“This is an antipolity age.” So begins Mark Dever and Jonathan Leehman in their co-edited book Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (B&H, 2015). Though short of exhaustive, this is an extensive presentation of polity from a Baptist perspective. This hardback is written to be used as a textbook, though it can easily be used in other settings.
Whether antipolity or not, why is polity important? “The difference between a local church and a group of Christians is nothing more or less than polity. To argue for polity is to argue for the existence of the local church” (1). Polity is what makes the Church visible on earth to the world. While faith in Christ orients us to the universal Church, polity is what orients us to a local church.
While every chapter of this book is worthy of reading, the introduction, by Jonathan Leeman, has some of the best thought out material on the logic and necessity of polity as it connects believers to the Church, is a means of obedience to Christ, is central to one’s discipleship, and “it guards the what and who of the gospel.” (6) With that last point, this book shines its brightest before you are into the first chapter. Polity, Leeman argues, gives a local church the power to say, and affirm with the Bible, what the gospel message is and who gospel believers are. These two ideas are foundational to the entirety of church polity. In the context of the gathered body, with keys of the kingdom in hand (Matt. 18:18-20), and the continual practice of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, the church proclaims and defends the gospel and keeps gospel professors accountable to it. This means members must know the gospel and grow in the gospel.
Baptist Foundations is an unapologetic defense for (1) church polity and (2) Baptist in function. These are not angry Baptist’s out to leave their mark. This is a winsome, powerful, and persuasive look at how polity shapes a church that is defined and shaped by the gospel.
Like many denominational histories, Baptist history is as varied as the people that comprise it. Though they have started small, Baptists have come to spread themselves all over the world in obedience to the Great Commission. Outlining this small to great explosion, authors, and professors Anthony N. Chute, Nathan A. Finn, and Michael G. Haykin have written The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement (B&H, 2015).
This book takes a walk through Baptist history as it was birthed in the seventeenth century and as it now stands centuries later. While the Reformation may have divided the Catholic Church into Catholic and Protestant denominations, “both groups agreed that the state had a vital role to play in the life of the church” (11). While noting the significant impact the Reformation, and its (predominately) Presbyterian Reformers, had on religious and world history the authors focus on a small number of believers who “refused to identify themselves with this way of thinking.” Instead, they identified themselves “on the basis of a personal confession of faith and believer’s baptism” (11).
Though initially a small single group of believers, Baptists have reach across the seas of its English beginnings to the shores of every continent in the world. The Baptist Story is “a historical survey of Baptists that includes not only the major organizations but the minor players and minority members as well” (3). As one reads through this book they will see that Baptist history weaves itself into the very fabric of world history wherever it spreads. From combating slavery and alcohol to their involvement in wars and politics, Baptists history has not just contributed to church history but to the history around them.
Intended as a textbook for classroom use, The Baptist Story provides a broad introduction to Baptist history. Throughout the book are pictures and printings of various people, places, events, and relics of Baptist history which helps to draw the reader into the narrative of the book. This is a welcome outline of the history of Baptists taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
I highly recommend both of these books as a means of proclaiming the biblical necessity of church polity as expressed in the Baptist tradition and to gain a greater understanding of how it has spread around the world as it seeks to spread the gospel.
I received these books for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”