This is a medium-sized, well-produced paperback by EP Books of almost 200 pages, divided into 4 sections (Identity, Authority, Ecumenicity, Activity) containing 11 chapters. It approaches the important topic of the church being divinely ordered, empowered, and vibrantly healthy from a Reformed (biblical, apostolic, catholic Protestant) perspective and uses historic, Reformed confessional standards as a guide to understanding what Scripture teaches about the church.
Identity – In this section, the authors ask the question “What is the church really?” Two heretical extremes mentioned are churchless ‘Christianity’ (“I don’t need church or to come under pastoral care and be a contributing member of a distinct community of fellow Christians”) or a Christ-less churchianity (where the ‘church’ is little more than a social, political, etc. club having weak or lifeless rituals of various sorts). But true Christians (regenerated and converted to God) belong 100% to Christ, the reigning Head in heaven of His church militant on earth and triumphant in heaven, as people who are being gradually conformed into His image. We are those bought with His blood alone, called to serve in humble, biblically faithful obedience at His pleasure and command, not ours. Our unity is primarily found vertically but is also to be manifest horizontally (to the degree that finite, fallible, sinful but regenerated people are able).
Authority – Here the authors detail how the church is to be structured, directed, and function via biblical principles vs. personal preferences in avoiding two extremes of unexamined tradition or pure democracy. In Scripture, we see that God has ordained authority in every area of life, in families, government, work, and the church. In the church, elders are commissioned to rule as faithful, gentle, wise, mature stewards of the faith and of Christ’s people. Deacons likewise are to have a ministry of practical mercy to the church and then community. Such leaders are to be chosen by the congregation and ordained by prayer and laying on of hands.
Ecumenicity – The question in this section is how to relate to sister churches, local or other churches, federations, etc. Here the authors discuss the need for unity to the extent possible between churches and federations or denominations of churches. Extreme positions are the isolation of independence or gross theological promiscuity, neither of which promotes the gospel of Christ, the genuine reconciliation of sinners to God through Christ. To what extent and how can we show unity in the mission of gospel preaching and reconciliation? In identifying true, healthy churches, the authors recount the classic three marks of a true church which are biblically faithful: preaching of the gospel, administration of the sacraments, and church discipline.
Activity – The last section addresses the church’s divine mandate / mission: how do we use resources and what is our proper focus (what are we really about?). Our primarily activity consists of the assembled worship of those eternally elect in Christ and is to be God-centered, fully dialogical, participatory, and corporate, regulated by the Bible, filled with the Word, believing, penitent, sincere, humble, joyous, and thankful. Our assemblies are to be well-ordered and broad, and as humanly (not theologically) inclusive as possible: socially, racially, culturally, age-wise, etc. as we meet with God in reverence, awe, and adoration, focused on God & our need for the gospel, carefully including all the biblical elements of worship in carefully structured order as God in Christ by the Spirit addresses us: called to worship, greeting, reading of law and gospel, confession and pardon, a gospel sermon (guilt, grace, and gratitude), and benediction. We appropriately respond in invocation, spoken and sung prayers, historic confessions of belief, singing of prayer / praise-doxologies / confession, offerings. The authors also have some ideas on how to be biblically faithful in the attractional and incarnational church models. Finally they discuss the critical need for ongoing repentance and church discipline as a critical aspect of a vibrant church.
This is a short, theologically solid, helpful guide to the basics of having a vibrant, solid, gospel oriented, God-centered and honoring church. I recommend it, particularly for those who would like to see how the church is to be biblically oriented and led. 4.6 stars (end notes L). I received this book gratis from EP Books via Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for a fair, honest evaluation.
“He who does not have the church for a mother has not God for a Father.” – John Calvin. Calvin’s meaning is that Christ, via Spirit and Word, normally gives birth to and nurtures his precious, chosen ones by the divinely ordinary means of grace in weekly Lord’s Day assemblies of well-ordered Word and sacrament ministry.
By His Spirit and Word: How Christ Builds His Church, Cornelis Venema
How Jesus Runs the Church, Guy Waters
Called to Serve, Michael Brown, ed.