Why Don’t They Associate? (part 1)
I may need to begin with an apology and clarification. I entitled last week’s blog “Why Don’t They Associate?” but I did not come to the answer to that question. Neither will I come to the answer this week, but I will, Lord willing, address it directly next time. My point in bringing out the fact that the wording used in Ch. 26, Par. 14-15 of our Confession of Faith originated from men and churches who did not enter into formal associations in the manner that the Particular Baptists did was NOT to suggest that RB churches who do not join formal associations make this choice because they want to follow the Congregationalists rather than the Baptists.
My first desire was to make one thing abundantly clear. It ought not to be stated, implied or assumed that those RB churches that conscientiously abstain from entering into formal associations do this on Fundamentalist Baptist principles or that by refusing to enter such associations, they are redefining the meaning of those chapters in our confession of faith. I believe we have seen enough evidence for the unbiased to weigh and accurately conclude likewise.
I would ask you to take the time to read the following paper, again authored by Pastor Dave Chanski.
Chapter 26, Paragraph 15: Foundational?
This is a paper presented by Pastor Chanski at a Reformed Baptist Pastor’s Fraternal with regard to the question of how to deal with a church that would take exception to Ch. 26 par. 15 of the 1689. In it we find a tenacious defense of the truths and concepts of interchurch communion advocated in our Confession, as well as some excellent historical and scriptural considerations. We also see further clarification as to what the original authors of the wording of our confession meant by “communion” between churches. Though the stated purpose of this paper was not to make clear that those non-associating Reformed Baptists do truly believe in, adhere to and uphold the paragraph of our Confession in question, it most definitely serves that purpose.
I want to take a moment to “flesh out” what this inter-church communion actually looks like in these churches, but first, please allow me to reiterate what I feel is of utmost importance. The fact that the Particular Baptist churches who first subscribed to our Confession used formal associations as the means of fulfilling the requirements of Ch 26, par. 14-15 of the Confession is without question. This does not accurately lead to the conclusion that formal associations are the only legitimate means of fulfilling those requirements! I have never seen any Particular Baptist making the claim that the Congregationalists did not really or credibly practice interchurch communion because they did not enter into such formal associations. Unfortunately, there are some modern Reformed Baptists who are willing to assert or at least imply that the RB churches that do not enter into such formal associations are by that fact alone rejecting the 1689 statements about interchurch communion. My contention is that such an idea is both uncharitable and unfounded, and as such ought to be rejected by all.
What does it look like?
I assert that these Reformed Baptist Churches with which I am familiar do truly hold communion with one another in a way that is in line with both scripture and our confession of faith. I have neither the time nor inclination to develop a full orbed theology of interchurch communion as practiced by non-associating Reformed Baptist churches. What I can and will do, however, is give you the “man in the pew” view of two major aspects of the interchurch communion practiced among these churches. I will focus our attention on two features of this communion: 1. Prayer Meeting 2. Pulpit Exchange.
Before attending Providence Reformed Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN I had never attended a prayer meeting like theirs. Most prayer meetings I had been to consisted in about a half hour of Bible teaching followed by the voicing of particular prayer requests from both the leader and anyone in the congregation who had one. Following that either the pastor would close in prayer, or people would divide into smaller groups where they would take turns praying. What I found at Providence was profoundly different, it was abundantly edifying and Spiritual, and quite frankly, I miss it more than I can express in words.
We began the Prayer meeting with a hymn and a short devotion, five to ten minutes in length. Often something from the Psalms or something pithy from a Puritan, enough to warm our hearts for the work at hand, but no full Bible study on some given topic. We were there for the business of prayer and that work remained the focus of the entirety of the meeting. The remainder of the time was divided into three sections. In one section we would discuss prayer requests and needs there in the local assembly. Then we would take those things before the throne of Grace. The men would lead the congregation in prayer, one after the other, then the pastor would offer a concluding prayer. This section would sometimes come first, and sometimes last, order was not important.
The remaining two sections of prayer time were spent praying for churches with which we were informally associated. The pastor would take the time to read fairly lengthy letters from sister churches in which intimate details of their struggles and triumphs were laid before us. Often times we would be given short outlines of the prayer requests and praises as aids while we listened, but when that was absent we would make clear notes so that we would not forget how to pray particularly for each of these churches’ specific needs. After two or three letters were read we would stop and once again be led by the men, each in turn as they led us before the throne of Grace to bring these petitions unto our glorious Mediator. We entered into the most intimate spiritual fellowship with these brethren, most of whom we had never met. We wept with those who wept. We rejoiced with those who rejoiced. We wrestled with God on behalf of those with whom He had given us such a spiritual kinship. We gloried in His continued answers to such prayers and blessed Him for His remarkable work of grace among these sister churches. The Pastor would close out that section with a prayer and then lead on through the next section with prayer letters followed by the same heartfelt, Spirit wrought petitions for the needs of those churches. We met as a local church, for the express purpose of going before the throne of grace as one body, and offering up prayers and supplications for these other local churches whom we knew and loved.
We gained an intimate knowledge of and love for these churches as we heard updates from them as months and years went by. Our hearts were truly knit to the brethren in these sister churches. When by providence I would meet someone from one of these churches it was in a very real sense as though we were already friends. And I cannot even begin to describe the benefit of the knowledge that these churches were doing the same for us. If you have never experienced a prayer meeting of this nature, I don’t think you can comprehend the sense of true Spiritual communion that it fosters and supplies.
The benefits of the prayer meeting were not limited to prayer either. Oh how we would long to put feet to our prayers. As we listened to the struggles and needs of these brethren, we did not do so in order to pray for them and forget about it. How our hearts would yearn to reach out and help those in need in any way we could. How often at the end of prayer meeting we would discuss by what means we could help those who had needs. This was no cold dead prayer meeting, this was intimate Spirit wrought communion that needed to be expressed in deeds as well as words.
Another means God has used to foster Spiritual communion between such churches is the regular exchange of pulpits. On a fairly regular basis, Pastors from sister churches would travel and preach in one another’s pulpits. This fostered a great deal of love and kinship between us. As these men of God would come before us and feed us from the depths of the word of God, ministering to our souls and edifying our spirits, we gained a heartfelt attachment to them. The love they had for our Risen Lord was evident in their character and demeanor as well as their preaching, and witnessing such love fostered an admiration in us for them as Pastors and for the people whom they served. This gave opportunity to practice hospitality toward these men, and as they spent time in our homes we got to know them better and kept up to date on the work of Christ in their home church. Such pulpit exchanges are also great for the sharing of “gifted brethren.” If a church recognizes a man in their church as possessing certain gifts and graces that may qualify him for the pastoral office they would send him to preach in other churches as well. Not only does this give these sister churches the benefit of the gifts God is developing in such a man, it develops a relationship between them and him. As the people benefit from the ministry of such a man they also yearn to see him used of God wherever God may choose to send him, and support him in such endeavors.
In closing I simply desire to point out something that seems to me ought to be obvious. In such situations as we find described in Ch. 26, Par. 15, where difficulties or differences in doctrine or administration make it necessary for other churches to meet together to consider and give advice about the matter, the environment created by the two practices I’ve just described is the soil in which such consideration and advice is most likely to bear good fruit. When the churches who come together for this purpose are the churches you know and love through mutual prayer, and the pastors who bring advice and admonition are those who have repeatedly ministered to your soul, a favorable outcome is much more likely than when such things are missing. I am by no means insinuating that the churches of which I speak are the only churches to engage in such practices. But I do think it is abundantly clear that these churches have genuine, vital and scriptural interchurch communion even though they do not join in formal associations such as ARBCA.
As I said, I will address the actual question “Why don’t they associate?” next time, Lord willing.
His Throne is Forever and Ever!