Book Review – One Holy Local Church?: The Ghettoization of Protestantism

Available on Amazon or through New Liberty Mission.

Most of its contents can also be accessed for free on Christendom Restored and through Reconstructionist Radio Audiobooks.

Oddly enough, this book serves as a commentary on a Facebook post made by Jeff Durbin of Apologia Church. Right off the bat, I would like to say that I do not think the exact quote that Bo quotes was the best choice. There have been far more questionable statements made by those who hold to Durbin’s ecclesiology concerning local church membership and covenants. I also do not think the particular quote that Marinov chose is entirely wrong taken as is.

At face value, I don’t know that I can think of a single person who fits the description that Durbin offers of a “Facebook prophet.” Now, because I have an idea of Durbin’s ecclesiology  and that of his followers, I know what he means by these things. But at face value, I cannot think of a single Christian who meets his criteria of not being “involved in the life of the body.” The Facebook post as a whole just begs too many question. It left me asking “Jeff, what do you mean by _____?” I do, however, understand why Bo would select a quote from Durbin, as he is a very influential figure in young Christian Reconstructionist circles.

It also comes off as a bit odd to have a book directed at a Facebook post. I am not saying that it is wrong, only that it is odd to consider that we are now writing published books directed at engagements on social media. It does make the book feel a bit more personal and also a bit informal, which may be good and bad. But perhaps this is what he was going for. After all, the book did originate as a series of blog posts in response to the quote and other similar interactions on social media.

To dig into the meat, Bo has personally said that the below quote may offer a good summary of his argument. There are four assumptions that he says go into the type of thinking presented by Durbin. And these four assumptions are founded upon one concept. Immediately after quoting Durbin, Marinov says:

The sentiment is not something new (although, it is relatively new in church history, as we will see), and it is accepted by inertia by almost every single person today who in one way or another attains to some position of authority in the church—or, rather, to be more precise, some position of legal power in the church.1 This sentiment is based on several assumptions made by the modern churchian faith. First, it assumes that the local church is the same thing as the church—hence the concept of being a “part” of the local church. Second, it assumes that the visible and the invisible church are identical. Third, it assumes that being under formally ordained church government is mandatory—and if one is not, therefore he “despises authority.” And fourth, and the most arrogant and prideful assumption of all, it assumes that God will only correct His Church through formally instituted human bureaucracies within the church, and never through external means.

All these, in the final account, rest on one single concept: the so-called “local church membership.” Or, as it is known in some Reformed churches today, “local church covenant.” Remove that concept, and the above four assumptions disintegrate. So I will focus my analysis on the concept of mandatory “local church membership”—its history, its theology, and its consequences—and then will also cover the above assumptions. And more. (Introduction)

The rest of the book is an attempt to address these assumptions along with their foundation of the local church covenant and the requirement that one must be a formal member in a local church in order to be a Christian.

Addressing these as they appear in the introduction, I would have to agree with all of them. That does not mean I agree with everything Bo says in the book or how he fleshes these out. But I do agree with his above observations.

I am no historian, but I have done my share of reading in the area of ecclesiology (Bannerman, Calvin, Bavinck, the Confessions, etc.) and this above summation does seem to accord with most of their contents. This is perhaps where Marinov is at his strongest in this work and in his person.

Bo knows his history and has proven it time and time again. His interaction with the history behind the first and second London Baptist confessions is eye opening in and of itself. As are his interactions with Rutherford, the priesthood of all believers, the right and duty of private judgment, and Presbyterianism as a whole. In all of these interactions, he presents convincing argumentations that produce a desire in the reader to search these things out for themselves. Again , I am still no historical scholar. Bojidar could be wrong in these accounts. But his arguments and references are convincing and have given me a desire to study this history.

The tone of the book may be a bit biting. But isn’t that what we love about men like Martin Luther? One must judge for himself whether the tone is warranted or not. In some cases, I do believe it is, as in addressing total abuses of authority. In others, Bo may lose those he is trying to convince by means of his strong language. Only time will tell.

One difficulty I had with this book came particularly with the emphasis that Bo places on individuals. Anyone that accuses Bo of promoting individualism is in the wrong. In numerous places he goes out of his way to show how fellowship and accountability are needed for our Christian health. Biblical Church government is needed for Christian health. He says these things. But as with any book directed towards correcting a mistake, there is the temptation to over correct, or to at least be perceived as such.

Much of the book is focused around correcting the mistaken notion that one cannot be a Christian without being a member of a local congregation. Because of this, Bo takes aim time after time again at the false idea that one cannot possibly be a productive and good Christian without signing a church covenant at a 501c3 institution that has an impressive session and an ordained pastor educated at Westminster Seminary. However, I do believe that the strong language he uses can be perceived as diminishing the actual importance of local, regional, and national churches as Christ intended them to be. This can be seen especially in the chapter on eschatology (which is very good by the way) where Bo encourages readers to focus universally rather than locally.

In one interview on Reconstructionist Radio, Stephen Perks spends a great deal of time discussing the importance of covenant communities in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. He likewise discusses the mistake of seeking to advance the Kingdom on your own, emphasizing the need for covenant communities. Likewise, one of Bo’s close allies, American Vision’s Joel McDurmon, has a fantastic book that focuses on working to change the nation starting at the county level. The focus is local – with the understanding that what we do locally will, by necessity, result in state, national, and global change. He who is faithful with little will be trusted with much.

My point here is to agree with Bojidar, that the Reformed churches in America have largely taken on a sort of independent ghetto focus that does not think in terms of the big picture or outside of her little corner of the world. However, I think the correct balance is to not strictly separate the local and universal, especially in our practice, though he is likely not trying to do this. They are, in fact, distinct. The local church is not the universal Church. The universal Church is not the local church. But we should not strictly separate the two or pit them against each other. We are each given a short time on this earth, and with limited abilities. That time and ability should be focused on building the Kingdom where we are.

The universal church does come first, as the Reformed tradition has always taught. But where you live is your responsibility. Your city is your realm of dominion and so you should focus your attention there. You should think locally, because that is where you are. I think Bo may agree with this. But again, because his work is taking aim at a certain error, there is the temptation to be perceived as saying something you aren’t simply because of strong language.

After reading the book, I was left with some questions concerning our practice and tactics.

What makes a true and false church? The Westminster Confession rightly notes that all particular churches are mixed bodies, varying in degrees of purity. Likewise, some churches have become so corrupt as to become no churches at all but only “synagogues of Satan.” Now, I believe Bo is right in observing that no Christian is required to attach himself to any specific congregation, especially by means of a covenantal oath, in order to be a Christian. Who we fellowship with is left to liberty of conscience. We are at liberty, and required, to look to our bibles in order to decipher who is a brother and who is an outsider. But do we have the liberty to not fellowship?

The Scriptures do demand that we seek fellowship and the unity of the Church, and particular churches (local, regional, national) are created by God to be social orders (so Perks) that advance the Kingdom of God. This does not mean that we are to become little ghettos, as Bo notes. Just the opposite. We gather in order to go.

This is why we need a healthy theology of what makes a true and false church. Who should we work with to expand the Kingdom, and who we should avoid entirely? This way we can make choices that will help expand the Kingdom and bring unity to the Church. We do have the liberty to make these choices. No one can force us to attend their Sunday meetings or to join their ministries. But we will be held accountable for how our choices helped to advance the Kingdom and the communion of the Church, or how they hindered its growth and unity.

To conclude, I must say that I sympathize with a lot (if not most) of what Bo is trying to promote in this work. We become members of the visible Church by faith or by covenantal birth. This membership is ratified and made visible in our baptism. No particular church should make any requirement for communion beyond what is required to be a member in the Church universal – faith and baptism.

I do believe Bo’s arguments to be overall convicting, convincing, biblical, and historical. The book has encouraged me to think better about ecclesiology and how we can best advance the Kingdom as individuals and congregations. However, I do not agree with all of its contents or suggestions for application, thus some of my critique.  Not that I am anyone with the authority or experience to be worth these things, but hey …. the priesthood of all believers, right?

My hope is that the Lord would use this book to bring greater clarity, unity, and action into his Church. I know it has caused a stir, and I am thankful for that. We could use a good stirring. We all need to look to our bibles to better understand what Christ demands of us. We need to look at our history to understand how we got to where we are. And we all need to express charity with one another and pursue unity as far as Scripture allows us. I hope that if I have misinterpreted or misrepresented anyone here that I would be swiftly corrected. And I hope that we would all be open to correction as we discuss this important topic.

As a quick comment to Bo and to the editor/publisher: there were a few historical and theological comments that were without a source or reference and could have benefited greatly from such. I marked them in my copy and would be happy to share them with anyone who is interested.

 

3 thoughts on “Book Review – One Holy Local Church?: The Ghettoization of Protestantism

  1. I appreciate your thoughts here, and I felt pretty much exactly the same way concerning Marinov’s book. I think at issue here is a false bifurcation between the church as an institution or the church as individuals. The church, biblically speaking, is neither. The church is a body, which is both distinguishable and inseparable in its parts. In other words, you can talk about an arm as distinct from the rest of the body, but you cannot cut the arm off the body without it becoming dead to the detriment of the rest of the body. That is where I believe the argument has fallen apart. Marinov emphasizes individual responsibility and freedom particularly in the face of apparent institutional abuses. He partly misses a vital emphasis in the church: commonality and communion as essential to the church’s identity (not just personal righteousness but corporate righteousness). Durbin, and the rest, emphasize top-down accountability particularly in the face of individual loose cannons (so-called “Facebook prophets” or “wolves in sheep’s clothing”). But he misses a crucial emphasis as well—the church is not its leadership, but its people. The Bible emphasizes both communal dependence and individual responsibility, placing the identity of the church not in the hands of its leaders, nor in the hands of its separate members, but in the name of Jesus in whom we as members and a body are unified through the Spirit.

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    1. Great points, Michael. I am currently working on a lengthier post about the dangers of falling off either side of the cliff on this issue. It sounds like you are pretty level headed about this so I’d love to hear your thoughts after I post it.

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      1. I’ll be on the lookout for it, and I’d be happy to chime in. This whole topic concerns me greatly. Yet another way for the church to become more splintered.

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