Baptists And Confessionalism -- By: John F. Thornbury

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 07:1 (Winter 1998)
Article: Baptists And Confessionalism
Author: John F. Thornbury

Baptists And Confessionalism

John F. Thornbury

My thesis is that until the advent of modern “pluralism,” or the “inclusive policy,” Baptists have always been a confessional people and have held to a hard core of basic, nonnegotiable doctrines. Sometimes these truths were held implicitly, and were not written down in some “creedal” form. But even in such cases the truth was held.

Let us take now a couple of illustrations. When Baptists were celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of America in 1876 they sought to assert their convictions with a statistical summary and a doctrinal affirmation. The American Baptist Publication Society of Philadelphia printed in that year A Baptist Affirmation of Faith: Baptists and the National Centenary, comprised of ten chapters, one by George D. B. Pepper, “Doctrinal History and Position.” At the time Pepper was teaching at Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania. Pepper claimed that throughout America, mainstream Baptists, both North and South, held to common evangelical views. He repudiated the notion that the Baptist brotherhood was homogeneous only on the matter of the mode and subjects of baptism.

The very existence of the denomination, as we now see it in the United States, is the sufficient disapproval of such partial homogeneousness. One needs only to look into its doctrinal literature. In the great Unitarian apostasy in New England, Baptists stood their ground solidly and unitedly on the fundamental doctrines of grace. It has always been

prompt and decided in casting out or withdrawing from ripened heresy touching those doctrines, whether advocated by individuals or parties. Campbellism, Arminianism, Antinomianism, Universalism—these and other heresies have never been harbored. Separation was brought about by inward necessity. A truly Baptist church is not Noah’s ark, gathering into itself beasts clean and unclean, orthodox and heterodox, agreed only in using the ark to be saved by water.1

The Baptist boat, says this professor of theology, is not a Noah’s ark, containing beasts clean and unclean. Yet some inclusivists today insist that is exactly what we have in the Baptist fellowship. This is why I raised the following questions in an article in the ABE (American Baptists Evangelicals) Journal, “Pluralism Reexamined.”

The idea that the church should include
every type of theological and moral
permutation is a historical novelty
which must be challenged. It receives
no support from the New Testament
and is in conflict with Baptist history

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