Not Absolutely

Early Particular Baptist history is notoriously murky, and historians are forced to be content with whatever information has survived the passage of time. The paucity of information requires that a degree of tentativeness be inserted into statements based on that information. Consequently, when historians of the Particular Baptists assert that the Particular Baptists do not come from continental Anabaptists, or that they were distinct from the General Baptists, are they speaking absolutely? Absolutely not.

Absolute statements are easy to prove false, or rather, easy to prove not absolutely true. This is especially the case when dealing with broadly defined or undefined terms. What is an Anabaptist? What is a Particular Baptist? What is a General Baptist?

There are connections between the early Particular Baptists and the continental Anabaptists, as well as to the General Baptists. But connections are not causes, necessarily. Analogy is not genealogy. So, what are these connections, and what do they mean? What is their significance? And are there other connections that balance our perspective in other directions?

The Early Particular Baptists Consulted the Dutch Anabaptists Regarding the Mode of Baptism

The most important source for Baptist beginnings is the so-called “Kiffen Manuscript” held in the Angus Library at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. Among other things, it tells the story of the Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey church. As repeated many times elsewhere, a group within this church became convinced of credobaptism. Subsequent to this conviction, the group determined that dipping was the proper and necessary mode of baptism, without which there was no baptism. In other words, those not dipped are not simply improperly baptized, they are simply not baptized.

Already being convinced of the theology of credobaptism, this fledgling church sent a Dutch-speaking emissary to Holland to see how others had administered the ordinance via dipping. The manuscript says (in updated spelling),

May 1640
“being convinced of Baptism, that also it ought to be by dipping the body into the water…None having then so practiced [dipping] in England…and hearing that some in the Netherlands had so practiced [dipping] they agreed and sent over Mr. Richard Blunt (who understood Dutch) with letters of recommendation, who was kindly accepted there and returned with letters from them.”

The group consulted was, according to James Renihan in his book Edification and Beauty, “the Collegiants or Rijnsburgers…a lay movement…[that] practiced baptism by immersion, not as a church ordinance, but in order that it might be provided for those who desired it.” It is important to note, however, that Blunt was not baptized while there. Rather, the church took time to consider all of this and the next year the church took steps to baptize themselves (considering themselves unbaptized to that point). The manuscript says,

1641
“Mr. Blunt baptized Mr. Blacklock that was a teacher amongst them, and Mr. Blunt being baptized, he and Mr. Blacklock baptized the rest.”

As a side note, the theological rationale behind this event was as follows:

  • The legitimacy of baptism does not stem from the baptizer, but from the command given to the church.
  • The church is therefore authorized to appoint a baptizer in order to fulfill the command of baptism.
  • If baptism has been so neglected that in that place there is no baptizer who is already baptized, the first baptizer must, of necessity, be unbaptized.
  • So it was for John the Baptist who began to baptize by virtue of a command, he himself being unbaptized.

Back to the point, note that in the above quote Mr. Blunt was baptized by Mr. Blacklock. He had not been baptized in Holland. This is confirmed later in a separate portion of the manuscript that describes Francis Bampfield’s inquiry into “the methods taken by the Baptists, to obtain a proper administrator of baptism by immersion, when that practice had so long been disused.” Bampfield was told in London that Baptism was recovered by,

“Either a self baptizer…One John Smith…
Or two men according to their principle in their judgment altogether unbaptized before, did baptize one another at the first, and afterwards did baptize others. And so were many of the baptizings in London, reported originally to be in one if not in two instances.”

The second instance is referring to Blunt and Blacklock who are again both described as unbaptized.

These sources clearly establish a connection between the early Particular Baptist movement and the Dutch Anabaptists. But what weight can be laid on this foundation?

  • After the Baptists had already formed their theology of credobaptism, One early  Dutch-speaking Baptist consulted Dutch Anabaptists about the mode of Baptism.

John Smyth, regarded as a founder or progenitor of the General Baptists, was mentioned above. Did the Particular Baptists have a connection to him? No. First, Smyth died in Holland in 1612. Second, Smyth was not practicing dipping. Third, listen to Hercules Collins who argues that the Particular Baptists had no connection whatsoever to him and retrieved credobaptism from the commands of the Scriptures,

Untitled

Collins had the advantage of defending his tradition’s history while its earliest pioneers were still alive.

Reviewing this evidence, we see that it indicates that if the early Particular Baptists got anything from the Anabaptists, it was dipping tips. The Dutch Anabaptist connection is small. What would weight our estimation in another direction? Consider two things.

First, the literature published by this group from its earliest stages onward denies a genealogical and/or theological connection to the Anabaptists. One would think that the fruit would match the root. But as the Particular Baptists’ theological commitment to credobaptism had formed quite apart from a group divided from them by geography and language, so their ongoing commitment to credobaptism was defended quite apart from the Hollanders. My previous post provided contextual reasons for why some of the most prominent Particular Baptists arrived at their credobaptist views quite apart from the Anabaptists.

Second, as described in the aforementioned previous post, tracing the actual historical movement of specific Particular Baptists from paedobaptism to credobaptism demonstrates that a core segment of the leadership of the movement began as university-trained, CoE-ordained paedobaptists. They read Reformed theology and interacted with it, approving much and disapproving of the obvious points. Their training and influences are clear.

Are the origins of the Particular Baptists separated from the continental Anabaptists? Not absolutely. Does the evidence suggest that the Particular Baptists developed their theology on the basis of Anabaptist theology?  Absolutely not. There are connections, but no causes of significance. There is an analogy, but not a genealogy.

The Particular Baptists Have Connections to the General Baptists

Before launching into this, you should know that the category “General Baptist” is a broad category including a large range of beliefs. And we have to be careful not to assume the theological commitments of those labeled as “General Baptists.” In some cases, as we will see in a moment, the question dividing the groups was narrowed down to how the gospel should be preached.

Consider two prime examples of the proximity of the early Particular Baptist movement to the General Baptist movement. I say “prime” because they are in the list of early Particular Baptists in my previous post, because they are men who lived and influenced the Particular Baptist movement for many years, and because they published works that give us access to their thought.

Christopher Blackwood, a Cambridge-educated Church of England priest converted to Credobaptism after hearing a General Baptist, Francis Cornwell, assert the error of paedobaptism. But Blackwood never joined the General Baptists. Nor does General Baptist theology appear in his writings. In fact, paedobaptists who read Blackwood said that he sounded like John Cameron.

A more interesting example is Benjamin Coxe who spent time in Thomas Lambe’s church before ending up with the London Particular Baptists. Wright even argues that Coxe actually embraced the theology of the General Baptists. Dealing with Wright’s claim requires more attention than we can offer here, but we know that Coxe spent very little actual time in Lambe’s church, a span of two years during which Coxe was absent and incarcerated for a good amount of time. And we know that Coxe left over a dispute involving predestination.

Lambe said to Coxe, “if you deny that Christ died for the sins of all, what Gospel will you preach to unbelievers?” This indicates that the heart of the issue was how to preach the gospel in such a way that all men are commanded to believe, while knowing that only the elect will actually believe. Coxe came to credobaptist beliefs, eventually joined Lambe’s church, became uncomfortable with the way the gospel was preached, and joined with the Particular Baptists soon after. No imprint was made on him, except perhaps extremes to be avoided.

What weight can we lay on this foundation?

  • The early Particular Baptists had connections to the General Baptists, but not as a source, nor with lasting or significant effects.

Are the origins of the Particular Baptists separated from the General Baptists? Not absolutely. Does the evidence suggest that the Particular Baptists developed their theology on the basis of General Baptist theology?  Absolutely not. There are connections, but no causes of significance. There is an analogy, but not a genealogy.

Early Particular Baptist origins should be viewed as a series of streams that run together until they form a united river around 1644. Each of these streams has its own context through which it passes along the way to arriving at a greater unity and united identity. The Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey church is the central stream to which others joined, many of them having been trained at Cambridge or Oxford and ordained in the Church of England. They examined the theology of their day, as described in the previous post, and arrived at a common understanding of how that system should be realigned.

This post has attempted to add balance to discussions of Particular Baptist origins and identity by providing the sources that connect the Particular Baptists to traditions from which they commonly are said to be disconnected. Historians should avoid absolute disavowals of Particular Baptist connections to Anabaptists and General Baptists. They should likewise avoid placing a weight on those connections that they will not bear. Are Particular Baptist origins separated from Anabaptists and General Baptists? Not absolutely. Do the Particular Baptists come from these groups? Absolutely not.

These discussions must be guided by evidence distinguishing analogy from genealogy, and guarded by reason distinguishing correlation from causation.

William Twisse, The Doubting Conscience Resolved, 78

 

 

 

 

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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.

John Owen, A Short and Plain Answer, 21

William Kiffen and his World

William Kiffen and his World

If you think that seventeenth-century English Baptist History is an empty mine whose precious stones have all been uncovered, cataloged, and put on display, you will be glad to know that that is entirely opposite to the truth. Indeed, the contrary is the case. And the proof of this is in the six volumes on William Kiffen (with more planned) produced by Dr. Larry Kreitzer, of Regent’s Park College, Oxford. These volumes provide a unique perspective on Baptist History in several ways.

First, they provide complete transcriptions and contextual explanations of primary source documents. Think of it as history where footnotes reign supreme in the best of ways. You are not directed to the sources, you are given the sources in toto. There is nothing more “ad fontes” than that. And you are not left alone with the sources. They are explained to you.

Second, because Kiffen’s life intersects with many other Baptists, this means that one can read the same documents transcribed by Dr. Kreitzer and derive a completely separate, but related, benefit. In other words, you get more than just Kiffen, you get “William Kiffen and his World.” A name mentioned in passing may mean a great deal to another researcher.

Third, (and perhaps most helpful to me) these volumes provide a pattern to be followed. Pick a Particular Baptist, go to the archives that Dr. Kreitzer lists, look in similar places, look for similar documents, and see what you find. Utilize his methods of research, follow his trails, and branch off into other mineshafts. Speaking from personal experience, you will find plentiful material. I was honestly shocked at what was available to me with simple searches when I first visited the National Archives and the London Metropolitan Archives in London. And my deeper digging has been even more rewarding. If you’re thinking, “That’s nice, but I don’t live in the UK”, I hope to publish future posts on the accessibility of UK archival records through the internet. There is a great deal of primary source research that can be conducted by distance.

These are research-oriented academic volumes that not only set an excellent example of historiography, but also tell interesting and important stories. I commend Dr. Kreitzer’s volumes to you. The entire six-volume set is currently available for £140, which is an excellent price. To order, contact Dr. Kreitzer directly at larry.kreitzer@regents.ox.ac.uk.

See the details of each volume below:

William Kiffen and his World Part 1

Kiffen 1 Cover
Kiffen 1 Back
Kiffen 1 ToC

William Kiffen and his World Part 2

Kiffen 2 CoverKiffen 2 ReverseKiffen 2 ToC

William Kiffen and his World Part 3

Kiffen 3 CoverKiffen 3 ReverseKiffen 3 ToC

William Kiffen and his World Part 4

Kiffen 4 CoverKiffen 4 ReverseKiffen 4 ToC

William Kiffen and his World Part 5

Kiffen 5 CoverKiffen 5 ReverseKiffen 5 ToC

William Kiffen and his World Part 6

Kiffen 6 CoverKiffen 6 ReverseKiffen 6 ToC

These images are used with the permission of Dr. Larry Kreitzer.