Published on June 12, 2015 by Todd Scacewater

B&H Academic, 2015 | 432 pages


The doctrine of the church, or ecclesiology, has always been a major concern for the people called Baptists. This statement is neither pure speculation nor pious denominational rhetoric. Rather it can be established by incontrovertible evidence.

First, Baptist confessions of faith have normally allotted considerable space to ecclesiology….

Second, Baptists have repeatedly written and published treatises on ecclesiology….

Third, although during the nineteenth century among Southern Baptists ecclesiology was not considered to be an integral part of systematic theology, the prevailing Baptist pattern has been to reckon ecclesiology as an essential component of systematic theology….

Fourth, most of the beliefs that have ever been claimed as Baptist distinctives are ecclesiological in nature; for example, regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism by immersion, various forms of close or strict Communion, congregational polity and autonomy, religious liberty,  separation of church and state, and so forth….

The twentieth century was not the finest epoch in Southern Baptist history with respect to ecclesiological practice. As urban churches increased in numbers of members, stress was placed on church efficiency. In the admission of members, there was less care and greater laxity, while corrective church discipline was abandoned and the use of church covenants became less frequent. Numerous members were inactive and/or nonresident, but their names were kept on church rolls. In larger urban churches, full-time ministers with specialized tasks assisted the pastors so that the “church staff” came to be. Certain other Baptist conventions and unions chose to identify with conciliar ecumenism and its goal of more visible transdenominational union, but the SBC declined to do so — eliciting the unfavorable epithet “problem child of American Protestantism” — and the conciliar movement faded in significance. Later in the century numerous megachurches developed, usually with multiple worship services and multiple sites and with the demise of congregational polity. In the final decades of the century, as Southern

Baptists found more affinity with American evangelicals, they found that ecclesiology was a weakness, not a strength of evangelicals. Increasingly moral failure, both in the membership and in the leadership, became common in Southern Baptist churches, with church members having the same percentage of failures as nonmembers.

The call for the thoroughgoing renewal of the doctrine and practice of the church, especially as to membership and discipline, has never been made more aptly or clearly than by Al Jackson, the pastor for thirty-five years of Lakeview Baptist Church of Auburn, Alabama. He wrote, “A generation ago Southern Baptists . . . won the battle for the Bible. This generation faces a task even more daunting, to reclaim our heritage regarding regenerate church membership and the practice of church discipline.”

Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman and their colleagues are to be commended for providing another carefully prepared volume that moves toward that goal. Aspects of their book will be widely accepted. The case for congregational autonomy will likely prove to be concontroversial, whereas the democratic elements of congregationalism may be disputed. Some churches have surrendered congregational governance but are proudly independent. The restatements concerning baptism and the Lord’s Supper will likely elicit wide concurrence, even though open membership has more advocates now than in the twentieth century, the de facto policy regarding open Communion is lacking in precise definition, and many may be slow to welcome a Calvinistic as well as a Zwinglian interpretation of the Supper. The call for interdependence as well as independence of congregations will likely get a good response, The twentieth century was not the finest epoch in Southern Baptist whereas the four classic marks of a true church may still sound strange to most Baptist ears.

The book’s major challenge will likely be for the recovery of strict church membership and of both positive discipleship and corrective discipline with nineteenth-century Baptist life as a model. Here seminaries, universities, and LifeWay are limited in what they can do. The congregation is where the reform will be won or lost, and leadership is crucial.

The book’s most controversial topic will be plural elder governance. Contributors reckon it as biblical and therefore proper, despite the long history of single elder (pastor)-deacons leadership in Baptist churches. But the twentieth-century advent of church staffs in larger urban churches testifies to the need for multiple leadership. Among contributors there are differences: deacons as assistants to elders versus deacons as servants of the congregation and absolute equality of elders versus a de facto (if not de jure) role particularity for a senior pastor or senior elder.

This book invites serious discussion and dialogue — biblical, theological, and practical — and indeed is worthy of such. May God use it to help many congregations discover what it truly means to be the church of Jesus Christ!

James Leo Garrett Jr.


           (Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman)
Introduction — Why Polity? 
           (Jonathan Leeman)


Chapter 1  Some Historical Roots of Congregationalism 
           (Michael A. G. Haykin)
Chapter 2  The Biblical and Theological Case for Congregationalism 
           (Stephen J. Wellum and Kirk Wellum)


Chapter 3  Five Preliminary Issues for Understanding the Ordinances 
          (Shawn D. Wright)
Chapter 4  Baptism in the Bible 
           (Thomas R. Schreiner)
Chapter 5  Baptism in History, Theology, and the Church 
           (Shawn D. Wright)
Chapter 6  The Lord’s Supper in the Bible
           (Thomas R. Schreiner)
Chapter 7  The Lord’s Supper in History, Theology, and the Church 
           (Shawn D. Wright)


Chapter 8  The Why and Who of Church Membership 
           (John Hammett)
Chapter 9  The What and How of Church Membership 
           (John Hammett)
Chapter 10  The Why, How, and When of Church Discipline 
           (Thomas White)


Chapter 11  Elders and Deacons in History 
           (Mark Dever)
Chapter 12  The Scriptural Basis for Elders 
           (Benjamin L. Merkle)
Chapter 13  The Biblical Qualifications for Elders 
           (Benjamin L. Merkle)
Chapter 14  The Biblical Role of Elders 
           (Benjamin L. Merkle)
Chapter 15  Practical Issues in Elder Ministry 
           (Andrew Davis)
Chapter 16  The Office of Deacon 
           (Benjamin L. Merkle)
Chapter 17  Practical Issues in Deacon Ministry 
           (Andrew Davis)


Chapter 18  A Congregational Approach to Unity, Holiness, and Apostolicity:
          Faith and Order 
           (Jonathan Leeman)
Chapter 19  A Congregational Approach to Catholicity:
          Independence and Interdependence 
           (Jonathan Leeman)
Name Index
Subject Index
Scripture Index

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Baptist Foundations: Church Government For An Anti-institutional Age

B&H Academic, 2015 | 432 pages

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