Over the years, I’ve grown weary reading books that relate to ecclesiology. Recent works that focus on the church are either driven by pragmatic presuppositions, man-centered principles, or church growth techniques that compromise the essence of the gospel, not to mention the mission of the church. Mark Dever’s newest book, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible is a totally different kind of book. He steers clear from the usual drivel that saturates many books devoted to ecclesiology. Indeed, the church is should be thankful for such a work.
Part One: What Does the Bible Say?
The first section focuses on the nuts and bolts of the church. Dever leaves no stone unturned. The nature of the church is explored, membership is reviewed, polity is discussed, church discipline is covered, among other things. Each section is rooted in the biblical text. The writing is clear and compelling. The reader walks away from the first part with a clear understanding on what Scripture says concerning the church.
Part Two: What Has the Church Believed?
Part two explains the classical distinctions between the visible and invisible church and the local and universal church. The author includes a helpful discussion on the rise of denominations.
Also included is an illuminating discussion on the history of ordinances. A wide variety of traditions are surveyed. And the various positions are presented for the Lord’s Supper as well as baptism.
Part Three: How Does it All Fit Together?
The final section discusses the marks of the church, namely – the faithful preaching of God’s Word and the faithful administration of the two ordinances. Dever includes a helpful section on church membership. He writes, “Churches that submerge difference of age, race, status, background, or employment give witness to the power of the gospel.”
One of the most helpful chapters is devoted to developing a biblical leadership model. Dever’s holds to an elder led/congregationally affirmed leadership structure. He adds, “The most coherent way to understand the New Testament’s presentation of local church polity is to recognize the role of both individual leaders and the congregation as a whole.” He does not minimize the role of the congregation. Dever writes, “The congregation is not in competition with the elders. The congregation’s authority is more like an emergency brake than a steering wheel. The congregation more normally recognizes than creates, responds rather than initiates, confirms rather than proposes.”
In the final analysis, “a right ecclesiology matters for the church’s leadership, membership, structure, culture, and even character. Ultimately, a right ecclesiology touches on God’s glory itself … Therefore, getting the doctrine of the church right becomes a benefit to the people, as the truth about God and his world is more correctly known, taught, and modeled.”
The Church: The Gospel Made Visible should receive a wide readership and will be a tremendous tool in the hands of faithful pastors and shepherds!