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A Letter from America

September 1998 | by David Campbell

Written on this side of the Atlantic!

For the more widely-read amongst us, the word ‘Greendale’ will conjure up images of Postman Pat, Mrs Goggins, Ted Glen, Peter Fogg and a black and white cat called Jess. For me, it now has a new association — Heritage Baptist Church, Worcester, Massachusetts.

The notice outside the building says ‘The Greendale Improvement Society’ and the Greendale Improvement Society still owns the building. But for the past few years it has been exclusively the meeting place of Heritage Baptist Church.

This is a growing work. Since June 1995 the pastor of the church has been Dr James Renihan, a dear friend of long standing, and he has seen the membership increase from twelve to twenty-four, and the attendance from eighteen to sixty. Last year there were seven baptisms and a number of people have professed faith in Christ. A time of change is at hand, however, for in July of this year Jim and his family will be leaving Worcester for Escondido, California. And it’s Escondido that’s the real reason for this letter.

Escondido

In March 1997 ARBCA was formed — the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America. Some thirty churches from across the United States are currently members of the association — Heritage being one of them — and several others are expressing interest. Each of the member churches subscribes to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. The purpose of the association is to encourage fellowship amongst the churches and to enable them to co-operate in various important ministries. These include home missions, the publication of Christian literature and the training of men for pastoral ministry.

It is in connection with the last of these that we come to Escondido, the home of Westminster Theological Seminary in California. The seminary was set up in 1983, is attended by around 250 students, and has a well-respected faculty of Reformed scholars.

At the ARBCA meeting in March ’97 an invitation was received from Westminster for one of the ARBCA men to come and co-operate with the seminary in ministerial training. The upshot of this was a meeting the following month, at which the Westminster faculty gave their approval to the formation of an Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies. The significance of this for Reformed Baptists is great. Westminster Seminary is Presbyterian and Paedobaptist, but has a number of students with Baptist convictions. The formation of the institute will give these men the opportunity to receive instruction in subjects of special relevance to Baptists and to be more fully prepared for specifically Baptist ministry. The seminary is to be applauded for the concern, and for the catholicity of spirit that has made this development possible.

Distinctives

Later on in the year Dr Renihan was invited to serve as professor of the institute. The congregation at Worcester agreed to release him from the pastorate and at the General Assembly of ARBCA in March 1998 his appointment was unanimously approved. He takes up his post from 1 September.

One course to be given will be on ‘Distinctives of Reformed Baptist theology’, another will be on ‘Pastoral theology and homiletics’. These will be followed in the spring term by courses on ‘the Doctrine of the Church’, ‘Baptist history’ and ‘Baptist symbolics’ (a study of the Baptist confessions of faith). It is also hoped that in the January of each year there will be a one-or two-week course in a specialist subject by a visiting professor. The classes will be open to all the students in the seminary.

In their choice of a professor, our American brethren have chosen well. After studying at Trinity Ministerial Academy in New Jersey, Jim Renihan pastored a Reformed Baptist church in Herkimer, New York, from 1984-1987. He was then called to Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Amesbury, Massachusetts, where he ministered until 1992. He left Amesbury for doctoral studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, focusing specifically on the practical ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705. In the succeeding years he has not only pastored the church in Worcester but taught courses in Baptist history, systematic theology and hermeneutics. He thus brings to his new work the fruits of many years of pastoral ministry, academic study and experience in training others. Please pray for Jim, his wife Lynne and their five children as they move to California. And please pray for the work itself that through it great blessing will ultimately come both to the church and the world.