Correcting Some Rah-Rah Baptist Arguments

76287-004-83DD3144Dr. Dan Nelson recently wrote a post on sbctoday.com called “Baptist Dissenters from Error—Champions of Truth.”  Because I don’t want to copy/paste the whole blog post, I recommend giving it a once over before reading this response.

I have no idea who Dan Nelson is, nor do I know anything he’s written on sbctoday, I am simply using his blog post as an example of the type of arguments I frequently see from Baptists on sbctoday (and elsewhere).  I’d like to correct some common misconceptions, misuses of history, and purposeful misrepresentation of opposing views.

**Note: Not all Baptists will agree with all of the arguments Nelson makes, so I don’t mean to generalize “Baptists,” as though they all agree with every jot and tittle of Nelson’s blog post.**

Nelson’s words = White; Mine = Gray

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“The right to express dissent was what our country was founded on in the American Revolution. This is why the recent trend to quell dissenting opinions to the immorality being celebrated by the government has been disturbing and dangerous.”

I’d like to start this off by saying I agree with this statement.  Perhaps you will be convinced that I can show some semblance of objectivity…but probably not…

“Although Baptists were given a colony in Rhode Island they dissented against the Congregational/Puritan church in Massachusetts and were harassed and oppressed for not having infants sprinkled and wanting to start another church rather than the State church.”

It is always interesting to see who these Baptists will align themselves with in history, and on sbctoday it tends to be anyone who supports their cause and challenges the “mean old Calvinists.”  In this case, it is the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams.  At least that is the assumption I make by connecting “Baptists” with “given a colony in Rhode Island.”

First, Roger Williams was not charged for credobaptism.  In fact, he was accepted for a time in both Salem and Plymouth (both places more accepting of credobaptism than many of the officials in Massachusetts), but his Baptist views were developed later.  I will not say that I fully disagree with Williams’s objection to the close union of state and church, but to say that only Williams held such a view is a bit naive, and makes it appear that only those who appear more Baptist will be used in the argument (I would like to submit just about every church in Plymouth Colony prior to incorporation in 1691 for my support).

Second, Williams is a strange champion for Baptists to use.  Especially because he rejected Baptist beliefs by the end, did away with the ordinances and clergy, and advanced an extreme view of religious pluralism that completely secularized civil government.  But I’ve seen the use of Anabaptist as champions for their cause too, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

“The distinguishing mark of believer’s baptism by immersion was most notable to us because we baptized like John the Baptist and the way Jesus and the early church were baptized and did baptize.”

This is akin to saying, “if the KJV was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me!”  Maybe not as extreme, but why use John the Baptist, unless you mean to say John was a Baptist?  Is Dr. Nelson ready to defend the argument that John baptized with the same baptism the Apostles did?  What about Acts 19:3-4?  Does it matter?  It should…

Not to mention the use of examples (where one must suppose they know what happened) rather than understanding the argument of Scripture.  The question of how the “early church was baptized and did baptize” is the question at hand; this is merely assuming the conclusion by its premises (see: circular reasoning).

Nelson then goes on into subheadings of what Baptists stand for; I wanted to address each:

We are not for mixing tradition and present cultural trends with the Bible. (Col. 2:7)”

“We go back to the historic faith of the Bible. Baptism, church structure, salvation, etc. must be rooted in God’s word and not in what we have always believed. We do not subscribe to creeds or traditions as equal to scripture. We have a common statement of faith that is a consensus of what fellow churches believe.”

I agree with this if there is no ulterior meaning.  If talking about Romanists: good.  If talking about Presbyterians: we do the same.  But it is important to understand ones presuppositions and traditions, and to admit them, otherwise this amounts to a creedal statement declaring that they hold to no creed or tradition.

“We are not for government controlling religion. We are for a free church in a free society. (Matthew 22:21)”

“Baptists have always been forerunners of religious liberty. They have never insisted on special favoritism. They only want freedom.”

This section is loaded with assumption and “rah-rah Baptist” sentiment.

Baptists have always been forerunners of religious liberty?  Hmm.  I feel like a Lutheran could as easily point to Luther and say, “Lutheranism has always been forerunners for religious liberty;” a secularist could point to Paine and say, “deists/atheists have always been forerunners for religious liberty.”  But okay..

The popular spread of Baptist beliefs in America is usually considered an effect of the Great Awakening.  So really the idea that a free church should exist in a free society was not an idea spawned directly from the Baptists in America, but they borrowed the idea from an increasingly individualized religious society (or even earlier from the Separating Pilgrims in Plymouth).  Really one could make a case that it was the New Light ministers across New England that led the charge (especially George Whitefield: a Calvinist and Anglican; or Jonathan Edwards: a Calvinist and Congregationalist); if one wants to make a case that the Congregational churches were basically Baptist churches minus the infant baptism part, by all means (they had the same ecclesiology).  But Baptists were really just New Light supporters who ultimately rejected paedobaptism and formed new consociations.

Also, it might help to keep in mind that many of the Baptists of those days would more closely align themselves with the Reformed Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Anglicans of today than many in the Southern Baptist Convention (I can’t imagine what they would have to say about the rabid Arminianism/Synergism within the SBC).

We are not for accepting an invisible church or denominations called the church—the church is a local assembly of baptized believers. (Ephesians 5:29)”

I’m going to cautiously agree with this section…maybe?  I’m not entirely sure what his point is.  In other words, why is this a Baptist dinstinctive?  Someone elaborate…

We are not for any human mediator between God and man—every believer has complete access to God and the priesthood of believers. (I Timothy 2:5)”

Agree with most of this section as well.  But…

“The congregational form of church government is the Baptist way and has led to revolutionary cooperation with churches unparalleled in their participation.”

The congregational form of church government is the way of many outside of the Baptist camp as well, but I’ll leave that alone.  Dr. Nelson really doesn’t say much here about Baptist governance, nor put forth any kind of scriptural argument, so it amounts to an assertion and I can only answer back with: well, that’s one view of it..

We are not for keeping anyone from coming to Christ—the gospel call is for everyone. (I Timothy 2:4, 6)”

“I don’t have time to try to figure out who the elect are and who aren’t. Traditional Baptists and non-Reformed believe we have a free will to come to Christ.”

I have to figure out what a “traditional baptist” is, because to my mind the traditional baptists were Reformed.  Including just about everyone he named in a section above: i.e. Isaac Backus, Obadiah Holmes, and Shubal Stearns.

I doubt any of them were “trying to figure out who the elect are and who aren’t.”  This ignorant canard against Calvinism needs to die; if one is talking about Hyper-Calvinism, fine, but I doubt that’s the intention.

“To think that God would restrict anyone from salvation is unthinkable to me.”

Me too.  He doesn’t have to restrict anyone, they do it of their own will…but He does have to give them life.

“This either intentionally or unintentionally removes a sense of urgency to lead people to faith in Christ.”

Prove it.  Did we not just finish reading about the great work Backus, Holmes, and Stearns did?  All Calvinist.  Whitefield?  Calvinist.  Even Roger Williams was a Calvinist…at first.

The rest of this section devolves back into his previously fallacious arguments; but if it supports the Baptist side then “rah-rah!”

We are not for any other form of baptism. Baptism is by immersion of believers in Christ. (Romans 6:3-4)”

“There is not one shred of evidence for infant sprinkling in the Bible whereas we have much evidence for immersion in the scripture.”

And, of course, this isn’t the argument.  There is not one shred of evidence for Baptizing 5-year-olds who have been told what to say by their parents, but they do it…why?  Because it has to do with who is in the covenant and who isn’t—and how they enter in—not so much the age or intellectual capacities.

“Each instance in the New Testament of believer’s baptism is a clear teaching immersion [sic], if for no other reason than it proclaiming the gospel and your faith in Christ. Sprinkling can never do that.”

Huh?  Where is immersion clear?  “Well they did it in rivers!”  That ends it I suppose…

I’d actually argue that dunking 3,000 individuals on one day would be a crazy waste of clean water in a time and place where that was a scarce resource, so rivers and sprinkling kind of make sense…but what do I know…

Baptists (when it comes to baptism) have a tendency to place emphasis where none is found in the scriptures, and this is the result: invented rules around the modes (make sure you get the whole body under, or I’m considering it illegitimate).

“Much of the history of the switch in baptism is centered in Constantine joining church and state together after he came to power in Rome. The practice of baptism seems to have changed with the entire population “going Christian”.”

This—like much on sbctoday—is the naivety surrounding church history.  I’ll cite Schaff’s writing on this, because he actually cites sources, and makes logical inferences (I’ve highlighted and italicized key points):

Sec. 73. v.II   On Infant Baptism. 

On INFANT BAPTISM comp. Just. M.: Dial. c. Tryph. Jud. c. 43. IREN.: Adv. Haer. II. 22, § 4, compared with III. 17, § 1, and other passages. TERTUL.: De Baptismo, c. 18. CYPR.: Epist. LIX.ad Fidum. CLEM. ALEX.: Paedag. III. 217. ORIG.: Com. in Rom. V. Opp. IV. 565, and Homil. XIV. in Luc.

See Lit. in vol. I. 463sq., especially WALL. Comp. also W. R. POWERS: Irenaeus and Infant Baptism, in the “Am. Presb. and Theol. Rev.” N. Y. 1867, pp. 239–267. 

While the church was still a missionary institution in the midst of a heathen world, infant baptism was overshadowed by the baptism of adult proselytes; as, in the following periods, upon the union of church and state, the order was reversed. At that time, too, there could, of course, be no such thing, even on the part of Christian parents, as a compulsory baptism, which dates from Justinian’s reign, and which inevitably leads to the profanation of the sacrament. Constantine sat among the fathers at the great Council of Nicaea, and gave legal effect to its decrees, and yet put off his baptism to his deathbed. The cases of Gregory of Nazianzum, St. Chrysostom, and St. Augustin, who had mothers of exemplary piety, and yet were not baptized before early manhood, show sufficiently that considerable freedom prevailed in this respect even in the Nicene and post-Nicene ages. Gregory of Nazianzum gives the advice to put off the baptism of children, where there is no danger of death, to their third year.

At the same time it seems an almost certain fact, though by many disputed, that, with the baptism of converts, the optional baptism of the children of Christian parents in established congregations, comes down from the apostolic age.  Pious parents would naturally feel a desire to consecrate their offspring from the very beginning to the service of the Redeemer, and find a precedent in the ordinance of circumcision. This desire would be strengthened in cases of sickness by the prevailing notion of the necessity of baptism for salvation. Among the fathers, Tertullian himself not excepted—for he combats only its expediency—there is not a single voice against the lawfulness and the apostolic origin of infant baptism. No time can be fixed at which it was first introduced. Tertullian suggests, that it was usually based on the invitation of Christ: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” The usage of sponsors, to which Tertullian himself bears witness, although he disapproves of it, and still more, the almost equally ancient abuse of infant communion, imply the existence of infant baptism. 

Schaff goes on to describe the lack of opposition to infant baptism in the early church—even from Tertullian, who was against it, but not, it seems, from an exegetical standpoint but a matter of prudence.  Origen, Cyprian, and probably Clement all had no objection to the practice.  So if Dr. Nelson’s assertions are to hold any weight, then he needs to show how his position fits these pre-Constantine individuals into that argument.

Not only do pre-nicene fathers show a support—or general unconcern—for infant baptism, the post-nicene fathers show no concern against not being baptized as infants (even though they should have been according to Dr. Nelson’ argument).  If evidence would be shown the opposite direction, I’m all ears.

“We are not for sponsorship salvation or ceremonial religion that leaves out a personal relationship with Christ. We believe individual accountability for our salvation. (Romans 10:12)”

“A person is not a Christian by who their parents were or what church they are in but by their faith and trust in Christ’s full-payment for their sins on the cross. I am only saying that no one can decide for someone else, in the most important decision of their life, salvation.” 

Agreed.  And I would go further than their anti-Calvinism would allow.  Salvation is also not based on where you are born, what education you have, the right choices you make, or how much faith you can conjure up…it is the will of God (John 1:13).

I agree with the remainder of his last section.

Conclusion

Few things:

1) I wouldn’t want anyone to take from this that there was no persecution of those who held to credobaptist beliefs.  It is a sad reality, like many things in the history of the church—God never promised to sustain his church by the works of man, he simply allows us to take part.  He also glorifies Himself in sovereignly bringing the church through any point in history.

That said, I think many Baptists have it in their mind that the heavy persecution of their beliefs somehow justifies their belief.  Obviously they qualify this with appeals to scripture.  But if so, why bring up something that modern-day Presbyterians, Anglican, and Congregationalists had no part in…and the suffering that you had no part in…in order to bolster your cause?

2) Sbctoday is a good example of revisionist history.  You twist the evidence, the context, the original meaning, and the actual beliefs of those involved, then you only focus on their qualities that support the argument you are about to make, therefore claiming them as your own.

Anyone who knows anything about history probably doesn’t take seriously the link these Baptists try to draw between themselves and the Anabaptists.  Unless of course they want to renounce submission to the authority, the clergy, or ascribe to inner light revelation.  It would be more convincing to pick examples of those who actually fit the bill of what you believe if that is how you want to argue the greatness of your beliefs.

3) I have a great respect for many Baptists throughout history.  Unlike Dr. Nelson, I can see the value in many different positions throughout history.  I like Calvin…but not everything he’s done.  I like Backus…but not everything he said.  I like Whitefield…but not everything he preached.  And I like Ryle…but not his ecclesiology.  I draw on a wide range of sources, and compare them to the Bible, then decide what I will take from each individual, rather than trying to vilify the opposition and hold my figures up as shining lights.

Hold Christ up as the light, and compare everything by that light…

SDG,

Jon

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~ by TSL on September 4, 2014.

 
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