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Mark Driscoll’s ‘Mars Hill Church’ Threatening Legal Action Against Other Churches of the Same Name?

Every now and then I read something and have an ‘are you kidding me?!?!’ moment. This morning was one of those times.

Most of you have heard of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mars Hill Church Seattle has been one of the fastest growing churches in the United States consistently for a few years now. Their growth has mainly been driven by the preaching, teaching, and organizational gifts of the charismatic pastor Mark Driscoll.

Mark is a very polarizing figure. I happen to like him, though I admit he does or says things that often make me slap my forehead. Additionally, since I’m neither Reformed nor Calvinistic and believe the proper response in giving one’s life to Christ is believer’s baptism, it is likely he would question whether I’m his brother in Christ or not.

Anyway, today I heard news that Mars Hill Seattle is allegedly threatening legal action against another church of the same name in Sacramento.

Here’s an excerpt from the blog post announcing this:

I don’t know how many churches in America are called Mars Hill. I do know three of them; I have been assured there are many more. As far as I know, most of these churches have no connection with each other. Some of them belong to denominations, and some do not. The only ones who seem to be organically connected are those which have been “daughtered” off one of the other churches. But this short article is about the three Mars Hill churches I do know about.

The first of these to be started was Mars Hill Seattle, pastored by Mark Driscoll. He founded the church in 1996 and to this day it is one of the fastest growing churches in America and certainly one of the largest in Seattle. I am not exaggerating when I observe that Pastor Mark Driscoll has become one of the most controversial pastors in America. He regularly makes statements concerning the books, sermons and beliefs of other Christians. Many people consider his views on family, family life and procreation to be ultraconservative.

The second Mars Hill was founded in 1999 in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan by Rob Bell. Pastor Rob Bell is known for his books and videos and is perhaps just as controversial as Mark Driscoll, though often for much different reasons. His latest book, “Love Wins” presents a much different view on hell than most other Evangelicals. I do not know if Driscoll and Bell know each other personally (I suspect they do), but I doubt there is much appreciation of one man for the other. Let’s agree to say they do not line up with each other doctrinally.

The third Mars Hill I know seems caught in the middle. It is pastored in Sacramento, California by a friend of mine, Scott Hagan. Scott planted another church years ago in the Sacramento area, then moved to pastor a mega-church in Michigan and is now back leading at Mars Hill in Sactown. I have Pastor Scott’s permission to share what I am going to write next. Several weeks ago, Scott and his Sacramento congregation received a “Cease and Desist” order which came from the Seattle Mars Hill Church.  They were told that the Seattle Mars Hill had copyrighted the name “Mars Hill” and they demanded that the California Mars Hill churches stop using the name and any logos with similar lettering.

I was flabbergasted. First, I could not believe that a church would try and copyright the name of their church. I suppose if you wanted to make some money on the side, you could lease the name out to others. (My friend Ken thought it would be smart to copyright the name “First Baptist” and stick franchise stickers on the name and concept…I applaud his entrepreneurial spirit). But to outright disallow others from using a name that is found in the Bible because you want a monicker and label that only recognizes YOU seems the very epitome of pride and arrogance.

Second, that a church would take legal action to require other churches to comply violates both the letter and the spirit of the Word of God. The Bible is explicit when we are told not to take other believers to court when the issues regard spiritual matters. The naming of a church is certainly a spiritual matter and it is hard to see how someone could theologically skirt around this.

Readers might be interested to know that Mark has preached on 1 Corinthians 6. Assuming the blog post cited above is true, and after reading the transcript of Mark’s sermon, I wonder if 1) he knew letter was being sent out, and 2) if he was aware of it, did he forget what he’d learned previously in teaching 1 Corinthians 6?

Literally thousands of churches in the United States alone have ‘Mars Hill’ in the name. Just do a search on Google – Mars Hill Church, Mars Hill Presbyterian, Mars Hill Baptist, Mars Hill Church of Christ, Mars Hill Pentecostal, etc., etc. – the list goes on and on.

To the folks allegedly pushing this from Mars Hill Seattle: other churches sharing the name ‘Mars Hill’ is neither a sin nor a crime. What biblical right do you have to threaten legal action or even request arbitration between yourselves and other churches unaffiliated with you for sharing it? It’s a name found in the New Testament for goodness sakes.

How does this action serve the gospel? How does this action reflect on Jesus and the church?

It is a cultural norm for businesses and corporations to copyright names and sue others who violate those copyrights, but come on – this is the church.

I know Mars Hill Seattle is a huge operation. If this letter was really sent, I’m going to assume it was blunder made by someone who didn’t know any better who acted outside of the authority of the church leadership. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

But if my assumption is wrong and this was a move endorsed by the church leadership, you ought to be ashamed and need cease this behavior.

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Good Resource: Mark Driscoll’s booklet on the Old Testament

I sped through On the Old Testament (A Book You’ll Actually Read) by Mark Driscoll this past week, and read the whole thing (slowly) within a couple of hours.

Here are a couple of excerpts from my notes:

What is the central message of the Old Testament?

  • Opening line introduces the hero, God.  Throughout the pages of the Old Testament God is revealed. In the closing line of the New Testament Scriptures we’re reminded that God who is the hero of the whole story is embodied in Jesus. Thus, Jesus Christ is the true hero of the entire Bible.
  • Jesus Himself taught us that the Old Testament was primarily about Him (John 5:37-39).
  • Following His resurrection, Jesus opened the OT to teach others about Himself (Luke 24:27, 44-45).
  • Jesus’ own words about Himself as the central message of the OT are pointedly clear (Matthew 5:17-18).
  • Jesus was completely aware He was fulfilling the promises of the OT.
    1. Luke 4:20-21
    2. Taught about His death from Isaiah 53:12 in Luke 22:37
    3. Betrayal by Judas was predicted – Matthew 26:56
  • Simply put, when the OT is correctly interpreted you will find it’s about Jesus as God, our Savior, the object of our faith, forgiver of our sins, and giver of eternal life. To correctly interpret the OT you will need to connect its verses, concepts, and events to Jesus.

The Old Testament Foreshadows the Coming of Jesus

  • Representative figures, institutions, or events that foreshadow Jesus. Examples include:
    1. Adam who foreshadows Jesus as the second Adam
    2. The priesthood which prefigures Jesus as our High Priest
    3. David and other kings who prefigure Jesus as the King of kings.
    4. Moses and prophets who prefigure Jesus as our ultimate Prophet
    5. animal sacrifices which prefigure Jesus as the sinless lamb of God slain for our sins
    6. The temple which prefigures God’s presence dwelling among us in Jesus
    7. Shepherds who care for their sheep which remind us we are as foolish and vulnerable as sheep, but Jesus is our Shepherd who cares for us and keeps constant watch over us
    8. Judges who foreshadow Jesus as the final judge of all people
  • We also see people in the OT who perform various kinds of service analogous to the service that Jesus performs perfectly.
    1. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus is the Last Adam who passed His test in the garden and in doing so imputed righteousness to us to overcome sin imputed to us through the first Adam.
    2. Jesus is the true and better Abel who, although he was innocent, was slain and whose blood cries out for our acquittal.
    3. When Abraham left his father and home, he was doing the same thing Jesus would do when He left heaven.
    4. When Isaac carried his own wood and laid down his life to be sacrificed at the hand of his father Abraham, he was showing us what Jesus would later do.
    5. Jesus is the greater Jacob, who wrestled with God in Gethsemane and, though wounded and limping, walked away from his grave blessed.
    6. Jesus is the greater Joseph who serves at the right hand of God the King, extends forgiveness and provision to those of us who have betrayed Him, and uses His power to save us in loving reconciliation.
    7. Jesus is greater than Moses in that He stands as a mediator between God and us, bringing us the New Covenant.
    8. Like Job, innocent Jesus suffered and was tormented by the Devil so that God might be glorified, while his dumb friends were no help or encouragement.
    9. Jesus is a King greater than David, who has slain our giants of Satan, sin, and death, although in the eyes of the world he was certain to face a crushing defeat at their hands.
    10. Jesus is greater than Jonah in that he spent three days in the grave and not just a fish to save a multitude even greater than Nineveh.

That’s just a sample – there’s a lot more good stuff in this book.

Driscoll nails the reason behind the existence of the Old Testament: it’s all about Jesus! That’s a conclusion I drew for myself a long time ago.

There are four books in the ‘A Book You’ll Actually Read’ series. One on God, one on Church Leadership, one on The New Testament, and one on The Old Testament.

I own them all and have found all to be helpful – especially the on on The Old Tesament.

Direct, to the point, and you can read the whole thing in one sitting.

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