Who You Calling Baptist?

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“When the terms ‘Particular’ and ‘General Baptist’ are imposed onto mid-seventeenth-century baptistic separatists, the impression is conveyed, whether intentionally or not, that arguments over soteriology were actively dividing what would have otherwise been a natural union of likeminded Baptists. The ubiquitous application of the ‘General’ and ‘Particular’ labels quite naturally conveys the impression that a ‘section of the Baptists had…broken with Calvinism and embraced Arminianism, as early as the second decade of the seventeenth century.’ Such formulations begin with an imagined community of ‘Baptists’ and then divide it along soteriological lines, implying a unified whole that has been fractured by soteriological disagreement, rather than two wholly disparate groups which happened to reach similar conclusions regarding baptism. One account of Particular Baptists explains that they would sometimes draw the boundaries of communion so narrowly ‘as to exclude the possibility of fellowship even with General Baptists on account of their doctrine of Free Will.’ The use of the intensifier ‘even’ implies that any lack of warm interaction between Particular and General Baptists represented a surprising disruption to an otherwise friendly coalition of self-identified ‘Baptists.’ Elsewhere, one reads that General Baptists were ‘[l]argely isolated by doctrinal differences from the radical Calvinist coalition’ within the ‘Baptist’ movement. 

To speak this way is to suggest, at least implicitly, that debate over Arminianism and Calvinism had disrupted a putative pan-Baptist communion. But the evidence does not support such a reading, and this tendency toward Baptist conflation distorts our understanding of all baptistic groups and the period’s wider religious culture.”

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