9 Marks: What is it? How Mark Dever Undermined it and Made it Worthless


What are 9 Marks of a Healthy Church from Mark Dever of Capital Hill Baptist? My interest in 9 Marks coming from a person who was formerly involved in the Evangelical Free Church of America. The story of CJ Mahaney and how he fled in his corruption from Covenant Life Church (CLC) in Gaithersburg, Maryland by taking shelter at Capital Hill Baptist Church. How Mark Dever undermined and violated most of the 9 Marks in taking him in, and affirming his sin in his run away church plant in Louisville. Also touches on the emerging of a new caste system and how pew sitters are now the new “Dalits”

 “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others

                                                                 George Orwell – Animal Farm                    

 “God created the church, we have said, so that it might increasingly reflect the character of God as it’s been revealed in his Word. In keeping with the storyline of the entire Bible, then, church discipline is the act of excluding an individual who carelessly brings disrepute onto the gospel and shows no commitment to doing otherwise.”   

                                                                 Mark Dever “9 Marks of a Healthy Church”

Let me start out by saying I am a firm believer in live and let live. What do I mean by that? If it doesn’t effect me, and if my life doesn’t cross paths with it…its best to let it go and go forward in peace. If 9 Marks and the theology of Capitol Hill Baptist stayed within itself than what I would do is leave it alone, and leave it at peace.

However, part of my spiritual heritage is in the Evangelical Free Church of America. I was involved in the Evangelical Free in Fresno in 1999 and briefly attended an Evangelical Free in Milwaukee when I moved to Wisconsin in 2000. I have looked around at the Evangelcial Free Church in the Washington, D.C. area and due to the strong presence of Fundementalism 2.0 (Neo Calvinism) I have decided to kiss the Evangelical Free Church goodbye. 9 Marks has made an inroads into many parts of the Evangelical Free Church. Here are some of the many examples that I could list. In the Washington, D.C. suburb of Annandale you have Cornerstone Evangelcial Free headed up by Bill Keynes. In doing research in the 9 Marks church locator other examples include Austin Bluffs Evangelical Free in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Evangelical Fellowship in Amarillo, Texas; Tottenville Evangelical Free in Staten Island, New York; First Evangelical Free of Wichita, Kansas; and Grace Evangelical Free in Fridley, Minnesota in the Twin Cities. According to the websites Austin Bluff held its first service on July 16, 1972 while Tottenville joined the Evangelical Free Church in 1958. Unless these are recent church plants which in the case of Tottenville and Austin Bluffs they are not, what it means is that these churches were theologically hijacked. I actually would like to write more about the Evangelical Free Church in time. That said, since 9 Marks has penetrated many Evangelical Free and as I care about this denomination I can not sit on the sidelines and be silent. This is why I have decided to write about this organization.

What Are 9 Marks?

9 Marks is a principle which came out of a book published by Mark Dever originally in 2004. That book is called “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” In doing some research 9 Marks of a Healthy Church has been through three editions with the most recent being August 31, 2013. You can find it here at Crossway. I would suggest that its a pillar of the Reformed Industrial Complex. I would encourage you to read about 9 Marks here. That said, these are the 9 Marks and a brief write up of each one using 9 Marks own words (for the most part):

  1. Preaching –  An expositional sermon takes the main point of a passage of Scripture, makes it the main point of the sermon, and applies it to life today.
  2. Biblical Theology – Biblical theology is sound doctrine; it is right thoughts about God; it is belief that accords with Scripture.(Eagle observation this is “Biblical Theology” from a Neo-Calvinist doctrine, remember that in reading this post)
  3. The Gospel – The Gospel as defined in a Neo-Calvinist context.
  4. Conversion – A biblical understanding of conversion recognizes both what God does and what people do in salvation. This includes giving life to the dead, sight to the blind, and the gifts of faith and repentance. And in conversion people repent of sin, and believe in the Lord.
  5. Evangelism –  Evangelism is simply telling non-Christians the good news about what Jesus Christ has done to save sinners and urging them to repent and believe. In order to Biblically evangelize you must: preach the whole gospel, even the hard news about God’s wrath against our sin. Then call people to repent of their sins and trust in Christ. Finally make it clear that believing in Christ is costly, but worth it.
  6. Membership –  According to the Bible, church membership is a commitment every Christian should make to attend, love, serve, and submit to a local church.
  7. Discipline –  In the broadest sense, church discipline is everything the church does to help its members pursue holiness and fight sin. Preaching, teaching, prayer, corporate worship, accountability relationships, and godly oversight by pastors and elders are all forms of discipline. In a narrower sense, church discipline is the act of correcting sin in the life of the body, including the possible final step of excluding a professing Christian from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s Supper because of serious unrepentant sin (see Matt. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:1-13).
  8. Disciplieship – Scripture teaches that a live Christian is a growing Christian (2 Pet. 1:8-10). Scripture also teaches that we grow not only by instruction, but by imitation (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1). Therefore churches should exhort their members to both grow in holiness and help others do the same.
  9. Leadership – The Bible teaches that each local church should be led by a plurality of godly, qualified men called elders.

Now that all sounds good, it appears to be “sound doctrine”. But the devil is in the details, and the questions people need to ask is what is meant by church discipline? How is church discipline defined? How are all these 9 Marks defined? What does membership mean? What does the Gospel mean? Now before I proceed let me go on the record as saying that I firmly believe in church discipline when handled in the right way. I believe in evangelism and find it crucial. Plus I like expository preaching. One of the things that keeps me in evangelicalism is I like good sermons. I believe conversion is important and I have no problem with membership. So I want to be crystal clear that I am not writing from a liberal, emergent or watered down perspective. Having said that let me explain the problem with 9 Marks, and how Mark Dever undermined 9 Marks and in the end made it worthless.

When I was in graduate school studying history one of the fascinating things that I had to learn to ask is how do you define something? Totiliterian movements and dictators can be clever with words and redefine them in the process. And they can have a very different meaning. For example let’s look at some names of Communist countries during the Cold War. Poland was called the Polish People’s Republic. Hungary was called the People’s Republic of Hungary. East Germany was referred to as the German Democratic Republic. In Asia, North Korea referred to itself as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, while China was known as the People’s Republic of China. Now don’t those names sound like thriving democracies? France has been in the Fifth Republic since 1958 and people can vote and practice democracy. Was East Germany a thriving democracy? What about North Korea under Kim Il Sung? Was Poland a bustling democracy during the 1960’s and 1970’s? The answer to these questions is no..they were not. The Communists played on words and in a confrontation between the East and West even the names became important as a part of propagnda. I use this as an example to discuss the flaws of 9 Marks.

Yes the write up on the website looks good. But because its published in a book, or listed on the 9 Marks website does that mean its practiced in that way? For example when you think of discipline you may instinctively think of a member who left his wife and had an affair in a congregation. Classic example of a basis for church discipline. That’s how discipline used to be defined. However, what if I told you that you can face discipline for missing a Bible study? Or you could face church discipline for tyring to get out of a Bible study and switch due to job demands? What if you faced discipline because the church tracked your tithing and felt you weren’t giving enough, perhaps because you were dealing with other demands, and financial issues at home maybe due to illness, etc..?

CJ Mahaney Fleeing Covenant Life Church and Hiding Behind Mark Dever; What About 9 Marks?

As the Sovereign Grace Ministries scandal started to climax there was a data dump on the internet by Jim of SGM Refuge. That data dump has been referred to as SGM WikiLeaks. The data showed that there was hypocrisy, deep unconfessed sin, and enabling of sin among other things. CJ Mahaney who referred to Covenant Life Church as the “happiest place on earth” was partially quoting Charles Spurgeon. You can read the context here. And what happened at the “happiest place on earth?” After all, Covenant Life Church is a 9 Marks church according to the 9 Marks church search. So what happened, when Mahaney decided to “step down?”  I’ll let Mr. Humility explain in his own words his flight to Capitol Hill Baptist:

Some of you have asked where I will be attending church during my leave. That’s a good question, as it’s not uncommon for pastors to take a leave in a church that is away from their home congregations, and this seems wise. During my leave of absence I will be attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church where Mark Dever is the senior pastor. After seeking counsel about this decision, I’ve concluded that this is the best place for Carolyn and me to receive care and counsel, to examine my life and leadership, and to consider my future during this season of reflection. I want to learn all I can during this season, and I pray that this time will benefit not only me but Sovereign Grace as well.

And with that Mahaney fled CLC and went to Capitol Hill Baptist. Mark Dever being the man all about leadership and 9 Marks embraced him and let him take refuge at Capital Hill Baptist. In the process Mark Dever also let CJ Mahaney preach and teach from his pulpit while he was in flight. I linked to the sermon its Mahaney’s famous “When Someone Doubts” on September 25, 2011. So now that we know what 9 Marks is lets examine it in the context of CJ Mahaney fleeing to Capitol Hill Baptist. After all Neo-Calvinism is all about “the local church”. So let’s apply the 9 Marks to CJ Mahaney fleeing, and Mark Dever’s enabling. These are all the 9 Marks that Mark Dever has violated in my analysis:

  1. Membership – In letting CJ Mahaney flee to Capitol Hill Baptist Mark Dever showed that church membership is meaningless (to quote from the spirit of Ecclesiastes). Why? Because his membership at CLC was violated, he wasn’t attending as often; and then on top of that he fled CLC. Could any member of CLC or CHBC flee their congregation in a similar manner?
  2. “The Gospel” – In letting Mahaney flee to Capitol Hill Baptist Dever showed how the Gospel is in flux, not universal, and very fluid. I and every other member of a 9 Marks church would not be afforded that luxury. Instead Dever illustrates how you are exempt from the rules just because you are in the inner circle, close friend, or he has a vested financial interest in seeing you succeed. (i.e. Can you discipline the founders of T4G when you are financially attached to the hip?)
  3. Leadership – Mark Dever showed poor leadership in failing to stand up to CJ Mahaney. I would go further and say that for a pastor and member of a movement trumpeting the roles and responsibility of men that he is also an epic fail as a man. Why? In a crisis or situation that demands leadership Dever provided none. He betrayed his doctrine, Capital Hill Baptist and another 9 Marks church (CLC) all at the same time. A leader needs to make hard decisions and be universal in his decision making. None of that happened, instead Dever showed why he has a spine that is as firm as a piece of cooked linguine coming out of boiling water.
  4. Discipline – One of the most heralded and esteemed part of the 9 Marks is church discipline. How often has Dever or members of the 9 Marks movement talked about one of the problems being that evangelicals don’t practice church discipline? In letting Mahaney flee discipline Mark Dever taught that this pillar of 9 Marks is null and void. By letting CJ Mahaney flee and not letting CLC apply discipline he showed why discipline is subjective and not universally applicable. You see favoritism comes into play when the issue deals with discipline. And in the end Mark Dever practiced what he often criticized others of doing.
  5. Discipleship – Mark Dever also illustrated why discipleship is not universally practiced either. Mahaney could have been coached, taught to stay at CLC and discipled in place. An opportunity was missed to disciple a member of CLC and of SGM. It was something that could have set apart SGM, 9 Marks, and CHBC from the rest of Christendom and done something truly unique. Instead Dever committed an epic fail and he missed what could have been the most important part of his career as a pastor that could have been written about in theological history.

So in doing the hard analysis what we have is 5 of the 9 Marks being violated by the man who wrote, taught and has enforced on others. However, there is much more to come. The violation of the 9 Marks didn’t just end here…they continued with CJ Mahaney fleeing with his run away church plant to Louisville, Kentucky.

CJ Mahaney Fleeing to Louisville and his Sin Being Affirmed by Mark Dever; Again What About 9 Marks?

As CJ Mahaney went and planted a new Sovereign Grace church in Louisville, he still stayed mired in his sin of hypocrisy. His confession which he took back and recanted only revealed his pride. The publisher of Humility True Greatness didn’t know what humility is or he couldn’t admit that he was wrong and own up his sin. While CJ Mahaney acted like a modern Jonah, Mark Dever went down to Louisville and spoke at his church on June 2, 2013. Dever preached on Mark 3:7-19. Shortly before Dever preached he helped issue that infamous T4G statement. Remember this racket? I remember thinking to myself gosh it was better when he didn’t say anything at all. When Mark Dever chose to be that bold about his sin and corruption I actually thought for the first time why did the Protestant reformation even occur? Now I would contend that many of the 5 marks that I analyzed above still apply in this situation as CJ Mahaney became more entrenched in his sin and corruption. However, I want to focus on one of the 9 Marks that I believe is of importance. To the Neo-Calvinist crowd this is a crowd infatuated with authority and discipline and while both didn’t apply to CJ Mahaney. Discipline especially did not apply. This is the reason why I have the George Orwell quote from Animal Farm as the intro to this post.

Authority is defined as the power to give orders, make decisions or force someone to comply. Here is a definition online. The key to authority in my book is leadership. For those interested here is what the US Army actually teaches about leadership, I offer that as a suggestion. A leader who has proper authority knows how to use it and what to do with that authority. A leader makes difficult decisions, and stands by them – that is the hallmark of a true leader. After all while its difficult to stand up to your enemies it takes even more courage to stand up to your friends. If Mark Dever was a committed friend to CJ Mahaney he would have confronted and challenged him, and not been an enabler of him during this time and this ongoing quagmire. Again Dever committed an epic fail in how he refused to intervene and challenge Mahaney. And for those who say, “well maybe he did so behind the scenes or tried…” these are people who seek the public spotlight. They want to grace stages, and live in the public’s eye. They chose to be celebrity pastors. They want you to buy their books. They chose the path they are walking and if you are going to live in such a public display well that means you also voice your concern in public as well. Why? Silence gives the appearance of approval, that all is well. But above all else you need authority in order to practice church discipline. As Mahaney became more rooted in his sin and hypocrisy Dever helped enable and coddle him. It became clear as time passed on that Mark Dever, the man who could have engaged in church discipline was not going to, and in this hypocrisy I would suggest Dever showed his cards and revealed a new chapter in Neo-Calvinism…that of a new caste system. This new caste system is with the members of the congregations now being the new Dalits – prone to and being disciplined but having pastors being above church discipline. And that is how I want to close this post.

A New Caste System and New “Dalits”  

Do you know what a caste system is? At dictionary.com in a sociology context a caste is defined as, “an endogamous and hereditary social group limited to persons of the same rank, occupation, economic position, etc., and having mores distinguishing it from other such groups.” Castes are kept in place and castes are also prone to being pre-determined. In India for example people are born into castes, and what you are born into you cannot change. If you are born into slavery in India that is pre-determined. (This caste system goes along really well with Calvinism I must admit… after all one could say that it is foreordained) A caste system has four factors that enforce it, those four factors are:

  • Occupation
  • Marrying another person within that cast
  • Socializing with other people within their own caste
  • Indulge into the religious code of belief or social ideology that reinforces or strengthens the caste system only.

There is a good write up of the differences between a class system and a caste system here. Though India outlawed the caste system in many ways it is still practiced. in 1989 the Prevention of Atrocities Act was passed by the Parliament of India to protect and help the Dalit. This act was written as a way to prevent discrimination, harassment, assault and other criminal acts from occurring. However, if you look at the link to the Prevention of Atrocities Act it has also revealed that it has not lived up to its promises.

So why am I talking about all this? Why am I referencing the Indian caste system?

I want to call attention to a new caste system that has been created by Mark Dever and his subjective interpretation of 9 Marks. I would suggest the following based off an analysis of the current situation from 2011 forward until today:

  • Pastors of any 9 Marks church are exempt from discipline as their rank of Pastor makes them in the upper social strata and protects them from discipline. They are above approach, and cannot be disciplined for any sin or hypocrisy. Mark Dever illustrated this fact in how he took in CJ Mahaney into Capital Hill Baptist Church and reaffirmed Mahaney’s sin in Sovereign Grace Louisville.
  • The pew sitters in a congregational church are to face discipline and have to tolerate their pastoral leadership and senior pastors being deep in sin.
  • The pew sitters have to accept the fact that discipline only applies to them. In a 9 Marks church? Accept the fact that a standard will be applied to you that doesn’t apply to leadership.
  • The pew sitters are now the new Dalits. They are the untouchables. They are the lower part of the caste system. They are foreordained by God to be there, and that is enforced by subjective interpretation of 9 Marks policy.

In another post in the future I want to write about what Mark Dever should have done when CJ Mahaney ran and hid behind his skirt. Since the Neo-Calvinist world is all about men and complementarianism which is reinforced by this 9 Marks article I read the other day let me close with these thoughts. Mark Dever didn’t show leadership and as a pastor he committed an epic fail in taking in CJ Mahaney. In the end what he did was enabling his sin and reinforce that sin. There is a lot I have to say about what a man is and how many Neo-Calvinists have no clue as to what a man is. A man leads by example and accepts responsibility for his errors and mistakes. A man repents, and a man accepts forgiveness. Due to Mark Dever’s leadership he has shown how fluid the 9 Marks are, and in the end his leading and teaching should serve as a warning. Caveat emptor! If you attend or get involved in a 9 Marks church you will not be shown the same mercy and be prepared to have the system come down on you. Finally in honor of Neo-Calvinism, and their claims about men, I want to close with the Village People singing “Macho, Macho Men.” Mark Dever I dedicate this video to you.



10 thoughts on “9 Marks: What is it? How Mark Dever Undermined it and Made it Worthless

  1. Don’t limit the immune from discipline to the leadership. At my old church there was the elite class of pew sitters who could do no wrong like doctors and lawyers. I was lucky enough to be a part of the volunteer slave class. Also, I couldn’t even do that anymore since they only allow members to volunteer now and I refused to join that place.


  2.   __

      Is there any way to prevent 501(c)3 religious discrimination, harassment, religious assault, pedophillia or other criminal acts from occurring within the physical properties or ‘hallowed halls’ of the Calvinistic religious institutions known as 9 Mark churches?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. __

      It is important for Christians to test all things by the scripture, as the Bereans did when they examined the words of the apostle Paul (Acts 17:11, I Thes. 5:2). The Bible is useful for correcting and rebuking, as well as for preaching and teaching (II Timothy 4:2). All professing Christians (including those in church leadership) are accountable to scripture.

    Liked by 1 person

  4.   __

    —> The issue with God is no longer man’s sins. 


    But, that Jesus offered a satisfactory payment for sin.

    —> Christ death for sin settled the sin issue once for all. (Jesus tasted death for EVERYMAN. ) unfortunately the  Calvinist does not believe this.

    Please don’t let the Calvinist rob you of the salvation God so freely offers you by the shed blood of His Son, Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

  5.   __

      God wants every person to receive the grace of God as to be saved. 

    Scripture tells us that God has made a way…


      Scripture tells us those who call upon the Lord shall be saved.


    God desires to reconcie you unto Himself,

    Plese call upon the Lord today.

    He is listening…

    Liked by 1 person

  6.   __

    The Lord Jesus had a sacrificial concern for lost souls…

    Luke 13:34

    The Apostle Paul had a sacrificial concern for lost souls…

    Romans 9:3

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Additional questions: Where does the Bible talk about church membership? Does it specify anywhere a written contract? Does covenant language in the Bible include a description of a church membership covenant?

    And where is it spelled out that a church must be run by a plurality of men? Is there a passage somewhere that says, ‘Set aside for yourselves a plurality of men, godly men, and raise them up over the rest of you, to lord it over you and direct how you are to live your lives…’?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You hit the nail on the head Refugee. I have so much about 9 Marks that I am wanting to write about in time. I’ve read some of their articles and it bothers me. Plus my background is also in the Evangelical Free of which some of this 9 Marks has penetrated. That’s a red flag. But anyone, anywhere can use the Bible and twist it to make a point. What 9 Marks does so do the Mormons. The twisting of scripture can be very creative. The church covenants I find deeply troubling as I view them as legal contracts, and the first step toward a church suing you. Now in light of what scripture says about lawsuits I find it hysterical that many organizations like 9 Marks are willing to toss those verses to the wind and ignore them, which is what they are doing with membership covenants.


  8. Pingback: “The Explicit Gospel” at Matt Chandler’s “The Village” Includes Child Pornography, Church Discipline and Membership Covenants | Wondering Eagle

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