Though not well known today, Zechariah Thornton Cody (1858-1935) stands as no stranger to either Southern Baptists in general or to Georgia Baptists particularly. While Alabamian by birth, Cody attended Mercer University, was ordained to ministry by the Second Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA and later received a D.D. degree from Bowden College, GA.
Cody was a sophisticated “theologian of the first rank”— according to the Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists. He studied under famed Calvinist theologian, Professor James P. Boyce, receiving his Master of Theology degree in 1887 from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
Serving Southern Baptists in the south well, Cody was appointed to various significant committees at all levels of denominational life. He served as Vice President of the Home Mission Board in 1898 and was pastor of several southern churches, not the least of which was the historic First Baptist Church, Greenville, SC (1901-1911), where he gained wide popularity and earned deep respect from not only South Carolina Baptists but Baptists all over the south.
Yet for all this, perhaps Cody’s greatest contribution was, upon leaving the Greenville pastorate, becoming Editor at the Baptist Courier in SC and remained Editor of the Baptist state paper until his death in 1935. Cody’s weekly expository messages on Biblical passages paralleling the Sunday School texts stand as a wealth of learning and were highly favored among Southern Baptists. Cody left a great legacy for all Southern Baptists.
Cody’s essay below, “Are Baptists Calvinists” appeared February 16, 1911. Being a very popular editorial, it was later published not only in Baptist World (1912) but also in Christian Union Relative to Baptist Churches, a volume of collected essays edited by James M. Frost in 1915.
Are Baptists Calvinists?
Z. T. Cody
The answer to this question depends on what is meant by Calvinism. If by it is meant all that Calvin himself taught and practiced a negative answer is the only possible one; for Calvin believed in burning men for deadly heresy, in the union of church and state, in infant baptism and in a good many other things which have ever been rejected by all Baptists.
But these things, while taught and practiced by the Genevan, are not now considered as essential to his system; and many feel that churches can reject them and still be called Calvinistic.
The so-called “five points of Calvinism” are the essential doctrines of the system. Men have forgotten them now but they were once as familiar as the letters of the alphabet. They are, particular predestination, limited atonement, natural inability, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. Now if this is the system that constitutes Calvinism it is again very certain that Baptists are not Calvinists.
This system can be, it is true, found in some of the older confessions of faith and it was at that time held by some Baptist churches. It is also true that there are now many of our churches which hold some of the doctrines of this system. All Baptist churches, so far as we know, hold to the perseverance of the saints. But it can be very confidently affirmed that there is now no Baptist church that holds or defends the five points of Calvinism. Some of the doctrines are repugnant to our people. Could there be found a minister in our communion who believes in the theory of a limited atonement?
But it may be said that Calvinism is a spirit and not a system; that its essence is not to be sought in a mummified creed but in the undying spirit of freedom which it called forth. It is difficult to say too much in praise of what Calvin has done for liberty in the modern world. Tyranny and priest-craft died wherever his doctrines spread. His spirit surpassed Luther’s in creating the condition of freedom. Luther freed men from the priest; but the tyrant as well as the priest went down before Calvin.
Now because freedom is also the very soul of the Baptist faith it is often said that we are Calvinists. But is this true? If we mistake not, Baptist freedom is different from Calvinistic freedom. There is one difference, which, if not apparent now, was at least in the earlier period very manifest. Calvinists loved freedom for themselves–for the elect; Baptists loved freedom for every one. Calvinism in that earlier day when once it became dominant, did not bestow on all men the right to the free exercise of their faith. It was more or less intolerant. But the Baptists accorded to others the freedom they claimed for themselves.
The difference in their spirit of freedom can, so we think, be traced to the difference in their creeds. Both were animated with the spirit of liberty; there was much in which both were alike; it was not difficult for the two at times to look on themselves as one; but in their sources of freedom they differed.
The doctrine of election was the chief source of freedom for Calvinists. By it they were brought into direct responsibility to Christ who chose them. Each individual had Christ and Christ alone for his Master. He received his life and his orders directly from the Lord. This, of course, lifted him above earthly authority in church and state, and commissioned him against that earthly authority when it was against Christ.
This was good so far. But only the elect were immediately under Christ. What about the others? Well, the saints must rule over them! And in this way Calvinism became conscientiously intolerant.
The Baptists derived freedom chiefly from their doctrine of the Spirit. The Spirit as they believed was the source of authority; and the Spirit had been given, not to popes, bishops, priests and councils, but to all God’s people. He had been poured out upon all flesh.
In this way the people became the source of authority in church and state and out of this doctrine arose our modern democracy and congregationalism. And, since God has given his Spirit to man as man and not to some few elect men, there was a basis for that universal liberty which became the glory of Baptists which Calvinism, untaught by the Baptist faith could not attain to.
In answering our question, then, we would say that Baptists are not Calvinists; and while Calvinism is an honored name, yet to wear it would detract somewhat from a greater honor that properly belongs to Baptists.