“AD FONTES” Baptists? Continuity And Change In Early Baptist Perceptions On The Church And Its Mission -- By: R. Philip Roberts

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 05:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: “AD FONTES” Baptists? Continuity And Change In Early Baptist Perceptions On The Church And Its Mission
Author: R. Philip Roberts

“AD FONTES” Baptists? Continuity And Change In Early Baptist Perceptions On The Church And Its Mission1

R. Philip Roberts

President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary2

Southern Baptists, or even Baptists generally, are known as a missions people. A people committed to evangelism, the sharing of the Gospel and the support of reaching the whole world with the truth of the Gospel. It could easily be argued and understood that this priority is an axiom of Baptist life and practice. And amazingly wherever one might look on the continuum of Baptist theology from the right to the left, the same principle, it seems, is espoused. Even Baptists of the most moderate bearing would likely endorse publicly the priority of evangelizing, realizing that to do less would be a form of financial and public relations suicide. Scan a list of Baptist distinctive produced by just about anyone and you won’t have to look far to see evangelism as a principle characteristic of Baptist life, thought and practice.

But has this position always been the case for Baptists? Was there a time or place when evangelism, while important as it would be for any believers’ church movement, was not the given that it is today. It is my position that evangelism, though seminal in the thinking of many Baptists, was not a principle of priority and that missions was missing from the “To Do” lists of many congregations for much of the first century of Baptist existence. Mainly I am referencing the 1600’s and much of the 1700’s. Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism, evidenced particularly among the element known as Particular Baptists, are most often to blame for the lack or decline of Gospel fervor in this period. Doubtlessly hyper-Calvinism contributed to missions malaise but there were other and perhaps even more fundamental ecclesio-theological factors at play during that era. The results of the position of this presentation are that the 18th century Awakenings, particularly in England, provided the fundamental experience necessary for Baptists to discover the priority of missions.

Whether one accepts the Separatist-Puritan or Anabaptist theories of Baptist roots and foundations, it can be clearly seen that the earlier Baptists were anxious and eager to set the record straight on the nature and practice of the New Testament Church. Ecclesia Semper Reformanda was the watch word as churches sought to find the pattern which was to fit Christ’s will and purpose for discipline, order and polity. Evangelism - sharing the Gospel – always, to some degree, bubbled under the surface, however, of how...

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