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Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology Paperback – October 28, 2005
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Dr. Hammett is master of his subject and presents the material attractively. The book will be especially enjoyed by Baptists. Readers who are not Baptists will find it extremely enlightening. (Christian Observer 2006-08-01) --1
From the Back Cover
Utilizing the Scriptures, theology, and Baptist history, this comprehensive work addresses all aspects of the church—both theological and practical.
Developments like seeker churches, mega-churches, and emerging churches have brought ecclesiology to the forefront of evangelical debate. But too often important questions are answered solely on the basis of pragmatism or cultural relevance. What does it really mean to be the church?
In this practical book, former pastor and missionary John Hammett helps church leaders think through the foundational questions about the nature of the church. Blending biblical teaching and practical ministry experience, Hammett presents a comprehensive ecclesiology from a historic Baptist perspective, examining crucial contemporary issues such as meaningful church membership, church discipline, elders in Baptist churches, different worship styles, and various models like seeker churches, mega-churches, and emerging churches.
“A well-researched and clearly written vision for a fresh look at Baptist ecclesiology that is faithful to scripture and informed by the best thinking of yesteryear.”
—David S. Dockery
President, Union University
“One of the most comprehensive and thoughtful considerations of where we are today in understanding the local church. Avoiding both passing fads and frumpy conservatism, here we have a fresh and faithful ecclesiology.”
Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church
“Here is a thoughtful, thorough, and lively discussion of the theology of the doctrine of the church from one of our finest theologians. Even churchmen in denominations distinct from his own will find it rivettingly interesting and helpful.”
President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
John S. Hammett (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to becoming a professor, Hammett served as a pastor and missionary.
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Hammett, a professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has served as both a pastor and a missionary. His experience as a professor has led him to see the lack of ecclesiastical theologies in our day. This coupled with his experience as a pastor gives him both the credentials to write a theology of the church and the vision to see the practical need for a work like this.
Hammett presents a Baptist theology of the church in a very easy-to-understand way.. He does the difficult in producing a work that is deep in content, yet does not require a seminary degree to understand. He accomplishes this by organizing this book in an effectively progressive manner. The first of five sections in this book looks at what the church is. In these first three chapters, the nature, marks, and essence of the church are examined in detail. The first chapter outlines the use of εκκλησια in the Bible, as necessary biblical foundations are set. Biblical images of the church (“people of God, body of Christ, and temple of the Spirit”) are probed and interpreted through a highly Trinitarian lens (31-48). Hammett turns in chapter two to look at the marks of a church. Hammett writes that what separates a true church from a false church are the Reformed distinctives of the pure and true teaching of the Scriptures along with sound biblical practice of the sacraments (62-66). Hammett also sees the Nicene Creed as a traditional mark of a true church (51-59). This section concludes with five theological conclusions that show the church as being an assembly of God’s people with a purpose (67-69), a “primarily local assembly” (70), “a living and growing assembly” (71), centered on the gospel (73-74), and an assembly that is empowered by the Holy Spirit (74). Hammett faithfully presents a biblical, historical, and theological understanding of what the church is.
The second part of Hammett’s book discusses who is in the church. Hammett explains the Baptist distinctive to ecclesiology of believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership. Chapter five then moves to a polemic call for churches to return to biblical marks of the church. Here he shows where many Baptist churches went astray by abandoning the mark that the church is made up of believers as he offers advice for how regenerate church membership can be recovered and how baptism and church discipline can be reformed.
Hammett then moves in part three to present the Baptist distinctives of church government and leadership. Hammett makes the case for congregational church government and shows that many contemporary churches need restructuring. Hammett argues that the biblical teaching on congregational church government and the biblical teaching on elders are to be viewed and interpreted separately. Indeed, Hammett shows that elders are to have a place of leadership in the church, but this does necessarily mean that elders should rule the church (159). Hammett also defines and outlines the biblical role of deacons as the servants of the church.
In part four, Hammett discusses the ministries of the church as well as going into further detail on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Hammett shows the importance the local church’s ministries of teaching, fellowship, worship, service, and evangelism. While many Baptists are guilty of belittling the sacraments, Hammett shows that such churches are wrong to do so and he writes on the meaning, qualifications, practice, and importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Many issues pertinent to Baptist church life are discussed in this highly practical section.
Finally, Hammett discusses “where the church is going” in part five. He shows that the landscape of American churches is changing and going in all directions (299). Though this is true, Hammett expresses a vital and noble desire of his for churches to always focus on faithful biblical teaching. He then closes with a look at the church in other contexts by surveying the progress of the church around the world.
Even just a quick read of this book reveals Hammett’s faithful biblical exegesis to argue for Baptist ecclesiology. His valid and heavy biblical exegesis is central to his work as a whole, which makes it not only worthy of consideration for all Christians, but also is a testament to Hammett’s scholarly integrity. His arguments are all biblically based. Hammett views this as necessary and inherent to the Baptist faith: “Since Baptists are people of the Book, a Baptist approach to the nature of the church begins with Scripture” (26). This is seen in the very first chapter. In his explanation of the Greek word εκκλησια, Hammett argues for the definition of the term from both the Septuagint and the New Testament (26-28). Hammett is faithful in going as far as the Bible allows him to go without going any further. This approach is repeated throughout the book. As a Baptist, he faithfully presents Baptist ecclesiology and does not waver on any of its essential tenets. His arguments are not based, however, on denominational preference, but rather biblical truth. In none of his arguments is he unfair to opposing views, and his consistent exegesis makes his arguments attractive. In a book that focuses solely on one ecclesiastical position, biblical exegesis is necessary in order for the book to not be written off by many.
Another strength of this book is its high readability. This book is a comprehensive biblical and Baptist theology of the church that is written in a way that is accessible to lay people. This is an incredible feat considering the length and rigor of the book. This strength indicates that this is a book that should be considered by all Christians from the doctoral student to the average layperson.
Hammett is also fair to engage positions he disagrees with. Some authors are guilty of adequately representing their own position while neglecting the positions of others. Hammett is not in this camp. He is generous, for example to the opposing view with regard to deaconesses. He lists the arguments in support of deaconesses amidst his denial of it (199). Though he is fair in his argumentation, Hammett never wavers from his biblically based convictions.
Finally, a strength to any book is for the author to accomplish the goal he or she sets to accomplish. Hammett writes in his introduction that he has written this book in order (1) “to show that the church is God’s creation,” (2) to show that “the doctrine of the church is especially important to contemporary North Americans” who are focused on being relevant and growing numerically, (3) to show that “even in our postdenominational age, there is a need for a book on the doctrine of the church from a Baptist perspective” that can be helpful to Baptists as well as non-Baptists (11). He accomplishes each of these introductory goals through faithful biblical exegesis of numerous texts, by relying most heavily on Scripture for support for his argumentation, and by refuting many unbiblical movements prevalent in the church today with biblical truth, historical perspective, and theological consistency. While Hammett relies on church history, he also calls on contemporary churches to learn from the mistakes of the past.
If there are any weaknesses, it could be that this book seems to be a hybrid between a classic systematic theology with sole focus on ecclesiology and a specific polemic. Most of the book discusses every aspect of Baptist ecclesiology, which makes the book read like a systematic theology. However, there are those chapters that are more focused on contemporary problems in the church. Chapter five for example discusses contemporary errors in many Baptist churches. Hammett takes his description and argument for regenerate church membership to a call for Baptists to return to this biblical truth and mark of the church.
His use of statistics, though helpful to get a picture of current Baptist churches, is like a speed bump in this comprehensive and solid ecclesiology. Chapters five, nine, eleven, and twelve may have fit better together on their own. Their inclusion in this book does show practical relevancy of the importance of studying and teaching ecclesiology in the local church. These chapters also accomplish Hammett’s second goal of showing contemporary North Americans the importance of the doctrine of the church. However, though the seeker-sensitive movements of Rick Warren and Bill Hybels as well as the lackadaisical effort of Baptist churches in the realm of church membership no doubt need to be addressed, these issues could have been addressed more thoroughly and more appropriately in a book of their own, rather than coupled with a focused biblical, exegetical, and systematic theology of the church from a Baptist perspective.
In summary, John Hammett has truly gifted the church with a work that brings great understanding and clarity to an often debated, yet often misunderstood doctrine. As the world keeps pushing itself into the church at ever-increasing rates, Hammett’s book is much-needed ammo that better prepares Christians to combat cultural influences with biblical truth. This book calls the church to return to faithfulness to the Word of God. Whether one agrees with Hammett’s Baptist perspective or not is not most pressing. However, what all Christians and all churches can gain from Hammett is not only his commitment to biblical exegesis, but his faithful commitment to centering all of church life and ministry on the glory of God in his Word. In the end, Hammett forces us to ask ourselves not “What can we do to attract more people in our churches?” but rather “What can we do to glorify God in our churches?” In an American church culture where every church is tempted to adapt the next big, cool, or relevant thing, while ignoring the Word, this book is a refreshing call back to the basics as it provides the necessary foundations for churches to see exactly who they are and what God has called them to.
In the first part of his book, Hammett begins with the biblical foundation for doing church. Tasking the aspects of the nature, marks and essence of the church, he outlines a true definition of the church. Hammett sees the church as the ekklesia of the Bible, the called out ones, both on a local and universal level. Using Trinitarian imagery of the people of God, the body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit, Hammett highlights the church's nature. The church is marked by unity, holiness, universality and apostolicity. In its very essence, the true church is organized, local, growing, gospel-based and Spirit-empowered. These objective statements help to lay the groundwork for his argument that church should have an ontologically biblical foundation.
In part two Hammett turns to more cultural expressions to describe Baptist praxis. He argues that a clear Baptist mark is regenerate membership, not a mixture of saved and unsaved. He draws upon Baptist church history to make a case for believers' baptism, congregational polity, closed communion and church discipline. Although fundamentally sound, his written argument is weakened in part by his heavy reliance upon historical precedence rather than textual support from Scripture. This overreliance on historical praxis is usually more of a hallmark of Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism than of western evangelicalism. Hammett claims that Baptist churches have gone astray by losing their historical adherence to church covenants as binding agreements for enforcing church discipline, something that the early church of Scripture did not explicitly address. This seems to be a culturally-biased assessment for the American church, as many Baptist conventions worldwide have tended to err in the opposite direction, often by annually excommunicating more members than they baptize.
In part three Hammett makes a case for congregational church polity. He briefly surveys Presbyterianism and the Episcopal tradition, and he blanketly declares them to be unbiblical. On the basis of excluding all other options, congregationalism is declared the ecclesiological victor. However, his argument again is weakened slightly by a noticeable absence of any theological objections to congregationalism. Perhaps this is simply outside the scope of his book. He does address cultural and practical challenges, but there is no theological dialogue.
Hammett successful employs the images of church as being a non-hierarchal structure based on mutuality and democracy. As Scriptural evidence he cites the fact that the epistles were addressed to entire churches, not just to their leaders. Hammett's argument for congregationalism is largely built upon his supposition that "the New Testament uses the terms elder, overseer (bishop), and pastor interchangeably" (p. 154). In chapters 7 and 8, Hammett explores these definitions of eldership in more depth. He also deals with the qualifications of deacons and problems associated with ordination. He cites Baptist historical use of these terms for further evidence. It can be counter-argued that this supposition is not universally accepted all Baptists; therefore, Hammett's argument for congregationalism is based on a traditional cultural translation of biblical terminology. Nonetheless, Hammett asserts that Baptists should "resist elder rule" (p. 157).
In part four Hammett fleshes out the functions of church. Highlighting the ministries of teaching, fellowship, worship, service and evangelism, Hammett surveys Southern Baptist pastors Rick Warren and Mark Dever for their practical applications of these ministries in their respective churches. Hammett seems to exhibit a clear preference for Dever's approach. In chapter 10 he expands his observations to deal with practical questions regarding the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Interestingly, chapters 11 and 12 in his final section deal with the missiological dialogue between Baptists and postmodernists or Baptists and the rest of the world outside of America. Inadvertently, Hammett has raised the question of Baptists' relevance both domestically and internationally. He rightly highlights the current problems Baptist missionaries face with their Pentecostal counterparts, the emerging church phenomenon and the rapid growth of Islam. However, Hammett seems to advocate a very conservative stance in church planting as a solution to dialogical conflict.
Hammett's assessments regarding ecclesiological doctrine and the necessity of a proper theological framework for church planting is warranted. However, I am concerned that this book could be classified as more of a catechism for historical Baptist polity in America than a dialogue with the rest of the world. Hammett's insistence on Baptist church history tends to make this book a defense from the past rather than a conversation with the present. If that is what he intended, to show Baptist ecclesiology's historical roots, then his book is very successful. But his last two chapters indicate at least a desire on his part to create a dialogue with non-traditionalists, so in this regard his book could benefit from yet another chapter or two devoted to dialogical exchange and counter-arguments. Overall, however, the book is a must-have for lovers of Baptist history and for students of protestant theology.
More indepth reviews are available at buckburch(dot)blogspot(dot)com