As we journey towards the transition of reducing the national resource centre at Didcot and aspects of our institutional structures, I began to ask the question, do we still need these structures? This question might seem rather late as many experts on Baptist ecclesiology have shared their perspective but I want to add my voice as someone who came to the Baptist family recently (2004). This mean that my response to this question is not as an expert on Baptist ecclesiology but as one that has benefitted from some of these structures. I would also want to argue that our future’s conversation should be leading us to the Ephesians 4:11-15 vision of leadership, but I fear that we are still being driven by too many administrative and bureaucratic concerns. This is a subject perhaps for my next blog. It is important to acknowledge that there are different forms of Church government. There is Congregational, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Apostolic network and Connections. The genius and uniqueness of Baptist ecclesiology is weaved around congregationalism as it reads in the first article of the declaration of principle:
That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.
In principle, congregational Church government is reflected in the liberty of each Church seeking and discerning the mind of Christ together. The New Testament underlying of this principle is the priesthood of all believers mentioned in 1 Peter 2: 9. Believers in each local Church decide under the guidance of the Holy Spirit on any issue having to do with Church and their community as it demands. This is why Church members meeting are very crucial in any Baptist Church because that is where people seek God’s face together as a Church. Although, experience demonstrate that some Church meetings could be a place of tug of war where people in competition articulate their views in an unpleasant manner. Cases abound for many brothers and sisters who have been hurt and even left the church through church members meeting. Nevertheless, the abuse of this principle should not stop us from involving the congregation in the decision making process. Another salient point is that church member’s meeting is not a democracy where we all try to exercise some form of rights rather it is a christocracy, that is, Christ is at the centre and it is His will we are seeking not our misplaced individual rights or will. If the minister of a local Church and the congregation are working together to meet their congregational needs and the needs of their immediate community, what is the case for The Baptist Union, associations and Colleges in contributing to the life of a local Church? This question seems more important for us now as the whole Baptist Union is in transition to a more flexible way of being and relating.
The competence of a local Church was never meant to be an omnicompetence which removes the need for interdependence. As much as Baptist ecclesiology is the autonomy of the local Church, this ecclesiology also allows for relating and resourcing through networking with other Churches. The very word that captures this relating and resourcing is association or associating. Perhaps what we are moving towards now is networking. The Baptist Union have two councils every year in which about 200 people from Baptist Churches, Colleges, Associations meet to discuss issues facing the Union. I am aware this is also going to change as the number of people at the council is reduced and other selected people are brought in to shape decisions. There is also the annual Baptist assembly were issues relating to The Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) and Baptist Union are discussed. All these meetings allow ministers to fellowship with other ministers from different ethnicities and localities. This helps a local minister to gain a national and international view and perspective of Church and society
Apart from this, Baptist Union and Associations also have different training programmes for ministers at different stages in ministry. For example, I have attended lots of trainings both at national and regional level including Child Protection training days, how to build multicultural Churches, mission and will be attending a refreshers conference towards the end of the year. I also do attend our regional pastor’s conference known as Pastors Consultation organised by London Baptist Association (LBA). I love this gathering not necessary for the talks but for the opportunity it affords me to meet and network with other Baptist minister in the capital.
The seven Baptist Colleges also have their place in training as they have different programmes to equip and resource ministers either in theological studies, or ministerial studies. I did by correspondence my Baptist principles and history with Bristol Baptist College. In addition, I did my probationary studies with Spurgeon’s College. All these courses helped me to reflect on and understand Baptist ecclesiology and Theology.
Another way BUGB support and care for ministers is by allocating mentors to newly accredited ministers (NAM). This is very helpful as it builds and nurture ministers to be more effective in their various ministries.
Part of the task of the Baptist Union is to also build relationship with other Church Tradition and denomination. Some of the Baptist family are part of the Evangelical Alliance, which is an umbrella association for those whose ethos and drive is based on Evangelical Theology and practice. Baptist Union is also a member of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI). Baptist Union is also a stakeholder in some Para-Church organisations such as Christian Aid. London Baptist Association has some good connections and links with various Church agencies and bodies such as Street Pastors.
BUGB and the thirteen regional associations also engage civic authorities by representing our interest and challenging them about issues of justice. I am always glad to read that our outgoing General Secretary, Jonathan Edwards with other church denomination (Methodist and United Reformed Church) through the joint public team speaks to the government about disarming nuclear weapons and war head. Finally, ministers and Churches can approach BUGB and any of the associations for legal advice and other expertise concerning pastoral, child protection and other issues.
Overall, why I would like to see us move towards a prophetic vision of Church were we listen to God more in terms of vision and direction than on our institutional expertise, I would still want to argue that the work of the Baptist Union house at Didcot, the thirteen Associations and seven Colleges is important as it allows and provides a range of resources and equipping to support and care for ministers