Recently, retired church history professor, Thomas Nettles, purported on the Founders Ministries blog that Baptists of the south were virtually all strict Calvinists, an historical proposition I contend can only be demonstrated by looking through the lens of historical reductionism.
Nettles cited several confessions held by Baptists in the south to illustrate his point. For over ten years, I’ve logged relevant sources to prove mine; namely, that while 19th century Baptists in the south were largely influenced by strict Calvinism, it’s hardly demonstrable that 19th century Baptists in the south were virtually all strictly Calvinist. In fact, the historical record proves Nettles’ historiography categorically false.
Below is another primary source which lends evidence to the supposition that Baptists of the south were not as forged into strict, confessional Calvinism as many Southern Baptist Calvinists claim.
ARTICLES OF FAITH OF BETHEL BAPTIST ASSOCIATION1
Article 1. We believe the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is a perfect treasure of Heavenly instruction ; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture or error for its matter.
Article 2. We believe there is one true and living God, and only one, whose name is Jehovah, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of the Universe, revealed under the personal and relative distinctions of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, equal in every divine perfection.
Article 3. We believe that man was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but by voluntary transgression fell from his holy and happy state, in consequence of which all mankind are sinners and under just condemnation to eternal ruin without defense or excuse.
Article 4. We believe that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace, through faith in the Son of God.
Article 5. We believe that justification consists in the pardon of sin and the promise of eternal life on principles of righteousness, and not any work of righteousness which we have done, but solely through Christ’s redemption and righteousness.
Article 6. We believe that the blessings of salvation are made free to all people by the Gospel; that all are invited to Christ; that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him.
Article 7. We believe the doctrine of election; that it is that gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, sanctified and saves sinners.
Article 8. We believe in “perseverance of the saints,” that all those who are truly regenerated and born again, will ultimately be saved in heaven, that a special Providence watches over their welfare, and that they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Article 9. We believe that a gospel church of Christ is a congregation of immersed believers in Christ, associated by convention in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; that its only proper officers are bishops, or pastors, and deacons.
Article 10. We believe that christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation and the Lord’s Supper.
Article 11. We believe that communion is a church ordinance; that such only are entitled to partake of it as have given a credible evidence of faith in Christ and been legally baptized.
Article 12. We believe in a general judgment and the resurrection of the dead and the enl of this world; that at the last day Christ will descend from Heaven and raise the dead from the grave to a final retribution; that a solemn separation will then take place; that the wicked will be adjudged to endless punishment and the righteous to endless joy, and that this judgment will fix forever the final state of man in heaven or hell, on principles of righteousness.
Pay careful attention to articles three through seven, confessional articles which normally reveal the strength of Calvinism being publicly declared.
Does this confession lend any evidence whatsoever to Nettles’ indication that 19th century Baptists of the south were confessionally wed to strict Calvinism?
I think not.
Rummaging through the historical sources themselves has a way of correcting the polemical interpretations of theologies searching for justification.
1Minutes of the Sixty-third Annual Session of the Bethel Association held with Herod Baptist Church, Terrell County, Ga., October 29th, 3oth, and 31st, 1895.
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