Why Saint Patrick was NOT a Baptist, part 2: Visions vs. Sola Scriptura

Saint PatrickOn pages 24 and 25 of his book, Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History, Dr. James E. McGoldrick demonstrates that on the subject of revelation, and the teaching that would, during the Reformation, become known as Sola Scriptura, St. Patrick was not a Baptist:

Although details are lacking, Patrick’s time in slavery seems to have been the occasion for a growing devotion to God and the development of a powerful desire to evangelize the pagan Irish. The conviction that he should embrace the life of a missionary came, Patrick believed, in the form of a vision which included a voice from heaven.

 I saw one night a vision, a man coming as it were from Ireland (his name was Victoricus), with countless letters, and I read the heading of the letter, “The Voice of the Irish,” and as I read . . . at that moment I heard voices of those who dwelt beside the wood of the Focluth, which is by the western sea; and thus they cried, as if with one mouth:  “We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and work once more among us.” [See St. Patrick: His Writings and Muirchu’s Life, ed. And tr. A. B. E. Hood (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1978), 45-46].

 This account of his call to the ministry reflects Patrick’s belief in continuing and direct revelations from God apart from scripture. He reported many such experiences and claimed that some of his converts received such revelations as well [Ibid., 50] [Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History, James Edward McGoldrick (Scarecrow Press, 2000)].

 In these three paragraphs, Dr. McGoldrick demonstrates that for St. Patrick to attribute to a supernatural vision his call to return to Ireland as a missionary, and to claim “many such experiences” in his writings, he sets himself at variance with the historic Baptist view of Sola Scriptura it had originally received from the magisterial reformation.

 Although in the present day, there are a myriad of emphases among a broad range of movements and denominations which claim the name “Baptist,” including charismatic emphases that would claim unity with St. Patrick on supernatural revelations given directly by the Holy Spirit apart from the written Word of God, this is not the view of the historic Baptist tradition. The teaching of the Calvinistic wing of the historic Baptist tradition is contained in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, which reads in its chapter, “Of the Holy Scriptures”:

 Therefore it pleased the Lord at different times, and in various manners to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church (Heb 1:1); and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased (Pr 22:19-21; Rom 15:4; 2 Pet 1:19,20) (emphasis mine).

 These sentences from the Baptist Confession affirm that while God’s revelation of himself used to come in various supernatural manifestations like visions, among others, the Baptist tradition believes that Holy Scripture alone is the source of God’s revelation of himself to his church, precluding, since the completion of the canon, “continuing and direct revelations from God apart from scripture” of the sort St. Patrick claimed for himself and his followers. This is just one way in which St. Patrick was not a Baptist.


7 responses

  1. Brandon Fickle | Reply

    The majority of modern day Southern Baptists (and almost all modern-day Independent Baptists) would reject much of the 1689 Confession if they knew it existed. Most of the baptists I know do not know of it.

    These denominations are led more by the “Christian” retailing giants, “Christian” media, and a hodge-podge of doctrines increasingly turning to a hybrid of charismatic worship and a dispensationalist eschatology. I agree with you that many are likely to praise such a revelation by Patrick as a clear “calling” by the Holy Spirit.

    I’m not a staunch cessationist, in fact, I’m about to read Wayne Grudem’s “The Gift of Prophesy in the New Testament and Today” to help me dig in further on this issue. It seems that a lot of Reformed cessationists would be ok with Grudem’s definition of prophesy and it’s application since the closing of the canon – viewing any such “revelation” – for lack of a better term – as subject to, not equal to, Scripture.

  2. You’re right that most Baptists today would reject the bulk of the Baptist Confession’s contents if they even so much as knew it existed. This is how far Baptists have fallen. And it’s one of the many reasons I blog–to introduce contemporary Evangelical and even the occaisional fundamentalist Baptist to their heritage in Calvinism.

    On cessationism, however, I do remain rather “staunch.” But I don’t hold to a hard and fast dispensational form of cessationism. Naturally, I originally learned it from McArthur’s “Charismatic Chaos” but before that there was a booklet by an old Regular Baptist preacher I found in the library at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, MO called “The Nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit are not in the Church Today” on which I cut my teeth on the topic. And I’m familiar with the Piper version of continuationism, which makes much of a few quotes from Martyn-Lloyd Jones in defense of such a stance, and I’m glad they are able to forge an otherwise theologically sound stream of charismatic “experience”; however, I’m personally not persuaded by it.

    As for Grudem, as much as I saw of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement on TBN as a kid, I have no clue how someone of Grudem’s stature would continue to give such a movement the time of day. But that’s just me. I’m going to continue holding my finger in the cessationist dike.

    On all of that I agree with those who don’t believe that a “Charismatic Calvinism” is the way to go. It’s less some sort of ongoing reformation, and more of a step toward the radical reformation of the anabapts, kind of like the Baptists (in my humble opinion) just finding common ground with them on pneumatology rather than ecclesiology or sacramentology.

  3. Brandon Fickle | Reply

    Perhaps a timely contribution from the aforementioned Piper:

    Even for his continuationism, he still urges people to stop looking for special revelation. In my experience, a lot of the Reformed continuationists rely heavily on a very narrow definition of the terms that – at times – boils down to a matter of semantics with the Reformed cessationists.

    A buddy of mine (he’s a Grudem devotee currently attending Westminster Dallas) have also had a few conversations on the nuanced differences in using “continuationist” or “non-cessationist” to describe the counter-cessationist side. He would not support the concept that the miraculous gifts with their apostolic authority or implementation have continued, but would reject the concept that the Holy Spirit will never – as some cessationists border on a dogmatic absolute – work in a miraculous way through His elect.

    I guess I have trepidations on both sides, personally (and this is certainly off-topic of the Baptist successionism discussion). I hesitate to declare either side as a settled matter. . . given the shaky grounds on which cessationists make their argument that the closing of the canon marked the end of all of the miraculous gifts without clear biblical evidence of this. I see the abuses of the gifts within the charismatic circles. I see the piety. I see the replacement of reverence of God for a reverence of mysticism. But – and I say this humbly – if among those – even 1% or a fraction of 1% is truly the work of the Holy Spirit – I do not want to be standing on the sideline boldly proclaiming His work is false or a lie.

  4. Brandon,

    You do a good job of carefully stating that which I assume. I would affirm everything you say, I just didn’t bother saying such things myself. The net result of all you say doesn’t go far astray from my remarks.

    I grant that the Reformed continuationists (what I call “Charismatic Calvinists”) are far more biblically faithful than the garden variety charismatic Arminians. But I think the movement as a whole may be better explained by the personal regard Grudem, Mahaney, etc. may still have for the experiences and arguments of their days prior to their becoming Calvinists (I’m not as familiar with Grudem’s background as well as I am with Mahaney’s, so this may miss the mark). I simply argue that the extent to which they persist in affirming a continuationist commitment, it is to this extent that their personal reformation remains incomplete.

    That being said, I affirm God’s sovereignty to act supernaturally if he chooses. But I would emphasize the fact that if he does, it will prove the exception, rather than the rule, and it will never be normative for Christian experience. God ordinarily works through ordinary means.

    Missed you at movie night last week. I was watching for you. Perhaps next month.

  5. Brandon Fickle | Reply

    Well said. Wish I could’ve made it to movie night! It’s the first time I missed – a little turmoil at work caused me to be heads down at the desk all night.

  6. […] can read part 2 and part 3 over at The Misadventures of Captain […]

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