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Archive for December, 2008

Dr. Finn tells us that “We must be a people of the book as we debate our Baptist identity.” That may seem obvious, but all too often in theological controversies between Baptists and others, much of the time is spent appealing to other authorities.

You can read Dr. Finn’s post here.

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According to Bob L. Ross, Spurgeon blamed the Down Grade on Calvinism, or specifically, the “Hybrid Calvinism” that Ross says is taught by Reformed paedobaptists as well as some “Reformed Baptists” and those who are affiliated with Founders Ministries. As will soon become clear, nothing could be further from the truth, unless by “Hybrid Calvinism” Ross means baptismal regeneration. But since the Down Grade was a significant problem among Baptists and there is no evidence that either Calvinism or “Hybrid Calvinism” were the cause, it would seem obvious that there is another explanation.

In March 1887, two articles on the “Down Grade” appeared in the Sword and the Trowel. This marked the beginning of the famous Down Grade controversy that continued until Spurgeon’s death. The issue contained two articles that were issued anonymously which were authored by Robert Shindler, a Baptist pastor who was an associate of Spurgeon’s. They can be found here and here.

Generally, the articles trace the decline of orthodoxy (i.e. the Down Grade) among the dissenters. Now, as Ross notes, the first article does say that the Presbyterians were the first to “get on the downline”. But one searches it in vain to find “hybrid Calvinism” given as a cause. In the 18th Century the English Presbyterians embarked upon a path toward apostasy. This was hastened by their view that “baptized” children were to be regarded as regenerate* and entitled to participate in the Lord’s Supper so long as they were outwardly moral.  There was also a tendency to pay inordinate attention to “classical attainments” as Shindler notes. However, the Presbyterians decline was also due to their defection from Calvinism that eventually led to them embracing various heretical views, as the same article makes clear. Indeed, that theme is repeated several times in both articles. The reasons for the Presbyterians leading the way on the “downline” were attributable primarily to their ecclesiology and to a lesser extent to cultural factors that had nothing to do with why Baptists and other nonconformists eventually did the same by the 19th Century.

For some reason the following passages from the Sword and Trowel Down Grade issue were ignored in the post “The Ignored Spurgeon”:

“The General [i.e. Arminian] Baptists have yet to be noticed. And here we must draw a line hard and sharp between the Old Connexion and the New Connexion. The latter was formed in 1770, and was the result of the heterodoxy of the former. The Old Connexion generally became Arianized, and, with hardly an exception, followed on “the down grade” to Socinianism. A writer of acknowledged repute, writing at the early part of the present century, makes this rather startling statement:—
“Arminianism among the dissenters has, in general, been a cold, dry, and lifeless system, and its effects upon the heart have been commonly weak and spiritless. With the General Baptists, who avowed it to be their creed, this was remarkably the effect, and their congregations did not increase. Besides, from facts too stubborn to be bent, and too numerous to be contradicted, Arminianism has been among them the common road to Arianism and Socinianism. Their ministers and congregations were the first who openly professed these opinions; and their societies have felt the decay which these opinions have uniformly produced.”

“The writer is of opinion that the great majority of those who are sound in the doctrine of inspiration, are more or less Calvinistic in doctrine”

“Perhaps it cannot be contradicted that, in proportion as any sect recedes from Calvinism, their veneration for the Scriptures is diminished The Bible is the Calvinist’s creed.”

“Arminianism has been among them the common road to Arianism and Socinianism”

The article gives examples from the Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists that suppport the idea that generally moving from Calvinism toward Arminianism is often the first step in the Down Grade that eventually leads to heresy if not outright unbelief.

Now, I don’t know that Bro. Ross would necessarily disagree with this concept of a slippery slope from abandoning Calvinism for Arminianism and eventually to unbelief since he says he holds to “creedal Calvinism.” But the idea that a move away from Calvinism is a move away from orthodoxy is objected to strongly by those non Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention who have reveled in Bro. Ross’ attacks on “Hybrid Calvinism.” Indeed, at the recent John 3:16 conference we heard the opposite assertion, that a move toward Calvinism is a move away from the gospel. Ross notes that Spurgeon said that the “great evangelical truths” are far more important than Calvinism vs. Arminianism and that many evangelical Arminians were in agreement with him on the Down Grade. I agree wholeheartedly. But nonetheless the idea that a move toward Arminianism is often the first step on the downgrade was repeated several times in the Down Grade articles, and it was repeated by Spurgeon himself in the Notes from the Downgrade article from April 1887. Spurgeon and Shindler certainly didn’t blame Calvinism for the Down Grade. The following from that article appears to be a good summary of Spurgeon’s views on the matter:

We care far more for the central evangelical truths than we do for Calvinism as a system; but we believe that Calvinism has in it a conservative force which helps to hold men to the vital truth, and therefore we are sorry to see any quitting it who have once accepted it. Those who hold the eternal verities of salvation, and yet do not see all that we believe and embrace, are by no means the objects of our opposition. Our warfare is with men who are giving up the atoning sacrifice, denying the inspiration of Holy Scripture, and casting slurs upon justification by faith. The present struggle is not a debate upon the question of Calvinism or Arminianism, but of the truth of God versus the inventions of men. All who believe the gospel should unite against that “modern thought” which is its deadly enemy.

Those on both sides of the Calvinism debate would do well to pay heed to these words.

Baptismal regeneration is a worse error than evangelical Arminianism. But very few conservative Presbyterians today are guilty of believing it, certainly not to the extent that the English Presbyterians who followed Doddridge did. This is particularly true of the type of Presbyterians who are involved in things like Together for the Gospel. Now, it is clear that many “Reformed Baptists” would rather fellowship with Presbyterians rather than otherwise sound Baptists who just don’t happen to be 5 pointers. Not for nothing have they sometimes been termed “High Water Presbyterians.” As Spurgeon recognized, there are many things that confessional Presbyterians and Particular Baptists have in common. What separates us was perhaps clearer in Spurgeon’s day than ours since ecclesiology is too often a neglected subject. But it would seem that we’d be better served to refrain from selectively quoting a few statements that have the tendency to give a false impression of a work as a whole, especially given the current situation in which some are looking to blame Calvinism for the perceived ills in the SBC. Further, whether or not someone believes that regeneration precedes faith, the idea that baptized infants are always regenerated in their infancy as Ross appears to suggest in his attacks on “hybrid Calvinism” is clearly not supported by the Presbyterian’s Westminster Confession of Faith, as I believe Ross has noted in the past. Whether we agree with it or not, the idea that regeneration precedes faith really has nothing to do with paedobaptism at all. This is demonstrated by the fact that several of those who Bro. Ross cites in support of his “creedal Calvinist” views were paedobaptists themselves.

In closing, I do want to make clear how thankful we should be for Bro. Ross’ labors in publishing unabridged versions of all of Spurgeon’s works. Through the years he has also published a number of helpful books, including Old Landmarkism and the Baptists which I have recently found to be very helpful.

*The debate on how to view the so called “children of the covenant” (baptized children) has been a long running one among Presbyterians. Few conservative Presbyterians today would agree with the practice of the English Presbyterians that led to “children of the covenant” being admitted to the table without a profession of faith. Those who do believe that children should be admitted to the table without a profession of faith have recently had their views rejected by every conservative Presbyterian denomination of significance.

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1st London Baptist Confession (1644)

XXXIX BAPTlSM is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed upon persons professing faith, or that are made disciples; who upon profession of faith, ought to be baptized, and after to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Matt.28:18,19; John 4:1; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:37.38, 8:36,37,etc.

XL THAT the way and manner of dispensing this ordinance, is dipping or plunging the body under water; it being a sign, must answer the things signified, which is, that interest the saints have in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ: And that as certainly as the body is buried under water, and risen again, so certainly shall the bodies of the saints be raised by the power of Christ, in the day of the resurrection, to reign with Christ.
Matt.3:16; Mark 15:9 reads (into Jordan) in Greek; John 3:23; Acts 8:38; Rev.1:5, 7:14; Heb.10:22; Rom.6:3,4,5.6; 1 Cor.15:28.29. The word baptizo signifies to dip or plunge (yet so as convenient garments be both upon the administrator and subject with all modesty).

Appendix to the 1646 Confession of Faith by Benjamin Cox:

Though a believer’s right to the use of the Lord’s Supper doth immediately flow from Jesus Christ apprehended and received by faith, yet in as much as all things ought to be done not only decently, but also in order, 1 Cor.14:40; and the Word holds forth this order, that disciples should be baptized, Matt.28:19; Acts 2:38, and then be taught to observe all things (that is to say. all other things) that Christ commanded the Apostles, Matt.28:20, and accordingly the Apostles first baptized disciples, and then admitted them to the use of the Supper, Acts 2:41, 42; we therefore do not admit any in the use of the Supper, nor communicate with any in the use of this ordinance, but disciples having once been Scripturally baptized, less we should have fellowship with them in their doing contrary to order.

Midland Confession of Faith (1655)

13th. That those who profess faith in Christ, and make the same appear by their fruits, are the proper subjects of Baptism. Matthew xxviii.18,19.

14th. That this baptizing is not by sprinkling, but dipping of the persons in the water, representing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Romans vi.3,4; Colossians ii.12; Acts viii.38,39.

15th. That persons so baptized ought, by free consent, to walk together, as God shall give opportunity in distinct churches, or assemblies of Zion, continuing in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers, as fellow-men caring for one another, according to the will of God. All these ordinances of Christ are enjoined in His Church, being to be observed till his Second Coming, which we all ought diligently to wait for.

2nd London Baptist Confession (1689)

Chapter 28: Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

1._____ Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world.
( Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:26 )
2._____ These holy appointments are to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ.
( Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 4:1 )

Chapter 29: Of Baptism

1._____ Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.
( Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2;12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4 )
2._____ Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.
( Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36, 37; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 18:8 )
3._____The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
( Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 8:38 )
4._____Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance. ( Matthew 3:16; John 3:23 )

Carter Lane Declaration–John Gill’s Confession of Faith (1757)

XI. We believe, That Baptism (Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26) and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of Christ, to be continued until his second coming; and that the former is absolutely requisite to the latter; that is to say, that those (Acts 2:41 and 9:18, 26) only are to be admitted into the communion of the church, and to participate of all ordinances in it, (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12, 36, 37 and 16:31-34 and 8:8) who upon profession of their faith, have been baptized, (Matthew 3:6, 16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38, 39; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12) by immersion, in the name of the Father, (Matthew 28:19) and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

The Sandy Creek Confession (1758)

IX. That true believers are the only fit subjects of baptism;, and that immersion is the only mode.
X. That the church has no right to admit any but regular baptized church members to communion at the Lord’s table.

The Baptist Catechism, Charleston Association (1813)

Q. Who are the proper subjects of this ordinance? (The Lord’s Supper)
A. They who have been baptized upon a personal profession of their faith in Jesus Christ, and repentance from dead works (Acts 2:41, 42).

New Hampshire Confession (1833)

* Of a Gospel Church We believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers (66), associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel (67); observing the ordinances of Christ (68); governed by his laws (69), and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his Word (70); that its only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons (71), whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.
* Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper We believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer (72), into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost (73); to show forth, in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, with its effect in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life (74); that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a Church relation; and to the Lord’s Supper (75), in which the members of the Church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ (76); preceded always by solemn self- examination (77).

Abstract of Principles–Adopted at the founding of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1858:

XV. Baptism.

Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, obligatory upon every believer, wherein he is immersed in water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of his fellowship with the death and resurrection of Christ, of remission of sins, and of his giving himself up to God, to live and walk in newness of life. It is prerequisite to church fellowship, and to participation in the Lord’s Supper.

A Catechism of Bible Teaching by John A. Broadus (1892)

Lesson 11: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

10. Who ought to partake of the Lord’s Supper
A. Those ought to partake of the Lord’s Supper who have believed in Christ, and have been baptized, and are trying to live in obedience of Christ’s commands.

The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) of the Southern Baptist Convention echoes the language of the New Hampshire Confession and the Abstract of Principles:

Being a church ordinance, it [baptism] is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

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