Friday, October 3, 2014

My review of James Bannerman's "The Church of Christ."

Bannerman’s work is truly a masterpiece. He provides not only a solid Biblical presentation of the doctrine of the Church, he also gives a capable defense of Presbyterian polity. One gets more than one bargains for in this volume. Bannerman covers a wide array of subjects. His treatment of Church Officers is perhaps the best I have encountered. 

Bannerman destroys the theory that Scripture says nothing directly related to Church polity. He simply argues that if the Church truly is Christ's, since it is an institution of Divine origin, then it is inconceivable that God took no thought to its organization and decided to leave that up to us. While one may read this work and come away still holding to Prelacy or Independency (Bannerman's two primary targets), and not sold 100% on Presbyterianism, one cannot read it and come away thinking Scripture does not address Church government.

By way of criticism, I can only remark that the book seems unnecessarily long. (It is 2 volumes, actually.) This seems to be a result of two factors. On the one hand, Bannerman treats several subjects, at length no less, which are only perhaps tangentially related to his main subject. There are lengthy treatments of the Sacraments (in general, and considered separately) which, interesting and profitable as they are, really have no place in a work on church polity. Because Bannerman devotes so much space to these subjects, others which could stand more explication, get brief treatment, with the standard caveat that to treat these issues sufficiently would carry one too far afield and would unnecessarily expand his book. The second reason for the length of the volume(s) is Bannerman’s loquacity. He repeatedly crafts complex, yet beautiful sentences comprised of multiple dependent and independent clauses, strung together with numerous colons and semi-colons. This is fine. He is, after all, a very deft wordsmith. But on countless occasions, after having crafted an elaborate sentence in order to establish a point, he follows it up with something like: “Having demonstrated the foregoing point, namely _____,” whereupon he inserts the entire previous sentence and an introductory clause.

Perhaps this is a bit nit-picky when reading classic. I don’t mind loquacity. In fact, I rather enjoy it. But coupled with the unnecessary treatment of certain subjects, Bannerman’s habit of repeating himself tends to inflate the size of his work.

Overall, this truly is a classic and it is hard to feel critical of anything in it. It's just that because of multiple digressions, his real purpose (that of defending Presbyterian polity) doesn't really get the full treatment it deserves until well into Volume 2.


  1. Listen hear, John Owen, Jr. I have a hard enough time keeping up with your preceptor, you are too prolific for me, go play golf or something! Lol. Great article!

  2. Most people miss it but the 39 Articles actually implies the Presbyterian polity since it affirms congregationalism in Article 19 and ministerial oversight in the articles on the church. So if we take all three forms of polity and conflate them, what you end up with is the biblical view of presbyterian polity. Of course, my beef is that no polity guarantees church or denominational purity. Unity and diversity is a continual problem not only in biblical theology and dogmatics but in formulating a solidly confessional denominational polity as well. Some churches or congregations will be more pure than others. And the secular nature of denominational organizations makes them subject more to political maneuverings than to biblical faithfulness. Sophistry has been the downfall of many a denomination and many a seminary. Charlie

  3. The fault you are referring to, Charlie, lie not in the polity but in our fallen nature. Even the best confession or creed only works so long as it is rigorously adhered to and enforced.


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