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The Church

A Theological and Historical Account

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Renowned evangelical theologian Gerald Bray provides a clear and coherent account of the church in biblical, historical, and theological perspective. He tells the story of the church in its many manifestations through time, starting with its appearance in the New Testament, moving through centuries of persecution and triumph, and discussing how and why the ancient church broke up at the Reformation. Along the way, Bray looks at the four classic marks of the church--its oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity--and illustrates how each of these marks has been understood by different Christian traditions. The book concludes with a look at the ecumenical climate of today and suggests ways that the four characteristics of the church can and should be manifested in our present global context.

This accessible introduction to the church from an evangelical perspective explores ecclesiology through the lenses of church history and doctrine to reveal what it means for us today. Bray discusses the church as a living reality, offering practical ways churches and individuals can cooperate and live together.

1. The Origins of the Church
2. The New Testament Church
3. The Persecuted Church
4. The Imperial Church
5. The Crisis of the Imperial Church
6. What Is the Church?
7. What Should the Church Be?
Appendix: The Ecumenical Councils
For Further Reading


"Solid, shrewd, and most thorough, this superlative survey of God's people on earth past and present will be a boon not only for seminarians but also for many more of us besides. It is a truly outstanding performance."

†J. I. Packer, professor of theology, Regent College

"Here is a fresh overview of the church and its history, theology, and current challenges in today's world. Gerald Bray is an ordained evangelical Anglican, but he writes with such great sympathy and wisdom that this telling of the church's story will edify the Lord's people everywhere."

Timothy George, founding dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture

"Gerald Bray's concisely titled book is in many ways a gold mine. Weaving together the diverse manifestations of the Christian church over twenty centuries, his narration is wonderfully accessible, even conversational, and filled with engaging details. As an ecumenical panorama of the church's interaction with high and low theology, renewal and intransigence, politics and secular culture, the book is a model of fairness in its account of the virtues and vices of its members along with their achievements and excesses. Both central and peripheral characters are given due attention, and many surprising connections are noted in passing. As an observer of the trends and trajectories that have led to the denominational and postdenominational Christianity of our own day, Bray proves to be not only irenic and charitable but also sober and sensible in his assessments. Anyone who wonders whether ecclesiology matters--or even where it came from, in all its present diversity--should read this book."

John L. Thompson, professor of historical theology and Gaylen and Susan Byker Professor of Reformed Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Comprehensive in scope, ecumenical in tone, orthodox in confession, and insightful from beginning to end, this book sets a new benchmark for textbooks on ecclesiology. It's everything a Christian professor could hope for in a course text. Yet beyond its usefulness in academia, Dr. Bray's warm heart for the church comes through on every page, making the book spiritually enriching as well as intellectually informative. Part history, part theology, part prescriptive wisdom from a senior churchman--this book does it all. I suspect it is destined to become the go-to classic for an overview of Protestant ecclesiology."

Bryan Litfin, professor of theology, Moody Bible Institute

"I know of almost no one else who could write a book like this. Gerald Bray's unique global-mindedness and catholic awareness are put on full display in this analysis of the development of the church throughout the ages and across the continents. Bray manages to show the diverse forms of basic creedal orthodoxy in different ecclesiastical traditions. Especially to be praised is his constant assessment of how various forms of biblical exegesis have marked developments within the tradition. From the Jewish roots of Christianity to the nature of the modern ecumenical movement, readers will glean guidance for the road from Bray's assessments. I fully expect that members of various Christian traditions will better understand their place in God's family by leaning into this narrative and thematic analysis."

Michael Allen, associate professor of systematic and historical theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

The Author

  1. Gerald Bray

    Gerald Bray

    Gerald Bray (DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne) is research professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama; distinguished professor of historical theology at Knox Theological Seminary; and director of research at Latimer Trust, Oak...

    Continue reading about Gerald Bray


"[Bray] has produced a fine vade mecum on the Church . . . [that is] outstanding for its economy of expression, sobriety of judgment, and the impression that in less than 300 pages he leaves nothing out. . . . His book is as fine a manual on its subject as I know, accessible to the lay reader, and recommended for individuals, study groups, and pastors, whose ministries will profit from keepings its factual content ready to mind."

S. M. Hutchens,


"Bray makes accessible in lucid prose the church's story leading to the Reformation and offers a wealth of insight into the details of the church's current life. . . . A strong point of Bray's historical narration is its versatility; he addresses his audience as if this could be their first foray into church history even as he offers a resourceful perspective for the seasoned academic. . . . [Bray's] decision to treat the church neither as dead past nor dry doctrine communicates to the reader that for Bray, the church is a living reality."

Amy Erickson,

European Journal of Theology

"[Bray] is a scholar and a churchman, and this book is grounded in and speaks from and to both worlds. . . . This excellent book repays careful reading and re-reading, as well as extended time of reflection and careful deliberation. Bray's many skills as a historian, theologian, biblical scholar, preacher, and teacher are on display. His lifelong study and experience provide him with both expertise and a gravitas of expression that draws the reader into his thought processes and stimulates engagement with his evaluation of the history of the church. Students, teachers, and ministers in both church and parachurch contexts will find this work challenging, encouraging, and enlightening."

Glenn R. Kreider,

Bibliotheca Sacra

"The Church is a helpful introduction to the ways in which the church's self-understanding has developed over time. The author does not attempt to hide the evangelical perspective that informs his analysis. However, he does not hesitate to show the shortcomings of the Protestant Reformation either. . . . Because of its scope, the book is sure to make some contribution to the learning of all students of historical theology."

Daniel Eguiluz,

Calvin Theological Journal

"There are many books expounding the doctrine of the church, from a wide variety of Christian traditions, and just as many histories of the church. Gerald Bray's latest publication is different, refreshingly so. . . . Although whole-heartedly committed to his Evangelical Anglican position, Bray is a man of wide sympathies and, as his other writings amply show, one deeply and widely read in the history of theology. As a result he has produced a volume that is informative and provides much food for thought. When readers do diverge from his views, it will be with a clear understanding of the issues involved and the reasons for Bray's own conclusions."

David McKay,

Reformed Theological Journal

"Last semester I taught a course on the historical and theological development of the church. . . . I enjoyed using various primary and secondary readings for the course, but if I were to do it all over again, I would definitely have Gerald Bray's The Church as a required text. . . . I appreciate how Bray does not assume that the reader is versed in church history or comes from a particular theological conviction. This allows for comprehensive cover, but in an approachable tone. . . . Bray discusses so much in engaging prose, with a clear historical narrative that does not favor one particular denomination over another. . . . A wonderful resource for those who wish to read a historical and theological discussion of the church. . . . I will be using The Church for the classroom in the future, but it does not read like a textbook and is beneficial for anyone interested in the church."

Hoon Lee,

Exploring Church History blog