Marks of the Church: Driscoll’s Proposal

Marks of the Church: Driscoll’s Proposal July 6, 2012

If you had to list the top five “marks” of the church, what would they be?

Mark Driscoll, standing in a line since the Reformation of “marks” of the church (where preaching got some prominence — prior to that it was “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”) — and joining some more recent voices (like Mark Dever), proposes eight marks of the church. I’m not interested in whether or not you like Driscoll, so visceral reactions are not needed, but instead I wonder what you think are the essential marks of the church?

What that is below would you strike out? What would you add?

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.









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  • Billyv

    I like the bullet points, I don’t care for a lot of the definitions that Driscoll puts with them. I’d replace, preaching with teaching. Not a fan of sacraments language (and Driscoll probably wouldn’t either if he understands what sacraments mean). I believe there is too much emphasis on being “baptized into a local church” language I don’t find in the NT.

  • … Can’t people see the hegemony created ex nihlo from a statement like “THE CHURCH IS SPIRITUALLY UNIFIED? The logical extension is thus that if you are not unified with me (the person making these marks of the Church) then you are not spiritually one with me and not part of the Church. If you are not holy like I define holiness…then you are not part of the Church, etc.

    Of course Zizek points this out in ‘On Belief’ by claiming

    “All men are brothers,” however, means also that “Those who are not my brothers ARE NOT MEN.” Christians usually praise themselves for overcoming the Jewish exclusivist notion of the Chosen People and encompassing all of humanity – the catch here is that, in their very insistence that they are the Chosen People with the privileged direct link to God, Jews accept the humanity of the other people who celebrate their false gods, while Christian universalism tendenti[ous]ly excludes non-believers from the very universality of humankind.”

    It is not worth discussing these points in themselves- striking out and adding- it is the very act of creating them that leads to the kind of … aggressive behavior that takes place in … assemblies like Mars Hill. The hubris that is inherent in trying to finally, after all this time, create the “real” marks of the Church so we can sift out the pretenders is absurd on the basis that no possible claim can be made that there is such a thing as “Christianity,” only “Christianities” in the plural. To not acknowledge this fact is to fall prey to the rejection of the humanity of others by rejecting those who reject our universal assertion of universality (these points mark the one true church that one can join or reject).

    Comment edited by SMcK

  • Wes


    I have never quite understood what Driscoll and co. mean by “regenerated.” It just seems like another word to exclude some Christians.


    What do we mean by qualified? I’m with the Methodists on this one in requiring a psych evaluation. I think Mars Hill might be a little different if that were true. Seriously though, who determines who is qualified? How do you set qualifications?


    I’m mostly good with that one.


    I don’t understand how a Protestant can say that. By whose authority? By what authority do you determine rightness?


    I like the sound but what does it mean. I like just sticking with ‘catholic’ better.


    Depends what you mean by ‘holy.’


    What does that mean? The church gets together and hangs out? The church is insular? I’m not sure this is useful.


    The issue I have with this is how you define Jesus’ mission. It’s the core of what you talk about all the time now, Scot. Is Jesus about soteriology or something bigger? What is the Gospel really about?

    Anyway, overall, I’d stick with “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church” as in the creed before trying to change to anything like that. My biggest problem, as is evident above, is that many of these above marks are groundless. They stem from no real authority but aim to be an arbitrary authority unto themselves. So, generally, I wouldn’t consider developing “marks” of the church a very useful measure at all.

  • Robin

    In contrast to Bo, I personally find such lists useful. For those of us coming out of highly liturgical backgrounds, or coming into evangelical Christianity for the first time, it is very helpful to think “what is the church, and what is entailed in being a part of it.” I think this is especially true for young people, or those who are only marginally connected to the church. It is very easy to just show up for a Sunday worship service and completely miss out on fellowship, outreach ministries, celebrating baptism and the Lord’s supper. It is very easy to see all of these other things as afterthoughts and unimportant.

    Or, if you are the type that likes to show up for community service, it is easy to disregard the word preached and heard. Lists like this help us to take a more holistic view.

    I also have found this particularly helpful (Dever’s resources) for young pastors, to help them balance out their priorities and not just spend their time on those makrs of the church that are particularly pleasing to them, or come very easy to them.

  • josh hetrick

    My order would be something like this:
    1. The church is made up of the people who follow Christ’s model of life on earth and his explicit instructions to us upon his departure; people who depend on him for eternal life.
    2. The church is unified and confirmed by the presence of the HS.
    3. The church is where discples are born through community and sent out to repeat the process.
    4. The leader of the church is Christ through the guidance of men.
    5. The church is the people of God who worship him for who he is and what he has done for us.
    6. The church administers the sacraments faithfully and rightly.

    I am sure I could add more to my list or maybe remove some of them. But overall, these things are thing that mark the church to me.

  • I certainly think a foundation for “church” should include the element of the Priesthood of Believers. Surprisingly this seems to be missing on the list when its all over the New Testament.

    I think a better template or “marks” should look a bit more like Body Politics by John Yoder.

  • Not bad, not great. Strongest point is the stated commitment of the church to Jesus’s mission, and devotion to fellowship is a nice touch. It’s somewhat curious to articulate spiritual unification and holiness without association since these concepts are so frequently found together in scripture (cf. Philemon 1:5, Hebrews 10:10, 1 Peter 2:9, Jude 1:3, etc.), although this is something we also find in earlier formulations of the marks of the church.

    I think the weakest point is third, viz. that the church “gathers to hear preaching and to respond in worship.” It reeks of a Christendom albeit Reformation mentality, it’s without clear scriptural precedent, and it truncates the breadth of connotation in a better term like “teaching” down to performative utterance vis-a-vis preaching.

  • Jon Bartlett

    Can’t resist…

    1) The church welcomes those searching for Jesus
    2) The church encourages the priesthood of all believers and their gifts
    3) The church gathers to worship…. of which preaching may or may not be a part
    4) Who defines ‘rightly’?
    5) I wish it was…. But in this imperfect world, a unified church is one that rejoices in diversity and accepts our differences
    6) The church is holy. Yes, but what is defined as holy and who defines it?
    7) Most definitely
    8) And again most definitely. But will it include salvation, healing, helping, loving, and every part of Jesus’ life and death?

  • Robin

    As to the list itself, it seems kind of broad and inclusive, kind of arbitrary at points, but still a helpful framework.

    The two things I would add emphasis to, and make very clear that where they are absent, there is no church, is word and sacrament, especially the Lord’s supper. My limited reading in church history has convinced me that these have undeniably been the cornerstone of church gatherings since the beginning. I’m not dogmatic as to what each will look like and when, but it saddens me greatly that some congregations de-emphasize the reading and teaching of the word in public settings, and it saddens me that many low-church types (of which I am one) de-emphasize the weekly celebration of the Lord’s supper.

  • Ray

    I don’t necessarily disagree with his list (though I would probably disagree with some definitions), but I see no mention of the Holy Spirit. In Acts the Spirit was the one guiding the church, and if we leave the Spirit out now, then we are just an organization.

  • josenmiami

    I have questions about what #1 really means anymore and #5 and #6 pretty much means there are no currently existing churches (I know there is a slight element of cynicism there – forgive me).
    I like what Bonoeffer said, I paraphrase, “the church is wherever people gather to pray.” He also said the church is where ever the presence of Jesus is … Driscoll thing has too many “rightly”s in it … it just leaves back where we started.

  • josenmiami

    I have questions about what #1 really means anymore and #5 and #6 pretty much means there are no currently existing churches (I know there is a slight element of cynicism there – forgive me).
    I like what Bonoeffer said, I paraphrase, “the church is wherever people gather to pray.” He also said the church is where ever the presence of Jesus is … Driscoll thing has too many “rightly”s in it … it just leaves back where we started.

  • Kim

    I think a distinction between the marks of a church and how they are accomplished would be helpful. I would move marks #2, 3 and 7 into the second category and not include them as essentials. Marks #2 and 3 could be sub-points of #8.
    1. The invisible church is regenerate believers; the visible church will include many who are moral, social Christians only. “Church” will include both the visible and invisible components. If it is to be the invisible only as Driscoll claims, what is a church to do with the many who think they are regenerate but aren’t? Would eliminate this mark, Mark.
    Would keep #4, 5, 6 and 8, but would change #5 to “Unity of the church”.

    To do this gets back to the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic” model, yet keeps an emphasis on evangelism and teaching which I see as part of #8.

  • John M.

    Why not stick with, (or in the case of most evangelicals, return to) “one, holy catholic and apostolic?” The first three are clear (as long as “catholic” is defined as “universal”). Unpacking “apostolic” can take a lifetime of studying the story of Israel, the gospels and the Church in the old and new testaments, but Acts 2:42-47 is a good beginning point. On second thought, “holy” probably needs some unpacking also.

  • JoeyS

    I feel like the earliest church in Acts wouldn’t fit his “marks.” Rather they gathered, ate, took care of each other, and shared the Good News. Leadership started with the Apostles but was broadened as the need grew and as folks (both male and female) proved their faith. A couple of them even preached 😉

  • Matt Carr

    #1 The (local) church – it’s obvious we’re not talking “universal/invisible” church here – is made up of regenerated believers AND THEIR CHILDREN. I know baptistic churches insist on “regenerate” membership and thus withhold baptism from the children of believers, but this is not a NT concept and furthermore not the practice of any church where children are valued and discipled. It’s hypocritical to talk about regenerate membership when 1) we only know imperfectly who is truly regenerate (I trusted Christ before I can remember for instance) and 2) we give our children standing in the church through “dedications,” training, and participation in the life and ministry of the church. A right administration of the sacraments (#4) includes baptizing the children of believers into the local/visible church (Acts 2:38-41).
    I pretty much take everything else on the list to be valid.

  • T

    I think these are a little silly. I’m not saying the intent or even all the ideas are silly, but overall, just not especially helpful. Most of them made me chuckle with the juxtaposition of their biblical basis and current priorities, practice and interpretation. The devil would be in the details, I suppose. How specific each of these got, and how they would/could be used is where my questions would center.

    I freely admit that my background hasn’t given me much in the way of robust ecclesiology. That said, when I look at the oldest branches of the faith with well defined and long-standing ecclesiology (Catholic, Orthodox, etc.), I’m underwhelmed. Not that there aren’t wonderful things to learn there, but it’s a very mixed bag for me.

    But I can’t just offer criticism; so I’ll contribute. Whenever someone uses the phrase “marks of a [true] church” I think of some biblical “marks” that I think are central. Obviously, I think of Jesus saying that people will know that we are his disciples by how we love one another. Considering love was the centerpiece of his commands, this seems to be worthy of inclusion. Behind this idea for me is something I realized about the mark of the beast mentioned in Revelation. Lots of folks get worked up about what it is, but I think it’s important to realize the scriptural echo that I think any Jew would have heard in reading or hearing about a mark or sign that is placed on one’s head and/or hand. The Shema passage in Deuteronomy, which includes Jesus’ greatest commandment, included this phrase: “Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads.” It goes on, but the idea seems to be personal, familial and community immersion. Further, I could be wrong, but it seems that in all these scriptures, the idea is that all that we do (with our hands), and all that we think (in our heads), are to be marked by the character and commands of God. So, the scriptures, in a central way, do talk about “marks” both of God’s people, Jesus’ disciples, and even the people of the beast (by way of contrast), and they tend to talk about these marks in holistic ways (all our heart, soul mind & strength; when we get up, lie down, talk to our children, etc.) I’ve preached more than once that you don’t have to worry about or figure out what the mark of the beast is. Just focus on the mark of Jesus and make sure you bear it.

    Long-story-short: I think the primary “mark” of the Church of Jesus Christ is the Jesus Creed. In a nutshell, we are to love *as he did.* This is also chief among the “fruit” of his Spirit, and the most prioritized command. If we are in or entering a kingdom, that’s the law. Everything else (preaching, sacraments, leadership) is supportive of that, though they frequently become ends in an of themselves, which is a mistake (and one that gets encouraged by these lists many times). Further, I’m pretty sure that we can get preaching wrong, baptism wrong, Eucharist wrong, etc., but still be Jesus’ disciples; still be his Church. Because none of those are the main thing. The main thing is Jesus-shaped, Father-led, Spirit-powered love of God and others; that’s the mark.

  • Tommy O’Keefe

    Rather than “marks” I’ve been using this basic definition: “The church is a family of disciples living out the mission of God as servants in the world.” I add the simple idea that the church is created by God as people respond to the good news embodied in the life and story of Jesus. We are adopted into God’s family, in dwelt by the Spirit and placed “in Christ”. These relationships empower us to be the church.

  • I see two items of interest, both in Driscoll’s “marks” and the comments.

    (1) There appears to be separation between Jesus and the Church such that the Church is about Jesus by being the people who believe in Jesus, follow Jesus’ teaching, or are regenerated by Jesus. The Church is all these things. But it is all these things not because the Church is about Jesus but because the Church is Jesus. Two texts come to mind: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (I Cor 6:15). In his commentary, Thistleton translates the passage, “Do you not know that your bodies are Christ’s limbs and organs?” Language that visceral helps us see nature of our union with Christ. Also, in Ephesians 1:23 St. Paul describes the Church as “his [Christ’s] body the fullness of him who fills all in all.” So, the Church is not about Jesus. The Church is Jesus.

    (2) Driscsoll’s “marks” and the comments focus almost solely on the earthly dimension of the Church. The Church catholic is both the Church on earth (militant) and the Church in heaven (triumphant). E.L. Mascall writes, “Although the Church has an earthly part which we call the Church militant, it is not just an earthly reality, and the Church militant at any particular epoch is only a minute fraction of the Church catholic. The Church’s membership does indeed change as time goes on, but it changes simply by increasing. Men enter the Church by baptism; they do not leave it by death” (Corpus Christi, pp. 21-22).

    So I suppose I would strike the whole list and stick with the traditional four marks: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. But then, I’m an Anglo-Catholic.

  • I’m not quite sure what he means by “marks.” Does he mean what makes the church, the church?

    I’m not sure about his order, but I’d definitely reword some and remove others. For example:

    1. Is there any such thing as a non-regenerate believer? Did Paul distinguish between “regenerate” believers and “non-regenerate” believers?

    New 1. I’d suggest a rewording: The Church is the Body of Christ.

    2. I think his #2 actually misses the mark completely. The church is an organism, not an organization.

    New 2. As the body of Christ the church is an organism in which Christ is its head.

    3. Here again I believe his misses the mark. Preaching is a later development in the church, adapted from the rhetorical halls of the pagan culture. The church does not gather to hear preaching (well, actually it mostly does today. But that should not be a biblical “mark” of the church)

    New 3. The church gathers to worship through the partaking of the body of Christ in the Eucharist, and to encourage and teach on another.

    4. See New #3

    5. See New #1

    6. See New #1

    7. See New #3

    8. See New #1

    I’d add:

    9. Because the Church is the body of Christ made up of the people of God, the church seeks social justice for the down and outcast.

    10. Because Christ is the head of the Church, the Church governs itself as people of the Kingdom of God.

  • Daniel White

    I don’t see any mention of prayer in his list, which should be a key aspect of the church. It seems that this verse could be a good starting place for describing the church:
    “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42 ESV)

  • John M.

    Father Gregory, thank you. As someone raised in a nonliturgical, evangelical context, I am learning to “commune with” the saints in a generic way as the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews. But when I read your post I realize that I have not really imbibed the idea you express that when believers die they do no leave the Church. I like that!

  • Rick

    Pretty good list. Nuances on some points? Sure. But overall, good.

  • Phil Miller

    It strikes me as odd that there’s nothing explicitly about making disciples in that list. I guess that would fall under “committed to Jesus’ mission”, but I suspect that many would read that phrase and simply take it to mean evangelism. Am I naive to say that somewhere within our definition of what a church is, we should include “following Jesus” as a prime directive? A lot of this reminds me of what Dallas Willard talks about in The Divine Conspiracy. We’re willing to make being a Christian about all sorts of things, but for some reason we get all nervous when make it about following Jesus.

  • ESMartin

    Driscoll starts out presenting the church as exclusive, “made up of” (in point # 1), and hierarchical, “under” (in point # 2). The hierarchy, as presented by Driscoll, is for the church to be “under” humans. By not defining “regenerated believers in Jesus” (in point # 1), Driscoll is leaving the term to be defined by the “qualified leadership” (in point # 2). Driscoll’s closely linked first two points, exclusivity and human hierarchy, are two topics Jesus addressed often in his teaching and modeling, primarily speaking against them within the context of the Church. By emphasizing exclusivity and human hierarchy Driscoll is contradicting himself and working against “Jesus’ Mission” (in point # 8). But maybe not, maybe the “qualified leadership” can define “Jesus’ mission” so that there is no discord- if consistency is of interest.

  • It’s alright list as far as these kinds of lists go.

    For those who are questioning the absence of Prayer and the Holy Spirit, they may be assumed by the list writer. If Driscoll is articulating his list in a similar way to Mark Dever’s 9 marks than that is the case. Dever was self-aware that his 9 marks did not include prayer or presence of the HS but he stated that those would be undergirding every one of the ‘marks’. Therefore they were not stated as separate ‘marks’. Possibly the same goes for the headship of Jesus…

  • Rick


    Driscoll’s qualified leadership would most likely be defined by Paul’s emphasis on elders and the qualifications in the pastoral epistles

  • Oh, one more thing. I wonder if Driscoll’s name had not been attached to the list if many reactions here would not be different. Wouldn’t that be an interesting social experiment?

  • Rick

    Steve #28-

    Great thought. That would be very interesting.

  • Aaron

    Nothing about the holy spirit? Or of Jesus as the Head of the church?

  • scotmcknight

    Steve, it crossed my mind.

  • Rick

    Aaron #30-

    I think Driscoll either includes that in some of the points, or assumes that as already understood. He is big on both of those.

  • RJS

    I agree with Rick, this is a pretty good list although it needs some nuance. The problem is how we assume Driscoll nuances them (especially the leadership one). But I have another concern and that’s with #3: THE CHURCH GATHERS TO HEAR PREACHING AND TO RESPOND IN WORSHIP.

    I don’t think worship is a response to preaching, I think worship is a response to God. We can worship as the church without any preaching at all. This doesn’t mean I don’t think preaching has a place, it certainly does – simply that church requires gathering together for worship, it doesn’t require preaching. Teaching is important but can happen in a forum separate from the worship.

  • dan

    Yeah, that’s about right. Pretty generic. Always careful about formulas but if you can’t get a grip on it then hard to test for health.

  • Timothy

    I also prefer sticking with “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” And I question why there is no reference to the gospel. Shouldn’t the church at least be “the people who believe the gospel” if not “the people who preach the gospel”?

    Also, Paul said that the Church is Christ’s body. Bodies are physical. A spiritual unity is not the same thing. But then, Protestants by nature haven’t been much fans of physical unity in the Church it seems.

  • Brian Cool

    Perhaps the holiness of the Church is defined less by action and work and more by a state of being. Since Jesus is holy, God’s people are holy. This doesn’t preclude activity, rather good works are a manifestation of being holy. Lots of helpful ideas of what constitutes “good” in the Sermon on the Mount and in Paul’s writings.

  • Here’s one more thought:

    When Mark Dever wrote his ‘9 Marks’ he emphasized that they were 9 Marks not THE 9 Marks. He makes a big deal out of this; I’ve heard him say it many times. He never meant for them to be exhaustive and is open for further suggestions.

    Upon re-reading Driscoll’s list of 8, I submit he may not be claiming to be exhaustive either. Does that change anything?

  • Cris

    Though the list is not exhaustive, other than the sacraments, there is nothing stated about a commitment to tradition. By that I mean in the Wesleyan sense. That, I think, I would have tried to make more explicit.

  • Debbie

    For me #8 should be listed first. My own list would include something along the lines of service, love & kindness, justice issues, the Trinity etc. I am not convinced a church needs to be spiritually unified and devoted to fellowship. Devoted to fellowship denotes an inward focus.
    As for spiritually unified, I believe God is much broader than we can understand or attempt to understand. Providing space and safety to others with different viewpoints regarding God and relationships widens everyone’s understanding. Is this not part of the mystery?

  • Randy Gabrielse

    My first comment would be “How does missionality come as the last priority of the church?” Ought not missionality or at least Scot’s “gospeling” be very nearly first and over-arching the rest?

    Randy Gabrielse

  • Matt


    Actually, Mars Hill doesn’t gather. The various campuses do, sure, but the “church” (that is, all campuses together) doesn’t. Now, to its credit, Mars Hill has begun calling its campuses what they’ve always been: churches.

    I sure wish more multi-site “churches” would follow suit. It’s disingenuous for a multi-site “church” to claim it regularly gathers when it emphatically does not. The leadership may regularly gather, but as long as the membership doesn’t, it isn’t accurate to call the whole multi-campus entity a single church.

  • JohnM

    I’m with Derek Ouellette #20 – What does he mean by marks? While the list may well include some characterstics of a true church it does little to help identify one that possesses those characteristics.

    To start with, a true church unapologetically declares about Jesus those things He declared about Himself.

  • Typical reformed legalism. Except for #4 – which most reformed skip anyway – you couldn’t hear the gospel for all the stuff that we have to do to be part of the church.

  • Johannes

    I wonder what he means by “qualified”
    I wonder what he means be “rightly”

  • Wow, Mark just made tens of thousands of churches around the world illegitimate with a supposed “biblical” test of being a “true” church. Since he claims his list is Biblical lets take a look at the list in that light…

    #1: Made up of regenerated believers. Yes I guess so, but Jesus makes clear that there will be both wheat and tares and that we are not able to discern the difference this side of the judgement, so I wonder how this is helpful for us to test a church’s legitimacy as a “true” church. You’ve got to wonder what that test looks like.

    #2: On Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey they decided to revisit the churches planted and appoint elders (Acts 14:19-23)…one can surmise that there were churches that existed prior to having elders. These elders that they appointed were brand new believers as well. I am not saying that this was the best situation (these were the Galatian churches) but to say that you cannot have a church without “qualified elders” is a too strong.

    #3: Gathers to hear preaching and to worship. Where is this commanded in the Bible? I see that each person contributes to the discussion in a church assembly (1 Cor 14:26). I do not see a prescription for preaching a sermon to Christians weekly as a mark of the church in the Bible. Literally tens of thousands of churches in the world do not have a pulpit, are they not churches? Mark is a great preacher, so I understand his bias, but I must question it when it is claimed to be a biblical test of a church. If you want to claim this as biblical then you better show that the Bible prescribes it. The usage of the word “preaching” in the NT is almost entirely applied as preaching the Gospel to people who are not yet followers of Christ (ergo according to Mark not a true church). People (including Mark) point to examples in Acts of preaching to a large group as evidence of how church should be, but the Jerusalem church was only in the Temple for a short time and while there was preaching the gospel to the Jews there in the early chapters. The only other example would be the school of Tyranus which was ongoing training of disciples and leaders and was a dialogue. In either case it is descriptive not prescriptive. Good preaching is a great thing that we have all enjoyed at times, but to say it is a Biblical mark of a true church is again too strong.

    #4: Rightly administers the sacraments. This opens up all kinds of questions. How do you “rightfully” do this? Can this be done wrongly? If he means that an elder needs to preside over it there is ZERO Biblical support for that view. If he believes that this is only for believers than Jesus broke that rule himself when he gave it to Judas, and again you are actually hard pressed to find and Biblical command to that effect. Does he believe that grace is endowed by the taking of communion when it is done right and not when it is done wrong? Lots of questions here. I fully agree that disciples are to obey the ordinances but does the Bible teach that only if this is done is the church actually a true church? Does that discount the Friends Churches?

    #5: Church is spiritually unified. I guess that means the Corinthians were not a true church (1 Cor 1:10-17). Of course the church should be spiritually unified, but do we stop being a church when we disagree on something?

    #6: The church is holy. Yes they are holy positionally, but perhaps not in practice. Again the Corinthians are the example they were not spiritual but carnal with divisions and even ugly immorality…nevertheless they are “saints”.

    #7: Devoted to fellowship. Absolutely, cant argue with this as all the “one another” statements in the NT bear much weight.

    #8: Committed to Jesus’ mission. Agreed, but again one must ask if a church stops being missional does it stop being a church? If so, once again, tens of thousands of churches are now illegitimate.

    One important question: are we listing ideals for the church or laying down a test of legitimacy? If the later I have serious problems with all of what is stated (above). If the former, I am not bothered my it too much.

    Perhaps the most difficult thing I have with this list is not what is included, but what is not included. Jesus didn’t make the list as an important ingredient. In Acts 1 most of the marks are present but church didn’t start until chapter 2 and the biggest difference is not that suddenly people were preaching a sermon but that the HS indwelt them. One can argue that regeneration includes this, and yes it does, but I have come to realize that Jesus in our midst is far more essential than all the other marks on the list and should be more prominent. He is more important to list than any qualified elder, for without Him you do not have any qualified for anything.

    Jesus is the head. What is a body w/out a head? A corpse. What is a bride w/out a groom? A Widow. What is a building w/out a foundation? Rubble. What is a flock w/out a shepherd? Wolf-chow.

  • Thomas Renz

    Some excellent comments but Mark Brown nails it. The true church is only to be found where the properly qualified make sure that we do things rightly? God forbid! There are spiritually divided churches who care more about themselves than Christ’s mission – even in the NT. At best, Driscoll’s “marks” outline some of our hopes for the church. (Mine would say more about hope, love and joy in believing.)

    Matt Carr: It would be a very strange ecclesiology indeed if the non-baptised were included in the church. Not that Baptists always realise this -I was one myself at one time-but they don’t baptise infants because they don’t believe that infants can really be part of Christ’s body.

  • The church is #1. Period. The church should have #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, and #8. Point #3 is not a bad thing, but it is also not biblically required. The biblically required preaching is evangelism.

  • A Medrano

    I’s scratch off #3.

  • T (#17) nails it about the love… I was surprised (well… maybe not, but at least saddened) not to see “love” on this list of the marks of the Church.

  • Keith

    I don’t really see the coming to hear preaching part in Scripture. We are involved in house churches outside of the U.S. I like preaching. When it’s good. But don’t see it as a mark of a church.

  • Joey Elliott

    For what its worth, on the qualified leadership point, I have experienced the difference between unqualified and qualified in the last two years, now settled at a church where the leadership is solid, and people are growing. I realize this can be a point that’s hard to completely discern, and can cause tension, but giving Driscoll the benefit of the doubt, the point is to avoid leadership that falls short of the Biblical description of elders and deacons, and in turn, leads to stagnation at best, and heresy at worse. I think we can all agree that not all people are qualified (or called, or interested even) to be in vocational ministry (just like all are not qualified to be scientists – which says nothing about all Christians being in ministry with their life, which they are), so the point is for those that are in vocational minsitry, just like anything else, there should be some level of prerequiste (how nice that its in the Bible for us!).

    I also think if you saw the accountability structure of the leadership of those that would ascribe to “marks” like this, you hopefully would be encouraged that the idea of “qualified leadership” that lords it over people, is not accurate. Jesus is their head. For someone like Driscoll, the idea of “qualified leadership” goes right along with the Biblical qualifications for Elders, and also have other leadership in their midst that prevents them from abusing their leadership, or falling into unrepentant sin.

    I also could say a lot about the apparent confusion on the doctrine of regeneration in many of these comments (notably Wes #3). Obviously, if we wonder why there is confusion in other areas, that is most of the reason. The point about the church being characterized by regenerated believers does not in any way exclude unbelievers. Its just that the hope is that they would become regenerated, after being exposed to the community of believers, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the life of the church. To be vague on this point makes it sound like conversion is not even important, which is what I think the marks attempt to avoid. I have heard Mark Dever say that the way you get false teachers if by having a church full of unregenerated people who think they can discern “qualified leadership” but have not the Holy Spirit. That is convicting and reason alone for this mark to stand.

  • I would change 2, 3, & 4.

    2) The head of the church is the living, resurrected, present Jesus Christ and the true church allows Christ, Himself, to actually lead and direct its meetings apart from human control and programming.

    3) The church gathers to hear the direct voice of God and also as He speaks through various members according to I Corinthians 14:26.

    4) The church openly manifests and demonstrates the real presence of Jesus Christ rather than merely ministering sacraments about Him.

  • As with all of this guy’s sermons, (and I have heard many in person) he uses language in his own way. He constructs it to serve specific purposes, and builds a kind of esoteric jargon that sounds christian and historical but isn’t exactly historically/theologically precise. Not that that is particularly a sin, and not that all other preachers don’t do the same thing in their own way, but it must be clear that D has an agenda unique to himself – and it is that agenda that often troubles some folks. … while individual words, like _sacrament_, and _holy_, are probably not being used with any theological precision. In fact, most of his points, while sounding fairly normal to the average christian ear, are probably not what the reader imagines. D will tell you what he means by them in his sermons, so he … is trying to straighten everyone out. Never forget that his agenda is intensely Calvinistic – which some people like a lot – and others not so much. D thinks of himself as a contemporary “reformer” and publicly states he would love to be a full-contact fight champion, where he can beat another man senseless to prove Jesus is not a whimp. Not exaggerating. He is in love with the Protestant Reformation, and my wish is that he had also learned something from the Anabaptists and the Anglicans of that era. That might soften his combative nature and agitating behaviors – even if just a little.
    Edited comment

  • I would add: 9. Responds with grace and forgiveness in love when it falls short of #1-8.

  • DRT

    [shakes head, tries to determine if it is simply Driscoll allergy….think I am being rational…]

    JoeyS#15 has a great response that echos my feelings I feel like the earliest church in Acts wouldn’t fit his “marks.” Rather they gathered, ate, took care of each other, and shared the Good News. Leadership started with the Apostles but was broadened as the need grew and as folks (both male and female) proved their faith. A couple of them even preached

    Fr. Gregory Crosthwait #19 has a good one. It seems that the church in this list is a church organization, not a christian church (in my words).

    Many others had good points, but I want to put my hat on

    Neil Cole#45, he has many good points and agree, the best is:

    One important question: are we listing ideals for the church or laying down a test of legitimacy? If the later I have serious problems with all of what is stated (above). If the former, I am not bothered my it too much.

    I find Driscoll and TGC folks tend to overstate their positions ALL THE TIME (just kidding, get it?). I think this list is good, but not a test for legitimacy.

  • dan

    maybe a little reaction by Cole? I don’t know.

  • Dave Leigh

    “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name….”

  • The Church of Christ is marked by love.

  • Rick

    DRT #57-

    “I find Driscoll and TGC folks tend to overstate their positions ALL THE TIME”

    I noticed your were having such a dialogue with a TGC rep. today.

  • Joey Elliott


    Assuming you are implying that there are negative implications to Driscoll and TGC folks overtstating their positions, would you concede that there are also negative implications in others sometimes understating their positions?

  • #10 Ray,

    The Holy Spirit is pretty much included in “2. THE CHURCH IS ORGANIZED UNDER QUALIFIED LEADERSHIP”. By setting up such leadership, and related elements like “properly administered”, it’s pretty much establishing the “qualified leadership” as proxies for the Holy Spirit, which isn’t something they would likely affirm explicitly, but the whole list does affirm implicitly.

    That’s a pretty deficient pneumatology, but it’s much easier to manage and feel good about if you’re the Holy Spirit leader.

    The first point is interesting too. I know what he means–it’s standard Christianese–but it’s still a curious phrasing. The church is a place for regenerated sinners? If my arm is cut off, and it grows back again, I’d have a regenerated arm. So, a church is made up of sinners who have had their sins removed, then the sins grow back? Sure, grace may especially abound with all those regenerated sinners, but I’d much rather be around people who are regenerated into the likeness of Christ. Wesleyans and Orthodox have a much easier time, saying we’re regenerated into who we should be.

    Calling it “regenerated sinners” expresses a tricky theological quandary for Reformed folks, if we take those words as written.

  • Also, I’m a little disturbed by no mention of nurseries or the cleanliness of restrooms.

  • DRT

    Rick, yes, that was a great case of overstatement. We don’t need to overstate, EVER~!

  • Phil Miller

    I do think it’s ironic that someone like Driscoll, who basically started his church on his own because he couldn’t find a church that suited him is making any sort of stink about “qualified leadership”…

    I know, I know – we weren’t supposed to make this about Driscoll. I just can’t help myself…

  • Joey Elliott


    Do you know anything about the leadership structure at Driscoll’s church? Do you know anything about his accountability structure?

    From my understanding, if he were not qualified by his church’s interpretation of the Biblical standard, he’d be gone. That is why he doesn’t hesitate to make the point.

  • @Matt Carr: that seems to be a strange reference for baptism regardless of deceleration of faith. I only mention this because this text specifically emphasizes repentance and baptism for “every one” not just the head of household. The reality is, “and all his/her house” is applied to “belief” in some cases as well as “were baptized” in others. It’s not at all incongruous to the text to say only those who believe we’re baptized, in fact, many would see the usage of the term “household” to in fact be used in that way. But you’re probably also a Calvinist, so it matters more to you what your Theology says than the actual usage of the words 😉

  • DRT

    JoeyElliott, well, understating can be an issue too. My perspective is that they both suffer from the same thing, and that is imprecision in thinking and communication. My last church was understated all the time and it led to people not understanding what they are trying to say.

    Then I visited a United Methodist church for quite some time and the Pastor there had a great balance. She would say things like “Jesus commanded us to love each other. It is not simply a nice thing to do, we must

    I thought that was well said.

  • Phil Miller

    Why, yes, I do know quite a bit about it…. But I don’t want to derail the thread in that direction.

    But basically, it’s a circular argument. The true Church is defined by having qualified leadership, but the leadership defines what those qualities are? That’s convenient…

  • Matthew Y.

    I’m mostly with a lot of the others…what is qualified, etc.

    The one slight modification, IMHO, could be made to #3. My contention would be that the church gather to heard the Word and to respond in worship. Yes, preaching is one part of that, but I would also contend for the importance of simply hearing the Word read aloud.

  • Joey Elliott


    Well, perhaps you know more than me then. But I can say that most churches that would identify themselves as similar to Mars Hill (Acts 29 network, etc.), including my church, have a leadership structure and accountability structure for the leadership that assures that any abuse of the office is unacceptable and essentially not possible. So whatever you may be worried about as far as negative implications from Driscoll’s priority of qualified leadership is probably irrelevant because it basically could never happen, by the grace of God. This conversation likely will would have to move on to thoughts about Biblical Eldership before any resolution could be possible.

    And obviously it is not his leadership, or any leadership for that matter, that “defines” those qualities. All he is talking about is straight out of Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.


    Balance is key!

  • Phil Miller

    All he is talking about is straight out of Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.

    And there is nowhere near universal agreement on how those passages of Scripture should be interpreted. So, again, it comes down to a particular church or denomination making the call on what the correct interpretation of them is.

  • Joey Elliott


    That is true. Although, most of it is pretty straight forward. Able to teach, above reproach, etc. For example, someone who yells at people instead of reasoning with them, or is unable to articulate a complete sentence, or someone who is an outcast from society, is not going to be qualified by anyone’s interpretation.

    But the fact that there are different interpretations to those passages does not mean that the principle for qualified leadership is not important, or that any other standard, other than those passages, is more authoritative. So, if you interpret those qualifications differently than Driscoll, go to a different church. Just as long as you interpret them somehow, and use them as the standard for qualified leadership. For the purpose of this post, we’re not arguing over what the qualifications mean as much as whether they matter by any definition. And the point is they matter.

    The different interpretations of them are for another day.

  • Phil Miller

    For example, someone who yells at people instead of reasoning with them…

    I think you just disqualified Driscoll… 🙂

    Just as long as you interpret them somehow, and use them as the standard for qualified leadership. For the purpose of this post, we’re not arguing over what the qualifications mean as much as whether they matter by any definition. And the point is they matter.

    But, in the end you’re really saying they don’t matter. If the definition of “qualified leadership” has no mutually agreed up on meaning, saying it’s one of the “marks of the church” doesn’t mean much.

  • Joey Elliott


    Driscoll has changed. Give him credit. I’m serious.

    They do matter! That is the whole point. By saying, “well, we can’t agree on what they mean, so that can’t matter that much”, you risk putting inarticulate felons in church leadership. I’m serious. Why do you think Paul considered them important enough to write to Timothy? Shouldn’t we figure out what they mean? If we interpret differently, can’t we manage that while still taking them seriously?

    Of course, I would argue that at least some of them (I’ll stick with able to teach and above reproach, I even will throw in not a recent convert, and well though of by outsiders) there shouldn’t be much disagreement. Right?

  • Tom F.

    I guess my question would be to wonder what the impulse behind discerning these marks might be. “Legitimacy” is the outcome of having the marks, but what does that really mean?

    I mean, lets be honest, during the reformation, these “marks” had a polemical purpose. Put simply, these marks were designed to be simplified to the point where they could be used to bash Catholics over the head with them. (The Catholics had their own lists as well.)

    A big, big question is whether “legitimacy” is binary (legitimate or not) or continuous (some churches more legitimate, some churches less, and some churches having almost no legitimacy). I am not sure there is any real use for a binary legitimacy, and there might be real dangers. Binary legitimacy usually has to tie itself in knots to get around borderline cases, or it has to make arbitrary categories (for example, Catholic idea that the church is simply identical to the institution, no matter how awful and depraved parts of the institution get).

    Now, there is a place for legitimacy if it isn’t conceived of as binary, but, unfortunately for Driscoll, that means you won’t be able to use legitimacy to identify certain churches as “true” and certain churches as “false”. Not unless you are willing to say that some churches are “more true” and “less true”, which I’m guessing Driscoll would not be okay with.

    Legitimacy, correctly interpreted, ends up reducing down to simple discernment, which relies more on the Holy Spirit, wisdom, and faithfulness to Christ than on any single list of “marks”. And we definitely should be discerning in our choice of where to worship, and in how we relate to other congregations. Rejecting binary categories does not mean turning theological and spiritual discernment off. But this “true” and “false” church business is just not helpful, and usually ends up being “weaponized” for use against other congregations and theologies.

  • MWK

    I never would have imagined this post would devolve into being about Driscoll.

  • On #2 qualified leadership: I think when we use 1 Tim/Titus as a check list of qualities for a leader we are misusing the text. The lists are character qualities all in the church should exemplify. If we see it as a checklist for who is in and who is out then we are basically saying that if your not an elder you can go ahead and get drunk, beat up your boss and have as many wives as you like because you are not an elder.

    Perhaps a better way to see it is this. If you are looking for a spiritual mentor to follow look for these qualities. To see it as a job description for those delegated with the decision making in a Christian organization is far removed from the intent of the author in my opinion.

  • Joey Elliott


    Not far removed at all in my opinion. Why then does Paul mention them in the context of talking about elders and deacons? To be sure, he lists other character qualities for Christians throughout other letters. But he is obviously stating these above and beyond that. That doesn’t mean all Christians shouldn’t strive for them. But these things are high standards. Perhaps he thought it important for some to be held to higher standards for the benefit of all. That is pretty clear in the text in my opinion.

  • Kim

    Maybe I am just too simplistic. “Love God with all that you are and love your neighbor….” “Take care of the least of these…” These are the marks of true believers. The rest is details. I don’t care whether you value baptism, take communion monthly or weekly, preach or teach…. Do you love God, the world and do you take care of the least of these? Jesus’ criteria for “knowing” us is clearly stated in Matt 25. I know there are other factors we need to pay attention to, but so many Christians would rather talk than walk. Peace.

  • The church gathers to experience the fullness of the body of Christ and the gifts of the spirit, of which, teaching is one. I like respond in worship though.

  • Jack Berdan

    The church loves. This should be above all, as it is what Christ suggests will identify his followers.

  • Dan

    I actually like the list overall – I think as mentioned some definitions may need to be given so we understand what certain terms mean in Mark’s thinking. But the longer I am in ministry, the more I realize that having some guidance and defining ways to measure is needed.

    A couple of comments to Neil Cole’s comment – from all I know of Mark, he would fully state that Jesus is the head of the church. I am thinking that is just an assumption Mark is basing everything else from. I have heard him multiple, multiple times always stress Jesus is the head of the church. The other comment is that as Neil states that there are thousands of churches that wouldn’t then qualify as “churches”, that just may be true! I know of people who claim they are in a church, but it truly is no more than an informal Bible study that may happen. I personally believe that there is need of leadership – yes, as was stated by Neil that they didn’t have elders in some churches before Paul was then having them appointed. But that only shows that Paul felt that a church DID need elders/leaders formally appointed for a healthy church. So for today as we see this, we then should be following the ideal pattern that Paul stressed for a church.

    The list is not perfect and I would write one with different language, but I do find guidance like this helpful. I wouldn’t use the term “preaching” though. I would use “teaching” and the mark being that people are taught Scripture, which could happen in a myriad of ways. Discussion, someone speaking etc. not necessarily in the “preaching” format. The goal would be the Scriptures are taught, the methods of how they are taught could be multiple.

    By the way, I love Neil’s writings and heart! So I totally respect what he has to say here.

  • Chris

    It occurs to me, one of the problems is many are simply reacting to the bullet points they find here and have not heard the complete sermon that he expounds on the points. I still don’t agree with all his points.

  • Fr. Greg- ditto. 🙂

  • Sorry in advance. This is a different direction. I have no titles or a job or robes or liturgical reputation to protect. So I am free to have a different perspective.

    Marks of the church? Let’s consider “marks” like “grades.” He got bad marks; she got good marks. The church gets what kind of “marks?”

    The value of lists. Interesting that we try to characterize and define the church from an organization traditional perspective that scoops up some official doctrinal activities in four, five, nine, whatever number of piles and gives them a scriptural-sounding name that everyone then has to define their own way. How many unbelievers would be converted to Jesus by reading any of these lists? The scripture has given us some standards of measure for what is a truly functioning body of Christ, and they are not standards that we define for ourselves. They are under a different source of evaluation.

    If we have to have an opinion symposium over what something means, is it possible that none of the participants has a clue? “Spiritual unity?” Let’s demonstrate that by giving 40 definitions. It is like Craig Groeschel’s book, “It.” “If you have “It,” you know it, and if you have to ask what “It” is, you don’t have it.” Maybe a “mark” of the church is that people are so busy prospectively loving one another and serving and preaching and demonstrating the good news that they don’t have time for lists to try to retrogradely define.

    What are some measures of the church and who is the evaluator? Who gives the “marks – grades?”

    John 17. Jesus prayed “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Who is the evaluator? The world. What is the standard? That the world knows the Father sent Jesus and loves them. How is the church doing on that one? How is society doing? How are marriages doing? How are politics doing? How are the neighborhoods around our church buildings doing? What is the world’s report card for the “unified” church? The biggest increase of people is in the group “unidentified with anything.” What do they think while we work on our definitions of “spiritual unity?” Doesn’t the world’s “report card” say that we don’t have unity even while we huddle to decide what it means? Are we looking for the lost ark of unity under the streetlight when the lost ark is out in the darkness? It’s dark out there. Can’t make a list if I can’t see.

    Eph 4:3 – the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Interviews have been done with people on the street with the question, “Are Christians unified or divided?” The world responds “divided.” If we don’t know what unity is (from what the world is saying) then we don’t know what the “unity of the Spirit” means or “the bond of peace.” Spare me the definitions — the report card comes from the world who looks at the church, the body of Christ, the kingdom of God on earth. If the world votes with its feet, what’s the verdict?

    Jesus said that we will be known as His disciples by the love we have one for another. Are we known as His disciples by the world? Does the world respect the organized groups who make lists? Do the world come knocking on the church door because they want the church’s lists or because the church radiates love? How many are knocking?

    Is the church fulfilling the anointing of Jesus (Luke 4:18-19; 7:21-23))? Does the world see that?

    The church is increasing and growing into maturity of the full knowledge of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4). How are we doing on that one? Does the world notice? High marks on this one?

    The church is giving a “show and tell” demonstration to the world of “taking off the old” and “putting on the new.” The details of what is “off” and “on” are given in Gal. 5, Col 3, Eph 4. How do we know how we are doing? Look at the response of the world. Are they impressed with our transformation, or could they give a tinker’s dime about our lists?

    There are many more examples.

    We can sit inside our padded pews and air conditioned structures and discuss lists which the real evaluators on the outside going about their humanisms consider totally irrelevant. Let’s don’t lose perspective of the “real” marks of the church which may not be the same as the ones that we conveniently define for ourselves.

    This sounds tough, and it’s easier to preach than to do. But “do” is what we will be judged by. And I have to admit that I can get into lists and definitions and what the Greek says as much as anybody. But I am coming to realize that apostasy is looming while we plume our lists, which one day may be a list of what happens during God’s judgment of the household of faith. Now we are free by the grace of God to make “lists.” There may come a time when we burn our “lists” to stay warm from the persecution.

    There is a precedent for making religious lists in the New Testament. The Pharisees were good at it. The mark of a good Pharisee.

    Peace, brothers and sisters in Christ.


  • 2. The Church is Organized under Qualified Leadership.

    That’s just another way of excluding women and gays, right?

  • BJP

    I would love to hear someone respond to Fr. Gregory (19), as most of these responses seem to miss the point if Fr. Gregory is right. Is the church merely the sum of baptized individuals following Jesus? In a sense, of course. But more importantly, is it not the singular body of Christ? Insofar as anybody’s list of the “marks” of a church separate Christ and Church, in my opinion, they fail. Our union with Christ is made present in the Eucharist: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17). This verse was a favorite of many of the Fathers – the Eucharist draws the sacrifice of the Church up into the sacrifice of Christ. Or, as J.-M.-R. Tillard says in a great book on this topic, the flesh of the church truly is the flesh of Christ (“Flesh of the Church, Flesh of Christ: At the Source of the Ecclesiology of Communion”).

    So I’m with Fr. Gregory and the Nicene Creed – we’re not going to do better than One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic. These marks are ultimately things that we believe are true of the church (they are objects of faith) as gifts from God, even where they have (regrettably) not been made as visible as we would like. The church is, in its truest sense, seated at the right hand of God with Christ, right now. This is reality. We need to believe this, and then continue to do the hard work of condescending, incarnating, and living these marks in the world, in the present, so that what the world begins to truly see a church that is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

    So a request, can we go back to Fr. Gregory’s comment, and begin to deal with that?

  • BJP

    Another article that would be worth looking in relation to this topic, from an evangelical perspective, is J.I. Packer, “A Stunted Ecclesiology? The Theory & Practice of Evangelical Churchliness” – particularly the sections on “Churchliness and Dissonance” and “Stunting Elements.”

    Article can be found here:

  • Profundity

    If they don’t serve organic fair trade coffee, they ain’t a church.

  • After years of research and reflection, I’m still reflecting on the “marks” of the church, but I’ll think aloud here in the blog comments just for fun.

    If one is merely asking “what are the characteristics or activities that we see in the Bible regarding the church?” then that seems to be a good project. We could ask that about any topic in the Bible:”What does the Bible say about _____?” It is a good exercise to reason together as Christians about how the Scriptures describe and depict the church–to do “biblical theology” and subsequently more synthesizing toward “dogmatic” description of the church. However, we need probably to have a wider range of vocabulary as the “church” or the community of the “people of God” are described by wide variety of terms in the New Testament–Paul Minear found 96 images. Doing such an exercise in the right way may in fact distinguish us as the church: “listening to the Scriptures so as to obey Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit” is perhaps the central practice of the church.

    However, we should not expect to get clear enough on our “criteria” that we are easily able to sort through what communities are “churches” and which are “cults.” The Nicene Creed’s descriptors (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) are useful for orienting our theological reflection–each church should be able to articulate how they attempting to fit this criteria–but they can be deployed very differently. And the Augsburg Confession (Article IV)’s naming of the “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered” also does not clarify things greatly when push comes to shove though a church should be able to explain how they would understand that. We could drive a truck through the words “rightly.” John Howard Yoder writes, “Conceivably one could pour all of any theology into these two phrases” (Royal Priesthood, 76). A number of theologians are content to articulate the baseline as: “where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name”–knowing that this does not exactly clarify much; but they think that the implication that “the church are the people Jesus recognizes as his own” is correct.

    The question is: how are we to deploy our conclusions about what the church is? There are pastoral as well as “disciplinary” or “legal” consequences to “marks of the church.” Certainly the “marks” might come up if a friend asked us whether they should join a specific local church. We might summarize how the Bible describes the church and suggest that be criteria to consider. We might also use the theology of the church to shore up areas of weakness in our own congregation. We might use it as pastors to help sort through priorities. The question might also come up with a renegade church in our denomination–that a denomination might eject a church without definitely rendering whether they are a “church” makes sense to me. But I am not sure it is the first or primary question to ask “Is that a church?” about a Mormon, Roman Catholic, a Quaker, a health and wealth gospel, or cult “church.” It is better to talk about the Scriptures and how we understand ourselves to differ from this church–to point to specific troublesome doctrines and practices–than to summarily render judgment on the legitimacy of the church–we may hazard “you foolish Galatians” or God “is about to spit you out of his mouth” but final denunciation should give way to separation for restoration. To say “that is NOT a church” is to say “when 2-3 gather in Jesus’ name among those 2-3 people and they confess ‘Jesus is Lord,’ I know Jesus is not with them” and I would think we would want to be slow to say that and would instead want to say after careful deliberation with others “This particular practice or belief seems to lack biblical support and would therefore prevent me from recommending such a community and seems to be a serious threat to the health of that ‘church.'” Another occasion for articulating what the church is occurs when the church is being misunderstood or threatened. The Barmen Declaration drafted against the German churches who had been co-opted by the Nazis is a profound example. But it does not rely on the “marks of the church” or “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” or “rightly preaching and rightly administering the sacraments” to do its heavy theological lifting but rather biblical texts and the key concept that in the church nothing supersedes Jesus Christ’s authority: “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” Again, Jesus’ promise to be with those gathered in his name seems like the primary “mark.”

  • BJP


    As a former student of yours, thanks, I always appreciate your thoughts and look forward to hearing from you on these matters. Generally speaking, I agree with you here, that the “marks” are pastorally helpful but are not necessarily appropriate for in/out distinctions. Having said that, I still struggle with the fact that every “mark” that is mentioned in standard Protestant definitions only accounts for the “visible” church. Although we always see the invisible through the visible, and therefore the visible is important, is not the church more fundamentally a heavenly reality, seated with Christ in the heavenlies, and therefore ought we not draw our “marks” from that reality? That’s why I like the Nicene Creed. All four of those marks are, most fundamentally, articles of faith. This is what we believe the church to be even if we don’t see it.

    I admit, I probably never would have said this a year ago, but Hans is getting to me at Regent. I think he’s right.

  • Thanks BJP (#87) for alerting me to Fr. Gregory Crosthwait (#19). Fr. Gregory Crosthwait and BJP do a good job of reminding us that the church is on earth (militant) and in heaven (triumphant) and the church is “the body of Christ”–the cosmic, mysterious element that also has biblical rootage draws us out of local congregation disciplinary squabbles. They urge us to live into who we already are. However, a Protestant free church person like Driscoll (or Neil Cole #45 and #77) would respond that folks from more “Catholic” (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran) ecclesiologies do not wrestle enough with what these Nicene predicates, and more importantly their New Testament basis, should look like in the local parish or congregation. That is their focus as free church people. They would say these “Catholics” are complacently content that they are “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” because they can trace their bishop back to Peter through apostolic succession–that they should be more animated about what their local church is supposed to be than reveling in their confident union with the ascended Christ (totus Christus)–true as that may be following the “body of Christ” New Testament language.

    I really liked BJP and Fr. Gregory Crosthwait’s thoughtful comments so I don’t really want to have an argument but when I saw BJP sincerely asking for more engagement on these issues and I had not being very neighborly in responding to comments–just rambling on in comment #90 figuring out my own thoughts, I thought I would respond with something. Grace and peace especially to my brothers/sisters in Christ, BJP and Fr. Gregory Crosthwait.

  • Ha. Crossed comments with BJP. Didn’t see #91 when I put #92.

  • What else would you expect to flow from the mouth of Mark Driscoll? All he did was bullet what most pulpiteers in the IC believe the church is. Same old, same old. No breathtaking revelation that I see.

  • BJP

    Thanks Andy. Much appreciated. I was really interested in how Neil Cole would have responded to Fr. Gregory Crosthwait as well – as I mentioned, while he responded to Driscoll, I don’t think he adequately deals with the problems that Fr. Gregory raises for his ecclesiology. As for what you said, not sure if you have ever read that Tillard work that I referred to, but he is constantly pressing the Catholic Church that the hierarchical (visible) structure of the church does not make the church, but that Christ (through the Eucharist) does. The entire focus of his book is, in a sense, the local church, so I think it’s a caricature to say, post Vatican II, that Catholics complacently refer back to the hierarchy. No doubt, this is still critical for them, but only insofar as it makes present the reality, which is Christ.

    I’m not Catholic, so that’s about as far as I can go in my limited reading of them, but I was deeply moved by Tillard’s ecclesiology. His entire first chapter is NT exegesis: what does Scripture say about the church? And then he goes to Augustine, Chrysostom and Cyril to argue that this has been the ecclesiology of the church from the beginning. As Protestants, it’s at least worth reading, and dealing with seriously.

  • Todd Moore

    + Being part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, I would keep those marks. I would not want to live without it.
    + Dump #3 – “hear preaching respond in worship” is bogus. He really means go to church, watch the show (mainly by listening to the preaching and the music), then go home.
    + I am glad some folks mentioned “love” (duh). Years ago, I thought Gene Getz made a good case in his book, “Measure of a Church” that could have been developed further. He made the case that the apostle Paul had a three-fold standard for his marks: faith, hope, and love.

  • I reckon this thread is at its end. Thought I’d mention, though, this interview in CT with Simon Chan (author of “Spiritual Theology” and “Liturgical Theology” published by IVP):

    In his later book he writes, as an evangelical, on the ontology of the Church. It’s a good place to go if you happen to be interested in this particular direction.

  • len

    I didn’t read every comment, so apologies if this is a repetition. It strikes me that one of the tensions many are experiencing is the difference between church as bounded set or centered set. Traditional frames (as Mark) will tend to push to bounded set.

    I thought Leron Shults approach was helpful, his article linked —

    I also thought there was wisdom in Snyder’s “twisted pairs” analogy in “Decoding the Church” —

    And one more take, Mike Frost in “Exiles” lists four notae —

    * Trinitarian in theology
    * Covenantal in expression
    * Catholic in orientation (theological sense, not denominational)
    * Missional in practice

    ** DIVERSE as well as ONE
    ** CHARISMATIC as well as HOLY
    ** LOCAL as well as CATHOLIC or UNIVERSAL
    ** PROPHETIC as well as APOSTOLIC

  • len

    Oops, ,sorry – these four are the pairs Snyder works with —

    ** DIVERSE as well as ONE
    ** CHARISMATIC as well as HOLY
    ** LOCAL as well as CATHOLIC or UNIVERSAL
    ** PROPHETIC as well as APOSTOLIC

    For an explanation of bounded vs centered set —

  • Honestly I understand this is an extrapolation of an older protestant definition. But I cant see much benefit in using such a list, or especially handing out such a list to be the metric of joining or staying in a church.

    Honestly, seeing how sectarian Driscoll can to be, I worry it would move from true church to pure church.

  • While MD remains a “respected” church leader, I find the list confusing, incomplete, indefinitely debatable, but GREAT DISCUSSION !!!!
    While the true regeneration will only happen’ in God’s Glory, I am confused by the QUALIFIED term. If the church “needs” that kind of leaders (qualified, mature, equiped) … well … it will take an eternity for the church to be legitimate.
    Organised UNDER this “qualified” leaders? Does that leave any room for Jesus?
    The church gathers to HEAR preaching and respond in WORSHIP? What about braking bread … remembering what Jesus did? True worship NEVER STOPS. Don’t need a sermon to START that.
    Is the church known by the world because of the LOVE WE HAVE FOR GOD AND EACH OTHER? Sadly not all cases.
    I like #57; loved last paragraph of #45.

  • John M.

    101, agree. I also find 98 and 99 very helpful. The very fact that there is enough concern regarding this topic to generate over 100 comments is encouraging. In my opinion, phneumetolagy and ecclesiology are two subjects that are vital but neglected, in much of the church, especially when it comes to our practical experience.

  • It seems to me that the older Nicene definition of ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’ assumes that it is identifying an actual continuing entity/body/community/people. It speaks to us about what the church ‘is.’ And as with all creatures, the nature results in certain actions: for example we expect a wolf to howl at the moon. Likewise, because the church is the community which is formed by and embodies in this age the death and resurrection of Christ to the proximate end of the perfecting of humanity in her vocation, she will exhibit a version of many of the mark’s listed.

    Mr Driscoll mostly gives us a list of activities. The implication being that the church is defined by activity. But it seems to me that a man can howl at the moon without being any more a wolf for it- though perhaps less of a man.

    It is the connection between the church as Christ’s broken body in which we live cruciform lives for the sake of each other and our inclusion into a community that preceded us that is missing (as appealed to by St Paul in I Cor 1:1-2; 14:36) We are followers of Christ only by/in dependence on the universal body. This is the gospel significance of the apostles and those that they laid hands on.

  • My previous comment was a convoluted and typo-ridden mess. Sorry about that. Rushed to pack a lot in, while daughter tapped foot waiting for me to chauffeur her somewhere.

    Checked it out this am… sheesh.

    Do over: when the Samaritans believed (Acts 8:14-17), it wasn’t acceptable that they consider themselves an independent organization in Samaria, which did particular things after believing and experiencing certain other things. To be a Xian is/was to be part of the life of the one family of God. This arises from the nature of the gospel; and so the apostles Peter and John traveled to lay hands on them. This is the gospel function of the apostles and their successors- to bear witness to our dependence on each other, which the gospel requires by its cruciform nature.

    To be a part of the church is to participate in what went before (and what will come after). It is to (first) humbly and thankfully receive that which is passed on.

    I guess my point is that there is little to indicate this dependence in Mr. Driscoll’s list. There are ‘sacraments’ and ‘scripture.’ Obviously (?!) these came from somewhere, but these are handled as if they are a treasure found by a picker in some ole barn that need restoration, rather than as a shared inheritance within the life of an ongoing family.

    Baptism, Scripture, Creed, Eucharist, liturgy, etc flow from the gospel and bear witness to the gospel in the life of the family/race created by the gospel. The same is true of the Apostolate, but it is the Apostolate that especially bears witness to this part of the gospel- our dependence on and submission to each other.

    By the way, I think ‘true church’ is a very unfortunate phrase.

  • Ben Thorp

    FWIW the link under Driscoll’s name appears to be incorrect. The correct link (I think) should be and his explanation of each point helps clear up some of the questions above, as well as his scriptural references.

  • church postcard mailings

    I think if you substitute
    “denominations” for “tribes” then his talk makes a lot more sense. He isn’t saying that the local church is unimportant,
    only that in the non-denominational age, we still belong to a
    quasi-denomination and should learn to work together.