Monday, 1 June 2009

Baptist Primary Distinctives: Soul Competency and “Believers’ Church”

The Baptist movement was forged in an age when a kingdom’s subjects were required to belong to the monarch’s own religion, and in an age when that religion was being switched back and forth with every other new monarch. Moreover, the Baptist movement was forged in an age when infants were baptised into their parents’ religion. And finally, the Baptist movement was forged in an age when everyone belonged to the church. These cultural factors significantly influenced Baptist distinctives.

In broad categories, Baptist distinctives can be brought down to two urgencies. The first urgency has historically been known as Soul Competency. Soul competency arises out of the conviction that the Spirit dwells in every believer. To be sure, this was an emphasis in all the Reformation churches, providing the impetus for bypassing intermediaries such as priest, bishop, and pope for one’s access to God’s forgiveness of sin. However, Baptists thought more deeply and more consistently about the indwelling of the Spirit than other movements. This doctrine informed their polity in that they accepted “congregational governance,” refusing to accept the notion that a powerful bishop or powerful elder board should rule over the congregation by fiat; rather, they embraced the notion that the congregation itself was competent to make decisions about its own ministry. This also implied that Christians did not have to embrace the religion or theology of the Crown, resulting in the martyrdom of many Baptist preachers who languished under poor health conditions in jails throughout Britain in the 17th century, including, for example, John Bunyan. Thus, the concept of the separation of church and state historically was first espoused and cogently argued by Baptists, although the term has been much abused in recent American history and political life.

The second urgency was a view of the church as a “voluntary association.” That is to say, people were not members of the church on the basis of their parents’ decision to have them baptised as infants. Rather, inclusion in the church was on the basis of the individual’s decision to follow Jesus, and upon his profession of faith as he was immersed in the waters of baptism. Early Baptists recoiled at the notion of baptising unbelievers, which is precisely what happens when an infant is baptised.

These two urgencies had several practical outcomes in the local church. First, Baptist churches were countercultural; in a culture where everyone belonged to the official, State-sponsored church, Baptists withdrew and formed their own independent congregations. Secondly, Baptist churches often had a congregational intimacy and purity which was practically impossible with those churches which included into its membership the whole of society on the basis of infant baptism. Thus, while the term “Believers’ Church” ought to have been theologically redundant, it was a practical reality, given that membership in the “Cultural Church” did not even include a person’s own declaration of faith.

Regrettably, many Baptists today have no clue as to these two primary distinctives and urgencies.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Thomas Helwys' Declaration of Faith

Thomas Helwys is known as the founder of the Baptist movement. He was an Arminian, and so history records that the first Baptists in Europe were Arminian. His Declaration of Faith is recorded below, although I have not checked it against a printed edition, and its domain source is no longer available.


Declaration Of English People In Remaining in Holland

A DECLARATION OF FAITH OF ENGLISH PEOPLE REMAINING AT AMSTERDAM IN HOLLAND. Hebrews 11:6. Without Faith it is impossible to please GOD. Hebrews 11. Romans 14:23. Whatsoever is not of Faith is sin. 30/84
Printed. 1611. To All The Humble minded | which love the truth in simplicity Grace and | peace. [This is followed by two pages of preface.] A DECLARATION, ETC. WE BELEIVE AND CONFESS

1. That there are THREE which bear record in heaven, the FATHER, the WORD, and the SPIRIT; and these THREE are one GOD, in all equality, (1 John 5:7; Philippians 2:5, 6). By whom all things are created and preserved, in Heaven and in Earth. (Genesis 1).

2. That this GOD in the beginning created al things of nothing, (Genesis 1:1) and made man of the dust of the earth, (Genesis 2:7), in his own image, (Genesis 1:27), in righteousness and true Holiness. (Ephesians 4:24); yet being tempted, fell by disobedience. (Ephesians 3:1-7). Through whose disobedience, all men sinned. (Romans 5:12-19). His sin being imputed unto all; and so death went over all men.

3. That by the promised seed of the woman, JESUS CHRIST, [and by] his obedience, al are made righteous. (Romans 5:19). All are made alive, (1 Corinthians 15:22). His righteousness being imputed unto all.

4. That notwithstanding this, men are by nature the Children of wrath, (Ephesians 2:3) born in iniquity and in sin conceived. (Psalm 51:5) Wise to all evil, but to good they have no knowledge. (Jeremiah 4:22). The natural man perceives not the things of the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:14). And therefore man is not restored unto his former estate, but that as man, in his estate of innocence, having in himself all disposition unto good, & no disposition unto evil, yet being tempted might yield, or might resist: even so now being fallen, and having all disposition unto evil, and no disposition or will unto any good, yet GOD giving grace, man may receive grace, or my reject grace, according to that saying; (Deuteronomy 30:19) I call Heaven and Earth to record. This day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: Therefore choose life that both thou and thy seed may live.

5. That GOD before the Foundation of the World hath Predestinated that all that believe in him shall-be saved, (Ephesians 1:4, 12; Mark 16:16) and al that believe not shall be damned, (Mark 16:16) all which he knew before. (Romans 8:29) And this is the Election and reprobation spoken of in the Scriptures, concerning salvation, and condemnation, and not that GOD hath Predestinated men to be wicked, and so to be damned, but that men being wicked shall be damned, for GOD would have all men saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth, (1 Timothy 2:4) and would have no man to perish, but would have all men come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) and wills not the death of him that dies. (Ezekiel 18:32). And therefore GOD is the author of no mans condemnation; according to the saying of the Prophet. (Hosea 13). Thy destruction O Israel, is of thy self, but thy help is of me.

6. That man is justified only by the righteousness of CHRIST, apprehended by faith, (Romans 3:28. Galatians 2:16) yet faith without works is dead. (James 2:17)

7. That men may fall away from the grace of GOD, (Hebrews 12:15) and from the truth, which they have received &acknowledged, (Hebrews 10:26) after they have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the HOLY GHOST, and have tasted of the good word of GOD, &of the powers of the world to come. (Hebrews 6:4, 5). And after they have escaped from the filthiness of the World, may be tangled again therein &overcome. (2 Peter 2:20). That a righteous man may forsake his righteousness and perish (Ezekiel 18:24, 26). And therefore let no man presume to think that because he hath, or had once grace, therefore he shall always have grace: But let all men have assurance, that if they continue unto the end, they shall be saved: Let no man then presume; but let all work out their salvation with fear and trembling.

8. That JESUS CHRIST, the Son of GOD the second Person, or subsistence in the Trinity, in the Fullness of time was manifested in the Flesh, being the seed of David, and of the Israelites, according to the Flesh, (Romans 1:3 and Romans 8:5) the Son of Marie the Virgin, made of her substance, (Galatians 4:4) by the power of the HOLY GHOST overshadowing her, (Luke 1:35) and being thus true Man was like unto us in all thing, sin only excepted. Hebrews (4:15) being one person in two distinct natures, TRUE GOD, and TRUE MAN. 32/84

9. That JESUS CHRIST is Mediator of the New Testament between GOD and Man, (1 Timothy 2:5) having all power in Heaven and in Earth given unto him. (Matthew 28:18) Being the only KING, (Luke 1:33) PREIST, (Hebrews 7:24) and PROPHET. (Acts 3:22) Of his church, he also being the only Law-giver, hath in his Testament set down an absolute, and perfect rule of direction, for all persons, at all times, to be observed; Which no Prince, nor any whosoever, may add to, or diminish from as they will avoid the fearful judgments denounced against them that shall so do. (Revelation 22:18, 19).

10. That the church of CHRIST is a company of faithful people (1 Corinthians 1:2. Ephesians 1:1) separated from the world by the word &Spirit of GOD (2 Corinthians 6:17) being knit unto the LORD, &one unto another, by Baptism. (1 Corinthians 12:13). Upon their own confession of the faith (Acts 8:37) and sins. (Matthew 3:6).

11. That though in respect of CHRIST, the Church be one (Ephesians 4:4) yet it consists of divers particular congregations, even so many as there shall be in the World, every of which congregation, though they be but two or three, have CHRIST given them, with all the means of their salvation. (Matthew 18:20. Romans 8:32. 1 Corinthians 3:22). Are the Body of CHRIST (1 Corinthians 12:27) and a whole Church. (1 Corinthians 14:23) And therefore may, and ought, when they are come together, to Pray, Prophecy, break bread, and administer in all the holy ordinances, although as yet they have no Officers, or that their Officers should be in Prison, sick, or by any other means hindered from the Church. (1 Peter 4:10 &2:5).

12. That as one congregation hath CHRIST, so hath all, (2 Corinthians 10:7). And that the Word of GOD comes not out from any one, neither to any one congregation in particular. (1 Corinthians 14:36). But unto every particular Church, as it doth unto al the world. (Colossians 1:5. 6). And therefore no church ought to challenge any prerogative over any other.

13. That every Church is to receive in all their members by Baptism upon the Confession of their faith and sins wrought by the preaching of the Gospel, according to the primitive Institution, (Matthew 28:19) and practice, (Acts 2:41). And therefore Churches constituted after any other manner, or of any other persons are not according to CHRISTS Testament. 33/84

14. That Baptism or washing with water is the outward manifestation of dieing unto sin, and walking in newness of life. (Romans 6:2, 3, 4). And therefore in no wise appertains to infants.

15. That the LORDS Supper is the outward manifestation of the Spiritual communion between CHRIST and the faithful mutually (1 Corinthians 10:16, 17) to declare his death until he come. (1 Corinthians 11:26).

16. That the members of every Church or Congregation ought to know one another, so that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another, both to soul and body. (Matthew 18:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 1 Corinthians 12:25). And especially the Elders ought to know the whole flock, whereof the HOLY GHOST hath made them overseers. (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2, 3). And therefore a Church ought not to consist of such a multitude as cannot have particular knowledge one of another.

17. That Brethren impenitent in one sin after the admonition of the Church, are to be excluded the communion of the Saints (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:4, 13) &therefore not the committing of sin doth cut of any from the Church, but refusing to hear the Church to reformation.

18. That Excommunicants in respect of civil society are not to be avoided, (2 Thessalonians 3:15. Matthew 18:17).

19. That every Church ought (according to the example of CHRISTS Disciples and primitive Churches) upon every first day of the week, being the LORDS day, to assemble together to pray, prophecy, praise GOD, and break Bread, and perform all other parts of Spiritual communion for the worship of GOD, their own mutual edification, and the preservation of true Religion, &piety in the church (John 20:19. Acts 2:42 and 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2) and that ought not to labor in their callings according to the equity of the moral law, which CHRIST came not to abolish, but to fulfill. (Exodus 20:8 &c).

20. That the Officers of every Church or congregation are either Elders, who by their office do especially feed the flock concerning their souls, (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2, 3) or Deacons Men, and Women who by their office relieve the necessities of the poor and impotent brethren concerning their bodies, (Acts 6:1-4). 34/84

21. That these Officers are to be chosen when there are persons qualified according to the rules in Christ’s Testament, (1 Timothy 3:2-7. Titus 1:6-9. Acts 6:3. 4) by Election and approbation of that Church or congregation whereof they are members, (Acts 6:3. 4 and 14:23), with Fasting, Prayer, and Laying on of hands, (Acts 13:3. and 14:23). And there being but one rule for Elders, therefore but one sort of Elders.

22. That the Officers of every Church or congregation are tied by Office only to that particular congregation whereof they are chosen, (Acts 14:23, and 20:17. Titus 1:5). And therefore they cannot challenge by office any authorities in any other congregation whatsoever except they would have an Apostleship.

23. That the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are written for our instruction, (2 Timothy 3:16) &that we ought to search them for they testify of CHRIST, (10:5. 39). And therefore to be used withal reverence, as containing the Holy Word of GOD, which only is our direction in al things whatsoever.

24. That Magistracy is a Holy ordinance of GOD, that every soul ought to be subject to it not for fear only, but for conscience sake. Magistrates are the ministers of GOD for our wealth, they bear not the sword for naught. They are the ministers of GOD to take vengeance on them that do evil, (Romans 13). That it is a fearful sin to speak evil of them that are in authority, and to despise Government. (2 Peter 2:10). We ought to pay tribute, custom and all other duties. That we are to pray for the, for GOD would have them saved and come to the knowledge of his truth. (1 Timothy 2:1. 4). And therefore they may be members of the Church of CHRIST, retaining their Magistracy, for no Holy Ordinance of GOD debars any from being a member of CHRISTS Church. They bear the sword of GOD, — which sword in all Lawful administrations is to be defended and supported by the servants of GOD that are under their Government with their lives and al that they have according as in the first Institution of that Holy Ordinance. And whosoever holds otherwise must hold, (if they understand themselves) that they are the ministers of the devil, and therefore not to be prayed for nor approved in any of their administrations, — seeing all things they do (as punishing offenders and defending their countries, state, and persons by the sword) is unlawful.

25. That it is Lawful in a just cause for the deciding of strife to take an oath by the Name of the Lord. (Hebrews 6:16; 2 Corinthians 1:23. Philippians 1:8). 35/84

26. That the dead shall rise again, and the living being changed in a moment, - having the same bodies in substance though divers in qualities. (1 Corinthians 15:52 and 38. Job 19:15-28. Luke 24:30).

27. That after the resurrection all men shall appear before the judgment seat of CHRIST to be judged according to their works, that the Godly shall enjoy life Eternal, the wicked being condemned shall be tormented everlastingly in Hell. (Matthew 25:46).


Last modified: 19.01.06 by GenBap 36/84

Friday, 13 March 2009

Rapping the Whole Gospel

The Christian rapper Flame must not be your average rapper. I came across the lyrics of one of his songs. It is heavy with theology and is to be commended for being weighty. I suspect that his music must appeal to many younger people.

However, there are some basic problems with it in regard to the Calvinist-Arminian issue. Here are some of the words; a select few are chosen for discussion, as indicated in all-caps.

"who can pluck us?"

See what I'm about to mention some consider secondary
But never weary guarantee it's very necessary
When Jesus hit the wood and she'd His blood on the tree
He did something good He was atoning for me
And even Jesus said that His sheep could never be snatched
Out of His hands nor the Father cause He's greater than
All and they're one like a married woman and man
So listen up (listen up) I'm bout to make it plain
So you can hear me clearly and sincerely what I'm saying
Through Jesus sacrifice the Father was satisfied (run it back)
Through Jesus sacrifice the Father was satisfied (one more time)
Through Jesus sacrifice the Father was satisfied
Now He gives assurance to all those for whom He died

I'm trying to tell you something you probably have never heard
And if you have you probably perceive them as dirty words
But there in the Bible we gotta talk ? talk about it (run it back)
But there in the Bible we gotta talk ? talk about it (one more time)
But there in the Bible we gotta talk ? talk about it
We can still love each other and share our thoughts about it
When Jesus died He drank the full cup of God's Wrath
To be redeemed that simply means to be bought back

In regard to the Calvinist-Arminian issue, I think it is important to debunk the myth that just because I'm an Arminian doesn't mean that I don't affirm election and predestination. The difference is that Arminians don't teach that God elects a few people to believe; neither does the Bible. Rather, we think that all who BELIEVE are elect. Yes, from eternity past, God elected a select group of people to be saved: he elected believers.

In fact, Flame's words here illustrates the Arminian point: "And all believers we see Peter would call the elect." That is to say, if you believe, then you are elect! Flame sounds more Arminian than Calvinist here!

That God predestined the Elect to eternal salvation is good Arminian theology. We just don't believe that God predestined some people to believe or chose some people to believe. Biblical election is entirely centred in Christ: we are ELECT "in Christ," but no one gets "in Christ" unless he first believes. Calvinist err here in centring salvation in a decree back in eternity pass rather than "in Christ."

Flame's lyrics at one point overlooks this important doctrine of "Union with Christ." He writes, "So when Christ expired the debt and the price was paid For particular people on that night to be saved."

However, I am certain that the elect experience not even the first salvific benefit until they are united with Christ through faith. Flame claims in this line that the sin debt of all the elect was expired when Christ died on the cross. This simply isn't true. The sin debt is not expired until a person is united with Christ by faith.

Ironically, if the elect's sin debt was expired when Christ died on the cross, Flame (and many Calvinists) would end up teaching that the elect were born into this world without being guilty of sin, and the elect were born into this world already reconciled with God through Christ, and that the elect were never under wrath. Of course, Calvinists don't believe this, but this seems to be the inevitable conclusion if they strongly assert that atonement for the elect was actually effected on the cross.

To avoid such a heretical conclusion, a good Calvinist (something very rare these days) would say, Christ provided atonement on the cross, but atonement is not effected until a person is united with Christ. But this is exactly what Arminians believe.

Ultimately, sometimes Flame's lyrics unjustly read Calvinism into the biblical texts to which he alludes. Flame writes, "When He was crucified it was on our behalf For all those the Father chose in eternity past." These two lines state that God sent his Son to die (only) for the select few. This is not biblical election. Biblical election only teaches that a select few will be saved; it does not state or imply anything about the extent of the atonement. God could provide atonement for everyone, yet only elect believers.

This song seems to represent yet another means by which Calvinists are getting out their message to young Christians. Let me urge Arminians to counter this by producing good music which focuses on the Good News which is meant for all people. Perhaps someone could write a rap song on the theme, "Not willing that any should perish."

Saturday, 28 February 2009

A Message from Arminian Theologian Roger Olson

Prof. Olson writes about theological bullying and blatant misrepresentation of Arminians by present day Calvinists.

Feel free to copy and post this anywhere but only without editing it.
You may and should attach my name to it.

I appreciate and agree with everything Scot McKnight has written in his
blog postings "Who are the NeoReformed?" (See his blog The Jesus
Creed.) He was very judicious about naming names. Namely, naming names
would only inflame the controversy and make things worse. "If the shoe
fits [someone]...."

I would like to add that many contemporary Calvinists who are feeding
the "young, restless and Reformed" the fuel with which they go out and
cause trouble (one of them told me I'm not even saved because I'm an
Arminian!) totally misrepresent Arminianism (to say nothing of other

Here is a quote from one Calvinist pastor's sermon on limited atonement:
"The Arminian limits the nature and value and effectiveness of the
atonement so that he can say that it was accomplished even for those who
die in unbelief and are condemned. In order to say that Christ died for
all men in the same way, the Arminian must limit the atonement to a
powerless opportunity for men to save themselves from their terrible
plight of depravity."

Now, either this well-educated pastor knows little about classical
Arminian theology or he is intentionally mispresenting it. But in the
former case he should have read at least my book Arminian Theology:
Myths and Realities. Because his statement is simply false. It
completely ignores the Arminian emphasis on prevenient grace.

One thing I find appalling but often practiced by the people Scot calls
"NeoReformed" is attributing to others beliefs the others not only do
not hold but explicitly deny. When confronted the NeoReformed say "But
that's the good and necessary consequence of what they do believe."
Then they should say that and also say "But they don't actually believe

So the followers of these highly educated leaders of the NeoReformed
hear them or read them and go out thinking and saying "Arminians believe
people save themselves." That's poppycock and the leaders of the
NeoReformed movement know it.

There's a lot of dishonesty going on in this "Village Green" we call
evangelicalism. And frankly, as I see it, most of it is the result of
NeoReformed people blatantly misrepresenting Arminianism and by that
trying to marginalize Arminians (and Anabapts who basically hold the
same theology). How? By convincing the movers and shakers of the
evangelical movement that Arminianism is dangerously close to heresy.

I cannot read their hearts or minds, so I do not know whether they are
misrepresenting Arminianism intentionally or not. But I am sure they
are educated enough to have checked out their representations of
Arminianism to see if they are correct. Either they haven't done that
or they are intentionally misrepresenting Arminian theology (even if
only by saying only what they think Arminian theology leads to and
neglecting to make clear that is not what Arminians themselves believe).

I've been fighting this battle, to clear the good name of Arminian
theology (by showing how it different from Semi-Pelagianism) for years
now with very limited success. I find that most of the people doing the
misrepresenting of Arminianism and aggressively asserting the sole
theological correctness of Reformed theology (their version of it) have
little or no interest in being educated about real Arminian theology.
Their minds are already made up; don't confuse them with the facts.

Every year I have a group of Calvinist pastors from a local Reformed
church come to my class and speak. One of them started out by saying
"Arminianism is just Pelagianism." After several such unfortunate
encounters I gave them copies of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities
on the condition they read it. To the best of my knowledge they never

I have received e-mails and letters from scores of "young, restless and
Reformed" evangelicals thanking me for clearing up their misconceptions
(which they all say they were taught by leading Reformed evangelicals)
about Arminianism. But I have not heard from a single evangelical
Reformed leader saying that anything I wrote there made any difference
in the way they think or speak or write about Arminian theology.

Without any doubt in my mind, the "Village Green" metaphor for
evangelicalism is not a good one. After all, the Village Green in
England and then New England was simply a place where all the citizens
could come together and talk about the weather or politics or business.
Evangelicalism is a loose coalition of like-minded Christians who
acknowledge their differences. It's motto has always been "In
essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."
(See the National Association of Evangelicals web site.) The
multi-denominational tent revival is a much better metaphor for

Lately, however, there's been trouble under the revival tent. Some
folks are trying to convince the organizers and sponsors of the revival
and newcomers as well that their particular theology is an essential and
not a non-essential. They are very careful how they choose their words;
they usually strictly avoid the lable "heresy" for other views such as
Arminianism and even open theism. But their rhetoric is the rhetoric of
exclusion: "Arminianism is profoundly mistaken" and "Arminianism is on
the precipice of heresy" and "all Arminians are on their way to open
theism," etc., etc.

It's time for evangelicalism's leaders to stand up and say no--not to
Calvinism but to those evangelical Calvinists who are causing trouble in
the evangelical camp by blatantly misrepresenting other evangelicals'
beliefs and by implying, if not asserting, that their theology is the
only authentic evangelical theology.

Roger E. Olson

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Who Are Free Will Baptists?

Free Will Baptists are an association of independent baptistic church congregations. Their 17th century origins are rooted in the rejection of infant baptism, and affirmation that believers only should be baptized.

The earliest Baptists were Arminian (), although Calvinist Baptists arose soon afterward. Both Calvinist and Arminian Baptists shared some sense of commonality with each other as they were persecuted by the infant baptists.

English Baptists had their origins under the heel of a repressive monarchy which insisted that its subjects submit to the King's religion. Baptist affirmation of soul competency and the indwelling of the Spirit brought them into serious conflict with the crown. Many, many Baptist pastors died in prison.

The theological commitment to soul competency and the indwelling of the Spirit informed and determined the shape of Baptist polity ( They rejected both bishop rule (episcopalianism) and elder rule (presbyterianism), and embraced congregationalism which divests authority away from the hand of one leader or several leaders into the hands of the congregation. Thus, Baptists choose their own leaders, rather than having them appointed by a higher human authority.

Under these conditions, Baptists migrated to America as early as the 17th century. Roger Williams who started the first Baptist church in the colonies (Providence, R.I.) was supposed to have been an Arminian Baptist, although his church quickly became a staunch Calvinist Baptist soon after his departure. Baptists were delineated along the Calvinist-Arminian controversy, with Calvinists known as Particular Baptists and Arminians known as General Baptists. Denominational names became more specific through the 18th and 19th centuries.

Early Baptists in America typically practiced feet washing as an act of fellowship in the context of worship, as commanded by Jesus. While most Baptists have abandoned this practice in the 20th century, Free Will Baptists have remained true to its Baptist historical roots in obeying this command.

In this early period, two FWB movements were distinguishable. In the north, a well organized denomination traced itself back to the ministry of Benjamin Randall. In the south, loosely organized churches can be traced to the ministry of Paul Palmer.

The Randall movement denominational apparatus facilitated considerable missions activity, theological publication, and hymnody. By 1907, the Randall movement could boast of seven theological colleges and about 1100 churches.

The Randall movement was influenced to some extent by Wesley's theology of continuance in salvation. The emphasis on continual repentance was such that historically, the Randall churches seemed to embrace a salvation of grace through faith, but a continuance in salvation by not sinning; if a believer were to die soon after committing a sin without having repented of it, he would presumably be condemned to hell. In contrast, the Palmer movement affirmed a salvation by grace through faith and continuance in salvation by grace through faith; the only way a person could forfeit his salvation is to make shipwreck of his faith. This description of the Randall view of continuance may be over stated, but at least serves to highlight an ongoing issue within the movement.

The Civil War exacerbated regional and theological differences, keeping the two movements ecclesially distant from each other. In contrast, arising out of the missions movement which needed denominational structure, many Baptist groups were forming closer formal alliances with each other.

In keeping with this trend toward ecclesial unity, from 1907-1911, about 1100 churches in the Randall movement voluntarily associated themselves with the newly formed Northern Baptist denomination. This voluntary merger included nearly every Freewill Baptist church in the north (a few churches in Scioto County Ohio did not vote for the merger, and FWBs in Oklahoma did not merge). The seven affiliated Freewill Baptist colleges also were involved with the merger.

The merger was designed to emphasize missional cooperation and to deemphasize theological differences. The result was the merger of Calvinist and Arminian Baptist churches. Practically speaking, churches typically embraced the Arminian doctrine of the extent of the atonement while embracing the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional continuance in salvation (eternal security). The Northern Baptist denomination later experienced several major splits along conservative-liberal issues, but is now known as American Baptist Churches--USA, consisting of over 5000 churches. Next to the Southern Baptist Convention, it is the second largest Baptist denomination in America.

Meanwhile, the Palmer movement seemed to languish due to a lack of denominational organization. To the extent that the Palmer movement was dependent upon northern Freewill Baptist literature, theological impetus, and cooperative ministry, the merger may have exacerbated this disorientation.

In 1935, FWB leaders came together and chartered the National Association of Free Will Baptists. In 1942, the FWB Bible College was established. In the 1950s, remnant Randall churches from West Virginia and Kentucky established many new FWB churches in OH MI IN and even IL; for example, in 1945, there were less than 10 FWB churches in OH, while 30 years later there were an astounding 150.

These roots in the rural south and hills of Appalachia are, for better or for worse, defining for modern FWBs. Culturally, the typical FWB church 1) is rural; 2) approaches worship without a prescribed liturgy or written prayers; 3) values informal, personal, and conversational worship; 4) eschews high church music; 5) is often dependent upon an uneducated clergy; and 6) has a genuine and natural sense of fellowship which impressively extends beyond the local church to the local association and beyond to various formal and informal networks on a national level.

FWBs have exerted considerable effort in expanding beyond its rural roots while at the same time retaining the best of its heritage. Despite some anti-educational elements in the denomination, FWBs have three colleges which are affiliated with either a state or the national association. Two additional colleges which have no direct ties to a state or the national association hold to FWB theology and have strong ties to a number of individual FWB churches. None of these colleges offers an MDiv which otherwise is the standard degree for ordination in many denominations. However, Hillsdale FWB College (Moore OK) offers a M.A. in ministry.

In recent years, FWBs have also seen many of its churches evolve away from its historical heritage in its ministerial approaches, some of which may be good or not so good. For example, National Ministries has a number of its church plants situated in major cities. Also, a number of churches have abandoned free church worship for contemporary worship. Moreover, a number of churches have moved away from congregational governance, embracing either an elder ruled governance or unilateral control by a single pastor. Consequently, visiting a FWB church, one probably should expect a genuinely friendly welcome, an informal welcome with announcements, three to five gospel hymns, special music and perhaps a choir number, a fervently preached sermon, and a hymn of invitation. Much of this will be led by non-professionals. A few individual churches may deviate from these expectations significantly. Sunday evening services often are more informal. Many churches regularly feature a time of personal sharing and testimonies.

One constant, however, has been FWB theology. It assumes a fierce, uncompromising commitment to the Bible which is unlikely to be challenged in the next generation or so. With this commitment comes a conservative hermeneutic, which is often practiced with some nuance, but not always. While a wide range of ministerial options is available for women, including single missionary service, there probably are currently no ordained women or women pastors in any affiliated FWB church. A good number of churches are opposed to or look suspiciously upon cooperative ministries with other denominations or churches; some churches hold to a “second line separation” which means that they will not fellowship with a sound, conservative believer who fellowships with someone who is a moderate or liberal Christian. The denomination voted to leave the National Association of Evangelicals, even though one of its own members (Billy Melvin) was instrumental in its initial founding and growth.

The most significant unique contribution FWBs have made to the annals of church history is to maintain and vigorously and effectively cultivate Reformation Arminian theology. This is all the more important in light of the Calvinist resurgence in the last decade. Reformation Arminianism poses an alternative to Calvinism which can be embraced by a large number of churches throughout evangelicalism. It affirms that 1) Jesus’ atonement paid the sin debt of all people; 2) that people enjoy this payment of their sin debt when they are united with Christ by faith; and 3) that God’s Spirit enables people who are totally depraved to believe in Jesus for salvation. The theological works of FWB theologians Stephen Ashby, Leroy Forlines, Robert Picirilli, and J. Matthew Pinson have had a major influence within the modern Arminian movement, as can be seen in the Society of Evangelical Arminians (

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Infant Baptism and Infant Communion?

This is an honest question: Why is it that people who are paedo-baptists (infant baptisers) don't invite non-believers to share in the Lord's Supper?

As a Baptist, I don't baptise infants simply because infants do not have a clear profession of faith--they are not believers. And I'm as certain as can be that non-believers should not be baptised.

Paedo-baptists have their own theological explanation as to why infants should be baptised, but at this point in my theological acuity, I still can't quite grasp their argument.

Being that as it may, I now wonder why paedo-baptists don't invite non-believers to share in communion. Or, to ask it another way, Why don't paedo-baptists put a speck of bread and a drop of juice into an infants mouth, much in the same way as they baptise the infant. Just as the infant might share in the death, burial and resurrection as portrayed in baptism, the infant might also share in the body and blood of Christ through communion.

Although the covenantal argument for infant baptism is too complex for me to really grasp, I would think that it could also be applied to infant communion. So, with this in mind, why don't paedo-baptists believe in infant communion.

My argument against infant communion is the same as my argument against infant baptism: non-believers shouldn't take communion or be baptised.