Thursday, December 26, 2013

Why Primitive Baptists are NOT Calvinists


Primitive Baptists are very commonly regarded as "Calvinists" by those who know a little bit about our beliefs. This is no doubt due to our affirmation of the doctrine of salvation by grace (TULIP) which embraces the biblical concepts of election and predestination.  Cautionary words regarding the use of the term "Calvinism" notwithstanding, I would say that while PBs and Calvinists (of the Westminster Confession of Faith / Second London Confession sort) share some beliefs in common, their respective theological systems are radically different in a number of very important ways. In the interest of helping people clearly distinguish between the two, and at the risk of painting with too broad a brush, I would categorize the differences as generally falling into the following categories:


  • The Nature of the Gospel Message - Most Calvinists regard the gospel as a well-meant (or sincere) offer of salvation to all of humanity.  PBs believe that the gospel is a proclamation of the finished work of Christ on behalf of his people. (Matthew 1:21, I Corinthians 15:3-4, John 10:11,26)
  • The Nature of Regeneration - Most Calvinists believe that there are two modes of regeneration, one mediated by the preached word of God (WCF 10.1), and immediate holy spirit regeneration for exceptional circumstances (WCF 10.3).  PBs believe that all of the elect are regenerated by an immediate act of God apart from any means whatsoever, and that the gospel is NOT instrumental in regeneration. (John 3:8, John 8:47, I Corinthians 2:14)
  • The Distribution of the Gospel Message - Most Calvinists believe that the gospel will reach all of the capable elect in the gospel dispensation (if not in all dispensations).  This position is very closely tied to their belief in the use of means in regeneration.  PBs do not believe that all of God's children hear and believe the gospel message in this lifetime - either in this dispensation, or in the previous dispensation. (Job 9:2, Jeremiah 31:15-17, Matthew 2:16-18)
  • The Definition of Sovereignty - Most Calvinists insist that the sovereignty of God is inseparable from the concept of the absolute predestination of all things. PBs believe that sovereignty is dominion and does not either imply or require the absolute predestination of all things. (Jeremiah 19:5)
  • The Extent of Predestination - Most Calvinists believe that God has absolutely predestined all things. PBs believe that God has predestined all things involved in our salvation, but not all things in an absolute sense. (Jeremiah 19:5) They affirm that God knows all things and that his plan comes to pass in spite of his not having positively foreordained every single act of sin. Moreover, PB's believe that absolute predestination undeniably makes God the author of sin.
  • The Distinction Between Preservation and Perseverance - Calvinists affirm the doctrine of perseverance - the belief that while God's children can and do sin, that they will repent of all such sin prior to their death. PBs believe that the atoning work of Christ actually saved his people from their sins and that God's people are thus preserved by that perfect work, irrespective of the sin they may commit in the remainder of their lives. (Hebrews 10:14, Romans 5:19, Jude 1, Titus 3:5)
  • The Nature of the Atonement - Most Calvinists affirm that the atonement is "sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect only."  PBs affirm that the atonement is "insufficient for all for want of efficiency for the non elect." (John 10:26, Matthew 23:33) Stated another way, if the atonement did not purchase regeneration for all of humanity, and it undeniably did not, then it is insufficient for the salvation of all of humanity.  
  • The Desire of God in Salvation - Most Calvinists affirm that God desires the salvation of all of humanity, but that he also does not desire the salvation of all of humanity. PBs believe that God both desires and accomplishes the salvation of the elect. (Matthew 1:21)
  • Formal Creedalism - Calvinists make regular reference to their creeds while insisting upon Sola Scriptura. PBs believe that "man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the areas where I have personally seen the most confusion. It has been my observation that some within the PB ranks today are either embracing or treading dangerously close to the "Calvinistic" perspective on some of these topics. It is my hope that in the coming weeks I can spend some time writing on these issues in defense of the PB position and to underscore the importance of avoiding the errors of Calvinism.


8 comments:

  1. Thank You for your time to consolidate your thoughts.

    You state: "PBs do not believe that all of God's children hear and believe the gospel message in this lifetime - either in this dispensation, or in the previous dispensation." The allegorical equivocation of the Spirit to wind Is the strongest of the three you cite but still lacks when contextually understood. Christ to Nicodemus is teaching that the nation of Israel, the genetic Hebrew, do not constrain the borders of the work of the Spirit. So Like the indiscernible goings of the wind so to are the Spirits, i.e: His work encompasses the totality of the world. A prescribed means does not contradict John 3:8. It does not matter that a prescribed means makes known where the Spirit may be giving life for that is not the purpose of John 3:8.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to provide a thoughtful response.

      The matter of immediate Holy Spirit regeneration (IHSR) is definitely a sticking point between Calvinists and Primitive Baptists. A close look at some of the Calvinistic confessions reveals that both the WCF and the SLC affirm two types of regeneration: the first is seemingly by means (10.1), the second is via IHSR (10.3) - though it relegates the latter to the case of the “incapable.”

      Simply stated, PBs believe that total depravity is that which renders EVERY man “incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word”, regardless of age or mental capacity. This is because man in his natural state “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Corinthians 2:14). It is for this reason that we believe the Lord Jesus Christ taught, “He who is of God heareth God’s words.” (John 8:47) because apart from a preceding act of regeneration (effectual calling) the gospel call falls upon deaf ears.

      Lord willing, I will endeavor to create a blog post that flushes out the PB case for why we believe that ALL effectual calling is the result of IHSR and the biblical observations we believe undermine the “gospel regeneration” position.

      Thanks again for your contribution to the blog and for your sincere pursuit of the truth of God’s word. May God bless our studies and understanding until we no longer see through a glass darkly, but see Him face to face.

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  2. The "author of sin" charge is confusing. The phrase is not found in the Bible.
    The Bible does say Satan is the Father of Lies. Authors write books.
    Isaiah 46:10 King James Version (KJV) says:
    "10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:"
    In talking about predestination, the Bible leads to the usual objection in Romans, chap 9: "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
    19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
    20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?"
    So, is the objection to absolute predestination biblical? Is the PB conclusion warranted?

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    1. DENNIS GANNON ANSWER 101

      TETH: Thanks for taking a moment to interact with my blog. I believe that the matter of God’s eternal decrees is an area that requires very precise language if we are to avoid stepping into one of the many linguistic or logical pitfalls that attend this subject. You make a number of observations in your brief comment that I would like to address:

      DG: The "author of sin" charge is confusing.

      TETH: Let me define it more explicitly. This phrase designs that if God has absolutely predestined all things through a positive decree (wherein every single act of the obedience of Christ was as directly and actively preordained in precisely the same sense as every single act of pedophilia) then God is indisputably the originator and creator (author) of sin as a matter of unavoidable logical consequence.

      DG: The phrase is not found in the Bible.

      TETH: Given that the word “bible” is likewise not found in the bible, I will not belabor that this objection is irrelevant, as any Trinitarian must feely admit. I don’t intend to be terse, just very clear that this is an utterly unprofitable line of reasoning that warrants no further consideration. Do you agree?

      DG: The Bible does say Satan is the Father of Lies.

      TETH: True. Do you believe that he is the author (originator/creator) of lies? If he is the author of lies is he the author (originator/creator) of sin? Or does that title belong to God? Is the creation/authorship/origination of sin sinful? Is it an expression of harmony or rebellion, peace or discord, darkness or light? (I John 1:5)

      DG: Authors write books.

      TETH: Even a cursory examination of any dictionary reveals that term “author” has a greater breadth of meaning than just writing books. Indeed, the bible itself uses the term “author” on more than one occasion and never does it design the writing of books. Christ himself is described as the “author of eternal salvation” and “author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 5:9, 12:2). It follows that any objection made upon the basis of an unnecessarily narrow and unbiblical definition of the term “author” is an equivocation fallacy, IMO. Do you agree?

      TETH: So perhaps is would be helpful to restate the question, by using the term “author” in precisely the same way that the bible uses this term: Do you believe that God is the “author of sin” in precisely the same way that he is the "author of eternal salvation” or in precisely the same way that he is the "author and finisher of our faith”? To assert that the decretive relationship between God and salvation is PRECISELY THE SAME as the decretive relationship between God and sin is to destroy the distinction between good and evil and to confound the notions of light and darkness in the process (I John 1:5), IMO. Do you agree?

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    2. DENNIS GANNON ANSWER 102

      DG: Isaiah 46:10 King James Version (KJV) says: "Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:" (Isaiah 46:10)

      TETH: I would ask – is it God’s pleasure to positively, actively and unalterably decree every single heinous act of sin that has ever transpired in the same way that he positively, actively, and unalterably decreed the eternal salvation of his people? If there is no distinction made in the relationship that God has between himself and good, and the relation he has between himself and evil, then God is UNDENIABLY the author of sin, because he is UNDENIABLY “the author of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9) Do you agree?

      TETH: This observation leaves you to follow one of two possible paths: Either you admit that God is indeed the author of sin, or you admit that the God’s decretive relationship to sin is in SOME SENSE different than his decretive relationship to salvation. To me, that decision is a no brainer as no one should accuse God of being the author of sin (I John 1:5). What remains then, is the matter of how one describes or rightly divides the matter of the distinction in God’s decretive relationship to good and evil.

      DG: In talking about predestination, the Bible leads to the usual objection, "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" (Romans 9:19-20)

      TETH: The context of this statement in Romans is predestination with respect to the eternal salvation of God’s people, not with respect to all things that ever come to pass. I’m sure that we agree that God can do as he pleases with the world that he created, that the entrance of evil into the world is clearly manifest, and that God is Holy. That said, what remains is to establish the proper biblical mechanism whereby the existence of evil is sustained, and the holiness of God is likewise sustained. Do you agree?

      DG: So, is the objection to absolute predestination biblical?

      TETH: For the aforementioned reasons, I believe that it is biblical to object the absolute predestination of all things as a matter of positive, active, decree and to recognize, rather, that sin is not the direct, immediate, decretive creation of God, but rather the direct, immediate, creation of a creature in rebellion who was given sufficient liberty of conscience to make the wrong decision.

      DG: Is the PB conclusion warranted?

      TETH: I believe it is necessary if we are to avoid the unavoidable conclusion that the absolute predestination of all things posits a God who is likewise the author of sin.

      God bless,
      TETH

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  3. Please, be honest enough to tell the world that NOT all Primitive Baptists deny absolute predestination. As a matter of faith, during the split that led to the origin of Missionary Baptists or the New School Baptists, those who stood their ground for pure primitive worship --- all of them believed in the ABSOLUTE PREDESTINATION OF ALL THINGS. Can you deny elder Gilbert Beebe was a Primitive Baptists? and did he not preach and publish the ABSOLUTE PREDESTINATION OF ALL THINGS? And as for the charge that the doctrine of absolute predestination makes God the author of sin, I will have you know that even the doctrine of election and reprobation makes him no less than the same.

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    1. TETH ANSWER 101

      First off, thanks for taking a moment to interact with my blog and provide your thoughts on the matter. My comments are below...

      AB: Please, be honest enough to tell the world that NOT all Primitive Baptists deny absolute predestination.

      TETH: It is an incontrovertible fact of church history that some who carry the Primitive Baptist moniker have believed in the absolute predestination of all things. This, however, is not a point of distinction between MOST Primitive Baptists in our time and the popular strains of Calvinism that surround us. It follows that the observation you make does not serve the purpose of underscoring the DIFFERENCES that exist between those camps. As is always the case, the use of such names as "Calvinist" and "Primitive Baptist" and the evident theological variances that exists under such monikers makes providing a more definitive statement impossible to achieve in such a brief video. That said, I do not deny that there are Absoluter PBs nor do I try to obscure that fact, neither should you uncharitably assume that my video is an exercise in dishonesty.

      AB: As a matter of faith, during the split that led to the origin of Missionary Baptists or the New School Baptists, those who stood their ground for pure primitive worship --- all of them believed in the ABSOLUTE PREDESTINATION OF ALL THINGS.

      TETH: It is impossible to substantiate the claim that "all of them believed in the absolute predestination of all things" in the Calvinistic sense that is often implied by that statement.

      AB: Can you deny elder Gilbert Beebe was a Primitive Baptists?

      TETH: He most certainly was and he was also an absoluter from my understanding of his writings.

      AB: and did he not preach and publish the ABSOLUTE PREDESTINATION OF ALL THINGS?

      TETH: He most certainly did so far as I can tell. It was also regarded as somewhat controversial among the PBs as evidenced by its handling in Hassell's History.

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    2. TETH ANSWER 102

      AB: And as for the charge that the doctrine of absolute predestination makes God the author of sin, I will have you know that even the doctrine of election and reprobation makes him no less than the same.

      TETH: Neither election nor reprobation make God the author of sin so far as I can tell. You'll have to do more than simply state that this is true. I look forward to examining your explicit, scriptural argument in favor of that statement.

      TETH: All that said, one thing that ALL PBs (whether absoluter or not) should be in full agreement on is the biblical fact that merely possessing the PB moniker is NO GUARANTEE that someone is in possession of the truth. Many errors in reasoning arise from the false premise that "If I can find a PB who believed something in the past, that this thing must therefore be true." Nothing could be further from the truth. The PB church is an institution composed if sinners and sinners are woefully inclined to error. Those errors have existed not just among the grossly errant denominational world, but also within the Lord's church as well, albeit to a lesser degree and duration, IMO. This is an indisputable fact of revelation to us as exemplified by the manifold errors in doctrine in practice that existed within the Lord's true NT church that the apostle Paul sought to correct. The churches of Galatia and Corinth were undeniably old baptist churches, and they had people in their assemblies who were DEAD WRONG on a variety of doctrinal issues. I would invite you to consider a brief treatise on the matter and consider the ramifications as it relates to the beliefs of any particular PB in the history of the Lord's church.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC-TnYqxE7A

      TETH: So simply pointing out that a heavyweight 19th century PB minister believed in the absolute predestination of all things is precisely NO PROOF that this is a correct doctrine of the NT church; regardless of his prominence or church pedigree. An appeal to the Second Galatian Confession of Faith would by the same logic undermine that salvation is by sovereign grace by establishing that some PBs believed that salvation was not by the grace of Christ but the result of another gospel.

      TETH: I offer that for your sincere consideration and thank you again for your contribution to the blog. I’ll close by asking the following question of your ABSOLUTISM: In your system, did God predestinate man’s every act of sin by the exact same predestinating mechanism whereby he predestinated the eternal salvation of his people?

      May God bless our studies and understanding of his word,
      TETH

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