Defining, Declaring and Defending the Faith

Defining, Declaring, and Defending the Faith

Baptists are committed to Scripture as their final authority of faith and practice. Perhaps nothing has solidified and proclaimed this commitment more than their writings. As we have seen in the last lesson, God has used and continues to use the writings of men to define and defend the faith. They took great pains (and received them as well) in declaring the faith to their friends, neighbors, and enemies.

Some say “Baptists do not use creeds.”1 While it is true that Baptists do not view creeds and confessions2 as Scripture, they certainly have produced them. Fact is, once you proclaim a truth of Scripture, you have articulated a creed. Their value lies only in their precise, clear proclamation of Scripture. A proper creed does not add to Scripture, it merely explains and proclaims God’s truth.


Literally hundreds of Baptist writings can be found in the seventeenth century, however for purposes of this lesson, we will focus on the most influential of them all – The London Baptist Confessions of Faith.

Do Confessions Conflict with Scripture?

Roman Catholics, Charismatics, and others have elevated their teachings to the same level as Scripture. There is a danger in relying on the teachings of men rather than Scripture. Yet, the apostles and early church believers rightly uses confessions (either written or verbal) for the purpose of teaching Scripture.

Certain “faithful sayings” were inscripturated.

The apostles did not criticize or rebuke people for saying and writing things that were true about Scripture. Instead, they encouraged the use of confessions.

The apostles called them “sound words” and most usually “trustworthy sayings.” Paul incorporated certain “faithful sayings” into his writings.3

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. . . . (1Ti 1.15)

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. (1Ti 3.1)

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (1Ti 4.9–10)

Early believers used writings and things taught to increase their understanding of Scripture.

We have a tendency to think that everything an apostle spoke and wrote was God’s Word. That is certainly not the case. On two occasions, Paul refers to his own writings that are not a part of our Bible. He used those writings to warn, encourage, and teach the early believers.4

Preaching is one mode (the primary mode) for communicating the truths of God’s Word. It is a verbal confession. Notice that the Bereans did not reject the preaching and teaching they received, rather, they studied the Scriptures to see if the teachings were accurately conveying God’s Word.

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Ac 17.11)

The use of confessions helps believers practice what Scripture teaches.

Some confessions were written either because a heresy was introduced and needed to be denounced. Others were written to provide a common statement of faith whereby fellowship could take place. The earlier confessions made clear statements about the Triunity. This doctrine was one of the first controversies among early believers. Some of the earliest confessions were written to clearly enunciate the truth of the Triunity. Church historian, Robert Torbet, makes the following observations regarding the use of confessions:

  • Maintain purity of doctrine
  • Clarify and validate the Baptist position
  • To serve as a guide to the General Assembly or local association in counseling churches
  • To serve as a basis for fellowship within associations
  • To discipline churches and members by withdrawing fellowship.5

Summary: Do good confessions conflict with Scripture? No. Quite the opposite. They are tools which God has providentially used to define, declare, and defend His truths as found in Scripture. Our job is to make sure that what we write is consistently clearly in tune with Scripture.

Confessions used by Baptists

Baptists were among the first to produce modern confessions. “Modern” in the sense that the confessions were written in the last few centuries and in the sense that they are still used. This lesson will focus primarily on the mother6 of them all – The London Baptist Confessions.

The First London Baptist Confession

The history behind the First London Baptist Confession

During the reign of Charles I, Baptists endured physical mistreatment and slanderous accusations. These oppressions were doled out by the secular government as well as other religious bodies.

Many tried to link the Baptists with the Anabaptists. They said “Baptists are rebellious people who disobey authority.” This was a notorious accusation for earlier, Thomas Müntzer (May 15, 1525), considered an Anabaptist by most, led a mass of frustrated, confused, and discouraged peasants into a war that ended with their slaughter. Though history is replete with the testimonies of many godly Anabaptists, this famous massacre left a bitter scar on the minds of the monarchy and the people of Europe.7

Another difficulty for the Baptists during the 1600s was that another group of Baptists (i.e., General Baptists) bore the same name. That group had many differences as we have seen on pages 19ff. This was cause for concern for the Particular Baptists for their identity was confused. They wrote to show they were orthodox and not “out of that common road-way” of Scriptural truth.

The content of the First London Baptist Confession

The First London Baptist Confession was neither the first confession, nor the first confession in London. It was the first confession that the Particular Baptists drafted.

The framers (among whom were Kiffin and Knollys) of the London Baptist Confession relied on an earlier confession by separatist Henry Ainsworth – A True Confession of 1596.

Seven churches in London gathered to publish this confession to clearly identify themselves and their beliefs. In their words, people were falsely charging them with

. . . holding Free-will, Falling away from grace, denying Originall sinne, disclaiming of Magistracy, denying to assist them either in persons or purse in any of their lawfull commands, doing acts unseemly in the dispensing the Ordinance of Baptism, not to be named amongst Christians8: All of which Charges wee disclaime as notoriously untrue . . . 9

This confession includes the following doctrines:

  • Doctrine of God (articles 1–6)
  • Doctrine of Scripture (7–8)
  • Doctrine of Christ (9–20)
  • Doctrine of Salvation (21–30)
  • Doctrine of Spiritual Warfare (31–32)
  • Doctrine of the Church and Ordinances (33–47)
  • Doctrine of Christian Submission to Government (48–52)

Note what one person has to say about this confession

“This significant document of 1644 embodies practically every doctrine that present-day Baptists hold dear, and is, therefore vastly important in Baptist history.10

The Second London Baptist Confession

The history behind the Second London Baptist Confession

The First London Baptist Confession did not enjoy a wide distribution. Given the times during which the confession was drawn, few copies were made. Thirty-three years later, a more complete document was necessary. Since the production of the First confession, the Presbyterians produced a more elaborate confession – the famed Westminster Confession of Faith. The Congregationalists adopted the same confession for themselves making some adjustments in their document called the Savoy Declaration.

In a time when religious liberty was threatened, the Baptists also aligned themselves with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists by reworking their First London Confession. They used the Westminster Confession as their base and produced the Second London Confession in 1677.

The content of the Second London Baptist Confession

Though the Baptists aligned themselves with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists, they did differ. Baptists refused to use the word “sacrament” and chose to use the word “ordinance” instead. Matters regarding baptism and the Lord’s supper were not followed.

This second confession did improve upon the first in many ways:

  • Based on the more complete Westminster Confession
  • Chapter 1 challenged the Quakers and Seekers by 1) demonstrating a high view of Scripture; 2) promoting a proper view of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

1.1 The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible11 rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith, and Obedience . . . 1.6 The whole Councel of God concerning all things necessary for his own Glory, Mans Salvation, Faith and Life, is either expressely set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new Revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

  • Chapters 9–18 expand the great doctrines of salvation including definitive sections on election and perseverance.
  • Chapter 20 is a clear statement regarding the necessity to “preach the gospel in all ages and nations.”
  • Chapter 21 promotes religious freedom and liberty of conscience.
  • Chapter 22 section 5 was obviously influenced by Keach who promoted the singing “hymns and spiritual songs.” Many would only sing from the Psalms.
  • Chapter 26.11 made provision for lay preaching. That is, preaching was not “confined” only to the Bishops or Pastors.
  • Chapter 29 clarifies that Baptism does not remit sins but only “those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience, to our Lord Jesus, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.”

Notable areas where we would not follow the Second London Confession:

  • The confession demonstrates their current reliance on covenant theology. Throughout the confession one will find their use of the term “covenant” and “Sabbath.” As well, Chapter 19 speaks of the believer as being under the moral law and not the ceremonial law.
  • Chapter 30 includes many items regarding the Lord’s Supper with which we would disagree. 1) the duty of those ministers administrating communion to “bless the Elements;” 2) the Lord’s Supper is not restricted to scripturally baptized people. 3) the belief that Christ is “spiritually present” in the elements.

The Philadelphia Baptist Confession

The Baptists in America used the London confession across the “pond.” The first Baptist Association in America (Philadelphia Baptist Association [PBA]) adopted the Second London Baptist confession as their own. It only differed by the addition of the following sections:

  • Chapter 23: Of Singing Psalms, &c. This expansion came as a result of the diminishing singing controversy.
  • Chapter 31: Of Laying on of Hands. Strangely, the churches of the PBA considered this to be an ordinance alongside baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This practice developed into what we know now as the “hand of fellowship.”12

Conclusion

Baptists have a high view of Scripture. They have not remained silent regarding the gospel and all of the other precious truths found in God’s Word. In our day, many do not verbally express their faith for fear of ridicule. In the 1600s, when lives were ended, the Baptists daringly wrote, signed, and published the truths of Scripture.

Baptists are confessional people – at least they should be. Acquaint yourself with the confessions of the past and learn the precious doctrines of Scripture.13

1 John Christian, A History of the Baptists (Texarkana, TX: Bogard Press, 1922), 1:4.

2 Throughout this lesson we will use the terms “confession” and “creeds” synonymously.

3 For more on Paul’s use of quotations see George Knight’s book The Faithful Sayings in the Pastoral Epistles.

4 Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians and Laodiceans, both of which we do not have today.

5 Torbet, p. 46.

6 The London Baptist Confessions were used by C.H. Spurgeon, the Philadelphia Baptist Association, and now the Reformed Baptists and certain independent fundamental Baptists.

7 Anabaptists (modern-day Mennonites) also disassociate themselves from this radical. For more information on this situation see The Mennonite Encyclopedia, s.v. Muentzer, Thomas, 3:785ff.

8 Some were charging the Baptists of baptizing people without clothes.

9 Preface of the London Confession of 1644. Original spelling maintained.

10 Harold Brown, “The History of the Baptists in England to 1644.” The Chronicle, January 1945, o. 14. Quoted in Wiliam Lumpkin’s Baptist Confessions of the Faith, p. 152.

11 This is the first time the word “infallible” appears in any Baptist confession.

12 Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists, p. 236.

13 Read William Lumpkin’s, Baptist Confessions of the Faith (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press), p. 1969.

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