Insofar as the gospel presents the world with the most vivid picture of God's love, and insofar as church membership and discipline are an implication of the gospel, local church membership and discipline in fact define God's love for the world. That, in one sentence, is the argument of this book.
Along the way we will observe that the very things that offend us about church membership root in the the things we find offensive about God' love itself. What is striking, therefore, is how most evangelicals have pushed the question of church structure into the category of nonessential and therefore non-importance. The gospel is important, even essential we say. Church structure is neither.
And since questions of church structure only divide Christians.it's best to leave it out of the conversation altogether. Correct? What if that is wrong? What if God, in his wisdom, actually revealed both content and form, both a message and a medium, both a gospel and a polity, perfectly suited to one another. Couldn't pushing questions of church structure into the category of 'what respectable evangelicals shouldn't hold strong opinions about' eventually undermine the gospel itself?
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Review 1 for The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love: Reintroducing the Doctrine of Church Membership and Discipline
Rarely do most Christians think of local church membership and discipline from God's perspective. That is because we have become consumers of church rather than participants and contributors. The main title of this book, "The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love," provides only a partial description of its contents. The subtitle is actually a more fitting summary: "Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline." This is a book about God's love for His Church, but not for reasons of which the reader may initially think. As Leeman reminds us repeatedly, God's love is first and foremost for Himself and the maintenance of His glory among the people who bear His name. Were God to prize anything or anyone above Himself, He would be an idolater. That is because He alone is of supreme worth. The contemporary church, for the most part, appears to have forgotten that. Local church membership is not merely a matter of personal choice like selecting an item from an ecclesiastical smorgasbord. The church is that upon which our Lord has placed His name. It is His representative in its community and the world. He is its Head and He alone determines the parameters of who "gets in" and who remains "outside." We need to be constantly reminded of that.
Leeman has provided a great service to the church that seeks to reform its mission and its polity. This is not an easily read book, but it is worth the time invested to wade neck-deep through its 356 pages. Written something on the order of a master's thesis, it would make an excellent seminary text for courses in pastoral theology or ecclesiology. Aspiring and active church elders would benefit much from the author's attempt to explain the true nature of love and the manner in which it is to be lived out in the local community of believers. Perhaps it should be required of those who will be stepping into leadership roles with churches moving toward reform.
The meaning and importance of church membership, the role of the church covenant, the necessity of church discipline, and the necessity of authority and submission are discussed in depth. To date I have found nothing of a comparable nature in detailing the structure and practical outliving of the New Testament church. Each chapter is scripturally supported. Leeman's illustrations demonstrate the manner in which his thesis may be applied in a host of cultural settings.
This book is not for every layman, but its principles should be studied and considered by church leaders who will be able to teach them to their people. Churches who do that will be more intentionally God-honoring for having done so. And they and their people will discover the true nature of God's love in the process.