Church History

New Edition of Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life

TTTH-Front-Cover1FP-300x450A little over a month ago, a new edition of Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life was released by Founders Press. The book by Baptist historian Tom Nettles was originally released by Calvary Press in 1998. This first edition was instrumental in my own education about Baptists’ use of catechism historically. I could never have guessed when I first read this book that I would be involved in a future edition of it.

Due to my doctoral work on Hercules Collins under Dr. Nettles, he invited me to contribute material on Collins’ Orthodox Catechism to the new edition. My contribution was to provide a complete, edited transcription of the catechism and a substantial chapter-length historical introduction to the work. This amounts to 75 pages of the 328 page work.

The book is available for order directly from Founders Press.

Below is my expression of appreciation to Dr. Tom Nettles (He insists that I call him Tom, but I struggle to do so.) from the Foreword:

I would first like to express my appreciation to Tom Nettles for including me with him in the second edition of this important volume. I must confess that I share Tom’s love for catechisms, largely due to his influence on my life. In fact, like for so many others, it was when I read the first edition of this volume that I became convinced of the importance of catechisms in Baptist life. Therefore, it is a distinct honor to have had the opportunity to pursue doctoral studies under the primary author of this volume and now to contribute in a small way to this second edition. My prayer is that this new edition will lead to the continued recovery of the use of catechisms in Baptist life today.

I appreciate the following endorsements of the work from men who I greatly respect.

“As this superb collection shows, Baptists have made ample use of catechisms throughout their history, and they still have practical value for building up God’s people today. I welcome this volume and cheer it on!”

Timothy George
Founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University
and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture

“Tom Nettles’ Teaching Truth, Training Hearts is a helpful introduction to the rich tradition of Baptist catechisms. All who desire to better know their faith, and to more effectively pass it on to the next generation, will benefit immensely from this book.”

Jason K. Allen
President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary & College

“Passing sound theology from one generation to the next is a matter of vital importance for developing strong Christians. The time-tested use of catechisms has been proven to be a most effective tool for this safe transfer. Here is a collection of ‘the best of the best’ Baptist catechisms that have shown themselves to be an invaluable teaching aid in instructing both children and adults, new believers and seasoned disciples alike. This book is a treasure house of Bible doctrine that will benefit all who plunge into its concise statements of core scriptural truths.”

Steven J. Lawson
President, OnePassion Ministries

Hercules Collins on the Hypostatic Union

Hercules Collins (1647-1702) made clear his own personal commitment to this union of two natures in Christ in his own writings. Among his 36 recommendations to preachers on how to rightly handle the Word of God in The Temple Repair’d, Collins included an explanation of how scriptural language often reflects this understanding of the union of the two natures.

In holy Scripture you will sometimes find that which properly belongs to one Nature in Christ is attributed to another by virtue of the personal Union; hence it is that the Church is said to be purchased with the blood of God; not that God simply consider’d hath Blood, for he is a Spirit; but it is attributed to God, because of the Union of the Human and Divine Nature. Moreover, it is said that the Son of Man was in Heaven, when he was discoursing upon Earth: Here that which was proper to the Godhead and the Divine Nature, is attributed to the Human Nature, because of the Union of the Natures.

Here Collins’ commitment to the hypostatic union becomes an important hermeneutical principle. He indicated the importance of explaining this in one’s preaching “with all the clearness imaginable,” because this doctrine “is so necessary to Man’s Salvation.” For Collins and his fellow Particular Baptists, doctrine mattered. Indeed, the salvation of individuals depended upon the proper explication of the key doctrines of the Christian faith. Collins considered the doctrine of the hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures to be at the very core of orthodox Christianity.

In his Marrow of Gospel-History, Collins extols the theological truth of the hypostatic union in poetic terms. While attempting to describe the unique identity of the virgin born God-man, Collins expressed wonder at the mystery of the incarnation.

But yet that King, and holy Thing,
Which was in Mary’s Womb,
Was God indeed, of Abr’am’s Seed,
True God, and yet true Man.
Who understands, how God and Man,
Should in one Person dwell?
One Person true, yet Natures two,
But one Immanuel.

Collins does not seem to know how to explain the mystery of the incarnation, but he is committed to affirming and rejoicing in this divinely-revealed truth. Later in the same work, Collins expressed a similar amazement at how God was able to preserve Jesus as a man from the effects of original sin.

And tho this Man from David sprang,
He’s pure without, within:
And tho is made of Abraham’s Seed,
Hath no Orig’nal Sin.
Pow’r Infinite can separate
Between the Virgin’s Sin,
And Virgin’s Seed, for there is need
Christ be a holy Thing.

The sinlessness of Christ was important to Collins because the God-man had to be fully human, yet sinless in order to atone for the sins of other humans. Collins knew that it was the mystery of the divine-human union which preserved Jesus from the effects of original sin. He expressed the connection between the union of the two natures and the sinless of Christ and mankind’s salvation in the following verse.

A King of Peace, and Priest most high,
Who offer’d once for all;
Not for his own, but others Sins,
Himself, not Beasts did fall.
The Peoples Covenant thou art,
In Substance, Person, Name;
And hence art called Immanuel,
Two Natures, Person one.

Once again the important issue for Collins was how this doctrine relates to the doctrine of salvation. Humans need a savior who is simultaneously divine, human, and sinless. This is precisely the kind of savior which Collins saw set forth in Scripture. Therefore, this doctrine was of central importance. In the end, the never-ending union of the divine and human natures of Christ serve as an illustration of the eternal union between God and his elect because of the work of Christ.

That tho by Sin Man’s separate
From God, the chiefest Good,
Yet now in Christ united are;
Man shall live still with God.
And if the Union cannot cease,
Call’d Hypostatical;
No more can that ’tween God and his,
Because ’tis Eternal.

Seventeenth-Century English Baptists on the Incarnation

The Second London Confession of Faith was issued, in part, to set the record straight with the general public that Thomas Collier’s heterodox views on the Trinity and the eternality of Christ’s human nature did not represent the Particular Baptist community as a whole. The latter is addressed in the confession’s strong statement on the full divinity and humanity of Christ united in his one person.

The Son of God, the second Person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Fathers glory, of one substance and equal with him: who made the World, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made: did when the fullness of time was come take unto him mans nature, with all the Essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her, and the power of the most High overshadowing her, and so was made of a Woman, of the Tribe of Judah, of the Seed of Abraham, and David according to the Scriptures: So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, were inseparably joined together in one Person: without conversion, composition, or confusion: which Person is very God, and very Man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and Man.

Contra Collier’s position on the eternality of Christ’s human nature, the confession asserts that Christ “did when the fullness of time was come take unto him mans nature, with all the Essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin.” The human nature was assumed at the incarnation and did not exist prior to this point in human history. At this point, the framers of the Second London Confession were following the wording found in the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration. Just after this section, however, the Second London adapts language from the First London Confession not included in either of these historic Protestant confessions. This wording further emphasized the full humanity assumed by the second person of the Trinity at Bethlehem. They added: “the Holy Spirit coming down upon her, and the power of the most High overshadowing her, and so was made of a Woman, of the Tribe of Judah, of the Seed of Abraham, and David according to the Scriptures.” This issue was important because these Baptists believed that the same human nature possessed by Eve, Judah, Abraham, and David was shared by the Christ. Only in this way could the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s coming be fulfilled.

Vincent of Lérins (434) on How to Steer Clear of Heresy

We said, further, that in this same ecclesiastical antiquity two points are very carefully and earnestly to be held in view by those who would keep clear of heresy: first, they should ascertain whether any decision has been given in ancient times as to the matter in question by the whole priesthood of the Catholic Church, with the authority of a General Council: and, secondly, if some new question should arise on which no such decision has been given, they should then have recourse to the opinions of the holy Fathers, of those at least, who, each in his own time and place, remaining in the unity of communion and of the faith, were accepted as approved masters; and whatsoever these may be found to have held, with one mind and with one consent, this ought to be accounted the true and Catholic doctrine of the Church, without any doubt or scruple.

Vincent of Lérins, “The Commonitory of Vincent of Lérins,” in Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lérins, John Cassian, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. C. A. Heurtley, vol. 11, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 153–154.

Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 97) on the Peace and Harmony of the Universe

The heavens, revolving under His government, are subject to Him in peace. Day and night run the course appointed by Him, in no wise hindering each other. The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation. The fruitful earth, according to His will, brings forth food in abundance, at the proper seasons, for man and beast and all the living beings upon it, never hesitating, nor changing any of the ordinances which He has fixed. The unsearchable places of abysses, and the indescribable arrangements of the lower world, are restrained by the same laws. The vast unmeasurable sea, gathered together by His working into various basins, never passes beyond the bounds placed around it, but does as He has commanded. For He said, “Thus far shalt thou come, and thy waves shall be broken within thee.” The ocean, impassible to man, and the worlds beyond it, are regulated by the same enactments of the Lord. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, peacefully give place to one another. The winds in their several quarters fulfil, at the proper time, their service without hindrance. The ever-flowing fountains, formed both for enjoyment and health, furnish without fail their breasts for the life of men. The very smallest of living beings meet together in peace and concord. All these the great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony; while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassions through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen.

Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 10–11.

 

Brief Survey of Historical Background to Church Discipline in Baptist Churches

Tonight for an open forum on church discipline sponsored by the Franklin Baptist Association I was asked to give a brief historical survey of church discipline in Baptist life. Below are my prepared remarks.

First, and most importantly, it is biblical. It was commanded by Christ for His church (Matthew 18:15-19). It was practiced in the early church (1 Corinthians 5) and throughout church history. Others will address the scriptural basis for the practice, so I want to focus on why church discipline has historically been important to Baptist churches.

Baptist churches have especially been concerned about the issue of church discipline because of our commitment to a regenerate church membership. When English Baptist churches began to form in the 17th century, they were different than their Church of England counterparts precisely because they were composed only of baptized believers. This was in contrast to the national church whose individual churches were made up of everyone who lived in their parish.

Since Baptist churches were committed to a regenerate church membership, only baptized believers showing evidence of being born again were allowed to be members of their churches. Since these churches weren’t composed together of all adults and their children living in geographical proximity to the church, they were united together by a common confession of faith (what we believe) and covenant (how we agree to live together).

This is foundational! We don’t have any grounds for our existence if we are not united around a confession of faith and a church covenant. We need to recover these documents. You likely had to have them to incorporate or constitute, but sometimes they just get relegated to the archives. These are important documents for you to use in recovering your church’s identity.

Since Baptist churches were composed of members who agreed to certain doctrines and a certain way of life, whenever members deviated from those doctrines and way of life, there was a means to remove them from membership. This is vital because church membership is a church’s testimony that we believe an individual is a Christian. If that person can deny essential truths and/or live in unrepentant sin, there is no reason to believe that person is a genuine believer. To allow them to remain as a church member is to contribute to that individual’s self-deception. Or course, church discipline isn’t just excluding members. It isn’t merely corrective, but is also formative. I’ll let others explain that later.

For the earliest Southern Baptists, church discipline was essential to healthy church life. A popular and influential church manual in the nineteenth century gave three reasons for church discipline:

  1. The Glory of God.
  2. The Purity of the Churches.
  3. The Spiritual good of the disciplined.

So important was church discipline that the early nineteenth-century Baptist theologian, John L. Dagg (1794–1884) said, “When discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.” This may explain the powerlessness of our churches today!

One of the most common questions I’m asked whenever I talk about church discipline is, “Does anyone really do that anymore?” American Baptist Historian Greg Wills has addressed the issue of the decline of church discipline in the late nineteenth century:

After the Civil War, Baptist observers began to lament that church discipline was foundering, and it was. It declined partly because it became more burdensome in larger churches…. Urban churches, pressed by the need for large buildings and the desire for refined music and preaching, subordinated church discipline to the task of keeping the church solvent. Many Baptists shared a new vision of the church, replacing the pursuit of purity with the quest for efficiency. They lost the resolve to purge their churches of straying members.

No one publicly advocated the demise of discipline. No Baptist leader arose to call for an end to congregational censures. No theologians argued that discipline was unsound in principle or practice. No “freedom” party arose to quash the tyranny of the redeemed. It simply faded away, as if Baptists had grown weary of holding one another accountable. Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion, 9.

So, as Baptist churches became more prominent and big city, they increasingly lost the will to practice church discipline. But church discipline continued to be practiced well in to the early 20th century in rural areas in the south. Before I came to Frankfort, I served as the pastor of a small church in East Tennessee that was founded in 1908. Their church minute book was filled with cases of church discipline prior to World War II. When I was teaching the church and leading the church to embrace church discipline, this minute book was a tremendous resource to answer the question, “Would our church ever practice church discipline?”

Jan. 21, 1923 – Received acknowledgment by Littlefield of being drunk. He said he was guilty and sorry. No further action was taken.

March 4, 1923 – Charge against Mcfaller for drunkeness, a move and second to withdraw fellowship from him. What is the difference? Repentance

Oct. 13, 1923 – A charge against Homer Rogers for unchristian conduct and gave him till next meeting to report to the church.

Nov. 10, 1923 – Gave Homer extra month.

December 9, 1923 – Homer removed from church roll. Charges brought against Guyder.

Jan. 12, 1924 – Guyder removed from church roll.

Sept. 25, 1924 – Guyder restored to church roll.

March 7, 1925 – If a member comes to S.S. and leaves before preaching they are to be dealt with.

July 11, 1925 – Charges preferred against Pete Williams for denying the faith of the missionary Baptist doctrine. Withdrew fellowship. Charges preferred against Herbert Ryans for public drunkeness and swearing. Withdrew fellowship.

Oct. 11, 1925 – Deal with any members missing more than 60 days in Church service without legal excuse.

Jan. 17, 1926 – Charge against Gladys Underwood for fornication, removed. 25 people removed for Covenant breaking.

Feb. 20, 1926 – Motion to withdraw fellowship from Genette Golf for denying the faith of the missionary Baptist.

July 17, 1926 – Tommy Richeson removed for transporting whiskey.

April 17, 1927 – 4 charged w. nonattendance, 1 charged with unchristian conduct, 1 excluded for drunkenness.
Minute Book of West Broadway Baptist Church, Lenoir City, TN

Eventually, even the rural churches were influenced by their urban counterparts and the practice of church discipline faded as churches became more concerned about being viewed as successful by our culture than being faithful to Christ. It is hoped that now, as our churches are increasingly not cultural acceptable that we will return to the Scriptures to find our true measure of success in our submission to Christ’s authority over His church. Perhaps this will be the means that God uses to bring the long-desired revival to our churches.

Book Review: Baptists in America: A History by Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins

Baptists-in-America.9780199977536.Hero.2

In Baptists in America: A History, Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins, both professors of history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, show how American Baptists have functioned alternatively as outsiders and insiders in American culture. Tracing Baptists from their beginning in the new world as a persecuted minority all the way to their late 20th-century prominence in the culture wars, Kidd and Hankins demonstrate that individual Baptists have often enjoyed acceptance while others have been maligned. It is a compelling narrative expertly told.

The authors are to be commended for not merely painting with a broad brush, but for dipping down into some of the individual stories and weaving the narratives together seamlessly. More than merely descriptive, Kidd and Hankins also delve into how theology shaped practice in particular areas. Most fascinating in this regard is their analysis of how the “soul competency” theology of Edgar Young Mullins (4th president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) accounts for how even progressive Southern Baptists were so little engaged in the Civil Rights movement (221-225).

While excellent overall, as a frequent reader of Baptist history I thought certain treatments were the best I have seen heretofore in an American Baptist survey text. I thought the treatments of “Baptists and Slavery” (chapter 6), “Baptist Schism in the Early Twentieth Century” (chapter 10), “Baptists and the Civil Rights Movement” (chapter 12), and “Schism in Zion: The Southern Baptist Controversy” (chapter 13) were especially well done. What made these treatments unique was the balanced way in which these controversial topics were discussed with an apparent attempt to understand and explain the why and how behind developments that could be viewed both positively and negatively.

Even the conclusion (chapter 14) is fruitful as the authors explore the markers of Baptist identity, briefly discussing important distinctives such as religious liberty, soul liberty, the authority of Scripture, and the separation of church and state. This book focused on the dual nature of Baptists variously and at sundry times as insiders and outsiders. This evidence is surveyed in the concluding chapter; but the authors also seek to drop some conclusions about what makes a Baptist a Baptist. Noting the extreme diversity of Baptists, they rightly show that we cannot “make broad claims about what makes Baptists distinct.” Instead, we should talk about what “most” or “some” Baptists believed and did. Nevertheless, the authors do propose “three features that mark all Baptists throughout history”: (1) Baptism for believers only, (2) independence of local congregations, (3) Willingness to call themselves Baptists (251).

I recommend this book to all who want to understand the history of Baptists in America or the impact of Baptists on American culture (and vice versa). It will serve as an excellent textbook for a history of religion in America or American Baptists elective course on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. This book raises all the important issues and will make for a great discussion starter, while at the same time being a competent guide, for the doctrinal and practical issues that have been, and continue to be, debated by Baptists. This book could also prove useful for those from other religious traditions, or “none,” who want to understand the complexity, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, identity of Baptists.