I have a complaint with those of my movement, having come to Christ in 1973 and baptized shortly after that in an independent fundamental Baptist Church of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International persuasion, while also interacting a bit with some GARBC fellows. My complaint is related to the ignorant use of terminology, tossing two terms around as if they were never used before and therefore had no already accepted meaning by those already familiar with the terms’ use. The terms to which I refer are two; “old paths” and “hyper-Calvinism.”
It is an undisputed reality that independent Baptist preachers are for the most part an ill-educated lot. This is born out by a cursory glance of most IFB men’s schooling as well as some habits that persist by so many IFB men, a sometimes appalling ignorance of history. This is sad because real history is, in my opinion, the Baptist’s best friend. Of course, my claim will be disputed, but it will be disputed mostly by men with little or no educational background and zero research to support their disputations. Those same men will also seek to discredit the benefits of education, claiming that education is a threat to spirituality. Granted, knowledge puffeth, but all things considered it is better to be better informed than to be ill-informed.
Consider, first, the term “old paths.” For how many decades have we been exposed to urgent cries that we go back to the “old paths,” with those “old paths” remaining undefined by those who urge our return, and my suspicions being that the “old paths” urged upon us are habits and practices that actually arose for the first time in the 20th century! Excuse me, brethren, but nothing that appeared on the horizon as a Baptist practice in the 20th century can in any wise be rightly labeled an “old path.” Not even practices that appeared for the first time in the 19th century are rightly understood to be “old paths.” The first time in history that I know of that the phrase “old paths” was used was in the title of a book written by the late 19th century Anglican J. C. Ryle! How, then, can a 20th century Baptist or a 21st century Baptist use the term “old paths” without paying some homage to the man who may have been the first to use the phrase at the title of a book, J. C. Ryle? And is it not interesting to note the Table of Contents in his book, with the chapter titles being
CHAPTER I INSPIRATION
CHAPTER II OUR SOULS!
CHAPTER III FEW SAVED!
CHAPTER IV OUR HOPE!
CHAPTER V "ALIVE OR DEAD?"
CHAPTER VI OUR SINS!
CHAPTER VII FORGIVENESS.
CHAPTER VIII JUSTIFICATION.
CHAPTER IX THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
CHAPTER X THE HOLY GHOST.
CHAPTER XI HAVING THE SPIRIT.
CHAPTER XII CONVERSION.
CHAPTER XIII THE HEART.
CHAPTER XIV CHRIST’S INVITATION.
CHAPTER XV FAITH.
CHAPTER XVI REPENTANCE.
CHAPTER XVII CHRIST’S POWER TO SAVE.
CHAPTER XVIII ELECTION.
CHAPTER XIX PERSEVERANCE.
Several things related to Ryle’s use of the phrase “old paths” and his book on the subject are amusing to me: First, his concern for “old paths” relates to specific issues that are raised in the Bible, but which issues are never what is referred to by IFBs who use the same phrase. Second, the fellow who seems to be better grounded in his use of the phrase “old paths” is was an Anglican, while those who use the phrase “old paths” to refer to issues not pointedly raised in Scripture are members of my community of IFBs! Thirdly, the Anglican uses terms that many IFBs that I have run with for forty years either disapprove of outright or use only when they are forced to do so, such as repentance, election, and perseverance.
May I suggest that we who are IFBs stop this nonsense of using an already established term to refer to a new notion that arose in the late 19th or early 20th century? For goodness sake, use the term as it was originally used or coin your own word or phrase to express your concern for late developing practices falling into disuse after a century or so. The Christian faith will not be adversely affected by any late developing practice or habit falling into disuse. Bishop Ryle’s concerns expressed in his book “Old Paths” are far more legitimate concerns for us to focus our attention on.
Next, consider the phrase “hyper-Calvinism.” For years I read the Sword of the Lord when it was edited by John R. Rice before I came to understand that he edited (sometimes severely) the sermons he printed to excise very obvious comments that reflected the classic Calvinism of the men whose sermons he printed, men who were wonderfully used of God to bring many souls to Christ and to spur others to engage in Biblical evangelism. At the very same time, John R. Rice engaged in what is rightly described as a veritable war against hyper-Calvinism. He wrote against it whenever possible and decried it at every opportunity as stifling to evangelism. And rightly so. I know of no one who would defend hyper-Calvinism against the charge that it stifles evangelistic fervor besides those who themselves are hyper-Calvinists. That said, John R. Rice and many since his time have blatantly mislabeled hyper-Calvinism and intentionally or ignorantly misrepresented what is and what is not hyper-Calvinism.
Let me set the record straight about two things: First, contrary to John R. Rice’s portrayal of the issue in the Sword of the Lord (and subsequent editors) subscribing to the five points of Calvinism does not make one a hyper-Calvinist. C. H. Spurgeon embraced the five points of Calvinism described using the acronym T-U-L-I-P but was not himself a hyper-Calvinist. In fact, he waged war against hyper-Calvinism early in his ministry.As well, there were approximately 1,300 Baptist congregations in England during his lifetime that also embraced the five points of Calvinism without being hyper-Calvinists. The differences that distinguish Calvinism from hyper-Calvinism are real and ought to be understood by those who are intellectually honest, but the ignorant assertion that anyone who embraces the five points of Calvinism is a hyper-Calvinist is factually wrong.
William Carey was not a hyper-Calvinist, yet he embraced the five points of Calvinism. Adoniram Judson was not a hyper-Calvinist, yet he embraced the five points of Calvinism. Isaac Backus was not a hyper-Calvinist, yet he embraced the five points of Calvinism. John Gano was not a hyper-Calvinist, yet he embraced the five points of Calvinism. Daniel and Abraham Marshall were not hyper-Calvinists, yet they embraced the five points of Calvinism. Hezekiah Smith was not a hyper-Calvinist, yet he embraced the five points of Calvinism. J. L. Dagg was not a hyper-Calvinist, yet he embraced the five points of Calvinism. B. H. Carroll was not a hyper-Calvinist, yet he embraced the five points of Calvinism. Finally, my good friend Kenneth Connolly and his father Peter Connolly were not hyper-Calvinists, yet they were very much five point Calvinists.
I am not either explaining or defending Calvinism. I merely seek to point out for the sake of intellectual honesty and to put the record straight that five-point Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism and has never been understood to be so by those who are well-informed and honest. Call Calvinists whatever you want to call them if you must, but please display the integrity to stop calling any man a hyper-Calvinist who preaches the Gospel to one and all, who urges all who hear the Gospel to turn from their sins to trust Christ, and upon whom our modern legacy of the Christian faith as modern Baptists has come to us.