Bible, Devotional Reading, Gospel Spirituality

What is faithfulness selling?

Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.“ (Hebrews 11:35)

We tend to seek our happiness in this life versus the next. Some have quibed that one can be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. As a result, our focus can be on our paneled houses (Haggai 1:4) rather than our heavenly home. As a middle-class American living in the suburbs I feel the temptation to seek happiness in material things. I feel the tug to pour my energy into earthly plans. However, I have also seen how those temptations can pull my focus and energy away from faithfully following the Lord and spreading his gospel message.

Hebrews 11 is the great Hall of Faith passage. These examples are held up as virtuous ideals for us to follow. Hebrews 11 provides a vision for the faithful life. Hebrews 11, therefore, is important because faithfulness is the great biblical virtue that leads to salvation.

But, an interesting thing happens in the middle of Hebrews 11:35. The first sentence reads, “Women received back their dead by resurrection.” This is likely a reference 1 Kings 17:22-23 and 2 Kings 4:36. I find it very appealing when I read that a result of faithfulness is resurrection from the dead. My hope is in heaven and seeing those beloved friends and family again. Further, I wish that faith worked like a magic formula and could have kept those beloved from not dying. If faithfulness is selling resurrection from the dead, I’m buying!

However, the interesting twist is the second sentence of Hebrews 11:35. It reads, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.” This is likely a reference to the suffering of God’s People during the Maccabean revolt. Most middle-class American suburbanites will likely pause their purchase if faithfulness is selling torture and imprisonment. However, faithfulness leading to torture and imprisonment is a “better life” here and leads to a “better life” in the hereafter. Hebrews 11:36 is teaching us about a “better life” than self absorbed materialism in this world.

This verse reminds us of those faithful Huguenot women who chose decades in the Tower of Constance rather than recanting their gospel faith for a works based righteousness. They grew old in that tower. They were cold and hungry in that tower. They lost their children in that Tower. However, they found something in that Tower that is better than anything this world can offer. Because their faithfulness was not based upon gaining this world, they gained a “better life” in the world to come.

Faithfulness is about being so heavenly minded that you end up becoming earthly good. Pursue faithfulness to the Word, hope in heaven, and you will “rise again to a better life.”

Standard
Politics

Should Christians Be One Issue Voters?

It depends on the issue. Liberal Christians are getting increasingly vocal and hostile towards conservative Christians over the issue of being one issue voters. They seem to think the Democratic platform is more consistent with Christian values than the Republican platform and argue that Christians should not be one issue voters.

However, I don’t think they would want to apply their logic to the election of the first Republican president. Lincoln became president because Christians in the north united over the one issue of slavery. They believed that slavery was evil and they should form a political party around that one issue and elect a candidate on that one issue. I believe they were not only right to do so, but also courageous.

However, we should be careful about the one issue that becomes so prominent. For example, an important industry to our region is the oil and gas industry. I personally benefit from this industry as my grandfather started an oil and gas company in the 1940s. However, I believe it would be selfish if that was the one issue that determined how I voted. I appreciate teachers. I was forever impacted by great teachers, I have a lot of teachers in my family, and I also teach a course at a local Christian high school. However, again, I don’t think education issues should be the only issue that drives my vote. Both are important but fracking laws and teacher pay simply do not rise to the level of forming a new political party.

But, are liberal Christians’ premises true? Are conservative Christians really one issue voters? Is the Democratic platform (minus the abortion issue) really more consistent with a biblical worldview?

My strong assumption is that abortion is a central issue for most conservative Protestants and Catholics. However, I think it would be good for liberal Christians to hear that most conservative Christians are concerned about a series of issues beyond abortion. For example, they are concerned the left is content to chip away our religious liberty like targeting a baker to write words that violate his religion or forcing nuns to pay for abortifacients. Liberals have preyed upon and harassed Mr. Phillips and the Little Sisters of the Poor for years now. Senators Feinstein, Sanders, and Harris have also harassed Christians for their biblical beliefs in Senate confirmation hearings. Christians are also concerned that liberals are trying to take away their free speech like the example of Chike Uzuegbunam being told he can’t preach the gospel at the free speech area of his Georgia college. Christians are also concerned that secular liberals continue to legislate from the bench robbing the voice of the people in cases like Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Further, in the pandemic, liberal politicians have had clear double standards against church gatherings like Calvary Chapel in Dayton, NV and Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA. I pray my progressive friends can hear that conservative Christians are actually fearful of progressive politicians and policies. Conservative Christians are not one issue voters, they have a growing list of concerns with the left.

It is also obvious to most people that when comparing the two general platforms of the political parties, it is not persuasive that the Democrats have a more biblical worldview. Like liberals, conservative Christians care about the poor, but a theological understanding of poverty has been disregarded by the left. Like liberals, most conservative Christians care about issues of racism, but probably don’t agree with radical solutions like defunding the police. We understand that the right has had racist parts of its history, but so has liberalism and the Democratic party. Like liberals, most conservative Christians understand far right immigration proposals are unloving and unrealistic. However, the solutions provided by the far left are also unrealistic and unloving to those hurt by our immigration policies. Like liberals, most conservative Christians want to treat people with kindness and decency, but most conservative Christians see wokeness as ridiculous and cancel culture as dangerous.

To my liberal friends, there are bridges to be built on issues of education, racism, caring for the impoverished, and immigration. However, Christians feel like you kicked us out of your discussions long ago. We are having trouble going along with your solutions because they are so radical and don’t take into account our convictions.

To my liberal friends, most conservative Christians younger than 45 (that I know) don’t like Trump. However, they are actually scared of the far left. Why couldn’t those two guys have just found another baker? Why couldn’t the Obama administration respect the religious convictions of those nuns? Why couldn’t that Georgia college just let one of their students exercise his free speech?

Should Christians be one issue voters? Maybe. Abortion is the greatest injustice in our country today. The killing of unborn children rises to the level of slavery in the 1850s. If there is an issue that rises to the level of being that one ultimate issue, then abortion is it. I know the Republicans have taken advantage of that conviction, but where else am I supposed to go?

Liberal friends, the problems are much deeper than one issue. This really has not been a case for abortion being the one issue that should guide Christians votes. My hope in asking the question is to help my liberal friends see that Christians are not one issues voters, but not because it is wrong to be a one issue voter if the issue is something has monumental as slavery or abortion. Rather, my hope is to help my liberal friends see that Christians have a long list of issues that push us away from liberalism. Christians are not, in the end, one issue voters because there is a growing list of concerns with the radical left.

Liberal friends, bring us into the conversation. Be willing to compromise. It could get you some votes.

Standard
Bible, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW “Controlling Anger: Responding Constructively When Life Goes Wrong” by David Powlison

Powlison’s booklet is the best starting point to understand the nature of anger and how to express anger in healthy righteous ways. Controlling Anger is published by New Growth Press in partnership with CCEF. It is only fifteen pages and can be downloaded to Kindle. Students and adults will both find it readable. This booklet is a great summary of the Bible’s view of anger and the solutions it provides.

Controlling_Anger__98832.1577802711.1280.1280__81333.1578095475

Powlison begins by noting, “Anger needs to be acknowledged and expressed in a positive way, as a form of doing what is good and right.” We become angry when something is important to us and when we believe that something is wrong. Therefore, anger in and of itself is not bad. But, the problem is when we get angry about things that we should not get angry about. Anger can also go wrong when the thing we think is important becomes more important to us than God himself. Anger can also be a problem when we “respond to a true wrong in the wrong way.”

The solution to our anger problems begin with believing  God is in charge and thus the judge. This solution is not about superficial techniques and strategies, but about genuinely believing gospel truths. This enables us to make our anger redemptive. God sent his son to die to make right what was wrong. In a similar way we can bear the burden of a wrong and forgive the wrongdoer. Gospel approaches to anger lead to constructive responses. Powlison explains that applying the gospel to our anger leads to patience, mercy, forgiveness, and honesty.

What I find most helpful about Powilson’s booklet is his practical tool to express anger constructively. In short, he calls angry people to go to God for help. When we are angry he tells us to ask ourselves four questions. First, “What is happening around me when I get angry?” This question helps us understand the heart of our anger. Second, “How do I act when I get angry?” This step is also about understanding the nature of our anger especially how we express it in sinful ways. Third, “What were my expectations (what did I want, need, demand) when I became angry?” This question leads us to discover how we are playing God in the situation. Fourth, “What message does God, in his Word, have for me that will speak to my anger?” This drives us to the Bible to find solutions. Finally, Powlison calls angry people to ask God for help. He reminds us that God loves us and desires to change us.

I recommend this booklet as a first step for those struggling with anger. If you struggle with anger, God is loving enough and powerful enough to help. Go to him!

Standard
Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: “Overcoming Anxiety: Relief for Worried People” by David Powlison

Powlison’s booklet is the best starting point for people trying to understand their anxiety. It is published by New Growth Press, is only 16 pages, and can be downloaded to Kindle. The booklet is a readable summary of the problem of anxiety as well as how the gospel is the solution.

Overcoming_Anxiety__20566.1578097719

He begins by explaining there is “a right kind of anxiety that leads us to express loving concern for others in the midst of their trouble.” There are also a number of valid reasons to be anxious. However, anxiety can become a problem, even sinful, when we overreact to legitimate problems and become too upset about troubles. Powlison summarizes, “In every situation where you feel sinfully anxious, you believe something is threatening your world. Your world feels out of control; you are afraid something bad might happen; and you are trying to control your world to keep bad things from taking place.”

Faith in God is the solution when we are anxious. Powilson explains, “When we lose sight of God, we try to control our world on our own, and become filled with worry.” But, the solution is that “God wants us to know him so intimately and trust him so completely that our desire to fix our troubles in our own way will no longer consume us.” A helpful verse when we are anxious is Psalm 94:19, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul.”

Powilson then takes the reader to Philippians 4:5-7 in order to highlight some key truths to believe when we are anxious. First, the Lord is near (Philippians 4:5). He explains, “When you know that Jesus is near, the worried, obsessed, sinful anxiety dissipates.” Second, the Lord is listening (Philippians 4:6). Third, the Lord is guarding you with his peace (Philippians 4:7). Believing these truths leads to the opposite of anxiety which is contentment.

Powlison closes with some practical tips including making your request known to God, parking your mind on what you know is true, tackling the real problem the right way, and understanding your anxiety attacks. He also addresses the question of whether people should take medication when they are anxious. He explains that anxiety medication alleviates symptoms, but does not address the underlying problem. This does not mean he advocates not taking the medicine because they can help someone calm down. However, medicine should not replace “the hard work of learning to trust God and depend upon him.”

If you are struggling with anxiety, grab Powilson’s booklet and hear his closing encouragement, “Take a step of faith, and decide today to go to God with your anxiety. He will not disappoint you.”

Standard
Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: “Help! I Get Panic Attacks” by Lucy Ann Moll

If you struggle with panic attacks Lucy Ann Moll’s mini book is a great place to start on your journey of discovering how the gospel helps you. This is only 64 pages and can be read in a couple of evenings. She does a great job of providing biblical counsel, but also acknowledges the place of medicine.

71l+vF0AznL

Over four chapters she shares her own journey with panic attacks, but also some biblical ways to think about being overcome with fear as well as some gospel solutions and practical tips. From experience she boldly proclaims, “God can also use your panic attacks for good.”

In the first chapter she explains a panic attack as “an extreme fear experience which is out of proportion to the actual situation.” She acknowledges healthy fear, but puts panic attacks in the category of unhealthy fears. She also addresses the physical symptoms of panic attacks as well as how they can be treated. Moll provides a healthy discussion on the role medicine does and does not play in addressing panic attacks.

In the second chapter she links the Bible’s treatment of terror with our understanding of panic attacks. I think this is a fair link, however this is one of the challenges for Christians. We cannot always make these types of links and we should always strive for a biblical understanding of our problems.

The third chapter focuses on how we can move from fearful to faithful. This is how the gospel is the solution to panic attacks. After looking at a number of biblical examples she concludes that each of these people “focused on their circumstances rather than on God’s power and care.” This comment is the problem that causes panic attacks. She goes further to explain the “root of ungodly fear is belief in a lie.” We need to face the lies we are believing.

In the fourth chapter she explains the ultimate solution as fearing God alone. Battling against panic attacks requires us to watch our thoughts, change our thoughts, and then put off fear by putting on faith. In her fourth chapter she provides a helpful tool she calls the Fear-to-Faith Template. She also closes the read with some practical projects to help us turn our fear to faith.

Again, I think reading this mini book is a great first step for anyone struggling with panic attacks. She provides biblical counsel, provides a balanced holistic approach, and gives the reader practical tips and projects to turn fear into faith.

Standard
Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: Depression: The Way Up When You’re Feeling Down

Many of us have been haunted by depression. The first resource I recommend someone struggling with depression is Ed Welch’s booklet. It is only 32 pages and thus can be read in one day. Even though it is short, it gets to the heart of the problem of depression as well as providing gospel solutions and practical tips on how to fight when depressed.

Depression-download-icon__33507.1579536295

Welch begins by explaining how depression is ultimately a spiritual problem. He argues “Depression reveals us, not just the chemical composition of our brain,” (27). When we are depressed we can’t trust our feelings. Many times we don’t feel like doing anything. When we are numb we are to “learn another way to live,” (4). The new way of living is to “believe and act on what God says rather than feel what God says. It is living by faith,” (4). When we are depressed and debating what our feelings are saying and what Scriptures says, Welch explains that “Scripture wins,” (4).

Next, Welch asks, “What is your depression saying?” and “What does it mean?” He acknowledges that our feelings teach us about our perceptions of our circumstances. Exploring our feelings can teach us that we are afraid or ashamed or angry. Hunting why we are depressed should reveal what is wrong with our heart. Ultimately we are to identify what is wrong and grow by trusting the Lord. Maybe we have made an idol out of something and he is calling us to trust him while not obtaining what we want. Ultimately we are to faithfully respond, “I know that my Redeemer is with me, and I will humbly wait for his deliverance,” (17).

Exploring the condition of our heart leads us down a path asking a series of “why” questions.  However, Welch explains that we should follow the path that leads to God if we want to come up out of depression. The more we can look at the “whys” of our depression through a gospel lens, the more accurately we can diagnose the condition of our hearts and find hope in Jesus. He explains, “If you think about what your depression is saying and it takes you all the way to your relationship with Christ, then don’t stop on that journey until you have heard something good,” (20). Welch also comments, “Remember that if you have put your faith in Jesus, you are forgiven, adopted, beloved, and delighted in. You must start thinking the way God thinks, not the way you think,” (20).

Welch closes with eleven practical tips on how to battle depression as well as a charge to not give up. I particularly like the sixth tip: “Each day, speak or write something that can be an encouragement to others. You have a calling. There are people to love, to care for, to help,” (20). I also appreciate the eight tip: “Keep a sharp eye out for grumbling and complaining,” (20). Welch acknowledges, “Depression is hard. No matter what its origin, it doesn’t leave without a fight. But don’t be discouraged. There are good reasons to enter into the fight. Changes are guaranteed (Phil. 1:6),” (23).

Standard
Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

Contemporary culture has a plurality of opinions of how to view human identity. For some, self-esteem is the ultimate virtue to achieve. The spirituality of many is that if they could only have a higher view of themselves then they would be happy. However, the Bible has better news. Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” is important because a wrong view of personal identity is leading to wasted unhappy lives.

6d70313ac26bd4473c3bcc9ec27626e9

Keller’s work is a booklet made up of 46 short pages and three chapters. It can be read in a lunch hour. He opens by asking, “What are the marks of a heart that has been radically changed by the grace of God?” (5). Next, Keller unpacks 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7. He explains that different than most cultures throughout history “Our belief today – and it is deeply rooted in everything – is that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves” (10).

Regarding the problem of our natural condition he says, “Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God,” (15). The solution is to avoid the trap of seeking self-esteem by other people’s standards. Rather, “Paul is saying something astounding, ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think,’” (31). The result is not needing to think too much or too highly about ourselves. Keller says, “A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person,” (33). The way to live this way is to allow the verdict of the gospel to lead our performance versus the other way around. In other words, “Self-forgetfulness takes you out of the courtroom. The trial is over,” (43). Joy is found through living according to our gospel convictions. Joy is found through gospel-humility. Joy is neither found in self-hating or self-loving, but rather self-forgetting.

This is a tremendous read for anyone struggling with depression. Counseling is a very helpful process, but as people delve deep into heart issues there can be a tendency to become self-absorbed. This process can rob our joy because our eyes are too much on ourselves. His booklet is also helpful for those believing the flesh and the world about where to find happiness. Giving ourselves over to our sinful desires does not lead to joy. Keller’s booklet is a reminder we all need that self-forgetfulness rather than self-esteem is the pathway to joy.

Standard
Church History

A History of Baptist Cooperation

 

Local autonomy has always been part of Baptist history, but so has cooperation.  Throughout our history, local Baptist churches have been the ultimate authority for their own congregation.  Baptist churches hire their own pastors. Baptist churches install their own Elders and Deacons.  Baptist churches develop and approve their own budgets including making decisions about missions giving.  However, we also have a history of cooperation with other churches.  Typical Southern Baptist churches cooperate through local county associations, state conventions, and the national Southern Baptist Convention.  These contemporary efforts are grounded in a history of cooperation found in the earliest Baptist churches.  I have recently published a book about an early Baptist named Thomas Patient (HERE) who both planted the first Irish Baptist churches but also cooperated with other like-minded Baptist churches.

Thomas-Patient_web

First London Confession of 1644 

The seeds of a vision for cooperation were laid in Baptist’s early statements of faith.  The earliest Particular Baptist confession of faith was the First London Confession of 1644.  Seven churches came together to publish the confession in order to distinguish themselves from the Arminian Anabaptists and place them within the broader English Reformation.  The confession was modeled after the Separatist Confession of 1596.  The London Baptists confessed a biblical reformed faith.  They also confessed congregational convictions as well as believer’s baptism by immersion.  But, they also emphasized cooperation.  Article XLVII of the First London Confession of 1644 states, “And although the particular Congregations be distinct and severall Bodies, every one a compact and knit Citie in it selfe; yet are they all to walk by one and the same Rule, and by all meanes convenient to have the counsell and help one of another in all needfull affaires of the Church, as members of one body in the common faith under Christ their onely head.”[1]  Article XLVII of the First London Confession of 1644 is modeled heavily after the Separatist Confession of 1596’s Article 38.  These seven churches actually modeled their convictions by publishing the confession.  They were from different churches but were also committed to working together, therefore they needed to distinguish the doctrine that unified them.  The First London Confession of 1644 became a tie that bound them together.  Thomas Patient was one of the men who signed this early confession.  Later he left London in order to spread the gospel in Ireland.  Patient then ended up planting the first Baptist churches in Ireland.

5th Monarchist in Ireland

Thomas Patient went to Ireland as an army chaplain with Oliver Cromwell’s invading force. During the English Civil War the King had been executed and the Parliamentarian forces eventually made Oliver Cromwell their leader against the Royalist forces.  The non-conformists like the Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists sided with the Parliamentarians.  However, as the war progressed a debate arose regarding Cromwell’s office.  Some wanted to make him King, but most were strongly opposed to that title and that type of authority.  Therefore, the Barebones Parliament in 1653 settled on an office of Lord Protector.  However, many of the non-conformists were enraged by that title because God was their Lord Protector.  Leaning on passages like Daniel 7 they argued their hope was in a messianic kingdom.  Bell explains, “For many, the Protectorate looked uncomfortably similar to the monarchy that God had so recently called them to overthrow.  The Saints were extremely dissatisfied.”[2]  They believed elevating Cromwell to a title of Lord Protector would conflict with their allegiance to their heavenly king.

During these years Thomas Patient was in Ireland expanding the Baptist movement, but also remaining in cooperation with the other London Baptists.  For example, he was a signer of a letter sent from the Irish Baptists on June 1, 1653 to the London Baptists.  In the letter they suggested a national day of prayer, requested continued correspondence, asked for a list of other like-minded churches in London, and asked the London Baptists to send representatives to Ireland to help instruct their new Baptist churches.  During these years the heat over the Lord Protector title continued to heat up.  However, William Kiffen saw things differently.  He had served as a pastor with Thomas Patient in London.  Both had signed the First London Confession of 1644 representing their church.  Kiffen simply saw the Protectorate as another government to appease in order to preserve religious tolerance.  Therefore, he sent a letter to the Irish Baptists rebuking their criticism of Cromwell and pleading with them to submit to the Cromwellian government.  In his letter Kiffen contended the Protectorate was both a legitimate government and had preserved the country from chaos.

Even though Kiffen was more influential than Patient he did not operate like a Catholic Pope demanding they defuse their heat.  Rather, Kiffen approached them as a fellow Baptist and pastor seeking to persuade them to think differently about the implications of their criticism of Cromwell.  Patient and the Irish Baptist heeded Kiffen’s admonition and their relationship with the Protectorate improved.  The incident is a great example of loving correction, but also humble cooperation.  Due to humble cooperation rather than authoritative mandates the fledging movement was able to avoid becoming too political and enabled them to improve their relationship with Cromwell.

Lessons for Contemporary Baptists

These types of historical accounts provide examples for Baptist today.  W.T. Whitley explains, “from the beginning Baptists were not ‘Independents’; they always sought for fellowship between the different churches, and they were very successful in arranging for permanent organization.”[3]  Even though Baptists should champion our convictions about local autonomy, we should also celebrate our convictions about cooperation.  Torbet explains, “Their purpose was framed by a desire to have fellowship between local churches and to carry on evangelistic work.”[4]  My role as pastor of Redeemer Church is first to the local church, but we also seek to be involved with the Denton Baptist Association.  The DBA has supported the planting of our church and now we are working with the DBA to plant other churches.  As Baptists our doctrine and history are to commit to the local autonomy of our church.  However, our doctrine and history also call us to cooperate together to spread the gospel.



[1] William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1969), 168-169.

[2] Mark R. Bell, Apocalypse How?: Baptist Movements During the English Reformation (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2000), 153.

[3] W.T. Whitley, A History of British Baptists (London: Charles Griffin and Company, 1923), 53.

[4] Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists, 3rd edition (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1963), 43.

Standard
Church History

Soul Competency or Regenerate Church Membership?

Baptists have long asked the question, “what does it mean to be a Baptist?” E. Y. Mullins was the president of The Southern Baptist Seminary and argued that soul competency was Baptists’ “mother principle.”[1] Other ideas about religious liberty and oppositions to confessions of faith spring from the Mullins’ teachings on soul competency. However, the father of the Irish Baptist movement would disagree with Mullins’ conclusions. Thomas Patient planted the first Baptist churches in Ireland and did so for different reasons than soul competency. The doctrine that led to Patient establishing those first Irish Baptist churches helps Baptists understand what it really means to be a Baptist.

Thomas-Patient_web

Lessons from Patient’s Relationship to Government

Baptist have long advocated for religious liberty. However, Patient had a relationship with governments that call into question our assumption that all Baptists have always advocated for religious liberty. Thomas and Sarah Patient came to the American colonies in the 1630’s. They held to the New England faith which was marked semi-separatism and congregationalism. But, while in New England they wrestled with a debate over believer’s baptism versus infant baptism. Patient became convinced of believer’s baptism and a warrant was issued for his arrest.[2] Even though he experienced religious persecution for his baptistic doctrine, there is no record of him using the experience to advocate for religious liberty.

Patient has a second note-worthy experience with the government in 1650. John Owen preached a sermon before parliament on February 28, 1650 titled “Steadfastness of Promises, and the Sinfulness of Staggering.” Owen explained, “there was, for the present, one gospel preacher for every walled town in the English possession of Ireland.”[3] In the sermon he requested funds in order to send pastors to Ireland to preach the gospel. Thomas Patient was one of the men who went to Ireland as an army chaplain. Therefore, this is an example of the British government funding a Baptist pastor to go to another country to serve as both an army chaplain and to plant baptistic churches! This is not our contemporary understanding of a separation of church and state. This Baptist pastor was willing to take government funds in order to plant Baptist churches.

Charles Fleetwood was installed as the Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1651. He was an Independent, but he welcomed Baptists into leadership. Brown explains that by 1655 “at least twelve governors of towns and cities, ten colonels, three or four lieutenant-colonels, ten majors, nineteen or twenty captains, two salaried preachers, and twenty-three officers on the civil list”[4] were of the Baptist faith. They had risen to political prominence, but their goals seemed less about religious tolerance and more about nudging the balance of power in their favor. In fact, these realities led to other groups becoming suspicious of the Baptists, which was a factor in Fleetwood losing his position to Henry Cromwell in 1655. Patient appears to have been part of a push for a Baptist religious settlement rather than being an advocate for religious liberty. This is another example from his ministry of the early Baptists not advocating for religious liberty even though they were in positions of political power.

Lessons from Patient’s Organizing Principles

Even though Thomas Patient did not hold to our contemporary understanding of religious liberty, he did plant the first Baptist churches in Ireland. If soul competency and religious liberty were not hallmarks of his ministry, what did he organize those churches around? A letter sent in 1651 from his church to another congregation helps answer the question. Patient and eleven men from his Baptist church sent a letter to another congregation rebuking them for joining together in “fellowship with such as do fundamentally differ in judgement and practice; to witsuch as agree not with you about the true state of a visible Church, nor the fundamental Ordinances thereof.”[5] Patient organized his church around the doctrine of believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership. Further, he and his church rebuked another congregation that did not likewise organize their church according to the same doctrines.

Patient received criticism for his positions on baptism and how to organize a church. As a result, he wrote a full-length book on the doctrine of believer’s baptism titled On the Doctrine of Baptism, And the Distinction of the Covenants.[6] In his book he made the case that “it is the duty of every man that believes and repents, to be baptized.”[7] In his book, Patient makes no mention of religious liberty. Further, he did not write a book on religious liberty as the organizing principle of Baptist churches. Rather, he advocated believer’s baptism by immersion as the doctrine by which Baptist church should organize. According to Thomas Patient, being a Baptist meant holding to believer’s baptism by immersion.

Conclusions for Baptist Identity

This historical evidence should add to the conversion over Baptist identity. The history is clear that Baptist (particularly American Baptists) have long advocated for religious liberty. This history is to be understood and celebrated. As Baptists, we should continue our ministry of advocating for religious liberty. Our efforts are right and good. Our efforts are also part of our history. However, soul competency and religious liberty are not our “mother principle.”[8] Our identity is linked to our conviction the Bible teaches that genuine converts are to publicly profess their faith in Christ by being immersed. Those who are baptized by immersion as believers are the ones who should make up the visible church. Therefore, believer’s baptism by immersion and regenerate church membership are the Baptist distinctions.



[1] E. Y. Mullins, The Axioms of Religion, Library of Baptist Classics 5 (Nashville: B & H, 1997), 79.

[2] Records and Files of the Quarterly Court of Essex County Massachusetts, vol. 1. 1636-1656, (Essex Institute: Salem, Massachusetts, 1911) 52.

[3] Thomas Russell (ed.), The Works of John Owen, D.D. vol. 1 (London: Richard Baynes, 1826), 91.

[4] Louise Fargo Brown, The Political Activities of the Baptists and Fifth Monarchy Men in England During the Interregnum. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912) 136-137.

[5] John Rogers, Ohel: A Tabernacle for the Sun: or Irenicum Evangelicum, An Idea of Church-Discipline. (London, 1653) 302.

[6] Thomas Patient, On the Doctrine of Baptism, And the Distinction of the Covenants. (Henry Hills: London, 1654).

[7] Patient, On Baptism, 5.

[8] Mullins, The Axioms of Religion, 79.

Standard
Church History

The Irish and Baptist Identity

The Irish Baptists inform our understanding of what it means to be Baptists because they have an undisputed beginning. I recently wrote a biography of Thomas Patient who planted for the first Irish Baptist churches (HERE). One of the challenges for Baptists is to pinpoint our beginning. Baptist historians have struggled to identify when and where the movement actually began. Some have tried to link a trail throughout church history from the time of Christ into the English Reformation. Others have claimed it began on the European continent with close links to the Anabaptist tradition. Still others argue the Baptist movement comes directly out of the English Reformation. Beginnings are significant because they inform identity. For example, if our beginnings are closely linked to the Anabaptist tradition then Anabaptist doctrines should help us understand what it means to be a Baptist today. However, the Irish Baptist movement is uniquely helpful because their beginning is undisputed. Their undisputed beginning informs their identity which then informs the broader Baptist identity.

Thomas-Patient_web

The War Spreads to Ireland

The British Civil War of the 1640’s and 1650’s was largely a political dispute over the powers of the Monarch and Parliament as well as a religious dispute over what is the most biblical form of church government. The Protestants largely sided with the Parliamentarians. Out of the religious dispute arose many of the modern Protestant denominations including the Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Baptists. Each of these camps argue for a particular form of church government. As the conflict progressed Oliver Cromwell rose to power overseeing the Parliamentary forces. He defeated the Royalist forces and took charge of England. However, in 1649 he invaded Ireland. Included in his effort was an attempt to spread the Protestant gospel to the Catholic Irish. Parliament funded a number of ministers to serve as army chaplains to preach the Protestant gospel of faith alone to the Irish. Thomas Patient was serving as a pastor with William Kiffin in one of London’s reformed Baptist churches and chose to accept the call to bring the gospel to Ireland.

Thomas Patient’s Irish Ministry

Even though Thomas Patient is a little-known figure from church history, he lived an interesting life and was a faithful example for contemporary Baptists. He traveled to New England as part of the Pilgrim migration to the new world. However, while in the American colonies he became convinced through reading Scripture and listening to debates that the biblical mode of baptism was by immersion and it should be reserved only for believers. His new-found conviction for believer’s baptism by immersion went against the colony’s doctrine and a warrant was issued for his arrest so he fled back to England. While in London he began pastoring with William Kiffen and they together signed the First London Confession of 1644. That statement of faith defined their church’s doctrine as Protestant, reformed, and baptistic. These are the doctrines he took with him to Ireland.

While in Ireland he began preaching with other ministers at a prominent cathedral in Dublin. He also travelled the southeastern portion of the country preaching the gospel. During these early months of his ministry he founded a church in Waterford utilizing the doctrine of believer’s baptism by immersion. This congregation was so committed to the doctrine that they wrote a letter to the people attending services at the cathedral in Dublin urging them to separate over the issue. A group did indeed separate and formed a church in Dublin based on their convictions about believer’s baptism by immersion. Both congregations, therefore, held to the doctrine of regenerate church members. They taught only those genuinely converted should be baptized and thus become members of their churches.

Many became critical of Patient’s teaching so he wrote On Baptism in order to advocate believer’s baptism by immersion and regenerate church membership. His book is one of the earliest known full-length treatments of the Baptist doctrine. Citing the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, he explained that Christians should obediently follow all of Jesus’ teachings including being baptized. Patient noted the term “baptism” “doth in proper English signify to Dip.”[1] He also explained that the one being baptized is to be a “taught and repentant person.”[2] Related, he wrote “Faith and Repentance go before baptism.”[3] Tenderly, Patient calls on his readers to “obey the word of God’s command”[4] and be baptized by immersion professing their faith in Christ.

Clear Baptist Distinctives

The Irish Baptists teach all Baptists some helpful lessons. First, our key organizing doctrine is believer’s baptism by immersion and the related doctrine of regenerate church membership. Baptist identity is about adhering to those doctrines. Baptists are people who believe in believer’s baptism by immersion and regenerate church membership. If someone does not hold those doctrines then they are not a Baptist. Baptist brethren, your key doctrine is believer’s baptism by immersion.

Second, our distinct doctrine is not soul competency or religious liberty. Patient would not have identified with E. Y. Mullins teaching about soul competency because he rebuked people for not holding to a biblical view of baptism. In fact, he urged them to leave a church and start a new church around the doctrine. Further, even though Baptists have long held and rightly held ideas about religious liberty, Patient would also not have identified with all those ideas. He went to Ireland funded by the English Parliament in order to start Baptist churches. Further, while in Ireland he sought to bring about a government that mandated a Baptist view of church government. The organizing principle of the initial Irish Baptist churches was not soul competency or religious liberty but rather believer’s baptism by immersion and regenerate church membership. Baptist brethren, you should hold to a number of other doctrines but you must also hold to regenerate church membership.

Third, Patient came to his convictions about baptism by interpreting the Bible which was the same way he came to his convictions about other doctrines. Patient, therefore, was first a Protestant then an Evangelical and only then a Baptist. If someone holds to Baptist doctrine it would contradictory to also hold to Catholic doctrine or liberal doctrine. Baptist brethren, you must first be a Protestant and an Evangelical before you can be a Baptist. Thomas Patient and the Irish Baptists teach contemporary Baptists fundamental lessons about our identity.



[1] Thomas Patient, On the Doctrine of Baptism, And the Distinction of the Covenants. (Henry Hills: London, 1654), 8.

[2] Patient, On Baptism, 17.

[3] Patient, On Baptism, 17.

[4] Patient, On Baptism, 179.

Standard