Church Symbols For Today

Dr. N. J. Gourlay

314pp, £9.90, published by Walterick Publishers (U.S.A.) and available from Muasdale Evangelical Books, Siavonga House, Muasdale, By Tarbert, Argyll, PA29 6XD.

There is an enigmatic quality about the book's main title, so that we are grateful for sub-titles on the front cover, and title-page, that state the following:‘ye do show forth’ and ‘The Water, The Head, The Bread and the Wine’. Here is added information sufficient to stimulate our interest, for most would concede that these matters, where symbolic representation is involved in our activities, are of tremendous importance to all Christians. Dr. Gourlay has moved into a veritable minefield of debate in attempting to deal with his subject. With all the discussion, sometimes ‘heated’, that prevails at the present time, one is convinced that there is a genuine lack of understanding of such matters. The author looks at his subject from an assembly perspective, and makes claim to write with a view to sharing these scriptural beliefs with Christians from a wider evangelical background.

In the first chapter he considers the use of symbolism in Scripture - in figures of speech, in symbolic acts and in symbolic objects - marking the differences between Old Testament and New Testament symbolism. In succeeding chapters, he considers the three great symbols that affect God's people today (baptism, headship and in celebration of the Lord's Supper). Quoting L. S. Chafer, ‘A man is on weak grounds if he speaks dogmatically about his own views and yet does not understand what his opponents believe’, he presents as alternatives the whole range of practices that prevail in churches of all denominations. His survey is entirely reasonable in that he traces in each case the progression of events leading to the present situation, and then presents his criticism in the form of a positive statement from Scripture that supports good assembly practice. His ‘in-depth’ study brings to light many issues that are outside normal discussion, and are to be welcomed inasmuch as they encourage us to look again at well-known passages of Scripture in order to justify our actions when we assemble as members of a local church.

The index of references indicates how widely Dr. Gourlay has researched in preparation of his book – there is also an index of scriptures, and of persons. Throughout the book, in making his case Dr. Gourlay uses non-technical language wherever possible and writes in a style that is easily read. I warmly commend this book to a wide readership - it deals fully, and effectively, with matters often regarded as difficult to handle in a local assembly and must be of benefit to all who would follow the scriptural pattern.