The Baptist Catechism, Commonly, but Falsely?, called Keach’s

Many churches use or have used a catechism called “Keach’s Catechism.” Some call this “The Baptist Catechism.” Are they the same thing? Why is there a catechism called Keach’s catechism? Most of what follows is already contained in the introduction to the Baptist Catechism found in True Confessions by James Renihan. Instead of starting with the problem and working toward the solution, I’ll just build from the ground up to what I believe is the most accurate information on this issue.

Benjamin Keach did write a catechism, called Instructions for Children.  Keach wrote that catechism in the 1660s (and was pilloried for it). It is well known that it is not the Baptist Catechism. Regarding the Baptist Catechism itself, all evidence indicates that William Collins was its author/editor.

The narrative of the London General Assembly that met in June 1693, contained in Ivimey, Vol 1, records that the GA commissioned William Collins to work on a catechism:

1693 GA in Ivimey 1-533

Ten months later, the Bristol General Assembly that met in April 1694, wrote to the London churches, asking them to make sure this project was completed. This is also from Ivimey, Vol 1.

Ivimey 1-534-535

We know that the catechism appeared by 1695, because the earliest known copy is dated to that year. However, this earliest known copy is also printed as the 5th edition, which means it is possible that the catechism had been completed by the end of 1694. You can see a color scan of that earliest surviving copy here.

Correspondence between William Collins and Andrew Gifford in 1698 shows that Collins was managing the reception of funds and distribution of copies of the catechism. Collins wrote:

Bro Gifford
I rec[eive]d your lines and have since rec[eive]d the 6l-15s-0d [6 pounds, 15 shillings, 0 pence] from Mr Goddard, which you have got for the friends in Warwicke, and I have left with Mr Goddard 300 catechisms & have put in a dozen more which I present you with, & for the 300 I tooke but 24s, allowing 1s towards the carriage and when you have occasion for more, you may send to mee for there are some thousands remaineing of the last impression…

So, extant sources indicate that William Collins was the author/editor/manager of the Baptist Catechism. Jonathan Arnold’s excellent book on Benjamin Keach agrees that there is no solid argument for Keach’s authorship of the catechism. Arnold notes that Thomas Crosby did not list the catechism among Keach’s works. Why, and how, then, did Benjamin Keach come to be connected with the catechism? Ivimey was unsure. He wrote:

Ivimey 2-397

The earliest concrete evidence of a connection to Benjamin Keach dates to 1719 and the fourth printing of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (previously printed in 1677, 1688, and 1699). An advertisement in the 1719 edition states that William Collins and Benjamin Keach sold the rights to print the Confession and Catechism to John Marshall:

2LCF 1719

This should seem a bit strange because Collins died in 1702, and Keach in 1704. Why does this information appear in 1719, so long after Collins and Keach died? Well, compare the 1719 advertisement to a similar advertisement in 1700, contained in a second edition of John Bunyan’s The Heavenly Footman, printed by John Marshall.

Bunyan, The Heavenly Footman

1700 Advertisement 1719 Advertisement
The remainders of the Impressions of these two Books, with the full and true right of Printing them for the future, are Sold to John Marshall Bookseller at the Bible in Grace-Church-Street, London. It is desired that all Persons that are desirous to promote such useful Books, do apply themselves to the Bookseller. Having Sold the Property, Right and Title of the Printing thereof to John Marshall, Bookseller, at the Bible in Grace-Church-Street, by us William Collins and Benjamin Keach. It is desired that all Persons desirous to promote such useful Books, do apply themselves to him.

Considering that John Marshall (and two others) printed a third edition of the Confession of Faith in 1699, these advertisements indicate that while Collins’ and Keach’s names do not appear until the 1719 advertisement, they had sold the rights to the printing of the Confession and Catechism around 1699.

This brings Benjamin Keach into the picture, but it still does not explain why he had a part in the printing rights to the Confession or Catechism. Nor does it explain why the Catechism came to bear his name.

In 1764, John Robinson printed the 16th edition of the catechism, in which he included, up front, a portrait of Benjamin Keach.

Catechism 16 ed

It is interesting that Robinson was from Horsleydown, Southwark. Perhaps he was a member of Keach’s church under John Gill? Robinson also printed Keach’s “Instructions for Children” in 1763. I don’t know what we can deduce from this, but the fact that Keach’s picture was affixed to the front of the catechism is at least some evidence of connections to Keach.

In 1794, the Catechism was again published, and here we see it “commonly called Keach’s Catechism.”Catechism 1794

John Rippon succeeded John Gill at Keach’s church. Again, I am unsure of what we can draw from this other than to note that by 1794, the catechism was “commonly” called Keach’s. Why was it called that? There doesn’t seem to be evidence to substantiate any particular reason. The most the evidence seems to permit is the recognition that the catechism continued to be published by persons closely connected to Keach’s church and legacy, and that this connection is the best contextual explanation for the attachment of his name to the catechism.

We know:

  • In June, 1693 William Collins was commissioned to “draw up” the Baptist Catechism.
  • In April, 1694, the Baptist Catechism had not been completed.
  • In 1695, the Baptist Catechism was in its 5th edition.
  • In 1698, William Collins was receiving funds and distributing copies of the Baptist Catechism.
  • William Collins and Benjamin Keach held printing rights to the Confession and Catechism and sold them to John Marshall in, or by, 1699.
  • In 1764, Keach’s likeness was attached to the Baptist Catechism.
  • By 1794, the Baptist Catechism was “commonly called Keach’s Catechism.”

We do not know:

  • Why Keach had rights with Collins to the printing of the Confession and Catechism.
  • Why, or when, the Catechism began to be “commonly called Keach’s Catechism.”

In conclusion, in my opinion it is best to refer to the Catechism as The Baptist Catechism, since it was commissioned by the General Assembly and there is no evidence that Keach put it together.

As a bonus, here is the original “advertisement” that appeared at the end of the catechism, explaining why it was prepared and published.

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Why does 2LCF omit WCF 24.5-6 on Divorce?

This is a common question. Why does 2LCF 25 (Of Marriage) omit the paragraphs dealing with divorce in WCF 24 (Of Marriage, and Divorce)? I do not intend to offer a theological answer to this question, but a historical-textual one.

To answer this question, we really should direct it to a different party. The Baptists were not the first ones to remove these paragraphs. They were third. Consider four historical points.

First, remember that the Westminster Assembly was subject to Parliament. It had been called by Parliament to craft a project of religious reform for the national church. Accordingly, it submitted its draft of a Confession of Faith as Advice to Parliament in 1646.

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The Assembly’s Advice contained the paragraphs on divorce and remarriage.

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This version of the Confession of Faith was printed in Scotland and has been known as the Westminster Confession of Faith ever since.

Second, we must realize that Parliament did not approve this version of the Assembly’s Advice. What is commonly known as the “Westminster Confession of Faith” was not officially approved or adopted in England. Parliament required various changes, including the removal of the paragraphs from the chapter on Marriage, and Divorce. (Ironically, they did not change the title of the chapter, though they removed its references to divorce.) Here we see the 1648, Parliament-approved version of the Confession ending chapter 24 without paragraphs five and six.

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Third, we must realize that in 1658 when the Congregationalists collaborated to craft the Savoy Declaration, they used the 1648 Parliament-approved version of the Assembly’s Confession, not the 1646 version proliferated in Scotland. They said this themselves:

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That copy of the [Parliament-approved Confession of Faith] followed by us, is in few men’s hands; the other as it came from the Assembly, being approved of in Scotland, was printed and hastened into the world, before the Parliament had declared their resolutions about it; which was not till June 20 1648, and yet has been, and continues to be the copy (ordinarily) only sold, printed, and reprinted for these 11 years.

In the preface to the Savoy Declaration, the Savoy Divines mentioned various portions of the Westminster Confession which they had omitted, including portions of the chapter on marriage and divorce. The Savoy Divines noted that they agreed with the edits made by Parliament in these cases.

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Also a great part of the 24th chapter of Marriage and Divorce [was omitted]. These [omitted portions] were such doubtful assertions, and so unsuitable to a Confession of Faith, as the Honorable Houses [of Parliament] in their great wisdom thought fit to lay them aside.

It was the Savoy Declaration that changed the title of the chapter to “Of Marriage”, omitting the addition, “, and Divorce.”

Fourth, when 2LCF was published in 1677, it self-consciously drew from the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession (as is commonly known).

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In conclusion, when we arrive at 2LCF 25.1-4 and do not find paragraphs 5 and 6 from WCF 24, we need to remember that the houses of Parliament and the Savoy Divines had already regarded them as unsuitable for a Confession of Faith. The Baptists were not the first, or even second, to omit them. Those paragraphs were never approved in an English Confession of Faith.

It is not my intention to enter into the rationale(s) behind the omission of these paragraphs. To discern each group’s reasons, one must interrogate their own writings and the sources that influenced them.

The Petty France Church (Part 1)

The Petty France Church (Part 1)

I am pleased to announce that my first volume on the history of the Petty France Particular Baptist Church is now available. This volume focuses on:

  • The church’s meeting locations and buildings between its founding in 1656 and its merger with the Devonshire Square Particular Baptist Church in 1727
  • A complete transcription of the Church Book, covering the years 1675-1727
  • Biographical chapters on Nehemiah Coxe and his family, including his father, his grandfather, his first wife, his second wife, and a son from each marriage

Many images of signatures and maps are provided to enhance the reader’s grasp of the information presented in this volume.

This is a volume of historical ressourcement, meaning that it reevaluates previous Baptist historiography and provides extensive new, previously unknown and unseen, sources.

It can be purchased here. Check your country’s amazon market for the best availability.

The Table of Contents:

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Acts 14:23 in 2LCF 26.9

2LCF 26.9 states that elders are chosen by “the common suffrage of the church” and ordained by elders. This language is taken directly from the Savoy Declaration’s Platform of Polity. In 2LCF The margin points you to the Greek text of Acts 14:23 to justify this (the Savoy Declaration doesn’t provide textual references). Such “proof texts” in the Confession refer you to the textual tradition of that verse, not the bare text itself.

2LCF 26.9

What can we find in commentaries and treatments of this text, especially ones that deal with the Greek word itself?

To launch our investigation, Nehemiah Coxe’s sermon on Elders and Deacons (1681) also points to the Greek of Acts 14:23 to argue that it means to appoint through suffrage. He appealed to Erasmus and Beza to explain the Greek word, “χειροτονήσαντες.” Here is the marginal note from his published sermon:

Coxe

Theodore Beza, in “Annotationes majores in Novum…Testamentum”, translates this word in Acts 14:23 as “they appointed by suffrage” and argues “It is based on the Greek word for this practice, where decisions are made by raising of hands.”

Beza

Beza’s work had been noticed and used by Baptistic Congregationalists (i.e., early Particular Baptists) at least as far back as the 1650s. In 1656, the Abingdon Association wrote to the church in Petty France about the issue of how elders were to be appointed. Edward Harrison and Samuel Tull, the pastors of the Petty France church, responded and appealed to Beza on Acts 14:23.

[In] Acts 14 Luke informs us that elders were ordained in every church by lifting up of the hand: so in the original: by election: so it is in the old translation: which must imply the action of the church. Wherein we do agree with the paraphrase of Beza, and others, upon the place.

Abingdon

John Owen made the same argument from the Greek text of Acts 14:23 in his “A Brief Instruction in the Worship of God.”

Owen 1

And in his posthumously published “The True Nature of a Gospel Church” Owen took note of Beza, Erasmus, and others to justify the same translation.

Owen 2

Above, Edward Harrison stated that the “old translation” rendered Acts 14:23 in this way. Owen states the same, that “all our old English Translations” did this. They are referring to pre-King James translations, what is usually known as the “Geneva Bible” first published in 1560.  Here is a 1610 version of such a Bible, with its annotation for Acts 14:23.

Geneva Bible

The text of the annotation reads:

Acts 14:23 The Apostles committed the Churches which they had planted, to proper and peculiar Pastors, which they made not rashly, but with prayers and fastings going before: neither did they thrust them upon Churches through bribery or lordly superiority, but chose and placed them by the voice of the congregation.

And here is a 1638 King James Bible, rendering Acts 14:23

King James Bible

In comparing the two, note the deletion of “by election.” It makes sense that a church ruled by Monarch/Bishop would not be favorable toward the idea of elders being appointed by election.

The Westminster Assembly’s Annotations noted that “χειροτονήσαντες” could be interpreted as suffrage and consent, but agreed with the more modern (King James) rendering.

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We can draw several conclusions from these evidences.

First, it is a helpful reminder not to treat “Proof Texts” in the Confession as merely pointing you to the text of Scripture. 2LCF 26.9 tells you to look at the Greek text. How will that help? Will staring at “the Original” make it all clear? For those trained in the original languages, that might work. But, in reality you are being pointed to resources dealing with the Greek text, that is, commentaries, translations, and other related literature.

Second, we find that the Baptistic Congregationalists’ theology was developed in conversation with the literature of their time, and the literature that preceded them. They weighed, measured, and considered the text with the literature of others in mind. They were taught, persuaded, and instructed by a tradition much larger than their own particular slice of it. They didn’t loot and leave that tradition. They saw themselves living within it. When we see writers like Harrison and Coxe drawing from the Protestant and Reformed tradition, it reinforces the fact that we should read 2LCF as a particular version of a larger heritage (as if the fact that so much of 2LCF was taken from WCF and SD wasn’t enough to prove the point already).

Third, related to the previous point, we see here another evidence of Matt Bingham’s thesis that those whom we ordinarily call “Particular Baptists” are best known as “Baptistic Congregationalists.” They did not arise in a vacuum. What distinguishes John Owen from Edward Harrison or Nehemiah Coxe on this issue? Nothing. What distinguishes the Savoy Declaration and 2LCF on this issue? Nothing. They share congregationalism. But Harrison, Coxe, and 2LCF represent the Baptistic wing of Congregationalism.

Fourth, similar to the previous points, we find that 2LCF 26.9 isn’t “Baptist” at all. (Apostrophe: To be honest, very little of 2LCF is “Baptist” except a very short chapter on Baptism.) The view that elders are to be appointed by elders, with the suffrage of the church, was the standard translation of the text of the Bible in English as far back as 1560, and it had a heritage in scholastic literature. All this was well established long before the Baptistic Congregationalists arose in the 1630s-1640s.

Fifthly, and lastly, when we realize that there was a tradition of interpreting Acts 14:23 as appointment by election, then we realize that the phrase “common suffrage” in 2LCF 26.9 is, in effect, an attempt to embed the words of Scripture in the Confession itself. It is, so to speak, Beza’s rendition of Acts 14:23, “per suffragia creassent”, in English.

This was originally going to be a Twitter thread, but the rabbit hole went pretty deep and I thought it best to put this in a blog post. I hope you find it useful.

Henry Ainsworth, The Confession of Faith, Final Page

 

As a somewhat unrelated extra, Patrick Fairbairn weighed in on the translation of this text in his “Hermeneutical Manual”, again taking note of Erasmus and Beza.

Fairbairn

William Kiffen and the Poole Party

History is tricky, as is historical theology. We approach old texts and events with modern questions, modern categories, and modern modes of thinking. In the case of discussions about the relation of the Baptistic Congregationalists (i.e., early Particular Baptists) to the Reformed tradition, the same problems present themselves. Do we understand them in their own historical and ideological context? Are they subjects, teaching us who they were and how they thought, or are they objects on whom we impose our modern selves?

The modern age has its advantages, one of which is wide availability of older texts and sources, which means that more and more, we have the opportunity to become familiar with historical individuals or groups from their own literature. This blog has always been dedicated to putting original sources in the view of those interested in them.

This post focuses on a small publication from William Kiffen in 1645, entitled “A Briefe Remonstrance of the Reasons and Grounds of those People commonly called Anabaptists, for their Seperation, &c. Or Certain Queries Concerning Faith and Practice, propounded by Mr. Robert Poole; Answered and Resolved by William Kiffen.” I want to emphasize the timing of this discussion and how that affects our perception of the Baptistic Congregationalists and their relationship to Reformed churches and christians at that time. Specifically, consider that at this time the Baptistic Congregationalists had published their Confession of Faith, but the Westminster Confession did not yet exist. The Confession, and its related documents were in process, not only in process with regard to the Assembly itself, but also with regard to Parliament approving or disapproving said documents.

The setting of the discussion below is that Robert Poole’s (who appears to be a Presbyterian) daughter Elizabeth and at least one of his servants joined William Kiffen’s church. Robert was very displeased by this and wrote to Kiffen about “my deluded ones” demanding that Kiffen “discharge them, and leave them to the power of me, who have the charge of them.” Poole sent five queries to Kiffen, asking Kiffen to justify the practice of his church in separating from the established church.

My interest is in Kiffen’s response to the accusation made against him and his church of following “the Anabaptistical way” as opposed to the practice of “the Reformed Churches.” I have transcribed portions from this document which you can read below with updated spelling and some updated punctuation. [Bracketed portions are my own insertions for clarification.]

Poole’s First Query

“By what warrant of the word of God, do you separate from our congregations, where the word and sacraments are purely dispensed?”

Kiffen’s Response

“…For do you not daily admit and suffer to be amongst you such as do according to God’s word, leaven the whole lump, 1 Cor. 5:6, and do not purely dispense the word upon them for their healing? The Spirit of Christ saith, such glorying is not good, and the feast of the Lord ought not to be kept with them: and I pray you show me what gospel institution have you for the baptizing of children, which is one of your great sacraments amongst you; what can you find for your practice therein, more than the dirty puddle of man’s inventions affords. And therefore when your sacraments are purely administered according to the pure institution of the Lord Jesus; and when you have dispensed the Word and Power of Christ, for the cutting off all drunkards, fornicators, covetous, swearers, liars, and all abominable and filthy persons, and stand together in the faith, a pure lump of believers, gathered and united according to the institution of Christ, we (I hope,) shall join with you in the same congregation and fellowship, and nothing shall separate us but death.”

Analysis

Remember that Parliament called the Westminster Assembly to reform the national Church of England. Kiffen is responding to such a church, a church where everyone in the parish comes to bring their child for baptism, and everyone in the parish receives the Lord’s Supper. Kiffen denies the purity of the administration of the sacraments based on the impurity of the recipients and the lack of discipline against them.

Arguably, one’s experience would vary from parish church to parish church. Denying the Lord’s Supper to the “abominable and filthy” persons was one of the main issues in priests’ minds in the early decades of the seventeenth century. The “Puritan” movement clashed with the established church over issues such as this. However, Kiffen is correct that the national church as then established was set up in such a way as to receive everyone to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Westminster Assembly debated this issue and concluded that parishioners must make a profession of faith in order for their child to receive baptism.

The point at hand is that we see that the Baptistic Congregationalists would not mingle with the “Reformed” churches because at that point in time the nation of England and its Church were undergoing massive social, political, and religious changes. But it was still a national church filled with anyone and everyone.

Poole’s Second Query

“By what Scripture warrant do you take upon you to erect new framed congregations, separated to the disturbance of the great work of Reformation now in hand? [i.e., the Westminster Assembly and the reformation of the national church]”

Kiffen’s Response

“Answer: This query has in it these two parts: 1. That we erect new framed separate congregations. 2. We do, by this, disturb the great work of Reformation now in hand.

To the first, it is well known to many, especially to ourselves, that our Congregations were erected and framed as now they are, according to the rule of Christ, before we heard of any Reformation, even at that time when Episcopacy was in the height of its vanishing glory…even when they were plotting and threatening the ruin of all those which opposed it, and we hope you will not say we sinned in separating from them whose errors you now condemn, and yet if you shall still continue to brand us with the names of Anabaptists, Schismatics, Heretics, etc. for saving ourselves from such a generation (Acts 2:40) as you yourselves have cut off, and from such a superstitious [“superstitious” means doing religious things without scriptural warrant] worship as you say shall be reformed; we conceive it is your ignorance, or worse, and though you condemn us, Christ will justify us even by that word of his, which he hath given us, and we desire to practice, and have already commended to you in that conclusion of our answer to the first query.

And for the second part of your query, that we disturb the great work of reformation now in hand; I know not what you mean by this charge, unless it be to discover [reveal] your prejudice against us, in reforming ourselves before you. For as yet we have not in our understanding seen, neither can we conceive anything of that [which] we shall see reformed by you according to truth, but that through mercy, we enjoy the practice of the same already; ’tis strange this should be a disturbance, to the ingenious faithful Reformer; it should be (one would think) a furtherance rather than a disturbance

And whereas you tell us of the work of Reformation now in hand, no reasonable men will force us to desist from the practice of that which we are persuaded is according to the truth, and wait for that, which we know not what it will be; and in the meantime, practice that which you yourselves say must be reformed: but whereas you tell us of a great work of reformation, we should entreat you to show us wherein the greatness of it consists, for as yet we see no greatness, unless it be in the vast expense of money and time for what great thing is it to change Episcopacy into Presbytery, and a Book of Common Prayer into a Directory, and to exalt men from living of £100 a year to places of £400 per annum? For I pray you consider, is there not the same power, the same priests, the same people, the same worship, and in the same manner still continued, but when we shall see your great work of reformation to appear, that you have framed your congregations according to that true and unchangeable pattern, 1 Cor. 3.9-11 according to the command of our Savior, Matt. 28:19-20 and the Apostles’ practice, Acts 2:41; 5:13-14 and made all things suitable to the pattern, as Moses did, Exod. 25:40; Heb. 8:5 you will see, I hope, that we shall be so far from disturbing that work, as that we shall be one with it.”

Analysis

Kiffen argues that the Baptistic Congregationalists cannot be accused of separating from the work of reformation in England when they separated and formed their congregations during the time of Episcopacy. And if the Assembly and others are convinced that many features of the Church of England need to be abandoned and reformed, why should the Baptistic Congregationalists be criticized and called “Anabaptists, Schismatics, and Heretics” for already having done so?

It is very interesting that Kiffen points out that the Baptistic Congregationalists cannot be blamed for remaining separate from the national church during this time of Reformation when it is not clear what the end result will be. And if the Baptistic Congregationalists are already convinced that their churches are biblically grounded, and the Assembly acknowledges that the national church in its present form is in need of reform, why would the Baptistic Congregationalists not remain as they are and wait to see what happens?

In other words, the Baptistic Congregationalists were not rejecting the Reformed church in England. They were witnessing the development of something incomplete and, to them, unhopeful. Kiffen vows unity if the end result is acceptable. But he sees the direction that the Assembly is going and doesn’t see much difference with the Anglican establishment. National uniformity (the Directory) and nationally supported ministers (the tithe) in a national church that includes everyone (infant baptism) seems quite the same as it always had been. Kiffen was not the only one. Milton’s famous lines echoe here,

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Poole’s Fifth Query

“How can you vindicate by the word of God, your Anabaptistical way, from the sinful guile of notorious schisme, and dissection from all the Reformed Churches?” [Read “guile” in the sense of an accusation of treachery.]

Kiffen’s Response

“Answer: They that run may read what fire this pen and heart was inflamed withall in the writing and indicting this query; but first of all, if by Reformed Churches, you mean those churches planted by the Apostles in the Primitive times, which are the platform for all churches in all ages to look unto, to be guided by these apostolical rules left [for] them; then we shall vindicate by the word of God our Anabaptistical way, as you are pleased to call it, from that guile.

And first, although we confess ourselves ignorant of many things, which we ought to know and desire, to wait daily for further discoveries of light and truth, from him which is the only giver of it to his poor people, yet so far as we are come, we desire to walk by the same rule they did. And first of all, we baptize none into Christ Jesus, but such as profess faith in Christ Jesus, Rom. 6:3 by which faith they are made sons of God, and so having put on Christ, are baptized into Christ, Gal. 3:26-27 and that Christ has commanded this, and no other way of baptism, see Matt. 28:19; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:7-8 and that this also was the practice of the Apostles, see Acts 2:41 and 8:12, 36-37; 10:47-48. And that being thus baptized upon profession of faith, they are then added to the church, Acts 2:41 and being added to the church, we conceive ourselves bound to watch over one another, and in case of sin, to deal faithfully one with another according to these Scriptures, Levit. 19:17-18; Matt 18:15 and if they remain obstinate, to cast them out, as those that are not fit to live in the church, according to that rule, 1 Cor 5:4-5; Matt 18:19-20 by all which, and many other particulars I might name, it appears through mercy, we can free ourselves from that guile.

And truly, if your eyes were opened to peruse your own practices and ways, you would then see we could better free ourselves from that notorious guile of schism from those Reformed Churches, then you can free yourselves from the notorious guile of schisming from Rome; For 1. You hold their baptism true, their ordination of ministers true, their maintenance by tithes and offerings true, their people all fit matter for a church, and so true, and yet you will separate from them for some corruptions. Now, for our parts, we deny all and every one of these amongst you to be true, and therefore do separate from you; so then, when you have made satisfaction for your notorious schism, and return as dutiful sons to their Mother, or else have cast off all your filthy rubbish of her abominations which are found amongst you, we will return to you, or show our just grounds to the contrary.”

Analysis

Kiffen argues that he is more concerned with framing his church according to the practice of the Apostles in the New Testament than to any church at any point in history. So, though not quite saying it clearly, he argues that the title “Reformed” can only ever truly apply to those that have reformed their doctrine and practice by the pattern and commands of the Apostles. Based on this foundation, Kiffen summarizes their practice, with Scripture proofs, which is essentially his way of saying, “We are reformed according to the word of God.”

But the “nitty gritty” (read in Nacho Libre’s voice) shows up when Kiffen points Poole back to the “Reformed Churches” and accuses them of containing remnants of Roman Catholic theology. According to Kiffen, the Baptistic Congregationalists regarded the following features of the “Reformed Churches” in England during this time of ongoing Reformation as false:

Infant baptism. It was administered to the wrong subjects, and with the wrong mode.

Ordination of ministers. They were ordained by presbyteries (or previously by bishops), but not congregations. Congregations had a right of refusal, but not ordination. On the Westminster Assembly’s involvement in stocking the pulpits of the national church, see this excellent book.

Tithes and offerings. Baptistic Congregationalists believed that believers were obligated by moral equity and positive command to give to the church for the support of the minister and the poor. But they denied that the tenth could be required, and they especially denied that it could be extracted from the nation.

The matter of the church [that of which it is comprised]. A national church is made up of a nation. The Baptistic Congregationalists, as Kiffen had expressed, only received professing believers as members. Yes, as mentioned above, the Assembly required a profession of faith for baptism and you can see exactly what kind of profession in that post. But remember the timing of this discussion. Such things were still in process in the Assembly. And even with such a profession at play, the vision of the church is still a national one, which Kiffen would have rejected.

Kiffen uses these points to say that the Baptistic Congregationalists should not be criticized for separating from “the Reformed Churches” when they regard such features of said churches as false, while “the Reformed Churches” separated from Rome despite regarding such features of the Roman church as true.

Conclusion

To sum up, we see several helpful historical contextualizing conclusions.

  • The Baptistic Congregationalists “separated” from the national church before it was ever in a process of “reformation” and were unwilling to reintegrate with it while its “reformation” was still in progress. They did not separate from the Reformed churches as Reformed churches.
  • Their refusal to reintegrate with the church while “reformation” was underway, their congregational independence (e.g., ordaining their own ministers), and their limitation of baptism to professing believers earned them the label “Anabaptists, schismatics, heretics, etc.” But they denied such terms and defended their beliefs and their practices here and elsewhere.
  • The theological identity of “the Reformed churches” in England was unsettled at that time. The minutes and papers of the assembly show that the Assembly included a wide variety of views on many different doctrines. Some of those differing views were antithetical to one another in practice, such as church polity or liberty of conscience in matters of religion. The end result could have looked very different, if the opposite competing voices had prevailed.
  • The Baptistic Congregationalists were not optimistic about the Assembly’s “work of reformation” because they saw it maintaining a national church without liberty of conscience in matters of religion.
  • At the time of this discussion, Kiffen saw serious flaws in the features of the national church. But they are all practical ecclesiological features: paedobaptism, ordination, tithes, and membership. This practical separation should not distract us from the substantial doctrinal agreement that yet remained. Consider the fact that Kiffen is taking a “wait and see” approach to the Assembly, and that Kiffen and others were more than willing to incorporate the vast majority of the Westminster Confession (inherited through the Savoy Declaration) into their Second Confession of Faith in 1677. He was not rejecting the theology of “the Reformed churches” wholesale. He simply could not, in practice, join with the church as it was then constituted, and according to the vision he saw it pursuing.

These conclusions and the preceding material shed historical light on the ideas and labels being used in the 1640s when the Baptistic Congregationalists were growing and establishing themselves. If we approach them with questions like “Were they Reformed churches” or “Did they reject the Reformed churches” or “How did the Reformed churches respond to them” or “Why did the Reformed churches call them Anabaptists” we will struggle to answer those questions accurately apart from attention to sources such as this coupled with historical and chronological sensitivity. Or, we might find that such questions simply don’t work.

John Owen, A Short and Plain Answer, 3

Our modern context and labels simply don’t map onto 1640s England. And we rarely think about them (or read them) properly.

We need to develop a more nuanced vocabulary that can describe, with as much accuracy as possible, a context as complex as England in the seventeenth century in general, or the 1640s in particular.*** Such an approach is modeled and developed in Matt Bingham’s book, Orthodox Radicals, an apt title for one such as Kiffen who was orthodox in his theology but appeared entirely radical and was therefore unwelcome at the Poole Party.

 

 

***Good luck.

More in Common

In the ongoing discussion of the historical and theological origins of the Particular Baptists, R. Scott Clark recently pointed to doctrinal agreement between Particular Baptists and Anabaptists. He referred the reader to a book, which I would also highly recommend. It is important to read others’ writings, to give them an opportunity to explain themselves beyond the bits and pieces of tweets, so I thought I would follow up on the suggestion and consider interacting with the argument found within.

In the work referenced in the tweet above, one of Clark’s arguments is that the Reformed have a united covenant theology expressed in their Confessions of Faith, and that the Particular Baptists embraced the Anabaptists’ covenant theology rather than that of the Reformed.

“Bingham’s analysis ignores one very significant way in which the Particular Baptists agreed with the Anabaptists, on the nature of the covenant of grace and baptism.” (Page 75)

“In short, despite the substantial identity between the Particular Baptist confessions with the Reformed on several important points, at essential points, the Particular Baptists confess a different reading of redemptive history, one that has more in common with the Anabaptists than it does the Reformed.” (Page 80)

“Indeed, there are precious few things on which all the Anabaptists agreed except their anti-Protestant soteriology and their view of the covenant of grace and baptism, the last of which the Particular Baptists have adopted.” (Page 84)

To prove the claim, Clark surveys the references to covenant in 1LCF and 2LCF and notes that they decline to confess the standard Reformed model of one covenant of grace under multiple administrations. This is, of course, true. But what arguments can be drawn from this? Does a brief appeal to 1LCF and 2LCF and the absence of that language substantiate the argument that the Particular Baptists “adopted” the Anabaptists’ view of the covenant of grace, or that they have “more in common with the Anabaptists” on this point? Clark does not offer any sources to make the comparison.

In response, the Particular Baptists’ covenant theology sprouted from the unity and diversity of Reformed covenant theology. There was a strong branch of Reformed covenant theology that affirmed that the Mosaic covenant was not the covenant of grace, in substance, because it operated on the basis of works and curses. They taught that these differences subserved the covenant of grace by pointing and pushing Israel to Christ. Some among the Reformed were willing, therefore, to identify in redemptive history a subservient covenant based on obedience, a covenant that was not the covenant of grace, in substance.***

Such views flourished in the Congregationalist churches, which were the nursery of the the Particular Baptists. Some of those Congregationalists extended the argument and became convinced that the same reasons applied to the Abrahamic covenant. It was a covenant of obedience, subservient to, but substantially distinct from, the covenant of grace. These are the Particular Baptists. At the same time, some Church of England ministers became convinced of the same arguments and joined with those who had emerged from the Congregationalists. These are the Particular Baptists.

Where did they get their covenant theology? From the diversity of the Reformed covenant theology tree. Notably, you will not find a single Anabaptist author quoted in Particular Baptist treatises on covenant theology (or any reference to any Anabaptist author at all in any Particular Baptist book that I am aware of), whereas you will find regular citations of Reformed authors as support for their beliefs. Where are they getting their covenant theology from?

I criticize Clark’s lack of sources as proof, so where is my proof? These arguments are presented at length in my book, From Shadow to Substance.

We find then, that Clark’s argument that the Particular Baptists “adopted” the Anabaptists’ model of the covenant of grace, or had “more in common” with the Anabaptists, or “confess a different reading of redemptive history” to be incorrect and unsubstantiated by the historical and literary evidence. Such arguments ignore the trajectories of the diversity of Reformed covenant theology as well as the historical origins of the Particular Baptists.

Now let us be as fair and charitable as possible. When we say that the Particular Baptists argued (with one confirmed exception and perhaps more) that the Abrahamic covenant was not the covenant grace, they really are departing from a Reformed consensus on that point. It is a real difference. It is the difference. This is what made them who they were as a theological group, after all. And if, in Clark’s mind, this is sufficient to banish them from the Reformed Tree-Fort, then so be it.

But before we go that far, let us reconsider 1LCF and 2LCF, which Clark noted do not confess the common model of Reformed covenant theology. What do they confess? In short, they confess that the elect are saved by the covenant of grace.*** 1LCF hints at a Pactum Salutis standing behind this. 2LCF makes the pactum salutis explicit. In this, they are confessing the core of Reformed covenant theology, the unity of Reformed covenant theology. And they don’t go beyond that. What I am getting at is that I can sincerely say that Clark, and all Reformed Christians, should be able to confess 2LCF 7.1-3 without any disagreement about what is said. It is in what is not said that we disagree. As evidence, compare 2LCF 7.3…

Untitled

…with what William Perkins said in his exposition of the Apostles’ Creed in 1603.

20190726_162936551_iOS

2LCF ch. 7 does not advance a specifically “Baptist” position. It affirms a Reformed position.

I therefore appeal to Dr. Clark to change his language in this way:

“The Particular Baptists did not arise from the Anabaptists, nor do their writings show evidence of the influence of Anabaptist sources. The Particular Baptists emerged primarily from the Congregationalist wing of Reformed theology in 1630s and 1640s England. Their Confessions do not deny the Reformed doctrine of the covenant, but do not confess it in the fullness with which it was normally confessed. Their version of covenant theology is an extension of a branch of the Reformed diversity on that point. That being said, they took a step too far by denying the Abrahamic covenant to be the covenant of grace, though they did not place this commitment in their Confessions of Faith.”

One may not think that we belong in the Reformed camp, but one cannot ignore the historical record and sources. One may disagree with another, but can we not speak of those who differ from us in words they accept and understand as representing themselves? Are we not creating unnecessary and harmful barriers through the use of language and titles that do not match the sources, language that others consistently deny represents them? Conceding these matters is part history and part charity. There is no hostile takeover happening. There is a sincere desire for the recognition and acceptance of common genealogy.

I hope that we can all concur that we enjoy much more in common with R. Scott Clark and other Reformed Christians than we ever would with the Anabaptists, even in covenant theology.

Urim and Thummim

 

***Ironically, this is R. Scott Clark’s view:

This means that his understanding of covenant theology is the closest to ours in the diversity of Reformed covenant theology. All we would say is “On top of the C o G Yahweh temporarily superimposed the Abrahamic-Mosaic-Davidic nat’l cov.” This helpfully illustrates that we are different, but not as different as Clark often makes it seem.

***I, myself, and others have at times overemphasized what 2LCF 7.3 says, reading into it the literature behind it. That must be done carefully. The literature may explain why certain things were not said, but we must not automatically read the literature into what was said. I try to offer a more balanced presentation in my book, From Shadow to Substance.

Select Counterpoints with the New Geneva Podcast

I recently listened to the New Geneva Podcast’s Case for Infant Baptism (Part 1).

The podcast is both a positive presentation of a case for infant baptism as well as a response to various Baptist criticisms or questions. A portion of the interaction is specifically identified as relating to 1689 Baptists, and I wanted to respond briefly on a few points.

The hosts focus in on the key difference between 1689 Federalists and Reformed paedobaptists, namely that the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants are not the covenant of grace. Angela and Ben noted that credo and paedobaptists agree that salvific benefits won by Christ in his sacrificial death reach back in time. Angela expressed that she had not received a sufficient explanation of how the benefits of that sacrifice were administered to believers in the Old Testament if the Abrahamic covenant was not the covenant of grace.

What must be discussed at that point is typology (and the unhelpful ambiguity of the language of administration), and I would suggest two posts that seek to explain, in brief, the perspective of 1689 Federalism (or at least my own perspective) on such a question:

Soft Rain on Tender Grass

We All Have Our Types

I would also like to point out that the argument was already expressed by Scott in the podcast, when he said that “the covenant of grace was administrated through the Mosaic covenant, but it [the Mosaic covenant] was not the covenant of grace itself.” We would make the same move with regard to the Abrahamic covenant.

This, of course, brings us to another area that was discussed, namely passages such as Romans 4 and Galatians 3 and the argument that Jeremiah 31 contrasts the new covenant with Moses, not Abraham. I hope to address these passages in another post, soon. But for now, I simply want to point out that Romans 4:11, quoted in the podcast, contains ambiguities that the translator/interpreter must clarify.

καὶ σημεῖον ἔλαβεν περιτομῆς σφραγῖδα τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐν τῇ

and sign received circumcision seal of the righteousness of faith that in the

ἀκροβυστίᾳ (Rom. 4:11)

uncircumcised/uncircumcision

This passage does not say, necessarily, that circumcision was the sign of the righteousness of faith that Abraham had while uncircumcised. Romans 4:11a needs more argumentation than the English translations provide in order to substantiate some of the points made in the podcast. But podcasts are podcasts, not journal articles. So I’m not criticizing a lack of exegesis, just pointing out for now that the translation appealed to in the passage is debatable, and therefore so is the theological point drawn from it.

Lastly, Isaiah 54:13 was appealed to as being another new covenant promise along with Jeremiah 31, a promise that explicitly speaks of children.

Isaiah 54:13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children.

However, this fails to realize that the prophets project the future in the language of the present. More so, this fails to realize that Jesus quoted this passage and applied it to say that being taught by God means hearing the voice of the Son and believing in him.

45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me–
46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.
47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:45-47)

So, yes, Isaiah 54:13 belongs with the Jeremiah 31 promise that all God’s people will know the Lord and be taught by him, because Christ is the heart and head of the covenant, and all who are in the covenant are those who heard his voice and believed in him. And we are to regard people as in covenant based on the same.

John uses these promises in the same way in 1 John 2:20-27,

20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.
21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie– just as it has taught you, abide in him.

In context, the meaning is that all of Christ’s people have a saving knowledge of him, and false teachers claiming to have secret knowledge necessary for Christianity automatically invalidate their claims of authenticity.

For our purposes, an appeal to Isaiah 54:13 must explain Jesus’ use of it, and I think that the way it was used in the podcast failed to take that into account.

I hope that this interaction will help to particularize and sharpen some of the dialogue between us. I appreciated and enjoyed part 1.

John Clark, Phraseologia, 65