Both Dr. Mohler and Justin Taylor have posted today on the direction John Piper has led Bethlehem Baptist Church on the issue of Baptism and Church Membership. Mohler mentions that some allege that Calvinism may lead Baptists away from believer’s baptism. Baptist history can help us here.
Tom Nettles (The Baptists, 138–42) describes how the “Father of Particular Baptists” (i.e., Calvinistic Baptists), William Kiffin (c. 1616–1701), engaged in controversy with John Bunyan over the latter’s move toward open church membership. Like Piper today, Bunyan wanted to allow non-baptized persons who could give sufficient evidence of having been born again to be members of his church. Nettles notes, “Consistent apostolic practice, according to Kiffin, is the same as biblical regulation. The apostles never admitted anyone to the breaking of bread without the initiatory ordinance of Baptism” (140). Nettles explains,
Although Bunyan did not accept infant baptism and taught that none but those whose faith was clearly articulated and experientially credible should be admitted to baptism, his practice of communion tended to render baptism itself unnecessary. . . . How strange, Kiffin contended, that the supposed loving practice of a Christian minister tends to the overthrow of the throne rights of the Sovereign. Christ commands baptism, but Bunyan says that it is but a minor thing and can be dispensed with. . . . That regeneration by the Spirit and faith in Jesus Christ far exceeds baptism in importance in no sense makes dispensable the divine command or the absolutely consistent apostolic practice of baptism (141–42).
It seems that William Kiffin’s response to John Bunyan speaks to both the situation at Bethlehem Baptist Church and to those who cite it as evidence that being Baptist is incompatible with being Reformed. One of Kiffin’s arguments was that Bunyan was violating the regulative principle (something usually only held by reformed people). Interestingly, one Presbyterian has recently written to defend the regulative principle against “the charge that consistency will make us all either exclusive psalm singers or Reformed Baptists!” (from Derek Thomas’s essay in Give Praise to God, 91). Such a statement gives the lie to any claim that being Baptist cannot be consistent with being Reformed. In fact, it is the Reformed who are not Baptist who are inconsistent. The early Baptists Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, and Benjamin Cox joined together in a writing project that argued this very point, saying to the paedobaptists, “But your Infant baptisme is a religious worship, for which there is no command, nor any example, written in the Scripture of truth; Ergo, your Infant baptisme is Will-worship, and unlawfull” (Nettles, The Baptists, 159, quoted from Benjamin Cox, Hanserd Knollys, and William Kiffin, A Declaration Concerning the Publike Dispute. . .Concerning Infants-Baptisme [London: published privately, 1645], 8.).