November 10, 2010

The Body of Christ: A Biblical Understanding of the Church

Reinder Bruinsma, director of Publishing Ministries for the Netherlands Union Conference, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Hagerstown, Maryland, 2009, 222 pages, US$19.99, hardcover. Reviewed 
by Robert G. Wearner, a retired minister and teacher.
Reinder Bruinsma is a longtime pastor and church administrator. He hails from the Netherlands and earned a Ph.D. in church history from the University of London. This volume is book 3 in the Library of Adventist Theology series. The first two were authored by George R. Knight.
The title is a metaphor, one of many in Scripture to represent the people of God. Theologians call a study of the doctrine “ecclesiology,” but the author avoids any technical language.
The Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook lists “Church” as number 12 of the 28 fundamental beliefs. Those of us who grew up attending Sabbath school can easily take the blessings of the church for granted. We do well, however, to examine our understanding of the church and appreciate its deeper meaning.
The author traces the doctrine of the church being the body of Christ back to its Old and New Testament foundations, discusses issues of church government, and concludes with the church’s mission and future. He does not hesitate to take up controversial issues such as the ordination of women.
I found the chapter on the history of the doctrine especially interesting. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in A.D. 251 taught that outside the church there is no salvation. It took Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin to challenge that view. The Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation defended the principle of the total separation of church and state.
John Wesley and Methodism laid the foundation for many of the doctrines and practices of the Adventist Church today.
The chapter titled “The Mission of the Church” reminds us of the very reason for our denomination’s existence. Our duty is to fulfill the Great Commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19, KJV).
We have no fear for the future; we can be sure God will finish what He has begun.
Bruinsma has done an excellent job in presenting the topic. The only suggestion I would offer is that he develop further his use of metaphors. In Chapter 4 he mentions the church as the bride of Christ. Paul S. Minear, in his book Images of the Church in the New Testament, lists dozens more. Each adds new meaning to the concept.