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Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-institutional Age.

Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-institutional Age. Edited by Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015. 397 pp.

As the full title of this book suggests, polity may not be a popular topic in an "anti-institutional age" but it is foundational to the local church. Questions related to church offices, membership, and ordinances and also relationships between churches are determined by the type of polity a local church embraces. The importance of these issues notwithstanding, polity is often neglected because it implies authority and invites division. Those who are wary of authority and not inclined to divide over denominational distinctives will nevertheless embrace some form of polity.

Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman have assembled a team of contributors to address matters of polity in hopes that church leaders, seminarians, and interested church members will discover how good authority can serve to unite the church. Their book is divided into five main sections under the following headings:

1. Congregationalism

2. The Ordinances

3. Church Membership and Discipline

4. Elders and Deacons

5. The Church and Churches

Chapters in each section include a combination of exegetical groundwork, theological synthesis, historical background, and practical application. The overall structure is comprehensive, thus providing the reader with a valuable resource, and the general strategy is wide-ranging, thus providing insights as to why Baptists conclude as they do. Additionally, the contributors address the implications of adopting such conclusions, noting that tensions can develop and offering advice on how to alleviate such tensions.

The section on Congregationalism, for example, notes that while every member has a voice in the church, leaders have a unique role in guiding the church. Rather than presenting every item for a vote to the church or encouraging leaders to silence the church, the contributors explain how the relationship between church leaders and church members is designed for mutual edification:
   Because there is no qualitatively spiritual difference between the
   leaders and the congregation, ecclesiological structures need to
   facilitate interaction between these two groups. Leaders are
   necessary because the church is still growing in conformity to
   Christ and there are many threats to that growth. However, leaders
   are also growing in their commitment to Christ, and therefore both
   groups need to balance one another as they share in the governing
   life of the church, (p. 77)

Contributors to this book write from a Baptist perspective but, as might be expected, not all Baptists will agree with the positions therein. For example, Baptists who shun the term elder or serve the church as a singular pastor or advocate for egalitarianism will dismiss the call for a plurality of male elders to lead the local church.

Indeed, Dever and Leeman note that even their contributors have subtle disagreements with one another. However, even if one encounters disagreements with their conclusions, the book is a valuable resource because it provides, in the reviewer's opinion, the best contemporary arguments for the positions taken. Moreover, the editors wisely close the book with "A Congregational Approach to Catholicity," which includes practical helps supporting their conviction that separate churches share the same Christ, the same confession, and the same commission. Such a discussion is one that all Baptists can appreciate.--Reviewed by Anthony Chute, professor of church history and associate dean of the School of Christian Ministries, California Baptist University, Riverside, California
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Author:Chute, Anthony
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2016
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