Subject to change: A plea to young men

If you are a ministry-minded young man, you are “in the balance.”  Living in the information age affords access to more varied ministry philosophies than ever — so many blogs, tweets, posts and persuasive personalities to sort through.  Sooner or later, you will face what our former president George W. Bush termed a “decision point.”

 

I count as my strongest influences men who discipled me throughout my youth.  I was blessed by wise men who knew me, invested their time into me, and warned me.

Scripture addresses young men repeatedly.  The book of Proverbs is one example.  The Apostle Paul invested in the personal training of his young associates.  Many other examples could be cited but consider briefly the scenarios affecting three different younger men during several chapters of I and II Kings.  As a young man these passages gave me guidance that I needed, and I believe that they provide helpful instruction both for young men and those influencing them.

 

In I Kings 12, newly appointed King Rehoboam faces a choice between two opposing leadership philosophies.  He receives conflicting advice from two sources – the first from aged men, and other from his youthful peers.  To his detriment, he chooses the advice of his contemporaries.  Rehoboam stands as a warning — a young leader, at his “decision point,” wrecked by the faulty advice of youngful advisors.

 

I Kings 13 recounts a young prophet carrying a message from God.  This man meets an unnamed old prophet, and a kind one at that.  Even while claiming authority from God, the old prophet persuades the young prophet to act contradictory to God’s directives.  The young prophet’s life suddenly ends in tragedy, while the deceitful old prophet lives on.  The young prophet at his “decision point” was deceived through the duplicity of his older “prophet-friend.”

 

From II Kings 6 yet another lesson for young men emerges.  A fearful young man expresses despair at the sight of an army with horses and chariots surrounding his city.  The prophet Elisha assures his young servant that God’s forces outnumber the enclosing army, and then simply prays, “Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.”  The verse continues, “And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw…”  In answer to the prayer of a prophet, a young man understood for himself the power of God.  There stands a young servant safe and secure — pointed to God by a faithful, older saint.

 

Certainly, we want our sons and our sons in the faith to see God and His timeless truths for themselves.  No one disputes this.  To accomplish this, a young man needs courage to recognize and reject error in his persuasive peers.  But he also at times needs to discern the faulty direction of disobedient men, even though they are older, carry a title, and are very kind to them.

 

Do you share in this prayer of Elisha – open his eyes – for those you influence?  I do.  I pray this for my two sons.  I pray this for the students I teach.  I pray this for myself.

Psalm 119:18 says, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Every believer needs his spiritual eyes opened personally to God’s truth.  Young men, impressionable, and susceptible to altering course, will at some point find themselves in the balance – a place of decision about ministry philosophy.

 

A young, moldable man will receive a myriad of influences and an array of philosophies.  But he is not without hope or direction, because when an immutable God opens a young man’s eyes to His unchanging words, many practical ministry decisions are determined.  When you find yourself fascinated by the bandwagon of the latest ways of your peers, take a warning from the foolishness of Rehoboam.  On the other hand, learn the lesson of the demise of the young prophet who placed his confidence in the older prophet, but in so doing forsook God’s words.

 

As you establish a ministry philosophy, consider these four areas of concern:

 

  1. The significance of the shepherd

 

Upon the shoulders of a shepherd lies a vast measure of responsibility.  And why is this? Because shepherds guide sheep.  The office of the pastor correlates to the function of a shepherd, but rather than leading sheep, pastors guide people.  Just as sheep are to follow the voice of their shepherd, congregations are instructed to follow their pastors, as they follow God (Hebrews 13:7).  And as actual sheep learn to trust their own shepherds, so it is natural for church members to grow in confidence toward their pastors.  Correspondingly, a pastor will give account for his people (Hebrews 13:17), and this accountability weighs on a pastor in a way that many church members cannot fully understand (2 Corinthians 11:28).   While your own life is made of your choices, when you begin to guide others, the impact of your resolutions expands, affecting people – profoundly (Luke 12:48).

 

To go one step further, pastors do not influence just their own congregations.  A pastor who writes, posts sermons, or streams his church services can affect many others.  Churches host conferences which usually include a time when new ideas are proposed and discussed.  And when a man “experiences success,” others migrate toward him.  That is a part of the history of the independent Baptist movement.  The ability to exert influence beyond the four walls of one’s church has never been greater.

 

Along with heightened awareness of new movements and growing ministries comes the allurement, particularly to younger men, to react by shifting one’s positions.  This becomes his “decision point.”  Consider what faces a pastor who chooses to lead his congregation into a philosophical change.  First, he must get his own congregation on board with him, and that is not without some level of unrest, and in a discerning, discipled church, may prove a daunting task.  A leader who shifts positions also forces the hand of his “spiritual fathers.”  His “mentors” love him and do not wish to lose influence on him, yet they are forced to respond to his shift.  What are their options?  First, they could label his changes as wrong, thus losing influence over him and possibly his affection.  Second, they may accept his change and start to add more things to a growing list of non-essentials.  Third, they may attempt to overlook it — a “temporary fix” at best.  One way or another, a shift toward the contemporary must eventually be addressed.  With the understanding that all decisions have consequences, young pastors must be extremely cautious of the talk of the “new.”  New is not always better, nor is it free from wide-ranging effects.

 

  1. Caveat emptor

 

Caveat emptor – “Let the buyer beware.”  Before you “buy into” the latest wave of change, you do well to follow the Bible admonition to “count the cost.”  Unlike Amazon, the return policy on new ministry positions is not generous – at all.  Every decision has a consequence, but ministry decisions, because of their nature, result in multi-faceted ramifications.  1 Thessalonians 5:21 implores us to “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.”

 

When a leader embraces a ministry philosophy that includes a readiness to shift positions and practices, he needs to understand that he is not just gaining that new method or practice but also losing something as well.  Introducing new tastes and styles to a church has permanent consequences.  You will surrender ground that will never be regained.  Amen for gathered crowds, but don’t be so shallow as to embrace ministry change due to the ideas of successful crowd gatherers.  Someone will always be “bigger.”  There’s a driving force behind every ministry.  Independent Baptists state that the Bible is the sole authority, and rightfully so.  But how that Bible is to be applied in 2019 requires careful discernment (see the previous post – #7 “Chapter and Verse – by Pastor Brennan for a very practical discussion on this point).  No one wants to be misled, but how can a person “foresee” the direction a shift in their ministry philosophy will lead them?

 

  1. Identify the guide

 

Whether we care to admit it or not, we all have guides.  There are no self-made men.  Furthermore, men need guides.  So, men have and need guides.  Understanding this truth proves invaluable when considering ministry choices, because by identifying a man’s guides, you peer into his future.  Who doesn’t want to know what’s ahead?  Exercise due diligence and “vet” direction.  So before mimicking a change suggested by someone’s ministry, note his guides.

 

A man’s associations guide him.  Who are his friends in the ministry?  Everyone remembers the basic truth we learned in Friends 101 – “you are now or you soon shall be what your friends are.”  None of us are escaping that fact.  Look at a man’s friends.  They are affecting him.  My friends affect me, and yours influence you.

 

The books that a man reads become his guides.  Many men post reading lists.  They may list the books they have read recently, or even their personal recommended reading lists.  Without a doubt all reading requires discernment.  Even the best writers are at best just men.   But when it becomes apparent that someone with influence is championing the writings of those who have “already shifted,” take note.

 

Learning who a man’s friends are and seeing who he reads will go a long way in explaining the reasons for the changes a man makes in his ministry.  It’s the law of sowing and reaping.  The fruit of our ministry grows out of the seeds we choose to plant, not the least of which is our friends and our reading.

 

  1. Proper position, but poor practice

 

Those who “say, and do not” lay stumblingblocks before young men.  Leaders who preach holiness and accompanying standards while living contradictory lives are used by many young men as an excuse to abandon their heritage.  Young men peg gilded ministries well.  A young man may conclude that “although this ‘contemporary church’ may not have the standards I was taught, and may conduct their worship service differently, they certainly model the Lord in their attitudes and their words.  I’ll take that over hypocrisy.”  Though not the only contributing factor in the migration of men to the contemporary style, disingenuous “traditional” ministries certainly contribute to it.  What is to be said about this?

 

First, to think that changing churches or adopting new styles will insulate one from hypocrisy is naïve.  Read any Christian news website to see this.  Second, this response is anthropocentric — driven by a man’s adherence or lack thereof to what he says he believes rather than by the Scriptural legitimacy of the position or practice itself.  In this situation, the resulting shift (for example, away from “traditional” to “contemporary”) is a reaction founded not primarily on the Scriptures, but merely in protest of an undesirable or hypocritical ministry.

 

To all young men desirous of a faithful ministry, we praise the Lord for you.  May you see and know God personally.  And since the privilege of leading people is great, count the cost of every ministry decision you make.  Learn to identify the direction of a ministry by identifying the “guides” of that ministry.  Be ready to “stand against” pressure from peers.  Don’t be fooled by an older man who takes you under his wing, while pointing you away from what is right.  Consequences lie ahead, both in this life and in eternity.

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Particular vs. General Baptists – Part 2

As the 17th century progressed, General Baptist churches formed a national assembly. This group sought to ensure that its’ churches were not vacillating on the doctrine of the Atonement:

“Several years before 1671 a General Assembly of the churches of the entire connection had been formed, which usually met in London. The General Baptist churches exercised a rigorous discipline over their membership in matters of doctrine and life. Persistence in Calvinistic teaching (as in denial of the universality of the atonement) was a ground of excommunication.”

The General Baptists reached America, and from 1656 to the Great Awakening (1720-1740), they increased impressively.

The English General Baptists did well during the Cromwellian period [mid-1600’s], but “along with other dissenters, they suffered severely under Charles II.”

The report from the late 1600’s into the 1700’s was not so positive:

“After the Revolution (1688-1689), owing in part to the disciplinary system already described and still more to the pervasive influence of Socinianism, disintegration set in. The process was accelerated by their resistance to the evangelical revival led by the Wesleys and Whitefield. By 1770 they had dwindled to small proportions and most of them that remained had become Unitarian.”

Take for example, a typical response of the General Baptists to the Great Awakening:

“The First Church of Boston, under the influence of Jeremy Condy (pastor 1739-1765), had become Arminian (Socinian) in sentiment and strongly opposed the revival. Under the well-educated and eloquent Samuel Stillman (pastor after 1765) the church regained its evangelical zeal . . . In 1769 the membership of the church was more than doubled”

The strength that that the General Baptists exhibited in the 1600’s had all but vanished by the mid-1700’s. “The Arminian position that Christ has earned salvation for all men and God has made provision for man so that all can accept, found further development in the revival of the position that all men will eventually be saved . . .” Thus, the Arminian theology degenerated in full blown Unitarianism, at least among the General Baptists.

The “New Connection” movement “rescued” a portion of General Baptist churches from Universalism in the 1800’s. In this movement, “Socinian views of the person of Christ and hyper-Calvinistic anti-nominism are explicitly condemned.” There was actually a coming together with the Particular Baptists on the part of the General Baptists:

“Until recent times the General Baptists had almost uniformly practiced restricted communion and rigorously excluded Calvinistic Baptists from the Supper. During the nineteenth century their views on this matter became assimilated to those of the great majority of the Particular Baptists.”

Particular Baptists

“Though few men may legitimately be called pioneers, John Spilsbury deserves that title. As the first pastor of the original Particular Baptist Church in London, he stands at the head of a long and worthy line of Calvinistic Baptists.” Spilsbury formed his church in opposition to the all ready established General Baptist thought. “The year 1633 was the formation of the first Particular Calvinistic Baptist Church in England. Hitherto the Baptists had favored Arminian views.” Others Particular Baptist churches followed. “By October 1644, the Calvinistic antipedobaptists of London who had adopted immersion as the exclusively valid form of baptism “had become seven churches.” The earliest English Particular Baptists (c. 1630’s) included Henry Jacob, William Kiffin, Henry Jessey, and Hanserd Knollys. In time, other notable preachers and theologians came to embrace this theology. Among these men were: Bunyan, Keach, Gill, and Ryland.

In 1644, the Particular Baptists produced a Confession of Faith around which their churches could unite. Arminianism and its extreme brother, Socinianism, were belief systems with which churches were struggling. The Particular Baptists formed The London Confession of 1644 as a rallying point for doctrinal protection. “Spilsbury was known as ‘the great Patriarch of the Anabaptist confession,’ and he must have played a prominent part in its preparation.” The London Confession exhibits a “moderate type” of Calvinism, and its’ definition of the church is “not unlike that of the Helwys church of 1611. It includes the concept of the invisible Church.”

Particular Baptists were not entirely united by this Confession. Substantial doctrinal differences existed among these early preachers. For example, William Kiffin and John Bunyan differed on the issue of the Lord’s table:

“Open communion was from the first practiced by most of the churches. Controversy between Kiffin and Bunyan, in which the latter denied that differences of opinion and practice should be allowed to hinder the manifestation of Christian love and brotherhood in the Supper, left the question an open one.”

Despite a lack of complete adherence to it, this Confession had a wide-ranging influence. “Though issued in the name of London Baptists, it served Baptists all over the country at a time when the Particular Baptist stream was becoming the major stream of Baptist life.”

It appears conclusive that Particular Baptist theology was a reaction to the Socinian theology that was gaining traction in Baptist circles; however, among many Particular Baptists, the reaction was an overreaction:

“By way of reaction against the Socinian teachings that were pervading the Established Church and all the dissenting bodies, Particular Baptist theologians like John Gill and John Brine promulgated a high type of Calvinistic teaching that in the minds of the uncultured easily degenerated into fatalism and antinomianism. Many Particular Baptist ministers went to the extreme of considering it an impertinence to preach to the unregenerate or to pray for them, and many churches excluded from fellowship any who dissented from their fatalistic views. By 1753, there had been such a decline that John Ryland, who made a careful inquiry, could find only 4,930 Particular Baptists in England and Wales. They opposed the evangelical revival with almost fanatical zeal.”

The ramifications of “Hyper-Calvinism” among Baptists reeked havoc on their churches. The extremes of the General Baptists led them to Unitarianism, while the direction of the Particular Baptists was pushing them into dead orthodoxy. As the 17th century drew to a close, new birth and spiritual vibrancy among churches of both groups was at low ebb. Soon, however, some intriguing developments sprang forth among the Particular Baptists.

The influence of Jonathan Edwards on the Particular Baptists is immeasurable. “The most decisive evangelical influence on the Particular Baptists was that of Jonathan Edwards.” His ministry and writings affected the life of Andrew Fuller:

“The conversion of Andrew Fuller to evangelical views, chiefly through the reading of a pamphlet by Jonathan Edwards on the importance of a general union of Christians in prayer for a revival of religion, and through the influence of the evangelical revival in England, marks an epoch in the history of the Particular Baptists.”

Particular Baptist thought was spreading in the American colonies. “The Philadelphia Association, being long the only body of the sort among the Calvinistic Baptists, had by 1762 extended its influence so as to embrace churches in New England, New York, Virginia, and Maryland.” The Philadelphia Association of Particular Baptists was modeled on the English and Welsh Baptist Association of the 1600’s. “The Welsh Baptists made much of associations and these were the prototypes of the Philadelphia Association in America.”

By 1792, Englishman William Carey combined his Particular Baptist theology with the goal of world evangelism. “His popular but profound publications disseminated moderate Calvinistic views suffused with missionary enthusiasm.” Carey needed the support of fellow Baptists to carry out his mission. He found such help it the notable character of John Sutcliff:

“Among the Calvinistic Baptist figures of the late eighteenth century one of the most important is also one of the least known – John Sutcliff (1752-1814) . . . An extremely close friend of Andrew Fuller and William Carey and one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society, Sutcliff played a central part in bringing revival to the English Calvinistic Baptists . . .”

No study of Particular Baptists is complete without a mention of the “Prince of Preachers. “The coming of Charles Haddon Spurgeon to the pulpit of New Park Street Church, London, in 1854, marks an epoch in the history of British Baptists.”

The General and Particular Baptists each exhibited strengths, while at the same time struggling with destructive doctrines. The extremes of each movement are frightening: Unitarianism (General) and Hyper-Calvinism (Particular) are both deadly doctrines. The desire to unite in associations crippled the autonomy of their respective churches. The Baptists were simply following the methods of the Reformers in this “association” mentality.

Lastly, it is often claimed that Baptist can trace their origin to the Separatist John Smyth. This is revisionist history at best, although best-selling Baptist history books make this claim (Vedder’s Short History of the Baptists, for example). Thankfully, able defenders of Bible truth and accurate history (such as John Christian) have rebuffed this nonsense. For those who practice their faith sincerely, Baptist truth is Bible truth. One does not need to be a General Baptist or a Particular Baptist. Every new generation of Baptists can and should go straight back to the testimony of scripture to determine doctrine and practice.

Always Abounding

A charge to believers is found in I Corinthians 15:58, “Be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for, as much as ye know your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

This verse defines clearly the two great guiding principles of God’s work.  The first is the position of stedfast unmoveableness.  Commentator Albert Barnes notes in this point the analogy of a wrestler holding his ground firmly.  Bible truth is timeless–as the great hymn states, “The Bible stands, though all around is sinking sand.” We are commanded to hold fast, without wavering, to the faith once delivered to the saints, and to earnestly contend for it (Jude 3).

The second teaching of this verse is to be always abounding in the work of the Lord.  This exhortation challenges us to take eternal truth and put it into action continually, refusing to cower into a shell of fear and uncertainty.

As we apply this truth–always aboundingwe find that it prevents us from complaining.  The complainer shifts the progress of the work of the Lord into reverse, both in his life and in those he infects.  The complainer becomes a mere spectator as the work is carried out by others.  Philippians 2:14 admonishes, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.”

Always abounding in God’s work also protects us from discouragement.  When Joshua was commissioned with the monumental task of leading God’s people after Moses’ death, God encouraged him with these words, “Have not I commanded thee?  Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed:  for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9).

In addition, an always abounding mindset provokes us to good works.  It constrains us to “press forward,” driving us from our “comfort zone.”  The work of the Lord always lies ahead, not behind.

In conclusion, we turn to Charles Spurgeon and his thoughts on this verse.  “Our vessels are never full till they run over.  The ‘little over’ proves our zeal, tries our faith, casts us upon God and wins his help.  That which we cannot do of ourselves, leads us to call in divine strength, and then wonders are wrought.  If you are only aiming at what you feel able to accomplish, your work will be a poor one, lacking in heroism, deficient in the noble element of confidence in the unseen Lord.  Abound, then, and super-abound in the work of the Lord.”

How to be Successful in College

  1. Make personal devotions a daily habit. Open your Bible each morning with the purpose of saturating your mind with scripture.  Develop a prayer list and stick to it.   If you have a mobile phone, decide that you will see the face of God before you see your screen.
  2. Prepare to handle discouragement. Since it is bound to come, study Bible passages that deal with it.  Practice the spiritual discipline of “casting your care on Him.”  This is vital when the “homesick” bug hits.
  3. Establish productive study habits. Learn to have a place and a time to study, and then “get at it” by eliminating distractions.
  4. Manage time. Time management is the number one issue that freshmen college students must learn to master.  Frequently students learn to manage their time the hard way, but it does not necessarily need to be so.  Ask productive people in your life how they handle their time.
  5. Work for your employer as though his salvation depends upon it. Christians will never win fellow workers unless they are prompt, honest, and transparent.  Learn to “let your light so shine before men.”  This verse may have no more important application than at the workplace.
  6. Discipline your money use. The second most common issue students face is money management.  Too frequently discretionary money “burns a hole” in the pocket of a student.  With no budget, plan, or accounting in place it will continue as a life long pattern.  The college years and the spending they entail can set a person on a path of financial stability or future ruin.  Beware of credit cards.
  7. Practice friendships the Bible way. Bible college is a perfect time to develop a “ministry attitude” toward friendships.  Roommates, cliques, and relationships —  any one of these can dominate a student’s mind.  You may need to exercise extreme graciousness with a roommate, you must avoid cliques at all costs, and you will have God’s peace only as you surrender all relationships to godly authority.  Before college begins, practice these principles.
  8. Propriety is a dying art; however, it is needed now more than ever. Learning mature conversation, treating others with the proper respect, speaking in a way that is not juvenile or inappropriate – all are part of a life of decorum and propriety.  Successful people all understand and master proper manners.
  9. Gossip, disrespect, and complaints will ultimately be the undoing of a person. Instead, be generous with compliments, show proper respect, and look for ways to encourage.  A tongue controlled by the Spirit of God will exhibit these words.
  10. The war on purity is at an all-time high. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are all part and parcel of today’s popular culture – and it surrounds every one.  Purity will not happen on accident.  Standards and convictions based on Bible truths are vital for a young person to enter God’s work pure.  Establish these convictions now.
  11. Work first and play second. This is not just a principle for children – it is a necessity of life.  In college, students find themselves in charge of setting their own goals.  What a great time to learn to set a goal and reach it.  The discipline of eliminating things that keep from reaching goals is a tremendous trait to pocket.  Practice now setting reasonable goals and reaching them.
  12. Procrastination is the enemy of every college student. There is something to the attitude of just starting – doing it now.  Procrastination never moved an assignment closer to completion – it merely leaves it to clog up your mind, looming in and out of the number of things that worry a person.  The do it now attitude , though uncommon, is a precursor to success.
  13. Finish your jobs. Mom said, “finish your food.”  “Finish your homework.”  “Finish your chores.”  Starting is good, but finishing is best.  There is a calm satisfaction, an inner peace, that comes only when a task  has been seen through to final completion.  If we allow in the habit of not finishing, our life will be filled with a multitude of “loose ends.”
  14. Determine that you will never cheat. When the pressure is on and it seems like it would be more beneficial to cheat, don’t. Take the consequences of doing your own work.  No matter how bad you do on that test, or how poor the paper is, you will have a satisfaction that you did not cut corners or steal someone else’s answers.  Living in truth is God’s handle on a man.  Cheaters never win, and winners never cheat.  Live in honesty, take your lumps, learn, and do better work the next time.

Peace in This Place

A Warning for Neville Chamberlain Christians

 

Are you a Neville Chamberlain Christian in your social media life?  Some fellow professing believers believe that you (as one who has made yourself their friend or follower on social media) should never be so bold as to utilize the sword of the Spirit boldly in this arena.  Maybe you have unwittingly agreed with them, concluding that “it’s not the place to be divisive.”  You are using excuses.  What’s worse—your own heart weakens as you leave that powerful sword resting harmlessly at your side.

 

You have transferred Chamberlain’s Peace for Our Time mantra* to your own practice of Peace in This Place —a virtual world apparently off limits to the direct application of the sword—the truth of the Word of God.  Do not hoodwink yourself—this place is not neutral.  By making peace in this place that so frequently blitzkriegs committed Christianity, you rest in a phony truce while the enemy covertly advances.  The Axis powers of spiritual warfare never employ a frontal assault; they simply ease their way in over time.

 

Social media bills itself as neutral, unbiased, relaxed, cool, and “accepting.” But what do you think?  And more importantly, what does your Lord say?

 

To those who have made the decision to enter this field of activity, soldier up!  Don’t cower. Take up your sword—you are a soldier of the Lord!  Never let your sword hang unused by your side when the truths of the eternal Word of God are ignored, mocked, and belittled.  Introduce the sword to the place of pseudo-peace.  Publish its contents.  Uphold it, and by all means, put your sword into action.  If your sword remains sheathed, as time goes on you will experience the effects of that choice.

 

The powerful triumvirate of the world, the flesh, and the devil has found a home among some whom you call friends.  Well, friend, take your sword out and engage this Axis force enslaving your friend.  That’s genuine friendship.  Don’t be Chamberlain to the one who needs Churchill.

 

Chamberlain was popular, Churchill was not; yet ultimately, Chamberlain was a disgrace.  The precious and powerful Word of God applied to this part of your life may just rescue your friend from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Don’t be a Neville Chamberlain on your social media.

 

*On July 23, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with the leader of the Third Reich, Adolph Hitler.  Through the Munich Agreement, a region of Czechoslovakia was conceded to Hitler, and Chamberlain felt peace had been reached.  Quickly he proclaimed “peace for our time” in a speech to the British people.  A year later, Britain was under siege and the destructive WWII was underway.  In this war, over 60 million people were killed, which was about 3% of the 1940 world’s population.

Particular vs. General Baptists – Part 2

As the 17th century progressed, General Baptist churches formed a national assembly. This group sought to ensure that its’ churches were not vacillating on the doctrine of the Atonement:

“Several years before 1671 a General Assembly of the churches of the entire connection had been formed, which usually met in London. The General Baptist churches exercised a rigorous discipline over their membership in matters of doctrine and life. Persistence in Calvinistic teaching (as in denial of the universality of the atonement) was a ground of excommunication.”

The General Baptists reached America, and from 1656 to the Great Awakening (1720-1740), they increased impressively.

The English General Baptists did well during the Cromwellian period [mid-1600’s], but “along with other dissenters, they suffered severely under Charles II.”

The report from the late 1600’s into the 1700’s was not so positive:

“After the Revolution (1688-1689), owing in part to the disciplinary system already described and still more to the pervasive influence of Socinianism, disintegration set in. The process was accelerated by their resistance to the evangelical revival led by the Wesleys and Whitefield. By 1770 they had dwindled to small proportions and most of them that remained had become Unitarian.”

Take for example, a typical response of the General Baptists to the Great Awakening:

“The First Church of Boston, under the influence of Jeremy Condy (pastor 1739-1765), had become Arminian (Socinian) in sentiment and strongly opposed the revival. Under the well-educated and eloquent Samuel Stillman (pastor after 1765) the church regained its evangelical zeal . . . In 1769 the membership of the church was more than doubled”

The strength that that the General Baptists exhibited in the 1600’s had all but vanished by the mid-1700’s. “The Arminian position that Christ has earned salvation for all men and God has made provision for man so that all can accept, found further development in the revival of the position that all men will eventually be saved . . .” Thus, the Arminian theology degenerated in full blown Unitarianism, at least among the General Baptists.

The “New Connection” movement “rescued” a portion of General Baptist churches from Universalism in the 1800’s. In this movement, “Socinian views of the person of Christ and hyper-Calvinistic anti-nominism are explicitly condemned.” There was actually a coming together with the Particular Baptists on the part of the General Baptists:

“Until recent times the General Baptists had almost uniformly practiced restricted communion and rigorously excluded Calvinistic Baptists from the Supper. During the nineteenth century their views on this matter became assimilated to those of the great majority of the Particular Baptists.”

Particular Baptists

“Though few men may legitimately be called pioneers, John Spilsbury deserves that title. As the first pastor of the original Particular Baptist Church in London, he stands at the head of a long and worthy line of Calvinistic Baptists.” Spilsbury formed his church in opposition to the all ready established General Baptist thought. “The year 1633 was the formation of the first Particular Calvinistic Baptist Church in England. Hitherto the Baptists had favored Arminian views.” Others Particular Baptist churches followed. “By October 1644, the Calvinistic antipedobaptists of London who had adopted immersion as the exclusively valid form of baptism “had become seven churches.” The earliest English Particular Baptists (c. 1630’s) included Henry Jacob, William Kiffin, Henry Jessey, and Hanserd Knollys. In time, other notable preachers and theologians came to embrace this theology. Among these men were: Bunyan, Keach, Gill, and Ryland.

In 1644, the Particular Baptists produced a Confession of Faith around which their churches could unite. Arminianism and its extreme brother, Socinianism, were belief systems with which churches were struggling. The Particular Baptists formed The London Confession of 1644 as a rallying point for doctrinal protection. “Spilsbury was known as ‘the great Patriarch of the Anabaptist confession,’ and he must have played a prominent part in its preparation.” The London Confession exhibits a “moderate type” of Calvinism, and its’ definition of the church is “not unlike that of the Helwys church of 1611. It includes the concept of the invisible Church.”

Particular Baptists were not entirely united by this Confession. Substantial doctrinal differences existed among these early preachers. For example, William Kiffin and John Bunyan differed on the issue of the Lord’s table:

“Open communion was from the first practiced by most of the churches. Controversy between Kiffin and Bunyan, in which the latter denied that differences of opinion and practice should be allowed to hinder the manifestation of Christian love and brotherhood in the Supper, left the question an open one.”

Despite a lack of complete adherence to it, this Confession had a wide-ranging influence. “Though issued in the name of London Baptists, it served Baptists all over the country at a time when the Particular Baptist stream was becoming the major stream of Baptist life.”

It appears conclusive that Particular Baptist theology was a reaction to the Socinian theology that was gaining traction in Baptist circles; however, among many Particular Baptists, the reaction was an overreaction:

“By way of reaction against the Socinian teachings that were pervading the Established Church and all the dissenting bodies, Particular Baptist theologians like John Gill and John Brine promulgated a high type of Calvinistic teaching that in the minds of the uncultured easily degenerated into fatalism and antinomianism. Many Particular Baptist ministers went to the extreme of considering it an impertinence to preach to the unregenerate or to pray for them, and many churches excluded from fellowship any who dissented from their fatalistic views. By 1753, there had been such a decline that John Ryland, who made a careful inquiry, could find only 4,930 Particular Baptists in England and Wales. They opposed the evangelical revival with almost fanatical zeal.”

The ramifications of “Hyper-Calvinism” among Baptists reeked havoc on their churches. The extremes of the General Baptists led them to Unitarianism, while the direction of the Particular Baptists was pushing them into dead orthodoxy. As the 17th century drew to a close, new birth and spiritual vibrancy among churches of both groups was at low ebb. Soon, however, some intriguing developments sprang forth among the Particular Baptists.

The influence of Jonathan Edwards on the Particular Baptists is immeasurable. “The most decisive evangelical influence on the Particular Baptists was that of Jonathan Edwards.” His ministry and writings affected the life of Andrew Fuller:

“The conversion of Andrew Fuller to evangelical views, chiefly through the reading of a pamphlet by Jonathan Edwards on the importance of a general union of Christians in prayer for a revival of religion, and through the influence of the evangelical revival in England, marks an epoch in the history of the Particular Baptists.”

Particular Baptist thought was spreading in the American colonies. “The Philadelphia Association, being long the only body of the sort among the Calvinistic Baptists, had by 1762 extended its influence so as to embrace churches in New England, New York, Virginia, and Maryland.” The Philadelphia Association of Particular Baptists was modeled on the English and Welsh Baptist Association of the 1600’s. “The Welsh Baptists made much of associations and these were the prototypes of the Philadelphia Association in America.”

By 1792, Englishman William Carey combined his Particular Baptist theology with the goal of world evangelism. “His popular but profound publications disseminated moderate Calvinistic views suffused with missionary enthusiasm.” Carey needed the support of fellow Baptists to carry out his mission. He found such help it the notable character of John Sutcliff:

“Among the Calvinistic Baptist figures of the late eighteenth century one of the most important is also one of the least known – John Sutcliff (1752-1814) . . . An extremely close friend of Andrew Fuller and William Carey and one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society, Sutcliff played a central part in bringing revival to the English Calvinistic Baptists . . .”

No study of Particular Baptists is complete without a mention of the “Prince of Preachers. “The coming of Charles Haddon Spurgeon to the pulpit of New Park Street Church, London, in 1854, marks an epoch in the history of British Baptists.”

The General and Particular Baptists each exhibited strengths, while at the same time struggling with destructive doctrines. The extremes of each movement are frightening: Unitarianism (General) and Hyper-Calvinism (Particular) are both deadly doctrines. The desire to unite in associations crippled the autonomy of their respective churches. The Baptists were simply following the methods of the Reformers in this “association” mentality.

Lastly, it is often claimed that Baptist can trace their origin to the Separatist John Smyth. This is revisionist history at best, although best-selling Baptist history books make this claim (Vedder’s Short History of the Baptists, for example). Thankfully, able defenders of Bible truth and accurate history (such as John Christian) have rebuffed this nonsense. For those who practice their faith sincerely, Baptist truth is Bible truth. One does not need to be a General Baptist or a Particular Baptist. Every new generation of Baptists can and should go straight back to the testimony of scripture to determine doctrine and practice.

Particular vs. General Baptists – Part 1

It is indeed a fascinating study, that of the development of two factions of Baptist belief and practice in the 1600’s. History uncovers a distinct divergence of theology between the General Baptists and the Particular Baptists in this era in England (and correspondingly, Colonial America). In the effort to be as objective as is possible in analyzing an era centuries before this day, the following is an overview of General vs. Particular Baptists, with a brief analysis of both groups.

This history is rooted in the country of England. This land went through several stages in its’ religious progression. The Handbook of Denominations describes England’s religious development in this way: (1) Catholicism, (2) Church of England, (3) Puritanism, and (4) Separatism. “Separatists began to teach that only self-professed believers were eligible for membership in the church. That is, the church is properly made up of only regenerated people. James I begins persecuting these “Separatists”. The Separatist movement poses a real challenge to England’s “state-church” model, causing it to be singled out for governmental persecution.

General Baptists

In the effort to escape religious persecution, some of these “English Separatists” migrated to Holland. John Smyth (c. 1570-1612) led a group of these immigrating Separatists. Upon their arrival in Holland, the Separatists encountered the teaching of the Mennonites. Several similarities in belief were discovered:

“Many of the Mennonites’ principles agreed with their own convictions, including the beliefs that the Scriptures are the sole authority for faith and practice, that church and state should be completely and forever separated, and that church discipline should be rigidly enforced in business, personal, and family affairs.”

Furthermore, Smyth learns the New Testament teaching of credobaptism from the Anabaptist Mennonites:

“Before long the congregation of John Smyth accepted another bedrock Mennonite principle and adopted the practice of ‘believer’s baptism’ – that is, baptism only of adults who make a profession of faith. Smyth rebaptized himself and his followers in 1609.”

Smyth’s influence over his congregation took a hit when he “tried to make Mennonites out of his people” They accepted Baptist truth, but rejected the Mennonite expression of it “because that meant a threat to their British heritage.”

A church split ensued:

“Following a division in the congregation, Smyth [John Smyth] applied for membership with the Mennonites while Thomas Helwys, with ten others, returned to England where ‘they founded in 1612 the first Baptist Church on English soil in Spitalfields outside the walls of the city of London.’ The congregation followed the Arminian belief, holding that in the divine intention Christ died for all men and not, as Calvinists said, only for the elect. Particular Baptists, the Calvinistic branch of the denomination, appeared first in London between 1630 and 1640 as a sect among the Separatists.”

In time, Smyth’s congregation returned also to London, and established a Baptist church there.

Smyth and Helwys’ congregations were categorized as “General Baptist” churches. The word “general” is used in contradistinction to the word “particular”. These terms represent a difference of belief concerning the Atonement of Christ. Simply

stated, General Baptists believed (at least originally) that Christ’s atonement was for all men (general atonement), while Particular Baptists espoused a limited (or, particular) atonement of Christ, a teaching they would have learned from Calvinistic theology of the Reformation.

General Baptists preceded Particular Baptists in England by several decades:

“The first churches were General Baptist churches, which means that they believed in a general atonement for all persons. In the course of time there arose a Particular Baptist Church, which held to the doctrine of predestination associated with the teachings of John Calvin (1509-64). The first British Particular Baptist churches dates back to 1638.”

These two strands of Baptist practice experienced waves of both toleration and persecution, depending on the zealousness of the monarch at the time. For example:

“Both branches of the Baptist denomination prospered under the administration of Cromwell, but, like other dissenters, they suffered persecution after the Restoration when Parliament enacted laws of suppression.”

Both branches of Baptist thought in England faced challenges from novel Reformation era movements. “Many Baptists were attracted to the new movement [Quakerism], and Baptist churches faced a grim task in trying to maintain unity and peace in their fellowship.” Several Baptist confessions of faith resulted from the belief of English Baptist leaders that these would keep their Baptist adherents from being swept away by false doctrine. Both the General Baptists (1611, 1651, 1660) and the Particular Baptists (1644) produced statements/confessions of their faith.

John Smyth, along with his adherents, set forth a one hundred article statement of faith in 1611:

“The confession sets forth just views as to the nature of saving knowledge of God as involving conformity in character to God’s attributes. Arminian views are clearly and moderately set forth with respect to God’s relation to the fall and to human sin.”

Less than fifty years later, the Standard Confession of 1660 was published. A significant addition to the 1660 Confession was the teaching regarding the laying on of hands:

“The laying on of hands prescribed in Article 12 must have been something of an innovation for the Assembly, and there is doubt as to whether most General Baptist churches all ready practiced it upon receiving new members. The practice was named in neither the 1611 nor the 1651 Confessions of General Baptists. The importance of the Ordinance was accentuated by the adoption in some quarters of the Six Principles of Hebrews 6:1-2 as a creedal standard . . . those churches which adopted the practice were usually very strict in its observance, and there is evidence that the issue of laying on hands produced by 1660 a cleavage in the General Baptist fellowship which endangered the life of the young General Assembly.”

General Baptists that viewed the six principles of Hebrews 6:1-2 as “indispensable ordinances” became known as “Six-Principle Baptists”. The distinguishing characteristic of the six principles was the practice of “laying on of hands”, as the other five principles of this passage (repentance, faith, baptism, resurrection, and judgment) would not stand out as unique.

The history and development of Socinian thought is so interwoven with the progression of the General Baptists as to demand a brief account of its’ history and teachings. The Mennonite practice of believer’s baptism was not the only teaching that John Smyth came to adopt. Sadly, he added Socinianism to his beliefs also:

“Shortly before or after the introduction of believer’s baptism, in sympathy with the Arminian movement then current and with the Socinianized Mennonism of the time, Smyth adopted Socinian (Pelagian) views, denying original or hereditary sin and the redemption of infants by Christ.”

Socinianism thought, though not pervasive in Reformation theology (“the teaching of Socinus and his followers was a distinct variant from both the Roman and the Reformed doctrines . . .”), nonetheless was a force to be reckoned with. “Socinianism was an intellectual and rationalist system of Christian doctrine on a supernatural basis. It was a species of Unitarianism.”

“Socinianism was named after its master spirit, Fausto Sozzini (latinized into Socinus), a man of commanding intellect, supreme organizing ability, and unfaltering will.” Fausto’s uncle, who influenced him extensively, was Lelio (1525-1562). Lelio lived only to the age of 38, but in his short life he traveled both to Geneva and Wittenburg, where he made the acquaintance of Calvin and Melachthon, respectively. His thoughts on doctrinal reformation “shocked Calvin”, due to the “audacity of his speculation”.

John Calvin authorized the execution of the anti-trinitarian Servetus. Servetus’ life and testimony was influential in the thoughts of Lelio Socinus. In 1539, Lelio’s nephew, Fausto, was born. Fausto was raised in the Catholic tradition, even producing writings against the Reformation cause (de Jesu Christo Servatore).

Socinus’ writings had reached those of influence in Poland; consequently, he was invited there. Poland was developing into a haven for anti-establishment ideology. There Socinus found a home. Up to this point, Socinus published his anti-trinitarian views (which he adopted from his uncle) anonymously. After his life in Poland became settled, he claimed authorship of his own writings, and the public disputations began. Socinus bravely defended his anti-orthodox teaching until his death at the age of sixty-five.

Socinus rejected the atoning work of Christ on the cross, stating that he was “truly a mortal man while he lived on the earth”, and that “‘the ceremonial ordinances are baptism by immersion’, although Socinus himself remained indifferent to the use of this sacrament, ‘and the Lord’s Supper.’” Socinianism was not some much an effort at denominationalism (the starting of a particular church structure) as it was a philosophy that infected presently existing churches. “ . . . Socinianism was a school rather than a Church. Its congregations were associations for Christian learning rather than communions for Christian worship and service.”

The Socinianism of John Smyth divided the early General Baptists. Helwys (Smyth’s successor) “held to a moderate type of Arminianism, while Smyth had become almost Socinian in his doctrine.”