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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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