Featley: The Sweet Dipper (Part 5)

The actual account of the meeting between Featley and the Baptists is quite interesting. The substance of it begins when Featley was challenged by an anonymous “Scotch-man” who challenged him thus:

Master Doctor, we come to dispute with you at this time, not for contention sake, but to receive satisfaction: we hold that the Baptism of infants cannot be proved. Lawfully by the testimony of Scripture or by the Apostolical tradition; if you therefore can prove the same either way, we shall willingly submit to you.1

Rather than engage the substance of the question, Featley replied by characterizing them as Anabaptists and challenging their intellectual credentials. “Are you then Anabaptists?”2 He alleged that he had been “deceived” in his expectations.3 This seems hard to imagine, but his allegation that his opponents were really Anabaptists is telling of the way he and other Reformed theologians viewed the new Baptist movement. Of course, as I have observed repeatedly, they were not Anabaptists in every respect; but on this issue, the identity between the Baptists and the Anabaptists was unmistakable.

He denounced “Anabaptism” as a “heresy” which had been “long time condemned both by the Greek and Latin Church.”4 Thus, though the Anabaptists and Baptists believed they were creating new arguments, from Featley’s perspective, these were old errors (whose exactly he did not say) brought to life.5

He objected that the Baptists present were not qualified to argue with him about these matters on several grounds. First, in order to engage in a formal disputation, the participants needed to be able to read the Scriptures in the original languages: “No translation is simply authentic, or the undoubted Word of God. In the undoubted Word of God there can be no error. But in transitions there may be and are errors. The Bible translated therefore is not the undoubted Word of God but so far only as it agrees with the original, which (as I am informed), none of you understand.”6 He also alleged that they were incompetent to reason syllogistically.7 He consented, nevertheless, to answer their question about baptism if they would first answer his questions about the Trinity. The anonymous “Scotch-man” objected that his questions were ad Rhombum (i.e., not to the point).8 It was, however, to the point of Featley’s reply. We baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Formally, Featley’s questions were about the Trinity, but substantially, the questions were about theological method. What he was really asking them was if they were rank biblicists, content only to quote Scripture, or if they were willing and able to consider inferences from Scripture. He was testing them to see if they could think theologically or if they were biblicists. We confess that each of the three persons is God. What, then, do we do with John 15:26, which says that “the Father is the only true God”? What about the procession of the Holy Spirit? “Do you believe that Holy ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son?”9 This is the Western position, the filioque. “There is no mention at all of proceeding from the Son, but the Father only.”10 The Baptists did not answer the first question, but they did reply to the second. They argued that the text communicates that the Father is God as distinct from false gods; but Featley replied that the text says “only.”11 If we take only strictly, we have denied the deity of the Spirit and we have denied the Trinity. The “Scotch-man” argued that the Father is the only God in respect to “essence.” Featley called that blasphemy. Finally, one of the Baptists conceded that they could not answer the question and asked him to answer it. To this, Featley explained that he had only engaged in the exercise to demonstrate “to the auditors, how unfit the men are to take upon them the office of teachers, who are so imperfect in the fundamental points of catechism.”12

The discussion then turned to the issue of the status of the Church of England. Is it a “true visible church”?13 One of the Baptists, a certain Cusin, objected that the Church of England is not a true church. He rejected the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.14 Featley, however, argued that all the “Protestant churches in the world, French, Dutch, etc. in the Harmony of Confessions” confess two marks of the true church: “the sincere preaching of the Word and the due administration of the sacraments.”15 The Church of England has these marks; therefore the Church of England is a true church.16 For his part, Cusin professed ignorance of the Thirty Nine Articles.

Just as Featley began to reply to the objection that the Church of England could not be a true church because they baptize infants, another of the Baptists objected that she could not be a true church because she compels people to act against conscience and punishes them when they refuse.17 As a matter of post-apostolic church history, the Baptist objector had a point. But, Featley, as the Reformed did in the Reformation and post-Reformation periods, appealed to the Old Testament theocracy. Josiah was “supreme governor of the true church in Judah and Israel but Josiah compelled all Israel to come to the house of God and worship there 2 Chron. 34:33. . . . Ergo, men may be compelled by the civil magistrate to the true worship of God.”18 He proceeded to distinguish between the moral, judicial, and ceremonial law, and argued that Josiah required worship by the authority of the moral law, which, unlike the ceremonial and judicial laws, is perpetual.19 The circumstances have changed, but the substance has not. Thus, princes today have a right to compel worship.

When the Baptists asked him to prove it from the Gospel (i.e., the New Testament), Featley appealed to the principle of the abiding validity of the moral law under the New Testament. He cited Matthew 22:37–38.20 He appealed to Luke 14:23, Romans 13:1, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 2:2, and 1 Peter 2:13,14. He assumed and asserted more than argued the natural obligation of the magistrate to institute and enforce the state church. That there is no evidence or precept in the New Testament (or the early post-apostolic church) of the magistrate compelling anyone to attend the church did not seem to trouble him. To the “Anabaptist” (so Featly identifies him in the marginal note) objection, “The Word of God does not command us to come to your Steeplehouses, the King has nothing to do to command us in that kind,” Featley replied that the King has “power to command you in all things that are lawful and not repugnant to God’s Word.”21

The Baptists (again denoted in the margin as Anabaptists) objected, “The King makes an idol of the Church, where does Christ command us to come to it?”22 Featley replied that wherever Scripture commands us to “hear the Word preached, for in our Church the Word is preached, and therefore there we ought to hear it.” A Baptist objected that he would come, out of obedience to Christ, to hear “one of our Society” (i.e., a Baptist congregation) preach. Of course, Featley was dissatisfied with that approach since it assumed that “your society were the true Church and none of the true Church but those of your society.”23 They cannot be such since the Baptist congregations have no lawful pastors nor flocks. They could not have any pastors since they have not been properly sent (i.e., ordained). Featley cited a number of New Testament passages regarding the assumption of office and ordination (e.g., Heb 5:4; 1 Tim 4:14, etc.). The Baptists argued that their pastors are examined, ordained, and sent, and insisted again that Featley answer their question about baptism. And to that answer we will turn next time.

Notes

  1. Daniel Featley, Dippers Dipt: Or, The Anabaptists Duck’d and Plung’d over Head and Ears, at a Disputation at Southwark (London: N. B. And Richard Royston, 1647), 1.
  2. Featley, Dippers, 1.
  3. Featley, 1.
  4. Featley, 1.
  5. I suppose he had in mind the Donatists, who rejected the validity of baptism performed by a minister who had lapsed under persecution or otherwise disqualified himself from office. That Featley referred to the Donatists is likely since there is a marginal reference to the Donatists on p. 8.
  6. Featley, 1.
  7. Featley, 2.
  8. Featley, 2. A rhombus, in geometry, is a flat quadrilateral with four equal, parallel sides.
  9. Featley, 2.
  10. Featley, 2.
  11. Featley, 3.
  12. Featley, 3.
  13. Featley, 4.
  14. Featley, 5. The Thirty Nine Articles represent the Elizabethan revision of the original Forty Two Articles of Religion as adopted in the Church of England. They are published in the Book of Common Prayer.
  15. Featley, 4. He was referring to the Harmony of Confessions published in 1580 by Beza et al. It was published in English as The Harmony of Protestant Confessions, trans. Peter Hall (London: J. F. Shaw, 1844).
  16. Featley, 5.
  17. Featley, 5–6.
  18. Featley, 6.
  19. Featley, 6.
  20. Featley, 7.
  21. Featley, 7.
  22. Featley, 8.
  23. Featley, 8. By “society” here Featley meant “group” or “association.”

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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2 comments

  1. Featley’s “men may be compelled by the civil magistrate to the true worship of God” comment is a good reminder of the blessings of inconsistency. It’s hard for me to see how anybody that holds to the Doctrines of Grace could profess that “true worship” could possibly be “compelled.” One may be compelled to feign worship, but it’s hard to see how such would be pleasing to God.

    • It’s a useful warning about the dangers of theocracy, to which so many seem to be attracted. He was in jail because of theocracy and yet he remained a theocrat. That’s how strong the assumption was.

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