When Tom Chantry announced that he was going to begin a new series of blog articles about the history of the Reformed Baptist movement in America over the past several decades I was quite excited about it. I greatly enjoyed the lectures on Modern Church history from Reformed Baptist Seminary, and I always enjoy hearing other perspectives on historical events. I have genuinely enjoyed reading these blogs as they have been posted and I recommend anyone who wasn’t aware of them to go over to Chantrynotes.wordpress.com and spend some time there. (later addition: after reading some of the later posts I plead with anyone who reads them to do so with a heavy dose of Proverbs 18:17)
I must also say, however, that after reading his fourth and sixth installments, I became concerned about something. I am not making the claim that Tom is purposefully misrepresenting a section of the Reformed Baptist movement, but I fear that those readers who are unacquainted with the Reformed Baptist Churches that conscientiously refrain from formal associations may easily get the wrong idea about them. Since what Tom is presenting is a historical narrative of the interactions between these churches, it would be silly to ask him to take the time to articulate all the historical, theological and exegetical reasons for the different positions taken by these churches. Imagine how long that would take! But I am uncomfortable with the idea that anyone should be left with the impression that the churches like Trinity in Montville, NJ and the pastors like AN Martin held their position on the matter of associations merely out of historical ignorance, fundamentalist Baptist influences and fear of the repetition of previous injurious denominational situations.
It is for this reason that I begin this short blog series. My purpose is to accurately represent the historical, theological and Biblical reasoning behind some Reformed Baptist churches conscientiously abstaining from formal associations. I am not by any means attempting to attack ARBCA or like associations. I am a member of a Reformed Baptist church that belongs to ARBCA, and I have never made any attempt to convince our elders that we should leave the association. I also spent 11 years in another Reformed Baptist church that conscientiously abstained from joining ARBCA, which I believe gives me some insight into the real reasons such churches have for their choice not to formally associate. It hurts me to think that a bias against these churches might be formed by anyone whose opinion is shaped solely by the representation of those who disagree with them on this subject. Therefore I will attempt to paint a faithful picture, and set forth at least some of the reasoning behind a non-associating stance as well as demonstrating how such churches answer the most common objections brought against them.
The first area I want to address is the most common thread I have noticed among those who advocate the formal association of churches. It is repeatedly pointed out that early in the Reformed Baptist movement there was almost complete ignorance of the associational practices of the Particular Baptist churches who penned our beloved Confession of Faith and held to its doctrine. I do not wish to contradict the fact that very little was known at that time and I certainly do not wish to take anything away from the wonderful work Dr. Renihan has done. We are indeed in great debt to him for his research and labor. I love to repeatedly listen to the lectures he has on the history of the Particular Baptists. The point I wish to make on the subject is this: The mere fact that the Particular Baptist churches of the 1600’s joined in formal associations and used those associations as the means of fulfilling the statements of chapter 26 of our confession, does not necessitate the idea that the only legitimate means of fulfilling those statements is through formal associations. That sentence seems about as clear as mud, so please allow me to elaborate.
It is true that the Particular Baptists believed in joining formal associations of churches. It is also true that they used these associations as a means of fulfilling the requirements of paragraphs 14 & 15 of chapter 26 of our Confession of Faith. But it is not true that those Particular Baptist churches taught that to abstain from a formal association of churches would violate the requirements of those paragraphs.
Please take the time to read the paper I have included here:
–in which Pastor Dave Chanski examines the historical context of the wording of our Confession of Faith on the matter of communion of churches.
As Pastor Chanski has made abundantly clear, the original authors of the wording of our confession, (men like John Owen, Thomas Goodwin and Jeremiah Burroughs), did not enter into formal associations of churches. In fact, as you can see in footnote 14 & 15, these Puritans plainly opposed certain aspects of formal associations. The men who originally penned “The Two Most Contentious Paragraphs in Reformed Baptist History” did not believe that formal associations of churches were required in order to abide by them!
I just want to make a few applications of these facts before closing this first installment.
- Any claim that a church cannot abide by Chap. 26 par 14-15 of our Confession of Faith unless they join in formal associations must be abandoned. We may argue that the requirements are more easily met through formal associations or that formal associations are a genuine aid in our efforts to carry out the provisions of these paragraphs. But we must drop the idea that formal association is absolutely necessary.
- We cannot assume that any church rejecting formal association does so on fundamentalist Baptist principles. Surely the Puritan Congregationalists who penned the words of our confession were free from such influences.
- The idea that to reject formal association is to redefine “communion” in chapter 26 of our confession is completely untenable. Those who originally wrote the words did not define it that way. Neither did the Particular Baptists redefine the term by adhering to formal associations. The fact of the matter is, the terms of these two paragraphs can be met either with or without formal associations of churches without any need of redefining terms.
His Throne is Forever and Ever!