Denominational and Cultural Decline and Pastoral Prayers: An Interview with Mark Dever
JONATHAN LEEMAN: I want to think with you about denominational decline, cultural decline, and pastoral prayers.
MARK DEVER: Okay.
LEEMAN: We were recently at an event at which there was much talk about denominational decline. Does denominational decline, at least as defined by dropping baptisms, concern you? Are they understanding it rightly?
DEVER: Well, yes and no. It concerns me in that I want to see more people being baptized and more people coming to Christ. I don’t assume that all the statistics of a denomination, let alone all denominations, are going to be a perfect reflection of that. For example, our church has not reported the statistics to our denomination for 20 years now, since I have been here.
LEEMAN: Serious decline according to them.
DEVER: That’s right! They could assume we’re just in a horrible state, when in fact, we’ve been baptizing, I don’t know, scores of people every year. But you know what? I don’t need their totals to know this. It brings me no benefit whatsoever, and I tend to think many can be drunk on statistics. So we’re just going to say “the Lord knows”; we’re just going to keep doing our thing, and they can be surprised in Heaven how fruitful it was.
PASTORAL PRAYERS AS INSTRUCTION
LEEMAN: How does this talk of denominational decline—and let me broaden it flatly—how does this talk of cultural decline, where we look around us and it seems that the West is increasingly post Christian and increasingly not nominal, affect your pastoral prayers?
DEVER: I think in our pastoral prayers, we have more opportunity to comment on current events than in any other setting. And what’s instructive is that our people see us present these things before the Lord and notice how we talk to the Lord about them.
I pray about everything. I prayed for the Quakers last Sunday, that the gospel would spread among the Quakers. I prayed two Sundays before that for God in his mercy to allow our culture to once again to consider it immoral for an unmarried man and woman to live together. I want to be aggressive in my prayers. I want to look across the landscape and just try to think, “How can we as a church ask God for big things for his glory?”
PASTORAL PRAYERS AND TEACHING THE RIGHT POSTURE
LEEMAN: Isn’t it easy, though, to fall into alarmism?
DEVER: Yeah! That’s why you have to believe Matthew 16, that this church thing is going to work, that it’s not in any danger. It’s not under threat, so we pray in confidence.
And almost every week I’ll pray about some issues of public authority and sometimes about matters that are controversial in the public realm. But I try to never to do that in a way that would be heard by people as narrowly partisan.
And you know, in that sense, I’m trying to bring to bear God’s Word on abortion, divorce, homosexuality, the PC-USA declining, gay bishops, the fact that more Southern Baptist churches are getting smaller than larger, that we need more money for the International Mission Board. Whatever the topic, I ask, how then do I talk about that before the Lord? Well, that’s an opportunity to disciple the congregation even as they hear how I am not alarmed, but that I’m grieved, confident, and dependent. All of those things are useful for them to hear.
PRAYING FOR THOSE IN AUTHORITY
LEEMAN: I’ve heard you say “Lord, you tell us to pray for those in authority over us . . .” and then you proceed to pray for leaders in Hollywood?
DEVER: Yeah, the music industry.
LEEMAN: Public schools?
DEVER: Yeah. And transportation workers.
LEEMAN: How is that useful?
DEVER: Because if people think that authority is just the king, the emperor, or the president, then they’re missing the way authority intersects with life in so many ways. There’s probably nobody you’re seeing every day who does not exercise some kind of authority. So, by the time you get to a teacher in a schoolroom, let alone a principle of a school, let alone a council member of a school or a superintendent of a school, you’re dealing with some serious amounts of authority there.
Every sphere of life is “thick” with invisible lines of authority, and I think making those visible is a part of rendering them to the Lord. It’s a part of understanding that none of these things operate independently of God and his sovereignty, his will, his pleasure, his desires. When we sing “All I Have is Christ,” part of what that means is we need to recognize that the police should act as agents of Christ, the real estate agent should act as an agent of Christ, the boss at the workplace should act as an agent of Christ. Everybody sitting there in my congregation is in various roles throughout the week, and in every way they exercise authority they are doing so under the Lordship of Christ.
LEEMAN: It’s the way you get your most Kuyperian without blurring creation-redemption lines and without becoming partisan.
DEVER: Right! One should ask,“Was Kuyper’s political party and program a historical success?” Kuyper was certainly “right” in that he understood the universality of Christ’s Lordship. He was, I think, wrong if he assumed that this Lordship meant that there would be an obvious victory of Christ before his return in all of these spheres, and even furthermore, that it would come through him and his instrumentalities.
LEEMAN: And your prayers are a way of striking the balance.
DEVER: They’re attempting to.