Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Historic Separatism: What Issues Mattered to Baptist in the 1800s?

In 1891, Jeremiah Bell Jeter wrote The Recollections of a Long Life, an autobiographical refletion on decades in pastoral ministry. Mark Dever quotes from this book in Polity, his compilation of 19th century Baptist documents on the life of the church. Jeter had some very interesting things to say about the kinds of theological issues that spurred Baptist pastors to militancy during his youth in the 1820s:
"Presbyterians and Baptists were quite ready to assert and defend the doctrines of election, and the certain salvation of all believers; nor were they slow to attack what they considered Arminian errors. While they did not give "undue prominence to their distinctive views," the Baptists of fifty or sixty years ago "believed, and were ready to fight for, 'the five points,' . . . Baptists of the present day . . . are less carefully indoctrinated than were the fathers." (Dever, Polity, 11-12)
And here's a little bonus quote from Dever's Nine Marks of a Healthy Church booklet (not the full book):
Our understanding of what the Bible teaches about God is crucial. The Biblical God is Creator and Lord; and yet His sovereignty is sometimes denied, even within the church. For confessing Christians to resist the idea of God's sovereignty in creation or salvation is really to play with pious paganism. [emphasis added] Many Christians will have honest questions about God's sovereignty, but a sustained, tenacious denial of God's sovereignty should concern us. To baptize such a person may be to baptize a heart that is in some ways still unbelieving. To admit such a person into membership may be to treat them as if they were trusting God, when in fact they are not.

As dangerous as such resistance is in any Christian, it is more dangerous in the leader of a congregation. To appoint a person as a leader who doubts God's sovereignty or who seriously misunderstands biblical teaching on these matters is to set up as an example a person who may be deeply unwilling to trust God. Such an appointment is bound to hinder the church. (19-20)


Anonymous said...

I just bought Polity yesterday for the Baptist History class I'm taking this semester (taught by Shawn Wright, who co-edited the new book Believer's Baptism with Tom Schreiner, to which Dever contributed a chapter).

Did you have to read a book called A Hill On Which To Die at SEBTS? It's about the struggle between moderates and conservatives for control of the SBC. I have to read it for BH as well.

Ben said...

Yeah, how are things going so far at SBTS, Josh? Sounds like the reading is looking solid.

I had BH at MBBC. I suspect SEBTS assigned A Hill. I have it, but haven't yet read it. I do know they assigned Fundamentalism and American Culture by Marsden, which was quite encouraging.

If you visit Clifton, I'm sure you'll meet some CHBCers, and potentially one of my cousins.

Anonymous said...

We're about 99% sure we're going to join Clifton. We visited last Wednesday and Sunday, we're going tonight, and we've already been invited to dinner Thursday by a couple from the church. I like that it's not gigantic and yet the teaching and preaching are second to none. We want to be part of a church where we can really get involved in things. It seems Clifton's size would allow us to do so. Some friends advised us to try to find a church home quickly, instead of visiting churches endlessly in search of the perfect fit. We're trying to follow their advice.

Classes start Monday. Gret's working at the LifeWay Store on campus here. How the Lord provided her job is an amazing story. He has provided for us in every step of the transition from Illinois, in ways we could not have planned or anticipated.

PS: Bruce Ware was our Sunday School teacher Sunday AM. You can listen to his lessons from Isaiah on the CBC website.

PPS: Switch to the new Blogger.

Ben said...

Great news. I'll have to e-mail you.

Blogger won't let me switch yet. I think I'm over the size limit they're ready for.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of doing the March weekender with a friend (the same friend I went to T4G with). I'll have to skip Dr. Pennington's Greek class to do it, which might be harmful to my grade.

After last night, we're confident Clifton is the place for us. It was the second service in a row that we stayed after and chatted with folks until it was time to turn the lights out. Gretchen works with the youth pastor, Bill, at the bookstore. He said there would be plenty of opportunities to minister to both children and teens. Have you visited there before?

Say hey to Kevin for me. I hope Dever gets the impression that MBBCers know their stuff.

Ben said...

Nope, just driven by it.

Register for the Weekender soon if you plan to.

On your last comment, I think the way has been well-paved by those who preceded us.

Anonymous said...

Ben - State of the Union comments?

Ryan DeBarr said...

"We're about 99% sure we're going to join Clifton."

Not if I have anything to say about it. We don't need any more fundies.


Anonymous said...


I didn't see the little smiley face at first. Whew!

I plead the Fifth.

See ya tomorrow!

Ryan DeBarr said...

Yeah, like I have any pull at Clifton. Bruce Ware and Tom Schreiner keep introducing themselves to me, never remembering that they've already met me. LOL.

Ben said...

Ryan wrote:
" 'We're about 99% sure we're going to join Clifton.'

Not if I have anything to say about it."

Funny. You can take the fundy out of Fundamentalism, but you can't take the Fundamentalism out of the fundy.

Anonymous said...

Are you speaking from personal experience? ;)

To be remembered: try referring Greg Boyd in glowing terms in Ware's presence, or expressing your admiration for NT Wright to Schreiner.

Josh said...

I've been thinking lately: I don't see how Fundamentalists can be wholly devoted to BOTH multiple-degree separatism AND autonomy of the local church. It doesn't work. To be consistent on separation, which they try very hard to do, is to forfeit autonomy to some extent. To hold to their position on the autonomy of the local church (used by most Fundies merely as a polemical point to slam the SBC and the Cooperative Program) is to forfeit some consistency in matters of separation. So if you have to ere on one side or the other, which would you choose?

As a person who rejects the multiple degrees of separation position, I would ere on the side of local church autonomy. By this measure then, it seems to me that SBC churches are more autonomous than most Fundamentalist churches, because the Fundy churches have to walk in lock-step with their national, state, and local "fellowships" on every issue under the sun or risk expulsion and a litany of public denunciations and "warnings" about how "dangerous" they are, etc. issued by their erstwhile friends.(I mean, there aren't very many post-millennial Fundamentalist churches out there, or churches that adhere to a system other than Dispensationalism, are there?) The fundamentalists merely pay lip-service to autonomy, but violate it constantly to make sure the local churches toe the "fellowship" line. Can't there be an association of churches that agrees generally about separation and then leaves it to each local church to discern for itself (to follow Mohler's triage model) on lower-order issues?

Ben said...

I disagree, Josh. Fundamentalists allow lots of disagreement on all sorts of issues. 1) You can believe in either unconditional election or you can believe that God chooses you because He knew you would choose Him. 2) You can believe either that salvation demands repentance or that it's just about believing that Christ will save you. 3) You may or may not believe that women have to wear hats to church. 4) You may or may not believe that a person can deny the faith and still have been genuinely regenerated. I could go on.

But I'm guessing you get my point . . .

Ben said...

In fact, I will go on.

You can even practice biblical church discipline, or you can totally ignore this clear command of Scripture.

Josh said...

Duly noted. I stand corrected.

Acknowledging these areas of broad liberty, should we not also acknowledge that the Sharper Iron-type Fundamentalists, who I am glad for, are tempted to rewrite their history ever so slightly to exclude the fact of these (rather embarrassing) liberties? They would like to portray Fundamentalism as historically thoughtful, reflective, theologically serious and Christo-centric. But this hasn't been the case. So they tend to write out of the history some of the more wacky (and universally admired) figures. They'd also prefer to forget that some wacky doctrinal positions went unchallenged (and un-separated from). I'm glad for the SI gang, but let's just be honest: they represent a sea change in Fundamentalism, not the continuation of a long tradition.

Bruce said...

Wow, this thread is over a week old, and it's just now heating up. What sayest thou, Paleo?

Are you carrying the torch of fundamentalism, or are you spearheading a reformation in fundamentalism, or will you flirt with blatant pretentiousness and say we're now post-Fundamentalism and post-Evangelicalism?

Ben said...


Who do you mean by the SharperIron fundamentalists? Without knowing exactly what you mean, I don't see SI members as homogeneous in any way, shape, or form. All they seem to have in common is that they profess to be fundamentalists and have internet access.


I think to be spearheading something, there has to be a substantial object actually following you. I'm just making observations.

I'll gladly say that both fundamentalism and evangelicalism are post- what they were intended to be. Would you disagree?

Josh said...

I guess by SI "types" I mean those Fundamentalists who demonstrate an interest in such things as expository preaching, modern Bible translations, serious scholarship, etc. (I don't often read the comment threads at SI, just the front page. I'm sure the comments are a hoot.) This seems to be a break from Fundamentalism's topical sermon, KJV-only, anti-intellectual past (and present). I could be wrong. I grew up in the GARBC in Ohio, which is much more evangelical than Fundamentalist. So I was only exposed to real Fundamentalism in my college years.

Bruce said...

Okay, so I was mostly being silly with my comments, but I would agree that Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism would be at least somewhat unrecognizable and perhaps even repulsive in some respects to their respective founders.

What will really be interesting to see is if the lines get drawn in some different ways over the next few decades. What an "emerging" thing to say!