Home > Brandenburg, Separation, The Church > Missing the Mark: 9 Marks Aren’t Enough

Missing the Mark: 9 Marks Aren’t Enough

July 9, 2008

Mark Dever pastors the Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, one of the most well known Southern Baptist churches in the United States.  Dever is well respected by a great number of young, professing fundamentalists, especially for his 9 Marks organization.   What I read at 9 Marks is better than most of what I read in fundamentalism, at least for what fundamentalism writes.  I also admit that I believe the 9 Marks.  Our church has the 9 Marks.  Here is what 9 Marks says is its mission:

We believe the local church is the focal point of God’s plan for displaying his glory to the nations.  Our vision is simple: Churches that reflect the character of God.  Our mission is to cultivate and encourage churches characterized by these nine marks.

9 Marks then says that these are the nine marks:

  1. Expositional Preaching
  2. Biblical Theology
  3. Biblical Understanding of the Good News
  4. Biblical Understanding of Conversion
  5. Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
  6. Biblical Understanding of Membership
  7. Biblical Church Discipline
  8. Promotion of Christian Discipleship and Growth
  9. Biblical Understanding of Leadership

Have you ever been attempting to describe to someone the type of church he should be looking for?  Haven’t you used certain characteristics as the means of that description?   Like 9 Marks, I too want churches to dedicate themselves to certain traits, fleshing out what Scripture says about the church and imitating the distinctives that we see from there, instead of being fad oriented.  I desire for men to trust the sufficiency of God’s Word as it relates to their churches, instead of running to conferences to hear what the latest growth or management guru says a church ought to be.

The Baptist Distinctives

I still think that the Baptist Distinctives are nice marks for a church.  I wouldn’t recommend a church that did not have them.  They are Scriptural and do act as a certain benchmark for obedience to God.  They are obviously not everything, but if you look at the Baptist Distinctives, you will see some basics that have historically characterized God’s churches.  For those who don’t know them, they are:

  • Bible Sole Authority for Faith and Practice
  • Regenerate Immersed Church Membership
  • Autonomy of Each Church
  • Pastor and Deacons:  Two Church Offices
  • Soul Liberty, the Priesthood of the Believer
  • Immersion and Lord’s Table:  Two Church Ordinances
  • Separation of Church and State
  • Separation Both Personally and Ecclesiastically

Those distinctives should characterize a church and they are a bottom line for what I see as a New Testament Church.  I don’t really know if 9 Marks would see the Baptist Distinctives as important as their nine marks.  I do.

What’s Missing?

I would guess that some people reading this post skipped right down to this section.  This is what they wanted to find out anyway, you know, just to see if they agree whether I was on target on missing marks.  Certain attributes come to mind when I go to help someone understand what kind of church they should be looking for.  I will quickly spell out required features when I tell others the churches we get along with.  I love the 9 Marks, at least as I would understand them.  I wish more churches had those qualities.

When I look at the 9 Marks, I don’t see Separation.  There’s a lot that could fit under conversion or Biblical Theology, but if you are going to give three different slots for good news, conversion, and evangelism, then there should definitely be one for separation.  You can have church discipline, but what does it matter if you don’t practice separation too?   Capital Hill breaks fellowship with church members who are unrepentant or who will not fulfill certain membership qualifications.   I think that’s great.  It’s Matthew 18:15-17.  You can’t keep company with excommunicated church members, but you can fellowship with disobedient brethren who aren’t from your church.

Separation has been a hallmark of New Testament churches because it’s a doctrine and practice found in some form in every New Testament book.  A lot of liberalism has been eliminated from the Southern Baptist Convention.  I applaud the Southern Baptists and men like Dever who have been a strong influence toward conservative theology.  However, his Southern Baptist church is part of the convention and, therefore, cooperates in the support of some liberalism in the convention in missions, parachurch organizations, and seminaries.  When the Convention convenes, Dever convenes with them, and so do all the other Southern Baptists, convening for the great cause of getting together with a cost of some truths.

I know that Dever says that he does separate, just not as much as fundamentalists.   Separation isn’t one of the 9 Marks.  It was, however, one of the marks of the Schleitheim Confession, number four.

A separation shall be made from the evil and from the wickedness which the devil planted in the world; in this manner, simply that we shall not have fellowship with them (the wicked) and not run with them in the multitude of their abominations. This is the way it is: Since all who do not walk in the obedience of faith, and have not united themselves with God so that they wish to do His will, are a great abomination before God, it is not possible for anything to grow or issue from them except abominable things. For truly all creatures are in but two classes, good and bad, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who (have come) out of the world, God’s temple and idols, Christ and Belial; and none can have part with the other.

To us then the command of the Lord is clear when He calls upon us to be separate from the evil and thus He will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters.

He further admonishes us to withdraw from Babylon and earthly Egypt that we may not be partakers of the pain and suffering which the Lord will bring upon them.

Just like in a church change comes from discipline and division, we make change on the outside of the church by separation.   Some might argue that if we separate, we’ll lose the influence we might have had with some of those from whom we separate.  That idea just disregards what God has said about what His people should do.   In those situations, biblical influence comes from separation.   Without separation, we not only invite impurity into our own church, but we influence other churches to keep unscriptural affiliations.  Evil associations corrupt good behavior.  It’s an axiom that no one can escape.

Are any of the 9 Marks worth separating over?  Which ones are required by the Bible?  Or are they just the 9 Preferences?   I believe God’s Word mandates most of them.  So if a man or a church doesn’t practice the marks, what does 9 Marks do?  Do they separate over the violations of the marks?  Or do they continue acting like nothing is wrong?  What does this say about the dedication of the 9 marks?  The answer for disobeying Scripture isn’t “build a website,” “have a conference,” and “print literature.”

I believe that other marks are necessary for a basic description of a New Testament church.  I would include Scriptural Worship.  That’s at least as important as scriptural evangelism, one of the 9 Marks, and really more important when we consider the purpose of our justification (John 4:23, 24).   Many foundational perversions of scriptural evangelism methods are identical to those of biblical worship.  Worship gives God what He wants.  He doesn’t want something worldly, sensual, fleshly, or profane.  Does it matter to us if a church has all 9 Marks but has worship that gratifies men and displeases God?

Could a 9 Marks church have a woman pastor?  Could a 9 Marks church seek after signs?  Could a 9 Marks church have a church party with rock music, booze, and dancing?  Could a 9 Marks church have a pastor who cusses?  Could a 9 Marks church put on a performance of Godspell?  Could a 9 Marks church believe that the Bible has errors?  Could a 9 Marks church allow public nudity in the form of women’s swimsuits?  Could a 9 Marks church advertise “no dress code” for an assembly to worship?  Could a 9 Marks church sprinkle infants into the membership of the church?

I like the 9 Marks.  They aren’t enough though.

  1. July 10, 2008 at 1:27 am


    Do you see the difference between a person who grew up a Southern Baptist, pastors a Southern Baptist Church, sees the need for great spiritual reform and is instrumental in that reform–as opposed to a former fundy who out of looking for greener grass moves his church into the convention now?

  2. July 10, 2008 at 1:30 am

    Want to make one correction on that last post—instead of “do you see the difference” it should be “do you make any distinction.”

  3. July 10, 2008 at 2:10 am


    Thanks for commenting. I happen to be up. 🙂 I played basketball and Motrin doesn’t cover a multitude of soreness. I like to enumerate things.
    1. Did you hear the Dever-Minnick interview? Dever has forefathers who left the convention. He also explained his reason for staying as largely hanging on to buildings and property.
    2. One word: reform. That has always been anathema. Maybe it’s how I grew up, but I also read in Scripture that we don’t stay and reform, but come out from among them and be ye separate.
    3. Dever attracts former fundies. He likes it.

    You ask if I make any distinction. I do. But no amount of nuancing can excuse it, I’m afraid.

    Here’s an observation, Jason. I think most fundamentalists today would say they have more in common with Dever than they do with me. Why do you think that is?

  4. July 10, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Interesting post, Kent, especially after reading these two Nathan Finn posts at Between the Times: The Gospel and Baptist Identity and Christian Identity and Baptist Distinctives.

    Like you, I add the same caveat to my love for the 9 Marks: “at least as I would understand them.” Unlike you, I think that separation is included in the 9 Marks, but the separation is implied and it is not nearly as exhaustive as your own separation convictions. Obviously, Dever cooperates with pedo-baptists and Charismatics, even allowing them to preach from his pulpit, but he would not allow them to join his church; nor would he join theirs.

  5. July 10, 2008 at 11:12 am


    Thanks for commenting. You probably noticed that I do wander over to your blog and I feel very Hoosier when I do.

    I skimmed the two articles and then added the blog you linked to my favorites.

    I figure the author would call me a Landmark because I don’t think I’m Protestant.

    I think the author misses something with regards to Baptists and ecclesiology. The gospel is bigger than my ecclesiology, I believe, but I can’t protect the gospel without my ecclesiology. We protect the gospel through church discipline and separation among other things like baptism and the Lord’s Table.

    I would like to think that Separation is in the nine marks. I don’t think it is. I’m saying that it is a separate mark in addition to Scriptural Worship.

    Some readers here may wonder if KJV is a mark for me. I would put that under Biblical Theology, because to me it is inerrancy, the nature of truth, and the doctrine of preservation. I also see it touch on the gospel—Revelation 22:18,19. I’m not devoted to the Anglican and Puritan translators or to Elizabethan English, but to the text received by and therefore canonized by the churches. You didn’t ask about that, but I thought I would throw it in. Young fundamentalists roll their eyes. I am chagrined at a view of inerrancy that says we have the message but not the words. That isn’t Scriptural. It also yields an uncertainty that begets weakness and apostasy. I’m confident that when we get to heaven, we will find out that a major downfall in this age was the staggering at the stumbling block of scholarship and forensic science. I should give credit to Dave Mallinak for putting me on to the word “forensic” as it relates to this issue.

    Regarding Dever being in fellowship with those who COULD NOT join his church, this diminishes church discipline and Biblical Theology at least.

  6. Don Heinz
    July 11, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Yep, separation is missing from Dever’s 9marks, and is definitely something a NT Christian and Baptist ought to look for in a “good” church. I know the purpose of your post was to bring up and deal with separation, but I’m glad you at least mentioned a couple of things that in my humble opinion are terribly important earmarks of a good church, namely evangelism and worship. Jesus called his disciples into the first church to be fishers of men. That is a critical starting purpose for a church. Also, God has chosen to get glory in through his church in the New Testament period (Eph. 3:21). That is definitely a keyverse in the epistles. Dever only somewhat approaches this, probably because he is off on church doctrine and isn’t very separated. There is one other thing that tends to get very lost in doctrinal discussions, the greatest commandments (3) involve love. I’m not going soft here, but a critical mark of a good church based on the Scripture would have to be that a church is loving, friendly, caring, etc. That may seem like a no-brainer to some. However, we need to be practical as well as doctrinal when approaching any subject. That of course would lead us to fish for men and love to worship God in His holiness (not in that order), and be separated from evil and compromise.

    I suppose what I am trying to say is, does list of requirements for a scriptural church reflect biblical emphasis? I don’t believe the 9marks reflect biblical priorities, as much as they do Dever’s church experience. The glaring error is his wording is definitely “understanding.” At least he could add “and practice” to those points. We’re not just after understanding, but rather obedience.

    Anyway, enough rambling. Thanks for the post.

  7. July 11, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Love is good, Don. It’s hard to measure, but should be an emphasis. It is the greatest in the NT.

  8. July 12, 2008 at 10:08 am

    I thought you did a great job on this article, Kent. I’m assuming you won’t get a lot of Dever-defender comments in the form of the typical Hyles-defender types (all-caps, telling you to go soul-winning). I’m thinking that his defenders will be more substantive than that.

    I’ve gone over to look at his stuff a few times, and always felt like it was a good step for a Southern Baptist, but like most SBC stuff, that it fell short and was inadequate. For one thing, since he has all this on the web, it seems like he does not take the opportunity to define what he means by those things. His 9 Marks are a list that almost every evangelical could agree with. If he defined what he means by each mark, there might not be such universal admiration.

    I would add that I looked at his little article about “how to leave a church” and also found it inadequate. In fact, I have been teaching some on this issue to our men, and I initially went there excited to get some good, meaty stuff. Only to find that the meat was missing. I think he is headed in the right direction, but I found very little about the Biblical reasons to leave a church, and very little of Scriptural explanation for following the instructions of Matthew 18.

    So, again, I would agree with you if you say that 9 Marks is a step in the right direction, and that he needs to keep stepping a few more hundred miles down the road.

  9. Bobby
    July 12, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Good to see you guys agreeing on something. Kum-ba-yah! Where’s Joel Tetroue and his lawn chair?

    (notice the cute misspelling in honor of Joel)

  10. July 13, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Tanks, Bobby!

    Pastor B and I have this thing for disagreeing all the time. We don’t have any Scripture for it, but we don’t think its manly to agree all the time.

  11. Bobby
    July 13, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    I want to say “Amen,” but I hope it doesn’t seem effeminate to agree with your doctrine on disagreements.

  12. Greg Linscott
    July 22, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    FWIW, Dever himself acknowledges that the ( marks aren’t all-encompassing. I’ve heard him say, fopr example, that Baptism and the Egalitarian issue, for example, are also not specifically addressed. He also mentioned Piper specifically thought there should be something about missions. His response was something to the effect that these are 9 things he feels that need to be stressed and for the most part, haven’t been. The 9 marks originated when he left the church he pastored in in Massachusetts to pursue doctoral studies in England. It was a list he gave them to help them, in his words,” understand what a strange church they’d become” under his leadership. I agree that there are other points I would like to see emphasized, but considering that he was coming off time at Gordon-Conwell, I would observe that these are certainly issues that require attention, even in most self-identified Fundamentalist congregations.

  13. July 23, 2008 at 1:18 am

    I understand your like of Dever, Greg. And thanks for coming over.

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