Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

The Ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon: Unity, Orthodoxy, and Denominational Identity

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

The Ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon: Unity, Orthodoxy, and Denominational Identity

Article excerpt

Charles Haddon Spurgeon established his ecclesiology squarely on the experience of regeneration or new birth. His commitment to the centrality of regeneration shaped his ecclesiology from local polity to evangelical union. His religious identity was first and foremost 'in broad evangelical dissent. His diminished ecclesiology reflected that of Victorian-era evangelicalism.

His ecclesiology comprised his views of local church polity, Baptist denominationalism, and evangelical unity. Spurgeon based his broad cooperation with other dissenters on the foundation of regeneration. He worked for evangelical unity among Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and evangelical Anglicans. All who were born again were members of the church of Jesus Christ. They were, in fact, one body.

Spurgeon's local church polity included three commitments: regenerate church membership, believer's baptism, and congregational church polity. Spurgeon sought to organize his church, London's Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle, on these principles. He thought all three were revealed in the Scriptures, but regeneration was the only essential element of local church polity. Congregational polity, and especially believer's baptism, promoted regenerate church membership, but regeneration alone defined the church.

Spurgeon's Baptist identity grew from his commitment to regeneration. He believed that believer's baptism and cooperation promoted regeneration. On this broad platform he participated in such Baptist organizations as the Baptist Union, the cooperative agency of British Particular and General Baptists roughly similar to the missionary conventions of the Southern and Northern Baptists of the same period. In 1887, Spurgeon resigned from the Baptist Union because the group tolerated modernist ministers in its membership. Modernism, Spurgeon believed, undermined regeneration. He altered his Baptist denominationalism to protect regeneration.

When Spurgeon withdrew from the Baptist Union and stood for orthodoxy, American Baptists applauded. Before about 1880, American Baptists based their ecclesiology in large part on their denominational distinctives. Many American Baptists therefore were uncertain of Spurgeon's claim to Baptist identity because he taught open communion. As modernism grew more popular, American Baptists based their ecclesiology increasingly on evangelical essentials. When Spurgeon withdrew, they therefore hailed him as a great Baptist champion. They altered their estimate of him because their ecclesiology changed under pressure from modernism and approached his.

Local Church Polity

Spurgeon held that the polity of the church was a matter of revelation, not of expediency. Christ commissioned the apostles to establish the church according to a specific pattern. All churches are obligated to follow this pattern. "The tabernacle in the wilderness was framed after the pattern which God gave to Moses in the mount; and, verily, Christ's Church is built after God's own model." Pastors may not alter it; they may merely manage it faithfully. They were stewards of the apostolic model. "Some may talk of a liberal polity in their church," Spurgeon said. "Let them be liberal with what is their own; but for a steward to boast of being liberal with his Master's good, is quite another matter." (1)

Spurgeon insisted that Christ required the churches to admit only regenerate persons. The Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle went to great lengths to admit to membership persons who gave credible evidence of regeneration. Candidates for membership applied to the 'eiders on any Wednesday evening. The elders examined the candidate's profession of faith and if satisfied entered his or her name on the candidate list. The associate pastor, Charles's brother, James A. Spurgeon, then met each candidate and likewise inquired into their conversion. If satisfied, he appointed someone to visit and inquire about the "moral character and repute of the candidate. …

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