James Bannerman was a son of the manse, his father being minister of the Cargill, Church of Scotland, congregation in Perthshire. James Bannerman was ordained and installed as the minister of the Ormiston, Church of Scotland parish in 1833 and in 1843, the year of the Great Disruption, he left the Church of Scotland for the newly formed Free Church of Scotland. In 1849 he was appointed professor of apologetics and pastoral theology in the New College of Edinburgh and he continued there until he died in 1868.
The work for which he is perhaps best known is the The Church of Christ which has recently been republished by the Banner of Truth in one volume. The sub-heading of the work reveals much of what we can expect as we delve into its pages: A TREATISE ON THE NATURE, POWERS, ORDINANCES, DISCIPLINE, AND GOVERNMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
To study The Church of Christ is no small undertaking but one that will reward the student with a grasp of the biblical nature of the Church of Jesus Christ and how that plays itself out in the World, in relation to the State, and with an understanding of what the Church’s powers are and are not. Confessional issues, public worship, sacraments, church discipline, the offices of the church, and Presbyterianism over and against prelacy or independency are all addressed in a thorough and biblical manner.
You may be relieved to know that Bannerman is not a practitioner of the purple prose school of writing to which so many 19th century authors belonged. He is clear and, if not concise, thorough. There are of course references to controversies current at the time of its writing but though we may be ignorant of the particulars we soon see that nothing much has changed over the years. We deal with the same issues and challenges that earlier generations have grappled with and learned from. We may thus be spared the same pitfalls.
Reading Bannerman will not turn you into the next General Synod parliamentarian, for which you may be thankful. However, it will equip you to understand why, at times, Presbyterianism seems so glacial in its proceedings and how our polity is biblically structured to deal with man’s sinful tendencies to distort the church to our own ends. When we grasp the foundational principles for the Church then we are able to appreciate why the courts of the Church function as they do. For instance, reading Bannerman we will be enabled to see why a minister’s discipline belongs to the Presbytery and not the Synod, except by appeal.
This is not a glorified version of Robert’s Rules of Parliamentary Procedure. It is a work of theology that leads us through God’s plan and purpose for Christ’s Church and enables us to love the Bride of our Saviour more and more. I recommend it highly.