John Owen, the Baptist?

I’m dreaming someday about forming a pastor’s college as a part of the wider ministry of Mercy Hill, the church of which I’m the organizing pastor (church planter) here in South Jersey.

This is part of my own heritage, having grown up in a church and a ministry which had a vision many years ago for church based theological training that eschewed accreditation and aimed, as with the original American pastor’s college, founded by the Tenent Brothers, the Log College, to raise up men for the ministry, not for the academy.

At the top of the list so far in my mind, in terms of naming said college is the title, “Owen Hall,” after the great Congregationalist Puritan theologian and minister, John Owen.

But was he a baptist? Continue reading

Church Membership and the Lord’s Supper

(The following essay is part of a paper I wrote in 2001 as pastor of my first church. I am republishing it here because the issue and importance of church membership and the Lord’s Supper is as important today if not more so than it was then.)

In the PCA, membership vows require a person to not only make a simple profession of faith in Jesus Christ, but to promise to follow Him in a couple of specific ways: serving the Lord in the local church to the best of his ability (time, talents, and treasure), and submitting to the government and discipline of the church, as that is expressed by humble, godly elders of the local congregation.

Elder Accountability

This oversight responsibility (otherwise known as accountability) is seen in a special way at the Lord’s Table. Scripture, presents elders with the responsibility of excluding those from the Table who are unworthy partakers (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 5), a process called suspension from the Lord’s Supper, or Excommunication.

Yet, if you are a church which does not have or practice membership, in such a case, what is a person excluded from? You would find yourself in the midst of a logical impossibility.

By taking the position that it takes, our denomination is not saying that “church membership” is a requirement for salvation (as if we had to “do” anything besides believe), but only this: church membership is the normal, regular way that a Christian expresses his faith in Christ in a visible way. Like baptism, giving to the poor, and other expected responses to those who have been saved by Grace through Faith alone, joining a church is a central part of what it means to be a thankful and faithful disciple of Christ.

Calvin, quoting Augustine and others, said this: If you will not take the Church as your Mother, you may not take God as your Father. (For more on church eldership and church discipline, read T David Gordon’s article at the PCA website here.)

 What Are the Sacraments?

This raises a good question: what are the sacraments, and what do they have to do with a simple profession of faith? Continue reading

Dear Bill: Baptism and Secondary Things

Dear Bill,

You’ve asked to me and asked me why I called “baptism” a “secondary matter.” I’d like to try and explain myself a little better than I did the first time we talked, so that’s why I’m taking time to write out my thoughts in the form of a letter.

First of all, “secondary matters” for Christians do not mean unimportant matters. Rather, they refer to things over which Christians may and do often disagree but which do not rise to the level of primary issues of orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy doesn’t mean beards and incense, by the way. It is what defines a Christian. Secondary matters are what distinguish Christians from one another.

I used to teach Biology; secondary matters are what makes a species. Primary matters are what make a genus. In Christianity, primary matters refer to the vital heart and center of the Gospel.

For example, did Jesus really rise from the Dead? Was He really fully man and fully God? Was he born of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Will we stand before God in judgment?

Secondary matters are not at the vital heart and center of the Gospel, but they are still convictions about what is “biblical” and “unbiblical.” The difference is that, at the end of the day, we can agree to disagree over these biblical convictions.

Some examples of such secondary matters include: Continue reading