Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Roots in the Reformation

"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Introduction
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Roots in the Reformation


Where do the Baptists come from? Beyond a question of interests, the answer has been a subject of serious divide and animosity among baptists. There are, in general, three views. The first is Landmarkism which makes the wild claim that there have always been baptist-like churches that did not follow the apostasy of the Catholic Church. The second view is that baptists arise out of the Anabaptist/Radical Reformation tradition either directly or indirectly (or at least intellectually). The third view is that baptist find their roots in the English separatists movement.

In his book Baptists Through the Centuries, Dr. Bebbington barely addresses Landmarkism in chapters 2-3 and instead focuses on the other, more historic, possibilities. But before moving on, we should note that for decades Landmarkism was not only the majority view among baptists but embraced as strongly as other baptist and orthodox doctrines of the faith. Rejecting Landmarkism eventually led to the expulsion of one president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: William Whitsitt. Landmarkism is now almost been universally rejected.

Nevertheless, Bebbington suggests in chapter two that baptist are the offspring of the Reformation. The chapter begins with the assertion The origins of the Baptists lie in the maelstrom of the sixteenth-century Reformation (7). He then surveys the world of sixteenth century Europe and then looks (very briefly) at the influence and theology of the leaders of the Reformation beginning with Martin Luther and moving to Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin.*

He then looks at the English reformation in more detail. The first person worth highlighting here is John Wycliff and the Lollards who though showed no trace of the doctrine of justification by faith alone that was to energize the Reformation (13) once Luther's ideas made its way into England some of the Lollards seem to have merged fairly rapidly into the rising tide of Protestant feeling (13). From there, the Reformation in England took a decidedly political turn. So long as the King or Queen was Protestant, the Reformation moved forward but only at a snails pace. No doubt King Henry's Anglicanism still looked markedly like Roman Catholicism only without the Pope.

From this slow process arise the Puritans and from them arises the English Separatists. For the sake of space, Bebbington leaves out a lot of the story here, but he no doubt provides a helpful survey of the key figures and parties. One important point he makes regards Bloody Mary's role in the Reformation of England. He suggests, and I think rightly, that due to her violent scourge against the Protestants, the Reformation ultimately gained steam. He writes:
These scenes, and many judicial killings of lesser figures, earned Mary an unenviable reputation for cruelty. Although, at her accession, Protestant commitment was relatively weak in the population at large except in the southeast near London, she managed to alienate many more of her subjects. meanwhile, those who fled to the continent to escape persecution made common cause with the more advanced personalities of the Reformed world. . . . By creating martyrs and exiles, Mary did almost as much as her half-brother Edward had done to advance the Protestant cause. (14-15)
One prominent figure who fled Scotland under Mary was John Knox who helped with the Geneva Translation which became the primary English translation of the Bible until the later King James Version surpassed it in usage.

Nevertheless, out of the environment of this marriage between the monarchy and English protestantism, separatism arise. Bebbington points to Henry Jacob as one who planted a church that eventually reached Baptist conclusions. However, it is John Smyth who was the first to embrace believer's baptism (20-21). Thus it is these two men who are credited with the birth of the baptists.

All of this is summarized at the conclusion of the chapter. The author writes:
The early Baptists were the products of their times. They were conscious of the broad outlines of the Reformation that had preceded their emergence. There had been protests by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin against doctrines and practices that obscured the centrality of personal faith in the Christian life. In England the Lollards had long criticized the existing church. There had been tentative official moves toward change under Henry VIII, rapid developments in the same direction under Edward VI, and a sudden and cruel reversal under Mary. The Church of England under Elizabeth had established Protestantism, but there seemed to be much more scope for reform. Puritans wanted to press on with the task, objecting in particular to the idolatry that seemed bound up with the existing form of worship. the failure of demands for further change, especially at the Hamption Court conference, led to the creation of separatist congregations who members would not tarry for the authorities. When, in the 1630s, the Church of England turned back toward Roman Catholic ceremonies, the undercurrent of hostility to false worship surfaced even more powerfully. Churches such as Broadmead arose int he middle years of the seventeenth century in order to bring the process of religious reform to its consummation. Like the Independents, baptists were the heirs of the Reformation, Puritanism, and separatism. They adopted the same principles of punctilious loyalty to the word of God, of passionate desire to worship the Almighty correctly, and of willingness to restructure the church in accordance with God's precepts. Their biblical, liturgical, and ecclesisatical priorities drove them through Puritan loyalties into separatism and, eventually, to the further step of repudiating infant baptism. Baptists were the pole who took Reformation principles to their ultimate conclusion. (23-24)
In the end, I believe Bebbington is right. Though the connection between the first baptist and the radical reformation will be considered in the next chapter, ultimately the evidence is clear that baptists find their roots in the Reformation in general and the English separatists movement in particular. Any other conclusion is a misreading of the evidence.


* Though ultimately unrelated to our broader point here, there is one brief section regarding Calvin worth pointing out. Bebbington remarks regarding Calvin's Institutes that "The Almighty, he held, had chosen those who would be saved. This is the kernel of the doctrine of predestination for which Calvin is best known, but it was not the center of his system. Rather, he stressed that salvation came by grace as the undeserved gift of God" (11-12). I commend Bebbington here. In the margins of my book I wrote simply, "Thank you."


For more:
The People's Preacher: The Life of Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers
John MacArthur on Baptism
Credo vs. Paedo: MacArthur & Sproul Debate Baptism
"The Baptist Reformation"
Recoverying a Vision: A Documentary on the Presidency of R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
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