In the past month or so I’ve made a couple of different posts here in relation to the Gospel unity we are to strive for as opposed to living in our self-focused divisions, and others have joined with similar sentiments. Yet at the same time elsewhere there has been the continued push to divide. This includes the sad and heart-breaking statement on one blog:
Reformed pastors should leave the SBC and start their own Reformed Baptist organization. We don’t want Reformed pastors in our traditional Southern Baptist churches. We also don’t want Reformed pastors planting Reformed Southern Baptist churches with Cooperative Program dollars. Now it’s been said plain and simple. The elephant in the room has been revealed. Leave the Baptists alone.
The person who penned these words did so in partial-agreement with a post on another blog that essentially created a straw-man element where “reformed Baptist” equals “Presbyterian-wannabe Baptist.”
I chose to address this because, like I said, I think this is sad, but more so because I believe this reflects a misunderstanding and mislabeling of most of us who have no issue with wearing the “reformed” label in connection to our “Baptist” one. My point is to show that we are not attempting to “take over” anything or turn Baptist into Presbyterians, but rather we seek deeper unity with our Christian and denominational brothers and sisters through the sufficiency of Scripture.
Now I cannot and do not speak for everyone who wears the “reformed Baptist” label, but I can speak for my views, which the best I can tell are the same if not similar views of other “reformed Baptists” I personally know and talk with. And most of the people I categorize in this group are not some foreigners coming into the Baptist Beulah land as proselytes, but as long as we have been Christians we have also been Southern Baptists. (So how do we leave ourselves alone anyway?) So here we go…
I am a reformed Baptist because I believe in the Solas of the Reformation. I believe the Bible is the only inspired, inerrant, and infallible word of God, it is our sole authority for faith and practice not man-made traditions be they Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran or otherwise. I believe we are saved and justified by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. There is no other way, no other means, no other merit, and no other mediator. And I believe that all glory and honor is due to God alone and our lives as humans, and especially as Christians, are to be lived for the sake of his glory.
I am a reformed Baptist because I hold to a Calvinistic soteriology. Or perhaps more correctly a “Fulleristic” soteriology (and if you don’t know what I mean by that, I recommend taking a look at the brief book Fullerism as Opposed to Calvinism by A. Chadwick Mauldin). Calvin is far from infallible and his Institutes is not Holy Scripture. The man was wrong on issues of ecclesiology, baptism, and the conjoining of church and state (as well as the state’s authority to execute heretics). I see many biblical issues with his views on those. However, I don’t have the same issues with his views on how a person comes to faith and is saved, especially as systematized in the Synod of Dort. I deny being Calvinistic in the full sense but will not deny being it in a soteriological sense.
I am a reformed Baptist because I don’t believe the reformers and the denominations they spawned are reformed enough. Simply put as a “reformed Baptist” I believe I am more reformed than my Presbyterian (etc.) friends. They may not like such a description given their history with the word “reformed”, but I see it as simple truth. Infant baptism is nowhere described in the pages of the Holy Book, and don’t tell me it has to do with the Old Covenant because the reality is the church as we know it is a New Covenant institution and the New Covenant is not like the Old (Jeremiah 31:31-32). We can carry this line into ecclesiology as well. The reformers simply did not break far enough away from the Catholic traditions of their day to return under the full authority of Scripture alone. Baptists have carried sola scriptura more to its logical conclusion.
I am a reformed Baptist because I am unashamedly Baptist. I believe you baptize a person upon profession of faith by fully immersing them into water, and this symbolizes their union with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection. I believe there are only two offices in the church—elders and deacons—and though I believe in a plurality of both, I do not divide the plurality of elders into ruling and teaching; it is a single office synonymous with overseers and shepherds. I believe that under Jesus, the final authority of the church is vested in the congregation (though I do not equate biblical congregationalism with business meetings and Robert’s Rules of Order). I believe the Bible is the only ecclesiastical authority over the church. If the apostles were still alive, then they would be, but they’re not (at least physically). Through them and the prophets, however, God has given us the Bible and the church’s foundation. There is no other body, institution, or document that has the right to dictate policy and belief to a local church.
To add to this…I am also a reformed “Southern” Baptist, because I do believe in the benefits of the Cooperative Program though I also think it is presently flawed and needs modifications (some major, some minor—but that’s another topic).
I am a reformed Baptist, and yes, I do want to reform my church. I admit it—I think the church I pastor needs to change. I think every church needs to change. And why? Because every Christian needs to continually change and grow and become more like Jesus, and our churches are made up of a bunch of these Christians. I will be the first to say: I firmly stand by what I believe, but I’m also certain I don’t have all things right. As the Bible, working in combination with the Holy Spirit and the God-given wisdom of others, convinces me of areas where I am deficient, then I will repent and change.
With this I am also certain that no church has everything right. We always need to test ourselves, our actions, our traditions, and our beliefs against Scripture. Again: the Bible is our sole authority and guide for faith and practice. Therefore it is neither the traditions of “traditional Baptists” or the newfangledness of “contemporary Baptists” that I and the members of the church must or should bow to. It is Jesus and his commands in the Bible.
I don’t want to change things just to change things. And I certainly don’t want to make my church Presbyterian or whatever (as should be obvious by now). If I preach something different than the traditions of my Southern Baptist heritage, it is because through study of the Bible, thought, and conversation I have become convinced that said traditions are wrong.
And you know what—having grown up hearing about us Southern Baptists being “Bible believing” “people of the book” who hold the Bible as our “sole guide and authority for faith and practice” I thought that was what being Baptist is truly about: always checking ourselves and reforming our beliefs as we conform to Jesus and his word.