Why did you leave the Baptist church? (Part Three: Historical Background)

There’s much I could say here, but I think I want to stick to the central point of the role history played in my departure.

As a student of church history, I discovered a richer theological heritage behind the reformed churches. It’s as simple as that. The theology of the PCA doesn’t just take a dip in the thought of the Puritans and the reformers. It stands in the middle of the stream of their theological thought and baths in it. The study of historical theology in seminary exposed me to most of the major theological traditions, particularly since the Reformation. In discovering them for myself under the tutelage of Dr. John Hannah, particularly, I came to love these doctrines. I loved them because they fed my soul. I loved them because they reflected the most consistent explication of the Scripture that I had yet found. I loved them because they not only had the glory of God as their stated aim, but because this aim was accomplished throughout. I loved them because despite the fact that you can hold them and NOT be charitable or pastoral, being charitable and pastoral is easiest when you hold to these doctrines. I came to love them because I came to be convinced that they are true.

It doesn’t really matter, then, does it, what the history of the Baptist church is, except that it isn’t this? When I embraced these doctrines as a Baptist it was made clear that I was no longer a Baptist, so I did the sensible thing. I left. And based upon my study of church history, those that made it clear I wasn’t a Baptist appeared to me to be right. Reformed Covenantal theology has no place in the Baptist church.

So the part history played in my departure is really best stated this way: I fell in love with someone else’s history.

Two more posts and we’ll be through!

Next: The results (in my broad experience) of the Baptist theological and historical stance.

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11 Responses to Why did you leave the Baptist church? (Part Three: Historical Background)

  1. Aaron says:

    I note that you say they “have more in common with” the Anabaptists. Is this an admission that they are not Anabaptists? Since BAPTISTS formed in ENGLAND as an offshoot of the PURITAN Separatist, Presbyterians have been labeling them Anabaptists to make them easier to persecute (I love how as soon as they got some freedom they started putting those poor stupid Baptists in jail), but they are not Annabaptist (who also have some good to offer the church, I do not wish to totally disrespect the Anabaptists in total by distancing Baptists from them) Anyways Baptists and are distinct in their history in many ways! Yes I know they flirted with those nasty Mennonites, to that I say So what? Mennonites have some stuff to offer too. :-) I read in the book “disciplines of a Godly man” that a well known Jewish commentator could not believe CHRISTIANS’ problems with history. He specifically stated that most Presbyterians know nothing about the founding of their own church, I see you seem to disagree?I can also make this statement but my father was an American Baptist, so where does that leave us? Was you Dad a Baptist who studied history as well? Just the exception to break the rule then?My personal makeup, combined with the encouragement of my dad, led me to embrace the study of history. I was a history major in my undergrad. Part of your problem with Baptists may seem to have to do with that they have historically been a religion of the poor. Their focus on Political and Religions liberty has sprung from and fed this fact. This in part is why there are so many black Baptists; they felt right at home with the message. Much Baptist history is left “unrecorded” because the poor do not document things well, nor do they learn Greek or systematize their thoughts as well. Yep you have something to offer there. But what, where did you learn Greek? SBC seminary?? I would simply encourage you to look at the history of the reasons behind your complaints, you might find cause to extend some grace and even, maybe even, find some gold that the Baptists have to offer…. But I am just a lowly undergrad with Baptists sympathies. Sounds like you went to a Baptist seminary and had to deal with the rubes. I am sure you know all of this anyway. I just refuse to look at Baptists and there history the same way. While I would be happy to admit the sins that I am aware of I see more there that I also love. To each their own I guess, ahh the beauty (aka sin) of denominations. :-)

  2. Jared Nelson says:

    The joke I always heard was that a Baptist is a Methodist that can afford shoes. Perhaps part of the problem is locating something that is a true Baptist distinctive. Believer’s Baptism is the only one I can think of, but then again they took that from the Anabaptists. Thus, the Baptists seem to be a hodge-podge of elements from different traditions (a little baptism theology from Anabaptists, a little law and grace distinction from Lutherans, a little church/state thought from the Reformed). It just looks a little Frankenstein-ish near the end. I kid..I kid…

  3. Aaron,When it comes to the beginnings of the Baptist church, much has been said by many. Baptists cannot agree on the own heritage. Some hold to Landmarkism (they are the only true church on earth and the Baptist church has been around since Christ, if not John the Baptist). Others, such as their premier historian, Leon McBeth, argue that they are only about 400 years old. Some outside the tradition have tried to argue that they are Anabaptist. Others have denied this. The confusion is somewhat understandable. Although all denominations are made up of some amount of mixing of traditions, the Baptist church is perhaps more mottled in their makeup than any of the major Protestant branches. There are general baptists that are staunchly arminian, particular baptists that are calvinist. American Baptists can point to the separatists in England, but are theologically kin to the Anabaptists as well. I would never say they ARE anabaptists (in the historical sense). But they do share more than just their view of baptism with that group. Their fierce independence and their view of the relationship between the church and state (which is not as clear in this generation of baptists, but has historically been separatist), all point to an affinity. But to call them anabaptists outright isn’t good history. I think the tendency in the past on the part of some puritans and particularly Presbyterians was polemical and based upon their theological affinity. They weren’t so much saying, “These guys descended from the anabaptists!” as they were, “These guys are anabaptists because they believe the same things!”Not having read the quote by the Jewish commentator, I’m not sure what to tell you. When did he write that and what period was he referring to? Was his complaint that their understanding of history was flawed or that they simply didn’t know their history? My complaint about the Baptist church isn’t that they have a flawed view of their history so much as that they don’t know or care about their history and this affects things such as their worship.My dad was (and is) a baptist. He was a historian by training long before he was a baptist and is an academic by trade, so I would consider him an exception to the rule. However, I think he too would be the first to admit that he knows only a little about Baptist history. I may be wrong about that. But his focus hasn’t been the history of the baptist church, or even church history (although he’s interested in it). Exceptions may abound, I admit. But 10,000 exceptions in a denomination the size of the SBC is a drop in the bucket. My point is to characterize the denomination, particularly my experience after many years as a member, moving from church to church (as a military brat and then as an officer myself). I have broad experience in the denomination and can say with some confidence that my characterization is accurate. The fact that as of this post I have two men (a pastor and a lay person) from the Baptist church confirming my analysis should speak somewhat in my defense.As for the part that poverty plays, I can’t give that much weight. None of the churches in which I was a member were suffering from poverty or therefore its effects. And although there are many black baptists, they have never constituted a majority of the denomination, so it seems unlikely to me that the failure with regard to history can be laid on poverty. Besides, I didn’t say there is no record of Baptist history. There certainly is. My complaint is that the leadership of the denomination (pastors in general) are rather ignorant of it. This has had the effect of making many of their people ignorant of it. As for Greek, I did not attend an SBC seminary, otherwise I would not have been taught Greek. I went to a non-denominational seminary.I don’t get why people put comments like “I’m just a lowly undergrad”. Have I said anything to imply that you don’t have insight and can’t offer anything to this conversation? That kind of passive aggressive comment is not helpful.If you wish to remain in the SBC, I applaud you. This series isn’t “Why You Should Leave the SBC”, it’s the story of why I left it. If you are Baptist and happy, that’s wonderful. I hope though that you will not sit idly by and allow your church to ordain men that are not qualified or have not been tested. I hope that you will use your gifts, whatever they may be, to protect the peace and purity of your church. If you don’t know Baptist history, I would encourage you to learn it (McBeth is a good place to start). Allow this to inform your participation in that church and perhaps even share what you have learned with others in your church. Shun anti-intellectualism and encourage your fellow baptists to always be learning.Thanks for the comments, Aaron. I apologize if I’ve upset you and hope to correct any uncharitable comments in the coming days.

  4. This “revision” complete barring any typos.

  5. Aaron says:

    It is NOT a poverty play it is simple a historical fact of their development and explains a lot of where they are at. It is neither good not bad it just is. Look it up Matt and feel free to relent now and then. The Southwark debate between Featly and Kiffen for example. Did you just tell me a minority is not the majority of a denomination? You did not say that. Wow it hits me as I read your comments that you view me the way I view Pentecostals. Note to self be nice to a Pentecostal next chance I get. You Presbyterians have the spiritual gift of confessing other’s sins for them. Here I, like a total sucker have spent so much time doing all the work of beating me and my tradition up myself. ;-)

  6. I think you both misread and misunderstood me. I didn’t say it was a poverty play. I said “as for the part that poverty plays”.I’m not sure what you want me to relent on. I didn’t deny that the Baptist church is historically a blue collar denomination or that it has been historically poor. Go back and read my response. I said I’m not convinced that this characteristic undoes my point. Your argument seemed to be in two parts. First, poverty made them the way they are. Second, the poor typically don’t leave a well-ordered written history of themselves. I’m fine conceding that poverty played a part in who they are today. I haven’t denied that. I just said this historical fact doesn’t carry much weight with me. Am I suppose to consider this historical fact and then just shrug about the fact that their form of government isn’t biblical? Besides, playing a role and playing a substantial role are two different things. The SBC hasn’t been marked by great poverty at any point in its history as far as I am aware. It had elements that could be characterized as poor. These elements never constituted a majority, however. Your play on the minority/majority is quite well done. But you are using them in different ways to make me look as though I’ve said something foolish. Blacks are a minority in America. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to assert that they are also a minority in the SBC. They could quite possibly be a minority in one group and a majority in another. On your second point I responded that Baptists do have a well recorded history up to a point. And where it gets muddled it isn’t as a result of poverty.The last bit about how I view you is completely over my head. What in the world are you talking about?And let’s revisit your comment about relenting now and then. Are you kidding me? Please go back and read these posts. I have apologized all over the place and admitted wrong doing in several places. For pete’s sake, what more do you want?

  7. Aaron says:

    Ok ok ok. Sorry. First I am not nor ever have been SBC. I was a Baptist for a year at age 18 as a member of a “Conservative Baptist” church. I currently attend a Bible Church that practices Believer’s Baptism and talks church history ALL CHURCH HISTORY almost weekly. Jared can fill you in on the good and bad at EWO I am sure. I respect the case the Reformed make against believers baptism but it does not convince me and there have been some brighter than me who can make the case better. I am just an undergrad with little training and no Greek. You have stressed the importance of proper traning and I agree with it, mostly. I should probably leave this to more capable types, however the “lowly” was uncalled for passive aggressive. Agreed. Sorry on that front. Second it seems we come at the church a totally different way. I see us as sinners bound together by the Holy Spirit’s seal. We are all really really MESSED UP. You to man. Reformed churches are messed up pretty bad all over the place. I could tell you stories of one in town that would make you jaw drop, but that would be gossip I think. To say you do not give much weight to the role poverty or persecution has played in some of these problems like anti-intellectualism is simply beyond my understanding. Perhaps it is the Social Scientist wanna be in me but it leads to no compassion or grace to how they got there? If people are always condescending to you like Featly did saying you do not even know how to talk to me you don’t think some people would develop some sinful responses to the sinful actions toward them? Yeah I said sinful response. My defense in NOT hey we are great! I leave that you reformed types to say of yourself. Yeah that is passive aggressive sorry but seriously, that is the tone that is bothering me. But that could be a personality problem with me. Come on we are suppose to wallow. HA! That is a joke don’t wallow. Reformed rock and have much to be proud of. I guess this is kind of an “I love you and the depth that Reformed have to offer, how come you don’t think we have something to offer?”On SBC, ok I will say it. I just could not join a church the separated over whether Missionaries could own slaves. Perhaps that adds something to be humble about and should not be a factor today, but ouch! I mean that is why SBC exists right? Then all but one of the missionaries sided with the North, American Baptists anyway and they could barley support them all by themselves. ANYWAY you know all of that. Little quote for you here. All from just Christian History. Me and my cliff notes again. Kenneth Scott Latourette that: “It has been the special privilegegiven to Baptists, more than to any other body of Christians of comparable size, to preach the gospel to the poor. For the most part, the poor leave no written traces of their lives. The historian is often baffled when he seeks to reconstruct what they have said and done. For this reason, no history of the Baptists can ever be complete.”In a colonial society where deliberate attempts were made tofragment Afro-American communities, the autonomy of Baptist congregations served to unite Christiansin a very intimate way. No wonder that the second largest group of Baptists in the world is presently theNational Baptist Convention of America, Inc., a black denomination with seven million members

  8. First, let me say that I really enjoyed this post, Aaron. Thanks for taking the time.Second, I’m getting a bit bored with the “You Presbyterians think you’re perfect” routine. Seriously. Presbyterian doctrine is built on a recognition of our sin. We take it very seriously. Nothing I have said in any of these posts, either in their first version or the current version or any of my comments has given anyone any excuse to accuse me of thinking I’m perfect. As I said above, have you not read all my admissions of guilt in this series? I’ve not just said I was wrong but I’ve done a fairly major overhaul of the series in order to make it right! Besides, the accusation that we (Presbyterians) all think we are perfect is simply a deflection tactic. I don’t have to be perfect or think I’m perfect to point out problems. And this series isn’t “All The Things That Suck About the Baptist Church.” It’s about why I left. Am I really expected to answer the questions put to me by my friends about why I left and not list any of the problems I found in the SBC? The comparison between the two denominations that is irking you so is the point of the whole series. It’s about why I left the SBC and joined the PCA. I can’t answer this question without listing the merits of the one and demerits of the other. To expect me to do so is unreasonable.This brings me to your question about why I can’t concede the good things in the SBC. It’s because this series isn’t about all the lovely aspects of the SBC. Am I the only one here that sees this? Can someone chime in and tell me I’m not crazy? I wouldn’t write WIRED’s tech blog and tell them that they are totally missing out on the Atari game system released in 1981. That’s not what they are writing about. I don’t know how else to say this. But in the spirit of being more charitable, you’re right: The Baptists have contributed to the Kingdom. Your example of preaching to the poor is stellar. I loved the Latourette quote.As for compassion, however, I think you’ve taken what was a complicated exchange between the two of us and used it to make unfounded assumptions about me. I’m not sure where you think I was condescending to you. The comment about minorities/majorities I addressed in my last response. You are bringing, once again, elements into this discussion that are beyond the intention of the series. Anti-intellectualism is a problem in the SBC. Poverty may have contributed to this. That doesn’t make it right. And it doesn’t make it wrong for me to point it out, ESPECIALLY in the context of explaining why I left! Was I suppose to stay in that environment because poverty was its cause?I can’t help but sense that you want more from me than this series was intended to provide. If you will read it as an answer to the question, “Why did you leave the SBC?” I think you will find that it is not such a bad series, and I’m not such an evil condescending person.BTW, I REALLY liked the Latourette quote. Did I mention that? :^)

  9. Aaron says:

    No no no. Very sorry. I do not think you evil or condescending. When Judson got sick of a Burman he told him to stop coming just to argue. But the guy said I come because you are capable man do you not understand that Mr. Judson? The guy ended up converting. Don’t get your hopes up on that but yeah, I get my shorts in a bunch easy and hurt back I guess. I do not think you evil but you came across condescending to me. But hey, that is probably my problem not yours and probably more because I am now convinced we totally want to talk about different things.I think you are right on. It is why you left. There are good reasons. I am SOOOO glad I am NOT a pastor. It must have been hard. I think I would tell a lot of my people to questions “I don’t know” too often. I am not interested in SBC at all really! So that is like you said a big problem here! I think you were probably right to leave. Your series is good. I think you have something to offer for people to consider!I think we are talking around each other on this stuff of reasons and weight to how theology is formed. Theology is never formed in a vacuum. That is probably the subject I am really talking about that has no place here at this point and time perhaps. Theology is usually reactionary and I think that is important to consider and weigh out. We might even agree on this but I can not tell in this kind of communication. It might be that neither of us is interested in talking about the same thing here.Sorry for what I now is was a huge rabbit trail! Peace brother. Really peace. If I could hug you I would.

  10. Aaron says:

    Also Matt just for the record, you are allowed to like your church. ;-) Some of my attempts at humor may have come off opposite. Shoot I like you church! I love PCA. I will tell the world if you like! I LOVE PCA!! I don’t know if you would like my Bible Church as much as I like yours but I don’t care, I LOVE PCA. :-)

  11. Now you’re just compensating. :^)Thanks Aaron.

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