At the recommendation of Brandon Adams, I just finished reading a wonderfully informative article on the development of two very important Baptist confessions of faith: The First London Confession of 1644, and the Second London Confession of Faith (1689). If you are interested in Church History (and you should be), particularly Particular Baptist history, be sure to check this one out.
Try to imagine a situation like this: You live in a large city, the capital of your country. You are a member of one of a handful of churches, just beginning to grow and be noticed in the city. But it is illegal for you to meet with your brothers and sisters. For as long as anyone living can remember, there has been only one legal religion, and every attempt to disagree with that one religion has met with opposition and persecution.
As your churches grow, rumors begin to spread. A hundred years before, some people with beliefs that were marginally similar to your own had been involved in a terrible rebellion in another country relatively close by, and rumors were beginning to spread that your churches would do the same kinds of things. What would you do?
That is something of the situation facing the members of seven Calvinistic Baptist churches in London in 1644. In the space of a few short years, their numbers had grown, and people were beginning to take notice of their presence in London. But it was often not a friendly notice. In 1642, an anonymous pamphlet entitled A Warning for England, especially for London; in the famous History of the frantick Anabaptists, their wild Preachings and Practices in Germany was published. It is an amazing piece of work. The author, in 9 double sized pages, described the sad events of Munster, Germany. Rebellion, sedition, theft, murder are all charged to the “anabaptists.” Throughout, there is no mention of anything but these events from another time and place—until the very last sentence of the pamphlet which stated “So, let all the factious and seditious enemies of the church and state perish; but, upon the head of king Charles, let the crown flourish! Amen.” The warning was in one sense subtle, but in another brilliantly powerful: beware! What was done in Germany by the anabaptists may well happen again in London, if these people are allowed to spread their doctrines.
So what did the Baptists do? The situation was potentially explosive. They knew that it was essential to demonstrate that they were not radicals, subversively undermining the fabric of society. To the contrary, they were law-abiding citizens, who were being misrepresented and misunderstood by many around them. They wanted and needed to demonstrate that they were quite orthodox in their theological beliefs, and that they had no agenda beyond a faithful and conscientious commitment to God and His Word.
As the Baptists faced these circumstances, they decided that they needed to take action to relieve the fears and misinformation spreading. God had blessed their efforts thus far, and they did not want to see those efforts frustrated by the rumor and innuendo of their enemies. So they adopted a practice frequently used by others in the last 150 years—they issued a confession of faith so that anyone interested in them might be able to obtain an accurate understanding of their beliefs and practices.
You can read the rest of Pastor Renihan’s excellent article here.
For those who are interested, James Anderson has created some documents which are very helpful in comparing confessions: A Tabular Comparison of 1646 WCF and the 1689 LBCF and A Tabular Comparison of the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, the 1658 Savoy Declaration of Faith, the 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, and the 1742 Philadelphia Confession of Faith.