Historic Revisionism and the Doctrine of Successful Atonement

re·vi·sion·ism

noun

derogatory
noun: revisionism
Peter Lumpkins’ posted a new article at his blog, Synergism Tomorrow, concerning a byline in A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, written in 1813 by historian David Benedict. According to Benedict’s source, Chandler, the founding of the Baptist church in Providence under Roger Williams “…held particular redemption; but soon after deviated to general redemption.” So,  Lumpkins opines…

“Why is it that Baptist Calvinists apparently have a very difficult time holding on to particular redemption? Or, more popularly known today, Limited Atonement?

Personally, I think the answer, at least in part, remains crystal clear. Limited Atonement is little more than a biblically-naked speculation, a mere logical deduction from Calvinist presuppositions. Lacking a single incontrovertible biblical text to substantiate the peculiar doctrine developed, for the most part, in post-Dort scholastic Calvinism, Limited Atonement cannot find a stable place in the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of Bible-believing Christians throughout history. In short, Limited Atonement keeps slip slidin away.”

Perhaps Lumpkins should better familiarize himself with the life and legacy of both Roger Williams and what Peter claims is the  “First Baptist Church in America.” Once again, those with the historic ineptitude to desperately and continually search for the missing link between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Anabaptists (which is just as hopeless and imaginary as finding a real live Sasquatch) have failed to take seriously the work of a historian.

Not only does Williams – according to Benedict’s source – “slip and slide” away from Limited Atonement, he slipped and slid away from the Baptist tradition and probably, Christianity entirely. Williams remained Baptist for only a very short time, someone should inform Peter, and soon abandoned all churches altogether, claiming an apostolic line was broken and therefore churches – and particularly their ordinances – lacked authority and were hopelessly fraudulent.

“There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking.” – Roger Williams 2

Of Williams’ apostasy, James Knowles writes in 1834, “We may conclude then that he left the church not because he had any doubts respecting the nature of baptism nor because he had been baptized by a layman but because he believed that no man is now authorized to administer the ordinances and that no true church can exist till the apostolic ministry shall be restored. With these views he could not conscientiously remain connected with any church nor regard his baptism as valid.”3

Perhaps if Lumpkins would like a more orthodox example to draw from, he might turn his attention to Williams’ contemporary and compatriot in the Baptist quest for religion freedom, John Clarke. Clarke, who along with Obadiah Holmes and John Crandall, were beaten severely at the hands of Boston officials for observing Baptist communion (the event that precipitated the British crown giving a charter for Rhode Island that mandated religion toleration) was a staunch five-point Calvinist and founder of the Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Both churches started in 1638. Clarke’s church remained solidly Calvinistic and holding to Limited Atonement and the other Biblical doctrines defined by the term “Calvinism” until and even after the first Arminian malcontents left to form their Synergistic congregation in 1656, forming the 2nd Baptist Church of Newport. Both Williams’ and Clarke’s congregations began in 1638 and an argument exists to this day as to which one was first.4

The difference between Williams and Clarke concerning their Baptist credentials couldn’t be clearer. Dr. Louis Asher of the Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary wrote, “Unlike Roger Williams and his vacillating opinions in religious practices, Clarke opposed even the slightest compliance to the Puritan rule; that is mere attendance in one of their churches. Moreover Clarke never wavered from his Baptist convictions.”5

There’s no doubt as to which of these two first churches were founded by men who could truly be called “Baptist.” Clarke’s church, as opposed to Williams’, had no qualms with a firm and resolute confession of a Successful Atonement.* Even after nearly one-hundred and fifty years, the doctrine of the church had not changed from the beginning in any discernible way.6

Beyond Clarke’s convictions concerning the doctrine of a Successful Atonement (which was ample enough), please consider the second pastor of First Baptist Church of Newport (and far more colorful character), Obadiah Holmes – who held the position far longer than Clarke at 30 whole years and their mutual doctrinal statement as adopted by the church, which you can find here [Peter, if you’re reading this, I have an extra copy on my office shelf and I’ll be happy to send you a free copy].

Of Clarke’s stout commitment to a successful atonement, Asher writes, “particular redemption or limited atonement was a descriptive tenet of the Particular Baptists of London, a group with which Dr. Clarke was associated. Like the Puritan and Presbyterian theology, the Regular Baptist with Clarke believed the doctrine of God’s election to eternal life was according to His sovereign will and pleasure. To Clarke, the atonement was for believers as he stated in Article 12: [to] all that are or shall be saved.”7

Even though Clarke’s church is at least as old as Williams, Clarke’s Successful Atonement church quickly outgrew the church that embraced a General Redemption and whose pastor left the Baptist tradition, so much so that Asher writes “The only active Baptist ministry, in fact, in all of New England by 1650 was initiated and supported by the Newport church under the leadership of Dr. Clarke, Elders Lucar, and Obadiah Holmes.”

When we try to do the work of history through an agenda – whether trying to erase the Calvinistic Baptist heritage of the SBC or find traces of Anabaptist influence, both of which are futile endeavors – we do a disservice to ourselves and those we’re writing about. And although Peter tries his best to untie our Baptist heritage from our Calvinist forbears, his argument makes a point that I’ve been trying to make for some years. As we abandon our belief in the Scripture’s clear teachings on matters like the extent of the atonement, Downgrade seeps into our churches. Williams abandoned Successful Atonement, and with it, orthodoxy. That church today has abandoned almost all of our cherished Baptist traditions, along with the inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ and a complementarian ecclesiology.

As Roger Williams’ life (along with the history of his church) demonstrates, abandoning Successful Atonement and other doctrines that keep humanity in its place and gives God’s glory to whom it is due, is precisely what leads to theological Downgrade.

 

[Contributed by JD Hall]

* That’s what I call Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption (It’s my blog. I’ll call it what I want).  All of these terms, in their most innate essence, demonstrate the glory of a Savior who accomplished what he came to do.

 

2. Picturesque America, pg 502 (William Cullen Bryant, 1872)

3. Memoir of Roger Williams, The Founder of the State of Rhode Island, pg 173 (James D Knowles, 1834)

4. History of the First Baptist Church of Portsmouth, RI (C.E. Barrows, 1876)

5. John Clarke (1609-1676), (Louis Asher, 1997).

6. History of the First Baptist Church of Portsmouth, RI (C.E. Barrows, 1876), 41.

7. John Clarke (1609-1676), pg 95, (Louis Asher, 1997).

8. Ibid, pg 65.

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