Book Review – How Jesus Runs the Church

Book Recommendation

How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Prentiss Waters  (P&R, 2011)

Looking back on publications from the 19th century it is striking how many works were written which dealt with the nature of the Church and of issues surrounding what has been traditionally known as church government. This area is generally one that is far less accented in modern Christian writing; and the perception which attends this area of doctrine is frequently that it is dry, dusty and rather irrelevant—the fossilising of the Kingdom, best left to a bygone age. However, when one delves into the kinds of topics addressed under the subject of church government, one finds that not only do the works treat in depth the teaching of Scripture, something that is thereby of interest to every Christian, but also raise questions which, though they tended to be brought to the fore by the Reformation, are strangely prescient of issues we continue to face today. What kinds of leadership should exist in the Church? How should these leaders interact with their own congregation and with each other? Should we affirm the authority (or not) of church leaders? And, if so, what kind of authority is it and are there any limits on it? The modern awareness of the corrupting and abusable influence of power, the several recent reports of abuse amongst well regarded leaders and ministries, and the right rise of interest in safeguarding practices ought, among other things, to make us seriously interested in what Scripture has to say about the nature of authority in the Church.

Waters’ book, in brief, speaks all of these questions, as it covers the teaching of Scripture on Church government, doing so in a way that both draws on some of the best literature of the past centuries, and orients the discussion to the present and the modern blind spots we tend to share as Christians. In particular, in covering this material, Waters stresses the wider theological issues within which concepts of human ecclesial leadership make sense, and which are frequently the most neglected among contemporary Christians. First, is the way that Waters spells out in his opening chapter the significance of the Church as the work of God and its central relation to the Christian life. The second, is that the Church, as first the work of God, is one in which the Lord Jesus alone possesses innate authority and thus questions of how the Church is lead are first and foremost to be questions around Scripture and the Lord Jesus himself: how is it that Jesus exercises his saving and ruling power in his Church?

On these two strengths alone, the book is worth reading, but in general it provides a readable and relatively brief overview of the Bible’s teaching on how Jesus rules his Church in a way that would be of real interest both to all believers as church people but also to leaders of churches seeking to follow Christ’s lead as under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd.