A History of Sovereign Grace Baptists

Reformation-Era Beginnings

The first modern-era anabaptists, or rebaptizers, appeared in England in 1521. They may have been disciples of Thomas Munzer or influenced by the Waldensians. The name was applied not to a monolithic group of dissenters, but rather any group that taught that a Catholic baptism was not "good enough" (i.e. done on the right person at the right time) and must be re-done. This broad category included some good, some bad and some hideously ugly theology.

There had been plenty of such groups prior to the time of Martin Luther, such as the Montanists and the Novatians, and they had been anathemized by the Catholic church and had usually died out. This time the anabaptists would last longer because of the chaos and freedom that ensued in the reformation. Some of the heretical groups achieved autonomy, while most died out, mainly due to state persecutions that were subsequently enforced.


The First and Second London Confessions

There remained the biblical anabaptists, a group that held to the scriptural understanding of the great reformers (on things such as faith as a gift of God, Christ as the only mediator, scripture as the only guide and the glory of God as the only goal.) However, they felt that baptism was to be administered on a credible profession of faith only, whether the member was raised in or outside of Christianity.

These biblical baptists, "Calvinistic Baptists", published their first statement of faith in 1644. It was subsequently revised in 1646 and the full text is here.

The best known and best-loved confession to be authored in the English language is undoubtedly the Westminster Confession of Faith, along with its longer and shorter catechisms. It was published in 1646, the result of the meeting of 121 pastors and church elders.

The Calvinistic baptist pastors clearly had a great respect for this incredibly clear and important statement of biblical theology. However, the church government was that of presbyterianism, and they differed on matters of infant baptism and church membership as well. By the time they desired to revise their confession, (and to make it as ordered as the Westminster,) the polical situation had become much darker for them.

The Cromwellian English Commonwealth had collapsed in 1658-59 and Charles II returned from exile in France. An egalitarian himself, he signed the Clarendon Code in 1660 as a compromise to shore up the power of the reestablished Church of England; it made non-conformity to the church of England illegal. When the Baptist ministers met to write a new confession in 1677, they faced the threat of persecution. However, they did acheive their goal. Their confession was very similar to the Westminster but altered for the Baptist convictions and also contained some elements of congregationalism that informed their consciences.

They were not able to publish their confession until after the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, which deposed James II, established William III (or II in Scotland) and allowed for some religious freedom. Since the baptist confession was not published until 1689, it is known as The Second London Baptist Confession, or The 1689 London Baptist Confession.

Great Pastors in the 1700s and 1800s

Charles Haddon (C.H.) Spurgeon (June 19, 1834 – January 31, 1892) was a British Particular Baptist preacher who remains highly influential among Christians of different denominations, among whom he is still known as the "Prince of Preachers". This despite the fact that he was a strong figure in the Reformed Baptist tradition, defending the Church in agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith understanding, against liberalism and pragmatic theological tendencies even in his day.

In his lifetime, Spurgeon preached to around 10,000,000 people,[1] often up to 10 times each week at different places. His sermons have been translated into many languages. Spurgeon was the pastor of the congregation of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for 38 years.[2] He was part of several controversies with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and later had to leave that denomination.[3] In 1857, he started a charity organization called Spurgeon's which now works globally. He also founded Spurgeon's College, which was named after him posthumously.

Spurgeon was a prolific author of many types of works including sermons, an autobiography, a commentary, books on prayer, a devotional, a magazine, poetry,[4] hymnist,[5] and more. Many sermons were transcribed as he spoke and were translated into many languages during his lifetime. His entire works are here.

The Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, from constituent churches that had left the three major nationwide baptist fellowship groups over the biblical view on slavery and over representation on missionary teams. (Understandably, the northern churches did not feel slaveholders ought to be supported by the society as missionaries.)

As a baptist union, the Southern Baptist Convention did not have a universal statement of faith until the Baptist Faith and Message was published in 1925. It was revised in 1963 and in 2000. The BF&M was cosidered controversial in 2000 because it held to the biblical view of women in leadership ministry and of homosexuality.

The Southern Baptist Convention today is diverse and growing, as it pursues a continuing agenda of missions, evangelism, mercy, and re-churching the out-of-fellowship. Since 1940, it has transcended the territorial boundaries suggested by its name and has become truly nationwide as well as worldwide. It has fully repented of its previous approval for racial slavery (or any other kind) and has a large number of churches that are made up of a majority of African Americans or of Asians.

Part of that diversity is in theology. Today,the SBC is considered mainline and freewill, but that is not its whole story. Although the convention did not officially have a statement of faith, many of the founding pastors believed and preached the doctrines of sovereign grace, and had the accompanying obsession with the Glory of God. The SBC Founders Movement has focused on this distinct and clearly God-centered message and seeks to make this historical contribution an important and recognized alternative to the often watered-down easy-believism of today. They understand that it is faith alone in justification; however, in true conversions, faith is never alone.