Introduction to the Reformed Baptist Confessionand an appendix of its succession to present-day
This is first installment in a series on the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. The Reformed Confessions including the Reformed Baptist Confession may be found at It Is Finished, along with other Reformed resources.
The 1689 Among Other Confessions
The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is the most commonly used and held to confession for Reformed/Particular Baptists, but it is not the only one. Preceding it is the 1644/46 London Baptist Confession, and following it is the Philadelphia Confession, with a few more in the line of English Baptists.
Particular Baptists were not the only credo-baptists putting out confessions. For example, the more orthodox of the Anabaptists wrote The Schleitheim confession in 1527 (well before the English Baptists were formed), and the General Baptists wrote The First General Baptist Confession of Faith in 1651. The difference between these confessions and the confessions of the Particular Baptists, namely the 1689 LBCF, is their rootedness in preceding Reformed Confessions and the early foundational creeds of the Christian faith.
The Origins of the 1689
Being rooted in Reformed soteriology, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith very closely resembles the Westminster Confession of Faith, with the omission of a few articles and changes in sections regarding baptism, church organization, and a few comparatively minor issues. This is because the WCF was very openly used as a framework for the 1689 Confession, partially due to wanted distance from the ever-theologically-distant Anabaptists, which Particular Baptists were falsely called.
The Acceptance of the 1689
Though referred to as the 1689 London Baptist Confession, the Reformed Baptist Confession was first published under the title, A Confession of Faith Put Forth by the Elders and Brethren of Many Congregations of Christians, Baptized Upon Profession of their Faith in London and the Country. Thankfully, a series of events occurred in a little over a decade that shortened that name (though not quite enough).
In England in the year of 1689, a religious freedom act called The Toleration Act passed, allowing for free churches to exist alongside the Church of England and Scotland. Seizing this opportunity to finally associate openly, over one hundred churches assembled in London to accept this confession, and renamed it 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
The Purpose of the 1689
The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith serves three purposes: to differentiate, to associate, and to confess.
The churches that joined together in 1689 and the churches that originally wrote the document wanted to differentiate from three groups: State Churches, Anabaptists, and General Baptists. Still in what is considered the Protestant Reformation, these Baptists wanted to distance themselves in polity from the Church of Rome, the Church of England, and the Presbyterian Church, though mostly only on the ordinances of the church pertaining to the latter. They also wanted to distance themselves from the Anabaptists, explicitly stating that they are “falsely called Anabaptists.” Finally, this group of congregations wanted to distance themselves theologically from the General Baptists, who were Arminian in theology and held to a general redemption, claiming that Christ effectively died for all, not just for His people.
Though the confession very clearly draws lines in the sand, the churches that gathered to write this document were in no way actively seeking non-fellowship in the broader sense with groups that disagreed with them, though the mainly desired to associate with each other. On the contrary, the very nature and structure of the Second London Baptist Confession (the first being in 1644) associates with the disagreeing Presbyterians. As with today, Particular Baptists had a tension-filled yet close association to Presbyterians at the time, arguing over the never-ending question of whether or not to “get infants wet” as a friend of mine likes to put it. Not seen in the document, but in the environment of Particular Baptists is their close association with the Arminian General Baptists, not much different than what is seen today.
Lastly and most importantly, the confession simply confesses. These churches banded together in 1677 and 1689 to openly confess what they saw as a thorough, faithful interpretation of God’s Word. Among the things confessed were doctrines broadly accepted by Protestants, such as the infallibility of Scripture, the Trinity, Justification by Faith, and the Second Coming. More narrowly, these Baptists confessed the Reformed doctrines of Unconditional Election, God’s Sovereign Decree, and Christ’s particular redemption for His people. Distinctively, these congregations confessed Believer’s-only Baptism, a memorial view of the Lord’s Supper, and a distinct New Covenant.
Appendix: The Succession of the 1689 to the Southern Baptist Convention
Like most other confessions, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith did not simply end at itself. A number of Reformed (and later, not very Reformed) documents originated from this confession. Almost a verbatim transfer of doctrine formed the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, which essentially clarified that hymns were allowed in worship. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith also came from the line of the 1689 Confession, though it was not nearly as in depth as the former.
This confession was foundational in the forming of the Triennial Convention (which later split the Southern Baptist Convention) along with General Baptist confessions. With the unofficial official seminary of the Convention, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, though not named so at the time, came The Abstract of Principles. This thoroughly Calvinistic document contained twenty essentially shorthand articles from the 1689 confession that made up the constitution of the seminary.
After a short fight with German higher criticism in the Southern Baptist Convention, the 1925 version of the Baptist Faith & Message was accepted as the doctrine of the Convention. Though this document was not thoroughly Reformed, it clearly returned to the Conservative doctrine of The Abstract of Principles, and was firm on the Perseverance of the Saints, but open to interpretation on the doctrine of election. Added were articles that related to the nature of the Southern Baptist Convention itself, such as seminary education, association, and the cooperative program.
After this great document came a not-so-great revision in 1963 that allowed for neo-Orthodoxy and the idea that the Bible may not just be “God’s revelation to man,” but “the record of God’s revelation to man.” Fortunately, men such as Paige Patterson and Albert Mohler helped restore the Southern Baptist Convention back to Conservative Orthodoxy, and assisted in the formation of the current confessional statement of the SBC, the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.
“A Faith to Confess” a modern English update to the 1689 LBCF
“A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith” by Sam Waldron
“Articles of Faith” by Benjamin Keach
“An Introduction to 1689 Federalism” video
Senior Managing Editor of The Reformed CollectiveJason is a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and member of The Village Church, Fort Worth. He is studying Biblical Studies, and hopes to complete his M.Div or Th.M at a Reformed seminary to eventually teach and pastor in some capacity.