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  • Are Baptists Reformed?

    by Laurence A. Justice

    More and more Baptists and more and more Baptist churches today are calling themselves Reformed. Part of the reason why some Baptists choose to call themselves Reformed is because they have been so anxious to turn away from the destructive influences of Arminianism that they have taken the label of Reformed in order to distinguish themselves from an intellectually bankrupt Fundamentalism.

    WEBSTER'S NEW COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY defines Reformed as "pertaining to or designating the body of Protestant churches originating in the Reformation." The RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE defines the Reformation as "the religious movement in the sixteenth century which had for its object the reform of the Roman Catholic Church and which led to the establishment of the Protestant churches."

    A person who is referred to as Reformed is by that term connected either directly or indirectly to the Protestant Reformation. Further, the name Reformed implies the corruption of the Catholic Church, and the revolt of the Reformers against that corruption. Many Baptists have read and been blessed by what John Calvin and other Reformed leaders have written about God's sovereign grace in salvation. Our greatest Baptist confession of faith, the London Confession of 1689, and its American version, the Philadelphia Confession of 1743, teach almost exactly the same things about salvation as does the Reformed Westminster Confession of Faith. But does the fact that Baptists believe the same thing about God's sovereignty in salvation as did John Calvin and other Protestants place Baptists in the category of being Reformed? And does the fact that the great Baptist Confessions say virtually the same thing about salvation as did the Reformed Westminster Confession make Baptists, therefore, Reformed? I submit that the answer to these questions, as well as to that in the title of this message is, No! Baptists are not Reformed! In this message I am going to offer five basic reasons why Baptists cannot properly be called Reformed.

    First, it is not proper to refer to Baptists as Reformed


    The motto of the Protestant Reformation included the Latin words Sola Scriptura which mean the Scriptures only. In seeking to reform the Roman Catholic Church the Reformers at first insisted that the only authority for faith and practice was the Scriptures, but the Reformers never consistently followed this motto. Whenever they could not support some doctrine or practice from God's Word they soon began relying on the church fathers and tradition and expediency and creeds as well. Baptists are the ones who take Sola Scriptura seriously. Only Baptists consistently apply this great principle in matters of faith and practice. Baptists simply believe that all doctrine and practice in the church must have New Testament support. The principle of Sola Scriptura is consistently followed only when one can confidently state from the New Testament, "Thus saith the Lord!" One major difference in Baptists and Reformed people is that Baptists insist on Solo Scriptura for every other area as well as for salvation. Baptists believe that the teachings and practices of the New Testament churches are binding for all time. Our confessions of faith are merely what we believe the Bible teaches, but are not authoritative and not binding on the churches. When we Baptists speak of the principle of Sola Scriptura, we more often use the term, the sufficiency of the Scriptures. The apostle Paul recognized the sufficiency of the Scripture for all matters of faith and practice when he wrote to the young preacher, Timothy, in II Timothy 3:16-17. II Timothy was Paul's last New Testament letter, and in it he told Timothy that, in view of the coming apostasy and perilous times, and in view of his central work which was preaching, the Scriptures would be sufficient. And this applied to evangelism and doctrinal instruction and general pastoral oversight. Here's what Paul said, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Baptists make no appeal to tradition or to the church fathers for our authority in matters of faith and practice. We ask, "What do the Scriptures teach?" The Reformers have kept many doctrines and practices from Catholicism such as infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, sprinkling for baptism, and sacraments. Baptists have sought to avoid such man-made traditions as these, and to follow instead the New Testament pattern. The Westminster Confession of Faith is the most prominent of the Reformed confessions. The London Confession of 1689 is one of the most prominent Baptist confessions. The glaring difference between the two is seen at the very beginning. The Baptist confession says, "The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience." This sentence does not appear in the Reformed Westminster Confession.

    Secondly, Baptists cannot properly be called Reformed


    Baptists have always held that there can be no proper standard for what constitutes the church, but the one set forth in the New Testament, and that the New Testament is not vague or indefinite concerning the church, either as to what it is or where it came from or how it is to be governed. Baptists agree with the New Testament that the church is a congregation of believers which has been called out of the world and assembles around Jesus Christ and His Word. For Baptists the church is a visible congregation of regenerated, baptized individuals. To the Reformers in the sixteenth century the Roman Catholic Church was still "the church", and it only needed reforming. They sought to reform a church which they regarded as the true body of Christ. They assumed that both the baptism, and the ordination of the Roman Church were still valid. Neither John Calvin nor any other Reformers denounced their Catholic baptisms. The Reformers did not set out to restore the true church by copying the instructions revealed in Acts. Instead they worked to reform the "church" which already existed. Reformed people view the church in two ways. They see it as the entire body of the elect. This body, of course, is invisible. They also see it as a local assembly or the aggregate of all local assemblies in a nation or on a continent. As such, the church is visible. So the Reformers believed in a universal, invisible church, and in a more local, visible church.

    The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 25, Article 11, page 133 is titled "Of The Church" and says in part, "The visible church...consists of all those throughout the world, that profess the true religion, together with their children..." Such a church would of necessity contain both non-elect and unregenerate persons. The idea of a visible and an invisible church is not to be found in the New Testament. Baptists hold with the Scriptures that the New Testament church consists of regenerate persons, while the Reformed see it as also including unregenerate infants, or children of believers. Baptists believe that each church is entirely independent of every other church in all that relates to its government. The church at Jerusalem did not tell the church at Corinth how to operate, and didn't threaten to excommunicate it when it heard of sinful members of the church at Corinth. Every Baptist church chooses its own pastor and deacons, receives and dismisses its members, and makes its own rules and regulations. Baptists believe with the New Testament that no organization such as a synod or session should tell the local church what to do. The setting up of a centralized authority that claims to speak for the churches and pass laws to the local church has absolutely no New Testament authority. Reformed churches all seek to do this, but according to the New Testament there is no higher court of appeal than the local church in any matter. A basic disagreement between Baptists and Reformed people is the answer to the question, "When did the church begin?" Reformed people believe that Israel was the church in the Old Testament, and the New Testament church is but a continuation of the same body. They teach that the church in the Old and New Testament is founded on the covenant of grace made with Abraham. Baptists, on the other hand, see a radical break between the Testaments instead of a continuation of the Old into the New. They believe that Israel and the New Testament church are two distinctly different bodies, and the Old Testament order of Israel is radically different from the New Testament order of the church. Baptists teach with the Scriptures that the church is strictly a New Testament institution, a mystery unknown before New Testament time, but revealed during New Testament times. A mystery in the New Testament refers to something which up until that time was unknown, but now is revealed. In Ephesians 5:32 and 3:4-6, Paul says that the church is a mystery or something unknown until that time, but now revealed. Baptists historically have believed in the perpetuity of true churches just as the Lord Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18 when he said, "...I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." For this reason Baptists have never claimed to be Protestants. They have always and unanimously until the present generation denied any connection with the Roman Catholic Church, and have claimed to have originated with Jesus Christ and the apostles. They did not begin in the 1500's with the Protestant Reformation. Baptists go back to the New Testament period in history. They have never been part of any other denomination, therefore, they have nothing to protest! Not only do we base this on the Lord's promise in Matthew 16:18, that there would always be true churches in this world, we also know it from the testimony of history itself. Johann Mosheim, the great Lutheran historian, recognized that the Baptists existed before the Protestant Reformation, when he said, "Before the rise of Luther and Calvin there lay concealed in almost all countries of Europe, persons who adhered tenaciously to the principles of the Dutch Baptists." Zwingli, one of the Reformers, said in the midst of the Reformation, "They (Baptists) have caused a great disturbance for 1,300 years." Roman Catholic Cardinal Hosius who was involved in the Roman Catholic Council of Trent in 1544, and who hated the Baptists, nevertheless said very candidly, "If the truth of religion were to be judged by the readiness and boldness of which a man of any sect shows in suffering, then the opinion and persuasion of no sect can be truer and surer than that of the Anabaptists, since there have been none of these 1,200 years past, that have been more generally punished, or that have more cheerfully and steadfastly undergone and even offered themselves to the most cruel sorts of punishment than these people."

    Thirdly, Baptists cannot properly be called Reformed


    From the time of the apostles the true churches of Jesus Christ were mercilessly persecuted by the Roman government, but no matter how cruelly and how often they were persecuted, the number and influence of Christians just kept growing rapidly. By about 314 AD the influence of Christianity in the Roman empire had grown so much that the Emperor Constantine decided to stop persecuting Christians and instead to embrace Christianity, and thus use it to solidify and increase his power as emperor. Constantine claimed to have seen a vision of a fiery red cross in the sky and written on that cross the words "By This Sign Conquer." He interpreted this to mean that he should become a Christian and he ordered all persecution of Christians to cease and declared Christianity the state religion of Rome. Constantine called all the Bishops or pastors of the empire together at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD to get them to come into doctrinal unity. Thus state and church were married with the emperor exerting power over the churches and their pastors. Ironically, when church and state were united under Constantine, Constantine was not even a Christian. He had agreed to become one, but he did not yet claim to be a Christian. He finally professed to become a Christian, but refused to be baptized until just before his death several years later. Some years after this in 407 AD infant baptism was made mandatory for all, and a person became a citizen of the state by being thus baptized. Obviously, when church and state were united in this marriage, and infant baptism was required for citizenship in the state, great numbers of unregenerate persons came into the churches. When some Christians refused to go along with Constantine's wedding of church and state, he began using the power of the state to force them to do so. Some of these people were called Donatists. The Donatists would not accept the baptism of the state church, and rebaptized people who joined them from the state churches. In 413 AD the emperor Theodosius issued an edict declaring that all persons who had been rebaptized, and those who had rebaptized them, should be punished by death, and a river of blood resulted from the marriage of church and state under Constantine. 1,200 years later in the Reformation, Calvin and the other Reformers left state and church united, and baptism was still required to make one a citizen of the state.

    The Reformed Westminster Confession of Faith said in its article titled "The Civil Magistrate," "...he hath authority and it is his duty to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered and observed for the better effecting whereof he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever transacted in them be according to the mind of God..." In the new American nation, in the late 1700's, this Reformed concept of church and state, which was held by the Puritans, was emphatically rejected. The article in the Westminster Confession had to be revised for Americans after the nation established the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    The Donatists did not see the Constantinian arrangements as a victory for Christianity, but as a perversion of the Scripture's teachings, and ultimately, as "the fall of the church." In the time of the Reformation 1,200 years later, the Anabaptists would have nothing to do with a state church. This was one of the main reasons for their separation from Calvin, Luther and the other Reformers. The Reformers often referred to the Anabaptists as Donatists or Neo-Donatists because the Donatists had opposed this marriage of church and state 1,200 years before the Reformation.

    Baptists believe with the New Testament that the civil magistrate has no right to require a form of religion for us or to punish us for not following the religion he requires. Baptists believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of the church and Lord of the state, but that he does not rule the state through the church nor the church through the state. We believe that the state can never compel men to believe the truth. Only the Holy Spirit's quickening work can compel men to do this. Baptists believe that Christians are citizens of two realms: an earthly realm which is ruled over by man, for both the saved and the unsaved, and a heavenly kingdom ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ. We base this partly on the words of our Lord in Matthew 22:17 and 21. For Baptists the church and the world are basically separate and antagonistic to each other. Baptists have no thought and no desire for uniting the two, and Baptists have never been the state religion anywhere. The attitude which a person has toward the Constantinian arrangements reveals whether he is Reformed or Baptist in what he believes about the church. Reformed people see the Constantinian change as a victory for Christianity. Baptists see it as the fall of the church. It is clear that the Reformers did not believe in their motto of Sola Scriptura when it came to renouncing the Constantinian arrangements at the time of the Reformation.

    Fourthly, it is not proper to call Baptists Reformed


    The Reformers sprinkle for baptism just like the Catholic Church does. They brought this unscriptural practice with them from Catholicism. At the time of the Reformation, and even today, the Reformers admitted that immersion was the practice of the churches in the New Testament, but they sprinkle for baptism anyway. Reformed people tell us that sprinkling is as good as dipping for baptism, but Baptists ask, "Will you please show us that in the Scriptures?" The Reformers practice infant baptism. They brought this with them from the Catholic Church. Reformed people say all Christian parents should have their babies sprinkled. Baptists ask, "Will you please show us that in the Scriptures?" There is not a trace of infant baptism to be found in the New Testament. Scriptural, New Testament baptism is adult baptism. Nothing more clearly departs from the New Testament model than infant baptism. Baptists rejected these errors, and insist on believers baptism and baptism by immersion only, and we will not accept sprinklings or baptisms of infants as scriptural baptisms. Baptists demand that those who come desiring to join us from Reformed denominations which practice these errors be rebaptized or scripturally baptized. This is where we got our name Anabaptists. It means rebaptizers. Later the name was shortened to just Baptists.

    Finally, it is not proper to call Baptists Reformed


    The story of Baptists is a story written in blood. Not only did they suffer terribly under Roman Catholic tyranny before the Reformation, they were equally persecuted and slaughtered by the Protestant Reformers. The Reformers actually hated the Baptists because Baptists insisted that the only rule of faith and practice for the churches is God's Word. The Reformers could not argue with this, and what they could not destroy with arguments they sought to destroy with force. The Reformers unleashed a bitter and bloody persecution of Baptists because of Baptists' insistence on a consistent application of Sola Scriptura to the church and to baptism. History shows that the leading Reformers shed Baptist blood as freely as did the Roman Catholics, once they achieved the power to enforce their edicts. Calvin himself had many bitter things to say about the Anabaptists, calling them furious madmen, frenzied spirits, insane and barbarous men, idiots, and ignorant. He called their teachings delirious dreams, stupidity, mad bedlams and the vomit of a drunkard. In his work titled "Against The Anabaptists", Calvin said, "Last of all like as a drunkard after he hath well belched doth disgorge the vile broth which charged his stomach, even so these wicked men, after they have detracted this holy estate which the Lord hath so much honored, finally with full throat they do spew out exceeding deformed blasphemies." Thomas Armitage, the Baptist historian, refers to these statements by Calvin and other Reformers as "Anti-Baptist fits." Baptists were not part of the Reformation. They were victims of it. Baptists believe with the Scriptures that all persecution for the sake of religion is radically wrong, and it is a fact that Baptists have never persecuted others, but have always been persecuted themselves.

    So then, are Baptists Reformed? The answer of both God's Word and of history is, No, Baptists are not Reformed, and when a Baptist identifies himself as Reformed he is saying something he doesn't really mean. The connotations of the term Reformed convey theological positions which are contrary to the Baptist position. Hopefully what most Baptists who call themselves Reformed mean is only that they have the same view of salvation as the Reformers. They believe in the doctrines of God's Sovereign grace. Some modern-day Baptists have come to see the biblical doctrines of grace by reading the Reformers and Puritans. In doing so they have also swallowed the Reformed teachings concerning the church. Baptists should accept the doctrines of Godís grace, but at the same time reject Reformed teachings about the church which are not based in Godís Word. Think about it! Whenever a person calls himself Reformed he is actually recognizing a connection in the past with the Roman Catholic Church because the Reformers came out of that false church. Why should Baptists seek to identify with baby sprinklers, while teaching immersion themselves as the right way of baptism? It is hard to understand how Baptists who were hated and persecuted by Calvin, Luther and other Reformers could now want to be called Reformed themselves. Why should Baptists identify with the Reformers who along with the Catholics are responsible for the blood of thousands of Baptist martyrs? To call a Baptist church Reformed is confusion to those who know God's Word and a little about history. The term "Reformed Baptist" is an oxymoron, a self contradictory term. One cannot be Reformed and Baptist at the same time as we have defined Reformed and Baptist beliefs in this message. In closing I want to say that the Scriptures nowhere call for a Reformation of the false church. Instead the Scripture says in Revelation 18:4, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues."



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