Bring the Books: The Church & the Churches

This is an excellent resource on Church truth and should be carefully read by anyone looking for a helpful accompaniment to their own Biblical study of the subject. Throughout the relatively small book, the writer shares an obvious deep exercise for God’s people to be Scriptural in their practice. Therefore, his material is well grounded in Scripture and clearly articulated and substantiated. As the title suggests, Mr. Vine displays an understanding of the distinctions between the Church which is the body of Christ (Matt 16:18) and local churches (Matt 18:17-20), though the two are vitally linked.

The first third of the book deals with the Church, the body of Christ, of which every believer of this dispensation is a part. Part two on local churches takes up the latter two thirds of the book. In part one, Mr. Vine explains that while members of the Church are in the Kingdom, “the Kingdom is not co-terminus with the Church,” the Kingdom being preached both before and after the Church period. The Church, “heavenly in its constitution and organization,” is then considered under five pictures, based mainly on Ephesians: a Body, a City, a Household, a Temple, and a Family. Two subsequent chapters take us briefly through Ephesians 4. Unity of the Spirit is contrasted with man-made unions that “satisfy the aspirations of men but are contrary to the mind of the Lord.” When explaining how the body is to be built up, the writer reminds us that “unity is not uniformity. There is diversity of gifts, a variety of operation.” This section also includes a helpful footnote on leading captivity captive (Eph 4:8). Part one concludes with the Church as the object of Christ’s love, from the end of Ephesians 5.

Part two addresses truth for local churches, companies “of believers acting together in local capacity and responsibility.” As belonging to Christ, these local testimonies are to be sanctuaries marked by holiness.

Following an introductory chapter are 11 chapters on local church truth, beginning with the Lordship of Christ which is foundational to local churches. “The measure in which His authority over a local church is recognized by [the church] is the measure of its spiritual vitality and power.” He then deals with spiritual gifts (1Cor 12). It is in this chapter that he also deals with the Biblical truth of overseers in each church.

When writing on ministry and deacons, Mr. Vine leans away from a technical or official connotation in the word “deacon,” emphasizing it conveys service in the local church. He addresses teaching in the local church, the responsibility of this ministry being upon those fitted for it by God. He helpfully points out that the Scriptural principles underlying “prophesying” also apply to “teaching,” with 2 Peter 2:1 serving as one piece of evidence. “A prophet spoke by immediate revelation of the mind of God; a teacher delivers his message from, and in accordance with, the Scriptures.” There is then a full chapter on baptism, correcting false ideas on the subject, and providing the reader an interesting, full page explanation on baptism for the dead (1Cor 15:29).

Next is a profitable chapter on the table of the Lord and the Lord’s Supper. He writes that the table of the Lord, as it is set in contrast to the table of demons, is broader than the Lord’s Supper and embraces spiritual provision in Christ. He explains why the Lord’s Supper is incumbent upon all churches through this age and that the Lord has graciously instituted the Supper in order that He Himself might “communicate to us a fresh impulse of His grace and love.”

His next subject is reception to the local church, a thought-provoking and balanced chapter. He emphasizes that churches belong to the Lord and not to us, but that those who care for the flock are justified in seeking credentials in faith and conduct in those wanting to be received. Mr. Vine wisely distinguishes between false teachers and believers who are ignorant or seeking to understand more of the will of the Lord. He adds that while we should not be careless, we should not erect humanly devised (i.e. non-Scriptural) barriers to reception. “Principles of Scripture ever hold good; their application is always safe.” He cautions the reader on becoming sectarian and closes the chapter with the Scriptural concept of letters of commendation.

The chapter on church discipline is plain and challenging. Restoration is always the object of discipline and the need for discipline should cause humiliation in the assembly. It is necessary because our spiritual standing (a holy temple of God) “must find its counterpart in conduct.” When excommunication is required, it is not merely debarring from the Lord’s Supper, but from the fellowship of the church, and necessarily involves the individual being outside every other assembly as well to preserve the unity of the Spirit. “No circles of fellowship are required for the maintenance of this, nor are they Scriptural.” He closes with a paragraph on forms of discipline that are less severe than excommunication.

The book’s final four chapters address giving, the relationship between the Scriptures and the Church, a helpful summary of nine characteristics of a Scriptural local church, and the position and service of sisters in the local church.

When dealing with the specifics of local church practice in Scripture, it is unlikely you will find unanimous agreement. Some readers will disagree with some details. However, a strength of the book is the author’s carefulness in basing his beliefs on Scripture. There is an evident distaste for traditions of men that hinder full obedience to God’s Word. As the review indicates, the book is somewhat technical, but only in the sense that it is dealing with Bible doctrine; it is by no means overly technical. It is highly recommended and should be considered a fundamental component in the study of this valuable subject of church truth.