Book Review: Devoted to God’s Church, by Sinclair Ferguson
Sinclair Ferguson. Devoted to God’s Church: Core Values for Christian Fellowship. Banner of Truth, 2020. 187 pages.\
My general posture toward anything Sinclair Ferguson writes is simple: “read it.” This impulse comes from the personal profit I have gained from Ferguson’s ministry. It also comes from how easily his pastoral wisdom transfers into my own ministry context. Ferguson is among a select group of pastor-theologians whose books repeatedly serve to equip and edify the church. While capable of mixing it up with the best scholars, Ferguson has never forgotten the role of the ordinary pastor and maintains a heart for people in the pew.
A WELCOME TREATMENT ON CHURCH-CENTERED SANCTIFICATION
A follow-up to his previous book, Devoted to God (an expositional treatise on sanctification), Devoted to God’s Church explores another often-neglected but biblically-central source of Christian sanctification: the church.
Regrettably, Christians often isolate growth in grace from engagement with the local church. I’m sure even in my own preaching and teaching I’ve at times given off a “me and Jesus” vibe to the Christian life. Partly due to inadequate exegesis and partly due to being an American, individualistic Christian, I find it frighteningly easy to divorce my growth as a Christian from vital connection with the body of Christ. But as Ferguson notes, “being a Christian involves both believing and belonging. . . . Belonging to a church family is not an optional extra.”
To belong to Jesus is to belong to Jesus’ people. We would be hard-pressed to find a command in the New Testament that didn’t require church involvement to keep it. Church membership is critical to the Great Commission. As we go, make disciples and baptize them, the context in which we are taught to obey all that Jesus commanded is the local congregation. The rest of the New Testament confirms that very point. Acts focuses on how the apostles planted churches as they carried out the great commission and the epistles, of course, are addressed to local congregations. If we claim to love Jesus, we must love those whom he loves, not just in some nebulous way but in the concrete context of daily relationship in a local church.
A REFRESHING BOOK FOR DISCOURAGED PASTORS
Many books for pastors focus on church decline or growth, leadership and change. But Ferguson offers a universally practical book on what old writers used to call “churchmanship.” He develops from Scripture the values that ought to shape every Christian in his or her relationship to the local church. “Devoted to God’s Church,” Ferguson writes, “has the goal of serving all shapes and sizes of church not to hold up one kind of church as the model.” He desires to “recalibrate [our] commitment to Christ and love for the specific church to which you belong.” And, all God’s pastors said . . .
Ferguson’s portrait of church life is refreshing; one that feels, by God’s enabling grace, achievable. My experience with many books on the church is that they come—no doubt well-intentioned—right out of the Pharisee’s playbook: “tying up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on people’s shoulders” (Matt. 23:4). Tips and tricks, gadgets and gizmos, surveys and statistics fill far too many books on the church, often leaving pastors reading—much like the Corinthian observance of the Lord’s Supper—“not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17). While these books have their place, what many, even most, pastors and churches need is less of that and more of what Ferguson offers in Devoted to God’s Church. He focuses on the most important questions:
- What is a Church?
- What is a Christian?
- What is a Member?
These questions may seem elementary. But we can’t take them for granted. Additional chapters on worship, the Bible, baptism, prayer, service, communion and mission round out the “core values of Christian fellowship.”
A PRACTICAL TOOL FOR DISCIPLING YOUR CHURCH
Devoted to God’s Church is a wonderful disicpling tool. It is both theological and practical. It would make an excellent book to give to new guests in your church who want to know more about what it means to belong to the body of Christ. You could also use it as an accessible book for a new member’s classes. Pastors could utilize it for training future leaders. Small groups could incorporate it in group discussion. The uses are as broad as the church.
As Ferguson says in his conclusion, “It is the greatest privilege in the world to believe in Christ and to belong to his people.” I trust this book will help you and your congregation, with gratitude, to lean into that privilege.