Thursday, January 28, 2016

Training for the Ministry in the Reformed Baptist Tradition by Robert Oliver

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On Wednesday we had a meeting of the Bradford on Avon Ministers' Fraternal. Our longstanding Chair and former Minister at Bradford on Avon Baptist Church gave an address on the subject in the title above. Here are some brief (and rough around the edges) notes. 

In 1644 the 1st London Baptist Confession was drawn up and approved by seven London Baptist Churches. But to understand the emergence of Reformed or Particular (that is Calvinistic, not fussy) Baptists we have to go back a little further in history. 

The English Reformation that had developed in fits and starts since the reign of Henry VIII was brought to a juddering halt by Queen Mary. She set about to literally burn Protestantism out of England and many faced a martyr's death. 

Some English Protestants fled to Calvin's Geneva for refuge. There they encountered a more thorough reformation than they had witnessed back home. The regular preaching of the Word was especially prominent. This emphasis on biblical exposition and application let to the printing of the Geneva Bible, replete with notes and other study aids. 

As the Geneva Bible came into the hands of godly English-folk it stimulated a desire for sound biblical preaching. 

Mary died and was followed by Elizabeth I. Hopes were raised that the new monarch would give fresh stimulus to the Reformation in England. However, virtually all she would allow was for the Church of England to revert to it's pre-Marian state. The Elizabethan Settlement set the Reformation in stone. Queen Bess was certainly no great fan of preaching.  

The Puritan vision of Reformed Church driven by a revitalised preaching ministry was going nowhere fast. Some began to question the very idea of a State Church. They held that churches should be allowed to reform themselves according to the Word of God without having to wait for permission from the State. There were the Separatists.

Initially they were not Baptists. A persecuted minority, they sought refuge in Netherlands. In 1596 they drew up a confession of faith. This, with some revisions, was the basis of 1st London Baptist Confession of 1644.

A pioneer Reformed Baptist movement began to emerge among Separatists in 1630 London. Initially they questioned the validity of  CofE baptism, as they had seceded from the 'corrupt' church. The position of believers' baptism was adopted in 1638. General Baptists had already rejected infant baptism, but they were Arminian in their theology and baptised adults by effusion. The Reformed Baptists were Calvinistic and advocated believers' baptism by immersion.

And so the 1644 confession was agreed. The Calvinistic stance was in part due to the influence of William Ames. Ames was an English Separatist who found refuge in Holland. He was present at the Synod of Dort and authored the widely read, Marrow of Theology.

None of early Reformed Baptists had  had any formal theological training. Their pastors were artisans and merchants. But they had been brought up on a solid diet of sound Puritan preaching. Eventually theology graduates joined number such as Samuel Cox.

The RBs held that Ministers of the Word needed to be proficient in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Early pastors Christopher Blackwood and John Tombs were scholarly men. 

With toleration granted to Baptist in the 1650s, RB churches proliferated. Gifted preachers and evangelists such as Richard Gifford were mightily used by God to spread the Word and plant new RB churches. 

The RBs disapproved of 'disorderly preaching' by unrecognised men. Church approval was required for 'lay preachers' or 'gifted brethren'. It was insisted that churches not the not the magistrate should grabt this approval to competent and orthodox men.

When the monarchy was restored with the return of Charles II, only Anglican worship was allowed. Non Anglican preaching was officially banned, but Baptists such as John Bunyan and Benjamin Keach continued. 

In 1677 the 1st London Confession was revised and the 2nd London Baptist Confession drawn up. It made provision for preachers who were not pastors or elders (26:11). The updated confession was formally adopted by RB churches in 1689 when Dissenters were granted toleration.

The need for training was recognised. Both for pastors and 'others who are gifted and qualified' to preach. Training was initially provided by local churches. But Academies also began to emerge. Some RB's like Samuel Howe saw no need for 'human learning'. But that was not the general view. 

In 1679 Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol was left a legacy by wealthy merchant Edward Tyrell to establish a training ministry associated with the church. Bernard Foskett led the Bristol Academy with distinction from 1720-58. He was proficient in Hebrew and Greek, taught systematic theology and Bible handling skills to a growing body of students.

Dissenting Academies sprung up across the country to train men for the Ministry, as Nonconformists were not allowed to attend university at the time. The Bristol Academy trained preachers from all over UK. As well as the Academies some candidates for the Ministry received personal tutoring from experienced pastors. 

The Baptist Academies tended to be more confessional in orientation and held to trinitarian orthodoxy, while other Nonconformist Academies drifted into Unitarianism, to the detriment of the Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches. 

With Robert's historical overview in mind we discussed training for pastoral and preaching ministries today in the UK RB scene. Currently there is no dedicated RB seminary. Reformed Seminaries and Bible Colleges tend to be interdenominational. That can be a strength in terms of fostering catholicity of spirit, but may be a weakness in terms of fostering a distinctive RB ministerial identity. 

We had a planning session over lunch to draw up a schedule for the year ahead. Robert announced that he was standing down as Chair after many years of distinguished service. It was kind of fitting that his swansong as Chair was an historical talk on training for the Ministry. Two subjects that are very close to his heart. I first came across Robert when attending the London Theological Seminary in the late 1980's and he was appointed Church History lecturer. 

I joined the Bradford on Avon fraternal when a newbie pastor in Stalbridge, Dorset in the early 1990's, and have been attending regularly since we moved to Westbury in 2003. Being part of this 'Band of Brothers' has been of real encouragement to me over the years. I'm sure Robert's wise and gracious chairmanship of the fraternal has been much appreciated by members past and present. We were glad to hear that he intends to continue meeting with us despite stepping down as Chair.  

1 comment:

tom said...

I am currently training at London Theological Seminary and am very grateful for the training I am getting, but funny enough, I have been thinking for a while that there is a huge need for Reformed Baptist Seminary the UK, that can teach the distinctives clearly. A lot of Baptist's can end up getting confused and muddled (particularly in covenant theology) when they train else where. I went all over the place when studying covenants. If it wasn't for the Covenant books published in the USA (RBAP and Free Grace Press - I could have lost my moorings) Whilst interdenominational seminaries provide adequate training when there are no alternatives, British Baptist's certainly need a seminary with in depth Reformed, confessional Baptist emphases.