Length: 243 pgs
Author: Mark Dever
This book remains, more so after having reread it, my favorite book concerning the church. The medicine cabinet is full of books on the church, and many contain good advice, but the medicine is laced with poison. 9 Marks of a Healthy Church is a truth filled, life-giving elixir amidst such books.
This books is not about the marks of the church as we understand them historically (true preaching, right use of the sacraments, and faithful discipline), although Dever discusses this in the introduction. Rather this book is about some marks that set off healthy churches from sickly ones. Those marks are:
- Expositional Preaching
- Biblical Theology
- The Gospel
- A Biblical Understanding of Conversion
- A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
- A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership
- Biblical Church Discipline
- A Concern for Discipleship and Growth
- Biblical Church Leadership
If you are thinking this sounds like a book for pastors I would encourage to read ahead for two reasons. First, the chapters were originally sermons preached to his own congregation. These chapters originated as sermons for the person in the pew, not the pastor in the pulpit. Second, if you are a voluntary member of an institution you probably would like to know what its purpose is, how it should operate. Think of how much time you spend in church, wouldn’t you want to know what comprises a healthy one? Do you get your idea of what a church should be from the status quo, tradition, your own mind, the newest fad, or from the Scriptures? The church and what she is to be is a question that should greatly concern every Christian. Toward answering that question I highly commend 9 Marks of a Healthy Church to you.
Many pastors happily accept the authority of God’s Word and profess to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible; yet if they do not in practice regularly preach expositionally, I’m convinced that they will never preach more than they knew when they began the whole enterprise.
To charge someone with the spiritual oversight of a church who doesn’t in practice show a commitment to hear and to teach God’s Word is to hamper the growth of the church, in essence allowing it only to grow to the level of the pastor. The church will slowly be conformed to the pastor’s mind rather than to God’s mind.
I had made a statement in a doctoral seminar about God. Bill responded politely but firmly that he liked to think of God rather differently. For several minutes, Bill painted a picture for us of a friendly deity. He liked to think of God as being wise, but not meddling; compassionate, but never overpowering; ever so resourceful, but never interrupting. ‘This’, said Bill in conclusion, ‘is how I like to think of God.’
My reply was perhaps somewhat sharper than it should have been. ‘Thank you Bill,’ I said, ‘for telling us so much about yourself, but we are concerned to know what God is really like, not simply about our own desires.’
We will “do church” differently, depending on how we understand God and ourselves.
We need to see an end to a wrong, shallow view of evangelism as simply getting people to say yes to a question, or to make a one-time decision. We need to see and end to the bad fruit of false evangelism. We need to see and end to worldly people having assurance that they’re saved just because they took a stand, shook a hand, or repeated a prayer. We need to see real revival not being lost amid our own manufactured and scheduled meetings that we euphemistically call “revivals,” as if we could determine when the wind of God’s Spirit would actually blow. We need to see and end to church memberships markedly larger than the number of those involved with the church, and an end to inaction in our own lives as we ignore the evangelistic mandate – the call to share the Good News. We need to see the end of this debilitating, deadly coldness to the glorious call to tell the Good News.
But when the message of the Cross captures our hearts and captivates our imaginations, our tongues, stammering, halting, insulting, awkward, sarcastic, imperfect as they may be, won’t be far behind.