Under Authority

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Last week there were two big news stories in the evangelical world that caught my eye. At first these two stories seem to be totally unrelated, but there actually is a significant connection between them. The first is that William Paul Young (author of The Shack) is writing a new book that seeks to correct the neo-colonial views of the church by presenting the story of creation through the eyes of Eve. And the second is the Acts 29 church planting network has removed its co-founder Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from its membership.

William Young

Young is writing a new book that retells the Genesis story from Eve’s perspective. He is determined to show that any kind of hierarchy is part of our fallen nature. In the interview he says that “Every hierarchical relationship is a control issue or based in some kind of fear.” He calls complementarianism “neo-colonialism” and asks, “If men are so much more messed up than women, why are they in charge?” The book, which is still in the early stages, sounds like a theological trainwreck, which would nicely fit alongside his previous works. In The Shack, Young put forward faulty and unbiblical views of the Trinity, God’s revelation, and salvation. This extremely brief theological review is all leading me to my main point:

William Paul Young has written off the church.

He has rejected the local church and says it “doesn’t work” for those who are hurting. He’s part of a trend of rejecting the church while trying to maintain some kind of Christianity. This isn’t unique. Rob Bell did the same thing. So, why is it that those who teach such bad doctrine, end up rejecting the local church altogether? Might these things be related?

Mark Driscoll

This brings us to Mark Driscoll, co-founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and the Acts 29 Network. I first heard of Driscoll in 2006 when it was announced he was speaking at the Desiring God National Conference which I was planning to attend. The conference was on postmodernism and had a crazy lineup, including Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, David Wells, Driscoll and of course John Piper. This was Driscoll’s big introduction to the bigger reformed world. Shortly after came a book deal with Crossway, he became a council member with the Gospel Coalition, the rapid growth the Mars Hill, the Resurgence and Acts 29. Here was an incredibly gifted communicator and thinker who was doing a revolutionary work in a largely unreached context. While always a little rough around the edges and seemingly attracted to the controversial, Driscoll was reaching hundreds and thousands of people through his preaching and introducing them to reformed theology.

Over the years, Driscoll has taken a lot of criticism, some of it unfair, but much of it well deserved. While an excellent communicator, he often can be brash, crude and prideful. Time has softened him though, and there is a significant difference in tone in recent years as he has mellowed out some. More recently he has been embroiled in conflict over power struggles at Mars Hill, accusations of plagiarism, and paying to get his book Real Marriage onto the NYT Bestseller list. There is also an ongoing conflict with a large group of former Mars Hill pastors.

All this leads to last week’s announcement from the board of Acts 29 (a network of some 500 churches), that they have removed Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill from membership in the network. They also urged him to step down from ministry for a time to seek help.

Under Authority

I find both of these stories tragic. And in both cases, I am reminded of how crucial it is for all of us, including leaders, to be under authority. William Paul Young needs to be under God-establish authority so that his local church elders can sit him down and have a gracious and frank talk about theology. By removing himself from under any authority, who is there to speak with authority into his life? What God-designed accountability is there for him?

Driscoll has had a long history of power conflicts. He’s man who has used authority, but has he ever really been under authority? In 2012, The Gospel Coalition leaders D.A. Carson and Tim Keller confronted Driscoll and James MacDonald over their association with T.D. Jakes, who is a Oneness Pentecostal and prosperity gospel teacher. Driscoll and MacDonald held the event anyway and then resigned from the TGC council. Acts 29, the network he founded, has removed his membership and has lovingly called for him to seek help and healing. They love Mark and they are willing to make a tough decision for his good. This is a picture of what godly authority needs to do. Hopefully, by God’s grace, the loving discipline of Acts 29 will be used by God in a process of healing for Driscoll and Mars Hill.

I have hope for Mark Driscoll. Certainly more than I have for William Young. As long as we are under godly authority, there is great hope for growth and change. Godly authority is God’s gift to us for our sanctification.

Power can be abused, to be sure. But that does not mean that all authority is to be despised. God has designed the local church to be led by a team of elders, given authority by God and under God. This is God’s design and plan for the good of the church. When anyone removes themselves out from under the authority of others, it ends badly. We see this in superstar authors who “outgrow” and give up on the local church. We see this in superstar pastors who consolidate power and won’t submit to others. We see this in ordinary Christians who refuse to be a member of a local church and instead bounce around based on the latest fads.

God places every one of us under authority for our good. Our submission to those in authority over us is one of the ways that we demonstrate our submission to God himself, who put those authorities over us. As the writer of Hebrews states it, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13.17).

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This article was originally published at Grounded in the Gospel.

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