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. 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 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. 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. 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.” 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. 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” in South Wales was held on 6 and 7 November 1650. 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.
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 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, 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.
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.”