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The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love (Foreword by Mark Dever): Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (9Marks) [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Leeman , Mark Dever

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Book Description

When the world speaks of "love," it often means unconditional acceptance. Many churches have adopted this mind-set in their practice of membership and discipline-if they have not done away with such structures entirely. "Yet God's love and God's gospel are different than what the world expects," writes Jonathan Leeman. They're centered in his character, which draws a clear boundary between what is holy and what is not. It's this line that the local church should represent in its member practices, because the careful exercise of such authority "is God's means for guarding the gospel, marking off a people, and thereby defining his love for the world."

So how should churches receive and dismiss members? How should Christians view their submission to the church? Are there dangers in such submission? The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love responds with biblical, theological, and practical guidance-from both corporate and individual perspectives. It's a resource that will help pastors and their congregations upend worldly conceptions and recover a biblical understanding and practice of church authority.

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1560 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway Books (22 Dec. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0031KSEKE
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #648,758 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read For Pastors 17 Mar. 2010
By A. Morgan - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is SUCH a timely and needy book. Jonathan Leeman has written a wonderful book which will be a great encouragement and help to pastors.

Rediscovering the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline is about discovering exactly WHAT the love of God is all in the context of why it is important to be a part of a church fellowship. His primary thesis is that we (the world and many Christians) have made love into an idol that serves us and so redefined love into something that never imposes judgments, conditions or binding attachments. Such a love is NOT the love which God shows and gives. God's love brings BOTH salvation and judgment. In other words, God's love creates and affirms us, but it's purpose is so that we can glorify God. And t is this model which we MUST take into our Church structures.

Leeman expresses it brilliantly on pg122. He writes:

God's love is a boomerang that natural man loves and despises. We love the embrace of the boomerang as it flies outward; we despise the demand of the boomerang as it calls us back to loving him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. We also despise the suggestion that his love will cause him to judge.... God's gospel is a boomerang that natural man loves and despises. We love the announcement of forgiveness and love through no merit of our own; e despise the call to repent, forsake everything and follow Jesus....God's church is a boomerang that natural man loves and despises. We love the idea of a warm fellowship that will embrace us; we despise the fellowship's requirement that we abandon the familiar blandishments of family and friends and submit to its oversight and disciplines.

Leeman goes on to argue (correctly in my opinion) that the purpose of God's love for us, is that we might glorify and worship God.

This also should have an effect on HOW we meet. Leeman takes great pains to tell us that the 'how we meet together' is not a periphery issue but a main one. He argues on pg 226 that Churches need boundaries and structures and authority. It is the church's responsibility to discipline those who deviate form the gospel. For to do so is LOVING! Writing on 1 Corinthians 5, Leeman says:

Paul calls on the Corinthian Church members to protect the gospel by no longer identifying themselves with the man committing a sin that even non-christians would question...[the church] is responsible on Jesus' behalf to ensure that this man is not allowed to publicly identify himself with Jesus.... They should exclude him.... Paul cannot know for certain that this man is not a christian but the church needs to speak for Jesus. Since the man is unrepentantly acting like a non-christian, Paul, in love, exhorts them to treat him like one by removing him.

This will be a difficult book to read for many. It blows the idea of the exclusive, non-confrontational love which has become the hallmark of our culture (as well as many Christian denominations) out of the water. What Leeman expounds here is not a harsh love, but an incredible powerful love which transforms, changes and leads to intimacy with God.

And it is this 'love' that should be reflected in our church membership and in our church discipline. Which is why it is important for us an believers to be a part of the Church. The Church itself in its structure and outworking should demonstrate the love of God. This can be seen clearly in the nine reasons why, for Leeman, we should submit to a local church:

1. Identifies us with Christ

2. Distinguishes us from the world

3. Guides us into the righteousness of Christ by presenting a standard of personal and corporate righteousness

4. Acts as a witness to non-christians

5. Glorifies God and enables us to enjoy his glory

6. Identifies us with Christ's people

7. Assists us in living the christian life through the accountability of brothers and sisters in the faith

8. Makes us responsible for specific believers

9. Protects us from the world, the flesh, and the devil

This book is not exhaustive in its study. But it is a great framework and it highlights how badly we need to have a theology, a doctrine of Church Membership and discipline which is rooted in the Doctrine of God.

I highly recommend this book.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A desperately needed book 11 April 2010
By Bill Muehlenberg - Published on
When is the last time you read a book on church discipline? Worse yet, when is the last time you saw church discipline in operation? The concept and the practice have both become almost extinct in Christendom today. Certainly in the evangelical churches the very idea of church discipline seems almost unheard of.

In my library I have three older books on the topic: two from the 80s and one from the 90s. That's it. Thus it is good news indeed that Leeman has addressed this issue, and in substantial fashion: this volume is nearly 400 pages in length.

Church discipline has become a lost art partly because the church has slavishly imitated the world and bought into its distorted concepts of acceptance, tolerance, and so on. Are Christians and Christian churches supposed to be loving? Absolutely. But the biblical concept of love is a far cry from modern trendy notions of love.

Leeman reminds us that Christian love is intimately connected with holiness and righteousness. The church is not some social club where people can come and go as they please, but is a holy assembly of God's people, and there are entrance conditions as well as ongoing membership requirements.

Indeed, the subtitle of this book is: "Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline". Both practices are nearly extinct in many churches today. But as Leeman rightly shows, there is a proper place for boundaries, for regulations, and even for institutions.

Of course to speak of such things today is to risk being theologically incorrect. We have had a huge pendulum swing against one extreme, only to go to another unhelpful and unbiblical extreme. Much of the emerging church movement is an over-reaction to a legalistic, rigid and overly-institutionalised church.

But it has gone too far in the other direction, forcing us into an either/or situation, when a both/and situation is what is required.

Today the church is being undermined, as we devalue or gainsay commitment, authority, regulations, boundaries and institutions. But these all have their rightful place. The truth is, law and love work together. Rules and relationships can co-exist. Freedom and authority do go together.

We have been forced to choose one set over against the other. That leads to unbiblical excess. And such rejection of authority, of truth, of dogma, of commitment, of rules, and of institutions is not so much a faithful adherence to Scripture as surrender to the spirit of the age.

There are in fact Biblical boundaries, and they should be respected, not jettisoned. There are opposites which must be maintained. There is truth and error. Right and wrong behaviour. Good and bad teaching. Those who are God's people and those who are not. Heaven and hell.

But the new way of doing church is to ignore or reject all these antitheses and pretend that we can get by with mushy, sentimental notions of love, acceptance and relationship. These things are indeed important, but only when done in God's way.

Biblical love wills the highest good of the beloved. That is far different than worldly concepts of love. Love and holiness are intimately connected. When someone you love is refusing God's best for them, real love will urge them to renounce such dangerous paths, and get back to God's good intention.

That is what church discipline is all about. It is about restoring the wayward brother to God's best. It is not about making excuses for sinful and destructive behaviour.

And that sort of discipline presupposes some sort of commitment. That is what Biblical church membership is all about. We commit to the Lord and one another, and seek to work for the edification of one another. But we live in an age where no one wants to commit to anything.

We simply want to float along in life with no rules, no boundaries, no commitments, and no responsibilities. Of course in such an atmosphere the vital task of church discipline cannot take place. That is why we now see a church riddled with sin, carnality and selfishness. No one is being held to account, and everyone is afraid to hold others to account.

But that is our duty as believers. And that is why this book is so important. We have drifted so far from God's design, and so thoroughly soaked up the world's values and beliefs, that we are not able to properly be and do church anymore.

As Leeman says, in the West today "every attachment is negotiable. We are all free agents, and every relationship and life station is a contract that can be renegotiated or cancelled.... I retain veto power over everything."

This worldly disease has of course invaded the church big time. That is why both church membership and church discipline have almost disappeared in Christian circles today. We so much want to be like the world, that the church is no longer seen as being distinct from it. Indeed, many emerging church folk celebrate this very thing. They decry all boundaries, doctrines, truth claims, absolutes and certainties of the faith.

They refuse to see that rules and relationships in fact go together. They refuse to admit that commandments and love are actually meant to go together. They reject the idea that authority and submission are vital components of church life.

Church history is the story of pendulum swings. If in the past the church has been too institutionalised, too rigid, too legalistic and too unloving, that is not the case anymore. Now the church has swung in the opposite direction. As always, we must seek to discover and apply the Biblical balance.

This book seeks to call us back to that place. It is a timely warning of avoiding both sets of excess. The Biblical position is often difficult to attain, but we must try nonetheless. This book helps us greatly in seeking to get us back to where we should be.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Invigorating, Gospel-Based Defense of Authentic Church Membership 3 Mar. 2010
By Dwight Gingrich - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Jonathan Leeman's book The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (IX Marks) is a passionate and convincing defense of church membership and discipline, rooted in an invigorating theological discussion of the love of God.

"Membership and discipline are not artificially erected structures," Leeman writes. "They are not legalistic impositions upon new-covenant grace. They are an organic and inevitable outgrowth of Christ's redemptive work and the gospel call to repentance and faith. Missing local church membership is like missing the fact that Christians are called to pursue good works, or love their neighbors, or care for the poor, or pray to God, or follow in the way of Christ. Submitting oneself to a local church is what a true believer does, just like a true believer pursues good works, loves his or her neighbor, and so forth. Someone who refuses to join--or better, to submit to--a local church is like someone who refuses to pursue a life of righteousness. It calls into question the authenticity of his or her faith (16)."

Surprisingly broad in scope (375 pages, with footnotes on about half the pages), Leeman's book impressed me with the depth of its scholarship, critiquing and synthesizing the ideas of thinkers as old and current as Jay Adams, Augustine, Karl Barth, George Barna, Jacques Barzun, Craig Blomberg, John Calvin, D. A. Carson, Rene Déscarte, Jonathan Edwards, Michel Foucault, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Paul Hiebert, Søren Kierkegaard, Dan Kimball, Martin Luther, Brian McLaren, Leon Morris, Mark Noll, Karl Popper, Ayn Rand, William P. Young (of The Shack), Alexis de Tocqueville, Paul David Tripp, Frank Viola, Charles Wesley, and N. T. Wright. Yet it also contains some very helpful practical advice for the local church that is trying to implement or refine its practice of membership. It is also thoroughly soaked in God's Word, with a three-column Scripture index that is over six pages long.

"What we need, I believe," Leeman writes, "is a truly systematic theology of church membership and discipline. We need to consider how the practices of local church membership and discipline fit into the larger matters of God's love, God's judgment, God's authority, and the gospel (17)." Leeman attempts present this systematic theology in a way that churches of many denominations, regardless of their unique church structures, can benefit.

Leeman's book is well-organized, even containing a 5-1/2 page outline of the entire book in an appendix! Here Leeman records, for each chapter of the book, its main question, his main answer to that question, and each of the steps of his argument within that chapter. These same questions, argument steps, and answers are set apart as headings within the text of the book, making it easier to review and use the book after you are done reading it.

Now to an overview of the book. Here is the table of contents:

Part 1 - Love Misdefined
1. The Idolatry of Love

Part 2 - Love Redefined
2. The Nature of Love
3. The Rule of Love
4. The Charter of Love
5. The Covenant of Love

Part 3 - Love Lived
6. The Affirmation and Witness of Love
7. The Submission and Freedom of Love

Leeman surveys his book like this:
"Chapter 1 begins as a sociological consideration of the cultural factors that inhibit meaningful church membership and discipline.... Ultimately, I will argue that these sociological considerations give way to spiritual ones.
"Chapters 2 to 5 present one sustained theological argument for church membership and discipline. Chapter 2 attempts to articulate a right understanding of love. Chapter 3 attempts to articulate a godly understanding of authority. I take the time to do both these things for two reasons. First, church membership is a function of God's love and authority exercised among covenanting believers. Second, I believe that most evangelicals have, at best, reductionistic understandings of love and authority. You might almost say that I'm trying to use these two chapters to introduce a new worldview before making the more specific arguments concerning church membership and discipline in chapters 4 and 5. If you're anxious to cut to the chase, however, go straight to chapter 4, where I formally define church membership and discipline, and I defent this definition based on Matthew 16, 18, and 28. Membership, I argue, is a kind of covenant. Chapter 5 then pans the camera in on this covenant and considers what exactly it is in light of the covenants of the Old Testament and the new covenant.
"Chapters 6 and 7 are then an attempt to get more practical and 'apply' the doctrine developed in the previous four chapters. Chapter 6 walks the reader through the membership and discipline process from the church's perspective. Chapter 7 does the same from the individual Christian's perspective (36)."

If you want a theological defense of church membership, a book that convinces you that membership and discipline are a vitally important part of Jesus' gospel, then this may be the best book you can read. Leeman's passion springs from his own life journey: "I may have been converted by God through the very decision to submit to [a] pastor's authority" (162). As an assistant pastor in an urban Mennonite church, I cannot resist quoting this book to my own fellow elders and fellow church members. How I long for more of the "clear line between church and world" that Leeman describes--for a church where relationship is not pitted against structure, where we realize that "God is not interested merely in relationships, but in particular kinds of relationships" (138). "I am not suggesting that people cannot come to faith gradually, or even hand their allegiance over to Christ gradually.... Still, we must not lose sight of the fact that the church publicly represents an alternative reality to the world. We have to cross the border" (165).

If you want a "how to" manual, there will be other books that deal in a more detailed fashion with the disciplinary steps outlined in Matthew, as well as the passages from the Epistles about church discipline (Jay Adams does this well in Handbook of Church Discipline: A Right and Privilege of Every Church Member (Jay Adams Library). However, the final chapters of Leeman's book do contain many helpful insights about matters such as membership classes, doctrinal statements, observing the Lord's Supper, responding to abusive authorities, and disciplining sinful or absent members.

Here are some more favorite quotes from Leeman's book:
- "The universal church is to the local church as faith is to deeds" (213).
- "The nature of our salvation and the relationship between faith and deeds require Christians to submit to the local church. Submitting to a local church, or what we typically speak of as "joining a local church," is faith putting on deeds.... A Christian must choose to join a church, just as a Christian must choose to submit to Christ, but having chosen Christ, a Christian has no choice but to choose a church to join" (215).
- "On the one hand, the local church practices baptism, as commanded by Christ in the charter of Matthew 16, 18, and 28. On the other hand, the local church practices the Lord's Supper, as commanded when Jesus promised a new covenant in Matthew 26. If we bring these two things together, we have the two marks of church membership. Church members are simply those marked off by baptism and the Lord's Supper in a local congregation. That's the church" (247-48).
- "If submitting to Christ through conversion should immediately translate into submitting to a local church through baptism, then the Lord's Supper is a meal reserved for baptized members of churches. For a Christian to partake of the Lord's Supper without having first submitted to the authority of some local church through baptism is to claim an authority that Jesus never gave to the lone Christian.... It's to say, 'Jesus may have authorized the apostolic church [defined by Leeman as every local church that 'is built on the foundation of the apostles' and 'guards and proclaims the apostles' teaching,' 181] to bind and loose, which in turn declares some individuals as possessing the right to represent Jesus on earth and not others, but never mind all that. I know who I am! Forget the church.' In short, partaking of the Lord's Supper without being a baptized member of a local church is an act of presumption and disdain for the authority of Christ himself" (304).
- "Corrective church discipline is a small act of judgment on earth that dimly points to God's final judgment in heaven. It's performed with the hope that it will help bring a sinner to repentance before that final judgment comes. When we get down to it, therefore, I think discipline is hard to do, because we treat God's final judgment so lightly" (322).

Finally, a few things I wish this book did better:
- Discuss what the NT Epistles say about the application of church discipline. (Leeman focuses mostly on Matthew's ecclesiological foundations.)
- Consider more carefully the biblical parameters for church standards. Leeman does say, "A church should never bind a believer's conscience where Scripture does not bind it" (299), "The church does not have the authority to keep one whom Christ has united to himself from itself" (218), and "[Pastors and teachers] cannot command or formally require a member or even the church to do something.... Church members are commanded to obey them, but that obedience is to extend no further than where the Bible prescribes" (212). However, does the Bible itself actually prescribe that churches cannot prescribe some "essentials" (Acts 15:28, NASB) for membership?
- Explain in more detail how parachurch ministries can function without undermining authentic church membership and discipline. Leeman gives about 1 page to this topic.

If you've read this far, you know I am enthusiastic about this book. If church membership and discipline is an interest of yours, or if they are weak in your church, you will do well to read this book, comparing it with Scripture and asking God what he wants to teach you.

God bless!
Dwight Gingrich
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pastors and elders MUST read this! 18 Aug. 2010
By John Gardner - Published on
One of the fastest ways to get Christians squirming these days is to bring up the subject of church discipline. The Bible is clear that Christians are to exercise authority and discipline over one another, but everything in our culture tells us that we have no right to do so. How can I -- a sinner myself -- presume to tell another sinner what to do about his sin? Isn't this unloving? How do we address such a difficult topic?

Jonathan Leeman certainly chose a weighty subject for his first book, but he handles the subject extraordinarily well. Rather than begin with a list of practical applications (where most discipline discussions begin and often abruptly end), Leeman takes aim at the very foundation of the church, and the purpose of church membership and discipline. These two things, he says, "define God's love for the world."

More than anything else, then, this is a book about God's love. After all, if the church is to model God's love to the world (a point on which Christians of all theological persuasions are agreed), we must first have a biblical definition of God's love upon which to build our doctrines of the church.

Leeman begins by looking at some "cultural baggage" which has caused many people to have wrong and unbiblical perceptions of God's love. These contemporary issues includes individualism, consumerism, commitment phobia, and skepticism. Each of these have contributed to a general confusion about what love itself is, which in turn has affected our ideas about what churches should be. For instance, the belief that love must include no judgment results, among other things, in churches which are designed to make people feel relaxed and comfortable, not judged.

In the next section of the book -- at 195 pages, nearly a book in itself -- the author systematically defines God's love, and the implications in the life of the church. First, he describes why God's love offends our modern sensibilities, and the connection between our understanding of his love and church membership. He then goes on to discuss the nature of authority, and the delegated roles of authority and submission within the church. These are almost alien concepts in most churches, but Scripture is clear that God has given authority to some, and the responsibility to submit to that authority (even as those in authority submit to Christ) to others.

The final section fleshes out the true purpose of membership and discipline in the church: to define love for the world by marking off God's people from the world and holding them up on display. Here Leeman finally gets to the nitty-gritty. How should a church responsibly affirm, oversee, and remove members? What does it mean to submit to a local church?

The practical answers given in this section will truly offend many, but they are tried and proven over centuries in the life of countless local churches. It is particularly difficult to reconcile God's revealed plan of the authority of the local church when we see how often this authority has been abused, often with grave consequences for believers and nonbelievers alike. However, the abuse of authority -- while never excused -- does not negate the fact that this authority does exist, and has been plainly prescribed for us in God's Word.

It should be noted that Leeman's ecclesiology is unapologetically Baptist, but what he says will appeal to conservative Protestants of other denominations as well. The Baptist distinctives do not come into play too often in this book, and even when they do, one could easily take what Leeman says about baptism and the Lord's Supper and apply it to, say, a Presbyterian understanding of the sacraments with little trouble.

As with any "IX Marks" publication, the merits of this book are many. It is worth the purchase price just for the outline in the appendices! The middle section by itself would be one of the best books ever written on the nature of God's love. It takes a difficult and often dry area of theology and presents it in a clear and engaging way. Its size will be a deterrent for many, but please, please, PLEASE don't let it scare you! This is a book worth spending some serious time with. I highly encourage any Christian to dig into it, but consider it an absolute must-read for any pastor or elder.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Systematic theology of membership 8 Feb. 2011
By Matthew Hauck - Published on
The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love by Jonathan Leeman contains a surprising thesis supported by solid argument, pictured with continuous illustration and tethered down from its theological heights by good practical considerations.

The subtitle of the book is "Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline." This may not sound like a very exciting topic, but if you're interested in the topic (and even if you're not!) I think you'll find it a very exciting book! As he describes it, it is a systematic theology of church membership. I have agreed with these concepts (and taught them!) for some time, but this book put a foundation under my feet. It changed the issue for me from something "good" to something "mandatory", from it being not unbiblical, to being biblical. Seriously, a landmark book for me.

The basic thesis of the book is that while church membership and church discipline today are argued against as unloving and counter-productive to producing true community in the church, these are the very things given to us to define God's love for the world to see. God's love is a boundary-drawing love.

The first 168 pages are really all about love. He begins with a very insightful analysis of our contemporary ideas of love and gets the root and the fruit of our individualism and explains why we despise things like boundary markers and like things like inclusiveness. Yet the solution to our individualism is not community, because deeper than individualism is that our love is idolotrous and we despise authority.

He then defines the nature of love as that he pictures as a boomerang sent out from God and drawing us back to him. True love is God-centered and not man-centered. Something truly loving is something that reveals more of God to us and lets us know him more, not simply something that makes us feel better. He then talks about authority and relates godly authority to love as the exercise of love, which acts rightfully to "create life", to draw people to God, to extend God's loving purposes to the world.

This is the foundation he builds the rest of the book upon. Chapter 4, "The Charter of Love" is really the heart of the book. Here he builds the biblical case for church membership and discipline as a charter given by the Lord Jesus to the church "to mark off who credibly speaks for him, to hold them together, to teach them, and to oversee their lives together." (183) This is exactly the content of what happens in church membership and discipline. He then says, "I believe that Christians must therefore be united to a church."

The biblical case is made of up of Matthew 16, Matthew 18 and Matthew 28. The core of it is Matthew 16:18-19, where Jesus gives to Peter "the keys of the kingdom of heaven". He gives a thorough and, to me, convincing argument that these keys are connected to permitting in or putting out of the one place on earth submitted to the King's rule: the church. These keys are passed on to the church in Matt 18. He makes another interesting connection to Matt 28 which connects this authority given by Jesus to baptizing, discipling and teaching obedience.

"The power of the keys" is the "charter" that the Lord has given to the church. It is the first place I've heard this argument, but it all flows rather nicely. He concludes this with other considerations of why membership is important and beneficial.

This radically altered my conception of membership. It is no longer something "beneficial" that can be shown by a few implications (e.g. how else can we love each other, how else can we do discipline, how else can we submit to elders, etc.), but is rather mandated by the Lord Jesus and is the way the Lord intends to build the church, through us exercising the power of the keys. His authority is in the church, and nowhere else, and therefore we must be members of local churches.

Beyond this, there was a chapter on how the relationship between the believer and the church is that of a covenant, and how this covenant relates to the New Covenant. This honestly wasn't as good as the previous chapter, which is pretty hard to follow. The book then closes with two practical chapters thinking through how to implement membership and discipline from the church's side and then individual's side.

That's the basic argument and what I learned from the book. I superbly enjoyed it. Beyond the content, it is well written and well illustrated and easy to follow. It's quite a long book though (350+ pages), and you might need some encouragement to pick it up. I hope I have whet your appetite and convinced you its worth your time to read!

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