Tag Archives: English General Baptists

2017 Symposium Recap: Joshua Colson on Calvin’s View of the Supper

 Matt Pinson

Josh Colson presented a well-written paper at the 2017 Theological Symposium on Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper. The purpose of the paper was to study Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper and make applications to the Protestant debate on the Supper, with special reference to the General/Free Will Baptist tradition.

Colson briefly discussed the main views against which the Reformed churches were reacting. He summarized the Roman Catholic understanding of transubstantiation, which sees the bread and the wine in the Supper as being transformed into the body and blood of Christ when the priest consecrates it at the celebration of the Mass. He also considered the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper, that, although the elements are not transformed into the physical body and blood of Christ, Christ’s body and blood are still really, mysteriously present in the elements.

Colson followed this discussion with a summary of the Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper, which is known commonly as the “memorialist” view. He described Zwingli as advancing a view of the Lord’s Supper that emphasizes “this do in remembrance of me” to the exclusion of any consideration of the presence of Christ in the Supper.

The paper then explained Calvin’s view, which differs from all the above views and says that Christ’s body and blood are spiritually present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. Colson sees Calvin’s view as a via media (middle way) between Luther’s and Zwingli’s views.

Though the historical summary was helpful, the most thought-provoking part of Colson’s paper was the application section. His comments were particularly applicable for Free Will Baptists since he quoted from some English General Baptist sources that seem to espouse a view of the Lord’s Supper that sounds closer to Calvin’s “spiritual presence” view than to a mere memorialism. Colson rightly quoted John Hammett’s clever statement that often the modern Evangelical and Baptist (mis)understanding of the Lord’s Supper is an over-reaction against “real presence,” resulting in “real absence.”

The application part of Colson’s paper justly brings into question the way many modern Evangelicals have relegated the Lord’s Supper to an unimportant, rote practice that is unceremoniously and often unthoughtfully tacked on to the end of a service occasionally, one that robs the ordinance of its reverential, ritual significance in the life of the church. Colson was effective in making the argument that our Free Will Baptist ancestors approached the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with far more gravity and far more spiritual preparation than many modern Evangelicals.

“This line of thinking,” Colson argued, “has reduced the Supper and the other ordinances of the church to ‘bare’ symbols—a far cry from the traditional Baptistic understanding of the ordinances noted earlier. The key, then, is not to strip the ordinances of their spiritual significance (i.e., explain how Christ is not present); rather, Baptists should state positively how Christ is present in the Supper and the other ordinances which He and His apostles instituted.”

This is, unfortunately, a not-uncommon occurrence. One often hears a sermon before a baptism or before the Lord’s Supper describing what the ordinance is not rather than what the ordinance rightly and powerfully and beautifully is. Colson and others might wish to examine the rich history of “preparatory sermons” which were practiced by Puritans of various types and by Free Will Baptists (including my own ministerial grandfather into the 1980s), which were designed to prepare the congregation for “rightly” eating the Supper of the Lord together. Interestingly, the Puritan minister and poet Edward Taylor turned some of his own prose preparatory sermons into exquisite poetry; such poems reveal a great deal about the significance that was attached to preparation for this regular ritual observance—both by the Puritans generally and by our English General Baptist ancestors also. (I owe these insights to my colleague Darrell Holley.)

While space and topic did not call for it in this paper, in a future study, Colson will no doubt want to probe more deeply the Zwinglian doctrine of the Lord’s Supper—which is certainly more than “bare memorialism.” The key difference between Zwingli (and the early Anabaptists and Baptists that followed his lead) and Calvin was not that the former denied that Christ was spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper. Instead, it was Calvin’s unfortunate sacramentalism that they balked at—the view that the Supper was, in some way, a vehicle of saving grace, as seen, for example, in the Heidelberg Catechism’s statement that in the Supper we are “nourished to everlasting life.” Zwinglians (and Anabaptists and Baptists) have usually avoided this sort of language. Nonetheless, when at their best, they have always wanted to stress that Christ was indeed present in the Supper—indeed, in all of the appointed practices (ordinances) of the church when properly prepared for, when properly observed, and when properly used as obligatory liturgical “dramas” presenting in powerful symbolic form some of the most profound doctrines of the faith.

Mr. Colson has served us very well by forcing us to think deeply about the Lord’s Supper and our practice of it. Prayerful reflection on these matters will no doubt motivate Free Will Baptists to treat the Supper with the awe-filled reverence and dignity and spiritual mystery that historically accompanied the ordinance in our tradition. In this—as in so many other areas—right thinking will lead to right acting, and then right acting will reinforce right thinking. With the right preparation, all the teachings of the Lord for His Church—including the Lord’s Supper—can result in theological instruction and spiritual nourishment. We can begin to see the Supper truly as communion: on the horizontal level, as a communion of Christ’s people together and, on the vertical level, as a communion with the Lord Himself in a spiritually nourishing feast, a feast which compels them to remember the sacrifice of His body and blood, and the spiritual change that sacrifice has wrought in their lives.

Joshua Colson: Calvin’s View of the Supper

Free Will Baptists and Evangelical Scholarship

by Theological Commission

Two years ago a post appeared on this blog that noted the relationship between Free Will Baptists and evangelical scholarship. This was specifically in reference to there being four presenters at the National Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society who serve Free Will Baptist churches and/or entities. This year’s meeting took place two weeks ago in Providence, Rhode Island. The theme was the Heritage of the Reformation, and as usual the meeting featured a range of interesting presentations, panel discussions, plenary addresses, and more.

This year five Free Will Baptists presented or moderated across five different sections of the program. The following are the presenters and their paper titles:

Dr. Matthew McAffee (Provost and Professor at Welch College): “Ugaritic Ditanu and  Greek Titans: An Appraisal of Etymological and Narrative Connections.”

Rev. Jesse Owens (Church Planter, Adjunct Professor; Doctoral Candidate) – “English General Baptists: the Arminian Anti-rationalists.”

Dr. Matt Pinson (President of Welch College; Commission Chairman) – “Are Predestination and Election Corporate or Individual? Toward a Reformed Arminian Account.”

Rev. W. Jackson Watts (Pastor, Commission member; Doctoral candidate) – “Cultural Analysis and the Dynamics of Leading Change in the Church.”

Dr. Jeff Cockrell, professor at Welch College, moderated a New Testament section on the Gospel of Mark, and Mr. Matthew Bracey, Vice Provost and Professor at Welch also attended.

Audio recordings of these presentations can be found and purchased at Word Mp3. Readers may also note that a few of these papers are adapted from presentations given at the 2017 Theological Symposium. For more information on ETS or these specific presentations, you may leave us a question on the blog’s comment thread.


Prophet and Priest and King

by Matthew Pinson

(reposted from www.welch.com/blog)

I grew up in church singing “Praise Him, Praise Him,” a hymn by the prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby. It was hymn 58 in the old 1964 Free Will Baptist Hymn Book. There was a phrase in that hymn that always intrigued me:

Jesus, Savior, reigneth forever and ever.

Crown Him! Crown Him! Prophet, and Priest, and King!

I sung about Christ as prophet, priest, and king in church hundreds of times. In addition to that, I recall hearing the phrase in some of my grandfather L. V. Pinson’s sermons.

Another recollection I have of what is known as the “three offices of Christ” or the “threefold office of Christ” was when Leroy Forlines, about 25 years ago, introduced me to Jacobus Arminius’s writings on the offices of Christ. He told me that his theology of the atonement and justification had been particularly influenced by reading Arminius’s Oration on the Priesthood of Christ. He had encountered this while taking a course in “Arminian Theology” in the early 1950s, taught by Dr. L. C. Johnson, founding president of Welch College.

Other than that, I’ve heard very little about the phrase or the concept. I think it’s safe to say that, generally, we hear less and less about Christ’s offices of prophet, priest, and king in modern Christianity. Still, I’ve become fascinated by the three offices of Christ, and I’m thinking of writing a little book of spirituality on them.

There was a time, not long ago, when Christ as prophet, priest, and king was common vernacular in the church. In the history of Christianity, you read a great deal about the subject. I have found this especially true in our spiritual ancestors in the seventeenth century, the English General Baptists.

I’m currently producing a critical edition of a work on spirituality by the English General Baptist Francis Smith entitled Symptoms of Growth and Decay in Godliness. It hasn’t been published since the early 1700s. In the “Dedicatory Epistle,” Smith, speaking of conversion, the “gracious change, God through his rich grace then made, that . . . his Son should become your King, to rule you, your Priest to make atonement for you, and also your Prophet to teach you; in a word your All in All. Thus at the sight and sense of what sin and Satan had been, and what now Christ Jesus would be by way of change, your hearts were wonderfully taken up with admiring this choice, that was not only of God’s preparing to redeem you from the highest wrath, but to redeem you to the highest glory.”

A wonderful summary of the historic Protestant teaching on the three offices of Christ is found in a seventeenth-century General Baptist confession of faith entitled the Orthodox Creed. The passage below comes from the article entitled “Of Christ and His Mediatorial Office.” “Mediatorial Office” is another way of saying the three offices of Christ or the “threefold office of Jesus Christ,” as was commonly used. The language of “mediatorial office” comes from 1 Timothy 2:5, which reads, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (NKJV). The Free Will Baptist Treatise of Faith and Practices uses similar language in its chapter six, “The Atonement and Mediation of Christ.” Below is the passage from the Orthodox Creed. I encourage you to read it carefully and meditate on the three offices of Christ, praising Him as prophet, priest, and king.

“It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, according to the Covenant made between them both, to be the only mediator between God and man, (viz.) God the Father, who was by Adam’s sin justly offended, and Adam (our common parent) the person offending. Now in order to reconcile God to man, and man to God, who were at a distance, Christ Jesus, the second person in the Trinity, being very God, of the same substance with his Father, when the fullness of time was come, took unto him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities (sin being the only exception), being made of a woman, of the seed of Abraham and David. . . . The same Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience to the whole Law and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit offered up unto God the Father, hath fully satisfied the Justice of God, reconciled him to us, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those that the Father hath given unto him. Now by a continued act of intercession in heaven, Christ Jesus applies the benefits he has purchased to the elect. In this office of mediator, he has the dignity of three offices, (viz.) Priest, Prophet, and King. All these offices are necessary for the benefit of his Church, and without them we can never be saved. For in respect of our ignorance, we stand in need of his prophetical office. In respect of our alienation from God, our imperfect services, and God’s wrath and justice, we stand in need of his priestly office, to reconcile God to us and us to God. In respect of our bondage to sin and Satan and averseness to return to God, we need his kingly office, to subdue our enemies and deliver us captives out of the kingdom and power of sin and preserve us to his heavenly kingdom. Thus (in our nature) he, living the life of the law and suffering the penalty due to us, continually presents us at the throne of grace, so is a most wonderful and complete mediator for his elect” [1].


[1] William J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 135-37. I have updated some of the spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.