Thursday, December 6, 2012

Benefits of Symbiosis in the SBC (Part 1)

Well, I haven't blogged in quite a while. One reason for this is because not only do I have a full plate with my pastoral duties but I am also working on my M.A. in Christian Studies at the Baptist College of Florida. I just finished a class on Southern Baptist History. In that class I researched the history of both general and particular baptists and how their differences can actually create a mutually beneficial relationship to keep the SBC balanced and focused. So I have decided to publish my research in five parts here for the sake of what I hope to be helpful conservation concerning the current controversy in the SBC in regard to general and particular baptists.

            Baptists are a peculiar people. They are diverse in their understanding of the gospel, their soteriology, but are agreed in their understanding of the church, their ecclesiology. In theological and more technical terms, Baptists, especially Southern Baptists as a denomination, are a mixture of people with either Arminian or Calvinist soteriology, and that in varying degrees. Therefore there is no one soteriology that defines what Baptists believe about the gospel. The defining factor for Baptists comes in their practice rather than their soteriology. This does not mean, however, that there is no agreement among both Arminian and Calvinist Baptists concerning the gospel. Nathan Finn has rightly observed:
 As a general rule, Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree on the basics of the gospel. All parties agree that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God who was incarnate in the Virgin Mary, lived a life of perfect obedience to God’s law, provided a penal substitutionary atonement for sinners on the cross, and was resurrected after three days in the tomb, securing the justification of every person who repents of their sins and trusts Christ as Lord and Savior.[1]

One would think that because of the presence of two major and differing soteriological viewpoints among Baptists that cooperation between the two groups would be if not impossible, at least not desirable. Such a match may not be considered one made in heaven. After all, will there not be internal struggles for ascendency of one group above the other? Will there not be accusations of unbiblical hermeneutics, unbiblical philosophizing, unbiblical evangelism, unbiblical non-evangelism, and even heresy? Will there not be severe clashes that result from being diverse in soteriology that will threaten to dismantle the cooperation of the two? If yes, are there any reasons that Arminian and Calvinist Southern Baptists should remain in cooperation as a denomination?
The history of Baptists in general and Southern Baptists in particular shows that Baptists can accomplish more united than they can divided and that they need each other to counteract unbiblical extremes into which either group is capable of degenerating. The harmful effects of either competition or monopolism should be avoided by Southern Baptists. Instead, Southern Baptists should apply the principle of symbiosis. Christian Schwarz wrote:
Symbiosis, according to Webster, is “the intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship.” Two negative models stand in contrast to this principle: competition and monoculture. Competition assumes “dissimilar organisms,” just like symbiosis does, but these organisms harm rather than help one another. Monoculture, on the other hand (called monopolism in economics and society), has lost the variety of species, and one type of organism dominates. This obviously eliminates destructive competition, but it also takes away the symbiotic interdependence of different species.[2]

Both Arminian and Calvinist Southern Baptists have everything to lose and nothing to gain from dissolution of their symbiotic relationship. Both competition and monopolism in soteriology can be detrimental to the mutually beneficial relationship among Southern Baptists.
Southern Baptists, dissimilar in soteriology, can accomplish more united than they can divided. They need each other to counteract unbiblical extremes into which either group is capable of degenerating. To prove this thesis, first, a sketch of the rise of the two differing groups will be traced. After that, a sketch of the formulation of Baptist confessions of faith and their historical contexts that gave them rise will be outlined. Then, the unbiblical extremes that plagued both groups will be sketched. Next, the catalyst for entering a mutually beneficial relationship of cooperation between the two differing groups will be highlighted. Finally, the benefits of cooperation between General and Particular Baptists in the Southern Baptist Convention will be discussed.

The Rise of Arminian (General) and Calvinist (Particular) Baptists
            Modern Baptists, including Southern Baptists, have as their common source of ancestry, two streams of Baptists that originated in England, General and Particular Baptists. This view, however, is not held by all Baptists. Four basic theories concerning the origins of Baptists have been developed by Baptist historians. These have been identified as (1) the successionist theory that claims Baptist origins to John the Baptist, (2) the continuation of Biblical teachings theory that claims that Baptist-like faith and practice never completely died out from New Testament times to the present, (3) the Anabaptist spiritual kinship theory that claims a spiritual relationship of Baptists to Anabaptist sects, and (4) the English Separatist descent theory that claims Baptists originated from English Separatists and Puritan reform groups of the sixteenth century.[3]
            The best scholarship of Baptist history concludes that the English Separatist descent theory matches the historical evidence that Baptists are thoroughgoing Reformers and Protestants.[4] James Leo Garret, concerning the Baptist church succession theory and its claim of identity with pre-Reformation movements and non-identity with the Magisterial Protestant Reformation, said, “Often the claims of identity between such groups and Baptists of the last four centuries have not matched the historical evidence.”[5] Paige Patterson, although allowing for similarities between Baptists and Anabaptists, concluded:
Those who argue for a foundation in English separatism are demonstrably correct. Those who see a connection to continental Anabaptism have not yet established indisputable evidence of such, but they can still suggest that similarities between the Swiss and South German Biblicists and Baptists are adequate to attract the interest of Baptists and sufficiently compelling to engender not only admiration but also in many cases imitation of their commitments and convictions.[6]

Roger C. Richards, in History of Southern Baptists, stated, “The first Baptists in America originated principally with the emigration of General and Particular Baptists from Great Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”[7] W. Wiley Richards wrote, “Baptists originated in England about 1600 as a part of a group of separatists who saw no hope of purifying Anglicanism and had begun private meetings of their own.”[8] Robert Torbet concluded that the English Separatist descent theory was the most plausible. He said:
Such a conclusion is apparently the most plausible one for several reasons: (1) It does not violate principles of historical accuracy, as do those views which assume a definite continuity between earlier sects and modern Baptists. (2) Baptists have not shared with Anabaptists the latter’s aversion to oath-taking and holding public office. Neither have they adopted the Anabaptists’ doctrine of pacifism, or their theological views concerning the incarnation, soul sleeping, and the necessity of observing an apostolic succession in the administration of baptism.[9]

Historical accuracy concerning the origins of the people called Baptists, demands then, a conclusion of descent from the English Separatist movement. However, the question remains, how did the two streams of Baptists, General and Particular, originate in England?
The Rise of General Baptists in England
            The General Baptists, so called because of their belief that the atonement made by Christ was a general or unlimited atonement which was sufficient for the whole world and not just the elect, were the first to emerge on English soil in Baptist history[10]. The historical context of their emergence is that of dissent from Roman Catholic domination and from the Church of England “which was halfway between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.”[11] General Baptists separated from the Church of England and began to hold private meetings of their own because they saw no hope of purifying Anglicanism.[12] These Separatists, as they came to be called, had come to the conviction that the church ought to be free of government connection.[13] They organized covenanted congregations and usually signed written covenants that defined the commitment of their individual members.[14]
            Three men, John Smyth, Thomas Helwys and John Murton, are credited by historians as the first to begin a fellowship of General Baptists.[15] Their group sought refuge in Holland where Smyth came under Mennonite influence, became an Anabaptist, and eventually came to the conclusion that the Amsterdam Mennonites constituted a true church and therefore had a true baptism.[16] Smyth and the majority of the group presented a petition to the Mennonites for membership in the Mennonite church. The remaining eight to ten people that did not apply for membership among the Mennonites parted company with Smyth and followed Helwys. Helwys’ group drew up a confession of faith to present to the Mennonites to distinguish themselves from Smyth’s congregation.[17] Shortly afterwards, Helwys and his group returned to London and formed the first Baptist church on English soil in 1611 or 1612 at Spitalfield for which there is historical proof.[18] Concerning this church, Torbet wrote, “It was Arminian or General Baptist in doctrine and affusionist in mode of baptism.”[19]
            The number of General Baptist churches grew and they eventually formed an association of General Baptists. Roger Richards wrote:
By 1626 there were five General Baptist churches in England with about 150 members. They numbered about forty churches by 1644. In 1654 they formed the General Assembly of General Baptists and in 1678 adopted a strong confession of faith . . . . Many of these General Baptists . . . emigrated to Carolina and Virginia in the colonial period.[20]

Thus the General Baptists arose as one of the two streams of Baptists that originated in England. The question remains, how did the second stream of Baptists, the Particular Baptists, originate in England?
The Rise of Particular Baptists in England
            The Particular Baptists, so called because of their belief that the death of Christ was a particular atonement limited to the elect, emerged about a generation later than the General Baptists.[21] Particular Baptists shared the same historical context of emerging out of reforming Separatism as the General Baptists. However, the Particular Baptists were not as rigid as the General Baptists at first in their stance of separation from the Church of England. The Particular Baptists were semi-Separatists, not in rigid or hostile separation from the Church of England, who only later “assumed a more sectarian stance.”[22]
            Particular Baptists originated in England about 1638.[23] Their roots are traced back to Henry Jacob, an Anglican clergyman who was a moderate Separatist, but never became a Baptist.[24] Jacob was imprisoned for circulating a treatise calling for reform in the Church of England. He was released on his promise not to circulate his treatise and went into exile in Holland.[25] Jacob returned to England in 1616 and gathered a church in the Southwark section of London. “This is often called the JLJ church for its first three pastors, Henry Jacob, John Lathrop, and Henry Jesse.”[26] This church would later give rise to the first Particular Baptist church, probably about 1638.[27] Under the leadership of men like John Spilsbury, Henry Jessey, and William Kiffen, the movement of the Particular Baptists grew and by 1644, the number of Particular Baptist churches increased to seven.[28]

[1] Nathan A. Finn, “Southern Baptist Calvinism: Setting the Record Straight,” (accessed September 29, 2012).
[2] Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches (St. Charles, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 2000), 74. Italics in the original.
[3] Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists, 3rd ed. (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1975), 18-22; H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 49-60.
[4] McBeth, Heritage, 61; James Leo Garrett in Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future, “The Roots of Baptist Beliefs,” edited by David S. Dockery (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009), 143. McBeth stated that the most reliable historical evidence confirms that Baptists originated in the early seventeenth century. Garrett cited John Quincy Adams as writing that the Baptists are the truly thoroughgoing Reformers.
[5] Garrett, Identity, 142.
[6] Paige Patterson, Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future, “Learning from the Anabaptists,” edited by David S. Dockery (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009), 124.
[7] Dr. Roger C. Richards, History of Southern Baptists, Kindle Edition, 2012.  location 200 of 9258.
[8] W. Wiley Richards, Winds of Doctrine: The Origin and Development of Southern Baptist Theology (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1991), 6.
[9] Torbet, History of Baptists, 21.
[10] Richards, Winds, 6; Torbet, History of Baptists, 37,
[11] Richards, Southern Baptists, 200-226 of 9258.
[12] Richards, Winds, 6.
[13] McBeth, Heritage, 25.
[14] A. J. Smith, The Making of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008), 66.
[15] Richards, Southern Baptists, 263 of 9258; Richards, Winds, 6; Torbet, History of Baptists, 37.
[16] Torbet, History of Baptists, 35.
[17] Torbet, History of Baptists, 36.
[18] Richards, Southern Baptists, 263 of 9258; Torbet, History of Baptists, 37.
[19] Torbet, History of Baptists, 37.
[20] Richards, Southern Baptists, 275 of 9258.
[21] McBeth, Heritage, 39.
[22] McBeth, Heritage, 39, 42.
[23] Torbet, History of Baptists, 40.
[24] McBeth, Heritage, 40.
[25] McBeth, Heritage, 41.
[26] McBeth, Heritage, 42.
[27] McBeth, Heritage, 43; Richards, Southern Baptists, 300 of 9258.
[28] Richards, Southern Baptists, 300 of 9258; Torbet, History of Baptists, 43.

No comments: