Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Primitive Baptists and Creedalism

As a Primitive Baptist I am often asked regarding my adherence to various historical creeds of the Christian faith. Many assert that apart from affirming the Second London Confession of 1689, or the Fulton Confession of 1900, etc., one cannot be considered an "Old Baptist." But is one's claim to being an Old Baptist beholden to one's allegiance to the historic creeds of the last few centuries?

Clearly these documents contain much with which I would agree, however I personally would not be able to unequivocally sign-off on any of these creeds, if for no other reason than the fact that I don't think there is anyone more capable of expressing what I personally believe the bible teaches in the form of a written creed than I am. If that sounds arrogant, that is not my intent. I believe this statement is true of every Christian. Only an individual can state what THEY personally believe the scriptures teach, and if they cannot express it, then they simply do not have an understanding of what they believe. Stated another way, in order for one to be able to whole-heartedly affirm a written creed, they must possess the depth of understanding required to actually write that creed.  Moreover, they must also understand precisely what the author intended by their statement.  Apart from both of these, one's affirmation of a historical creed is little more than an affirmation of something one DOES NOT understand - which is no affirmation at all.  This provocative statement should stir-up God's people to know the scriptures better than they do and to be able to defend what they claim to believe using those scriptures, rather than using the historical creeds they in all likelihood do not entirely understand as a theological lean-to in order to buttress their ersatz doctrinal position.

A fundamental tenet of Old Baptist theology is that the bible is the sole rule of faith and practice established by passages such as Matt 4:4 and II Tim 3:16-17. In my internet discussions with other Christians I have at times been accused of evading a question because I would not affirm the Second London Confession and instead use only direct scripture references in support of my beliefs. It is indeed a sad state of affairs when a Baptist is accused of evading a question because he uses only scripture to substantiate his position rather than the Confession du Jour. The idea that one must conform to a light revision of Presbyterianism in order to be considered an "Old Baptist" is novel to say the least. This idea is obliterated when one considers that there were "Old Baptists" prior to the confessions and thus no signing of a confession was involved in their having become an "Old Baptist."

I would encourage everyone to read my blog post entitled Calvinism is a Red Herring in this regard. While it is specifically speaking of "Calvinism," the same precept could be applied to “Formal Creedalism.” Indeed, proving that someone is in lock-step with some earlier creed does PRECISELY NOTHING to prove that one’s position is in keeping with the teachings of scripture. It is therefore an exercise that does nothing to substantiate the biblical truth of one’s position and thus is an abysmal waste of time. The question that all Christians should ask themselves is this - If the bible is the inerrant word of God, then is it able to throughly furnish us unto all good works as it claims?  The answer is obvious.  It follows that no historical creed is required or necessary to supply what we need. The word of God alone is sufficient.

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  1. Hi,

    Are you saying that the term primitive has no reference to pretended church succession? On what basis then can the “Primitive” Baptists be Landmarkers? Men such as C.H.Cayce and the rest of the Fulton brethren feigned adherence to the London Confession, and it has been the task of leading men in your order such as Michael Ivey and Harold Hunt to attempt to show a link succession of churches. What motivates them to do this apart from the belief that the term primitive denotes church lineage?

    The Bible is indeed the litmus test for truth, but if you are claiming that the term primitive is based on one’s view of scripture you are denying what practically your whole denomination has claimed for almost two centuries. The term primitive was adopted under the pretension that their views are what was taught by the
    Baptists prior to the modern missionary movement. Why, that’s the very
    reason the name primitive was originally adopted! Surely you know this. It has always been a claim for historicity when attempts are made to show how "we go back through the Lollards, Donatists, Novatians, and Anabaptists". I wonder if your refusal to discuss history originates totally from the conviction that the scriptures alone are our source of authority, or partially because you know that history is against you and are unable to approach the subject. If anything, those who tend toward Calvinism or Reformed theology are more entitled to the name primitive, seeing that their views are actually documented in history, whereas there is no evidence whatsoever of anyone who adhered to the conditional time salvation paradigm of today’s PBs, something which those dubbed as Absoluters correctly point out.

    Despite your belief in time salvation and all that it entails would you be willing to say that, with respect to history atleast, this is new teaching among Baptists?

    1. What I am saying is that the “Bible is… the litmus test of truth” – which is precisely what you have admitted. What undeniably follows from that agreed-upon precept is that the testimony of Baptist history, anecdotes regarding the actions or beliefs of other men, or disputations regarding genealogies are excluded from having any bearing on the establishment of truth. One who believes that the bible is the only rule of faith and practice (Matt 4:4, II Tim 3:16-17) should focus on supporting what they believe based on scripture, not on church history. To disagree with this assertion undermines your affirmation of the sufficiency of scripture; to agree with it undermines the profitability of your manifold inquiries dealing with church history and creeds.

  2. This is a good assessment -- to distill to the lowest common denominator one's beliefs. "I believe in the Scripture." "It is the standard against what ever else is compared."

    Maybe all Protestants would say this is their fundamental starting point. Divisions come from debated and reconciled "meaning," supposedly, of what that first truth says. Whether the confessions or the denominations, believers gravitate toward, or grow up in groups that identify with "reconciled" sets of beliefs.

    Understandable, of course. But, also, restrictive as the "reconciled" list gets longer and more complex. It seems a bridal to the original truth and those who would restate that to begin any discussion.

    Maybe both qualifying statements are helpful in their own use. For "defending the faith" putting forth a creed hardly suffices for revealing "truth." And, yet for getting a barometer on what a person already believes, creedalism and denominationalism is a place to start.

    Having said that, it seems the gradient for discussion time well spent ought to point towards finding the truth rather than correctly identifying genealogies of confessions or denominations.