Hello Freedom, Goodbye Purpose

Hello Freedom, Goodbye Purpose

During the last half of the 1600s, the Baptists in England flourished. While they were being persecuted for their faith, they planted nearly 130 churches within twenty years. These were days of great persecution, but also great growth and promise for Baptists.

When William and Mary ascended the throne, they brought with them a new toleration. They enacted the Act of Toleration in 1689, which provided Baptists, and other dissenter groups, with relative freedom. Though the Baptists could not attend the universities and still had to pay taxes to the Church of England, they were free to worship without fear of governmental penalty. Because of this new found freedom, a large number of Baptist churches in London gathered and openly adopted the Second London Baptist confession (written 12 years previously).


It would seem that the Baptists were poised for a great future. They had clearly laid out their beliefs, they now enjoyed religious freedom, and their number had grown remarkably. Unfortunately, given all of these great things, the English Baptists1 lost focus and spiraled into a century of great decline. What was the cause of this decline? They lost focus on their mission. This lesson will answer the following questions:

What is the mission of the church?

  • Why did the eighteenth century English Baptists neglect the mission of the church?

  • What did the eighteenth century Baptists do to recommit themselves to the mission of the church?

What is the Church to be Doing?2

The mission of the church is to reproduce itself

The corporate mission of the church is to reproduce congregations

Whereas personal witness seeks to produce converts, corporate mission seeks to produce congregations by organizing such converts into local churches. The bulk of the New Testament (from Acts to Jude) deals primarily with the starting and strengthening of local churches.

Paul’s first two missionary journeys resulted in the reproduction of churches. (Ac 13–14)

During Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13–14), he and Barnabas followed a clear plan: after being commissioned by their home church in Antioch of Syria, they established a new church in Antioch of Pisidia, from which they evangelized neighboring cities, establishing other churches.

syria-psidia

Paul’s second missionary journey: Paul followed the same pattern during his next missionary journey (Ac 15.36–18.22). On this occasion, Paul established the “mother church” in Ephesus, which commissioned Epaphras (Col 1.7) to establish churches in these other cities.

syria-ephesus

In both of these cases, Paul or a fellow worker communicated the gospel, organized congregations, taught them doctrine, helped them appoint pastors, and checked back on their progress. The end result was always an independent local church.

The corporate mission of the church is to reproduce in kind

Churches should reproduce doctrinally

Even a casual reading of Paul’s epistles reveals that he was determined to see sound doctrine established in the churches he started. To Timothy, Paul’s representative in the Church at Ephesus, he declared:

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you. (2Ti 1.13–14)

Churches should reproduce philosophically

Paul was not only concerned about reproducing a doctrinal system in the churches that he established, but also about making sure those churches followed his application of doctrine.

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1Ti 3.14–15)

The mission of the church is to reproduce itself abroad

The corporate mission of the church should be marked by extension. Christ’s last recorded message before His Ascension was:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Ac 1.8)

This can be visualized:

jerusalem-ends-of-earth

Corporate mission takes place within each church’s community

When most people hear the word “missions,” they usually think of ministry that takes place on foreign soil. The corporate mission of the church, however, includes the reproduction of congregations in one’s own community, provided the community is large enough to sustain multiple congregations.

Reproduction of congregations tends to promote service. The early church multiplied via many small house-churches due to the lack of facilities large enough to house all of the believers in a particular community. Although larger facilities are available today, it may be wise to limit the size of a church in order to promote service. As a church grows, it may reach the point where it starts producing spectators rather than servants. At that point, a new congregation should be started to provide more opportunities for service among its members.

Corporate mission takes place beyond each church’s community

The church that was established in Jerusalem was expected to minister beyond its own community. Its goal was to reproduce itself worldwide. Whenever Paul started a church and strengthened it to the point where it could function on its own, he left to start churches in other areas.

Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. (2Co 10.15–16)

The mission of the church is to reproduce in spite of opposition

Logically, we tend to think that freedom of religion automatically brings expansion. We reason that if we remove the obstacles, growth will automatically occur. That is not the case. Though freedom of religion does eliminate certain hindrances, it does not guarantee that the mission of the church will be carried out. The mission of the church is only accomplished when it is intentionally pursued.

The early church believers and apostles lived in a day when Christianity was viewed as a threat to government. That is because unsaved man does not want to submit himself to the Lordship of Christ. The early believers suffered persecution, even death for their faith.

The following verses were written to encourage believers that hostility does not curtail God’s purposes, rather hostility is the “seed” of perseverance and expansion of the gospel.

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1Pe 4.13–14)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (Jas 1.2–4)

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. (Php 1.12–14)

With the mission of the church in mind, we will now see why the spiritual stagnation settled in among the Baptists of the seventeenth century.

Why did the eighteenth century English Baptists neglect the mission of the church?

During the first half of the 1700s, the Baptists began to decline. The number of churches in 1715 dropped from 220 to 146 by 1750. The number of churches declined by one third. That does not include the number of members in the churches. Many lost half of their membership during this decline.3

Why did they lose so many during this time? This question cannot possibly be adequately answered in one lesson. Historians offer many reasons for the decline: 1) exhaustion from fighting for religious freedom;4 2) failure to maintain a ministerial leadership;5 3) most prominently, their failure to evangelize (i.e., a belief in hyper-calvinism).6 Nearly every historian offers the latter cause for the decline. This is where we will focus our attention.

A Belief in Hyper-calvinism Led to the Decline of the Eighteenth Century English Baptists.

What is Hyper-calvinism?

In the 1800s there was a clear understanding of Hyper-calvinism. Yet, that understanding has been blurred over the past century. Some (John R. Rice) identify a Hyper-calvinist as one who believes all five points of Calvinism.7 Another (Douglas MacLaughlin) has recently noted that Hyper-calvinism8 is an “overemphasis [on the sovereign will of God] which tends to fatalism and dead ritualism.”9

Neither of the above statements correctly identifies the heresy of Hyper-calvinism. A belief in all five points of Calvinism is not Hyper-calvinism. Many “five-pointers” were not Hyper-calvinists. Neither is the problem one of “overemphasis.”10 How can one overemphasize the absolute sovereignty of God?

Hyper-calvinism is not equal to Calvinism. It is not uncommon for one to equate hyper-calvinism with Calvinism. Many fail to distinguish between the two. Some use the word “Hyper-calvinism” as a polemic against Calvinism. It is easier to defeat an opponent by attaching the word “hyper” to his system of thought than to dismantle his system with Scriptural proof. Hyper-calvinism is neither a logical nor necessary extension of Calvinism. It is an aberrant theology that distorts real Calvinistic thought.

The word “hyper” means to “go beyond.” This is really an unfortunate word. For Hyper-calvinism is not merely a difference in degree, as C.H. Spurgeon noted it is a “false Calvinism.”11

Historically, Calvinism has been broken down into two basic groups – Moderate Calvinism and High-Calvinism.12 Moderate Calvinism accepts all the tenants of Calvinism except for two (i.e., limited atonement and double predestination). High Calvinism accepts the common five including double predestination.13 It can be charted as follows:

calvinism-high-moderate

Hyper-calvinism is different from Moderate and High-calvinism. It is a system that rationalistically deduces that one should not offer the gospel to unbelievers. Hence it is sometimes (and unfortunately) called Non-offer Calvinism.14 Hyper-calvinism is characterized by the following:

  • An overt opposition to evangelistic efforts.

  • The thinking that expanding ministry is not a grand priority.

  • Seeking to build a ministry on transfers rather than fresh converts.

Hyper-calvinism produces a stagnation and apathetic attitude toward evangelism. This generally results in a decline in numbers. But that is not always the case. Historically, there have been many Hyper-calvinists who drew large numbers to their churches.15 The main problem of hyper-calvinism is not a lack of numbers, but a disdain for evangelizing for fresh converts.

They did not give up Calvinism, or, in other words, renounce the Confession of 1689, but they overlaid it with an incrustation of something, which approached Antinomianism, and ate out the life of the churches, and f the gospel as preached by many ministers. Divine sovereignty was maintained and taught, not only in exaggerated proportions, but to the practical exclusion of moral responsibility; the obligation of sinners to “repent and believe the gospel,” was ignored, and even denied, and all gospel invitations and pleadings were restricted to those who were supposed to give evidence of a gracious state.16

How did Hyper-calvinism show itself in the seventeenth century? Primarily, the decline in membership and number of churches was the obvious result of Hyper-calvinism. Interestingly, while the numbers were dwindling overall, many Baptist church buildings were built. Many were large, ornate, edifices that could seat thousands.17 The point is they worked at consolidating themselves into monumental ministries rather than planting a network of smaller, vibrant ministries to reach the unconverted.18

The mission of the church is to reproduce itself. That is not to say that there is no room for a large church. God uses large churches for special purposes (e.g., establish seminaries, colleges, etc.) The problem is not so much size but purpose. Since the purpose of local churches is reproduction, consolidation should be minimal.

One writer looks back to earlier Baptists (Kiffin, Knollys, and Keach) and offers this encouragement:

These examples give some indication, at least from among the leaders of the movement, for the spread of their message and the desire to see churches multiplied. For them, the church was not simply a society of holy people gathered for fellowship with one another, but was an instrument to bring light and life to the darkest places. When they were able, they encouraged and engaged in mission efforts within their capabilities. Undoubtedly, the relative poverty of many of the churches and their ministers hindered expansion. But efforts were made, at times with positive results.19

What did the eighteenth century English Baptists do to recommit themselves to the mission of the church?

Fortunately, hyper-calvinism died off and is virtually non-existent today. How did the Baptists recover? The following areas are noted by historians:

They developed associations of Baptist Churches

Also in 1768, Abraham Booth published The Reign of Grace to refute hyper-calvinism.20 He, along with John Rippon (Goat Street Church21) and John MacGowan (Devonshire Square Church) saw the need to combine their efforts to establish churches. By 1796, one new church was planted every two years.22

In 1770, a man by the name of Charles Whitfield organized churches in Durham. In Yorkshire and Lancashire, John Fawcett assembled seventeen churches into an association in 1787.

The establishment of these associations helped recover the biblical mission to reproduce churches of like faith and practice.

They supported their pastors – educationally, financially

The Act of Toleration prohibited Baptist ministers from attending Cambridge and Oxford. Added to that, many could not afford further education.

Baptist pastors received less compensation than other Dissenters, and far less than those in the state church.23 It was not uncommon for them to work other occupations to support their families. To help the pastors, a “London Fund” was established. This would be used to assist needy ministers and educate young men for the ministry.24 This fund was strictly designed for those who subscribed in full with the Second London Baptist Confession. Neither did they allow the Arminian General Baptists to contribute to this fund. This did not come without opposition.25 The fund still operates today and has been used to help many pastors survive in their ministries.

This fund along with another supported Bristol College. From 1760–1820, Bristol academy graduates filled London Calvinistic Baptist pulpits. This influx of evangelistically, well educated men helped overturn the ravages of Hyper-calvinism.

. . . . by the turn of the century [Hyper-Calvinism26] was, to all intents and purposes, a dead issue among Baptist Board-related churches.27

Missions movement and revivals

This is probably the most important factor that turned the Baptists away from hyper-calvinism. Men like Andrew Fuller and William Carey spearheaded a missions movement that virtually eliminated hyper-calvinism. Space is limited to expand this factor. The next lesson will focus entirely on the missions movement and its impact on Baptist Life.

1 Throughout this lesson, it should be noted that we are still looking only at the English Baptists. The American Baptists have a different history in the eighteenth century. That will be developed in lessons 8ff.

2 This point was extracted from Lesson 29 of the Biblical Foundations for Living series.

3 McBeth, pp. 172–3.

4 McBeth, p. 122; Torbet has a modified view in that he sees that they were “still preoccupied with the winning of religious liberty.” p. 69.

5 Torbet,

6 Vedder, pp. 239ff; Torbet, pp. 68ff; McBeth, pp. 171ff.

7 John Rice, Some Serious, Popular False Doctrines (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1970), p. 274.

8 He uses the terms “excessive Calvinism.” See various names used for “hyper-calvinism” Footnote on p. .

9 Douglas McLachlan, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism (Independence, MO: American Association of Christian Schools, 1993), p. 63.

10 It is said that hyper-calvinism is an exaggeration of Calvinism. This is more accurate.

11 Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-calvinism, p. 40.

12 Before the term “hyper-calvinist” was coined, they were called “High calvinists.” Since the 1900s the term “high calvinist” has been defined as it is in this lesson.

13 See ibid. pp. 737ff;

14 Hyper-calvinism has also been called Excessive Calvinism, Ultra-Calvinism, Extreme Calvinism, Pseudo-Calvinism, Hard Calvinism, Thorough-going Calvinism, Rigid Calvinism, Unbalanced Calvinism, and Calvinism-run-mad.” See Daniels, Hyper-Calvinism, pp. 747ff.

15 e.g., William Huntington, William Gadsby, James Wells. See Curt Daniels, Hyper-calvinism and John Gill, p. 448.

16 Sword and Trowel, 1889, p. 600. quoted by Ian Murray, Hyper-calvinism and Spurgeon

17 McBeth, p. 191;

18 Torbet, p. 68.

19 Jim Renihan, Church Planting and the London Baptist Confessions of Faith.

20 McBeth, p. 179.

21 Later became Spurgeon’s Tabernacle.

22 Torbet, p. 78.

23 McBeth, p. 191.

24 Torbet, p. 70.

25 McBeth, p. 187.

26 The original read “high calvinism.” Until the term “hyper-calvinism” was coined, “high calvinism” was used.

27 Continuity and Change, pp. 130–1 quoted by Iain Murray, Hyper-calvinism, p. 133.

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