I have a confession to make. After growing up in a Baptist Church, graduating from a Baptist Bible College and a Baptist Theological Seminary, pastoring a Baptist church in Florida and Iowa, I am now a member of a Presbyterian church. How did it happen? How do I assuage the anguish of soul my mother experiences? What do I tell my Baptist friends who are burdened for me?
Let me explain how I became a Presbyterian and then allow me to draw some lessons from my life as a BARP (which I only recently learned is my official designation as a Baptist in an Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church). When we moved to Greenville we were surprised to find that while there is a Baptist Church on every corner they fell into several distinct categories—Southern Baptist, Pro-Bob Jones University Fundamentalist, and anti-Bob Jones University Fundamentalist. Without getting into an explanation of the nuances of each, all three categories had the following in common—they were Arminian in theology, mystical, and refused to do church discipline, all of which vexed my righteous soul.
I knew Bill Slattery, who was the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and we visited from time to time because of our friendship. However, we never considered joining Redeemer because, well, it was Presbyterian. When we visited we found that the Scriptures were faithfully taught, the people were warm and friendly, the elders were serious about shepherding and discipling, they were serious about the doctrines of grace, and occasionally they pulled out a bowl of water and “baptized” an infant. Eventually my wife and I sat down and, after some serious theological triage, decided that a misunderstanding about baptism was a much lesser problem than those we found in other places—Baptist places. So while I am still an immersionist and thus a Baptist at heart, I am now a member of a Presbyterian church which, I suppose, officially makes me a Presbyterian.
I explain all this in order to make the following point. As a Baptist in a Presbyterian church I have had to mind my manners. I joined the church knowing full well what the church believed and taught. I knew I was never going to be invited to serve as an officer of the church. While I wished these dear people would come to understand the wonderful picture baptism is of our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection it was not my place to use whatever opportunities I had to teach or preach to challenge the principles upon which the church was founded. In turn, my pastor and elders prayed that someday, as they ministered to me, I would come to understand fully the covenant relationship God has with His people. For eight years now this has been a warm and happy relationship.
Perhaps it is because of this relationship I have to my brothers and sisters at Redeemer that I am especially grieved by what I see happening in other organizations with which I am familiar. People join because they are in agreement with the founding principles and goals of the organization. As time goes on, however, they “mature” and “grow” and conclude the organization needs to “mature” and “grow” with them. Without announcing publically their intentions they work to push or pull the organization in the direction of their more “mature” thinking ultimately working to remake the entire organization. If such a thing were done openly so that those who might be opposed could consciously accept or reject the new direction all would be well. But to do so behind the closed doors of executive sessions, where those who lack the leaders’ “maturity” are not able to hinder progress, is unconscionable.
This is how countless schools, churches, and ministries have become untethered from their foundations. Men would initially join, expressing appreciation for all that the organization stands for, rise to positions of leadership, and then conclude they had “matured” beyond those who founded the organization who were now hopelessly out of touch with the new realities. Rather than start a new organization from the ground up founded upon their new “mature” insights, they choose instead to hijack the years of hard work and effort that went into the building of an organization whose founding principles they have now “grown” beyond.
Gentle reader, what would your estimation be of me if I were to embark on a campaign to remake Redeemer Presbyterian Church into Redeemer Baptist Church? Beware of those who would.