Baptists and Sola Scriptura
Please forgive me for taking so long to post the second part of my interaction with the question “Are Baptists Reformed?” As I stated in the last post, Dr. Justice’s article on whether or not Baptists are reformed makes 2 errors. First, he picks and chooses which Baptists he sides with when he makes his argument. Second, he does the same thing with history. There are statements about what Baptists believe that are poor historically. Both mistakes affect his conclusion. This conclusion isn’t his alone, nor has he created this belief that Baptists aren’t reformed. Let’s move on to look at how his two mistakes affect his understanding about what Baptists believe regarding the Word of God.
Dr. Justice brings up one of the Five Solas of the Reformation. They are as follows:
- Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone
- Sola Gratia – Grace alone
- Sola Fide – Faith alone
- Solus Christus – Christ alone
- Soli deo Gloria – the Glory of God alone
The motto Sola Scriptura is the sola he seeks to distinguish between the Reformed and Baptist. He, along with many others, make a couple of mistakes. Here is the beginning of his paragraph, “The motto of the Protestant Reformation included the Latin words Sola Scriptura which mean the Scriptures only. In seeking to reform the Roman Catholic Church the Reformers at first insisted that the only authority for faith and practice was the Scriptures, but the Reformers never consistently followed this motto. Whenever they could not support some doctrine or practice from God’s Word they soon began relying on the church fathers and tradition and expediency and creeds as well. Baptists are the ones who take Sola Scriptura seriously. Only Baptists consistently apply this great principle in matters of faith and practice.” I want us to notice three things. First, the Reformers didn’t seek to reform Rome, they sought to reform the true church. Before the Council of Trent, the Reformers thought Rome may still have been orthodox, but in grave error. When Rome enunciated what they believed, the Reformers rejected Rome as apostates. Second, the Reformers never said the only authority for faith and practice was the Scriptures. They taught that it was the ONLY FINAL authority on matters of faith and practice. The Reformers did follow this consistently. They referred to the early creeds, confessions, and church fathers to show their orthodoxy and Rome’s apostasy. Third, Baptists do take Sola Scriptura consistently. But which Baptists are in view here? Again, there is no such thing as “just Baptist” as there is no such thing as “just Christian,” for there are many who call themselves Christian and aren’t. There is a plethora of groups who are outside of orthodoxy who consider themselves followers of Christ. This is what the Reformation was all about: removing the unorthodox from the orthodox. At one point in the article, the “greatest Baptist confession of faith [is the] London Confession of 1689,” is mentioned. The Particular Baptists are in view here. These were the same ones who distanced from the Anabaptists in their first confession of 1644, and then distanced from the Arminians in 1677 in the second London confession. This is where the questions of history need more development.
When the Particular Baptists released their First London Confession, there was much charged against them by some from the Westminster Assembly. They were called Anabaptists. In the introduction to the 1644 Confession, they state they are commonly and unjustly called Anabaptists. This was revised later in 1646 to clear up any further confusion as to the type of Baptists they were. Please refer to Richard Belcher and Anthony Mattia’s book “A Discussion of the Seventeenth Century Particular Baptist Confessions of Faith” for a closer historical and theological work. In other words, the Particular Baptists were Calvinistic, identified more with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists than they did those who were credobaptist. Also, when looking at their statements of faith, they used the confessions that existed before them as a basis for their own confession. For the 1644 confession, most of the articles were taken from Congregationalist confessions. For the 1689 confession, the Westminster, Savoy and First London Confessions were source documents. This shows us that the Particular Baptists valued the tradition that was in place before them. So the Particular Baptists didn’t follow Solo Scriptura (meaning the Scripture by itself), they followed with the Reformers Sola Scriptura. They valued the tradition that has been passed down from the apostles to the early church and on throughout history.
On another note concerning the place of Scripture and tradition, one can never divorce himself of tradition. When a person uses a particular version of the Bible, he is taking on traditions of which manuscripts to use and how to translate them and in what way should they be translated. The same with using terms such as “Trinity” and “hypostatic union” as well as “full humanity and deity of Christ.” All of these terms came from the Church dealing with heresy. You have to use what has come before you. All one is doing is connecting oneself to a particular tradition. If anything, Particular Baptists are the pinnacle of reform. This is no slight to my paedobaptist Reformed Church and Presbyterian brothers. The Particular Baptists sought to continue the work of reforming doctrine back in line with the Scripture in order for the churches to be rightly ordered that God would be worshiped as He has called His people to in His Word.
Finally, Dr. Justice points out rightly that the Westminster and 1689 London Confessions differ from the very start. The Particular Baptists added “The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.” This was not in the Westminster. In saying this, the Particular Baptists are adding a distinction, not a division. Please refer as well to the Letter to the Reader that accompanies the Second London Confession for what the Particular Baptists believed concerning their nearer relation to the Reformed paedobaptists than the Arminian General Baptists, semi-Pelagian, and in some cases Pelagian Anabaptists. I would like to say that the Particular Baptists did value Scripture more than tradition, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t value tradition and used only the Scriptures. They wanted it clear that only the Scriptures are our final authority. I might add also, that the Particular Baptists didn’t follow only what the New Testament taught. This will lead us to the next topic, the topic of the Church. We will save that one for our next post. Pray that God will grant me diligence and wisdom on this next post.