These next few weeks, I will share a few articles on the origin, nature and purpose of associations. First, I will address what is a local association? Associations are self-governing entities made of Baptist churches sharing common faith who engage in mutual support and missions in a geographic area. The association provides avenues for fellowship and cooperative endeavors in Great Commission ministry. The primary source of funding for the local Baptist association is regular gifts from member churches within the association.
Secondly, when did associations begin? Baptist Associations started in England. Being targeted by the Crown, they knew their survival was dependent on remaining small and so multiple churches, who shared the same beliefs, had to separate but kept in communication with one another for mutual support and advancement of their beliefs. With persecution they had to move and depended on one another with resources and help finding places accommodating of their beliefs. They also came together to clarify their doctrinal positions. In 1644, seven Particular Baptist churches networked together and wrote a joint statement of faith – First London Confession of Faith. In the United States, Baptist associations predate all Baptist state conventions and national mission boards. As Baptist migrated to America it didn’t take long for congregations to value the need to associate together. The first organized Baptist Association was started in 1707 by 6 churches to form the Philadelphia Baptist Association. This was 69 years before the Declaration of Independence and 138 years before the SBC came into existence. By 1770 the Philadelphia Baptist Association had started a college and collectively sent out home missionaries, aka church planters. By 1813 there were 115 associations in America, including the first association in Missouri, Bethel Baptist Association in Cape Girardeau (1806). Next week I’ll share how the Clay Platte Baptist Association began of which I am thankful to serve as your Director of Mission! – Dr. Gary Mathes