Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: A Well-Ordered Church

In their book, A Well-Ordered Church: Laying a Solid Foundation for a Vibrant Church, William Boekestein and Daniel Hyde's goal is "to bring us back to the basics of ecclesiology, or the biblical doctrine of the church," (p. 14).  To accomplish this they focus on four areas of ecclesiology as the foundation of a well-ordered church: identity, authority, ecumenicity, and activity.

This book is written from a Presbyterian view of ecclesiology, which greatly differs from the Reformed Baptist view.  Boekestein and Hyde define the the visible Church as the "kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation" taken from the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), Chapter 25, (see p. 20).  However, Jesus Himself tells us that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).  From a Reformed Baptist perspective, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF), Chapter 26 significantly departs from the WCF.  In paragraph 2, we read that "[a]ll persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it...may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted."  Therefore, the visible Church is not the Kingdom of God because "[t]he purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ," (LBCF, Ch. 26, para. 2).

The main weakness in this book is that Boekestein and Hyde do not always clarify when they are talking about the visible or the invisible church.  For instance, the authors state that "Christ gave his life for his bride, which is the entire body of the elect (Ephesians 5:25-27)," (p. 21).  I agree that Christ gave His life for the elect, but that's not the visible church.  However, the authors go to say that an implication of this truth is that "the church owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Lord," (p. 22).  The true believers of Jesus Christ who make up the invisible church made are thankful for the free gift of salvation, but the unbelievers (who may be members of a local church) cannot be thankful because they are still at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7).

The visible church is a mix of believers and unbelievers.  Because of their loose use of the word, the authors' analysis is not always biblical because at times they imply that all 'church' members are believers.  It is important to differentiate between the visible and invisible church; however, the authors do not keep this distinction.  This oversight significantly impacts the application portion of this book as suggestions are made that unbelieving church members can not accomplish.

The authors also downplay the visible and invisible church distinction and scoff at the idea that believers are members merely of the 'invisible church'", calling it a "Christ-less churchianity," (p. 20).  I agree that local church membership is important, but unbelievers in the local church are not part of the Kingdom of God.  As an example of their inconsistency, they state that "[w]e cannot incorporate non-Christian parts into the body," (p. 56), but then they say that "[a]s individual Christians are part of the local church, the analogy [in 1 Cor. 12:12] can be extended to say that individual churches are part of the universal church of Christ," (p. 59).  Again, not all people in a local church are believers, therefore, all local churches cannot be part of the church of Christ.

Because of the differences in Covenant Theology and church government, I would recommend this book for Presbyterian believers.  As a Reformed Baptist, I had many disagreements with the points of application recommended in A Well-Ordered Church.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book Review: Passing Through

In his book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness, Jeremy Walker shows us that "[w]ith the Word of God as our map and the Spirit of Christ as our compass, we are equipped to navigate this world, to make our way in the world so as to bring honor and glory to God," (Kindle location 360).

The author reminds Christians that they are pilgrims in this world who need to know their enemy in order to fight the battles and pursue their mission while at the same time respecting authorities.  In Chapter 3 "Understanding the Environment", Mr. Walker stresses that the "world is not our home and cannot be our friend if we are to be faithful to God," (Kindle location 955).  As we continue to see legal rulings in the United States that disregard the Bible and its teachings, Mr. Walker warns that "[w]e must stop denying that the world hates us, and we must stop playing here as it were a safe place.  The world hates Christlike Christians," (Kindle location 1002).  Mr. Walker has correctly assessed the lack of biblical discernment some Christians have in today's world.  He presents an important message for all Christians as we struggle to balance our spiritual identity with earthly duties.  That message comes through as he details the biblical mindset of being in and not of the world.

However, on the whole, I did not enjoy reading this book.  Even though the ideas are doctrinally sound, and the author includes many biblical references to support his arguments, it was difficult to wade through.  Most chapters start with a scriptural framework, followed by summary thoughts, and end with specific counsels.  Psychologically, I was ready for each chapter to end when I read the words 'summary thoughts'.  But that was not the case; there were usually many pages left, which made the content of each chapter seem repetitive.  I'm an avid reader, and I don't shy away from long books; but I had to force myself to finish Passing Through.  The last two chapters were much better as far as presenting the information in a succinct manner, but at that point, I was just ready to finish the book; and therefore, I probably did not take away with as much as I could have from the information presented.

I think that the information contained in Passing Through is good, so I would recommend it for all Christians with the caveat that it's not a book read through in one sitting (or even a week).  I would recommend reading it one chapter at a time, with no goal for an ending date to complete the book.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

NB: Jeremy Walker was interviewed on The Shaun Tabatt Show here.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Individual vs Individuality

On May 3, 2015, Pastor Larry Vincent preached a sermon titled "God's Impassability and His Children" from Malachi 3:6 which says "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."  I've been listening and reading about the Doctrine of Divine Impassability, and I found Pastor Vincent's sermon very helpful.  However, this portion specifically caught my attention (emphasis mine): 

"God is a rock:  He is immutable.  He is unchangeable.  He is eternal.  He is infinite.  He is impassable.  In Numbers 23:19 we see that "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?"  In addition, Isaiah 46:5 says, "To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?"  This rhetorical question is simply answered by 'nothing and no one'.

In His essence and being God is nothing like anything we know of; yet, He communicates with us.  The Christian can say with all confidence, "The Lord, my God," and even better yet, "The Lord, our God.  Because God saves us individually, but He does not save us to individuality.  He saves us into a corporate community."

Lately, some members and visitors have left my local church.  A few have left because of job relocation, but others have left because of personal preference.  While I would not say that no one can ever leave a church, I think that it is done far too easily and without scriptural support.  I can say this because my husband and I have done the same in the past.  In today's Christian world, church membership is not deemed important.  Families and individuals stay as long as they like what they hear (or see or feel), but when they don't like [fill in the blank], they move on.  And the process starts over again.

I am encouraged with Pastor Vincent's reminder that I'm saved as an individual, but not to individuality.  There are no Lone Ranger Christians.  Every Christian is  part of the body of Christ, and therefore, should also be a dedicated part of a local church.  That dedication does not mean that a Christian can come and go when he pleases (provided he is part of a solid Bible believing fellowship and sits under sound preaching and teaching).  A Christian can only "love one another with a pure heart fervently", (1 Peter 1:22) and obey and submit himself to eldership rule when he is an integral, committed part of a local church.  I married my husband because I am committed to him forever.  I should have the same view with my church which is why I am a member.

With all of the on-line resources that I have at my fingertips, it's easy for me to find a more like-minded church and desire to be part of that fellowship, but God is sovereign over where I live and where I worship (Acts 17:26).  Therefore, I am content.

"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching," (Heb. 10:24-25).