Particular Baptists are a subgroup within the larger Baptist denomination that holds to a Calvinist theological perspective. The term “Particular” refers to their belief in particular redemption – that Jesus died specifically for the sins of the elect, not for all humanity. This distinguishes them from General Baptists who believe that Jesus’ atonement was for everyone.
History of Particular Baptists
The Particular Baptists emerged out of the English Puritan movement in the early 17th century. As the name suggests, early Particular Baptists held to a Calvinistic soteriology along with Baptist views on baptism and church governance. Some key figures in the origins of Particular Baptists include:
- John Spilsbury – Regarded as one of the first Particular Baptist pastors. He led a dissenting congregation in London in the 1630s.
- Henry Jessey – A Puritan minister who became convinced of Baptist beliefs in the 1640s. He helped bring together seven Particular Baptist congregations to form the first Particular Baptist association in 1644.
- Thomas Lamb – Baptist preacher imprisoned 32 times for unlawful preaching. He helped spread Particular Baptist beliefs in London in the mid-1600s.
- William Kiffin – Wealthy merchant who used his resources to aid the early Particular Baptist movement. He funded the first Particular Baptist church building in London in 1660.
The first Particular Baptist confession of faith was the 1644 London Confession. It outlined core Baptist doctrines like believer’s baptism, church governance by elders, religious liberty, and a Calvinist soteriology. The 1689 London Baptist Confession built on this earlier confession and remains the most prominent theological statement for Reformed Baptists.
In the late 1600s, Particular Baptists split into the General Baptists over theological disagreements about the extent of the atonement. The General Baptists affirmed a general atonement for all, while Particulars maintained their Calvinistic stance of particular redemption for the elect alone. This division remains today.
While sharing many core beliefs with other evangelical denominations, Particular Baptists are distinct in several key areas:
Particular Baptists adhere to the five points of Calvinism that were articulated at the Synod of Dort in 1619 in response to the five points of Arminianism. These five points, often summarized with the acronym TULIP, include:
- Total Depravity – Due to original sin, humanity is spiritually dead and totally depraved, unable to initiate salvation on its own.
- Unconditional Election – God unconditionally elected certain individuals for salvation, not based on anything foreseen in them.
- Limited Atonement – Christ died to pay for the sins of the elect alone, not the whole world.
- Irresistible Grace – When God calls the elect to salvation, they cannot resist or reject God’s grace.
- Perseverance of the Saints – Once saved, the elect are kept by God’s power and cannot lose their salvation.
This Calvinistic system shapes Particular Baptists’ understanding of salvation. Humans are seen as spiritually dead in sin and unable to contribute to their salvation. God alone graciously elects and saves sinners according to His sovereign will.
Particular Baptists share the same Baptist distinctives as other Baptist groups:
- Believer’s baptism – Baptism is reserved for professing believers, not infants. Baptism is by full immersion.
- Local church autonomy – Each local Baptist church is self-governing under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
- Priesthood of all believers – All Christians have equal access to God and are ministers before Him.
- Religious liberty – Compulsion in religion is wrong. Each person’s conscience should be respected.
- Separation of church and state – The church and state have different roles and responsibilities.
These shared Baptist beliefs set Particular Baptists apart from other Protestant groups like Presbyterians or Methodists. Particular Baptists combine these Baptist distinctives with a Reformed Calvinistic theology.
Most Particular Baptists adhere to Reformed covenant theology. This views God’s redemptive plan being revealed through a series of biblical covenants that build on each other, from the covenant of works to the covenant of grace.
Key covenants in covenant theology include:
- Covenant of Works – God’s covenant with Adam promising life for obedience and death for disobedience.
- Covenant of Grace – God’s promise to save the elect by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
- Covenant of Redemption – The eternal agreement between the members of the Trinity to redeem the elect.
This covenant framework shapes Particular Baptists’ understanding of Scripture and God’s unified plan of redemption across both Old and New Testaments.
Worship and Practice
Particular Baptist worship services focus on the preaching and teaching of Scripture, singing psalms and hymns, prayer, and observance of the two ordinances – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Some distinctive features include:
- Simple worship services led by pastors/elders with minimal liturgy.
- Singing of psalms and hymns without instrumental accompaniment.
- Practice of closed communion, with the Lord’s Supper offered to members only.
- No observance of Christian holidays like Christmas or Easter which are seen as extra-biblical.
- Use of both lengthy prayers and silent times for private communion with God.
There is diversity among Particular Baptist churches, but most aim for worship that is God-centered, Scripture-saturated, reverent, and focused on glorifying God.
In church governance, Particular Baptists follow a congregational polity led by a plurality of elders. Each local church is self-governing but often cooperates in associations, conferences, and other parachurch ministries. Historically, Particular Baptists have placed a strong emphasis on evangelism, preaching, and global missions work.
Prominent Particular Baptists and Churches
Below are some notable Particular Baptists and churches that have shaped this tradition:
- John Bunyan (1628-1688) – Author of Pilgrim’s Progress, the most translated book in the English language behind only the Bible.
- Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) – Famous 19th century London preacher who led the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
- John Piper (1946-) – Prominent Reformed Baptist pastor and theologian; founder of Desiring God ministry.
- Capitol Hill Baptist Church – Founded in 1878, a prominent Reformed Baptist church in Washington D.C. pastored by Mark Dever.
- Grace Baptist Church – Founded in 1644 in London, it is the oldest continuously existing Particular Baptist church.
- Founders Ministries – An association promoting Reformed theology among Southern Baptists.
While relatively small, Particular Baptists have had an outsized influence within evangelicalism through prolific writers, global missionary work, and shaping broader Reformed theology. Leading seminaries like The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were also founded by Particular Baptists.
Comparison to Other Baptist Groups
There are several major subgroups under the broader Baptist denomination. Here is how Particular Baptists compare to other Baptist groups:
Particular Baptists vs General Baptists
General Baptists hold to Arminian theology while Particular Baptists are Calvinists. General Baptists believe Christ died to provide salvation for all humanity. Particular Baptists see Christ’s death as being for the elect alone. These opposite views on the extent of the atonement remain the key distinction.
Particular Baptists vs Southern Baptists
Southern Baptists are the largest Baptist group but hold a wide diversity of theological positions. Southern Baptists originated from Particular Baptists but have shifted towards a more semi-Arminian stance over time. Founders Ministries seeks to return Southern Baptists to their Particular Baptist roots.
Particular Baptists vs American Baptists
Like Southern Baptists, American Baptists represent a diverse range of theological convictions from Arminian to Calvinist. American Baptists have a more Baptist tradition, whereas Southern Baptists broke off for reasons related to slavery. Particular Baptists are confessionally Calvinistic, unlike American Baptists who encompass different strands.
Particular Baptists vs Reformed Baptists
These terms are largely synonymous. Both labels describe Baptists who adhere to Calvinism/Reformed theology. However, Reformed Baptist may be used more broadly to include those from other Baptist branches that hold to Calvinism. But most self-identified Particular Baptists would also embrace the term Reformed Baptist.
Particular Baptists vs Sovereign Grace Baptists
This newer label reflects Calvinistic Baptists who want to emphasize God’s sovereignty. Sovereign Grace Baptists adhere to the core beliefs of Particular Baptists. The differences are minor and more related to style and emphasis. Particular Baptist has a stronger historical tradition, whereas Sovereign Grace Baptist conveys Calvinistic beliefs in its name.
Particular Baptists Today
While small historically, the growth of Calvinism among the Young, Restless, Reformed has increased interest in Particular Baptist churches in recent decades. Prominent leaders like John Piper and Al Mohler have spread Reformed theology more widely.
Some associations for Particular Baptists include the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America and the Sovereign Grace Baptist Association. Numerous church networks like Sovereign Grace Churches and Acts 29 Network have also grown rapidly. These promote the beliefs of historic Particular Baptists in a contemporary context.
Particular Baptists engage in cooperating bodies like Founders Ministries to promote Reformed theology in wider Baptist circles. They run seminaries like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, and Toronto Baptist Seminary to train pastors in their theological tradition. While still a minority, Particular Baptists are seeking to grow through church planting, theological education, media outreach, and global partnerships.
Key Issues and Debates
Some ongoing discussions and debates among Particular Baptists include:
- How confessional Reformed theology should shape preaching, evangelism, discipleship, and pastoral ministry.
- How Reformed soteriology impacts views on congregational singing, church membership, baptism, and communion.
- Issues related to Calvinism vs Arminianism like extent of the atonement, human free will, and the problem of evil.
- How the doctrines of grace should inform missionary work and defending the faith.
- The proper form of church government – plurality of elders vs single elder leadership.
- Debates over theology of the covenant and proper subjects of baptism.
- Discussions onCommon grace, the role of natural law, and sphere sovereignty issues.
- Questions on secondary theological issues like eschatology, spiritual gifts, worship style.
While agreeing on the core doctrines summarized in the 1689 London Baptist Confession, there remains healthy diversity among Particular Baptists on many secondary issues related to how these beliefs are lived out practically in local church contexts.
Particular Baptists represent an important strand within the broader Reformed Calvinistic tradition. Their core beliefs in the doctrines of grace combined with Baptist views on the church and ordinances have contributed significantly to evangelical history and theology. Particular Baptists continue to be a small but influential part of the wider Baptist movement as they seek to preach the doctrines of grace, plant confessional Reformed churches, and spread their theological convictions in the 21st century.