As I stated earlier, this blog series was prompted by some statements in Tom Chantry’s blog on Reformed Baptist Church history. I felt that some could come to the wrong conclusion as to the reasons why many Reformed Baptists churches conscientiously refrain from entering into formal associations such as ARBCA, and I wanted to demonstrate that these churches do not take this stance in order to avoid the type of interchurch communion prescribed in our beloved 1689 Confession of Faith. My studies have kept me from finishing this series in a timely manner, for which I apologize, but this will be my concluding post on the issue. In these past two weeks Pastor Chantry’s blog has taken an unfortunate turn and entered a realm that I will avoid following him into. I have no wish to air dirty laundry; I want to help promote unity and love among us as Reformed Baptists.
That being said, I will now finally get to the answer to the question: “Why don’t they associate?” Why do many Reformed Baptist churches feel that entering into a formal association of churches is the wrong way to go about fulfilling the requirements of Chapter 26 Paragraphs 14 & 15? Rather than writing a full explanation, I will simply give examples from three different pastors so you can see their position explicated in their own words. I especially recommend you read Alan Dunn’s essay, I find it to be the fullest and most convincing.
Perspectives on Inter-church Fellowship by Pastor Alan Dunn
Together by Stephen Rees of Grace Baptist Church in Stockport (UK)
Inter-church Relationship from Sovereign Grace Bible Church of Cebu (Philippines)
As you can see, these esteemed pastors believe they have a Biblical basis for not creating extrabiblical supra-church structures. As they view the ecclesiology of the New Testament they can find no example of authority over churches besides that of Christ Himself ruling over the churches through the authority He vested in the Apostles and Prophets now codified in the word of God. Elders are clearly placed in an authoritative role over individual churches as under-shepherds who receive that authority from Christ Himself. There is no example of a structure of churches banding together as a formal authority over other churches.
As these men examine the Biblical arguments for formal associations they are unconvinced. Pastor Dunn does an excellent job scrutinizing these arguments and judging them by the word of God. I have not been able to locate any response to his paper, so if anyone is aware of one I would be exceedingly grateful if they could point it out to me so I could see how association advocates seek to overcome his objections.
Their bottom line, as I see it, is the complete lack of Biblical precept or example. The reason they do not want to build a supra-church structure is the same reason we do not create an official church office called “trustee”. The Regulative Principle of the church prevents them from entering into such associations.
A Plea for Unity
The Confessing Baptist podcast posted an interview with Dr. James Renihan on Sept. 3, 2013 that I believe will be very helpful in this discussion.
Right around the 30 minute mark, Dr. Renihan begins to discuss one of the characteristics of a good confession of faith. He explains that a good confession has both exclusive and inclusive functions. The confession is exclusive in the way it excludes particular errors from what should be considered orthodox. The example given is that the confession excludes those who would reject a doctrine like the Trinity. More important for this discussion, I believe, is the inclusive aspect of the confession. The confession states doctrines clearly and concisely, yet in a manner that allows for subscription by those who still hold some disagreements in the background. Please take the time to listen for yourself. The discussion I reference begins at 28:28 and lasts about 5-10 minutes.
In light of the examples I have given in the two preceding blogs, where we observe that these churches do genuinely practice interchurch communion & as we examine Chapter 26, paragraphs 14-15, we can recognize that the practice of these churches reflects a genuine effort to abide by them as they accurately reflect the requirements found in the word of God. Even if we fully concede Dr. Renihan’s argument that the churches who originally published the 1689 used the word communion as a technical term for formal association, must we therefore conclude that they meant to use this term in an exclusive manner? Are we to believe that the authors of the confession used the term communion in order to exclude those who do not enter into formal associations? If they in fact desired to exclude churches who seek to hold communion without formally associating would they have used a term with such broad Biblical usage?
It is my contention, indeed my plea, in the spirit of charity and unity, that even if the original framers of our confession used the term “communion” in an exclusive manner, we can in good conscience hold to these paragraphs in an inclusive manner. Let us recognize that both associating and non-associating churches are actively and laboriously seeking to foster interchurch communion in a manner that is compatible with the words of our confession and accept one another as fellow Reformed Baptists.
As I stated, I want to refrain from further interacting with Tom Chantry’s blog, but I cannot close without one final thought. Chantry states , ” It had been their desire to see a mutual effort among the churches to establish a seminary, but instead a local-churchist institution was established.” I am one of the hundreds upon hundreds of sheep who are eternally grateful for the training our pastors received at Trinity Ministerial Academy. Sheep do not need a pastor who is accepted in academic circles. They need pastors who love them, who nurture and care for their souls both in and outside the pulpit. TMA trained men to do just that in a manner that is unsurpassed to my knowledge. They received exemplary training in systematic, biblical, exegetical and pastoral theology. Pastor Martin’s Pastoral Theology lectures are amazing. There is nothing in them of an authoritarian nature; quite to the contrary, they are packed with love, affection and wisdom beyond anything I’ve had the blessing to find. The fact that TMA was a local church institution is far from a problem. The local church is exactly the environment in which Christ commanded men to be trained for pastoral ministry. “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
His Throne is Forever and Ever!