1689 Stands for Unity: The Second London Confession of Faith – Sam Renihan

“1689” is, for some, the name of an old friend, a faithful confession of biblical truths. For others, it evokes a reputation of online tribalism. Though your experience and pre-understanding may vary, the original goal of the 1689 confession was to fulfill and embody the unity Jesus asked the Father to give his church in his high priestly prayer.

As he drew near to the hour of his suffering and triumph, Jesus prayed that his church “may be sanctified in truth . . . that they may all be one” (John 17:17–21). A good confession of faith unites Christians in truth, and the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2LCF) is one such confession.

The original goal of the 1689 confession was to fulfill and embody the unity Jesus asked the Father to give his church.

The 2LCF, successor to the First London Baptist Confession (1644), was first published in 1677. But it’s commonly known by the year 1689, when more than a hundred Particular Baptist congregations (known as Reformed Baptists today) sent delegates called messengers to a general assembly in London and made their subscription to the confession public: “Which Confession we own, as containing the Doctrine of our Faith and Practice.”

The Particular Baptists published the confession to distance themselves from the errors and heresies of Thomas Collier, a Baptist minister and author whom they’d confronted in person, then in print, in the two years prior to the Confession’s publication. Though 2LCF was born into this controversy, it was crafted in the spirit of Christ’s prayer for unity. We can see this in three ways.

1. Confessing the London Confession means uniting with the larger Christian church.

In the preface to the 2LCF, the Particular Baptists stated that much of the content of their confession was taken directly from the Savoy Declaration (1658) and the Westminster Confession (1646):

We did in like manner conclude it best to follow their example in making use of the very same words with them both, in these articles wherein our faith and doctrine is the same with theirs. And this we did, the more abundantly, to manifest our consent with both, in all the fundamental articles of the Christian Religion.

With the 2LCF, the Particular Baptists intentionally sought to unite with other English Christians in the fundamentals of the faith. Moreover, they had, as they said a few lines later, “no itch to clog religion with new words.” As a result, the majority of the 2LCF simply restates wisdom and insight from other English confessions, just as the crafters of the Savoy Declaration and Westminster Confession of Faith had reused the wisdom of the Irish Articles and the Thirty-nine Articles, which in turn had relied on even older Christian creeds.

2. Confessing the London Confession means uniting with the Reformed Baptist tradition.

Confessions aren’t inerrant. We should think of them as revisable, submitting their contents to God’s Word, our supreme judge and final authority in all matters of faith. But generations of Particular Baptists have confessed the 2LCF because they believe it faithfully represents the doctrine expressly set down and necessarily contained in God’s Word.

With the 2LCF, the Particular Baptists intentionally sought to unite with other English Christians in the fundamentals of the faith.

From its first publication in 1677 until today, the contents of the 2LCF have remained largely unedited. Three adapted versions of the 2LCF are most notable. The Philadelphia Confession preserved the entirety of the 2LCF unchanged but added a chapter on singing in public worship and a chapter on the laying on of hands. The Charleston Confession included Philadelphia’s chapter on singing in public worship, and Charles Spurgeon’s reprint made two edits, changing “elect infants dying in infancy” to “infants dying in infancy” in section 10.3 and “moral use” to “modern use” in 19.4.

These changes have been minimal because Reformed Baptist churches have remained convinced of the confession’s scriptural fidelity. It’s a joy to read the 2LCF and know that we confess our faith with the same words our Baptist forefathers did in 1677.

3. Confessing the London Confession means uniting with associated confessional churches.

In chapter 26, the 2LCF confesses that churches ought to “hold communion” with one another. That is, they ought to have a formal relationship of mutual help, accountability, and cooperation with other churches of like faith. Particular Baptists have practiced associationalism for generations, and they’ve used the 2LCF as the foundation for their unity. In 1704 the Cripplegate Particular Baptist Church in London said,

The solemn owning and ratifying of our so well attested and general approved confession of faith . . . seems to us . . . a thing absolutely necessary to the just and regular constitution of all associations. (ALRPCO, Cripplegate Church Book, 26v)

In the early 1730s, the associated Particular Baptist churches in the west of England established “that Scriptural and most excellent Confession of our Pious Ancestors in [the] year 1689, as the foundation of our future meetings” (ALRPCO, Western Association Minutes [1732–44], 25). To confess the 2LCF, therefore, is not to distance oneself from the larger Christian tradition, nor to isolate oneself from other local churches, but rather it’s to embrace a document designed to unite local churches in associational communion.

In obedience to Jesus’s will expressed in his prayer for unity, all Christians must seek oneness with other believers. The Second London Baptist Confession is an excellent and proven tool for accomplishing this. It unites its confessors to the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, to an unedited Particular Baptist tradition, and to a cooperative association of confessional churches. As John taught, when the church joins together in a common confession of the truth, Christian communion is brought to a complete joy (1 John 1:1–4).

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