Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How the Church is Run (or Should Be)

Guy Prentiss Waters, How Jesus Runs the Church. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2011. 178pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Church government is a divisive topic. It is one factor, among others, that divide Christians into various denominations. For this reason, it is rare to find recent works that treat the government, or polity, of the Christian church. However, teaching an Ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) without a polity is like building a machine that cannot operate. It may look and sound impressive in theory, but it cannot do anything in practice. We must ask either what government Christ has appointed in His Word, or how to govern the church on our own. Waters teaches us that we must trust in the Lord with all our hearts rather than lean on our own understanding.

The premise of the book is that the Word of God is necessary and sufficient for teaching Christians what the church is and how it should be governed. Waters’ work is winsome, exegetically sound, historically informed, and eminently practical. This book shares the concision and precision that we have come to expect from this author. He is unashamedly, but humbly, Presbyterian. He is Presbyterian because he believes that he learned his Presbyterianism at the feet of Jesus Christ, and he shows us how to follow in his footsteps through the Word of God.

The book begins with the doctrine of the church and ends with the government of the church. However, following other great models such as that of James Bannerman, he weaves these subjects together seamlessly as he unfolds the text of the New Testament. He includes substantial expositions of key passages, such as the Keys of the Kingdom in Matthew 16 and the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. He also addresses important contemporary issues, such as women in office. Waters includes substantial illustrations from his own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. This makes this volume particularly valuable to those in that denomination, but these illustrations will help all by giving concrete substance to what otherwise would be a theoretical skeleton.

The New Testament teaches us how the church should be governed as well as what the church is. If we do not search the Scriptures to learn how Jesus runs the church and what form of government He gave her, then we are in danger of being subjected to the tyranny of men instead of the Word of God. The form of church government affects the well-being of the church. Different forms of church polity do not necessarily destroy the being of the church. Yet do we not want Christ’s church to be well and not just to be? The fact that the government of the church is secondary does not mean that it is peripheral. Do not read this book in order simply to validate Presbyterianism and do not avoid it if you are not Presbyterian. Read it if you love the Christ of the church and the church of Christ. Let Waters lead you through the Bible’s teaching on the church and its government and, with him, seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This preceding review was previous published in the July 2014 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.