Churches of the same faith and gospel order, so far as is necessary to communion; as they all have drunk into and of the one and same Spirit; as they are branches of the one and same body, and hold to the one and same Head; and as they have one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; may and ought to have and enjoy fellowship and friendly association together, as occasion may require and opportunity serve. Therefore, in the discharge of those relative duties that may tend to the mutual benefit and edification of all of Christ’s churches (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:5; John 17:20-26), the Reformed Baptist churches in Southern California come together to form an Association of churches.
- The Nature of an Association of Churches
- The manifold needs of the churches, such as mutual encouragement and support, assistance of numerous types, edification, oversight, and cooperative efforts to advance Christ’s kingdom, bring about the need for an Association.
- An Association consists of particular churches who have agreed to associate together at stated times, to obey the word of God, to promote their own interests and the good of common causes found among them. When conducting the business of the Association, these churches are represented by delegates or messengers, which are chosen by their local church.
- A church may send as many qualified delegates as it desires to an appointed Association business meeting. A voting quorum shall consist of 2/3 of the member churches. Each church will have one vote. This will ensure that no matter how small a congregation may be or how large a congregation may become, no church will ever be without a voice, and no church will ever be able to gain preeminence or control over the Association.
- A church shall not vote on matters pertaining to questions or issues regarding itself.
- This practice of churches formally and informally associating is recommended by the apostolic practice of Acts 15 and the New Testament church practices of Galatians 1:2, Galatians 1:22, and Colossians 4:13-18; numerous historical examples such as the Abingdon Association in England and Philadelphia Association in the United States; and the confessional position of our Baptist forefathers (see the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, chapter 26, paragraphs 14 and 15). The spirit of Christ’s saving religion, Christian prudence, and wisdom further encourage this.
- The Doctrinal Statement of this Association
- The Purpose of this Association
- To show visible unity to the world and churches (John 17:20-26).
- To gain a greater knowledge, communion and love with sister churches.
- To afford counsel and advice in difficult cases of varying types.
- To preserve uniformity of faith and practice within the confines of our Confession of Faith, especially in dealing with doctrinal and practical questions.
- To detect and deal with heresies, and in so doing to maintain harmony and peace in the churches (1 Corinthians 14:33).
- To give financial aid and assistance when necessary.
- To curb the wanton abuse of church power.
- To cooperate in the spreading of the gospel both at home and on foreign soil.
- To supply the pulpits of sister churches in the event one is without a teaching-ruling elder/pastor.
- To advance and secure in every way the interests of Christ’s saving religion, and to strengthen and draw closer the bonds of union and fellowship.
- Membership in this Association
- Churches may be admitted into this Association through the process of application. Any church fully subscribing (see Appendix #1) to our Confession of Faith, agreeing with our Constitution, and conforming to the prescribed pattern for receiving churches may enter and become members of this Association.
- There is a prescribed pattern for receiving new churches. A church desiring membership in this Association must apply through a member church. Notice of application must then be given to all member churches at least two weeks before the next scheduled meeting. At that meeting of the messengers of the churches, official representatives of the applying church must appear in order to give satisfactory evidence of the church’s faith, practice, and willingness to wholeheartedly support this Association. Once this is sufficiently demonstrated, the applying church shall be received into membership by at least two thirds of the member church messengers. Should the messengers be unable to reach a two thirds agreement the vote will be suspended until the next agreed meeting of the messengers, at which time a majority vote will suffice. The results shall be made formal at a combined meeting of the churches for worship.
- Considering that the union of churches in an Association is a voluntary act like the unforced confederation of members into a church, it follows that every church stands in much the same relation to its Association as a member does to his church, and therefore can be examined in the same manner on admission.
- Just as the Association may receive new churches into its fellowship, it may also exclude from the Association any church that deviates from the Confession of Faith (see V. B.)
- Any member Church desiring to withdraw from the Association may do so by submitting a letter of resignation, stating its reason(s).
- The Power and Authority of this Association.
- Each church is independent and under the authority and control of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. No outside entity, whether it is a government, religious group, or even another church and its officers, has any power or jurisdiction over one of Christ’s true churches. Each congregation is self-governing and autonomous under the Headship of Jesus Christ, according to the Word of God.
- Nevertheless, the Association has a right to call any delinquent church to account, whether for a wanton abuse of its power towards its members, neglect of attendance at Association meetings, or any deviation from the Word of God and the Confession of Faith in teaching or practice. If satisfactory reasons are not given by the delinquent church for its actions or lack of reformation thereof, the Association has the authority to exclude that church from its connection and fellowship at least two thirds of the member church messengers. Should the messengers be unable to reach a two thirds agreement the vote will be suspended until the next agreed meeting of the messengers, at which time a majority vote will suffice. However, this action of exclusion neither disannuls nor destroys the independence of that church.
- In cases of difficulties or differences between churches in general or among members, or among members of individual churches regarding matters pertaining to their peace, union, and edification, the Association churches shall willingly submit these things at a hearing before the assembled messengers (see Confession, chapter 26, paragraph 15).
- A complaint or grievance can be brought by any member church, or must be made through a member church. The church hearing the complaint will determine whether to make this known to all the member churches.
- The appeal of the Association church’s member(s) must first be made through his (their) local church. If, after due process, the church refuses to make the matter known to the Association, the member(s) may appeal to the eldership of a member church, which in turn must then determine whether to make this known to the Association.
- Doctrinal issues, difficulties, or matters between churches can be placed on the agenda of the Association’s regular meeting by any one of the churches. If the matter comes to a vote, the issue will be decided by at least two thirds of the church messengers. Should the messengers be unable to reach a two thirds agreement the vote will be suspended until the next agreed meeting of the messengers, at which time a majority vote will suffice.
- The delegates or messengers of the churches in the Association will convene at the next regularly scheduled meeting (or call a special meeting) to hear and deal with the complaint, and make their determination known to the other churches.
- The delegates thus assembled are not armed with coercive power to compel the churches to submit to their decisions. The Association can take nothing from the transgressing church but what it gave to it. However, the Association has the prerogative to publish the results of its findings, as deemed necessary, for the good of the cause of Christ, and the purity of the gospel.
- The Functioning of this Association
- The delegates or messengers of the churches shall meet on a regular basis to give an account of their particular church’s spiritual state, assess needs, consult, make plans for the future, set goals, hear and deal with questions and complaints, etc. Special meetings for Association business may be called at the pleasure of the churches.
- At the business meeting, the delegates shall elect a moderator and a secretary. The secretary shall keep notes of the proceedings of the meeting, and send a copy to each of the churches.
- All the churches in the Association shall meet on occasion for a combined meeting for worship. These meetings generally take place on a Sunday evening, and shall rotate from one geographical area to another in Southern California.
- The Association may authorize Family Conferences, Bible Conferences, and various inter-church fellowship activities as the delegates see fit.
- The Association shall establish a bank account in order to create a fund for carrying out its purposes and functions. Contributions to this fund shall be voluntary. The monies in this account shall not bring a profit to one church or individual above another.
- In the event of dissolution, no member church or private individual shall be entitled to the assets of this Association. Assets shall be used first to pay outstanding debts. Any remaining assets shall be equally divided among missionaries supported by the churches in the Association at the time of dissolution.
- Any article in this Constitution may be amended by a two-thirds vote of the messengers present and voting at an officially called business meeting, when the proposed amendment has been distributed in writing to every member church at least sixty days before the vote is taken. Amendments shall be incorporated into this Constitution after they have been approved.
- All other issues will be decided by at least two thirds of the member church messengers. Should the messengers be unable to reach a two thirds agreement the vote will be suspended until the next agreed meeting of the messengers, at which time a majority vote will suffice.
While we hold tenaciously to the inerrant and infallible Word of God as found in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments in the Holy Bible (this being our only source of faith and practice), we embrace and adopt the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 as the most accurate expression of that system of doctrine taught in the Bible. That Confession is the doctrinal statement and position of this Association.
An Association of churches of like faith and practice is of special use and has as its purpose:
May God the Father who chose the church, And God the Son who made atonement for the church, And the Holy Spirit who applies the redemptive work of Christ to the church, Bless and enlarge our churches in Christ Jesus’ name. Amen!
What Is “Full Subscription?”
Submitted by Dr. James M. Renihan
Confessional subscription employs three main terms in its nomenclature: absolute, strict/full, and loose. SCARBC has adopted the middle position. According to Dr. Morton H. Smith, “strict or full subscription takes at face value” the terminology used in adopting a confession of faith.
In an article entitled “The Case for Full Subscription” (in The Practice of Confessional Subscription, ed. by David Hall, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995; pages 185-6), Dr. Smith provides some helpful insights [albeit in a Presbyterian context with a much more developed tradition of discussion of the issue than among Baptists]. He says, “Note some things that full subscription does not mean. First, it does not insist that all of the teachings of the Confession . . . are of equal importance (just as not all of the teachings in the Bible are of equal importance). The full subscriptionist recognizes that some doctrines are more foundational than others, in accord with the Biblical example. Positively, the full subscriptionist believes that in professing that the Confession . . . [is] his confession, he is subscribing to all of the doctrines in the Confession . . . they are all part of the system of doctrine . . . . Second, full subscription does not require the adoption of every word of the Confession . . . but positively believes that we are adopting every doctrine or teaching of the Confession . . . .”
One should note the language found in the agreement signed by the messengers of the founding churches in Mesa, Arizona in March, 1997; in the ARBCA constitution; and in the application for membership. The first states, “We declare that our primary rule of faith and practice is the inerrant Word of God, and adopt as our subordinate standards the excellent document commonly known as the London Baptist Confession of 1689, and the Constitution of this Association.” The second states, “While we hold tenaciously to the inerrant and infallible Word of God as found in the sixty-six books of the Bible (this being our final source of faith and practice), we embrace and adopt the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 as a faithful expression of the doctrine taught in the Scriptures. This Confession is the doctrinal standard of the Association,” and in the third the applying church signs this statement: “We accept the London Confession of Faith of 1689 as an accurate and reliable expression of what the Scriptures teach and the faith we confess.” In each case, the member churches commit themselves to the Confession as a whole. We maintain the primacy of the Scriptures, and “embrace and adopt” the Confession as a truthful expression of our convictions with regard to the details of Scripture.
Taken at face value, these words imply, even though they do not explicitly state, strict, or full subscription. This does not mean that we treat every doctrine in the Confession as if it were equally important, but we do commit ourselves to all of the doctrines of the Confession. In addition, as Dr. Smith says so well, “full subscription does not require the adoption of every word of the Confession or Catechisms, but positively believes that we are adopting every doctrine or teaching of the Confession or Catechisms.” This is an important distinction, and needs to be understood. It is possible for an individual, a church, or an association to be cautious about the wording used to express a specific doctrine without denying the doctrine that wording seeks to define. Full subscription honestly adopts all of the doctrines expressed in the confessional formulation. In the case of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, this means that by subscribing to the document commonly known as the London Baptist Confession of 1689, we receive all of the doctrines contained in it as true, founded on the Word of God.