Charles Spurgeon’s Ministry and Role in the “Down Grade” Controversy

Charles Spurgeon

Throughout the history of the church, God has called and equipped individuals to stand opposed to apostasy and indifference, which attempts to cause moral and doctrinal decay. During the late nineteenth century, such an occasion arose as many so-called English Baptist pastors became so infatuated with worldly pursuits that many churches stopped engaging in prayer meetings and some even went as far as hosting dramas in the house of God. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the man God called and equipped to shine the light of truth on the moral and doctrinal decay of the nineteenth century, which sought not only to “downgrade” the Baptist denomination, but also the life-saving gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Spurgeon was a man of humble beginnings, but someone who the Lord used greatly to preserve and spread the Word of God. This paradigm is seen throughout Scripture, which always leads one to the conclusion that it could only have been God working through the individual to accomplish what had been done. By looking back to Spurgeon’s upbringing, influences, and calling to ministry, the aim of this paper will detail how Spurgeon developed his faith, which led to his strong convictions and captivating preaching style. In addition to the many contributions Spurgeon made to Baptists, this paper will also look at the climate of Darwinism and Liberalism and how these theories and philosophies impacted the church. Lastly, this paper will highlight the long-lasting impacts of the “Down Grade” controversy and the legacy Spurgeon has left behind. The commitment, exhibited by Spurgeon, to moral and doctrinal purity is just as relevant to the church today as it was during the nineteenth century. Just as there was a multiplicity of factors attempting to oppose or water down the message of the gospel, the climate of the present-day church is much the same, if not worse. It will take men and women with the zeal and commitment of Spurgeon to combat these forces, in an effort, to transform the world, instead of being conformed by it. There are some hills worth dying on and for Spurgeon this was evident in everything he practiced, preached, and his resolve in the “Down Grade” controversy.


Born into an Anglican household in Kelvedon, Essex, in 1834, Spurgeon would experience a life-changing conversion at a young age. God would use general revelation, in the form of a snowstorm to force Spurgeon to take shelter in Newtown, Colchester and it would be in a Methodist chapel that God illuminated the special revelation of His word, thus opening Spurgeon’s heart to the life-saving message of salvation. John Pitt further enlightens how, “Spurgeon’s conversion was as dramatic as any found in the history of Christian centuries and was entirely true to the evangelical tradition. Although only sixteen when the great transaction took place, young Spurgeon was under very deep conviction of sin – much like John Bunyan’s conversion experience, it was an emotional crisis of the most severe kind.”[1] Spurgeon believed salvation required a radical change and, “This change is a thorough and sweeping one, and operates upon the heart, and life of the convert… [And] the Bible is meant for mankind, and our text refers to any man, of any country, and any age.”[2] An early Scripture which captivated Spurgeon was Isaiah 45:22: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Spurgeon and John Oswalt reveal how this passage illustrates, “There is a call to experience the same salvation that the Israelites have experienced. To be sure, that experience is predicated on a turning around and looking to the Lord in trust.”[3] As a show of trust in God’s plan, Spurgeon moved to Cambridge, England where he engaged in teaching Sunday school. Not knowing what the future held for Spurgeon, his first sermon actually occurred by filling in for a friend and it was given in a small cottage in Teversham. Shortly after, Spurgeon would become the pastor of a small Baptist church in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, which is where his first published gospel tract was produced in 1853. Early in his ministry, his preaching style and ability stood him apart from his contemporaries and by the age of nineteen, Spurgeon would become the pastor of London’s largest Baptist congregation, the New Park Street Chapel. Over the course of his life, it is estimated Spurgeon preached close to four thousand sermons and has close to fifty published works ranging from commentaries to sermons and devotionals. Spurgeon’s style of preaching attracted crowds of up to ten thousand people at the young age of twenty-two. Each week, he would write out his sermons and at the pulpit he would simply use an outline of the message, while stenographers transcribed the sermon, which would later be sold for a penny. To this day, these publications remain one of the most widely circulated and best selling publications.


Spurgeon practiced what he preached and he taught believers how to find instruction everywhere and even how to gather lessons from unpleasant circumstances. Spurgeon illustrates, “Many are stung by nettles, but few are taught by them. Some men are hurt by briers, but Solomon was improved by them, so do not begin stinging yourself with nettles, grip them firmly, and then use them for your soul’s health. Trials and troubles, worries and turmoils, little frets and little disappointments, may all help you if you will look upon them and receive instruction.”[4] During his ministry, Spurgeon came under fire when he challenged the Church of England on the matter of baptismal regeneration, but due to his resolve, he never backed down. Craig Skinner reveals, “Theologically, Spurgeon’s greatest facility was his ability to declare the paradox of God’s will working in conjunction with man’s… reaching into heights and depths of argument and illustration well beyond many of his contemporaries.”[5] He had an overly compassionate heart and believed firmly in the missional responsibility of the local church and Spurgeon was very good friends with James Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. He was also very active in opposing slavery, which was a major issue facing America, which ultimately caused him to lose the support of the Southern Baptist Convention. Spurgeon believed:

Not so very long ago our nation tolerated slavery in our colonies. Philanthropists endeavored to destroy slavery; bat when was it utterly abolished? It was when Wilberforce roused the church of God, and when the church of God addressed herself to the conflict, then she tore the evil thing to pieces. I have been amused with what Wilberforce said the day after they passed the Act of Emancipation. He merrily said to a friend when it was all done, ‘Is there not something else we can abolish?’ That was said playfully, but it shows the spirit of the church of God. She lives in conflict and victory; her mission is to destroy everything that is bad in the land.[6]

Just because something was popular or just because the majority was of the opinion the action was justified did not mean it was so in God’s eye and the debate over slavery was such an instance. Gregory Wills illuminates how Spurgeon’s ecclesiology rested squarely on the experience of regeneration. Wills explains, “[Spurgeon’s] commitment to the centrality of regeneration (new birth) shaped his ecclesiology from local polity to evangelical union. [Additionally,] Spurgeon’s church polity included three commitments: regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism, and congregational church polity.”[7] These three pillars of the church were fundamental in Spurgeon’s organizational methods and he believed each of these was revealed in Scripture. Regeneration was where Spurgeon’s Baptist identity grew out from, but because of his stand for orthodoxy, he would eventually withdraw from the Baptist Union in 1887. This was in part due to the Baptist Union allowing modernist ministers in its membership, which Spurgeon believed weakened regeneration. Wills further demonstrates, “As modernism grew more popular, American Baptists based their ecclesiology increasingly on evangelical essentials, [so] when Spurgeon withdrew, the hailed him as a great Baptist Champion.”[8]

Spurgeon believed Christ established the church according to a pattern, which made the polity of the church a matter of revelation and not one of expediency. This led to a Tabernacle process, which examined the life, character, and testimony of applicants before membership was granted. Spurgeon also held to the notion that Christ required congregational church government or independency. This would allow a certain level of autonomy, thus allowing churches the capability of exercising all the functions of a church of Christ. Spurgeon also believed each church should be able to appoint a minister instead of the common ordination process. He also believed in the distinction between elders and deacons of the church. Elders, he believed, should counsel others and help those searching for the way to salvation and also care for the sick and needy. Deacons, then, should be responsible for the finances, logistics of the service, and the maintaining of church discipline. Pitts adds, “Spurgeon’s ministry was Christo-centric, [because] for him, every road led to Christ. However he dealt with a text – and he was a master of the art of homiletics – it was always full of the gospel; and no sermon ended without bringing the hearers face-to-face with the claims and challenge of the Lord of all Good Life.”[9] Interestingly, Spurgeon would not offer a traditional altar call at the conclusion of his services; instead, he would invite them to come back on Monday to visit him in his office. However, he would invite those down who had already made a commitment to following and serving the Lord.


William Estep illuminates how, “Spurgeon lived in an age conditioned by an intellectual and a religious climate quite different from our own.”[10] With his tremendous fame and the high-demand for his sermons, he encountered some harsh criticism, especially in the climate and landscape of Darwinism and Liberalism. Spurgeon saw through the facade and recognized how these theories and philosophies were attempting to weaken the Baptist faith. These were hills worth dying on and Spurgeon believed, “Assuredly the New Theology can do no good towards God or man; it, has no adaption for it. If it were preached for a thousand years by all the most earnest men of the school, it would never renew a soul, nor overcome pride in a single human heart.”[11] Leon McBeth cites the “Down Grade” as being the most serious controversy faced by the English Baptists in the late nineteenth century. McBeth then reveals how, “The controversy broke out in London and swirled around two outstanding Baptist leaders, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and John Clifford. Historians reckon that the controversy ended with the death of Spurgeon in 1892, but its consequences have still continued.”[12] The controversy led to a split from the Union, resulting in Spurgeon’s church being the largest self-standing church. Against this backdrop, Dennis Swanson explains, “At the height of the Down-Grade Controversy Spurgeon and others created and signed a statement of faith stating the doctrines that distinguished them from those in the Baptist Union who were on the “down grade.” In 1891, The Sword and Trowel published the statement, which dealt with the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.”[13] Swanson then expounds how the “Down Grade” Controversy might have begun with the publication of two articles in Spurgeon’s widely distributed monthly journal, The Sword and Trowel, but were actually the product of Spurgeon’s close friend Robert Shindler. It was in this publication that Spurgeon, “Inserted a footnote on the first page of each of the “Down Grade” articles where he called for ‘earnest attention’ on the part of the readers, with the urgent warning that ‘we are going down hill at break-neck speed.’”[14] The first article addressed the issue of nonconformist churches falling prey to theological error and despite the churches being established as Calvinistic in faith, rarely would any last past two to three generations. Swanson then shows how, “The second article continued the discussion of theological “Down Grade” concentrating on the Baptist churches [pointing out] earlier church leaders, although themselves sound in doctrine, had not been sufficiently bold to confront error.”[15] Spurgeon and Shindler believed, “The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching.”[16] On the last point of a departure from Calvinistic doctrine, Shindler and Spurgeon seem more concerned about adhering to core evangelical truths and biblical inspiration than adhering to Calvinism. It also seems clear that Spurgeon had no aim in reopening old wounds over the Calvinist-Arminian debates. In fact, Spurgeon actually wrote, “The present struggle is not a debate upon the question of Calvinism or Arminianism, but of the truth of God versus the inventions of men. All who believe the gospel should unite against that ‘modern thought’ which is its deadly enemy.”[17] During the entire controversy, Spurgeon is consistently seen striving for unity, but not at the expense of compromising the gospel message or core doctrinal beliefs. Even when he withdrew from the Union, it was done in an endeavor to maintain unity. The Union did not feel the same and issued a vote of censure against Spurgeon as a final blow in the controversy, leading many to revere him as a martyr to the faith.

Throughout the Down Grade controversy, Swanson explains how the charge was made that “Spurgeon was motivated by his desire to force conformity within the Union to his Calvinistic theology.”[18] At this point in the controversy, Spurgeon was surprised by the reaction his articles had received and in many ways by the lack of any reaction. Spurgeon grieved, “A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese.”[19] However, Spurgeon steadfastly refuted this charge, declaring: “Certain antagonists have tried to represent the ‘Down-Grade’ controversy as a revival of the old feud between Calvinists and Arminians. It is nothing of the kind. Many evangelical Arminians are as earnestly on our side as men can be.”[20] Even when other Separatist Baptists tried to convince him to start a new denomination, he declined saying, “There are denominations enough. A new denomination would not be any safer than the old – heretics could enter a new one as well as an old.”[21] Battling the moral and doctrinal decay within the denomination took a toll on Spurgeon, as Estep further explains how, “The Down Grade Controversy took a greater toll on Spurgeon’s life and ministry than any other similar experience, [yet] when the Baptist leaders asked for documentation [proving Spurgeon’s claims,] he promised to protect the anonymity of his informer, Samuel Harris Booth, Secretary of the Union.”[22] Sworn to confidentiality, Spurgeon was a man of his word and never named names. McBeth believes, “Spurgeon’s refusal to name those who had embraced heresy may have grown out of Spurgeon’s belief if he named them, it would have introduced personalities into the discussion. Further, he pointed out that the Baptist Union had no doctrinal standard except a belief in immersion. [Ultimately,] Spurgeon wanted the Union to adopt a doctrinal statement.” This would have ended the controversy, united the Union, and quite possible extended the life of Spurgeon who died in 1892 at the age of fifty-seven.

In the second article, Spurgeon gave specific examples of how tolerance had led to disaster, writing that the, “Tadpole of Darwinism was hatched in a pew of the old chapel in High Street, Shrewsbury, where Charles Darwin had received his religious training and was first introduced to skepticism by a pastor who was enthralled with Socinianism.”[23] Shindler and Spurgeon attributed the common denominator for those caught up in the “Down Grade” being:

The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching. ‘To the law and to the testimony,’ is his appeal concerning every doctrine. He esteems that holy Book, concerning all things, to be right, and therefore he hates every false way. But let a man question, or entertain low views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and he is without chart to guide him, and without anchor to hold him.[24]

Swanson explains, “During the years of the Down Grade Controversy, Spurgeon repeatedly warned of six areas of “down grade” in evangelical doctrine:

(1) The denial of the verbal inspiration (that is, the inerrancy) of Scripture. (2) The denial of eternal punishment and the affirmation of universalism. (3) The denial of the Trinity, mainly in terms of the rejection of the personality of the Holy Spirit. (4) The movement toward Socinianism or the denial of the deity of Christ and original sin. (5) The denial of the creation account in Genesis in favor of evolution. (6) The unhealthy influence of higher criticism on biblical scholarship, particularly as it relates to the Old Testament.[25]

Spurgeon then summarized his position on the theological trends of his day, stating:

Look at the church of the present day; the advanced school, I mean. In its midst we see preachers who have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. They talk of the Lord Jesus, but deny his Godhead, which is His power; they speak of the Holy Spirit, but deny His personality, wherein lies His very existence. They take away the substance and power from all the doctrines of revelation, though they pretend still to believe them. They talk of redemption, but they deny substitution, which is the essence of it; they extol the Scriptures, but deny their infallibility, wherein lies its value; they use the phrases of orthodoxy, and believe nothing in common with the orthodox.[26]

In the third article, the tone took on a sense of urgency, as Shindler continued firing volleys against those engaged in apostasy and Spurgeon warned how this new religion had turned the church into a playhouse, as many were being used for dramas and entertainment purposes. There was plenty of blame to go around; however, Spurgeon placed it firmly on the preachers and modernists, who he believed were destroying the church. MacArthur explains how the focus of the controversy changes because now Spurgeon was suggesting that true believers might have reason to sever ties with those who were propagating the new theology. “In [Spurgeon’s] estimation, the truth of the Word had been so seriously compromised that true Christians needed to consider the command of 2 Corinthians 6:17: ‘Come out of their midst and be separate; and do not touch what is unclean.’”[27] After this, Spurgeon had become utterly obsessed and consumed by the controversy, leading to a decline in his physical health, which the Union used to attack Spurgeon, claiming his rants were that of a desperate and sick man. These personal attacks only fueled Spurgeon’s tenacity, especially considering, an answer or response to the allegations had still not been given by the Union. Spurgeon, a master of illustrations equated what was going on to, “The house is being robbed, its very walls are being dug down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs and meet the burglars; they are even half vexed that a certain noisy fellow will spring his rattle, or cry, ‘Thieves!’”[28] The final compromise would revolve around the Union Council adopting a creed. The once popular “no creed but Christ” was no longer enough because as Spurgeon highlighted, “The objection to a creed is a very pleasant way of concealing objection to discipline, and a desire for latitudinarianism. What is wished for is a Union which will, like Noah’s Ark, afford shelter both for the clean and for the unclean, for creeping things and winged fowls.”[29] However, even when a doctrinal statement was adopted, it was vague and bland, due to last minute modifications. MacArthur further demonstrates how, “Just as Spurgeon had warned all along, nothing was to be gained by compromising with the enemies of the gospel. The Baptist Union’s decline was, if anything, accelerated and those who embraced the ‘New Theology’ were emboldened after the Union Assembly, as they now held the reins of the Union.”[30] The ripple effects of this controversy have lasting impacts to this day.


The prince of preachers has left a rich legacy behind. Spurgeon never sugarcoated any message and he always spoke to the heart of the matter. He wanted his listeners to understand, “There is a disease upon you which has already brought you down to spiritual death, and will bring you down to hell. The most moral of you, the most amiable of you, unless Jesus shall look upon you in love, is carrying about within himself a plague of the heart which will be your eternal ruin; Jesus must save you, or you are lost. Man’s only home is to come from Him.”[31] In many of his sermons, illustrations were used to allow light to shine upon the biblical truth being conveyed. Spurgeon said, “There exists no reason why the preaching of gospel should be a miserable task either to the speaker or the hearer. Pleasantly profitable let all our sermons be. A house must not have thick walls without openings, neither must a discourse be all made up of solid slabs of doctrine without a window of comparison or lattice of poetry.”[32] Out of Spurgeon’s immense devotion to God arose a charitable heart towards social concerns. Rooted in this construct, David Duke demonstrates, “The three pillars of Spurgeon’s social concern rest upon: his call for absolute devotion to God in Christ; his concern for the salvation of individual souls; and his emphasis on Christian character which develops from the new nature found in Christ.”[33] Duke reveals how Spurgeon’s life was lived so deeply in Scripture that, “He could not escape the powerful calls for justice and peace, [and] while his primary concern was for individual souls, his compassion for all souls in every dimension of their lives compelled him to speak fervently for radical changes in the attitudes of his society and Union.”[34] Spurgeon always sought the moral high ground in this fight against modernism, but the Baptist Union would never be the same. Spurgeon’s cost in this fight was great, as his friends turned against him, his health declined, and the church he loved was corrupted. While some questioned Spurgeon’s departure from the Union, MacArthur equates Spurgeon staying in the Union to Abraham staying in Ur, in the hope of converting the entire household out of which he was called. Following Spurgeon’s passing, Shindler brilliantly encapsulates the heart and desire of Spurgeon when he wrote, “May the Lord graciously purge His Church of all false doctrine, all false teachers, and all who are traitors in the camp of Israel! And may the Spirit from on high be poured out upon all flesh, that all the ends of the earth may see, and own, and rejoice in, the salvation of our God!”[35]


During the late nineteenth century, as many so-called English Baptist pastors became so infatuated with worldly pursuits that many churches stopped engaging in prayer meetings and some even went as far as hosting dramas in the house of God, Charles Haddon Spurgeon arose as the man of God who was called and equipped to shine the light of truth on the moral and doctrinal decay. The “downgrade” of the Baptist denomination, was a hard fought war, one in which ultimately took years off the life of the protagonist. Spurgeon himself warned everyone, “There is truth and there is error and these are opposite the one to the other. Do not indulge yourselves in the folly with which so many are duped-that truth may be error, and error may be truth, that black is white, and white is black, and that there is a whitey-brown that goes in between, which is, perhaps, the best of the whole lot.”[36] Following Spurgeon’s passing, Estep illuminates how “Thomas Spurgeon was reported to have remarked to a Baptist leader that the Union had killed his father, whereupon, the leader replied, ‘and your father almost killed the Union.’”[37] This controversy serves as a stark reminder that if one fails to stand for doctrinal purity, he or she will fall for anything. In today’s climate, tolerance and compromise have become the weapons being used to downgrade the moral and doctrinal purity of the gospel message.


Crocker, Lionel. “CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON’S THEORY OF PREACHING.” Quarterly Journal Of Speech 25, no. 2 (April 1939): 214. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Duke, David Nelson. “Charles Haddon Spurgeon: social concern exceeding an individualistic, self-help ideology.” Baptist History And Heritage 22, no. 4 (October 1987): 47-56. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 5, 2017).

Estep, William Roscoe. “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 3-15. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Hixson, Elijah. “NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISM IN THE MINISTRY OF CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57, no. 3 (09, 2014): 555-70, (accessed May 4, 2017).

MacArthur Jr., John F. “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy,” The Spurgeon Archive Website, (accessed May 5, 2017).

May, Lynn E. “The impact of one life: Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History and Heritage 19 no. 4(1984): 2.

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

Oswalt, John N. Oswalt. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Pitts, John. “Genius of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Theology Today 6, no. 4 (January 1950): 524-530. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Shindler, Robert. From the Usher’s Desk to the Tabernacle Pulpit: The Life and Labors of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. New York, NY: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1892.

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Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. “A powerful reason for coming to Christ.” Bibliotheca Sacra 99, no. 393 (January 1942): 68-86. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

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________. Talks To Farmers. Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4, 2017).


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________. The “Down Grade” Controversy: Collected Materials Which Reveal the Viewpoint of the Late Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

________. The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon: Selected Books, Sermons, and Other Writings, Edited by Daniel Partner. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2009.

________. “The Form of Godliness without the Power,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon in the Year 1889, repr. ed. Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1975.

________. “A Fragment on the “Down Grade” Controversy.” The Sword and Trowel 23 (1887): 560-565.

________. “Notes,” The Sword and Trowel (April 1887): 190-196

Swanson, Dennis. “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries: Some Lessons from Spurgeon’s Battle for Evangelical Orthodoxy.” Faith and Mission 20, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 20-33.

_________. “The Millennial Position of Spurgeon.” Master’s Seminary Journal 07, no. 2 (Fall, 1996): 200-211.

Wills, Gregory A. “The ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon: unity, orthodoxy, and denominational identity.” Baptist History and Heritage 34, no. 3 (1999): 67-79. (accessed May 5, 2017).

            [1] John Pitts, “Genius of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” Theology Today 6, no. 4 (January 1950): 524. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[2] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Is Conversion Necessary? (Pensacola, FL: Generic NL Freebook Publisher, n.d. eBook Collection, 1874), 4. EBSCOhost, (accessed May 4, 2017).

[3] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 223.

[4] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Talks To Farmers (Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013), 5. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4, 2017).

[5] Craig Skinner, “The preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[6] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Best War Cry, March 4, 1883. (accessed May 5, 2017).

[7] Gregory A Wills, “The ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon: unity, orthodoxy, and denominational identity,” Baptist History and Heritage 34, no. 3 (1999): 67. (accessed May 5, 2017).

[8] Wills, “The ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon,” 68-69.

[9] Pitts, “Genius of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 529.

[10] William Roscoe Estep, “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 3. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[11] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The “Down Grade” Controversy (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 2009), 2.

[12] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 302.

[13] Dennis Swanson, “The Millennial Position of Spurgeon,” Master’s Seminary Journal 07, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 200.

[14] Dennis Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries: Some Lessons from Spurgeon’s Battle for Evangelical Orthodoxy,” Faith and Mission 20, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 20.

[15] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 22.

[16] Robert Shindler, ‘The Down Grade,” The Sword and Trowel (March 1887): 122.

[17] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Notes,” The Sword and Trowel (April 1887): 196.

[18] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 22.

[19] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The “Down Grade” Controversy: Collected Materials, Which Reveal the Viewpoint of the Late Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 513-514.

[20] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 22.

[21] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “A Fragment on the “Down Grade” Controversy,” The Sword and Trowel 23 (1887): 560.

[22] Estep, “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 13.

[23] Christian George, The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon Volume I: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854 (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2017), 332.

[24] John F. MacArthur Jr., “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy,” The Spurgeon Archive Website, (accessed May 5, 2017).

[25] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 29.

[26] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Form of Godliness without the Power,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon in the Year 1889, repr. ed. (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 308.

[27] MacArthur Jr., “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy, the final compromise.”

[28] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Our Reply to Sundry Critics and Enquirers,” The Sword and the Trowel (September 1887), 461.

[29] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Baptist Union Censure,” The Sword and the Trowel (Feb. 1888), 83.

[30] MacArthur Jr., “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy, the aftermath.”

[31] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “A powerful reason for coming to Christ,” Bibliotheca Sacra 99, no. 393 (January 1942): 73. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[32] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Art of Illustration (Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013), 7. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4,, 2017).

[33] David Nelson Duke, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon: social concern exceeding an individualistic, self-help ideology.” Baptist History And Heritage 22, no. 4 (October 1987): 47. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 5, 2017).

[34] Duke, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 55.

[35] Robert Shindler, From the Usher’s Desk to the Tabernacle Pulpit: The Life and Labors of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (New York, NY: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1892), 274.

[36] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Three Sights Worth Seeing,” in the MTP 1887, 476.

[37] Estep, “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 13.


75 Million Dollar Campaign and Cooperative Program


Leon McBeth illustrates, “After the turn of the century, prosperity and optimism prompted Southern Baptists to project larger programs… [and] in 1919, Southern Baptists launched their “Seventy-Five Million Campaign,” in an effort to raise $75 million for Baptist causes over a five-year period between 1919 – 1924.”[1] This was the biggest fundraising endeavor the Southern Baptists had ever engaged in, which led to an even more aggressive campaign of publicity and promotion. Unfortunately, as McBeth highlights, “The seventy-five million dollars proved easier to pledge than to collect.”[2] This was largely in part to the economic recession that hit the south in 1920, which led to crop prices dropping by half and farmer’s income by over sixty percent.[3] The campaign also had both good and negative impacts, but the good far outweighed the bad. Despite being vulnerable for Fundamentalist attack or causing embarrassment on the part of individuals unable to pay what was previously pledged, the campaign not only led to Baptists tripling annual giving, but also led to major spiritual renewal and a new spirit of unity within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

McBeth explains, “Due to the success of the campaign, in 1920, the SBC appointed a Conservation Committee to preserve the results of the campaign… [and] out of it came a permanent convention financial plan startling in its simplicity, yet revolutionary in its impact. Launched in 1925, the Cooperative Program (CP), called for churches to send their offerings for denominational ministries to their state conventions.”[4] This program became the lifeline of Southern Baptist ministries and no method, even to this day, has come close to the effectiveness of the CP. Part of the program’s success rests in its ability to provide both balance and perspective, by providing a way to equally support all ministries under the SBC umbrella. However, as McBeth states, “Any assessment of the CP must also include its drawbacks, such as some speaking to rather than through the program, as if it were an end in itself.”[5] Despite this, the CP allowed churches to play an active role in not just some of the denomination’s ministries, but in all of them. This was one more initiative that led to the SBC growing numerically and geographically. McBeth records, at the turn of the century, “Records showed a total of 1,586,709 members 18,873 churches and these churches were grouped into 16 state conventions. By 1983 reports showed 14,208,226 members in 36,500 churches, gathered into 37 state conventions, many of which were located outside the South.”[6] This numerical and geographical growth can be directly linked to these previous programs and it is truly astonishing to see how far the SBC has come and the amazing things God has done in and through this denomination.


McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

[1] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 618.

[2] Ibid., 619.

[3] Donnie Gerald Melton, “The Seventy-Five Million Campaign and Its Effects upon the Southern Baptist Convention,” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1975): 188.

[4] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 622.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 623.

Baptists and the Ecumenical Movement: Article Critique


John H. Y. Briggs, formally a professor of Baptist History at the University of Oxford, past chairman of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), and former editor of The Baptist Quarterly[1] records the role and history of Baptists in the overall scope of the ecumenical movement. Briggs links the origins of the Baptist movement in the history of the Radical Reformation and within the logic of English Separatism, making it difficult not to view the Baptists as being a schismatic movement. The specifics of this journal article summarize how some European Baptists were involved in that movement and the purpose of this critique will be to verify Briggs’ findings.


Briggs begins by identifying how, “Early Baptists, though separating from State Churches, were well aware of the dangers of becoming isolated and sectarian.”[2] This was a peculiar development in the Baptist movement, as the majority of Baptists during this time period had just escaped persecution from the State Church, yet one of the first things established was a State Church, which led to the ostracizing of many other Baptist groups. Briggs cites E. A. Payne’s analysis of John Owen’s True Nature of a Gospel Church in 1689 as being very influential in this move away from the State Church. Briggs emphasizes this, “Separation from a corrupt state church that was seen as only partially being reformed, was nevertheless anxious to avoid lapsing into sectarianism.”[3] Because of this, the Baptist denomination is often viewed as being separatists, but Briggs’ overall goal seems to be showcasing how even during times of isolation, theological differences, and division, Baptists were still extremely effective in evangelism, and spreading the gospel message domestically and internationally. J. D. Hughey would agree with this statement and adds, “The great majority of Baptists have always felt kinship with large number of other Christians… [and] in a very important sense, Baptists have long been a part of the ecumenical movement.”[4] Christian union was and continues to be a lofty ambition and throughout the history of Baptists, considerable efforts were made to attain unity.


Briggs does a worthy job detailing the Baptist’s history and role in the Ecumenical Movement, but very little was mentioned about the patterns of growth and decline. For example, H. Leon McBeth illustrates how, “One of the most persistent and puzzling problems facing English Baptists in the twentieth century has been their steady numerical decline.”[5] However, Briggs provides ample information pertaining to individuals like John Bunyan and Thomas Grantham who were in favor of wider patterns of interrelationship, as well as the interworking of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the BWA, which Briggs himself served on. These individuals and organizations were vital in defining the two dimensions of ecumenism: international and inter-confessional, changing the ecumenical question of relating to other people who were alike, to relating to other people groups who were nothing alike. Finding common ground, without sacrificing core doctrine would have helped Briggs’ illustration of this dilemma.

As Briggs addresses the issue of persecution and lack of civil rights, he draws an important conclusion, which remains just as relevant today: “Persecution in Eastern Europe [and other parts of the world] has drawn Christians closer together and when the pressure has been removed, old tyrannies have reasserted themselves.”[6] For Baptists, persecution led to the Evangelical Revival and made way for itinerancy and village preaching and overseas missionary endeavors. Unfortunately, the revival also led to problems for the Baptists, but in the end would reemphasize the case for open communion. This was area Briggs should have covered in more detail, since there are still many churches that observe the stance of closed communion. Had Briggs included what reasons led to the case for open communion and the change in tradition, this would have enhanced his details of the Evangelical Revival’s impact on the denomination. Despite that, Briggs uses this landscape, to make a profound assertion that; “Evangelicalism and ecumenism are far from being opposed; rather the one is the child of the other.”[7] In the WCC, Briggs then demonstrates how the Baptists continually worked for peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by violence and how the Council carries that same faith and commitment today.


Briggs accomplishes the task he set out to do and while his list is not exhaustive of Baptist history in the Ecumenical Movement, he has demonstrated the Baptist contribution has been sacrificial, substantial, and often unrecognized.[8] He also clearly articulates how Baptists have continually been open to dialogue with other denominations, in an endeavor to fulfill the Great Commission and reach a lost and hurting world. Briggs could not be more accurate than when he said, “How can we expect an unbelieving world to take us seriously in our talk about a gospel of reconciliation when we remain so obviously un-reconciled one to another?”[9]


Briggs, John H Y. “Baptists and the ecumenical movement.” Journal Of European Baptist Studies 6, no. 1 (September 2005): 11-17. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 18, 2017).

Hughey, J. D. “BAPTISTS AND THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT.” The Ecumenical Review, 10 (July 1958): 401–410. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-6623.1958.tb01882.x (accessed April 19, 2017).

Manchester Wesley Research Centre Website. (accessed April 19, 2017).

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

[1] Manchester Wesley Research Centre Website. (accessed April 19, 2017).

[2] John H. Y. Briggs, “Baptists and the ecumenical movement,” Journal Of European Baptist Studies 6, no. 1 (September 2005): 11. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 18, 2017).

[3] Briggs, “Baptists and the ecumenical movement,” 12.

[4] J. D. Hughey, “BAPTISTS AND THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT.” The Ecumenical Review, 10 (July 1958): 401. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-6623.1958.tb01882.x (accessed April 19, 2017).

[5] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 507.

[6] Briggs, “Baptists and the ecumenical movement,” 13.

[7] Ibid., 14.

[8] Ibid., 16.

[9] Ibid., 17.

Post-Schism Effects on Northern and Southern Baptist Churches in 1845


Leon McBeth attributes the schism of 1845 as the main event which divided Baptists into Northern and Southern branches.”[1] The final two straws that led to this were the “Georgia Test Case” and the “Alabama Resolutions” and while 1814 marked the beginning of an era for Baptists, 1845 marked its end.[2] Part of the problem was rooted in the fact that Baptist churches were scattered with very few associations and no general organization. While the rise of the mission movement moved Baptists to begin forming structures, neither the south nor the north could agree on theology, let alone denomination and this tension was only made worse by the slavery controversy. Even after talks aimed at reunion, McBeth illustrates, “The chasm seemed wider in 1900 than it had in 1845, [and] the impact of different socioeconomic forces shaped the Baptists in the two regions into separate molds. While both entered the twentieth century with strengths, their strengths were just as different as their weaknesses.”[3]

In the north, McBeth explains the Baptist decline was a result of, “massive European immigration, the rise of organized labor, and the development of an industrial economy. In that environment, they developed different methods of evangelism and different emphases in theology, particularly in the Social Gospel which emerged late in the century”[4] With over 250,000 immigrants coming to America between 1790 – 1820, the north faced a unique challenge as 20 million new immigrants arrived between 1880 and 1900 for an average of 1 million per year.[5] When you take what the north faced and how they reacted and compare that with what was going on in the south, McBeth illustrates, “Baptists in the south confronted a newly freed black population of about four million whose physical and spiritual needs were overwhelming. [In addition,] political turmoil, economic devastation, sharecropping, and poor healthcare were facts of life in the postwar South.” The way the Southern Baptists handled these conditions is what largely contributed to their numerical growth. For example, McBeth demonstrates, “Most of the blacks who accepted Christianity became Baptists, the influx of freed blacks and Scotch-Irish immigrants provided educational opportunities, and the camp meetings tended to fix a certain evangelical style upon Southern religion which Baptists turned to their own advantage.”[6] These factors faced by the Southern Baptists and how they were able to adapt and thrive is what most significantly led to their numerical growth.

As time went on, regional isolation, war bitterness, and different emphases in theology created a larger chasm, which could no longer be crossed. Interestingly, one would think the north would have been poised with the potential for growth and expansion given the circumstances of a rising economy and conceivable prosperity. Given this paradigm, another potential explanation for the decline of Baptists in the north could be contributed to a materialistic mindset instead of being mission focused. While the north did form the American Baptist Missionary Union (AMBU), there was and still continues to be much debate over home office versus field direction, education versus evangelism, the development of indigenous churches, and the role of women in missions. In the south, the formation of the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) got off to a great start and for years dominated other agencies partly due to it being autonomous. An early focus was on China, which eventually led to mission’s work in Liberia, Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, and Japan. The FMB took missions to a new level and by 1900, McBeth notes, “They reported 6,537 members in 113 churches in six nations, with a total of 94 foreign missionaries.”[7] Ultimately, the south stayed mission focused and the north lost sight of their God-given purpose, which led to the numerical growth in the south while the materialistic north faltered. Throughout history, and even in present times, when the people of God are most persecuted and facing the harshest of circumstances, there exists a great opportunity for spiritual growth and that is exactly what happened as the north declined and the south grew numerically.


McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

[1] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 392.

[2] Ibid., 388-391.

[3] Ibid., 463.

[4] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 393.

[5] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 405.

[6] Ibid., 392.

[7] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 423.

Baptist Persecution in Colonial America & Religious Freedom


          H. Leon McBeth cites Joseph Dawson’s conclusion regarding the emergence of religious liberty in America, “If the researchers of the world were to be asked who was most responsible for the American guarantee for religious liberty, their prompt reply would be ‘James Madison.’ However, if James Madison might answer, he would as quickly reply, ‘John Leland and the Baptists.’”[1] This struggle for religious liberty was hard-fought. While no known Baptists were martyred in America, McBeth details, “many Baptists were severely whipped, forced to pay taxes to support the state church, had property confiscated, and suffered lingering imprisonments.”[2] The First Great Awakening and the Enlightenment, as McBeth reveals, “set the stage and influenced the nature and extent of [religious] freedom.”[3]

As the first settlers in New England were heavily influenced by Reformed theology, this led the Pilgrim Fathers to establish a form of theocracy. McBeth demonstrates, “Ironically, settlers who had just come from dissenter status in Old England established themselves as the official church in New England and persecuted those who dissented from them.”[4] Their laws required all citizens to support the Congregational Church established in New England. If one was unable or unwilling to pay, his or her belongings were seized and sold as auction, often at a fraction of their worth. McBeth details how, “Some dissenters were cast into jail until they paid their apportionment to support the official ministers, a practice which at some places so backfired that the ministers themselves paid the fines just to be rid of prisoners who were winning such a favorable hearing by preaching from jail windows.”[5] The persecution and restrictions placed on Baptists in Colonial America differed from what was encountered in England. In America, it was largely dependent upon the time and location and varied from mild harassment to severe persecution. For example, in 1679, the members of the First Baptist Church of Boston gathered for their first service to discover the doors had been nailed shut. On the other end of the spectrum, McBeth cites how, “the state church probably made one of their biggest mistakes when they imprisoned [the sickened] Elizabeth Backus, a widow and mother to Isaac Backus, the major Baptist spokesman for religious liberty in New England.”[6]

Baptists firmly believed in and fought for the freedom of religion. In an attempt to satisfy the uprising of Dissenters, “Exemption Laws” were instituted in order for non-Congregational Church attenders to apply to have their church taxes refunded, if they could proved they were regular church attenders and lived within five miles of a church in good standing, in that specific denomination.[7] These laws were cumbersome and mere smokescreens because they were only temporary, they were continually lapsing, and they required substantial resources for Separate Baptist church attenders to obtain the needed certificates. McBeth points out, “Baptists in America have a tradition not only of not only preaching and practicing religious liberty, but also of monitoring government legislation to protect the interests of Baptists and others.”[8] Out of this legacy came the formation of the Grievance Committee, which is the first organized religious lobby in America. The aim of this group was to gather and present evidence of Baptist’s suffering and persecution, in order to form legislation to alleviate religious discrimination.[9] Isaac Backus became a champion for the Baptist’s cause. His strategy revolved around two principles: (1) appealing not just to local authorities, but to London itself and (2) to stop paying church taxes and stop applying for the exemption certificates altogether.[10] This bold approach was highly successful because the last thing the Congregational Church wanted was for London leaders to seize and/or invalidate the Colonial charters. Additionally, as McBeth explains, “By deciding to ignore the human law in obedience to a higher law, the law of God… Baptists made more progress toward religious liberty in a year than they had made in the previous decade.”[11] Backus sought to show how the state church was treating Baptists the same way England had treated the colonies, so the tension of revolution within the colonies significantly strengthened his position.

Religious liberty in the Middle Colonies was much different than that found in the north. McBeth explains, “No church was established by law and two factors best account for the broad religious freedom allowed in the Middle Colonies: (1) the Quaker influence and (2) the religious pluralism that prevailed in that area.”[12] Pluralism was essential, due to the Middle Colonies being made up of primarily Catholics and Protestants, with neither group having large enough populations to dominate. McBeth demonstrates, “the Middle Colonies furthered the Baptist struggle for religious freedom by providing a model, [which proved non-government-sponsored religion was achievable,] and the Middle Colonies provided a haven where Baptists could flee when persecution became too severe elsewhere, [which allowed Baptist evangelization into the South.]”

In the South, law established the Anglican Church, and its influence could be felt all the way to Virginia and parts of South Carolina. McBeth illustrates, “Baptists and Presbyterians led the struggle for religious liberty in the South, along with statesman like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Patrick Henry and that Baptists endured hardships, especially the Separates.” John Leland was the primary spokesman for religious liberty in the South and Leland dealt with three primary hardships faced by Baptists: “(1) requirement to register meeting houses, (2) refusal of authorities to recognize the validity of Baptist-performed marriages, and (3) requirement to pay tithes in the form of tobacco and crops for the support of Anglican ministers.”[13] In the beginning of the 1760’s, McBeth illuminates just how bad things were, “Baptists in Virginia were whipped, fined, beaten by mobs, jailed, and/or exiled in an attempt to control them and between 1768 and 1777, at least thirty Baptist preachers in Virginia were imprisoned, whipped, or stoned, most of which were Separates.”[14]

The contributions of Baptists like Isaac Backus and John Leland can still be felt today. The fundamental issue facing every person is that one day, “each one of us will give an account of himself to God,”[15] so as Leland argued, “every man [and woman] ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he [or she] can best reconcile to his [or her] conscience.”[16] Leland believed religious establishments corrupted both the church and the state and alienated people from one another. Many feared Christianity would not survive without the support of the state to which Leland replied, “It is error, and error alone, that needs human support.”[17] The Baptists were unwavering in their quest to separate church and state and were fundamental in the development of the First Amendment. However, as McBeth concludes, “[While] Baptists bore the scars of religious persecution [required] to achieve religious liberty; it remains to be seen whether Baptists who live in comfort can preserve it, [despite the price those before them paid to be] the steadfast defenders of the First Amendment.”[18]


McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

[1] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 283.

[2] Ibid., 252-253.

[3] Ibid., 254.

[4] Ibid., 255.

[5] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 256.

[6] Ibid., 256-257.

[7] Ibid., 258.

[8] Ibid., 262.

[9] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 262.

[10] Ibid., 263.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 266.

[13] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 268.

[14] Ibid., 270.

[15] Romans 14:12

[16] First published in New London, Connecticut, 1791. Reprinted in Greene, 181.

[17] First published in New London, Connecticut, 1791. Reprinted in Greene, 185.

[18] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 268.

Four Views of Baptist Origin


Leon McBeth cites four views pertaining to the sources of Baptist origin: (1) the outgrowth of English Separatism, (2) the influence of biblical Anabaptists, (3) the continuation of biblical teachings throughout the ages, and (4) the succession of organized Baptist churches through the ages.[1] Proponents believing the outgrowth of English Separatism to be the origin of Baptists minimize any role or influence Anabaptists may have played in England before 1600 and instead focus on the diversities between Baptists and Anabaptists. McBeth, illustrates, “They maintain that every distinctive Baptist belief and practice is inherent within Puritanism/Separatism.”[2]

Supporters of the Anabaptist influence view set out to link Baptist origins to the influence of biblical Anabaptists. McBeth highlights, “Most of them acknowledge that Baptists emerged through English Separatism, but they believe Anabaptism both on the Continent and in England prepared the way for Separatism.”[3] Anabaptists can be difficult to classify because the name was associated with a diverse group of believers ranging from extreme mystics, like the Quakers, all the way to extreme rationalists. Some historians contend, “Baptists originated largely in response to the Anabaptist movement, [and] Anabaptists influenced the early Baptists at two points: (1) in preparing the way for Separatism and (2) by leading some to go beyond Separatism to believer’s baptism.”[4]

The latter two views are often both labeled under successionism. McBeth demonstrates, “While almost all recognize that early Baptists were related to the Separatists, disagreement centers around what preceded the Separatists.”[5] This third group looks to trace a continuity of Baptist teachings from New Testament times to the present, asserting the origin of Baptist-like faith and practice never completely died out. Thomas Crosby claimed, “that Baptist principles not only root in the New Testament but also can be traced through various groups since then.”[6]

Arising in the nineteenth century, the final argument for the origin of Baptists goes a step further than the previous. Sometimes referred to as the Jesus-Jordan-John (JJJ) theory, this view contends that Baptists originated with John the Baptist, Jesus, and/or baptisms in the Jordan. McBeth explains, “This theory assumes that John the Baptist represents a denominational affiliation and that Jesus formed a Baptist church and promised in Matthew 16:18 that Baptist churches would never vanish from the world.”[7] There are multiple variations of belief in this view ranging from the premise that: (1) organic succession can be proven and that it is essential, (2) succession is essential and does exist, but cannot be proven, or (3) succession can be proven, but it is not essential.[8]

While each view has merit, it seems the most convincing views pertaining to the origin of Baptists are explained by both the continuation of biblical teaching and that Baptists emerged from the Separatist movement. Tracing Baptist succession back to the New Testament is an admirable attempt to demonstrate provenance, but is seemingly impossible to prove and also unnecessary. While Anabaptist influence is still often debated, McBeth demonstrates, “the earliest Baptists recognized their Separatist background, but later historians obscured that heritage under layers of successionist theory.”[9] In the wise words of William T. Whitley, “For the sources of Baptist life, one must look not to the Anabaptists, but to the Scriptures and the desire for reform…” This new view of Scripture and recognition of what God was calling His followers to do arose as the Separatists moved away from the state church, ultimately leading to the formation of Baptists.


McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

[1] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 52.

[4] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 53.

[5] Ibid., 49.

[6] Ibid., 57.

[7] Ibid., 59.

[8] Ibid.

[9] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 50.