Endorsed by the “Baptist Classics Seminar” Group
September 27, 2010
Since 2002, a group of Baptist historians has met every September to read and discuss the rich primary sources in Baptist history. We have read materials from America and Britain from 1610 to the present. This year selections from seventeenth-century English Baptist writings were studied. Each year we note the rich diversity in our Baptist heritage, but we also find a group of broad and recurring themes. We believe these themes are still relevant and should continue to inform our Baptist heritage and witness.
It is no surprise that we found affirmations of the following: believer’s baptism, personal “heart” experience of God, the priesthood of all believers, personal and communal devotion to God, a commitment to the church as the body of Christ, the autonomy of each local church, congregational polity, the regular practice of ordinances (baptism/Lord’s Supper), voluntary cooperation among churches, and strong voices for religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
As the foundation for all of these Baptist principles, we have seen a commitment to sola Scriptura—the belief that the Bible alone, neither creeds nor tradition, is the authority for religious faith and practice.
In this year’s reading, the emphasis found among seventeenth-century Baptists that was most provocative was the affirmation of the role of individual conscience, especially when voluntary faith was threatened with coercion or compulsion. Baptist writings from prison were a reminder that Jesus Christ is “the one and the only Lord over our Consciences, and Law-giver to our Souls.”
With gratitude to our Baptist predecessors we share their thoughts on this fundamental freedom of individual conscience:
- George Hammon and William Jeffrey, et. al., Sions Groans for the Distressed, 1661: “And all that we desire, which is dearer to us than our lives, is, that our spirits and consciences may be left free to serve the eternal God. Which ought to be granted us, seeing, as the same apostle saith in these cases, ‘We shall every one of us give an account of himself to God’” (Romans 14:12).
- George Hammon and William Jeffrey, et. al., Sions Groans for the Distressed, 1661: “But if everyone shall give an account for himself to God, then it reasonably follows, that every man must judge for himself in matters spiritual. And therefore for the magistrate to compel, cannot be warrantable by scripture or reason.”
- Second London Confession of Faith, 1677: “God alone is Lord of the Conscience and hath left it free from the Doctrines and Commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or not contained in it. So that to Believe such Doctrines, or obey such Commands out of Conscience, is to betray true liberty of Conscience; and the requiring of an implicit Faith, and absolute blind Obedience, is to destroy Liberty of conscience, and Reason also.” (Article 21)
- Francis Bampfield, The Lord’s Free Prisoner, 1683: “…having gathered a people unto Christ, who submitted unto Believer’s Baptism, we passed solemnly into a Gospel way of Church-State and relation, and full communion, founded on these two great Principles, owning, professing, of Jesus Christ, to be the one and the only Lord over our Consciences, and Law-giver to our Souls; and of the Holy Scriptures of Truth, being our one, and our only Rule of faith, Worship and Life.”
In our tradition we find both the personal and communal elements of biblical faith; we find a believer’s church that preserves a place for unfettered individual conscience.
As historians of the Baptist story, we pledge anew our commitment to the vibrant Baptist witness of freedom that is responsive to the authoritative Scriptures and under the Lordship of Christ. We pledge anew our commitment to the relevance of Baptist identity for the twenty-first century.
Endorsed by historians/members of the “Baptist Classics Seminar” Group:
Sheri Adams—School of Divinity, Gardner-Webb University
Loyd Allen—McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University
Rosalie Beck—Baylor University
Jimmy Byrd—Vanderbilt University
Pam Durso—Baptist Women in Ministry
Jerry Faught—Oklahoma Baptist University
Bruce Gourley—Baptist History and Heritage Society
Carol Holcomb—University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
Glenn Jonas—Campbell University
Rob Nash—Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Sandy Martin—University of Georgia
Brent Walker—Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty
Mark Wilson—Auburn University
Doug Weaver—Baylor University
For more information:
* See the related Associated Baptist Press story of September 28, 2010.
* For a summary of a modern school of Baptist thought that opposes individual conscience in Baptist life, view this blog entry and explore the links therein.
* You may also email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.