Church History

“The Church of Christ, who upon Confession of Faith have bin Baptised”: Hercules Collins and Baptist Ecclesiology

This afternoon (November 19th) at 4:30 PM, I will present a paper titled: “The Church of Christ, who upon Confession of Faith have bin Baptised”: Hercules Collins and Baptist Ecclesiology (PDF) at the 66th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in San Diego, California. The paper is part of the Puritan Study Group which has an annual slot at ETS featuring paper on, you guessed it, Puritans and Puritanism. The theme of the annual meeting this year is Ecclesiology and the Puritan Study Group chose to focus on the topic: “A House Divided: Competing Views of Puritan Ecclesiology.” Below is the schedule for the session. I’m not sure if they saved the best ecclesiology for last or the worse paper. Either way, my paper wraps up the session beginning at 4:30 PM.

2:00 PM-5:10 PM
PURITAN STUDIES
A House Divided: Competing
Views of Puritan Ecclesiology
Room: Towne
MODERATOR: STEPHEN YUILLE
(Redeemer Seminary)

2:00 PM—2:40 PM
W. BRADFORD LITTLEJOHN
(The Davenant Trust)
What Makes a ‘Puritan’? Hooker,
Ussher, and English Reformed
Episcopacy

2:50 PM—3:30 PM
MARK JONES*
(University of the Free State)
“The (True?) Gospel Coalition”:
English Presbyterianism in Puritan
England

3:40 PM—4:20 PM
STEPHEN YUILLE
(Redeemer Seminary)
The Primitive Institution of Christ’s
Church: Thomas Goodwin and
Congregational Polity

4:30 PM—5:10 PM
STEVE WEAVER
(Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies)
“The Church of Christ, who upon
Confession of Faith have bin
Baptised”: Hercules Collins and
Baptist Ecclesiology

You can download a copy of the paper I will present here (PDF) and you can order the audio here.

Billy Graham’s Favorite Hymn

Yesterday (November 7th) was Billy Graham’s 96th birthday. As Evangelist Billy Graham nears the end of what by any estimation has been a remarkable life, some scholarly analysis is being given to where his life and ministry fit into the broader context of church and American history. One such study is America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation by noted American religious historian Grant Wacker. Another, more personal, study of Graham has also appeared recently. It is a collection of the transcripts of the television interviews conducted between Graham and Sir David Frost over thirty years. Billy Graham: Candid Conversations with a Public Man offers unique insight into Billy Graham and his perspective over the years on everything from biblical issues and contemporary (now historical) events. Between the book’s introduction and its first chapter there is a fascinating short exchange between Graham and Frost from 1997 in which the famous evangelist indicates his favorite hymn. Here’s the exchange:

Frost: What is the hymn that means the most to you?
Graham: You have a hymn in England that I first learned when I was there in the early fifties, “And Can It Be.”
Frost: “— that I should gain—”
Graham: “— that I should gain—”
Frost: “— An interest in the Savior’s blood; died He for me who caused His pain, for me who Him to death pursued.”
Graham: Good for you. That’s the one that is my favorite hymn.

April 1997

Sir David Frost, Billy Graham: Candid Conversations with a Public Man (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014), 15.

This hymn by Charles Wesley also happens to be one of my favorites. I wrote a theological and devotional analysis of the hymn here. If you don’t know the hymn already, you should check it out. You can listen to the song and follow along with the theologically rich lyrics below.

The Third Sunday of September of 1978

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Upstairs window is in bedroom where my father was converted.

On the third Sunday of September of 1978, I was four years old. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my mom and dad were having marriage problems. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, they decided to go to church and turn over a new leaf. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, they were having an argument about the second coming in Sunday School at Bell Avenue Baptist Church in Lenoir City, TN. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, the pastor wrapped up the Sunday School hour by saying, “No matter what you believe about the timing of the second coming, one thing’s for sure. Jesus is coming again and you better be ready. If you’re not a believer you should tell your friends and family that are trusting in Christ good-bye, because when Jesus comes you will be forever separated.” On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad was struck with his lost condition and fell under conviction. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad went forward during the invitation and prayed, but could find no peace. He asked God for a sign and for a feeling, but no sign or feeling came. He stayed in the altar until everyone else had gone home and his legs began to ache. Finally, he went home himself still with no peace. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, he went up to the upstairs back bedroom of 701 Kingston Street, Lenoir City, TN. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, he cried out, “God, I’ve done all I know to do. All I know to do now is trust You!” On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad received assurance of his sins forgiven and his life was transformed. He was almost immediately called to preach and within two years was serving as pastor of his first church. My dad’s life was forever changed and so was mine and my siblings.

On this third Sunday of September I am spending the night in the city where my father was converted 3 dozen years ago and I can’t help but think about how different my life would have been had God not saved my father that day. I would likely not have ever met my wife. My children would not exist. I would not be a preacher of the same gospel that saved my dad. On this third Sunday of September I am grateful to God for His providential grace shown on the third Sunday of September of 1978.

The First General Assembly of Particular Baptists (1689)

1689 GA Cover PageAfter the Act of Toleration, which was passed by Parliament in 1688 and enacted by the king on May 24, 1689, dissenters began to exercise their new-found freedom to assemble publicly to great avail. In 1689, the Baptists gathered in London for their first national assembly. This group of “divers Pastors, Messengers and Ministring Brethren of the Baptized Churches” met in London from September 3-12, 1689, and claimed to represent “more than one hundred Congregations of the same Faith with Themselves.”[1] The common faith which distinguished this group of churches is specified on the cover page as “the Doctrine of Personal Election, and final Perseverance.”[2] This group would further identify themselves in their first meeting by adopting what would become known as the Second London Confession of Faith. This confession was originally composed and published in 1677 having originated in the Petty France congregation under the oversight of William Collins and Nehemiah Coxe.[3] The confession was republished in 1688[4] and subsequently adopted by the General Assembly in 1689. The members of the assembly declared that this confession contained “the Doctrine of our Faith and Practice” and expressed their desire that “the Members of our Churches respectively do furnish themselves therewith.”[5] When the confession was published for the third time in 1699, it included the signatures of thirty-seven ministers and messengers of the Assembly who had allowed their names to be affixed “In the name and behalf of the whole Assembly.”[6] Among the signatories were such men as William Collins, Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, Benjamin Keach, and  Hercules Collins.

The primary purpose of the general assemblies was stated in a letter to the churches printed in the published minutes of the inaugural meeting. The messengers gathered,

chiefly to consider of the present state and condition of all the Congregations respectively under our Care and Charge; and what might be the causes of that Spiritual Decay and loss of Strength, Beauty and Glory in our Churches; and to see (if we might be helped by the Lord herein), what might be done to attain to a better and more prosperous State and Condition.[7]

Accordingly, they spent the first day “in humbling ourselves before the Lord, and to seek of him a right way to direct into the best Means and Method to repair our Breaches, and to recover our selves into our former Order, Beauty, and Glory.”[8] The assembly also issued a call for a day of humiliation and fasting for the churches they represented, to be held on October 10, 1689.[9] The primary function of the assemblies was to provide advice and counsel to the churches. The messengers clearly wanted to disavow themselves from any sense that they were an authoritative body. Indeed, their first declaration was to “disclaim all manner of Superiority, Superintendency over the Churches; and that we have no Authority or Power, to prescribe or impose any thing upon the Faith or Practice of any of the Churches of Christ.” They would go on to state their intention merely “to be helpers together of one another, by way of Counsel and Advice, in the right understanding of that Perfect Rule which our Lord Jesus, the only Bishop of our Souls, hath prescribed, and given to his Churches in his Word.”[10] Thus, much of their time meeting together was spent responding to queries posed by the messengers on behalf of their respective congregations. Their most significant action historically, however, was the adoption of the 1677 Baptist Confession of Faith, which would prove to have a lasting impact on Baptist life and thought down to the present day.

___________________

[1]A Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly Of divers Pastors, Messengers and Ministring Brethren of the Baptized Churches, met together in London, from Septemb. 3. To 12. 1689, from divers parts of England and Wales: Owning the Doctrine of Personal Election, and final Perseverance (London, 1689), 1.

[2]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 1.

[3]Petty France Church Minute Book, 1.

[4]A Confession of Faith, Put forth by the Elders and Brethren Of many Congregations of Christians, (Baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country (London: John Harris, 1688).

[5]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 18.

[6]A Confession of Faith, Put forth by the Elders and Brethren Of many Congregations of Christians (Baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Countrey, 3rd ed. (London: S. Bridge, 1699), back cover; Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 239.

[7]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 3.

[8]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 9.

[9]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 7.

[10]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 10.

C. S. Lewis on Reading Old Books

C. S. Lewis, in his Introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, warned that: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” He went on to explain:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

Postscript:  I wrote and scheduled this post for publication last week. Since that time, my friend David Schrock posted “Twelve ‘Old Books’ Every Christian Should Read”, inspired, in part, by Lewis’ admonition quoted above. It is a great list that will get you started on your quest to read old books!

Evangelistic Letter to Benjamin Franklin from George Whitefield

On August 17, 1752, the famed Great Awakening preacher George Whitefield penned a letter from London to his Colonial American friend, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin and Whitefield had become close friends during a previous preaching tour of Whitefield in the colonies. They had collaborated on publishing projects and Franklin was fascinated by Whitefield’s preaching, though he remained unconverted. As the following letter reveals, Whitefield had an obvious concern for his friend’s soul. I believe this letter is a model of ways to engage unconverted friends and family. I love the line: “As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth.” Understated on so many levels!

Below see a transcription of the letter and below that an image of the letter as it appears in the 3 volume A Select Collection of Letters of the Late Reverend George Whitefield (London: Edward and Charles Dilly, 1772), 2:440. This letter is accessible on Google Books here.

Dear Mr. F——,                      London, Aug. 17, 1752

Inclosed you have a letter for Mr. R—–. I hope that promotion will do him no hurt. May God help him to make a stand against vice and prophaneness, and to exert his utmost efforts in promoting true religion and virtue! This is the whole of man. I find that you grow more and more famous in the learned world. As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth. It is a most important, interesting study, and when mastered, will richly answer and repay you for all your pains. One at whose bar we are shortly to appear, hath solemnly declared, that without it, “we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” You will excuse this freedom. I must have aliquid Christi in all my letters. I am yet a willing pilgrim for his great name sake, and I trust a blessing attends my poor feeble labours. To the giver of every good gift be all the glory. My respects await your whole self, and all enquiring friends, and hoping to see you yet once more in this land of the dying, I subscribe myself, dear Sir,

Your very affectionate friend, and obliged servant,
G. W.

Letter to Franklin from Whitefield

Make plans to join us in Louisville, Kentucky on October 21-22 for a concentrated two days focused on George Whitefield and his legacy.

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Speaking Truth to Power: Thomas Helwys and Our Baptist Heritage

A short Declaration cover pageIn 1612, the proto-Baptist Thomas Helwys published a book entitled A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity. In an original edition of the work preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, there is a handwritten note on the flyleaf of the work addressed to King James I from Thomas Helwys. This volume was apparently a dedication copy to be presented to the King of England. Helwys, who had just returned to England from the Netherlands with a band of baptized believers,* intended to make a statement to the King regarding religious liberty. Apparently, the King received the message as Helwys was unsurprisingly arrested shortly thereafter and languished in the infamous Newgate Prison until he died four years later in 1616. Helwys’ courageous address to the King of England deserves to be read and remembered as we consider the Baptist contribution to religious liberty. Baptists have a rich heritage of speaking truth to power, often at great risk.

Below is a transcription of the text of Helwys handwritten note to King James I and below that is a photocopy of the original.
     Heare, O King, and dispise not ye counsell of ye poore and let their complaints come before thee.
     The King is a mortall man and not God, therefore hath no power over ye immortall soules of his subiects, to make lawes & ordinances for them, and to set spirituall Lords over them.
     If the King have authority to make spirituall Lords & lawes, then he is an immortall God and not a mortall man.
     O King be not seduced by deceivers to sine so against God whome thou oughtest to obey, nor against thy poore subiects who ought and will obey thee in all thinges with body life and goods or els let their lives be taken from ye earth.
     God save ye Kinge
Tho: Helwys.
Spittlefeild
neare London.
Thomas Helwys Dedication to King James
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*Helwys and his followers had been baptized by affusion, i.e., pouring as believers.