Why Don’t They Associate? (part 3)

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.

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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.

http://confessingbaptist.com/podcast022/

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!

rex

Why Don’t They Associate? (part 2)

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.

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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!

rex

Covenant Theology Brilliantly Illustrated

In light of the recent discussions triggered by the Oct. 1st Mortification of Spin podcast, I think it would be a good time to share a simple illustration that clarifies what aspects of Covenant theology Reformed Baptists and Reformed Paedobaptists really agree upon as well as demonstrating how and why they differ.

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The following quote is from a present-day Reformed Presbyterian Pastor (One of the finest preachers of our age) explaining covenant theology by the use of an illustration from a Puritan Congregationalist.

One of the most brilliant illustrations of covenant theology is that used by the Puritan divine Thomas Goodwin. In his exposition entitled Christ Set Forth, he explains that “Adam was reckoned as a common public person, not standing singly or alone for himself, but as representing all mankind to come of him’. In this he was a type of Christ, who is also a representative figure. This is why the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:47, speaks of Adam and Christ as ‘the first man’ and ‘the second Man’ respectively ‘He speaks of them’, says Goodwin, ‘as if there had never been any more men in the world, nor were ever to be for time to come, except these two. And why? but because these two between them had all the rest of the sons of men hanging at their girdle.”

Can you visualize the picture which Goodwin draws for us? He imagines two great giants, one called Adam and the other Christ. Each is wearing an enormous leather ‘girdle’ or belt with millions of little hooks on it. You and I, and all humanity, are hanging either at Adam’s belt or at Christ’s belt. There is no third option, no other place for us. And God deals with us only through Adam or through Christ. If you are hanging at Adam’s belt, you share in the experience of sinful, fallen Adam, and your entire relationship with God is through him. But if you are hanging at Christ’s belt, all God’s dealings with you are through Christ. When you received Jesus as your Saviour, you were involved in a massive and momentous transfer. The Almighty himself unhooked you from Adam’s belt and hooked you on to Christ’s. So you now have a different Head, a different Mediator, a new Representative. You have passed from Adam into Christ, and whereas God formerly dealt with you only through Adam, he now deals with you only through his Son. You are in Christ unchangeably and for ever.     [1]

I absolutely concur with Pastor Donnelly that Goodwin’s illustration of covenant theology is brilliant and accurate.  The very heart of covenant theology is painted in such a vivid picture that a child can comprehend it, yet the depth of the richness of the doctrine is not lost.  Here we see clearly what Reformed Baptists and Reformed Paedobaptists agree upon.  You have just read a Reformed Baptist approvingly quoting a Reformed Presbyterian approvingly quoting a Puritan Congregationalist!

All men were in Adam in the garden.  All men fell in Adam when he sinned.  All stood in Adam, all fell in Adam, all died in Adam.  But God chose not to leave His elect in Adam. He unites His elect to Christ in such a way that He took on the guilt of their sins and paid the full penalty for them, and His righteousness is credited as theirs! This is covenant theology.  This we can and must agree upon.

I believe we can use the same illustration to demonstrate how and why Reformed Baptists differ from our paedobaptist brethren as well.  What does the Bible characterize as the chord by which the elect are attached to Christ’s belt?  What does the Bible represent as that by which sinners are united to Jesus Christ?  Faith, as Pastor Donnelly points out, “When you received Jesus as your Saviour, you were involved in a massive and momentous transfer. The Almighty himself unhooked you from Adam’s belt and hooked you on to Christ’s.”  Surely Baptist and Paedobaptists can agree on this as well.  But this is also where the difference becomes patently clear.

If this illustration is an accurate expression of what the Bible teaches, as I think we can agree it is, then it also sheds a great deal of light on the problem we Baptists have with the practice of infant baptism.  Our children, quite frankly, are born in Adam.  Our children remain in Adam until that point in time at which Almighty God transfers them from Adam’s belt to Christ’s belt.  In other words, our children remain in Adam until they are joined to Christ by faith.  (I am not addressing the issue of those who die in infancy etc.)  So we as Baptists simply ask:  Why would I give my children the sign that signifies union with Christ while they are still in Adam?  The Bible specifically tells us who we are to baptize, disciples.  It also represents faith and repentance as prerequisites for baptism and associates baptism with union with Christ, which my children do not have before they are joined to Him by faith.

Make disciples …baptizing them.  Matt 28:18

Repent, and let every one of you be baptized Acts 2:38

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; Acts 2:41

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Gal. 3:27

I’m fully aware of how paedobaptists respond to this type of presentation, but my purpose at this point is simply to make plain that the differences Reformed Baptists have from our paedobaptist brethren are not rooted in a rejection of covenant theology.  They actually spring forth from our understanding of covenant theology.

Let us continue to stand firm on what we believe the Bible teaches about who should be baptized.  But let us always keep in mind: that which unites us with our paedobaptist brethren is far greater and more fundamental than that which divides us.  As God sees us in Christ, let us see one another as in Christ!

     If you have never heard them, you NEED to listen to Edward Donnelly’s sermon series on Heaven and Hell.  Here.

    He has published the essence of these sermons in the book Heaven and Hell.

     For great resources on the Reformed Baptist view of Covenant Theology start here.

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex


[1] Edward Donnelly, Heaven and Hell p. 87, citing ‘ Goodwin’s Works, James Nichol edition, 1862, Vol. 4, p. 31.