Pressure makes diamonds. When God’s people are pressed but not crushed, great things are the result. In our own day, when the church must address everything from religious liberty, the divinely appointed boundaries of government, and secular arguments for a new morality, pressure will result in wonderful beauty.
One of those wonderful beauties is the clarity with which the church must speak. Diamonds are beautiful because of their clarity. There is no more room for fence-riding or doublespeak. If the secular tide is going to rise up to our church doors, we might as well provide safety boats made out of Scripture for our people. Otherwise, it could very well take them with it.
One such point in history when pressure wrought wisdom and clarity was in the development of the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 (henceforth, SLBC). The 1600’s also produced the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Savoy Declaration, both eminently biblical statements of faith, though a little heavy on the paedobaptism.
During the 1600’s in England, there was a good amount of religious turmoil. Monarchs were either Roman Catholic or Anglican, and the established religion might change between this or that monarch. You would go to bed a Catholic and wake up an Anglican. As one might imagine, the first order of business of a newly ordained Roman Catholic queen might be to deal swiftly with all those Protestants.
Arminian doctrines about free will were also in development around this time. Because Baptists were more of a fellowship than a denomination, they were free to adopt the doctrine of the atonement they determined was most biblical. Some Baptists did adopt the Arminian framework and came to be known as General Baptists, meaning that Christ died in general, for everyone.
Baptists more in line with the Reformed heritage denied that man would repent of their sins and have faith in Christ on their own. They came to be known as Particular Baptists, meaning that Christ died for a particular number of people. Since the range of meaning of a given word changes over time, it’s important to note that in this sense Particular simply means “determined amount,” as in, a particular number. Particular Baptists rejected that Christ died to forgive a man’s sin, and then that man may or may not believe in Christ.
Baptists of all stripes shared a similar ecclesiology, or understanding of what the church is and how it must function in this age. This resulted in Baptists forming their own congregations and being persecuted by the Church of England. Baptists were smaller in number than other Protestant groups of the time, so they got the brunt of the mockery and jail sentences from the state.
Keep in mind that the Reformation had barely been going on for 150 years by this point. Christian groups were still actively seeking to purify the church and bring clarity to their positions, which in many ways were all attempts at simply returning to a reading of Scripture based on grammar and history: let the text speak for itself.
A group of Particular Baptists decided that it was time to show how they gladly align with historic Christian orthodoxy and bring clarity to their positions on church order and baptism. The first result was the 1644 Confession. The Baptists beat the Presbyterians to a written confession by two full years! Baptists were among the first to articulate the Reformed faith in a succinct, easily readable and transmissible format.
The 1644 Confession was not exhaustive, but it said all of the important things. A trajectory was set for future additions and further clarity. There was a fuller confession attempted in 1677, but persecution kept it from being widely adopted. It was not until 1689 that The Toleration Act was passed in England, which permitted religious freedom. Baptist pastors met again to discussion the 1677 confession, and because it could now be widely affirmed without fear of retribution, it was titled the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, or the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689.
Today, a saying has made its way around many Baptist circles, “No creed but the Bible.” While it sounds religious and faithful, it says a lot without saying anything. There is no substance, and it actually works against its intended effect. Many Christians who hold to “no creed but the Bible” can’t explain much of their faith at all.
Every Christian needs to know the sum and substance of Scripture and why they believe it. Every Christian needs to have Scripture in mind when they declare what it is they believe.
The SLBC consists of 32 chapters, each only a few paragraphs in length. But it covers everything from the Trinity, to the ordinances, to Christology, and much more.
Over the next 32 weeks, we’ll turn our attention to one chapter per post with a little explanation to follow. You may not necessarily hold to every line of thought put out in the confession, but you will be a better thinker and more informed reader of Scripture. We’ll learn from Baptists of the past who, while undergoing great pressure, trusted in God to use that pressure to make diamonds.