Tag Archive - Baptism

Baptists and Calvin: Does Calvinism Lead to ‘Antimission’ Sentiments?

The accusation that Calvinism leads to antimission sentiments has sometimes been leveled, but as Michael Horton shows in his recent book For Calvin, nothing could be further from the truth. Horton observes, in the section titled “Calvinism and Christian Missions” (p. 151), that, in fact, Calvinism has been and remains one of the most important sources of Christian missionaries, with no less than Thomas Mayhew, David Brainerd, David Livingstone, Robert Morrison, and Jonathan Goforth stemming from Reformed churches and practicing Reformed theology. Quoting Horton—

With growing interest in Calvinism in Southern Baptist circles, some leaders have expressed alarm that it will dampen the denomination’s enthusiasm for evangelism and missions . . . . [But] the Southern Baptist Convention sponsors “about 5000 home missionaries” and “more than 5000 foreign missionaries.” For a denomination of sixteen million, this comes to approximately “0.000625 missionaries per capita.”

By contrast, the 310,000 member Presbyterian Church in America has “about 600 foreign missionaries.” That is 0.001935 foreign missionaries per capita, commissioned and supported by the PCA. Thus, the PCA supports three times as many foreign missionaries per capita as the SBC supports foreign and domestic missions combined (p. 162).

And the PCA gives twice as much per dollar to international missions as the SBC does (p. 162).

So much, then, for the absurd assertion that Calvinism leads to antimissionary sentiments.

But, some may protest, Calvin himself laid the foundation for less interest in missions with his understanding of the doctrine of predestination. So what does Calvin say himself about missionary activity? In his commentary on the Gospels, at Matthew 28:19, he writes

Here Christ, by removing the distinction, makes the Gentiles equal to the Jews, and admits both indiscriminately to a participation in the covenant. Such is also the import of the term go out; for the prophets under the law had limits assigned to them, but now, the wall of partition having been broken down, (Eph. 2:14,) the Lord commands the ministers of the gospel to go to a distance, in order to spread the doctrine of salvation in every part of the world. For though, as we have lately suggested, the right of the first-born, at the very commencement of the gospel, remained among the Jews, still the inheritance of life was common to the Gentiles. Thus was fulfilled that prediction of Isaiah, (49:6,) and others of a similar nature, that Christ was given for a light of the Gentiles, that he might be the salvation of God to the end of the earth. Mark means the same thing by every creature; for when peace has been proclaimed to those that are within the Church, the same message reaches those who are at a distance, and were strangers, (Eph. 2:17, 19.) How necessary it was that the apostles should be distinctly informed of the calling of the Gentiles, is evident from this consideration, that even after having received the command, they felt the greatest horror at approaching them, as if by doing so they polluted themselves and their doctrine.

I’ve emphasized the most relevant materials. Calvin was himself convinced of the necessity of the preaching of the Gospel to the ‘ends of the earth.’ Calvinism, then, does not in any respect lead to ‘antimissionary’ sentiments. Quite the contrary.

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Jim West

Related articles

Calvinism and the London Baptist Confession of 1644 (Part 1)

Baptist Roots
Where did Baptists come from and, historically, what are their beliefs?  The majority of historians agree that today’s Baptists were derived from three major sixteenth-century streams: Particular Baptists, General Baptists, and Seventh-day Baptists. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these denominations birthed a multitude. Separate Baptist, Primitive Baptist, American Baptist and Southern Baptist are just a few of today’s 100-plus Baptist denominations. Each of the three major Baptist groups claims a different line of descent. The Particular Baptists claim a heritage going back to the Protestant Reformers and Puritans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The General Baptists trace their roots from the earlier Anabaptists of the fifteenth century, and the Seventh-Day Baptists came later, in the sixteenth century. All three major Baptist denominations started in England.

Other Seventeenth-Century Baptists
The Seventh-Day Baptists, known to follow the Judeo-Christian tradition of worshipping on the seventh day of the week, were never large in number, nor are they today. They number less than 50,000 worldwide. The General Baptists were named for their theological stance of having a general, and thoroughly Arminian, view of the atonement.  Lead by John Smyth, they were a noncreedal denomination. By the eighteenth century, English General Baptists had mostly moved into Unitarianism, while most of America’s General Baptists were overtaken by the diverse strands within the Regular Baptist denominations.

The Particular Baptists
Particular Baptists were also commonly called Strict Baptists because of their practice of closed communion, their theological stance on Christ’s definite atonement for His elect, and their two-office congregational polity. It was the Protestant forerunners, like the Reformers & Puritans, that brought about a strong confessional emphasis among Particular Baptists’ theology. The Particular Baptists first appeared in a London church organized by Henry Jacob following his exile from Holland. This church was founded on a basis of confession of individual faith and of a covenant, and it contained both Independent Puritans and radical Separatists. In 1633, the issue of who would administer baptism splintered the two camps. In 1638, the first Particular Baptist Church was established in London under the leadership of John Spilsbery.

The theology of these Baptists appealed to the nation’s prevalent Calvinism and offered no obstacle to the mass of Englishmen. With the rapid growth of the Particular Baptist came serious accusations, such as Pelagianism and Anarchy. This is important to note because both groups were part of the radical wing of Anabaptism; thus, Anabaptism cannot trace its historical roots to the Particular Baptist denomination.

By 1644, the seven Particular Baptist churches in London were quick to follow their Protestant forerunners’ confessional examples. To document their doctrinal differences from the General Baptists and Anabaptists, the seven closely associated and London-based Particular Baptist churches prepared to published their own confessional statement of theology.

The London Confession of 1644 served as an apologetic theology, defending Particular Baptist views against the Arminian General Baptists and other radical groups like the Anabaptists. Henry C. Vedder called it “one of the chief landmarks of Baptist history.” There were five key futures that made it different from the multitude of Protestant Reformed Confessions of its time:

  1. Two representatives from each of the six Particular churches and three from Spilsbery’s church were included in the signatories of the confession.
  2. It had a strong Christological focus.
  3. It was building a confessional theology that gave structure to the New Testament’s administration of the Covenants of Grace—not attempting to reform the National Church.
  4. It charged that the act of baptism was to be a complete immersion of the individual and gave an outline for conduct in case of civil persecution.

It gave the Particular Baptists of its time a distinctive Baptist theology of the church, all while affirming the Reformed view of salvation.

 


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Calvin on Baptismal Mode

I’ve been reading about baptism lately and came across this comment by John Calvin (Institutes IV, xv, 19) on the issue of mode.

Whether the person baptised is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climates, although it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

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