An association of churches operates on the basis of mutual commendation. Each member church enters into an agreement that it will give full acceptance and approval of all other member churches. This commendation is only given as long as a member church meets the qualifications for being an associational member in good standing; and can be removed when such is not the case. As long as good standing exists, however, each church (and its officers) is required to give full approbation to all other member churches of the association.

For an association of Baptist churches that adopts and fully subscribes to a confession of faith as its doctrinal statement, a key part of that commendation rests on each church also adopting, fully subscribing to, and teaching in full accordance with, that confessional statement. That confession acts as both a minimal and a maximal standard for its churches. Minimal, in that any church that wishes to join the association must fully subscribe to the confession. At a minimum, a church must hold to all that the confession teaches, and no less.

The confession also serves as the maximal standard. That is, any conviction or belief, which is not also in the confession itself, cannot be used to determine communion between the churches. One church may hold to a belief or practice not addressed in the association’s confession. Under congregational and Baptist polity, such a church is free to hold its view. However, having agreed to a confession of faith, that church is not free to make its view a test of communion for other associational churches. Only the confession fills that role.

These parameters create potential problems for Baptist associations striving to balance local church polity and associational responsibility. How does a church conscientiously and fully commend another church, when there are serious differences of conviction and practice between them? How can an association avoid dictating convictions to a member church, without inadvertently laying the groundwork for future divisions in the process?
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All That Is In God by James Dolezal: A Book Review by Pastor Todd Gill

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