Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Vision (7.17.14): Church Planting and the London Baptist Confession

Note:   The article below is taken from the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog.  It is written by Dr. James M. Renihan, Dean and Professor of Historical Theology at the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, Escondido and provides insights as to how and why our Puritan Baptist forebears planted churches.  JTR

Almost as soon as Calvinistic Baptists appeared on the scene in 1640s England, they demonstrated a whole-hearted commitment to evangelism and church planting.  They were not alone, for many of the Puritans expressed concern for the regions of their country not yet blossoming with Gospel assemblies.[2]  None of these men could be content enjoying their own privileges, but actively engaged in seeking to bring the message of Christ to others.

The growth of the early Particular Baptists[3]  is amazing. W. T. Whitley, in a 1910 article, estimated that in 1715 there were 220 Particular Baptist churches in existence in England and Wales, and about half as many General Baptist churches.[4]  Included in many of Whitley’s entries is a figure of approximate attendance.  After extensive comparisons with other extant records, Michael Watts concludes that the figures are generally accurate for the period.[5]  When one remembers that in 1641 there were no Calvinistic churches practicing believer’s baptism by immersion, the statistics take on much meaning.

Among the Particular Baptists, the work of church planting was often done through evangelists.  This was not an office in the church, though the men involved were often elders, but rather appointed emissaries charged with the task of spreading the gospel and establishing churches.  They carried with them authority from the sending churches.  Two early examples of the convictions present in these churches provide the basis for later actions.

In 1649, the church “meeting att the Glashouse” in London held a day of prayer “to seek the Lord that he would send labourers into the dark corners and parts of this land.”[6]  On the next day, John Myles and Thomas Proud appeared in their midst, concerned for the needs of Wales.  They were apparently baptized and sent, within a fortnight, back to Wales for the purpose of planting churches.  On 1 October 1649, baptisms began to take place, and the Ilston church was organized, having forty-three members by October 1650.[7]  Myles engaged in an aggressive plan to bring other churches into existence, so that within a year of the first baptism two more assemblies had been formed, and the first “General Meeting”[8] in South Wales was held on 6 and 7 November 1650.[9]  White, citing the Ilston church book, states that the commission given to Myles and Proud by the London church was “to gather a ‘company or society of people holding forth and practising the doctrine, worship, order and discipline of the Gospel according to the primitive institution.’”  He then comments,

The terms in which they understood their mission are of considerable importance: they saw their task not only as concerned with the conversion of individuals to Christ but also with the foundation of congregations rightly ordered according to what they believed to be the one, unchanging, apostolic pattern.[10]

White is undoubtedly correct in this assessment.  The well-ordered church was so central to the redemptive purposes of God that any kind of evangelistic thrust must seek, as its highest goal, to establish new assemblies.  For these Welsh evangelists, one church was insufficient.  The needs of the countryside were so great that only the founding of many churches would satisfy.  This early perspective was active among the Particular Baptist churches.

The London church under the ministry of Hanserd Knollys sent Thomas Tillam[11] to another one of the “dark corners of the land,” the North (County Durham), in December 1651.  He was appointed to a lectureship by the “Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel” established by Parliament in February 1649/50,[12] and used this post as the base to plant a Baptist church in Hexham.  In seven months, sixteen individuals were baptized and a church was formed.  Tillam saw this as the great end of his mission:

upon the 21st day of the 5th month, 1652 . . . after serious consideration and some gospel preparation, a living temple began of these living stones. . . . These, solemnly giving themselves to the Lord and one to another, to walk in communion together, with submission to all the ordinances of the Gospel, I, Tho. Tillam, espoused to one husband; hoping that I shall present them a chaste virgin to Christ.[13]

The formula for church planting was at the front of this action.  Evangelism was not carried out simply to seek after conversions.  Churches had to be planted.  Those who received the gift of salvation were expected to become part of a well-ordered church.  The Baptists could not conceive of evangelism apart from church planting.  Converts were to be baptized, and formed into a church by a (to use Benjamin Keach’s term) “wise master builder.”

To read the rest of the article click here.

Insights from unlikely corners: "Infidel" and the Gospel genealogies

Summer is giving time for reading, including some things I don’t normally take time to read.  I recently got interested, for example, in the story of the Somali/Dutch/American Ayaan Hirsi Ali after listening to/watching her online in several debates (like here) and presentations (like here) on Islam.  She offers a powerful personal story and a strong critique of Islam, particularly with regard to its impact on women, as well as a compelling demonstration of conscience.  She left Islam for atheism.  One might wish (or might still hope?) she could have crossed paths with Christians who would have offered her a more compelling and winsome presentation of Biblical Christianity.  At any rate, I got a cheap used copy of her first biography Infidel (Free Press, 2007) through and have been working through it during the evenings this week (It's like candy after reading Bauckham!).

Aside from her compelling personal story and what she has to say about Islam and the West, I was particularly struck by the opening pages of Infidel in which Ali begins by noting how as a five year old child she was taught the genealogy of her father’s subclan back for three hundred years.  She adds:  “Later, as I grow up, my grandmother will coax and even beat me to learn my father’s ancestry eight hundred years back, to the great clan of the Darod…..” (p. 3).  She also notes how when Somalis meet they usually rehearse their family lines to see if they can trace a common ancestor and thus solidify their relation.  To a modern Western (American—at least) this is alien.  My ancestral memory ends with my grandparents.

I read this just after doing a lecture on the birth of Jesus for my "Life and Teaching of Jesus" summer course, and it made me think of the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.  In his 1881 commentary on Luke, Frederick Godet notes that first century Jews would have regularly committed to memory and even held written records of their family lines, and he speculates that Luke might well have had access to records from Mary among the resources he amassed for compiling his Gospel (cf. Luke 1:1-4; 2:19).

Tradition (represented, for example, in Augustine’s Harmony of the Gospels) upheld the historical value of the genealogies and harmonized the divergences between Matthew and Luke’s accounts. Some did this by positing that Matthew presents the line of Jesus via Joseph as his “legal” father and Luke presents the line of Jesus via Mary, his natural mother.  Modern scholars, on the other hand, have typically tended to see the genealogies as holding little if any historical value and being hopelessly confused and irreconcilable.  For many historical-critical scholars, influenced by modern redaction criticism, the genealogies are simply seen as theological fabrications of early Christianity.

Reading Ali’s reflections on the strict learning of her family’s “bloodlines,” however, makes me wonder if contemporary Somali culture might be closer the first century Jewish culture in which Jesus lived and about which Matthew and Luke wrote.  It seems perfectly reasonable, for example, that the family lines of Jesus would have been remembered and meticulously and faithfully transmitted. The early Christians who collected and revered the NT writings, including the Gospels and their authoritative accounts of the life of Jesus, were not fools.  They knew that Matthew and Luke’s genealogies were different (most notably Matthew and Luke diverging at David with Matthew following the line through Solomon and Luke through Nathan).  They did not , however, see this divergence as irrational or contradictory.  It is therefore reasonable both to think that the genealogies of Matthew and Luke were accurate and that they were compatible.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bauckham on Enlightenment influenced skepticism toward Gospel historicity

Note:  In the conclusion of his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses:  The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans, 2006), in which he challenges the approach of form criticism by arguing that the Gospels are based on authentic eyewitness testimony, Richard Bauckham offers the following analysis of how “Enlightenment individualism has led to postmodern skepticism”:

“However it—or the kind of extreme individualistic epistemology it embraces—can lead historians to an overly skeptical approach particularly to those sources that were intended to recount and inform events of the past, that is, testimony in this restricted sense.  Particularly in Gospels scholarship there is an attitude abroad that approaches the sources with fundamental skepticism, rather than trust, and therefore requires that anything the sources claim be accepted only if historians can independently verify it…..

Young scholars, learning their historical method from Gospel scholars, often treat it as self-evident that the more skeptical they are toward their sources, the more rigorous will be their historical method.  It has to be said, over and over, that historical rigor does not consist in fundamental skepticism toward historical testimony but in fundamental trust along with testing by critical questioning….” (p. 486).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reflections on Luke 22:21: Did Judas partake of the first Lord's Supper?

Note:  Here are some notes from last Sunday morning's sermon from Luke 22:21-30, reflecting especially on the question raised by v. 21 as to whether Judas partook of the first Lord’s Supper and, if so, what the implications might be from this.

“But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table” (Luke 22:21).

There is a debate about the chronology (the order of events in time) of what is described here.  Namely:  Was Judas the betrayer there at the table not only during the Last Supper (the Passover meal) but also at the first Lord’s Supper, as v. 21 may imply (coming just after Luke’s description of Jesus’ institution of this new covenant meal in vv. 19-20)?

Both Matthew (26:19-25) and Mark (14:17-21) record that Jesus predicted the betrayal of one of the twelve during the Passover meal (and before the Lord’s Supper).

We can add to this the testimony of John which does not record the Lord’s Supper but does record this about Judas’ betrayal:

John 13:26 Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop [piece of bread], when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. 28 Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. 29 For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.

The question is whether Judas’ “going out” was after the Passover meal or after the Lord’s Supper.

We must take Luke’s chronology seriously, since at the beginning of his Gospel he specifically says that he writes “all things from the very first … in order” (Luke 1:3).

If Judas were there, this means that even at the very first Lord’s Supper a false professor was present.  Even when our Lord was there physically at the head of the table, there was an unregenerate man present who ate and drank “unworthily” (1 Cor 11:29).

This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares  where the tare are allowed to grow among the wheat till the harvest when the weeds are separated from the wheat (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43).  It is a reminder that in this age, though we should seek a pure and regenerate church, and though we should, for example, fence the table, we will not achieve absolute purity as the church militant here on earth.  That will not come till we are the church triumphant in heaven.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Vision (7.10.14): A Half Dozen Scriptural Reasons for Church Membership

Note:  Last month I preached a message in Lynchburg on church membership in which I used these headings:

1.     We find the roots for the practice of church membership in practices of the Old Testament people of God where every person was in a specific family and tribe (cf. Numbers 4; Joshua 7:16-18; 1 Samuel 10:20-21).  There was no such thing as a free-lance, unconnected Israelite!

2.     Jesus’ command for love as a defining mark among his disciples can only be realized through participation in a defined local body (see John 13:34-35).

3.     The descriptions of the local church in Jerusalem in Acts indicate a well defined body of believers (cf. Acts 1:15; 2:41, 47; 4:4).

4.     The letters of Paul in the NT were generally addressed to defined churches in distinct geographical areas or to the acknowledged spiritual leaders of those bodies (cf. Rom 1:7; 16:4-5, 16; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1).

5.    The local church is necessary for the proper and healthy exercise of church discipline (cf. Matt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:4-5; 2 Cor 2:6; 1 Tim 5:9).

6.     The existence of a defined local church is assumed in the New Testament both in the setting apart of persons to ministry service and in the exercise of spiritual rule (cf. Acts 6:2-3; Heb 13:7, 17).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Vision (7.2.14): The New Covenant Meal

Note:  Last Sunday morning’s message looked at our Lord’s institution of the Lord’s Supper as recorded in Luke 22.  Here are some notes:

19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you (Luke 22:19-20).

With vv. 19-20 we have Jesus instituting the New Covenant meal, the Lord’s Supper.  Notice:

First, the figurative nature of Jesus’ words:  The superstitious view that the bread and cup are magically transformed (transubstantiated) into his body and blood is to be rejected.  Jesus often used figurative language (cf. the “I am” sayings).  Indeed, here the obvious sense is that the bread represents his body and the cup represents his blood.

Second, the emphasis upon limited atonement or particular redemption:  His body is “give for you”; his blood is “shed for you.”  The “you” here in both cases in context refers to the disciples.  He does not lay down his life for those who might hypothetically or possibly become his sheep.  He lay down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). He shed his blood for them.

Third, the command to continue to do this in remembrance of him:  Jesus told his disciples to continue to do this in remembrance of him.  Paul says that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we do show the Lord’s death till he come (1 Cor 11:26).  If we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15).

Jesus calls the cup in particular a figure for “the new testament [covenant].”  This covenant would not come through the perpetual sacrifices of animals in the temple but through the once for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross (cf. Hebrews 8:7-13 citing Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, June 30, 2014

2014 VBS Follow Up Resources

Image:  Scenes from Bible Lesson Review

I uploaded the Power Point I created for the 2014 VBS Lessons on "The Life of Jesus (from the Gospel of Mark)" to Google Docs.  I also recorded and uploaded to an audio recording, reviewing the four lessons in about 50 minutes.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Vision (6.26.14): Scenes from our 2014 VBS

We completed another encouraging “Puritan” Vacation Bible School at CRBC this week (meeting Monday-Thursday).  Why do we call it a “Puritan” VBS?  Because our approach is simple, non-programmatic, and Bible-focused.  This year’s theme was “The Life of Jesus (from the Gospel of Mark).”  We had 35 children registered for the week.  Thanks to all those who contributed to make this year’s VBS a success!  Here are a few pictures:

Each day started with a procession led by the “Bible-bearer”

Reading a Bible story from Isobell Tallach's "The Life of Jesus" (a Banner of Truth picture book which includes no images of Jesus)

A volunteer plays the role of the paralytic whom Jesus healed in a Bible lesson from Mark 2:1-12

A friendly game of tug-o-war during recreation

"Gaga ball" also proved to be a big hit during recreation

Craft time

Working together on the order of events in Jesus' early ministry during Bible Review

Stephanie O. introduces a craft session

Singing "The Fruit of the Spirit" is always a big hit

Each day ended with lunch and fellowship for the children and their families