Persecuting truth-seekers…Persecuting Jesus. (The conversion of Saul in Acts 9)

ConversionStPaul

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest…” (Acts 9:1)

Saul was on a mission. He passionately believed in church as he knew it: a highly organized system, very biblically based, with a strong focus on the future coming of a messiah. You could say that Saul’s church pointed to the messiah.

But when Jesus showed up on the scene, he shook that highly organized system to its core. He said things that were earth-shattering. He challenged the church leaders about almost everything. He repeatedly told them that they had things all wrong. They had added tradition upon tradition, law upon law, program upon program – completely losing sight of what God had actually said. And on top of that, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah.

The church pointed to the messiah, but when the Messiah came and dwelt among them, they didn’t recognize him. In fact, they despised him. Saw him as an enemy. A terrible threat.

The church leaders hated how right Jesus was all the time. Over and over they were left speechless and fuming, unable to respond to the charges he brought against them without losing face in front of the crowds. And they were quickly losing credibility. They grew more and more angry with Jesus, to the point of plotting to kill him. And they succeeded.

But Jesus had followers. The truth that he had shared grew and spread, and more and more people came to see that he was the Messiah that the prophets had foretold long ago. He was the one Israel was waiting for. More and more of the flock began to hear the voice of the true shepherd. And now they were living different lives. No longer were they bringing sacrifices to the priests. No longer were they coming to the synagogue to hear the Rabbis preach. They were teaching that Jesus fulfilled the law, and that the Temple would end up being destroyed. And they were holding their own meetings! And they called one another “brother” and “sister” – no one was called Rabbi or Teacher, not even the leaders. It was radical!

It was trouble!

The church leaders – the wolves – were of course nervous and angry. They thought killing Jesus would solve everything. But now the problem was growing and multiplying. So they tried to kill the apostles, but they somehow always managed to slip out of their grip. Finally they killed Stephen, a disciple of Jesus.

After they killed Stephen, the wolves started persecuting all the believers. The people scattered. They ran for their lives. But the persecution was only fuel for the fire, because the scattered ones took the truth wherever they went. They spread the word. They talked. Maybe they wrote. And more and more people came to faith in Jesus. More and more people walked away from life – and church – as they knew it. They too started doing things differently.

The threat to the church was growing.

Saul oversaw the stoning of Stephen. It was part of his mission. Threats to the church must be eliminated. And eliminating threats was Saul’s forte. He was bloodthirsty. And here he is breathing out murderous threats against those troublemaking followers of Jesus.

And he went to the high priest. The high priest was a man who was supposed to be deeply trustworthy. He was to handle the most sacred of tasks: seeking forgiveness for all of Israel’s sins, keeping peace between God and Israel. And it is this man that Saul seeks out. With murder in his heart and on his lips he seeks an alliance with the very man who is supposed to cleanse Israel of all sin.

“..and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:2)

Murderous Saul asks the high priest of Israel to give him written permission to round up the followers of Jesus. The high priest, after all, pointed the way to God. He had to eliminate these people who were rocking the boat, who were spreading this heresy that Jesus himself was the Way. How can a person be the way to God? No! The way to God was through systems, structure, law, rituals, programs. Not a person.

Besides, the high priest knew that the messiah was supposed to be a glorious king. Not this humble carpenter with calloused hands and a face that didn’t stand out in a crowd. No, the Son of Man would sparkle. He’d be a rock star. He’d be rich and powerful. He’d have big money and great power at his disposal, and he’d use his might to fix all of Israel’s problems. He’d rally the troops, declare a holy war, and he’d win. He’d make Israel mighty and powerful!

The real messiah wouldn’t live such a humble life as Jesus lived, and then die young. This the high priest knew for sure. This Jesus guy was a fraud. A false prophet. And his followers were continuing to spread his false teachings. They had to be stopped. Israel had to be protected from going off track. The flock had to be protected from going astray following this dead guy who clearly was not the messiah.

And these followers of Jesus who claimed that he had risen from the dead – that everything he had said was true – they were pure trouble. They had to be eliminated.  Wiped out. The high priest was sure of it.

“As he [Saul] neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'” (Acts 9:3-4)

Saul believed he was fighting for God. He thought he was persecuting those who were trying to lead the church astray. He thought God would be pleased with him. He thought he was on mission. So imagine his surprise when the voice from heaven says, “Why do you persecute me?”

When you attack truth-tellers and truth-seekers, you attack the one who said, “The truth shall set you free.”

When you shun people for asking reasonable questions about things that the Body of Christ has a right to know, you are shunning Jesus.

When you fire someone for proposing that the church is heading in an unbiblical direction, you are firing Jesus.

When you threaten to destroy someone just because he pleads with church leaders to treat one another with impartiality and fairness, you threaten to destroy Jesus.

And Jesus takes it very personally.

The church is the bride of Christ. All of us who follow him are his bride. We are one Body. And we are one with him. And when any of us is treated unjustly, Jesus responds like a protective husband. It doesn’t matter who is doing the attacking – it can be the high priest of Israel himself!

So here Jesus confronts Saul on the road to Damascus. And Saul is confused about whose voice is coming out of the cloud. He thought he was fighting for God, killing off threats to the church, but this voice from the cloud sounded an awful lot like what you would expect God to sound like.

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.

“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'” (Acts 9:5-6)

Jesus!? But…he was supposed to be dead! You mean those truth-telling troublemakers were right? What! Jesus is alive? Saul’s mind must have been racing.

He must have been shaken to the core. So much of what he thought was right and true…wasn’t.

“The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” (Acts 9:7-9)

Saul needed some time to grasp what was going on. Jesus had confronted him with the truth, and Saul was floored. Maybe his mind was racing with possible ways to deny what he had just experienced, to erase what had just happened. But the blindness! It was undeniable proof that Saul’s mission was terribly off track.

Saul was stuck. Like an animal caught in a trap, just laying there panting.

“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’

“‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.

“The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.'” (Acts 9:10-12)

Saul, like any church leader, was a man of prayer. He had likely prayed countless prayers in his lifetime. And here he is calling out to God for answers, for help. And God answered him with a vision of a certain man. A man who would help him to see clearly again. And God tells Ananias: it’s you who will open Saul’s eyes.

“‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.'” (Acts 9:13-14)

Ananias is scared. He’s heard reports about Saul’s violence and the abuse he’s put so many Christians through. And he knows that Saul is backed by the authority of the highest spiritual leaders in Israel. This is not someone that Ananias wants to encounter. And it’s certainly not someone that he wants to help.

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.'” (Acts 9:15-16)

But God assures Ananias that he has chosen Saul to preach the gospel to many people. He would be God’s tool to spread the news of Jesus – that he is the Messiah, that he died and rose from the dead, that he is Kind of kings, and he will change the world. All the broken ways of men – all the corrupted systems, the tainted priesthoods, the oppressive kingdoms – will fade away. And in its place will be the kingdom of heaven. And it’s here now! It’s in the heart of every true believer! It’s in our midst when we fellowship in spirit and in truth!

And Saul would suffer. Jesus offers forgiveness and an amazing fresh start; a truly new life. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to suffer, especially if we have sinned against God and his true followers like Saul did.

There is no cheap grace with God. You really want to repent? Great! But you still need to face the real-world fruit of your sin. And you may need to go through a great deal of suffering as you work to undo the damage you’ve done.

Saul would go on to become an incredible stone in the foundation of Christianity. He would author most of the New Testament. But despite being an amazing teacher, church planter, and a highly gifted writer, God did not give Saul a large salary, a beachfront house and a pampered life with lots of bling. No! Despite his great talent, God had in mind that Saul would suffer greatly, that he would work a blue collar job to pay his own way, and that his ministry would not last very long.

“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:17-19)

Saul’s eyes were opened. He could see again, physically. And he was forever changed. He would see for the first time spiritually. He would repent. And he would embrace God’s plan for him with his whole heart – suffering and all. And the new life he would lead, the new ministry he would devote himself to, would leave an incredible legacy for us all.

A legacy worth dying for.

Shaun Smith

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Acts 6 teaches true leadership. Leadership was chosen by the “brothers and sisters”, not from the top down.

leadership

Stephen was chosen for his leadership role by the entire church. The apostles merely blessed what the whole church decided.

It’s worth taking a closer look at the leadership style of the apostles.

 “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said…” (Acts 6:1-2a)

The apostles had a problem to solve, so they took it straight to….tada!….all the disciples. All the Christians. The whole church. And it was not a small number of people: Acts 4:4 says that there were about 5,000 believers.

 “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2a-4)

Look at that! The apostles included the women in the process just as much as the men! The apostles trusted that the body of believers had enough discernment to make decisions about church matters. Here they are being trusted to identify and choose their own leaders. The apostles trusted the whole church so much that they committed ahead of time to go with whomever the group decided: You choose the men and we’ll go with them.

 “This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:5-6)

Having heard the apostles’ proposal – not their edict – and giving it some consideration, the body of believers was pleased with the idea and decided to do what the apostles proposed. And they chose seven men. And they presented them to the apostles. The apostles didn’t choose the men and then present them to the body. How opposite to how things work in elder-dominated churches!

And the apostles kept their word and blessed the men that the body had chosen.

How different the experience of church might be if this process played out more often.

Shaun Smith

Why did the Acts 29 board fail to address Driscoll’s abuse in 2005?

man who made a monster

Members of the Act 29 board knew of Mark Driscoll’s abuse in 2005, but failed to address it. They share responsibility for the abusive environment that now exists at Mars Hill Church.

The very first Acts 29 church plant ran into some problems. The way Mark Driscoll handled these problems demonstrated his abusive ruthlessness to the men on the Acts 29 board.

In dealing with the problems, a pastor, Ron Wheeler, interacted with Mark Driscoll and experienced the abusive treatment that Driscoll has now become notorious for. Here is an excerpt from a letter Wheeler sent the Acts 29 board in 2005:

…was followed up the next day, with a phone call from Mark where he used the most obscene vulgar language that I can remember someone using with me.  The next day, he sent an email to the other elders, that I had no knowledge about until recently, that can only be defined as wildly inaccurate and slanderous.  The current leadership of The Gathering considers much of where things currently stand in leadership to be directly related to Mark’s influence and conduct in the process.

Over the past many years, I have identified and struggled with issues in Mark such as:  pride, speech (lack of self-control, sexually vulgar and slanderous, exaggeration that bordered on deception, gossip about others and confidential issues either about others to me, or about myself with others. Confidentiality issues carry legal implications for the church), and an impulsive/reactive spirit. It is because of the confidentiality and distortion of the facts, that I distrust individual communication with Mark, and need the involvement of the Board in these issues. My frustration is that I have never been silent with Mark or with anyone else about where I stand.  It is no secret to the past Acts29 leadership board that I have had frustration in many of these areas, and it ought to be noted by the existing board members that the two former board members have pulled out of leadership, one out of frustration with the conflict between Mark and David, one largely through dealing with conflict brought on by some of these same issues. This is now the second time that issues have gone on record with Mark regarding areas of character in speech and conduct.  The fact that Mark is an incredibly talented leader and speaker, cannot in any way substitute for the simple Biblical requirements of being Christ-like, much less the qualifications of being an Elder.  I can make a Biblical case from Titus regarding being overbearing, quick-tempered, self-controlled, upright, and holy, as well as 1 Timothy regarding above reproach, self-controlled, respectable, not quarrelsome, and reputation with outsiders.  [emphasis added]

When I read this letter of appeal to the Acts 29 board, I felt sick. Ron Wheeler was describing my own experience with Mark Driscoll. When Mark Driscoll called me to tell me that I was under discipline for asking the elders for a fair trial for pastors Bent Meyer and Paul Petry, I experienced the most obscene and vulgar language that I have ever endured (in asking all the elders, Driscoll accused that I was trying to divide the elders – therefore I was “a divisive man” according to him). Mark Driscoll threatened me, demeaned me, said he would destroy me and my ministry and make sure I would never minister again.

This is what Ron Wheeler was describing to the Acts 29 board in his appeal for help. This is what countless other former members and elders have experienced.

Where were Acts 29 board members Ed Stetzer, Darin Patrick, Steve Tomkins and Chan Kilgore? Why did they not take action and deal with these issues in Mark Driscoll’s character? Why did they remain silent? Did they not care for those that were being abused so clearly?

Ed Stetzer claims that he never saw the letter from Ron Wheeler. If this is the case, one might wonder if Driscoll failed to deliver it to the board. If so, it is yet another example of hiding the truth, something else that Mark Driscoll has become notorious for amidst scandals that include plagiarism in seven of his books, deceptively manipulating sales of his last book to gain a NYT bestseller spot and changing the story three times in his attempt to excuse his actions.

Perhaps further investigation is warranted. But one thing for sure, even if Driscoll hid the letter above from them, Ed Stetzer and the rest of the Acts 29 board were aware of the abusive manner and style of Mark Driscoll, yet they failed to address these issues and continued to promote his leadership for years to come.

Will they ever speak up?

Do they realize the extent to which they have helped create what we are seeing today within Mars Hill Church?

Abusive tactics forced the bylaws to be changed in 2007

 

 

Cast your vote

Recent events at Mars Hill Church show that dissent of any kind is not tolerated. Even questioning can get you removed as a member.

It therefore time for all members and ex-members to understand that the bylaws that were changed in 2007 were changed under that same threats and abusive coercion that we have all witnessed in recent days, most lately in the cases of Dalton Rohrback, Phil Poirier, and Phil Smidt, all of whom were terminated because they either questioned or could not agree with one thing or another.

The current bylaws allow for the Executive Elders to simply remove elders at will. This was not, however, the case in 2007 under the old bylaws. But the abusive tactics that we now see commonly used by Mars Hill Church executive elders used were used in 2007 to scare and coerce the men at the time to agree to change the bylaws.

How on earth could Mark Driscoll, who taught that he was one of a plurality of equal elders (and recruited elders on that basis) get the same elders to agree to give up the authority they had and give it all to the executive elders? It would seem to be an impossible task.

In order to change the bylaws, two thirds of the elders had to vote in favor of the change, and that would mean that two thirds would have to agree to bylaws that flew in the face of everything that Mark Driscoll had taught for years. They would vote against the form of church governance that the members had signed up for.

The way Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson pulled it off was crafty and certainly against the spirit of the bylaws. One might make a good case that the way it was done violated the bylaws themselves.

The set up was the ruthless firings of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer.

It is common knowledge at this stage of the game that they were primarily fired because they opposed the transfer of power from all of the elders to the executive elders. Petry and Meyer proposed that the Executive Elders be given power by the body of elders in a way that kept them accountable to the elders – certainly a sensible and more biblical approach to church governance, and one that Mark Driscoll taught with great power in the years prior to the 2007 bylaws change.

In 2007, most of the elders were young men. For many this was the best paying job they had ever had, and at the time they were well paid. Average salaries and benefits were rumored to be about $100k per year. As they watched Petry and Meyer get fired and humiliated for just questioning the bylaws, it was clear that their jobs would be on the line if they failed to fall in line with Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson’s wishes.

So twenty two elders voted to change the bylaws in the aftermath of watching two men get fired for resisting the changes. Actually, the truth is that the vote should be recorded as twenty one men voted for the changes, and one man, Lief Moi, voted against. According to Lief, Mark Driscoll wanted to present a unanimous vote to the church, so he demanded a second vote and Lief, who was terminated just months later, realized that his was a lost cause and changed his vote.

So, like so many twists of the truth that we members heard, we were told the vote was unanimous. It was true, but untrue. It was a half-truth.

In 2007, a change in bylaws required a two thirds majority vote. Before the firings of Pastors Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, when the total number of elders was twenty four, sixteen votes were needed to pass the vote. Nine elders could stop the change.

After the firings of the men, which was done in a massive hurry before the vote to change the bylaws, only fifteen votes were needed. It would still take eight votes to block.

So by firing the men ruthlessly, and demanding a unanimous vote, Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson pulled off two things. They removed two dissenting votes, and demonstrated what would happen to any elder that raised questions or appeared to oppose the change.

Some of us ex-members have spoken to at least twelve of the 24 men who voted on October 2007 to change the bylaws. Some have now stated that they felt shame about their vote, and felt undue pressure to vote against their conscience, while others say they were afraid, and others say that had their been reasonable dialog and discussions and the freedom to dissent they would not have voted the way they voted.

In other words, the way that the Executive Elders won the vote was not with reasonable due process that would certainly be expected in any civic and ethical environment, and we know now, based upon everything that we have seen, that the abusive environment caused the vote to be coerced.

Had Paul and Bent not been fired, they would have needed seven additional elders to vote against the bylaw change in order to keep the church elder run.

Without the abuse, 12 elders would have voted against the new bylaws. Mark Driscoll and his executives would have to give an account to the elders of the church. Instead, we have leadership that cannot be held to account, and hundreds of hurt members and staff have left.

The bylaw change was a violation of due process, and the Mars Hill Church BOAA should recognize this fact and acknowledge the immense damage that has been the result.

The current bylaws need to repealed and Paul Petry and Bent Meyer exonerated.

Profit, priest and king

The King of Id

Mars Hill Church’s “triperspectival” version of leadership was challenged by ousted and shunned pastor Paul Petry. Rather prophetic, I would say.
 
Everyone seems to be surprised by Sutton Turner referring to himself as “King” yet the terminology has been used by the leadership of Mars Hill Church for years. It has only been recently that the Mars Hill leadership web page no longer mentions Driscoll as “the prophet” or Bruskas as “the priest” (possibly because Driscoll now envisions himself referred to as “Father.” Father Mark?). But the Mars Hill web page still states that Sutton Turner is “kingly.”
 
Anybody who has been paying attention should not be surprised by the titles bestowed on the three executive elders – the result of hierarchical teaching that started infecting leadership prior to 2007, and which Pastor Paul addressed in his 10/25/2007 “scathing letter” to the elders just five days before they voted to pass the new bylaws which stripped them of all legal authority and permanently changed the entire governance of the church:
 
My greatest sins, however, are not what I have said and done but what I have failed to say and do. I failed to speak up to confront and resist the abusive spiritual authority and false teaching about authority that has infected the hearts and imaginations of Pastor Mark, the Executive Elders, and other elders who have bought into it, even though several of you have privately expressed grave reservations – namely, the “domineering over” (1Peter 5:2) which has grown increasingly worse, which is clearly forbidden of elders who are called to serve like Christ, laying down their lives for the sheep.

The sins I am accused of, “disrespecting and distrusting spiritual authority and improperly handling confidential information,” are they not the sins Mark and the EE team are guilty of because they assume some spiritual preeminence they do not have – not delegated by our by-laws, nor by God Himself? Have they not “distrusted and disrespected” the shared leadership biblical eldership model that is clear from Scripture and that is functionally laid out in our current by-laws? Have they not failed to be open, honest, forthright and willing to hear dissenting opinions about their “confidential” plans to lead this flock, but have instead worked with a heavy hand in secret, taking matters into their own hands to get the control and power they want and believe they should have?

I sinned by failing to speak up months ago when the false doctrine/teaching of “Prophets, Priests, and Kings” was embraced and adhered to as if it were Scripture and utilized to further justify a false/sick authoritarian leadership model. Did not the embracing of this false teaching set into motion a whole string of sinful behaviors, starting with elevating or subjugating and valuing elders based on gifting? Does the Scripture make these value distinctions? My understanding of 1 Corinthians chapters 1-4 clearly negates this teaching and commands us to end all such boasting.
 
Does not God put the body together as He determines, commanding us to consider others better than ourselves? And, can “one part of the body say to another part, I don’t need you?” (1Corinthians chapters 12 and 13) Is what is currently being referred to as a “kingly” gifting, as though this grants someone more authority and more importance/value than other giftings, not simply referred to as those having gifts of administration according to1Corinnthians 12:28?

This church started out with a clear commitment to biblical eldership. Where is that commitment now? Is not the way the new EE team was installed, the way it operates, and the new proposed by-laws, a clear shift away from a biblical model of authority and leadership to a corporate/militaristic model where power is centralized, autonomous, and authority is not to be questioned? Are we now to follow a leadership model that more closely aligns with “the divine rite of kings?”