Baptist History, Multiple Services, and Multiple Campuses

Tom Nettles, The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity (Beginnings in Britain), recounts a debate between the early Baptist Hanserd Knollys and one of his Presbyterian contemporaries, John Bastwick:

Bastwick argued that the Jerusalem church had only one body of elders over several assemblies or congregations. Believers meeting at the Temple in Acts 2:44, 46 and at Solomon’s Porch in Acts 5:12 proves for Bastwick that different groups of believers met in various places under the authority of the one group of elders. Knollys did not argue against the existence of one body of elders. Instead, he used the very verses backing Bastwick’s argument against him. In Acts 2:44, Scripture states, ‘All that believed were together.’ Verse 46 states that they were at the temple. Acts 5:12 reads, ‘And they were all with on accord in Solomon’s Porch.’ These are but one congregation (note the use of ‘all’) meeting in different areas, not many congregations in different areas (Nettles, 158).

We have seen multiple services in Baptist churches for a long time, and I wonder if churches that do multiple servises—where essentially a different congregation gathers for worship at each different service—have ever paused to consider whether there is any biblical warrant for having one group of pastors serve more than one congregation?

We are now seeing a sort of movement among large Baptist churches where churches have not only multiplied services/congregations, they have multiplied campuses.

Let me be quick to say that I am all for multiplication. Praise God for the growth of the church. But if we multiply services/congregations/campuses and do not ALSO match these services/congregations/campuses with their own pastors, have we maintained a cherished Baptist distinctive: the autonomy of the local church? Have we implicitly taken a step in the direction of Roman Catholic polity—where a Bishop presides over a group of churches? Have we even stopped to consider whether a new service/congregation/campus should be matched by a new set of pastors for that local church? Have we thought about what our Baptist forbears have done with these kinds of issues? Have we considered what the Bible has to say on this?

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