By Dr. Rick Patrick
Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church
Martin Luther founded the Lutherans. John Wesley founded the Methodists. The views of John Calvin are foundational to the Presbyterians. In the same way, historians consider our Baptist founder to be Englishman John Smyth, who recovered the doctrine of believer’s baptism in 1609 by first baptizing himself and then baptizing his small group of followers in Amsterdam.
Acknowledging Smyth as our denominational founder does nothing to diminish the role of our Lord Jesus as the Church’s One Foundation, nor does it deny the rich heritage of the Anabaptists dating back to 1525 in Switzerland, whose sacrifices remind us of our place among the Radical Reformers rather than the Magisterial ones. Neither does Smyth’s role as founder ignore the influence of later Baptists whose various tributaries joined our main stream, and whose contributions are certainly welcome today.
However, when considering the place of John Smyth in Baptist life, for obvious reasons, there can be no Baptist tradition more traditional than his, and there can be no Baptist founder more foundational than him. This is not to say that Baptists today will agree with Smyth at every single point any more than Lutherans will agree with Luther, but the basic gospel of our Baptist founder clearly deserves to be recovered in our churches.
After Smyth’s death in 1612, a confession of over one hundred articles was published entitled “Propositions and Conclusions Concerning True Christian Religion.” Whether written by Smyth just prior to his death or reduced to writing by his followers just after, this confession most clearly expresses the traditional Baptist doctrine of our founder.
While the headings are added, the quotes are verbatim, and article numbers are cited:
DENIAL OF INABILITY
That God created man with freedom of will, so that he had ability to choose the good and eschew the evil, or to choose the evil and refuse the good, and that this freedom of will was a natural faculty or power, created by God in the soul of man. (Art. 14)
AFFIRMATION OF FREE WILL
That Adam sinning was not moved or inclined thereto by God, or by any decree of God but that he fell from his innocency and died the death alone, by the temptation of Satan, his free will assenting thereunto freely. (Art. 15)
DENIAL OF INFANT GUILT
That infants are conceived and born in innocency without sin, and that so dying are undoubtedly saved, and that this is to be understood of all infants under Heaven, for where there is no law there is no transgression, sin is not imputed while there is no law, but the law was not given to infants, but to them that could understand. (Art. 20)
DENIAL OF REPROBATION
That as no man begetteth his child to the gallows, nor no potter maketh a pot to break it; so God doth not create or predestinate any man to destruction. (Art. 25)
AFFIRMATION OF FOREKNOWLEDGE VIEW OF PREDESTINATION
That God before the foundation of the world hath determined the way of life and salvation to consist in Christ, and that he hath foreseen who would follow it, and on the contrary hath determined the way of perdition to consist in infidelity, and in impenitency, and that he hath foreseen who would follow after it. (Art. 26)
AFFIRMATION OF GENERAL ATONEMENT
That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that God in His love to His enemies did send Him; that Christ died for His enemies; that He bought them that deny Him, thereby teaching us to love our enemies. (Art. 28)
How can we best call Baptists to return to the traditional beliefs and doctrines of our Baptist founder? How might we promote the traditions of our Baptist heritage so as to return our denomination to its doctrinal moorings? Perhaps an organization committed to the recovery of these traditional Baptist beliefs espoused by our founder might be appropriate. To avoid confusion with any other group not based upon the beliefs of our singular founder, we might consider adopting the name The Founder’s Ministry.