The Philadelphia Association was established in 1707 as the first association of Baptist churches in America. That does not mean that everything they did or believed was right but it does make their records of great value for shedding light on the historic principles and practices of Baptists in America. By citing these principles and practices, I am not at all suggesting that Baptist history and heritage trump the Bible as authoritative for our Baptist faith and practice. Rather, I am simply trying to demonstrate how our Baptist forefathers understood the Scripture in their day so that we can compare it to what is being done–or in the case of the new IMB guidelines on baptism, proposed–in our day.
This kind of historical perspective has value on its own merits because it is always wise to consider what God has taught those who have gone before us. Contrary to the way that some moderns think or at least act, our forefathers also grappled with important biblical and theological questions in their day. Even when we disagree with their conclusions it is helpful to understand their viewpoints. So historical analysis is helpful to our efforts to understand and apply God’s Word today.
However, it is doubly important to hear directly from our Baptist forefathers when they have been invoked for support of innovative views and practices, as has occurred in the current debate over the IMB guidelines. Mere assertions that “Baptists have always believed” or “Baptists have always practiced” should be judged by the historical record itself. Fortunately, in our day such records are readily available.
With those brief comments, consider these further insights from John Gano’s diary concerning how the baptism of those who did not hold to eternal security was judged by the Philadelphia Association. Both AH Newman (A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States, 203ff) and Tom Nettles (The Baptists, 2:108f) cite Gano’s diary in describing an account of his travels in 1752 with John Thomas and Benjamin Miller from the Philadelphia Association to a troubled Arminian Baptist church in Virginia. After examining the members they judged that only 3 had evidence of experiencing saving grace. The church disbanded and was reconstituted with only these three as members (as Semple decribed it, the church was “new modeled”) on Calvinistic doctrine. Some of the other previous members were converted and were baptized (“rebaptized”) on their profession of faith. The three who were believers and who had been baptized under an Arminian ministry were not “rebaptized.”
Let me make one final point in closing. I don’t have a theological dog in this fight. I am a cessationist (with qualification) and I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church. This is also true of the missionaries we have sent from our church. My concern here is simply truth and integrity. For years I listened to Baptist leaders (mostly, but not exclusively, moderate leaders) say “Southern Baptists have never believed in _________” (the blank can be filled in with various doctrinal descriptions: inerrancy, unconditional election, particular redemption, total depravity, etc.) all the while knowing that they were wrong in their assertions. As more and more historical records and testimonies saw the light of day, such comments died out. It became evident to many thoughtful Southern Baptists that those who made such assertions were either distorting the historical record or else did not know what they were talking about. These leaders discredited themselves in the eyes of those who had access to documented evidence contrary to their assertions.
It grieves me to see conservative leaders making the same mistakes.
The examples that I have cited here the last few days should be sufficient to dispel the assertion that the new IMB guidelines are not innovative and are simply expressing what Baptists have always believed. Such claims simply are not true. In the face of the historical record, they should be rescinded.