I was privileged to be able to read this book before it went to print. My short review is below, but first – here is a short promotional video from the author, for the book which can be purchased here: http://www.freegracepress.org/?p=1050
Review of Jeffery D. Johnson’s THE CHURCH: WHY BOTHER?
By Stuart L. Brogden, Jan 2012
The table of contents highlights key areas of ecclesiology that gives the reader high hopes from the beginning. In his Introduction, Johnson rightly begins with a contrast between “easy-believism” and “Lordship salvation”, describing the link between one’s view of soteriology and ecclesiology. A low view of God brings about easy-believism and a hatred for the sovereignty of God. In his discussion of Lordship salvation, the author explains the biblical view of this transaction – such that no one reading would be able to keep their straw-man view of Lordship salvation (professing it is works-based) in hand. Grace alone accompanied by repentance – a stark contrast to the normal process of decisional regeneration. The Introduction comes to a satisfying close by telling us the reason for the book: to “show how a high view of God and a low view of man should shape our understanding of the nature, purpose and functions of the local church.” To that end, Johnson has review questions at the end of each chapter, for group discussions. Furthermore, each chapter has a sub-title, providing insight to what lies ahead.
Chapter 1 (“Wow, What Nice Facilities You Have”) focuses on the nature of the church; Johnson provides a solid, biblical portrayal of the New Testament church, as a Truth bearer comprised of justified, sanctified believers who are united for the life of the brotherhood and proclamation of God’s Word. Frank Viola should read this book :-) Chapter 2 (“Church, Why Are We Here?”) is all about the purpose of the church – to glorify God by upholding the Truth, bringing the saints to maturity, and to evangelize the lost. This is accomplished by standing firm on the whole counsel of God’s Word, fostering holiness in its members. Chapter 3 (“Culturally Acceptable, I Mean ‘Relevant’”) then tells us the nature of the church. Johnson draws a clear line between God’s prescription and description of the church and natural man’s view with this piercing analysis: “When the line between a holy church and secular world is blurred, undoubtedly the church will become anthropocentric (man-centered) rather than Christocentric (Christ-centered).” The chapter is a fine description of both sides of this issue, leaving no doubt where Truth lies – the church must reflect Christ if it to bring glory to God or be any good to man.
Next, in chapter 4 (“Programs, Programs, Programs”), the author reviews the activities of the church. Rather than embracing myriad programs of all stripes to reach the culture, the church has 5 basic activities for use in fulfilling the first and most important part of its two-fold mission(to glorify God): to worship God 1) by preaching the Word; 2) through prayer; 3) through fellowship; 4) through the ordinances; and 5) through song. There may be other activities in a church, but they must not be permitted to overshadow these 5 or push them aside. This leads to the next chapter (#5 – “Hey God, Look at Me Worship”), which covers worship. Johnson provides 6 aspects of right worship – all of which are from, through, and to God and Christ. He then defends “Biblical Regulated Worship” with 6 principles, including a detailed examination of the need for holiness and demand that it not be sensual. His 5th principle is one that would benefit many in the home-church movement – worship must be orderly. Lastly, he re-emphasizes the reality that any worship of God that does not come from His Holy Word is the product of man’s imagination and not fit for use in His body; the church does not have the authority to be creative in worship.
Chapter 6 (“Drive-thru Membership”) is about membership, emphasizing the importance of belonging – in contrast to the cultural concept of association by convenience. Johnson describes the terrible impact of post-modern, self-absorbed thinking which reduces membership to a social experiment. He moves on to describe the spiritual union enjoyed by those in the local church, which is the result of the Holy Spirit working therein. This chapter has a rather long and beneficial description of the necessity, seriousness, responsibilities and privileges, and terms of church membership. The section on responsibilities and privileges details responsibilities toward God, one another, church leadership and those outside the church. This leads naturally to the discussion in chapter 7 (“Church Discipline, What’s That?”) on church discipline, starting with this: “The church must deal with the leaven before it contaminates the spiritual integrity of the whole church (1 Cor 5:7-8).” The author provides 5 steps of church discipline; describes the attitude of church discipline; the purpose, authority, and efficacy of church discipline. All of this is founded on Scripture and reasoned faithfully.
Authority within the church is the subject of chapter 8 (“The Survey, ‘Says’”), in which Johnson begins by summarizing the nature of the church (covered in chapter 1) and quickly moves to a short examination of cultural influences that undermine the authority God has given each church; summing it thusly: “The church abrogates its authority by putting the potential visitor in charge.” He then provides a concise review of the biblical authority in each church followed by a good review of the basic government thereof. The chart comparing qualifications for elders and deacons is very helpful to anyone studying the two offices of the church. A large bit of this chapter is devoted to describing the pastor – he is called by God, called to be shepherds, called to serve, called to preach, called to counsel, and called to live an exemplary life. Our author then provides a short summary the responsibilities of elders and of church members (using the unfortunate term “laity”). This chapter is packed with much good information not found nor discussed in many churches, as so many are allergic to spiritual authority.
Chapter 9 (“We Need Concession, Not Confessions”) – the last chapter of the book – discusses doctrinal standards within the church. Johnson begins by examining how many churches have abandoned confessions in favor of vague, ambiguous statements motivated by (1.) indifference, (2.) ignorance, (3.) pragmatism, and (4.) mysticism. This chapter is focused on mysticism, as the author believes it to be the root of the others. He gives short reviews of the first 3 rationales and moves to a somewhat longer review of mysticism, describing its nature, its influence, and the corrective action. Johnson admits some parallels between Christianity and mysticism, acknowledging the saving knowledge one has of Christ cannot be communicated to others; knowing Christ is a gift from God to each one called. Yet God is – within limits He established – knowable by man in general and in a saving way by the elect. This is the conflict with mysticism, which is founded on the presumption of the ultimate unknown being that which is sought. The fact that man cannot know God completely does not make mysticism correct, as God is known by many and can be known. Johnson uses this confusion in the ranks as a platform to encourage the use of confessions – to equip the saints with biblical truth upon which their experiences and emotions are rooted. That of God which is knowable is summed up in a good confession and this provides a useful tool to defend against mindless chatter about “just being biblical” or “all I need is Jesus”. We do need to be biblical and Christians do need Jesus – but we must be equipped by the biblical revelation, not led astray by human ignorance.
Not to be overlooked is the appendix, which provides excellent tools helpful in generating a church membership agreement, outlining responsibilities of church and members.
Those churches which have neglected the serious aspect of membership would benefit greatly from a close study of this entire book, including the appendix. For a short book, this book is a great resource for any pastor or church member who wants to better understand what the Word of God says about His church. It is easy to grasp the author’s message and short enough for even the post-modern ADHD adult to get through. It will benefit the soul of anyone who reads it. May God use this book for His glory and the good of His people.