Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Review: The Life of the Church

The Life of the Church: The Table, Pulpit, and Square. 2017. Moody. 128 pages.

The church can do many things, but there is one primary responsibility given to the church by our Lord: to make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). Many churches seek to do the work entrusted to them by Jesus through the careful implementation of programs and teaching supported by well-developed systems for assimilation. Others opt for a more “organic” approach to disciple-making, offering less structure and cultivating a more relationship-based culture. Some churches view discipleship as primarily, if not exclusively, a matter of instruction and indoctrination, and thus neglect the need for relationships and working together. Other churches neglect doctrine while offering ministry services aimed only at practical matters.

I've now read all three of Joe Thorn's books about the church: The Heart of the Church, The Character of the Church, and the Life of the Church. All three books are great, are necessary. In the Heart of the Church, the focus was on the gospel. In The Character of the Church, the focus was on shaping the church by the Word of God. In The Life of the Church, the focus is on the church--the people, not the building--in action. The first part is "The Table," and it is about the family of believers loving and serving one another in community. The second part is "The Pulpit," and it is about worship services. The third part is "The Square," and it is in this final section that Thorn tackles the question of the church's place in the larger community, the world.


  • A theologian, then, is one who knows God and makes Him known. To say that all Christians must be a theologian is a bit incorrect. All Christians are theologians. They are either good or bad at being theologians, but all are theologians.
  • Disciples are made when the people of God following the Son of God are instructed and transformed by the Word of God. Apart from the ministry of the Word among the people of God, disciples cannot be made. To put it plainly, discipleship requires the church.
  • Our redemption in Jesus Christ is not merely a rescue of the individual; it is a deliverance of a people from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light, from friendship with the world into the family of God.
  • The people of God must meet together in smaller numbers to carry out the will of God in each other’s lives. For instances, if we gather together only on the Lord’s Day for corporate worship, how can we possibly carry out the “one another” passages that pepper the New Testament?
  • Hospitality is service to, interest in, and compassion for others.
  • Corporate worship should be distinctly Christian, incapable of being confused with another cause, movement, or religion. 
  • If we are God’s people, saved and gathered together to “proclaim his excellencies” (1 Peter 2:9), then we must not only know them, but also make them known. Worship that does not revel in the character and work of our sovereign and saving God will lift up something or someone else instead. 
  • Worship is about God, not us. 
  • If the preacher is not pointing you to Jesus in the text from which he preaches, search Him out yourself. Commit yourself to seeking the Lord when you gather on the Lord’s Day. This is your responsibility, and no one can prevent you from seeking Him.
  • Who will determine how we worship God as the church? Does the church decide what is acceptable, or does God?
  • Reading Scripture in worship is not merely a call to give attention, but a call to hear God’s revelation of Himself. For it to be read Scripture thoughtfully and thoroughly requires us to read the revelation of God’s person and work by which people might be confronted, convicted, and comforted. Readings from the Old Testament and the New Testament ought to be common. Longer and multiple readings should mark the whole of the service as the church is led through its liturgy. The law of God should show us our sin, and the gospel of God should show us our Savior. And in it all, the church is called to respond to God in faith and repentance.
  • God has gone to great lengths to teach us about Himself by condescending to our level, by speaking to us in ways we can understand. He even goes beyond this by using multiple genres of literature, allowing us to access the truth from different vantage points.
  • When we encounter God’s Word, we are awed by His holiness, humbled by His grace, comforted by His goodness, and strengthened by His love. God reveals His character se we might properly respond to Him in faith, love, and obedience.
  • True worshipers know who they are by nature (sinners) and who they are by grace (saints) and that they are now truly free to worship. 
  • A good liturgy will walk the congregation through the full experience of Christian faith—from guilt to grace to gratitude. 
  • The truth is the gospel cannot be preached apart from words. No one will come to faith in Jesus Christ by merely watching the conduct of a Christian or benefitting from the service ministries of a church. The good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for sinners must be heralded, and people must be called to repent of their sin and believe in Christ. They cannot believe if there is nothing to hear: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
  • Most people in your city are open to a conversation, but are opposed to a lecture. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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