Associations and the 1689 (Faith of Our Fathers)

“Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm,” (2 Corinthians 1:24; NASB).

Last month, we made the case for both confessions and associations to be utilized for the glory of God among His churches. Many in our day have heard of denominations, Presbyteries, and conventions, but associations may be a bit ambiguous to many of our readers. What is meant by associations, and are they biblically required?

The idea of associations as laid out in Reformed Baptist churches today is similar in some ways to denominations and Presbyteries, but different in some ways as well. Baptist churches are part of tradition of churches known as congregationalist churches that emphasize the governmental autonomy of local congregations. This does not mean that Reformed Baptists deny the universality of the local church, though. Increasingly, since the late 1900s, there has been a growing recognition of the Scriptural mandate to commune together among churches. The Baptist Confession (1677/1689) confesses as much:

“As each church, and all the members of it, are bound to pray continually for the good and prosperity of all the churches of Christ, in all places, and upon all occasions to further every one within the bounds of their places and callings, in the exercise of their gifts and graces, so the churches, when planted by the providence of God, so as they may enjoy opportunity and advantage for it, ought to hold communion among themselves, for their peace, increase of love, and mutual edification,” (The Baptist Confession, 26.14).

The confession goes on in the next paragraph to refer to these churches as ‘churches holding communion together’ and explain how they might be of mutual benefit to one another. Our church has recently been accepted into just such an association of churches communing together in our state. We now, with great joy, have the privilege of working together with these fellow churches for our “peace, increase of love, and mutual edification.”

Often, one will run across a Christian who speaks a good game. He knows what to say and around whom to say it. He has mastered Christianese and has learned not to be engaged in his private sins when there are others looking, but he does not know Christ. There are many variations of this type of inconsistency ranging from sheer hypocrisy to mere ignorance.

We speak to those today who, like many of our churches once did, have a blind spot in their understanding of confessionalism. Perhaps you are part of a doctrinal tradition that holds to a historic confession like the 1689 and affirms the autonomy of the local church. We encourage you today, for the peace, increase of love, and mutual edification of the churches to scour your confession of faith to see what it has to say about holding communion together with other churches, so that you might more consistently live what you confess.

For those specifically subscribing to the 1689, we would encourage you to note the words “ought to” toward the end of chapter 26, paragraph 14, and read the Scripture citations provided. It is our conviction that full subscription to the 1689 includes a functional affirmation of associationalism. More than anything, consider the Bible's testimony on this matter. We desire to see Christ honored and His Word given its due authority in His local churches.

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For further research, consider:

The Reformed Baptist Perspective on Associations of Churches by James M. Renihan