Questions about “The Character of the Church” (Chicago: Moody, 2017)

A more complete review of Joe Thorn’s The Character of the Church (Chicago: Moody, 2017) will be coming, but I wanted to put a question out there in advance.

Thorn has written a trio of books as primers for the gospel and church life (The Character of the Church, The Heart of the Church, The Life of the Church), and being on the constant lookout for good resources for the congregation, I obtained a set.

In resources on church practice, I typically turn to the author’s treatment of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper first. I found that Thorn advocates Open communion, though he doesn’t forbid Close and Closed communion (more on that in the full review). He supports Open communion in part by quoting John Bunyan. Here’s the paragraph from Thorn, in which he quotes Bunyan:

All who have trusted in Jesus Christ are admitted to the table. Differences in views on the mode of baptism, therefore, does not [sic] restrict them from receiving the meal. All who know the Lord and are “visible saints” are welcome to participate in communion. In his classic Differences in Water Baptism, No Bar to Communion, John Bunyan explains, “The church of Christ hath not warrant to keep out of their communion the Christian that is discovered to be a visible saint by the word, the Christian that walketh according to his light with God.”

At this point, I haven’t looked into Bunyan’s work for context, but hope to do so soon. In the meantime, here are the questions this raises in my mind:

  • How does Thorn define “visible saints”? (He doesn’t explain in the section on the Lord’s Supper)
  • How does Bunyan define “visible saints”?
  • For either Thorn or Bunyan, who determines whether a person is a “visible saint,” and thus welcome at the table?
  • What does it mean that the “visible saint” is discovered to be so “by the word”?
  • Who makes this determination?

If you’ve already completed Thorn’s material, or have read Bunyan on the subject and can shed some light for me, I’d be glad to here from you. Share your insights in the facebook comments below.

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