By Jim Sayers
Grace Baptist Mission’s Annual Mission Day is the biggest Grace Baptist event in the country, pulling in about 700 people for a day focused on world mission. The main launch for our first book, Pure Church, took place during the lunch break , in front of a big crowd in the main hall.
I was first in the presentation, and explained how our conversation as church leaders began back in 2016, as we looked at the current health of Grace Baptist churches. There are between 200 and 300 Grace Baptist churches across the UK, some affiliated to a regional association while more are happy to be completely independent. In the last thirty years we haven’t been good at training our own leaders, and so we have tended to recruit pastors from other church groupings who haven’t understood a Grace Baptist understanding of church. It is also true to say that a traditional understanding of a Grace Baptist church has been clear about ‘practice’ but thin on a biblical understanding of the principles behind it. David Skull has come back from a sabbatical at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in August (and couldn’t stop talking about it!), and was main speaker at GBM’s youth camp. We realised that a wider conversation was needed about the health and growth of our churches.
Fifteen of us met together in Highbury in June 2017, where Bobby Jamieson led two sessions on baptism, membership and the Lord’s Supper and how they shape the church, and particularly the place that church membership has in whole-church discipleship and whole-church evangelism. John Benton also gave two papers on ‘Have Grace Baptist churches had their day?’ and ‘How do Grace Baptist churches impact the culture?’ Out of this gathering came some working groups, one of which led to this book being published. Over the following year the book developed, and so did the wider conversation among us. What we soon discovered was widespread enthusiasm among Grace Baptist churches, and some FIEC churches, for what we were doing.
Next in the presentation was Matt Benton, who explained a key part of #TitusOneFive, our statement that forms the backbone of the book. Matt, Jonathan Worsley and Luke Jenner had worked hard to draft this statement, which sets out in several key statements what we believe about the local church. He also displayed a chart which expresses our principles visually.
This discussion is not just about how conversion, baptism, membership and the Lord’s Supper fit together, but also the wider implications this has for defining who the church are, what we are to be doing together, and how we make disciples and train leaders.
Matt was followed by Andrew King and Nigel Graham, who interviewed each other. Together they have contributed the two chapters on discipleship and church discipline, looking at how formative discipline is crucial to the health of the church, but in some sad cases it needs to move beyond that to corrective discipline. Do we want our church to be known as ‘the church that disciplines is members’? No, but we do want to help people grow in Christ, and grow together, and sometimes it is the loving thing to do to say that obvious and unrepented sin must lead to discipline. It is loving towards Christ, to the sinner, to the church, and to the watching world.
David Skull set out our plans for the future, introducing this website. We intend to blog here regularly through the next year, looking at a chapter of the book each month. We are also setting up local reading groups for pastors and leaders, which will read a chapter of the book, and other related books, for discussion each month. Speakers are available to come and lead a presentation at a pastors’ fraternal. We can be contacted by email via this website, and we have a series of mini-books in the pipeline. #TitusOneFive is not an organisation (or an empire!) but it is a conversation among church leaders. It is not exclusive to Grace Baptist churches. We hope that the issues we are raising will be interesting to people in other groupings of churches. We hope it will be part of a wider movement that produces healthy and multiplying local churches.