Posted by: chuckbumgardner | January 27, 2010

Garrett, Systematic Theology, part 11: “The Church”

James Leo Garrett, Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, 2 vols. (North Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL Press, 2000), 497-708.

Garrett uses Roman Catholic categories to explicate marks of the true church, redefining them thus: unity is to be understood not organizationally, but in fellowship, emphasizing love and the Holy Spirit; holiness is not related to sacraments and saints and an infallible institution, but as the “set-apartness of its members to the worship and service of the triune God”; catholicity is not “universal spatial extension” but is to be understood “in relation to the invisible church of the elect”; apostolicity does not rest in apostolic succession, but in a succession of faith or service and in being under the authority of the message of the apostles (2:522-524).

In discussing baptism, Garrett sees circumcision as “an antecedent of Christian baptism” but not analogous to it.  Believers, not infants, are the proper recipients of baptism.  Baptism is not a sacrament (an objective means of bestowing grace), but an ordinance (a symbolic rite established by Christ).  Its proper mode is immersion, not affusion or aspersion.  Baptism is not strictly necessary for salvation.  Garrett fails to formally delineate his view of the Lord’s Supper, but he does see as its “principal motifs” rememberance/reenactment, thanksgiving, communion, and eschatological expectation.

Membership in a local assembly is proper and expected for Christians.  Discipleship within the assembly is essential, and church discipline should involve spiritual restoration.  For Garrett, the priesthood of believers is connected primarily with “the privilege of direct access” (2:616-17).  After discussion, Garrett comes to a conclusion on neither the issue of the ordination of women to the offices of pastor and deacon, nor the issue of elder rule.  Further, although Garrett has elsewhere defended congregational polity, he fails to clearly indicate his preference for that view of church government in his systematics, stating that “the New Testament does not prescribe or mandate a detailed system of church polity” (2:639).

Garrett discusses Neibuhr’s five models of Christ and culture, suggesting that believers cannot hold consistently to any single model.  He then addresses the church-state relationship, apparently seeing government as divinely ordained but not deserving of uncritical subjection.


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