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How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Prentiss Waters

Gregory E. Reynolds

How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Prentiss Waters. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2011, xxx + 178 pages, $13.49, paper.

It has become an axiom since I entered the ministry in 1980 that the most neglected doctrine in American Christendom is the doctrine of the church. In the following decades, a number of fine works have been written or republished from earlier times when this doctrine was seen as essential to true Christian faith and practice.

The title is an eye-catcher: How Jesus HOW TO RUNs THE CHURCH. “HIS CHURCH” might have made the point even stronger, but it is a nice contrast with the “How to” pragmatism that pervades American evangelical ecclesiology. All along the way, Waters references every main point with lots of Scripture, demonstrating that ecclesiology is an essential part of biblical doctrine. Numerous quotations of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms enforce this fact. He also gives ample, footnoted references to other authors, demonstrating that his ideas are not spun out of whole cloth. He refers often to the Form of Government in The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America (sixth edition, 2010), in which he is a minster, demonstrating the importance of good order in Presbyterian churches.

Waters covers the five major topics of sound ecclesiology by defining the church, the nature of its government, the source and delegation of its power, its offices, and its courts.

Waters’s pastoral and ecumenical sensibilities are evinced throughout the book. For example, he fairly represents those who do not believe that church membership is necessary, and goes on to gently but firmly argue its necessity by asking and answering a series of questions on the topic (16–21). Ecumenically, Waters makes it clear that by arguing that Presbyterianism is the most consistently biblical view of church government he is not saying that non-Presbyterian churches are not true churches (xxvii).

My only real difference with the book is the “two-office” view held by the author (86–90). But, as is typical in the PCA and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Waters is actually functionally three-office—what is often oddly referred to as “two-and-a-half- office.” It is a tribute to how much these two views have in common in our two denominations that T. David Gordon, a staunch three-office defender, wrote the foreword. Waters’s distinction between the teaching and ruling elder is so sharp that the four differences between the two (94) make a strong argument for the three-office view. It is telling that almost all of the writers Waters quotes are three-office.

One other disagreement I have with the book is not in principle but in an application of a principle about which we both agree. In arguing that the church’s judicial authority does not extend beyond ecclesiastical matters, he qualifies the point by quoting WCF 31.4 to show that the church may address the civil authority with “humble petition in cases extraordinary” and when the civil authority seeks the church’s advice on a matter. Waters then cites the PCA General Assembly’s “Declaration of Conscience on Homosexuals and the Military” (1993) as a “positive and constructive example” (68) of the former. The OPC passed similar motions on the same subject in 1993 and 2010. The traditional Presbyterian understanding of what constitutes “cases extraordinary” is a direct threat to the church’s liberty or when the safety of any of its members and officers is at stake. Egyptian Presbyterians, for example, might legitimately petition their government on this issue. But when it comes to ethical problems with government policy, where does the number of such petitions end? Good men in our denominations disagree on this issue, and so this footnote does not detract from Waters’s book.

In the section on ordination it would have been helpful to add the idea that ordination confers authority for the office to which a man is being ordained (106–8).

I would like to have seen more references to Old Covenant church government such as are found in Westminster Assembly era works like George Gillespie’s Aaron’s Rod Blossoming or the Divine Order of Church Government Vindicated (1646), or most recently Leonard Coppes’s Who Will Lead Us: A Study of the Development of Biblical Offices with Emphasis on the Diaconate.[1]

Apart from these differences, Waters gives us a robust and nuanced presentation of the biblical doctrine of church government. Its clarity and depth are a rare combination, especially on this topic.

The “Select and Annotated Bibliography” is an excellent resource for further study. Biblical, and name and subject indexes are very well done. This is a perfect book for an adult Sunday school class. It took me about twelve weeks to cover the material with a few excursuses on the three-office view and women in office. I highly recommend this superb little book.

Endnote

[1] Leonard Coppes, Who Will Lead Us: A Study of the Development of Biblical Offices with Emphasis on the Diaconate (Chattanooga: Pilgrim, 1977).

Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, February 2014.

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