Out of Context: Mark Dever
Does the church have a responsibility to care for the outcasts in society?

This excerpt is taken from "Always Personal, Never Private" in the Summer issue of Leadership.

"We have a special responsibility to make sure our brothers and sisters in Christ are cared for. Beyond that it is appropriate to care for the poor outside the church, but that is something for all humans made in the image of God to do, and Christians can certainly help. But the church isn't called to solve social ills."

Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. To read the rest of the interview with Mark Dever and Jim Wallis in context, pick up the Summer 2010 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.

July 15, 2010

Displaying 1–10 of 19 comments


October 22, 2010  1:39pm

In order to organize my thoughts on this quote, I realized I needed to ask this question: what is the purpose of the church? My answer is the purpose of the church is to disciple. Now this also includes other actions, like preaching the Gospel among other issues, but if we state that the purpose of the church is to disciple, that does not necessarily include solving "social ills". Of course, as followers of Christ, we need to take it upon ourselves to aid those in need, whether it be spiritual or physical need, but that is not what the church, as a collective body, is called to do. If we say that the church's duty is to solve "social ills", well that just creates a whole world of separate problems, such as deciding what ills are most important, how the church is to solve it, etc. If the church is made into an organization whose focus is generally on the ills of the world, then it becomes a general do-good organization, which we already have thousands of (many of them secular, reminding us that it is not necessary to be a believer in order to make good things happen). The church is no longer the church if its focus is no longer on discipling people, however, as humans, we should still, as individuals, be working toward the general betterment of mankind.

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September 26, 2010  11:21am

Mark is an amazing leader and pastor in many ways, but it is really sad that he misses the heart of God so greatly on this matter. His theology is very warped here. His overspirititualization of the kingdom reeks of gnosticism. May God grant him repentence in this area so he can preach the whole gospel.

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July 28, 2010  10:47am

It says in Leadership Journal that we can watch the video on this blog. Where can I find the video clips?

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July 17, 2010  12:41pm

I agree the church isn't called to solve social ills. Take health care. The church can't fix our health care system. Christians cannot fix our health care system. Fixing those things is the role of the government. Government is a gift from God through which we do those things that we cannot do alone. The role of the church and Christians in general is to drive government to change our systems so that, for example, all people have access to health care. What happens far too often instead is that the church and Christians oppose these changes for various reasons.

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July 16, 2010  10:53pm

Yikes! And he's a pastor in DC?!?

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July 16, 2010  11:32am

"Therefor, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." - Gal. 6:10 I come from a different perspective- "the poor." I've been a Christian for over 20 years, involved in several evangelical churces/denominations. I haven't been able to read the full article, so will pass on authoritatively critiquing his statement. But the comments in addition to the post illustrate how badly we frame the debate. It's not "Christian poor vs non," or separating "institutional church" from "Christians" or even "para-Church" and arguing over which entity should be responsible for what. It's about Christians who comprise the Church, gathered in churches and occasionally organizing para-churches, living the life of Christ in the world. My experience says we're really bad at a whole-picture perspective.

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Bart Wang

July 16, 2010  9:30am

There is no distinction between 'believers' and 'the Church'. The Church are the community of Christ-followers. We are the body of Christ. The 'institution' of the church is the man-made organization (and its denominations) that can be politicized. Bart believes this is what commenter John was saying and the Wang agrees with him.

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July 15, 2010  2:23pm

In one sense, he's correct- the Church isn't called to solve social issues. It's called to be a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom. As we preach and live out the Good News, social ills get fixed because we are demonstrating what the Gospel does, what Jesus is about and where it al ultimately is going. It may sound like semantics, but I think it's an important distinction. Probably not the disctinction Dever was making, but still... :) Captcha: some new (and after failing once) herd hack

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Zack (@zacharyb)

July 15, 2010  2:21pm

Chris Blackstone hit the nail on the head, y'all. He's just distinguishing between believers and the church. No need to make it more complicated than that. Why do we get so excited when we have an opportunity to publicly disagree with a brother?

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Jonathan Chan

July 15, 2010  2:04pm

Mark Dever's comments remind me of the Left Behind series and its supporting cast of end-times literature. Shaky theology, even worse social commentary. I'm sure other readers are better equipped to address the relevant theological points, so I won't, except to recommend Neither Poverty Nor Riches, part of a series on Biblical Theology edited by D.A. Carson. Simply put, in a world where the majority of Christians live in the global South and earn a tiny fraction of the average American, it is impossible to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ without addressing systemic economic, political, social, and environmental issues. We'd be fools to ignore the impact of our economic policies on Christians in developing countries. Consider Haiti, where trade liberalization destroyed indigenous agricultural production. Examine US food aid policies, which spend enormous amounts of money shipping American-grown food to developing countries instead of buying locally and supporting true economic development. How is the Church supposed to respond to situations like the military persecution of the Church in El Salvador in the 1980's? Should we have remained silent about the billions of dollars in aid provided by the US to the military government? The Global Church isn't made up of a core of well-to-do Americans and a fringe of starving Africans who just need a little hand-out. We just happen to have been blessed with living in a country that is at the height of its global power and exercises incredible influence over the lives of everyone on this planet. Reverse the situation. Say you were living in Haiti in the 90's, or El Salvador under the junta, or South Africa under apartheid. What would your psalms and prayers look like? What would you ask of your American brothers and sisters? What would you ask of the Body of Christ? Would you just ask for a food parcel? Or would you also ask for something that would bring long-term, systemic change? Would you ask for deliverance from your enemies, for the opportunity to make a living for yourself from your own soil without your future being decided by Congressman trying to channel enough subsidies to his district to get reelected?

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