Contract law is essentially a defensive scorched-earth battleground where the constant question is, “if my business partner was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond space/time tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?” ― Charles Stross link
Some of you are wondering why we spend so much time on Mark Dever and 9Marks. Take a look at the resource section of many churches. Scroll down and see how many of them list 9Marks of a Healthy Church. TWW has heard from a number of readers whose churches took on a different culture as they began implementing the 9Marks approach to church membership, church contracts and church discipline.
I am currently on vacation with my family in Florida. Riding in the car for long periods often helps me clear my mind. During this time, I have come to the conclusion that TWW must put together a resource page of our own which deals with church contracts (covenants for the uninitiated) and church membership. We will also provide resources on how to remove oneself from a church which believes you have no further rights of conscience because you are owned. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be working on a permanent page in which our readers can find help in these areas.
In order to help our readers understand why things are they way they are, we must look at a number of writings by Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman, John Folmar and 9Marks proponents in order to get understand what is going on beneath the surface. Always ask the question, in any church, "What do they mean when they say….?"
3 things to remember
1. Church discipline is never defined prospectively. In other words, when you go driving in your car, you know you can get fined or arrested if you drive over the speed limit, drive while intoxicated, fail to use your turn signal and text while driving. How would you feel if none of these laws were predefined and the following scenario occurs?
You are driving and talking on your hands free unit and are stopped. The police officer hands you a ticket for $10,000 for breaking this unwritten law. You say you had no idea that such a law existed. The policeman tells you that the Board of Commissioners of that county had just decided they would impose this today and that they can determine whatever they darn well feel like at the moment because they "have the authority to do so". Unfair? Of course. Such impetuous mandates would quickly be overthrown by the courts. However, you do not have the same rights when you join the church and sign their contract.
2. When you sign a church contract, you are signing a legal document. This means they can impose certain disciplinary methods on you and your legal rights have been somewhat attenuated. So, they can discuss you in a large public meeting of the church and urge the members to shun you and the courts will not interfere if you are still a member.
3. You have a legal right to dissolve your contract with the church. Once you do, they cannot make you the subject of a public meeting of the church without risking the possibility of lawsuit. Such lawsuits against churches have been won. You must do so in a documentable fashion. All of the "how tos," along with relevant materially will be placed on the page we are developing.
Recently, Mark Dever wrote a post addressing the question "What I Can and Cannot Live With as a Pastor". There are some illuminating sections that could have a profound effect on the culture of the church you join.
Immature believers can't handle the truth
Corollary: If you do not believe exactly as they believe, you are *immature* and might even be *wicked,* *sinful,* and *unregenerate*. Dever has this to say:
I’m not suggesting that you be deceptive, but simply that you explain things to your congregation as they are ready to hear them.
He is being deceptive, darn it. In fact this approach is being used in many churches around the world. The incoming pastor obfuscates that he is a hardcore Neo-Calvinist and starts throwing around the *gospel* word because all good Christians believe in the gospel, right?
We discussed this despicable tactic by featuring a post by Andy Davis link and link who allegedly used this technique at FBC Durham. 9Marks featured Davis' post as a wonderful example of church reformation.™ When you see wonderful people that you know personally (I do know them) being called wicked and unregenerate, then you know there is a problem with unholy arrogance. Such conceit will eventually bite you.
Dever writes this to pastors who he assumes are mature.
That is, are they mature enough to follow where you lead? If not, you may only do more damage by quickly “leading” in that direction.
Therefore, be prepared to be thought of as immature if you do not agree with the pastor's vision. There is a reason why you might feel sidelined.
Dever believes that church polity is relevant to the gospel.
Most people don’t think polity is something that’s relevant to the gospel. I do.
Ah-the ultimate gambit. If you do not agree with the church governance in regards to church discipline or membership, you might be in danger of denying the gospel. That means you may not be a Christian, or in their lingo, regenerated. Make sure you understand that when you are called *unregenerate*, they are saying that you are outside of the faith. That might lead to church discipline.
Folks, be careful in calling a new pastor to your church. I know of a church in which the elders refused to let the congregation know that they were changing the polity and would do so by bringing in a new pastor who would implement that polity. They would not allow any questions that dealt with Calvinism during the Q+A. He got voted in, and now the church is fully part of the Neo-Calvinist movement.
Do not go to a church that has female elders because they are too far gone.
Female elders. I might be able to live with female elders, but not for long, and probably not at all, so I probably just shouldn’t try. I want to allow for those situations in which you’ve had an ill-taught church that’s willing to follow your leadership, where even the female elders themselves are happy to step down. But normally, if a church accepts female elders, has been clearly instructed to the contrary, and will not change, that seems like a battle you won’t win. So I probably wouldn’t even begin with such a church.
Mark Dever needs to consult with Andy Davis. He took care of that problem by calling female leaders *wicked* and *unregenerate* when they disagreed with him. It can be done if someone is a bulldog.
Drums need to go in a 9Marks sort of church.
Drums. I can live with drums. Like organs, if they are overpowering and actually discourage congregational singing, then I would prefer not to live with them for long. No instrument should discourage the biblical practice of congregational singing. But here, as in so many other places, teach before you act, and certainly before you call the congregation to act.
Wow- there is gospel teaching involved in getting rid of drums? It apparently screws up biblical singing. Good night!
Church membership is a must so they know over whom they have authority to discipline for sin and error
12. No formal membership. I can live with this. But, depending on the situation, not for long! In this fallen world, sin and error will arise within the church, which means that we must know who has the final authority for acting against sin and error. Since the New Testament teaches that the congregation has this final say (see Matt. 18; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2; Gal. 1) I have to know who belongs to the congregation. Too, the members need to know of their own obligations, responsibilities, and privileges. There may be cultural reasons why a church in a non-transient, small community in which Christians are a minority could effectively operate with only an informal membership. But except for these very particular circumstances, Scripture and practice mandate that we have a clear membership in order to function biblically as a church.
Read between the lines. They must have a declared membership in order to implement church discipline. Although they don't admit it, they know that there is a legal reason for this. However, from what I can tell, this group never defines what they will discipline. That is to their advantage. They can discipline what they want, whenever they want. Never forget Todd Wilhelm, "The Guy From Dubai".
Infant baptism is a sin…think about it.
Infant baptism. I cannot live with infant baptism. Having said that, if I were the pastor of the only church allowed in Mecca, maybe . . . But even then, I simply lack the authority to admit someone to the Lord’s Table who has not been baptized. It is, as one said not too long ago, “above my pay-grade.” I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors.
I believe that we can agree to disagree on a number of issues. There are *A* issues and *B* issues. Dever ratchets it up. If you disagree with him on baptism, you are in sin. Can you imagine what else he might declare as sin? Maybe thinking that it is OK to have drums in worship after you have been properly taught, for example? And does he say what he will or will not discipline? Of course not. All options must be kept open.
Then, there is a myriad of other issues that need *wise consideration* by the pastor.
Note-wise consideration by the pastor. So many things to pronounce sinful or not, so little time.
This is just a little taste of those things that I can and cannot live with as a pastor. Questions of Calvinism, open-air preaching, drama, dress, prophecy, politics, having an American flag on the platform, and myriads of other matters need prayerful and wise consideration by the pastor.
Please read Dever's entire post. There are a number of other things that I could have discussed, but my family is getting antsy to do some things. In the meantime, reflect on this quote by Henri Nouwen and ask yourself a question. How often are you called "Beloved" by your church?
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions.
The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
Lydia's Corner: Leviticus 15:1-16:28 Mark 7:1-23 Psalm 40:11-17 Proverbs 10:13-14