Why Confess and Associate? (Faith of Our Fathers)
“3If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain,” (1 Timothy 6:3-5; NASB).
One of the reasons we started up Citizen Priest this year was so that we might be able to supplement the income we currently get from my secular job. On top of pastoring, I have to work a full-time job in order to provide for my family here in San Angelo, TX. Why is that? We are the only confessionally Reformed church in San Angelo, a town in which the people have largely been taught that labels are unbiblical, denominations divide, and Calvinism is evil. Needless to say our congregation is very small. The two biggest questions we get is in regard to our subscription to The Baptist Confession (1677/1689) and our use of labels (we openly state that we are Reformed Baptists).
In 1 Timothy 6:3, Paul warned Timothy about those who do not agree with sound words. This is not the only place in the New Testament where sound words are mentioned. The clear teaching of the New Testament Scriptures was that there was an agreed upon orthodoxy, a faith that the church universally confessed, from which any deviation meant a disassociation from those who had deviated. Over the centuries, whenever any controversy would arise within the church over any core doctrine, the church would convene, formulate doctrinal statements to state the teaching of Scripture on the matter, and require that any who would wish to remain in the church confess those forms of sound words along with the church catholic.
As far back in my walk with Christ as I can recall, I have placed a high premium on sound doctrine. In 2007, I was notified that I would be deployed with my Army unit to Kuwait in the Spring of the following year. Not long after, my wife and I found out that we were expecting our first child. Also, around the same time, we found out that the ladies in our Sunday School class had decided to start going through a Joyce Meyer book in their women’s study group. This might not have been surprising if the church were an openly charismatic or Pentecostal church, but instead it was a rather reputable Southern Baptist megachurch in a major metropolitan area. Not only was I concerned about what my wife was being taught, but we had to consider the teachings under which we would be raising our young family. To this day, it baffles me that the teaching is not the most important factor for many men when deciding where to worship with their families.
I did not have time to find a new church home before leaving for Kuwait, so I simply told my wife I did not want her attending the study (she agreed), and prayed that the Lord would give us guidance. While in Kuwait, I came to affirm a Reformed view of salvation, and over the years to come, I grew more and more Reformed. When I returned from Kuwait, we found a new church, and the reason was simple. We wanted to be in a church that was doctrinally sound and where the pastors made sure to oversee everything that was taught in the church.
Sadly, within just a few years that church would split over a doctrinal issue, and I would discover that it was not enough for the pastors to care about sound doctrine. The split occurred over the issue of the Sabbath, a doctrine that was not covered in the church’s little 16-paragraph faith statement that had been written by the pastors themselves. The soundness of our pastors’ doctrine was not sufficient to protect the church from a major disaster. What was lacking was a historic and a contemporary doctrinal accountability.
As Reformed Baptists, our church holds to two things that no other church for over an hour and a half’s drive holds. We are confessional, and we are associational. As a confessional church, we are held doctrinally accountable to such historically confessional churches as those pastored by Benjamin Keach, Charles Spurgeon, and A.W. Pink. As an associational church, we seek to be held accountable by contemporary sister churches who likewise hold to the same confession.So why do we hold to a confession, and why to we use labels like Reformed Baptist? It is not for the sake of being divisive at all. Rather, it is for the sake of union and protection within the boundaries of sound words. We believe that churches ought not to have to rely on the soundness of one man, a man who may not be here tomorrow, or even his own 16-paragraph doctrinal standard, a standard that will doubtless be changed by the church under the direction of their next pastor. Just as I need godly men within the body to hold me doctrinally accountable when my teaching is outside the bounds of historic Christian orthodoxy, churches corporate must be held accountable to the saints of old as well as sister churches today who uphold the faith of our fathers.