This is the seventh part of our team book review & forum based on The Courage To Be Protestant by David F. Wells. (series index here) It was written by Trevin Wax, a student at SBTS. He writes at Kingdom People.
In his chapter on the Church, David Wells takes a look at current church practices in order to shine light on what the evangelical view of God is. He begins by showing some of the inherent weaknesses of evangelicalism. Whereas we used to be united by our beliefs in the authority of Scripture and the necessity of the cross, we have abandoned the profundity of biblical teaching for a minimalist understanding of the gospel. Likewise, we have sought to make our message more and more appealing to the outside world. The church has become irrelevant for many evangelicals, who decide to forego church attendance.
Wells turns to the Lutheran distinction between the church visible and invisible. Lutheran theology has said that there is a reality to the church’s life that now is invisible, but in time will become fully visible. The eschatological framework for this view is the “already/not yet.” Wells believes we should stop rethinking the visible church and start rethinking our thoughts about the church. He lists three marks of authenticity: the Word of God, the Sacraments and Discipline.
Wells’ understanding of the church is helpful at times, but he strays from the Baptist view of regenerate church membership. At one point, he says “it would be foolish to suppose that the purpose of these disciplinary measures is to purge form the life of the local church all that makes it less than ‘pure’ church.” (238) I understand his concern. The church is made up of sinners, yes. But discipline takes place in order to reign in the sinfulness of Christians and to purge those from among us who are not “of us.” Wells’ most helpful section is on the importance of the Word of God. Unfortunately, in his section on the sacraments, he barely speaks of them at all.
Some discussion questions:
- What is the purpose of church discipline?
- Is a pure church a worthy goal?
- How important is it for us to apply the truth of Scripture to our culture?
- What other marks of a true church should be in this list?