Friday, January 13, 2017

Book Review: The Character of the Church

The Character of the Church. Joe Thorn. 2017. Moody. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I really loved reading Joe Thorn's The Character of the Church. In this lovely little book, Thorn examines what makes a local church a a true church--a healthy church. Essentially, his answer is that in a true church: the Bible is rightly proclaimed and preached, the ordinances are rightly administered, biblical leaders keep it functioning, discipline is actually practiced (with grace), and an evangelistic mission is shared by the whole church or congregation.

The book is short. The chapters are short. It's worth reading cover to cover. IT is concise, precise, packed with biblical truth. Definitely readable theology!

Favorite quotes:
What the church is determines what the church does. Unless we grasp what and how God has designed His church to be and function, we are likely to find ourselves moving farther and farther away from what we should be and what we are called to do.
To rightly preach the Word is to make known the truth of God from Scripture by exposing men, women, children to the curse of sin and the hope of the gospel. Scripture is not rightly preached unless the law of God exposes our corruption and condemnation, the grace of God shows us the offer of forgiveness and eternal life, and the ways of God are encouraged in faith and repentance. There are different ways in which the Word can be rightly preached, but it should always be expository—meaning that the truths contained in a particular passage are communicated by the preacher, emphasizing relevant implications and applications, while ultimately drawing the congregation to see the gospel of Jesus Christ more clearly.
True preaching is not mere commentary on passages of Scripture, but a warning of judgment and a heralding of good news. It convicts and encourages. It not only informs, but also transforms. We cannot preach the Word rightly unless we understand it rightly. And good theology helps us to understand God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Theology consists of particular truths known as “doctrines.” At the heart of a church, and of Christian theology, is the gospel of Jesus Christ—the good news that the Son of God fulfilled all righteousness, died for sinners, and rose from the dead, bringing salvation to all who believe in Him. Such truths are essential not only to know the Lord, but to know ourselves—a double knowledge that makes for healthy Christians and vibrant churches. A church is not a church if it does not confess “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” ( Jude 3).
Many today believe that the ethics and doctrines communicated in the Bible are not only primitive and antiquated, but also are immoral. How can a God condemning someone to hell be good? How can punishment for sin we inherited be just? How can the Bible teach that true marriage is between one man and one woman, and anything outside of that is sinful? Biblical morality is perceived to be out of step with our culture and “common sense” and thus impure. But the standard of righteousness is not found in the convictions of any one human, nor in the general consensus of any society. The standard of righteousness is found only in the God who created all things. He alone is pure, and His word is pure (1 John 1:5).
Every time we open Scripture to read it, we must recognize that God has spoken, and that He is speaking today—to us.
It is all too easy to treat the Bible as a text to study and know, only to forget that it has been given to us so that we may be confronted by the God who wrote it, convicted of the sin it condemns, and rescued by the grace it offers to all. The authoritative Word of God, the Bible, is God’s Word to us, and we must receive it as such.
God cannot be known in His entirety by finite and fallen humanity. He is too big, and we are too small, for us to fully comprehend all that He is. But what can be known of God is revealed in the Bible. So that is where we look to understand Him and His ways. No one can develop an accurate picture of who God is through mere reason or imagination. Such things, apart from the Bible, leave us with a god of our own making. But as we read through the pages of Scripture, we can begin to see some of our Maker.
From Genesis to Revelation, the promises of God center on the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the one who would fulfill all righteousness, conquered our enemies, and rescue us from death.

The doctrines of creation, sin, salvation, and the future are not incidental concepts that we should treat lightly. Rather, our thinking of these topics should be formed, and constantly reformed, by the Word of God. Who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do must all be determined by Scripture alone.
The Bible tell us not only what is true, but also what is wrong.
It is common today to see churches attempt to make the Bible “relevant.” From bad reimagining of Scripture that are not actual translations to the mishandling of the Word by turning it into a how-to book of improved living, the church obscures the actual relevance of Scripture. The Bible cannot be made relevant, for it is already relevant to every man, woman, and child alive. In fact, the Bible reveals that apart from the truth contained in it, there is no relevance to be found in this life. It is all vanity and a chasing after the wind (see Eccl.).
Churches generally do not lack in leadership, but many lack in leadership that is biblically formed and functional.
Theology is often said to be the study of the God, but I think a better way to explain theology is to say that it is the understanding and communication of the knowledge of God. The term theology itself literally means “a word about God.” So the task of the theologian is not merely comprehending the truth of God, but also communicating the truth of God.
The church seeks to convert unbelievers, not through coercion or manipulation, but by proclaiming the truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And such proclamation is the responsibility of the church at large. It is not only the calling of clergy, but the duty of all disciples.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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