Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Protestant Baptists - Which came first?

Click on this Protestant Picture to enlarge

If you believe that the Apostles taught the fundamentals of the faith e.g. the Trinity, Virgin Birth etc., along with  autonomous church government and the immersion of believers only, then you might well consider them (to use an anachronism) "Baptists" and thus, in your eyes, say that they predate the Protestants by some 1500 years. Well and good. I wish you well with that one. OTOH, if you believe that the Apostles taught those same fundamentals of the faith and that the church government of the Apostles was not autonomous, but rather the many in the presbytery made decisions binding on all member churches and that baptism may be ministered by several modes etc., then it is likely that you will consider them (again to use the anachronism) to be Presbyterians.  IOW, your historical designation of the Apostles relies heavily on your interpretation of several passages of Scripture.  

CH Spurgeon professed himself to be a Baptist. In line with his conviction, he could bring himself to say (as explained above) 

We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents . . . 

But, equally, Spurgeon also professed to be a Protestant and indeed, hoped that he was the "most ardent Protestant living" and obviously could detect no inconsistency in so doing. Spurgeon was not alone in this. Not a few posts in recent times (somewhat an imbalance number wise) have pointed out how many other Baptists, including John Gano, Isaac Backus and their twenty member Baptist Churches Association, quite happily professed themselves to be Protestant and Baptist in the one breath. 

My Twitter friend, Mr Stratton (Albeit of the blocking kind) relates that they only described themselves as Protestants to indicate that they were not Romanists. This is strange:

1) To profess something which you are not (i.e. Protestant) in order to deny something else that you are not (Roman Catholic) does not seem honest or sensible. You cannot get rid of one confusion (or hope to ward it off) by introducing another. 

2) Not sure (forgive my non desire to spend a lot of time researching on the internet here) if Mr Stratton runs with the view that Popery is the Harlot of Revelation 17 (FTR: I do) and that the Protestant churches are just the daughter of the Harlot and share her filthiness and uncleanness. (I certainly don't). I take the line expounded by famous Baptist preacher, FB Meyer, propagated here, that the Apostles were de facto Protestants. If the old Baptists who called themselves Protestants but held to the view that Protestant churches were filthy daughters of Rome - then we must wonder at their sanity. If both Protestantism and Popery is so leprous, then why identify with one crowd to disassociate yourself from another. it just doesn't add up, does it? Why didn't they just say: "We are neither Catholic nor Protestant. We are simply Baptists"? 

3) If a Baptist group calling itself "Protestant" makes reference to "the Protestant religion" (as the Baptist framers of the 1689 Baptist Confession do) and indeed hope to venture all for that same "Protestant religion" - joining "hearts and hands with other Protestants" - and doing so in order that this same "Protestant religion be preserved" - then we may be sure that they positively mean "the Protestant religion" and nothing less. 

4) If a Baptist group refers to "other Protestants" meaning those non Baptists i.e. Presbyterians, Anglicans etc., then the word "other" means that they are not Baptist only, but also Protestant. You may actually be both because the term "Protestant" is an wider umbrella term while the designation of Baptist or Presbyterian etc., is more particular and precise. That's OK. The world wont cave in. Or at least, it hasn't yet. 

5) If a Baptist group when articulating its creed (their own term) uses the word "Calvinist" (as the 1678 Baptists did) then they are using a Protestant term. John Calvin himself was not a Baptist, but a Presbyterian and wider again, a Protestant. Mr Spurgeon not only described himself as a Baptist, but as a Protestant (see above) but also a Calvinist. My favourite quote from Spurgeon - outside any that might speak about the sufficiency of the Cross etc - but along the lines that we are discussing here is that which is in the above graphic.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in our designation of "old Baptists." This term has been left (by me too) as undefined. It is to be admitted a pretty wide term. No one is at liberty to speak for every last Baptist - of whatever generation - no matter if within or without the Baptist denomination and no matter what argument he wishes to espouse. That some "old Baptists" might not have been able to see beyond the tip of their Baptist noses is to be admitted, although it is not for me to find them. Others appear to be more qualified. But other "old Baptists" could. Well aware that the term Protestant extended far beyond their Baptist designation, the Baptists who drew up the 1679 "Orthodox Creed" hoped to unite "all true Protestants" round its confession. Again, nine Baptist preachers from North Carolina in 1741 quite happily put their name to the term "Protestant Dissenters" in a document with sixteen other Protestants (non Baptists). 

Some of these "old Baptists" while obviously disagreeing with other Protestants on Baptism - to the point of consistently (at least with themselves) denying their friends' baptism, yet recognised the validity of their call to the ministry. They preached in each others pulpits. They recognised the Protestant Reformers as men sent of God - not exactly the language you use for those whose ministry you see as a sham or even a fraud. They communed delightfully together around the Lord's table as the observant Cotton Mather rejoiced. The Presbyterian evangelist, Daniel Baker, records how Baptists and Presbyterians etc., all rejoiced together round the preaching of Calvinist doctrine. "A beautiful and cordial union prevailing" is how he words it. 

To deny the basic Protestantism of these old Baptists who actively and unashamedly professed it or to try and whittle it down to mean something else is to belittle these men. It is to treat them as if they were imbeciles or worse because their profession has become meaningless. 

It is to be noted that even many of the Baptist historians who recorded these old Baptists confess their Protestantism let this term go unchallenged. Others resorted to editing the term of "Protestant" out, but the truth is there to for all to see. The internet has opened up research facilities so that the truth no longer lies with the privileged few, but the searching many. In some cases, it is the Baptist historian who refers to them as Protestants when there is no presented documentation (as I have done here) to show that this was their position. The terms, although not strictly synonymous, are close enough to be rendered interchangeably without any need of a ruckus. Henry Burridge obviously agrees

In closing (although much more could be said) I can't help but wonder when it became fashionable to deny the Protestantism of these professed Protestant Baptists? What point are they trying to make? Especially by using such a failed method? It is somewhat ironic that some of these rather narrow sites link back to the very sources that destroy their view. History certainly is not kind to their position. 



  1. Since this post is partially about me, I guess I need to reply. Part of the problem is defining your terms. In any debate, this is done at the very beginning. In the United States (today and in the 20th century) when someone asks if "Baptists are Protestants", whey are asking, "Did Baptists originate during the Protestant Reformation?" The answer to this question is "No!" All of the Baptist historians in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries looked back to the Anabaptists, Waldenses, and earlier dissenting groups to find their origins. None of them believed the Baptists came out of the Protestant Pedobaptists. Dozens of quotes can be provided to prove this.

    However in the 17th, 18th, and part of the 19th century, the term "Protestant" had a different meaning. Instead of referring to historical beginnings, it referred to doctrinal beliefs. When some of these Baptists called themselves Protestants, they were saying, "we believe like the Protestants do on such doctrines as God, salvation, the Bible, etc.) The quotes you have posted are using the word Protestant in this manner.

    Today in the U.S., the word "evangelical" is used in this same manner. "Evangelical" gives a doctrinal, rather than historical meaning. So are Baptists evangelical? Yes, we believe like other evangelicals do on the doctrine of God, salvation, the Bible, etc.

    The problem comes when a typical American, with a poor understanding of Baptist history reads your quotes. Thinking like Americans, they reading into these quotes that these old Baptists believed the Baptists came out of the Reformation and the Pedobaptists. That's why I said your quotes can be deceiving.

    Take Spurgeon for example. Did he say Baptists were Protestants? Yes. He believed Baptists held much of the same doctrines as Luther, Calvin, and Knox. However Spurgeon also said, "We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves." As you can see, Spurgeon believed Baptists were Protestants in the doctrinal sense, but not in the historical sense.

    Your other two quotes from Cotton Mather and Daniel Baker are both stretching things. By and Large, Americans Baptists rejected open communion and would not sit down at the Lord's Table with non-Baptists. R.B.C. Howell, the second president of the Southern Baptist Convention, writing in the late 1840's, said he knew of NO open communion Baptist churches in the south. Not a single. Maybe a handful of Baptists did in Massachusetts at one time, but most did not.

    As to Texas and Baker, W.W. Crane, a Texas Baptist pastor, wrote and said the ecumenical / church union devours there were necessary due to the rural frontier nature of Texas. They quickly died out in Texas after the Civil War. Baptists have always rejoiced when someone gets saved, regardless of who is preaching. Some Baptists have been willing to invite pedobaptists into their churches to preach (while still rejecting their baptism, communion, church membership and ordination), while many others would not invite them into their churches to preach.

    I hope this helps you understand how people in America understanding the term "Protestant."

  2. Sorry for delay in posting up your comment. I only discovered it a few minutes ago. (As you can see, comments here are pretty rare and I overlooked to check.)
    I believe that I tackled why Baptists believe they are the original Christians because they believe that the Apostles effectively taught today's Baptist distinctives. Other church groups sincerely believe that the Apostles held to their beliefs - or (to be more accurate) that they hold to the Apostles doctrine and practice. If the Protestants are the big bad wolf that many Baptists make them out to be - the daughters of the harlot etc - then why would they take the term Protestant at all and esp. in relation to the church's most treasured possession i.e. her doctrine? Furthermore, some Baptists totally decry the Protestant doctrine, accusing us of denying (for example) the fundamental doctrine of Scripture alone.
    The framers of the 1689 Baptist Confession, of course, were not American. As said, they used the term in the above reference pretty extensively – not merely describing themselves as Protestant but also referring specifically to the Protestant Religion Historically, by 1689, folk in England were well aware that Baptists were not Romanists, especially after the days of Oliver Cromwell who drew much support from Baptists and other Protestants.
    We might have to agree to disagree here. You accused me earlier on Twitter of being a deceiver – or at least that my “tweets are deceptive” (same thing) I prefer to think that the old Baptist men on both sides of the Atlantic knew fine well the implication of their Protestant profession and therefore I rejoice in them under my Protestant heritage just as you prefer to think of them under your Baptist heritage
    If more professions of Baptist Protestantism come to light, I will continue to post them up on my blog. I admire these great men, notwithstanding some disagreements I have with them over church government etc.

    Thank you for replying. Again, my apologies for the delay in this response.

  3. Colin,

    These old Baptists believed far more than "they are the original Christians because they believe that the Apostles effectively taught today's Baptist distinctives."

    Yes they strongly believed the New Testament churches held to Baptist doctrine. However they also believed that they had always been Baptist churches in every age since the New Testament.

    Take Spurgeon again:

    “We are the old apostolic Church that have never bowed to the yoke of princes yet; we, known among men, in all ages, by various names, such as Donatists, Novations, Paulicians, Petrobrussians, Cathari, Arnoldists, Hussities, Waldenses, Lollards, and Anabaptists, have always contended for the purity of the Church, and her distinctness and separation from human government. Our fathers . . . present to us, their children, an unbroken line which comes legitimately from the apostles, not through the filth of Rome, not by the manipulations of prelates, but by the Divine life.” Charles Spurgeon in New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 7, p. 613

    As to your tweets being "deceptive", but if I posted an example of some Presbyterians in the 18th century that held to some heretical doctrine. If I posted that on twitter, you would said that was wrong, because that's not what most Presbyterians believed. That's what you have done, for example, when you post that a handful of "Anabaptists" (who knows who how many or who they really where - that term was thrown around a lot) sat at the Lord's Table with the Pedobaptists. You made this out to be a regular practice, when it was not.

    The term "Protestant" was a doctrinal term. To these old Baptists it meant Evangelical or if you prefer Calvinist. Not ONE of the quotes you give show these old Baptists believe they originated in the Protestant Reformation.

    Lastly there is far more that separates Baptists and Presbyterians, than just church government. Our entire ecclesiology is different. What we believe about baptism, the Lord's Supper, ordination, church membership, etc. Whiles these are not matters of salvation, the Baptists did believe they are very important matters.

  4. Ben, I think you are fighting some issues here that really do not need to be fought. If Baptist folk want to believe that there have always been Baptist churches or Baptist type churches through all time, then well and good. No one is taking their belief from them. Others might think the same re: Presbyterian or Anglican type churches. Again, you raise the matter with me about no quote being rendered to show these old Baptists believe they originated in the Protestant Reformation. If this position means nothing to me, then I am not sure why I should try and prove it. There are some issues which are obviously Baptist only issues and therefore of little or no interest to others. This being the case your allusion to mentioning some heretical Presbyterian doesn’t fit the bill here. Had I claimed that these old Baptists did believe that their church came out of the Reformation, then your point would stand. But I didn’t. Indeed, I quoted Spurgeon’s important quote, did I not, to show that Baptists believed otherwise? I did that in order to be fair.
    I am quite happy that they saw themselves as doctrinal Protestants when they could have described themselves otherwise. It seems strange though that they should adopt the supposed “younger sister’s” (to utilise the language of Song of Solomon 8) name to identify themselves. However, this is not a problem to me either. If they described themselves as Protestant in relation to their religion, then I can hardly be faulted for giving them their own designation. I think your problem really ought to be (had it been possible) taken up with them.
    I can only report what Cotton Mather observed in what was obviously a very blessed time. Whoever these Anabaptist folk were (I see you utilise CHS's mention of them) - they certainly gain my respect for their actions. I enjoy it when Christians from the various denominations hold tightly to their particular tenets but enjoy fellowship with those who think otherwise. I see this working out well in the use of commentaries, hymnbooks and the various role models we point to convey faithfulness of Christ.

    Again, I appreciate you passing by.


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