Monday, December 21, 2009

Hammett. Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches - A short book review

Hammett, John. Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005.

Hammett, motivated by his “concern for the welfare of the church,” writes a book which he believes accurately reflects Biblical teachings, is deeply rooted in Baptist history, is practical and applicable, and is urgently needed to help Baptist churches “be the radiant bride of Christ” (21). Not all these lofty goals are achieved on all subjects, but Hammett does provide a valiant attempt at it. His stated methodology, which he is consistent in using, is to begin with Scripture and then to enrich the understanding of Scripture with history. Once this process is completed, systematic theology can be formulated, and finally it can be used in practical ministry (16). He divides his work into five sections each centered on an individual question.

In What is the Church?, Hammett first takes a Biblical approach by analyzing the lexical terminology associated with the church. The bulk of his effort is centered on the word ekklēsia. Next, he presents three main images of the church: the people of God, the body of Christ, and the Temple of the Spirit. He then proceeds to look at the historical marks of the church and concludes that this is an ongoing task (65). Unfortunately, he does not offer a modern outworking of this task. The last chapter of this section presents a theological and practical answer by trying to identify the essence of the church. While he discusses several aspects that are very intrinsic to the essence of the church, one is still left wondering what exactly a church is. Why is a para-church not a church? What is the difference between a Bible study and a church?

In Who is the Church?, Hammett presents his biblical, historical, and theological plea for regenerate church membership. He offers some practical suggestions on how to recover regenerate church membership. First, he argues for a return to the use of a church covenant. His Biblical support is from Nehemiah 8-9, but the heart of his plea is pragmatic. Second, he argues for a reformation of Baptism and church membership. His plea for a separation between the application and the granting of membership leads him to suggest that Baptism be delayed, especially for children. Relational evangelism and the discipling of children seem to be more efficient methods of solving the issue, without requiring a child to disobey Christ by not following his Master in believer’s baptism. Last, he rightly pleas for re-instating church discipline in church life.

In How is the Church Governed?, Hammett argues for elder led congregationalism. A plurality of elders is suggested, with a single pastor “who sees himself as one of the leaders” (209), but “more important than the model of government is the character of the leaders” (210). In this model, he emphasizes that the “atmosphere to be cultivated is one of challenge, encouragement, and affirmation in the area of every member ministry” (212). Hammett is very pragmatic with his single pastor position, and the reader is left wanting Biblical support for several of his arguments.

In What Does the Church Do?, Hammett divides the ministry of the church into five aspects: teaching, fellowship, worship, service, and evangelism. He also presents a thorough look at the Lord’s Supper and Baptism as “more than simple symbols” (257).

Hammett concludes his book with Where is the Church Going?, a look at current and emerging trends, both nationally and internationally. He deals with the seeker movement, which he correctly accuses of pragmatism, and the emerging church movement, which he correctly chastises for its overemphasis on postmodern thought. He sees an impulse of some churches to want to travel to the past historically or to other cultures geographically to learn of how God’s Spirit has worked in those scenarios.

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