3rd Annual Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies Conference

December 4, 2008

Be sure to mark on your calendar the 3rd Annual Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies Conference being held at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY from August 24-25, 2009. This looks to be a great conference!

The theme is “Baptist Spirituality: Historical Perspectives.”

The plenary sessions are as follows (the parallel papers will be added later):

Monday August 24

9:00 AM – Crawford Gribben – “Irish Baptist Piety in the 17th Century”

10:25 AM – Michael Haykin – “Welsh Baptist Piety in the 17th and 18th Centuries”

11:45 AM – Robert Strivens – “The Piety of English Dissent: Philip Doddridge and Eighteenth-Century Baptists”

8:40 PM – Greg Thornbury – “Baptist Spirituality and Theological Education”

Tuesday August 25

8:45 AM – Kevin Smith – “African-American Baptist Piety”

11:30 AM – Tom Nettles – “The Piety of James Petigru Boyce”

2:15 PM – Greg Wills – “Relevance, Severity, and Spiritual Power in Baptist Piety”

3:30 PM – Gerald Priest – “Fundamental Baptists and the Holy Life”

7:15 PM – Jason Lee – “The Piety of John Smyth”

8:30 PM – Malcolm Yarnell – “17th and 18th Century General Baptist Piety: Its Significance for Today”

Solution for the Dead

November 14, 2008

“… the sinner can find no fault with the gospel of Christ, yet the perpetual language of his heart is, away with it. He hates–he abhors it. Truth as it is (and his conscience bears witness to its truth), he will not receive it. He hates both the gospel and its author–he has seen and hated, both Christ and his Father. Such is his rooted hatred to the gospel that nothing but Divine power can remove it.”

— Alexander Stewart 1774-1840 – Founding Pastor of the oldest Baptist church in Ontario

Quoted in Glenn Tomlinson, From Scotland to Canada: The Life of Pioneer Missionary Alexander Stewart (Guelph, ON: Joshua Press, 2008), p. 152.


A Reissue of the Prayer Call

July 15, 2008

Prayer is the effectual means for accomplishing the will of God in this age. What does this mean? It means that God uses our prayers as ordained means for accomplishing His end. This means that prayer is the lifeblood of the church. It is through prayer, not through marketing agendas, that God brings revival and fresh movings of the Holy Spirit. Historically this has always been the case. It was always through renewed efforts of prayer amongst the churches that God used to move the Spirit and bring revival with men and women repenting and turning to Jesus Christ.

John Sutcliff of Olney (1752-1814) was the pastof of the Baptist church in Olney, Buckinghamshire. He was a close friend of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) and helped in the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society which sent out William Carey (1764-1831) to India. In 1784 Sutcliff recommended that the churches in the Northamptonshire Association  add to their services a monthly prayer meeting devoted to seeking revival from God. He had been influenced by the great Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) work, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and visible Union of God’s people in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time (1748).

Sutcliffe called the churches to set aside the first Monday of every month to pray for God’s outpouring of His Holy Spirit and the resultant revival in Great Britain.

The prayer call was circulated to the churches in the association in the 1784 circular letter. Most likely attributed to Sutcliff, he wrote regarding the prayer call:

The grand object in prayer is to be, that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinenrs may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. At the same time remember, we trust you will nto confine your requests to your own societies or to your own immediate connection; let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately rememberd, and the spread of the gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests. We shall rejoice if any other Christian societies of our own or other denomination will unite with us, and do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.

Who can tell what the consequences of such an united effort in prayer may be! Let us plead with God the many gracious promises of His word, which relate to the future success of His gospel. He has said, “I will yet for this be inquired of by the hosue of Israel, to do it for them, I will increase them with men like a flock” (Ezekiel 36:37). Surely we have love enough for Zion to set apart one hour at a time, twelve times in a year, to seek her welfare. (The Nature, Evidences, and Advantages, of Humility [Circular Letter of the Northamptonshire Association, 1784], p. 12).

So, my call today is to recommit to prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit and the bringing of revival. I call all pastors to institute at least an hour of prayer in their churches the first Monday of every month for the purpose of revival. God can use this prayer to accomplish His will. Do you want to see revival today in North America and around the world? Then we must as a people pray! Let us come together and seek the Lord’s face! Let us ask Him to bless us and use us to bring people to Christ!

 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1 Tim 2:8)

Pray continually. (1 Thess 5:17)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Eph 6:18)

Annual Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies Conference

May 4, 2008

Steave Weaver, the extraordinary PhD student at SBTS, pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church, and new Administrative Assistant of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies located at SBTS, has posted a reminder about the upcoming Andrew Fuller conference in Louisville, KY on August 25-26, 2008. You can see the update and a brochure of the conference here.

Make sure you are there and here me present my paper, “‘An Uncongenial Soil’: Thomas Patient (d.1666) and the Irish Baptists.”

Which Baptist History Text?

April 15, 2008

Which Baptist History text would you use to teach your people or your students the tradition of our forefathers and foremothers? When my former boss Michael Haykin was picking his text to use for his Baptist History class at SBTS this semester we had a brief discussion about what was the best Baptist History textbook. Is McBeth too long? Is Torbet too short? Is Oliver too specific?

What are your thoughts? This obviously presumes you would have your students reading primary source material, but what would you have them read when it comes to secondary material? What do you feel is the best Baptist History textbook?

John Gill (1697-1771), Defender of the Trinity in the English Enlightenment

January 15, 2008

Here’s some information extracted from my PhD research proposal. This will help for you to see where I hope to go with my dissertation.

Overall Aim

The overall aim of this dissertation is to examine the theological structure and exegetical details of the response of John Gill, the leading British Particular Baptist theologian of his era, to the challenge of the English Enlightenment, especially as it relates to the doctrine of the Trinity. From the perspective of Reformed orthodoxy, the English Enlightenment gave rise to a number of heterodox perspectives on the Trinity. Gill sought to provide a robust defence of a traditional orthodox teaching in the face of these heterodoxies, specifically in The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated which was published in two editions (1731 and 1752).

Specific Objectives

In order to accomplish the aim of this dissertation a number of objectives will need to be met.

First, a chapter surveying and evaluating the secondary literature on Gill will be necessary to put the work of this dissertation into context. A biographical chapter on John Gill will follow so as to introduce the reader to him and his life and contributions to theology. Third, an historical survey of heterodox views of the Trinity during the English Enlightenment will be outlined so as to provide the context in which Gill wrote his defence of orthodox teaching. Fourth, a detailed study of the theological structure of Gill’s work, The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated (1731/1752) will be developed to specifically see how Gill responded to the Enlightenment arguments concerning the Trinity. Fifth, there will be a chapter which will show how Gill developed his arguments in defence of the Trinity through solid biblical exegesis and through his understanding of the early church fathers on this issue. Finally, a concluding chapter will show how Gill’s Trinitarianism was maintained throughout his career as a Reformed theologian.

Explanation of Need for Dissertation

The orthodox teaching of the Trinity remained unchallenged from the time of the Ancient church until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the rise of the English Enlightenment. Through the Socinian and Arian denials of the Trinity, this anti-trinitarian thinking began to pervade conservative Christianity. It became necessary for religious leaders to confront this teaching. The stalwart Particular Baptist theologian John Gill rose to the challenge to defend Trinitarianism. It was through Gill that Particular Baptist were spared this departure into anti-trinitarianism.

Even though Gill is known as one of the greatest theologians of the Baptist tradition, very little has been actually written on him or his thought. And what has been done on Gill has focused on his understanding of salvation, especially in the debate as to whether Gill was a hyper-Calvinist or not (see the issue below in my brief biography of Gill). Gill’s thought goes far beyond soteriology and issues of Calvinism. This self-taught theologian truly was a giant amongst men when it came to the exegesis and exposition of Scripture and his understanding of theology. Therefore, it is necessary to study Gill more in depth and less on the area of soteriology. Gill’s work on the Trinity is masterfully developed especially as it interacts with Enlightenment denials of the Trinity. It is a model of biblical and historical exegesis and needs to be studied further.

With the current historical fascination with the Enlightenment and Enlightenment thinking it behooves the historian to understand better the Enlightenment and specifically their argumentation against various areas of orthodox Christian theology. Their argumentation in denial of the Trinity is of extreme importance, and therefore, needs to be studied, and the argumentation of those against the Enlightenment thinkers needs to be explored. This is where this study comes in. It is important to put this debate over the Trinity into historical context and understand a key thinker like Gill who was responding to this debate. Since so little is actually written on Gill, this dissertation will fill a much needed gap in Gill studies and hopefully Enlightenment thought studies as well.

Historical and Scholarly Context of Dissertation

Gertrude Himmelfarb has shown that there was not some monolithic movement called the Enlightenment, but that different countries had their own Enlightenments. France had quite a different Enlightenment than England for instance.[1] England’s Enlightenment was more moderate than France’s. Yet, it had its own particular challenges. While France moved toward atheism, England moved into areas of Arianism. This “Age of Reason” denied much of the supernatural from the Scriptures and believed that their embracing of logic and reason could eliminate that which was based upon “faith” which included much of what was distinctive to orthodox theology like the doctrine of the Trinity. And while Trinitarians were more learned than their anti-trinitarian enemies, the anti-trinitarians were better writers and thus lead to the continued denial of much of what was distinctively orthodox Christianity.[2]

In fact, both Socinianism and Arianism in England in the late 17th and 18th century began to dismiss the doctrine of the Trinity as an invention of the early church and an unnecessary adoption of Greek logical thinking to theology. Samuel Clarke in particular of the Arian controversy wrote his Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712) which had Arian tendencies. This particular controversy came to a head in the Salter’s Hall Synod (1719).[3] Here Presbyterians, Independents, Particular and General Baptist met to discuss whether ministers could be asked to subscribe to a Trinitarian creed. The Presbyterians and General Baptists voting no, moved into areas of Unitarianism and other heretical doctrines. The Independents and Particular Baptists though voted yes and remained faithful to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.Yet, these Trinitarian controversies created confusion amongst many individuals. Isaac Watts (1674–1748), the hymn-writer, for instance near the end of his life, re-wrote a number of his works and never did seem to have a clear understanding of orthodox Trinitarianism.[5] Robert Robinson (1735–1790), the Baptist pastor and hymn-writer, seemed to deny Trinitarian theology near the end of his life as well.[6] The issue of the Trinity is incredibly important even today as many continue to deny this core theological doctrine.

While there is continued interest in the doctrine of the Trinity, there has been a failure to really understand the English Enlightenment denial of the Trinity and the continued orthodox affirmation and defence of the Trinity during this time. For instance, in his recent detailed work on the Trinity, Robert Letham argues that conservative Reformed theologians have contributed little to the doctrine of the Trinity since the time of John Calvin (1509–1564) until the twentieth century.[7] Yet, the defence of the Trinity in the seventeenth and eighteenth century is a crucial part of the story of the church’s teaching on this crucial doctrine.

John Gill (1697–1771) amongst the Particular Baptists vigorous defence of the Trinity as it had been held since the early church is important in the discussion of the Trinity in the eighteenth century. Muller writes, “Among the British writers of the late orthodox era, the Particular Baptist John Gill stands out as a defender of the doctrine of the Trinity as ‘a doctrine of pure revelation’ to the setting aside of all but biblical argumentation and patristic usage.”[8] With the rise of interest in Enlightenment studies and Enlightenment thinking on religious issues and doctrine, it is important to look at the orthodox response to English Enlightenment thinking, especially on an issue as important as the Trinity. Gill is such a person that must be studied. Not only did he study the Scriptures and the early church in his defence of the Trinity, he lived out his ministry with a complete commitment to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. His biographer John Rippon (1751–1836) and the pastor who followed him at his Carter Lane Church wrote of him regarding the influence his thinking on the Trinity had on his ministry. He writes,

The Doctor not only watched over his people, “with great affection, fidelity, and love;” but he also watched his pulpit also. He would not, if he knew it, admit any one to preach for him, who was either cold-hearted to the doctrine of the Trinity; or who denied the divine filiation of the Son of God; or who objected to conclude his prayers with the usual doxology to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three equal Persons in the one Jehovah. Sabellians, Arians, and Socinians, he considered as real enemies of the cross of Christ. They dared not ask him to preach, nor could he in conscience, permit them to officiate for him. He conceived that, by this uniformity of conduct, he adorned the pastoral office.[9]

[1] Getrude Himmelfarb, The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Essex, England: Vintage Books, 2005).
[2]See Philip Dixon, ‘Nice and Hot Disputes’: The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventeenth Century (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2003), p. 215.
[3] For more on this see Roger Thomas, “The Non-Subscription Controversy amongst Dissenters in 1719: the Salter’s Hall Debate,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 4 (1953): 162–186.
[4]See Arthur Paul Davis, Isaac Watts: His Life and Works (Published PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 1943), pp. 109–126.
[5]See Two Original Letters by the Late Mr. Robert Robinson (London: J. Marsom, 1802). For the whole story of Robinson’s life see Graham W. Hughes, With Freedom Fired: The Story of Robert Robinson, Cambridge Nonconformist (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1955).
[6] Robert Letham, The Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), pp. ix–x.
[7] Richard A. Muller, The Triunity of God in his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), IV, 140. Despite the lack of scholarly study in the Baptist stream of historical theology, Gill can rightly be included in the stream of other Post-Reformation Reformed theologians and thus is important to be studied in and of himself (see Richard A. Muller, “John Gill and the Reformed Tradition: A Study in the Reception of Protestant Orthodoxy in the Eighteenth Century,” in Michael A. G. Haykin, ed., The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697–1771): A Tercentennial Appreciation (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2007): 51–68. See especially pp. 55–56.
[8] John Rippon, A Brief Memoir of the Life and Writings (Reprint ed., Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1992), 127–128. Emphasis in original.

Brief Biography of John Gill (1697-1771)

January 15, 2008

The following is the brief biography I wrote for the up-coming 3 volume Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization from Blackwell Publishers this year. Since I’m working more specifically on Gill I thought I should briefly introduce him!

John Gill was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire on November 23, 1697 to Edward and Elizabeth Gill. His parents were God-fearing individuals of the Calvinistic Baptist tradition. His father served as a deacon in the Baptist work in Kettering. Gill grew up in a good Christian home. His early years were spent studying in the local grammar school where he excelled in languages. Unfortunately, he was no longer able to attend by the age of 11 since it was required that students attend morning prayer at the parish church. His parents being dissenters would not allow this. This was the end of Gill’s formal education but he spent his time wisely teaching himself and not only excelled in Greek and Latin but was quite adept at Hebrew by the age of nineteen.

He was converted to Christ at the age of twelve but was not baptized until he was nineteen on November 1, 1716. He was married to Elizabeth Negus (d. 1764) in 1718 and they had three children that lived beyond infancy: Elizabeth, John, and Mary. The church at Kettering recognized his gifts as a preacher and in 1719 became pastor of the famous Horselydown congregation in London. Benjamin Keach had previously served as pastor in this church and eventually C. H. Spurgeon would become pastor of this church.

Gill would become a prolific author and influential theologian of the Particular Baptist cause. His writings include The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated (1731), The Cause of God and Truth (1735–1738) which was a return to Daniel Whitby’s Discourse on the Five Points which was a refutation of Calvinism. His magnum opus was his three volume An Exposition of the New Testament (1746–1748) and his six volume Exposition of the Old Testament (1748–1763). He also wrote A Dissertation on the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language (1767), A Body of Doctrinal Divinity (1767) and A Body of Practical Divinity (1770). He received an honourary Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1748. He would become one of the most influential Baptist theologians ever.

The major controversy that has erupted over the influence of Gill has been over the issue of Hyper-Calvinism (the belief that unsaved man is not obligated to respond in faith in Christ and therefore preachers should not offer the Gospel to those who are the non-elect). Some have attributed to Gill to be the first systematizer of a Baptist Hyper-Calvinist theology. Others have argued that Gill was in fact not a Hyper-Calvinist. Regardless, it was during Gill’s time period when the Particular Baptist Churches began their decline into Hyper-Calvinism. Gill did believe in eternal justification (that the elect were justified in eternity past) and did not seem to appeal to all in the same way that further generations of Evangelical Calvinists did, but it seems difficult to say that Gill was undeniably in fact a Hyper-Calvinist. Instead, most likely, Hyper-Calvinists used Gill’s theology and went past him to solidify their own theology.

Gill is the first major writing Baptist theologian and his works retain its influence even to this day.

Baptists in the Stream of Reformation Thought

January 15, 2008

Just yesterday I posted about my concerns over the state of the future of Baptist Historical scholarship. Well, I have taken to study John Gill of late. Gill (1697-1771) has become my new best friend. I will be submitting my research proposal in the near future to Leiden University with the title “John Gill (1697-1771), Defender of the Trinity in the English Enlightenment.” I know this takes me in a different direction than my previously planned Andrew Fuller studies, but things do change. A new school, a new supervisor, and therefore in some ways, a new dissertation topic. It still fits my criteria: 18th century Particular Baptists; an important Baptist; a big theological issue. You cannot get much bigger than Gill and the Trinity debates in the 18th century.

But on to the point. In doing some reading by Richard Muller, I find it interesting that many of our future historical scholars do not feel the need to study our Baptist fathers. They are often more concerned about studying someone that will be respected by non-Baptist scholars. Well, here’s Muller, one of the finest Reformed and Post-Reformed historical theologians out there placing Gill in the same stream as other Post-Reformation theologians. GASP! Gill? A Baptist? Does that mean we can legitimately study Gill and other Baptists in and of themselves? Can it be a contribution? Listen to what Muller had to say about Gill:

“This brief survey of Gill’s sources indicates that, after the Bible, the main positive points of reference for Gill’s theology were the great Reformed and Puritan writers of the seventeenth century. The point is important for several reasons. In the first place, it locates Gill in relation to the Reformed dogmatic tradition, specifically, the tradition of Puritanism and its continental analogue, post-Reformation Reformed orthodoxy. Second, without in any way diminishing Gill’s commitment to the distinctive teachings of the Baptist churches, it identifies the larger number of his theological antecedents as thinkers not belonging to the Baptist tradition: Gill was not, in other words, an insular thinker, but he was clearly selective. Third, the point establishes Gill as a highly independent thinker in a relative sense: he was able to exert a degree of independence over against even his most trusted sources in order to position himself within the Particular Baptist tradition and in the context of the problems and debates confronting theology in the mid-eighteenth century. Fourth, Gill ws able, given the kind of sources with which he was acquainted, to produce a theology that was at once fundamentally Baptist and largely Reformed, and that because of its stance on a solid traditionary ground, was also able to maintain its distance from and dissonance with many of the currents of eighteenth-century theology” (Richard A. Muller, “John Gill and the Reformed Tradition: A Study in the Reception of Protestant Orthodoxy in the Eighteenth Century,” in Michael A. G. Haykin, ed., The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697-1771): A Tercentennial Appreciation [Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1997], pp. 55-56).

My point? Particular Baptists are worthy to be studied in and of themselves. They are (like Gill for example) part of the stream of Reformed and Post-Reformation orthodox thought. In fact, someone like Gill, made many contributions to theology that need to be studied out. You do not have to feel like you need to study someone out of the Baptist stream of history to prove yourself to scholarship. Here is Muller showing us that someone like Gill can stand alone and be studied on his own merit because Particular Baptists, just like Presbyterians and Independents made valuable contributions to theology, polity, spirituality, and many other areas and therefore are worthy to be studied alongside our other Reformed friends!

The Future of Baptist Historical Scholarship

January 14, 2008

I am concerned for the future of Baptist historical scholarship sometimes. I have spoke with Baptist friends with a great love of the Baptist faith (most specifically the Particular Baptist stream) who feel that they need to do work in the area of other individuals outside the Baptist stream to prove themselves in scholarship to those outside of the Baptist stream. If we do work in Puritans, Presbyterians, Independents, etc., then we can prove ourselves to the scholarly world. They know that those kinds of dissertations and such will also prove themselves to Baptist scholarship, so they say it is okay. I am not thinking of anyone in particular here as I have heard this kind of thinking from a number of individuals.

In my opinion then the Baptist cause suffers. I spoke with someone from a Baptist publishing company just last week about the possibility of reprinting some early Baptist works, but there is just not the money nor seemingly, the interest out there. But no offense to my good friends at the Banner, but they do not seem to have to worry about reprinting all of their good Presbyterian friends! What about the Baptists? Why do they have to take second chair to everyone else?

Where are all the Baptist scholars out there? Where are the Michael Haykin’s? Where are the Tom Nettles? I know I am no Baptist history expert. But I do have a love for Baptist history and want to see the stream of our Baptist forefathers explored further and taught and loved and written about. I want to see more people writing about Baptist history and our Baptist forefathers.

My call to you is, if you are considering historical research and study and are a Baptist, do not just decide to study Edwards or Owen or anyone else like that. Study Gill, Keach, Fuller, Spurgeon, etc. We have a great history in our Baptist circles. Let’s see the future of Baptist historical scholarship grow and develop! Let’s see old books republished and new books written! Let’s study these men and women’s lives. Let’s love where we have come from!

Are Baptists Part of the Protestant Reformation?

October 31, 2007

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, which sparked perhaps one of the greatest events in the history of the church of Jesus Christ, the Protestant Reformation. Protestants (who protested against the established church) sought a Reformation (a change in the church to return to the essence of the Scriptures) which has changed the face of the entire Christian church since then. A focus on the sources (ad fontes) of Scripture brought the church back to what became 5 pillars of a return to New Testament Christianity. These are:

1) Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone

2) Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone

3) Solo Christo – By Christ Alone

4) Sola Fide – By Faith Alone

5) Soli Deo Grloria – Glory to God Alone

Even while modern day Protestants trace their roots to the Reformation, there are many within Baptist circles that would argue that Baptists are not part of the Protestant Reformation. They would see a distinct difference in origin for Baptists than the Reformation. So, the question must be asked, are Baptists part of the Protestant Reformation?

Views on the Origin of Baptists

There are, to make it simplified, four different views on Baptist origins (please note I am indebted to my former Church History professor, Gerald Priest at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary for first presenting these truths to me). These are:

1) Strict organic successionist view.

There has always been a succession of Baptist churches throughout history beginning with the first Baptist church of Jerusalem. Dissenters from the earliest times were Baptists with different names.

2) Anabaptist kinship view.

Early seventeenth century Baptists were influenced by continental anabaptists.

3) Spiritual kinship view.

This is the continuation of biblical teachings view or spiritual successionism. There is a ontinuity of Baptist concepts. In other words, there is no “trail of blood” but there is a iscernable “trail of truth.”

4) British separatist view.

The Baptist denominations originated out of the Puritan Separatist Movement n seventeenth century England.

There is of course a mixing of these different views but these are essentially the normal views taken.

Historical Arguments for the British Separatist View

Now, this is a huge topic and one that could be devoted whole books to, but I will refer you to the recent presentation of this material by my former Church History professor here for more details. See him for a presentation of arguments against Baptists being derived from the Protestant Reformation. Briefly though, let me outline a few historical reasons FOR viewing Baptists as deriving from the Protestant Reformation (see Priest for biblical arguments regarding the universal church).

1. The church of Jesus Christ has existed since Pentecost. Just because it is difficult to find historically groups throughout history who maintain a pure commitment to the NT church does not mean they did not exist. Regardless, the purity of the church has been maintained in the universal body of believers, not necessarily always in local churches. This helps us then to not attempt to force heretical groups into a Baptist mold just because they performed baptism by immersion.

2. The Second London Baptist Confession (1688) affirms both the universal and local aspects of the church in article 26, sections 1 and 2. Since Baptists affirm the universal church, this means that it is not necessary for there to be visible manifestations of the universal body in local bodies at every single moment throughout church history.

3. Just because Anabaptists (who did not truly come from the Protestant Reformation) and Baptists practice a similar form of baptism does not make them the same. There are some very major differences like pacifism, nonparticipation in government, and unwillingness to take
oaths among other things makes a real difference between the two groups.

4. Just because Baptists did not directly come out of the Roman Catholic church does not mean they are not part of the Protestant Reformation. They come out of British Puritan Separatism (which can be demonstrated historically) and therefore, since they derive their origin from the Reformation, so we can as well.

5. The First and Second London Confession of Faith mention that they are not Anabaptists. The Confession or Declaration of Faith by the General Baptists says the same thing.

6. John Smyth inaugurated the practice of believer’s baptism among his Separatist ollowers in 1609. After repudiating his baptism and attempting to merge his church with a Mennonite community, Thomas Helwys, John Murton, and their followers rejected Smyth and returned to England to found the first General Baptist church there in 1611.

7. In the 17th century, when some argued for a successionist view of the Baptist origin they were looked upon with suspicion as it sounded very Roman Catholic.

8. There were many different varieties of Anabaptism in the 17th century, not all of it biblical. Today most Anabaptists have no fellowship with Baptists.

This has been rather brief, but it is good to get an overall historical view of something and use it as a jumping off point so that others can investigate the issues for themselves. In conclusion though let it be said that whatever the origins, Baptists have attempted to derive their theology and practice from the New Testament and only the New Testament. Yet, when looking at the historical evidence, it does seem primarily true, that Baptists come not from a long line of succeeding groups, nor from the Anabaptists directly (there may be some influence there) but from the British Puritan Separatists. And they take their origin eventually out of the Protestant Reformation. So therefore, Baptists are part of the Protestant Reformation.

If you are a Baptist this day (Reformation Day) take heart and rejoice in what God has done in history to rescue the truths of the Scriptures and bring them back into the church and thank God for the privilege of being part of that Reformation!

Happy Reformation Day!