Baptist Beliefs and Identity/Yesterday and Today
A Historical Perspective on Baptist Beliefs and Identity - Yesterday and Today: How Deep the Chasm?
In explaining Baptist identity, Walter B. Shurden, noted author of numerous books about Baptists, presents four freedoms: Bible, Soul, Church, and Religion (Walter B. Shurden, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, Macon, GA, Smyth and Helwys Press, 1993). All truly commendable explanations of beliefs held by Baptists but certainly not exclusively by them since others hold similar views (Congregational, Disciples of Christ, etc.).
In his explanation of each freedom, Shurden uses the phrase “imposition of creed” in describing soul freedom among Baptists. He relies on “historic Baptist affirmations” for supporting evidence in describing each of his “four fragile freedoms.” Nothing is mentioned about theological positions and authority historically held by Baptists, which suggests that soul liberty and Baptist polity are presently used to usurp biblical theology and authority. This is very common among us.
Consider an early practice of one of our historic associations – the Ashford Baptist Association (now known as Northeast). In 1874 during its 50th anniversary celebration meeting in Warrenville (Ashford), the report reads, “as long as the earth remains or the heavens endure, its adopted creed was to remain.”
This creed was not only adopted but it also was required to be held by the churches composing the association since 1824! Article 10 of the original constitution stated that “no church shall be received into the association but those that believe:
- All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
- In the real Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ
- Total depravity
- Effectual calling by sovereign grace
- Justification by the righteousness of Christ
- The final perseverance of the saints
- The future state of rewards and punishments
- Immersion the only baptism
- Believers the only candidates
- Baptized believers the only candidates for church fellowship.”
The 19th century Baptists were indeed people of the Book. Biblical theology and authority were central and always defined their belief system. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith in 1833 as first written stated that the Bible “has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter.” This belief appears to place Baptists squarely in the middle of the confessional stream of the Christian church. From the very beginning of the Baptist movement the Bible was held to be “God-breathed” and their beliefs were based on it.
These strong convictions are noteworthy especially when we consider their impact on past and present Baptist missionary work worldwide. Locally, it was Ashford-born Rev. Lucius Bolles who responded to Adoniram Judson’s appeal for support. As Judson crossed the ocean, he had much time to search the Scriptures. It was during this journey that he became convinced of “believers baptism”. So upon arrival in Calcutta, India, he was baptized by immersion! Thus, Congregationalist Judson became a “Baptist”. He then continued to his destination – Burma (now called Myanmar). And locally, throughout New England and the United States, Bolles sought support for Judson from those “like-minded”.
Reflecting on an association’s beliefs in the formative years of the Baptist movement can be helpful. If a chasm exists between yesterday’s and today’s expressions of Baptist beliefs and identity, biblical theology and authority remain to direct Baptist to move forward. And as we by faith progress into the 21st the “common task of sharing the whole Gospel with the whole world.”
Earliest “gathered” or “organized” churches in the Ashford Baptist Association, today’s Northeast Association:
1776 West Woodstock
1776 East Killingly
Submitted by George W. Grisevich
Member, ABCCONN Historical Committee
century, let us be both thankful and appreciative for those past and present who labor in