This blog post relates to two sermons from Luke 11:37-54, intended for Jesus’ people gathered as Felton Bible Church (FBC). One was preached last week, the other is planned for tomorrow. If you’d like, you can access both sermons via the FBC website.
Brothers and Sisters,
During our consideration of Luke 11:37-54, I mentioned to you a book authored by Mark Dever (currently serving as senior pastor for Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.) titled, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. In his book, Dever articulates “nine marks” that characterize a healthy local congregation. He’s clear to point out that these are not the only nine marks of a healthy church, but rather a select few that many churches miss or set aside. I’ve read much (perhaps most) of Dever’s book by this point and affirm the importance of each mark. Let me briefly review them for you (Note: The page numbers indicate a reference to Nine Marks):
Mark #1: Expositional Preaching – Expositional preaching is the regular proclamation of God’s Word, the Bible. Such preaching seeks to explain the text and to apply it to life in a manner aimed at the transformation of hearts and lives into Christlikeness. It is preaching that responds to Scripture itself, and not to the whim of a preacher (pg. 44-45). Dever writes, “The first mark of healthy church is expositional preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow” (pg. 42-43).
Mark #2: Biblical Theology – Biblical theology refers to an understanding of God, his ways, and his works that is shaped by the unfolding of Scripture, especially in its grand storyline (pg. 67). Dever says this, “One of the chief marks of a healthy church is a biblical understanding of God in his character and his ways with us” (pg. 68).
Mark #3: The Gospel – As we’ve preached through Luke, I’ve referred often to the “Gospel Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God that Jesus came to inaugurate stands on the Gospel – the good news of God glorified in his work to save us from sin and judgment, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As followers of Christ, we are “Gospel people.”
Mark #4: A Biblical Understanding of Conversion – Conversion is the move from death to life that happens when our hearts turn to Jesus in obedience to the Gospel. There’s so much to say here! I’ll just let Dever’s words suffice for the moment: “Conversion includes both the change of the heart toward God that is repentance, and the belief and trust in Christ and his Word that is faith” (pg. 111).
Mark #5: A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism – Evangelism is the joy-driven, love-motivated effort of Jesus’ people to tell others the Gospel message we have believed (pg. 136, 140). It is not first a matter of “technique,” but faithfulness (pg. 134). Dever quotes the following sentence from John Cheesman’s The Grace of God in the Gospel: “To evangelize is to declare on the authority of God what he has done to save sinners, to warn men of their lost condition, to direct them to repent, and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Dever, 136).
Mark #6: A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership – Dever defines the church, according to the New Testament, as, “a local collection of people committed to Christ, to regularly assemble and have his Word preached and obeyed, including Christ’s commands to baptize and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper” (pg. 157). Church membership is the vehicle through which an individual believer associates themselves with a local expression of Christ’s body. Membership “puts into practice what the Bible teaches about the self-conscious commitments that should exist within a church – the commitments between an individual Christian, his or her pastors, and a defined gathering of Christians” (pg. 160).
Mark #7: Biblical Church Discipline – Church discipline, broadly speaking, describes all that we do to help each other walk faithfully after Jesus. Dever helpfully writes, “Without hesitation, we should all admit our need for discipline, for shaping. None of us are perfect, finished projects” (pg. 182). At times, exercising discipline means dealing publicly with the sin of those who will not receive correction and repent. Discipline, done well, is always an act of love, and it should always come with a heart for another’s obedience to Jesus and fellowship with his body.
Mark #8: A Concern for Discipleship and Growth – The point here is not first a question of numbers but a question of maturity. A healthy church longs to see people growing into the likeness of Jesus, maturing in their faith – “The New Testament idea of growth involves not just more people, but people who are growing up, maturing, and deepening in the faith” (pg. 213).
Mark #9: Biblical Church Leadership – Finally, a healthy church is one led according to Jesus’ design for church leadership. Leadership in the church begins with Jesus; it takes seriously the God-given authority of the congregation itself (what Dever describes as the “congregational context” to leadership in the church – see pg. 232); and it is especially exercised by qualified men who serve as faithful elders (pastors, overseers) of Jesus’ sheep.
I’m convinced that pursuing these nine marks of a healthy church will, by God’s grace, help preserve us from expressing the nine marks of religious hypocrisy we’ve seen in Luke 11:37-54. Why do we want to flee hypocrisy? Because we love the Lord Jesus…and we want to glorify him from a heart (individual and collective) of integrity! May God find us faithful to do so!