A REVIEW OF THE CHURCH AND THE SUPRISING OFFENSE OF GOD’S LOVE by Jonathan Leeman
As I was being introduced to the ministry of 9Marks, I discovered that a new book would soon be released by them concerning the doctrine of membership and discipline. Knowing that such a release was imminent and also that I had plans on attending Together for the Gospel 2010, I with eagerness hoped that this book would be a part of the giveaway. If there were one section of topics I felt had been woefully lacking in my seminary education but altogether needful in actual practice; membership and discipline were two. When in fact this volume was one of the giveaways at T4G I was even more motivated to brush aside my other duties and get to reading it. That is until I began to read it.
Please don’t misunderstand! The book is well written and thorough in its coverage of the topic. There is not a tremendous amount of fluff, nor is the book impractical. This book is challenging. It challenges the reader to seriously contemplate the passages considered and discern how they may best be applied to real life. In fact I was so challenged by this book that after certain sections I could do nothing but put the volume down because I did not have the time or the clarity of thinking to comprehend all that was being said. Even so, after two years and another release from Leeman, I have finished this masterpiece on the consideration of membership and discipline.
Perhaps the most profitable section in the whole of the book is the extended introduction which helps the reader to consider what biblical love actually entails. Long before we can consider the church’s charter to bind and loose people or its covenant to submit to one another lovingly as we would to Christ, or even how that surrender actually looks in the life of a member we must understand biblical love. While I could retrace Leeman’s argument through the book – a feat he does quite well in his final outline, allow me to make an extended quote from Leeman’s chapter “Love Redefined” on page 115.
Hence, we can also say that God’s love is offensive to us because it renders judgment against us. And we would be his judge.
Since God is the greatest object of God’s love, God’s gospel, in spite of the things the world might like about it, ultimately offends us. After all, God’s gospel involves applying God’s own righteousness through faith to the sinner, leaving the sinner with nothing to boast in. All glory goes to God with God’s gospel (Ro. 3:21-27), not to us. Also, his gospel calls us to a life of righteousness. It even claims that love is shown through obedience. That’s a tough sell in a culture that equates love with absolute freedom.
Since God is the greatest object of God’s love, God’s church in spite of all the things that the world might like about it, ultimately offends us. After all, the church is the very outpost of people who have capitulated to this offensively self-glorifying God. These traitors have been duped into promoting this megalomaniac. They are supporting his regime. What about our ways and our glory?
The borders of membership and discipline offend us because the remind us of God’s judgment which we despise. “What? He thinks he can exclude me?” Indeed it’s the very borders, boundaries, or walls around the church that remind unregenerate eyes that this outpost is what it is – conquered territory in our country. Ask any occupied nation how it feels about its occupiers. The response will be immediate – indignation and outrage. How do nations treat their own when they take sides with the enemies? They are despised. They are called traitors. They are charged with criminal activity. Often, they are hanged.
With such provocative thinking and much more Leeman deftly argues for a very serious, but a very God exhalting view of church membership. This type of membership involves judgment on the part of the church and her leaders to discern whether a member’s profession is genuine or walk is credible. This type of membership involves submission on the part of members and leaders to the Word and one another as they seek to glorify Christ by their conduct. This type of membership involves the serious belief that the church for better or for worse is the Bride of Christ and love for the Bridegroom is displayed in how we obey his will, Word and ways.