Monday, September 10

London Baptist Confession 1644

We celebrated my 51st birthday this past weekend by inviting over some new friends who are missionaries with the British Baptist Missionary Society, one of the world's oldest Protestant mission organizations (founded in 1792 by William Carey, the father of modern missionary movement). In our conversation the subject of "Baptist Identity" came up. What makes a Baptist a Baptist? Is it our traditions and practices? Our programs? Exactly what is it that determines if one is truly a Baptist or more some other group of evangelical believers?

Is it not our convictions and beliefs as we understand the Scriptures teach? For nearly 400 years we have been trying to put into words what it is that makes us Baptists. I Googled one of the earliest Baptist confessions known as the London Baptist Confession 1644/1646. While it is too long to quote in its entirety, I pulled out a few of the articles that caught my attention. It seems to me we have gotten away from several of the original convictions of our Baptist forefathers. After each article are my own comments in italics. Some of my observations are particular to our own context here in Ecuador and not necessarily issues in other parts of the world.

BEING thus joined, every church hath power given them from Christ, for their wellbeing, to choose among themselves meet persons for elders and deacons, being qualified according to the word, as those which Christ hath appointed in His testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of His Church; and that none have any power to impose either these or any other. Acts 1:23,26,6:3,15:22.25; Rom.12:7,8; 1 Tim.3:2,6.7; 1 Cor. 12:8,28; Heb.13:7,17; 1 Pet.5:1,2,3, 4:15.

"...choose among themselves" seems to be the pattern of those who preceded us. The idea of importing trained professionals from outside the congregation does not fit this article. Those who served are "home grown". The idea of calling a "pastor" is more correctly described as "elders and deacons"--PLURAL--not a single "Senior Pastor" which seems the norm today in most Baptist churches.

THAT the ministers lawfully called, as aforesaid, ought to continue in their calling and place according to God's ordinance, and carefully to feed the flock of God committed to them, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Heb.5:4; John 10:3,4; Acts 20:28,29; Rom.12:7,8; Heb.13:7.17; 1 Pet.5: 1.2,3.

"...ought to continue in their calling and place..." means to me that if they are a school teacher, they are to continue in that profession and not abandon it for the ministry. Our modern idea of having full-time professional church ministers seems out of tune with this earlier confession of Baptist belief and practice.

BAPTlSM is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed upon persons professing faith, or that are made disciples; who upon profession of faith, ought to be baptized, and after to partake of the Lord's Supper. Matt.28:18,19; John 4:1; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:37.38, 8:36,37,etc.

" be dispensed upon persons professing faith..." is the only prerequisite for baptism. In our Baptist context, here, other prerequisites are often added to that of "professing faith"--usually in the insistence that the person requesting baptism be legally married (not living in adultery/fornication) before consideration is given to their profession of faith.

THE person designed by Christ to dispense baptism, the Scripture holds forth to be a disciple; it being no where tied to a particular church officer, or person extraordinarily sent the commission enjoining the administration, being given to them as considered disciples, being men able to preach the gospel. Isa.8:16; Eph.2:7; Matt.28:19; John 4:2; Acts 20:7,11:10; 1 Cor.11:2, 10:16,17; Rom.16:2; Matt.18:17.

The administrator of baptism are disciples. No where in Scripture is baptism tied to a particular church office. Our modern practice (especially overseas where this is an issue) of only ordained, recognized church leaders being the only ones authorized to baptize seems to be out of tune with our Baptist forefathers.

CHRIST hath likewise given power to His Church to receive in, and cast out, any member that deserves it; and this power is given to every congregation, and not to one particular person, either member or officer, but in relation to the whole body, in reference to their faith and fellowship. Rom.16:2; Matt.18:17; 1 Cor.5:4,11,13;12:6;2:3; 2 Cor.2:6,7.

Again, what caught my attention is that "power" is in the Church, and not in one particular person (usually the pastor) like it is in many Baptist churches here in Ecuador where the pastor calls all the shots and no one dare contradict or question.

AND although the particular congregations be distinct, and several bodies, every one as a compact and knit city within itself; yet are they all to walk by one rule of truth; so also they (by all means convenient) are to have the counsel and help one of another, if necessity require it, as members of one body, in the common faith, under Christ their head. 1 Cor.4:17, 14:33,36,16:1; Ps.122:3; Eph.2:12,19: Rev.2:1; 1 Tim.3:15, 6:13,14; 1 Cor.4:17; Acts 15:2,3; Song of Sol.8:8.9; 2 Cor.8:1.4, 13:14.

While meeting in various geographic locations around the city, the "several bodies" are to "have the counsel and help one of another..." How I wish we could get back to this basic practice of understanding that we are all one in Christ and in need of one another. We are to be there for one another and not separate ourselves from our brothers in our own little church kingdoms.


Bryan Riley said...

Oh that we would make Jesus the most important thing...

Strider said...

Good work on this Guy. I have seen others use the old confessions as a hammer trying to prove some point they couldn't find in scripture. You have thrown it back in their faces (kindly and gently of course). I am proud to be a Baptist like this. I am proud to serve with you.

GuyMuse said...

Bryan and Strider,

Thanks to both for stopping by and for your comments. I personally found the London 1644 Confession quite interesting reading to see where we began years ago and where we stand on these issues today. Who is closer to the true intent of Scripture? Our English forefathers? or our BF&M2000?

Jerome said...

What XXXVII means to you is definitely not what it meant to them. The very next article says that the church should supply ministers' needs and that it is Christ's ordinance that they that preach the Gospel should live of the gospel. Their "calling and place" refers to the ministry, not to a secular vocation.

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your observations. They are appreciated. I agree that churches should seek to take care of the needs of those who minister in their midst. However, that is different from saying we should set up a salaried pastoral position that elevates the ministry of that person above that of the rest of the congregation. Maybe you aren't saying that in your comment, but it is what happens in reality.

Jerome said...

My point is that these early Baptists DID believe that scripture called for full-time professional church ministers.
See these links:
The History of the English Baptists.
Benjamin Keach.
When they speak of ministers "continuing in their calling", they are speaking of the ministry, not secular employment.

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for the link. I will check it later. I don't doubt your point, but my question remains, where do we find this practice in the NT? I don't see "full-time professional church ministers" in the pages of my Bible. In I Cor. 9 Paul is referring to travelling, apostolic type workers (evangelists and missionaries) being worthy. He makes a strong case for these, but no where do I see local elders/pastors/bishops being paid. The only place where this might be disputed is where "double honor" is mentioned for elders who teach well. Even if this is interpreted as monetary "honor", there is no case for saying these guys were full-time professional ministers.

Thanks for the interesting dialog. Feel free to continue if you'd like to...these are issues we have had to deal with in our church planting. We have tried to stay away from tradition being our guide, and looked to the Scriptures for our source of understanding on these matters.

Jerome said...

I am confused. Isn't this post all about how the early Baptists expressed their understanding of scripture? Is that what you mean by tradition?