“For Luther, as for the reformers in general, one could rest assured of one’s salvation. Salvation was grounded upon the faithfulness of God to his promises of mercy; to fail to have confidence in salvation was, in effect, to doubt the reliability and trustworthiness of God.”
***Quote taken from Alistair McGrath, Christian Theology, p. 391
Where did Baptists come from and, historically, what are their beliefs? The majority of historians agree that today’s Baptists were derived from three major sixteenth-century streams: Particular Baptists, General Baptists, and Seventh-day Baptists. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these denominations birthed a multitude. Separate Baptist, Primitive Baptist, American Baptist and Southern Baptist are just a few of today’s 100-plus Baptist denominations. Each of the three major Baptist groups claims a different line of descent. The Particular Baptists claim a heritage going back to the Protestant Reformers and Puritans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The General Baptists trace their roots from the earlier Anabaptists of the fifteenth century, and the Seventh-Day Baptists came later, in the sixteenth century. All three major Baptist denominations started in England.
Other Seventeenth-Century Baptists
The Seventh-Day Baptists, known to follow the Judeo-Christian tradition of worshipping on the seventh day of the week, were never large in number, nor are they today. They number less than 50,000 worldwide. The General Baptists were named for their theological stance of having a general, and thoroughly Arminian, view of the atonement. Lead by John Smyth, they were a noncreedal denomination. By the eighteenth century, English General Baptists had mostly moved into Unitarianism, while most of America’s General Baptists were overtaken by the diverse strands within the Regular Baptist denominations.
The Particular Baptists
Particular Baptists were also commonly called Strict Baptists because of their practice of closed communion, their theological stance on Christ’s definite atonement for His elect, and their two-office congregational polity. It was the Protestant forerunners, like the Reformers & Puritans, that brought about a strong confessional emphasis among Particular Baptists’ theology. The Particular Baptists first appeared in a London church organized by Henry Jacob following his exile from Holland. This church was founded on a basis of confession of individual faith and of a covenant, and it contained both Independent Puritans and radical Separatists. In 1633, the issue of who would administer baptism splintered the two camps. In 1638, the first Particular Baptist Church was established in London under the leadership of John Spilsbery.
The theology of these Baptists appealed to the nation’s prevalent Calvinism and offered no obstacle to the mass of Englishmen. With the rapid growth of the Particular Baptist came serious accusations, such as Pelagianism and Anarchy. This is important to note because both groups were part of the radical wing of Anabaptism; thus, Anabaptism cannot trace its historical roots to the Particular Baptist denomination.
By 1644, the seven Particular Baptist churches in London were quick to follow their Protestant forerunners’ confessional examples. To document their doctrinal differences from the General Baptists and Anabaptists, the seven closely associated and London-based Particular Baptist churches prepared to published their own confessional statement of theology.
The London Confession of 1644 served as an apologetic theology, defending Particular Baptist views against the Arminian General Baptists and other radical groups like the Anabaptists. Henry C. Vedder called it “one of the chief landmarks of Baptist history.” There were five key futures that made it different from the multitude of Protestant Reformed Confessions of its time:
- Two representatives from each of the six Particular churches and three from Spilsbery’s church were included in the signatories of the confession.
- It had a strong Christological focus.
- It was building a confessional theology that gave structure to the New Testament’s administration of the Covenants of Grace—not attempting to reform the National Church.
- It charged that the act of baptism was to be a complete immersion of the individual and gave an outline for conduct in case of civil persecution.
It gave the Particular Baptists of its time a distinctive Baptist theology of the church, all while affirming the Reformed view of salvation
The Particular Baptists and Calvinism
1644 brought a year of growth for the Particular Baptists as they more clearly defined the doctrinal standards in their confessional statement. 1645 brought a year of trouble. . Arminian General Baptists charged the Particular Baptists with not addressing free will, communalism, and falling from grace enough, especially within the L0ndon Confession of 1644’s first edition.The General Baptists’ response to the London Confession of 1644 was documented in a pamphlet titled “The Foundation of Free Grace Opened,” which gave their dictional stance against limited atonement, clearly siding with Arminian theology.
The differences and disagreements between 1645’s General and Particular Baptists gave rise to a second edition of the 1644 London Confession and of the First London Baptist confession of 1644. Third and fourth editions would be made later in 1651 and 1652. As William L. Lumpkin commented, about the Particular Baptists,
“In the Army of Cromwell, Baptists had distinguished themselves and had risen to positions of leadership . . . (Calvinist) Baptists were everywhere in prominent positions, and no longer lived in fear of the King and Parliament. The Westminster Confession has appeared in 1646, and by comparing the London Baptist Confession with it men could see that Baptists indeed belonged to the mainstream of Reformed life.”
Calvinistic theology can be seen in a number of areas within the Particular Baptist’s confessional documents. Here are just a few examples taken from the second-edition London Baptist Confession of 1646.
Article VI: first Eve, then Adam being seduced did wittingly and willingly fall into disobedience and transgression of the Commandment of their great Creator, for the which death came upon all, and reigned over all, so that all since the Fall are conceived in sin, and brought forth in iniquity, and so by nature children of wrath, and servants of sin, subjects of death, and all other calamities due to sin in this world and for ever, being considered in the state of nature, without relation to Christ.
[See also Article V.]
Article V: Subject to the eternal wrath of the great God by transgression; yet the elect, which God has loved with an everlasting love, are redeemed, quickened, and saved, not by themselves, neither by their own works, lest any man should boast himself, but wholly and only by God of His free grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.
[See also Article XVII and Article XIX.]
Article XXI: That Christ Jesus by His death did bring forth salvation and reconciliation only for the elect, which were those which God the Father gave Him; and that the Gospel which is to be preached to all men as the ground of faith, is, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the ever blessed God, filled with the perfection of all heavenly and spiritual excellencies, and that salvation is only and alone to be had through the believing in His name.
[See also Article XXX.]
Article XXII: That faith is the gift of God wrought in the hearts of the elect by the Spirit of God, whereby they come to see, know, and believe the truth of the Scriptures, and not only so, but the excellency of them above all other writing and things in the world, as they hold forth the glory of God in His attributes, the excellency of Christ in His nature and offices, and the power of the fullness of the Spirit in His workings and operations; and thereupon are enabled to cast the weight of their souls upon this truth thus believed.
[Se alsoArticle V and Article XII].
Perseverance of the Saints
Article XXXVI: To this Church He has made His promises, and given the signs of His Covenant, presence, love, blessing, and protection: here are the fountains and springs of His heavenly grace continually flowing forth; thither ought all men to come, of all estates, that acknowledge Him to be their Prophet, Priest, and King, to be enrolled amongst His household servants, to under His heavenly conduct and government, to lead their lives in His walled sheepfold, and watered garden, to have communion here with the saints, that they may be made to be partakers of their inheritance in the Kingdom of God.
[See also Article XXVII.]
Connections to Today’s Current Situation
Where do Baptists come from, and what are their historical beliefs? The question lives on, surfacing again in the twenty-first century within America’s largest Baptist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. As Rev. Dr. Tom Ascol stated, (during the Southern Baptist Convention of 1995), “Never in our history have we stood in greater need of reexamining our roots.” The issue is the same today as it was in 1995.
With regards to today’s current situation involving soteriology within the Southern Baptist denomination, members must look past the “traditional” views of the twentieth century and back to their historical fathers of the seventeenth century. We must not forget the theology that the Baptist church is founded upon. Southern Baptists need to clearly see the historical value of their Protestant Faith and its theological stances. As Baptist historian W. T. Whitley once stated (on Baptists’ redress of their own history), “. . . if a later generation finds that it does not agree with its predecessors, whether in content or in emphasis, it has openly revised and re-stated what it does believe or it has discarded the old confession and framed another.”
Additional Reading Information on Calvinism and Baptist Church
- Baptist History Out of Focus and From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention: What Hath Geneva To Do with Nashville? by Tom Ascol
- The English Baptists of the Eighteenth Century by Raymond Brown
- Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, ed. Timothy George and David S. Dockery
- Being Baptist and being Calvinistic: The Four-Fold Impact of Being Both According to Thomas Chalmers by Michael Haykin
- Baptist Beginnings, The Baptist Heritage, and A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage by Leon McBeth
- Confessing the Faith in 1644 & 1689 by James M. Rehihan
- The First London Confession of 1644 by Walter B. Shurden
- Ready for Reformation?: Bringing Authentic Reform to Southern Baptist Churches by Tom Nettles
- The English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century by B. R. White
The blogosphere, within Evangelical and Baptist circles, has continued to go back and froth about the recent discussion on soteriology and the Ten Article Preamble written by a number within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The Preamble has been written with a major concern of New Calvinists gaining ground and number within the SBC denomination.
The Ten Article Preamble has a heavily bent towards Arminianism; and at times has been argued as Semi-Pelagian. It has brought constant posts, disagreements and differences among a number of leaders within the SBC. From the beginning, Calvinists have taken the time, on a number of platforms, to respond by pointing out their differences with the Ten Articles, none of which excel Rev. Dr. Tom Ascol’s 13 part series titled “Response to A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”
I have seen a number disagreements with almost every point of the Ten Article Preamble, including Number 10 which concerns The Great Commission. As a matter of fact, The Rev. Dr. Tom Ascol, from my reading and understanding, did not disagree with Article Ten: The Great Commission. Article ten states,
We affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth. We affirm that the proclamation of the Gospel is God’s means of bringing any person to salvation. We deny that salvation is possible outside of a faith response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Scriptural proof text, the writers of this article use the following:
Psalm 51:13; Proverbs 11:30; Isaiah 52:7; Matthew 28:19-20; John 14:6; Acts 1:8; 4:12; 10:42-43; Romans 1:16, 10:13-15; 1 Corinthians 1:17-21; Ephesians 3:7-9; 6:19-20; Philippians 1:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:1-5.
It is what the “Traditional SBCers ” affirm that brings some concern and is in need of clarification for a proper understanding and doctrinal agreement for myself. Two things come to my mind after reading the 10th Article along side their Scriptural proof texts.
The first concerns the fact that the SBC has remained dominantly Dispensational in their hermeneutics. Seeing the writers use proof texts in the Old Testament, such the Psalms and Isaiah, while applying them to the New Testament people of God seems to be a move towards a more covenantal hermeneutic.
The second applies to Article Ten which states “that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth.” This is proof texted by Matthew 28:19-20. I would like to see some clarification on what is meant by “commissioned His church.” What does “His church” mean in the Article? Is it every single individual member of the church? Is it the commission of the church? Does it mean that the commission was given to the offices of the church? Is this “great” commission given to both men and women of the church?
Maybe it is time that the “Traditional Baptists” of the SBC take a look at their elder brothers of the Protestant Faith such as the “Particular” Baptist. The 1689 London Baptist Confession (LBC) chapter 28 sections 1 & 2 state the following,
1. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world. 2. These holy appointments are to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ. Scriptural Proof Text: Matthew 28:19-20.
What American Evangelicals, such as the SBC have commonly titled The Great Commission and used as a Scriptural proof for the Church to evangelize has lost its theological intent and audience. Here in the LBC (as well in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 28 & The Belgic Confession Article 34 ) traditionally Protestants have seen Matthew 28:19-20 not as The Great Commission, but as the Apostles Commission, or better said The Apostles Ordination by Jesus Christ.
Here Jesus ordaining the disciples into the office of Apostleship, passing the keys and authority that had been given to Him from His father, telling the Apostles their commission, “to teach and baptize… to all the nations” meaning both to the Jew and Gentile takes place before His ascension. Later in the New Testament, it is this office of Apostles and commission of teaching and baptizing that had been given to them by Jesus Christ himself that is passed to the office of the teaching elder. (Cf. Acts 14:23, 20:28; Titus 1:5) As John Calvin gives light to the original intent and theological importance of the passage to the church today;
Now since this charge is expressly given to the apostles along with the preaching of the word, it follows that none can lawfully administer baptism but those who are also the ministers of doctrine. When private persons, and even women, are permitted to baptize, nothing can be more at variance with the ordinance of Christ, nor is it any thing else than a mere profanation.”