The Family and Fellowship: New Testament Images of the Church

Written by R. P. Martin Reviewed By Max Turner

Dr R. P. Martin barely needs introduction to the readers of Themelios. He is an accomplished writer on biblical subjects at both an academic level and at a popular one. I hope he can forgive me for saying that this particular book of his seems to be ill adapted for survival at either level; it struck me as a slightly uncomfortable hybrid.

The book bears a glossy cover photograph of an informal ‘breaking of bread’ service, it has a catchy title, and an explicit prefatory remark stating that the purpose of the volume is to help Christians to see the necessary place of the Church in God’s design, and to take a positive attitude towards it. We should expect, then, a warm popular level exposition informed by scholarship, but not encumbered by it. What we meet in the pages that follow is a perfectly competent coverage of the beginnings of the Church in the ministry of Jesus (ch. 1); of the actual beginnings at Pentecost (ch. 2); of what ‘fellowship’ means (ch. 3); of the nature and purpose of charismatic gifts (ch. 4); of the variety of patterns of ministry in the early Church (ch. 5); of the so-called ‘ordinances’ (ch. 6); of questions surrounding Church unity (ch. 7) and of the Church’s relationship to the state (ch. 8). A final chapter explores various current but defective models for the Church (the Church as lecture room (in some protestant circles); as a theatre (in Catholic circles); as a business corporation and as a social club) and highlights the significance of some biblical images that the Church must take more seriously (the Church as the Temple of the Lord; the body of Christ and the Family of God).

All of this (especially ch. 9) could be useful in fulfilling the declared purpose of the book, and much in each chapter would be so. But the presentation of the issues is unfortunately dominated in places by questions which would be of more interest to modern NT scholars than they would to a young Christian, hesitant about the value of the Church. Such a person is hardly likely to be interested in e.g. Schweitzer’s problem as to whether Jesus expected a Church at all, he would find other sections very heavy going; the long word-study of koinonia, for example. It may never have occurred to such an enquirer that Ephesians might be non-Pauline (and that its evidence should be treated separately)—and I’m not convinced he needs to be enlightened on this. I doubt, too, whether anyone who could truly appreciate the exegetical note on Ephesians 2:20, with its reference to learned works in French and German, is likely to need encouragement that the Church of God is important: at least if he does need such encouragement it will not be for lack of acquaintance with the sort of considerations that Dr Martin presents him with elsewhere in this book.

This work could certainly be of use to theological students as it stands, but if the stated purpose is to be fulfilled it probably needs to be revised both to simplify it and to make it more directly relevant. Either this or a quite different and much bigger book would have to be written. Perhaps there is room for both.

Max Turner

London Bible College