A Church You Can See. Building a Case for Church Membership by Dennis E. Bills, Reforming West Virginia Publications, 2017, 111 pp. $5.99
This is the best book I’ve read in a long time.
In reading this book and talking with the author, Dennis E. Bills, I found him to be simultaneously a humble West Virginian and a scholar of Reformed Theology. Bills, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America has four theological degrees and, along with his pastoral work, teaches at a local community college and also works as a law mediator. Yet, despite his achievements, he stays true to his roots as an “eighth-generation” West Virginian writing A Church You Can See at a level that is both clear and understandable to lay Christians and challenges them to investigate the Scriptural teachings on church membership.
This is one of the most important books for our time as so many people have rationalized not becoming a member of a church. Bills addresses the “Lone-wolf Christians” who may be convinced that “they are better than the people in the churches around them,” the “Satellite Christians” who “never seem to settle down,” the “parachurch Christians” who are satisfied in being involved in ministries without being involved in a church, and the Christians who believe that the Bible doesn’t teach that membership is necessary.
Bills makes his case from the Scriptures, showing the principles and practices of the early Christian church. He argues that in the Bible there are no “dismembered Christians” – no Christians who are not of the body of Christ, the Church. (p. 8) He challenges Christians outside of the church to “examine whether or not their ‘exceptional circumstances’ [for not joining] are simply justification for doing what they want instead of what God wants.” (p. 19) He points out that the author of Hebrews commands Christians to “not neglect to meet together” (p. 40) and that Paul commands us in Ephesians to use our diverse gifts for building up the church which is only possible within the context of the church. (p. 51) Further, he notes, Hebrews 13:17 commands that we are to submit to our elders, which is only possible if one has elders, i.e. is a member of a church. (p. 52) And, he notes, the command to distinguish between those who are outside of the church and those who are inside the church (1 Cor. 5:9-13) can only be fulfilled if there is church membership. (p. 61) He also includes a chapter that has much practical advice about how to find and join a church.
In all of this Bills uses a “building a house” metaphor to frame (no pun intended) the arguments in a way understandable to the average man. In all of this Bills explains the Biblical concepts clearly and makes his case persuasively. And all of this he does in a concise manner, at just 111 pages (only 88 if you don’t count the appendices).
At $5.99 this book should be purchased in bulk and given out at churches.
5 thoughts on “Review of "A Church You Can See"”
Hey Doug, I just this and it is so interesting and informative. It is hard to find, join, and get involved thoroughly in a church, and I think Dad and I just did what you wrote about. It is even harder when you get older to make that decision. Hope all is well. Dad is working on Chris’s taxes and he gets in quite the crabby mood when he is doing this. You cannot read Chris’s handwriting. Love, mom
James Douma email@example.com
Does the author tackle the question of what to do in a church when doctrines such as creation are attacked over many years? Ie what to do in the case of open, repeated doctrinal errors? Thx
No, this book does not address those questions.
Perhaps your comment is in regards to the fact that the author is a minister in the PCA, and that the situation you’ve noted is a real problem in that denomination. I spoke to the author, and while he is certainly aware of doctrinal slide in the PCA, he said that his work in rural Appalachian is not yet significantly effected by those General Assembly and National-level issues in the denomination.
I certainly have concerns about the PCA. That is why I have chosen to minister in a church in the Reformed Presbyter Church – Hanover denomination, and have preached some also at a church that recently left the PCA to join the Bible Presbyterians.
Thx for the info. It’s good to get the context of the author. For some of us the only choice is between Barth, Kierkegaard and the Pope. Yet we can resolve “not to defile our garments”.
Much needed in our day. I forwarded your review to my pastor. People who go to church but never join almost always leave when they inevitably become disappointed for one reason or another. This is all too common in my neck of the woods (Queens, NY).
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