Particular Baptist Identity and History

In his ongoing series of posts “engaging” with Particular Baptist history and theology, Dr. R. Scott Clark recently articulated and clarified his angle of approach to the relevant issues and questions. In particular, Dr. Clark has suggested that though the Particular Baptists intentionally identified themselves with Reformed theology and distanced themselves from Anabaptist history and theology, their claim is subject to external scrutiny. And Baptist historians who simply rely on the internal claim are therefore susceptible to blind spots and mistakes if they go no further than repeating the internal history.

Edmund Campion, The Historie of Ireland, 23

Methodologically, this is a valid approach and even a good question. Does the external evidence support the internal history? Dr. Clark indicates that the more one examines the historical record, the more one finds the Particular Baptists’ supposed self-identity to be more an identity than a reality. He says,

The etiology of the Particular Baptist movement also remains problematic. My PB friends consistently deny any connection between the Particular Baptists and the Anabaptists. This assertion seems to be more grounded in their theological self-identity than in actual history.

As an example, Clark points out that Benjamin Keach was formerly a General Baptist, a broad tradition with known connections to continental Anabaptists. For a complete perspective on Keach’s theology and theological influences, please see this book written by Dr. Jonathan Arnold. In this post, I am going to set aside Keach, not only because the book above is a sufficient resource, but also because Keach’s move to Particular Baptist theology in the 1670s is quite removed from the group’s origins in the 1630s-1640s when Keach was not yet born. Furthermore, if one examine’s Keach’s covenant theology, all you will get is Petto, Owen, Coxe, and Cary.

Now, let us consider briefly the “actual history” involved, regarding ideology (the ideas in the context of the early Particular Baptists) and history (the actual historical context of actual individual Particular Baptists). My book From Shadow to Substance presents this information and does not simply “defer”, as Dr. Clark states, to the internal history of the Particular Baptist movement.

Ideological Context

What ideas influenced the development of the Particular Baptists? Whence their credobaptism? They did not come from nowhere.

Surely, it would seem strange if not suspect to locate the origins of the Particular Baptists’ credobaptism in a system that rejects credobaptism, i.e., Reformed theology. And if I may attempt to guess at the presuppositions and predispositions of Dr. Clark in this case, it would seem like a natural bias.

John Owen, A Letter, 6

However, consider the two main branches of argumentation used by Particular Baptists to justify their credobaptism, branches both beginning in the Baptists’ earliest books: an argument from positive law, and an argument from covenant theology. Both arguments have roots in Protestant Reformed Puritan theology. When I say “Puritan” I am referring to the collision of Protestant Reformed theology with the English church which resulted in an internal movement with diverse ideas on how the church should be reformed. I regard “Puritan” as Protestant Reformed theology being worked out in the English context. That movement took many shapes and branched in various directions.

Common to this movement was an insistence on limiting faith and practice to God’s word and thus removing unscriptural traditions. English university students considered or reconsidered their theological system afresh, and priests reconsidered not just their system, but their actual practice. Some of them began to deny the Lord’s Supper to parishioners who made no profession of faith beyond their infant baptism, and who lived lives evincing no spiritual fruit. When English students and priests are attempting to align their credenda and agenda with Scripture, and when they get as far as limiting the ongoing sacrament of spiritual life to professing and persevering believers, it is no stretch, ideologically, to see how the same context and influences produced a reevaluation of the sacrament of new life, baptism, and limited it to professing believers. They didn’t need to look to Holland or Germany to have these questions pressed on them. Nor did they need to look overseas to find the answers to those questions.

Regarding the details of the Protestant, Reformed, and Puritan provenance of the Particular Baptists’ argument for credobaptism based on positive law, see this lecture and the handout available on that page.

As to the Protestant, Reformed, and Puritan roots of the Particular Baptists’ argument for credobaptism based on covenant theology, my book deals with this as comprehensively as I was able, and I refer you to it. Key to this is the presentation and examination of the unity and diversity of Reformed covenant theology, so as to locate the Particular Baptists’ relationship to the same. Considering the matter without considering the diversity of the Reformed tradition indeed makes it perplexing if not preposterous to claim that a covenantal system that concludes in credobaptism derives from a covenantal system that rejects credobaptism. Given the scope of such a question, I again refer you to the book.

The Protestant, Reformed, and Puritan roots of these two branches of argumentation are not just a model that I, or others, have created to assert an identity. It is what you find in the Particular Baptists’ writings. Whether you agree with them or not, you will find  Particular Baptists regularly and favorably quoting Reformed sources in support of their arguments. You simply won’t find an appeal to Anabaptist theology for credobaptism. A connection to Anabaptist theology as a contextual ideological influence must be supposed and imposed on Particular Baptist literature. It cannot be found there.

Historical Context

Here we needn’t deal with abstractions. We can be quite concrete. So, consider the actual historical context of individual first-generation Particular Baptists, in other words the actual historical context of the origins of the Particular Baptists. Where did they come from? Where were they getting their ideas?

Name: Education: CoE Ordination: Contextual Influences:
Henry Jacob (never became credo),

John Lathrop (never became credo),

Henry Jessey (became credo c.1644)

All 3 BA/MA, 1 Oxford, 2 Cambridge All 3 Cambridge/Oxford theology (1580s-1620s)

Jessey’s friends consulted before switching to credo: Nye, Goodwin, Burroughs, Greenhill, Cradock, Carter, Jackson, Bolton

Spilsbury & Kiffen (Spilsbury publishes credo argument in 1643, Kiffen with Knollys and Coxe in 1645) No university No Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey
Andrew Ritor (publishes credo argument in 1642) Unknown No Cites: Jerome, Augustine, Zanchius, Vermigli, Whitaker, Origen, Erasmus, Eckius, Bellarmine, Luther, Bohemius, Cassander
Christopher Blackwood (publishes credo argument in 1644) BA/MA Cambridge Yes Cambridge theology (1620s)

Fathers cited: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Bernard

Councils cited: Council of Trullo, Council of Carthage, Council of Laodicea

Authors cited: Melanchthon, Zanchius, Vermigli, Polanus, Bucanus, Greenham, Willet, Musculus, Trelcatius

Hanserd Knollys (publishes credo argument with Coxe and Kiffen 1645) Cambridge “Literate” (studied but did not graduate) Yes Cambridge theology (1620s)
Benjamin Coxe (publishes credo argument with Kiffen and Knollys in 1645) BA/MA Oxford Yes Oxford theology (1610s)

His Father was an Oxford-trained CoE clergyman

Edward Harrison (publishes credo argument in 1646) BA Cambridge/MA Oxford Yes Cambridge/Oxford theology (1630s)

What this “actual history” tells us is that many of the leaders, and first publishers, of the first generation of Particular Baptists were trained in the English Universities and ordained in the Church of England during a time when Reformed theology was impacting and influencing those institutions. They were paedobaptists, often parish priests, whose personal histories and writings support the self-identity and internal history referred to above. They emerged from Reformation theology in early seventeenth-century England.

This historical context does not magically insulate the Particular Baptists from continental Anabaptist ideas or theology. Though it is certain that they were trained against anabaptism in the universities. The point is that many of the early Particular Baptist leaders have the same credentials and context as men like John Ball, Anthony Burgess, or John Owen. So, whatever is said about the broad-brush context of these Particular Baptists will be equally true of the rest of the “Reformed” men in the English context at that time.

Their confessions reflect and augment the evidence of a Reformed origin. The men just listed composed 1LCF in 1644 primarily from the 1596 True Confession likely penned by Henry Ainsworth and William Ames’ Body of Divinity. With many of those same men still alive, 2LCF was composed in 1677 primarily from the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, and 1LCF. The doctrinal overlap and family connection of these Baptist and paedobaptist confessions is so strong and intentional that it takes a fair amount of opposite force and intent to try to separate them.

The question of identity and origins is not one without historical evidence, nor need it be discussed in the abstract. Indeed, there is more to offer than what I have written here. If one wishes to say something about the Particular Baptists’ origins, just get specific and offer your evidence. Unless I have missed it, Keach’s early days as a General Baptist are the only evidence brought forth by Dr. Clark so far.

I have pointed to resources offering evidence for the ideological context of the Particular Baptists’ credobaptism as argued on two fronts. And I have provided evidence of the historical context of many of the first-generation Particular Baptists. In light of this evidence, I contend that it is Dr. Clark’s posts that suffer from the problem of supposed/imposed identity vs. actual history.


5 thoughts on “Particular Baptist Identity and History

  1. There is some evidence that not even the General Baptists came to credobaptist views through the anabaptists (The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness by H. Leon McBeth pp. 35-37). McBeth is certainly not a Reformed Baptist, but he recognizes that the baptists, both general and particular originated in the English Reformation from the Puritans. It seems that it was later, in Holland, that the general baptists began to be influenced by the Anabaptists.

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