Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Origins of the Baptists, Pt.1: The Anabaptists

"The great reformers - Luther, Zwingli, Calvin - had tremendous regard for the living tradition of the historic church. They moved cautiously for they had no urge to unchurch themselves. They hesitated to abandon the principle of the territorial church - parish or national. As they saw it, the existing church was indeed the true church, but it had fallen on evil days and into unworthy hands. Therefore, they sought to bring about a spiritual renewal from within. The Anabaptists, however, set out to discard the territorial church pattern with the gospel. Their objective was not to introduce something new but to restore something old. “Restitution” was their slogan, a restitution of the early church. From the Anabaptist point of view, the difference between the Reformers and themselves was the difference between reform and restitution.” – Earl D. Radmacher, The Nature of the Church (Western Baptist Press, 1972), p.55.

“The important point to emphasize is that the real issue here was not the act of baptism, but rather a bitter and irreducible struggle between two mutually exclusive concepts of the church. Zwingli was finally committed to the state church; and the continuance of the parish system and cantonal denominational division was implied. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, were out to restore apostolic Christianity. Baptism became important because it was the most obvious dividing line between the two systems, and because it afforded the authorities an excuse for suppressing the radicals by force.” – Franklin H. Littell, The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism (Macmillan, 1964), p.14.

Several Comments:

1 – The first author is a Baptist, and sympathetic with the so-called Free Church Movement, of which the Anabaptists were Reformation-era representatives. The second author was a Methodist.

2 – In most of Europe, during this era, society was “Christian.” The Church and the state had a far different relationship than what we can imagine today. Therefore, the state wielded the sword for the Church, and the Church legitimized the state. Everyone was considered a “Christian.”

2 – The magisterial Reformation, of which the “great reformers” were part and parcel of, was concerned with the reformation of the existing church. This has several implications:

a) They saw some continuity between the Church they were a part of and that which the Apostles had laid the foundation of.

b) Several aspects of the existing Church were either approved of or temporarily approved of – paedo-baptism being an example of the former, and church organization, esp. relative to secular government, being an example of the latter.

3 – The Anabaptists, not being concerned with fixing (as they saw it) the Church, were:

a) partaking of the recurrent mythology of the New Testament Church,[1]

b) radical (in that they wanted to scratch the existing Church, and start all over again),

c) basing their ecclesiology on who was “saved” (ie: only professing adult members made up the true church and must be baptized as their proof/profession of faith).

4 – Today, and indeed throughout history, the struggle to define the elect (professing, adult, baptized: Donatists, Anabaptists, etc., in this case) and return to a primitive Christianity has shaped the structure and make-up of the Church, and contributed to the proliferation of churches and denominations.

At this early stage of the Reformation (1523-25 with Grebel,, the Anabaptist was still a sect defining itself among many other sects which were also appearing. The uproar in Europe, precipitated by Luther and dependant on the new media of printing, was only exacerbated by the arrival of what is termed the Radical Reformation. It has proven useful to study the radicals as made up of three streams:

“This threefold scheme of Anabaptist, Spiritualist, and Rationalist, is now widely adopted by historians …” – Nick R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation (Grace Publications, 2004), p.254.

God willing, we will try to examine these three arms of the Radical Reformation in the near future.

[1] More on this myth later, DV.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pink on Mans Impotence, Pt.3: Responsibility & Opposition

In which Pink discusses both the difficulty both in presentation and reception of teaching/understanding this doctrine, and mans natural vehemence to it.

Not only does the appalling ignorance of our generation cause the servant of God to labour under a heavy handicap when seeking to present the scriptural account of mans total inability for good; he is also placed at a serious disadvantage by virtue of the marked distastefulness of this truth. The subject of his moral impotence is far from being a pleasing one to the natural man. He wants to be told that all he needs to do is exert himself, that salvation within the power of his will, that he is the determiner of his own destiny. Pride, with its strong dislike of being a debtor to the sovereign grace of God, rises up against it. Self-esteem, with its rabid repugnance of anything which lays the creature in the dust, hotly resents what is so humiliating.Consequently, this truth is either openly rejected or, if seemingly received, is turned to a wrong use.

Here Pink intimates that due to both a modern deficiency in the background (mostly, Scriptural) knowledge of common Evangelicals (at least, 50 years ago, and we must readily admit that the situation has only deteriorated since then), and the sin nature of both unregenerate and professing Christians, that the doctrine of Mans Impotence is both rejected and abused.

Moreover, when it is insisted on that mans bondage to sin is both voluntary and culpable, that the guilt for his inability to turn to God or to do anything pleasing in His sight lies at his own door, that his spiritual impotence consists in nothing but the depravity of his own heart and his inveterate enmity against God, then the hatefulness of this doctrine is speedily demonstrated. While men are allowed to think that their spiritual helplessness is involuntary rather than willful, innocent rather than criminal, something to be pitied ratherthan blamed, they may receive this truth with a measure of toleration; but let them be told that they themselves have forged the shackles which hold them in captivity to sin, that God counts them responsible for the corruption of their hearts, and that their incapability of being holy constitutes the very essence of their guilt, and loud will be their outcries against such a flesh-withering truth.

When man is confronted with his sin nature, and its implications his impotence to do any good, or reach out to God Pink says his true colours begin to show: his fundamental enmity with God. The longer he labours under the delusion of self-worth, self-will, and self-action, the more obvious is his Spiritual impotence.

However repellent this truth may be, it must not be withheld from men. The minister of Christ is not sent forth to please or entertain his congregation, but to declare the counsel of God, and not merely those parts of it which may meet with their approval and acceptance, but "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). If he deliberately omits that which raises their ire, he betrays his trust. Once he starts whittling down his divinely given commission there will be no end to the process, for one class will murmur against this portion of the truth and another against that. The servant of God has nothing to do with the response which is made to his preaching; his business is to deliver the Word of God in its unadulterated purity and leave the results to the One who has called him. And he may be assured at the outset that unless many in his congregation are seriously disturbed by his message, he has failed to deliver it in its clarity.

Here, Pink reminds us that God requires that the whole counsel of Scripture including this man-belittling doctrine of impotence - must be fed to men, if a minister is to faithfully carry out his duties. We must remember that the Gospel is both offensive (to the lost) and (ultimately) a sweet savour (2Cor.2:15,16) to those who are enlightened (Eph.1:18) to their condition and rely wholly upon His Grace.