Reviewing the sample statement by Del Ray Baptist on church attendance. Pointing out some concerns and raising some questions in the process. Is the bar too high? What about those who have trouble making church due to work obligations? Also looks at the definition of how 9 Marks defines “Christian.” Apparently me, along with others not associated with 9 Marks as well the Christian being killed for his faith in North Korea would not be a Christian according to their definition.
“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
John 4:24 NIV
What 9 Marks does to the Bible
As I live in the Washington, D.C. area I am committed to writing and exploring the churches in my own backyard. If you want to see the vision I have for this blog you can read that here. Recently at The Gospel Coalition they ran an article that was originally posted on 9 Marks. The article is a sample statement from Del Ray Baptist Church which is in nearby Alexandria. That church is led by Garrett Kell, and you can read about Garrett and the church leadership here. Del Ray Baptist is a church plant of Capitol Hill Baptist I believe and my understanding is that members from CHBC and Del Ray go back and forth between the two congregations.
This is not the first time I have written about 9 Marks or Neo-Calvinism. I have authored several articles and plan to do a number of additional pieces as time allows. There is a lot that needs to be discussed and I intend to write about it. But to give you a review in this article I explain what 9 Marks is, plus I also explore how Mark Dever made 9 Marks worthless when he let CJ Mahaney flee Covenant Life Church and take shelter at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. In that article I explain how Mark Dever violated at least 5 of the 9 Marks which are membership, “the Gopsel,” leadership, discipline and discipleship. I still have a question that I would like the Neo-Calvinist movement to answer…is either CJ Mahaney or Mark Dever ever going to face church discipline for their behavior? In CJ Mahaney’s case it would be for alleged blackmail and the alleged over up of child sex abuse. You can read about that alleged blackmail and the transcript here. In Mark Dever’s case its for not practicing church discipline of CJ Mahaney. I mean I can’t imagine someone from Del Ray Baptist fleeing to CHBC and taking refuge from their sin there and avoiding church discipline. Furthermore to continue in this article I write about the problems with church discipline, and based upon an article by Jonathan Leeman I also ask do organizations like Cru, the Navigators, or IVCF have a right to exist? Also, in regards to Neo-Calvinism I would like to feature this article that explains how to make Neo-Calvinism healthy as in its current form I find it extremely toxic. One of the points I emphasize is to reign in 9 Marks and kick it to the curb as it doesn’t work. The faulty church discipline issues at United Christian Church Dubai, The Village Church, and Capitol Hill Baptist Church illustrate how its an intrinsically flawed model within 9 Marks. I plan to write about it as the issue continues to grow. Finally in this article I explore the issues with membership covenants and draws parallels to the infamous Berlin Wall which divided East and West Berlin for nearly 30 years. As someone deeply educated in history that was a fun article to pen.
I lifted the article by Garrett Kell and have it below. I will be writing in red, so for the rest of this article expect to see my comments in red. I look forward for your critique, challenges or thoughts below in the comments.
Editors’ note: The following is a statement from the elders at Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Recently, they began releasing “Shepherd Studies” to help their congregation think well about important biblical topics that affect the life of their church. This first statement was crafted to help set an expectation of what it means to regularly attend the weekly worship service. This is not a binding document, but rather a study that seeks to help their church understand how they intend to live together.
The New Testament pattern of church life is that believers come together on the first day of the week to worship and serve the Lord, and that they regularly sit together at the Lord’s Table to remember his death on their behalf (1 Cor. 11; 1 Cor. 16:2; Heb. 10:24–26). Consistent with that established pattern, the members of Del Ray Baptist Church (DRBC) voluntarily commit to regularly attend services at the church, a responsibility and privilege clearly specified in both the church covenant and the DRBC Constitution and Bylaws. Faithful church attendance does not earn salvation, nor does it act as a measure to rate spiritual greatness over and against other people. It does, however, reflect a growing commitment to the gospel, the good of the church community, and spiritual health.
Faithful attendance honors Christ and builds up his church. Non-attendance moves in the other direction. It makes light of his name and harms his church in many ways and for many reasons. (See Matt Schmucker’s article “Those Toxic Non-Attenders” as well as Mark Dever’s chapter “A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership” in Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.)
I’m not going to spend too much time here on the issues with church covenants. I wrote quite a bit about the fallacies of them in the article I linked above about Neo-Calvinist church covenants being a new Berlin Wall. There’s much more to say and with forthcoming articles I plan to tackle them. Right away as I read the introduction comments I have deep concern about this statement right here. “Faithful church attendance does not earn salvation, nor does it act as a measure to rate spiritual greatness over and against other people. It does, however, reflect a growing commitment to the gospel, the good of the church community, and spiritual health.” Respectfully I have to disagree as church attendance does not always illustrate a growing commitment to the Gospel. The sign and indicator of a Christian is not how much or often they go to church. According to Galatians the fruits of the spirit are gentleness, patience, kindness, etc… This statement by Del Ray Baptist I would suggest is a backward way and means to control people. Just as love can not be forced nor can church attendance be coerced. And with organizations like Sovereign Grace or parts of Acts 29 church attendance does not indicate spiritual health. Sovereign Grace is a movement that is sick to its core and has deep intrinsic problems. In the end an organization like that which emphasizes church attendance does so out of one of the main sins that exists, that of pride in that they can control people. That is not an indicator of spiritual health, rather its an indicator of a spiritual cancerous tumor. To continue the list above of those who cannot attend service on Sunday is increasingly short, and I think it possibly reflects a lack of real world experience by those in church leadership who have often lived a sheltered life within a bubble. For example in addition to military, students and illness there are these factors to consider:
- What about nurses, doctors, and nurse practitioners who may have to work Sundays in hospitals, and emergency clinics?
- What about emergency personnel such as fire, police, or EMT technicians who are called to work on Sunday? Is the fire station in the Alexandria or nearby Mount Vernon going to be abandoned so people can go to church? What happens if there is an emergency?
- What about those who work in the field of transportation and logistics who spend time away from home, often on weekends? It can include airline pilots for UPS, American Airlines or Delta. What about truck drivers who do long hauls and can be away who are doing what they are doing to provide bread on the table. What about engineers or conductors for freight railroads such as Norfolk Southern or CSX? Are they going to call the railroad and say, “Sorry Bill, but I can’t drive this train from Baltimore to Charlotte as my Elders expect me to go to church instead.”
- This is the Washington, D.C. area, what about civil servants who are expected to work on weekends or Sundays because the federal government mandates they do. Is someone working for the FBI or inside the Pentagon on a Sunday going to tell his boss, “Sorry I can’t work despite the expectations of my job..my elders expect me to be at church.”
I would state that such language illustrates a lack of real world experience by those who have not had to work in those situations. Being an EMT, doctor, or working for a railroad or airline is stressful and hard enough. Why add to it?
Here are seven reasons why faithful attendance practically matters:
1. Faithful attenders confirm the power of the gospel and support evangelism, whereas non-attenders make evangelism harder.
Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples “so that the world may believe” the Father sent the Son into the world (John 17:21). For the world to see our love and unity, then, we must regularly gather together.
Everyone who bears the name of Christ—as affirmed by a local church calling them a “member”—yet who willingly chooses to live their lives apart from the covenanted community of believers is practicing identity theft. They’ve taken Christ’s name, but they don’t honestly identify with his body, the local church. Living unaccountable lives, they make evangelism harder for other Christians because, often, they aren’t living like Christians.
I find this part of the article quite amusing as love is often absent or has been redefined by Neo-Calvinism. I still need to write an article about how successful totalitarian movements in history redefine words as a means to control movements or add power to them. It doesn’t matter if its nation states like North Korea or the Soviet Union or a movement like 9 Marks. Love is not about power or control – instead love is self sacrificing and its about serving, helping and giving yourself away selflessly. By the way I have a question for Garrett Kell and the rest of the leadership at Del Ray. Since in their eyes a Christian is defined by being a member of the “local church” I have to ask…what about the Christian starving to death in a North Korean internment camp such as Hoeryong. Is Garrett going to explain that the Christian starving to death for his faith is not a Christian because he has not joined “the local church” in the 9 Marks network and signed on the dotted line? Its an honest question. When I read about the aspect of identity theft or people living unaccountable lives I must ask…who is Mark Dever or CJ Mahaney accountable to? They are members who have taught and pontificated this material for years…yet who are they accountable to in the end? Or is church discipline only for the pew peons and does not apply to the leadership?
2. Faithful attenders confirm Christ-centered lives for new believers, whereas non-attenders confuse them.
New believers need good models (Acts 18:24–26; 1 Cor. 11:1; Titus 2:2–6). When the doctrine they’re taught doesn’t sync with the models they see in the absentees, they become confused. They’re led to believe one can be a “Christian” and yet have little or no connection to Christ’s body. Non-attenders are not only reverse witnesses (see the previous point); they’re reverse models. They disregard and disobey countless passages of Scripture and fail to image God’s character in the most basic ways, even though they claim to be his adopted children.
Again not to keep hammering a point but get used to hearing that hammer. Is a good role model include someone like CJ Mahaney who allegedly practiced blackmail? Is that Godly? Is blackmail a part of “sound doctrine?” I’m not trying to be difficult after all it’s an honest question that I have. I would venture to suggest in this situation that 9 Marks has the definition of church and Christian backwards. The church is a global body of believers who profess a common faith in Jesus. That Christian starving to death in an North Korean interment camp is a brother in Christ. According to 9 Marks since he is not a member of a local body, or 9 Marks church than that Christian suffering for his faith is not a Christian. I have to reject that as its not sound theology, and its not sound doctrine. By the way in Mark Dever supporting CJ Mahaney at all costs he has not only put the Bible through the woodchipper (by the way that’s why I led with that video of a wood chipper) but he has gone against Jesus in ignoring the least of these, which in this case are those who were sexually abused in Sovereign Grace.
3. Faithful attenders encourage other regular attenders, whereas non-attenders discourage them.
One reason to gather regularly is for the sake of personal encouragement: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25). When a church allows non-attenders to remain members, they effectively gut the meaning of membership, which hurts and discourages the faithful.
I would suggest that this is a sharp turn inward and way from the world and interacting with the world. Personal encouragement can come from the church but it can also come from interacting and helping others outside the church. That comes from serving and counting yourself as less and putting other people ahead of you. Again this is an example of the church being made an idol and being worshipped instead of God. By the way not to beat a dead horse but Mark Dever gutted the meaning of membership when he let CJ Mahaney flee Covenant Life. Many people at CLC were discouraged and outraged. What Mark Dever needs to do is go before the congregation one day and get on his knees and beg for forgiveness for enabling and hurting people outside CHBC. Then he needs to beg for forgiveness at CHBC in letting Mahaney stay and preach. I’m sorry guys I am not going to let that go, you have an entire system built around something that has been undermined by Mark Dever and his behavior. When is 9 Marks going to pony up on this point? People like me and others will not drop this as this needs to be asked.
4. Faithful attenders comfort their leaders by their adherence to the truth, where non-attenders worry them.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” In light of this verse, a faithful pastor or elder should feel responsible for the spiritual state of every member of his flock. Like a father worried about his child who hasn’t come home late at night, a good shepherd doesn’t rest until all his sheep are accounted for. Non-attenders make this task nearly impossible.
In doing some quick research there are 31,013 verses in the Bible. I know Neo-Calvinist like to hammer home Hebrews 13:17 and do so in a drunken stuper while greedily reaching for more Kool Aid. But consider the following…according to some quick math that 1 verse represents 0.0000322445% of scripture. To build an entire frame work around that one verse alone creates problems. It honestly reminds me (and this is coming from a guy who used to drink the Mormon Kool Aid years ago…) of how the Mormons take 1 Corinthians 15:40 and use that to build up their theology of the celestial kingdom in LDS theology. That’s quite a stretch. What happens if you have corrupt or deviant leadership like CJ Mahaney…are you supposed to submit to that corruption in light of Hebrews 13:17? What about searching the scripture like it says to do in Acts 17:11 and be a Berean? 9 Marks is not sound for many reasons, one of the chief ones is that is discourages Bereans from being in the system. I would suggest that 9 Marks churches do not have Bereans in them as the system will not allow it, instead 9 Marks treats Bereans like viruses and abuses their authority to keep them out. That’s not a witness to the Gospel…instead that is an advertisement for Kool Aid. Its important to keep things in context and ask the hard questions. As I learned in life those theological organizations opposed to questioning or hard questions are a red flag in itself.
5. Faithful attenders are positioned to exhort, correct, and encourage their fellow members according to God’s Word, whereas non-attenders are not.
Because of their absence, non-attenders cannot possibly know when or how the other members of their church community are burdened by sin or suffering. When church members are present and engaged, on the other hand, they can speak the truth in love to one another, just as their Lord exhorted through the apostle Paul: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15–16).
Oh dear…so you have to be a member in order to know that other people are burdened by sin or suffering? Universal declarations like that in itself are a flawed approach. Human beings being what they are can’t hide prolonged suffering for an extended amount of time. Christians should speak truth in love always and again this is a reminder that the church is not limited to a local body but instead part of a global body of believers. I will spend some time speaking about this in the next section but people can still be involved in a 9 Marks church and go spiritually backward and not develop in the Lord.
6. Faithful attenders will steadily grow in respect to their salvation, whereas non-attenders will not.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). Since God has appointed specific means by which Christians grow in their faith, neglecting those means will stifle spiritual health and growth. Hearing the Word of God preached, singing the Word of God in corporate worship, and serving the body of Christ according to the Word of God are just a few examples of graces given to us for our sanctification. And they are primarily available to those who gather faithfully with the church.
Faithful attenders grow in their salvation? They grow in their faith? I take it that means they are purified of their faith as well? Let’s explore this for a few minutes, I hate to keep hammering a dead horse but this needs to be said. CJ Mahaney was a member of CLC, he’s a member of Sovereign Grace Louisville. Has CJ Mahaney grown spiritually as he has been “plugged into” his church? Has he grown in respect to his salvation? He’s done the right things all the while he’s engaged in the alleged cover up of child sex abuse, and the alleged blackmail of Larry Tomczak. If CJ Mahaney is not being sanctified what does that mean? For me and every one else 9 Marks would say that we are not a Christian..so if we have someone who is doing all the actions while deep in sin what does that make them? I am not here to pronounce who is and who is not a Christian. This issue is between CJ Mahaney and God. It would be wrong for me to state otherwise, not only that but I cannot know his heart. That said when a person is engaged in corruption is that proof of their salvation? Here’s another example this blog or online journal was born in pain. I endured a false accusation from an Air Force Captain who was a Care Group Leader at Redeemer Arlington. He boasted of his faith, boasted of being involved in the “the local church,” talked about 9 Marks with me, etc… This military officer who talked about how he was so spiritually healthy taught me why rape and sexual assault is a problem in the military by abusing his authority. I wanted to deny this and did deny this for the longest time. But why is it that some of the darkest and ugliest things emerge from those churches affiliated with Neo-Calvinism or 9 Marks? If people were growing in their salvation…why all the scandals, alleged criminal activity along with destroyed and burned out lives? I’m not trying to mock I am trying to understand.
7. Faithful attenders will be helped to persevere in faith, whereas non-attenders endanger their souls.
While it’s true we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, it’s also true God uses the local church to help us persevere in saving faith. In the book of Hebrews, we find that one of the primary ways God guards us from apostasy is through the spiritual strengthening of other believers (Heb. 3:12–14; 10:19–31; 12:25–13:17). As made clear in all the previous points, we need other believers to help us fight sin and follow Jesus. This means that while your attendance at church does not earn your salvation, it is something God uses to help you persevere in faith and enter into that final rest laid before us in Christ (Heb. 4:6–16).
These concerns weigh heavily on the elders of DRBC, as they should on the whole congregation. We are called by God to love one another and duty-bound by Scripture to care for each other by ensuring we are fulfilling our commitments to the Lord and to one another (Gal. 6:1–2; 1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 3:12–13). We do this because, by God’s grace, we care deeply for the Lord’s honor and the welfare of one another’s souls.
For all of these reasons, we cannot stand idle when a member is not attending church on a regular basis (1 Pet. 5:1–3). In these situations, the elders will lead the congregation in making inquiries of the individual’s status and, if necessary, will encourage them to honor their responsibility to attend services. If the member does not respond to the elders’ inquiries or fails to provide us with an adequate explanation for non-attendance, we will follow the command of the Lord Jesus as reflected in the DRBC governing documents and present the member’s name to the congregation for removal from membership as a matter of church discipline (Matt. 18:15–18).
The Elders of DRBC
Again I hate to sound like a broken record but does any of the above in the last point apply to CJ Mahaney? Can I suggest that if Del Ray Baptist is cranking out statements like this while being affiliated with 9 Marks and supporting individuals like CJ Mahaney, can I suggest that an apostasy has taken place? It’s an apostasy of discernment, it’s an apostasy of critical thinking skills. It’s an apostasy of being a Bereans, searching the scriptures and weighing what is taught. And for all the efforts and talk about church discipline I have this one question that I would like to be answered. In violating 9 Marks polity in letting CJ Mahnaey take refuge at CHBC when is Mark Dever going to be disciplined? Or is the grand poobah of 9 Marks exempt?
1 The language of the DRBC Constitution and Bylaws is founded on the scriptural commands listed above and forms the basis for the way we as a church practice meaningful church membership. To that end, Section 3.3.1 states, in part, that “[i]n accord with the duties enumerated in the Membership Covenant, each member shall be privileged and expected to participate in and contribute to the ministry and life of the church by regularly attending its Lord’s Day meetings; by faithfully observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; by submitting to its discipline and instruction; and by attending and voting on all matters submitted to the congregation’s vote at its members’ meetings.” See Del Ray Baptist Church Constitution and Bylaws, Section 3.3.1 (Duties and Privileges of Membership).
In reading this I find this statement deeply flawed. It can be well intentioned but still intrinsically flawed. Documents like this reflect a sad state of the church and the resurgence of the shepherding movement. I also predict a high rate of burnout and a wave of atheists to come after the wave of Neo-Calvinism. This also is going to contribute to the rise of the “dones” and make the society more secular and drive people from the church. It’s going to turn people inward and turn them against one another. 9 Marks is going to become like the Democratic Kampuchea as a result over the course of time. I find the fact that Del Ray or 9 Marks believes they can define who is and who is not a Christian deeply disturbing. For example they would not classify me as a Christian. Yet this “non-Christian” approached 140 people, sought out forgiveness and repented in mass. I did something that CJ Mahnaey and Mark Driscoll did not or would not do. I am not saying this to boast, be difficult or gloat. But you can not define a Christian based off such rules. You define a Christian by their fruit and realize that sanctification takes place over the course of one’s life time.
While this post offers significant pushback and challenges against 9 Marks I want to be clear that I still regard the community of Del Ray Baptist to be my brothers in the Lord. As a conservative Christian in many ways I still consider those at Del Ray to be part of the family of God. It’s with that in mind that I wish them well and hope they do some intense self reflection on this article and teachings in light of my thoughts. I write this not out of malice but out of love. In Hebrews 3:12-13 it says to not be deceived or unbelieving and my concern is that policies and beliefs contained in this article do deceive people and cause great harm. Think about it… I write all this in love. With that stated I will leave you with Matt Redman.