NewSpring faced two public relations crises last week, and its response to each tells us much about the church’s lack of accountability and unwillingness to submit to correction.
On Friday morning, the South Carolina Baptist Convention published a strong and detailed rebuke of the NewSpring’s pastor, worship style and governance. The statement by the SCBC president, Pastor Tommy Kelly, asked every Baptist church in South Carolina to publicly distance itself from NewSpring. Five days later, neither Noble nor the church has even publicly acknowledged the SCBC’s message.
Last Sunday morning, Connor Shaw, the former USC Gamecocks quarterback and current Cleveland Browns backup quarterback, tried to attend a NewSpring service with his family, but found that NewSpring’s “children bouncers” (their term) prohibited his children from entering the auditorium with him. He wasn’t impressed, and said so on Twitter:
Me & my wife were told we can’t go to congregation with our daughter. Too young?!? Don’t think He would approve @newspring Matthew18:1-3
Perhaps recognizing his name and noting his 37,500 Twitter followers, NewSpring’s social media monitors Tweeted a reply within five minutes.
I’ve written about NewSpring’s family-dividing worship before, so for now I’m most interested in the contrasting responses to these two public complaints. A serious rebuke from the president of their own denomination was ignored, though they publicly engaged with a sports celebrity within minutes.
By NewSpring’s silence regarding the SCBC rebuke, the church is telling the world that it really doesn’t care what the church at large thinks of it. Noble is showing the same insolence to authority that his friend Mark Driscoll demonstrated just a few months ago. Driscoll led a church that, while not affiliated with an external governing denomination, had an internal accountability structure that investigated a variety of charges brought against Driscoll by former elders and pastors in his church. At the conclusion of their investigation, the Mars Hill board asked Driscoll to fix some of the problems that they had identified. In a move that surprised the board, Driscoll responded by resigning and leaving the church, which consequently dissolved as an organization at the end of 2014.
Driscoll’s first public appearance after resigning from Mars Hill was at a conference with Steven Furtick and Robert Morris (who is often used to preach NewSpring’s fundraising sermons). After Morris let Driscoll publicly portray himself as the victim of an unfair process, Noble praised Morris for supporting Driscoll.
When Driscoll was about to be properly and gently corrected (they could have fired him) by his own church, Noble, Morris and Furtick abandoned the congregation that Driscoll had left behind at Mars Hill. Instead of telling Driscoll to go back to Seattle and deal with his sin, they praised his unwillingness to submit to correction. Instead of supporting church discipline, they railed against it, and now that church no longer exists.
Driscoll actually had an easier path to restoration than Noble and NewSpring do. Most of the problems with Driscoll were related to his abusive leadership style, not his preaching and teaching. In NewSpring’s case, the SC Baptist Convention is asking for correction in NewSpring’s government structure, its worship style, and Noble’s preaching style, content and very doctrine. In other words, everything that makes Noble Noble and NewSpring NewSpring.
If Noble were to humbly submit to the Convention’s correction, his church would be unrecognizable from what it is today, which is why the church cannot afford to even acknowledge the rebuke. To be healed, NewSpring would have to die to itself, and its pastor appears unwilling to let that happen.