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The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (9Marks) Paperback – April 1, 2012
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“Mark Dever has rendered an invaluable service to the Body of Christ in this book. Its biblical grounding is sure, and its theological insights are spot on! Few address the issues of ecclesiology better than this pastor/theologian. This work will help us better understand what the church is and what the church does when it is faithful to Scripture.”
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It's densely packed with insight from a pastor-theologian who has built his preaching ministry around the Word of God. Dever's passion is for healthy churches. He believes that God's Word is sufficient for every aspect of the church. This is the first part of the book. I. What Does the Bible Say? Here he gives us the biblical foundations of the church. Then he looks at historical issues related to the life of the church in II. What Has the Church Believed? Finally Dever answers in the final part III. How Does It All Fit Together? This is the modern application for church life.
While I did initially expect the book to be longer, Dever packs it with footnotes and points the reader to many reference sources. It's a great primer on Ecclesiology. I would recommend it if you're familiar with Dever's previous works on healthy churches because this treatment of the church seems to be more of a complete thought, more well-rounded. And, if you're not familiar with Dever this would be the best place to start.
Let me answer an objection I could foresee, "Read a Baptist book?" Yes, even if you're not persuaded by credobaptism, this book will truly help you biblically define what a church is. Dever's solid foundations and formulations will challenge you to think Scripturally about many of our accepted practices within the church today. Many of the blurbs in the front will attest to this as well.
I am a Dever fan and over the past few years have found him and his 9 Marks [...] organisation tremendously helpful. He has helped me to sharpen up my ecclesiology and to think more carefully through such subjects as church membership and discipline. The church I pastor is historically Baptist, so I also have that direct connection with Dever.
In The Church Dever seeks to set out a clear doctrine of the church, and as such this is a very useful book. I shall certainly be recommending it when I teach ecclesiology in our leadership training program. In three sections Dever explores what the Bible says about the church; what the church has believed about the church; and how this should all fit together in the local congregation. It is all good stuff, and zips along nicely, giving plenty of material while not getting too bogged down in detail.
Dever has a real passion for the church, as all Christians should. He has devoted his life to serving a local congregation and his love for the body of Christ shines through. I am with him all the way on this. As the first sentence of the first chapter puts it, "The church is the body of people called by God's grace through faith in Christ to glorify him together by serving him in his world." Amen!
So, so far so good.
Where I found The Church less satisfying is that it reads very much like a detailed membership course for people looking to join Dever's church. It could do with being more engaging and lyric, while no less factual. Also, almost inevitably, Dever comes to the conclusion that the ideal expression of the local church is the type of church that he leads! I think we all do this - if we didn't, presumably we would join a church with a different ecclesiology - so I don't blame Dever for it; but it becomes irritating at those points where his arguments are not so strong as he tries to contend. This is especially the case with his defense of Congregationalism.
Dever argues for `elder led' rather that `elder ruled' congregations (despite the fact that I should think his word is pretty much law at Capitol Hill Baptist) but highlights the flaw in his model when he writes, "On matters that are important and clear, the elders and congregation should normally agree; and when they do not, the authority of the congregation is final." The problem with this, of course, is who gets to define `important and clear'? I think it is very hard to argue from the New Testament that local congregations were the ones who determined doctrine. Instead, local elders, under apostolic authority, have responsibility to guard the truth and guard the flock.
In the churches I am most familiar with I think the congregational aspect of ecclesiology has often been underplayed - largely as a swing against the terrible abuses of Congregationalism that many of an earlier generation experienced in Baptist churches. At the church I lead we have been working to rectify this, placing increased emphasis upon membership and members meetings; in the role of the whole congregation in exercising church discipline and recognizing new members; and so on. However, rather than Dever's pure congregationalism I would argue for a blend of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism - a congregation which exercises its proper responsibilities, led by a team of elders who have recognized spiritual authority, who in turn choose to submit to an external presbytery (or, in our case, `apostolic' ministry).
But of course, I would say that, wouldn't I.
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Don't get me wrong. I'm a 5 point Calvinist & I believe in the 5 Solas.Read more
A very good book.