Former elders of the Mars Hill church in Seattle, formerly pastored by Mark Driscoll, have published an open letter apologising to two pastors whose appointment was terminated in 2007.
Bent Meyer and Paul Petry were fired for violations of the biblical qualifications of eldership.
The letter is a further example of repentance by leaders at the crisis-hit church, which announced that it is is cease operations by the end of the year.
Now, 18 elders and former elders in a list headed by Scott Thomas and Dave Kraft have written saying they wanted to "publicly confess our sin against you" in the way the two had been treated.
On September 30, "Your status as elders of the church was suspended, according to the church's bylaws at the time, pending an investigation of your qualification for eldership," the letter says. "It's hard to imagine just how disorienting and painful this experience must have been for you."
It continues: "We had the opportunity and the responsibility to intervene, to care, to listen to you, and to make sure that any harmful treatment against you was corrected. Instead, we allowed the process of your investigation and trial to continue unimpeded and we participated in it. By failing to intervene and by participating in that process without protest, we implied to the members of Mars Hill Church, to each other, and to you and your families that your termination was above reproach. We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong."
The letter says: "By failing to intervene, we enabled a growing trend of misuses and abuses of power and authority that would be feared and tolerated by the rest of the church's eldership."
A vote of the 23 elders on October 15 found that Paul Petry's offences included a "lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority". "We now believe our decisions were invalid and wrong," the letter says. On December 5, the elders voted to instruct Mars Hill's members to treat Petry as an "unrepentant believer under church discipline" after he resigned his membership. The treatment was to have included "rejection and disassociation" in the hope that you would "come to an acknowledgment of [your] sin and repent".
The letter says: "This instruction was given with the weight of all twenty-seven elders at the time. This disciplinary rejection led to great loss to your family in extreme financial hardship, sudden loss of long standing friendships, spiritual and emotional trauma to your family, and the public shaming of your character. We share responsibility for those losses due to our participation in the vote."
Bent Meyer was voted on October 29 to have displayed "an unhealthy lack of trust in, and respect for, the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church". The letter says: "We were wrong to have insisted that you repent of this lacking trust as a condition of your continued eldership, because it was not sinful on your part in the first place."
The letter concludes: "Paul and Bent, we are sorry for our sinful behavior toward you, for harming you, and for bringing shame to Christ's church. We hope that you will forgive us."