A Response to remarks of Dr. Frank Page made in the English Churchman


SB origins were Calvinistic

     It was encouraging to read in No. 7732 concerning Reformed Southern Baptists and the Reformed faith. On April 30, 1858, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary drew up a charter which they called the ‘Fundamental Law’ of the SB churches and which stated that every Professor in the seminary and student for the SB ministry must believe the twenty principles outlined. These were all soundly Reformed (Calvinistic). Modern critics of the SB’s credal stance, complain that the principles were thrust on the movement by James P. Boyce and were not representative of the Southern Baptists. SB-rebel Jeff Pool in his Against Returning to Egypt, puts forward similar theories. My research into ante-bellum confessions shows that these modern critics are wrong. The Arminian Baptists were mostly in the North and their Free Will Baptist Faith was first published in 1869. The so-called ‘Original Free Will Baptists of the South’ slowly developed at the end of the nineteenth century in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and North Carolina but soon split up over feet-washing and other differences. The spread of New Divinity teaching and universalistic Fullerism in the North also led to the Southern States drawing up their own Reformed Confessions. If we examine the confessions of the founder members of the Southern Baptists, we will find they all bear witness to the doctrines of grace.


The Doctrine of the Scriptures

Article I. of the SB Principles is entitled The Scriptures and states:

     “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by Inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.”

 

     The background to this statement was the realisation that Dispensationalism was becoming popular with its basic idea that the Old Testament is no basis for the Christian faith and that there is no Church, Covenant of Grace, people of God, mercies of Christ or full salvation in the OT. So too, churches especially in the North, were proclaiming that the idea that the New Testament was self-contradictory, paradoxical and reflected different views of the Godhead was orthodox.

Against these heretical views, the SBs held that: 

  1. The true doctrine of salvation is contained in both Testaments.
  2. The authority of the New Testament does not rest on itself alone ‘but also upon the concurrence of its teaching with the inspired truth already accepted by the Jews.
  3. The Old Testament was the sum total of the revealed will of God to Christ and the apostles. The New Testament was added to it but did not supplant it.
  4. Faith in Christ the Messiah is thus not the teaching of the New Testament alone but of the entire Bible. From Abel’s time on, God has had a special people who experienced the salvation of the Lord.
  5. The covenant with Abraham as the father of many nations both in a natural and spiritual sense is anchored in a natural descendants of Abraham, of whom Christ was according to the flesh and the Spirit.
  6. Election to the assembly of the saints was not in time but is in eternity. Very many of Boyce’s quotes to prove the election of individuals to salvation are from the Old Testament.

 

The Being of God

      The Southern Baptist view of the Scriptures depended on their view of God. As early as 1809-10, we find founder member Maria Creek in their Declaration of Faith stating: 

     ‘We believe in one true and living God, eternal and immutable, the Creator and Upholder of all intelligent beings, who governs all things with righteousness according to the counsel of His own will; and that He has revealed Himself to the children of men in the Scriptures of Truth contained in the old and new Testaments, which are of Divine authority and the only infallible rule of Faith and Practice, under the three personal characters of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’

 

Article III. of the SB Principles states: 

     ‘There is but one God, the Maker, Preserver and Ruler of all things, having in and of himself, all perfections, and being infinite in them all; and to Him all creatures owe the highest love, reverence and obedience.

 

     God is revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit each with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence or being.’

 

The Atonement

     Surprisingly enough, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary principles have no set article on the atonement. There are historical reasons for this. First of all, the atonement was not yet challenged in its meaning by a majority of Baptists who subordinated the systematic teaching of the atonement to the doctrines of election, predestination, justification and perseverance. Separating the atonement from the doctrines of grace as a separate study was not generally done in Baptists circles because it was rarely analysed separately to be criticised. Nevertheless, the overall teaching of the SB fathers on the doctrine can be gathered from the Principles, the writings of such as Boyce and Dagg and the separate church confessions of the member churches. One of the Great Pioneers of the Southern Baptist movement was Isaac McCoy, called the Apostle of the Western Trail and pioneer missionary to and educator of the Native Americans. In 1822 at the Fort Wayne missionary station on the Wabash, the Potawatomi Baptist Church drew up their Declaration of Faith which was accepted later by the Southern Baptist Convention and made mandatory for their American Indian Missionary Association. The Northern Baptist Board was racist in their attitude to the Indians and would not allow students from Native American tribes, nations and bands to join their training colleges, though they used money given to the Indian mission to finance them. These factors were also instrumental in the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention with two entire Indian Nations becoming members. Isaac McCoy and his Indian colleagues established more churches and schools amongst the Native Americans then all the other denominations, including the Roman Catholics, together. The Indian Church Declaration states: 

 

“ART. v. We believe that as there is nothing new with God, it is his eternal purpose to save those who ultimately will be received into heaven, not upon the supposition of any condition to be performed by them, but wholly in consequence of what Jesus Christ has done in their behalf.

ART. vi.  We believe the Son of God united himself to humanity, and in that state fulfilled in his life the law of God, which was binding on man, and suffered in his death the penal requisitions of the same.

ART. vii. We believe, agreeably to the inevitable conse­quences of articles first, third, and fifth (on the being and sovereignty of God in salvation), that Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and intercession, were, and are, in behalf of those, and those only, who shall enjoy the benefits thereof.”

 

James P. Boyce when refuting the error that Christ died for every man should any man wish to be saved, said Christ’s ‘atonement recognises all who are included in it as saved by virtue of it.’ This means that Christ did not die in vain for any of those for whom He died. Boyce gives John 10: 11, 15, 26-28 to demonstrate this: 

 

     “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep, . . . and I lay down my live for the sheep, . . . but ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep . . . My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”

 

Man as a Fallen Being

Number VI. of the SB principles is entitled The Fall of Man and states:

     God originally created man in His own Image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.

 

The New Hampshire Confession (the confession of many individual SB churches) states in Article iii Of the Fall of man

     We believe that man was created in a state of holiness, under the law of his Maker; but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint but choice, being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, wholly given to the gratification of the world, of Satan, and of their own sinful passions, therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.

 

Regeneration

Article VIII. of the principals states under the heading Regeneration:  

‘Regeneration is a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit, who quickeneth the dead in trespasses and sins, enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the Word of God, and renewing their whole nature, so that they love and practice holiness. It is a work of God’s free and special grace alone’

 

The New Hampshire Confession states: 

vii. Of grace in Regeneration 

‘We believe that in order to be saved, we must be regenerated or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; and is effected in a manner above our comprehension or calculation, by the power of the Holy Spirit (in connection with divine truth), so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the Gospel; and that its proper evidence is found in the holy fruit which we bring forth to the glory of God.’

 

     The Southern Baptist Conventions have repeatedly vouched for the truth of the SBTS Confession. They did this officially in 1925, 1963 and 1994. On Scripture, the 1994 committee stressed the unity of Scripture in both Testaments and that the justice, love and redemption of God was clearly depicted in the Old. On the person of God, the report stressed that God is immutable and is not constrained by any internal contradiction or limit in His will and sovereign power. Though they are admittedly less than precise on the atonement, they nevertheless affirm that Christ’s atonement was both penal and substitutionary and that they reject ‘any form of universalism’. The age of the Church is rather skipped over by the report, but it refers to former declarations which clearly state as the Convention’s confession of 1963 that the Church is composed of ‘all the redeemed of all the ages.’ Another Founding Father of the SBs was J. L. Dagg whose Manual of Theology and Manual of Church Order were almost as often used in Southern Baptist seminaries as Boyce’s work. Dagg sees the Church as extending over all ages. He condemns the institutional view of the church as a local organisation of mixed baptised believers, separate from other local organisations of professing believers. For him, the Southern Baptist view of the only true Church is the sum total of the elect. Local ‘churches’ will invariably contain those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not mean it or those who are with us, but depart from us.

     The old SB confessions emphasised that the eternal covenant of grace was implemented as soon as Adam fell. Many Southern Baptist nowadays look upon the Second London Confession of 1677-1689 as the basis for all American Baptist confessions. This creed plainly states in Chapter VII. that the covenant of grace as revealed in the gospel was first given to Adam. Chapter XXVI. ‘Of the Church’ and Chapter XXVII  ‘On the Communion of Saints’ covers over five pages in Lumpkin’s edition and emphasises that as soon as sin entered the world the Body of Christ began to grow. The SB fathers, it may be argued on very strong evidence, taught that whenever and wherever sin abounded, grace did much more abound because the gospel of salvation in Christ, choosing a people for Himself was at work. At a Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Oklahoma City a few years ago, I was asked to address two thousand SB pastors with the story of Isaac McCoy and their great Reformed inheritance. I was very warmly received. At an SB pastors’ conference following, I spoke on the subject Testing the Validity of Southern Baptist Doctrines and found the majority of pastors present still accepted these old Confessions. Oklahoma’s Baptist Convention recently appointed a thorough-going Reformed man, Wade Burleson, senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Enid, OK, as their President. Wade is as sound as a bell and a brilliant pastor, evangelist and organiser. As so many SB churches with many thousands of members have teams of fine Calvinistic pastors, I believe that the estimated 10 per cent of Calvinist SB pastors is something of an understatement. However, it is good to be encouraged by Frank Page’s words that so many young pastors are adopting the faith of their fathers.