Confessing the Faith in 1644 and 1689 -- By: James M. Renihan
RBTR 3:1 (Spring 2006) p. 27
Confessing the Faith in 1644 and 1689
James M. Renihan, Ph.D., is Dean of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, Westminster Theological Seminary in California, Escondido, CA.
Try to imagine a situation like this. You live in a large city, the capital of your country. You are a member of one of a handful of churches, just beginning to grow and be noticed in the city. But it is illegal for you to meet with your brothers and sisters. For as long as anyone can remember, there has been only one legal religion, and every attempt to disagree with that religion has met with opposition and persecution.
As your churches grow, rumors begin to spread. A hundred years before, people with beliefs marginally similar to yours had been involved in a terrible rebellion in another country relatively close by, and rumors were beginning to spread that your churches would do the same kind of things. What would you do?
That is something of the situation facing the members of seven Calvinistic Baptist churches in London in 1644. In the space of a few short years, their numbers had grown, and people were beginning to take notice of their presence in London. But it was often not a friendly notice. In 1642, an anonymous pamphlet was published entitled A Warning for England, especially for London; in the famous History of the frantick Anabaptists, their wild Preachings and Practices in Germany. It is an amazing work. The author, in nine double sized pages, describes the sad events of Munster, Germany. Rebellion, sedition, theft, and murder are all charged to the “anabaptists.” Throughout, there is no mention of anything but these events from another time and place—until the very last sentence of the pamphlet, which stated, “So, let all the factious and seditious enemies of the church and state perish; but, upon the head of King Charles, let the crown flourish! Amen.”1 On the one hand the warning was subtle, but on the other hand it was brilliantly powerful: “Beware! What was done in Germany by the Anabaptists may well happen again in London, if these people are allowed to spread their doctrines.”
What did the Baptists do in response to this potentially explosive situation? They knew that it was essential to demonstrate that they were
RBTR 3:1 (Spring 2006) p. 28
not radicals, subversively undermining the fabric of society. On the contrary, they were law-abiding citizens, who were being misrepresented and misunderstood. They wanted to demonstrate that they were orthodox in their theological beliefs, and that they had no agenda beyond a faithful and conscientious commitment to God and His Word.
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