The name Reformed refers to the distinctive historical and theological roots of these Baptists. There is a body of theological beliefs commonly referred to as the Reformed faith. Such great 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 all noted hallmarks of the Protestant and Reformed faith.
Yet, the Reformed faith is perhaps best known for its understanding that God is sovereign in the matter of man's salvation. This is to say 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. Additionally, the Reformed faith teaches that, in time, Christ came and accomplished salvation by dying for the sins of those elected by God. Furthermore, the Reformed faith teaches that the Holy Spirit, working in harmony with the decree of the Father and the death of the Son, effectually applies this work of redemption to each of the elect in their personal conversions. As a result of this emphasis on the sovereignty of God in salvation, the Reformed faith also promulgates the doctrines of grace: doctrinal truths which set forth the total depravity of man, the unconditional nature of God’s election, the limited or particular nature of Christ’s atonement, the irresistibility of the effectual call and the perseverance and preservation of the saints.
The Reformed faith, however, touches on far more than these foundational truths regarding God’s glory in salvation. It is also concerned with God’s glory in the church, in society, in the family and in the holiness of the believer’s life. The Reformed faith has a high and God-centered view of worship, regulated by the Word of God alone. The Reformed faith embraces a high view of God’s law and of His church. In short, the Reformed faith is no less than a comprehensive world and life view, as well as a distinctive body of doctrine.
Out of this theological understanding came a great stream of confessions and creeds: the Synod of Dort, The Savoy Declaration, The Westminster Confession of Faith and The Heidelberg Catechism. Similarly, this Reformed tradition produced some of the great names of Church history. John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, John Newton, the famous Bible commentator Matthew Henry, the great evangelist George Whitefield, the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, C.H. Spurgeon, A.W. Pink and a host of others all held tenaciously to the Reformed faith. We must underscore that Reformed Baptists do not hold these truths because of blind allegiance to historic creeds. Nor, do Reformed Baptists hold them merely because great men of church history stood in this tradition. Rather, Reformed Baptists hold these truths because Jesus and the apostles so clearly taught them.
The confession of faith embraced by Reformed Baptist churches takes its place among, and is deeply rooted in, these historic Reformed documents. In most places the 1689 Confession is an exact word for word copy of the Westminster and the Savoy. Consequently, the term Reformed Baptist is not a misnomer. Reformed Baptists stand firmly on the solid ground of the Reformation heritage.
The name Baptist summarizes the biblical truths concerning both the subjects and the mode of baptism. To speak of the subjects of baptism, we refer to the truth that baptism is for disciples only. Reformed Baptists owe a great debt to the Reformed paedobaptists because their writings have shaped, challenged, warmed, and guided them again and again. Yet, the Bible is not silent about the issue of baptism. The fact that baptism is for disciples only is the clear and 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. There is not one single shred of evidence in the pages of the Old or New Testament to support the notion that the infants of believers are to be baptized. Every biblical command to baptize and every biblical example of baptism, as well as every doctrinal statement regarding the symbolic nature of baptism, proves that it is for disciples only. The Bible is equally clear concerning the mode of baptism. The term mode refers to the fact that baptism is properly and biblically administered by immersion in water. The common Greek word for immersion or dipping is the word used in the New Testament. The argument that the word has an occasional historic example meaning to pour or to sprinkle is surely special pleading. There are perfectly good Greek words which mean to sprinkle and to pour. Yet, the New Testament employs the word for immersion.
The name Baptist is also 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 church 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 today are more concerned with having a decisioned membership and a baptized membership rather 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 a church.
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