On my path to discovering the Reformed confession, there were multiple changes developing in my life. So, I want to take a moment to step back chronologically in my story. As I began the effort of church planting, I met with a man named Bob Brady, who was a member of my former church. Bob was a nationally sought-after expert in church growth who trained under Dr. Donald McGavran at Fuller Theological Seminary. Bob had publicly repented of his church growth efforts after he went through his own theological reformation and became an elder at a PCA church in Bakersfield. Bob invited a couple of us from the church to his home for lunch to discuss church planting. We told one another our stories about how we had changed in doctrine and practice, and I asked Bob specifically about church planting in light of his change in ministry method. I will never forget how he answered.
Bob told us stories of meetings in which he studied the growth of several megachurches, trying to find the cause for the rapid growth they were experiencing. He then reflected on meeting with John MacArthur and his staff. Grace Community Church in Sun Valley was growing exponentially at the time. Bob said the church growth team asked why the church was growing and John MacArthur replied, “Well, it is not the punch and cookies.” Then MacArthur bent forward, looked at the team, and said, “Preach the word! Preach the word! Preach the word!” Bob looked at me and said, “I thought John MacArthur was so naïve. He did not even know why his own church was growing. I was foolishly wrong. Chad, preach the word. That is what the Lord has given you to do.”
I was, however, in a bit of a church planting quandary. One of my primary team members, Jason Faber, was Dutch Reformed. He could happily confess the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity, even the articles regarding the baptism of the infants of believers. I liked both sets of confessions, and I had studied the issue enough to know why Jason held Reformed views of baptism, I just did not believe he was correct. I could see how the baptism of the children of believers followed from the covenant theology I was embracing; I just did not think it was necessary. Further, I really had no clue regarding how confessions were to be used in a church. I thought they were good historical summaries of the doctrines I was coming to understand, just stated in language superior to what I employed. I never thought of them as subordinate standards, expressing what was contained in the Bible, which would govern the doctrine, worship, and practice of local church ministry.
It was in this season of ministry that I came across the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2LCF). I was excited by the discovery of this confession, as I wanted there to be a Westminster Confession (WCF) for Baptists and it turned out that it already existed (though I was never a Congregationalist in my understanding of church polity). I do not know whether I first encountered the 2LCF on a book table at the Shepherds Conference or Together for the Gospel, I was just delighted that I had discovered a document which demonstrated that Jason and I were closely related in doctrine. Jason could embrace the WCF while I embraced the 2LCF. We would only baptize new believers at our church, but we would allow those baptized as infants elsewhere to join our membership.1 We had our solution.
We planted Sovereign Grace firmly in the ecclesiological stream of Big Eva.2 We wanted to be a church that reflected all we were seeing from pastors such as R. C. Sproul, John Piper, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, and Alistair Begg. We did not want to choose a denominational team. We desired a kind of catholicity that caused us to have an underdeveloped ecclesiology. We would create a church that was a melting pot of what we liked from each of these men. What this meant was that I largely did all the picking and choosing from among these men. We really had no confession to govern us, so I taught my own biblical interpretation and predilections.
Over the years, we continually ran into challenges regarding our poor ecclesiology. Carl Trueman was regularly posting about the problems with Big Eva while arguing in favor of creeds and confessions governing the church. I was particularly struck by Trueman’s argument that unless a church is governed by a subordinate standard, the ministry would be centered around a big personality or thought leader. Mark Dever (Baptist) and Ligon Duncan (Presbyterian) openly argued that men needed to be a faithful Baptist or a faithful Presbyterian, but they should not sit on the fence regarding ecclesiology. Dr. R. Scott Clark regularly published articles on the Heidelblog arguing that Acts 29 men, and others in Big Eva, were not really Reformed at all.
We became increasingly convinced that these men were correct, but we had no idea what that meant for us and our church. Our elders were split on the baptism issue. Would we need to divide them? Our church was growing and bearing much fruit. Did we want to disturb the work the Lord was clearly doing? We loved our church members and could not bear the thought of losing any of them. Would we need to disrupt the peace and unity of our church? Jason and I often discussed, even openly, that one day the church would need to choose an ecclesiological path. We just assumed that “one day” would come after we had closed out a lifetime of blessed ministry among the saints at Sovereign Grace. We assumed incorrectly.
1. It is important that the reader know John Piper had just written an article for his church arguing for allowing those baptized as infants to join their membership. I read that article and found in it a solution for our problem.
2. A term coined by Dr. Carl Trueman which summed up the conference, publishing, and parachurch machine of what many called the “Young, Restless, and Reformed.”
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