Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: Seven Marks of a New Testament Church

There are no lack of books on the topic of the church. Most, and I say this with no hesitation, are garbage and consist of feel good malarkey and repackaged business wisdom applied to religious organizations. It therefore was a welcome change to read Dr. David Black's newest work from Energion Publications, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. These are the seven marks he chose to look at (with the disclaimer that these are not the only seven marks, an important note)....

1. Evangelistic preaching 
2. Christian baptism 
3. Apostolic teaching 
4. Genuine relationships
5. Christ-centered gatherings 
6. Fervent prayer 
7. Sacrificial living

It is probably inevitable given my background that I compare Dr. Black's book with the well known 9 Marks of a Healthy Church put out by Mark Dever and the aptly named 9 Marks ministries. Mark and company are some of the most prolific writers out there on the topic of ecclesiology and come from a reformed, baptistic, plural elder viewpoint. While I disagree with a lot of what Dever writes, I appreciate the thought and the Scriptural study that have gone into their works. Nevertheless I found far more to commend in Dr. Black's compilation than Mark Dever's.

The thing I liked best about Seven Marks versus 9 Marks is that it is believer-centric rather than clergy-centric. 9 Marks is designed as a "top down" system, get the right elders leading the right way and preaching the right sermons and teaching the right theology and you have a "healthy church". Members will follow. Dr. Black starts at the ground floor with an "every member shared ministry" that far more closely follows the apostolic pattern. The church is built from individuals working as a community for the mission of God. Leaders are enablers who help others be prepared for the work of ministry:

The essence of all New Testament teaching about church leadership is that leaders are to be enablers. They are not to do the work of the ministry as much as they are to prepare others to do that work (see Eph. 4: 11-12).

Black, David Alan, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church: A Guide for Christians of All Ages (Kindle Locations 338-340). Energion Publications. Kindle Edition.

That is the sort of plain wisdom we need a lot more of in discussing the church in the waning days of Christendom. Top down leadership and top down centered ecclesiology is great for creating top heavy organizations but for the church we need to flip that order around as Dr. Black has done here.

One thing that sort of confused me. While Dr. Black talks a lot about love in every chapter, love doesn't get a chapter of its own. Jesus said that all men will know we are His disciples by our love for one another ( John 13:35 ). Love is the key, foundational mark of the church. Indeed without it the church cannot be the church. I am not sure why it was not given a chapter but if I were rewriting the book I would add at the top of the list!

In spite of my one quibble this is a book I can unreservedly recommend for anyone studying the church, whether one is seeking to reform an existing group and starting a new group from scratch. It is not long and it tends to raise a lot of questions, making it perfect as a study guide or introduction to ecclesiology. Get a copy, read it and then pass a copy or three on to your church friends. They might be surprised by what they read!

(You can also get Seven Marks from Amazon for the Kindle, that is what I did because I like to be able to electronically mark important passages)

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