Recently we went to Mars Hill Bible Church in Granville, Michigan near Grand Forks, where we were commanded not to teach in Jesus’ name. The video below shows some our interaction with the Leader AJ Sherrill and Mars Hill security.
What brings us to Mars Hill? In early September, my wife, five children and I embarked on a missionary journey across the United States of America. The primary objectives are to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and conduct video interviews for upcoming documentary films. Thus far we have preached at university campuses in Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Michigan.
Now a converted shopping mall, Mars Hill was established in 1999 by the Emerging Church leader Rob Bell. But Rob Bell forsook his flock to pursue a career in Hollywood. From Rob Bell’s official site:
Rob Bell is The New York Times bestselling author of Love Wins, What We Talk About When We Talk about God, The Zimzum of Love and his most recent book How To Be Here. iTunes named his podcast, The RobCast, Best of 2015. He’s been profiled in The New Yorker, he’s toured with Oprah on her Life You Want Tour, and in 2011 Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People In The World. He has a regular show at Largo, the legendary music and comedy club in West Hollywood and is currently touring his How To Be Here Experience around the world.
As you are probably already aware, Rob Bell is also a leader in the Emerging Church movement which is founded upon a postmodern worldview. At the end of our meeting with the new Mars Hill Leader AJ Sherrill, I gave him a copy of my book Hath God Said? Emergent Church Theology in which I demonstrate how postmodernism is incompatible with a biblical worldview of absolute truth and the authority of the Scriptures on various topics including feminism, homosexuality, hell, mysticism, eschatology, Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
A Christian brother named Jaime Rivera and I attended Mars Hill in order to pass out tracts, have conversations with those who were interested in the Gospel and leave them with the DVDs Church of Tares and Real Roots of the Emergent Church. The tract we were handing our is called “The Teachings of Jesus Christ” which is pure Scripture about the Gospel message and what Jesus taught.
We did not disrupt the service in any way, though I was considering doing so when the Mars Hill security apprehended us and brought us into the lobby. There were at least three security guards present. Jaime decided to capture a video on his phone of what took place. The video begins with a view of the sanctuary. Jaime proceeds into the lobby where I am having a discussion with one of the security guards. I was trying to get him to see the parallel of how Mars Hill resembled the Jewish Synagogues which withstood the preaching of the Gospel. I don’t claim to liken myself to an apostle in any way, but we were persecuted in the same way as the apostles were by the religious leaders simply for sharing the Gospel.
And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. (Acts 5:21)
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? . . . . Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:27-29)
Here is a transcript of the video:
Elliott: But do you see that a religious system has been put in place here which does not allow for the preaching of the Gospel. Just like the Jewish Temple and the religious leaders did not allow the apostles to preach the Gospel or preach in Jesus’ name. That’s what we came here to do. And you are saying we must obey men. We must obey the laws rather than God. Do you see the parallel that I see?
Security #1: Honestly, I’m not interested in the parallels you draw.
Security #2: Are you video-ing with that phone?
Security #2: Give it here.
The security guard then attempted to snatch Jaime’s phone, but he was unsuccessful. Next, a security guard named John spoke with us. John told us he was a police officer who volunteers for Mars Hill. John separated us at one point and flashed his police badge to Jaime. He told us we could not pass out our “Teachings of Jesus Christ” tract.
Jaime: So you want to throw us out of the church? We’re not allowed to speak with people in the church or visit the church?
John: You’re not allowed to hand out tracts on any subject matter without getting approval from the church.
Elliott: And what happens if we continue to stay here and pass out tracts?
John: I will ask you to leave.
Elliott: So you are threatening us with the law?
John: I’m telling you the rules of the church.
Elliott: But we are not breaking the law. We just want to talk to people and hand out tracts. We’re not breaking the law. Are you threatening us as a police officer?
John: I’m telling you the rules of the church.
Elliott: But the rules of the church are not the laws of the land. And we must obey God rather than men.
John: We’ve been through this probably several times now. I’ve told you the way it’s going to be. You stated you understood. So that will be my expectation going forward. Do you have any questions for me about what the rules are?
Jaime: Hey John? I’m sorry to interrupt but why are you clenching your fist?
John: I’m just holding my hands.
Next, we were escorted by security personnel to speak with the “Lead Pastor” AJ Sherrill. In an upper room with framed pictures of Rob Bell on the wall, AJ mentioned the Mars Hill “vision” in our private meeting with him.
Rather than a plurality of church leadership with bishops and deacons, the Seeker-Driven model church has innovated the office of “Celebrity Pastor” or more aptly “Celebrity Leader.” But the Scriptures speak of church leadership in a distinctly different way, not as lording over God’s flock. “Vision-casting” becomes the common practice of the leader to lead the church and the congregation becomes fully accountable and completely loyal to the leader to fulfill his vision.
The vision of Rob Bell was that “church could be about desire, longing, and connection, and the dream that it be those things without fluff or hype piled on.” Obviously this included a denial of orthodox Christianity. When AJ Sherrill became the leader (notice I did not say pastor), the vision completely changed. In a video, Sherrill says, “But what does it mean to actually cast a vision for the church to be family? . . . How do you design ministry in such a way where family can become possible?”
Vision casting is a completely unbiblical practice. First of all, nowhere is the concept mentioned in the Bible. Secondly, it implies that the pastor receives direct and new revelation from God. The assumption that the pastor’s vision is divinely inspired carries with it prophetic implications. This conveys a top-down leadership hierarchy led by one man who claims to have a direct line to God. This is a recipe for all kinds of spiritual abuse, and historically has led to disaster.
Any critique of the visionary is unacceptable, no matter how biblical that critique may be. To oppose the visionary is also to oppose God because the vision supposedly came from God. Dissenters are excommunicated and often escorted from church premises by security or police officers. This is what we experienced at Mars Hill Bible Church.
Not only did the “vision” of Mars Hill change when AJ Sherrill took over as Leader, but also the doctrine. I asked AJ what he thought about Rob Bell’s doctrine. AJ confessed that he did not know Rob very well personally, but that he believed many of Rob’s beliefs were unorthodox. The fact that the same congregation remains throughout these transitions of CEO-type leaders demonstrates how lost the community really is. They are just following the visions cast by their hirelings, even though these visions and doctrines can be diametrically opposed to each other. Only a postmodern mindset can allow these contradictions. AJ brought up the vision of Mars Hill on our conversation.
AJ: The vision has been agreed upon by this community to be here. Yours has not.
Elliott: Can you see the parallel with the religious leaders in the Jewish synagogues when the apostles were preaching in Christ and they cast them out.
AJ: Man, like go connect with the people you want to actually know, and be known by. Like you bring in an agenda but there’s no accountability with your agenda.
Elliott: But we cant talk to people and hand out anything here.
AJ: I would say come and be with us. And if you love these people, then you will want to know them.
Elliott: We do; that’s why we’re here. But we’re also, I mean, if people are interested we want to give them further materials and we want to keep in touch with them.
AJ: If they’re interested, then get to know their lives rather than shoving information down their throats.
Jaime: Sharing information. We’re not shoving anything. It’s freedom to read something. Like you can choose to read the Scriptures. Or you can say no, I don’t want that. I don’t agree with what Jesus taught.
AJ: It’s cheap to show up in someone else’s place where there’s a gathering and bring your own agenda.
Jaime: I would say it’s very loving to warn people of destruction. That’s what Jesus did.
Elliott: You’re condemning the apostles with that statement. Do you realize that?
AJ: That’s such a false assumption, mate. That’s such a false assumption. . . . Paul was invited to the Areopagus.
I hope that AJ could see how the religious Jews could have said the same thing to the Apostles: “It’s cheap to show up in someone else’s Synagogue where there’s a gathering and bring your own agenda.” Similar to the apostles, our agenda was to share the Gospel. Those people also need to be warned about the dangers of the Emerging Church and Seeker-Driven Church models. But this is not compatible with AJ’s vision and rules for Mars Hill, so we were not welcome.
Next Jaime asked AJ, “Why was John the Baptist Beheaded?”
Jaime: Why was John the Baptist beheaded? Just answer that.
AJ: Is this a quiz?
Jaime: No. You’re a pastor. I just want to know what you have to say about that.
AJ: Because people were going out to him to be baptized with the message of repentance. Because people were going out to him in droves to be baptized. And the political establishment was very disturbed because he was seeking to gain numbers. Because people were going out to him because he was appealing and enticing.
In AJ’s response, he gives a historical revision of the Gospel and imports the Seeker-Driven ideology upon the Bible. AJ said the “appealing and enticing” John the Baptist was “seeking to gain numbers.” The conclusion of the Seeker-Driven model is that preaching should be judged by numerical results. Seeker-Driven churches have unapologetically confesses that they are “all about the numbers.” If John the Baptist was seeking to gain numbers then he wouldn’t have said things like, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7).
What is the biblical answer to Jaime’s question? The Bible says:
But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: . . . For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. (Mark 6:16-18)
John was beheaded for taking a stand on the adulterous “marriage” of Herod. AJ shared with us that Mars Hill Church now uses the Anglican Liturgy for their services. Apparently Anglican liturgy is part of AJ’s new vision for Mars Hill. This fact may contribute to why AJ failed to give the biblical answer to the question about Herodias’ divorce from Herod’s brother and adulterous marriage to Herod because the Anglican church was founded upon divorce and remarriage.
It was not that King Henry VIII had a change of conscience regarding publishing the Bible in English. His motives were more sinister… but the Lord sometimes uses the evil intentions of men to bring about His glory. King Henry VIII had in fact, requested that the Pope permit him to divorce his wife and marry his mistress. The Pope refused. King Henry responded by marrying his mistress anyway, (later having two of his many wives executed), and thumbing his nose at the Pope by renouncing Roman Catholicism, taking England out from under Rome’s religious control, and declaring himself as the reigning head of State to also be the new head of the Church. This new branch of the Christian Church, neither Roman Catholic nor truly Protestant, became known as the Anglican Church or the Church of England.
Thankfully, AJ had a conversation with us, though most of it was not recorded. AJ also told the security to leave us alone after our meeting with him. This also conveys how the Leader has complete control and authority, not only over the “vision” for the congregation but also over the security volunteers. Afterwards, we were able to speak to some people in the church. Some of those conversations went particularly well. To conclude our visit, Jaime and I stood outside the church in the cold on a public sidewalk with large gospel signs for all of the exiting congregation to read as they left. We had mixed reactions of thumbs up as well as angry gestures.