The Character of the Church by Joe Thorn is the second book in Thorn’s trilogy on the church. The marketing copy says each book can be read in an hour. I didn’t test that claim, but they are short and easily read. Thorn avoids theological jargon and explains everything in everyday language, so the series is great for new and mature believers alike. The Character of the Church addresses the question of what makes a church.
What are the defining elements of a biblically-sound church?
When I hear longtime believers rave about “cool, relevant” churches and I see people drawn to churches with productions rivaling broadway, I think this book isn’t just for new believers. There are essential elements that make a Christian church. We need to all remember and be concerned with those elements first and foremost. Thorn writes:
What makes for a true and healthy church can be boiled down to five essentials: (1) the right preaching of Scripture, (2) the proper administration of the ordinances, (3) the development of biblical leadership, (4) the gracious implementation of church discipline, and (5) a clear focus on the mission that Jesus gave the church.
The Character of the Church is structured around those five essentials. Thorn carefully explains what each means and looks like in a healthy church. Some of the finer details around these topics can be controversial. I appreciate that Thorn is never heavy-handed in his approach. However, he doesn’t back away from difficult topics. He delivers clear answers backed by scripture. Granted, he is Baptist and his explanations are from a Baptist perspective. For example, not everyone will agree with his explanation of why he doesn’t practice infant baptism or why he practices immersion. But his explanations are clear and based on scripture.
“Fencing the table” is another example of a difficult topic that I think is explained really well in the section on the Lord’s supper. A family member recently asked me about this, which made me realize a lot of people don’t understand the warning that is given before the Lord’s Supper. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it explained before now. Thorn writes:
“Fencing the table is protecting people from partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. This includes receiving it as an unbeliever, an unrepentant believer, and a member of the church currently under restrictive church discipline… Fencing the table is done primarily through public exhortation and warning.”
This concept comes from 1 Corinthians, and the book goes on to give an example of what an elder or pastor may say before delivering the elements of the Lord’s Supper.
The Character of the Church
I greatly appreciate the chapters on biblical leadership and church discipline as well. I don’t think I have seen those two topics explained this clearly and concisely anywhere else. Overall, I think this series and The Character of the Church, in particular, is a great resource for believers. I think Baptist churches would do well to use these books in new members and new believers classes.
The Character of the Church is published by Moody Publishers and For the Church. You can pick up a copy here. If you haven’t heard Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler’s podcast Doctrine and Devotion, you should check that out as well.