The 9Marks series is an excellent resource for pastors who want to build a biblically based church or for Christians looking for such a church.
9Marks is an organization that seeks to promote nine marks (or characteristics) of a healthy church, based on biblical teaching. The organization was born out of the ministry of Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. When he came to Capitol Hill in the early ’90s, the church was in decline. Instead of doing the things that were normally recommended by church growth gurus (conducting surveys in the area, ministering to felt needs with new programs, etc.), Dever simply tried to rebuild the church along the lines of what he saw in the New Testament. Later, Dever published a booklet called Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, which many pastors found useful. The popularity of Dever’s approach grew, and the material was expanded and published by Crossway Books and was endorsed by a number of notable Christian leaders including John Piper, John MacArthur, D. A. Carson, and Albert Mohler.
In 1998 Dever launched the Center for Church Reform and later changed the name to 9Marks. The purpose statement of 9Marks (from their website) is as follows: “9Marks is a ministry dedicated to equipping church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the nations through healthy churches.” Those resources include books, articles, book reviews, conferences, and recorded interviews.
The nine characteristics (summarized from the 9Marks website) are defined as follows:
1. Expositional 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 – Sound doctrine; right thoughts about God; belief that accords with Scripture.
3. The Gospel (This point is given in the greatest detail on the 9Marks website.)
a. The one and only God who is holy made us in His image to know Him (Genesis 1:26–28).
b. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from Him (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23).
c. In His great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law Himself and taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn from their sin and trust in Him (John 1:14; Hebrews 7:26; Romans 3:21– 26; 5:12–21).
d. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted (Acts 2:24; Romans 4:25).
e. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness (Acts 17:30; John 1:12). If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God (John 3:16).
f. He is gathering one new people to Himself among all those who submit to Christ as Lord (Matthew 16:15–19; Ephesians 2:11–19).
4. Conversion – A biblical understanding of conversion recognizes that only God can save, and that He saves individuals by enabling them to respond to the gospel message through repenting of sin and trusting in Christ.
5. Evangelism – Simply telling non-Christians the good news about what Jesus Christ has done to save sinners and urging them to repent and believe.
6. Membership – 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. 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.
8. Discipleship – A live Christian is a growing Christian, and we grow not only by instruction but by imitation. Churches should exhort their members to grow in holiness and help others do the same.
9. Leadership – Each local church should be led by a plurality of godly, qualified men called elders.
The 9Marks series is a series of books that expands and expounds each of the nine points above.
Of course, no organization is perfect, and no church is perfect. Over the years there have been some who have complained that pastors who have been influenced by 9Marks become heavy-handed in trying to change their churches. However, Dever cautions that pastors need to move slowly when making changes to avoid becoming a “9Marxist.”
Churches who identify themselves as in agreement with 9Marks can register with the organization. A “church search” service allows people looking for that kind of church to find one in their area. (Of course, no church will perfectly emulate all of the nine characteristics, and some will be further along than others.) Most churches that identify with 9Marks are Baptist or non-denominational, but some are Presbyterian.