Nineteenth century Baptist historian, David Benedict (1779-1874), details the forming of what is likely the very first Baptist church on American soil in Providence, RI by Roger Williams.1 Below are a few highlights one of which enlightens us concerning the theological shift that took place in the church while Williams was pastor.
When they were out of the Massachusetts jurisdiction, they pitched in a place now called Rehoboth; but the men of Plymouth hearing thereof, sent to inform them that they were settled on lands within their territories. Now they had no refuge, but must venture among savages…They then came round Fox Point, until they met with a pleasant spring, which runs to this day, and is nearly opposite the Episcopal Church. Being settled in this place, which, from the kindness of God to them, they called PROVIDENCE, Mr. Williams and those with him, considered the importance of Gospel Union, and were desirous of forming themselves into a church, but met with a considerable obstruction; they were convinced of the nature and design of believer’s baptism by immersion; but, from a variety of circumstances, had hitherto been prevented from submission.
To obtain a suitable administrator was a matter of consequence: at length, the candidates for communion nominated and appointed Mr. Ezekiel Holliman, a man of gifts and piety, to baptize Mr. Williams; and who, in return, baptized Mr. Holliman and the other ten. This church was soon joined by twelve other persons, who came to this new settlement, and abode in harmony and peace. Mr. Holliman was chosen assistant to Mr. Williams. This Church, according to Chandler, held particular redemption; but soon after deviated to general redemption. Laying-on-of-hands was held in a lax manner, so that some persons were received without it. And such, says Governor Jenks, was the opinion of the Baptists throughout this colony. Psalmody was first used and afterwards laid aside. These alterations took place about sixteen years after their settlement.
The church at first met for worship in a grove, unless in wet and stormy weather, when they assembled in private houses. Mr. Williams held his pastoral office about four years, and then resigned the same to Mr. Brown, and Mr. Wickendon, and went to England to solicit the first charter.
The obvious assertion I wish to note is half-way through the third paragraph: This Church, according to Chandler, held particular redemption; but soon after deviated to general redemption.
Why is it that Baptist Calvinists apparently have a very difficult time holding on to particular redemption? Or, more popularly known today, Limited Atonement?2
Personally, I think the answer, at least in part, remains crystal clear. Limited Atonement is little more than a biblically-naked speculation, a mere logical deduction from Calvinist presuppositions. Lacking a single incontrovertible biblical text to substantiate the peculiar doctrine developed, for the most part, in post-Dort scholastic Calvinism, Limited Atonement cannot find a stable place in the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of Bible-believing Christians throughout history. In short, Limited Atonement keeps slip slidin away.
If I am correct, the doctrine of Limited Atonement defaults to the quintessential knock-out punch Biblicism effectively delivers to an overly-emphasized systematic theology.