American Baptist Confessions
The earliest known reference by an association to a confession occurred in 1724, when the Philadelphia Association, in reply to a query concerning the Sabbath, referred to "the Confession of Faith, set forth by the elders and brethren met in London, 1689, and owned by us." Whether the Confession had been formally adopted is not indicated, but that it was the accepted standard of doctrine is evident. Formal adoption certainly is shown by Septenber 25, 1742, for on that date the Association in session at Philadelphia ordered a printing of a new edition. The churches paid for the printing job, which was done by Benjamin Franklin in 1743.
MISSISSIPPI BAPTIST CONFESSION OF FAITH, 1806
Non-Calvinistic Primitive Baptists.
SANDY CREEK CONFESSION, 1816
Though the Sandy Creek Association was constituted in 1758, it was fifty-eight years before these brethren got around to formally adopting their principles of faith. But form was never their strong point, as compared to substance. Their earliest associations were conducted without formal officers or even a business meeting, though they did keep records of the meetings. They considered the worship service too important to be imposed upon by a formal business session. In like manner, they asserted that Holy Scripture provided a substantial statement of their beliefs; consequently, they didn't place much value on Confessions of Faith as a form of expression of beliefs.
Their first attempt at a written confession reveals the validity of their assertion as to the sufficiency of scripture. The document is well organized and to the point. In ten short statements the Sandy Creek brethren express their belief in the essential points of the doctrines of grace. It is easily understood. One can well imagine the members and friends of the association using the document as a study guide.
The Sandy Creek Principles of Faith, as a document, is a reasonable statement of the doctrines of grace. Its brevity does not allow detailed explanations. Neither does it confuse the reader. It is truly an outline. While refusing to be bound to written articles of faith nevertheless its authors understood they would be identified by this document. They were careful to pen a confession which identified their doctrine but left the reader some degree of liberty to define it. They recognized their need for a document indicating commonly held beliefs but were wise to realize that a comprehensive statement could cause confusion or even schism.
They did not fall into the trap of those who wrote confessions which are so comprehensive and detailed as to give the impression they are exhaustive in scope, making them binding creeds. Such detailed, uninspired works, when formally adopted, take on the appearance of divine inspiration, making them canonical creeds in the minds of their subscribers. The Sandy Creek brethren were aware of such snares and had no desire for interpretations and applications of men to supplant the authority of scripture. Evidently, they wrote a minimal declaration of their faith to avoid the temptation of elevating their statement of belief to the level of scriptural authority. Their Principles of Faith Confession was intended to identify, not to define, their beliefs. As such, it is well written and functional.
Elder Michael N. Ivey, "A Welsh Succession
of Primitive Baptist Faith and Practice"
THE NEW HAMPSHIRE
BAPTIST CONFESSION OF FAITH, 1833
This Confession was drawn up by the Rev. John Newton Brown, D. D., of New Hampshire (b. 1803, d. 1868), about 1833, and has been adopted by the New Hampshire Convention, and widely accepted by Baptists, especially in the Northern and Western States, as a clear and concise statement of their faith, in harmony with the doctrines of older confessions, but expressed in milder form. The text is taken from the Baptist Church Manual, published by the American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia.
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TREATISE ON THE FAITH AND
PRACTICE OF THE FREE WILL BAPTISTS, 1834 AND 1948
Originally founded by Benjamin Randall in about 1779, after removing himself from the Calvinistic Baptists in New Hampshire who became very critical of his theological views. Benjamin Randall joined an Arminian Baptist church at Strafford, NH and was ordained in April, 1779 by two Arminian churches. His founding of a Free Will church at Durham, NH in June, 1779 was but the beginning of a highly successful ministry of gathering churches and of binding them together in Quarterly and Yearly Meetings.
For a time the new denomination had no confession of faith and was opposed to the use of confessions, but in the third decade of the nineteenth century this attitude began to change. The General Conference, organized in 1827, made up of delegates from Yearly Meetings, agree in 1832 that a treatise on Free Will Baptist doctrine and practice was needed. Two years were spent in preparing the treatise and was adopted in April, 1834. It was revised and enlarged in 1848.
In light of the gradual changes in doctrine and practice, the General Conferences of 1865 and 1868 raised the question of a revision of both the "Confession" and the "Usages". Early in the 20th Century it was evident that Calvinistic theology of many Baptists, especially in the North, had been considerably modified. Free Will Baptists realized that the larger body of Baptists in the North had come to approximate their theological position, and in 1911 they merged with the Northern Convention.
In the South, the group known as the The Original Free Will Baptists maintained a separate existence, and in the first half of the 20th century exhibited considerable vitality.
THE ABSTRACT OF
When the original charter of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was adopted in 1858 it contained the following statement which constitutes as a part of the "fundamental laws." "Every professor of the institution shall be a member of a regular Baptist Church; and all persons accepting professorships in this Seminary shall be considered, by such acceptance, as engaging to teach in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Abstract of Principles hereinafter laid down, a departure from which principles on his part shall be grounds for his resignation or removal by the Trustees.
COMPEND OF CHRISTIAN
DOCTRINES HELD BY BAPTISTS, 1866
Produced by W.W. Everts in 1866 while serving as pastor of First Baptist Church in Chicago, IL, this Compend of Christian Doctrines Held by Baptists is a well-balanced catechism overall but with several unusual features distinguishing it from others.
» It does not entirely escape the influence of its historical proximity to the Civil War.
» The series of questions on the family and beatitudes appear to be without precedent in Baptist
» Church successionism finds expression in the catechetical format (III. 30) when the question is asked,
"What is the age of the Baptist?"
According to the answer, Baptists do not
claim any human founder but trace their origin directly to the age and teaching
of the Apostles; thus, Baptists are "older than Protestantism or Papacy".
The philosophical methodology involded in establishing the truth of the catechetical responses provides another interesting feature of this catechism. Everts combines human intuition, universal rationality, pagan religion and, at all times, science to establish a basis for an answer that is finally proven by Scripture.
The theology of Everts' catechism is Calvinistic. Total depravity foundations the soteriological section; men are made sinners by "inheriting a sinful nature,..."
ARTICLES OF FAITH PUT
FORTH BY THE BAPTIST BIBLE UNION OF AMERICA, 1923
The Baptist Bible Union, which had its beginning in a "Call and Manifesto", 1921, by one hundred and thirty conservatives to reject Baptist agencies disloyal to traditional beliefs, was designed to support only doctrinally sound schools and missionaries, and to circulate safe literature.
After the waning of the Fundamentalist controversy after 1928 and unwise leadership policies of the Union, a rapid decline resulted in the sudden death of the body.1
The outstanding leader of the Union was T. T. Shields, head of the board of Des Moines University, and it appears he was chiefly responsible for the Confession of Faith of the group. The Confession, remarkably concise and definite, was printed with Scripture passages quoted in full with each article and with a church covenant.
"Baptist Confessions of Faith", Lumpkin [The Reformed Reader's
version is from the pamphlet form and does not
contain the original scripture passages or church covenant.]
1Furniss, op. cit., 106-109
AND MESSAGE, 1925
The 1925 Statement recommended "the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, revised at certain points, and with some additional articles growing out of certain needs . . . ." Your present committee has adopted the same pattern. It has sought to build upon the structure of the 1925 Statement, keeping in mind the "certain needs" of our generation. At times it has reproduced sections of the Statement without change. In other instances it has substituted words for clarity or added sentences for emphasis. At certain points it has combined articles, with minor changes in wording, to endeavor to relate certain doctrines to each other. In still others-e.g., "God" and "Salvation"-it has sought to bring together certain truths contained throughout the 1925 Statement in order to relate them more clearly and concisely. In no case has it sought to delete from or to add to the basic contents of the 1925 Statement.
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AND MESSAGE, 1963
On May 9, 1963, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a revised summary of the Southern Baptist faith. The committee's report says in part:
Baptists emphasize the soul's competency before God, freedom in religion, and the priesthood of the believer. However, this emphasis should not be interpreted to mean that there is an absence of certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish, and with which they have been and are now closely identified. It is the purpose of this statement of faith and message to set forth certain teachings which we
On June 9, 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention added an eighteenth section, "The Family," to the seventeen sections adopted in 1963. The complete text of the committees' reports and the entire Baptist Faith and Message can be found below.
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» Report of Committee on Baptist Faith and Message, May 9, 1963
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» Report of the Presidential Theological Study Committe, June, 1994
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» Report of Committee on Baptist Faith and Message, June 9, 1998
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» Comparison of 1963 and 2000 Amendment
Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.
In the course of history words change. In our day this has happened to the word "evangelical." In the past it served as a bond of unity between Christians from a wide diversity of church traditions. Historic evangelicalism was confessional. It embraced the essential truths of Christianity as those were defined by the great ecumenical councils of the church. In addition, evangelicals also shared a common heritage in the "solas" of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.
Today the light of the Reformation has been significantly dimmed. The consequence is that the word "evangelical" has become so inclusive as to have lost its meaning. We face the peril of losing the unity it has taken centuries to achieve. Because of this crisis and because of our love of Christ, his gospel and his church, we endeavor to assert anew our commitment to the central truths of the Reformation and of historic evangelicalism. These truths we affirm not because of their role in our traditions, but because we believe that they are central to the Bible.
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