Yesterday in a class i was substituting i overheard a very interesting conversation between several girls. It went something along these lines:
One said, “I don’t go to church, but I still believe in God.”
Another replied, “Well, it looks like you’re going to hell.”
The first reiterated, “I said I believe in God. I just don’t like church.”
At that point i stopped listening, because i didn’t want to get all theological in a French class. But it raises several important questions.
- What’s the point of the church?
- Why should you be involved in a local church?
- What should the local church look like?
- How can you determine whether you are in a solid church or not?
And i’d answer that Mark Dever probably has the answer to these questions in his 300 page book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. If you’d like a shorter version, his book The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (which is my focus in this post) is fewer than 175 pages.
He begins the book with a 17-page introduction that lays out the fact that our answers for our questions concerning the church are laid out in the Bible (for the most part). His thesis for the book reads as follows: “This book attempts to provide such careful instruction so that we might understand and recover faithfulness to God’s Word on something that is not essential for salvation but that is both important and necessary for obedience—what the local church is to be and to do.” He explains that the Bible contains directions on what churches should do, what churches should believe, how churches should worship, and how churches should live together.
The first part of the book answers the question, “What does the Bible say?” In chapter 1, he looks at the fact that the story of the Bible is about God’s people—one people from Genesis to Revelation. He explains,
Though Israel and the church are not identical, they are closely related, and they are related through Jesus Christ (see Eph 2:12-13). Israel was called to be the Lord’s servant but was unfaithful to him. Jesus, on the other hand, is a faithful servant (see Matt 4:1-11). The temples of Solomon and Ezra, as well as in Ezekiel’s vision, all point toward Jesus Christ, whose body constitutes the supreme earthly tabernacle for God’s Spirit. The land of Israel, especially the city of Jerusalem, points toward the redemption of the whole earth. Heaven itself is referred to as the new Jerusalem. The multinational church fulfills the promises given to the 12 tribes (see Revelation 7). And the law of the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Christ(see Matt 5:17). Christ is the fulfillment of all that Israel points toward (see 2 Cor 1:20), and the church is Christ’s body.
In chapter 2, he breaks down the phrase, “one, holy, universal and apostolic church” as found in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed from AD 381. One refers to the unity of the church. Holy refers to the fact that the church is a group of people who have been set apart by God to live differently. Universal refers to the fact that the church is more than one specific local congregation. Apostolic refers to the fact that “it is founded on and is faithful to the Word of God given through the apostles.”
In chapter 3, Dever discusses the marks of the church. Instead of the 9 marks from his more popular work, he focuses on two that have been agreed upon since at least the Reformation. The first mark is the right preaching of God’s Word, and the second mark is the right administration of the ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (If your church does not preach the Word of God, and rather preaches the opinions or ideas of a man, or if your church fails to practice baptism and a regular taking of the Lord’s Supper, then you should find a new church.)
In chapter 4, Dever discusses the membership of the church. It plays heavily off of the second mark from the prior chapter: baptism should be an identifier of membership, and the Lord’s Supper should be a regular practice of Christ’s members.
In chapter 5, he discusses the way a church should be governed, focusing almost exclusively on the positions of elders and deacons, since those are the only biblically described offices in the church.
In chapter 6, he discusses church discipline, which again harks back to the second mark of chapter 3. Membership must be practiced for discipline to be rightly practiced; if members of a local congregation are not specified, then there is no way to hold believers accountable for their lives. Biblically, Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 explicitly discuss church discipline. Dever writes, “Church discipline done correctly might bring a sinner to repentance, but it will always faithfully represent the gospel to the surrounding community.”
In chapter 7, he discusses the church’s purpose. It can be summed up by saying, “The church ultimately exists for the glory of God.” He has more to say, but you’ll have to buy the book to read that.
In chapter 8, Dever discusses the church’s hope. In short, this is the return of Christ. He says, “the church is called to herald no vision of a this-world utopia.” The church should never cease preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, replacing it with a social justice mantra for this world only.
In part 2, Dever spends 3 chapters answering the question “What has the church believed?” In this section he looks at the history of the church. He starts, in chapter 9, by discussing the idea of the church throughout history, and concludes with this provocative statement, “The rise of differing denominations represents the desire for faithfulness in purity rather than in visible unity.” And this is not necessarily a bad thing, as the book discusses.
In chapter 10, Dever looks more closely at the ordinances of the church—this time throughout church history. He looks briefly at different forms of baptism, landing on believer’s baptism—the hallmark of Baptists—as the best, most Scriptural form. He also looks briefly at different beliefs relating to the Lord’s Supper, landing on the memorial view as the most biblically faithful.
In chapter 11, Dever looks at the history of the organization of the church. He explains the rise of covenants and confessions as being what defined membership. Then he discusses different forms of government, landing on congregationalism as the most biblically faithful.
In the third part, Dever spends four chapters laying out his view of what the church should look like. In summary form, he says that it should be a Protestant (chapter 12), gathered (chapter 13), congregational (chapter 14), Baptist church (chapter 15). All of these chapters are worth reading, but i think that his best work comes out in chapter 13. When he says gathered, he means the following:
A biblically faithful church is a gathered church. It is a voluntarily assembled congregation that is not bound together by nationality, ethnicity, or family alone. No mere circumstance of birth should determine the membership of a biblically faithful church. Rather, a profession of faith in Christ and the act of submitting to the teachings and discipline of a particular church should regulate a congregation’s membership. Christians choose to gather together regularly out of obedience to God’s Word.
To be a Christian is to be a part of the church, and to be a part of the church is to gather regularly with a group of believers.
In conclusion, to avoid the church, or to neglect the study of the church is to cast doubt upon your claim of loving God or believing in Him. You cannot—as the girl in class yesterday claimed—love God but not like the church. In reality, heaven will be an eternal church service.
Grab this book today
Short Caveat: This is an excellent treatment of the doctrine of the church, but i personally feel like the subtitle, “the gospel made visible,” was misleading. While that is an accurate description of the church, i do not feel that Dever explicated that fact as well as he could have in this book.
Also, this book, especially in sections 2-3, read like an “Only Baptist Churches are correct” book. In fairness, i do not believe in the slightest that Dever actually believes this, but just a heads up, if you’re interested in this book, but you do not identify as a Baptist, it might come across this way.
Soli Deo Gloria
 Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2012), xv.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 15.
 Ibid., 18.
 Ibid., 68. If the goal is not for repentance, then discipline is not being practiced rightly.
 Ibid., 77.
 Ibid., 86.
 Ibid., 98.
 I don’t necessarily think he is right on this point, but this is not the place to enter that debate.
 Again, i don’t necessarily agree with Dever on this point, but i will admit that i agree with him more here than i do on baptism.
 Again, i don’t necessarily think he is right on this point, and i would argue this one more (after more study of course) than either baptism or the Lord’s Supper.
 Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, 131. Emphasis added.