Baptists and the Reformation

Baptists are Protestants. I know there are some Baptists out there who don’t believe we are Protestants, but their rejection of this truth betrays a bapto-centric bias and ignores history. It is one of those beliefs that my colleague Keith Harper calls “history as apologetics”–using (or misusing) history (or alleged history) to make a theological point.

The first Protestants were theological and moral dissenters who ultimately left the Catholic Church and started new movements. Most Protestants continued to embrace some form of church-state union (or at least close partnership) and, like Catholics, used the state’s power to coerce religious conformity. Lutherans and most Calvinists could be included in this group. A few Protestants, such as the Anabaptists, embraced the believer’s church model and rejected the idea of territorial churches. These “Free Church” Protestants were typically abused by the “Magisterial” Protestants who were fans of state churches.

In England, Protestants were active from at least the 1520s, though it wasn’t until the 1530s that the Church of England withdrew from the Catholic Church and embraced a cautious Protestantism. After a period of religious and political turmoil, England emerged as a Protestant nation from 1559 onwards, combining a moderately Reformed view of salvation with a moderately Catholic view of worship and the church. This compromised Protestantism, more formally known as the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, pleased few of those folks who wanted to see England become Geneva or Zurich with a cockney accent and afternoon tea.

Most of the “hot” Protestants in England wanted to transform the Church of England into a Presbyterian state church–we call them the puritans, though there were some early puritans who were cool with bishops. Other staunch Protestants agreed with the Calvinism of the early puritans, but rejected the Presbyterian commitment to state churches. These Separatists, so-called because they left the Church of England and formed independent congregations, were in many ways similar to the Anabaptists in their ecclesiology, though they still held to covenantal infant baptism based upon their Reformed soteriology.

During the first half of the seventeenth century, some of the Separatists came to embrace credobaptism, which they added to their prior commitments to regenerate church membership, congregational polity, local church autonomy, and religious liberty. We call these folks the Baptists. While there is some debate about what influence, if any, the Continental Anabaptists had on at least some of these Separatists, at the end of the day the first Baptists were in fact Separatists who adopted confessor’s baptism. And by the 1640s, the mode of their baptism reflected the New Testament practice of full immersion.

So Baptists are Protestants. To be specific, we are third generation Protestants who in many ways represent an attempt to reform the Reformation. In the Baptist movement, the very best of the Magisterial understanding of Scripture and salvation was combined with the very best of the Free Church understanding of the church and discipleship. The result was a new movement that represented a further reformation among some of the Reformed churches in England. These Baptists were a diverse lot, they didn’t always play nicely with one another, and some of them chased some admittedly troubling tangents, especially in the eighteenth century. But Protestants they remained, albeit a different Protestant movement than the Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists of Continental Europe.

So on this Reformation Day, I’m thankful for the Protestant heritage we Baptists enjoy. We stand with Luther and Calvin on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We stand with the Anabaptists on a believer’s church committed to radical discipleship and confessor’s baptism. We stand with all three of these groups in their commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture. And as good Protestants, we ultimately stand where we stand, not because others stand there as well, but because we believe the Spirit still speaks through His Word to guide Christ’s people on the narrow way.

Happy Reformation Day.

(Note: This is a lightly edited re-post of an essay that was first published in October 2010. Image credit here and here.)

 

Why All Good Christians Should Celebrate Halloween

October 31st. For most Americans this date means one thing: **Halloween.** Costumes, candy and trick-or-treaters spending to the tune of $2.5 billion making this holiday second only to Christmas in marketing revenue. But good Christians don’t celebrate Halloween. Or do they? Some Protestants may prefer to call it Reformation Day, for after all, that is the date that Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door at Castle Church in Wittenberg back in 1517. That does pre-date the first usage of the phrase “All Hallows Eve” (commonly known now as Halloween) which didn’t emerge until some 40 years later in 1556.[1]

Ironically, most good Christians that I know won’t be celebrating either Reformation Day or Halloween. Instead, they will be showing support for their local church by attending a “safe and sanitary” alternative called a Fall Festival. This alternative allows good Christians to invite their neighbors and friends to come to the church and get candy, play games and have some good, clean Christian fun. No pagan witches and goblins allowed. But they can dress up as David or Moses or some other biblical character. All the fun without the pagan revelry, right?

I would like to propose another alternative – that good Christians should indeed celebrate Halloween. I think that they should stay home from their church’s alternative Fall Festival and celebrate with their pagan neighbors. Most of them wouldn’t have come to your Fall Festival anyway. And those who did would’ve stopped by briefly on their way to “real” trick-or-treating. I’m sure that some of you reading this blog might be more than a little unhappy with my proposal at this point, but stick with me for a moment.: The reason I propose that good Christians celebrate Halloween and stay home from the “Christian alternatives” is that Halloween is the only night of the year in our culture where lost people actually go door-to-door to saved people’s homes . . . and you’re down at the church hanging out with all your other good Christian friends having clean fellowship with the non-pagans.

Living with missional intentionality means that you approach life as a missionary in your context. I lived with my family in South Asia and we had to be creative and intentional in engaging our Muslim neighbors. We now live in the USA and we still need to be creative and intentional. That’s why for the past 2 years we have chosen to stay at home and celebrate the fact that Halloween gives us a unique opportunity to engage our neighbors. In fact, last year we had over 300 children and 200 adults come to our doorstep on that one night. And we were ready for them!

We had a tent set up in the driveway and gave away free coffee and water to the adults who were walking with their children. Our small group members manned the tent and engaged them in conversation and gave each one of them a gospel booklet (“The Story” gospel booklets are available with a Halloween distribution rate here: http://story4.us/offer). The children ran up to our door while the parents were waiting and got their candy, along with gospel booklets (even if they were dressed as witches or goblins!). In all we gave away more than 500 pieces of literature that night, each with our name, e-mail address, and a website where they could get more info.

I sure wish more good Christians would celebrate Halloween this year by staying home and meeting their pagan neighbors – an option which I believe surely beats the “good Christian” alternative.


[1] Simpson, John; Weiner, Edmund (1989). Oxford English Dictionary (second ed.). London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-861186-2. OCLC 17648714.games for mac