What are the true marks of the Church? The Reformers, broadly speaking, argued for three basic marks. The Gospel would be preached, the sacraments would be properly administered, and church discipline would be justly executed.
In the recently published Evangelical, Sacramental, & Pentecostal, by Gordon Smith, we see an argument for three different marks. These marks do not constitute a true church, as the ones offered by the Reformers. Rather they mark off, says Smith, what makes a church healthy and vibrant. He frames this discussion by intending to answer two questions:
How do we become partakers, entering into the grace of the risen and ascended Christ? How and by what means are heaven and earth transcended and the grace of the crucified and ascended Christ made available and appropriated by the church and by the individual Christian?
This book suffers from many difficulties and shortcomings. Primarily, it has a poorly defined thesis, which results in a failure to properly prove said thesis. Additionally, the Smith has a tendency to use poorly defined terms in his arguments. For example, the term evangelical appears to simply mean “an emphasis on Scripture.” Sacramental similarly appears to mean “believes God uses sacraments.” The converse is true with the term pentecostal, which doesn’t refer to Pentecostalism as a specific movement, but does seem to include necessarily the belief in the continuation of the charismatic gifts. Because of these poor definitions, the actual outflows of his argument are unclear.
In at least one place, Smith communicates something that is unclear at best, and at worst is blatantly false.
“And yet for many years the Evangelical Theological Society only had one criterion for membership, that one affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture. (52)”
I’m not sure when exactly it was added, but the ETS also includes an affirmation of Trinitarian orthodoxy in its doctrinal basis, which every member is required to reaffirm annually upon renewing membership. Additionally, a full member must possess an advanced theological degree, and associate members must be endorsed by a full member. I’m not sure when (if it indeed was not a part of the original requirement) the Trinitarian doctrine was added, but as far as I’m aware the requirements regarding a degree were part of the original constitution.
At the end of the day, this book could be summarized by simply saying “our worship should look like the Church in acts.” The merits of this statement are beyond the scope of this review, but I found it difficult to agree on the necessity of his book when the conclusion is such a basic statement. Rather than spend time arguing for this statement (which seems to me to be quite different than the questions laid out in his introduction), instead he invested an inordinate time formulating extremely broad definitions of the words in his title. Apart from the emphasis on the charismatic gifts, he simply seems to be saying that we as Christians should worship according to word, sacrament, and spirit. Furthermore, he draws from an apparent dichotomy that he sees in Christians who refuse to be sacramental because they are evangelical, or refuse to be evangelical because they are pentecostal. I find it hard to believe that this is a rejection of more than just the terms in the vast majority of cases, and thus the onus of his book rests on superfluous grounds.
I will end by saying a few positive things about the book. This probably sounds like a joke, but the brevity of the book was refreshing. Far too often large volumes are produced which seem to be enlarged by needless repetition or overly complex language. This book suffers from neither of those things. Additionally, the chapter on the Pentecostal Principle (97-124) serves as a reasonable short argument for the continuation of the charismatic gifts and includes a good —albeit surface level— summary of the Filioque controversy. The book utilizes endnotes, which is ordinarily a negative thing for me. However, the nature of this book is such that there are a limited number of citations in the first place, so the choice to use endnotes was appropriate.
- “ETS Membership Application | The Evangelical Theological Society“. etsjets.Org. Cited 18 March 2017.
- Smith, Gordon. Evangelical, Sacramental, & Pentecostal. Downers Grove: IVP, 2017.