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The Marks for Members
A review of 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
Before I begin, here’s the latest episode of the Consider the Ravens podcast. We’ve started our series on Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, if you’re not sure whether you want to join us on that journey or not, why not download the first issue of “It’s all Dutch to me: a Reader’s Guide” on Sunday and the kindle sample and just give it a go?
Without further adieu, here’s the review:
The Marks for Members
I am sure there have been many reviews over the years for this book directed at church leaders and Pastors, but though this book is definitely directed to that audience, it’s worth saying that this book, if it’s to find its footing in a church context, can’t simply be believed and upheld by a particular few, but by the body as a whole.
If, for instance, a Pastor believes that Expositional Preaching (expounding upon scripture and letting the verse, chapter, or passage direct the message) is important, that fact will necessitate an equivalent sentiment to be held by the congregation, or at least a majority of it. If you’re a church member, I’d encourage you to read this book and to glean everything you can from it, and I’ve got some pointers to help you do so. If you’re a leader, especially a Pastor/Elder and you hold to the convictions set out in this book, I would encourage you to place it in the hands of your church members, and I hope these tips will be informative with regards to how you might assist them in doing so.
You are Limited
First off, let’s take a look at the aforementioned marks:
Mark One - Expositional Preaching
Mark Two - Gospel Doctrine
Mark Three - A Biblical Understanding of Conversion and Evangelism
Mark Four - A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership
Mark Five - Biblical Church Discipline
Mark Six - A Biblical Concern for Discipleship and Growth
Mark Seven - Biblical Church Leadership
Mark Eight - A Biblical Understanding and Practice of Prayer
Mark Nine - A Biblical Understanding and Practice of Missions
The reality is that this book is grounded in scripture and the marks laid out here are also well attested to by Church History and Tradition. That’s ultimately a huge strength and Dever’s characteristic charm and candour really helps to guide Pastors and Elders to seriously and prayerfully consider these and what implementing them would mean for their church contexts. On the flip side, however, as a church member, you may be seriously convicted by these points but without any ability to implement those changes. That’s definitely a conundrum that many have dealt with before you and will continue to after you. I must admit here that this has been my experience and at times it can be a real struggle. If you have a good relationship with your Elders, bring this to them, let them know how it impacted you.
My advice going into this book would be:
Live out the things you’re able to (faithful church membership, prayer, personal evangelism etc.)
Let your beliefs about the other marks be grounded in scripture, not your personal conviction.
Do everything you can to encourage your Elders, rather than admonishing them. (“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father,…” 1 Tim 5:1a)
I have not always done this perfectly—as I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear—but I would still recommend picking this book up. Having convictions and causing disputes are two very different things.
Don’t skip the prefaces (plural)
I can imagine that there would be a reticence among many to skip over what might seem like a fairly arbitrary section of the book, the prefaces, especially when there are multiple versions to go through which have been written for the various versions of this book which have been released so far.
Don’t do that.
Dever hasn’t just rewritten the same book over and over, he’s practised these, gotten feedback from others who have practised them, and then improved upon the work over time. That said, the core values represented haven’t changed, if anything, as more people have adopted them or been strengthened in their practising of them, Dever’s conviction has grown stronger. In summary:
Dever has been more than willing to receive criticism and requests for change where needed, and
the 9 Marks have been tested and proven over time.
These prefaces will give you an insight into Dever’s mindset and journey over the course of the editions and though he does express his own thoughts and feelings throughout the book, this is where you’ll hear his heart beat most clearly.
Don’t skip the prefaces.
Spend time behind the work
You should feel more than free to take time to take a step behind the words within this work and check them for stability. This work takes its cues primarily from scripture and secondarily from church history. I know I talk about these two things a lot, but this is yet another chance for you to check those sources out. When you read a book like this it will point you towards its sources—sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly—for you to then go and delve into yourself. A good benchmark for determining whether something is worth diving into is if people you respect, like Dever, respect them.
Imagine if you were trying to figure out whether you should ask someone out for coffee for the first time, if your best friend came to you and told you how well they thought you’d work together, you’d feel more comfortable because you hold their opinion in high regard. Likewise, if my father, a kitchen fitter by trade, recommended an oven to me, I would be 99.99% sure that it would be a good choice because I know he has a good eye for these things.
Look at the sources behind the words and learn from them too. If this is how you think church should look, don’t just take this book’s word for it, dive into scripture and into church history.
I will say this, if you’re only going to read 2/3 books this year and you’re a layperson, this book would be low on my recommended reading list for you. As wonderful as I think it is, it’s not one which everyone is likely to gain a lot from. If, however, you’re going to read a book a week, or even a month, I would go and pick it up. I honestly think that these nine marks make an awful lot of sense and are biblically based and well tested. If you don’t, that’s okay, but I would suggest that you read the book anyway and have a good reason why you don’t agree.
With that said,
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
Come back Sunday for our series on Jude, in which we’ll be talking about who is peaking and who he is speaking to. If you liked this newsletter, would consider leaving a like or subscribing for more?