In this book, we begin again a conversation. We rejoin a discussion largely abandoned a century ago. It is a discussion about what the Bible teaches about how we as Christians should organize our lives together in churches.
For years, many have assumed that the Bible has nothing to say about such matters. Others have simply forsaken careful investigation and argument about these matters, preferring instead simply to do what others do, or what is popular, or whatever seems to work.
But generations before us believed and preached and argued and published differently. They believed that God had revealed in Scripture all that we need for every aspect of our Christian lives, not least of which is the life we are called to live together in our churches.
This collection of books can be read in different ways. It can be read as a whole, in order, watching something of the chronological development of arguments. It can be read in its various parts, finding one of the manuals of particular interest, or use. Some who are pastors may even decide to reprint portions and use them in your own church. This volume can be read through the indices in the back, finding a certain topic, or a biblical passage.
This volume is to be a treasury for researchers and for pastors, for professors and for church leaders. Volumes out of print for a century or more are again made available, voices long gone again lifted, arguments once common returning to instruct the minds and burden the hearts of new generations of readers.
The volume is a collection of ten works printed from 1697 to 1874. They are arranged in chronological order, with each author’s life treated briefly by Greg Wills in his introductory essay, and with the article from William Cathcart’s 1881 Baptist Encyclopedia inserted as a kind of contemporary introduction before the piece itself.
This book is an attempt to reintroduce some old discussions in our midst. It is a collection largely of 19th century musings on what the Bible teaches about the church, and how that should be practically worked out in our midst. The authors do not all agree with each other on every point nor do we agree with them in every particular (W. B. Johnson, for example, clearly writes under the social prejudices of his day). All these authors, though, are agreed that the Bible should instuct us on how we live out our lives together in churches, in everything from admitting members to practicing corrective discipline.
We have chosen to reprint not one, or even two, but ten documents, stretching over a period of almost 200 years, but concentrating heavily on works from the first three-quarters of the 19th century, when Baptist churches were flourishing, along with printed arguments about how they were to be run. Manuals which are currently in print (e.g., Brown, Pendleton, Dagg) have not been included. Instead, an effort has been made to find and incorporate other earlier books and treatises which were influential in shaping the church life of an earlier generation.
This work has been in constant danger of falling between two stools—of trying to be serviceable for the purposes both of the professor and of the pastor, of the academy and of the church. The concern for academic rigor has encouraged our reading and re-reading, carefully selecting and historically introducing the pieces included. And yet our over-riding concern for the recovery of these treasures for the church has led us to some other decisions. Some spelling has been modernized. We have re-typeset, and thus re-paginated all the works. We have produced an amalgamated table of contents, and a set of indices to the volume as a whole. Our desire is that the professor and the student would find this a helpful compendium; the pastor and church member an enlightening conversation partner in Biblical explorations. Whether we have achieved either of these goals it is up to the reader to determine.
In an undertaking so large it is impossible to thank all of those who have aided the effort. This effort has been financed by a few anonymous contributors, and by a partnership of three churches: the First Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, Alabama; Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D. C.; and Cornerstone Baptist Church, Elgin, Texas.
A number of people have been particularly helpful in thinking through this collection and making it a reality. Chris Vizas, Rhea Thornton, Tom Harrison, Tom Ascol, Jim Elliff, Bruce Keisling, Sean Lucas, Tom Nettles and Paul Roberts have all provided needed assistance. The other modern authors—Greg Wills and Al Mohler—have been my conversation partners on these matters for the better part of two decades. Greg Gilbert and Shannon Mitchell labored diligently over the manuscript to insure accuracy and readability. Rachel Croft provided needed faithful staff support. Finally, a special word of thanks must be given to Matt Schmucker, the director of the Center for Church Reform, who has done everything from edit copy to help find finances for the project to help see this vision of the church lived out at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C.
May God always be reforming all our churches according to the Word of God, to the glory of God alone. Amen.