How Catholic of You, Mars Hill

February 9, 2010

I am extremely intrigued by Mars Hill Church in Seattle. No, that statement definitely did not capture what I feel towards Mars Hill Church. Its way more complicated and confusing than that. I love Mars Hill Church. I can’t stand Mars Hill Church. I’m jealous of the resources Mars Hill Church has. Mars Hill Church has it figured out. Mars Hill Church just doesn’t get it.

Confused? So am I. Let me try to explain.

If you’ve never heard of Mars Hill Church, check out their website. Yes, that is an impressive website for a Church. Very, very slick and probably very expensive to maintain. I first heard about the Church from my friend Mike. Mike was a very good friend of mine during my freshmen year at WWU. Mike and I attended The INN, a non-denominational church service designed for college students. On days when he wasn’t playing the drums, we’d sit up in the balcony to take in the experience and we’d walk home talking about faith and other deep subjects. It was something I looked forward to each week, and I was sad Mike wound up transferring away from Western.

Fortunately for me, I reconnected with Mike after we both graduated. After moving back to the Seattle area Mike began attending Mars Hill and he told me the type of sermons he heard. They were challenging and touched on controversial and extremely relevant social topics. I had instant respect for what was going on, even though I had never heard of the place. It wasn’t until a few years later that I saw their pastor, Mark Driscoll, being interviewed on CNN (or one of those channels) that I decided to really look at what was going on, mainly through their website.

Mars Hill gets it. They understand the power of the Gospel and how much its needed in a city like Seattle. They understand how hurt people can be by buying into this culture’s lies, so the pastor Mark talks about these in a caring yet challenging manor. The people know their “Preaching Pastor” loves them, and their “Preaching Pastor” understands his role in helping them encounter the Risen Lord. He also understands the need for unity of belief among Christians. Mars Hill has grown to 10 locations, including one as far away as Albuquerque NM. On most Sundays, they use Satellite and Internet technology to broadcast the sermon to each location. They obviously want to expand their Church, and I don’t think its out of the realm of possibility that they will one day be in every state, if not every country.

And they just don’t get it! They don’t get how Catholic they are trying to be, and they don’t know how Catholic they will never be.

The reason they are trying to be Catholic, which means “universal,” is that they interpret the bible correctly. They believe that God offers salvation to all people, and that this can only happen through Jesus Christ. Jesus prays that all His believers may be one (John 17:20-21). Mars Hill Church believes this. The Catholic Church believes it too. One in mind, one in faith, one in deed. But the Catholic Church has attained this long before internet and satellite technology. One way is through the lectionary, which is the cycle of readings that we hear every day at Mass. The Catholic Church has recognized the right of every Christian to hear the word of God and established the universal lectionary so that the entire Church might hear the word – not just words that the pastor is comfortable preaching. For centuries, unity of mind, faith and deed have been promoted through gathering the Church leaders (which the early Church and modern Catholic Church called bishops) at Councils, which find their scriptural precedent in Acts 15. These councils continued with Nicea and Constantinople which formulated the creeds which have been recited as a symbol of unity across generations. Still, these councils continued through the ages with the councils of Chalcedon, Lateran, Trent, and Vatican to name a few. Furthermore, when a pressing need arises, the Pope has made use of encyclicals to speak on issues of politics, economics, human rights, theology and faith, and a host of moral issues.

Can Mars Hill achieve this type of unity? Of course. Who knows? it might! But Jesus designed His Church to attain a unity that goes beyond even belief and charitable/moral actions. Jesus established the Eucharist. In this celebration, Christians enter into the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus. It is not a repeat of the sacrifice. It is the same sacrifice that is re-presented in a non bloody way. When I am at Mass, I -and all Catholics around the world- are made present to that single event in history. Past and future are made present. Every Christian who partakes in this mystery who has ever lived is united with God and each other because the Eucharist is really the substantial presence of Jesus Christ, who is physically in heaven right now. It doesn’t get anymore universal than that. A relationship with Jesus does not get more personal than that.

That is why Mars Hill can never be what the Catholic Church is at this very moment. I long for the day when we will be united under our Risen Lord.



  1. I think you should send this blog post to the Preaching Pastor of Mars Hill. Maybe you can have a chat with him next time you’re in town, or after you lay down your life and don a collar!

    Former Mars Hill Church member here.

    I was a member of Mars Hill Church after I “accepted Christ” in college at UW. Until then I believed in God, but never joined a “religion” (I don’t like that word).

    By my senior year of college I converted to the Catholic Church. “To whom much is given much is expected.” I was lucky enough to be born in a country and situation where I had the ability discover what the earliest Christians really believed. I discovered nothing but Catholicism (or the seeds thereof).

    I have nothing but respect for Mars Hill. They proclaim the general Gospel message very well. Sadly, Mars Hill is an unfortunate by product of Sola Scriptura. They can not reasonable claim to be the true Apostolic church.

    I can see why new Christians may be unattracted to the Catholic Church at first, especially after the reforms of Vatican II, “lite Catholicism”of the 70s and 80,etc. There is a great revival among Catholics 18-25ish now.

    I wish you the best in your steps toward Priesthood.

    I hope you can share with your friend Mike the fullness of the Christian faith that resides in the Catholic Church and nowhere else.

    I’m sure you can show him to some apologetics resources ie Catholic Answers all the way.

    God bless you for doing something so countercultural like Priesthood.
    Being a devoted orthodox Catholic(unlike Pelosi etc) is already countercultural.

    Pax Christus Semper Vobiscum+

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