Well, I was scheduled to preach this Sunday anyway, and since I had prepared for the two RevelationTV debates, I figured it would be wise to stay with what is…
Issues Relating to Reformed Baptists
Charles Spurgeon preaching on 1 John 5:1 makes the point that men believe, not of their own power, but as a result of the work of regeneration in the hearts…
I continue and hopefully conclude my discussion on the meaning of Reformed by providing a response to comments made in the comments box of this website.
Adam Kaloostian says:
November 2, 2011 at 5:23 pm
1- “do you consider Baptists of any type to be your fellow believers and co-laborers in the gospel?”
Anyone who is made alive by the Holy Spirit and has true faith in Jesus Christ is a fellow believer, period.
The requisite extent, depth, and maturity of the knowledge which is a necessary component of true faith, is mysterious, and should not be oversimplified. For this reason, for example, Calvin can say about people in what he calls the decidedly false Roman Catholic churches of his day “In one word, I call [Roman Catholic parishes] churches, inasmuch as the Lord there wondrously preserves some remains of his people, though miserably torn and scattered. . .” (Institutes 4.2.12).
While Calvin might have had a point in his day, given that he was a second-generation reformer, and there were many who had yet to be blessed with the message of the gospel unchained from the traditions of Rome through the Reformation, and while I have often said that there are true believers in the Roman communion but that they are true believers in spite of role, not because of it, I do not know that it would be appropriate to make this conclusion today in light of the developments that have taken place since the time of the Reformation. Given that Rome has only become more hardened in its rejection of biblical truth and replacement of the gospel with that which can never save, I would not refer to Rome’s congregations as true churches of Christ. Once again, I would argue that it is the gospel that defines the Christian faith and the Christian church. No Gospel, no church.
So in like manner, there are truly elect and saved people, including Baptists, in the world, people miserably torn, scattered, and deceived by false teaching and sectarianism and idolatry.
It is truly amazing to me that you would so purposefully presents a parallel between Romanism and Baptists. I do not know if you are specifically say that Baptists are “deceived by false teaching and sectarianism and idolatry,” but if you are, I would be very interested in knowing how you substantiate such an allegation. In any case, do you not see that your attempted parallel is thoroughly disrupted by the simple issue of the gospel itself? How can you dismiss the reality of churches of Christ that are organized according to biblical standards, observe the Lord’s supper and baptism, practice church discipline, preach the whole counsel of God including his sovereign grace and the perfection of the work of Christ, and hold forth the Scriptures as the very Word of God all on the basis of a particular view of a proper subjects of baptism? Are you not majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors?
I am in Christ with any and every saved, elect Baptist, and I am thankful for the Lord’s miraculous grace to me and to them.
There is however a distinction between someone’s objective, saving union with Christ and someone’s outward expression of that faith in doctrine and life. This outward expression, or profession, is what forms the basis of my “consideration” of whether or not I count someone to be my fellow believer, or by extension co-laborer in the gospel. God knows the heart, but I can go only by external profession of doctrine and life.
In this regard, first, I may not make a private judgment, but am called to submit to the public judgment committed to the lawful officers of a local church, who exercise the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and reflect that work by their membership list. One requirement for someone’s profession of faith to be “considered” credible by me, therefore, would be their possession of official standing in a church of Jesus Christ. Church membership is basic to Christian discipleship. I affirm one of Christendom’s most popular slogans– “You cannot have God for your Father unless you take the church to be your mother.” A simple outline of the biblical argument for church membership can be found here:http://www.ontariourc.org/about/membership/.
I have often preached on and defended the importance of church membership as a clear New Testament concept, and as an elder in such a congregation, often comment upon its importance in my preaching and teaching.
Article 28 of the Belgic Confession speaks to this: “We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition. But all people are obliged to join and unite with it, keeping the unity of the church by submitting to its instruction and discipline, by bending their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ, and by serving to build up one another, according to the gifts God has given them as members of each other in the same body.. . . And so, all who withdraw from the church or do not join it act contrary to God’s ordinance.” (One note, when the confession says that there is no salvation apart from the church, I take for granted that this is a logical deduction from the supernatural work which Christ does by His Holy Spirit to save, preserve, and sanctify His people uniquely through the preaching and sacraments of the church, which I describe below. The framers, I think, would have allowed for the idea that in exceptional cases people could be truly elect and saved apart from the church; however, they would not have considered anyone’s profession to be credible until they became part of the church).
Or, one could assume, properly, that the Spirit joins each redeemed person to the church, and they are then commanded to likewise participate in the life of the church in the local assembly (Hebrews 13:17). In any case, there is no disagreement here regarding the necessity of obeying the commandment to be a part of the visible church as an obedient follower of Jesus Christ.
Second, I must discern whether the group to which someone belongs is indeed a church of the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to be confident that the officers of this group are legitimate representatives of Christ, discerning a man’s life and doctrine. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession speaks to this matter: “We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church– for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.”” In the time of the Reformation, in the West, the pastoral problem of every Jesus group calling itself a church was similar to today’s confusion. There were Roman Catholic parishes, there were Anabaptist parishes of various kinds, and there were Protestant parishes (evolving into Lutheran, continental Reformed, Anglican/Episcopalian, and Presbyterian communions), all claiming to be churches.
May I suggest that once again the issue here is that of what is, and what is not, definitional of the Christian faith as a whole? That is, we must have the same God who is the object of our worship and adoration (which makes Rome’s odd statement in section 841 of the CCC so reprehensible, for it affirms common adoration of the one God with Muslims). The Trinity, deity of Christ, deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, all musts. We must have the same historical core to the faith, including the Virgin Birth of Christ, the reality of the Incarnation, His death, burial, and resurrection, all as historical realities. We must have the same revelation from God, the Holy Scriptures. And (and here many disagree with me today), we must have the same gospel, the same message of life. Those who promote the “Mere Christianity” model leave the gospel to the side and focus solely upon Trinitarianism and a bare historical affirmation of the events of Jesus’ life as being sufficient. But I see no basis in the text of the New Testament to ever see Christ’s church apart from His gospel. None.
This means that today I must reject a number of Lutheran, “Reformed,” Presbyterian, and especially Episcopalian, churches as true churches of Christ. Why? When a church no longer proclaims the gospel as its core message, and no longer lives in its light, but instead rejoices in the violation of God’s law and promotes sin as if it is good (as in the promotion of homosexuality, the profanation of the divine institution of marriage, etc.), how can this be called a true church of Christ? And what if it continues, out of tradition, to observe the “proper” ecclesiastical forms, now devoid of substance and gospel life? Do they remain “true” despite the promotion of a false gospel, which is not “another” at all? I say “no.” The truth of the gospel is that which is promised to remain with us through the presence of the Spirit, and without that, there truly is no church. Hence, when the ELCA, PCUSA, UCC, and Episcopalian churches continue, by tradition, to “do” things that you would call “proper” in the sense of continuing to engage, for example, in infant baptism, do you see this as sufficient to overcome the utter lack of gospel fidelity in their midst? On the other hand, is our disagreement on the subjects of baptism on the same level as the union we have in standing against the profanation of the gospel found in the open teachings of these groups? (more…)
As we will see, the fundamental argument of our URC pastor brethren is that I am not a part of the true church. Though my church, the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church, is an organized, confessional, Bible preaching, ordinance practicing, disciplining church, that evidently is not enough. The irony, as we shall see, is that churches are accepted as true churches primarily upon their confessional statements rather than upon the centrality of the gospel of grace to the church’s life and ministry. That is, liberal churches that have abandoned the very heart and soul of the reformed gospel are considered “true” churches solely based upon their confessional practices, even when those practices no longer have a meaningful connection to the gospel itself. But a Reformed Baptist Church cannot, by definition, be a “true church” solely based upon the confessional understanding of the meaning and subjects of baptism. I do not get the idea from reading our brother’s statements that they are overly familiar with modern Reformed Baptist writings in defense of covenant theology, let alone the modern Reformed Baptist presentations on the New Covenant and baptism. Sadly, it seems easier to throw out the old canard about Anabaptism than it is to deal with the reality as it exists in our day.
This is not the first time that I’ve encountered what I can only identify as a fairly narrow, non-catholic expression of Reformed theology. Each time I have communicated with those who have refused to join with me in the proclamation of and defense of the Reformed gospel I have been grieved by the shortsightedness of their position. It seems so obvious to me that we are joined at a deep and foundational level that their focus upon the mode and subjects of baptism causes them to ignore. Truly, is it not obvious that in today’s world a staunch Reformed paedobaptist would have significantly more in common with me then with a liberal member of his own denomination? Our common commitment to the highest view of Scripture binds us together. Our common belief in the glorious sovereignty of God binds us together. Our common rejoicing in the gospel of grace binds us together. Our common confession of the centrality of Christ’s Church, the proclamation of the gospel, the exhortation to holiness of life, value and role of God’s law, the holiness and sanctity of His church, bind us together. I have often commented that in many ways I am much closer to my brothers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church than I am to the Arminian fundamentalist in the Free Will Baptist Church. Why? Because of what defines my life and my faith. We share a common emphasis upon the holiness and sovereignty of God. We together recognize the vital importance of the truth of the depravity of man, his enslavement to sin, and the perfection of the work of Christ upon the cross of Calvary. We will answer many of the difficult questions posed to our faith in the same way. We stand together in defense of justification by faith, substitutionary atonement, and the perseverance of the saints.
So are these things irrelevant to what it means to be reformed? It seems that many who refuse me entrance to their camp and who have no interest in standing with me in the defense the gospel do not see these issues as being definitional of what it means to be reformed. Instead, they stand upon a particular form of sacramentalism and insist that without their particular understanding of these issues there can be no common defense of the gospel. Without diminishing the importance of these topics, issues that I have engaged in public debate over in both oral and written forms, I simply assert that the redeemed heart should recognize what is centrally definitional and what is not. If you turn your back upon a Bible believing, Trinity worshiping, sovereignty preaching, covenant theology believing, high church practicing, justification by faith defending, five point Calvinist and refuse to even confess such a person’s standing as your brother in Christ, all on the basis of a particular view of baptism that the honest person has to admit did not exist in the history of the church in that exact formulation until the middle of the sixteenth century, then I suggest you have lost your balance. And should you throw into the mix the old canards about Anabaptists, well, I can only feel sorry for you. (more…)
Paul Manata provides an excellent review of Olson's book Against Calvinism: http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2011/10/against-calvinism-reviewed.html