Mark Dever: The Pastor and the Community

by David Rogers on December 12, 2012 · 56 comments

In my opinion, the following list statements by Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hills Baptist Church in Washington, DC, is chock-full of keen pastoral insight and scriptural balance on a very important and controversial topic. Dever originally presented this list at a Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference on April 9, 2009. I believe it well worth wider distribution and thoughtful discussion.

You can also access the audio file of Dever’s talk and a Q & A session over this list here (highly recommended).

 David Rogers

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 35 somewhat overlapping statements as a pastor to pastors concerning the topic of the congregation’s responsibility for its wider community

1.  We should have more passion for and compassion for God than for people.

2.  We should have hearts of compassion for all people because they’re made in God’s image (Prov. 14:31), and because we ourselves have known such undeserved generosity from God (Luke 6:32-36; II Cor. 8:8-9; James 2:13). It is a privilege to be of service to any human being. And it is a joy to reflect something of God’s own character in this, including His concern for justice (Isa. 1:17; Dan. 4:27), and especially to reflect the sacrificial love of Christ. In this sense ministries of compassion and justice which provide to people what they cannot provide for themselves are wonderful signs of the Gospel of Christ giving Himself for us.

3.  Suffering is an inevitable part of this fallen world. Poverty, war, famine, death, and  other tragic effects of the Fall will not be ended except by the bodily, visible return of Christ, (e.g., Mark 14:7; Jn. 12:8; Rev. 6:1-11). The Heavenly City comes down, it’s not built up, that is, it’s not constructed from the ground up (Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21). It is as one-sided as Creation, the Exodus and the Incarnation, the Cross & Resurrection, and Regeneration of the individual heart. It is a great salvation-act of God. If human culture can ever be said to be redeemed, it will be God that does it, not us.

4.  The Gospel’s main thrust is not the renewal of the fallen structures of this world, but  rather the creation of a new community composed of those purchased by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 5). It is only through the fulfillment the promise of forgiveness of our sins and acceptance with God that all of God’s other promises are fulfilled. (See Greg Gilbert’s great 9Marks blog post from April 6, 2009!) We must always be clear in our teaching that the joy of God’s presence is superior to all the goods of this world.

5.  No Gospel that tells Scripture’s sweeping narrative that culminates in the coming of the kingdom but neglects to tell individuals how they can be included in that kingdom is any true Gospel.

6.  Scripture gives us no hope that society will be broadly and permanently transformed by the preaching of the Gospel. (See Matt. 24:21-22, 29).

7.  Individual conversions can have profound effects for good on people, not only in eternity, but in this life, too. John Wesley observed in 1787 that “I fear, wherever riches have increased . . . the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches.  But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches. How then is it possible that Methodism, that is, the religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence, they proportionably increase in pride, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away. Is there no way to prevent this? this continual declension of pure religion? We ought not to forbid people to be diligent and frugal; we must exhort all Christians, to gain all they can, and to save all they can:  this is, in effect, to grow rich! What way then, I ask again, can we take that our money may not sink us to the nethermost hell? There is one way, and there is no other under heaven. If those who gain all they can, and save all they can, will likewise give all they can, then the more they gain, the more they will grow in grace, and the more treasure they will lay up in heaven,” (Tyerman, vol. III, p. 520). True or False?  While conservative Christians are often said to be more concerned about “saving souls,” religious liberals give a significantly larger proportion of their income to alleviating poverty and meeting the needs of the  downtrodden and underprivileged. False. Conservative evangelicals tend to give more to the poor than religious liberals. (See Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion Sept. 1998; also Robert Wuthnow’s Acts of Compassion [1993].) Many individual conversions have resulted in personal reformations and particular social improvements. And we hope will result in good effects in this world.

8.  Since the Fall, the trajectory of unredeemed human history—the City of Man—is always in the Bible to judgment (the Flood, Babel, Canaan, Egypt, Jerusalem, Babylon, Rome & then Rev. 19). (Not quite as universal as gravity, but seemingly as inevitable in its overall tendency.)

9.  The Heavenly City in Scripture, though clearly having some continuity with our own age and existence (Rev. 21:24), is presented as arriving only after a radical disjunction with our current history, including the judgment of the wicked (e.g., Ps. 102:26; Isaiah 13:10; 34:4; 51:6, 16; 65:17; 66:22; Matt. 5:18; 24:29, 35; I Cor. 7:31; II Peter 3:10-13; I John 2:17; Rev. 6:12-14; 21:1). The material world is to be restored only after something like we experience in death, before we are to be bodily resurrected. This is why Jesus told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. . . . But now my kingdom is from another place,” (John 18:36). Christ’s kingdom will come to this place (Acts 1:6-8), though when He comes, He will renew this place (Rom. 8:21).

10.  We should have a desire to see non-Christians know the common blessings of God’s kindness in providence (e.g., food, water, family relations, jobs, good government, justice). Actions to this end are appropriate for Christians and for congregations.

11.  Temporary institutions are still worthy of sincere Christian attention, thought, energy and action. (Think about marriage, for instance . . . .) Our teaching must not Platonically devalue this world as if we can discern better than Scripture what is of “eternal value.” We’re to do whatever we do “unto the Lord,” (Col. 3:17).

12.  We should have a desire to see all people saved.

13.  Our priority to unbelievers is the verbal proclamation of the Gospel, which alone can address the greatest part of human suffering caused by the Fall, and which is the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), which is, in turn the fulfillment of the Greatest Commandments (Mark 12:29-31; cf. Gal. 6:2) which, in turn, interprets the heart of any cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28). As Tim Keller says, “Evangelism is the most basic and radical ministry possible to a human being,” (“The Gospel and The Poor,” Themelios (33.3; Dec 2008), p. 17).

14.  After the Fall, note that the cultural mandate is not uniquely given to the people of God, but to humanity in general (e.g., note the cultural advances in the line of Cain—building a city, raising livestock, music, metal-working [Gen. 4:17, 20-22]).

15.  We, as a congregation, are not required to take responsibility for the physical needs in the unbelieving community around us. We do have a responsibility to care for the needs of those within our congregation (Matt. 25:34-40; Acts 6:1-6; Gal. 6:2, 10; James 2:15-16; I John 3:17-19) though even within the church, there were further qualifications (e.g., II Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:3-16). Paul’s counsel to Timothy (in I Tim. 5:3-16) about which widows to care for seems to indicate that the list was intended for Christian widows. One qualification seemed to be lack of alternative sources of support. Thus the instruction that family members should care for the needy first, if at all possible, shows the kind of prioritization of allowing for families—even of unbelievers—to provide support so that the church wouldn’t have to do it (I Tim. 5:16). We can extrapolate from this to conclude that support that could be provided from outside the church (for instance, from the state) should be preferred over using church funds, thus freeing church funds to be used elsewhere.

16.  We should use historical examples and arguments for taking responsibility for our communities with care. Most people in the European past had established churches (also true many places in America before the 1840’s). Therefore the  example of Calvin, the puritans, Edwards, etc. is less directly applicable than may first appear. They were not in modern pluralistic societies with large groups of people calling themselves non-Christians.

17.  Many texts which seem to promote the idea of taking responsibility for our community’s physical well-being (e.g., Micah 6:8, Matt. 25, Gal. 6 & I John 3) are about our charity to members of the covenant community, believers, not non-Christian members of the community at large.

18.  We are not forbidden from choosing to alleviate physical needs outside our congregation as a witness to the Gospel (e.g., providing computers to local schools, disaster relief, etc.). (contra a wrong idea of the spirituality of the church)

19.  We have the freedom to choose particular actions for the welfare of our community as a witness to them directly, or more remotely by cooperating with other congregations and Christians in the formation of denominations, educational institutions, and a great variety of boards, charities and other organizations.

20.  We should never mistake social action or mercy ministries (e.g., caring for the poor, soup kitchens, etc.) for evangelism (though it may be a means to it).

21.  We should expect our members to be involved in a wide variety of good works (Prov. 19:17; 21:3; Luke 10:25-37; Acts 9:36; Heb. 13:1-3; James 1:27), some of which we may choose to hold up as examples to other members. This can be done without leading the congregation as a whole to own or support those particular ministries (whether by congregationally funding or staffing them). We personally can set an example of care for others. So John Wesley “began the year 1785, by spending five days in walking through London, often ankle deep in sludge and melting snow, to beg 200 pounds, which he employed in purchasing clothing for the poor. He visited the destitute in their own houses, ‘to see with his own eyes what their wants were, and how they might be effectually relieved.’” Wesley was 81 years old! (L. Tyerman, Life and Times of Wesley (Harper & Bros; 1872), III.458). 

22.  We as pastors must make sure that matters of secondary importance should not absorb our attention and energy to the detriment of our primary charge to preach the Gospel.

23.  Our exposition of God’s Word should certainly equip our members by applying Biblical teaching to issues which are (or should be) of current concern, e.g., poverty, gender, racism, justice (cf. Isaiah 1:10-17). This teaching, however, should normally be given without seeming to commit the church to particular policy solutions to problems affecting the wider community. For example, Christian preachers could strenuously advocate the abolition of slavery without spending their sermons laying out how specifically it was to be done. We can speak to ought’s without untangling all the how’s.

24.  We should warn our congregations about the dangers of accumulating wealth. Many Christians throughout history have read the Bible as being more suspicious of wealth than we modern American Christians seem to be. Everyone from Augustine to Wesley has written eloquently of the dangerous gravity of wealth, and the worldly pull it can have on our hearts.  Such teaching need not cause us to reject careful financial planning, but it should cause us to be more vigilant, more wary and even suspicious of wealth than we tend to be. We should give fresh attention to cautionary passages like Matt. 6:21, Luke 12:34, I Tim. 6:17-19 and James 5:1-6. According to the Bible, wealth can be more spiritually dangerous than poverty.

25.  We must carefully prioritize the responsibilities unique to the church. Matters like a concern for education, politics, and mercy ministries for those beyond the church’s membership are proper concerns for Christians to have, but the church itself is not the structure for addressing such concerns. They are the proper concern of Christians in schools, governments, and other structures of society. In fact, if such concerns came to be the focus of the church, they could potentially distract the church from its main and unique responsibility, that of incarnating and proclaiming the gospel. “To the church is committed the task of proclaiming the  whole counsel of God and, therefore, the counsel of God as it bears upon the responsibility of all persons and institutions. While the church is not to discharge the functions of other institutions such as the state and the family, nevertheless it is charged to define what the functions of these institutions are. To put the  matter bluntly, the church is not to engage in politics. Its members must do so, but only in their capacity as citizens of the state, not as members of the church,” (John Murray, “The Relation of Church and State,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 1 [Banner of Truth, 1976], 255). We want to protect the practice of evangelism, and the priority of evangelism in the life of the local church. We never want to allow our congregation’s activity in caring for the needs of the community to diminish, or encroach upon the priority of the Gospel.

26.  We must beware of dividing the church unnecessarily over non-essential issues in which we involve the congregation (e.g., nuclear disarmament, constitutional amendments, particular art outreaches or ministries in the community).

27.  We must be aware of the deadly distraction such good deeds have been to earlier generations. (e.g., the Social Gospel movement; NB ancient examples like Council of Rome in 826 establishing schools at cathedrals was done in a context  where the assumption was they were serving the baptized. NOT an example of reaching out to those we take to be unconverted with physical charity.)

28.  We must ask ourselves and others whether or not we are more excited by and about the Gospel, or other, secondary issues, and if others perceive this in our ministry.

29.  We must be on guard against the preference many of our own members (perhaps especially younger ones, or ones with more theological doubts) may have for doing ministry which is valued by unbelievers. Matt. 5:13-16 and I Peter 2:11-12 that speak of unbelievers seeing our good deeds and praising God must be understood along with promises of persecution for following Christ, (e.g., Matt. 24:9; II Tim. 3:12) and remembering that Christ Himself was finally rejected by the crowds and executed. Certainly popularity in our community is a poor guide to faithfulness in ministry.

30.  We must carefully consider the amount of our members’ time, vision, excitement and prayers we are encouraging to be occupied by actions non-Christians might do, when non-Christians will never be giving themselves to evangelizing our community (or beyond).

31.  We must beware the popular “share the Gospel, and if necessary use words” mindset.

Similarly, the Gospel is, properly speaking, preached, not done (though our actions can certainly affirm it, e.g., John 13:34-35 [even here it is interesting to note that it is our love for one another that is said to point to the Gospel!]).

Social ministry done by the church should be self-consciously engaged in with the hope, prayer and design of sharing the Gospel. J. Gresham Machen wrote that “material benefits were never valued in the apostolic age for their own sake, they were never regarded as substitutes for spiritual things. That lesson needs to be learned. Social betterment, though important, is insufficient; it must always be supplemented by God’s unspeakable gift,” (J. Gresham Machen, New Testament, ed., John Cook, pp. 345-346).

32.  We must allow some latitude between pastors on differing judgment calls on the particulars of some of these secondary issues (e.g., how to oppose abortion; how much they would cooperate with non-evangelicals in social ministries, etc.)

33.  We must be aware of the attraction to join our church certain non-gospel activities may cause (e.g., music, a school, certain community-help programs) and we must redouble our carefulness in only taking in members who understand the Gospel and give evidence of regeneration.

34.  In our duties as under-shepherds, we want to protect our flock from the well-meaning writings and teachings of those who emphasize their role of making a difference in the culture. Those individuals may be uniquely gifted and called, but it is not a Biblical model for the local church.

35.  We must not be naïve in this. We should realize that the priority of evangelism is always one of the most difficult things for the pastor to maintain in his own life and in the congregation’s ministry.

Mark Dever

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1 Zack Stepp December 12, 2012 at 9:01 am

1. We should have more passion for and compassion for God than for people.

13. Our priority to unbelievers is the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. . . .

20. We should never mistake social action or mercy ministries . . . for evangelism.

22. We as pastors must make sure that matters of secondary importance should not absorb our attention and energy to the detriment of our primary charge to preach the Gospel.

28. We must ask ourselves and others whether or not we are more excited by and about the Gospel, or other, secondary issues, and if others perceive this in our ministry.

Great stuff. Even as a non-pastor, this list is extremely helpful/convicting.

2 Jerry Corbaley December 12, 2012 at 9:05 am

David,

Thank you for bringing Pastor Dever’s list to my attention. It is well worth our reflection!

3 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 9:51 am

This is as clear an expression of the truncated gospel of personal salvation and the role of the church just being the means for getting people saved and helping them live personal Christian lives without much concern for the rest of the world as I have seen in some time. While there is much true here, it involves mostly partial truth. It seems that Dever is misunderstanding the implications of the gospel that are necessary in the role of the church because he still sees things from a church-state power relationship. They also see the “church” as a physical entity and individual Christians as having another calling. If the “church” is the people of God, then why can’t the “church” engage in significant social ministry as a witness to Christ and the Kingdom without trying to coerce or claim power? When the church engages in society, it gives witness to the Kingdom and its realities. Dever’s call here seems like something that is a response from the Fundamentalist-Modernist split of the 1920′s.

The Church is not to claim power or take over the world. But, it is to be salt and light and what we do for the least of these we do for Jesus and if we don’t, we show that we never knew Christ to begin with (Matt. 5, 25). What Dever is proposing here is the EXACT same theological underpinning that allowed Segregationist Baptist preachers in the South to keep preaching the “gospel” while never challenging the world around them or calling upon their congregants – many who held positions of power in their community – to tear down a violent and oppressive social structure. “Just preach the gospel and don’t get involved in the affairs of the state or the culture.” It was a theological and social disaster then and I am kind of suprised to see him so clearly articulate such a view.

Preaching the gospel is much more all-encompassing than Evangelicals want to admit for some reason. Maybe that is because it actually challenges our own place of privilege in this society if we take it seriously. I completely disavow the Social Gospel because I know that society getting better saves no one. One must personally believe in Jesus as their Savior from their sin. However, the immediate implications of the gospel coming to a person and a group of people and a society impact everything – right away. We are called to make “disciples of nations.” That means more than what Dever is saying here, I think.

4 David Rogers December 12, 2012 at 11:43 am

Alan,

Thanks for your comment. I think you are getting at the root of the “controversial” nature of Dever’s statements.

I want to be careful in how I respond due to several factors:

1. Though I have shown my cards as broadly supportive of Dever’s statements in my brief introduction, I don’t want to pretend to speak on behalf of him. It is possible that some of my own beliefs on these issues may at some juncture or another deviate from those of Dever’s (and possible that they do not), and I would not want to straddle Dever and the weight of his argument with whatever extraneous thoughts I might add in. Having made that clear here, though, I will venture out to give a few observations of my own.

2. Alan, as you and I have agreed in the past so closely on so many controversial issues, I hate to publicly part ways with you on something like this. At the same time, I realize the matters dealt with in this post are not of secondary importance in your thinking, and I don’t want to brush them aside as if they were.

3. It is hard to synthesize the underlying issues that likely lie at the root of our divergence of perspectives on this in a blog post, or comment, so anything I say here will likely be a crass oversimplification of the complex issues involved.

Because of all of the above, I am not going to attempt a wide-sweeping universal answer to what you say in your comment, but rather attempt, little by little, by pecking away at a few elements of the overall presentation, to begin a dialogue that hopefully will provide more light than heat.

Also, since I still consider myself in the initial stages of developing a consistent philosophy toward these questions, I welcome the opportunity to learn from you, as well as from others who will hopefully chime in on this discussion as well.

Now for a few random (and likely disjointed) observations…

I wonder how much of one’s views on these issues hinge on eschatology, and more specifically, millennial views. I, personally, am premillennial, though largely open to a range of possibilities in between progressive dispensationalism and historical premillennialism. I am unaware of Dever’s eschatological views, but it seems to me that many of his points are more consistent with a broad premillennial perspective as well.

Alan, I am curious, do you see your own views on eschatology as influencing your views on these questions?

On a somewhat related point, when you talk about making “disciples of nations,” I would be curious to see how you tease this out further. As I have studied this text, it seems to me that the discipling of nations referenced involves, first and foremost, the conversion and subsequent discipling of individuals to a personal faith in Christ. It does not make sense to me to in any way “baptize” entire ethnic groups, or social or political structures, or even cultures. The ones in view in this text, those to be baptized and taught to observe the commands of Jesus, are individuals who are brought, through the proclamation of the gospel to a personal faith in Christ, which, in turn, leads to a transformed lifestyle.

It is true that transformed lives have a positive effect on the environment in which they are found. But ultimately, my view of biblical eschatology, does not allow me to be overly optimistic with regard to the long-lasting effect of efforts to Christianize societies or “nations,” in whatever way you might interpret that term.

It is also true that, as followers of Christ, we cannot remain cold and detached from suffering and injustice around us, but are indeed to called to respond ministering the love of God to those around us, just as the Good Samaritan took care of his “neighbor.”

I think the history of the ecumenical missionary movement, from its inception under the leadership of John R. Mott (who was, in turn, a disciple of Dwight L. Moody) to the development of the WCC and a wide array of liberation theologies is instructive for us. In other words, I do not believe the Fundamentalist-Modernist split in the 1920s was without due cause. David Hesselgrave has an interesting article on this I may post later in the comment stream if I can find a link.

And I am not yet convinced that maintaining the position Dever advocates here necessarily paves the way for such things as Christian support of segregation. I think that social change in areas such as this is best undertaken by redeemed individuals in their places of influence within society at large and not by institutional church involvement. Though I still need to do quite a bit more homework related to this, what I have seen thus far from advocates of a Two Kingdom approach to culture and social involvement (such as David VanDrunen) seems to ring true from a biblical perspective.

In the meantime, this old post of mine over at SBC Impact summarizes my overall approach to these questions as well as anything I have written:

http://sbcimpact.org/2010/03/15/christ-the-faithful-suffering-servant-in-the-midst-of-culture/

5 David Rogers December 12, 2012 at 11:53 am

My review of DeYoung and Gilbert’s What Is the Mission of the Church? deals with a lot of these same issues as well:

http://sbcimpact.org/2011/09/09/what-is-the-mission-of-the-church/

6 David Rogers December 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm
7 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm

David, as I consider you a friend, I am happy for you to disagree with me and for me to disagree with you on this. I do not take it personally because there is a level of trust between us, I think, and I believe that any disagreement will only serve to sharpen us in a constructive way. So, I welcome your critique of my thoughts here.

When I saw the post, I thought that it was important that I respond – at least for me – because much of the research that I have been doing for the book that I am completing deals with this issue. I have attempted to get at the theological and sociological reasons behind the compliticy of Southern Evangelicals with slavery and segregation and how it affects us to this day. What I have found lying at the root of one of the greatest moral tragedies in American history is the theology that Dever is articulating here where the Gospel is truncated to primarily deal with a vertical relationship with God and personal salvation while leaving the larger social structures basically intact. Charles Marsh in “God’s Long Summer” explores the theology of Douglas Hudgins, pastor of First Baptist, Jackson, MS from the mid 1940′s-late 1960′s and he calls him the “Theologian of the Closed Society.” Hudgins articulated a view that is almost identical to what Dever calls for here. The problem is that, while the preacher might tell the congregants that they are to individually engage the powers through their individual vocations, because there is no modeling of what that looks like on any type of collective scale, people generally do not do so – at least not by themselves in their isolated lives. My concern here is that the only communal activity is worship and teaching and it leaves the rest of the implications of the gospel in our public and prophetic posture before the world as we give witness to the Kingdom solely up to the individual decisions of individual Christians. It might pass the theological test in theory by saying the right things, but in reality, actual social change almost never happens without some type of collective public witness. In Hudgin’s case, he did not want First Baptist to get involved in the controversies of the Civil Rights movement, so he stayed silent and his church stayed silent. He saw it as a distraction to proclaiming the gospel. But, one of his church members was Ross Barnett, the governor of Mississippi. Dever would say that Barnett should have changed things through his vocation, but without Hudgins telling him that he should and that the gospel demanded it, Barnett only made things worse. Dever would probably address Barnett and would recoil at the example I use, but his system allows for such abuse, in my opinion.

Evangelicals have really struggled to understand the institutional nature of evil in how evil can be embedded in systems that individuals are not capable of dismantling by themselves. While we should not take a “power approach” to addressing these things, a collective witness of the ethic of the Kingdom is important here. While I don’t agree with all of Martin Luther King’s theology by any means, I do think that his nonviolent resistance approach was helpful. Apparently, getting people saved had no effect whatsoever on an evil social system because it benefitted whites to keep it in place. Dever’s ideas were field tested in the last century and they ultimately failed and only served to weaken the witness of the church as we ended up siding with evil instead of prophetically opposing it as being contrary to the Gospel of the Kingdom.

As for my eschatology, I am historic premillenial right now, but I believe that as the Gospel of the Kingdom is believed and articulated, the Church will be positioned to give prophetic witness to the truth of God’s character and the Way of Life found in Jesus. That means that we will take a position that opposes the larger cultural disposition of the World System that is opposed to Christ. Dever has a good focus on the primacy of the Gospel, but he does not rightly apply the implications of the Gospel, in my opinion. Of course, Dever would disagree with me, but I am talking about how his approach actually plays out and not how it appears in theory.

8 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm

David,

As for “discipling nations,” I fully agree that salvation is to come to an individual as he personally turns to Christ in repentance and faith. That is core. But, let’s say that there are 5 people who are a part of a Bowling Team and that team goes out drinking every Friday night after their League play and they all cheat on their wives. It is what the Bowling Team does. One of the men hears the gospel and gets saved and he shares the gospel with the team and 2 more of the men get saved. Suddenly, 3 of the 5 men are now Christians. It would be inconceivable to think that they would keep doing the same things that they used to do in the Bowling Team, right? Either the team changes its activities or the team splits and they form separate teams. Jesus came with a sword, after all.

Well, apply that to the larger society. As people come to faith in Christ, they should bring that faith into the social structures that they inhabit. Policies and procedures of their businesses and government and social clubs and institutions should begin to reflect the ethic of Christ, not in a way to impose Christianity on unbelievers, but to reflect the ways of righteousness. Evil should be opposed. Righteousness should be exalted in every sphere of life. This is how a nation is discipled by the Gospel and by the Church.

The problem, however, arises when a majority of members of a society are church members and claim to be Christian, yet the society supports evil and injustice in a systematic way. The last time we had a Christian consensus in America was the South of the 1950′s-60′s. This is also when Dever’s view of the primacy of just preaching the Gospel and Evangelism and a rejection of social involvemet by the Church held sway. My point is that the larger culture ended up subverting the church to do its bidding because the church did not develop an effective public witness or did not prophetically speak to the injustice in the larger situation. Actually, it participated in it because it benefitted them to do so.

The German Lutheran Church during Hitler’s reign in the 1930′s and 40′s did the same thing, keeping its activity to its own sphere and its own members. The result was disastrous.

I think that we need to carve out some kind of middle ground between the Religious Right that we have seen from Conservatives and the Social Gospel from Liberals and a complete retreat into our “Sphere.” We cannot claim power or try to make America a “Christian Nation” or even the “Beloved Community.” But, we can give a consistent prophetic witness as how Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Obviously we begin by living that out as a community of faith ourselves. This is where Dever is right on. We are the prototype or the model. But, I think that we have to have a collective public posture so we can give witness to the world as to what the implications of the Kingdom are.

Maybe I am misreading Dever here and he is really saying all of this, just from a different perspective. But, when I read his points, it struck me as so similar to what I was reading from segregationist leaders of the last century, that I felt I needed to respond. If I am misreading him or am wrong, I am happy to be corrected. My error here might be from my own influence and I might be making connections that are unfair.

9 John Wylie December 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

I agree with everything Pastor Dever said here and I appreciate his courage in saying it.

10 Louis December 12, 2012 at 11:42 am

These are great comments.

Alan, I note your concern, and it is not altogether unwarranted. Yet, I think you go too far. In fact, as I got past your criticism to what you advocate, I actually noticed that you and Dever were saying much the same thing.

The historical point that you make is a valid one – that these words could validate the approach of some times in Christian history where the Church was awol on addressing things that should have been addressed. Slavery and segregation are great examples.

But where I part company is not with what Dever says, but the wisdom in application. That is a tricky thing no matter how well one says things.

Also, Southern Christians were not only neglectful in addressing slavery and segregation – they were creators and participants! So, actually, the problem with those issues was NOT that Christians did not address them. Christians DID address them – by helping to create and sustain those institutions. It’s not that they just remained silent.

I do not sense a retreat in Dever’s words from the awakening that was inspired in the evangelical community in the last 40 years by the likes of Schaffer and others. I simply sense some good warnings about how the church needs to keep things in balance.

That balance includes 5 main ideas: 1. The Preaching of the Gospel and making Disciples is the key activity of the Church. Only the church can do this, and that is what we should be about. 2. This world is not going to be redeemed in our lifetime. That should not keep us from action, but it can keep us grounded. 3. Christians and the Church should be about good works. 4. Christians and the Church should never get “owned” by any political movement. There should always be a real independence that is maintained, as well as a perceived independence. 5. Jesus did not give his disciples clear instructions about many things. Tax policy, national security, welfare policy, education policy etc. are all things were are going to have to figure out using principles of wisdom and history. Therefore, there will be disagreements in the church on these things, and in many cases we just can’t claim to know the mind of God in these areas.

11 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Louis,

I think that your “5 main ideas” articulate better what Dever is trying to say (if I am being charitable) than what Dever actually said. I would agree with all of that. Dever spends so much time reacting to the emerging social impulse of young evangelicals that he fails to articulate the positive impulse of the Gospel as it impacts people and a society. The Gospel has real consequences and Jesus’ prayer “on earth as it is in heaven” should inform us as to what life is supposed to look like here much more than we think.

12 Daniel December 12, 2012 at 11:44 am

“”The Church is not to claim power or take over the world. But, it is to be salt and light and what we do for the least of these we do for Jesus and if we don’t, we show that we never knew Christ to begin with (Matt. 5, 25). What Dever is proposing here is the EXACT same theological underpinning that allowed Segregationist Baptist preachers in the South to keep preaching the “gospel” while never challenging the world around them or calling upon their congregants – many who held positions of power in their community – to tear down a violent and oppressive social structure. “Just preach the gospel and don’t get involved in the affairs of the state or the culture.” It was a theological and social disaster then and I am kind of suprised to see him so clearly articulate such a view.””

Ding, ding, ding. The bell has rung. As short and swift as Marquez’s punch on Saturday night, Mr. Cross has pointed to the inaccurate reasoning behind the above post. The desire for control – repudiated by Jesus – will ruin us all. Sadly, Dever’s post will not lie on the mat as Manny Pacquiao did on Saturday night. No, it will be picked up, pumped up, and propagated by many for their own personal gain. (I was working on my alliteration. After all, it is the best way to share the Gospel.)

13 volfan007 December 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Well, today is my birthday. Yep, 12-12-12. I turned 51 years old, today. I was born at 12, as well!! 12:05 to be precise…lunch time. I was born weighing 32 lbs, and with a full set of teeth…and I’ve been enjoying lunch ever since!!!

David

14 Dale Pugh December 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Well, Happy Birthday, David! May God bless you with long life as evidenced by many more lunches.

15 cb scott December 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Vol,

51? Really?

I thought you were older. My mistake. Sorry. Have you gotten to the place where you tie your won shoes? If not, keep trying. You can do it.

16 volfan007 December 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Older? CB? Really? ouch, that hurts! lol.

Yea, I can tie my own shoes…..it’s kind of hard to cut my own toe nails, but I can still tie my shoes. :)

David

17 volfan007 December 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Thanks, Dale.

18 Greg Harvey December 12, 2012 at 4:29 pm

MEESTER Worley: have a great birthday. For the record, I’m 52 (Oct 14th). I’m glad to report that it is very difficult in the birthday race to lap someone. And everyone always is catching up to everyone else that is older than they are. When my youngest son turned one, I was 42 times his age. But when he turned 10, I was a mere 5 times his age.

So even though CB is almost to the mid 80s now (Google this for proof: “Dave Miller September 10, 2011 at 6:23 pm Hey, CB just celebrated his 83rd birthday and is in perfect health.” ;) WE’RE CATCHIN’ UP TO HIM!!!

Greg

19 Mark December 13, 2012 at 12:29 am

Happy Birthday, David!

Here’s a limerick for you. :)

There is a Tennessee pastor named VolFan,
No one blogs from the hills like he can.
-But he prefers food
-No matter his mood
So watch out Calvinists when he breaks out the frying pan!

20 volfan007 December 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Mark,

:)

David

21 Truth Unites... and Divides December 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm

The Social Gospel is not the Gospel.

22 Louis December 12, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Alan, thanks.

And I agree, Dever is addressing a perceived problem and that my affect the balance and tone of what he is saying.

I may picking up on your concerns because I know Mark and his church, and it is not an unengaged place, which is something, given that they are in the “belly of the beast” so to speak.

There are some issues that are not controversial. Soup kitchens, wells in Africa. In those instances, it’s just a question of balance.

There are some issues that require judgment. What is the best way for a society to have some safety net for the poor? In those instances, the danger is really misapplying Jesus’ words to be the endorsement of every expansion of the welfare state.

And there are some issues that are politically controversial – abortion, so-called gay marriage (slavery and segregation in earlier eras.) On these issues being prophetic is important. I see the church willing to do this – until the issue is a loser. Then, the church often runs away so as to maintain what it perceives is a necessary appeal to the broader culture.

The pastor says to himself, “If I mention this issue, I will not be able to evangelize effectively.” That’s when it gets tough, and the church is called simply to be faithful. Not obnoxious, but faithful. And strategic. Even Jesus answered Pilate strategically when he was asked about being a kind.

23 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I really wish that this would have engendered more discussion. It is an important topic that gets at the heart of what it means to be Christian and act Christianly in our world today. We have no problem arguing endlessly about Evolution or Calvinism, but when it comes to how we actually live today and how that relates back to the Gospel, especially in regard to the poor or those in need, there isn’t much discussion.

Perhaps the lack of interest in this topic betrays the problem inherent in such a stark separation between the “Gospel” and its implications or the good works that are to follow, especially in a corporate sense? Perhaps we have an “otherworldly” gospel and that as long as we are personally saved and taken care of, we are just not that concerned about what happens to others – unless it affects us? I am not saying that is the case, but it is worth considering.

24 Dave Miller December 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm

It’s been a pretty good discussion so far.

25 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Yeah, but I think that the implications of this discussion are pretty severe. Perhaps we respond more to buzz words that we are already familiar with, which makes sense.

26 Doug Hibbard December 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Maybe some of us read it, are thinking about it, but don’t have much to offer in terms of discussion. It’s a good read even if it gets few comments, man. Don’t give up on us incorrigible folks yet.

27 David Rogers December 12, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I don’t have a whole lot of time to say more now, but for me the following point in Dever’s list is key:

“26. We must beware of dividing the church unnecessarily over non-essential issues in which we involve the congregation (e.g., nuclear disarmament, constitutional amendments, particular art outreaches or ministries in the community).”

While we cannot compromise in any way, shape, or fashion on gospel essentials, we must be careful to avoid taking a stance, as a church, on issues that are not biblical demands, and on which authentic disciples of Jesus Christ with the same commitment to His lordship and the authority of Scripture, may legitimately differ. This does not preclude us, as individuals, having pet issues or concerns that occupy our time and attention, but we should not do so in such a way that excludes from fellowship those who may take a different approach, as long as they don’t deviate from the fundamentals of the gospel.

Having said this, perhaps some have been guilty of “truncating” the gospel by emphasizing only the root without paying attention to the necessary fruit. As I see it, for example, racial reconciliation, is a necessary, not optional, part of the fruit, or implications, of the gospel. Political involvement with regard to specific laws and programs can become divisive, however, on points where a consistent embracing of the gospel does not demand division.

In the end, our unity as the Body of Christ must be based on the gospel and not common political platforms.

28 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 6:23 pm

David, I agree that we should not divide over politics. I am thinking more along the lines of right and wrong. When someone is advocating for a political issue and the frame it in moral terms, I think that those who disagree with them politically are obligated to listen to their concerns and find common ground.

Here is an example. I am conservative politically, so I would not agree with this perspective, but there are those who frame government services for the poor in moral terms. I personally believe that much of what the government does to “help” the poor actually hurts them in the long run by creating dependency. But, when those advocating for higher taxes so that we can enhance social programs frame that call in moral terms by saying it is “wrong” to not help the poor this way, we can find middle ground by talking about what it really means to help the poor and by engaging these advocates at the point of their concern. We might disagree on the means, but hopefully we can agree on the ends and through that, we can find common ground – especially if we are talking about believers who are trying to fulfill the commands of Christ in regard to the “least of these.”

I have lost a lot of energy when it comes to political disagreement, but do think that we should engage issues prophetically so that we can shine light and help point the way to solutions. Perhaps Dever would say that that is the individual vocational responsibility of Christians and not the church. I would say that individual Christians make up the church so I don’t really see why you separate this out unless you are talking about the specific work of the pastor in prayer, the preaching of the word, and sacrament. That is a fairly narrow view of pastoral ministry, in my opinion, and it removes the prophetic element from it, I think, which then makes discipleship harder instead of easier.

29 David Rogers December 12, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Though Dever does direct this list, and his talk, specifically to pastors, I personally don’t find any biblical basis for separating pastors out from church members in general with respect to their approach to cultural/community involvement. As I understand it, the real issue at stake is taking a official position together as a congregation on any issue that goes beyond what Scripture itself demands. Pastors, to the degree they are looked on as spokesmen of the congregation as a whole, have a responsibility to see to it that this approach is carried out. But any member who is engaging in a ministry or espousing a position that implicates the entire congregation is equally liable in this regard. And, as I see it, any Christian, whether a pastor or not, should feel free to be personally involved in ministries and espouse positions that are not incompatible with the gospel (though not demanded by the gospel) as long as they are not demanding (explicitly or implicitly) that the whole church join them in this endeavor.

30 Jess Alford December 12, 2012 at 11:10 pm

David Rogers,

We have to remember that the church comes from the community. Another words made up of the community.
You are saying the pastor has the option to neglect the community if he so desires. I cannot agree with you on
this issue. Jesus sent his disciples out. He sends us pastors out also.

31 David Rogers December 13, 2012 at 12:20 am

Jess,

RE: “You are saying the pastor has the option to neglect the community if he so desires.”

Not sure where you are getting that from.

32 Jess Alford January 2, 2013 at 9:24 am

David Rogers,

The first sentence in number 15 seems to indicate this and other comments like it elsewhere in the post.

33 Daniel December 13, 2012 at 12:40 am

I may be far off base here but I’ll try to share why I believe what you are saying is so relevant. I pastor a church in a small, rural community. When I came as pastor they probably asked me about my “vision” for the church nearly a dozen times in the first four months. I finally got a little ill and began to ask all of them about their vision. The sad reality is that very, very few had any response. They had no vision.

After being there for nearly two years I can tell a few things. The church would respond to a well-organized outreach plan. Their fulfillment of said plan would look like hopscotch. They want to reach people for Jesus but they won’t go to Cousin Sally’s, their former boss’ home, or a multitude of people that they have determined over the years as being not in need of any truth that they can share with them.

It is this separation that plagues our churches and which I believe Dever’s teaching leads us too. It is why members of my church will put $100 bills in the Lottie Moon offering and won’t give a dime to help the children of a different color or nationality living a mile from their home.

Maybe I’m missing Dever’s entire point, I confess that I am certainly capable of such. However, we have far too many pastors who are treating their church members like I did my boys a few years ago when I would give them an extra controller for the PlayStation that wasn’t attached to the system, while I played a football game. Sadly, our church members will possibly respond as my boys ultimately did. Realizing that they weren’t impacting any of the events on the screen they would set the controller down and wander away.

34 David Rogers December 13, 2012 at 2:14 am

Daniel,

Not seeing where you are getting that out of Dever, either.

35 Louis December 12, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Sorry for the typos – I was NOT picking up on your concerns, and Jesus answered Pilate about being a KING, not a kind.

36 Truth Unites... and Divides December 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Is it possible to do “good works” and to not expressly and orally share the Gospel?

If possible, has it happened?

Can Satan use Christians who are more interested in doing good works rather than in sharing/preaching the Gospel to then add more souls through the wide gate?

Is it good works to provide physical comfort to those who are on the way to Hell?

If a Christian or a group of Christians provide good works to unbelievers, but never share the Gospel, is it still good works?

37 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why not both? We are commanded to do good works and care for the poor just as we are commanded to share the gospel. Why divide them?

38 Truth Unites... and Divides December 12, 2012 at 6:20 pm

My point, and Pastor Mark Dever’s point exactly. It should be, and needs to be, and must be, a Both/And.

However, are there folks who just do “good works” and who do not share/preach the Gospel?

39 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Yes, there are and they are wrong. We should combine the two – Word and Deed.

40 Truth Unites... and Divides December 12, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Q: “However, are there folks who just do “good works” and who do not share/preach the Gospel?”

A: “Yes, there are and they are wrong.”

Thank you. Alan, how would you approach these folks in letting them know that they are wrong?

41 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm

By showing them that the only good works that last are those that flow from the Gospel itself. Good works are a byproduct. They are the demonstration of the announcement. When we love sacrificially, we are embodying the reality of the Kingdom Come that is being proclaimed in Christ. Without the Gospel, the good works are unrooted in any reality other than being kind, which has some merit in and of itself, but only in that we are recognizing that all people are made in God’s image and that what is best for them is to be reconiled back to God through Christ. Our problem is that we have lost much of the reason for why we do what we do and that needs to be recovered. We must both proclaim and demonstrate the gospel. That is what Jesus did when he preached and healed and cast out demons and did miracles. The work always accompanied the preaching.

42 Truth Unites... and Divides December 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Very good answer.

Curious. Have you ever had a conversation like the one you just outlined with someone? If so, how did it go?

43 Alan Cross December 12, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Yes, I have talked with people about this, have taught on it, and have written on it. I have not gotten much opposition. Those on the Right want to make sure you don’t abandon the preaching and those on the Left want to make sure you don’t abandon the doing. What most look for is an assurance that you aren’t throwing their part out and once they feel good about that, they aren’t too interested in going further. But, for some, the light bulb does come on and they see that all we do is rooted in Christ and His work – He is making everything new. Those are the folks that really get energized to both proclaim and demonstrate the gospel.

44 Louis December 12, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Volfan007:

Happy Birthday.

Don’t know if I told you, but I, too, am a Vol fan. My mother was a cheerleader there from 1951 to 1954. She also grew up in Knoxville.

I saw a McDonald’s sign in my town that said Big Macs would be $1.12 today in light of 12.12.12.

I like Big Macs a lot, and will probably swing by after church and have one for dinner.

45 volfan007 December 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Louis,

I knew there was an air of “greatness” about you, but I just couldnt put my finger on it…now, I know!! :)

Thanks for the birthday wish, and tell your Mom that all of us in the Vol Nation thank her for her service!

David

46 Christiane December 12, 2012 at 8:29 pm

If you value your Christian witness in the world, the only ‘light’ you want to show up between your faith and your actions is the ‘Light’ of Christ . . .

Christian witness is strengthened when the witness is ‘solid’
. . . all of a piece, with no daylight between what is preached and what is practiced.

Note the order and the unity in the following verses from the Gospel of St. Mark 12:

28 . . . “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this:
‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
There is no commandment greater than these.” ”

If you want to be a successful witness to Christ on the ‘Great Commission’, remember these words of Our Lord.

47 Jess Alford December 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm

David Rogers,

Great post, more pastors need to understand that we are not only called to a particular church, but also to a particular community. It must be understood that the church and the community should be united for Gods glory. The church should want to see all the community saved.

48 cb scott December 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm

I do not think we can unite the local church in the community with the community in specific in a completely harmonious relationship.

However, I do think the local church should intentionally live an incarnational life in the community of its earthly presence and make the gospel known cognitively and affectively, giving the Holy Spirit a model to use to persuade the community at-large of the validity of following Christ.

Jess Alford, let me seriously state that I believe this to be the best comment you have made that I have read.

I strongly agree that pastors are not only assigned of God to a particular local church (flock), but also to the community wherein the local church lives out its manifestation as The Church (Bride of Christ).

In addition, I agree with David Rogers and Alan Cross, that the distinction between pastors and congregants in this aspect of the local church’s identity within the community at-large is overemphasized.

49 Jess Alford December 12, 2012 at 11:46 pm

cb scott,

I just don’t know how to react by you agreeing with me on something.
I almost wish you didn’t agree with me.

I’ll just take back what I said. Wow, I feel better now.

I cannot help but to like you a little because you remind me of Joe Biden.

50 volfan007 December 12, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Jess,

Biden is a lot better lookin’ than CB….although CB has more hair than Biden.

David

51 volfan007 December 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hey, why does my response to Jess keep disappearing? It was simply said in jest?

David

52 Mark December 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Volfan, please see my above birthday limerick I wrote for you in jest. :)

53 volfan007 December 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Mark,

You’re a poet, and I didnt know it.

David :)

54 Truth Unites... and Divides December 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Alan Cross: “But, for some, the light bulb does come on and they see that all we do is rooted in Christ and His work – He is making everything new. Those are the folks that really get energized to both proclaim and demonstrate the gospel.

The folks who really do a faithful job of doing Both good works And sharing the Gospel are the pro-life advocates. This is a vital social justice issue and these folks are more than happy, more than willing to share the Gospel while they do the good work of saving unborn lives.

55 Clark Dunlap December 14, 2012 at 2:30 am

OK, well, all that being said, I was just surprised to find this:
“We can extrapolate from this to conclude that support that could be provided from outside the church (for instance, from the state) should be preferred over using church funds, thus freeing church funds to be used elsewhere.”

56 Michael Crane January 1, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I know I’m late weighing in on this topic, but Alan asked for more discussion. So here goes…

I have read the document as well as listened to his seminar. There is too much to unpack in a blog comment, so I will focus on ecclesiology. I think there are assumptions here about the church that are influenced by culture and institutional thinking. Some have already noted that Dever makes a distinction between the pastor (and elders) and the laity. Furthermore, there is a subtle implication that unless an action is brought to church leadership, approved, and given a budget line-item it does not count as an action of the church. This is a very institutionalized view of the church. And, even borders on the Catholic view that a church’s ecclesiality is wrapped up in the priest. This creates increased passivity among the congregation. If a church small group decides get involved in a community social concern, is that not the church getting involved?

While eschatology does influence our opinions to some degree, it should prevent the church from obedience. Discussions about continuity between creation and the new creation is valuable. But even if one concludes that only souls are saved and everything else will burn, it does not excuse us from being unconcerned about our public morality. In Jer. 29:4-7, the exiled people of God are taken to the utterly pagan city of Babylon. Yet, they are told to seek the welfare (shalom) of the city there. This was not a permanent arrangement; 70 years and they were leaving. Nevertheless, God’s command was to invest fully in that city.

When we leave everything up to individual believers, we are minimizing the role of the church as a society (ekklesia) and as the one Body of Christ. I live in a country where corruption is rampant. Believers should help each other find ways to do business with integrity. In places where minority groups are treated unjustly, the church should help them, not just individuals.

Dever is right that these concerns should not distract us from proclaiming the gospel. Quite the opposite, I believe the gospel compels us to put it into practice as we proclaim it boldly.

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