The Tree-fort

Oh, the internet. The social sphere and shopping mall of the modern world, where Christian brothers and sisters can go to…spew snark, sarcasm, snide comments, and condescension at each other. Isn’t it great? No, it isn’t, because our hearts are wicked. And from the wicked fullness of our hearts, our thumbs tweet. We are all guilty, to varying degrees.

John Clark, Phraseologia, 9

Permit me for a short while to express where I am coming from, and where I think many others are coming from, as a Particular Baptist (adherent to the 1677 2LCF), often called a Reformed Baptist, interacting regularly online with those in the Reformed denominations on various issues. I would like to appeal to my Presbyterian and Reformed brothers and sisters to acknowledge that 2LCF (1677) and those who confess it belong in the diversity of the Reformed Family Tree.

Accept, for the sake of reading this charitably, that the seventeenth-century Particular Baptists of 2LCF (1677) share a historical and theological heritage with the Reformed churches, and that their use of the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession to edit/compose 2LCF was sincere. If you accept this, then those who embrace 2LCF in modern times will view the modern Independents as their elder brother (alas, I don’t know any), and the Presbyterians as their eldest brother.

If you accept the previous, how will modern Particular Baptists respond to Presbyterian and Reformed brethren who often (in my experience) dismiss and distance the 2LCF Baptists? To the Particular Baptist, it feels like condescension, ignorance, and unnecessary unkindness from our closest theological relatives. Oh no! Our feelings! Yes, our feelings. The internet may be a virtual reality, but it is a reality. It is the modern social sphere where real people interact with real people, where real Christians spend real time with real Christians through a virtual medium. So, these things do matter. And we should do everything, whether in word or deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17). The virtual nature of the internet doesn’t exempt us from guarding our words (which are actions).

Perhaps in this post we can gain some clarity and direction for better interacting with each other as Particular (Reformed) Baptists and Presbyterian and Reformed brothers and sisters in Christ.

What do Particular Baptists not want? If I may speak for myself, and perhaps others, 

  • We do not want all Presbyterian and Reformed persons to forfeit their views and convert to 2LCF 1677 views. When Particular Baptists want to be acknowledged as a branch of the Reformed family tree, it is not a desire to combine all the branches into one trunk. It is not a desire for the Presbyterian and Reformed brethren to say “You are exactly the same thing as we are.” We want our place among the diversity already present in their midst to be recognized.
  • We do not want all Presbyterian and Reformed persons to cease criticizing or challenging baptistic theology. Christian brotherhood should involve iron-sharpening and mutual edification. Addressing errors can be done charitably and winsomely.

What do we want?

  • We want Presbyterian and Reformed persons to realize who 2LCF Baptists are.
    • They are the modern confessors of 2LCF. That is painfully obvious, but what I mean is that many Baptist churches confess 2LCF without any changes from its original publication. You could walk into a Particular Baptist church in 1689 or 2019, 330 years later, and you should get the same theology.
    • This matters because one of the ways in which our Reformed brethren are dismissive of us is to lump 2LCF Baptists into the generic common criticisms of Baptists. It is unhelpful and misguided.
  • We want Presbyterian and Reformed persons to acknowledge the historical and theological roots of the Particular Baptists.
    • Historically, Particular Baptists emerged from the collision of Reformed theology with the Church of England in the early seventeenth century, the same as Ball, Burgess, or Marshall. It is historically and factually wrong to locate the Particular Baptists’ origins among the continental Anabaptists. See this post.
    • Theologically, the Particular Baptists intentionally and sincerely employed Reformed theology to edit/compose 1LCF (1644) and 2LCF (1677). See this work. Read this book.
    • Discussion:
      • P&R Response: 1LCF and 2LCF may incorporate Reformed theology, and that at a high percentage. But, the deviations are sufficient to invalidate the category “Reformed” being applied to the finished product.
      • Particular Baptist Response: But in the context of 1646 WCF and 1677 2LCF, let us consider the “deviations”: Church government, liberty of conscience, role of civil magistrate, subjects of baptism, and mode of baptism. To begin, the modern WCF reduces these differences down to church government, subjects of baptism, and mode of baptism. So, the P&R brethren must recognize that since 1646, they have moved closer to us (at least in the case of Westminster Presbyterians).
      • Now that the differences reside in ecclesiology and baptism, let it be remembered that the Dissenting Brethren and some Continental churches practiced Congregationalism, and are just as much a part of the Reformed Tradition by most judgments. See this book and its two reviewers.
      • So, now the boundaries of our shared Reformed heritage are only divided by the subjects and mode of baptism. But isn’t that precisely what the label “Reformed Baptist” implies?
      • Ultimately, what is desired here is to acknowledge roots, origin, and provenance. One may think that the Particular Baptists went too far (and again, the only criteria left for modern Presbyterians are the subjects and mode of baptism), but where they came from should be acknowledged.
  • We want Presbyterian and Reformed persons to acknowledge that the idea or version of “Reformed theology” that they promote, as a means of opposing Baptist theology, is not accurate. Specifically, modern P&R brethren need to realize that their Reformed heritage contradicts some of their common criticisms of Baptists, and that infant baptism has diverse views and justifications associated with it, views rarely believed today. Such as:
    • It is common for P&R Christians to argue that Baptism is God’s word to us, in opposition to the “Baptist” idea that it is our profession to God. This is convenient for upholding infant baptism. But it is not accurate, as far as historical theology is concerned. Baptism is not just God’s word to us, but also our word to God and the world (and I emphatically agree that it is both, and Baptists who limit it to one side are liable to criticism just as much as paedobaptists who limit it to the other side).
      • John Calvin: A sacrament is “a testimony of God’s favor towards us confirmed by an outward sign, with a mutual testifying of our godliness toward him.” [The Institvtion of Christian Religion, IV. 13. 1. Cf. also IV. 13. 13-14.] In fact, Calvin says that a sacrament is commonly known as a pledge sworn by a soldier to his captain, and therefore the burden of proof lies on showing that a sacrament is not just our word to our Superior, but a word from our Superior to us.
      • William Perkins: “Baptism serves to be a pledge unto us in respect of our weakness, of all the graces and mercies of God, and especially of our union with Christ, of remission of sins, and of mortification. Secondly, it serves to be a sign of Christian profession before the world, and therefore it is called ‘the stipulation or interrogation of a good conscience,’ 1 Pet. 3:21.” [A Commentarie or Exposition, upon the five first Chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians, 249.]
    • Infants of believers have the habit or seed of faith. (Cornelius Burgess and others)
    • That Jesus Christ died for a mixed or “inchoate” body – to explain why all infants of believers are of the covenant of grace, but only some persevere. (John Ball)
    • Owen and others believed that children have a right to the public profession of baptism by virtue of being the children of believers, but cannot join the church as members until they make their own profession of faith.
      • If Owen and the Independents are not cut out of the “Reformed” label for this, then it too must be jettisoned when dealing with Particular or Reformed Baptists.
    • The previous points are important because most modern-day Presbyterian and Reformed persons that I know (thinking of the OPC, PCA, and URC here) reject or neglect various of these diverse views.
      • This matters because the infant baptism they are left with affirms:
        • Their children are not necessarily regenerate by virtue of being the children of believers.
        • Their children need to be evangelized.
        • Their children are holy in a general sense, meaning simply that they belong to the church outwardly.
      • At that point, the only difference between the Reformed Baptist’s children, and the Presbyterian’s children is that the children of the one were baptized, and the children of the other were not. Both will be catechized and evangelized.
  • We want Presbyterian and Reformed persons to read charitably the literature of the Particular Baptist tradition and its historiography, not just John Gill and Charles Spurgeon.
    • I’ll be the first to say that there is a great deal of Baptist literature that is so overwhelmingly and obnoxiously Baptist that even I don’t want to read it. So, here I am not talking such books, but about serious scholarly thoughtful, and yet intentionally Baptist, literature.

What is the desired result?

  • Speaking for myself, because the internet is a social sphere I want to be able to “spend time” with P&R brethren, i.e., occupy the same digital spaces, without being told regularly, but wrongly, that I am something worlds apart from the P&R heritage, and being treated as such. You be you. I’ll be me. And we’ll be a happy Reformed family.
  • More importantly, I want to be able to defend and protect, mutually, our shared heritage.
    • Within the modern Reformed world, there are serious theological threats to the biblical, classical, confessional Reformed heritage–especially on the doctrine of God.
    • Personal connections, networking, and the dispersal of ideas through social media can be a useful tool (supplemental to scholarly work in seminaries and pastoral fidelity in pulpits and presbyteries) to lock arms and hold the line.

Make no mistake. Baptists themselves have their own part to play in this. For every instance of condescension on the part of a P&R Christian, there is an instance of some similar, or other, extreme on the part of a Baptist Christian. This is a two-sided, two-party, problem. We would do well to learn from the Appendix to the 2LCF.

2LCF Appendix

In closing, imagine a tree-fort, a really great and wonderful tree-fort. Imagine an elder brother, we’ll pick a random name for him–Presbyterian. Imagine a younger brother, we’ll pick a random name for him, too–Particular Baptist. Imagine that Presbyterian is playing in the family tree-fort and every time Particular Baptist wants to come up and play, Presbyterian pulls the ladder up. This isn’t kind. Presbyterian says, “Go away, you don’t belong here.” Particular Baptist says “It’s the family tree-fort! I want to play, too!” Presbyterian refuses to provide the ladder, so Particular Baptist goes looking for the middle brother, let’s call him…John Owen. But he’s nowhere to be found, so Particular Baptist just gets cranky and annoying, while Presbyterian smugly enjoys the tree-fort.

Mom comes out, we’ll call her Geneva Anglicana. She says, “Presbyterian, that tree-fort doesn’t belong to you. Drop the ladder for your younger brother! And Particular Baptist, stop being a pain in the neck to your older brother! Play nicely, both of you!”

Then Mom says, “And where’s John Owen?”

Particular Baptist replies with tears, “I don’t know, but I miss him.”

Then Presbyterian remarks, “Why? You know, he’s a paedobaptist.”

And Mom says, “Boys! Stop it!”

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3 thoughts on “The Tree-fort

  1. Experience in both camps has led me to see that by and large, Baptists (especially Particular) are very ungracious and uncharitable when it comes to these discussions around differences. Baptism and Ecclessiological differences are the distinguishing marks of the two groups but I have seen that the Presbyterian brethren don’t seem to be going around beating the drum of trying to convince people why their right and Baptists are wrong; they’ve been settled in their theology for the better part of the last four centuries. On the other hand, I’ve seen, heard, read, and experienced the 1689 guys who make it their life goal to defend credobaptism to the death and prove why their paedobaptist brethern are completely wrong in many areas. Must it be a constant barrage of arguments? If you truly want your spot at the table, speak your peace, live your life to the glory of God, and model a gracious example to your brethren. Stop trying to point out every little thing you think is wrong and that divides you. Love your brothers and stop hating on them so much. Baptists do a great job at embarrassing themselves with their arrogance.

    1. I agree that there is no excuse for ungracious and uncharitable discussion/comments. It isn’t gracious nor charitable to smugly dismiss historic baptist’ convictions either. I got the impression that this article was simply pleading for our Presbyterian brothers to acknowledge that particular Baptist are part of the Reformed ‘family’.

    2. Sorry you feel that way, but it looks like you learned nothing from the tree fort story.

      How about trying to word it differently like this, ” I get into debates with Reformed Baptist, and we often disagree, but we need to try to come together and work out our differences, otherwise agree to disagree in many areas”.
      The fact is, you might be Ungracious toward them too, and they may be snapping back.

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