Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Easter at Mars

Posted by BrianJ on April 14, 2009

…Hill, that is. Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA.

Over a year ago I read a comment on a blog by Kevin Barney* where he mentioned an Easter tradition he enjoys: attending the Easter services of another Christian denomination. Since Kevin Barney is totally cool and since the idea seemed like a good one, I decided to make it my tradition as well. This is my second year of the tradition and I took the whole family to Mars Hill Church.

First Impressions:

Shout out to Bridget Jack Meyers (aka Jack, the ‘nacle’s fav never-Mo, the pro-Mormon anti-Mormon), who drove over an hour to attend services with me. I hope it was worth it!

Mars Hill is a mega-church—and I mean MEGA: several campuses with several thousand in attendance at each location and who knows how many more online. So now you know the negative stereotype: slick pastors milking money out of naive congregants. And I have to admit, when I drove up and saw the ushers with their gelled hair and walkie-talkie headsets, looking like the guy who tries to sell you a car stereo at Best Buy**, I had my suspicions. Then they greeted my family with a warm “Good evening!” and “Happy Easter” and I felt like they were just good kids trying to do good. Plus, they reminded me a lot of our own young missionaries.

We entered the meeting hall just as the prelude music was wrapping up—or should I say, “rockin’ out”? Mars Hill has a killer band: guitar, bass, violin, drums, tympani, upright bass, and several more I couldn’t see—maybe 10-12 musicians in all. And they are all very talented. The music is loud like a rock concert, the style is mostly a rock/pop blend with a touch of soul.

The congregants were mostly 18-30 year olds who came in small groups of friends. That might have a lot to do with the time we attended: 7 PM, their only session of the day that did not provide childcare. It might also have to do with the neighborhood of the particular campus (Ballard, main campus) we chose to visit; if we had chosen the building in our neighborhood we might have seen more families. And for those wondering: no, not everyone was wearing blue jeans.

The Sermon:

Pastor Mark Driscoll looks to be in late 30s and rather unassuming. He spoke for about 15-20 min and was very polished. I kept looking for teleprompters because if he had that sermon memorized…well, wow. The structure of his message was an equal blend of scripture, scholars, and humor—and not that “{groan} I’m gonna go ahead and chuckle ’cause he’s my pastor humor”; he really is funny. Main points:

  • Easter is the most important day for Christians. It is also a party, a day we celebrate something that makes us overjoyed, not sad.
  • Of the four great world religions, only the founder of Christianity is still alive. This formed part of Driscoll’s humor: to poke a little fun at Judaism (Abraham), Islam (Mohammed), and Buddhism (Buddha) because their adherents visit their founders’ tombs and mourn and weep—but not us Christians ’cause our guy is alive! Now, maybe you want to nitpick with him on the Buddhism part, because technically Buddha reached parinirvana, or the “deathless state”, but that actually still works to Driscoll’s point: Christ was resurrected and has a body; Christians likewise look forward to a bodily resurrection. That said, Driscoll has no defense for leaving Hinduism off his list of world religions.
  • Baptism is a sign to God and others that we have chosen to follow Jesus. Baptism itself does not save: only Jesus saves.
  • Easter would be the best day you could possibly be baptized: for the rest of your life, when people ask when you were baptized, you could always remember it was on Easter. The symbolism of being reborn in Christ on Easter is pretty rich.
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus are historical facts, not just something we take on faith. (This, I am learning, is a really big deal to Evangelicals: the historical verifiability of the resurrection. The argument is that rejecting the resurrection of Jesus is like rejecting the moon landing or Hillary’s ascent of Everest; you cannot see them because they are in the past, but there were plenty of witnesses and evidence that they really happened.) (Just to be clear: all this in the parentheses are my thoughts, not Driscoll’s.) One of the historical evidences Driscoll sited is the much disputed Testimonium Flavianum found (?) in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews.
  • A description of Jesus’ physical suffering beginning with his “trial” and through his death. Driscoll added one detail that I have never heard: being crushed under the weight of the cross beam when he stumbled along the road to Golgotha, before Simon Cyrenian was compelled to carry it for him.
  • A very brief statement asking congregants to donate as they could before collection baskets were passed.

Baptisms and Communion:

Pastor Driscoll’s sermon was followed by baptisms and the taking of communion. This started with two men being baptized that night speaking about what lead them to accept Jesus. The first talked of his life growing up without religion and how finding Christ gave him a sense of direction. (I’m sorry that I don’t remember more of what he said!) The second man was raised in a religious household where his mom led the children in daily prayer. Still, while he lived a moral life growing up, he didn’t “know Jesus”—i.e., he didn’t believe. This disconnect  between lifestyle and faith manifested itself when he moved away for college: alcohol, partying, swearing, pornography addiction, and sex with his girlfriend became his new lifestyle—a lifestyle that reflected his faithlessness. I can’t remember the catalyst that brought him to reconsider Christ, but the experience changed him and he feels committed to living a righteous life. He still struggles with temptation but feels the Spirit working within him to steer him in the right direction, especially away from the pornography that plagued him. Now he prays regularly, attends church, abstains from sex, and leads youth groups in his home town (Kent).

Those being baptized entered the font, usually in their street clothes, and were asked a few questions (inaudible, read on) by the deacons (?) in attendance. Then they were immersed by two men. The band played several songs while the baptisms proceeded (hence, we could not hear what was said at the font), and the other congregants walked forward to receive communion (if they desired). We left before the service concluded (getting past bedtime), but stayed long enough to see several men and women and a few children baptized. One woman stood out to me: I could see, even though I was sitting all the way in the back, that she was overwhelmed with emotion as she entered the font. Something, it was clear, was weighing on her spirit, and she saw her baptism as some remedy. Immediately as she arose from the water she threw her hands around one of the deacons, holding him and sobbing, looking obviously relieved. I don’t want to get into a debate about proper priesthood authority, etc.; I just prayed in my heart and still pray that this woman will continue to feel God close to her and have her burdens lifted. My wife remembers a boy (~10) being baptized and afterward his father rushing to him and hugging him and tossing him in the air with joy.

Kids’ Thoughts:

The next day, I asked my older kids (5 and 8) what they thought. They liked:

  • The band. The oldest said it was like U2 and the second said it was like Led Zeppelin.
  • The multiple TV screens so that everyone could see what was happening up front.

They did not like:

  • The music being so loud. “It was hard to feel completely sacred when the music would move through me and shake me.”
  • That no one talked directly to the people being baptized, congratulating them and telling the congregation about them. (My oldest was baptized about a month ago, so she was contrasting this to her own ceremony.) Also, the family members of those being baptized were not present. (My daughter’s aunt and grandparents, who traveled many miles to attend her baptism, should take note of that!)
  • That only a few people were able to participate in the meeting. “In our church,” my oldest explained, “people take turns giving talks and saying prayers and everyone gets to sing the hymns.”

Plus, they both had one question:

  • “Why did some of the people stand there holding up one hand during the songs or the prayers?” I’m not totally sure—Jack, you wanna answer this one?


*Well, I think it was Kevin Barney. Even if it wasn’t it is still a good idea. And Kevin Barney is cool either way.

** I used to work at a place like Best Buy.

15 Responses to “Easter at Mars”

  1. Nice summary, Brian. I can’t believe my adorable daughter did not warrant a shout-out though.

    Evidence for the resurrection has definitely become a pretty standard apologetic and argument for the Christian faith. I have noticed some LDS apologists trying to do something similar with the testimony of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

    Raising hands is an act of worship and prayer expressed in the Bible. You could show them these passages:

    Psalms 63:3-4 ~ Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

    Psalms 88:9b ~ Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.

    Psalms 134:2 ~ Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!

    Psalms 141:2 ~ Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

    Psalms 143:6 ~ I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

    1 Timothy 2:8 ~ I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;

    Why raise just one hand? Some people are just more comfortable with that I guess, and sometimes you have something in your other hand, like a microphone.

    And no, I don’t think Mark Driscoll had a teleprompter. Evangelical preachers usually do memorize their talks.

  2. BrianJ said

    Jack, your daughter is of course included in the shoutout—I’m just very cautious in how I mention other people’s kids on the web.

    Thanks for the explanation of the hand raising; I assumed it was a sign that one was “really feeling it,” so I guess I was sort of wrong, sort of right. That’s why I didn’t want to assume.

    How would you compare Driscoll to other preachers? I just have the ones I’ve seen on TV to compare him to, and frankly I think he’s one of the best. (And I have noticed many of them use teleprompters.)

  3. I used to be very into hand-raising back in the day. I’d have no problem getting down on my knees and lifting up both hands during a service. I’m a bit more reserved these days; trying to find a balance between my Pentecostalism and my rising intellectualism has been hard.

    Driscoll was better-than-average but not great to me. His argument for the empty tomb was pretty good, and he’s obviously passionate and fiery, but a lot of the things he said about Jesus just felt very generic to me. Maybe that’s because his goal was to win people over to Christ that day, and my own desire is to explore the depth of Christianity after conversion. It’s possible I would have thought better of him at a different sermon.

    David Nasser, Terry Virgo, Buster Soaries, Josh Harris, and Darrell Scott were all better. Pam Stenzel is an extremely talented straight-talk speaker to youth, and I’ve only heard a little bit of Margaret Feinberg but I like her already.

    Your little munchkins were all adorable, and Harley just fell in love with that gate in your kitchen, didn’t she? We’ll have to meet up again sometime, and maybe I can bring Paul along.

  4. jeans said

    This is fascinating. I have attended a couple of megachurch services including one at the mother megachurch, Willow Creek, and have always found something beautiful and useful and uplifting to take on my journey. While we’ve got Jack on the line… talk to me a little about what happens to newly-“won” baptized converts in such a huge church. Especially if it was a spontaneous decision to run down there, and there aren’t family there or nearby, how does such a big church nourish the new Christian? Sincere question, no hostile intent. I assume they get plugged into a newbie’s small group or something?

  5. john f. said

    I haven’t attended a Baptist Mega-church service since going with a friend to “Fort God” (aka Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas TX). Frankly, I don’t really miss it. I have different tastes, I suppose, and simply don’t find those services remotely reverent or sacred.

    In visiting creedal Christian churches I much prefer anything high church. Two years ago Ronan and I attended Easter services together in the Votivkirche in Vienna, which was a great cultural experience. But you don’t have to travel to Vienna or other European cities to seek out serious, reverent and sacred creedal Christian worship services. The local Catholic parishes should provide it, as will local Presbyterian or Episcopalian services. I experienced this when visiting the packed local Catholic congregation in Greenville, South Carolina when I lived there briefly. I would highly recommend attending such churches/services rather than Evangelical creedalist mega-churches for your Easter escapades in the future.

  6. john f. said

    Obviously, I forgot to close the tag for the link to the Votivkirche — would you be so kind Brian? fix’t

  7. john f. said

    Thanks. I should mention that the visit I mentioned to Fort God was in 1994.

  8. The Monk said

    The hand-raising thing is symbolic, and has been written about in LDS perspectives. In essence, it’s a posture of prayer inviting God to judge one’s righteousness and respond accordingly.

  9. BrianJ said

    Jack: I can see what you mean about the lack of depth of Driscoll’s sermon and I think you are right: his motive was to win converts and strengthen members, not to offer intellectual study. Remember he said the meeting was meant to be a party; i.e., not a study session.

    Jeans: Mars Hill seems to have a number of community groups that are overseen by the church elders but mostly run by volunteer members. Before becoming a member one must meet with a church elder and sign a membership agreement—and this must be renewed every year (sounds like tithing settlement!). I assume the baptizees signed the form “backstage”, though I can’t be sure. Jack’s not a member of a mega-church—quite the opposite—so I’m not sure what experience she has with churches like Mars Hill.

    John F: I’m sure something negative can be found in any church worship. Last year I attended Roman Catholic Mass in Rochester, NY and enjoyed that very much. It was certainly, as you say, “more serious” than the Evangelical service, but I don’t know about more “reverent” or “sacred”—how do I know what is sacred to someone else? Next year my family will probably visit the small community church a few houses down the street (which happens to be Evangelical). The reason for our visits is not to find a worship service that most closely approximates our own, but to learn about fellow Christians and share in their celebration of Christ. What do you like about the high church services?

  10. BrianJ, you remind me of my visits to the Cathedral of Tomorrow in Cuyahoga Falls Ohio back in the 70’s, when Rex Humbard ran it. I think it was a mega-church before the term became popular, with an indoor seating of 5,400. (Built in 1958.)

    I remember having some good after church lunches at their next-door buffet.

  11. I don’t have a lot of experience with evangelical mega-churches other than occasionally visiting them, but I know that they branch into smaller “community groups” or “small groups” for fellowship and try to engage people in very specific areas of ministry: women’s ministries, youth groups, college groups, men’s groups, inner city outreach, etc.

    Brian, I actually suspect that the people we saw getting baptized on Sunday were not necessarily becoming members of Mars Hill church. The pastor made it pretty clear that spontaneous baptism was okay in his sermon, and the MHC web site says that prospective members are required to do one-on-one interviews which they definitely didn’t have time for on Sunday.

    It’s probably a strange concept for Mormons, but for evangelical churches, baptism does not mean you are officially joining the denomination at which you were baptized, since we believe in being baptized into the body of Christ and not an earthly church organization. I was baptized at a Nazarene youth camp when I was 12, but I did not formally join any churches until years later.

  12. john f. said

    Brian, services at Catholic, Presbyterian or Episcopalian churches are serious, reverent and sacred. That’s what I like about them.

  13. BrianJ said

    Jack: you’re probably right about the baptisms. I know that doesn’t mean membership the way it does to Mormons. Of course you realize that Mormons believe the same thing about being baptized into something not earthly—the big difference is that we believe that only the LDS Church (an earthly organization) has the authority to perform those baptisms. I still assume that there is some kind of follow-up attempted with those who were baptized, and that many of those baptized were already members/children of members of Mars Hill.

    Bookslinger: Mars Hill has a very nice looking coffee shop, though I must say I did not partake. PS. My wife thinks your blogs is teh cool.

    John F: If you’re ever in Seattle let me know and I’ll visit one of the Orthodox cathedrals with you. There are several here: Greek, Russian, Eritrean….

  14. Tim said

    Good for you. I’m glad you braved the experience. My sister-in-law and her husband attend Mars Hill faithfully.

  15. […] 4, 2010 Every Easter, my family attends the services of another Christian denomination. Last year we visited Mars Hill Church; this year, a small Baptist congregation in our […]

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