By Jim Sayers
The responses to our book we have received have been very positive, with lots of people energised to discuss it on social media. We look forward to reading the reviews when they come. However, a few people have baulked at the title. So, why Pure Church? Is it suggesting that all other non-Grace Baptist churches are impure? That we alone have everything right and sorted, and are the truly pure and separated church, keeping ourselves from everyone else and throwing stones at all who come near? Not at all! We worked hard to choose the best title, and here’s why we chose this one.
First, this is a book about recovering gospel order in the local church. The church is to be the holy bride of Christ, so the holiness or purity of every local church is very important. Christ’s death for his church was ‘to make her holy’ (Eph. 5:26). Our concern for gospel churches is that they are structurally shaped by the gospel that makes us holy in Christ. That means that we have to be clear about the things that are ‘of first importance’ (1 Cor. 15:3), and to understand the clear connection between conversion, baptism, church membership and the Lord’s Supper. Failure to get this straight caused great problems in the New England revival of the eighteenth century, and has been an endemic problem in any society that sees itself as vaguely ‘Christian’ and therefore bypasses the importance of conversion as the basis of belonging to the local church. The gospel alone gives spiritual life, and begins the process of purifying each believer as a disciple within the local church. The word of God and the gospel signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper identify, define and nourish the shared life of the church.
Our first working title for the book was To be his holy bride, and for a while this stuck. When we met in April 2018 for an overnight gathering to work through the first drafts of each chapter, we even called it the ‘holy bride overnighter’! It was hard work and no honeymoon! However, we wondered what the cover might look like, and imagined people would think it was a marriage preparation resource, so that title fell by the wayside. We thought about ‘Joined-up church’, and while that expressed some of what we were trying to say, it was a bit prosaic. David, Andrew and I hit on Pure Church because it expresses our commitment to the holiness and health of the local church, and everything in the book works towards that goal. The title does not suggest in any way that Grace Baptist churches are all holy and perfect. We are as much a work in progress as any other kind of church. We are made up of great sinners, and need to let others speak to us about our faults and to shine a biblical light into the darker corners of our church traditions. But surely becoming more pure and Christ-like is our ultimate goal.
Second, the title Pure Church expresses something else that is very important. We believe in the centrality of the local church in all we do. We believe that local churches are the best agency to reach their community, that churches plant churches, that the local church should be at the heart of training people and sending them into ministry, and that it is the local church that sends people out into world mission. Church-based mission has been at the heart of the Grace Baptist movement for some fifty years, during which time many mission agencies have become more focussed on parachurch ministries, and more missionaries have been deployed to do work in another culture in setting up parachurch projects that never become part of indigenous local churches. So the title Pure Church expresses a key conviction. There is something essential and central about the local church in the grand purposes of God. What is the mission of God in this world all about? What is the greatest means he has given to achieve it? To a large extent, God’s plan is pure church.