Dever: Church health, Gospel linked
JEFFERSON CITY—Closing a chasm that has opened between the Gospel and what many would call discipleship is at the heart of what will be taught at the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Pastors’ Conference Oct. 29 at Tan-Tar-A, Osage Beach.
Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and founder of 9Marks Ministries, and two of his 9Marks staff members will present a workshop on “Building Healthy Churches” that will focus on the primary truth, depth, majesty and sufficiency of the Gospel.
“You have to start there,” Dever said, “and a lot of people just are not going to understand that. They’re going to assume it, and they’re going to have frustration because of that.”
Pastors’ Conference President Joe Braden, pastor of First Baptist Church of St. Peters, is concerned that some may reduce the Gospel to a casual decision that someone makes to pray a certain type of prayer and receive Jesus in his or her heart. Discipleship, then, is treated as a separate item—kind of like A and B in the alphabet. It is time for the chasm to be closed, Braden said. A and B ought to be together, with all of the various other letters of Christian doctrine and practice coming together as a unit.
“The Gospel is A through Z,” Braden said. “It’s not just kindergarten stuff. It takes you well into graduate school and beyond. You never move past it. It is all of the Christian life. It has to be Gospel-driven, Gospel-oriented discipleship.”
Dever is prepared to respond to any pastor who may be offended by this approach, considering how basic it appears to be. But the Gospel is simple like a long bomb completed for a touchdown in the game of football is simple. Though it may look easy, it is anything but, and the defense of Satan, when hit with this simple Gospel, is visibly and tangibly devastated.
“If people are insulted by being asked what the Gospel is, they should just fold up any claim to be Christians anyway,” he said. “Just close down their churches—they’re going to die anyway, or they should. Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘Examine yourselves to see if you be in the faith.’ If we are too proud now to ask ourselves the most basic questions, then our churches shouldn’t be growing. Let those churches grow where people rejoice in saying what the Gospel is, rejoice in being asked what the Gospel is, rejoice in being asked what their own testimony is, rejoice in telling the Gospel to others. Those are the churches we want to grow.”
Dever said suffering can be defined as the difficulty that comes with living the Gospel. Praying a certain type of prayer involves virtually no suffering; on the other hand, doing what the Savior requires in the Holy Bible can be downright excruciating.
“Let’s think about people made in the image of God,” he said. “Jesus looks at a large crowd of them and says, ‘Take up your cross and follow me.’ So if you would follow him, you have to take up your cross and follow him. So if you’re telling me there are a lot of people interested in following him but they are not willing to take up their cross, then Jesus says they can’t follow him.
“If you read the Gospels, that’s what he did. He went to the cross. So your statement is meaningless gobbledygook if you say you are a follower of his but you’re not going to go to the cross. Then I would simply observe that you’re not following him. You’re deluding yourself if you think you are.”
Dever, who received a plurality of votes last year in the Southern Baptist Convention election for first vice president before losing in a runoff, is not coming to Osage Beach with a corporate business model of leadership in his briefcase. He is coming with Yahweh’s Writ.
“A lot of times in these convention workshops, what’s done is sort of Jim Collins ‘Good to Great’ kind of stuff, or maybe some statistical George Gallup kind of stuff, or maybe somebody gets a neat idea when they’re reading a story of the Bible and they use it is as an image,” Dever said. “You don’t often hear somebody picking up Scripture and saying, ‘Look, this is what the Bible teaches, not just in this proof text or in this story, but this is the consistent theme of how we see God working. These are the things we see taught in the New Testament. These are the things that we see modeled, and these are actually the things that Christians before us have talked about very seriously as being at the core of what it means to follow Jesus together in a church.’ So these are things we want to bring out and talk about.”
Dever said he tends to get a good response in the workshop from pastors who can recognize beauty in how certain Bible passages are woven together into a rich, vibrant Gospel tapestry. Suddenly they can see the simple Gospel for what it is worth—precious and invaluable. They come away wanting to wrestle more with the deeper truths of Scripture, thus benefiting their congregations in the long term.
“I’ve found with pastors who say they are Bible-believing, when you roll out the fundamentals, they do tend to get them,” Dever said. “So I’m kind of optimistic about that, actually. That’s why I spend time talking to groups like that. Nobody else is doing this. Everybody else just presumes it.”
The concept behind “9Marks,” which is a book as well as a ministry, is to touch on areas of emphasis that are “most neglected in most local churches today.” The marks are: expositional preaching; biblical theology; a biblical understanding of the Gospel; a biblical understanding of conversion; a biblical understanding of evangelism; a biblical understanding of church membership; biblical church discipline; promotion of Christian discipleship and growth; and a biblical understanding of church leadership.
Dever is bringing two 9Marks leaders, Executive Director Matt Schmucker and Director of Communications Jonathan Leeman, to help him present the material on Oct. 29.
“The 9Marks motto is, ‘We’ll look like Him as we listen to Him,’” Leeman said. “In other words, churches that center themselves on listening to the Word of God are the churches that will more and more display the glorious love and holiness of God.”
It all adds up to a day of biblical clarification, instruction, and maybe even humor, with Leeman describing Dever as “a funny man.” Missouri Baptists will be able to probe for that funny bone during several question and answer times; others may test him with some sober-minded queries.
“I am looking forward to Missouri Baptists spending a day considering what the Scripture says to us about church health,” Braden said.