Friday, 22 September 2017

Eternal Security and the Early Baptists, Free(will) Baptists, & Northern Baptists

The earliest Baptists were Arminian. This is true of both Anabaptists of central Europe and the English Baptists that gave birth to Baptists in America. Thomas Helwys was the first to write a Baptist confession, and Helwys, his confession, and his congregation were all Arminian. Indeed, there is good circumstantial evidence that Helwys was influenced by Arminius and his circle.

Calvinism came to dominate Baptist circles, largely due to the influence of English Puritanism, although there remained throughout the 18th century a strong, vibrant, and theologically sound Arminian Baptist movement, led by Thomas Grantham. Calvinistic Baptists made their way to the colonies and established the very strong Philadelphia Baptist Association and other Calvinistic Baptist Associations, eventually organizing as the Northern Baptist Convention. Arminian Baptist churches were also established in the Carolinas in the early colonial period, but were poorly organized and eventually succumbed to pressures from the Philadelphia Baptist Association.

Although the Philadelphia Baptist Association’s theological commitments were strongly Calvinistic, the Calvinism of their churches quickly began to wane. As new churches were formed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, their statements of faith trended more and more toward Arminianism. At the same time, large numbers of Baptist churches that were distinctly Arminian were being organized in the northern United States, largely under the influence of Wesleyan Arminianism. They were organized in associations as Free Baptists, or Freewill Baptists.

By the early 20th century, Calvinism in the Northern Baptists had waned so much that Northern Baptists and the Free(will) Baptists merged together. This was no small matter given the sparse population, as the merger included a thousand churches and seven educational institutions, not the least of which was Hillsdale College. Individual churches could retain their own theological commitments, but generally the theological polemics were all toned down. Simultaneously, Southern Baptists also trended away from Calvinism, but while Southern Baptists urgently pressed the importance of the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional eternal security, Northern Baptists muted the point and trended toward a doctrine that believers are eternally secure so long as they persevere in the faith and not make shipwreck of it as Hymenaeus and Alexander did (1 Tim 1:18-20).

Northern Baptists eventually became known as American Baptist Churches—USA. Today, American Baptists trend toward Arminianism, but generally do not engage in theological apologetics or polemics. There are some American Baptist churches that do emphasize the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional eternal security, but these are largely due to the influence of Independent Baptist pastors who have recently pastored them.

For a well written summary of American Baptist history HERE.

No comments: