3 London Confessions of Faith

London Confessions of Faith

   The London Confessions of Faith were composed by two groups of Particular Baptists during the turmoil of 17th-century England. Though Baptists consider themselves a noncreedal communion, and accept only the Bible as their doctrinal authority, they often still point to the London Confessions of Faith as a summary of the most important lessons that the Bible teaches.
   Baptists were the most radical members of the Puritan movement in 17th-century England in their call for purifying the Church of England. Two distinct groups emerged; one followed Arminianism (which emphasized free will), while the other, the Particular Baptists, followed the Calvinist theology shared by Presbyterians and Congregationalists (which emphasized election). Particular Baptists emerged around 1630, and by 1644 there were at least seven congregations. in that year, representatives published a statement of faith that has come to be known as the First London Baptist Confession.
   Often confused with the Arminian Baptists, the church was anxious to refute a number of false accusations that had been leveled against them. Article XXI affirmed "That Christ Jesus by his death did bring forth salvation and reconciliation only for the elect, which were those which God the Father gave him." They also wished to distinguish themselves from Anabaptists, with whom they shared several important ideas.
   The key paragraphs in the confession concerned the congregation, which is the focus of authority and the source of the ministry, and which is to be completely separated from the state. The London Confession stated that: "every Church has power given them from Christ for their better well-being, to choose to themselves meet persons into the office of pastors, Teachers, Elders, Deacons . . . Baptists believe in legitimate state authority . . . while believing that the state does not have the right to impose any ecclesiastical order upon the local church."
   During the years of the Commonwealth under Puritan Oliver Cromwell, Baptists were able to survive in a relatively free environment. However, once a king was again placed on the throne and the episcopally led Church of England reinstated, the Baptists were among the groups that suffered the most, while the much stronger Presbyterians and Congregationalists were able to offer some resistance. In 1677, a group of Particular Baptists from England and Wales, called together by a circular letter, quietly met and produced a new confession of faith, this one designed to stress their unity with the other Puritan churches. This second London Confession was published anonymously.
   This second London Confession was based consciously on the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) and the Congrega-tionalist Savoy Declaration (1658). It affirmed the authority of the Bible, the triune nature of God, the fall of humanity, and salvation in Christ by faith. The London Confession reinforced the savoy stress on the key role of the local congregation. However, while Congregationalists left some role for assemblies beyond the local church, Baptists gave to such assemblies only the power of advising local churches.
   Following the accession of King William and Queen Mary and the issuance of the Act of Toleration, London Baptists called for a general meeting of their fellow believers from across England and Wales. Some 107 congregations sent representatives to London. They formally adopted the Confession of 1677, which has since become the most frequently cited exposition of the Baptist position.
   Further reading:
   ■ Richard Belcher and Anthony Mattia, A Discussion of the Seventeenth Century Particular Baptist Confessions of Faith (Southbridge, Mass.: Crown, 1990)
   ■ W. L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, rev. ed. (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1969)
   ■ H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1987)
   ■ B. R. White, The English Baptists of the 17th Century (London: The Baptist Historical Society, 1983).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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