"KEEP AN EYE ON THE BACK DOOR
So pastors, just as you pay careful attention to the front door of your church, keep a close eye on the back door, too. Make sure that the sheep can’t simply open the gate themselves and disappear from sight. Refuse to allow people to resign into thin air, both for the sake of your church’s witness to the gospel and for the good of every single sheep—especially those who tend to wander off."
Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC), and Matt Schmucker, who we believe was instrumental in recruiting Dever to the church back in the nineties, worked together to reform CHBC. It was from that experience that the nine marks came to be. According to the 9Marks website:
"At Matt’s prompting, Mark wrote the self-published booklet “9 Marks of a Healthy Church,” which several years later became the Crossway published book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. As more and more pastors found the conversations begun by Mark and Matt helpful, an organization was birthed in the late nineties, which has grown little by little since then."
The website further states that "9Marks exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God's glory to the nations through healthy churches."
Here is Mark Dever introducing his 9 Marks and calling attention to two of the marks that have caused some controversy.
Once again, here are the nine marks as listed on the website:
"The nine marks are (1) expositional preaching, (2) biblical theology, (3) a biblical understanding of the good news, (4) a biblical understanding of conversion, (5) a biblical understanding of evangelism, (6) biblical church membership, (7) biblical church discipline, (8) biblical discipleship and growth, and (9) biblical church leadership. These are not the only things which are necessary for building healthy churches, they are nine practices which many churches today overlook and that need to be emphasized once again."
Did you catch the repetitive modifier 'biblical'? Stating that something is 'biblical' or 'healthy' does not make it so…
Now let's revisit a post we published almost four months ago entitled You Can't Resign Without Permission. It was written in response to a 9Marks post by Bobby Jamieson called Pastors, Don't Let Your People Resign Into Thin Air. Jaimeson's controversial post probably broke the record for the most comments on the 9Marks website.
If you haven't read it, I highly encourage you to do so. Here are four practical implications he includes in the post:
"1.The troubler of First Baptist Smallville needs to either reconcile with that church or join another one where he can be more content. He can’t simply resign his membership and sit on his couch on Sundays. If that’s what he intends to do, FBC Smallville’s response should be church discipline, not “See you later!”
2. Churches’ membership procedures should reflect the fact that the church, not the individual member, has authority to accept and dismiss members. A member cannot unilaterally resign. A member can submit their intention to resign to the church, and the church will either accept or reject that intention…
3.Churches’ governing documents (constitution, by-laws) should reflect the fact that individual members do not have the unilateral right to terminate their membership. Instead, that prerogative belongs to the church. Therefore, the church has the right to refuse someone’s resignation and pursue discipline instead. It’s important to have this clearly stated in a church’s documents for both pastoral and legal reasons.
Here’s an example of the kind of language I’m talking about, from the constitution of the church I’m a member of (Third Avenue Baptist in Louisville):
“Clause 3. The church shall have authority to refuse a Member’s voluntary resignation or transfer of membership to another church, either for the purpose of proceeding with a process of church discipline, or for any other reason the church deems necessary or prudent.”
One important note: Numbers 2 and 3 in this list should probably be well established before a church attempts to resist someone’s resignation, whatever the circumstances.
4. The pastoral specifics of how churches handle individual resignations will vary. For members who have moved out of the area, I’d suggest that a baseline requirement on this front might be something like “they intend to join another evangelical church in the immediate future.”
I’m using slightly squishy language like this because churches’ membership practices vary. Some churches only take in new members once a year, for example. And some metro areas have a number of solid evangelical churches, and it might take a while for a family to settle on one. And it doesn’t always help to keep a church that’s 3,000 miles away on the line that whole time.
For members who intend to go to another church within the same metro area, the standard should probably be a little bit tighter. This will help to ensure that the member doesn’t fall through the cracks before they’re safely tucked into another sheepfold."
When I first read Jamieson's post last February, I was appalled! I thought there was no way churches would be following these rules.
Was I wrong! In recent days we have discovered to our utter shock that some 9Marks affiliated churches are following that protocol.
We have been hearing from our readers via comments and e-mails regarding their unusual membership experiences in 9Marks affiliated churches. Here are just three of them.
One gentleman explained:
"…my wife and I tried to do just that with a 9marks/SBC type church. After 4 months we were kicked out because we would not formally join. They make not signing their documents, a sin and then discipline for that. It's completely circular."
Another shared this gut-wrenching testimony:
"I had wanted to be somewhat vague on this site about the exact “9 Marks” churches that I attended, but in light of some of the very disturbing links provided by Janey, I now think that I should be explicit. One of those churches, the first one, was Capitol Hill Baptist Church. It was there that I was schooled in the 9 Marks thinking. I embraced it fully, believing it to be “faithfully Biblical” at the time. In retrospect, I can see that one of the dangerous things about the 9 Marks philosophy is that it does strongly address some genuine weaknesses in many American evangelical churches. However, I can say, from experience, that some of the proposed “solutions” are as bad as (and sometimes worse than) the problems.
Here is one example. At the time that I moved from the MD/DC area to New Mexico, in 2007, I had been a member of CHBC for approximately two years– a very happy member. After my move, I immediately began attending another “9 Marks-affiliated” church in Albuquerque. I was happy there too and desired to quickly begin the process of becoming a member, but at the time that I began attending, one cycle of membership classes was winding down, so I waited for the next cycle to begin taking the classes. I had been in touch with people from CHBC, including at least one deacon that I can remember, both just before I left for New Mexico, and after I arrived there and began attending the new church. I made it clear to the CHBC people that I was trying to seek membership at a new church, given my geographical move, for which members of CHBC had actually graciously helped to pay (they do help their members in many ways, and I was thankful for the help!).
However, due to the delay in my membership process in the new church (waiting for the next cycles of classes to begin), it took about three or four months before I was able to actually finish the classes, sign the church covenant, and become a full-fledged member. During this “interim period,” I received a letter from one of the CHBC leaders, informing me that if I did not contact them before the next members’ meeting, I would be disciplined, and my membership would be terminated, given that it had, apparently, taken too long for me to become a member of the church in Albuquerque! I was absolutely stunned. I had been such an enthusiastic supporter of the “9 Marks philosophy,” both at CHBC and at my new church, yet now, I was being threatened with discipline for, seemingly, not sticking closely enough to one aspect of it! (It’s not as though I had had no contact at all with people from CHBC since I moved to New Mexico!) To be fair, I did contact someone from CHBC, after receiving the letter, and explained that the membership process was taking longer than I had hoped, and that I would soon be a member of the new church– thus averting “church discipline” from the CHBC elders. Still though, I just don’t see why that letter even had to be sent! I was not some kind of drifter who had become a member at CHBC and then refused any genuine fellowship and accountability in the church, finally moving, unbeknownst to anyone, to another church in another state, not ever contacting CHBC. Far from it.
About the senior pastor/main preaching elder … who unfriended me on Facebook, without a word, after I returned to the Catholic Church in 2010? His name is Mark Dever. That unfriending broke my heart. I could understand that Mark didn’t consider me a brother in Christ anymore, given that he believes (and teaches at CHBC) that the Catholic Church holds to a “false gospel of works-rightteousness.” I didn’t *agree* with that assessment of the Catholic Church and its teaching anymore, by the time that I returned to the Church, but I still understood how Mark had a very different view and was thus unable to continue viewing me as a brother in Christ. Especially given that I knew that he *did* hold such a view though, it broke my heart that he simply unfriended me, never writing or calling me at all to express concern or to ask me about my decision to return to the Catholic Church. His own teaching in the 9 Marks books and articles does not advocate such silence toward one who is considered an “apostate!” I still don’t understand it.
I have long refrained from telling most people about the things that I have revealed in this comment. Part of the reason for that is that I did not want to engage in gossip with other believers about aspects of my former church. I am still very grateful for much of the solid Biblical teaching and genuine Christian love that I did receive there from so many people– including, in many ways, while I was there, Mark Dever and the other elders. Looking back though, there were also real aspects of CHBC that were unhealthy, and I can no longer remain silent about them. I feel the need to speak out, partially to provide people who may still be there, or who may be considering attending or joining, with some relevant information that they may not get from the elders."
And then there was this situation in the northeastern part of the country which involved a member of a 9Marks affiliated church — a resignation letter was submitted by this individual to the church leadership. A number of months have gone by since the church was notified of the membership termination; however, the leaders of this 9Marks affiliated church refuse to remove their former member's name from the membership roll. Why? Because apparently the church covenant states something to the effect that when a member leaves the congregation they promise to join another church ASAP. It certainly appears that this former member's name will remain on the church roll until (s)he asks for a letter of transfer to another church.
If you have had a similar experience in a 9 Marks affiliated church, we would love to hear from you! Mark Dever will be speaking at the upcoming SBC Pastors Conference (held prior to the SBC Annual Meeting / Houston), and Southern Baptists might be interested in reading about your experiences.
We leave you with an interesting comment Leigh wrote on our blog :
"The 'wee little sheep' comment sounds far too familiar. The pastors of our previous church frequently attended the Together for the Gospel conferences and also the Shepherds Conference. I remember one Sunday just after they had all returned from one of the two, they were commenting and laughing from the pulpit about their favorite quote from the conference. “The pastor’s job is to lead and feed, the sheep’s job is to swallow and follow”….ummmm, no thank you…not for me."
All I can say is – these BIBLICAL church membership rules being promoted by 9Marks are BAAAAD!!!
Lydia's Corner: 2 Samuel 19:11-20:13 John 21:1-25 Psalm 120:1-7 Proverbs 16:16-17