Sunday, April 29, 2007


In the New Testament, bishops or elders (both words describe the same people) were the 'overseers' of the churches. These leaders 'work hard', perform pastoral duties and help make important decisions. Only those with the appropriate 'gifts' should be appointed elders - not just to 'fill the number'. It's better to have no elders than the wrong ones. Each elder ought to have a list of those they are shepherding, and these people know they can turn to their elder at any time. (A ratio of one elder to no more than 12 persons or family groups is recommended.)

Deacons are 'servants'. Both Jesus and Paul used this word of themselves. Their tasks: administrative leadership, policy-making, and planning.

Both elders and deacons have 'spiritual' ministries. They are accountable to the church members. The personal and spiritual qualities of these leaders are spelt out in 1 Timothy 3: 1-13. Note that such appointments have nothing to do with age, sex, or status. Spiritual leadership is not for people who like to be 'bossy'; the badge of office for all followers of Christ is a towel! Both groups (if your church has both) ought to be commissioned by the congregation, who will pray for them earnestly. These 'servants' will lead by encouragement and example, rather than by coercion. They will generally plan openly rather than covertly. They will continually inform their people of their doings, and will invite feed-back from the members. Occasionally they will 'retreat' ('advance'?) for times of prayer, study and discussion.

Rowland Croucher


Christ appointed leaders to serve the church. There's a list of these in Ephesians 4. Apostles, prophets and evangelists were generally 'itinerant' - they moved around among several churches. 'Pastor- teachers' were (and are) shepherds - feeding Christ's flock and caring for it. Their task: to equip all the members so that they will become spiritually mature.

Most Baptist churches have one pastor (although many are now appointing two or more). From the earliest Baptists (eg. John Smyth) the pastor/s were deemed to be subject to the congregation. He or she is generally considered the leader, although neither the pastor/s nor any other person has the final word in the church's affairs: that's the prerogative of the congregation - determined in members' meetings (in smaller churches) or special groups to whom authority is delegated by the members (in larger congregations). Sometimes the pastor is said to be 'the first among equals'. But the basic Baptist principle is that 'ministry' - in all its senses - is ministry by the church, not the ministry of an individual. (So you can't - or shouldn't - use the word 'minister' in the singular). But note that while pastors are servants of the church, the church is not their master - Christ is.

The pastors' priorities: Bible study, prayer, and training others for ministry. They're a sort of 'player-coach' encouraging others to serve, witness and visit. Church members are not helpers of the pastor, so that the pastor can do their job; pastors are helpers of the whole people of God, so that they all can be the church (to paraphrase Hans Ruedi Weber). Pastors must be encouraged to keep themselves 'in training for a godly life', so the congregation will allow them time for study and reflection. Remember that your pastors are human: they, too, have doubts, fears, and frustrations. Please don't add to them! Francis Schaeffer said pastors often unwittingly break the tenth commandment - they are covetous of the successes or gifts of other pastors. Remedy? Affirm your pastor, so they know they're loved! If you appreciate them, tell them so!


Discuss: Paul says (Galatians 3:28) that Jesus has healed divisions between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free-people, males and females. The early church was ahead of its time in granting 'personhood' to women, and many fulfilled public ministries. American Baptists (from 100 years ago) and Southern Baptists (from 40 years ago) in the U.S. have occasionally ordained women for pastoral ministry, as have Baptists in Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Leon Morris, an Anglican Evangelical scholar, says women in the early church did more than 'keep silence when it was a question of expounding the Christian faith'. Some Baptists have emphasised the 'submission' and 'keeping quiet' passages. Others say that the principle of Galatians 3:28 is to be applied appropriately within each culture. What do you think?

Rowland Croucher

Thursday, April 26, 2007


How is a local church governed? Baptists are 'congregational'. They meet, free from any 'outside' control, as we said in the last post, to arrive at a consensus about God's will, through Bible study, prayer, and discussion. A British Baptist statement (1948) says such a church meeting is 'the occasion when, as individuals and as a community, we submit ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and stand under the judgment of God that we may know the mind of Christ'.

The aim of each congregation will be to reflect the character of Jesus in all that it does. So persons will matter more than agendas or programs or constitutions! We will love and respect those with whom we may disagree. Although Baptist church members' meetings are, in principle, democratic (any member is free to speak on any matter on the agenda), they are really, in essence, theocratic (ruled by God), so members don't have the right to say anything they please - but only what is loving, constructive, true, and that which humbly seeks the mind of Christ. Because they affirm diversity within their Fellowships they will sometimes 'agree to differ - agreeably' on some issues. So Baptists have generally been happy with 'majority voting' on all but really major issues (which may require a large majority, or, occasionally, total unanimity). Some churches seldom take a vote - they will discuss issues until a general consensus is achieved, or failing that, will defer the matter for further prayerful thought and consideration.

Here's an example of the discernment process practised in a Mennonite Church (From Marva Dawn's Joy in Divine Wisdom pp. 129-130: She applied to become a member of a Mennonite church, but had not been baptized by immersion as an adult):

'On the morning of the discernment process, I was asked to make a brief presentation of the importance to me of my infant baptism and of the nature of my faith in God as a result, because Mennonites actually first arose in protest to the requirement (often without faith) of infant baptism in countries where the state churches demanded it. In response to my faith statement, all the congregation members, who were seated at tables of eight, wrote down what they believed was the best procedure to follow concerning my request for membership.

'[They then] passed their comments to the person on the left so that everyone's remarks were read aloud objectively by the another person. Then each table came to a consensus about whether or not my membership appeal should be accepted. Then the consensus of each table was brought to the entire group, and a final consensus was reached to invite me into membership.'

Discussion: (1) Can you find any examples of 'democracy' in the New Testament churches? (2) Do you want to challenge the idea that 'any member can speak' at meetings? In Ancient Greece citizens could participate democratically in public debates, but in modern Western democracies a lot is delegated to our politicians and government bureaucrats. How much - and what sorts of matters - should be delegated to church leaders?

Rowland Croucher


The short answer, of course: Christ does! It's his church. When members of his body meet, he's there with them. Christ is both the Lord of the redeemed person and the redeemed community. Both have his Holy Spirit to guide them, and are therefore sufficiently 'competent' to know his will. So local Baptist churches are 'autonomous' - they govern themselves. (Look up Acts 13:1,2 for a New Testament example of a local church acting on its own initiative). Baptists therefore do not recognise the power of a bishop, synod, conference, or assembly - unless in exceptional circumstances - to determine or overrule the decisions of a local church.

Sometimes, however, these churches may cooperate, and form 'Unions' (there is a 'Baptist Union' of churches in each Australian state, in Australia as a whole, in New Zealand, and in fact in over 200 nations around the world). These associations of churches co-ordinate Baptists' joint efforts to obey the great commission. Such Unions may appoint leaders to guide in specific areas of ministry such as home missions (helping younger churches to get going), overseas missions and training future pastors. There is no fixed plan or pattern here: these structures are very flexible, change from time to time, and differ in various countries.

Local churches - like individual Christians - need each other. The challenge facing us is to encourage self-governing churches to become more 'inter-dependent' rather than 'independent'.

The Baptist Unions (or Conventions or Associations, as they are called in some places) are mostly affiliated with the Baptist World Alliance, which has about 37 millian members in 158,000 churches. (The U.S. has the largest number - 25 million, followed by India - 815,000, U.S.S.R. - 545,000, Brazil - 464,000 and Burma - 358,000. Australian Baptist church members number about 53,000, New Zealand 18,000).

Generally Baptists haven't been keen on 'organic' unity with other Christian denominations. Some Baptist groups have joined the World Council of Churches, while others feel they ought to preserve their distinctiveness by remaining outside such bodies. Baptists don't claim to be 'the only true church': they want to learn humbly from others. They believe that what unites Christians is far more decisive and basic than what divides them. However they have mostly felt that their special Scriptural insights are best preserved by staying 'Baptists'. (What do you think? Is this likely to change?)

Next time: How is a local church governed?

Rowland Croucher


Because people willingly choose to belong to the church, a high standard of Christian behaviour and discipleship is expected of members of Baptist churches. Because they possess God's Holy Spirit, they should live on a higher plane than non-Christians. Sometimes 'church discipline' has to be lovingly but firmly extended towards those who bring the faith of Christ into disrepute by their disobedient behaviour.

Many Anabaptists and early Baptists were martyred (often by drowning, 'seeing they like so much water,' their enemies said) for these beliefs.

More to come on what real discipleship/commitment means...

Rowland Croucher


Baptists have always been wary of alliances between churches and the state authorities. They've said governments shouldn't influence - or interfere with - the free choice people make about their allegience to Christ and the church. They have taken the idea a step further, too, and until recently, have generally refused government funding for their Christian ministries. (Today government grants may be accepted for educational and social welfare purposes, but not usually for worship and pastoral ministries.)

The notion of 'separation of church and state' can be misunderstood. Baptists have always said that what this idea suggests is that in a democratic society the Government should not endorse or privilege any particular religious group over others; it does not mean that religious groups should be barred from the arena of political debate.

More to come, especially from a review I've just done...

Rowland Croucher

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


The Church = 'The Company of The Committed'

It is not uncommon for Baptist church constitutions to begin: 'The church shall be composed of those... who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour and Lord'. When Baptists throughout their history have been asked 'Who belongs to the church?' their response is always: 'Only those who've deliberately chosen to follow the way of Jesus - the "regenerate", those born again!'

Perhaps this can best be explained by taking a short journey into the past.

Baptists trace their spiritual history back to people like the 'Anabaptists' ('re-baptisers') in 16th century Europe. It was the time when Luther, Calvin, and other 'Protestants' urged people to go back to the Bible for their instructions about faith and living, and reject doctrines and practices in the Church of Rome which they believed were unbiblical. For example, they talked about 'the priesthood of all believers'. The Church of Rome made ordinary believers dependent upon the mediation of the priests, but these 'Reformers' affirmed the right of every Christian to have access to God through the mediation of Christ alone. They encouraged ordinary people to read the Bible, the Word of God (something rare - and even forbidden by the church authorities in those days). They said that every Christian has the Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of Scripture, so God can speak to them by this same Spirit as they read the Bible. You and I don't need the authorities in the church to tell us what to believe - it's all there in God's holy Word.

The Anabaptists, however, said Luther and Calvin and the others didn't take their 'Reformation' far enough. They agreed that 'If it's in the Bible we believe it; if it isn't, we reject it, even though centuries of Christian history are behind a particular belief'. But they objected to the close alliance between church and state which had gone on for more than a thousand years. They also rejected infant baptism, which, they believed, served to perpetuate state churches filled with nominal Christians.

Meanwhile, over in England, a 'Puritan' movement emerged within the Church of England, calling that church back to the Scriptures. One learned man, Rev. John Smyth M.A. (a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge University), became a city lecturer at Lincoln at the turn of the 17th century - a post which allowed him to expound the Scriptures to his townspeople who weren't satisfied with the teaching they were receiving in their churches. When things got 'too hot' for these Puritans, some went as refugees to Holland. There John Smyth continued to study the Scriptures, and with the help of some Dutch Mennonites (an Anabaptist group), came to hold certain convictions which Baptists have maintained ever since. In 1609 he became the leader of the first English-speaking 'Baptist' church.

He saw - with the Anabaptists - that 'established churches' weren't an apostolic idea at all. You become a member of these churches through infant baptism, and everyone in a particular community - or 'parish' - therefore almost automatically belonged to the 'parish church'. Now that's all wrong, these Baptists said. Only people who've had a personal encounter with Christ can belong to the church. You can't be born a Christian: at some point in your life you choose to belong to Christ's church, when you turn from your sins and commit your life willingly to him.

Next: the Baptist view of 'church and state'.

Rowland Croucher

Monday, April 23, 2007


Baptists begin a discussion about themselves by trying to understand the 'Good News', the 'Gospel'. In essence, Paul says (Philippians 2:10-11), the 'Good News' is that 'JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!' That's where Baptists start their thinking. This isn't just an abstract doctrine - it means that he's our Master, our King. We are his obedient servants, his subjects, who do what he commands. He is the ultimate authority for all thinking and acting. He is God the Son, through whom everything came into being and before whom everyone will ultimately 'fall on their knees'.

Jesus Christ is Lord - or 'Head' - of the Church, his Body. So Christians are people who both individually and collectively, are constantly asking: 'What does our Lord want us to believe, and what does he want us to do?'

Jesus is God's 'living Word'. And Baptists have always affirmed that the Bible, in which the mind of Christ is revealed, is 'the word of God written'. The Bible is God's authoritative guide for our faith and practice. It is the inspired record of the mighty acts of God in the history of his people Israel and fulfilled in the life, teachings, and saving work of Christ.

So Baptists are encouraged to be diligent 'Bible people', seeking with an open and reverent mind to understand what God is saying to us today. Sometimes we won't find specific answers to all our modern problems there, but we'll always find God's guiding principles. The greatest principle, or commandment, said Jesus, is to 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength'. And the second greatest: 'Love your neighbour as you love yourself'.

For Baptists, then, God alone is the sovereign Lord. They have always tried to follow the apostolic principle: 'We must obey God rather than humans'. Baptists reject doctrines or practices which either contradict or are not in harmony with Christ's will revealed in the Bible. They have simply believed that most of the differences between churches would be resolved if apostolic principles and practices were held in their true scriptural relationship with one another. And so, for just about every question we reply with another: 'What does the Bible say?'

But this doesn't mean Baptists arrogantly believe they are the only ones who are right. No one (except God alone) has 'a monopoly on the truth'. We are humble fellow-learners with others who also submit to the truth of Scripture. And 'God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his holy Word'. A Baptist says with love, to another Christian: 'You are my brother/sister, not because we happen to agree on everything, but because we are both God's children'. This is why Baptists have produced written 'confessions' but never written 'creeds'. Creeds become 'locked into' the particular questions of one historical era, and later Christians may be asking some different questions. Further, creeds tend to make people 'exclusive' - if you don't dot all the i's and cross all the t's you're not acceptable. Baptists aim rather to be inclusive: our bond is simply our common relationship to Jesus Christ.

This leads us to another Baptist emphasis for our next post -

The Church = 'The Company of The Committed'

Rowland Croucher


Felix Mantz was a native of Zurich, and had received a liberal education. Having adopted the principles of the Protestant Reformation, he became a close friend of Zwingli and other Swiss Reformers. But in 1522, he began to doubt the scriptural authority of infant-baptism, and as a result was thrown into prison.

After his release he preached in open places, and crowds flocked to hear him. He baptized those who professed faith in Christ. For this the Zurich magistrates denounced him as a rebel, and about the close of 1526 he was arrested and imprisoned in the tower of Wellenberg.

On the 5th of January, 1527, he was drowned. "As he came down from the Wellenberg to the fish market," writes Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli's successor, “and was led through the shambles to the boat, he praised God that he was about to die for His truth. For Anabaptism was right, and founded on the Word of God, and Christ had foretold that His followers would suffer for the truth’s sake. And the like discourse he urged much, contradicting the preacher who attended him. On the way his mother and brother came to him, and exhorted him to be stedfast; and he persevered in his folly, even to the end. When he was bound upon the hurdle, and was about to be thrown into the stream by the executioner, he sang with a loud voice: ‘In manus Tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.’ (‘Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.’) And herewith was he drawn into the water by the executioner, and drowned.”

Now, why would Felix Mantz be willing to become a martyr over a question like baptism?

Well, we're about to find out, and I think you'll discover it's a very interesting story.

Rowland Croucher

Saturday, April 14, 2007

1 Month to Meet the Baptists

Dear friends,

Watch this space: this blog is part of a series attempting to answer the most important 300 questions I've been asked in 70 years of a fulfilling life, including nearly 50 years as a pastor. Here we'll try to understand one major Christian denomination - the Baptists. They come in many varieties!

Other Blogs in this series:

1 Month of Books you should Read

1 Month to Learn About the Internet

1 Month to Understand your Local Church

1 Month of Answers to Tough Questions

1 Month of Devotions

1 Month to Change Your Life

1 Month to Meet Some Interesting People

1 Month to Become a Christian

1 Month To Meet Jesus

Basic idea: you read one of the 30 posts each day and complete a 'mini-course' in a month. (I might even organize a certificate for those who complete the 300 units!)

Some of the material will be adapted from the John Mark Ministries website.

I look forward to journeying with you!


Rowland Croucher