On being Baptist, Reformed, and catholic | Michael Haykin

by | Aug 25, 2022 | Church History


Catholicity is a beautiful word. It depicts the truth found in texts like John 17:20-23 and Ephesians 4:1-6. It was considered one of the notae of the church by the earliest “servants of the Word” in late Antiquity (the others being oneness, holiness, and apostolicity). It has energized some of God’s choicest servants like Basil of Caesarea and John Calvin. And it is deeply needed in our day.


But, I fear, it is more praised than actively sought. Take the tradition to which I unashamedly belong: that of the Particular, or Calvinist, Baptists who trace their roots back to men like Henry Jessey and Hanserd Knollys and Thomas Patient and John Miles and especially William Kiffen, all of them in the 17the century. I believe they rightly recovered some key apostolic emphases with regard to ecclesiology wherein they came to differ from others who were like-minded in their Reformed theology. Yet they maintained these distinctives with hearts shaped by catholicity.


Some of this, I am sure, has to do with the influence of the irenic Henry Jessey in the early years of the lates 1630s and early 1640s. Persecution during the regimes of Charles II and James II, when they found themselves in prison with Dissenters of various stripes, also played a role in creating this spirit of catholicity.


Whatever the causes one, cannot gainsay the mark of catholicity that is found among these Baptists in the late 17th century (and that despite enormous tensions over certain ecclesial matters like eligibility at the Lord’s Table and hymn-singing). And at the close of the 18th century, one finds it again richly displayed and lived out. Consider Andrew Fuller.


His disagreements with High Calvinists like William Button did not prevent him from remaining on good terms with the London minister and enjoying fellowship with him. He was not slow to critique the Sandemanianism of Archibald MacLean but again Fuller and MacLean enjoyed times of rich fellowship. The same is true of Fuller and his friendship with the Arminian New Connexion Baptist leader Dan Taylor. In Scotland he fellowshipped with various Presbyterians and in England prayed with Evangelical stalwarts like John Berridge. The same is the case with a number of Particular Baptists in Fuller’s day, men like John Oulton of Liverpool, Anne Dutton, Andrew Gifford the younger, James Hinton of Oxford, Daniel Turner, John Fawcett, John Sutcliff of Olney, and John Ryland Jr and his father of the same name, John Collett Ryland.


In our day, we have seen a recovery of the theology of these Fathers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but not this nota of their churchmanship. Reformed Baptists, especially in North America, tend to be fractious individuals who have divided over a variety of issues. Indeed, anyone with a knowledge of the fissiparousness of American Fundamentalism might conclude that modern Reformed Baptists might adhere to Reformed theology per se, but their ethos is drawn from the squabbles of twentieth-century Fundamentalism.


When I began to study the Particular Baptist heritage and to sense a call to engage in genuine ressourcement of both the theology and ethos of this tradition, I met a living paragon of this glorious tradition, namely Erroll Hulse. What a remarkable Christian leader and author he was, especially in this area of Christian unity. He played a key role in the publication of my One heart and one soul; John Sutcliff of Olney, his friends and his times and also my Kiffin, Knollys and Keach (1st ed.).  In some ways, Pastor Hulse stamped his vision of Christian unity, especially among Baptists who claim to be within the Reformed camp, upon my soul and thus gave me a profound dissatisfaction with present-day Reformed Baptist practice when it comes to this vital nota of the Church.


Oh, that we might preserve the unity of all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity!


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Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

“Is it true that all people are equally sinful? If someone has sinful anger in his heart, but never acts on it, is that person really the same as someone who has sinful anger in his heart and then murders his whole family?”

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