Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Associationalism: Precedent - Purpose - Profit (Part 1)

Association or communion with like minded churches for the greater propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the edification of His church is a glory to Christ. It is a joy for the church of Jesus Christ to link arms and hearts with linked minded and like passioned brethren, seeking to have fellowship with them as the Lord provides opportunity. Like church membership for the individual, we believe that inter-church fellowship is fundamentally a Biblical matter. We must not and will not remain isolated and disconnected from the rest of the body of Christ.

This passion for associational life has been a commitment of Baptist churches from the earliest days of Baptist life in England. Consider the following taken from an early Baptist confession of faith, The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith:

Each church, and all the members of it, are bound to pray continually for the good and prosperity of all the churches of Christ, in all places, and upon all occasions to further every one within the bounds of their places and callings, in the exercise of their gifts and graces, so the churches, when planted by the providence of God, so as they may enjoy opportunity and advantage for it, ought to hold communion among themselves, for their peace, increase of love, and mutual edification. [2LCF, Ch 26, Sec 14]

Here is sound council from our Baptist brethren from early days regarding their passion for and encouragement regarding the holding of "communion among themselves." Communion here points to "church relationships" and "bears the sense (of) ‘formal, organic relationship’" (Renihan, Denominations or Associations, 44). This commitment toward associational life was no new development in Baptist life in the 1680's. It was help earlier in 1644 in the writing of the First London Confession of Faith by the seven congregations which held to this statement:

Although the particular congregations are distinct and several Bodies, every one a compact and knit city in itself; yet are they all to walk by one and the same Rule, and by all means convenient to have the council and help of another in all needful affairs of the church, as members of one body in the common faith under Christ their only head. [1LCF]

This is sound wisdom that should be heeded. There were many attempts at associational life in those early days of the 1600's. Though many were "unsuccessful" for a variety of reasons, their passion for it remain firm. Yet sadly, this passion, once strong among our Baptist brethren, no longer holds the attraction it once did in the lives of many of our congregations. The warning of the great Puritan divine John Owen, though not a Baptist, should be clearly heard:

The church that confines its duty to the acts of its own assemblies cuts itself off from the external communion of the Church catholic; nor will it be safe for any man to commit the conduct of his soul to such a church.

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