Mark Driscoll: 8 Marks of a True New Testament Church

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Mark Driscoll: "As Christians, we don’t have the right to call just any group a church."

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Is the church a group of people who gather at a coffee shop to talk about Jesus?

Is the church a group that worships together via the Internet?

Or is a church a social club reminiscent of a country club?

As Christians, we don’t have the right to call just any group a church. Just because you talk about “Jesus,” serve as a spiritual director for some youthful free thinkers, and use a Bible that would make even Thomas Jefferson cringe, that doesn’t make you a church.

This even goes for those groups we’re involved with that provide us with an emotional or “spiritual” benefit. The government knows this much and doesn’t award tax-exempt status to just any church.

The Bible provides us with a framework to examine any self-identified church and test its legitimacy. The following are eight marks of a true church given in Scripture that I believe are helpful for many churches and church leaders.

1. The Church is Made Up of Regenerated Believers in Jesus.

Church membership is to be reserved for those who are regenerated in Christ (Acts 2:38-41).

The leadership of your church does this best by being involved in the life of the church. There should be a process by which your people are informally and formally examined.

Within the Bible, we also observe the importance of creating an environment by which nonbelievers and outsiders can participate in the church’s activities (1 Cor. 14:22-25).

Children should also be welcomed so that they too can come into saving faith and then church membership.

At Mars Hill Church Sunday services, we provide children’s ministry for kids up to about seven or eight years old, and we encourage parents to have their children be included in these activities so they can learn about Jesus in an age-appropriate manner, but parents have the option to have their children join them in our worship services at any age.

Pastor Mark Driscoll is the Preaching and Speaking pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He is one of the world’s most downloaded and quoted pastors. His audience—fans and critics alike—spans the theological and cultural left and right. Follow his updates at twitter.com/pastorMark.

More from Mark Driscoll or visit Mark at http://www.marshillchurch.org/

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  • DeacMcCray

    Hey “someone” the Salvation Army is a non-for-profit Organization that supply the needs of individuals, to my understanding it was never designed to teach Gods word. Therefore, how can we say its a church?

    • someone who beleives in Jesus

      the salvation army was born out of the mission and vision of cathrine and william booth who was a methodist minister. the intention of william and catherine was to share the gospel story of Jesus with all whom they ministed to. and the salvation army has always been known as a protestant denomination. and as a denomination that has a very strong social focus one they believe that God called them to. becuase of this there are not many who know the salvos as a church. but a church they are. hope this helps.

      • DeacMcCray

        Thanks for the update….so if the salvation army focus are on the physical needs or strong social needs, as you put it, how might one get fed spiritually? Isn’t that the main role of the church? Don’t get me wrong, missions are important, but that alone does not justify one as being a church.

        • Someone who Loves Jesus

          One of the things that William Booth found in his early ministry was that the people who he was bringing the gospel to where homeless and hungry, so he beleived that to share the gospel with them and creating an opening to this was to feed them, and clothe them (some thing Jesus said we should do). There is a well known phrase that came from this in SA circles: Soup, Soap and Salvation. and also No one ever got saved while they had a toothache. So I guess for the earlier SA it was a key thing to share the gospel by eliviating human suffering in these practical ways, which they hoped would then alow them to share the gospel of Christ. As to the sacraments they found that it was a divisive thing in the early days as those who where accepting the gospel message where not being welcomed by the Church as they smelt and were messy and not well to do, people. So they decided that it was best not to complicate things but to get the essential message of salvation in and through christ out there first. Now as MTNimrod has commented about observance as something Jesus is quoted as saying we should do. It is not a closed book in TSA circles. There are TSA churches that do observe during certain weeks of the Christian calander. Essentialy though they dersire to get the message of salvation out there and then leave the other elements up the the person who has a developing relationship with Christ. Ok how do I know all this, I am a salvation army member and I have been baptised (Sea of Galilee 2010) I have and do at times observe communion, and totally love what Christ has done, but I minister often to people who struggle with Church language and stuff. So I get where they are coming from. So I really wanted to seek out what others of the faith community thought on this matter.
          Sincerely thank you to all who have been part of this debate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kaptenclark Evelyn Clark

    Quakers (Society of Friends) and Salvationists (The Salvation Army) don’t administer sacraments. “The church [rightly and] regularly administers the sacraments of baptism and Communion.” Would you exclude us for that reason?

    • MTNimrod

      Rather than exclude Quakers and members of the Salvation Army on that basis, I’d inquire as to WHY baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not practiced and go on from there. Why WOULDN’T those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God and Messiah/Christ/Savior want to be connected to His death, burial and resurrection through baptism, having their sins forgiven and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit? Similarly, why WOULDN’T followers (disciples) of Jesus Christ want to observe the only thing He gave to be done “in remembrance” of Him?

  • MTNimrod

    It is up to the individual to determine whether or not he may rightly participate in the Lord’s Supper. It is NOT the local congregation’s job to “police” that observance.

    • Dennis K

      It is NOT the local congregation’s job to “police” the observance. But I am convinced the church has the responsibility to keep the sacrament “sacred” among believers rather than approaching it nonchalantly. Such nonbiblical attitude makes church powerless as we allow the sacrament to be devoid of its significance.

      • MTNimrod

        I am not suggesting a “nonchalant” approach to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. I believe Paul covered the proper approach in I Corinthians 11:27-29:
        ” 29 Therefore, whoever drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
        28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
        29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.” – NASB

        The church is to teach these principles, and then it is up to the individual to examine himself before partaking and to be sure that his participation wouldn’t constitute “…in an unworthy manner…”.

        If I were to attend your congregation, what would you require of me in order to allow me to commune with my Lord in this way? I have no baptismal certificate to present, though I was immersed into Christ many, many years ago. I cannot prove to you the sincerity of my faith or the attitude of my heart. What, then?

        • Dennis K

          Exactly my point, dear brother. Church must teach the passage and make it clear for the congregation what the Lord’s Supper is all about rather than leaving it for the ones to decide. Encouraging the believers to partake it rightly as we discourage the non-believers from taking it. But a clear teaching should be given on it each time it is administered.

          • MTNimrod

            I think we are in agreement on this. We must not allow the observance of the Lord’s Supper to be cheapened in any way, including encouraging participation by those who should not partake.

            We would be equally wrong to forbid the participation any true believer in Christ.

  • Dean

    I think Mark is simply enunciating the view of John Calvin here, which I have heard from other pastors. Interesting conversation happening around the Salvation Army, especially as I was raised SA. There is an historical reason for them not holding communion, but that was in the context of their beginnings. Today, however, if they were to re-think the issue, the conclusions could be different. What is noteable is that they do not see a Biblical reason for doing either of the sacraments/ordinances, but neither do they stop members/soldiers from participating in other churches. I credit this view to the official document published by the Army on their sacramental position.

  • Ely_of_Cinci

    Hmmm, I don’t necessarily agree. I don’t believe Mr. Driscoll or anyone else has the right to create such a list and determine who is the “real” church.

    • Ken K

      I agree. But… he’s not just making a list out of the blue, or playing God or something like that. He just listed the basics about what the Bible says about what the Body of Christ should look like and how it should function. These are goals to be pursued, not standards that must be perfectly maintained. No church perfectly pulls these marks off all the time.

  • anne

    Church,,,,,oh what will I can say?
    Will church a place where we talk to HIM.But for now many people go to chruch for nothing….its by oneself who can gave meaning whats church is,we can pray,talk to Him wherever we are,coz for me churh is in my heart in soul.

  • Robert Campbell

    If there is a true church, then the opposite arguments will be for a false church? Do we have problems with such organizaitons?

  • Peter Mahoney

    I think I know what you mean, but let’s be clear shall we? Whose love? What is love? Is the kind of love you propose all inclusive or exclusive? I would argue on the side that love is the dominant quality/characteristic any local body should exude (as with all the fruit of the Spirit), but love has to drive us to something… for something.

    Not wanting to put words in another pastor’s mouth, I would contend that love is the common denominator in all 8 marks of a true church. My question is this… Does Mark Dever know that Mark Driscoll subtracted one mark from the 9 marks?

  • Matthew

    The author forgot to mention the church should be following Jesus and not satan, as the majority of “christian” churches do…they follow Jesus by following His Commandments…Jesus said “if you love me keep my Commandments” John 14.15 and “to enter into life keep the commandments” Mark 19,17..He goes on to identify these as the Ten Commandments…count them 10 not nine….Remember the seventh day Sabbath day to keep it Holy..but if you do, you will make satan very angry, because he loves when you follow pagan Rome and the first day of the week..sunday!.

    • Joe Rhoads

      Colssians 2:16-17, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
      Paul is writing to false teachers that were infiltrating the church in Colossae. One of the things these heretics believed was that you had to religiously obey Old Testament dietary laws (food and drink), that you had to religiously obey Old Testament celebrations (festival, new moon, Sabbath). From the heretics point of view, that if you followed these, you showed yourself to be spiritual mature. Paul’s point is that all these things are a mere shadow of the true reality, that is Jesus Christ.
      As regard to the Sabbath day, Christians are under a different covenant, and the ceremonial observance of the seventh day no longer applies to us. We ARE to gather for worship. But what day that is is no longer important. The book of Hebrews does a fantastic job of communicating that Jesus is our rest, not a day.
      Seventh Day Adventism has been so thoroughly discredited (and this venue is hardly enough space to do that job), I highly encourage you to read the works of better men than men who can give you detail information of why the Seventh Day ascertion that Christians must worship on Saturday is wrong. You are free to worship on Saturday is you want. I don’t care. But I will not be judged by you, as Paul says in Colossians 2:16, because I worship on Sunday.
      One last thing, according to Seventh Day teaching, the Roman Catholic Church decreed that Christians worship on Sunday and the change occured then. But history tells us that Christians began worshiping on Sundays long before the Catholic church existed. Christians began worshiping on Sundays to honor the resurrection of Jesus.

  • timjay

    Even though hinted at in the point of unity, the church, defined, must include the call to be inclusive of all belivers in Jesus Christ. The New Testament church is made up of every nation, tribe and lanuage. Any fellowship that excludes adherants on race, cultural difference, socio/economic basis cannot be truly defined as “church”.

  • Michael Constantine

    I wonder if we should include, “The church is empowered by God to do what it could not do otherwise.” The ongoing work of the Spirit seems to be indispensable to the rest of the points mentioned. I am not saying because I am charismatic (or whatever they call us these days) but because I see such evidence of it in the BIble.

  • Ryan

    I agree with some of the point titles but not necessarily with the explainations. I see the local church as the Christian ‘religion’ because a lot of the points are just plain religousness. Christianity is a way of life that is not hinged on a weekly visit to church but on our relationship with Father God and Jesus Christ all week long… how often I just start talking to Father God out of the blue throughout the day over what ever is going on even this evening in the middle of mowing my lawn. I don’t go to church for the biggest reason that it lacks any real value. Doing religous stuff is a waste of time. There is some value in church and that is you can find good peole who have the potential to be good friends… if I just needed one. Community is good if your a social person but personally I don’t make a good commun-ist.
    The church is what Jesus is building. The only thing we men have done well with is to create divisions that care more about upholding thier interpretation of questionable bible translations and worthless traditions than just being the church, people who have a good relationship with thier Creator and then with each other.

  • Mar Komus

    The general tenor of this article is clearly reactionary/defensive. The opening three paragraphs make that quite clear. It is nice that he outlines some of his ideas from scripture that he believes are helpful and such, but what I really hear from this is that he’s opposed to calling “church” anything that isn’t organized as a recognized denomination or 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. He asks, rhetorically, “Is the church…” this, that, or the other thing. Let’s add a couple more to the list: Is the church (universally OR locally) a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization? Is the church a recognized denomination (that is, is Christ divided)? On those points, Mars Hill would be a mole hill. That isn’t, of course, to say that we don’t find any church expression there (or that Mark is not a real, Christ-recognized elder in the church whose responsibility it is to teach and lead), but only that “Mars Hill Church” as a 501(c)(3) non-profit religious organization (presumably existing as a subsidiary of the Reformed Church in America, another 501(c)(3) npro) is not a church–not in the biblical sense.

    • Ken K

      Mars Hill is not a subsidary of the RCA.

      • Mar Komus

        Which negates nothing of the main point, but thank you for the update.

  • Mar Komus

    The general tenor of this article is clearly reactionary/defensive. The opening three paragraphs make that quite clear. It is nice that he outlines some of his ideas from scripture that he believes are helpful and such, but what I really hear from this is that he’s opposed to anything that isn’t organized as a recognized denomination or 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. He asks, rhetorically, “Is the church…” this, that, or the other thing. Let’s add a couple more to the list: Is the church (universally OR locally) a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization? Is the church a recognized denomination (that is, is Christ divided)? On those points, Mars Hill would be a mole hill. That isn’t, of course, to say that we don’t find any church expression there (or that Mark is not a real, Christ-recognized elder in the church whose responsibility it is to teach and lead), but only that “Mars Hill Church” as a 501(c)(3) non-profit religious organization (presumably existing as a subsidiary of the Reformed Church in America, another 501(c)(3) npro) is not a church–not in the biblical sense.

  • Billy

    God bless this man of God. Excellent article!

  • Scotty

    Surely there must be more than eight tests if we are all to be certified officially as a “church”. How else would we know who is who if we didn’t have standards to go by…… I.E. behavior, dress?, language/lingo, surely everyone is the same and expresses themselves the same way, right?
    Come on, faith expresses itself in love and in that love we don’t neglect one another, our duties as citizens, and the gathering of ourselves (when possible);but if certain requirements must be met, than I think we would be called cultish or legalistic…… But I could be wrong and we should judge each other in grace and truth through the eyes of love.

  • Niumaia Karavaki

    I like the article. Pastor Mark use a lot of wisdom when it comes to the commonly “unmentionables”. I just have a thought and that is, Church names and church groups might not be as important in Heaven as it is right now on earth. We love organizing ourselves, and validating our organizations. If a person is saved and does not belong to a church group, he gets to heaven, Jesus might not make a fuss about him not joining a valid church denomination. Nevertheless I agree a true church is important to be tested because of the rise of falseness among us, and a person on his own is vulnerable to such amount of falseness.

  • Beaver

    Are you talking about the church or about the congregation ? There is a big difference between the two. The church of Jesus Christ is composed of all his followers -past, present and future- who believe in the divine person of Jesus Christ and who put their trust in his atoning work. When they meet together, they are the congregation of Christ’s people, the true Israel of God .These don’t need a formal “church”; some can’t get to one for various reasons; others are excluded from these “churches” on minor details; and yet others rather prefer to identify themselves with several congregations at one and the same time. They can do all this because they have the Lord as their shepherd, and the Word and the Spirit as their guide. Through this they have been weaned from the indeterminate dependence on the milk of others. They rejoice in communicating with all fellow pilgrims on their way to glory. “Churches”, as they are known in America to-day will pass away; denominations will cease, but the church of Jesus Christ will stand forever.

    • http://www.RevChristian.com/ Rev. Terry Christian

      I Thank you, for your obedience to allow the THE HOLY SPIRIT to speak thru you pertaining to this topic. I’ve never read a better response about the limitations of denominations who try to replace the Spiritual Church represented by the Body of Christ,

      The true Christian Church is without marble floors and walls of gold.

      Presently, there are over 40,000 christian denominations worldwide trying to be different in Christ Jesus, rather than being- in ONE ACCORD ….. WITH HIM.

  • Tim Mauch

    1 Corinthians 11:28  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
    29  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
    30  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
    31  For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
    32  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

  • Joe Rhoads

    From point number 2, I gather what you mean is that there should only be one gather point for all believers in specific town. If there are two or more gathering points, then they they are “sects and divisions.” From point number 3, I gather what you mean is that the local gathering of believers in a specific town should only be called “Church of Christ” and not have any other descriptors like Baptist, Methodist, or have a unique name like “The Crossroads” or or something like that. Is this what you are saying? If you are, am I right in saying that you belong to the “Church of Christ” which believes these same things?

  • Tim Ferrell

    is not LOVE, LOVE THE MARK of the Church of Jesus? John 13:34-35

    • Ken K

      34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

      See #7

      if love of God is worship, than is that not fellowship?

  • alhatesreligion

    Pastor Mark is entitled to his opinion and that is exactly what this article is. He is simply sharing what he understands to be the model for a “Church”. He does not however, have the right to condemn groups not following this model. I believe the way “WE” do Church today would be foreign to the Christians of Paul’s day. They probably would be shocked on much we spend on elaborate building, props and salaries. When the truth be told we could do Church-effective Church with less investment. What is needed for Church to exist is the Gospel and willing servants who rightly divide it and share it with others. This can be done in Coffee Houses, tents, bars, Park Gazebos, Movie Theatres and in facilities like Mars Hill. What does not need to exist is the attitude “If you don’t do it my way then it’s wrong”. Legalism and self-righteousness work contrary to the Spirit of God. Pastor Al (me) is also entitled to his opinion.

  • Roger Bird

    What a shocker, I completely disagree with something Mark Driscoll has written.

  • mitiwwmom .

    Don’t want to be critical, but did I miss it? Key to the character of the New Testament Church was prayer, particularly one accord prayer.

  • Robert Drake

    Great job Mr. Driscol U just forgot to mention prayer. The rest was great. The church was formed on prayer, I thought?

  • wow

    Pretty good article. However One Body One Lord One Spirit. Paul goes on to establish the first church in Corinthians from ground up including the equipping of disciples 1 cor 14 an address to let prophets present spek to or three at most and directing the orderly participation of those filled with the Holy Spirit instructs them to earnestly desire the best gifts and all He would that they all spoke in tongues and even more so that they prophecy making for an orderly interaction of God moving by demonstration thru His people. So to deny these instructions is to not see on a large basis desciples confident and yielded to the Holy Spirit and since the fivefold ministry is to equip and mature the saints. The refusal of attempt or dis allowance of this book may well bring the result of quenching and grieving God for It is written all where given several gifts as the Spirit wills. This err has eternal effects for many and a severe accountability for those who presumed to lead.