Bannerman Take 3: Or, 3 take Bannerman
On Wednesday night, Banner of Truth and Westminster Bookstore finally launched the new edition of Bannerman. Patman from Banner HQ was there in the Bannermobile. Benny was absent due to illness but the Jets turned up to man the bookstall (yes, we still 'man' things at Westminster). Even the Mad Woman in the Attic was seen lurking in the shadows and was recognized as such by at least one attendee – indicating that it is her evident madness, not her location in the attic, which is her most characteristic feature.
Three of us gave talks. Dave Garner, my WTS colleague chaired the short lectures and the subsequent panel discussion. I spoke on Bannerman on church power and confession as protest. Jonathan Leeman, of Nine Marks Ministries, addressed the importance of the church as an institution in an anti-institutional age and suggested that polity was both a highly important and much neglected topic among evangelicals – and yet is vital to the church’s health. Then Nathan Sasser, of Sovereign Grace Ministries, gave a very personal account of his involvement in the development of polity in that organization before launching into a passionate, funny and compelling plea for Baptists at least to adopt Presbyterian polity. It was a polemic for the ages. I could have said it but nobody would have listened because the reaction would have been, to quote Mandy Rice-Davies, ‘He would, wouldn’t he?’ That a Credo-Baptist said it was truly magnificent. That he is a former student of mine made me glad to see that he is now not far from the kingdom of heaven.
All three of us agreed on some key fundamentals. The church is an act of God’s grace and is thus to be governed in form and content by God's Word. The local congregation is the place for Christian discipleship. Well-structured polity helps prevent the church from becoming a cult while at the same time curtailing rampant individualism. Church power is ministerial, rooted in the kingship of Christ and thus limited by his Word. And that the Bible teaches a polity and thus polity is very important.
Benny and the Jets tell me that the video will be available at some point soon. In the meantime, what was so clear as the evening drew to a close is that each of us sees self-conscious, well-constructed polity, connected to an elaborate doctrinal confession, as vital to Christian discipleship. We are moving into an era in America where the gap between Christianity and the wider culture is going to be more dramatic and more hostile than previous generations might have anticipated. Identities are all the rage today; But such is the pressure on Christianity that only a self-conscious understanding of our identity reinforced and cultivated by proper church community, will (humanly speaking) enable us to survive as distinct from the world around us. And as those committed to the supreme authority of the Bible, which teaches both confession and polity, we must realize that our theology, if biblical, must profoundly shape the governance and worship of our churches.
Jonathan Leeman, a congregational Baptist, paid Bannerman the significant compliment of saying that his book is an excellent foundation and guide to the issues and the discussions of polity which need to take place. Once again, cue Blue Mink and buy the book.