Tuesday 5 June 2007

Encounters with tradition (3): from Congregationalist to Reformed Baptist

A guest-post by Guy Davies

Charles Haddon Spurgeon began his Christian life as a Congregationalist who believed in infant baptism. But soon after his conversion, he embraced Baptist views. His Congregationalist parents were a little disappointed in Charles’ decision to seek baptism. But they gave him permission to follow his conscience. His mother wrote: “Ah, Charles, I often prayed to the Lord to make you a Christian, but I never asked that you might become a Baptist.” The dutiful son replied with a note of typical Spurgeonic wit: “Ah, Mother, the Lord has answered your prayer with his usual bounty, and has given you exceedingly abundantly above all you asked or thought.”

I began my Christian life as a rather charismatic Congregationalist. I quickly became disillusioned with charismatic experiences as it became obvious to me that my “speaking in tongues” was just me blurting out incomprehensible nonsense. I needed something that would give my new Christian life depth and stability and I found this in the riches of Reformed theology. In Puritan and Reformed teaching, I discovered a convincingly biblical theology that was married to an emphasis on true experiential Christianity. Here I found head and heart united to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

The transition from Charismatic to Calvinist was accomplished in a brief period of time. But it took some years to shift from a paedobaptist Congregationalist to a Baptist. As a young Christian I learned that the great Congregationalist divines like John Owen and Thomas Goodwin were infant-baptists, as were the reformers and the early church fathers. Their argument seemed pretty convincing: baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant. As (male) children were circumcised under the old covenant, so children of believers should be baptised under the new. This view was based on a semblance of biblical theology and backed up by many of my theological heroes. How could it be wrong? Besides, I was just a little fed up with Baptist friends telling me that I needed to be baptised! As far as I was concerned, I was baptised – as an infant, and that was that.

But the more I thought about the matter, it became clear to me that infant baptism is neither implied by the Old Testament nor taught in the New. Reformed Baptists are committed to applying sola scriptura to the matter of baptism. We honour the reformers and Puritans – but on this issue, they were mistaken. This reminds us that our heroes have feet of clay. Tradition is to be valued, but the Bible alone is our authority. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptised” (Acts 2:38). In the New Testament, water baptism always follows repentance and faith.

There is a danger that when we changes our views we set ourselves against those we formerly agreed with. But I still hold to Congregationalist views of church government, and still have deep respect for infant-baptist Christians. There are aspects of the Reformed Baptist tradition that I am not entirely happy with. The movement has sometimes veered away from evangelical Calvinism into hyper-Calvinism and even antinomianism. Some Reformed Baptist churches will not allow infant-baptist Christians to join them at the Lord’s Table. To me that is uncharitable and sectarian. But I think that the Reformed Baptist position, as set forth in the 1689 Baptist Confession, is a faithful expression of biblical Christianity.


Anonymous said...

Hi Guy,

Some may want want to discuss the merits - including the biblical merits - of paedobaptism vs. believer's baptism with you (though even as a paedobaptist, I grant that you hold most, if not all, the biblical cards). And that's fine. But I'm content to admire your thoughtfulness, integrity, and, not least, your graciousness to those friends you've theologically left behind.

AndrewE said...

Good on you guy, although I'm with Kim's comments on the baptism question.

Ben, I'm really enjoying this series. Thanks.

Michael F. Bird said...

Thanks for that. I'm preaching on believer's baptism this Sunday (by invitation) and was already planning on opening with that Spurgeon quote that you refer to. If the world had more good Reformed Baptists, we wouldn't need nuclear weapons, lawyers, or republicans!

Anonymous said...

Even without Reformed Baptists we don't need nuclear weapons or Republicans--and could probably do with fewer lawyers.

Guy, I liked this story, but the transition seemed less of a struggle for you than some. Is that simply Welsh understatement or was this as logical and as missing in passion as it appeared to me on first reading?

P.S. I have no questions for you on baptism--and more on how Calvinist Baptists should be. :-) I prefer John Smyth's Brief Confession of 1609, the Orthodox Confession of 1660 (General Baptist), and the First London Confession of 1642 to the 2nd London Confession of 1689 which you highlight. But you knew that. :-)

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Guy. I've come across some mean-spirited conservative Calvinists, especially in the blogosphere - but you're so damn likeable, and I really enjoyed hearing about your personal journey.

Guy Davies said...

Thanks for your comments so far. Compared with the previous two contributions, my transition seems to lack a little passion. My story is not of adolescent rage against a restrictive fundy background or anything like that. It took me a long time of thinking and talking things through to come to a baptist position.

Making the transition from one tradition to another can be traumatic and some people don't handle it well. I know some ex-Arminians who are now rabidly Calvinistic and some ex infant-batists who keep badgering people about baptism. But I can still see some of the strengths of the peadobaptist position, even though I don't agree with it any longer. Anyway, for me, baptism is a secondary issue that should not drive a wedge between believers.

Having said all that, I trust that I am passionate about what really matters - the gospel!

Anonymous said...

Guy, I hereby award you a John Bunyan award. Bunyan, as you probably know, came to embrace believers' baptism, but his church had both baptists and paedobaptists. Criticized by prominent Calvinistic Baptists in London, Bunyan wrote a great tract called (in typical 17th C. style) "Water Baptism No Bar to Communion," in which he said that it was the gospel and conversion that should determine who participated in communion and who didn't. Bunyan's "open-communion" stance is still a minority report among Baptists, but, in some areas, a large one. I am glad to be a part of a congregation in this tradition.
Also, I second the remark that you are far more likeable than most very Conservative Calvinists I know. So, here's a Bunyan award to Guy--for knowing where to place passion, what is central, and what is secondary or even adiaphora!

Jon said...


You might be interested to read my essay on the 1689 confession of the Bappos - you can link to it from here -


Rest of You:

You probably won't be interested in the above link so sorry for talking up your time ;-)

Anonymous said...

Jon, thanks. I remain more a 1st London than 2nd London Baptist--more impressed with persecuted dissenters than the accepted. :-)
But I downloaded the pdf file. It was an excellent article.

Guy Davies said...

Er, thanks MW-W, very kind of you.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave a very helpful Westminster Conference address on John Bunyan: Church Union, published in The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, Banner of Truth Trust, 1987.

Exiled Preacher said...

Er, thanks MW-W, very kind of you.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave a very helpful Westminster Conference address on John Bunyan: Church Union, published in The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, Banner of Truth Trust, 1987.

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