The iconic ‘little black book’ is a small journal or address book that supposedly contained contact information for dating and romantic purposes. Popular culture, such as the 2004 movie Little Black Book, has reinforced this symbol of less-than-committed social relationships. If you’re old enough, you may have first encountered this social motif while watching Happy Days; Fonzie would regularly consult his little black book to find a suitable date for a Saturday night. But I’d like to discuss a little book that comes in a different colour.
Jonathan Leeman, the Editorial Director for 9Marks and author of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love, has written a ‘little blue book’ that is concerned with a different social construct than that of dating and romance. Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus is a concise book covering a broad spectrum of church membership related questions and issues and is notable for its moving illustrations, analogies, and anecdotes. At only 130 smallish pages, this indeed is a little book. But do not let the diminutive dimensions deter you from reading this book. Its benefits are incommensurate with its size.
The word concise is chosen because despite the relatively short length of this work, its topical breadth is surprising and the force with which it covers its ideas is impressive. Leeman covers church membership by looking at five all-encompassing ideas about what the church is which leads into what church membership is. These five big ideas about the church are: the church as the highest earthly authority in things pertaining to faith, the church as a people bound together under Christ’s rule, the church as Christ’s embassy on earth, the church member as one who is officially affirmed and publically recognized, and the church not as something one joins but rather something one submits to. Clearly, covering all these topics could easily require several books. And though Leeman’s writing on this topic is not exhaustive, definitely not a goal of this work, it is thorough, enlightening and helpful.
Leeman continues by considering membership through the Biblical accounts of the New Testament church. This chapter confirms that “to be a Christian is to belong to a church” (46) by way of ten Scriptural themes preceded by an interesting historical narrative. The book progresses with definitions of a church and church membership and then clarifies these definitions by looking at the bible’s metaphors for the church. Two chapters, on becoming a member and being a member, shine light on the practical reality of what Leeman has advanced thus far. Leeman proceeds through a delicate yet direct discussion of church discipline followed by a chapter considering how church membership might look different depending on the societal context of the church.
It should be obvious with the breadth of topics and ideas under consideration in this book that Leeman has indeed been concise in his writing. At no time did the transfer of information seam threadbare or meagre; the discussion seemed surprisingly thorough.
Stylistically, what makes Church Membership notable are its refreshing and real-to-life illustrations, anecdotes, and analogies. Leeman has a penchant for memorable commentary on the point he is deliberating. His personal anecdotes are appropriately chosen to help the reader reflect on issues and see them in light of real circumstances. Leeman’s story of a church member’s discipline and restoration was emotionally powerful and intellectually engaging. It allowed me to grasp the power of Biblical church practices. Suitable analogies are employed to help clarify ideas. The presentation of the church as Christ’s earthly embassy, a foundational idea in this book, was particularly adroit. Leeman’s skill in illustrating concepts may be seen most convincingly in his discussion of the Bible’s metaphors for the church. I found this discourse on the bible’s use of figurative language pertaining to the church engaging and engrossing, enlightening and edifying.
This ‘little blue book’ is a wonderful introduction to the topic of church membership. It has a surprising breadth of content which it delivers through compellingly concise writing which is bolstered and beautified through powerful illustrations. Church Membership is a book worth reading, and it leaves one desiring the other book in this series; Leeman’s ‘little red book’ entitled Church Discipline.