Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Are there 9 marks of a healthy church?

Mark Dever's book "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church" has been a big hit in recent times. The books does what the cover says and lists 9 marks. Here they are:
1. Expositional Preaching
2. Biblical Theology
3. The Gospel
4. A Biblical Understanding of conversion
5. A Biblical understanding of evangelism
6. A Biblical understanding of church membership
7. Biblical Church discipline
8. A Concern for discipleship and growth
9. Biblical Church leadership

I have to admit that I have a real problem with this book as it stands. My problem is this: where on earth does the personal appropriation of the Lord Jesus in faith and life fit in here? Where is faith, holiness, hope and love?!! It seems to me that Dever has defined spiritual health largely in terms of doctrine and not in terms of personal faith and character. Now, doctrine is certainly vital but it is hardly sufficient in delineating health. I reckon you could have all these signs and yet still be a profoundly unhealthy church - with only counterfeit faith, hope and love in the Lord Jesus. It's no use having a biblical understanding of conversion if you're not actually converted. It is quite possible to be an unbelieving, hypocritical puritan reformed evangelical sound 'Christian'. This list is far too weighted towards the cognitive and intellectual. It worries me that so many people are happy to use this book as a definition of the main marks of a healthy church. I am very sure that Dever would say that holiness etc is important but he should, in my opinion, re-write the book both in terms of content and structure.

Let me suggest my own (I hope it is the Bible's!) one mark of the healthy church: living faith in the Lord jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Got that and I reckon you can be called healthy (even if you've also got some spiritual ulcers and ingrowing toenails).