The Spiritual Church: “Let Us Not Divide”— John Bunyan And Baptism -- By: Mark E. Dever

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 172:686 (Apr 2015)
Article: The Spiritual Church: “Let Us Not Divide”— John Bunyan And Baptism
Author: Mark E. Dever


The Spiritual Church:
“Let Us Not Divide”— John Bunyan And Baptism*

Mark E. Dever

* This is the second article in the four-part series “A Puritan Vision of the Church,” delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 4-7, 2014.

Mark E. Dever is Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and President of 9Marks.

The Reformers held that two essential marks of the church were the right preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments. On this there was unity between them and the generations of reformational Christians that were to follow, while inside this unity there was great diversity about how these marks were to be fleshed out. Having considered Richard Sibbes and his vision of the Evangelical Church,1 we look now at John Bunyan’s vision of the Spiritual Church.

In a work first published four years after his death, toward the conclusion of his application of Psalm 130:7, Bunyan used an arresting image of the heart as an unreliable container for truth. He observed, “He that will keep water in a seive, must use more than ordinary diligence.”2 What Bunyan said of water in a seive and truth in the heart is also true about the difficulty of keeping such biblically conscientious Christians as Bunyan and his fellow nonconformists together in churches. It will be this strange tension between Bunyan’s dogged devotion to Scripture, which led to his own nonconformity, and yet his denial of what were to become important denominational boundaries that we will consider. Was

Bunyan a nonconformist, a dissenter, a separatist? Or was he, to use an old Texas phrase, “a uniter, not a divider”?

John Bunyan had a rather uncommon notion of the relation of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As Bunyan looked around, the Orthodox and Roman positions were clearly echoed in everything from antiquity to architecture. From the writings of the church fathers to the placement of the lavers of regeneration near the door of the church, it was clear that baptism was viewed as the initial vehicle of God’s grace in a person’s life, without which they would not be saved. Martin Luther’s understanding of justification fundamentally altered this teaching—at least among his followers—removing baptism from its central place and replacing it with faith alone in Christ alone. Baptism was still, however, understood to be the entering sacrament for those coming into the c...

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