Well, let me begin by rejecting the run-of-the-mill answer most frequently given by the Arminians and Fullerites. These groups assume that because these churches reject duty-faith and the free offer, they must therefore not believe the gospel should be preached to sinners; and henceforth, sinners are not being converted, baptized and added to the membership of the churches. This is utter nonsense! All Strict and Particular Baptist churches believe the gospel should be preached to sinners. How else were more than 600 churches organized by the year 1900?

I believe the real cause for the decline of these churches fall under two general headings. First, there are problems connected with the nation at large; Second, there are problems connected with the churches themselves.

1. Problems connected with the nation at large.

Every Christian and church must live within a national and cultural context. Not all nations and cultures are conducive to the preaching of the gospel. I’ll give a couple of examples: First, consider the experience of Jesus Himself. After He returned to His own country, He taught in the local synagogue and performed some miracles in the community. However, these men and women knew Jesus as the “carpenter’s son”, and their overfamiliarity with Him caused them to be offended. In response, Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.” (Matt 13:57) Forthwith, Jesus “did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” (Matt 13:58) Second, consider the instructions Jesus gave to His apostles before sending them out to preach the gospel—Matthew 10:11-15: “And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy (receptive); and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy (receptive), let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy (receptive), let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.” Now, the point I am making is this—some nations and cultures are more conducive to the preaching of the gospel than others.

It pleased the Lord to make England a nation and culture which was favorable to the preaching of the gospel. This wasn’t always the case, for there were dark periods of history throughout the 14th to 16th centuries when believers were bitterly persecuted for their faith and many of them were burned at the stake. However, by the late 17th century, religious liberty had been secured for the nation. It was then, between the 17th and 19th centuries, that the Strict and Particular Baptist churches grew and multiplied. And this growth and expansion wasn’t confined to this group of churches. Other Protestant groups grew in number and influence. In fact, as England expanded her empire, she gradually became the “Bible Belt” of the globe. The pilgrim fathers, for instance, took the gospel from England to America in the early 17th century; and American missionaries took the gospel from the United States to the Philippines in the early 20th century. Henceforth, the gospel witness in America and the Philippines may be traced back to the “Bible Belt” of England.

However, over the last 70 years, England has slowly drifted away from the Judeo-Christian ethos. Until the 1940’s, Britain nurtured a culture which embraced and supported a biblical worldview. But the nation has now adopted a new culture (the amalgamation of many cultures), and it embraces and supports a secular worldview. The seeds of this secular worldview took root in the 1940’s and 50’s when the nation adopted Marxist ideology. And then by the 1960’s and 70’s, the outgrowth of this ideology branched out into the cultural revolution. Between the 1980’s and 90’s, Marxist ideology grew in girth and height. And now, within the last twenty years, we are witnessing the fruits of this ideology, which is proudly identified by the government as the new “British values”. Those who subscribe to the new “British values” are not sympathetic with, and are becoming increasingly intolerant of and hostile towards, those who subscribe to a biblical worldview. The nation is on the brink of retracting religious liberty, which will result in a similar state of affairs believers faced during the days of persecution in the 14th to 16th centuries. Keep in mind, the growth and expansion of the Strict and Particular Baptist churches occurred when the nation enjoyed religious liberty, and the culture was sympathetic to and in support of a biblical worldview. Now that religious liberty is greatly hindered, and the culture is hostile towards a biblical worldview, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the churches find themselves in a state of decline. And, it should be pointed out, this type of decline is not unique to the Strict and Particular Baptists. All Christian groups and churches in England are experiencing a similar decline in membership and numbers (exceptions prove the rule).

2. Problems connected with the churches themselves.

The churches themselves are not without their problems. These few observations are spoken in love and with a desire to be constructive in criticism. It’s my purpose to live peaceably with all men, especially them which are of the household of faith. I therefore hope my brothers and sisters will not view me as an enemy as I point out some legitimate problems confronting the churches.

Perhaps the leading cause of decline in churches is the lack of pastoral leadership. Of the 109 Strict and Particular Baptist chapels, there are only around 30 pastors, the majority of whom are past retirement age. Some churches have been without pastoral leadership for fifty plus years. When these pastor-less chapels cannot secure an itinerate preacher for the Sunday, a member of the congregation will usually read a J. C. Philpot or J. K. Popham sermon. No wonder these congregations are weak and waning. If there is not an under-shepherd, the sheep of the flock will be scattered abroad. Indeed, with so few preachers disseminating the distinct values of the Strict and Particular Baptists (even fewer presenting the teachings in a methodic and systematic order), it is not surprising the Reformed Baptists are filling the void and are claiming to be the standard-bearers and spokespersons. I am not casting blame on the churches, for the Lord alone is responsible for gifting and calling men to the gospel ministry. Nevertheless, this is certainly a major factor why the churches are suffering such a steep decline.

But this is by no means the only cause of decline. For anyone attending an average Strict and Particular Baptist church today, the first striking feature is the pronounced subculture that pervades all aspects of the chapel and congregation. It is not an exaggeration to describe the experience as walking into a Time Machine, transporting the visitor back to the 1950’s. Subsequently, these churches have lost touch with modern society and the current culture. It is this, and not hyper-calvinism, that is hindering their ability to minister to the ‘average’ person walking the streets near their chapels. Now, I’m actually in sympathy with the reason they’ve allowed this subculture to exist. No doubt, the winds of change were blowing in the 1950’s, not only in the nation at large, but also with the emergence of groups such as the Reformed Baptists (which would soon assume the name, Grace Baptists). In an attempt to preserve their distinct values as Strict and Particular Baptists (remember, many chapels were without pastoral leadership), they took a snapshot of what they looked like in the 1950’s, and sought to maintain that picture which continues to the present day. However, rather than preserving and promoting the major teachings which set them apart as Strict and Particular Baptists, many churches seem to have focused on the less weighty things of church life (the type, and even colour, of clothing preachers and members should wear, the type of language they should use, the order of service and number of hymns they should sing, etc). I suspect on some level, the Word of God has been made of none effect through these superficial and cultural traditions. In a strange kind of way, some of the Strict and Particular Baptist churches resemble the Amish—the difference being, the former have created a subculture based on the mid-20th century, whereas the latter have created a subculture based on the mid-19th century. I believe this subculture is another major factor why the churches are suffering such a steep decline.



Comments

Comments are closed.

Copyright © 2011, The Association of Historic Baptists