‘The Church of Christ’ – A Review by Stephen Westcott
A review by Dr Stephen Westcott of the Trust’s new one-volume edition of The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church by James Bannerman.1
This formidably sized volume, originally published in 1869, covers a wide ranging and vitally important subject: the origin, nature, organisation and practice of the true church of Christ, and the author does so with the exhaustive scope and meticulous attention to detail that was typical of the early Victorian period.
In modern times ecclesiology, the Scripture doctrine of the church, has received scant attention: in itself a major factor in the current weakness and decline of the evangelical church in the West. Bannerman shows that God’s concern for his church is a constant theme throughout the Bible. Therefore the visible church is not a new creation but the completion and fulfilment of the previous synagogue system, reaching its settled format as the canon of Scripture closed with the New Testament.
James Bannerman (1807-1868) and his evangelical companions in the Church of Scotland in the early 1840s had an urgent reason to prayerfully study the scriptural basis of the church. Patronage, the forcing of unsuitable ministers on unwilling evangelical congregations, allied with ‘moderatism’ in doctrine was reaching crisis point, finally leading to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland in 1843. After a short pastorate Bannerman served as Professor of Apologetics and Pastoral Theology in the denomination’s New College from 1849 until his death in 1869. It might be said that the very foundation of the Free Church lay in the study of God’s will for his church, and that Bannerman’s The Church of Christ is the lasting testimony of a denomination determined to set itself four-square on the authority of God’s word.
The author’s aim is to explicate ‘the nature, powers, ordinances, discipline and government of the church of Christ’, and he does so in forty-six detailed chapters plus ten appendices. Subjects range from ‘The nature of the Church’ as defined in Scripture as visible and invisible, and its true membership; ‘The powers of the Church’ over its membership, not the State, nor the State over it; ‘The doctrine of the Church’, an agreed creed as standard of orthodoxy; ‘The ordinances of the Church’, including the ministry and Sabbath keeping, the number and nature of the sacraments, and much more.
In each section Bannerman explains and refutes contrary theories, paying special attention to the claims and errors of Romanism. Not everyone will agree with Bannerman’s Presbyterian conclusions, but the volume provides a mine of information and is not developed from an overtly sectarian, but from a scriptural basis.
Originally published in two volumes and reprinted by Banner in 1960 and again in 1974 this edition has been greatly improved by a clear modern typeface, new introduction, some illustrations, and above all by combination into one volume (to reduce the cost.) Like all Banner publications it is produced to the highest standards. This is an important resource that today’s Churches would do well to invest in.
A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church
A review by Dr Stephen Westcott of the Trust’s new one-volume edition of The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church by James Bannerman.1 This formidably sized volume, originally published […]
From the British Church Newspaper, August 2015, with kind permission.