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Confessionalism and the 1689 London Baptist Confession

Grace Fellowship Sanford is an independent church that was founded in 1890 in the Congregational tradition. However, we no longer formally associate with Congregational churches, rejecting those who have slid into liberalism and universalism among other heresies. To distinguish ourselves as a congregation for those inquiring, it is as important to know who we are and who we are not. We are: 

  • Biblical: We Teach the Bible
    • Our rule for faith and practice comes from and is placed under the authority of God’s Word
  • Evangelical: We Proclaim the Gospel
    • The good news of Jesus Christ, His death for sinners and their need for Him is primary
  • Reformed: We Glorify God
    • The Solas, doctrines of grace, confessionalism are biblically faithful and glorifying to God

While we are not officially a Baptist church, either historically or presently, we find the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 (SBLC) to be an excellent body of divinity that we can subscribe and adhere to. We find it necessary to distinguish ourselves as a congregation, and stand in the tradition and in agreement with the majority of the Westminster Standards and the Savoy Declaration, clarifying minor distinctions. In charity, we hold more in common than in disagreement with our reformed brothers.

While we stand with the 17th century particular Baptists in doctrine, we must also recognize they are products of the circumstances, issues, and concerns of their day. The 1689 confession is not exhaustive but representative in giving faithful and biblical responses to theological and practical concerns of the 17th century that remain helpful today because they are rooted in the truth of God’s Word. As elders, we excitedly adopt the SLBC with minor clarifications. In the spirit of unity, our members can hold to differing views within orthodoxy and remain in fellowship.

We subscribe to the Confession in its spirit, its biblical foundation and its theological conclusions. As elders we can adopt the confession with minor clarifications in these three areas:

 

22. Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day.

We heartily agree with the confession that “God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth” privately and publicly, with the further implication that these practices of worship also happen every day, which are “not carelessly nor willfully to be neglected or forsaken” (22.6).

We also agree that “he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him” (22.7), since this is a creation ordinance and deemed good and beneficial to mankind. And that each believer should set aside a day of rest and refreshment in the Lord (Ex. 23:12), ideally this is the first day of the week, affectionately called “the Lord’s Day” (22.7).

22.8. We do believe that paragraph 8 requires some clarification, regarding the standards and expectations for the Lord’s Day.

  • First, while we strongly encourage believers to abstain from working on Sunday, we live in a very different climate from ancient Israel or even 17th century Europe. In an industrial society that operates seven days a week, the worker does not always have the opportunity to enjoy a Sunday rest. We will certainly counsel one day in seven as a day of rest if Sunday is not possible; and encourage vocation where a set apart Lord’s Day with the body of Christ can be achieved.
  • Next, paragraph 8 says the sabbath is only kept “when”: “a due preparing of their hearts and ordering their common affairs aforehand”, which is agreeable; but also, that a holy rest is observed “all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations”, yet in addition, must also be “taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship and in the duties of necessity and mercy.” (22.8)
  • While these sentiments are admirable and worthy of aspiration, they seem to place undue burden on the congregation that their own proof-texts and Scripture as a whole does not place. Scripture prohibits “work” on the sabbath, but if we are prohibited from our own “words and thoughts” as well, the confession makes liars and sabbath-breakers out of us all. Does this not tend dangerously close to the zeal of the Pharisees? What is more, where does God’s holy command say His people must take up “the whole time” in “public and private exercises” and “duties”? Isaiah 58:13-14 states the people must turn back “from doing your pleasure on my holy day”, because the day is to be a “delight in the LORD”[1]. Should we be taken up with the things that are mentioned in paragraphs 1-5 on the Lord’s Day? Absolutely! But are these the only acceptable practices on that day?
  • We must ask ourselves, is not God glorified in other means? (Col. 3:17) Is this not a day of rest and refreshment (Ex. 23:12, 31:17), and delight in the Lord? God most certainly deserves our worship in spirit and in truth, and we should desire to make the day honorable (Is. 58:13), but is not “sabbath made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk. 2:28)? Jesus did not treat the day with drudgery and duty, but freedom and joy.
  • The changing of the sabbath from the last day to the first (22.7), signifies Christ’s resurrection and our joyous resurrection in Him. Doesn’t the resurrection of our Lord lead us to celebration and rejoicing with the saints? Is not Christ glorified by fellowship and the breaking of bread as well as the teaching and the prayers? (Acts 2:42) “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”[2], not just this day, but every day!
  • While we appreciate the spirit of the paragraph by the writers of the confession, we must caution the strict observance to the letter and its implications for the church.

 

26. Of the Church.

26.4. This clarification involves paragraph 4 and is much simpler to address. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church and any claim by Rome or any other authority for headship is a clear violation of this doctrine. We agree that the way the Roman Catholic church exalts the Pope is unbiblical, sinful and often blasphemous. To that end we must clarify that any gospel that exalts man is by nature anti-Christ, and we are promised many of them (1 Jn. 2:18, 4:3). However frustrating and egregious the Pope was in their day, it is clear that he was not “that anti-Christ, that man of sin and son of perdition” referring to “the lawless one” in 2 Th. 2:1-12 who leads the rebellion that ushers in the coming of the Lord. The Popes of Rome are many things, but have yet to proclaim, “himself to be God” (2 Th. 2:4)

26:9. Finally, our last point depends on a particular word used in paragraph 9, to clarify what the confessional writers meant in terms of practice. This word “suffrage” is used in reference to the appointment of elders who must “be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself”. The word is applied to the election of deacons as well in the same paragraph, “chosen by like suffrage”.

  • According to Oxford Languages the modern definition (late 18th) of suffrage has come to mean: “the right to vote in political elections”, with their archaic “a vote given in assent to a proposal or in favor of the election of a particular person” as well as “a series of intercessory prayers or petitions.” However, what precisely the writers of the confession mean in practice we do not know, but going back a little further might be helpful, according to the Table Alphabeticall (Preacher’s Dictionary, 1617) suffrage meant: “consent” or “voice” or “help.”[3]
  • To encourage common “consent”, “voice” or “help” seems in line and reasonable with what we see in Scripture. We certainly encourage intercessory prayer for the appointment of elders and encourage each member to have a voice and give consent to their selection. However, at Grace Fellowship we will not hold democratic votes and do not see a biblical precedent for it. This is admittedly difficult, since the Bible says decisively little about testing and appointing elders in a local church, while commanding it be done (Tit. 1:5-9).
  • The proof texts chosen do not reference voting in the selection of elders. In Acts 6:1-7, the seven (pattern for selecting deacons) are chosen by the recognition of their conduct and confirmed by the apostles; in Acts 14:23, the elders were appointed in every church, with prayer and fasting; Mt. 18 and 1 Cor. 5:1-13 are not dealing with officer appointment specifically, but church discipline in agreement of judgment within the church.

This may seem like splitting of theological hairs, but it does make a stark difference in polity, between setting apart elders by petition or inclusion of the members instead of democratic voting; between an elder led/ruled form of church government and a strictly congregational form of government. The former we can affirm and the later we cannot. In short, if suffrage means common intercession and agreement by the entire body, then we absolutely affirm this, but if it means majority vote within the entire body then we cannot.

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 58:13-14

[2]Ibid., Ps 118:24.

[3]Cawdry, Robert. A Table Alphabeticall, contayning and teaching the true writing and vnderstanding of hard vsuall English words, borrowed from the Hebrew, Greeke, Latine, or French &c. Newly corrected and much inlarged. The 3. Edition. London: 1617. Table Alphabeticall