The Baptist Version of “Sola Scriptura”

Under the heading of “Legacy” in the Wikipedia entry on Sola Scriptura, I found this interesting paragraph:
“The conception of sola scriptura has changed over time. In addition to being a method of reforming church authority and tradition, sola scriptura now often implies an additional antithesis between the authority of the individual and authority of the Church. In addition to contesting and reforming traditions negatively attested to in scripture, many Protestants also remove traditions that the Bible doesn’t positively and clearly support. Certainly sola scriptura is applied more liberally today than the original reformers intended.”
This reflects a personal opinion of mine which has developed in my journey from Baptist fundamentalism (for example, see my previous church’s website) to Reformed confessionalism (although I am providentially a member of a fairly traditional, and somewhat Reformed-sympathetic Southern Baptist Church). This opinion of mine goes under the heading of “The Baptist Version of Sola Scriptura.” Like in the Wikipedia article, as I learned Reformed theology from very non-Baptistic sources, I noticed that what Reformed folks called Sola Scriptura, and how Baptists generally tended to use the phrase Sola Scriptura (or the concept, if not the phrase itself) were two different things. Reformed theology emphasizes that Scripture alone is the only source of divine revelation, correcting the Roman Catholic belief that Scripture and church tradition are equal sources of divine revelation, — and the final authority of all faith and practice, whereas Baptist practice and preaching, while including sentiments parallel to Reformed theology’s emphasis, allowed it to logically dovetail with the Baptist distinctive of Priesthood of All Believers and the distinctive sometimes called “Soul Competency“, “Soul Liberty” or “Liberty of Conscience.”
I basically believe that, whatever is right about the Baptist tradition, it learned from the Reformed tradition; and conversely, that whatever is wrong about the Baptist tradition, it learned from the Anabaptist tradition.
The Anabaptist tradition, if I may speak generally (and I may, because this is my blog!!!), is equated in my mind with the tendency toward individualism, whereas the Reformed tradition is equated in my mind with a sober balance of individualism checked by church authority regulated (ideally) by Sola Scriptura.
The Baptist tradition’s sympathy for some Anabaptistic emphases accounts, for example, for their emphasis on “credo-baptism,” more commonly known as “Believer’s Baptism,” or as I call it “Baptism Of Believers Only By Immersion Only.” While some Baptists believe their historic origins follow a path which emerges out of the Reformation era Anabaptist movement, yet predates it in the form of many of the persecuted heretical groups of the medieval period (Paulicians, Bogomils, Cathars/Albigenses and other similarly scary groups), a Baptist-history theory called Baptist Successionism, the more historically competent recognize that the Baptist tradition finds its historic origin squarely in the seventeenth century English Separatist movement, which happens to be a Reformed tradition! First objecting to the baptism of the infant children of believers on account of “The Baptist Version of Sola Scriptura” they began sprinkling, or pouring water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit on professing believers only. This practice is based on their inability to recognize the association between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament water baptism because there is no explicit command to baptize the children of believers (and they either skip over, or misinterpret Colossians 2:11-12, which is a New Testament verse associating circumcision with water baptism).
In short, to abruptly conclude, I believe that as the Baptist tradition followed the example of the Anabaptist tradition toward a more individualistic emphasis, they took a step away from the solid foundation of the Reformed tradition. This is how I account for what I call “The Baptist Version of Sola Scriptura” and I believe in this area and others, Baptists are in need of returning to their Reformed roots. For assistance in this endeavor, consult the following websites:
Reformata, Semper Reformanda (“Reformed, Always Reforming”)
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8 responses

  1. Good thoughts John. There is a huge difference between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriputra, me and my bible. The WCF does a beautiful job explaining the idea of Sola Scriptura.

    I cannot be sure, are you advocating a paedobaptist view or not? I believe the entire debate comes down to the degree of continuity/discontinuty you believe exists between the two economies.

  2. I do advocate paedobaptism. My persuasion that paedo- rather than credobaptism is the more biblical position on the issues of the proper mode and the proper candidate for baptism stems from my growing awareness of in just how much agreement the Baptist tradition was with the Reformed tradition. If you want to know the Baptist position on the Trinity, you could as easily gotten it from a Reformed author’s work as a Baptist’s; if you want to know the Baptist position on the decrees of God, you could have (in the seventeenth century) gotten it from a Reformed author’s work as a Baptist’s; likewise, Christology, Soteriology, Election–on these and so many other doctrines, Baptists originally remained in lockstep with the larger Reformed tradition. Once I came to realize this fact, the question was raised in my mind, “If the Baptists think the Reformed are so right on so many other doctrines, what makes them think they’re wrong on baptism?” Simplistic, I know; but hey, I was raised to think in simplistic terms on doctrinal matters.

    Just as the quote my post features says, “In addition to contesting and reforming traditions negatively attested to in scripture, many Protestants (in the case of baptism, the Baptists) also remove traditions that the Bible doesn’t positively and clearly support (according to their hermeneutics).” You are right to point out that the issue of baptism is derived from one’s understanding of the relative continuity between the Testaments. Growing up, the mantra (to mix my religious metaphors) among Baptists about the church is moddified with the label, “New Testament.” The church is not just the church, it’s the “New Testament” church. The underlying distinctive is their conviction that the New Testament is the ONLY source for instruction on the faith and practice of the church.

    It seems to me that this emphasis tends to repeat the errant thinking shared by Marcion and the antinomians in their various ways of pitting the New against the Old Testament. Sure, Marcion may have pitted the New against the Old over issues related to his heretical theology proper, and the antinomians may have pitted the New against the Old over their error regarding the Moral Law of God, but it appears to me that this particular Baptist distinctive pits the New against the Old Testament on ecclesiological grounds. Thus, I began to consider this Baptist distinctive, “Ecclesiological Antinomianism.”

    This “antinomian” emphasis of the Baptists explains why they disassociate between baptism and circumcision. Baptism must not be associated because circumcision is an Old Testament practice. They seem, as they took their baby-steps away from the Reformed tradition, to have lost the concept that some OT realities are modified and assigned new significance, not merely abrogated. This is the Reformed position on circumcision. It’s method was modified to water baptism, and it’s meaining was modified to include additional significance in relation to Christ’s death, the SPRINKLING of his blood on our sins, and the Spirit’s outPOURING on us in regeneration.

    While I remain providentially a member of my beloved SBC church, this issue remains an issue in which I submit to the authority of my church, choosing to select my battles. There are many valid reasons into which I will not go that explain why I remain among the Baptists.

  3. Capn said…
    “that explain why I remain among the Baptists.”

    autonomy? easier to fire a pastor instead of getting rid of a bunch of elders? music? I’m thinking about it just to get a discount on school…(;

  4. You of all people know! Boy, if it were only simple issues like those . . .

    Hope you get a good discount at your Baptist institution of higher learning!

  5. Baptist Crusader | Reply

    What other areas do you think modern day Baptists were influenced wrongly by anabaptists? What books on Baptist History would you recommend? They’re hard to find. The argument for Baptist Successionism is what I have always believed. If one does not believe it, then you must believe that there was a period of 1000 years that Christ’s church was dead or non-existent until the Reformation….unless you believe that the Roman Catholic church WAS the real church gone bad. I personally believe that the Roman Catholic church was of the devil from the beginning, and God’s true church was underground for all that time. What do you say?

  6. I know the vast majority of modern Baptists do not practice this, but there are some Baptists known as “Foot Washing Baptists,” who believe foot washing is a third ordinance given by Christ in addition to the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Foot Washing was invented by the Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmeier in 1525. If you find something to correct that fact, this was from memory; I can’t find the documentation I base that on right now. But while looking for it, I ran across this link. Perhaps it will help answer your question. Here’s the link:

    http://www.reformed.org/sacramentology/index.html

    Regarding Roman Catholicism, I was raised to believe exactly what you articulate. My personal experience in regard to the study of history, however, is one of encountering Baptist successionists (Landmark Baptists) glossing over the facts of history in order to associate modern Baptists with their supposed pre-Reformation forefathers, and bad scholarship on the part of Baptist Successionist writers. One glaring example is found in “The Battle for Baptist History,” by I.K. Cross (Brentwood Christian Press). On page 42, Cross writes, “Since it has already been documented that Wycliffe was a disciple of a Welsh Baptist by the name of Bradwardine . . . .” The previous documentation is found on page 39 of the same volume (1990 edition) and discusses the fact that there was communication between the Welsh churches and Wycliffe. Cross writes, “He speaks of a Dr. Bradwardine, who died in 1348, and says, ‘Very probably the famous Wickliff was the disciple of this worthy man.'”

    When I read this book, I had a copy of Will Durant’s history of the Reformation, which I recalled included material on Wycliffe I’d not yet read, so I checked the index for a Bradwardine, and found the page. Upon reading the page I learned that the Dr. Bradwardine whom I.K. Cross called a “Welsh Baptist” was, in fact at one time, elected to the Roman Catholic office of Archbishop of Canterbury! (Read more about Archbishop-elect Bradwardine at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bradwardine).

    In the reading I’ve done over the years, I find Landmark Baptists and Christian conspiracy theorists among the least trustworthy writers when it comes to documenting facts. There’s too much of an a priori agenda to allow them to be good scholars.

    Yes, sir, I am among those FORCED TO CONCLUDE that Roman Catholicism was A (rather than THE) real church gone bad. Baptist Successionism repeats the error which Roman Catholicism uses to hold onto their historic perpetuity, Apostolic Successionism. The argument being, since Peter was the first Pope, and all subsequent Popes inherit his office, the Roman Catholic church is THE Apostolic Church. Baptist Successionists use similar logic.

    Thank you so much for writing!

  7. Baptist Crusader,

    As for your request to find books on Baptist history–I assume you mean Baptist history books by non-successionists?–I would advise you to begin your search for such titles at http://www.founders.org. It was the Founders website’s review of the book, “Baptist Successionism” by James McGoldrick (Scarecrow Press) where I discovered that book. I highly recommend it, and you can read that review on my previous post at . . .

    http://capthk.blogspot.com/2006/09/baptist-successionism.html

    Another great resource on Baptist history is, “The Dictionary of Baptists in America.” It’s introduction lays out well the various views of Baptist history. Here’s its listing at christianbook.com . . .

    http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=22556&netp_id=128623&event=ESRCN&item_code=WW

    Another good resource is an online essay . . .

    http://www.reformedreader.org/history/pbh.htm

    Happy reading, and happy new year!

  8. Baptist Crusader

    I just checked the link at reformed.org that I gave you and noticed it doesn’t take you directly to the work I wanted you to read, but to an index which includes that work among others. The title of the work I direct you to for your reading is entitled, “The Anabaptists and Their Stepchildren.” This may answer your question a little more thoroughly than I ever could here.

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