Much has been said about who the church is, what the church does, and how the church does it over the past two thousand years. We live in an age where there is no shortage of ecclesiology books that address such topics. I have found that many of these books live in one of two worlds: they are either extremely dense and narrowed in their intended audience, or they shirk on depth altogether, providing a fairly uninformative read.
Joe Thorn’s “Of The Church” series attempts (and succeeds) avoiding both of these worlds by offering a 3-volume set of short, but rich reads on the heart (volume 1), the character (volume 2), and the life (volume 3) of the church. Thorn mentions that each of the three books can easily “be read within an hour and is organized simply for retention.” I found this to be true as I read the books. Each one was easy to retain and get through rather quickly, while still offering an engaging and thorough understanding of the church’s function and practice.
In The Heart of the Church, Thorn’s focus is primarily theological, walking the reader through the gospel’s history, the core doctrines of the gospel, and the character of God. Thorn compellingly concludes, “If the gospel is not the heart of a local church, then something else will be” (105). This volume is an excellent primer in some of the key theological points of Scripture and is beneficial for seminarians and lay-readers alike.
In The Character of the Church, the focus moves the ecclesiology. Thorn’s prolegomena is important: “What the church is determines what the Church does” (10). The book is structured into five parts, addressing the preaching of the word, the sacraments, church leadership, church discipline, and missiology. One of the most helpful chapters in this book in my eyes was a chapter on “fencing the table” (Chapter 6). In it, Thorn draws lessons from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to make the case for proper examination and preparation from each individual prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper. This is a very clarifying chapter for those wrestling with this important matter.
In The Life of the Church, Thorn makes the case for a three-legged understanding of disciple-making, through the table (church fellowship), the pulpit (church assembled), and the square (church in the city). I appreciated Thorn’s willingness to address topics such as biblical hospitality (Chapter 3), Scripture incorporated into worship (Chapter 5), and how we have conversations with others (Chapter 11). Too often, our category for “church” is limited to a building or an hour on Sunday morning, whereas we have been called to be a part of the church body through biblical fellowship, assembly, and mission, at all times and among all people.
This series is a straightforward, no-pulled-punches examination of the church. Perhaps you believe the wisdom in this book is too idealistic for your context. But, as Thorn believes, and I as well, Christ is building his church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. The “Of The Church” series is an excellent study for small groups, church leadership teams, pastors, and Christians alike. Thanks to Moody Publishers and For the Church for their work publishing these important manuals that will help churches stay the course.