact walking in repentance.
      [Paragraph mentioning Andrew’s ex-fiancee edited out by Matthew Paul Turner]

      If this is your final decision, you will also need to know this
      will not be our final communication as this is not an instance where you
      can walk away from the mess you have helped create and leave many
      issues unaddressed.

      Please let me know if this is in fact your final decision as we will need to know how to best remain in follow up communication.”

      4. I’m with you.  And yes, we don’t know enough about their agreements…. But, to share Andrew’s sins with 5,000+ people is hardly what Jesus would have been getting at (as you acknowledge).  Had this been done in the small group setting, with the intention of the sort of exclusion that leads to wooing back into the path of Jesus, that would have been a bit different.

      We do need fresh voices to think about church discipline!  I am glad that MH has a process for this, I just strongly feel it is the wrong process… one that leads to unhealed shame (driven by control and manipulation)… the very thing that Jesus died to free people from.

      • Scot McKnight

        Well, about publicity … how public is Paul’s rebuke of Peter? It’s now in the NT. There’s lots of rhetorical publicity in the Bible and I read such publicities as a form of call to repentance and warning of what happens. But gossipy, indiscreet, etc, that’s a huge no-go for Christians.

        #2 above: the language of treating as a tax collector is a trope. I don’t think it refers us to how Jesus dined with the sinners at all; instead, it is a trope of the outsider, just as pigs and dogs is in Matt 7:6. It’s harsh language after all, for a harsh judgment. Where the problem arises is when it is retributive only and not at all restorative. My perception of Matt 18 is that it is restorative in intent. If MHCC is not restorative in intent, then shame. If it is, and communicated poorly, then they need to do better and say that aloud. Remember “treat as” puts this in contingency and not into ontology: it is not said that they “are” tax collectors but treated that way in a contingency — limited time for a designated purpose (restoration).

        • @1f0cb0f88d1f99f6e05597a2de7f1949:disqus …  That is a fair comment about Paul and Peter, something worth pondering. But I think your qualifier is what concerns me… Gossip. 

          2. You make a good point.  I certainly want to ponder this more.  I may even talk to the source… Tim Geddert 🙂

          • @kurtwillems:disqus , this is why I took a different angle. When Scot says ” The biggest issue I see running through the comment thread is repulsiveness toward church discipline,” not just here (and I know that you don’t reject church discipline!) but another blog that also addressed this subject which was circulating on Facebook where the author eschews any guidelines for “putting someone out”, appealing to AA meetings rather than scripture for this way of doing church.

            My suggestion is quite the opposite. There does come a time for Matthew 18 (and 1 Corinthians 5) for church discipline in that way. BUT (and here’s where I take the discussion in a different direction) do those passages apply to Andrew’s situation? There is a HUGE difference that most of the discussion is overlooking (I think). In the case of Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 the church member in sin is ostensibly unrepentant. Andrew on the other hand has shown months of repentance, he was the one to confess his sin in the first place and he has been cooperative all along. So when the church pulled out the “disciplinary contract” and then the public announcement of his “sins”, they crossed the line into, I think, authoritative spiritual abuse (@1f0cb0f88d1f99f6e05597a2de7f1949:disqus , not even the situation with Paul and Peter applies here since we have here a case of someone trying to correct his wrong, not someone who doesn’t know or is refusing to accept his err).

          • Exactly, Derek!  What get’s lost in some of this is that Andrew was seeking help and was in the process of repentance when this went down.

          • one point you make that is exceptionally good is when you bring up the question: how should we treat tax collectors and sinners? However we treat the unsaved is how we should treat the person in Matthew 18. This is not a refusal to develop friendships, hang out and so on. Even IF Matthew 18 applied to MH & Andrew’s situation, the letter in part 2 instructing the church members on how to act towards him is unbiblical and dangerously cultish. 

          • @2cf139d20ad5cd15252a779c6dd0b1cd:disqus … that is the WHOLE point of this post.  That is the punchline.  I never say I am against church discipline… I’m for it… it just needs to be framed the right way.  Like you say… “not a refusal to hang out and so on.”  That is exactly my conviction.  Here’s an important quote from the post above that emphasizes church discipline: “God expects us to live according to our mutually discerned convictions. 
            And when someone later says:

            “Yes, I know that we agreed together, but I
            am not going to listen to the church!” then the church, filled with
            sorrow, says: “Then you are for us as a Gentile and a tax collector – We
            love you… but we recognize that you are opting out of this discerning
            fellowship.  You are not acting like an insider to be reconciled, but
            like an outsider to be drawn back”

            This is discipline. You are not one of us… And we are making that clear…. but, now we will love you like a tax collector… hoping you will be drawn back into the covenant community and the “agreed together” terms of the church.  Otherwise, the witness of the church… filled with “leaven” will be compromised.

          • Oh I know. As I said, “I know you don’t reject church discipline”. In essence, all I’m saying is ‘Amen to your punchline”. 🙂

          • Scot McKnight

            I don’t to which comment this is directed, but on the “publicity” point I’m not claiming Peter/Paul has anything to do with discipline but with publicity … pointing to the faults of others was often not done in a vacuum for the earliest Christians. So, all I want to say is that something going public wasn’t an issue for them.

        • Anonymous

          Paul rebuked Peter “publicly” because Peter was leading the church astray “publicly”. (I put that in quotes since, of course, Paul likely did not write with the understanding that his rebuke would be in Scripture.) The question of the forum for discipline rests largely on the forum in which the sin occurred. That is, at least, my reading/understanding.

          That is a sidenote, though; I find the rest of your comment dead-on.

        • But Peter was a huge, influential leader in the church who was oublicly distancing himself from outsiders to fit in with his community. Not some kid/member who came to the church leaders with a confession.

        • Two thoughts…first of all, the exclusion from fellowship you’re describing, even if hyperbole, doesn’t have any N.T. analog to forbidding remaining membership to even have contact with the excluded person.  It’s one thing to exclude someone from leadership, and from those elements of fellowship that are the intimacy of the Body…it’s another thing entirely to cut off all communication.

          Second, isn’t the N.T. model one that would involve the whole body, not just the autocracy of the leadership?  I’m troubled by the unilateral imposition of discipline by the power bloc on the “sheep” as much as I am by anything else.

      • BobFreeman

        Frankly, I find the actions of Mars Hill to be counter-productive and in bad taste. There isn’t a one among us who wouldn’t feel the same way  if God produced a letter about our sins and then posted it for 50, 100 or 1,000 others to read? Wouldn’t each of us consider the same action that Andrew took, choosing to leave the church, wounded by the publicity of his sins? Even worse, what if Andrew left the church wounded by the experience and vowing to disengage himself from the church universal?

    • Paul

      Scott: “I can’t condone what MHCC did; I don’t know enough about their rules and regulations and covenant agreements, but if they do specify this sort of action then anyone “in” knows this is a possibility.”

      That sounds like a judge in the courtroom telling a disfigured woman victim who was beaten and maimed by her husband, “Well, you married him!”

      Way to go.

      Mars Hill’s/Mark Driscoll’s treatment of Andrew (and others) is damaging and abusive. And, your halfway excusing it is one reason why that leadership continues to get away with it. Where is the Christian leader who will call Mark Driscoll out? Shame.

  • Shaking head sadly…

  • It’s a tricky issue: Matthew 18 is often viewed as the new law on discipline and dealing with each other – however, at what point did Jesus ever try to establish a set of criteria/legal behaviors rather than the adaptive challenge of “Love your neighbors.”
    The context of Matthew 18 is of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one that is lost, too often we leave the one thinking it is for the good of the 99, but what example does that leave for the 99, if one is expendable? Right before this, Jesus says it would be better to be thrown into the sea, than to lead one astray (maybe allow one to go astray) and if our hand or eye causes us to sin, throw it away… The implication in my own struggle as shepherd of a church is that as hard and as difficult as it may be, we have to deal with sin and sinner with patience WITHIN the context of the church –

  • Never noticed this before, but (with the exception of Judas), all of the other disciples are identified in relation to their tribe or close family in Matthew’s account. Almost like, “Look, this was my relationship to my people…”

  • Mike Ward

    MH has “responded”

    I put that in quotes because it is basically a we-are-not-going-to-respond-response.

  • Ts

    One of the best articles about the goings-on at Mars Hill over the years, by a former member who apparently was able to observe things from almost the very beginning:

  • ActualFacts

    I go to Mars Hill and I know Andrew (although not well).  I’m not sure how I feel about the whole issue, but there is a lot of misinformation being spread here.  First of all, this infamous letter (which I don’t like) was not sent to the whole congregation as everyone seems to be implying, it was sent to a select group of people that interacted with him on a regular basis.  I never saw a letter.  Second, it’s very likely that there is a lot more to this story than Andrew is letting on.  He hasn’t exactly established his credibility in lying about a sexual relationship for a long period of time with his friends, and it’s not typical of Mars Hill to be so draconian with that sort of offence.  It’s likely there is much more to the story than just a sexual relationship with a girlfriend and a lapse in judgement when he cheated.

  • Wow! I’m blown away that Mars Hill would do that.  Truly a sad situation. I would have to agree that Jesus’ approach to Matthew was/is the idea of that passage.  Thanks Kurt.

  • 1)  We have only heard Andrew’s side of the situation.  It is quite common when people are in the wrong in a situation and angry they look for sympathetic ears to give them a voice.  Often these sympathetic ears are not familiar with the other parties involved so naturally have a tendency to side with the person that is sharing with them.  People, even if they do not intend to, always share stories and events in a light that makes them look good and that they are clearly the injured party.  This is often given a feeling of “truthfullnes” by admitting to “some” of the issues.  It is a way of saying, “look, clearly I made a mistake, but can you BELIEVE how they reacted?!?!”  Based on what they shared with someone that person is left saying, “wow, based on what you told me that IS crazy/unfair/wrong”

    2)  My church went through something very similar in the past 2 years.  Some people were in blatant sin and refused to accept responsibility for the situation or admit to their wrong doing, even AFTER it was proven through many witnesses.  Now we didn’t have a contract, nor did we make a congregational announcement about the situation.  They left the church and we thought that it would be the end of it.  These individuals continued to be in fellowship with our church members, and unknown to us, they continued to speak poorly about our church leadership and shared “some” of the situation, but never to the complete level of what was really going on with them or our reaction.  Six months later we had a large contingent of people leave our church.  When approached to what was going on, it all had to do with how they perceived we treated their friends.  When we said please come talk to us about this, you have a wildly incomplete picture of what is going on, they refused.  They had made up their minds based on what the malcontented former members had said.

    3)  With both of those points in mind.  Looking back on how we were damaged greatly by the fact that continued fellowship with those malcontents actually causes me to a degree wish we had been more proactive in protecting our people from.  We do not know the fullness of the situation concerning Andrew, and it is wrong for anyone to automatically assume the worst of any church or church leaders.  

  • Scot McKnight

    One more comment, Kurt. I just read Driscoll’s new post on Mars Hill’s position on church discipline, and it seems to me that what happened with Andrew (the publicity thing still concerns me) follows pretty much right down the line of what the church teaches and therefore something to which Andrew agreed in becoming a member. So, whether a person agrees or not, what does matter here is that the church seems to have done this within the lines of integrity they have drawn for themselves, and they make it very clear that their intent is reconciliation and not retribution. Anyway, that post is worth reading in this context.

    • Mike Ward

      I’m not sure that their behavior is consistant with their stated doctrine. It is mostly consistant, but if I’d read it all before this happened, I would not have anticiapted some of the things MH did. But this isn’t even relavent.

      A church cannot make a bad thing good by stating the bad thing in advance in their by-laws.

      As for Andrew’s submitting to the rules in advanced.

      1) Peope often do not understand what they are signing up for even if it is spelled out somewhere on a piece of paper. People make the decision to join a church on more subjective criteria. They don’t pour over the paperwork. If the people are treating them well, they assume that they will always be treated with kindness even if there is a disclaimed somewhere that says *we reserve the right to treat you like crap.

      2) People should be allowed to change their minds when they realize they’ve made a mistake. Someone who thinks a church’s policy makes sense may understand the flaws that they overlooked originally once they are on the receiving end.

      • ellie_1

        good info.

    • I’m sorry, Scot, but I also read 
      Mars Hill’s position on church discipline ( , and I think you are mistaken. Mars Hill lists 18 specific reasons for church discipline, including living in sin without repentance, blaspheming, promoting false doctrine, being divisive, etc. etc. Only a single one of these reasons has relevance to Andrew’s case: “When a Christian has repeatedly rejected counsel by a church elder.” In the very beginning, Andrew recognized his error, was contrite, confessed, and repented.  Thus, the only apparent reason for Andrew’s discipline was his questioning of specific elders’ decisions that Andrew felt would damage him spiritually and personally. In this case, Mars Hill is clearly hypocritical: “reconciliation” for Mars Hill evidently means no more than Andrew knuckling under to whatever instructions he is given by a pastor or elder. Since when did following Jesus boil down to following orders?

      • Scot McKnight

        Andrew, you may be right. This is what I see in Kurt’s quotation above:

        “Andrew was confronted in his sin, called to repent and as an act of repentance, submit to his church leaders.  At this point in time, Andrew has, in general, admitted to sexual sin and deceit.  However, he is refusing to take the steps necessary to demonstrate genuine godly sorrow and repentance.  His is also  refusing to own full responsibility for his sin and the ensuing repercussions….”

        Church discipline is not a mutual agreement but a leadership decision; they have concluded he has not fully repented, or owned up to his sins, and failed to live within the conditions of their perception of what he needs to do. He then walked from their leadership — those are factors they consider significant for their decisions.

        I’m not defending them; I’m saying that what they did appears to me to be within their rules.

        By the way, you wrote a good book.

        • Scot, I think you are correct in saying that what MH did appears to be within their own rules. The essence of the criticism is that MH rules and practice are abusive, authoritarian, and unChristian. BTW, I should acknowledge that I have a profound personal interest in this discussion. Andrew is my nephew and my namesake, and I am very sad about what MH pastors and elders have done to him.

        • Paul

          “I’m not defending them; I’m saying that what they did appears to me to be within their rules.”

    • @1f0cb0f88d1f99f6e05597a2de7f1949:disqus … on this point of Mars Hills position, I might add that my reaction has very little to do with their policy.  It has everything to do with their choice to post this letter to a site that the whole congregation has access to.  He should have been able to leave and that should have been it. 

  • Scot McKnight

    Not sure why I’m writing about this at this late hour, but I want to comment briefly on the “tax collector” expression from Matthew 18:15ff. Here’s the text:

    15 “If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

    What I see is graduation in exposure and authority (private-individual, private-2/3 others, public-church). This would require, logically, a similar descending graduation in disciplinary measure, and that is how it is read: attempted reconciliation, but rebuffed; 2-3 attempted reconciliation, but rebuffed yet more; so even more graduation, rebuffed, and then final judgment. 

    The view that treating as a tax collector means welcome, invite to the table, have fellowship, in my estimation, makes no sense logically. Why wait until then to show that kind of compassion? Wouldn’t that be the assumption from the beginning that is then withdrawn because a person refuses to repent and refuses, in essence, to be part of the family by telling the truth and living with integrity before God?

    Other NT texts support the notion of dis-fellowship here. I submit, then, that the best reading and the one that makes most sense of the logic, and also that fits with other texts in the NT like this, support an act of discipline known as dis-fellowship (for the sake of restoration, of course).

    Off to bed folks.

    • ellie_1

      good points.

    • @1f0cb0f88d1f99f6e05597a2de7f1949:disqus … I think I mostly agree.  I’m going to think about this a bit more this week.  You might have “half way” convinced me.  I think that it *might* be possible to bring your point and mine into harmony… but before supposing this to be, I want to reflect some.  Thanks for this conversation!

  • Anonymous

    The Mars Hill thing is vague, but sounds off track in some ways.

    The bible is just short of being a tabloid tell-all, but were the things recorded for our learning? Their all dead now so I doubt they care at this point. 

    For those of us with children, we understand the vast difference between discipline and wrath. When I have to discipline, I am in grief.

    God disciplines much better than I do: correct motive, degree, extent. I guess when He expresses wrath, He hurts too. He’s just uber pissed at the same time.

    I don’t know how He deals with it all. If anyone has ever felt as though someone dropped their heart in a blender and hit Frappe’, it’s gotta be Him. He cares enough about those in serious spiritual danger to at least make an attempt to save their souls over the comfort of their flesh which apparently they’ve given over for ungodly use. That is for Him alone to judge.

    Will God ever create some new thing where sin is okay with Him? Not gonna happen.

    We have the info we need. We just gotta hold out for that mustard seed to finish doin’ it’s thing. Is a conception readily seen by all? Is knowing the same thing as seeing? Is seeing the same thing as experiencing?  Does it take time to know the birthed child? Is His journey an unexpected, painful, and delayed (to many) one? Is the time now for the telling of Him and for the telling of the coming fullness of His reign and glory when the whole earth will know and see and experience all that He is meant to be?

    His expectations are extremely realistic. We screw up. If one asks for forgiveness 70×70 times what shall we do?  We get on with the potluck. That’s what we do. how good and how pleasant it is for family to dwell together in unity.
    It is by our love for one another that the world discovers who we are and will want to be a part of it. We’ve got some work to do. No need to dwell on the pain and grief of God’s sometimes unpleasant tasks. I’m hoping for a good outcome to the Mars Hill thing eventually.

  • Justin Wolfe

    It seems to me that you are trying way to hard here to find a more satisfactory (to your view) explanation of Mat 18.   The phrase about the Gentiles and tax collectors would have clearly communicated a connotation of distance and yes, even shunning to the readers.  Such convoluted interpretation should put up a red flag for your readers.

    The completely overdone and excessively stiff application  by MH should not be a basis for further misinterpretation. 

  • Jennifer A. Nolan

    Wow! Mars Hill sure is legalistic! I hope the elders of the church take the time to read and think about Jesus’ anathemas against religious legalism – it’s just not forgiving enough to be partof the Way.

  • Kelvin

    What a great, godly, and biblical understanding of what Jesus was saying in Matthew 18. Thank you for writing this. Once again, God’s always displaying grace and chasing after us to woo us with His love. His design is that we woo others with His love too, not shun them.

  • Bill Davis

    This is certainly a difficult issue. What I find interesting here is how so many of us are discussing this (publicly, I might add) without even going through the first step the Lord laid out, which would be to confront the Mars Hills elders privately, if we are aware of some sin or fault on their part.

    More than that, somehow, although we are scattered all over the blogosphere, by reading this blog post we all know the MH leaders’ motives, the genuineness of Andrew’s repentance, and precisely what the elders meant by his alleged refusal to show signs of true repentance, etc.

    I caution us not to speak without knowledge, just because this hot topic stirred up a lot of emotions. Proverbs 18:17 warns us to hear both sides before making a judgement. How many of us have really even here ONE side here? We have read a blog and a portions of a letter. That is not enough to make a call either way.

  • Bill Davis

    This is certainly a difficult issue. What I find interesting here is how so many of us are discussing this (publicly, I might add) without even going through the first step the Lord laid out, which would be to confront the Mars Hills elders privately, if we are aware of some sin or fault on their part.

    More than that, somehow, although we are scattered all over the blogosphere, by reading this blog post we all know the MH leaders’ motives, the genuineness of Andrew’s repentance, and precisely what the elders meant by his alleged refusal to show signs of true repentance, etc.

    I caution us not to speak without knowledge, just because this hot topic stirred up a lot of emotions. Proverbs 18:17 warns us to hear both sides before making a judgement. How many of us have really even here ONE side here? We have read a blog and a portions of a letter. That is not enough to make a call either way.

    • Mike Ward

      Did you send a email to Kurt discussing his post privately or does this rule only apply to everyone else and not to yourself?

  • ELB

    2 Thessalonians 3:6
    In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and
    sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and
    does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 2 Thessalonians 3:14
    Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this
    letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.

  • Ron

    Derek, I can’t tell you how discouraging it was for me to read this post. Our church is currently involved in a similar situation. Do you know Andrew? Do you know the elders of Mars Hill? How do you think you are somehow adding “holiness” to the situation?

    As we have been dealing with an unrepentant member, we’ve found a separate issue at hand. There are a few who know about the situation who have been urging our elders to kick the person out of church. Our elders have been very wise, not acting hastily with the situation. But guess what, we finally ended up sending him an “official” letter after a LOT… I mean A LOT of discussions with him! I still think those few people had the wrong attitude and had no right to decide what was best (since they had no relationship with the unrepentant person). But, our elders didn’t act on what other people wanted, they acted on God’s Word.

    Stop ASSUMING Mars Hill has taken the wrong approach just because you caught a small glimpse of their church discipline process.

    By the way, if you notice, Paul mentions in letters to OTHER churches to be careful with certain people. That kinda takes it beyond just a few people. Read the Bible as a whole and stop using verses to state your opinions. Scripture is a double-edged sword. Use it more carefully.

  • Ron

    I’m sorry.. I guess the article was written by a guy named Kurt… not Derek..