This book explores the doctrine of the church among English Calvinistic Baptists between 1640 and 1660. It examines the emergence of Calvinistic Baptists against the background of the demise of the Episcopal Church of England, the establishment by Act of Parliament of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and the attempted foundation of a Presbyterian Church of England. Ecclesiology was one of the most important doctrines under consideration in this phase of English history, and this book is a contribution to understanding alternative forms of ecclesiology outside of the mainstream National Church settlement.
It argues that the development of Calvinistic Baptist ecclesiology was a natural development of one stream of Puritan theology, the tradition associated with Robert Brown, and the English separatist movement. This tradition was refined and made experimental in the work of Henry Jacob, who founded a congregation in London in 1616 from which Calvinistic Baptists emerged. Central to Jacob’s ideology was the belief that a rightly ordered church acknowledged Christ as King over his people. The christological priority of early Calvinistic Baptist ecclesiology will constitute the primary contribution of this study to the investigation of dissenting theology in the period.
Publication Date: Jan. 2017
Publisher: Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers
Ian Birch is Principal of the Scottish Baptist College where he lectures in Theology and Baptist Studies. He contributed to The Plainly Revealed Word of God? Baptist Hermeneutics in Theory and Practice (2011) and Mirrors and Microscopes (2015). He was winner of the Payne Memorial Essay Prize for “‘The Counsel and Help of One Another’: Origins and Concerns of Early Particular Baptist Churches in Association” in 2012.
Pastor Tom Chantry encourages us to draw out the right lesson from Driscoll and Tchividjian controversy:
…What we [Reformed Baptists] have, then, is a distinct system from Presbyterianism, but one which, like Presbyterianism, endeavors to pay heed to the biblical principles by which all churches must be governed, namely: 1) the Headship of the Lord Jesus Christ over the church, 2) the careful application of the authority and power he grants the church through orderly processes, 3) a mutual and prayerful respect between the officers and members of every congregation, and 4) a similarly mutual and prayerful respect between like-minded congregations which serve under the same Head. It is, in other words, a serious polity worthy of serious Christians.
But will it preserve us from a badly mishandled scandal? No, not if we trust in polity alone. Forgive my transgression of theological categories, but right polity cannot save ex opere operato! To avoid scandal, or rather to handle it rightly when it comes, we need grace from on high. For this reason our polity must be pursued carefully and prayerfully by upright and humble men. Otherwise it will fail. We may wish to say that such terrible scandals as Driscoll and Tchividjian have perpetrated could never happen under our polity, but as our Presbyterian friends have discovered, they might! In fact, brothers, I would say that they have, only not so publicly…
The reason, however, is probably not polity. It is far more likely that the problem lies within our hearts. Maybe we do have one of those polities which, to expropriate Adams’ words, is “better fitted for being well administered than others.” Very well, but let us heed Pope also, and administer it well and faithfully.
[As far as I know, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin is the only Reformed Baptist contributing to this book. He wrote chapter one on “Some Historic Roots of Congregationalism”, which can be read here and at the bottom of the post.]
Mark Dever (Editor), Jonathan Leeman (Editor), Andrew M. Davis (Contributor), John S. Hammett (Contributor), Michael A. G. Haykin (Contributor), Benjamin L Merkle (Contributor), Thomas R. Schreiner (Contributor), Kirk Wellum (Contributor), Stephen J. Wellum (Contributor), Thomas White (Contributor), Shawn Wright (Contributor)
Ours is an anti-polity age, perhaps more than any other time in the history of the church. Yet polity remains as important now as it was in the New Testament.
What then is a right or biblical polity? The contributors to this volume make an exegetical and theological case for a Baptist polity. Right polity, they argue, is congregationalism, elder leadership, diaconal service, regenerate church membership, church discipline, and a Baptist approach to the ordinances.
Each section explores the pastoral applications of these arguments. How do congregationalism and elder leadership work together? When should a church practice church discipline? How can one church work with another in matters of membership and discipline?
To be read sequentially or used as a reference guide, Baptist Foundations provides a contemporary treatment of Baptist church government and structures, the first of its kind in decades.
In May of 2014 Solid Ground Christian Books published Tom Chantry & David Dykstra’s “Holding Communion Together – The Reformed Baptists: The First Fifty Years, Divided & United”. Last week we interviewed them about their book.
Interview #57 – Tom Chantry & David Dysktra – Holding Communion Together [Audio Podcast][ 1:10:28 | 32.3 MB ]Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
From the Editor, “For nearly half a century the growth of the Reformed Baptist movement has been quite remarkable, but it has not been without controversy. Chantry and Dykstra draw from an incredible amount of documentation as they seek to explain for the first time how we have gotten where we are today. This is a history that must be told, and these men do so for the good of all who love the doctrines of grace. In addition to the 20 chapters that will make up this book, there will be several appendices containing important documents and papers written over the past 50 years.”
From Pastor Fred Malone of Clinton, Louisiana, “Sometimes, when I read the New Testament, I grieve over the problems reported about maintaining doctrinal truth and spiritual unity both in individual churches and in the Apostolic church at large. Frankly, it sounds like the church of today. Somehow, that honest history of the NT comforts me. For Christ has always used earthen vessels to build His church and He will continue to do so until He returns.”
From Pastor Doug VanderMeulen of North Dakota, “Anyone who is seriously interested in understanding the modern Reformed Baptist history in America ought to carefully read Tom Chantry and Dave Dykstra’s ‘Holding Communion Together.’ Coming to the Reformed faith after much of what is discussed in this book occurred, I found it immensely helpful in understanding my experiences as I moved into Reformed Baptist circles. It provided answers to many questions about people, events, and attitudes I encountered but for which I had no context to understand. Additionally, we live at a time when Reformed Baptist distinctives are being eroded. Churches which have doctrine, worship, polity, and piety that is foreign to the 1689 London Baptist Confession are laying claim to the moniker, ‘Reformed Baptist’. Holding Communion Together goes a long way in setting the record straight on what it means to be a Reformed Baptist. A must read, especially for elders, deacons and those wanting to understand our history.”
From Pastor Earl Blackburn’s Forward, “”First, remember, as the old saying goes, that “the best of men are men at best. Second, not all conflict is bad. Third, the Christian must be vigilant against two cunning enemies who relentlessly opposed the gospel and the progress of Christ’s Kingdom: Satan and the flesh. Fourth, Christ can use weak and flawed men, even men who have great strengths coupled with glaring imperfections, to build and establish His kingdom in a raging and fallen world. Fifth. too easily, saints on earth allow ministers to come between them and eclipse the Sun of Righteousness in heaven, who is the head of the church. Sixth, and perhaps the most important lesson to be learned, is the great value and unity in confessional Christianity.”
From Pastors Chantry & Dkystra’s Introduction, “The determination to keep these controversies quiet has led to a culture of silence among Reformed Baptists, and evil thrives in such silence. Our motto throughout the writing of this history has been, “not neutral, but always objective.” We believe that what we have written is verified in the record. Where it is not, we are certain we will be criticized. A number of large themes are addressed throughout this book. The importance of missions and the best approach to their support is one. The right approach to ministerial training is another. One of the greatest and most divisive issues among us as been authority and authoritarianism––the proper scope and exercise of church office. However, we believe that two closely related threads run through the entire tapestry of Reformed Baptist experience: association and confessional subscription.”
From the Afterward, “We are a movement without a written history. I believe that the reason for this is now evident. Our movement has been torn apart by schisms, and the largest schism involves one group of churches which holds that no action or decision of a local church ought to be subject to external scrutiny. The challenges to the presumptive historian are thus huge…Part of the reason for this is that we live in a day of moderate growth of Reformed Baptist churches––but also of explosive growth of Calvinism. Among the New Calvinists there is a different approach to theology (non-confessional), to worship (vaguely normative principle) and piety (softly antinomian) which requires Reformed Baptists to enunciate our distinctives. However, as our own movement grows and undergoes a generational shift, the confessional Reformed roots of our churches could easily be forgotten. My hope was to write a bit about the early history, to touch briefly on the schisms, and to address certain current concerns…. what we have produced is a thorough ecclesiastical history of the Reformed Baptist movement, albeit written from the perspective of our shared “confessional associationalism.”
My Review: I love the engaging style this book is written in. The authors ask open-ended questions. Also, at the end of each chapter is a “Lessons Learned” section. The Appendices. This book has an excellent appendices that are a must have. This books is practical. We have theoretical ideas about subscription and ecclesiology, but what happens when we apply these to real life? From Chapter 12: Turning Out the Lights “… events forced men to become realists about associational life. In the abstract, a fellowship of absolutely autonomous, radically independent local churches was plausible. In the real world, problems arose which demanded some answer.” Recommended reading for all Reformed Baptists, Independents, and Confessional Reformed Paedobaptists.
The Confession On Associations + Associationalism In Practice [Jim Renihan] There may be some who read the words of our last post, and have no difficulty accepting what has been written, but who argue that this type of oneness is demonstrated through conferences, pastors fellowships and personal friendships. Nothing else is necessary, and anything more is an intrusion upon the rights of the local church and without historical support. They have been led to believe that the early Baptist associations were more like meetings for fellowship than structured, formal and active organizations. But such notions are untrue. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to consider the theological terminology used to support the concept of associationalism in the 1689 Confession.
Some Objections [Against Associationalism] Considered pt. 1-3 [Dr. James Renihan] Proponents of this methodology in effect argue that the evidence from the Baptist usage of the term is irrelevant, and that priority must be given to the intention of the authors of the Savoy Platform. It implies that the Baptists, when employing the same language as the Savoy document, of necessity must mean exactly the same thing in every case. They could not adopt words or phrases, and invest them with a more technical meaning than may be implied in the original document. But this is clearly a non sequitur. If it can be demonstrated that the Baptists used the word in a more technical sense than did the Congregationalists this does not in any way enervate their declarations of agreement with the Savoy divines. It simply reflects the polysemous nature of words. No one would deny that the semantic range of the word “communion” incorporates the sense(s) argued for by those who differ with us, nor that the connotation in the Confessional statement (in a secondary manner) bears these senses. But the more technical usage consistently maintained in their associational documents, argues for a technical denotation in the Confession. The evidence from the Baptist usage alone demonstrates that in their practice of the ecclesiology of these statements, association is implied. It is not merely one of the means of holding communion, it was the quintessential means of doing so. Whatever sense “communion” held for the Independents, for the Baptists, in contexts referring to inter-church relationships, the word had a technical sense.
It happened again last week. On Thanksgiving morning I received an email from a friend of a friend. The first line read, “It appears I am being forced out of my pastorate.” The story that unfolded in the rest of that email and upon further inquiry is filled with themes that are tragically too common…
“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality” (1 Timothy 5:19-21, NKJV).
Several years ago I preached a message with the same title as this article to the church I serve in Cape Coral. When I mentioned my intentions to a pastor friend, he said, “Tom, haven’t you heard that you never put a loaded gun into the hand of your enemy?” My response then remains my conviction now. First, I do not consider the church I serve to be my enemy. Far from it. Though some individuals from time-to-time have positioned themselves as my enemies, the church as a whole has been and remains the body of Christ and therefore a wonderful means of grace in my life. When a pastor starts viewing the church as his enemy it is a sure sign that he has outlived his usefulness to that congregation.
Secondly, in the sense in which my friend meant it, church members already have a gun. As one who is charged with the responsibility to lead and nurture the flock of God, I want to do everything I can to make sure that it is loaded with the proper ammunition and fired in a right direction.
Even the pastor who rejects any form of congregational government must face the fact that the members have a huge say in his tenure. Regardless of formal suffrage policies, all church members vote in two ways: with their feet and their pocketbooks. Many ministers who have never been officially dismissed have nevertheless been forced out of office by the withdrawal of support by the members.
The pastor-church relationship is a sensitive and vitally important issue. The proper dissolution of that relationship in difficult circumstances needs to be carefully considered in the light of biblical teachings…
While confessional Baptist churches are united in the common faith summarized in their confession, there is still plenty of room for diversity of practice concerning peripheral details. One of these areas concerns the appropriate age for the baptism of a child who has professed faith in Christ. Is there an age requirement? What makes a profession of faith “credible”? Should there be a trial period to discern a pattern or quota of outward evidence of conversion, or should baptism be administered as soon as possible?
Dr. Robert Gonzales presents his take on the issue and offers some exegetical support in this post. Be sure to read the comments too, as there is some great interaction with an opposing viewpoint.
Here are some other posts by Dr. Robert Gonzales on the church & worship: