(Note: this review is from the Kindle edition and includes Kindle locations instead of page numbers)
The concept and title of the book Loving the Church, by John Crotts, is as foreign to most today as the concept of “loving going to the department of motor vehicles.” In fact, the thoughts evoked when the church is mentioned are often very similar:
- It takes time away from other things you would rather be doing;
- There are people there you don’t want to deal with (and who don’t want to deal with you);
- It’s boring;
- Those people just want your money;
- You’re just a number;
- Wouldn’t it be easier if we could just do all this over the internet? Why do you have to be there in person at all?
Though not every professing Christian has this view of the church, the sad truth is that many people do not share the Bible’s view of the proper place of the church in the world and in their lives. Some do not recognize the inherent value of the church; others may know what the church is in theory but have a bad taste in their mouths from bad church experiences. Many people have a less-than-proper view of the church, for a variety of reasons. In fact, no one perfectly values the church as highly as it should be valued, which makes the material in Loving the Church so needed for anyone who is willing to learn from it.
The framework for the book is a fictitious series of discussions by a group of people providentially brought together at a coffee shop. They all have had varying experiences with the church (mostly bad) but they decide to meet regularly to share what they are learning from the Bible on the subject of the church. In addition to making the book easy to read, this framework was a helpful reminder of the crucial importance of a right understanding of the church: when churches are not functioning properly, people who want to honor Christ by serving faithfully in the church are left wandering, like sheep without a shepherd. It is therefore critical for church leaders to cultivate a church that is easily lovable by those who are truly born again.
The book is divided into two sections: “What’s is God’s Family?” and “How You Fit Into God’s Family.” The first deals with the nature and value of the church; the second deals with more specifically practical elements of the church’s structure and function.
In the first section, the author demonstrates that though the church is not held in high esteem by many people, it is held in the highest esteem by God, whose house it is, and by Christ, who gave his life to purchase it. This low view of the church is reflected in a lack of participation in the life of the church: “While there are many reasons given for the small place the church has in their lives, the common denominator is that they all misunderstand the value of the church as presented in the Bible.” (Loc 202)
He makes an especially salient point concerning the place of the church – as the pillar and support of God’s truth – in missions: “God has established churches to study, know, do, and proclaim his Word in the world. Christians who seek to serve the Lord outside the bounds of a church are missing out on their mission. They are also putting themselves on dangerous ground, beyond the boundaries of those who are established to guard God’s truth” (Loc 394). The gospel does not go forth or stay pure in isolation, but rather in the context of churches that are established or being established.
He also shows that a biblical church is a church that is submitted to Christ as head over the church, and that he rules every inch of the church through his word, the Bible. Because of this, a church must be careful to subject all of its teaching and its practice to biblical standards in order to obey its head. The author urges his readers to remember that the church, and its leadership, must be fully committed to this standard, saying, “…it is not okay to do things differently than the Bible teaches and assume that Jesus doesn’t mind” (Loc 552)”
This is another way of describing the authority of Scripture. This submission to biblical authority comes as elders, deacons, and all other church members perform their proper biblical roles to the building up of one another, resulting in a church that is built up into the fullness of its head, Jesus Christ.
The second half of the book looks at how the church should be structured, arguing for the two offices of elders and deacons and explaining what each is to be and do. He calls for believers to invest themselves in the church 1) by living lives of personal holiness and 2) by making time with the church a priority on their calendars (both corporately and elsewhere during the week).
He urges pastors to equip all believers for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16) and for those believers to all use their various gifts in accomplishing the work of the church. He laments the standard practice of a new church being started to reach a new demographic, instead arguing that the church should reflect a diversity of backgrounds and gifts supernaturally coming together in striving for the same truths and the same purpose: “While some churches seem to short-circuit Jesus’ plan by targeting one single slice of the culture for evangelism and ministry, Jesus’ plan includes diversity” (Loc 925).
The book skillfully weaves these sections of explaining biblical texts on the church with words of exhortation to the reader. Though the author has clearly “done his homework” and much information is being conveyed to the reader, it is very obviously not a merely academic study. He constantly speaks to the reader of his need to follow in obedience to the principles and precepts described in Scripture concerning the church.
The author’s desire is clearly for churches that are everything that Christ desires them to be, both in what they state and what they practice. As that is being done, his goal is for Christians to learn both the supreme value of the church as well as how to function biblically within it. Following the biblical truths laid out in this book helps to accomplish all of these goals.
Loving the Church will be of special value to those who are disenchanted by the church and who are really not sure what to do next. But regardless of one’s prior knowledge of the church or degree of participation within it, the book will be of great value to all who take the time to read it.