John Smyth: The Danger of Haste

JOhn-Smyth-LegacyJohn Smyth won fame from himself when he established the first English Baptist Church in 1608. Yet, few Baptists know of Smyth’s contribution to the Baptist faith because he undermined his own legacy, rapidly changing his theological convictions.

As a young man, Smyth studied a Christ College in Cambridge and was ordain by the bishop of London in 1594. Though he had been exposed to Separatists ideas in college, he remained in the Church of England, partnering with other Puritan ministers’ intent on reforming the national church.  Understandably, the Church of England took issue with Smyth’s unauthorized pleas for reform and removed him from his position as city lecturer in 1602. “Though he was loath to give offense” and did all that he could to stay in the church of England, Smyth continued to break the law. In 1606, he lost his ordination because he preached without church approval. And in 1607, he faced penalties for practicing medicine without a license. Though Smyth championed the Calvinistic doctrine of the Church of England and infant baptism, legal, clerical, and eventually financial pressures drove him to conclude that the Church of England was beyond repair and no longer a true church.

In 1607, he became one of the leaders of the covenanting Separatist’s congregation in Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. He taught that the church should be founded upon a voluntary agreement between members but allowed elders to rule the congregation and permitted infant baptism. Because of persecution, Smyth and some of his congregation fled to Holland while others headed to America on the Mayflower.

Once on new soil, Smyth moved beyond separatism because he opposed elder rule, taught that tithing was an ordinance, said only Greek and Hebrew Bibles could be read during worship, and became convinced of believer’s baptism, the sprinkling of adults post conversion. Acting on his newly acquire convictions, he dissolved his Separatist church and formed the first Baptist congregation in 1609. That year, he baptized himself and then 36 others, stating that group of two to three people ordained by the Holy Spirit could start a new church. At this time, he also changed his views about original sin and predestination, repudiating his Calvinistic convictions.

Had Smyth stopped his theological evolution in 1609, more Baptists would know of him today. But, the evolution continued.

By 1610, Smyth concluded that his Baptist church was not a true church. Smyth now believed Baptism had to be performed pastor whose baptism could be traced to the apostolic era. Convinced of succession, a doctrine he had vehemently attacked only months earlier, Smyth encouraged his church to apply for membership in the Waterland Church founded by the Mennonite movement. Smyth’s church members could no longer handle his theological about-faces and split. When Smyth died in Amsterdam in 1615, the remaining members of his church joined the Mennonite church, leaving behind a tainted legacy for the Baptist faith.

Smyth’s rash application of his theological change should serve as a warning to modern pastors. In his zeal to get the Bible right, Smyth spent much of his life getting the Bible wrong. In the span of seven years, Smyth championed Anglican, Puritan, Baptist, Separatist, and Mennonite theology. With each move, he attacked those he left behind, ungraciously viewing them to be fools or servants of the anti-Christ because they rejected Smyth’s new convictions. He said the Puritans practiced a false faith because they stayed in the church of England, a church he once fought to defend. He declared that the Separatists bore the mark of the beast because they practiced infant baptism. and succession. Later in life, he criticized Baptist for not practicing succession.

During his lifetime, he both defended and attacked congregationalism, succession, Calvinism, and infant baptism. Predictably with each change, Smyth had to disavow portions of his earlier writings. Because of his doctrinal instability and harsh tone, Smyth divided his church and struggled to maintain relationships with Thomas Helwys and other close friends. Smyth’s life revealed that zeal detached from maturity harms the witness of gospel.

Paul wrote that gospel infants, “were tossed about by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” The pastor who desires to lead his church well, and the church member who values godly leadership should learn from Smyth’s haste. They should realize that bold convictions detached from prayer, patience, and counsel lead to confusion and division. As Proverbs 19:2 warns: “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” 

To lead well, the pastor must lead calmly and patiently, wrestling with truth until he has mastered it. Impatience appeared to constantly push Smyth from theological genius to theological fool. The pastor who strikes out like Smyth and begins to blog, tweet, and lecture on topics he only just encountered will harm to his church.  Often your fluctuating convictions of today cannot help but be the embarrassments of tomorrow. The life of Smyth revealed that the prudent pastor should workout his theology in his office long before he speaks about his new convictions and calls for change. Haste leads to division and fractured legacies.

Friends, have we learned the lesson of John Smyth?

Baptism: yes, no, maybe?


Should we baptize the energetic five-year-old who just bounded down the aisle to tell us they love Jesus? Should we require Sarah to get “re-baptized” even though her Christian parents had her sprinkled as a child? Should we ask Jerry to get re-baptized since he just told us about how he is finally following Jesus. He was dunked as a kid, but now his life is changing. He has stopped getting drunk; he faithfully attends church; and he has begun to final treat his wife with dignity and love. And what about Sally? She was dunked by a Roman Catholic priest. She went was fully submerged and everything. Does she need to be baptized before become a member of our church?

The answer all of these questions and the many others that play on the sands of baptism’s shore, we must turn to the Scriptures. We must look at how the Scriptures speak of baptism and then baptize accordingly.

What does the Bible have to say about baptism?

Baptism is For The Redeemed

The New Testament church only baptized those who had repented and believed in response to the Word of God. The three thousand souls added at Pentecost, the Ethiopian Eunuch, the apostle Paul, the Gentiles at Cornelius’s house, and the Philippian Jailer all heard the gospel, repented, and then entered the waters of baptized (Acts 2:37-41; Acts 8:34-36; 9:17-18; 10:47; 16:29-34).

Luke documents Peter’s words in Acts 10:47-48:

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Baptism never precedes faith and repentance. It is often closely tied to faith and repentance. After all, the believer who has been redeemed will undoubtedly want to publicly obey Christ and unify with the people of Christ through the waters of baptism. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4-6:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all

All who believe in Christ become part of God’s people and share a common hope that is defined by the Lordship of Christ, faith in the his resurrection, and baptism. Baptism cannot be detached from faith. All who believe and have the opportunity to get baptized will eagerly embrace the waters of baptism.

The 1 Peter Objection

But then we encounter 1 Peter 3:21-22 which states:

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Peter just said that baptism saves, but the Scriptures mentioned above teach the opposite. What is going on?

The word “corresponds,” ἀντίτυπον, refers to an impression made from stamp used to seal envelopes. It could also be translated as “representation.” Peter is saying that baptism, dunking, is a representation of how God saves us. The salvation is not based on works. Rather it is based on faith in God which grants us good conscience through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter is explicitly revealing that the physical act of baptism does not save. Salvation comes through Christ alone by faith. We cannot initiate salvation for ourselves or for anyone else through the waters of baptism.

Baptism By Immersion

How do we do it? How should be baptize people? Do we immerse them? Do we sprinkle them? Do we need running water? Do any of these things matter?

Correct and biblical baptism always consists of immersion. The baptism described in the New Testament indicate that the baptismal candidates where dunked. Both Mathew 3:16 and Mark 1:10 record that Jesus “when up from the water” following his baptism. And in Acts 8:38-39 we read the following description of the Ethiopian Eunuch’s baptism:

And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Moreover baptism points to the salvific work of Christ in the believer’s heart. The sacrament does not signal future salvation or hope for salvation. Baptism shows what Christ has done in our hearts. Notice Romans 6:3-4:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Colossians 2:12-13, Titus 3:5, and 1 Corinthians 6:11 all confirm the Biblical maxim that baptism should be by immersion. The believer goes under the water to express death to sin and comes back out of the water to express their new life in Christ. Such powerful imagery, such gospel explanation is lost when we dip our hands in small bowl of water and sprinkle someone’s head. Such little amounts of water couldn’t wash dirt off a child’s face. The picture fails to accurately represent the powerful, awesome, and beautiful act of salvation which is tied to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Baptism In the Church

Baptism is a proclamation, a demonstration, and an identification with the gospel. Those who go into the waters of baptism declare that they have been redeemed and our now part of the people of God. The church is charged by God in Matthew 16:19-20 to both bind and loose. The church is supposed to recognize those who have been redeemed and excommunicate those who evidence no fruit of continued repentance. Since Baptism is, “The boundary of visible Christianity” the church should guard and administer the sacrament. The local church should determine who has demonstrated faith and baptize them. The local church (and not camps, college ministries, or para-church feeding programs) has been given the keys to the kingdom and should oversee the sacrament of Baptism. More specifically, the pastors and elders of the local church should do the baptism. They have been appointed by the church to teach, guide, and when needed represent the church.  God honoring Baptism takes place when a believer who has heard the gospel and repented is baptized by immersion by an elder in the presence of the local church.

We could summarize all that has been said above in the below definition:

Baptism is the first sacrament of the new covenant which initiates believers into the local church through immersion which symbolizes that the believer has died to sin and been raised with Christ.

The Answers

Who should be baptized? Those who believed in response to the preached gospel. Who has truly been baptized? Those who were immersed after faith. All other baptismal acts including sprinkling and being baptized in a non-gospel affirming church are not biblical baptism. Who needs to be baptized? All who have believed and who have not been immersed in the presence of a gospel believing church by a recognized leader of the church.

Keep It Growing: Part A

What Comes After Baptism?

As soon as the child bounces out of the baptistery his parents, Sunday School teachers, and friends breathe a sigh of relief. They have diligently taught the little, wet soul about sin, Jesus, and salvation wrought SalvationSeries_KeepingItGrowing_6partAby the cross. And as the little guy dries off, his spiritual mentors prepare to move onto the next soul, leaving their former charge secure in the arms of Christ.

While this thinking that emphasizes evangelism to the point of neglecting discipleship has a host of complex sources ranging from “easy believism” to parents seeking heaven insurance, we can be sure it’s wrong.  As Matthew 28:19-20 makes clear, baptism and a confession is not the end goal of the Christian’s life. Jesus commands us show others how “to observe all that I have commanded you.” Our charge to declare the beauty of the gospel has not ended. It has just started! J.D. Greear reminds us, “

Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from; salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life” (p. 5).

Because the Christian life is a life time commitment, our commitment to declare truth to the next generation never ends.  We are to disciple our children (Psalm 76). Let’s keep them growing in the faith!    

What Is Discipleship

Like a New York Times best seller, the word “Discipleship” has been steadily clanking up the list of well used Christianese terms. But tossing around a word inside the church fellowship hall does not mean we understand what the term means. Let’s take a New York minute and see what discipleship is.

Unlike many Christian phrases adopted by the church to make it ridiculously confusing to outsiders, the terms “disciple,” “discipleship,” or “disciple-making” actually appear on the pages of scripture 281 times. Jesus defines the concept in Luke 6:40 stating, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Essentially, a disciple is a follower. In John 6:26, Jesus directly discusses the nature of Christian discipleship saying, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me.” In his book Growing Up, Robby Gallaty helpfully defines discipleship as:

intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ. (p. 19) 

In short, discipleship or disciple-making is the process of intentionally helping others obediently follow after Christ so that they can lead others to follow Christ.

Family Discipleship 101

As the definitions show us, discipleship consists of biblical teaching within the context of relationship. Although families are relational by nature, we still must put forth effort to connect scripture to our family relationships in two ways. Many names exist to describe the two types of family discipleship, but for the sake of simplicity, I will call the first “Family Worship” and the second, “On the Job Training.”

Family Worship

First, we need to create family worship times to teach our children about, “the instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This is a set time during which we bring the word of God to bear directly our children’s struggles and successes. As we talk about what the scriptures say about lying, we encourage little Johnny to be truthful; we apply the sermon on I Corinthians 13 to our son’s relationship with his sister; and we can use the Sunday school lesson on the rich young ruler to encourage our daughter forsake of love money. Although not every family worship time will be glorious (I can remember wrecking a few in my childhood), they will give a platform and opportunities to speak truth directly into your child’s heart.

On the Job Training

Second, we disciple through everyday life. As our children study, play, do chores, suffer SalvationSeries_BaptismClassforParents6heartache, and excel academically, we seek to redeem their life experiences by showing how the gospel helps us make sense of life. When they come home crying because their best friend has spread a lie about them, we can offer them hope, reminding them that Christ is going to return and free the world from suffering.  And more immediately, we can remind our daughter that she will be able to forgive her friend through the power of Christ because we have already been forgiven (Col. 3:13). But to have this influence upon our children’s hearts, we have to be diligently creating a platform from which we can launch into these conversations. Our own faithful walk with Christ and family worship makes on the job training possible (Deut. 6:5-6). If we never initiate spiritual conversations with our children, we cannot expect them to invite us into their hearts or expect them to welcome sporadic spiritual correction. If anything, we will just frustrate their young hearts. We need to be intentionally showing our children how to obey Christ every day in every way.  

You Can Do It!!!!

Now you might be thinking, “Of course the pastor is all about family worship as a means of discipleship; he did after all go to school for like four years to study the Bible.” But believe it or not being a disciple maker is not a seminary based skill. It’s a God given ability bestowed upon every believer. Think back to the great commission in Mathew 28. Does Jesus command only pastors and seminary students to make disciples? No, he commands every Christian to be a disciple-maker! If Jesus tells us to make disciples, we can have 100% confidence that Jesus will give us the ability to make disciples. And he has! He sent us the Holy Spirit to enlighten hearts. If we are faithful to pray and study the word, God will do the rest.  I fully agree with Voddie Baucham’s comment:

If you can read, you can teach your children God’s Word. All you have to do is stay a step ahead of them.” (Baucham V. J., 2007)  

You might agree that family discipleship should be occurring in your home, but you feel inadequate to teach. First check your heart. If you have sin in your life, repent of it. And if it’s public sin against your family ask God’s forgiveness and their forgiveness. For you to disciple others, you need to be obediently following Christ and repenting of your sins! With your life right before God, start proactively discipling! Remember,

Ministry is the pathway to maturity, not the other way around” (Gallaty, p. 29).

After you begin family worship, I suspect you will still sin. I’ve even sinned in the midst of our devotion time and had to ask my wife for forgiveness. Even if we or our children sin every time we have a family worship time, we don’t stop. Family discipleship is not designed to make us perfect or to solve all of our family’s problems. Rather, family worship is a time during which we encourage our hearts and the hearts of our children to pursue holiness.  

We’ll have to teach the same lessons over and over, we’ll often make the same mistakes again and again, and we must continue to rely on the grace of God to see us through (Baucham V. J., 2011, p. 62) 

We never outgrow our need for the gospel!

All About the Daddio’s

Now Dad-s if you are in the home, please understand that much of the above instructions are written primarily with us in mind! We are called by God to lead our family. We are called by God to love our wives as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25). We are called to loving care for our children primarily by equipping them with life skills and by teaching them the word (Eph. 6:4 and Col 3:21). The Psalmist says fathers are commanded, “To teach to their children” about the things of God (Ps 78:5). We are called to encourage our families to “Seek first the kingdom of God and righteousness,” making sports, work, and piano practice second to the gospel (Matt 4:4). If we are taking our family to church, that’s great. Let’s keep going. But the spiritual formation of our children rests upon our shoulders.  We cannot offshore our calling to the youth pastor or leave all the spiritual stuff to our wives. We need to be spiritual leaders who disciple in the home.

 Admittedly, your wife may be a stronger Christian than you. If that’s the case, learn from her! Ask her questions, seek her impute (even if you are a well establish Christian, seek her input)! And remember, the power of the gospel is not tied to her or to anybody else! It’s attached to the Word of God. Even though you might not be writing Systematic Theologies, you can still encourage your wife and children with the word of God! Even baby Christians can make disciples.  Let’s get going!

Next week we will look specifically at how to make your family worship time a success.

Recommended Reading:

Baucham, V. J. (2007). Family Driven Faith: Doing What it Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God . Wheaton: Crossway .

Baucham, V. J. (2011). Family Sheperds. Wheaton: Crossway .

Gallaty, R. (2013). Growing Up: How To be a Disciple Who Make Disciples. Bloomington: Crossway .

Greear, J. (2013). Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How TO Know For Sure You Are Saved. Nashville: B&H Publishing .