Were The First Baptists Sacramentalists? -- By: Lloyd Harsch

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 06:1 (Spring 2009)
Article: Were The First Baptists Sacramentalists?
Author: Lloyd Harsch


Were The First Baptists Sacramentalists?

Lloyd Harsch

Dr. Lloyd Harsch is Associate Professor of Church History at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

From their earliest days, Christians have expressed their understanding of theology and polity into confessions of faith and doctrinal treatises. Baptists have been no exception to this practice, particularly when stating their views on baptism. Recently, a dispute has arisen among Baptists regarding the how the first Baptists understood the purpose of baptism.

It has long been a commonly accepted belief that Baptists observe ordinances, not sacraments. Within the past decade, some Baptists have questioned the historical accuracy of that belief and introduced a new perspective on the ordinances. Known as Baptist Sacramentalists, these advocates assert that early Baptists were more sacramental in their understanding of baptism than has been commonly accepted among modern Baptists. They contend that this view was lost in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, only to be recovered in the latter part of the twentieth century.1

Two leading North American advocates of Baptist Sacramentalism are Americans Philip E. Thompson and Stanley K. Fowler. Fowler is Professor of Theology at Heritage Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario, where he has taught for the past quarter of a century. He has received degrees from Purdue University (B.S.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and Wycliffe College University of Toronto (Th.D.).2 Fowler’s comprehensive work, More Than a Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism, is the leading authority on the subject.

Thompson earned his degrees from Mars Hill College (B.A.), Union Theological Seminary in Virginia (M.Div.) and Emory University (Ph.D.) and is currently Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Heritage at North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.3 He has written several articles on the issue and is

one of the series editors of the “Studies in Baptist History and Thought”, published by Paternoster Press, which produced More Than a Symbol.

William H. Brackney, in his foreword to More Than a Symbol, concisely describes the viewpoint of this emerging movement.

[Fowler’s] thesis is that in the twentieth century leading British Baptist pastors and theologians recovered an understanding of baptism that connected experience with soteriology, an...

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