I am a Baptist by conviction. That means that I not only hold to believer’s baptism but that I also adhere to congregational polity. I believe in these not for pragmatic reasons—though I do think they “work” the best—but for biblical reasons.
Without question, my understanding of scripture on these matters has been decisively shaped by Mark Dever and the ministry of 9Marks. For me, this influence began when I was still a seminary student in a conversation with Mark Dever in the hallway at Southern Seminary. It was actually more of a debate. But over time after doing more reading and study, I became persuaded that he was right about what the Bible teaches.
Why am I bringing this up now? First, I just want to express thankfulness for those who have taught the word of God to me (Heb. 13:7). Second, I want to give thanks for the way that the ministry of 9Marks continues to engage my own denomination to think about what makes for a healthy church. I was reminded of this again this week at the Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, where 9Marks’s presence and contribution was ubiquitous. Third, I want to alert readers to this ministry and the resources that they provide.
And this third item is the key point. As cultural Christianity disintegrates and the American church faces a culture arrayed against it, Baptist churches in the particular are sensing the need to retrench and prepare for this new day. What a smiling providence from God that we have over a decade’s worth of solid resources from 9Marks to teach us how to sojourn faithfully (1 Pet. 1:1).
There is too much for me to give a comprehensive list of resources in this short post. Let me just recommend that you visit the website 9Marks.org to see the length and breadth of what they offer. Having said that, here’s a short-list of items that might be a good place to begin:
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (3rd ed.), by Mark Dever
This is the book that started it all. The nine marks of a healthy church are these: expositional preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, biblical understanding of conversion, biblical understanding of evangelism, biblical understanding of church membership, church discipline, discipleship, and biblical church leadership.
A Display of God’s Glory, by Mark Dever
This is a very short booklet explaining from scripture what Elders, Deacons, Membership, and Ordinances are. This is very short and accessible. Highly recommended for those just beginning to think through these issues.
The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline, by Jonathan Leeman
“So how should churches receive and dismiss members? How should Christians view their submission to the church? Are there dangers in such submission? The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love responds with biblical, theological, and practical guidance-from both corporate and individual perspectives. It’s a resource that will help pastors and their congregations upend worldly conceptions and recover a biblical understanding and practice of church authority.”
This is a free journal publishing helpful articles on church health four times a year.
with respect to the Benedict Option, Joan Chittister has written this:
“The search for God depends, then, on choosing the spiritual path most suited to our own spiritual temper and character. For some seekers, it is in withdrawal from society or by immersion in nature that God is most present. For others, the face of God shows most clearly in the face of the poor, or is felt most keenly through the support of those with whom they share a common spiritual regimen. For many, it is a bit of both, a balance of community, contemplation and commitment to the people of God.”
I know that people can commit to living in community, but I also know that the whole ‘community’ needs to commit to respecting each individual member as a person of dignity and conscience who has diverse gifts to offer and personal needs to be taken into consideration. That is not so easy to do, no. But, with respect and dignity for all present in a community of faith, it is possible so that no one feels ‘trapped’ into a structure which was never designed to create that situation in the first place. Respect for the dignity of each person is a guard against situations which could turn into a disaster no one would want to see happen. For this to succeed, the wisdom of the leadership must show forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their service to the members of the community.