This article is the second part in a two-part series reflecting on our failed efforts at reform within the CBOQ. The first article called “Why I Left And Why I Stayed” can be found here. This article builds on the stories and recollections shared there. I (Paul Carter) wrote the bones of this article after initial discussions with Marc, who then sent me specific additions of his own which have been added after each section to which they apply.
In 2011, when our journey of reform began, I (Paul) was 37 and Marc was 36. We were both young senior pastors, and for better or worse, we grew up in an atmosphere of conflict. I think Marc was better at it than I was. I was the writer and he was the “people person”. I wrote most of the blogs, he took most of the meetings. He was patient, I was explosive. There were times I think we both envied the skillset of the other.
That decade affected each of us profoundly.
Like the rings on a tree, those ten years tell a story that will be recorded forever in our bones. This article is our attempt to share some of what we learned for the benefit of others who, in the Providence of God, may be called upon to do something similar at some point in their own ministries. If it serves that end for even a single pastor or leader, we will count ourselves both very grateful.
What We Learned over 10 Years of Fighting for Reform:
1. The importance of clarity and civility together
When we began this entire journey toward reform, Marc and I both felt as though the entire CBOQ family of churches was enveloped in a giant bank of fog. No one spoke clearly. The leaders dealt in platitudes and nonsensical slogans. Data about declining finances and membership was passed over quickly, mics were turned off, business sessions were shortened and conversation discouraged so that we could move on to the important matter of celebrating our common bonds and fellowship.
It was as though the entire group had decided that we would only love each other if we spent our time sitting in the dark. If the lights were turned on, we would quickly discover how little we had in common and how far our faith had degraded.
To penetrate this fog Marc and I embarked on a campaign of clarity.
We attempted to tell the truth about what some of our churches were teaching. This was immediately perceived as disruptive – not to mention rude and entirely “unbaptist”. Nevertheless, we soldiered on. However, in our efforts to be clear, we were not, at least initially, entirely civil. Because we were telling the truth, we often gave ourselves permission to be unkind. To a certain extent, looking back, I think it was almost a matter of “screwing up our courage”. It is a scary thing to stand more or less alone against the tide. A little bit of shouting and angry gesticulation helps to fortify one’s resolve; but as we came to understand, it also served to justify our dismissal. Many of the old guard who desperately wanted to suppress the truth that we were uncovering found it very easy to disregard us as mere “rabble rousers”. We were just two young men expressing their zeal through judgment and censure. The fact that a few of our early blogs were written in a rather frothy and rabid tone gave a certain credence to that assessment.
It took us a while to realize this.
The breakthrough for me came about as a result of some early interactions with Don Carson. Don is famous for imposing “The Carson Rule” on all those who write and speak for the various branches and iterations of TGC. To learn more about “The Carson Rule” see here. In one of the conversations that we had during the time of the formation of the Canadian council Don said:
“Anyone writing under the auspices of TGC – be it the American or Canadian expression – needs to be committed to two fundamental values: conviction and civility. There is plenty of uncivil conviction and also a fair bit of conviction-less civility within the wider evangelical world, but under our banner we are committed to holding those two things together in everything we do and publish.”
That stuck with me and it changed the way I wrote both for TGC Canada and for our internal blog within the CBOQ. I learned quickly that it is foolish to give anyone a legitimate cause to discount your writing or reasoning on the basis of tone. If you say a true thing in an arrogant or rude way, then the people who most need to consider it will be the least likely to give it a fair hearing. If all you want to do is win the argument – as judged by your readers and commenters on social media – then by all means, make your points as forcefully and bitingly as possible. But if you want to start a movement or recall a community from a course of decline, then you have to make your case in a way that is fair and that does justice to the viewpoints and perspectives on the other side.
It took us a while to figure that out, and when I see “we” I mean mostly me. If I had a magic eraser I think I would get rid of about 50% of the material we produced in our first 2 years. I would still want to say most of the same things, but I would want to extract from those articles all of the snark, all of the vitriol and any exaggeration, mischaracterization and personal attack. When building or attempting to reform a movement clarity and civility must go hand in hand.
I learned a few things in these 10 years that serve me well in navigating areas of doctrinal or ethical disagreement. From Paul I learned the skill of asking good questions in order to define terms and issues. Expanding upon what I observed in Paul, it is my usual practice to seek a face-to-face meeting with an opponent and begin the time, not by arguing my case, but just by asking clarifying questions and ensuring that we are rightly understanding the terms we are using. Only when I feel confident that I can state my opponent’s case in a way they would own as an accurate depiction do I seek to move forward in making my argument.
This has led to many opportunities for further dialogue with my opponents and with others who are hesitant to enter the arena of debate. Whenever possible I will arrange a face-to-face meeting rather than communicating by print or even by phone or screen. I am willing to drive halfway across the province to meet with a person in order to ensure clear communication. One of the effects of this over the past 10 years is that my reputation within the denomination has improved and the tone of debate has been greatly improved as well.
I have also adopted another practice I commend to all. I am slow to respond to provocation online. If I feel there is a need to respond quickly, I usually direct an email to the effect that I have received the communique and am not in agreement, but would like to ask time to respond appropriately. I generally wait 24 hours before sending an article or a response, re-reading it a couple of times after a night of sleep to ensure that I am not writing in anger and wrath.
2. The importance of pace, process and persistence
Many of my friends in the reformed evangelical world thought I was crazy, and perhaps even unfaithful, for staying in the CBOQ as long as I did. Perhaps they are right. I don’t know exactly how long and how slow one ought to go in a process of community reform, but I do know that unity is important and that it ought not to be severed lightly or without due consideration, prayer and process. Jesus prayed that we would be one:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11 ESV)
That is a fairly complicated prayer. It is not a prayer for unity at all costs. It is a prayer for Christians to be one even as they are one with God, therefore if we are drifting from God, then we are dividing our community – a point we were labouring to make within the CBOQ! It is not only the ones who are raising the alarm who represent a threat to unity – it is also, first and foremost, those who are departing from the faith. We believed that – we believe it still – and yet, we also believe that while unity is complicated, it is also precious and intimately connected to the matter of our witness to the world. Jesus went on to pray:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20–21 ESV)
The amazing diversity and unity of the Christian church is intended by the Lord to function as an aspect of our witness to the world. People are supposed to look at us and say: “How can such a diverse group of people get along? Why do they work through things, when it would be so much easier to simply split apart? Why do they listen so patiently? Why do they give each other the benefit of the doubt? Why are they so gentle, so forgiving and so selfless?”
If the unity of our fellowship is so integral to our mission and witness as God’s people and so obviously important to our Lord and Savior, then it strikes me that we should do absolutely everything within our power to preserve it. If that means going slow, listening long and suffering much – then so be it.
But how slow? How long? How much?
Far be it from me to say for sure.
For us, the process from start to finish took about 10 years. CLRA began as a series of conversations between concerned pastors and elders after one of our churches began openly preaching and affirming a form of sexual expression that clearly departed from biblical norms and standards. CLRA initially spoke out in support of a motion to censure and discipline this church. Those efforts were opposed by our denominational leaders and the motion was ultimately defeated at the level of the local Association. We then attempted to make structural and policy changes through the mechanism of Assembly. As narrated in the first article in this series, a motion was written by the CLRA churches and submitted by First Baptist Orillia (now Cornerstone Baptist, Orillia) in 2017 which resulted in a Special Committee being formed by the Board. This Special Committee met several times over a period of 2 years and delivered a report that was approved and received by the Board. The recommendations contained therein fell short of what many of the reforming churches had desired to see.
As such the 2020 Assembly was presented with 3 member motions from CLRA supporting churches. All three were defeated. Three further motions were presented in 2021, two by an association sympathetic to, but not directly connected to CLRA and one by a church ideologically opposed to CLRA, though still in the direction of reform. The first was defeated, the second referred to the board for discernment; the third motion was received, amended and then subsequently defeated. Our church made the decision to leave shortly thereafter.
It is difficult to see how that process could have gone any faster.
We certainly could have left earlier, but if were truly seeking systemic change, then we could move only as fast as the system was capable of moving. Assemblies happen once a year. Special Committees meet 4 times a year. Local Associations meet annually, therefore if you want to change the direction of a denomination there is generally no way to do that in less than a decade. You have to nominate people for Boards and Committees, you have to craft motions, you have to hold meetings at Associations to explain those motions, you have to introduce your motions at a duly called Assembly, you have to wait for the recommendations to be brought by the Special Committee, you have to craft motions to police and apply, you have to bring those motions at a subsequent assembly – all the while trying to win hearts and minds in the trenches.
Oh yes, and one more thing – you have to do the last year and a half of that during a once in a lifetime pandemic!
One of the things Marc and I learned throughout this entire process is that you can make a lot of noise in a couple of months; you can establish a reputation for courage with a single blog; but if you really want to change the direction of an entire community, you have to commit to a slow and steady slog. Real change happens in the trenches. Therefore, if you want to have any chance of winning, you have to be willing to play the long game.
It is my settled belief that change is not brought about on the floor of Assembly with a well-crafted motion, change takes place through long persistent conversations with enough time and information to move delegates from a place of reluctance or indifference to a place of urgency and action. We became better at this process as time went along. In the early days I was persuaded that the motion was the thing, but in retrospect the motion is the conclusion of the process of change; not the inauguration.
3. The importance of underlying commitments
Early on in this process Marc and I agreed to focus on the root issue in the CBOQ as opposed to the presenting fruit. To be clear, we were going to address the fruit as it manifested in departures from historic orthodoxy and our own good faith agreements, but if we were going to make change, we believed it wise to focus most of our attention on the underlying issues.
The underlying issue in the CBOQ was biblical authority. There were 3 distinct perspectives operating within our shared fellowship:
- The fixed anchor approach
- The sea anchor approach
- The lighthouse approach
The fixed anchor approach represents those who think of the Scriptures as inspired, authoritative, sufficient and clear. Most, though not all, of those people would regularly make use of the term “inerrancy”. These folks tend to believe that in an argument, if you have a Bible verse, you win. If you are willing to work hard to determine authorial intent, a real message can be discerned and that message is determinative. Both Marc and I would happily identify with this camp. We both believe that when the Bible speaks, God speaks and by our rough reckoning, about 25% of the pastors and leaders in the CBOQ would also identify with this position.
The sea anchor approach represents those who have a deep respect for the wisdom and gravitas of the Scriptures but who also believe in a sense of trajectory and development over the ages, particularly as applied to matters of gender and human sexuality. These folks would feel a deep need to listen to the Bible and would even rejoice in being restrained by the Bible, but they would not feel compelled to bow to the Bible in each and every situation. These folks often speak of listening for the Word of the Lord in Holy Scripture – whereas the fixed anchor crowd would speak of listening to the Word of the Lord in Holy Scripture. For the sea anchor folks, Scripture must be listened to in community and in interaction with the voice and movements of the culture. We reckon that about 50% of the pastors and leaders in the CBOQ hold this stance.
The lighthouse approach represents those who have an enduring admiration for the brilliance and wisdom of the Bible, and who make use of the Bible as a reference point in their decision making and value judgments as a community, though not as authoritative. They tend to be selective in their admiration and bold in their disagreements and departures. They appear to move more or less in concert with the cultural consensus. We reckon that about 25% of the leaders and pastors in the CBOQ hold to this stance.
The approach of the leadership of the CBOQ has been to attempt to tether all these churches together into one grand armada. On a clear and pleasant day such a tactic may have a reasonable prospect of success, but when the hurricane force winds of cultural revolution begin to blow, the difference in underlying commitments becomes readily apparent. The lighthouse people are caught by the wind and immediately blown away. The sea anchor people drift away much slower while the fixed anchor people batten down the hatches and attempt to remain in place. The armada itself is swiftly and widely scattered.
This is the reality that was temporarily shrouded in the fog of enforced silence and obfuscation, but once that fog was penetrated, the collapse of our association was evident to all. Rather than try to reattach the tethers, Marc and I felt it wiser to address the underlying commitments. Our first conference was on the topic of hermeneutics. We invited Dr. Pierre Constant to speak to us about the science and discipline of biblical interpretation. We wrote blogs, articles and confessions of faith advocating for the wisdom, humility and fidelity of the fixed anchor approach.
We made the case to “the muddy middle” (a term I somewhat regret having coined) that the affirmation of homosexual practice by some of our churches was merely one fruit attached to the poisoned root of our wider fellowship – and it would not be the last to appear. Once you teach people how to read the Bible such that it means the opposite of what it says, the game is up and there is no end to the insanity and irrationality that will follow.
Many accused us at the time of being alarmist.
After the debacle at Lorne Park Baptist Church in the spring of 2020, such an accusation no longer seems credible. A half commitment to the authority of Scripture is simply not adequate to maintain a faithful, worshipping community in the current cultural context. Rather than pulling at the leaves one by one as they appeared, we made the decision to strike at the root. We weren’t entirely successful in our efforts, but we do believe that we were expending our energy in the right direction. The rot was simply deeper and more extensive than had appeared. But the point remains, there can be no lasting reformation in a community without a change in the fundamental commitments that lie beneath.
I appreciate Paul’s 3 point illustration and am reminded of this concern that I have often expressed: Beware of binding or anchoring renewal to the institution and not to the truth. If the renewal movement is not anchored firmly to truth, it will progressively sink with the foundering institution, consistently lowering the expectation of reform.
4. The impact of cumulative conflict
Both Marc and I have felt the strains of this conflict in body and soul. Much as in the case of a concussion, if the first injury is serious enough, it can cause permanent injury all on its own, but if there are repeated blows shortly thereafter, then the impact is almost certainly to be exacerbated.
In the first article in this series Marc detailed the effect that the CBOQ conflict had on his soul. I shared in my portion the belief that Marc was better suited to this sort of thing than I, but that did not make him less susceptible to injury. On the contrary, his superior disposition made him feel each blow and insult far more keenly.
For me, the CBOQ conflict was concurrent, near the end, with “the Bruxy Cavey conflict”. In July of 2018, at the request of the Executive Council of TGC Canada, I began a process of engaging with Canada’s best known “evangelical” spokesperson, whom we believed, was departing in substantial ways from the best values and commitments of that movement. I wrote an article called “Why I Must Respectfully Disagree With My Anabaptist Friends”. That began an interaction that was covered in a series of articles and that eventually resulted in a collective evaluation by the TGC C Council in which we deemed Bruxy to be not a reformed evangelical by any objective standard, but also, somewhat controversially, not a heretic, in terms of his published statements and positions at the time.
The TGC C Executive Council knew that this discussion, while necessary, was likely to result in aggressive responses from both sides of the evangelical spectrum in Canada – and those expectations were met and generously exceeded. I was volunteered to facilitate the original series of interviews, largely because of what I was presumed to have learned through my 8 years of conflict in the CBOQ. I did try to apply several of the lessons narrated above, particularly in terms of presenting Bruxy’s views in words and ways that fairly represented him. I didn’t want the evangelical left to disregard my analysis because it was rude, inaccurate or unkind. I sent transcripts of each interview back to Bruxy for him to review and revise. I only published what he agreed represented his viewpoints and beliefs. Nevertheless, the criticism for that series of interviews, coming generally from the new far right of the evangelical spectrum, has been vicious and unrelenting. The appreciation from the centre has been remarkable and unexpected – but the stress of maintaining character and calm through another season of conflict has undoubtedly taken a toll.
A third “concussion” came about in the wake of the conflict that roiled the Canadian church during COVID19. Our church made the decision relatively early on to make use of every square inch of permission granted to us, but not to engage in civil disobedience unless it became clear that the government was making use of this situation to disadvantage churches. In essence, we watched to see if they were treating us any worse than they were treating the movie theatres. If they were and if that difference was due to malice, then we were prepared to engage in civil disobedience. But if the enforcement was consistent, then we were prepared to assume that it represented an honest effort to control a dangerous contagion, and we would comply. You can find that article here. The pushback, from the new far right again, was unexpected and more or less unrelenting over the next two years.
I don’t share those stories to suggest that I am experiencing persecution – I certainly am not – but I do share it to reflect upon the nature of extended exposure to conflict and criticism. Marc talked about how the conflict in his church relating to COVID19 seemed to mitigate against any possible recovery from the cost of his conflict within the CBOQ. I would echo and affirm that reflection. Conflict is bad for the soul. The effect of repeated conflict over more than a decade simply cannot be ignored.
If you are forced to engage in it, then you must plan for seasons of recovery. My Board of Elders very wisely and very generously offered me an additional month of vacation to add to a month of unused vacation time from 2020 so that I could unplug, unwind and recharge. Even still, I find myself less inclined to speak out on matters of importance within the evangelical world at this time. I think there are things I would say, and perhaps should say, that for now, I am keeping to myself. This should be reckoned upon as part of the cost of engaging in necessary conflict.
I have had the experience of receiving a leg massage courtesy of my social media linked cell phone vibrating almost constantly for hours with the blazing threads of online controversy. I know the tightening feeling in the pit of my stomach as I prepare to wade into a controversy online, knowing that I will soon be publicly debating before the eyes of all my friends and colleagues and anyone else who should stumble into the inferno.
This has led me to be more circumspect before I wade into an issue online.
I believe that online infernos rarely persuade the opponent, but may have an effect on the undecided moderate who reads through the arguments and never gives any indication that they are present. There is an excellent Proverb which states: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” The very next verse presents us with the paradox: “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4-5) One cannot avoid being dragged down in an online debate, that is a good reason to stay away from them, unless the matter is of eternal weight. Then, for the sake of all readers, one must enter the fray; but be aware that entering an online battle – even for the right reasons – will still result in becoming like the fool in their folly, though it may be necessary to suffer this indignity in order that they be not wise in their own eyes. These two proverbs, along with Romans 12:18 – (If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all), govern my entry into conflict today.
5. The importance of focused objectives
Near the end of our attempted reform the number of people involved in the process had grown substantially. The 2017 Orillia Motion had been very tightly crafted, but shortly thereafter, the CLRA movement became broader and thus more unwieldy. Motions were made by churches inspired by the group but not controlled by it. Some of these motions were unwise and overreaching. I (Paul) learned early on in this process that if you ask for too much you are likely to receive absolutely nothing, but if you ask for less than all of what you want, and you appear reasonable and conciliatory while doing so, you get more than you expect.
That feels like wisdom to me, but it felt like cowardice and compromise to others.
Everyone will have to come to their own conclusions on such matters but my advice to anyone seeking reform in an older institution is to know your by-laws, understand your legal context and reconcile yourself to the likelihood of incremental change. This is the path we set out on in 2017 but by 2020 we had lost the ability to impose that viewpoint on the entire group. Some of the motions that were put forth at Assembly in 2020 and 2021 were overreaching and some would have been impossible to implement within our current polity structure. My experience in the CBOQ is that if you give moderates an opportunity to avoid reform on the basis of “structural deficiencies” or “errors in process” many will take it and defer the hard work to a future generation, therefore, all motions must be tight, narrow, focused and tuned to the existing polity structure. We didn’t do that, uniformly, in those later years, and it cost us votes.
Nevertheless, I don’t think that this was the reason for the failure of our efforts. In one sense, it was a mark of success that so many churches were stepping forward to make motions in the first place, however, it was a lesson learned. Fewer, tighter, and more focused motions would likely have resulted in tighter votes and a more urgent message being sent to those in charge.
One of the issues that chronically impeded the progress of reform was the presumption that CLRA was a trojan horse. Because Paul and I were both complimentarians it was presumed that we had a hidden agenda. Therefore, if we were given support on issues relating to sexual ethics and sound doctrine, we would get a foot in the door and agitate for reform on the ordination of women. This issue plagued us every step of the way, we never found a solution to the problem. I would like to chide pastors here for failing to support a good motion for fear that that motion would lead to further motions. (We see the same sort of reasoning working on matters pandemic. For example: ‘If you are willing to allow the government to mandate mask wearing today, tomorrow you will accept a government mandate to stop preaching against homosexuality.’ These are two separate matters and should be dealt with separately.)
I was disheartened by the lack of trust extended to us by pastors and churches who should have recognized that supporting one issue doesn’t automatically equate to supporting every issue.
6. God is Sovereign over every true work of revival, reformation and change
It is interesting to note how often a great movement of God spans across multiple human lifetimes. God used both Moses and Joshua to set the Israelites free and give them a homeland; he used both David and Solomon to establish them as a dominant empire and he used both Zerubbabel and Nehemiah to rebuild and reconstitute them on the other side of the exile. These stories would seem to suggest that God moves slowly in the actions of Providence so as to undermine any tendency we may have to ascribe ultimate agency to human beings. He divides up the tongues of fire and he distributes gifts variously and with a wise and prudential emphasis upon plurality and interdependence.
As I’ve indicated previously in this series of reflections, Marc and I contributed very different things to the reform movement with the CBOQ. He was the diplomat and the ambassador. I was the writer and organizer. I couldn’t do what he did, and he wouldn’t do what I did. In addition, we were joined early on by a sizeable team of highly invested pastors and leaders. More than a dozen people wrote articles for the blog, several churches crafted motions and made nominations. It was truly a group effort. And yet, as Marc narrated in his portion of the first article, our efforts, while they have broken the dam, certainly did not end up carrying the day. The torch has been passed to the now stirring and significantly less muddy middle.
So be it.
CLRA was a group of rather flinty faced prophetic types who saw a danger and spoke out forcefully against it. As narrated above, we sometimes lacked social and political finesse, but we did not lack for clarity and courage. It took a group of people like that to penetrate the fog that was intentionally fostered and maintained within our community. It took a group of people like that to knock on the door long enough and loud enough to be heard.
Now the door appears to be opening and a new type of leader may be required to conduct the conversation and to make the systematic changes that will be required.
Let our names be forgotten and let the Lord be remembered as having worked through a variety of people over a variety of seasons to summon a community back from the brink of ruin and terminal decline.
If there is a lesson to be harvested from this particular reflection for those attempting similar projects in other failing institutions let it be this: do not attempt the work of reform and revival alone. Build a coalition that has the gifts and attributes necessary for the task at hand. Do it right, do it hard and do it together. And don’t be surprised if at some point in the process you have to exit the stage and hand off the baton so that the work can be completed by another coalition with gifts and qualities more suited to the completion of the program and the implementation of the gains.
Don’t lament that. Rejoice in that. And let all the glory and the honour go to God.
In the book of Esther there is a long timeline and a short timeline. We most often consider the short timeline of the central story: Haman hatches a dastardly plot, Mordecai urges Esther to action, Esther and the Jews fast for 3 days, Esther risks her life before the king to invite him to dinner, Esther serves dinner two nights in a row, the king cannot sleep and is reminded of an unpaid debt and in a matter of a week the story flips from the destruction of the Jews and the rise of Haman to the destruction of Haman and the rise of the Jews. What we often pass over is the long timeline that begins in chapter 1 when the king banishes his queen and then begins a quest for a new queen. From the beginning of the Book of Esther to the moment when Esther stands uninvited before Ahasuerus we count about 13 years! The slow hand of providence is moving to put pieces in place 10-12 years before the climactic moment when everything will fall in place in a week.
How do I pastor in the CBOQ? Do I speak out against the compromise? Do I call for a vote and depart immediately? What if I have called for the vote and the result is not definitive, should I resign as pastor? How long can I continue in a compromised denomination? These are questions not easily answered, but we are much helped by a good grasp on the sovereignty of God. The simplest answer I can offer is: ‘Do what you know is right, and trust to God’s sovereign plan.’ This calls for prayer and discernment, patience and long-suffering: be faithful.
7. Bonus: The Benefit of Congregational polity
It occurs to me that this series of reflections will be useful primarily to those who operate within a congregational framework. Our story as Canadian Baptist reformers is very different from the story of our Anglican brethren. In the Anglican context, as often in the Presbyterian, the church buildings are owned and controlled by the denomination. Efforts at reform therefore, if not successful, are far more costly. I have incredible respect for the price paid in this country by leaders like David Short, George Sinclair and Ray David Glenn. They engaged in the same struggle that we did, but the stakes for them were significantly higher. This is cause for admiration, but also perhaps, for reflection. It makes a compelling case for the wisdom and prudence of congregational polity.
I believe that a local congregation should ultimately be responsible for their own building, their own budget and the hiring and firing of their own preacher. I believe in the value of free association, but I don’t believe those associations should have final authority over the doctrine or the resources of the local congregation. I believe that an association should be able to say to a congregation: “You are free to believe that, but if you do, then you are not free to associate with us in our common life and worship.” That is all the authority we were asking to be claimed by the leadership of the CBOQ. We were not asking them to use financial or vocational levers against pastors and churches; we were just asking them to respect and enforce the boundaries of our historic association. That is the sort of authority that can be used – and has been used – within congregational settings over the last several centuries. It is the version of polity that I believe best safeguards orthodoxy while also permitting robust theological discussion and necessary reform.
I have always been a Baptist of some kind or another, but after 10 years of hard slogging in the cause of reform within one particular branch of the Baptist family, I am more convinced than ever of the wisdom and prudence of the congregational system.
I think the CLRA pastors believed that if we failed to bring about reform there would be one last glorious assembly where we would rise en masse and shake the dust from our garments and then dramatically walk out the door for a final time. The reality was that congregational polity stood in the way of such an event ever happening. Some churches required two votes six months apart to depart from the CBOQ, some required a vote of 75%, some required that notice be given a full year prior to the vote being made, some needed only a simple majority at any duly called business meeting. This led to some angst amongst us. From early in the CLRA movement we had churches that slipped out the door even as we were urging them to stay for one more year. I do not feel abandoned by the churches that have departed; I feel grateful that they pressed the issues for as long as they did, and respect the autonomy of the local church to determine that it is time to withdraw from a free association such as the CBOQ to associate elsewhere.
The false narrative that echoes in CBOQ ears is that Baptists do not have binding agreements or covenants. I believe the greatest fear of most Baptist pastors in the CBOQ is the suggestion that we should have a binding agreement and should discipline any church that violates said agreement. Ironically, we once had these agreements and once practiced this very sort of discipline in the old convention. A trip to the archives at McMaster Divinity College will disabuse anyone of the idea that we have never had a binding agreement. Ask the archivist to show you the constitution and by-laws of almost any BCOQ/CBOQ association from the 19th or 20th Century and you will see both binding covenants of belief and strong words of discipline written by the hands of Baptists that have founded our churches. Furthermore, of the 8 major Baptist ‘families’ in Canada, only the CBOQ has no document of belief that is considered binding or that can be used for discipline in some form. Even our sister denominations to the West and East have some level of agreement. So let us spit out the lie so often sounded in our ears and return to the paths we have strayed from. As the last CLRA pastor in the CBOQ, I am still prepared to sound this note at every gathering – we need sound doctrine and sound discipline.
Marc and I waited over a year to write our reflections on this process for a number of reasons: we were tired, we were eager to do other things, COVID, and perhaps most of all, we wanted to let the dust settle so that we could think and write with calm and clarity. Our goal in finally doing so is simply to resource the next generation of reformers in whatever context of decline and downgrade they may find themselves in.
And may God alone be glorified.
Pastor Paul Carter and Pastor Marc Bertrand
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.