The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was a mixed
blessing, part bitter and part sweet. Baptists rejoice in many truths
often associated with the Reformation, such as the sovereignty of God in
all things, justification by faith only, and exalted views of the
worship of God. We have benefited from many outstanding writings which
have come through Protestant authors. On the other hand, some aspects of
the Reformation have always been a thorn in the side of Baptists. Some
of these issues are so foundational that we cannot sacrifice them on the
altar of unity in order to link up with Protestants today.
Of course these non-negotiable issues
deserve a more lengthy treatment than we can give here. We shall simply
attempt to consider briefly six areas of difference which distinguish
Baptists from Protestants. We do not wish to misrepresent any
Protestants by an unfair caricature painted with a broad brush. Nor do
we dare to imply that all Protestants are lost - any more than we would
dare to say that all Baptists are saved!
1. Our view of Scripture. While
most everyone claims to believe in the Bible as the only rule of faith
and practice, the Protestant emphasis on creeds tends to subtly
undermine this position. B. B. Warfield called the Westminster
Confession of Faith (WCF hereafter) . . .
the final crystallization
of the elements of evangelical religion . . . Baptists believe such
language should only be used to describe the Bible alone. While Baptists
do use confessions of faith as a summary of biblical truth, we never
consider anything other than Scripture to be our standard. When in
debate, we would rather say, The Word of God says . . ., than to
say, My confession says . . . . We have no creed but the
The WCF itself contains wording in its first chapter which goes
too far for us as well:
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his
own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set
down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be
deduced from Scripture.
deducing from Scripture has left the door open to
superimpose the system of covenantalism on the Scriptures. Then
Scripture is interpreted by the covenant, rather than the covenants
being interpreted by the Scripture.
2. Our view of the covenants.
Protestantism sees one covenant, with various administrations. Baptists
see distinct covenants. As Galatians 4:24-26 says, . . .
are the two covenants. . . We see something new in the new covenant
(or new testament). Who also hath made us able ministers of the new
testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth,
but the spirit giveth life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
And for this
cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death,
for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first
testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal
inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
Though we do believe that the Old
Testament saints were saved by the pure grace of God, without works, we
do not equate the old economy (a national, ethnic,
socio-politico-religious one) with the new (a spiritual one without
national or social distinctions and without political ambitions). While
we see a continuity between the old and new covenants, we do not see an
identity. There are significant differences between the Old and New
Testament, though God's purposes of grace operate in each.
Therefore, we see the New Testament as
the final word on the Old Testament, and not vice versa. Unlike both
covenantalists and dispensationalists, we stand in the New Testament and
interpret the Old in light of the New.
3. Our view of the church.
Protestantism carried over from its roots in Roman Catholicism a
sacralist mentality. If one were a member of society he must therefore
be a member of the "church" also. As the line of distinction between
church and state became blurred, infant baptism emerged. These
"churches" came to be composed intentionally of both the regenerate and
the unregenerate. Efforts were made to justify this error on the basis
of the Old Testament rite of circumcision.
Baptists take the New Testament
position of regenerate church membership. There are simply no instances
at all in the New Testament of infant baptism, nor of the baptism of
anyone known to be an unbeliever. We are grateful that some honest
Protestants admit this. Those who claim otherwise must argue from
We see the mission of the church as
primarily spiritual, not social nor political. We are more interested in
proclaiming saving grace than promoting common grace. We are but
strangers passing through, citizens of a heavenly kingdom. Our message
has never been Save this generation, but rather
Be saved from
this generation (see Acts 2:40).
Moreover, believing that each church
is autonomous, we reject all forms of church hierarchy. In things
spiritual, there is no higher court on this earth than the local
assembly. Major issues in the churches of the New Testament were decided
by the vote of the members, not by a board of elders, presbytery, synod,
bishop or archbishop.
We reject the Protestant concept of a
universal invisible church and the ecumenism which naturally springs
from that concept. God certainly knows all those who are His and
eternally views us as one in Christ, but in our experience we will not
be one assembly or church until all God's elect are gathered together in
glory. Although every believer is in God's family and kingdom, the
church of the New Testament is a local, visible assembly.
4. Our view of the ordinances.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are Christ's symbolic ordinances given to
His churches, not to individuals, families, nor society at large.
Baptism is for believers only; the Lord's Supper is for baptized
believers only. Since we do not recognize infant sprinkling as
Scriptural baptism, we obviously must "fence from the table" those who
have not been immersed as believers. Since we are only responsible for
the baptism of our membership, and since we cannot invite to the table
those over whom we do not have the authority to discipline, we further
restrict the table to members of our local assembly only.
These ordinances are symbolic and in
themselves have no efficacy to save or to impart grace. However, the WCF
states, There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or
sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified; whence it
comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to
the other. In his commentary on the WCF, A. A. Hodge states, . . .
through the right use of the sign, the grace signified is really
conveyed (p. 329). Again Hodge states,
The sacraments were
designed to "apply" - i.e., actually to convey - to believers the
benefits of the new covenant (p. 331). Commenting on baptism, the
WCF says, . . . by the right use of this ordinance, the grace
promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the
Holy Ghost. . . To Baptists, this language sounds alarmingly similar
to baptismal regeneration.
5. Our view of conversion. In
light of the above, we must state unequivocally that we believe that
salvation is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit of God. No saving
grace is conferred by means of family or national privileges. The
children of believers are just as depraved and lost as are the children
of unbelievers. The promise of Acts 2:39 which says,
For the promise
is unto you, and to your children, does not end there! It continues,
and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall
God saves sinners individually, not
families collectively. Infant "baptism" and the covenant-child concept
obscure the truth about regeneration and conversion.
6. Our view of church history.
It may come as a surprise to contemporary Protestants and Roman
Catholics to learn that Baptists did not originate at the Reformation.
The more ancient historians, even those opposed to Baptist principles,
admitted this; the more modern writers tend to ignore, dismiss or deny
it. There is abundant evidence to affirm that evangelical churches,
sound in the essentials of the faith, known by various names, existed in
Europe from the days of the Apostles down through the middle ages. The
Waidensian Confession of 1120 is an example of sound gospel belief
during those times.
These Anabaptists, as they were
deridingly called by their foes, were bitterly persecuted by the
official pseudo-Christianity which apostatized under Constantine. These
valiant people were our forefathers in the faith. (Of course, we do not
identify with some truly heretical sects who were erroneously classified
with them.) Many have forgotten that some of Calvin's theology was
shaped by an Anabaptist cousin. Calvin acknowledged . . . that he too
"was at one time a Waldensian." (Leonard Verduin,
The Anatomy of
a Hybrid, p. 199.)
When the Reformation came, these
Anabaptists at first breathed a sigh of relief, but quickly discovered
that the Protestants could persecute them just as severely, resorting to
the same church-state model that Rome had brutally enforced for
centuries. It is a forgotten fact of U.S. history that the first
amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing full religious freedom, came
into being against the wishes of many colonial Protestants. Virginia
Baptists, especially John Leland, were responsible for this amendment.
C.H. Spurgeon well summarized our
We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not
commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before
Luther or Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome,
for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the
apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of
Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a
river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always
had honest and holy adherents . . . (Metropolitan Tabernacle
Pulpit, 1861, p. 225.)
Twenty years later, Mr. Spurgeon reiterated,
. . . we, known among men, in all ages, by various names, such as
Donatists, Novatians, Paulicians, Petrobrussians, Cathari,
Arnoldists, Hussites, Waldenses, Lollards, and Anabaptists, have
always contended for the purity of the Church, and her distinctness
and separation from human government. Our fathers were men inured to
hardships, and unused to ease. They present to us, their children,
an unbroken line which comes legitimately from the apostles, not
through the filth of Rome . . . (Ibid., p. 613.)
Long before your Protestants were known of, these horrible
Anabaptists, as they were unjustly called, were protesting for the
"one Lord, one faith, and one baptism." No sooner did the visible
church begin to depart from the gospel than these men arose to keep
fast by the good old way . . . . At times ill-written history would
have us think that they died out, so well had the wolf done his work
on the sheep. Yet here we are, blessed and multiplied. . . (Metropolitan
Tabernacle Pulpit, 1881, p. 249.)
In conclusion, let it be said we are grateful to God who has shown
us these things. We rebuke any fellow-Baptist who may be swollen with
pride because of his knowledge of these truths. If God has given us
these truths, we must receive them with humility.
We admit that we may not speak for all who call themselves
Baptist today. Some will no doubt disagree with us. We can only say that
these are issues in which our consciences are bound and upon which we
( Reproduced on this site with permission from
Daniel Chamberlin )