This post is part of a blog tour sponsored by the Koinonia blog. I received the entire book, but was asked specifically to review section 8 on evangelical ecclesiology.
The entire idea of an evangelical ecclesiology is pretty difficult to narrow down; there are evangelical Christians who are Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Free Church, etc. — and each has slightly different views on the church and how it is organized. I honestly think that this weakness in ecclesiology has resulted in the modern idea of the Christian without a church – people who have decided that they are going to go it alone rather than unite with a local congregation. And I really don’t think it’s a good thing.
Bird discusses this early on in this section, mentioning the evangelical tendency toward “ecclesiology-lite.” He sees three problems with this — a tendency toward dualism that emphasizes spiritual unity over physical unity, an anti-Catholicism that ends up rejecting the church fathers and traditions, and hyperindividualism that makes people more concerned with how church is meeting their needs rather than how they can more effectively meet the needs of the church they are part of. All three of these are problems that I see in today’s churches — and I think that finding solutions to them are vital to the continued growth of our churches.
Bird doesn’t stop there, though; his criticisms are simply part 1 of this section. Section 2 gives us what the Biblical image of the church is; after all, if we are going to claim to be people of the Book, we have to find out what the Book says first of all. He details how God’s people are described in Scripture, pointing out similarities between the Old and New Testaments but also showing distinctives present in the New. The section on the similarities and differences between the church and Israel was particularly interesting and informative. The section on the visible vs. invisible church in part 3 of this section was also very helpful, as there is a lot of tension here in my own denomination at times. Very telling, I think, are the marks of the church listed in section 4. There is a sermon series here, I’m sure of it.
Section 5 is where there will be differences of opinion and tradition among evangelical believers – the governance of the church. Bird simply lists the different types of church governance that are being practiced, and tries to show how the denominations that follow them justify them based on Scripture. I enjoyed this section; having just finished a series of Sunday School lessons about Baptist distinctives, I was happy to be able to learn a little bit about other denominations and how they “do church.” He also manages to do this without making any judgment on which is “right” or “more Biblical,” but gives each the attention and respect it deserves.
Almost as controversial is the next part on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While you can hear Bird’s own opinion coming through in the section about paedobaptism, he treats other beliefs with a much-appreciated fairness. And I know many Baptists who would be well-advised to study Bird’s section on the meaning of Baptism; too often, we see it as so much of a symbol that we cheapen the ordinance completely.
This section of Bird’s work takes a subject that can seem nebulous at first, at best rather vague and unclear, and tries to narrow it down even while it explains why there are so many different views and what those views are. If we are ever to recover a Biblical idea of what it means to be the Church and to do church, we need to consider what Bird is saying very carefully.