The following work is a small attempt to help restore the doctrine of the church to the place assigned to it in Scripture. This book is simultaneously an outline, an abridgement, a study guide, and a Sunday school curriculum derived from James Bannerman’s magisterial work, The Church of Christ. James Bannerman was one of the many great luminaries who adorned the Free Church of Scotland in its early years in the nineteenth-century.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states that outside of the visible church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (WCF 25.2). This statement may be shocking in a time when the church has become secondary or peripheral for many Christians. Yet, as Francis Turretin wrote, “The church is the primary work of the holy Trinity, the object of Christ’s mediation and the subject of the application of his benefits.” Christ died for his church, the Father loves her, and the Spirit works in, on, and through her.
In the nineteenth-century, Southern Presbyterian theologian Stuart Robinson wrote a book entitled, The Church of God as an Essential Element of the Gospel. We understand that the doctrine of the church is an essential element of the Gospel in Roman Catholic theology, in which the church alone has the ability to confer salvation upon its members, but many may be surprised to find a Protestant giving the church an essential place in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The important role that the New Testament assigns to the church in our salvation has largely been lost at present.
The following work is a small attempt to help restore the doctrine of the church to the place assigned to it in Scripture. This book is simultaneously an outline, an abridgement, a study guide, and a Sunday school curriculum derived from James Bannerman’s magisterial work, The Church of Christ. James Bannerman was one of the many great luminaries who adorned the Free Church of Scotland in its early years in the nineteenth-century. His work was derived from his course lectures as a seminary professor and was published by his son, Douglas Bannerman, who also wrote an important volume, The Scripture Doctrine of the Church.
Bannerman’s two-volume Church of Christ is one of the greatest classic treatments of doctrine of the church in the history of the church. He is unashamedly Reformed and distinctively Presbyterian. The church mattered to Bannerman and his work can teach us about why the church should matter to us.
Many have had ambitions of plowing through nearly one-thousand pages of Bannerman’s work only to let it collect dust on the shelf like an unopened treasure chest or a family heirloom sitting in the dark corner of an attic. Bannerman is well-organized and his outlines are easy to follow. He is also repetitive, often saying the same thing in several ways before moving to his next point. The structure of Bannerman’s work lends itself to abridgment, but the value of his work demands that he deserves to be heard in his own words.
For these reasons, the following outlines consist primary of direct quotations. I have made a few exceptions to this practice where the author’s sentences were too long, or where large sections allowed for further division. The footnotes provide further quotations in order to hint at the arguments for each point of doctrine. This means that the footnotes are not incidental to this book and that constitute most of the substance of the abridged text. I recommend those who use this material to teach classes read The Church of Christ concurrently in order to flesh out the material further from Scripture. In addition, Douglas Bannerman’s Scripture Doctrine of the Church and Thomas Peck’s Notes on Ecclesiology serve as useful supplements for teachers.
The questions at the end of each section are designed to promote discussion and to apply the subject to contemporary issues. Most of these questions do not permit a bare “yes” or “no” answer. Occasionally I have combined sections of the original text into one lesson and concluded them with one set of questions.
The Puritan, William Perkins, wrote that the church is “the suburbs of the city of God, and the gate of heaven; and therefore entrance must be made into heaven in and by the church.” May the Father use this work to strengthen the church that he sent his Son to purchase with his blood. And may the Spirit of God be pleased to bless old truths to a new generation through these labors. It is my hope that this shorter and more accessible version of The Church of Christ will bring you to confess with joy and conviction that the Church is indeed “an essential element of the Gospel.”
The study guide for The Church of Christ is available as an e-book for free and can be downloaded through April 22 here.
Ryan McGraw is the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Sunnyvale, Calif.
 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T Dennison (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub., 1992), 3:1.
 D. Douglas Bannerman, The Scripture Doctrine of the Church, Historically and Exegetically Considered. The Eleventh Series of the Cunningham Lectures. (T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh, 1887).
 Thomas E Peck and C. R Vaughan, Notes on Ecclesiology (Greenville, SC: GPTS Press, 1994).
 William Perkins, An Instruction Against the Idolatry of the Last Times, And an Instruction Touching Religious or Divine Worship (Cambridge, 1601), 145.