Thursday, October 31, 2013
The Vision (10.31.13): What makes a "Reformed" Baptist Church distinct from a Calvinistic Evangelical Church?
Note: On this day that some have dubbed "Reformation Day" (but more call Halloween), I thought it might be helpful to use my weekly Vision article to reflect on what makes our church "Reformed" rather than merely Calvinistic.
In recent years Calvinism has become cool again in many evangelical circles. Popular evangelical preachers and authors like John Piper and John MacArthur have fueled interest in “the doctrines of grace” or “five point Calvinism.” Many mainstream evangelical churches now claim to some degree or another to be “Reformed” or to promote “Reformed” theology. I cannot help but think, however, that there is often no small degree of what might be called false advertising in that claim. I say this knowing that many of my Reformed Presbyterian friends might well say the same thing about “Reformed” Baptists altogether, since we do not embrace some things that they hold as essential to the Reformed faith, like infant baptism or highly structured connectionalism among churches. That might be a good topic for a future essay. For now, however, allow me to suggest five ways in which a “Reformed” Baptist Church will differ from an evangelical church which, for the moment at least, has embraced some measure of a Calvinistic view of salvation.
A Reformed Baptist Church will be:
1. Confessional: It will unequivocally affirm the historic Reformed Baptist Confession: The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689. This Puritan Baptist Confession is meaty, Biblical, and thorough. It does not try to split the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. It provides clear boundaries for the church’s beliefs and practices.
2. Covenantal: It will be covenantal in its theology. It will not only reject classical, pre-millennial dispensationalism with all its extra-biblical charts and end times speculations, but also so-called “progressive” dispensationalism, as well as recent “New Covenant” attempts to meld dispensationalism with Calvinism (see the recent book Kingdom Through Covenant [Crossway, 2012]).
3. Cessationist: A Reformed Baptist Church will not retreat from the interpretation of Scripture given in article one of the Confession which declares that God’s former ways of having revealed himself have now ceased. It will point its people not toward the seeking of extra-ordinary experiences but to the sufficiency of Scripture and the ordinary means of grace (prayer, meditation, preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper).
4. Regulative in Worship: It will be serious in seeking to conduct corporate worship according to the commandments of God and not the preferences of men.
5. Sabbath-keeping: It will hold to the abiding validity of the moral law, including the fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. It will, of course, seek to do so not in a burdensome, legalistic, Pharisaical manner, adding the “doctrines of men” to the “doctrines of God,” but in a joyful, obedient, and faithful manner.
The five descriptions above might well be formed into five questions a person seeking a church might ask of that congregation and its ministry:
1. Does your church hold to the Second London Baptist Confession? If not, why not? Where are you not in agreement with the confession?
2. Does this church read and preach the Bible through the lens of dispensational theology or covenant theology?
3. Does this church clearly believe that the extra-ordinary gifts and miracles of the apostolic times have now ceased or does it hold to an “open but cautious” view? What does this say about their views on the full sufficiency of Scripture?
4. What regulates or controls decisions made in this church about the worship of God? Is it driven more by searching for what God requires or searching for what men desire?
5. Does this church hold that the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath? Does it believe in the ongoing validity of the fourth commandment and urge obedience to it? Or, is Sunday merely another day that just happens to be the day on which we meet for worship?
These are but five marks. There are no doubt others. At first blush there might not appear to be much difference between what a Calvinistic evangelical church holds and preaches and what a Reformed church holds and preaches. The five questions posed above should help with clarifying those differences. The end result may not be visible for years to come as it is played out in the life and faith of both the individual believers and the corporate churches. Sadly, most fads come and go. Without confessional roots the popularity of Calvinism will likely fade with time. A pragmatic argument will be made that the tent needs to be big enough even to include folk who do not agree. In time the distinctions will fade and new fads will arise to supplant the old.
May the Lord help us in contradistinction to this trend to hold fast to Biblical Christianity. That is what we really mean by Reformed faith. We do not mean a Reformation and Puritan historical society. We mean a faith that is wholly regulated, shaped, formed, and reformed again by the Holy Scriptures.
I am thankful to be part of a “Reformed” Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle