What is the bible picture of what churches should be like?
We have been able to use the music ministry from Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) during our services whilst we are unable to sing together. I think it would be worthwhile saying something about 9Marks from CHBC and why listening to what they have to say could be immensely helpful for us.
Mark Dever, Pastor at CHBC is a historian but very much lives in the present day and ministers to the present day. I want to say something about the emphases he has and how they may be very helpful to churches in the 21st Century.
Why 9Marks Ministries?
The title comes from a book that Mark wrote and which was published in 2000 – ‘Nine Marks of a Healthy Church’. After spending a number of years preaching and teaching at CHBC Mark found that his study of the Bible cemented certain convictions in his mind about priorities in local churches and why so much goes wrong within local churches. What weighed on his mind was the conviction:
Unhealthy churches cause few problems for the healthiest Christians; but they are
cruel taxes on the growth of the youngest and weakest Christians. They pray on those who don’t understand Scripture well. They mislead spiritual children.
What makes a church unhealthy and how Bible priorities can enable a return to good
A church is unhealthy when it has priorities and patterns of organisation dictated by what seems to be practical wisdom (pragmatism) rather than allowing the Lord Jesus to be Lord of his church through his word and there establishing the patterns of life, teaching and behaviour that are appropriate. While Mark was ministering at CHBC he describes what happened – it was ultimately through preaching expositional sermons, serially going through
book after book, that all of the Bible’s teaching on the church became more central to him:
1. ‘It began to seem obviously a farce that we claimed to be Christians but didn’t love one another.’
2. ‘The ‘each other’ and ‘one another’ passages began to come alive ... As I’ve preached through Ephesians 2 – 3 it has become clear to me that the church is the centre of God’s plan to display his wisdom to the heavenly beings.’
3. ‘I’ve come to see that love is largely local. And the local congregation is the place that
claims to display this love for all to see. (see John 13: 34 + 35) ............. I have seen friends and families alienated from Christ because they perceive this or that local church to have been such a terrible place. On the other hand, I have seen friends and family come to Christ because they have exactly this love that Jesus taught and lived – love for one another, the kind of selfless love that he showed – and they’ve felt the natural human attraction to it. ......... the local church is God’s evangelism plan (and) programme.’
4. ‘the congregation has also become more central to my understanding of how we are to discern true conversion in others, and how we are to have assurance of it ourselves. I remember being struck by 1 John 4: 20 – 21 .... : ‘If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen’. This love doesn’t seem to be optional.
5. ‘It has become crystal clear that if we are to depend upon each other in our congregations, discipline must be part of discipleship. And if there is to be the kind of discipline that we see in the New Testament, we must know and be known by others, and we must be committed to one another. We must also have some trust of authority. All the practicalities of trusting authority in marriage, home, and church are hammered out at a local level. ......... I’ve come to see that relationship with a local congregation is central to individual discipleship. The church isn’t an optional extra; it’s the shape of your following Jesus.’
What are the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church?
1. Expositional (expository) Preaching – ‘that is preaching that takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture. That’s it. The preacher opens the Word and unfolds it for the people of God.’ He points out, and I find this to be true week after week, that this commitment means we often find ourselves dealing with subjects which are outside our comfort zone or not what we expected and that this is immensely rewarding.
2. Biblical Theology The point here is that if I am preaching God’s word I could of course
make anything I like from a particular text unless I am guided by the context of the text not just in a particular passage but within the whole message of the Bible. The Bible has a story-line that reveals God’s character and his plans and promises and his carrying out of the plans and fulfilling of the promises. The question we need to answer is not what we would like God to be like but how has he revealed himself to us.
3. The Gospel Many churches have a gospel which picks up and distorts some part of the gospel message. The good news is not that God thinks you are OK or that he loves you unconditionally no matter how you choose to live. The good news is that sinners, people who deserve nothing from God accept his anger, may be forgiven because Jesus has died for sins, has defeated death and ever lives to make intercession to all who come to God by him. They need to turn from sin and rebellion and trust Jesus as Lord and Saviour and they will be forgiven, adopted into God’s family and given eternal life.
At this point I realize that I will not complete getting through all the nine marks so, if there
are no emergencies to respond to, I will continue this subject in the next blog.
Yours in the Lord,
20th February 2021