Our modern world is an interesting one, to say the least. I’m certain most of us are on various social media platforms. Those of us born in the 80s are an interesting microgeneration, experiencing childhood before the internet but also pioneering and championing much of what is available online today (for better or worse). We remember the old days of AOL chats, IMs, and profiles. We likely had (long abandoned by now) Myspace pages. And we remember Facebook when it was mostly people our age. Ironically, when talking with today’s youth, places like Facebook are “for old people.” OK kid…go back to Snapchat.
Social media has given me an interesting glimpse into trends. I have belonged to about any and every popular Christian Facebook group through the years. I join them to learn about other traditions and also to be the best representative of the Primitive Baptists that I can be. And, I’ve made quite a number of friends along the way. I think the “flavor” of Christian groups that I’ve spent more time in than others would have to be groups consisting of other Predestinarians. This might be random “Calvinism” groups but would also include any number of larger “Reformed” groups.
I have noticed a trend. Reformed Baptist men in these groups tend to leave the Baptist point of view for Presbyterianism. I’ve seen polls in these groups, albeit not scientific polls, but surveys nonetheless of present members and their history. More and more, young men leave Reformed Baptist churches for Presbyterian churches, but it’s far more rare for one to leave Presbyterianism for a Baptist church. Mind you, this is within staunchly Reformed Presby and Baptist churches, not more liberal Presby or IFB settings.
What causes this? I have a few thoughts.
Fads and Fanboys
Part of the issue is that many of these Facebook groups are made up of young men who gravitate to celebrity preacher personalities. No offense intended, but they tend to flock from one “big name” to another. As such, they are rather easy to influence based upon what’s popular at the moment. In a word, they fall for a fad. This sort of thing is typical human nature, but we’re particularly guilty of it in America. Really, this issue runs deep, as Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians reveals. Some there claimed Paul, some Apollos, others Peter, and others Jesus. Those factions were based on personality and no doubt the actual men being idolized were opposed to such unbiblical behavior. I wish I could say the same for today’s celebrity preachers.
I also think in a day of so many novel and progressive trends, those alarmed at such gravitate towards forceful or popular conservative traditions. People reach for something of substance in the face of liberalism and higher criticism. Still – why the rush from Reformed Baptist settings to conservative, traditional Presbyterianism?
If you’re a Reformed Baptist and you’re reading this, please let me introduce you to the historic Baptists. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, keep reading.
More times than not, younger Reformed Baptist men are spending their devotional time listening to sermons and reading literature by Presbyterians rather than their Baptist forefathers. And so they may can cite a dozen RC Sproul sources (and I love RC very much – that’s not to cast any ill meaning towards his memory), boast of reading Calvin’s institutes, cite the Westminster shorter catechism, the Three Forms of Unity, etc., but if you ask their opinion of John Gill they reply something about “wasn’t he that hypercalvinist guy?” In other words, they don’t read actual historic Baptist writers.
Another similar issue contributing to this is that most, in fact nearly all, celebrity Calvinistic Baptists are closer to Credo-Presbyterians* than they are actual Baptists (this, in addition to their Fullerism). My brother pointed this out years ago and he’s right. The doctrine of justification? Luther’s. Ecclesiology? Elder rule. God’s decree? More fatalistic. Predestination? Double, rather than single. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism? Sacraments rather than ordinances. Communion? Open instead of closed. Church and State? Theonomy. Really, the big issue separating most Reformed Baptists and conservative Presbyterians is just believer’s baptism. That’s not a word of attack on our Presbyterian brothers, but once upon a time there was far more separating Predestinarian Baptists and Presbyterians than baptism, though that was surely a major issue. What’s so interesting, is that unlike historic Baptists, many Reformed Baptists accept infant Baptism as legitimate claiming it’s “improper but valid.” Historic Baptists would roll over in their graves.
To be clear, this blog entry isn’t a hit piece. Rather, it’s an honest observation with an exhortation. Reformed Baptists jump ship because they’re simply unaware of what Baptists in history actually believed. They’re reading Presbys, so they eventually become Presby.
So I have a suggestion. Acquaint yourself with great Baptist writers from history. Aside from Fuller and Spurgeon, I doubt the average Reformed Baptist knows many. So pick up a copy of John Gill’s commentary. Check out his Body of Divinity. Is that a blanket endorsement of everything contained therein? By no means. But he’s an actual Baptist. Dig up some writings of the English Particular Baptists, particularly the ones prior to Andrew Fuller. Google the individual signers of the first London Confession (the one most guys who scream “1689” haven’t actually heard of) and read them. Learn what they believed. You’ll find things you agree with and things you don’t, but you’ll at least be familiar with actual Baptists and not the Credo-Presby Baptist celebrity preachers of today’s time.
Moving to the United States, we have our own heroes of centuries past. My good friend John Burkett has spent recent years reading the actual diaries and journals of Predestinarian Baptist preachers. This includes John Comer, Isaac Backus, Daniel Marshall, Abraham Marshall, Hezekiah Smith, and others. From their own words, the Baptist faith wasn’t what the average Reformed Baptist seminary professor or pastor assumes or describes it as being on a number of issues. There were many Baptist distinctives that would raise modern eyebrows, if it didn’t actually be condemned as heresy by the Credo-Presby (particularly concerning justification). If you’re curious, reach out to John and he’d be glad to spend an hour chatting about it some time.
So if you’re a young Reformed Baptist and you’ve made it this far, I invite and encourage you to read as many of these men as you can. Read some John Gill. Pick up a Hassell’s History and other writings by Sylvester Hassell. Download William Rushton’s Particular Redemption (a refutation of Fullerism) or Samuel Richardson’s Justification by Christ Alone. Read some of James Oliphant’s theological works. Check out the old Particular Baptists and early US Baptists. At least then you’ll have an accurate working knowledge of what an actual, historic Predestinarian Baptist believed. You might still choose to leave, but then it will be after learning the true historic viewpoints of your tradition. And, we Primitive Baptists might not look as much like backwards oddballs in your eyes.
*Credo (belief) is the root for credobaptism (believer’s baptism) rather than paedobaptism (infant baptism).