committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

350 YEARS OF BAPTIST HISTORY
by Pastor G. Holmes Moore
Bible Baptist Church of St. Louis, MO

1988 marked 350 years of continuous Baptist history in America! The first Baptist churches were established in 1638 in the colony of Rhode Island. One was established in Providence by Roger Williams, and the other in Newport by John Clarke. Williams was only a Baptist for a brief period and his church was not long lived, so Baptist history is better traced through Clarke and the Newport church.

Our church was founded in 1954 as an independent Baptist church. We have never been a Denominational church in the sense of belonging to some Convention or Association. However, we are Baptists by conviction and hold, in doctrine and polity, to the historic and regular Baptist position, believing that to be the Biblical position.

Be sure to read the following article that points out the Calvinistic bent of Baptists in this country from the earliest times. Most Baptists know little of this history, particularly as it relates to doctrine.

 

THREE HUNDRED FIFTY YEARS OF CONTINUOUS BAPTIST HISTORY IN AMERICA

"Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein." (Jer. 6:16)

It should be made perfectly clear that when we speak of Baptists, we are not referring to any particular Denomination, Convention, Fellowship, or Association as an outward, visible organization of churches. We intend a people, traced by their vital principles and gospel practices. History is appealed to, not as necessary to legitimacy as a church or authoritative, but merely as a demonstration of the fact that OUR DOCTRINE IS NOT NEW. Only conformity to biblical principles can constitute any assembly as a TRUE CHURCH OF CHRIST. We do not need, nor do we seek, an historical succession to grant validity to our church and its doctrine. The Bible is sufficient to do that for us, or any other church.

However, the testimony of history, rightly viewed, is important and useful. We feel that it is in the interest of all Christians to have a general knowledge of Church History, particularly as it traces "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." We do not believe that Baptists have any corner on God or history, but we do believe that Baptists have, under God, had an important part in maintaining the testimony of Christ in this world from the earliest times down to the present. Perhaps what follows will prove of interest and benefit to all of God's people.

 

THE FIRST AMERICAN BAPTIST WERE CALVINISTS

The first Baptists in America, whether at Newport or Providence, were distinctly Calvinistic in their doctrine rather than Arminian. Both Roger Williams and John Clarke were Puritan Separatists. Williams was a graduate of Cambridge, famous at that time for its Puritanical Calvinism, (The Christian in Complete Armour, Gurnall, from the Introduction by J. C. Ryle, p. xix) Some of the most renown of the Puritan writers were graduated during that same period, such as Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Hooker, John Cotton, Matthew Poole, Thomas Watson, and Stephen Charnock, just to name a few. Of course, it is common knowledge that seventeenth century Cambridge was a staunch ally to Cromwell and the Long Parliament, and produced many of the divines of the famous Westminster Assembly. The worthy Westminster Confession greatly influenced the London Confession of the English Baptists, which was one with it in soteriology. (Baptist Confessions of Faith, Lumpkin, pp. 236-240)

Although we don't have exact information of Clarke's education, he exhibited such "a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew such as men seldom gained in England outside of the universities". (A Short History of Baptists, p. 293, Vedder) Concerning William's church, Vedder says, "The original members were of Puritan antecedents and Calvinists;...". (Ibid, p. 292) Of Clarke's church, the same historian gives an account of a split that occurred in 1654 or 1656, brought on by an Arminian, "Six-principle" group, the like of which had earlier caused division in William's old church. (Ibid, pp. 293, 295) A successor of Clarke as pastor, Comer, said of the original body under Clarke that they maintained "the doctrine of efficacious grace, and professed the baptizing of only visible believers upon personal profession by total immersion in water...". (The History of the Baptists, Armitage, p. 671) Efficacious grace is, of course, irresistible grace, the heart of Calvinistic teaching touching regeneration. It implies the other "four points".

 

ARMINIAN BAPTISTS NEVER PREVAILED BEFORE THE PRESENT ERA

True enough, the Arminian faction among Baptists made their influence felt in early Baptist history, but never became the dominant force. The strict Calvinists gained and maintained the formative influence in New England, the Middle Atlantic, and also the South, and that from the earliest periods. This came to pass much by the formation of the Philadelphia Association. This group of Baptists are traceable back to at least 1684, and in 1688 a church was formed with its first pastor being Elias Keach, son of the famous Baptist minister of London, Benjamin Keach. Of its later published Confession of Faith, McGlothlin states, "It is an exact reprint of the Assembly Confession of 1689, with the addition of the following articles, taken verbatim from Keach's Confession." (Baptist Confessions of Faith, McGlothlin, p. 279) Its Calvinism was unchanged. Concerning the tremendous influence of the Philadelphia Association, Vedder says, "From the first the New Jersey churches were members, and as the body increased in age and strength it attracted to itself all the Baptist churches within traveling distance of it, having as members churches in southern New York and Virginia. Its adoption of a strongly Calvinistic Confession in 1742 (or possibly earlier) was a turning-point in the history of American Baptists, as it ensured the prevalence of that type of theology." (Ibid, p. 306) The same author goes so far as to say, "The Association speedily became the leading body among American Baptists -- a position it has not wholly lost to this day. Pretty much everything good in our history, from 1700 to 1850, may be traced to its initiative or active co-operation." (Ibid, p. 306) Vedder wrote in 1907, and nobody would dare call him a Calvinistic partisan.

Kenneth Good, in his book, Are Baptists Calvinists?, does a good job of tracing the Calvinistic influence that Vedder speaks of to the Baptist Bible Union and the General Association of Regular Baptists. (pp.188-216) All the various Fundamental Baptist groups have their roots back to this same source. Whether Fundamental or Southern, most Baptist churches of our day have for their Articles of Faith but a version of the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, with certain modifications. Although The New Hampshire Confession is more moderate in tone than the Philadelphia Confession, it was drawn up precisely to combat the message of the Free Will Baptists which was becoming popular at the time in that area. (Baptist Confessions of Faith, Lumpkin, p. 360) Therefore it still retained its distinctly Calvinistic theology purposely, and that for polemical reasons. It has always puzzled me why the longest single section of that confession has always been omitted by modern day Baptists. It is article ix, "Of God's Purpose of Grace."

"We believe that Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners; that being perfectly consistent with the free agency of man, it comprehends all the means in connection with the end; that it is a most glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy, and unchangeable; that it utterly excludes boasting, and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust in God, and active imitation of his free mercy; that it encourages the use of means in the highest degree; that it is ascertained by its effects in all who truly believe the gospel; that it is the foundation of Christian assurance; and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves, demands and deserves our utmost diligence." (Ibid, p. 364)

It has always seemed to me that any Baptist group, wishing to stand with the mainstream of the venerable Baptist past and desiring to be true to the gospel, would be proud to include such a biblical and Baptistic statement in its Articles of Faith. In fact, if purposely done, it seems to me to be historically dishonest to have omitted it, particularly when such Articles were and are set forth as representing the historic Baptist position.

Reprinted from Grace Baptist Church

 
 
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