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Review by Jacques Schoeman (SA) on May 22, 2014

This review is from: The Scripture Doctrine of the Church Historically and Exegetically Considered( Eleventh Series of the Cunningham Lectures) (Hardcover)

The church did not commence in Acts 2. As in all things pertaining to God, the church has confessed its origin lies in the divine will alone, that in the eternal decree it pleased God to save for Himself and to His glory an elect people. They are the church universal and invisble, the church of all ages, the company of the redeemed which ‘consists of the whole number of the elect’ (WCF 25.1). The Westminster Confession of Faith maintains a broad definition which says the local and visible church ‘is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God’ (WCF 25.2).

Douglas Bannerman fleshed out the sovereign determination of God in the purpose-statement for a multi-national church as the goal of the Abrahamic covenant. Bannerman chose to begin with the first ‘called out’ believer in Scripture, the father of faith, Abraham (Rom 4:11). The blessing of Abraham was to come on those ‘who follow his faith and obedience.’ p 3 In Abraham’s call then is found the scriptural beginnings of the visible church, because he was justified by faith as a Gentile (Gen 15) and lived so for an estimated fourteen years (Gen 17). The ‘called out’ ones, the visible church, on the authority of both the Old and New Testament, has Abraham for its prime example and its historical founder. The promises were given to Abraham and his believing posterity. Bannerman underscored the unity of Scripture and brought the teaching of the Old and New Testament together by identifying that “the blessing of Abraham” was in substance none other than “the gospel preached beforehand unto him” by God (Gal 3:8). Bannerman’s exegesis of Galatians 3:8 and 16 is key to understanding the promise as having respect to Christ. As “in you” (v 8) denotes Abraham the covenant head, so “to your seed” singular (v 16) denotes Christ the federal Head and Savior of the church (WCF 8.1). The striking Pauline analogy, not allegory, is made to teach that Christ unites us, the church, by faith in His person (Gal 3:29). This is mystical union (p 37).

Bannerman viewed the church of Israelite history in general, and its form of church order in particular. The covenantal foundation given it by God remains sure, but temporary ordinances were attached to it in the Mosaic law (p 67). But does that make the church, historically considered, in the time of Moses a moot point? It was never cast off, insisted Bannerman, as he continued to build a historical picture of the people of God. God gathered unto Himself at Mt Sinai the house of Israel to constitute them a nation (Ex 19), but also ‘vouchsafed’ a more special end than merely that of national unity. Noticeably in the Mosaic era ‘the believing seed of Abraham were thrown back more and more on the central blessing of the covenant’ (p 70) – that of God Himself being their reward, i.e. their God. God’s special presence among them spoke of the place of His dwelling with them in the one place where God had chosen to set His Name. The house of Israel met regularly in the house of God, whether in the tent of meeting or in the temple. In the regular assembly of Israel they ‘attained a large measure of spiritual fellowship with God’ as they ‘grasped the promises which God had given in connection with it.’ p 81 In the religious consciousness, the house of God came gradually to be seen as converging around the gracious principle of an elect people within the house of Israel, for not all who were descended from Israel belonged to Israel (Rom 9:6). (Maybe they were the ones who were not happy with their ‘pilgrim status’ and held on to the land promise, so completely missing the essence of the promise as spiritual?) Hence “the congregation” and “the assembly” hold a special biblical-theological place in Israelite history (p 95). This underage church had for its general government the principle of representation established in “the elders of Israel”. As a system of rule, Bannerman indicates, it was the lone survivor after the overthrow of the two kingdoms.

Dispensationalists view the kingdom of God and the church of Christ as two distinct entities. In this distortion of Christ’s words, He promises to build His church, while He prays God’s kingdom come as a future messianic kingdom. But this is an unbiblical Christ, for He does show a concern for the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth, especially seen in the preaching of the parables of Matthew 13. The seedbed for the kingdom of God as a theme was the theocratic kingdom headed by God through those ordained to the office of priest, prophet and king (p 174). Bannerman also considered the ingathered church called out from amongst all the nations. In the Diaspora, the Hellenist Jews and their system of proselytization was thrust center stage. Providentially the synagogue evolved into a wide-spread religious institution which provided the basis for the expansion of the people of God, though whether Bannerman is right to conclude from Nehemiah 8 that its dating is post-exilic is debatable. Bannerman paid special attention to the great synagogue, the Sanhedrin, and how it functioned as the precursor to the church body corporate. All these give the reader a good understanding of the ANE socio-historical background.

Christ’s twofold instruction on the NT church as something future, i.e., its perpetual nature (Matt 16:18) and its moral discipline (Matt 18:17), Bannerman understood was to commence immediately after Christ’s departure. These utterances of Christ on which the NT church is found are the principles to be applied and acted on by a predictably multi-ethnic church (Matt 28), by its office-bearers and members (p 191). The younger Bannerman fully connected components of the church in the Old and New Testament, thereby maintaining continuity in the one people of God. He further insisted that in Acts 1 we find ‘the church of Christ already showing itself in life and action to be what our Lord had foretold it should be.’ In the intervening ten days, the NT church consecrated themselves unto the Lord in prayer, was studious in searching the Scriptures, and gathered as a fellowship around the teaching of Christ (pp. 271-272).

Neither did the Holy Spirit first begin His work with the outpouring on the day of Pentecost, (Reformed Dogmatics p 398). We do not deny that something of major importance occurred at Pentecost in fulfilment of the promises of God made to His people. Because of Christ’s finished work of redemption the NT church was empowered for witness and service. His presence given to the church uniquely made possible vital union between Him and believers. He is still present with the church, that much is certain.

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Product Description

D. Douglas Bannerman (1841-1903) originally delivered the material in this book in the famous Cunningham Lectures at New College, Edinburgh. Tracing the doctrine of the church historically and exegetically throughout the Bible, he begins with the church in the time of Abraham and follows it up through the exile, post-exilic times, the time of Christ, and the apostolic era. This rare classic is once again made readily accessible.

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Weight 1 kg



D Bannerman






blue library cloth with sewn sections


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