Sunday, November 20, 2005

Baptists: the Philadelphia Mentality vs. the Providence Mentality

I recently read, to my amusment and horror, a Baptist of the left who called Roger Williams "the founder of Baptists in America." So he didn't do so well in church history. That's forgivable. Not telling the whole story isn't.

Let's be honest about Roger Williams. He was a flake. He was pathetically paranoid about persecution. He saw a mortal threat to religious liberty behind every rock and tree. And he was a Baptist for about a year. His Baptist "cred" is minimal.

But for many on the theo-left, Williams is a hero. Why? He is the champion of uncertainty. He is the nemesis of those who dare write a creed (oh, horrors, that creed offends me! How can you bind my conscience with a piece of paper? Next you'll make me join the NRA and drink Jonestown kool-aid!). He is the embodiement of the whirlwind of righteous indignation against the Pharisees of the right threatening the souls of the Born Free Baptists.

The reality is that Baptists in America didn't start with Williams. The roots of organized Baptists are in the Philadelphia Baptist Association. (Admittedly, this was many years after Williams, but the sporadic present of many disparate groups in New England claiming the name "Baptist" is a a bit like Norse explorers; they may have been the first Europeans in America, but it was Columbus who made it stick.) And these guys didn't think like Roger Williams. They were clear, Biblical and, well, tough. They wrote a Confession of Faith that was considered binding on churches in their asssociation. Churches were disciplined and even expelled based on the Philadelphia Confession. (Hmm...sounds like you can't slip a piece of paper between this idea of a confession and some others idea of a creed. It also sounds like the General Board could learn something from those Philadelphia Baptists about the creedal core of our faith.)

Today, there is a Providence Wing in the ABC and a Philadelphia wing. There is the "Don't Tread on Me" wing and the "Faith Once for All Delivered" wing.

The idea that "all true Baptists are anti-creedal" is historical nonsense. This is 2oth century historical revisionism. We are people of the book. We have expressed that faith in short summaries of Biblical faith for centuries.

When I do a Membership Seminar at our church, one of the things I do is present and take questions on our church's statement of faith. I make it clear that adherance to to its statements are required of new members. I do so without apology.

A few years ago, I posted the Philadelphia Baptist Cathecism (which is based on the Confession) on our church's website. Yes, only Scripture is our authority, but that's what Jehovah's Witnesses say too. You need to spell it out, folks. And the authority of God expressed in His word is the standard.

The Providence Wing can spin all the nonsense they want about the power of a Roger Williams-style of the exaltation of restless uncertainty. Who needs Providence? I take my stand with Philadelphia. As W.C. Fields, said, "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

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