December 3, 2009

Rejoicing in the Ministry of a Church-Planting Church

A few months ago, I was introduced to a pastor in London, England, Barry King, through the kind words of another pastor in Farmersville, Texas, Bart Barber. Dr. Barber knew of my long experience with the British churches and of my own desire to see a revival occur in Great Britain. Christianity has fallen on hard times all over Western Europe; for instance, in England, church attendance is limited to less than 5% of the population, and the fastest growing religion is not even Christianity but Islam. I have been sharing the faith with unbelievers in Great Britain for some 15 years during my frequent visits there including a three-year residency at Oxford University. It has always been difficult for me to recommend that a new Christian attend a church there, knowing that many of the most vibrant evangelical churches are unfortunately disorderly in their doctrine of the church. And, as for those churches who possess a more New Testament polity, they are typically consumed with unbiblical oddities such as theological liberalism, the modern charismatic movement, or hyper-Calvinism.

However, now I am elated to report that there is a church—indeed, a growing family of churches—that possesses three important characteristics of a proper church: a missionary mindset, a healthy view of scriptural proclamation, and a Christ-exalting New Testament ecclesiology. It is in these three areas, among many others, that Grace Baptist Church, whose home congregation is located in north London, excels. Six years ago, Brother King resigned another church in London because he could not affirm certain aspects of their philosophy of ministry. Having sought to maintain peace with that church even as he departed her service, he was subsequently approached by two men whom he had recently begun to disciple. They encouraged him to consider establishing a new work, one that would emphasize biblical teaching and missionary outreach.

Barry prayed about the matter with them and his family and they began meeting together weekly for worship and fellowship. A year and a half later Barry was approached by the remnants of a small evangelical Baptist church who possessed a building but were soon to be without a pastor. After further prayer, the group meeting with Barry and this small group of believers entered into a new covenant as a new congregation with an old building. The result was Grace Baptist Church, Wood Green, Haringey. Because of their missionary mindset, they chose to start new congregations in other parts of London whenever possible. Indeed, every time the church has grown to a certain size, they have sent several families off to start a new congregation elsewhere in London. To date, they have begun five new congregations with work set to begin in two additional areas early in the New Year, who remain in affiliation with Grace Baptist Church and whose ministers Brother King is mentoring in the Word of God. (They currently have opportunity to begin some 20 other congregations and desire to see a church-planting church in each of the 41 boroughs of London with work in each of the 635 neighborhoods in London.)

Recently, sitting in a coffee shop early one Sunday morning in Wood Green, I had the pleasure of questioning Barry as to how he began and was continuing the work. We noted that his congregations were primarily composed of new believers. Then, I queried him, “And how were these new believers won to Christ?” At first, Barry looked at me quizzically, but recognizing that I was being intentional in my questions, he responded, “Well, I meet somebody, say, in a coffee shop, and then I talk to them about what the Bible says about their need for reconciliation with God and how Jesus Christ is the only answer.” He then explained that he believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection as the means of the salvation of all sinners, who must be born again with faith and repentance. He also explained that he believes biblical proclamation is the divinely ordained method of delivering that good news to lost people. I learned that he relied neither upon some humanly contrived church planting principle nor upon some emerging social ministry as his method for reaching the lost. Rather, he relied upon the Bible’s own method, which is to speak the Word directly in the hearing of as many lost people as will listen, encouraging them to believe (cf. Romans 10).

After this refreshing conversation about missional truth, we then proceeded to his church building, which like many in the British dissenting tradition was located off the main thoroughfare in a residential area. There, I was privileged to preach on the doctrine of believers-only baptism by immersion out of Romans 6 to his congregation. And during the service, I witnessed a wonderful man leading an expectant people to worship God with all their hearts and to hear God’s Word as the sole authority for their lives. We also heard reports from the ministers who are leading the church plants. These reports were, to say the least, personally inspiring and highly informative. Door-to-door evangelism, personal evangelism, street witnessing—Grace Baptist Church and its associated congregations were reaching the people of secularized multi-ethnic London, a society too many have deemed impenetrable, through a means that has been written off as old and unworkable, direct biblical proclamation.

Moreover, to my great delight, I was informed beyond a shadow of doubt that these churches followed the New Testament model in structuring and conducting their own lives as congregations. They begin with a covenant; they teach the entire counsel of God from the Bible regularly; they engage regenerate church membership by accepting only believers who have witnessed to their conversion through biblical baptism; they maintain authentic church membership through the regular meaningful observance of the Lord’s Supper; and, when necessary, practice redemptive church discipline. I was shocked. Here, in modern London, is a group of churches who recognize and honor the same truth as the first Baptist churches of seventeenth century England, who in turn emulated the New Testament church as established by Jesus Christ.

Well, there is so much more to report—the unremarked yet wonderful composition of the churches across ethnic, racial, and national boundaries; the intentional outreach to those who evangelical ecumenists may unwittingly and hastily mistake for true Christians (because, unlike Grace Baptist Church, they neglect to exercise spiritual discernment); the placement of the need for new congregations as primary and their own church building as important yet secondary; the centrality of the Bible in worship and the prominence of the gospel in every verbal action. Let me summarize what God is doing in north London through the ministry of Barry King and Grace Baptist Church by saying that I find great joy in this man’s ministry. He is leading people to follow Jesus exactly as the Lord has revealed His will in Scripture, not from legalistic motives but with thanksgiving in response to God’s saving grace. Moreover, as a non-Calvinist, I am overjoyed to report that Barry and his congregation were more concerned about what Scripture had to say than about whether or not I was personally holding to their own quite orthodox and evangelistic Calvinist convictions. May God glorify Himself far into the future through the joyful ministry of this church-planting church extraordinaire.