About the Author
John S. Feinberg (PhD, University of Chicago) is department chair and professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of Ethics for a Brave New World (with Paul D. Feinberg) and is general editor of Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series.
Read an Excerpt
INTRODUCTION TO ECCLESIOLOGY
ECCLESIAL BACKGROUND AND EXPERIENCE
To begin with the obvious, if you are reading this book, you are probably involved in a church, so you have already experienced the reality of the doctrine that I am treating. The same is true of most other doctrines: we experience the reality of the doctrine of God as we relate personally to him as Father, the doctrine of humanity as bearers of the divine image, the doctrine of sin as those fallen from what we should be, the doctrine of salvation as those rescued from our depravity and corruption, and the like.
These experiences shape our theology of God, humanity, sin, salvation, and other doctrines.
Because this may sound reasonable to some but disconcerting to others, let me clarify what I mean by it. As a systematic theologian and contributor to this Foundations of Evangelical Theology series, I firmly maintain that the source — the sole source — and the starting point of our theology is Scripture, the Word of God. So when I affirm that our experience shapes our theology, I am not advocating that experience should contribute to the content of our doctrinal formulation or be the jumping off point for it, because Scripture holds those honored positions. But our experience does influence our theology. And this is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the doctrine of the church: our weekly engagement in our church's worship service, our observation of how our church baptizes people, our participation in our church's celebration of the Lord's Supper, our engagement in our church's missional endeavors to make the gospel known, our involvement in our church's compassionate concern for the poor and marginalized, and much more influences our ecclesiology.
If our ecclesial background, our church experience, shapes our theology, then it has influenced my formulation of the doctrine of the church that you are about to read. Accordingly, I want you to know the broad contours of my ecclesial background. I was raised in a "liberal" church in which a good Sunday would find my minister reading from the latest Time magazine, while a bad Sunday would feature an interpretation of his dreams. Congregational and denominational money was funneled to support such radical movements as the Black Panthers and Students for a Democratic Society. Yet, it was in that church, through a parachurch movement of that very denomination, that I was genuinely confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ and experienced the saving work of God in my life. And I was not alone in this; scores of people in that church had similar experiences and made professions of faith in Christ. When we turned to our pastor for guidance in how to continue and grow in this newfound Christian life, he dismissively assured us that our recent experience would pass in a matter of a few weeks or months. And he was correct. Lacking any follow-up and discipleship, I and most of my friends shelved Christianity and drifted away from our conversion experience.
The following year, however, I became involved in another parachurch movement, Campus Crusade for Christ, through which I learned to make progress as a Christ-follower. I also became seriously involved in evangelism and discipleship of others, while minimally being connected with a local church. Eventually, this element of church involvement became more pronounced, and I even became co-pastor of a small evangelical Baptist church in Switzerland while continuing my work with Campus Crusade. Primarily, this increased local church association was with Baptist churches (Italian-Swiss Baptist, Baptist General Conference, Conservative Baptist) and the Evangelical Free Church of America. Most recently, my teaching career has brought me into association with churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.
This quick tour is intended to highlight one thing: my association with parachurch movements and my membership in various churches and denominations has shaped me and influences this present work on ecclesiology. This ecclesial background forms part of the preunderstanding that I bring to my formulation of doctrine, including my theology of the church. Certainly, many other factors contribute to my theological worldview: my deep appreciation for historical theology, particularly that of the early church and the Calvinist wing of the Reformation; my strong commitment to the first five ecumenical councils (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople II; I also lean favorably toward Constantinople III); my cross-cultural experience; my complementarian view of human genderedness; my continuationist (not cessationist nor Pentecostal) view of spiritual gifts; and many other elements. But important for the purpose of this book, my ecclesial background and experience exert an influence on my doctrine of the church.
And so it surely is with all who read this book. Your ecclesial experience influences your ecclesiology, whether that is a well-developed, studied conviction concerning the church, or a subconscious, intuitive sense of what constitutes the church and its ministries.
To the degree that your church background intersects with some aspects of my experience, you will likely feel at home with my presentation. Likewise, to the degree that your ecclesial experience diverges from some aspects of my background, you will likely find yourself at odds with my ecclesiology. In either case, it is my hope that you will follow appreciatively the development of my ecclesiology — particularly as I ground it on Scripture, the source and starting point of theology — and that you will be benefited by the work at hand.
BASIC IDEA OF THE CHURCH
So that you may know the basic direction in which I am heading in this book, I offer at its outset a summary of my ecclesiology, beginning with a definition of the church.
The church is the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit. It consists of two interrelated elements: the universal church is the fellowship of all Christians that extends from the day of Pentecost until the second coming, incorporating both the deceased believers who are presently in heaven and the living believers from all over the world. This universal church becomes manifested in local churches characterized by being doxological, logocentric, pneumadynamic, covenantal, confessional, missional, and spatio-temporal/eschatological. Local churches are led by pastors (also called elders) and served by deacons, possess and pursue purity and unity, exercise church discipline, develop strong connections with other churches, and celebrate the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Equipped by the Holy Spirit with spiritual gifts for ministry, these communities regularly gather to worship the triune God, proclaim his Word, engage non- Christians with the gospel, disciple their members, care for people through prayer and giving, and stand both for and against the world.
Each element of this definition requires a brief explanation at this point and will be discussed more fully as the book progresses.
The definition emphasizes at the outset that the church is the people of God or, in the words of the Apostles' Creed, "the communion of saints." In keeping with the title of this book, the church is composed of a particular people: "sojourners and strangers" (see 1 Pet. 2:11). In contrast with some common notions today, it is not a building (e.g., the red brick colonial- style building with white pillars and a steeple just a few blocks down from where we live), a denominational tag (e.g., the Presbyterian Church USA), a national or state church (e.g., the Lutheran Church of Sweden), avatars worshiping together in the virtual world of Second Life, or the Catholic Church (with its claim that "the one Church of Christ ... subsists in the Catholic Church"). Rather, the church is people; specifically, the church is the new covenant people of God. Though the people of God have existed from the beginning of the human race (one thinks especially of the people of Israel who lived under the old covenant), the church (adhering to the new covenant) did not exist prior to the first coming of Jesus Christ. He is the Redeemer who accomplished salvation through his atoning death and resurrection for the people of God who compose the church. It is through the gospel, and a response to it of repentance from sin and faith in Christ, that Christians have been saved (and by this term I mean all aspects of the mighty work of God that are commonly regarded as comprising salvation, including election, effective calling, regeneration, justification, union with Christ, adoption, sanctification, and perseverance). An additional aspect of the salvific work of God — one that is often overlooked but relates directly to the identity of the members of the church — is the incorporation of Christians into the body of Christ as he baptizes them with the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, all who are "in Christ" are de facto "in the church" and constitute its members.
The church consists of two interrelated elements, commonly referred to as the "universal" church and "local" churches. The universal church is the company of all Christians stretching from its inception (accomplished by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and created by the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost) to Christ's second coming at the end of this present age (or, more specifically, the rapture of the church prior to his return). It incorporates both the deceased believers who are currently in the presence of Christ in heaven and the living believers scattered throughout the world. Whereas the former aspect of the universal church is gathered together as the "heavenly" church, the latter aspect does not assemble, does not possess a structure or organization, does not have human leaders, and does not have a specific space-time address. These intangibles do not render the universal church any less real, however, as the next point demonstrates.
This universal church (at least its living members) is manifested (by Christ, its head, and the Spirit) and manifests itself (through Christians associating themselves with one another) in local churches, which are characterized by seven attributes. The first three are characteristics regarding the origin and orientation of the church: it is (1) doxological, or oriented to the glory of God; (2) logocentric, or centered on the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the inspired Word of God, Scripture; and (3) pneumadynamic, or created, gathered, gifted, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The final four are characteristics regarding the gathering and sending of the church: it is (4) covenantal, or gathered as members in new covenant relationship with God and in covenantal relationship with each other; (5) confessional, or united by both personal confession of faith in Christ and common confession of the Christian faith; (6) missional, or identified as the body of divinely called and divinely sent ministers to proclaim the gospel and advance the kingdom of God; and (7) spatio-temporal/eschatological, or assembled as a historical reality (located in space and time) and possessing a certain hope and clear destiny while it lives the strangeness of ecclesial existence in the here-and-now.
Local churches are led by qualified and publicly recognized men who are called pastors or elders (or bishops or overseers) who have the responsibilities of teaching sound doctrine, governing (under the headship of Christ), praying (especially for the sick), and shepherding (leading through exemplary lifestyles). These assemblies are also served by deacons, qualified and publicly recognized men and women who serve Jesus Christ in the many church ministries. Because of divine grace and provision, local churches possess both purity and unity; because of sin, however, they must also pursue greater purity and maintain unity through both divine aid and Spirit-empowered human effort. When their members persist in sin, churches exercise discipline for the purposes of restoring erring members and rectifying entrenched sinful situations, restraining such sin-saturated realities, and preserving the honor of Christ and their own reputation. Churches also develop strong connections with other churches for the purposes of cooperative and more effective ministry, the sharing of resources, mutual accountability, and the like. And they celebrate the two ordinances of their covenantal relationship with God through Christ: the initiatory new covenant rite of baptism and the continuing new covenant rite of the Lord's Supper.
Church members are equipped with gifts, given by the Holy Spirit, and they exercise those spiritual gifts in carrying out the ministries of the church. These ministries are: worshiping the triune God, proclaiming his Word through the preaching of Scripture, engaging non-Christians with the gospel, discipling their members through education and sharing in community life, caring for people through prayer and giving, and standing both for and against the world by helping the poor and marginalized through holistic ministries and denouncing the evils wrought by sin.
From this definition one can see my basic orientation to ecclesiology: from the ontology or nature of the church flow the church's functions. As will be discussed later, a third category of approaches to this doctrine — teleological approaches — exists. I will subsume this category under my ontological orientation for reasons to be discussed then.
My task throughout this book is to explain and support this doctrine of the church. Before embarking on this task, however, I must address a number of foundational issues. These introductory matters will set forth how I will construct my ecclesiology.
ECCLESIOLOGY AS A DOCTRINE
As a locus, or topic, commonly included among the other loci of systematic theology — the doctrines of Scripture, God, angels, humanity, sin, Christ, Holy Spirit, salvation, and eschatology — ecclesiology comes from two Greek terms, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ekklesia), or church, and TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (logos), or word/study. Accordingly, ecclesiology is the study of the church, and this doctrine treats the issues of the church's definition, covenantal relationship with God, relationship to Israel and the kingdom of God, characteristics, governance, ordinances, and ministries. As a doctrine of evangelical theology, ecclesiology considers biblical affirmations about the church and synthesizes all those teachings into a coherent whole, thereby setting forth what evangelicals are to believe today about the church. This systematic theology of the church is developed in conjunction with other disciplines. "Exegetical theology seeks to determine the meaning of biblical texts. Biblical theology describes the progressive revelation found in Scripture by examining the theology of its various groupings (e.g., the theology of the Pentateuch and the theology of the Synoptic Gospels). It also traces the many themes in these biblical groupings and notes their development over time. ... Historical theology is the study of the interpretation of Scripture and the formulation of doctrine by the church of the past." Through solid interpretation of all relevant texts of Scripture treating the topic of the church (exegetical theology), careful consideration of themes about the church in, for example, Pauline literature and Peter's writings and how they relate to each other (biblical theology), and aided by wisdom from the past in terms of a chastened tradition concerning the church (historical theology), a systematic theology of the church — ecclesiology — is developed.
THE SCOPE OF ECCLESIOLOGY
The Sufficiency of Scripture
The preceding section emphasized the importance of Scripture in the construction of ecclesiology. Such attention to the Word of God is a hallmark of evangelical theology and flows from, inter alia, the Protestant affirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture. As Wayne Grudem explains, "The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly." In terms of how this attribute of Scripture is relevant for the doctrine of the church, the issue becomes, is Scripture sufficient for the construction of our ecclesiology? The answer will fall somewhere in three different camps.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sojourners and Strangers"
Copyright © 2012 Gregg R. Allison.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Series Introduction 15
Part 1 Foundational Issues
Chapter 1 Introduction to Ecclesiology 27
Ecclesial Background and Experience
Basic Idea of the Church
Ecclesiology as a Doctrine
The Scope of Ecclesiology
The Sufficiency of Scripture
The Methodology for Ecclesiology
Continuity and Discontinuity between the Testaments
Biblical Language: Prescription versus Description
Basic Approaches to Ecclesiology
Concluding Question: Is Ecclesiology an Important Doctrine?
Chapter 2 The Church of the New Covenant 61
The Concept of the Church
The Concept of Covenant
Covenants That Were Operative before Christ
The Church of the New Covenant
The Inception of the Church
The Relationship of the Church and Israel
The Relationship of the Church and the Kingdom of God
The Identity of the Kingdom of God
The Church and the Kingdom as God's Universal Rule and Eternal Dominion
The Church and the Kingdom as Israel
The Church and the Kingdom as Belonging to the Son of Man/Davidic King
The Church and the Kingdom as an Inaugurated Reality
The Church and the Kingdom as an Eschatological Reality
Part 2 The Biblical Vision-Characteristics of the Church
Chapter 3 Characteristics Regarding the Origin and Orientation of the Church 103
The Church Is Doxological
The Church Is Logocentric
Logos: Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God
Logos: Scripture, the Inspired Word of God
The Church Is Pneumadynamic
Affirming the Church as Doxological, Logocentric, and Pneumadynamic
Chapter 4 Characteristics Regarding the Gathering and Sending of the Church 123
The Church Is Covenantal
The Church in New Covenant Relationship with God through Christ
Church Members in Covenant Relationship with One Another
The Church as Covenantal: Some Specifications
The Church Is Confessional
Personal Confession of Faith in the Saving
Lordship of Jesus Christ
A Common, Corporate Confession of the Church's Faith
The Church Is Missional
The Church Is Spatio-temporal/Eschatological
Part 3 The Vision Actualized-The Growth of the Church
Chapter 5 The Purity and Unity of the Church 161
The Purity of the Church
The Reality of More-Pure and Less-Pure Churches
The Unity of the Church
Foundations of Church Unity
Maintaining Church Unity
Chapter 6 Church Discipline 179
Definition and Its Biblical Support
Two Key Texts and Their Application to Church Discipline
1 Corinthians 5:1-13 (with 2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
Other Matters Requiring Church Discipline
The Practice of Church Discipline
Part 4 The Government of the Church
Chapter 7 The Offices of the Church 205
The Office of Apostle
The Apostles and Their Qualifications
The Ministries of the Apostles
The Cessation of the Office of Apostle
The Office of Elder
The Limitation of the Office of Elder to Qualified Men
The Complementarian Position
The Egalitarian Position
Responses to the Egalitarian Position
A Challenge from the Complementarian Position
The Office of Deacon/Deaconess
The Office of Service
Qualifications and Responsibilities
The Accessibility of the Office of Deacon to Both Men and Women (Deaconesses)
Chapter 8 Types of Church Government 249
The Supreme Headship of Jesus Christ
Historical Types of Church Government
Biblical and Theological Support
Misapprehensions and Misgivings
Biblical and Theological Support
Misapprehensions and Misgivings
Biblical and Theological Support
Misapprehensions and Misgivings
Varieties of Congregationalism
Single Pastor with Board of Deacons
Plurality of Elders
Chapter 9 A Model of Church Governance 297
Support for Strong Connections among Congregational Churches
Lessons Learned from Episcopalianism and Presbyterianism
Intense Longing for Cooperation
A Proposal for the Governance of Congregational Churches
Excursus: Multisite Churches
A Multisite Church Model
Part 5 The Ordinances of the Church
Chapter 10 Baptism 321
Sacraments and Ordinances: General Discussion
A Brief History of the Development of Baptismal Theology and Practice
Baptism in the Early Church
The Turn to Infant Baptism
Reformation Changes to Baptism
The Current Theological Divide between Paedobaptism and Believer's Baptism: Who Is to Be Baptized?
Key Tenets of Infant Baptism (or Paedobaptism)
Key Tenets of Believer's Baptism (or Credobaptism)
Evaluation of Believer's Baptism by Paedobaptism, and Rejoinders by Believer's Baptism
Evaluation of Paedobaptism by Believer's Baptism, and Rejoinders by Paedobaptism
The Practice of Believer's Baptism
The Mode of Baptism
The Meaning of Baptism
Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
Miscellaneous Matters for Believer's Baptism
Chapter 11 The Lord's Supper 365
Historical Development: The Early and Medieval Church
The Five Principal Views of the Lord's Supper
Lutheran Consubstantiation (or Sacramental Union)
Zwinglian Memorial View
Calvinist Spiritual Presence View
Anabaptist and Baptist Views
Biblical and Theological Framework
The Institution by Jesus Christ
The Pauline Tradition
My Perspective and Matters of Application
The Nature of the Lord's Supper
Regular Observance with Biblically Prescribed Elements
Participants in the Lord's Supper
Participation in a Worthy Manner
A Symbol of Church Unity
A Proleptic Celebration
Part 6 The Ministries of the Church
Chapter 12 Ministries of the Church 413
Divine Enablement for Ministry: Spiritual Gifts
Utterance of Wisdom and Utterance of Knowledge
Acts of Mercy
Gifts of Healing
Working of Miracles/Miracles
Distinguishing of Spirits
Kinds of Tongues
Interpretation of Tongues
The Church Worships the Triune God
Regulative Principle versus Normative Principle
The Church Proclaims the Word of God
The Church Engages Non-Christians with the Gospel
The Church Disciples Its Members
The Church Cares for People
Financial Support of Pastors
Assistance for Those in Need
The Church Is for and against the World
Part 7 Conclusion
Chapter 13 Sojourners and Strangers 467
Scripture Index 472
General Index 483
What People are Saying About This
“I believe that the doctrine of the church will be the most urgent locus of theological reflection over the next generation. In Sojourners and Strangers, Gregg Allison clears the ground by presenting a thoroughly biblical ecclesiology, at once comprehensive in scope and sensitive to nuance. A welcome addition to an important series.”
Timothy George, Distinguished Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
“The doctrine of the church is one that continues to divide Christians, and especially Protestants, from one another. Dr. Gregg Allison has grasped this thorny nettle and produced a book that presents both the basic principles that unite us and the controversies that continue to produce different ecclesial formations. He maintains his own conservative, Reformed Baptist convictions while being fair to those who hold other views, making his book a valuable contribution to our understanding of this vitally important subject.”
Gerald Bray, Research Professor of Divinity, History, and Doctrine, Beeson Divinity School; author, God Is Love and God Has Spoken
“I am a full-time pastor, and therefore I must be a full-time theologian. As a pastor, my highest calling is to honor Jesus by shepherding his flock. As a theologian, my highest calling is to laud Jesus publically as the hope of the world. Quite frankly, I need help as I deal with real life difficulties that I could not fictionally create. Dr. Allison’s work in Sojourners and Strangers is the most helpful, theologically driven manual for leading in the church. If you buy it, you’ll wear it out.”
Tyler Jones, Lead Pastor, Vintage Church, Raleigh, North Carolina; Founder, Advance the Church
“Gregg Allison’s Sojourners and Strangers is historically informed, exegetically driven, and theological precise. Even more, this timely tour-de-force ecclesiology displays a love for the church and is written for the church!”
Christopher W. Morgan, Dean of the School of Christian Ministries and Professor of Theology, California Baptist University
“No longer can one regard ‘evangelical ecclesiology’ as a contradiction in terms. Among the many recent evangelical volumes on the doctrine of the church, Allison’s will undoubtedly prove to be the standard treatment for years to come. This excellent book is biblically faithful, historically informed, and pastorally relevant. One need not agree with Allison on every point of interpretation to profit immensely from his insights. I struggle to think of another volume on the subject that combines both theological depth and practical wisdom in such readable fashion as does Allison. I cannot recommend it too highly.”
Sam Storms, Senior Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
“Dr. Gregg Allison has done a masterful job of writing a thorough yet practical analysis of the church. This volume is a ‘must read’ for any serious pastor or theologian who desires to look into the heart of evangelical ecclesiology. As a conservative Christian and pastor of a local church I am too quick to recommend or make decisions regarding the ‘practice’ of the local church with little thought of accountability or connectedness to the church both universal or historical. Allison brings such breadth and depth to the beauty of the church by tracing every section through the early church, Catholic Church, Reformation, and into our contemporary culture and times. I especially appreciated Gregg’s willingness to address prominent issues churches are currently struggling withsuch as church governance or the ‘multisite’ movement. This book fills the void that has long existed in most evangelicals’ libraries!”
Jeffrey T. Gilmore, Executive Teaching Pastor, Parkview Evangelical Free Church, Iowa City, Iowa
“Writing an evangelical ecclesiology is a difficult task, due to the fact that evangelicals differ on many aspects of ecclesiology. All will not agree with the positions taken by Gregg Allison in Sojourners and Strangers, but all will profit from his detailed study. He is especially thorough in his treatment of polity and the ordinances, and goes down some seldom-explored paths in his opening sections. At points, his arguments require careful reading, but often open up new perspectives. I commend it to students of ecclesiology.”
John S. Hammett, Professor of Systematic Theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; author, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches
“In this comprehensive treatment of the doctrine of the church, Gregg Allison brings a depth of doctrinal reflection, scriptural understanding, and practical wisdom to bear. Interacting with various ecclesiological perspectives throughout church history and today, he provides a balanced, biblical, and up-to-date treatment of topics from the characteristics of the church, to church government, to church ministryall informed by his understanding of the paradoxical nature of the church as both part of the world and yet looking to another Kingdom. This work will make a major theological contribution to the expanding literature on the doctrine of the church.”
Justin S. Holcomb, Episcopal Priest; Adjunct Professor of Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando; coauthor, Rid of My Disgrace and God Made All of Me; editor, Christian Theologies of Scripture
“Gregg Allison has done evangelicals a great service with a true theology of the church. In the endless stream of books and blogs on technique and pragmatics of doing church, Sojourners and Strangers gives an answer to the question ‘what is a church?’ that is superbly written, soundly biblical, theologically coherent, and practically applicable. His expertise in historical theology and his experience in leadership in a variety of types of churches enrich his profound biblical insights. It is a must read for all who are serious about leadership in the church of Jesus Christ.”
Gerry Breshears, Professor of Theology and Chair of the Center for Biblical and Theological Studies, Western Seminary; coauthor, Death by Love: Letters from the Cross