PART THREE : Historic Confessions of Faith
Three Primitive Baptist Confessions of Faith
Previously, we have offered a brief discussion of the Particular Baptists' 1644 and 1689 London Confessions. In particular, the discussion identified the striking similarities of the Presbyterian 1646 Westminster Confession and the 1689 London Confession. The detail and scope of their correspondence forces us to conclude that the London Confession is a slightly modified version of the older Presbyterian creed. We have offered several possibilities as to why the Particular Baptists used the Westminster Confession as a model for their Confession.
We will now attempt to survey three Baptist statements of belief which bear little resemblance to either the London or Westminster Confessions. The scope of diversity of these confessions, from those mentioned above, includes language style, detail, breadth of subject matter and theological content.
Three Confessions of Faith warrant special consideration as principle statements of primitive Baptist orthodoxy. They are the 1655 Midland Association Confession of Faith, the 1777 Reformed Kehukee Association Articles of Faith, and the 1816 Sandy Creek Association Principles of Faith. Their importance is both theological and historical. Their theological significance is found in both what they say, and what they do not say as compared to the better known London and Philadelphia Confessions of Faith. Beyond their theological content as compared and contrasted to those confessions, of paramount importance are their contents relative to scriptural validation.
The historical importance of these Confessions rests with the issue of succession. They provide a view of what our forefathers believed. Considering their similarities and differences allows us to determine the degree of mutual belief which their authors held with one another and also, which we hold with them. Historically they allow us to determine if they held the faith once delivered to the saints. Of course, this determination is not made in a vacuum. Historical succession is always and primarily considered in the context of scriptural validation of the essential principles of faith. If we all believe the same doctrine, and it is erroneous, we may in fact possess a line of succession but it is not an unbroken line back to Christ.
A small liberty is taken in calling these three Confessions Primitive Baptist Confessions of Faith. In so doing I disclose my slight prejudice. However, I believe this liberty is both accurate and merited. It is accurate, as we shall see, because the essential principles contained in each confession are primitive in their origin, which is Holy Scripture, and because they accurately define the principles of faith held by contemporary Primitive Baptists. Each Confession accurately describes the essential faith which was one time delivered to our ancient brethren.
Associating the Primitive Baptist name with these Confessions is merited for the purposes of distinction and succession. While it is not claimed that they are standards for subsequent Articles of Faith, they do function quite well as landmarks. The model or standard for Confessions of Faith must be scripture. However, it is quite beneficial to call up old confessions from centuries past and make comparisons. They tell us if we have strayed from the doctrinal tenets of our theological ancestry. When agreement is found, evidence of continuous succession of these truths is also found. Succession of truth is an identifying principle of the true church, since her doctrine and practice is derived from the faith which was once (one time) delivered to the saints of God.
The purpose of examining these three Confessions is twofold. First, individual analysis allows exploration into what brethren of their day believed, how they expressed it, and when applicable, what issues of faith or practice were exigent at the time. Second, a comparative analysis is made to explore both similarities and differences in the three Confessions. From this, assumptions may be pursued as to the influence these earlier Confessions may have had on subsequent statements of belief.
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