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Ecclesiology

A Historical Basis for Baptist Cooperation – The Philadelphia Association

In a previous post, I talked about the 17th Century Baptists of England. Switching both centuries and continents, we now consider the 18th century Baptists of America. It is important to remember that these Baptists did not invent associations and cooperation among independent churches, so much as they built upon the conclusions their Baptist forefathers had already arrived at. They stood, as it were, on the shoulders of the 17th Century Baptists from England. One helpful example to turn to is the Philadelphia Association.

“[O]n July 27, 1707…five small Baptist churches organized the Philadelphia Baptist Association.”[1] It is noteworthy to mention the influence that Elias Keach, son of Benjamin, had upon this Association. In 1686, the younger Keach came to America to preach but at that point he was not even converted.[2] Perhaps he thought that if he said he was the son of the famous Benjamin Keach he could gain popularity and even line his own pockets with worldly gain.

At one such meeting, possibly one of the first, if not the first, in Pennepack, Pennsylvania, Elias Keach began preaching from an unregenerate heart but at some point in the sermon was visibly convicted and was either converted on the spot or just a short while later through the counsel of another Baptist pastor.[3] In 1688 Elias became the founding pastor of Pennepack Baptist Church.[4] He was influential to area churches and “did much to encourage the idea of connectionalism among the assemblages with which he worked in America.”[5] In 1692 he travelled back to London and to some degree assisted his father, Benjamin, in making two additions to the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith: One on hymn singing and the other about the laying on of hands in Baptism.[6]

This confession was largely adhered to by Baptists in the Philadelphia association in the early 1700s. But it was formally adopted by many Baptist churches in America when in 1742 the Philadelphia Association voted to print these confessions up which was done by Benjamin Franklin in 1743.[7] This confession came to be known as the Philadelphia Confession of 1742 and is essentially a reprint of the 1689 London Baptist Confession with the two additional sections. Thus, the Particular Baptist influence, both in doctrine and in how likeminded churches ought to intentionally cooperate, was rooted in the formation of the Philadelphia Baptist Association.[8]

Leon McBeth notes that, “By mid-[18th]-century, the [Philadelphia] association referred to churches as ‘belonging to this association,’ offered advice to churches on both doctrinal and practical issues, sent ‘helps’ or representatives to assist in cases of local church discipline, and helped to accredit, and when need be to discredit, ministers.”[9] Thus, Baptists in America greatly benefited from the 17th-century thought of their English forefathers but had to also think through associational life for themselves in a slightly different historical context. Like the English Particular Baptists, they were zealous to maintain the autonomy of the local church all the while also actively promoting tangible cooperative efforts. How then did 18th century Baptists think associations should “work”? Benjamin Griffith helps answer that question.

“[T]he Reverend Benjamin Griffith, pastor of the Montgomery Baptist Church of Bucks County, Pennsylvania” composed A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church.[10] In this work, after establishing the importance and power of a local church, he laid out the following in his section, “On the Communion of Churches”,

[S]uch particular congregational churches, constituted and organized according to the mind of Christ revealed in the New Testament, are all equal in power and dignity, and we read of no disparity between them, or subordination among them, that should make a difference between the acts of their mutual communion, so as the acts of one church should be acts of authority, and the acts of others should be acts of obedience or subjection, although they may vastly differ in gifts, abilities and usefulness.

 

Such particular distinct churches, agreeing in gospel doctrine and practice, may and ought to maintain communion together in many duties, which may tend to the mutual benefit and edification of the whole: and thereby one church that hath plenty of gifts, may and ought, if possible, to supply another that lacketh, Canticles 8:8. They may have mutual giving and receiving, Philippians 4:15. and mutual translation, recommendation or dismission of members from one church to another, as occasion may require. It is to be noted that persons called to office are not to be dismissed as officers, but as members; though another church may call such to the same office again.

 

By virtue also of such communion, the members of one such church may, where they are known, occasionally partake at the Lord’s table with a sister church. Yet notwithstanding such communion of churches, by voluntary consent and confederation, the officers of one particular church, may not act as officers in another church, in any act of government, without a particular call thereunto from the other church where they occasionally come.

It is expedient that particular churches constituted in the way and manner, and for the ends declared in the former part of this narrative, when they are planted by the providence of God, so as they may have opportunity and advantage so to do, should, by their mutual agreement, appoint proper times and places, to meet by their respective messengers or delegates, to consider of such things as may be for the common benefit of all such churches, for their peace, prosperity, and mutual edification, and what may be for the furtherance of the Gospel, and the interest of Christ in the world.

 

And forasmuch as it falls out many times that particular churches have to do with doubtful and difficult matters, or differences in point of doctrine or administration, like the church of Antioch of old, wherein either of the churches in general are concerned, or any one church in their peace, union or edification; or any member or members of a church are injured, in or by any proceeding in censures not agreeable to gospel rule and order; it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, should meet by their messengers and delegates to consider of and to give advice in or about such matters in difference; and their sentiments to be reported to all the churches concerned; and such messengers and delegates convened in the name of Christ, by the voluntary consent of the several churches in such mutual communion, may declare and determine of the mind of the Holy Ghost revealed in Scripture, concerning things in difference; and may decree the observation of things that are true and necessary, because revealed and appointed in the Scripture.

 

And the churches will do well to receive, own and observe such determinations, on the evidence and authority of the mind of the Holy Ghost in them, as in Acts 15:29. Yet such delegates thus assembled, are not intrusted [sic] or armed with any coercive power, or any superior jurisdiction over the churches concerned, so as to impose their determinations on them or their officers, under the penalty of excommunication, or the like.[11]

In this way, Griffith laid the theological groundwork for why and how local churches can cooperate together in associations.  This work served as a foundation for a statement Griffith produced in 1749, which was “signed by all of the delegates present at the annual meeting”.[12] This 1749 statement “made it clear…that the association had only the power to withdraw its fellowship; they might urge the churches to exclude members involved in erroneous practice or teaching, ‘but excommunicate they cannot.’ That power belongs only to the church.”[13]

Griffith’s statement both borrowed from the past and helped to cement a groundwork for the future. It was integrally connected to Christians of the 17th century, since, “In Griffith’s preface, he indicated that he had consulted works on church government by Benjamin Keach, John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, and Abel Morgan.”[14] Furthermore, as Baptists continued forming formal associations in America, they, like Griffith and those who had gone before him, were adamant that the ultimate ecclesiastical authority was the local church.

Earl Blackburn, a modern-day Reformed Baptist, echoes this sentiment when he writes, “An association of churches is not a denomination. An association has absolutely no power or authority over any local church, except to break fellowship with a disorderly church over doctrine or practice and to make known to others its actions toward the erring church and why its actions were taken. Its capacity and function is only advisory.”[15]

Similar to the 17th century General Assembly in England, the 18th Century Philadelphia Baptist Association “served as a doctrinal monitor” and “advised on Baptist practices.”[16] Also like the General Assembly of Particular Baptists from England it used money to help fund theological education and missions. “One purpose of associations was to extend the gospel to destitute areas, and by the 1760s the Philadelphia Association employed an ‘evangelist at large’ to plant new churches in needy areas.”[17] The minutes from the 1766 Philadelphia Association say this,

That it is most necessary for the good of the Baptist interest, that the Association have at their disposal every year a sum of money. Accordingly, it was further agreed: that the churches, henceforth, do make a collection every quarter, and send the same yearly to the Association, to be by them deposited in the hands of trustees; the interest whereof only to be them laid out every year in support of ministers travelling on the errand of the churches, or otherwise, as the necessities of said churches require.[18]

Torbet notes that, “The significance of the [Philadelphia] Association cannot be overemphasized, for without violating Baptist church autonomy it provided a source of guidance and unity at a critical period of organization in the denomination.”[19] In fact, it was the Philadelphia Baptist Association, standing on the shoulders of the 17th Century English Baptists, helped lay the groundwork for even larger associations of churches. By the 19th Century, state conventions were forming.

“The first Baptist state convention was formed in South Carolina (1821), followed by Georgia (1822), Virginia (1823), Alabama (1823), and North Carolina (1830). The idea of state conventions was a natural outgrowth of associational work”.[20] Thus, even large associations that continue to exist today, like the Southern Baptist Convention, owe their formation to the cooperative work of Baptists in the Philadelphia Association.


 

[1] A History of the Baptists, 212.

[2] https://www.pennepackbaptist.org/history.html

[3] A History of the Baptists, 210. See also, https://www.pennepackbaptist.org/history.html

[4] Ibid. Another Baptist historian, H. Leon McBeth, says, “Keach formed the Pennepek [sic] church in 1687”. H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness, (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1987), 240.

[5] Baptist Confessions of Faith, 348.

[6] The Baptist Heritage, 241.

[7] Baptist Confessions of Faith, 349.

[8] Brand and Hankins note that, “the first association of Baptists was formed in Philadelphia in 1707, largely as a result of the tireless work of Elias Keach.” One Sacred Effort, 63.

[9] The Baptist Heritage, 243.

[10] A History of the Baptists, 213.

[11] This work is dated, 1743. https://founders.org/polity/a-short-treatise-concerning-a-true-and-orderly-gospel-church-griffith/

[12] A History of the Baptists, 213.

[13] The Baptist Heritage, 244.

[14] Polity, 36.

[15] Denominations or Associations?, 27.

[16] The Baptist Heritage, 244-245.

[17] Ibid., 246.

[18] Denominations or Associations?, 59-60.

[19] A History of the Baptists, 214.

[20] Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn, and Michael A.G. Haykin, The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 135.

Categories
Reform SBC Author Uncategorized

Why the SBC Needs a Tent Revival

Just Keachy

I suppose every post must start somewhere. This one begins in 1673 – the year Benjamin Keach decided to apply Matthew 26:30 tangibly to his church at Horsleydown in London. I suppose I should also mention Keach was Baptist before it was cool; before there was so much Great Commission™ money. This was before the Act of Toleration; a time when Baptists embraced being outsiders to the mainstream.

I know. I’m throwing a few jabs early there. But I’ll save the haymaker for later.

Moving along, in 1673 Keach leads his church to sing a hymn after the Lord’s Supper. By 1690 Isaac Marlow is publicly opposing him in the social media of the day: tracts. They duke it out in the public arena and eventually, the singing Baptists win.

In 1688 Elias Keach, son of Benjamin, is pastoring in the Philadelphia area. It’s not just his influence mind you (I do think it significant enough to mention) but by 1707 the churches in the area have unofficially adopted “the Confession” as their theological foundation.

What is “the Confession”? Well, in 1742 it is officially named the Philadelphia Confession. Why did I start this story with Benjamin Keach? Because the Philadelphia Confession of 1742 is the 1689 London Baptist Confession with two additions: one dealing with the laying on of hands. The other? Singing. 

If you’re going to make it to the “point” of today’s post, you need to know, again, that the 1689 London Baptist Confession and the Philadelphia Confession of 1742 are identical, save these two additions.

A Tragic Era

We now fast forward to 1814 – the same year Colonel Jackson took his little trip down to New Orleans. Unrelatedly, the Triennial Baptist Convention (TBC) was formed (it had a longer name) by Luther Rice.

Fast forward again to 1844. In a 7-5 decision, the Board of the Home Missionary Society declined the appointment of a missionary from Georgia because he owned slaves. In response, Alabama Baptists wrote to the Foreign Mission Board asking if they would appoint missionaries who owned slaves. The answer: No.

Some southerners, “did not attempt to defend the evils in the slavery system, but described the institution as an inherited disease to be cured slowly.”* Others tried to justify slavery with the Bible. This was a sad and tragic era in the history of Triennial Baptist churches south of the Mason Dixon line.

Thus, over the issue of missionaries being denied appointment because of slavery, “a total of 293 delegates” representing a “substantial” number of local churches gathered on “May 8, 1845 in Augusta, Georgia” and formed the Southern Baptist Convention.** Thankfully, Southern Baptists today continue to repudiate the reprehensible view some in the early SBC held toward people of color.

The Tent

Now, what hath London to do with Augusta? Why start this post with Benjamin Keach?

Because, as the faculty blog of SEBTS notes, “In 1845, when the Southern Baptist Convention was formed, every delegate came from a church or association that had adopted the Philadelphia Confession or an abstract of the document.”

Nearly 300 delegates and every single one of them was influenced by Benjamin Keach and the uncool 17th-century Baptists of England. Which, we must also point out that historically the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (written in 1677) had nothing to do with American chattel slavery. I only mention this because you cannot argue historically that the Confession was a pro-slavery document. The error in the early SBC was in spite of the Philadelphia Confession they held to, not because of it.

So, now, we are ready to get to a point!

Sometimes you will hear Southern Baptists today saying, “What we agree on is more than what we disagree on” or, important for this post, “the SBC is a big tent!”

Now, there is some truth in that. We have differences of style or eschatology, or how flashy our bulletins ought to be, or whether we can preach from an iPad. But despite these differences, we can, and should, still partner together for mission.

After all, at its inception, Southern Baptists said their organization was about “directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort, for the propagation of the Gospel.”***

However, the SBC in 1845 didn’t merely unite just for the purpose of “mission” but had a very rich theological underpinning. Yes, the SBC partners for mission. But this partnership began with serious theological parameters. Doctrinal parameters must be maintained, for if the tent is too big, the cooperation fails.

Because, theologically, being a Southern Baptist, at least in the beginning, was about a rich and glorious orthodoxy. A Confession that had a high view of God, a biblical view of the local church and its male leadership, and a robust trust in the sufficiency of Scripture, was held to by our Baptist forefathers.

Again, I am willing to admit this was not always applied correctly, but this is not the Confession’s fault, nor is it the Bible’s. It is the hearts of men that are to blame.

Now, I do not imply that one must hold to the Philadelphia Confession of 1742 in order to be a “true” Southern Baptist. But I do, without reservation, say that we must hold clear conservative doctrinal convictions. So, everyone who calls themselves a Southern (or Great Commission™) Baptist, is not necessarily SBC. You can’t say you’re SBC for the sake of “mission” and yet be removed from certain doctrinal standards, like those defined in the Baptist Faith and Message (2000)

The SBC was never designed to be such a big tent that orthodoxy was in question. But even beyond that- it was never designed to allow for, say, paedobaptism. Nor was the tent built for various views of women pastors, or for any to take or leave the sufficiency of Scripture, etc.

The SBC was always meant to agree on not only the gospel, but even other core issues. To partner for mission without that understanding is to misunderstand why the SBC even exists. Southern Baptists did not join in this large association with Presbyterians or free will Baptists “for the sake of the gospel.” Rather, they came together from a likeminded theological position as articulated by the Philadelphia Confession.

Categories
Missions SBC Author Scripture

Missions Cooperation (Stephen Feinstein)

[The following is a guest post from Southern Baptist Convention 2nd Vice President Nominee CH (MAJ) Stephen Feinstein.]

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Abuse Racism SBC Author

Credentials Committee Submission Form

The Southern Baptist Convention has establish a webpage that “exists to provide individuals an opportunity to address concerns about whether a church that is currently identified as a cooperating church with the Southern Baptist Convention continues to meet our standards of faith and practice.”