A cease and desist order to a church calling itself Mars Hill down in Sacramento suggests any number of things. One is that those people down in Sacramento may have lived in some special bubble world where the internet doesn't exist. Two, those people have also lived in a part of the United States where Mars Hill, whether a Driscoll brand or a Bell brand, hadn't gotten much notice in the last fifteen years.
And brand is exactly what comes up. Mars Hill just turned fifteen years old recently and is no longer just in Seattle. It is present in three states and multiple campuses exist. It is, as I have been saying, a denomination. If Driscoll and the elders at Mars Hill ever wanted to imagine Mars Hill would not become another denomination or institution a cease and desist order to a group of uncreative church planters in Sacramento should put to rest any doubt about the institutional and denominational nature of Mars Hill now. Even as far back as about 2003 when people would ask me what Mars Hill was like I'd say, "Basically Calvinist Baptist without dispensationalism, which I'm okay with." Well, I was at the time, obviously.
Well, if the cease and desist letter is legit then congratuations, Driscoll, Mars Hill is a denomination that can use its branding and trademark as leverage against little start-up churches like the one you planted fifteen years ago. And, legally speaking, this "can" be done, but along the way you have to concede that the little church you planted has become the denominational institution that throws its weight around to make little churches fall into line. It has become the kind of church and institution you used to complain about. Citing trademark to tell a little church in Sacramento to cease and desist is a case where a big megachurch tells a little start-up what it can't do on account of branding and trademark. Doesn't that sound like a big ol' institution telling a sincere little group of godly guys with a vision for missional community that they have to jump through some hoops?
One of the great ironies about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill in the last fifteen years has been watching Driscoll and his church turn by steps from a little church plant that met in his house into a massive institution, a denomination and a brand. Having spent a few years complaining about how too many pastors only have so many years of sermons in them he spent a good chunk of 2006-2008 recycling material from his 2000-2005 period. Early on he and other pastors talked in 2000-2002 how traditional copyright was outmoded and that open copyright was the way to go and now? Well, a cease and desist letter.
After talking about how denominations were dead institutions that could throw their weight around to make life miserable for little sincere start-up churches Driscoll and company have managed to become that, too. Of course it's possible Driscoll complained about the ways denominations made life tough for little, sincere start-up churches and churches dependent on bigger churches for help because that's what he was chafing at. Nothing quite says "institution" like a letter expressing concern that one's trademark and brand is in danger of being compromised.
Back in 2000-2002 Driscoll was talking about how copyright was outmoded and becoming out of date and suggesting that people go with open copyright. Well, I saw how that was going to turn out, the Mars Hill team was going to have a change of heart once it got big enough and popular enough to worry that its content might get infringed upon or dilluted in some way. Unlike some ideologues I have come across I don't actually object to intellectual property. Mars Hill as an institution may illustrate a short observation Robert Frost made in a poem, he wrote that he chose not to be radical in his youth for fear of becoming conservative when old. The young radical from the 1960s could at lenth become a Reagan Democratic in the 1980s. An upstart group of Christians claiming copyright was outdated in the late 1990s can become older guys who issue cease and desist letters about trademark infringement, it seems, in the 2010's. Christians who want more public recognition of religion in the 1980s in America steadily don't want that recognition of religious practice to be Islam in the 2000's.
Dare I suggest, as a conservative Christian, that the problem with this is that the real nature of the game is being given away? Or perhaps we could consider that Francis Schaeffer pointed out decades ago that Christians must be ready to accept the full implications of engaging in discussion and debate in the marketplace of ideas. We have to grant the possibility that we may fail to make the sales pitch, fail to seal the deal, fail to make the most successful case for our view in light of alternatives. Now a guy like Van Til wouldn't concede that possibility but, of course, I'm not talking Cornelius Van Til and "worldview", I'm talking Francis Schaeffer (not Frank).
A lot can change in fifteen years. Driscoll used to be far more critical of Robert Schuller in 2000 than he was in 2003. Driscoll was more accomodating and less polemical toward egalitarians in 2001 than he has been in 2010 when he can afford to be less considerate now that there's no risk that ticking off egalitarian churches in Seattle might open fewer venues into which Mars Hill could move. Mars Hill is also obviously much less dependent on support and resources from Antioch Bible Church. Perhaps part of institutional growth and institutional memory is a selective forgetting and remembering of where you have come from.