A popular conservative Calvinist preacher will take over one of United Methodism’s historic sanctuaries, according to the Seattle Times.
The domed neo-classical 1906 sanctuary, which seats 1300, was once one of Methodism’s premier congregations. First United Methodist, a liberal congregation that has since moved to a new building down the street, tried to tear down the sanctuary for development. But a developer bought and saved the property in 2007. In recent years it has served as a concert hall.
Mars Hill Church is a consortium of 14 congregations in 4 states with 14,000 – 20,000 worshippers, founded and led by Pastor Mark Driscoll, age 41. He is a sort of contemporary combination of Jonathan Edwards and Billy Sunday, advocating Reformed theology and muscular Christianity. The particular Mars Hill Downtown Seattle congregation moving into the former First Methodist has been meeting in a night club and is led by Pastor Tim Gaydos. He told the newspaper that he has about 1500 worshippers in 5 weekend services. Their downtown presence facilitates ministry to the homeless and to victims of sex trafficking, he explained. They had outgrown the nightclub, which could only seat 325 people.
“Our heart has always been not just for a great church but for a great city,” Gaydos told Seattle Times. “Being in this location allows us to serve and love Seattle better.” A community activist was quoted explaining that Seattle’s downtown churches were in “danger” 12 years ago. “Now we’re seeing a revival,” she said.
First United Methodist Church, after leaving the old sanctuary, built its own smaller space not far away. It had 589 members as of 2010, an increase of 6 over the previous year, and 209 worshippers on average. Sixteen children on average attended Sunday school, along with 8 youth. It had 14 professions of faith in 2010. The pastor is very outspokenly pro-LGBT and harshly condemned this year’s United Methodist General Conference as “wrong, stupid, and evil” for affirming the denomination’s traditional stance on marriage and sexual ethics.
“Delegates who supported this backward language about homosexuality need to hear that congregations like mine are seriously wondering today why we continue to stick it out in this denomination,” the pastor blogged in a denunciation that his church later disseminated as a news release. “We’re frustrated to be growing a congregation that welcomes everyone within a denomination that welcomes only some. We’re asking ourselves how we can remain in a church that preaches a Gospel that is foreign to what we know of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the best we can figure out for now is that we’re not going to let this wrong, stupid and evil decision keep us from doing God’s work of acceptance, love and understanding.”
The pastor described United Methodism as “stuck in a Pope-Benedict-slash-Rick-Santorum-slash-Southern-Baptist-slash-Rush-Limbaugh” mode, trapped in “stagnant pools of exclusionary dogma and phony, conditional grace.” In contrast, he said, First United Methodist is “progressive” and “enlightened.” Presumably what this pastor has said about his own still relatively liberal denomination would apply doubly towards Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church.
Earlier this year, Driscoll and his wife appeared on “The View” touting their new book about marriage. “Well, we are Bible-believing Christians,” he told Joy Behar after she questioned their disapproval of homosexual practice. “We do hold to the teaching of Scripture and that is that sex is reserved for a married couple … a heterosexual married couple.” The Driscolls’ book was a little controversial among some evangelicals for sometimes explicitly addressing sexuality within marriage. He has also ignited controversy for advocating traditional gender roles, including opposition to female ordination.
That Driscoll’s brand of robust Calvinism is thriving in Seattle, among other areas in the Pacific Northwest, seemingly defies claims by liberals in United Methodism and elsewhere that theological orthodoxy will not appeal in culturally liberal cities.