Meet Phil Baiden: A Confessional Presbyterian Pastor In The UK

phil-baidenThe HB tends to focus on advancing the Reformation among the Reformed and Presbyterian churches in North America but we know that it is happening elsewhere. One example of the recovery of the Reformed theology, piety, and practice is the Rev. Mr. Phil Baiden, pastor of Durham Presbyterian Church (EPCEW) in the UK. He was recently commissioned as pastor of DPC and I thought you should know about his ministry.

Were you raised in the Christian faith?
My parents were Salvation Army officers when I was born and some of my earliest memories are of singing in the services. My father became a Methodist minister when I was 4 years old. We would listen to Christian music in the car, my mum would always be singing a hymn of some kind and they raised me to have respect for the Lord’s Day. I made a commitment to Christ when I was 8 years old. As I look back I’m thankful for that background because the Lord used it in later life.

When I was a teenager a number of factors came together so that I fell away from the Christian faith. The biggest of those was my parents’ divorce. At that time I was still attending a Sunday School (which took the children out of worship before the sermon) which taught moralism as well as an inoffensive Jesus. At school my religious studies teacher taught Mark’s Gospel from a skeptical position and my background gave me no resources to argue against that.

All these factors converged so that I decided that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God and that staying in bed was a better option for a Sunday morning.

But God had other ideas.

For a reason I cannot explain, apart from the providence of God, I began a Biblical Studies course at Sheffield University. It was a broadly liberal course and we were exposed to all the critical ideas of the academy. Many Christian students struggled. I loved it. But what happened was that I began to read the Bible and was exposed to it more intensively than ever before. I had to come to terms with Jesus—and so in my final semester I stopped fighting and came to Christ in faith.

How did you become aware of the Reformed confession (theology, piety, and practice)?
When I came to Christ I knew I needed to get to church. On first arriving in Sheffield, the minister of the local United Reformed Church (think UCC or PCUSA) sent me a letter inviting me to attend that church (originally a church plant of the Presbyterian Church for the large number of Scottish immigrants in the 19th century). I threw the letter in the bin. But I remembered that kindness when I came to faith and so I attended that URC congregation. I will be forever grateful to this congregation because of the things it taught me by its practices. Psalms were sung, the preaching was expository (not always from an angle I’d agree with today but at least you needed to have your Bible with you in church) and the elders were in authority.

Along with that I always say that the URC made a mistake by putting Reformed in the title of the denomination. That meant I started reading Calvin and the works of the Westminster Divines and realised that what the URC practised on the whole was not what our forebears did. As time went on I put myself forward for the ministry, read more history, went to Madagascar for a year, came back to the UK and discovered Banner of Truth and the White Horse Inn podcast. I had naively thought that I was some strange loner in thinking of these things so to find that there were Reformed congregations out there in the wider world was a joy. I resolved to follow the regulative principle of worship (RPW) in my ministry. We sang Psalm 100 at my ordination unaccompanied. I ditched the Common Lectionary and preached consecutively through books of scripture. I read your book.

How was your sojourn in the mainline United Reformed Church in the UK (not connected to the United Reformed Churches in North America)?
As I came to Reformed convictions then life became less comfortable. It was as if I was speaking a foreign language. I struggled to connect even with other evangelical ministers because most of them were charismatic. I went about the work of the ministry quietly and saw some wonderful encouragements of people growing in the love and knowledge of Christ. But I knew that the URC was not a natural fit for me. The denomination was going in one direction and I was going in the other.

How and why did you come to be a minister in the ECPEW?
After your book, Recovering the Reformed Confession, was published, you linked to a review of it , given at a Defending Calvinism conference in Bawtry. This is a small town just ten minutes down the road from where I was then living. How did I not know about a Reformed conference so close to home? I did some research and discovered the organiser of the conference was Kevin Bidwell, minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church which had recently started public worship services. On my next free Lord’s Day, my wife and I joined the saints there in worship. Kevin and I met up shortly afterward. I attended Bawtry Hall conferences (now called Reformation Christianity for Today) and was invited to preach at Sheffield and, later, at other churches in the Presbytery.

One of those churches was Durham Presbyterian Church. The minister there, Brian Norton, was suffering with ill-health and unbeknownst to me was looking for a man to minister with him. I received repeated invitations to preach at DPC before being asked if I would consider joining the elders. I was examined by Presbytery and called by the congregation. However, before I moved up to Durham, Brian was called to be with the Lord. In the week he died we had spent some good time together and I was looking forward to working with such a godly man. However, the Lord had other plans, and so, I was installed as minister in September.

DurhamTell us about your city and congregation.
Durham is a city in the north east of England, famous for its cathedral, castle and university. It is surrounded by glorious countryside and has a very picturesque centre. The presence of the university ensures that there are a number of nationalities living in the city. There are a number of former mining villages around Durham which means that you have a diversity of classes similar to that of much larger towns and cities.

DPC is a congregation of 50 communicant members and over 30 children. Our services are simple, based on the order of the Directory for Public Worship. We sing unaccompanied hymns and psalms—the singing is a delight to experience. The people are a mix of all ages and have been wonderfully welcoming to me and my family. It is a congregation full of sincere Christians, humbly desiring to serve Christ.

With what sort of strategies are you trying reach the area with the gospel?
The only ‘strategy’ we have as a church is the ordinary means of grace. Nothing is more powerful than the faithful preaching of God’s Word and the fervent prayer of God’s people to see the growth of his kingdom. However, we are looking at making our presence felt a little more through a new website and leaflet drops, as well as contact with the Christian Unions of the university. The best way of reaching the area with the gospel is the people of the congregation speaking with their friends and neighbours.