What is a Reformed Baptist Church?
“Reformed Baptist” is a term not particularly well-known in evangelical circles. The name indicates both historical roots and distinct theological characteristics.
Historically, a Reformed Baptist identifies with a tradition that emerged directly from the Reformed Protestant movement. During the Reformation in 16th -17th century England there was a group of churchmen called the Puritans. The Puritans were believers who desired to see the church fully reform beyond any vestiges of Roman Catholicism or any other false teaching. There were three primary groups that made up the Puritans: Presbyterians, Independents, and Particular Baptists, which today are referred to as “Reformed Baptists.” They all shared common beliefs in the gospel and reformational doctrines, but the Baptists were set apart by a few beliefs. They believed in a church independent from state control that was governed congregationally and overseen in each local congregation by a group of elders. Also, they rejected the doctrine of paedobaptism (infant baptism). The summation of their beliefs were written down in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of 1689. Adhering to this historic reformed confession of faith is the primary distinctive of a Reformed Baptist. It shares themes and most of its language with the confessions of the other Puritans—the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians and the Savoy Declaration of the Independents, yet it seeks to correct the theological errors that persisted in each.
Theologically, there are several key characteristics that accompanying being a Reformed Baptist. Most simply, it means we are both Reformed and Baptist. We believe in the 5 Solas of the Reformation that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone to the glory of God alone. And that Scripture alone is the sole infallible authority for the faith and practice of the church.
Additionally, being Reformed means…
1. We are Calvinistic. We believe in the doctrines of grace.
Total Depravity (Man is spiritually dead and thus unable to turn to God in faith and repentance prior to being born again. Each man is a free agent but does not possess free will, because it is not within his nature to trust in Christ.)
Unconditional Election (God chose to save us of His own free will and not based on our foreseen faith or good works.)
Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption (Christ’s work to atone for our sins was effectual and objective and therefore was only accomplished for the elect, though all mankind benefits in some manner from His redemptive work for His church. He atoned for the sins of all men without distinction, but not all men without exception. He saved the whole world from their sins in that His elect come from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.)
Irresistible Grace (God regenerates us in order to make us willing followers of Christ and not vice versa. Grace will always be resisted until God choses to cause us to be born again, after which we joyfully comply with grace. In other words, regeneration precedes faith. The grace of regeneration does not require our acceptance, but rather creates it.)
Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints (All those whom God elects and regenerates are also caused to persevere in the faith by the work of the Holy Spirit. Though there are those that once proclaimed the faith but now reject it, they are understood to never have been born again (1 John 2:19). Jesus does not lose any of His sheep.)
2. We are confessional.
As a statement of faith and rule of practice we hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession. We believe it to be subservient to Scripture. It is neither infallible nor inerrant like Scripture is. Yet, we believe it to be a healthy and accurate summation of the true Christian faith. Please see our preface to the confession here.
3. We are Covenantal or hold to Covenant Theology.
We believe the covenants in Scripture are the framework in which redemptive history transpired. We believe that before creation God made a Covenant of Redemption among the persons of the Trinity that formalized the work and role of each person in God’s decree to allow sin and to redeem a people for Himself. We believe Adam was under a Covenant of Works in the garden to obey and live. We believe the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants are not salvific in and of themselves, but provided the context and groundwork for Christ to enter into creation and merit salvation for fallen men. We believe the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace which is made with the true church in the New Testament. It is unbreakable and retroactive to Old Testament saints who received New Covenant benefits via the Old Covenant economy (the summation of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants). We believe the church is a reconstituted Israel with no racial or ethnic boundaries. All those with true saving faith have been saved by the work accomplished by Christ in the New Covenant. Though the promise of salvation by the Messiah was prevalent and progressively revealed in greater detail in the Old Covenant, no one has ever been saved by their obedience to the command “do this and live” that was operative in the Old Covenant context.
4. We practice the Regulative Principle of Worship.
We only implement into formal public worship the elements of worship which are explicitly prescribed in God’s Word. We do not believe that whatever is not explicitly condemned is allowable (i.e., the Normative Principle). Therefore, the church is limited to practicing only the elements of worship given to us— the public reading and preaching of Scripture, prayer, singing, and the two ordinances or sacraments of the New Covenant (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). We further believe that the Regulative Principle of Worship restricts baptism and the Lord’s Supper to professing believers that have given evidence of true conversion.
5. We believe in the Moral Law of God.
The Moral Law of God is based in God’s character and is therefore always true and applicable. In the context of God’s covenants there is additional Positive Law for each covenant that likewise must be obeyed at the time that each covenant is in place. The positive law for Adam in the Covenant of Works was to not eat of the fruit of a certain tree and to work and keep the garden. In the Abrahamic Covenant the positive law of circumcision was implemented. In the Mosaic covenant there were extensive ceremonial and civil positive laws added. In the Davidic Covenant there were positive laws for the kings and his subjects to adhere to. However, all those positive laws are abrogated in the New Covenant in which we are given new positive laws such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, evangelism, etc. Nevertheless, from the beginning of creation into eternity the Moral Law of God has been in place. It is known to all men by virtue of being made in the image and likeness of God (though men do indeed seek to suppress it). It is summarized in the Ten Commandments which are therefore still applicable for believers today. And it was further summarized by Jesus when He said the greatest commandments was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the 2nd greatest commandment is the love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commands.
Additionally, being Baptist means…
1. We practice credobaptism (the baptism of professing believers alone).
We only baptize those that give a credible profession faith and evidence that accompanies their sincerity. We also only baptize by the method of immersion to accurately capture the symbolism of putting the old man to death and rising again in Christ.
We do not practice infant baptism. We believe infant baptism is a distortion of biblical teaching that only began in isolated areas in the mid-3rd century. In addition to the historical data, credobaptism by immersion is confirmed by a correct reading of Scripture, a correct application of the Regulative Principle of Worship, a complete application of Reformed hermeneutics, and by correct Covenant Theology. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are fenced (restricted) by the same principle— to be given to professing believers only. Likewise membership in the church is only available to baptized professing believers. We recognize we differ from the majority of the Reformed tradition in this regard, but biblical doctrine has never been a matter of democracy or counting noses.
2. We are congregational.
There is no authoritative structure above the local church. Each local church is governed by a plurality of elders and deacons. However, it is the gathered assembly that elects its own elders and deacons and voices its decision on matters of worship, doctrine, and discipline. This means we are not part of any denomination.
While each congregation/local church is independent and autonomous, Reformed Baptists do associate with like-minded churches. Independency has never meant isolation. We work together with other Reformed Baptist churches by way of both formal and informal Associations. These associations do not exercise control or authority over individual churches, nor do they interfere with the affairs of their member churches. The local church is independent of external control and cannot and must not be subordinate to a higher central government.
While modern day Baptists are genealogically descended from the Particular Baptists, it would be inaccurate to refer to most of them as “Reformed Baptists.” They have largely lost their theological and confessional identities. Most Baptists today have drifted far afield from the faith and practice of their theological forefathers. In fact, they are for the most part unidentifiable with our Puritan roots. Reformed Baptists on the other hand seek to preserve the orthodoxy fought for and practiced by those that have gone before us in the Reformed, Puritan, Particular Baptist tradition.