On Feb 5, two days prior to sending that email out to our friends (post #2), I had journalled about our experience at an MHC Community Group:
Concerns re: Mars Hill Community Groups
Last night we went to our first Mars Hill (church) Community Group. What I appreciated about the group is their warm reception and their apparently very deep commitment to Christ and his Word. This was most refreshing, especially when seen from a group of young people. But I did have some concerns:
1. The group is all 20 somethings (maybe an early 30 here or there)
2. There was much voicing of the Calvinist view as if that is the only biblical view. “I have nothing in me that would have ever even chosen him on my own…” “We’re completely depraved; God hates the unregenerate…” I am not Calvinist, nor do I want to be. Calvinism (salvation is completely dependent upon God’s Sovereignty; if he hasn’t chosen you, you have no choice to choose him and ‘yous goin to hell!’) and Armenianism (if we don’t get these people saved, God can’t do anything to bring them in; it’s all man’s free will) are two extremes to which I’ve given a lot of thought and study over 30 years of being a Christian, and I choose to hold both in tension, as Scripture seems to. God has granted us free will to choose him or not, AND He has chosen us. It’s one of those mysteries, like the Trinity, which cannot be completely explained. Either extreme, hyper-Calvinism or hyper-Armenianism is unbalanced and leaves off many Scriptures which speak to the opposite view
3. There appeared to be a bit of religious spirit, people hesitant to truly admit their struggles because they apparently all want to be seen as walking in obedience to the Lord. I say this because I noticed that several members skirted the issue when asked for a personal response to the Scripture or the question, instead they gave impersonal theological responses. And in my small prayer group of three of us women afterwards, there seemed to be much hesitancy around admitting their struggles and heart’s desires and if anything like that snuck out of their hearts into what they communicated, they quickly glossed it over with, “But I’m surrendering that to the Lord…” or “But those are just human desires…” It was very disturbing to me. It did not feel safe. It did not feel healthy.
4. The prayer groups were separated out by gender! The women were expected to only pray with women and the men with men. This might be refreshing occasionally, but if this is the norm, I wonder why? And I wonder, what are they afraid of? Too much intimacy between men and women? That seems a bit paranoid. In the New Testament I see men and women praying together as the norm. Probably in the Jewish Synagogues where Christian Jews first gathered together for big worship services they were separated out by gender, but not in the house churches!
5. There was a lot of talk about how bad we are, how sinful, how selfish… and although that is true apart from Christ, as Christians in communion with Jesus we do not need to wallow in that and that is not how God sees us in Christ. According to Scripture, although our hearts were once “deceitfully wicked,” he has now given us “new hearts.” I got the feeling it was more holy to talk trash about ourselves and the human condition, apparently forgetting completely that man, born again or not, still carries the imageo dei (admittedly, extremely marred in our fallenness, but NOT obliterated entirely!). One young man went on about how God had the right to just totally obliterate all of us at the snap of his fingers, even now, “that’s it, I’m through with all of you,” he voiced for God. I reminded him, “But he’s engraved us upon the palms of his hands.” What I meant of course is that because Jesus has taken on humanity, permanently, in his physical (and now spiritual) body, God can never do that because he’s taken his own into him; Christ has become a permanent part of humanity and those who are his, that portion of humanity, has become a permanent part of him. But my deeper meaning went over this man’s head. He clearly didn’t get it and stared at me blankly.
6. These are all much younger Christians, which is fine, but we would like to have some who are more seasoned Christians, who have moderated the extremes through trial and error in their walk with God (not trial and error re his clearly revealed absolutes). I wonder if there are not many seasoned Christians at Mars Hill and that is why they swallow so completely EVERYTHING Mark teaches as if HIS words are the gospel?
On the other hand, it felt really nice to fellowship with other very committed and biblically literate or at least biblically devoted Christians.
So Lord, with all of this laid out before you, I need your discernment, your comfort and your guidance.