Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, is a Baptist. If for some reason you think he isn’t convinced of his baptistic stances, or if you think, when pressed about Baptist distinctives, he might say something like, “Well, we can’t really know so we’ll just agree to disagree.” You’re dead wrong. Dever believes that the Bible communicates the distinctions he holds dear, and — in part — this book is a defense of those distinctions.
Here, Dever uses about 170 pages to build upon a chapter he contributed to A Theology for the Church (B&H Academic, 2007). He divides the book into three sections: 1) What Does the Bible Say?, 2) What has the Church Believed?, and 3) How Does it All Fit Together?, treating exegesis, church history, and application respectively. Helpfully, he spends the first half of the book in the first section where he lays a solid Biblical footing for anyone unconvinced that an ecclesiology can be found in the Bible (particularly the New Testament). Here he covers issues of church attributes, marks, membership, polity, and discipline — among others — that come up again the later sections. Only after that groundwork has been laid does he move into what we’ve seen of these things in church history and how we should apply them today.
One of my favorite parts about Dever is his ability to hold his convictions tightly, but also love across distinctive lines. For instance, he quotes Ligon Duncan multiple times in the book, and if you’ve listened to Dever’s stuff, or read him before, you’ll know that he and Ligon are good friends. Ligon is also a Presbyterian, which means he and Dever disagree about some significant things (e.g. church polity, church discipline, and baptism). However, regardless of the format, you can see a mutual respect for one another, a developed understanding of one another’s arguments (that, no doubt, has come through a willingness to listen), and a love that recognizes one another, first and foremost, as brothers in Christ.
More than being “right” on any specific issue, this loving commitment to each other is one of the greatest accomplishments the two parts of this particular pair have demonstrated to broader evangelicalism over the past couple of decades. I, for one, am specifically grateful for their relationship — even from afar — because it has shown, counter-culturally, that you can love someone and still disagree with them. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
If you haven’t read this book yet, I would highly recommend it — even if you aren’t convinced by the Baptist way of doing things. There’s much in these pages that would be valuable and applicable to any Christian from any denominational background. The readability of his writing is somewhere between popular-level and academic. There will certainly be parts you have to read twice or chew on for a while, but it’s certainly still digestible for any lay-person (like me!).
The following is a list of 20 of my favorite quotes from the book. Enjoy!
1. Page xv
the Bible certainly doesn’t teach us everything. But neither does it teach us nothing. It should be our desire to search out everything that God has revealed about himself and then to joyfully accept it, adopt it, explore it, submit ourselves to it, and enjoy God’s blessings in it.
2. Page xviii
One of the things that separated the false gods from the true God in the Old Testament is that false gods were mute while the true God spoke. People can creatively devise how to approach a mute God, but they must listen to a speaking God.
3. Page xxi-xxii
Too often Christians today have only two gears in their theological bike: essential and unimportant. If something is not essential for salvation, it is treated as unimportant and therefore dismissible. But the Bible presents us with a number of matters that are not essential for salvation but which nonetheless are important, even necessary, for obedience to God’s Word. And these commands are not arbitrary. Obeying them bears good fruit. Questions of polity and organization fall into this category. In the life of a local church, they can sometimes become crucially important for the church’s health and even survival.
4. Page 8
Jesus Christ founded his own assembly, his own church. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus first names his New Testament people as “my church” (16:18). As Adam named his bride, so Christ names the church.
5. Page 25
The God of the Bible is a loving God. But his love can be understood maximally only when counterpoised to his holiness because his love provides what his holiness requires.
6. Page 36
Rather, baptism is the public confession of faith. It symbolizes a commitment by both God and the believer (see 1 Pet 3:21). The submission of the believer to the water of baptism represents his or her humble request to God for a conscience cleared of guilt because of Christ’s atoning blood.
7. Page 63
During the centuries between Moses and Ezra, Israel existed as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham.
8. Page 68
Church discipline done correctly might bring a sinner to repentance, but it will always faithfully represent the gospel to the surrounding community.
9. Page 70
But God’s Word must not only be read; it must be explained and applied. Hence, right preaching of God’s Word is central to the church’s worship, forming its basis and core.
10. Page 74
The church itself is a means of grace not because it grants salvation apart from faith but because it is the God-ordained means his Spirit uses to proclaim the saving gospel, to illustrate the gospel, and to confirm the gospel. The church is the conduit through which the benefits of Christ’s death normally come.
11. Page 85
The heavenly city will come down; it won’t be built up, constructed from the ground up, as it were (Heb 11:10; Rev 21:2). Its coming is as one-sided as creation, the exodus, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the 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 doing it, not us.
12. Page 96
This meant that the Reformers recognized that the cost of unity at the price of truth was a bad bargain. Correct division should be preferred over corrupt unity.
13. Page 107
Baptism is a visible sermon, informed by the Word, and entirely dependent on God’s Spirit to create the spiritual reality it depicts.
14. Page 124
Through all the changes of the centuries, Christians can be confident that the survival of the church is not ultimately based on human faithfulness…In everything from the church’s obedience to its life and organization, the span of church history is a demonstration of Christ’s faithfulness to his promises.
15. Page 128
The center and source of the congregation’s life is the Word of God. God’s promises to his people in Scripture create and sustain his people. Therefore the congregation is responsible to ensure, as much as lies within its power, that the Word of God is preached at its regular meetings.
16. Page 148
In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), Jesus taught with stark clarity that obedience to God does not lie in the eye of the beholder, unless the beholder is God himself. Many goats thought they had lived righteous lives, but Jesus said they have not.
17. Page 150
The purpose of preaching God’s Word to God’s people is to build up, or edify, the church, which is God’s will for the church. Whether or not numerical growth results from biblical preaching in any given congregation at any given time, Christ’s church will experience true growth and edification through teaching and instruction.
18. Page 154
There seems to be little doubt that, at least in Southern Baptist churches, the last century has seen an increase in nominalism while the average age of baptism has been decreasing. It seems likely the two statistics are related.
19. Page 164
The first step toward practicing church discipline in a congregation is simply teaching the people to pray and care for one another. Learning to love and discipline one another — truly practicing the priesthood of all believers — is a prerequisite to introducing corrective discipline. Formative discipline must precede corrective discipline.
20. Page 165
The doctrine of the church is important because it is tied to the good news itself. The church is to be the appearance of the gospel. It is what the gospel looks like when played out in people’s lives. Take away the church and you take away the visible manifestation of the gospel in the world.