Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Book Recommendation-One Book, several authors on the Church

Onward Christian Soldiers
Protestants Affirm the Church
Don Kistler General Editor

The introduction and first chapter of this excellent book bring out the need to study the doctrine of the Church. It reads, “It seems quite apparent to us that a lack of interest in the Church would be tantamount to rejecting that which Christ loved and for which He gave Himself (Ephesians 5:25).” What it comes down to is this- the Church is God’s people and Jesus gave His life for it.

This book is one in a series of books edited by Don Kistler and featuring several contemporary authors. It is published by Soli Deo Gloria Ministries.
It contains eleven chapters dealing with various aspects of the Church.

The first chapter is “I Love Thy Church, O God”, by John MacArthur. It is on the importance of the Church, and how the contemporary Curch often lacks a doctrine of the Church. His four main points are: 1) The Church is being built by the Lord Himself; 2) It is the outworking of an eternal plan; 3) It is the most precious reality on earth and 4) It is an earthly expression of heaven.

Next Joel Beeke writes on the Doctrine of the Church itself. He starts by pointing out two extremes of doctrines of the Church-The Roman Catholic hierarchical view and the modern individualistic view that almost disregards the Church. He turns to the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 16:18-“Upon this rock I will build My church.” Here he shows the biblical balance.

Jonathan Gerstner is next with the marks of the true Church. He lays them out a little differently than they are often expressed-but before he goes into those, he gives some background. He points out the difference between the true church and the pure church-the pure version we will not see until we are with the Lord. He laments some church divisions as unnecessary, but sees others as unfortunately necessary.

The two marks Gerstner presents are the preaching of the true Gospel and the Lordship of Christ as expressed in Scripture. Under Lordship he includes both the right administration of the sacraments and church discipline. He explains how differences in administering the sacraments (baptism and communion) are not sufficient grounds for disunity. (interesting reading now given recent events at Bethlehem Baptist Church

Gerstner’s chapter leads to the next by Don Kistler on church membership. Kistler starts with Paul’s metaphor for God’s people as the body of Christ. He writes, “The unfolding of history, then, is the outworking of how Christ adds members to His body until that body is complete.”

He admits there is no verse of Scripture that says, “Be ye members of a local church.” However, he asks, “Is there good reason and inference from Scripture that God expects professing believers to hold their membership in a local body?” He answers with a resounding “YES!” He looks at the ideas of the visible church (all professing believers), the invisible church (all true believers-this is only known to God), the local church and the universal church (the latter two are part of the visible church). He does very well at showing the importance of the local church, what it is, and its connection to the universal church.

James White also looks at the two extremes of the Doctrine of the Church as he starts his chapter on authority in the church. One extreme he labels as “The exaltation of the Church to an unbiblical position.” As a prime example he cites the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings and practices on infallibility. The other extreme is “The denigration of the Church to an unbiblical status.” His main example here is modern American evangelical Protestantism and its reshaping of the Church in the form of American consumerism. He makes this charge, “She (the Church) has become a merchant-selling her wares to the highest bidder, cajoling men to enter into her fellowship, begging believers to participate in her work.”

Next up is John Armstrong on Church discipline. He points out how discipline has become a misunderstood word and concept, largely due to our misunderstanding of love. He writes, “We seem to think love is letting people do whatever they wish, regardless of the consequences.” In this view, love and discipline become opposites, yet in truth they are complimentary.

He looks at two types of discipline-formative and corrective. Formative discipline, as the name implies, forms us. It shapes us as believers. Corrective discipline, then, corrects. It may involve putting people out of the church, but its goal is restoration.

Donald S. Whitney is next on the working church. His first sentence is, “Working in the church is part of the pursuit of joy.” And then he sets out to show this. While much of what he writes should be obvious, we often ignore it. One of the strong messages I got in this chapter is that it’s not only what we can get out of the church, but how can we serve it. What we get out of it can be very important (such as teaching and worship). But if we just go and sit and listen only-we’re missing at least part of the point- we need to serve as well.

Two related chapters follow as R.C. Sproul writes on Church unity and Phil Johnson writes on denominations and unity. Sproul writes about what unity we have and don’t have, as believers. He refers to a true unity we have in Christ, not just the man made unity and disunity we may also have. He also takes steps to show all believers have unity in Christ. The bottom line for this unity in Christ is the gospel-it is to be the basis for any unity we have. He writes, “No unity which compromises the gospel can be accepted.” So in this scheme, doctrine is important. To those who would downplay doctrine, and say, “Doctrine divides”, Sproul answers that doctrine does divide-as in the sheep from the goats (Believers and unbelievers).

Johnson looks at benefits of denominations, and how unity can exist because of them. He also looks at how that unity transcends denominations. Still the issue of Church Unity is not one to take lightly; disunity for the sake of disunity is sinful, as is disunity that cuts off fellowship for minor issues. Johnson looks at what various Protestant denominations have in common, and how that binds them across denominational lines. He warns that an external, organizational unity is not what Christ prayed for.

Next Joseph Pipa shows the importance of Creeds and confessions in the Church. He comments on how those who reject them-saying things such as, “No creed but the Bible, no confession but Jesus” misunderstand what creeds and confessions are. They are not intended to supplant scripture, but to be a commentary or summary. There is much to learn here. One point I liked was how each sermon is that preacher’s creed on the passage he preached from.

An essay by the late John Gerstner wraps up the book. It’s on when a person must leave a church. This is a touchy issue, and has been handled in many ways. This chapter needs to be read to fully appreciate it. He says a person must leave when a church ceases to be a church. While the dividing line on that may be clear to God, it may not be to us, and Gerstner digs into that. The major factor determining whether or not a church is still a church is the gospel.

Under the slightly different question of when MAY you leave a church, Gerstner looks at what happens when a church requires you to believe that which you deny, or to deny that which you believe. This is in the area of non-essentials. We are not to separate over every little difference, but neither are we to go the other way and require non-essentials to be essentials.

Our doctrine of the church is very important. It affects how we do church, why we do church, and from there how we live and exist as Christians. This book has a lot of Biblical guidance to help us out.


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