A few months ago I re-read Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, by David Alan Black. Since he is my doctoral supervisor and I worked for him for four years, this was not my first time hearing his ideas. However, I was looking for some reading on the church, and thought I would read it since I hadn’t yet read the book from beginning to end. Here are a few brief thoughts:
- The book is brief (almost 50 pages) and easy to read. While it is well-written and easy to understand (Black is a great teacher and passionate communicator), it is not aimed at an academic audience, but at average Christians.
- He is writing generally from the Anabaptist tradition. As such, the main question he asks is, “What does the NT teach?” The easiest book to compare it to is 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever. Dever is more of a Reformed Baptist and seems (to me at least) to focus on strengthening the institutional structures and church leadership. In contrast, Black aims at empowering the average Christian to participate fully in Christ’s mission and in the life of the church.
- The book takes its starting point from Acts 2:37-47. From there he elaborates on seven characteristics that he finds therein: Evangelistic Preaching, Christian Baptism, Apostolic Teaching, Genuine Relationships, Christ-Centered Gatherings, Fervent Prayer, and Sacrificial Living.
- Some of the conclusions that he comes to are the following: Preaching the Gospel to the lost is not just the role of the pastor, but rather the role of every Christian. We should genuinely care about the needs of others without eclipsing the proclamation of the good news. When people come to faith, they should be baptized immediately and publicly. Baptism is not something that only ordained clergy can do. Churches should be led by a group, rather than an individual. Jesus is the true Senior Pastor of the church. Church gatherings are designed for mutual edification, and the people of the church should have opportunity to participate. The Holy Spirit is an important part of our ability to grow and know the truth. New Testament Churches shared life together. Unity is an important part of the life of the local church. Communion was a central part of church gatherings. Prayer was a priority. The gospel and social action go together. Living out our faith requires both acts of love and verbal proclamation. All theology should ultimately equip people to serve Christ in the world.
- Conclusion: This is a challenging book. You likely won’t be convinced of everything he says, but when you finish it you will be inspired to be more active in serving Christ.