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Mystified by Georgian Baptists’ ecclesiology

by
23 October 2015

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From the Revd Hywel J. Davies

Sir, — I read with interest your article about the dispute in the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (EBCG) over the issue of homosexuality (News, 9 October).

The Welsh Baptist chapel in which I was raised was distinctive in its ecclesiology and structure. It was a gathered church. Only those baptised as adult believers, by total immersion, in the name of the Trinity, were eligible for membership. The concept of a parish, or a geographical area, to which it ministered, to the exclusion of any other parish or area, was unknown.

Neither was there any clerical hierarchy or any understanding of sacramental ministry. Indeed, the words “priest” and “sacrament” would have been viewed with suspicion and even disapproval. There was no set liturgy, and little concept of belonging to “the whole Church of Christ”. Unity was simply a matter of not falling out with other members of the congregation.

While great concern was shown for the good upkeep of the building, its adornment was simple and stark. No crosses or symbols were to be seen, no stained glass, no robes, no service books, and no ecclesiastical titles used — other than “Reverend” (or, in Welsh, “Parchedig”) for the minister.

The spirituality and culture of these chapels were immensely influential and, with many others, I have good reason to value that heritage. Yet I never felt it was complete. As an adult, I came to reflect on these things, and, after confirmation, I presented myself as a candidate for ordination in the Church in Wales. Your article about the EBCG, however, caused me to ponder why I bothered to change at all!

Not only does this Church have an Archbishop, complete with the appropriate courtesy title, but we are told that he has his cathedral, too. Neither does the EBCG seem to know anything about being a self-governing, gathered Church, preferring instead a system of synodical government. There are, moreover, dioceses, over which bishops have oversight and, presumably, care of their priests. The Church even has concerns about schism and unity, suggesting a structure that extends way beyond anything I was familiar with once.

Is this really a Baptist Church? Has your correspondent wandered into ecclesiastical territory “of which we know little”? Why, the EBCG might soon find itself caught up in arguments about human sexuality for years on end. Perhaps, after all, the EBCG is nothing other than an unrecognised part of the Anglican Communion, deep in the heart of Georgia?

HYWEL J. DAVIES
Erwau’r Glo, 68 Glas y Gors Cwmbach, Aberdare CF44 0BQ

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