Jared Smith On Various Issues

Hyper-Calvinists And The Reformed Baptists

The Strict Baptist Mission was organized in the 1860’s by the English Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptist Churches.[1] John Hazelton, a Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, referred to his support of the Strict Baptist Mission in a sermon dated 4 March 1884:

“The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” I might just say here, that I believe this kingdom is an aggressive one. Infinite benevolence is associated with it; but whilst it is here, it is in a militant condition. It is by means of His kingdom on the earth that God is spreading abroad the knowledge of Himself. Some of you are aware that I am officially connected with a little Society, called the Strict Baptist Mission, which has stations in India and Ceylon, in which the ordinances of God’s house are observed, and the truth of Jesus Christ is preached; and when I think that Christians are disseminating the word and endeavoring to spread abroad a knowledge of the plan of salvation and of the Saviour’s name and that God is blessing these efforts, I see an illustration of this fact, that the kingdom of God is aggressive. The Word of God is in this kingdom, and His grace is seated there for it is the creation of His grace and the exponent of His eternal truth. The grace that has made us what we are should evermore appear in our character, our course, and our conversation; for in bringing the kingdom of God into the world, and giving it a visible existence here, grace has appeared to all men, as to its power and effects. If you want proofs of the grace of God, look at God s kingdom in this hostile world. If you want proofs of its sovereignty, look at a saint going home to heaven, against wind and tide, being carried along by an unseen influence which enables him to persevere in a course of holiness against himself, and the world, and the devil. The perseverance of a saint proclaims the sovereignty of grace and the nature of true religion.”

The Metropolitan Association of Strict Baptist Churches was organized in the 1870’s by a group of English Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptist Churches.[2] In 1902, William Styles, a Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, wrote the following in his book, “A Guide To Church Fellowship, As Maintained By Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptists”:

”The view of the Strict and Particular Baptists is thus expressed in the statement of the Doctrinal Basis of the “Metropolitan Association of Strict Baptist Churches,” which has also been adopted as expressing the principles of the “Strict Baptist Mission :”—“Regeneration and sanctification by the direct agency of the Holy Spirit, through the instrumentality of Divine truth; and that saving Faith is not a legal duty, but the sovereign and gracious gift of God.”

“These declarations are evidently meant to be decisive and final. A preacher who does not insist that it is the duty of unregenerate persons who hear the Gospel from his lips to believe and receive it, has no right to associate with the estimable brethren who are connected with the “Home Counties Baptist Association.” On the other hand, a minister who believes that spiritual Faith is a duty incumbent upon all natural men who hear the Gospel, is not a Strict and Particular Baptist, (according to the received usage of the term) and ought not, in common honesty, to call himself one.”

After the First and Second World Wars, many of the chapels were depleted of men, leaving a void in the leadership of the churches. Without pastoral oversight, the congregations were vulnerable to grievous wolves entering in among them. Some of the churches reacted by withdrawing from society, creating a subculture reflective of the 1950’s. Other churches remained open to society, relevant with the times. It is the latter group which was exposed to divergent teachings and new practices. Such was the condition of the Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptist churches during the 1950’s.

In his “Sketch Of Baptist History”, Dr. Kenneth Dix provides the following summary:

”Immediately following the Second World War the National Strict Baptist Federation was formed, with a view to bringing the churches into closer union. This was later integrated with the National Assembly of SB Pastors and Deacons (now Grace Assembly). A new Affirmation of Faith was published in 1966.”

“‘The Christian’s Pathway’, which for many years had printed a monthly Directory of the churches, ceased publication in 1969. A few months later ‘The Gospel Herald’ was replaced by a new magazine named ‘Grace’. Since then the term Grace Baptist has tended to supplant the more traditional Strict Baptist. Restricted communion is now less rigidly observed than it once was, and there is far greater freedom on calling sinners to repent and believe. Another change adopted in many churches has been to replace pastor and deacons with elders and deacons.”

Now enters the Reformed Baptist movement. It began in England during the mid-1950’s, with the first publication of the Banner of Truth Magazine. Spearheaded by men such as Sidney Norton, Iaian Murray and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a steadily growing group of Calvinistic Baptist preachers were influenced by the writings of the Protestant Reformers (namely, the Presbyterians) and the English Puritans. However, the Banner of Truth did not reprint the writings of the Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptists, withholding from the readership the opportunity to examine the teachings. Eventually, this zealous group of Calvinistic Baptists formulated a set of teachings which they believed to be better aligned with that of the New Testament churches. Among these innovations were an insistence that each church be governed by a plurality of elders, the ordinance of the Lord’s Table be opened to a wider community and a moderate view of sovereign grace be maintained. Of course, these features were at odds with the historic Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptist chapels.

Rather than growing their witness by organizing new churches, managing new associations and overseeing new mission boards, the Reformed Baptists in London commandeered those of the Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptist churches. Many chapels (with Trust Deeds forbidding such takeovers) have been transformed into Reformed Baptist churches; the Metropolitan Association of Strict Baptist Churches has been changed to the Association of Grace Baptist Churches South East, the membership of which is entirely that of Reformed Baptist churches; the Strict Baptist Mission has been changed to the Grace Baptist Mission, promoting the newfangled teachings of the Reformed Baptist movement.

Not only have the Reformed Baptists appropriated the historic witness and proud heritage of the Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptist churches, chapels and organizations, they also frequently malign the Hyper-Calvinists as un-evangelical. They characterize them as having no zeal for evangelism; no passion for the lost; no vision for local and global missions; no urgency to preach the gospel; and not even a desire to preach the gospel to the unregenerate. This is to add insult to injury! Do they not realize by using the Strict Baptist Mission (now, Grace Baptist Mission), they are riding on the coattails and standing on the shoulders of the evangelistic endeavors of the 19th century Hyper-Calvinists? Their mischaracterization at best, is a caricature of Hyper-Calvinism. What a pity they have gone about wresting the legacy and tarnishing the testimony of faithful gospel preachers who just happen to be identified as Hyper-Calvinist Strict and Particular Baptists.

Before the year 2010, I was ignorant of the above facts. Although I did not identify as a Reformed Baptist, yet they led me to believe they represent the historic Strict and Particular Baptist witness; that they carry on the historic Strict and Particular Baptist legacy. It was shocking to discover otherwise. If you are a Reformed Baptist, is it not worth your effort to explore the doctrinal issues connected with Hyper-Calvinism and to examine the history of the Strict and Particular Baptist churches? What you will find is quite different from the group-think[3] narrative of the Reformed Baptists.

[1] The term “Strict” refers to the doctrine of Close(d) Communion.
The term “Particular” refers to the doctrine of Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption).
The term Hyper-Calvinism has a doctrinal definition based on the historic controversies of the 18th and 19th centuries between English sovereign grace churches. On the one side of the controversy were those who rejected the doctrines of Duty-Faith and the Free-Offer, represented by John Gill. On the other side were those who subscribed to the doctrines of Duty-Faith and the Free-Offer, represented by Andrew Fuller. Those in Gill’s camp were called Gillites, or High and Hyper Calvinists. Those in Fuller’s camp were called Fullerites, or Moderate and Mongrel Calvinists. During the height of the controversy, the majority of sovereign grace Baptist churches belonged to Gill’s camp. Today, the majority of sovereign grace Baptist churches belong to Fuller’s camp.
The term Hyper-Calvinism also has a modern definition based on the presuppositions of Non-Hyper-Calvinists. Using the Hyper-Calvinists’ rejection of Duty-Faith and the Free-Offer as a spring board, they launch into wildly speculative and ludicrous charges. They surmise, if the Hyper-Calvinist rejects the doctrine of Duty-Faith, this must mean he/she doesn’t believe faith is necessary for salvation; or, he/she negates the responsibility of unregenerate sinners; or, he/she doesn’t view unbelief as a sin. They further surmise, if the Hyper-Calvinist rejects the doctrine of the Free-Offer, this must mean he/she doesn’t nurture a passion for the unregenerate; or, he/she doesn’t pray for the conversion of the unregenerate; or, he/she doesn’t have a zeal to evangelize; or, he/she doesn’t preach the gospel to the unregenerate. These surmisings are all wrong! They are based on pure speculation. The Hyper-Calvinists’ rejection of Duty-Faith and the Free-Offer do not lead to any of the foregoing presuppositions. Yet this is what many people today commonly believe about Hyper-Calvinism.
I use the term Hyper-Calvinism according to its historic and doctrinal definition throughout this article. The reader is challenged to study this issue further, that he/she might nurture correct views about those he/she labels a Hyper-Calvinist.
[2] For twenty years I was the pastor of Bethesda Chapel, Kensington. It was David Crumpton who served as the first pastor, and it was during the anniversary service in the early 1870’s, that he and a group of fellow pastors discussed the benefits of organizing the Metropolitan Association of Strict Baptist Churches. Although the Association no longer represents the faith and practice around which it was first organized, I am pleased to report Bethesda Chapel remains committed to the teachings.
[3] “The practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.” Oxford Dictionary