Baptists and knowing the times

For Baptists, faithfulness to the Gospel in England during the period from 1660 to 1688 meant outright conflict with the Anglican Church and inevitably persecution and imprisonment for Baptist leaders. Not surprisingly, this produced a legacy of animosity between the two bodies of churches: to the Baptists, the Church of England was a false church; to the Anglicans, Baptist congregations were guilty of the sin of schism. Fifty years after the Act of Toleration, when revival began to come to the Church of England, Baptists understandably viewed things through the prism of their history of dealings with the Anglicans and either acted as if the revival was a “flash in the pan,” as we say, or rejected it out of hand. Far too many Baptists sought to hold the line against the revival, and one of the results was hyper-Calvinism, and Andrew Fuller’s famous quip that the Calvinistic Baptist denomination would have become “a very dunghill in society” (Works [1845], III, 478) if God had not brought renewal into their ranks. Nota bene: this revival of the Baptists did not take place till the 1780s, a full fifty years after the revival began in Anglican ranks.

There is a tremendous lesson in all of this: the form that our loyalty to the Gospel takes can never be divorced from the historical circumstances in which we find ourselves and thus we need to be astute as possible in “knowing the times.”