What do we mean when we say that we are a “Reformed Baptist Church?” Some would say that this means that we are trying to get back to our Baptist roots or heritage, but that is not a very helpful explanation. This article will try to answer two questions 1) What do we mean by Reformed? and 2) What do we mean by Baptist?
What We Mean By “Reformed”
The name “Reformed” was taken deliberately, for two reasons. First, it helps to explain something of our historical and theological roots. There is a body of theological beliefs that is commonly referred to as “The Reformed Faith.” Such Biblical truths as sola fide (justification by faith alone), sola gratia (salvation by God’s grace alone), sola scriptura (the Bible alone is the basis for faith and practice), solus Christus (salvation through Christ alone) and soli deo gloria (the fact that God alone is to receive glory in the salvation of sinners) are the hallmarks of the Protestant and Reformed Faith.
The Reformed Faith is perhaps best known for its understanding that God is sovereign in the matter of man’s salvation. By this we mean that God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen or elected certain sinners for salvation. He has done so sovereignly and according to His own good pleasure. The Reformed Faith teaches that, in time, Christ came and accomplished salvation by dying for the sins of those chosen by God before time began. It teaches that in conversion, the Holy Spirit, working in harmony with the decree of the Father and the death of the Son, applies the work of redemption to the elect. (see Ephesians 1:3-12 & Romans 9:6-26)
- the total depravity of man (Rom. 3:9-18; Eph. 2:1-3),
- the unconditional nature of election (Rom. 9:11-12; Eph. 3:1-6),
- the limited or definite nature of the atonement (Matt. 26:28; John 10:15, 26; Rev. 5:9),
- the irresistibility of the effectual call (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; Rom. 9:20-26),
- and the perseverance and preservation of the saints (Phil. 1:6; 1 Cor. 15:1-2; 1 Pet. 1:5).
But the Reformed Faith touches on far more than these basic truths regarding God’s glory in salvation. The Reformed Faith is concerned with God’s glory in the church, in society, in the family, and in a life of holiness. The Reformed Faith has a high and God-centered view of worship. The Reformed Faith embraces a high view of God’s law and of His church.
Out of this theological understanding came the great Reformed confessions and creeds – the Synod of Dordt, The Savoy Declaration, The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Heidelberg Catechism, and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), which is the one that most succinctly summarizes what we believe at GBC. In this “Reformed” tradition are many great names of Church history: John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, John Newton, Matthew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, C.H. Spurgeon, A.W. Pink, and a host of others. These men held tenaciously to the Reformed Faith. As far as modern-day teachers, we would be in agreement with men like John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and many others. We should point out however, that we hold to these truths not because Calvin, Spurgeon and these other faithful men of church history held to them, but because Jesus and the apostles so clearly taught them.
But we also use the term “Reformed” in a second way: We are seeking to reform ourselves and the churches of our generation back to the Bible. The vast majority of announcements from mainline denominations concerning the reformation of the church in recent days have been to move it away from its biblical and historical roots to that which is man-centered and culturally pleasing. There is a reformation going on in our day. It is an attempt to change the nature of the church from the House of God to the House of Entertainment. Sinners are being coddled rather than convicted. They are being entertained rather than being enlightened. They are being led to emotional experiences rather than being equipped to do the work of the ministry. God’s power and majesty are things of a bygone era!
Reformed Baptists make it their aim and ambition to come more and more in line with the Word of God. In this sense Reformed Baptist churches are not static. We do not claim to have arrived. We want to go back again and again to the Scriptures, so that we might continue forward to “finish the race” in a way that is pleasing to God. We do not want to do things because the Puritans did them or because other Reformed churches do them; we want to do what we do because we see it in the Bible. “To the teaching and to the testimony” (Isaiah 8:20) must be upon our banners!
As modern-day reformers, Reformed Baptists are seeking to call all churches everywhere to repent from their man-centered ways, their man-pleasing worship, and their shallow theology. We are, if need be, willing to stand as a lone “voice in the wilderness,” calling the church of Jesus Christ to its Biblical beauty and uniqueness. It is our desire to see all churches have a “zeal for God’s house consume them.”
What We Mean By “Baptist”
First of all, we are using the term “Baptist” to state the Biblical truths concerning the subjects and the mode of baptism. When we speak of the subjects of baptism, we refer to the truth that baptism is for believers only. The Bible is not silent about the issue of baptism. The fact that baptism is for believers only is the clear and, we believe, indisputable teaching of the Word of God. The subjects of baptism are not to be discovered in Genesis, but in the Gospels and in the Epistles. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Covenant which must be understood in the light of New Covenant revelation. Every single biblical command to baptize and every single biblical example of baptism, as well as every doctrinal statement regarding the symbolic nature of baptism, proves that it is for believers only.
By “mode” we are referring to the fact that baptism is properly and biblically administered by immersion. The common Greek word for immersion or dipping is the word used in our New Testaments. The argument that the word has an occasional historical example meaning ‘to pour’ or ‘to sprinkle’ is surely special pleading. There are perfectly good Greek words meaning ‘to sprinkle’ and ‘to pour’. In fact, there are numerous occasions in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) where the Greek words for immerse and sprinkle are used in the same context but with their distinct and separate meaning intact. (Such as the instances of the priest dipping his finger in blood and sprinkling an object – see Lev.4:6, 4:17, 14:16, 14:51, and Num. 19:18 for a few examples).
Secondly, the name Baptist is meant to convey that only those who are converted and baptized have a right to membership in Christ’s church. This is often referred to as a regenerate membership. A careful reading of the NT epistles shows that the Apostles assumed that all the members of Christ’s churches were “saints,” “faithful brethren,” and “cleansed by Christ.” Sadly, many Baptist churches of our day seem more concerned with having a “decisioned membership” and a “baptized membership” than a regenerate membership. It is the duty of the pastors and people of true churches to ensure, according to the best of their ability, that no unconverted person makes his or her way into the membership of the church.