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Another Argument on Mars Hill

October 20, 2011

UPDATE: The matter has been resolved…go to our link here for details

In ancient Athens, there was a place called the Areopagus where philosophers and theologians of all kinds met to discuss various ideas and movements. We know from history there was a certain decorum expected there, no matter how strange the ideas. Within the Areopagus, all people were allowed to present their ideas and could leave unscathed (except perhaps in reputation). The Areopagus was found at the top of Mars Hill and the debates there are sometimes referred to as Mars Hill discussions. I am calling all the parties I will refer to in this blog back to that founding principle of Mars Hill.

I don’t know how many churches in America are called Mars Hill. I do know three of them; I have been assured there are many more. As far as I know, most of these churches have no connection with each other. Some of them belong to denominations, and some do not. The only ones who seem to be organically connected are those which have been “daughtered” off one of the other churches. But this short article is about the three Mars Hill churches I do know about.

The first of these to be started was Mars Hill Seattle, pastored by Mark Driscoll. He founded the church in 1996 and to this day it is one of the fastest growing churches in America and certainly one of the largest in Seattle. I am not exaggerating when I observe that Pastor Mark Driscoll has become one of the most controversial pastors in America. He regularly makes statements concerning the books, sermons and beliefs of other Christians. Many people consider his views on family, family life and procreation to be ultraconservative.

The second Mars Hill was founded in 1999 in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan by Rob Bell. Pastor Rob Bell is known for his books and videos and is perhaps just as controversial as Mark Driscoll, though often for much different reasons. His latest book, “Love Wins” presents a much different view on hell than most other Evangelicals. I do not know if Driscoll and Bell know each other personally (I suspect they do), but I doubt there is much appreciation of one man for the other. Let’s agree to say they do not line up with each other doctrinally.

The third Mars Hill I know seems caught in the middle. It is pastored in Sacramento, California by a friend of mine, Scott Hagan. Scott planted another church years ago in the Sacramento area, then moved to pastor a mega-church in Michigan and is now back leading at Mars Hill in Sactown. I have Pastor Scott’s permission to share what I am going to write next. Several weeks ago, Scott and his Sacramento congregation received a “Cease and Desist” letter which came from attorneys representing the Seattle Mars Hill Church.  They were told that the Seattle Mars Hill had copyrighted the name “Mars Hill” and they demanded that the California Mars Hill churches stop using the name and any logos with similar lettering.

I was flabbergasted. First, I could not believe that a church would try and copyright the name of their church. I suppose if you wanted to make some money on the side, you could lease the name out to others. (My friend Ken thought it would be smart to copyright the name “First Baptist” and stick franchise stickers on the name and concept…I applaud his entrepreneurial spirit). But to outright disallow others from using a name that is found in the Bible because you want a monicker and label that only recognizes YOU seems the very epitome of pride and arrogance.

Second, that a church would take legal action to require other churches to comply violates both the letter and the spirit of the Word of God. The Bible is explicit when we are told not to take other believers to court when the issues regard spiritual matters. The naming of a church is certainly a spiritual matter and it is hard to see how someone could theologically skirt around this.

This issue should have been placed before the Body of Christ. Since it wasn’t, I decided to do that here. I am hoping word of this spreads quickly across the country. Why should we allow Mars Hill Seattle to do this without the rest of us voicing our opinion? If you are as outraged by this as I am, then I ask you to let friends on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus know about it. Reprint this openly on your blogs. Call Mars Hill Seattle and let them know how you feel about this. Perhaps if we try this case in the court of public opinion we can prevent this from making evangelicals a further laughing stock in the media.

Please hear my heart Pastor Driscoll….Mars Hill was a place where anyone could freely come and present their ideas. You called your church Mars Hill with at least some of that in mind. I call you back to that principle now and publicly call you to renounce this silly and ill-advised cease and desist order.

UPDATE: Several people from Mars Hill church in Seattle have contacted me and let me know the intention of the Cease and Desist letter is to have Mars Hill Sacramento change their logo. Pastor Hagan has not given me permission to post the letter from the lawyer: However, though I am not a lawyer, the first two paragraphs make it pretty plain they are to change the Name of the church, the Name of the website and the Logo and artwork. The next two pages explain the rationale in legalese. If the original intent was only to have Mars Hill Sacramento change the artwork, that should be communicated clearly by legal counsel. At this point, it clearly says they must change their name also. That is all I can say about this issue without being able to post a copy of the document.

A FINAL WORD: Some things are taking place between the two Mars Hill pastoral teams at the moment for which I am grateful. More power and prayers to them all. If anything is resolved, I will have Pastor Scott himself post the results here so everyone can see what can happen outside of the court system. Thank you everyone for wonderful comments and discussion. I have ended the discussion for now on this topic since we have covered just about every angle. I am overwhelmed by the response.

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103 comments

  1. [...] today I heard news that Mars Hill Seattle is allegedly threatening legal action against another church of the same [...]


  2. [...] all makes sense now. The cease and desist letter wasn’t about the name as that guy’s blog post led me to believe – it’s about artwork and one church ripping off another [...]


    • I am not at liberty to post the legal document Pastor Hagan received. However, I can assure you, he is being called upon to change the name of the church, the logo (ie. artwork as you suggest) and the name of the website. It is a three-page brief detailing all the changes that need to be made. Make no mistake, the very first thing the church is called upon to change is the NAME.


  3. [...] don’t like to speak ill of my brothers and sisters in Christ, but when I read this blog post, I was mildly [...]


  4. Reposted in Grand Rapids. I had the opportunity to travel to Africa with Pastor Scott.


  5. even if they are only concerned about the logo – it’s just a circle with the letter “m” in it. completely different design and font. do you have any idea how many logos there are out there with a circle and a letter in it? perhaps the mars candy company should investigate anyone with a logo that resembles their m&m’s candy.


  6. Well… I have not much sympathy for what Driscoll stands for, but, come on. Why in the world do the Sacramento folk use a similar name and a veeeeeeery similar logo to promote their church start-up? Even given my Antipathy toward Driscoll, the Sacramento church gives the impression of naively wanting to ride along.


    • The Sacramento church launched in 2005 with zero knowledge that there was even a mars hill Seattle in existence, their logo was designed in feburary of 2005 three full years before there was even knowledge of Mark Driscoll or his church. They are not a start up


  7. All that’s to say: Get creative down there in Sacramento. Esp. about your logo, geez. You shouldn’t need a lawyer from Driscoll’s fundamentalists to tell you that.


  8. Anyone else notice that Mars Hill (Seattle) just registered the Trademark for “stylized letter “M” in a circle followed by the text MARS HILL CHURCH” on August 3rd, 2011?

    Here’s a link to a copy of the filing: http://www.trademarkia.com/m-mars-hill-church-85388182.html

    They’ve been using that mark for a while, why just trademark it now?


  9. [...] While updates indicate the charges may be exaggerated, you can still read all about it here. Wonder if Driscoll will go after Mars Hill Church in Granville, Mich., now that its founding [...]


  10. 1. A letter from an attorney is not legal action, its a letter from an attorney. If there is a dispute in the body, sending a letter to the other part of the body is the perfect way to handle the situation.

    2. There are laws in this land about trademarks and copyrights. We’re called to live by those laws.

    3. The heart behind copyright law is to protect people. If Mars Hill created a brand, and another church is using the same brand, via similar logo and identical name, they are confusing people, they shouldn’t be allowed to have that name/logo.

    Think of it the other way around – If I want to start a church, name it “ZOMG CHURCH” and make my colors pink and green in order to distinguish myself from other churches, our country allows that. I can have “trade dress” of pink and green, and trademark my unique name. The US is awesome because of that. If you go try and steal “ZOMG Church” and use similar colors, if a jury of peers decides that the look and feel is similar enough, I can force you to stop pretending to be me.

    YOU may FEEL that “Mars Hill Church” is a generic name and shouldn’t be able to be Trademarked, however, its not your decision. Its the USPTO’s job to decide that. “First Baptist” for instance, would not be trademark-able – it is generic and non-original.

    So basically the government of the United States told Mars Hill that they have a trademark. Your friends church broke the law and used that trademark. Then Mars Hill (rather than filing a lawsuit), sent them a letter asking them to stop. In my opinion, without reading the letter, if you friends church wants to be obedient to God, they should abide by the laws of the land and stop infringing (or stealing if you will) Mars Hill’s property (as determined by USPTO).


  11. Regardless of who did what to whom what about the biblical injunction to not go to court against our brethern? 1 Corinthians 6:1-7


    • They didn’t go to court, they wrote a letter. Having lawyers write letter that pertain to the law is just prudent.


      • Calling is prudent. Drafting a letter through your law firm threatening legal action is something else altogether. The whole controversy hinges not on the name, or artwork, or wanting to make a distinction between one congregation and another. It centers on the failure of MH Seattle to apply the very Bible they teach to their own practice.

        Could be an honest mistake – and this blog entry calls on Mark Driscoll as the leader of MH Seattle to rectify it. No one is calling him a heretic or personally vilifying him – just calling him to step in and make it right.


  12. [...] This post was Twitted by danszmusic [...]


  13. If they (Mars Hills Seattle) want to run their church like a business, fine. Run it like a business. Create products and services that people want to buy and sell them. Don’t ask for donations (and don’t tell them their money is cursed if they don’t tithe). Drop the non-profit status, that gives tax savings from the government.

    It’s manipulative of them to call what they’re running a church.


    • Wow, what an uneducated response. They aren’t trying to license their name to anyone, they are simply wrote a letter telling the other church that they don’t want people confusing the two churches.

      If you are so anti Mars Hill Seattle… then you should WANT Mars Hill Sac to change their logo / name. Why would you want to be confused with people you don’t agree with.


      • Wow, what an uneducated response to a response. (sorry, feeling snarky) The point is this: why in the world would Mars Hill (Seattle) want this particular church in Sacramento to not be confused with their church, when there are dozens of ‘Mars Hill’-named churches throughout the world? Likely reason: Mars Hill (Seattle) hopes to expand their ‘brand’ and doesn’t want any ‘infringement’ in their proposed new ‘market’. How is this anything like Christianity? And we wonder why people think the church is less and less meaningful.


      • I guess all I’m saying Geoff is that the laws of our land, our leaders and authorities, have give the right to a trademark to MHSea, and MHSac (apparently) has broken those rules.

        If MHSac had come and built a physical building on property that MHSea had purchased, our laws say that they would have stolen something that does not belong to them.

        Legally, MHSea has a right to the property granted to them by our government. Even if they should have handled it differently (by phone call instead of letter), MHSac has an obligation to abide by the rules of our land unless they go against God’s laws.


  14. [...] the church has decided to send cease and desist letters to other churches named Mars Hill – in this case Mars Hill Sacramento, California – when they’ve all pulled the name from the Bible (Paul’s Areopagus Address [...]


  15. I would not want the same name as Mars Hill Seattle. I believe when the dust settles, a wide berth from Mars Hill Seattle would be in any church’s best interest.

    In fact I’d flee from the name if possible at this point.


  16. Psalm 133 v 1 says Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity.
    Jesus Himself said in John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

    None of the furore arising from the dispute between these two “churches” seems to me to be good or pleasant or unifying. And in the context of Jesus’ own words above it seems to be to be downright disobedient and certainly not honouring to the Lord. Guys get it it sorted.

    Rob Weir Fife, Scotland


    • I agree 100%.


  17. [...] Another Argument on Mars Hill [...]


  18. [...] Another Argument on Mars Hill [...]


  19. I thought Christianity was about helping each other? If Mars Hill of Seattle was doing God’s will, they would be helping any church however they could do promote the word of God. Politics are of this world and not of God. Politics in the church is one reason why I do not attend a church building any more. How do you expect to win the hearts of non-believers if this is what what your church stands for?


  20. Funny, I recently visited the original Mars Hill.

    IN ATHENS. (In between the Acropolis and the ancient Agora.)

    Maybe they should be the ones to send D&C letters…?


  21. If you ever need to ‘advertise’ your church, you’re doing something wrong.


  22. [...] because he couldn’t stomach what Jesus had to say about wealth. It still happens today.”Someone needs to get to the principal parties here and get this stopped: “The third Mars Hill I know seems caught in the middle. It is pastored in Sacramento, [...]


  23. It seems to me this church existed before Driscoll’s. I hear so many xzy community churches…first, 2nd, 3rd baptist…church of mary of scots and calathumpians…

    if the logos are the same…yes change them…the names…no.


  24. “The Bible is explicit when we are told not to take other believers to court when the issues regard spiritual matters.” Where does it say this? I believe you are referring to I Corinthians 6:1-7. It says do not settle your disputers with other believers…period. It talks about “legal disputes” not “spiritual matters”. You smuggled a little Lutheran dualism into your statement.


  25. You know, there’s a town in NC called Mars Hill. And a university. And, I’d bet, plenty of churches incorporating the town’s name into their own. They have a much older claim, regardless of how “Mega” the Seattle church is. Does the Seattle congregation really want to carry this out to its logical conclusion?

    And has the Seattle church given any thought to the idea that we are all ONE body of Christ? Or is it such a cult of personality masquerading as a church that it has no room for such a concept?


    • Has anyone in the Sacramento church given thought to the fact that they are breaking the laws of our land?


      • What laws did they break? Trademark laws are iffy at best. I can trademark just about anything then I have to prove in court that someone has broken said trademark. You might be surprised how many words, phrases, and slogans have been copyrighted.


      • The trademark office as far as I know does not investigate the existence of prior art when granting a trademark. It is up to individual companies and people to challenge the trademark in court and the original grant of trademark may then be overturned. The second church has not broken the law until a court says so. Whatever happened to innocent till proven guilty?


      • The laws are only “iffy” in the sense that too many people don’t abide by them. I have first hand experience regarding frivolous trademarks, and “Mars Hills Church” is not one of them, it is not descriptive (the church isn’t located at Mars Hill), nor is it generic (“Mars Hill Church” could not be though of as an improper noun). “Apple Fruit Store” would be a frivolous trademark since it is descriptive, “Apple Computers” is not, despite what you may think about ‘Apple’ being a common word.


      • @Keith – I completely agree! MHSac can totally dispute the trademark! It would be better if they responded via letter to MHSea and setup a neutral (Christian) 3rd party to mediate and avoid the courts probably. Try to resolve the issue in the body.

        My point was merely that IF anyone had done anything wrong, it was MHSac, MHSea merely responded with a letter asking them to stop. Just because they used lawyers doesn’t mean it was a “legal action”. Their lawyers may have been (and most likely are) believers.


  26. I see the problem a little differently. This issue is now being decided in a public arena because you have decided to ‘blog’ this stuff. You are culpable as well for your part in this mess. Hagan should not have allowed you to vent here. It is the obligation, from his end of this, to deal with the Seattle church privately to resolve this and then bring in others to help if there is no resolution. We all bear witness to the name of Christ – even as those who may feel slighted.


  27. I think the Sacramento church should call it “Post-Mars Hill” or “Neo-Mars Hill” in keeping with other trends and the “hyphen-ated” emergent name’n-clature.


  28. Sounds legit to me… Mars hill Seattle should only be accountable for their own teachings and actions. If another church pretends to be them then their reputation and influence which God entrusted to them is outside of their control. They have to be above reproach. Would any of you want somebody to pretend they’re you and do whatever they want with your reputation?


  29. Folks,
    Those of you who are excusing Driscoll/MH on grounds of branding , etc. That is entirely irrelevant to the issue of the way and Spirit of Jesus.–”If someone wants your shirt, give them your coat…walk 2 miles.” That is the ultimate failure here–actually following Christ, following his way. How much damage has Driscoll himself done to the “Christ Brand”? Yet he continues to use it. We all have sullied His brand and continue to use. This is a complete epic failure to follow Christ, period.


    • What about failure of MHSac to abide by laws of the land?


      • Mike, regardless: What about the “follow Jesus” point as regards to Mars Hill. Why doesn’t MH say, “Go ahead, use it…to the glory of God”? Use a name from the scriptures…be our guest. This says a ton about MH Seattle


      • Why don’t you give me everything you own… for the glory of Christ? MHSea doesn’t want people confusing the two churches… that’s their right to want that. Just like you have the right to own your possessions.

        MHSac presumably didn’t know that MHSea had similar name and mark so MHSea felt MHSac was confusing people with their similar logo and identical name, so they sent them a letter asking them to stop. There is nothing sinful about that.

        Intellectual property law (as jacked up as it is), was created to keep people from getting confused, and allow people/organizations/businesses to create an identity.



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