The Evangelical Church: Richard Sibbes And The Sufficiency Of The Gospel -- By: Mark E. Dever

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 172:685 (Jan 2015)
Article: The Evangelical Church: Richard Sibbes And The Sufficiency Of The Gospel
Author: Mark E. Dever

The Evangelical Church:
Richard Sibbes And The Sufficiency Of The Gospel*

Mark E. Dever

* This is the first article in the four-part series “A Puritan Vision of the Church,” delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 4-7, 2014.

Mark E. Dever is Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and President of 9Marks.

A little context: the Reformers held that two essential marks of the church were the right preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments. On this there was unity between them and the generations that followed. And yet, inside this unity there was great diversity about how this was to be carried out. There were Episcopalian visions and Baptist ones, Congregational ones, and even, yes, Presbyterian ones!

Winston Churchill, among his other remarkable qualities, possessed a keen wit. He was once heard to jibe, “An empty cab pulled up to 10 Downing Street and Neville Chamberlain stepped out.”1 Churchill’s representation of Chamberlain may be something like what we experience with the church today. We read of it in the Bible and in endless books and articles. We know from seminary classes and Bible study that it is the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, composed of those who are to be co-heirs with Christ. But then when we begin to experience it more fully, particularly when we begin to have responsibility in it for ministry and service, it can sometimes begin to feel as if it is something much less.

In many ways, it begins to appear as merely a wan reflection of the culture around us. I’m reminded of the sign a friend of mine

recently saw in front of a Unitarian meeting house, “The Church that Puts Its Faith in You.”2

But let’s leave the Unitarians out of this. We evangelicals may be especially open to the charge of wrongly ignoring the importance of Christ’s church. Perhaps our reformation legacy of understanding justification by faith alone makes the church seem optional. As someone eloquently put it, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car.” We know that, don’t we? But in our supposed evangelical clarity about what a Christian is, have we forgotten what a church is? And does forgetting one definition imperil the other?

It has been observed that what one generation knows and teaches, the second generation assumes and the third generation loses. Has this be...

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