Critics of the “Two Structures” Theory (4th of 5). Mark Dever’s Objection Considered.

Mark Dever

I wrote to Mark Dever and asked if we could meet, hoping to understand more fully what he is saying in his book The Church. He did not reply, though he told me in a hotel corridor that he has been pretty busy. Dever’s colleague Mack Stiles offered me a copy of Dever’s book The Church. I told Mack I already own the copy that Mark Dever signed for me. Mack and I met to begin discussing the topic of church and missions, but for some reason Mack Stiles also stopped corresponding with me.

Mark Dever’s Objection. Mark Dever writes that churches in the New Testament “met and sent missionaries.” This is so interesting to me because in my opinion not a verse in the New Testament supports the idea that churches sent missionaries (no, not one!). Mark Dever refers the reader to Acts 15:3.[1] Here it is:

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. Acts 15:1-5

Mark Dever points to this story to support his idea that churches send missionaries. What does the reader think? The church in this story sent Paul and Barnabas to attend a church meeting. Does Acts 15:3 support Mark Dever’s viewpoint that “churches send missionaries?”

The reader may want to know what Mark Dever means by “a church.” In his book The Church Dever includes a helpful diagram.

It is a very familiar model of doing church, like the one in California I attended while growing up. But some of our familiar church customs cannot be discovered in the Bible. Before we export our church customs, we should examine them in light of the New Testament. The Bible says nothing at all about putting a pastor at the top of a pyramid. The word “pastor” appears only one time in the New Testament (in Ephesians 4:11). We make the pastor too much like a Chief Executive Officer. Dever says that pastors deserve a salary, citing 1 Timothy 5:17—”The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” This reference to double honor has nothing to do with getting paid. Shall we express honor to our leaders by giving them money? How much salary and housing allowance should Christians give to express their honor sufficiently? Away with this coat of paint that covers over what is really there in the Bible. I hope missionaries do not export this “made in America” triangle model to the rest of the world.

I hope I can meet Mark Dever and listen to better understand his opinion, because I may be missing something. He believes the church, administrated by a pastor, is the one structure of God’s redemptive mission. Dever says that in Acts 15:3 a church sent Paul and Barnabas to a church meeting; this proves that churches in the New Testament sent missionaries. I courteously disagree. From the start, the Holy Spirit brought into existence two structures, one the entire assembly of the faithful (the ekklesia), the other the sending of missionaries to establish churches among unreached peoples. We might think of these two structures as Lighthouse and Flint. Paul and Peter talked this through and shook hands, agreeing that it was so, as we wrote here. Much depends on believing the truth; we know that a mission ice age descended on the Reformed Church when it suppressed the mission structures in favor of a “church only” administration of mission. The ice age came to an end with the sudden appearance of more than 30 mission agencies, as we wrote about here.

If we can repair the breach between church administrations and mission agencies we can send ten times as many missionaries to “the regions beyond.” Let us repair the breach.

Blincoe: I would like to talk with Mark Dever or Mack Stiles about what is really there in the Bible. Let us be Biblical even if our systems and sentiments crumble before God’s word. First Biblical Theology! Away with custom and traditions that pretend to be based on the Bible. Let us find out what is “really there” and stick to it. What is really there? Warp and Woof; a Double Helix; Modality and Sodality. Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission. Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders.

[1] Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, 9marks (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012). 8