Monday 22 April 2013

Puritan Reading Minus Ecclesiology = Selective Puritanism

The puritan movement had and still has the doctrine of the church at its very core. Sometimes over the years, I have encountered a certain interest in the puritans, and puritan writings but somehow it seemed disconnected from their passion for the doctrine of the church. The purity of the church's doctrine, and purity of worship is a biblical mandate. It is refreshing in the new book by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones "A Puritan Theology" (Reformation Heritage Books, 2012) that as they systematise puritan thought, that include a whole sub-section to ecclesiology. The puritans then and the heirs of the puritans today rightly contend for a biblical church government, a regulative principle for worship and the use of sound reformed confessions to clarify what a church believes.

This is why the heading of this blog post is: Doctrine minus Ecclesiology = Selective Puritanism. I have met some people over the years who love reading the puritans but who are completely unaware that the doctrine of the church was the lifeblood of the puritan movement. It is entirely possible to read the puritans in devotional fashion, which is undoubtedly beneficial, but to miss one of their main priorities: Ecclesiology. This is no surprise though because the British puritan movement was essentially an exegetical movement and considering all the books of the Bible were written for the people of God, then the church has to be important. This is what Christ promised to build: 'And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” ' Matthew 16:17-19.

The church has to be organised, ordered, gathered and built up. The church is not a loose collection of stones. Some people mis-interpret Matthew 18:19 and seem to think that a casual meeting with other fellow believers represents the church but this is not the teaching of Holy Scripture. The church is to be governed by elders, appointed to worship on the Lord's Day, and committed to preaching and the hearing of sound doctrine. Listen also to Paul's introduction to three epistles to grasp the biblical emphasis on Christians being part of a local church.

"To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7)".

"To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia (2 Cor. 1:1)".

"To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons (Phil. 1:1)".

For those reading this blog, but are not regularly worshipping in a church which preaches sound doctrine, then I urge you to become rooted in a church. Listen to the writer of Hebrews: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25)".


Unknown said...

That is a great point. Ecclesiology, especially worship, was not just a concern of the Puritans but of the Reformers from the start. One could even argue that worship was their primary concern. Many are surprised to see that John Calvin wrote in his Necessity of Reforming the Church, “If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained.” The heart of the Reformation is a reform of worship. For Calvin, the issue of justification was secondary to that of worship.

It is also not at all uncommon to be reading a contemporary Christian book on theology or the Christian life that is full of sound, deep, and wise doctrine, which then suddenly veers away from the Bible when it comes to the church. There are so many modern pastors and writers who make great points, but who are very weak in their ecclesiology. That is very disappointing. Perhaps the resurgence in interest in the Puritans will eventually lead to a modern reformation of ecclesiology.

Kevin Bidwell said...


Thanks for your concise and timely comment. My only response is that, I concur!

Kevin B