Mark Dever. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible. 9Marks. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2012. 16-page sample PDF.
This book is intended as a popular primer on the doctrine of the church, especially for Baptists but also, in so far as the arguments are convincing, for all of those who see Scripture alone to be the sufficient authority for the doctrine and life of the local church.
The book grew out of a chapter I wrote almost a decade ago on the doctrine of the church. [Note 8: Daniel Akin, ed., A Theology for the Church (Nashville: B&H, 2007); see chap. 13, “The Church,” 766–856.] The volume containing that chapter imposed a certain structure that is retained here. (p. xii)
Excerpt: “Why Join a Church?” (pp. 151–53, numbering added):
Most evangelical Christians today seem to treat their church as one more thing to help out their Christian life, perhaps along with this Bible study, that music, those authors, this retreat, and keeping a journal. In other words the Christian conceives of his or her spiritual life as fundamentally one’s own business, managed by selecting among various helps. This approach contrasts with an older and more biblical way of thinking about the Christian life that is congregationally shaped, where the demands of the gospel are made concrete in a particular local church (see 1 John 4:20).
Being a member of a local church should be made to seem normal for Christians.
- Lives lived in regular love, fellowship, and accountability make the gospel clear to the world. Jesus said that Christians’ love for one another would enable the world to recognize Christians as those who follow Christ (John 13:34–35). In that sense a vigorous practice of church membership helps a congregation’s evangelism.
- It also helps Christians gain a proper assurance of their own salvation. As Christians observe, teach, encourage, and rebuke one another, the local church begins to act as a cooperative that corroborates assurance of salvation.
- Church membership is good for weak Christians because it bring them into a place of feeding and accountability.
- Church membership is good for strong Christians because it enables them to provide an example for what a true Christian life is like. [Note 2: For more on why a believer should join a church, see Jim Samra, The Gift of Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).]
- Committed church membership is also good for the leaders of the church. How will God’s work go forward if Christians do not organize together to serve him? And how will Christians receive the gifts God gives them in their leaders if there is no flock marked out for those leaders to steward?
- Finally, practicing church membership glorifies God. As Christians gather together to form the body of Christ, his character is reflected and expressed.
Recovering this understanding of church membership should be one of the chief desires of congregations today.
[Note 3: For more on this, see
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church , 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004);
- also Mark Dever, A Display of God’s Glory (Washington, DC: 9Marks, 2001);
- Mark Dever, “Regaining Meaningful Membership,” in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, ed. Thomas White, Jason Duesing, and Malcolm Yarnell (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 45–61.]
Before one quickly points to the parachurch as accomplishing the same objectives, remember that the parachurch neither has the same commitment to systematically proclaiming the whole counsel of God, nor does it have the mechanisms of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline for drawing a clear, bright line that says to the world, “Here are the people of God.” The parachurch is and always intends to be a particular subset of the church centered on a shared task. As Byron Straughn put it, the parachurch is like our soccer team, but the church is like our family.
- Nathan Finn’s review concludes, “The Church is probably the best contemporary introduction to Baptist ecclesiology. Readers who wish to read a more comprehensive, constructive volume should consult John Hammett’s Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches (Kregel, 2005) or Gregg Allison’s forthcoming Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Crossway, 2012).”
- Two Accessible Books on Church Membership
- 22 Mistakes Pastors Make in Practicing Church Discipline
- A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline