"I knew how to read a contract by 10 years old, but I didn't know what it meant for somebody to come in and tell me they loved me and kiss me goodnight. That's a problem."-Corey Feldman link
Mark Dever recently presided over a 9Marks conference held at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was subtitled "a conference about the church, for the church". It is essential for thoughtful Christians to understand 9Marks lingo. Words have meanings, and all too often we assume that everyone is reading from the same dictionary. In today's church that is a dangerous assumption since you may well get caught up in patterns and behaviors that can border on abusive.
Mark Dever: What might his words look like in practice, not in theory?
The Associated Baptist Press published an article on Dever's conference titled Pastors Calls Out Tolerated Non-involvement in Southern Baptist Churches written by Bob Allen. I was impressed by his analysis in which he highlighted portions of Dever's talk and then juxtaposed Todd Wilhelm's experience at the hands of Mark Dever's right hand man, John Folmar, of UCCD. I listened to the 48 minute talk as well.
Words take on meaning when they are used to "enforce" a concrete action. In order to understand what Mark Dever and 9Marks mean by discipline, we will refer to the story of Todd Wilhelm. For those of you who are not aware of the whole story, please refer to our post called My, My Dubai: 9Marks Played Hardball.
Quite simply, Todd Wilhelm was a member of UCCD, a 9Marks church in Dubai, and being tapped for leadership. He found out the church was pushing CJ Mahaney's book in their bookstore. Todd has stood in solidarity with the victims of the SGM child sex scandals and asked for the books to be removed. The leadership refused and Todd bravely resigned his membership.
Why bravely? He is living in a foreign country and he had established relationships which were now put under strain. The church refused to let him resign until he joined another 9Marks approved church. He refused even though he intended to attend another church. His resignation was a conscientious objection to the church's fealty to CJ Mahaney. He was then put on a "care list" which is 9Marks speak meaning that you are headed for church discipline since he wasn't following the program. Sound a bit controlling?
Why do some think 9Marks is a cult?
Todd's story is linked to by Bon Allen, who said the following:
Dever’s model has critics. Some compare such high-commitment membership expectations to a cult.
Today we will look at Mark Dever's words on church membership and try to fathom what it means in practice. On Wednesday, we plan to look at a post by Jonathan Leeman in which I will attempt to demonstrate the problems inherent in the meaning of words. Leeman and I agree on the bottom line of one issue but for radically different reasons. Those reasons could lead to serious consequences for those who have decided to "sign on the line" with Mark Dever.
Here is a link to Dever's SEBTS talk. His enthusiastic audience was comprised primarily of pastors and future pastors which likely means you will see these methods being implemented by a church near you, especially Neo-Calvinist Baptist churches and Neo-Calvinist "whatever else" churches.
What does Dever think about people who do not commit to church membership?
Bottom line: unless you are near death or going to war, you are a sinner.
Dever claims that 2/3 of all members of Southern Baptists churches do not attend the church of which they are members. Unless it is for good reasons such as illness, Dever claims that the reasons for this is either sin on the part of the member or sin of the part of leadership that isn't teaching obedience.
Interestingly, there is another reason and this reason is usually studiously ignored by certain pastors because it might point to them. There are people who have been abused by pastors and ministries for standing up for issues of conscience. Todd Wilhelm is an example of this. So, in a 9Marks type of church, if you deeply disagree with an action, leave and do not immediately join an approved™ church, you are a sinner in the eyes of Dever and should be disciplined. But nobody ever questions if Mark Dever and John Folmar are the sinners in need of discipline because they are the "authority".
Membership should exemplify/witness of love for one another.
In his talk, Dever claims that churches should be known for their love for one another. He claims that this will result in a witness of the Gospel to the world and cause people to come to a saving faith. Now think. How many churches do you know that are known by the community for their love towards one another? I have yet to hear of the marvelous love witness by the members of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Why is it that many churches are known more for their "lectures" on the sins of those "outside" the church? The next point may be the reason.
Love often means discipline but discipline is not defined.
(ABP article) “You first have to take steps to recover a positive understanding and experience of membership, where it becomes normal for people to know the truth about each other’s lives,” he said. “Once that becomes normal, well then it would begin to seem strange if you weren’t speaking to each other if somebody is regularly committing adultery. Then the lack of church discipline would begin to seem strange.
Dever quoted 1 Corinthians 5 which discusses a man who is sleeping with his mother-in-law. Dever claims that the congregation was in trouble because they didn't confront the sin. He claims that love also means to discipline someone. This is where it gets tricky. Most people would not have trouble with a church intervening in a 1 Corinthians 5 situation.
Listening to Dever, you think he is saying that really, really bad sin needs to be called out. In fact, he mentions serial adultery in his talk. But, that is not how it really rolls at 9Marks churches, and there is a good reason for this. Dever and 9Marks do not define the rules of the game a priori. You are not told what they will punish, so they are given a wide latitude to punish whatever they darn well want to punish.
Todd Wilhelm's situation is an example of this. He believed deeply that Mark Dever and John Folmar should not be pushing books by CJ Mahaney. He requested that they reconsider their stand. UCCD refused, so Todd left the church; however, UCCD's "leadership" would not "let him". Todd stood for a righteous cause, but UCCD and John Folmar appeared to be too invested in their relationship with CJ Mahaney to wish Todd well. They should have shaken his hand and just let him go on his way.
Instead, they decided to punish him. This, folks, is the reason why you should be very, very careful in joining any church which says it will discipline but fails to define the parameters of the punishment.
Since this talk was recent, I wondered whether Dever might have learned anything from Todd Wilhelm's situation. He apparently hasn't. He still endorses open ended, ill-defined discipline, so my guess is that there will be more "Todd Wilhelm" situations in the future, if there haven't been already. Hint, hint…
Churches should require a signed membership covenant
In order to get away with punishing people for whatever they darn well please, they need a contract to protect the church legally when they hold their "rah rah, let's consign them to Satan" all-church discipline meetings. (Those of you who sit in these types of meetings and vote for whatever you are told need to get a clue.)
(ABP) 2. Have and use a congregationally agreed upon statement of faith and church covenant.“You’re showing that within membership in the congregation comes responsibility,” he said.
Here is a link to the CHBC (Mark Dever's church) covenant. Please remember that you are signing a legal contract, not some "let's all love and pray for one another" Hallmark card. Once you sign this, you are bound to the church that has been given quite a bit of latitude over your life. Read it carefully. These contracts are usually one-sided, placing the burden on the members, while giving maximum latitude to the pastors.
Remember this: they are watching you and will tell you just how and when they want you to be obedient. It is one-sided.
…We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.
…We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.
...We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.
…We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life.
…We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.
…We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.
After you sign this contract, you can't leave the church until you die or they say you can leave. (Repeat this 10x.)
( ABP) 6. Realize that admission into church membership is an act of the congregation. “Somehow the congregation needs to be taught that it must act to admit someone into membership, and that apart from death it must act to release someone from church membership,” Dever said.
…You can't unilaterally agree to join the church and you can't agree to leave by yourself.
Make sure you understand this. The leadership of a church could be engaged in activities that you consider immoral, unethical, flawed, etc. However, as a member of that church, you have little say. Also, remember that the elders have been put in place to support the pastors. Their knee jerk reaction will be to protect their man.
According to this contract, you have no right to quit on the spot. You must be given "permission" to leave. Todd believed it was unethical to sell books written by CJ Mahaney. This is a reasonable point of view. However, he was expected to stay in membership until he found a 9Marks approved™ church.
Todd refused, acting on his conscience. He wanted out of there and out of there immediately. He could no longer fellowship with those who promoted what he believed to be an unethical ministry. (Todd was formerly a member of an SGM church.) They refused to let him go! Can you imagine this?
Todd wasn't committing adultery, embezzling funds, hitting on young women in the church, etc. He was such a good member that they considered him ready for leadership. But he needed to be disciplined for his reasonable belief. He went from "leadership" material to "discipline" fodder. Do not forget this. It has nothing to do with serial adultery. It has everything to do with "obeying" the pastor, no matter what. You are essentially stuck in the Hotel California with no ability to check out.
Children should stop being baptized.
Dever apparently believes that baptism is something more than an outward expression of one's inward confession of Christ. He believes that children can have saving faith but, in order to be baptized, they need to something more. That "more" is a bit difficult to find in the Scripture but Dever *knows* this to be true. It must be one of those "keys to the kingdom" thing.
(ABP) Dever said the question is not whether a 5-year-old or 10-year-old “can savingly confess Christ.”
“Of course they can,” he said. The question for the church is whether its members have the capacity to make an informed, lifelong commitment to follow Christ. “The large number of nominal Christians and rebaptisms in Southern Baptist churches seem to answer that we have gotten something badly wrong in the 20th century,” he said.
Dever has some rather strong ideas on baptism that have been given to him because of his "keys" thing. (Question: Does Ligon Duncan have those keys or only those who follow Mark Dever? More on this on Wednesday.) He does not allow those who believe in infant baptism take communion at his church, including his friend Ligon Duncan. Apparently, you need to have 9Marks™ approved baptism teaching before you can take communion, just like it says in the New Testament, right?…Perhaps it is in Acts 30??
(From TWW) Let me repeat that. Because of Duncan's paedo-baptist convictions, both Dever and Mohler would prohibit his participation in the Eucharist.
Membership is the way to be assured of your salvation.
Dever seriously means this. You are not assured of your salvation when Jesus becomes the Lord of your life. It appears that the Spirit cannot give you that assurance. Only by being a member of a 9Marks approved™ church will you know that you are truly loving God.
(ABP) “Joining a church is joining an assurance-of-salvation cooperative. We are to observe evidence of God’s grace in each other’s lives. We are to encourage one another. We are to correct one another when occasion requires.”
Dever said church membership is not optional for someone serious about following Christ. “Membership functions to assure us that we have truly known God’s love and that we are truly loving God in response,” he said.
Upon reading this article, @soloner tweeted the following. I think it says it all.
Folks, be very careful that you understand the meaning of words before you sign a membership contract. In fact, please call a covenant a contract in order to understand what you are signing. Ask yourself this question. Would you live in a country which did not define the laws and the expected punishment for breaking those laws? If you wouldn't, ask yourself why you should trust men like Mark Dever to decide when they will, or will not, discipline you and for what? Always keep Todd Wilhelm's situation in the back of your mind before you sign on the dotted line.
TWW has written extensively on church discipline and membership covenants. It is our opinion that covenants are legal contracts which are in place to protect primarily pastors and leadership from lawsuits. There is little to nothing in these contracts to protect the individual church member. We caution everyone to think twice before signing one of these documents. Ask yourself this question: Why should I trust these leaders to do the right thing?
If you wish to do more reading on this subject, here is one link to get you started. It even has a letter that you can send to your current church should you wish to "get the heck out of Dodge" and do so with minimal damage.