Who are the Strict Baptists?
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The Strict Baptists or, to use the name by which they have often been known, the Strict and Particular Baptists, are a group of evangelical churches found mostly in England. Rooted in the older Particular Baptist tradition, they emerged as a distinct body early in the 19th century, because of their opposition to the idea that it is the duty of every person to repent and believe the gospel. Nowadays many are known as 'Grace Baptists', because of their adherence to 'the doctrines of grace' (see the 'Particular' below).
Strict Baptists share with all other Christian traditions belief in fundamental doctrines such as the Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, atoning death, resurrection and return in glory. These truths are seen as taught in the Bible, which Strict Baptists regard as the inspired and infallible word of God, the only final authority for matters of Christian faith and practice. With other Evangelical Christians, Strict Baptists join in affirming the necessity for salvation of a personal relationship with God, founded upon repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In practice, Strict Baptists stand apart from the ecumenical movement associated with the World Council of Churches and its national equivalents, holding that fundamental Christian truth is obscured and even denied in many churches belonging to it. However, many local churches co-operate in various ways with other evangelical churches in their area, as well as supporting other evangelical agencies. This fellowship is given formal expression in the membership of several regional associations of Grace Baptist churches with Affinity.
The term Strict refers to their practice of 'restricted communion'. Many evangelical churches in the West invite 'all who love the Lord Jesus Christ' to take the bread and wine at the Lord's Table. Strict Baptists, like many other groups of Baptist churches elsewhere in the world, believe that this privilege should be offered only to those who have been baptised by immersion as believers. (This was the practice of most Baptist churches in Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries.) Some go further and invite only those belonging to Baptist churches, or to churches holding the same understanding of Christian faith and church order, or only those belonging to that particular local church.
Restricting communion in this way does not imply that those who are not admitted are not Christians; rather, it follows from Strict Baptist beliefs about the church, baptism and the Lord's Supper. Strict Baptists see baptism as a rite by which believers testify to their faith in Christ, and associate it with church membership. The Lord's Supper is for those who have joined the church in this way.
Particular refers to the belief of these Christians in 'particular redemption'. This is the belief that Christ died to make certain the salvation of a definite number of people whom he has purposed to save, rather than to make possible the salvation of an indefinite number of people who might choose to believe. This belief is also known as 'limited atonement', and forms the third of what are commonly known as the 'Five Points of Calvinism'.
In the field of evangelism, Strict Baptists have applied this teaching in different ways. Some believe that the Great Commission given by Christ to his apostles (Matthew 28.18-20) is binding on the church throughout history: it has a responsibility to make the good news of Christ known to everyone. Thus many Strict Baptists have given themselves to vigorous evangelism, both in Britain and overseas. The Strict Baptist Mission (now known as Grace Baptist Mission) was founded for this purpose in 1861, and various other denominational agencies have come into being for the purpose of outreach.
Many Strict Baptists believe that the evangelistic task involves actively urging people to repent and believe. However, some still deny that it is the duty of every person to repent and believe (on the ground that by nature human beings are unable to do so), and avoid exhorting their hearers to do so. They present the gospel but do not urge them to respond to its claims, since it is the work of the Holy Spirit to awaken sinners to a sense of their need and of Christ's ability to save.
The 'Gospel Standard Strict Baptists', so named after their principal journal, believe with other Strict Baptists that human beings do not have within them the power to repent and believe the gospel. However, as far as evangelism is concerned, they are distinguished by their assertion that we cannot derive guidelines for our practice in preaching the gospel today from the example of the apostles. Therefore, it is not right for preachers to offer the gospel of Christ to all without discrimination, nor to call all in their audience to repentance and faith. (For more details of the origins and distinctive beliefs of Gospel Standard churches, see www.gospelstandard.org).
Finally, these Christians are Baptists. They believe that baptism is to be administered only to those who have professed repentance and faith. It is by immersion, and in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The rite of baptism does not save, but it is a testimony to salvation already received and a declaration that the candidate wishes from that moment to be identified with the people of God, the church. Only those thus baptised may become members of Strict Baptist churches.
If you would like to know more ...
A valuable introduction to Strict Baptist origins and 19th-century development is provided by Kenneth Dix, Strict and Particular (Didcot: Baptist Historical Society, 2001)
The main confessions of faith and doctrinal statements in use among Strict Baptists are:
- The Second London Confession of Faith, also known as the 1689 Confession of Faith
- We Believe: The Baptist Affirmation of Faith 1966
- The regional associations of Strict Baptist churches in the South-East, Suffolk and Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire and the East Midlands share a common set of articles of faith.
- Gospel Standard churches have their own articles of faith; these appear as an appendix to Kenneth Dix's book listed above.