Ecclesiology was perhaps my least favourite subject in Bible college. Maybe it was because all the classes were weekend intensives, but I also did not care much for the content. However, since my first years of Bible college, ecclesiology—the doctrine of the Church—has become of utmost importance to me. Not only is it abundantly rich, but it is also profoundly practical. The questions of what the church looks like, how it ought to function, and how its members posture themselves towards the church and one another is perhaps the most significant issue facing the North American Church, and apparently the Church worldwide. I received a copy of Conrad Mbewe’s God’s Design for the Church as part of the Crossway blog review program. I was eager for the opportunity to learn from a brother across the globe and from the unique challenges facing the churches for whom he writes.
God’s Design is written for the Church in Africa and the challenges they face. Mbewe takes seriously the challenges he perceives, so the word is hard at times, yet he is also confident in God’s good purposes and rightfully acknowledges the profound good God is working in the African continent. With a firm yet wise hand, Mbewe works through many theological and practical issues that face a church that wants to be faithful. He is attempting to help the African church be more Biblical by giving “biblical foundations of what the church is meant to be” (19). He recognizes a need in the African church “for a book that explains God’s design for the church so that those who lead the church can do so in accordance with God’s mind” (19). The issues he addresses are not often those one would encounter in a Western work, such as the appropriate ways to collect money and how ubuntu creates unique strengths and challenges for the church. However, in each area, the Western reader is confronted with just how similar the issues facing the African church are to those we face, and even those that are alien (such as superstition) can give us insight into the challenges we face here. God’s Design for the Church has twenty short chapters that cover a range of issues, moving from general theology of the church (e.g. Ch. 1 “What is the Church, Ch. 2, “Who is the Church’s Founder and Head”; Ch. 3 “What is the Church’s Task in the World?”) to practical issues of faithfully leading a church (e.g. Ch. 10, “How Should the Church Raise Its Money”; Ch. 11 “Should Your Church Be Involved in Missions?”; Ch. 13“What about Church Discipline?”; Ch. 15 “How Should Your Church Grow Spiritually?”).
The challenges are different, but the Word of God is true across all cultures. Mbewe’s faithful exposition will be a great benefit to his intended audience, pastors on the African continent, and pastors in my own Western context. I would not agree on every detail, and my own current work on ecclesiology looks quite different from Mbewe’s, but there are many riches here for the reader to mine.