The world is watching with rapt attention the grand spectacle of The Roman Catholic Church selecting their new Pope. History and mystery combine in a grand spectacle worthy of a Cecil B. DeMille production. When it comes to bells and smells everyone else is an amateur compared to Rome. Even the normally skeptical media is somewhat awed at the show. Now the world waits as the Cardinals, hidden away in total seclusion, speak to us only by means of white or black smoke.
It’s very easy to know who speaks for the Roman Church. There are many voices, but in the end, it is the Pope who speaks for the church. It may be true that not all Catholics listen, but his voice is the official voice of their church.
In our government, the President speaks for the nation. Again, many do not agree, but he is the official spokesman. But, more powerful than the President, more powerful than the Congress, or the Supreme Court is the Constitution. Political and Judicial figures come and go, while the Constitution remains.
I choose this analogy, because in our Reformed Baptist churches, the 1689 Confession holds a position similar to our United States Constitution. It stands as a solid rock of doctrinal unity and stability. While many churches claim to be Bible-believing, a congregation that sincerely holds this confession possesses a safe, well-defined, and time-tested guard against heresy.
Pastors and elders may come and go. However, when a congregation requires that a pastor promises adherence to the confession as part of his ordination vows, with the attendant promise that an elder would voluntarily resign should he change his view, the church has a built in safeguard against error.
Differences in style may come and go. Peripheral issues and emphases may change from eldership to eldership within Reformed Baptist churches. But a church holding steadfastly to the confession, should be holding the same truths one hundred years from now as it is today in the essential matters of the faith.
I am not aware of any self-consciously Reformed Baptist Church, in America, that has held tenaciously to the 1689 LBCF for the past one hundred years, so, we have no working model to study or examine. There is a natural tendency for individuals and churches to change and swing, at times, like a pendulum, some more and some less. For instance, in your own particular area, there is probably a church that tried to follow the “Willow Creek model”, moved on to the “Purpose-Driven model”, and may have now morphed into the more “missional” (see “Emergent” or “Semi-emergent”) model. If they have a lack of success there, where will they go next? Don’t worry, there is always something new on the horizon.
Churches will follow a model, and there is a host of models from which to choose. There are denominational models and trendy models. Many of the popular models are “personality” driven, with one key figure as the leading spokesman. One model is set forth as “cutting edge” and “revolutionary” today, and the congregation is full of excitement. But inevitably they find themselves, maybe twenty-five years later, with a duller cultural edge and left defending their own traditions. Reformed Baptist Churches are not exempt from this pendulum effect.
So who does represent us as the voice that speaks for Reformed Baptists today? Interestingly, we find ourselves as a movement that doesn’t have a well-known public “voice” like John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll or R.C. Sproul. We can find major points of agreement with these men, but there are also points of disagreement. And each of these men would have points of disagreement with our Confession. None of these famous men listed (and we could have listed many more) would describe himself as a Confessional Reformed Baptist.
Who represents us, as Reformed Baptists, as the quintessential pastor or which church has the ideal ministry? We have very capable men and some exemplary churches. However, we haven’t had the kind of “superstar” minister that defines some movements. Along the way, some men and ministries have been profitably followed. At other times we have found that imitation is not always the highest form of flattery. Also as the number of Reformed Baptists has continued to grow (and this growth has been startling during the past twenty years!) we have become more and more diverse.
In my next entry, I will try to answer the question of who best represents us as Reformed Baptists, and what we can do to give our movement stability as we continue to progress into the coming decades.Steve Marquedant Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church Ontario, California www.sgbc-ontario.us .