The esse of Reformed: a current question

I was just made aware of a recent exchange between Drs Scott Clark and James White vis-à-vis the esse of being Reformed. I have only read Dr. Clark’s response to Dr. White, in which Dr. Clark emphasizes that being Reformed cannot be limited to the five points of Calvinism. I would wholeheartedly affirm this. He then goes on to state that:


“…there wasn’t a single Baptist at the Synod of Dort. Why not? Because no Baptist was eligible to join a Reformed church. Why not? Because the denial of infant baptism wasn’t tolerated in the Reformed churches. …Once more, to state the obvious:  there wasn’t a single Baptist involved in the Westminster Assembly. The Baptists had promulgated their own confession in 1644. There were heated pamphlet wars between theBaptists and the Reformed in that period. Baptists were not recognized as Reformed. Why not? Because paedobaptism was regarded as essential to the Reformed faith.” (“Post-Thanksgiving Cartoons: Reply to James White";


It needs noting that Baptists who embraced Calvinistic soteriology did not exist at the time of the Synod of Dort, hence they could not have been there. But the rest of Dr. Clark’s remarks are, of course, all true. There were two Baptists, namely William Kiffin and Samuel Richardson, at the doors of the Jerusalem Chamber in 1646 handing out copies of the The First London Confession (1644; 2nd ed., 1646) to delegates as they went in. But they were not inside and thus not involved in the Westminster Assembly. And there were indeed “heated pamphlet wars” between Baptists and Paedobaptists during the 1640s and 1650s. But these were all seen by the Baptists as battles within a shared faith, as will become clear in what follows.


And Dr, Clark also points out, à la an article that appeared in Modern Reformation that “the earliest Baptists did not think it necessary to call themselves “Reformed.” They called themselves “General” or “Particular” Baptists”.” This is also true. Particular Baptist or Calvinistic Baptist was the terminology used during the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. “Reformed Baptist” is late twentieth-century nomenclature.


But, this is not the whole story as far as those seventeenth-century Baptists were concerned. After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, they were a community under the cross, and for twenty-eight years they suffered grievous persecution, with a number of their pastors and elders dying in prisons, like the blessed Abraham Cheare. Of course, the Particular Baptists were not the only ones to suffer during this time of great persecution. All who dissented from the distinguishing rites and practices of the state church of Anglicanism suffered to one degree or another.


This furnace of common affliction only served to reinforce in the minds of many Particular Baptists just how much they shared with fellow Calvinists who were either Presbyterians or Congregationalists, the latter being then known as Independents. Moreover, there was at hand a document that could concretely demonstrate the essential doctrinal unity between these three groups, namely, The Westminster Confession of Faith. This Confession, the authoritative statement of faith of both the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and their English brethren, had been completed by the Westminster Assembly in November, 1646. The Independents had subsequently used it as the basis of their statement of faith, known as The Savoy Declaration, which was drawn up in 1658 by, among others, John Owen (1616-1683) and Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680). The desire to present a united Calvinist front in the face of persecution consequently led the Particular Baptists to employ the Westminster Confession, as modified by the Savoy Declaration, as the basis of a new confession, The Second London Confession of Faith (1677/1689). In the words of the preface to the Second London Confession:


"One thing that greatly prevailed with us to undertake this work, was (not only to give a full account of our selves to those Christians that differ from us about the subject of Baptism, but also) the profit that might from thence arise unto those that have any account of our labors, in their instruction, and establishment in the great truths of the Gospel; in the clear understanding and steady belief of which, our comfortable walking with God, and fruitfulness before him, in all our ways is most neerly concerned; and therefore we did conclude it necessary to express our selves the more fully, and distinctly, and also to fix on such a method as might be most comprehensive of those things which we designed to explain our sense, and belief of; and finding no defect, in this regard, in that fixed on by the assembly, and after them by those of the Congregational way, we did readily conclude it best to retain the same order in our present confession: and also when we observed that those last mentioned did, in their confession (for reasons which seemed of weight both to themselves and others), choose not only to express their mind in words concurrent with the former in sense, concerning all those articles wherein they were agreed, but also for the most part without any variation of the terms we did in like manner conclude it best to follow their example, in making use of the very same words with them both, in these articles (which are very many) wherein our faith and doctrine is the same with theirs, and this we did, the more abundantly, to manifest our consent with both, in all the fundamental articles of the Christian Religion; as also with many others whose orthodox confessions have been published to the world; on the behalf of the Protestants in diverse Nations and Cities: and also to convince all that we have no itch to clogge Religion with new words, but do readily acquiesce in that form of sound words which hath been, in consent with the holy Scriptures, used by others before us; hereby declaring before God, Angels, & Men, our hearty agreement with them, in that wholesome Protestant Doctrine, which, with so clear evidence of Scriptures they have asserted."[1]


When I read this statement, I hear my forebears, those worthies of the seventeenth century, saying that they shared a common faith with their Presbyterian and Congregationalist brethren. Dr. White is by no means the first to have thought this.


[1] “To the Judicious and Impartial Reader” [A Confession of Faith…1677 (Auburn, Massachusetts: B & R Press, 2000); William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Rev. ed., Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1969), 244-245].