LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 230

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. These are my personal reflections on this beloved historic Particular Baptist confession of the Christian Faith.


Chapter 26. Of the Church. Paragraph 15: “In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned; howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers.”
There will ALWAYS be such things. For God so loved the world he did not send a committee! Amen?! We are all of us limited in our capacities to reason and to bear with each other. We all at times want our own way and seem to not defer. We all need to learn grace and diplomacy in matters of the visible church. It takes work. And it’s sure we’ll never please everyone. There will be strong passions that don’t align with other stronger passions among us. Love is our priority, however, unlike the world. Love covers us. Love binds us. Truth guides us. But, even amongst the loveliest of people, there will still be “cases of difficulties or differences.” You can bet your bile duct there will be. It’s okay. There must be these things because this was God’s intent all along. 1 Corinthians 11:19. Some matters identify heretics. Others don’t at all condemn, but might reveal others levels of correct opinion over less so. Most matters shouldn’t condemn. For matters within the church that don’t divide, God created the church to test one another and prove one another in matters of dispute. God made the team.

Christ has revealed this to be the way like they say here. We see both failures and successes in the Gospels and Acts and addressed for us in depth in the epistles. An example is even set forth for us of both failure and success in the same central chapter, Acts 15. Let’s cite both quickly.

  1. Vv. 36-41: “After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return and visit the brothers and sistersin every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul was of the opinion that they should not take along with them this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. Now it turned into such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas, and left after being entrusted by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” They didn’t resolve their issue and they sharply split. Please note: Mark went on to write the Gospel by his name. God re-assigns his people sometimes.
  2. Vv. 1-29 show us the Jerusalem Council. The church’s first leaders weren’t gathered under such ridiculous much later inventions like a papacy. They came together with a contested issue and discussed it as men filled with the Spirit. Scripture was their consideration (vv. 16-18) and the Spirit was their guide. They made a sound decision and they sent out their confession. There was an issue. They resolved it.

Our differences may be in matters of doctrine, or in matters of practice. The two should be separated, but each dealt with in the same general wisdom and love. It is Baptist polity to ensure that the churches remain completely united in full autonomy of each other. This is the biblical model. No higher authorities on earth exist for pastors in their churches more than themselves. It is the Spirit of God and the word of his grace. Acts 20:25-32; 2 Timothy 3:15-17. Other more elder pastors may help guide them, confessions of faith should unite them, continental partnerships might combine them, but the churches remain their own. Anything higher than the local church is unbiblical. This is all the more plain after the death of the Apostles. Each church should take matters centralized for discussion and prayer back to their own fellowships to be individually adopted as the leaders in each place see fit.
There is the invisible church and there’s the visible church. Anyone in either should be in both, but they’re meant to be autonomous. This was all the more apparent in the age before mass communications. Languages divide churches, but not the church. History in regions fashion churches differently, but not the church. Tastes and manners identify churches as separate, but they don’t divide the church. The church is one in Christ and in this life at times completely apart. Ephesus, Los Angeles, Corinth, New York, Rome, Tampa, Jerusalem, Dallas, Sardis, Cleveland. All one in Christ and yet entirely spread abroad as Christ gathers his elect.

Joseph Pittano

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