Sam Waldron Believes in “Absolute Parity”? A Misleading Misnomer

by | Dec 13, 2013 | Ecclesiology

Though I do not know Tom Chantry, Dave Dykstra has treated me with great kindness in the past.  I have read with interest the perspectives of Dave Dykstra and Tom Chantry on the history of the Reformed Baptist movement in the United States on Chantry’s blog.  I think that Dykstra and Chantry have tried to be fair to the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids (RBCGR) of which I was a pastor for 24 years.  Still, at times I have cringed at statements that I thought needed qualifying or were one-sided.   I may yet decide to give my qualifications and perspectives about some of these matters.  Here, however, I am forced for the sake of accuracy, clarity, truth, and simple self-preservation to take issue especially with one statement made by them in their 12th blog post:

“In the 1980s, Grand Rapids Pastor Sam Waldron in his 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: a Modern Exposition (amazon) would express the absolute parity view held in both Montville and in Grand Rapids.”

Let me state my concern very clearly.  I do not now and have never held the view of “absolute parity” of the elders.  Let me make clear what I mean and why I say this.  The phrase, absolute parity, makes it appear that I hold a view of parity that is not qualified or nuanced.  I do not.  There are people out there who hold views of parity that are in my view unqualified.  I believe there are those of the “Brethren” persuasion who might hold something that could be called absolute parity.  But I do not.  The notion, for instance, that no elders should be supported or that all elders should be supported equally would seem to follow from an absolute parity view, but it is something that I have never held.  In the very book cited by Chantry-Dykstra I made clear that parity does not require all elders to be supported equally.  Here are a couple of quotations from my exposition of chapter 26 of the 1689 Baptist Confession.

“Who are to be doubly-honored?  The answer is clearly well-ruling elders, but especially those well-ruling elders who labor in the word and teaching, the public ministry of the Word, who are to be supported.  Paul’s thought may be illustrated by means of two concentric circles.  The outer circle encompasses all well-ruling elders.  The inner circle encompasses those elders who (are gifted to) ‘work hard at preaching and teaching.’  Financial support must be focused in the inner circle and radiate outward as the necessity and ability of the church makes this appropriate.

“A number of important conclusions may be drawn from this biblical data.  The first is that certain elders in the local church are to be materially supported.  No hair-splitting distinctions are to be found in these passages.  The Bible does not fastidiously restrict support only to a some rare class of teachers or itinerant missionaries.  Its wording is broad.  1 Cor. 9:14 speaks of, ‘those who proclaim the gospel.’  Gal. 6:6 speaks, ‘him who regularly teaches.’  1 Tim. 5:17 speaks of, ‘the elders who rule well…especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.’  The second conclusion is that the focus of material support should be upon those elders who excel in the public ministry of the Word.  This again underscores the pre-eminence of the Word in the Church.  The third conclusion is that the extent of material support given to such elders by the church ought to be generous and ample.  It ought to be ‘a living,’ ‘all good things,’ and ‘double honor’ (1 Cor. 9:14; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17)  The Confession’s language is admirable.  Churches are ‘to communicate to them of all their good things, according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs; and may also be capable of exercising hospitality toward others.'”

So I think that even as long ago as 1989 it is clear I held nothing like absolute parity.  The diversity of the eldership, however, is also a theme in the book In Defense of Parity written several years later.  The diversity of the eldership is also clear in my contribution to the four views book, Who Runs the Church?  (published by Zondervan in 2004 and still available).   There in my essay I make this thesis statement and then proceed to elaborate on it for several paragraphs.

“The diversity of elders is clearly taught in the Scriptures.  It is not a diversity with regard to office or authority, as we have seen, but a diversity of spiritual gift, financial support, and actual influence.”

What Chantry and Dykstra do is easy for any of us to do.  Anyone to the right of us politically is a super-conservative reactionary.  Anyone to the left of us is a pinko-commie.  It is no doubt true that I hold a stronger view of parity than Dykstra or Chantry, but this does not mean that I hold “absolute parity.”  As the statements cited above make clear, I do not.

At the same time and in conclusion, let me make clear that I am sympathetic with some of the concerns which Dykstra and Chantry attribute to Carlisle about possible abuses of parity.  In the same 12th blog post, they articulate certain of those concerns.  But are they equally concerned at how the contemporary church’s distinction between the pastor and the elders parallels the early church’s error of distinguishing between the bishop and the elders?  That distinction led ultimately to episcopacy and Rome. I think we also see around us the proliferation of abuses that come from an unbiblical distinction between the pastor and the elders.

With this in mind, my desire is for Chantry and Dykstra to reconsider some of the comments made about myself and the leadership of RBCGR. Once their series on the history on the Reformed Baptist movement completes, I may need to make further clarifications to give a more accurate portrait of the ministry of RBCGR and some of the implications drawn. I hope that through these efforts, God will be glorified as the historical truth of the movement I love becomes more widely known.

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