Friday, April 06, 2007

Baptist Associations and the City Church

I believe in Baptist associations. Currently, I am an elected officer of the Madrid Baptist Association, holding the position of Director of Evangelism. This position also makes me, in a sense, the equivalent of a trustee for the Spanish Baptist “Home Mission Board.” Last night, I attended the association-wide Maunday Thursday service, in which we all, representing the various churches of the association, worshipped the Lord, listened to the preaching of the Word of God, and shared together in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
My bottom-line loyalty, as far as my fellowship with other believers is concerned, however, is not toward the Baptist association. It is toward the Body of Christ at large. If, by virtue of participating actively in the local Baptist association, I feel compelled at the same time to neglect my fellowship with the broader Body of Christ in my locality, then, I believe, the Baptist association becomes a detriment and not a blessing.
Bart Barber, in a recent post on his blog Praisegod Barebones, makes what I consider to be a very insightful and correct observation:
The SBC is not (or ought not to be) a "structure" in any ecclesiological sense. It is a voluntary partnership. Christian Unity and inter-congregational cooperation are not entirely unrelated subjects, but I do not believe that they are identical subjects.

As I see it, both Baptist associations, and Baptist unions or conventions, are “voluntary partnerships” for the purpose of “inter-congregational cooperation.” The “city church,” though, and not Baptist associations, is the most ideal forum for putting into practice “Christian unity.”
By no means am I saying we should not practice unity with other Baptist churches. They are part of the “city church” just as much as anyone else. Neither am I saying that the Extremaduran Evangelical Council (see previous posts here and here) is the official representation of the “city church” in Extremadura. I believe it is a helpful organization for channelling and furthering the initiatives of the “city church.” But it is not, in and of itself, the actual “city church.” The “city church,” as I understand it, is made up of all the born-again believers in a particular locality, as well as all the individual congregations that preach a gospel that “really is the gospel,” whether they choose to officially affiliate with a particular organization or not.
Nathan Finn, who has recently posted a series of interesting articles on Baptist Associations on his blog (here, here, here, and here), cites the following three rationales for associations among early American Baptists, as identified by Walter Shurden:
1. The Biblical Rationale - esp. the “Jerusalem Council” in Acts 15; most early Baptists did not believe that Acts 15 was equivalent to an association, but felt that an association was a faithful adaptation of the biblical precedent;
2. The Theological Rationale - a way to balance local church independence with the interdependence of the churches; most early Baptists believed that the NT taught both local church autonomy and inter-church accountability, and associations were considered a way to facilitate this balance;
3. The Practical Rationale - to promote fellowship among churches, maintain uniformity in both faith and practice, provide counsel and assistance to local churches, establish a structure to facilitate inter-church cooperation in ministries of shared interest.

As I understand it, the “city church,” and not the Baptist association, is the most appropriate forum for carrying out the concerns voiced in Rationale #1 and #2. Also, although I am in no way opposed to “promoting fellowship” among Baptist churches, provided this does not become an excuse for neglecting our fellowship with other believers, I think the primary purpose and most legitimate rationale for Baptist associations are the last two items under Rationale #3: to “provide counsel and assistance to local churches” and “establish a structure to facilitate inter-church cooperation in ministries of shared interest.”
Understood in this way, I see an appropriate application for “tier two” of the much-discussed three tiers of “theological triage,” as proposed by Al Mohler. I do not see that “tier two” issues should put up a barrier for our fellowship with other believers. But I do see how certain discrimination on “tier two” issues can facilitate useful “inter-church cooperation in ministries of shared interest.”
In other words, there are certain ministry projects that can be more effectively carried out in cooperation with those believers and churches who share certain values and convictions that may not necessarily be accepted across the board within the “city church.” I believe that these particular projects should be the legitimate “domain” of Baptist associations, unions, and conventions.

7 comments:

GuyMuse said...

My bottom-line loyalty, as far as my fellowship with other believers is concerned, however, is not toward the Baptist association. It is toward the Body of Christ at large.

I agree with your post. Our first loyalty must be with the Body of Christ at large. As you point out, Baptist churches and associations are part of the greater Church at large, and this 'city-church' at large, becomes the ideal forum for Christian unity and bringing about the Kingdom of God.

As I stated in a comment to your previous blog entry, either we are part of Christ's Body, the Church, or we are not. If we are part, then we must live in harmony as family, agreeing to disagree on those 2nd and 3rd tier issues wherein we have different understandings of Scripture.

When it boils right down to it, what united the early church was their common: JESUS IS LORD! When we begin to insist that our 2nd and 3rd tier issues be elevated to the same level of 'Jesus as Lord', we begin to fragment Christ's Body.

Of course, as you have commented elsewhere, the tricky part becomes determining what those 2nd and 3rd tier issues are. We are obviously not all in agreement about what constitute 1st tier matters in the Kingdom of God. But surely one of the 1st tier matter must be that the Body of Christ is One. It was never intended to be fragmented and divided like she is today.

David Goggin said...

Thank you for putting into words what the deepest part of me has believed for decades. The only way
I could express it was to say that I was a "Kingdom" person. I have tried to live this out during my 30 years of ministry but most of the time it seemed like I had concrete blocks chained to my ankles. It is such a foreign concept to Southern Baptist Church
members. I am 62 and not about to
give up. I am thrilled that you
are in His service in Spain. Having spent 10 days in Moscow last summer with IMB work,
I am so much better prepared to'
pray for you. David Goggin

David Rogers said...

Guy,

From what I hear you saying, you do indeed concede the legitimate existence of a 2nd tier. Is that right? My tendency would be to perhaps downplay, to a certain extent, the importance of this tier. But I do not totally deny the legitimacy of its existence, due to the reasons I give in this post.

David Rogers said...

David,

Thanks for your encouragement. It is sad to me that this "is such a foreign concept to Southern Baptist Church members." One of my goals, through this blog, is that it might come to be not so foreign of a concept. Thanks for your prayers, and for not giving up on your efforts to further the "Kingdom."

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...

David,

Thank you for a very well-written post regarding the centrality of Christ and the primacy of the local church, when compared with conventions and associations.

We are in a situation where the convention has determined itself and associations to be more important than the local church. In fact, local churches can no longer join the convention without first being approved by the local association. In short, the church now serves the convention.

The link to Dr. Mohler's site was valuable and pertinent to more than one discussion we have both read and commented on. My fear is going too far in either direction. We either make everything a first tier issue; or, in an attepmt to get along, we compromise significant doctrines that characterize the Baptist church.

Thanks for your good thoughts.

David Rogers said...

Kevin,

Thanks for your comments. I pray God will use you to bring life and peace into your situation there, and to help the churches and leaders there to get their eyes off themselves and only onto Christ and His Kingdom.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother David,

Can you email me? ybcpastor@bellsouth.net

Thanks & Blessings,
Tim