Saturday, June 13, 2015

How particular a Baptist are you?

Thomas Kidd is co-author of the recently published Baptists in America: A History. His post at Desiring God, "Calvinism Is Not New to Baptists" interests me because the question of Calvinism also affected my Baptist denomination. We had churches, both in America and Britain, that identified either as Particular (i.e. Calvinist) Baptist or as General (Arminian or "Free Will") Baptist. Here is part of what Kidd writes about the situation among Baptists in America in the 18th century:
In a 1793 survey, early Baptist historian John Asplund estimated that there were 1,032 Baptist churches in America. Out of those, 956 were Calvinist congregations. These were “Particular Baptists,” for they believed in a definite atonement (or “particular redemption”), that Christ had died to save the elect decisively. “General Baptists,” who believed that Christ had died indefinitely for the sins of anyone who would choose him, accounted for a tiny fraction of the whole. Even some of those, Asplund noted, believed in certain Calvinist tenets such as “perseverance in grace.”

How did this preponderance of Baptist Calvinists come about? Both Calvinist and Arminian (General) Baptists had existed in the American colonies since the early 1600s. But the Great Awakening of the 1740s, the most profound religious and cultural upheaval in colonial America, wrecked the General Baptist movement, and birthed a whole new type of Calvinist Baptist — the “Separate Baptists.” ....

Isaac Backus, the most influential Baptist pastor in eighteenth-century America, perfectly illustrated the journey from Great-Awakening convert to Separate Baptist. Backus experienced conversion in 1741, writing that “God who caused the light to shine out of darkness, shined into my heart with such a discovery of that glorious righteousness which fully satisfies the law that I had broken . . . . [N]ow my burden (that was so dreadful heavy before) was gone.” But Backus’s Norwich, Connecticut church would not permit evangelical itinerants to preach there, and the pastor refused to require a conversion testimony of prospective church members. So Backus and a dozen others started a Separate small group meeting, apart from the church. In spite of his lack of a college degree, Backus also began serving as a Separate pastor.

Backus also started to have doubts about the proper mode of baptism. He, like virtually all churched colonial Americans, had received baptism as an infant, but in 1751, after a season of prayer, fasting, and Bible study, Backus became convinced that baptism was for adult converts only. A visiting Baptist minister soon baptized Backus by immersion. Thousands of colonial Americans would go through a similar sequence of conversion and acceptance of Baptist principles.

Because the move to Baptist convictions happened under the canopy of the Calvinist-dominated Great Awakening, Backus and most of these new Baptists were Calvinists, too. .... [more]