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.



  1. Whatever happened to innocent till proven guilty? The second church has not broken the law until a court says so! And if the trademark was done AFTER they named thier church they can claim it is prior art and thus have violated NO laws.

  2. […] that… there is nothing.  No denials in a case like this probably means the story is true: Mars Hill is applying legal pressure to other churches to stop using “their” name and lo… (the letter supposedly speaks of both, but there are some claims that the intention was just the […]

  3. Is the issue only because this is a church ordering a cease and desist against another church? If you as a Christian man started a company that made hundred’s of millions of dollars you be ok copyrighting your company? If there was another company gaining market share and popularity, even in a completely different market, would you do it then to protect your company and employees?

  4. Since no one in the comment section has read the letter or has much of a history with the circumstances we should probably remain mute. A ‘cease and desist’ order can only be given by a judge. It sounds like this is only a letter from an attorney. I’ll stand by what I said before: this should not have been posted in the first place to judge in the blogoshpere. Pray for reconciliation and lets ‘cease and desist’ this conversation! Peace.

  5. […] Gates Are Open is reporting that Mars Hill Church (Mark Driscoll’s church in Seattle) is going after another Mars Hill […]

  6. […] The initial blog post that sparked this controversy was […]

  7. […] CHURCH NAMES BE COPYRIGHTED? “Another Argument on Mars Hill.” The third Mars Hill I know seems caught in the middle. It is pastored in Sacramento, California by […]

  8. […] Friday a dear friend of mine, Mike Phillips, published a blog post regarding the letter on his blog more or less in a public plea to Mars Hill Seattle to go about this business in a more […]

  9. […] The Gates are Open-Pastor Mark is on the Offense and it’s not the devil this time. […]

  10. […] logos with similar lettering.” These events were made known by a blogger/pastor in the area (see here). A storm was stirred up. Then the Mars Hill Seattle pastors contacted the Mars Hill pastor in […]

  11. […] logos with similar lettering.” These events were made known by a blogger/pastor in the area (see here). A storm was stirred up. Then the Mars Hill Seattle pastors contacted the Mars Hill pastor in […]

  12. […] logos with similar lettering.” These events were made known by a blogger/pastor in the area (see here). A storm was stirred up. Then the Mars Hill Seattle pastors contacted the Mars Hill pastor in […]

  13. […] today my mate Simeon drew my attention to an article on “The Gates are Open” where the author reveals the plight of a friend of his, who’s church has received a […]

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