“I’m a member of the body of Christ. Why should I have to join a church?” In one form or another, this is one of the most common sentiments that I have heard in the past five years of ministry in Colorado Springs. A simple but profound part of the answer to that question can be given in one word—“love.”
It is no secret that American individualism has left its mark on the way we practice our Christianity, particularly with regard to the church. Some have gone so far as to say that American evangelicalism has no ecclesiology. In recent years a loose crowd has coalesced of those who not only tacitly accept churchless Christianity but explicitly promote it. From the vantage point of my little prairie dog mound surrounded by mountainous para-church ministries, it can almost appear that there are few left who believe that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is actually something tangible that has biblical shape and includes real commitments to real people. Many love the church like a young girl who has watched too many romantic movies—they are passionate about something that does not exist except in their own fevered imaginations.
In that context, the title of this recent book by John Crotts, a pastor at Faith Bible Church in Sharpsburg, Georgia, caught my attention, and I must say that reading it was refreshing. This is a book designed to woo the believer into loving the actual bride for whom Christ died. In Loving the Church, Pastor Crotts aims “to help you see how glorious God’s family really is, and then to see the countless ways you and your family can flourish within it” (p. 30). Crotts seeks to accomplish this with one section summarizing the Bible’s teaching about the church and a second section applying this teaching to Christians and their families.
The thread that holds the book together is a series of fictional coffee shop conversations among a diverse group of professing Christians who are disaffected with the church for various reasons. In between their encounters, Crotts lays out some simple and clear Scriptural teaching on the nature and function of the local church. With this approach, Crotts gives a gentle rebuke to some common errors regarding the church while maintaining a positive and encouraging tone. For example, he stirs up reflections about the relationship of families vis-à-vis the church, about ministering apart from the church, about moral failures and churches’ responses, and about choosing a church because of its use of technology or its singles’ group.
Given the goal and the intended audience, Crotts does not get into great detail about the doctrine of the church. With pastoral sensitivity, he strikes a good balance of providing enough exposition to ground his exhortation without becoming burdensome. There are, no doubt, theological quibbles that could be picked on in the book. Churches may want to be more precise in particular areas than Crotts is in this overview. Nevertheless, his generalizations usually reflect careful biblical insight, such as his statement that “a local assembly of God is not just some tiny part of the universal church, like the pinkie toenail in the universal body of Christ. It is better understood as a local expression of the body of Christ—complete in itself” (pp. 44-45).
The second section of the book is concise, clear, and thorough. Here Crotts explains how the believer fits into God’s family. He first discusses “You and King Jesus,” in which he exhorts believers to be a committed part of a local church (pp. 79-80) that acknowledges Jesus as boss and that is the most biblical church one can find (p. 81). He further encourages believers to “make sure that the Bible is the means of ministry in your church” (p. 83). He warns that sometimes you must choose Jesus over your church family and that sometimes you must choose the church family over your own family (pp. 83-88). This is followed by chapters on “You and the Elders,” “You and the Deacons,” “Building the Body,” and “No Body Part Left Behind.” The book closes with recommendations for further reading.
Crotts is certainly aware of the problems to which I alluded at the beginning of this review (chapter 2), but rather than produce a theological tome on the subject, he has chosen to address these issues from a pastoral perspective. This is a wise, helpful, in-the-trenches kind of approach. Most church members are not going to read some of the excellent but extended treatises on the topic, such as Jonathan Leeman’s The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love. As such, Crott’s book would be good for all new believers and for any believers who do not understand well the importance of participation in the local church. Furthermore, it is a good review for committed church members and even for pastors!
Loving the Church stands in the line of Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, Wayne Mack and David Swavely’s Life in the Father’s House, and Joshua Harris’ Stop Dating the Church. However, it makes an independent contribution in its own right. Unlike Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, it is not targeted at the young and edgy. Of all the books I am aware of in this field, this one sits on the top shelf of those I would hand to a believer to encourage him to grow in his love for the church.