Thursday, September 30, 2010

CRBC Preaching Schedule for October 2010

Note: We will continue our series in 2 Peter on Sunday mornings during the month of October, focusing on Peter’s warnings against false teachers in 2 Peter 2. In afternoon worship, we will continue our “We affirm” series on our church’s basic doctrinal convictions. Rob Stovall will be our guest preacher on October 17th.
October 3

AM Scripture: A Light Shining in a Dark Place (2 Peter 1:19-21)

PM We affirm…Biblical church government (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

October 10

AM Profile of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:1-3)

PM We affirm…Creation and Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3)
October 17

AM Guest preacher: Rob Stovall

PM Guest preacher: Rob Stovall
October 24

AM Prospect of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:4-11)

PM We affirm…the Five “Sola”s (Teacher: Daniel Houseworth)
October 31

AM Perversity of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:12-17)

PM We affirm…Scripturally Regulated Worship (Colossians 3:16)

The Vision (9/30/10): Various Thoughts

Image:  Another look at Tom Ascol and David Murray from the Keach Conference

Note:  The Vision is the weekly e-newsletter of Christ Reformed Baptist Church.  It is sent out each Thursday.  Below is the weekly pastoral reflections column.  To be added to the list to receive the complete Vision, email

• Last weekend was a meaningful one for the CRBC family. We hosted the Keach Conference on Friday-Saturday and held our Covenant Service on Sunday. Now it is time to move forward as a mission church!

• Thanks to everyone at CRBC who helped with the Keach Conference by attending, greeting, serving, and welcoming. It dawned on me this week that nearly all of our members were involved in the conference in some capacity. I was reminded of Nehemiah’s description of Israel while rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem: “for the people had a mind to work” (Neh 4:6).

• We continue to make use of our sermonaudio site to broadcast CRBC sermons and teachings. The Keach Conference messages were posted this week and have already had a couple hundred downloads. The most popular message thus far has been Tom Ascol’s “Does the 1689 teach Creationism?” The most downloaded message on our site is Paul Washer’s sermon on “The Minister’s Prayer Life.” Posted just three weeks ago, it has already been listened to over 8,000 times.

• It was encouraging to hear the testimonies of our members on Sunday afternoon. I was thinking this week that we might make this an annual tradition on our Founder’s Weekend when members can share their testimonies or reflect on what God has done in their lives over the past year.

• Let’s reflect on the three challenges Steve Clevenger offered us in our Covenant Service: (1) the main purpose of the church is worship (John 4:21-23; 17:24-26); (2) the primary means of grace are the preaching of the Word and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:37-47); (3) we are to be the people of God (1 Corinthians 1:25-28).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Christ Reformed Baptist Church: Covenant Service (9/26/10)

Christ Reformed Baptist Church founding members and children, with Pastor Steve Clevenger

Some nine months after our first meeting, Christ Reformed Baptist Church constituted in a solemn Covenant Service on Sunday, September 26, 2010.  The service capped a meaningful weekend as the church ministered together by hosting the Keach Conference on Friday and Saturday (September 24-25).  Pastor Steve Clevenger of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church in Warrenton offered a challenge to the church to uphold three principles:  (1) to have our main focus be worship; (2) to have our primary means of grace be the word preached and the ordinances observed; and (3) to be the people of God.   In our founding resolution twenty-four baptized believers affirmed the Membership Covenant, Confession of Faith (Second London Baptist 1689), and Constitution (our current average Lord's Day attendance is 45-50).  Jeff Riddle was also called as founding minister and elder. The members then signed their names in the membership book.  The founding membership list also included Elder Bill LaGrange (in caelum).  The service concluded with the sharing of the Lord's Supper.  Also present was Elder Brett Vincent from Covenant Reformed BC.
Before the Covenant Service the member candidates and families gathered around the tables and shared their understanding of the gospel and their testimony to faith in Christ.  The stories of God's pursuit of true worshippers took us everywhere from the synagogue to nominal Catholicism to West Point to rural churches to nightclubs, with many other stops along the way.

 Image:  Daniel shares his testimony

Image:  Bob, as he often does, had us both in stitches and in tears.

Image:  Jeff challenged us by asking us to think of this church's role for future generations.

Image:  Casey describes her conversion.

Image:  Judi's typically wise and winsome description of God's movement in her life was solid.

Image:  Stephanie shared how the Lord used the witness of her husband to bring her to Christ.

Image:  Founding members and children along with guests from Covenant RBC.

Image:  Here I am flanked by Elders Steve Clevenger and Brett Vincent of Covenant RBC.  Covenant has served in partnership with us in the church plant and their Pastor and Elders have been a great encouragement in this process providing prayer, support, guidance, and accountability.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Keach Conference 2010 Audio and Other Resources

Image:  Saturday Q and A session.

Audio from the Keach Conference has been posted to

Session I (Friday, September 24):

David Murray:  Christ in Creation

Tom Ascol:  'In the space of six days':  Does the 1689 teach creationism?

Session II (Saturday, September 25):

Tom Ascol:  Man in the State of Innocency

David Murray:  The Quest for the Historical Adam

Session III (Saturday, September 25):

Questions and Answers with Speakers

Other Resources:

In addition, you can also read David Murray's post on his experience of the Keach Conference on his blog.  You can also read the manuscript of his two addresses:  Christ in Creation and The Quest for the Historical Adam.

You can also enjoy a preview of Dr. Murray's DVD God's Technology.

And check out his new book Christians Get Depressed Too from Reformation Heritage which sold briskly at the conference.

To learn more about Tom Ascol, you can visit the website of Grace Baptist Church in Capel Coral, Florida and of the Founders Ministry.


Scenes from Keach Conference 2010: Part Two

Image:  Steve Clevenger of Covenant RBC in Warrenton and Lloyd Sprinkle of Providence BC in Harrisonburg in conversation.

Images:  Gathering on Saturday morning.

Image:  Riddle children

Image:  Youth fellowship.

Image:  Steve Hills of Harmony BC in Suffolk, VA takes a look at the book table.  We had a generous supply of Puritan, Reformed, and Baptist books for sale furnished by Sprinkle Publications of Harrisonburg and the Splintered Light Bookshop of Charlottesville.

Image:  Saturday gathering.

Image:  After meeting conversation on Friday evening.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Scenes from Keach Conference 2010: Part One

Image:  Our guest speakers:  David Murray (left) and Tom Ascol (right)

It seems each year I am tempted to declare that the Keach Conference (formerly known as the Evangelical Forum) just completed was the best ever.  If not the very best, this year's was at least one of the best we have ever had the satisfaction of planning and participating in.  The theme this year was "Of Creation," following our practice since 2007 of taking an article each year from the 1689 Confession.  David Murray from Puritan Reformed Seminary and Tom Ascol of the Founders Ministry proved to be an interesting and engaging pairing of speakers.  We packed out our meeting space with around 90 participants from congregations across Virginia, not to mention pastors from Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Here are some photos:

Image:  Friday gathering

Image:  Singing on Friday evening

Image: Fellowship

Image:  One of the best aspects of the Keach Conference is the ability to interact personally with the speakers.  Here Dr. Murray follows up on his message with conference participants.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Vision (9/23/10): Testimony

I recently received an invitation to deliver the “Homecoming” message next month at the small, country church in the low country of South Carolina where as a child I was first gripped by the simple preaching of the gospel. I remember sitting in the wooden pew that Sunday evening and being overwhelmed with a sense of the sinfulness of my sin and of God’s righteous wrath. Then, I heard the good news of God sending his Son to die in my place on the cross. In that little church, under the preaching of the gospel, I repented of my sin and trusted in Christ alone for salvation. I shared this news with my church and was soon baptized.

In the years that followed, I continued to grow as a believer. There were times of rapid advance, but also times of stagnation and even declension. As a college student at Wake Forest University there were several key factors that contributed to my spiritual life. They included the taking of a New Testament class that excited in me a hunger for serious Bible study, my involvement in a campus Christian group and local church where I also met my wife, and four summers of service in ministry (three at a Christian boys’ camp and one in a boys’ juvenile detention center).

When I got to the end of my college experience, I no longer saw myself heading off to law school (my original intention), but, instead, I enrolled at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Seminary brought a new season of growth. I married my wonderful wife. I studied the Biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, and completed internships in ministry as a chaplain in an urban hospital and in a nursing home.

With seminary completed in 1990, my wife and I headed to post-communist Eastern Europe to serve as missionaries in Budapest, Hungary. For two years I taught English in the Hungarian Baptist Seminary, served in my local Hungarian Baptist church, and worked with the formation of a national Baptist youth committee (MABISZ-Magyar Baptista Ifjusagi Szovetseg—“Hungarian Baptist Youth Committee,” the first in Hungary after 45 years of communism). During my time in Hungary I had various opportunities to preach, teach, and minister in both English and Hungarian in local churches, seminaries, youth conferences, and evangelism events.

As we returned to the United States, I was sensing a call to local church ministry. I interviewed with several large congregations to serve as a youth minister but began to realize that my call was to pastoral ministry and the regular, stated preaching of the gospel. I then became the pastor of a small, rural Baptist church in the Northern Neck of Virginia where I was formally ordained to pastoral ministry in November 1992. I also began graduate studies in Biblical studies to enhance my ability to handle the original Biblical languages. It was during this time that I stumbled upon the method of expositional preaching. I also began for the first time to do some serious theological reading. One of the key texts I read at this time was James M. Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology. The seminary I attended had been liberal in doctrine and I had much remedial study to do. God also richly blessed my time in the Northern Neck, adding to our family our beautiful daughters, Hannah and Lydia.

In 1997 I was called to serve as pastor of a Baptist church in Charlottesville. For nearly 13 years, I served this congregation. Almost from the start I met with hardship in this ministry. In 2002 I narrowly survived an attempt to remove me from the pastorate by a faction in the church in a controversy over the issues of the authority of Scripture and the church’s denominational alignment. About a hundred people left the church at that time. I remained, slowly rebuilding the work, and continuing to labor toward meaningful reformation in the church, making significant strides in moving the church toward meaningful membership, introducing complementarian views on the roles of men and women, simplifying the church’s “committee” system, and teaching doctrinal, Biblical Christianity.

By the early 2000s I had gladly taken on the badge of being called a “Calvinist.” I have been asked when this change occurred in my convictions, and, I must say, it is not easy for me to pinpoint. I did not become a Calvinist by reading Calvin. I believe it was the default position I had come to, even as a youth, merely by reading the Bible. When I discovered the writings of the Reformers and the Puritans as a missionary and then a local church pastor I was amazed and encouraged to find men who had already thought intensely and written extensively on these great Biblical doctrines.

As the years advanced my doctrinal convictions were continuing to grow. I came to realize that Reformed theology meant more than merely embracing Calvinistic soteriology. I was beginning to see the wider implications of embracing Reformation Christianity, which includes the Regulative Principle in worship and the ongoing role of the moral law in the shaping of the Christian life. I also began to study and embrace the doctrinal perspective reflected in the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689). Part of this came simply by working through Spurgeon’s Catechism in our family devotions. God had further blessed our family while in Charlottesville by adding our three sons (Samuel, Isaiah, and Joseph).

I preached and taught these emerging convictions in my congregation but began to meet with opposition and, eventually, outright and even intense resentment and hostility. The church that had moved with me, for the most part, to Calvinism would not become Reformed. By November of 2009 I realized that it was time to complete my ministry at that church, and I offered my resignation. As my wife and I pondered where the Lord would have us to serve in the next phase of our lives, I determined that I did not want to undertake another effort in reforming a Southern Baptist congregation. I had become a Reformed Baptist and was contemplating moving somewhere to plant a Reformed Baptist Church. Several friends, both inside and outside the area, suggested that I simply stay in Charlottesville and begin an independent Reformed Baptist Church plant where one did not yet exist. God had called me to this area. My family had invested 13 years of our lives here. My wife and I prayerfully considered the possibility and determined to give it our best efforts.

As you by now know, Christ Reformed Baptist Church held its initial meeting in our home on the first Lord’s Day of January 2010. We entered this task knowing that many church planting efforts fail, especially those that hold clear confessional convictions. We were prepared, if the Lord chose to close the door, to move on to other labors. Over the course of these past nine months, however, we have seen a cohesive core group come together. We have witnessed six attendees confess “Jesus is Lord” and be baptized. Earnest worship and sincere fellowship have taken place. A church has been born. This coming Lord’s Day we will join in covenant and commitment to exist together as a distinct, visible, church body. We are both humbled and cheered by what we have seen God do in our midst. We look forward to many days ahead in fruitful partnership in this ministry. To God be the glory!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeffrey T. Riddle

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010 Keach Conference Coming!

Image:  Dr. David Murray, a native of Scotland and minister in the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) who currently serves as Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan will be one of the keynote speakers at the 2010 Keach Conference. 

The 2010 Keach Conference is coming up this weekend (Friday evening-Saturday morning, September 24-25) at Christ Reformed Baptist Church.  Two high caliber speakers (Tom Ascol and David Murray) will address a challenging and fruitful topic (the doctrine of creation).  You can find the schedule details on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia website and read an announcement on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog.  Below is also some info on this year's and past conferences: 

What is the Keach Conference?

This is an annual theology and ministry conference sponsored by the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia (a loose network of pastor and churches in Virginia). There is no cost for anyone to attend this event. This is the ninth year we have had such a gathering.  For the past several years we have been taking chapters from the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) in order. This year it is “Of Creation.” Lloyd Sprinkle of Sprinkle Publications also provides a book table at our meeting.

Where are we meeting?

We have met at various churches throughout Virginia. This year we are meeting at Christ Reformed Baptist Church, a church plant in Charlottesville.
What is the program like?

We meet on Friday evening at 6:30 pm and Saturday morning at 9:30 am. We will have prayer, Scripture reading, and singing psalms and hymns in each session along with teaching from our guest speakers. On Saturday we will also have a question and answer session.

Past Keynote Speakers (meeting date and site)

2002 Dr. Calvin Frett, Pastor in Residence Ministry

(Thursday, November 8, First Baptist Church, Virginia Beach)

2003 Dr. Russell Moore, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

(Wednesday, November 12, All Saints Presbyterian Church, Richmond)

2004 Dr. Greg Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

(Monday, November 8, Plantation Road Baptist Church, Roanoke)

2005 Dr. Mark Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC

Dr. Tom Nettles, Southern Baptist Seminary

(Wednesday, November 9, Good News Baptist Church, Alexandria)

2006 Dr. Andrew Davis, First Baptist Church, Durham, NC

Dr. Tom Nettles, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

(Wednesday, November 8, Green Run Baptist Church, Virginia Beach)

2007 Pastor Greg Barkman, Beacon Baptist Church, Burlington, NC

Dr. Michael Haykin, Toronto Baptist Seminary, Toronto, Canada

Theme: “Of the Holy Scriptures”

(Friday-Saturday, October 5-6, 2007, Jefferson Park Baptist Church, Charlottesville)

2008 Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr., President, Greenville Presbyterian Seminary, Greenville, South Carolina.

Dr. Bruce Ware, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Theme: “Of God and Of the Holy Trinity”

(Friday-Saturday, September 26-27, 2008, Jefferson Park Baptist Church, Charlottesville)

2009 Dr. Derek Thomas, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi

Pastor Conrad Mbewe, Kabwata Baptist Church, Lusaka, Zambia

Theme: “Of God’s Decrees”

(Friday-Saturday, September 24-25, 2009, Jefferson Park Baptist Church, Charlottesville)


The Directory for the Publick Worship of God: Part 12 of 16

Concerning Burial of the Dead.

WHEN any person departeth this life, let the dead body, upon the day of burial, be decently attended from the house to the place appointed for publick burial, and there immediately interred, without any ceremony.

And because the custom of kneeling down, and praying by or towards the dead corpse, and other such usages, in the place where it lies before it be carried to burial, are superstitious; and for that praying, reading, and singing, both in going to and at the grave, have been grossly abused, are no way beneficial to the dead, and have proved many ways hurtful to the living; therefore let all such things be laid aside.

Howbeit, we judge it very convenient, that the Christian friends, which accompany the dead body to the place appointed for publick burial, do apply themselves to meditations and conferences suitable to the occasion and that the minister, as upon other occasions, so at this time, if he be present, may put them in remembrance of their duty.

That this shall not extend to deny any civil respects or deferences at the burial, suitable to the rank and condition of the party deceased, while he was living.

Comment and analysis:  The Directory here dispenses with superstitious ceremonies relating to the burial of the dead.  The body is interred “without any ceremony.”  Christianity does not teach ancestor worship.  Nonetheless, the directory does allow for Christian friends to have suitable “conferences and meditations” and that the minister might be present to “put them in remembrance of their duty.”  Again, the key is God-centered simplicity and sincerity.  What would the Puritans make of our practice today?  Of maudlin ceremonies, balloons, and “celebrations of life”? 


Monday, September 20, 2010

Peter's Last Will and Testament

Image:  Calvin's Farewell

I preached the third message yesterday in our ongoing series through 2 Peter titled, Make your call and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-15).  2 Peter is sometimes referred to as the apostle's "last will and testament" based on his discussion of his impending death in vv. 12-15 (cf. John 21:18-19).

In the conclusion I reflected on some of the last words we have recorded in church history from dying men (Polycarp, Luther, Calvin, etc.).  Several folk asked to have a copy of the quotes so here is part of the ending of the sermon manuscript:

As I thought about this passage, I was struck by the fact that we are hearing here the last testament of a dying apostle. The Puritan Richard Baxter said that a preacher ought to preach as a dying man to dying men. Peter is doing that here.

I also thought of how many of the great men in church history have had their final words recorded.

Some have given their last testament as martyrs. In the early church there was a pastor named Polycarp who was burned at the stake for his faith as an old man. When they told him that if he cursed Christ they would free him, he responded: “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, who hath saved me?” (taken from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs).

When Martin Luther died, it was recorded that he prayed, “Lord God, I thank you that you have willed me to be a poor man upon the earth and a beggar. I do not have home, field, possessions, or money that I relinquish. You have given me a wife and children. I give them back to you. Nourish, teach, and keep them—as you have me thus far—O Father of orphans and widows” (taken from Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry).

Just before John Calvin died, he called in the Ministers of Geneva and addressed them from his sickbed. He recounted that when he first came to Geneva “there was no reformation. All was in confusion.” He recounted his struggles, saying “I have lived in marvelous combats here.” He goes on to recount how he was saluted with mockery by those who shot of guns at his door to scare him, how he had been “hunted from this city” and fled to Strassburg, how he had been called a “scoundrel”and how dogs had been set upon him which bit his cloak and legs.

He continued by admitting, “I have had many faults which you have had to endure” and then said, “all that I have done is of no value. The wicked will seize upon that word, but I repeat that all I have done is of no value, and that I am a miserable creature. But, if I may say so, I have meant well, my faults have always displeased me, and the root of the fear of God has been in my heart. You can say that the wish has been good; and I beg you that the ill be pardoned, but if there has been good in it that you will conform to it and follow it.”

As to doctrine, Calvin added, “I have taught faithfully, and God has given me grace to write. I have done it with utmost fidelity, and have not to my knowledge corrupted or twisted a single passage of Scripture.” He ended, “I have written nothing through hatred against any one, but I have always set before me faithfully what I have thought to be for the glory of God” (from W. Walker, John Calvin, pp. 436-38].

It is said that just before John Newton died, he said, “I am sure of but two things. I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.”

Just before Adoniram Judson died, he said, “I am willing to live a few years longer, if it should be so ordered. If otherwise, I am willing and glad to die now. I leave myself entirely in the hands of God, to be disposed of according to his holy will” (from C. Anderson, To the Golden Shore, p. 499).

And among the last words of the Apostle Peter, “Make your call and election sure!” Before your exodus (exodos, v. 15) from this earth make sure of your entrance (eisodos, v. 11) into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Comparable to a magnificent cataract

So, on the drive home from church yesterday we started a new game with the children of renaming the titles of well known hymns and then seeing who could figure out the traditional title.

Here are a few we came up with (answers at the bottom):

1. Comparable to a magnificent cataract

2. Ancient igneous formation excavated for my benefit

3. Exclamation, do obeisance to the Potentate

4. Redemptive Figure as a Husbandman provide us guidance

5. Stupendous Beneficence

6. Approach you springs of multiple benefits

7. I possess contentment in a manner comparable to a gently flowing stream

Answer Key:

1. Like a River Glorious

2. Rock of Ages, cleft for me

3. O Worship the King

4. Savior, like a Shepherd lead us

5. Amazing Grace

6. Come thou fount of every blessing

7. I’ve got peace like a river

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Vision (9/16/10): CRBC Covenant Service on September 26, 2010

Image:  Psalm singing during one of our early gatherings in January 2010
 at the North Garden Fire House

I am glad to report that by week’s end we will have received at least 23 applications for membership to CRBC (our average Lord’s Day attendance in August was 47 with high attendance of 57). I believe that all the applications received thus far reveal a clear understanding of the gospel and a credible testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, none of the applications received thus far indicate reservation or further need for pastoral counsel with regard to our proposed Covenant, Confession of Faith (Second London Baptist Confession of 1689), and Constitution. I have recently written a brief article titled “How and When Should a Church Particularize?” and posted it on my blog. The article surveys the practice of the constitution of Baptist churches in three time periods and cultures. Guided by many of these insights, I propose that we proceed with our plan to particularize (constitute) as a distinct local church in a Covenant Service on Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm (note the later time).

I was greatly encouraged as I read through the various membership applications and believe it would be helpful to share those in the body. I propose, therefore, that on September 26th we gather around the tables after lunch (c. 1:00 pm), distribute the applications to those who wrote them, and give each the opportunity, as he desires, to read or share his understanding of the gospel and his testimony.

Following this time, I suggest that we gather at 2:00 pm for a solemn Covenant Worship Service. In that service, I propose that those who have made application for membership affirm our constituting resolution.  We will then read and affirm the Membership Covenant and sign it as a witness to our commitment. We will also invite several observers from other churches to join us in the service.

Following this service we will be constituted as Christ Reformed Baptist Church. There will be further steps in our transition. After constituting, I propose that we receive nominations for the offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon on Sunday, October 31, 2010 and that we hold our first Annual Membership Meeting on Wednesday, January 5, 2011 in which we will appoint further officers and adopt our 2011 budget. We also realize that even after we have constituted we will still exist as a developing mission church striving toward full self-sufficiency.

Let me also address those who have been regular attendees, but who have not yet applied for membership. First, if you would desire to submit an application in view of participating in the Covenant Service on the 26th your application must be received by this Sunday, September 19th. Second, some of you (particularly those who are newer to our fellowship) may need more time prayerfully and thoughtfully to consider whether or not you should petition for membership. As I stated last Sunday, we do not desire to place undue pressure upon you or to force anyone to go against his conscience. If you decide not to petition at this time, we would be happy to have you continue to attend our public meetings (including the Covenant Service) as you discern whether or not the Lord would have you join us at CRBC.

This is, indeed, a very glad time in the life of our church plant. With thanksgiving, we look backward at what God has already done, present at what he is doing, and forward to what he will choose to accomplish through this body.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeffrey T. Riddle

How and when should a church particularize?

Image:  A gathering of the Bethlehem Baptist Church of Crossville, Tennessee which organized on the second Saturday night of August 1872 with sixteen members.

How and when should a church particularize?

By Jeffrey T. Riddle

Christ Reformed Baptist Church

When a group of people come together for the purpose of planting a new church, what process should they follow in order to particularize or officially constitute as a new, distinct, visible congregation?

Here are some guidelines drawn from three distinct Baptist sources, reflecting three different time periods and cultures: (1) James H. Renihan’s study of the constituting of local churches among early English Particular Baptists (c. 1675-1705); (2) Edward T. Hiscox’s influential church manual for Baptist churches in America from 1859; and (3) Malaysian Reformed Baptist Pastor Poh Boon Sing’s The Keys of the Kingdom (1995).

I. Early English Particular Baptists (1675-1705):

James H. Renihan discusses this topic in his study of ecclesiology among early English Particular Baptists (see his book Edification and Beauty [Paternoster, 2008], pp. 48-52).

Renihan notes that there were two camps among these early Calvinistic Baptists. First, there were those who placed emphasis on the necessity of a church covenant. This view was held by John Spilsbery and Benjamin Keach. Others, like Hanserd Knollys, held that such a covenant was not necessary for the forming of a church.

As for the process to be followed in constituting as a church, Renihan makes reference to a detailed description offered by Knollys. According to Knollys, on a solemn day of prayer and fasting, an able minister along with other elders and brethren from particular churches should gather with the new group that desires to become a church. After the minister preaches on the nature of the church and the group expresses agreement to form a congregation, Knollys suggests,

The same Minister ought to declare them to be a Church of Saints, and the Ministers and Brethren of other Churches also present, ought to own and acknowledge them to be a Sister-Church, by giving them the Right hand of Fellowship; and so to commend them by prayer unto God (p. 50).

Renihan makes clear, however, that the constituting of the church was not dependent on the presence or participation of these guests. “The act of constituting the church depends on the engagements made by the founding members…. The presence of visiting ministers was for assistance” (p. 50).

Renihan also describes the February 9, 1693 constitution of the Maze Pond Church in London which came about as the result of a division from Keach’s Horselydown Church: “On a special day of prayer and fasting, and assisted by several elders and observers from other churches, they adopted a covenant as the formal means of constituting themselves into a church” (pp. 51-52). The nineteen members (six men and thirteen women) then signed the membership covenant, and this became a tradition for subsequent new members in the church.

2. Hiscox’s Principles and Practices (1859):

Edward T. Hiscox’s Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches (Kregel reprint) was first printed in 1859 and played an influential role in guiding Baptist church practice in America in the nineteenth century.

In his discussion of churches constituting (pp. 52-58), Hiscox states, “Churches are constituted by voluntary covenant on the part of those who wish to become members” (p. 52).

The process, he says, is “simple” (p. 52). The necessity, practicality, and organization is to be decided by those who will constitute the church. The church may be made up of those who are already believers and who belong to some other church or churches and of new converts. After “mature deliberation” the group should appoint a committee to form a Church Covenant and Articles of Faith to be considered by the body. Before constituting the participants who have been members of other churches should seek letters from their former churches. Those who “have for any reason lost their membership without special fault of their own, who are living consistently Christian lives, and are acceptable to the others” may be admitted as constituent members (p. 53-54). He adds, “So can others who have been baptized on profession of their faith in Christ, for the purpose of so uniting in the formation” (p. 54).

The “Constituting act” would come, preferably, by unanimous vote, after the body rises and a resolution is read like the following:

Resolved, That guided as we believe by the Holy Spirit, and relying on the blessing of God, we do, here and now, by this act, constitute ourselves a Church of Jesus Christ to perform His service, and to be governed by His will, as revealed in the New Testament. And to this end we do hereby adopt and agree to the following Covenant and Articles of Faith” (p. 54).

The Covenant is then read with agreement expressed “by each one raising his right hand,” and prayer is offered (p. 54). Hiscox concludes, “Such an act makes such a company of disciples, ipso facto, a Church of Christ with all the rights, powers, and privileges of any New Testament Church” (p. 54). He suggests that officers can be selected later as long as a clerk is designated to record the church’s decisions. Hiscox does not suggest the adoption of Constitutions, since “they are never necessary, and often more trouble than help” (p. 55).

The next event that Hiscox suggests after the church’s constitution is its recognition (see pp. 56-58). He states, “It is customary for a new Church to call a Council to recognize it. Occasionally, this precautionary act takes place at the time of the constitution of the body. More frequently at a subsequent period” (p. 56). It is an “optional” and “a prudential measure,” but “it is in no sense essential” (p. 56).

The Council would examine the church’s founding documents and “the apparent need of a Church in that particular field” (p. 57). If approved, “it is customary to hold some public religious service appropriate to the occasion, calculated to give them encouragement in their enterprise, and assure them of the fellowship and sympathy of sister churches” (p. 57). This service would include a sermon, a charge, and the hand of fellowship.

3. Poh Boon Sing’s The Keys of the Kingdom (1995):

We will examine one final source from the modern era and from outside the Western world. Poh Boon Sing founded the first Reformed Baptist church in Malaysia in 1983. He is the pastor of Damansara Reformed Baptist Church in Kuala Lampur, and his views on ecclesiology are presented in the book, The Keys of the Kingdom: A Study on the Biblical Form of Church Government (Good News Enterprise, 1995).

Poh contends that, “A church, when first founded, would need to make an explicit covenant” (p. 275). Those involved would also agree upon “a constitution, a confession of faith, and possibly even a statement of faith” (p. 276).

Poh then describes the constitution service:

At a prearranged time, the group gathers together and conducts an orderly service of worship, at which everyone would raise his right hand above the shoulder and read the covenant aloud together with the others. Then they affix their signatures to a copy of the covenant, which is usually attached to the membership book (p. 276).

What are the minimum number of members needed to constitute? John Gill suggested a minimum of ten based on Matthew 18:15-18 (offending and offended parties; two witnesses; and at least six to hear). John Cotton suggested a minimum of seven based on the same passage (offending and offended parties; two witnesses; four church officers [pastor, teacher, elder, deacon]). Poh concludes that we need not be too scrupulous: “The basic principle is that it should not be too small such that a group cannot function as a visible church. The ideal would be to have a minimum of ten wage-earning members so that together, they may support a fulltime pastor” (p. 278). Better to go ahead and constitute, even if small, and a supporting church can be found to offer pastoral oversight and financial help.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spurgeon on the Frequency of the Lord's Supper

Spurgeon long held and taught that the apostolic precedents all appeared to indicate that the celebration of the sacred supper should take place each Lord’s day, and, therefore, whether at home or abroad, he always attended the communion every Sabbath if it was possible and he often bore his willing witness that the frequent participation in the holy feast increased rather than diminished its value as a constant reminder of Him who said to His disciples, ‘This do in remembrance of me.’

--From C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography: Volume 2: The Full Harvest (Banner ed. 1973): p. 316.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sermon of the Week: Paul Washer on Prayer and Missions

I traveled down to Roanoke yesterday for the first bi-monthly meeting of the fall of "The Society for the Preservation of Baptist Principles and Practices" at Plantation Road Baptist Church. Paul Washer of HeartCry Missionary Society was the guest speaker. Ron Young, Sr. asked me to introduce Paul for the meeting.

Paul’s first message was from Luke 18:1-8 and Hebrews 11:6, and I gave it the title “The Minister’s Prayer Life" when I posted it online this afternoon.   Much of the message centered on urging those who hold to Reformed doctrine not to neglect the experimental aspects of the faith, including cultivating a deep prayer life and boldly asking for great things from God.

A few quotes:

“The charismatics believe in things God did not promise, but the Reformed often do not believe in the things he did promise.”

On the tendency of the Reformed too often to stress learning over humility: “Your problem isn’t that you’re too weak, but that you’re too strong.”

The second message was a presentation on the missionary philosophy of HeartCry Missionary Society (I posted it early this morning as "A Vision for Missions" to sermonaudio and when I checked this afternoon it already had over 800 downloads!). Here, Paul told a gripping story of buying books for a Peruvian Pastor that left few dry eyes and unmoved hearts in the room. We have so much!  Our God is so generous!


The Directory for the Publick Worship of God: Part 11 of 16

Concerning Visitation of the Sick.

Note:  This is an ongoing series through the "The Directory for the Publick Worship of God" (1645).  For past comments, see "The Directory for the Publick Worship of God" label below.

IT is the duty of the minister not only to teach the people committed to his charge in publick, but privately; and particularly to admonish, exhort, reprove, and comfort them, upon all seasonable occasions, so far as his time, strength, and personal safety will permit.

He is to admonish them, in time of health, to prepare for death; and, for that purpose, they are often to confer with their minister about the estate of their souls; and, in times of sickness, to desire his advice and help, timely and seasonably, before their strength and understanding fail them.

Times of sickness and affliction are special opportunities put into his hand by God to minister a word in season to weary souls: because then the consciences of men are or should be more awakened to bethink themselves of their spiritual estate for eternity; and Satan also takes advantage then to load them more with sore and heavy temptations: therefore the minister, being sent for, and repairing to the sick, is to apply himself, with all tenderness and love, to administer some spiritual good to his soul, to this effect.

He may, from the consideration of the present sickness, instruct him out of scripture, that diseases come not by chance, or by distempers of body only, but by the wise and orderly guidance of the good hand of God to every particular person smitten by them. And that, whether it be laid upon him out of displeasure for sin, for his correction and amendment, or for trial and exercise of his graces, or for other special and excellent ends, all his sufferings shall turn to his profit, and work together for his good, if he sincerely labour to make a sanctified use of God's visitation, neither despising his chastening, nor waxing weary of his correction.

If he suspect him of ignorance, he shall examine him in the principles of religion, especially touching repentance and faith; and, as he seeth cause, instruct him in the nature, use, excellency, and necessity of those graces; as also touching the covenant of grace; and Christ the Son of God, the Mediator of it; and concerning remission of sins by faith in him.

He shall exhort the sick person to examine himself, to search and try his former ways, and his estate towards God.

And if the sick person shall declare any scruple, doubt, or temptation that are upon him, instructions and resolutions shall be given to satisfy and settle him.

If it appear that he hath not a due sense of his sins, endeavours ought to be used to convince him of his sins, of the guilt and desert of them; of the filth and pollution which the soul contracts by them; and of the curse of the law, and wrath of God, due to them; that he may be truly affected with and humbled for them: and withal make known the danger of deferring repentance, and of neglecting salvation at any time offered; to awaken his conscience, and rouse him up out of a stupid and secure condition, to apprehend the justice and wrath of God, before whom none can stand, but he that, lost in himself, layeth hold upon Christ by faith.

If he hath endeavoured to walk in the ways of holiness, and to serve God in uprightness, although not without many failings and infirmities; or, if his spirit be broken with the sense of sin, or cast down through want of the sense of God's favour; then it will be fit to raise him up, by setting before him the freeness and fulness of God's grace, the sufficiency of righteousness in Christ, the gracious offers in the gospel, that all who repent, and believe with all their heart in God's mercy through Christ, renouncing their own righteousness, shall have life and salvation in him. It may be also useful to shew him, that death hath in it no spiritual evil to be feared by those that are in Christ, because sin, the sting of death, is taken away by Christ, who hath delivered all that are his from the bondage of the fear of death, triumphed over the grave, given us victory, is himself entered into glory to prepare a place for his people: so that neither life nor death shall be able to separate them from God's love in Christ, in whom such are sure, though now they must be laid in the dust, to obtain a joyful and glorious resurrection to eternal life.

Advice also may be given, as to beware of an ill-grounded persuasion on mercy, or on the goodness of his condition for heaven, so to disclaim all merit in himself, and to cast himself wholly upon God for mercy, in the sole merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, who hath engaged himself never to cast off them who in truth and sincerity come unto him. Care also must be taken, that the sick person be not cast down into despair, by such a severe representation of the wrath of God due to him for his sins, as is not mollified by a sensible propounding of Christ and his merit for a door of hope to every penitent believer.

When the sick person is best composed, may be least disturbed, and other necessary offices about him least hindered, the minister, if desired, shall pray with him, and for him, to this effect:

"Confessing and bewailing of sin original and actual; the miserable condition of all by nature, as being children of wrath, and under the curse; acknowledging that all diseases, sicknesses, death, and hell itself, are the proper issues and effects thereof; imploring God's mercy for the sick person, through the blood of Christ; beseeching that God would open his eyes, discover unto him his sins, cause him to see himself lost in himself, make known to him the cause why God smiteth him, reveal Jesus Christ to his soul for righteousness and life, give unto him his Holy Spirit, to create and strengthen faith to lay hold upon Christ, to work in him comfortable evidences of his love, to arm him against temptations, to take off his heart from the world, to sanctify his present visitation, to furnish him with patience and strength to bear it, and to give him perseverance in faith to the end.

That, if God shall please to add to his days, he would vouchsafe to bless and sanctify all means of his recovery; to remove the disease, renew his strength, and enable him to walk worthy of God, by a faithful remembrance, and diligent observing of such vows and promises of holiness and obedience, as men are apt to make in times of sickness, that he may glorify God in the remaining part of his life.

And, if God have determined to finish his days by the present visitation, he may find such evidence of the pardon of all his sins, of his interest in Christ, and eternal life by Christ, as may cause his inward man to be renewed, while his outward man decayeth; that he may behold death without fear, cast himself wholly upon Christ without doubting, desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, and so receive the end of his faith, the salvation of his soul, through the only merits and intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ, our alone Saviour and all-sufficient Redeemer."

The minister shall admonish him also (as there shall be cause) to set his house in order, thereby to prevent inconveniences; to take care for payment of his debts, and to make restitution or satisfaction where he hath done any wrong; to be reconciled to those with whom he hath been at variance, and fully to forgive all men their trespasses against him, as he expects forgiveness at the hand of God.

Lastly, The minister may improve the present occasion to exhort those about the sick person to consider their own mortality, to return to the Lord, and make peace with him; in health to prepare for sickness, death, and judgment; and all the days of their appointed time so to wait until their change come, that when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, they may appear with him in glory.

Comment and analysis: The Directory wisely points out that times of sickness are opportunities for ministry (cf. James 5). The minister’s work is not only in leading in public worship but also in private ministry. He is to exhort and admonish men in time of good health to prepare them for times of sicknes and death. Sadly, men in our day rarely welcome such admonitions, whether in good health or bad. They want the minister to be a therapeutic counselor who only holds their hand and affirms them in their present state, no matter what it may be. Admonition, no matter the spirit in which it is given, is often interpreted as mean-spiritedness.

The Directory stresses that the minister has a special role of service to those who are sick and dying. Again, it is a rich opportunity for spiritual work. The minister is to teach from Scripture, ask the subject to reflect on the providential circumstances of his illness, and prod him to consider his spiritual state. The minister is also cautioned not to be too severe, however, so as to make the subject unnecessarily despair. The minister might also offer practical instruction on setting the subject’s house in order and minister as well to friends and family. This is warm and helpful pastoral counsel.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Fuller on "Walking by Faith"

Today I posted another audio reading of a sermon by Andrew Fuller (1754-1815).  There are 92 sermon texts in the first volume of his Collected Works!  This one is titled "Walking by Faith" (text:  2 Cor 5:7).  It was delivered in Nottingham, England before the Northhamptonshire Association on June 2, 1784.  In preaching on "walking by faith" Fuller is no doubt promoting the mission cause, so near to his heart. You can really hear how this interest was driven by his post-millennialism near the end of the message (about the 1:15 mark).  This message is quite a bit longer than the previous ones I read that were mere "notes." This is a full manuscript and took over an hour and a half to read!


Exposition of Jude: Part 20 of 25

Note: This is a series of occasional verse by verse expositions of Jude (begun in March 2007--hard to believe!). An archive of this and past commentaries may be found under the lable "Jude Exposition" below.

Jude 1:20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,

The church is threatened on two sides. There are enemies without, but there are also enemies within. The church must face persecution from the world and heresy that breaks out among its own ranks. The book of Jude is a work directed toward the enemies within.

Having completed his description of the false teachers at v. 19, Jude turns to contrast the character and life of the believers. The false teachers are sensual, worldly, and without the Spirit (v. 19), “but” (the Greek conjunction de) believers are altogether different. Jude writes to the company of the saints. They are the “beloved” (agapetoi). They are loved by each other (John 13:34-35). They are loved by the apostles (cf. 1 Peter 2:11; 4:12). Most importantly, they are loved by God Himself (1 John 5:19). They are loved by God, because they have been found to be in Christ. The Father loves the Son and those who are in the Son thus share in the status of being “beloved.” So Paul says that God has “made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6). As Jesus taught, “if anyone will love Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him” (John 14:23).

Having established the identity of the believers to whom he writes as the beloved of God, Jude then describes two specific activities of the saints. They are involved in edification and in prayer.

First, they edify one another: “building yourselves up on your most holy faith.” This defines their attitude toward one another (the horizontal). They have come together as a temple made up of living stones, built on Jesus as the cornerstone (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-8). Now they must use their words and deeds to further strengthen their brothers and sisters. As Paul said, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification” (Rom 15:2). Jude stresses here the central importance of doctrine. Edification is on the “most holy faith.” At the outset, Jude exhorted his hearers “to contend earnestly for the faith” (v. 3). Each believer should constructively confirm in the hearts of his fellow believers the doctrinal and confessional truths on which they stand. They share in a “like precious faith” (2 Peter 1:1) that must be defended from distortion and compromise. The church’s doctrinal foundation is in the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16-18). They build one another up when they uphold this truth one to another.

Second, they pray in the Holy Spirit: “praying in the Holy Spirit.” This defines their attitude toward God (the vertical). Prayer is foundational to the Christian life. Jesus taught his disciples how to pray (see Matthew 6:9-13). He also provided them a living model of how to be a man of prayer (cf. Mark 6:46). Luke says that the early church was devoted to prayer (Acts 2:42) and that when they prayed the place was sometimes shaken (Acts 4:31). Paul encouraged the believers to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Matthew Henry said that prayer is like a letter sent from earth to heaven. Charles Spurgeon said that prayer was like a thermometer for the church to measure its health. He also called the church’s prayer meeting its most important gathering of the week. Believers edify each other in a “holy” faith and they pray in the “Holy” Spirit. Both faith and prayer set them apart for God’s purposes. To pray in the Spirit is not to have some wild, ecstatic experience. It is, rather, to be led by the Spirit of God to understand how to pray and what to pray, knowing that “whatever we ask we receive from him” (1 John 3:22) as long as it is “according to His will” (1 John 5:14).

The sum: Jude tells the believers they have an identity and a status. They are beloved. He also tells them that they have two defining traits. They edify and they pray.


1. Which do you think is most a threat to the church today, forces outside or inside?

2. How does Jude contrast the saints and the false teachers?

3. How does the believer’s union with Christ make him “beloved” by the Father?

4. How might a believer edify his fellow believers in “the most holy faith”?

5. What does it mean to “pray in the Holy Spirit”?