This book is only available in electronic form, but given the nature of the book, I want to make it my book of the month anyway. It is the kind of book that every church that practices church discipline (which should be all of them) ought to have on the premises.
Correction: there is a paperback.
And surely, with every session of elders, somebody has a Kindle, and that somebody ought to be tasked to read this book on behalf of the session, and to bring back proposals to be incorporated into the documents of the church. Written by two young attorneys (Robert Renaud and Lael Weinberger), this book provides a historical survey of church/state relations (throughout all church history, but focusing on the Reformation era and the American Founding era), along with a legal survey of the rights churches currently have in America on matters of church discipline.
Overall, the news is good. The right of “church autonomy” on matters of faith and practice is well established in American law. That doesn’t mean that there are no threats — lawsuits have been brought, and the general climate inhabited by our ruling elites is certainly hostile to the rights and privileges of the church. At the same time, the second half of this book will be extremely helpful to churches that want to practice biblical church discipline, and at the same time do not want to do so in a way that is legally stupid. The cause of religious liberty will not be advanced by leaders of churches that discipline people without minutes, constitutions, due process, or established procedures.
The one caution I would register — without in any way indicating that the authors would differ with this — is that church/state relations, when they are functioning as they ought to be functioning, are much more organic and tightly knit than they currently are in the American system of religious “tolerance” — even when that tolerance is good. In the Reformation, there was thought to be a corpus christianorum that was foundational to both the Christian state and the Christian church, and for them, the relationship was not a simply church over here and state over there, but rather the external church/state here (body), and the internal realities here also (soul).
Downstream from Kuyper, and especially for Americans, this tight organic connection that is necessary for Christendom to function (even for my mere Christendom) is not usually taken into account. The doctrine of “church autonomy” that the authors describe here is good news for churches that want freedom to practice their beliefs without harassment. But it is not the destination point of the good news that we are to announce to the nations.
Jesus said to disciple the nations, including ours, and when we are done, the unity between a Christian people and their external social forms will be like body and soul — which only the Word of God can disentangle.
At the same time, this book will be of enormous practical help for churches that practice discipline. That should be all churches, but we are unfortunately not there yet. And we all know that if a church is thinking about instituting discipline, or resuming the practice after a long hiatus, one of the arguments that will be brought against it will be the possibility of legal ramifications. This book must be part of your calculations. And if your church does practice godly discipline, thank the Lord, and make your position stronger by getting some wisdom here.