March 12, 2023 Book Review

Well Ordered, Living Well: A Field Guide to Presbyterian Church Government

Well Ordered, Living Well: A Field Guide to Presbyterian Church Government

Guy Prentiss Waters

Reviewed by: Anthony C. Phelps

Well Ordered, Living Well: A Field Guide to Presbyterian Church Government by Guy Prentiss Waters. Reformation Heritage, 2022. Paperback, 112 pages, $10.00 (Amazon). Reviewed by OP pastor Anthony C. Phelps.

“I love thy kingdom, Lord” (Trinity Psalter Hymnal, no. 405). So begins a beloved hymn, and such Spirit-wrought affection for the church is evident throughout Guy Prentiss Waters’s excellent little book. How can we help those new to the OPC share our love for Christ’s visible kingdom? How can we train officers to see beyond the minutia of procedures in our Book of Church Order to behold the beauty of Christ’s rule by his Word and Spirit, as exercised ministerially in the offices he has gifted to his church? This book is an accessible and edifying way to start. It would therefore work well as a supplement to both new members classes and officer training in Presbyterian and Reformed churches.

In five short chapters, Waters addresses the following questions: “Why Does Church Government Matter?” “What Makes a Church?” “How Is the Church Led?” “But What about . . . ?” and, “Where Do We Go from Here?”

Waters has a gift for clear writing. He blends both practical and substantial ecclesiology in an understandable way. In fact, this book sneaks in a robust biblical theology of the church with its brief, jargon-free format. He points the reader to the Bible to help us to see how Christ’s saving rule is expressed in the ordinary means of grace, and through ordinary men called to serve his church as ministers, elders, or deacons. He also reminds us that when we begin to see the church as Christ does, we will more readily overlook her remaining weaknesses and sins.

Waters writes charitably and helpfully as he addresses sticky issues like churches without formal membership, spiritual gifts and male-only offices, and how to handle disagreement with church leadership decisions. He displays pastoral wisdom and biblical faithfulness in these brief discussions.

The final chapter reflects Waters’s desire for the Christian to see the beauty and relevance of Christ-appointed church government for our Christian lives. As we think biblically about it, we will choose to love Christ’s church (including the flawed people in it!), and we will feel increasing gratitude and joy for it. We may even sing “I love thy kingdom, Lord” more robustly than ever.

There’s even something for polity nerds. Appendix 2 is a contribution from Bartel Elshout which provides a helpful and concise comparison of Presbyterian church government with the Dutch Reformed Church Order of Dort (yes, the same synod that gave us the Canons of Dort). Elshout reminds us that both traditions seek to apply the Reformation principle of sola scriptura to the question of how Christ runs his church.

The one quibble I have with this book is the title. The subtitle explains it well enough. But it seems a bit obscure to stand on its own. A couple of others come to mind: Welcome to Christ’s Kingdom, or perhaps even, I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord.



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