Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Who Speaks for Reformed Baptists? – Part 2

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 30, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Who represents us best as Reformed Baptists?  Is there a specific individual or church we can look to as our definitive model?  Leaders come and go and we have all seen the devastation that can occur when a movement follows a man.  Consider any cult and the founder will almost always be a strong male (or female) leader.

A movement which comes into being because of one leader or adopts one leader as the definitive spokesman has some inherent problems.  It is subject to the changeable ideas of the leader.  It is often destined to be relevant for one or at the most two generations.  Within the third generation the movement has generally changed enough to no longer be exactly what the founder envisioned.

The 1689 Confession is a strong defense against error.  We have witnessed men who have changed their views over time.  Others have begun to tolerate or even espouse errors they once did not hold.  There is also the problem of the “one strong leader” endorsing men and giving his stamp of approval to those who stand on the borderline of orthodoxy.  The stability of the Confession holds individual elders and entire congregations accountable to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27b).

This is why I believe our Confession is the best safeguard for the local congregation and for our movement as whole.  The confession is written and the written word is powerful when it comes to giving stability and continuity.  It is not subject to the trends of the day, or the newer ideas of men.  No doubt this is why God ordained His Word be given in written form.  Of course, the confession is not inspired so I make the comparison for illustrative purposes only.  Leaders change, styles change, emphases come and go, but the confession serves a useful purpose that stands the test of time.  It functions much like the United States Constitution.

The U.S. Constitution is not inspired and it can be changed.  When it is wrong it should be changed.  Aren’t you glad that African Americans are no longer counted as 3/5 of a person?  Still there have been only 27 amendments over the years.  Ten amendments are the Bill of Rights which came as part of the original Constitution.  Two deal with instituting and abolishing prohibition, which cancel each other out.  Our massive country has gone from 13 Colonies to its present state with only 15 amendments in more than 200 years.  In that same time, however, it is estimated that more than 10,000 changes to the U.S. Constitution have been suggested in Congress!

Today we occasionally hear calls for the 1689 LBCF to be changed.  But change implies that something is wrong or lacking.  Since even small changes can make huge differences they must, of necessity, be weighed carefully.

It should be noted that our particular confession is already a modification of the Savoy and that the Savoy was a modification of the Westminster.  Appropriate changes have already been made by those who went on before us.  Our present confession gives us the privilege to sit on the broad shoulders of the Westminster divines.  Our system of doctrine has been time-tested, and more than 300 years later, still speaks with the powerful relevance that the Puritans knew.  I believe this same firm doctrinal stance can continue another 300 years into the future if God so wills.

Is our confession in urgent need of change?  I would strongly argue there is no need at this time for change.  Sound and scholarly research into the background of the confession has been and is still being done.  More is needed.  This information gives us even greater insight into the issues they faced and why they wrote as they did.   For the confession to remain relevant it must be timeless, and not get bogged down with the transient controversies of the day.  In fact when changes are made it would likely be to those few peculiarly seventeenth century issues.

Some issues may arise which are important to a particular congregation that are not specifically dealt with in the confession.  These types of issues can be dealt with by individual congregations according to their wisdom and they should not become a bar to fellowship between congregations.  Our individual churches may have a different look or feel to them, and still be Reformed Baptist.

Realistically we are in the second generation of Reformed Baptists in the modern sense.  What we do and how we do it will determine whether there will be a third, fourth or fifth generation or if those who follow us morph into something else.  Obviously, we hope and pray that coming generations will be wiser than us, more informed than us, and more in love with Christ and His truth than us.  What we can do to help them is leave a solid foundation on which to build.

Our Reformed Baptist churches need strong leaders.  I do not believe our movement is best served by one strong leader or one exemplary church.  Our confession, in its present form gives us a firm footing for ensuring doctrinally sound pastors and teachers in the local church.  It protects the local congregation from the novel ideas of men.  I would call upon us to hold it as our form of unity and labor to understand it better.

Part 1

Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
  1. I agree wholeheartedly agree that “the 1689 Confession is a strong defense against error”. When combined with godly members, a solid constitution, an open bible and most especially the mind of Christ, I also “believe our Confession is the best safeguard for the local congregation and for our movement as whole.”

    “Since even small changes can make huge differences they must, of necessity, be weighed carefully” and, I would add, therefore never issued by knee-jerk politburo diktat.
    How true it is that the Confession can very easily be turned on its head.
    How tragic it is to see congregations willing to sell their time-tested and biblical birthright for the mess of pottage of a leader’s whims.

    I would add that we need godly leaders not visibly strong leaders. We need congregations truly trained up in the knowledge of the Lord. Without which, sadly, our Confession is of as much use as Chamberlain’s “piece of paper” as history has shown.

    What a blessing it is no longer be “subject to the changeable ideas of the leader”. Thank you for your post Pastor Marquedant, a good and timely encouragement to both stand firm and to press on. Truly God is good to Israel.

  2. Steve – Well said. Thank you.

  3. “Our Reformed Baptist churches need strong leaders. I do not believe our movement is best served by one strong leader or one exemplary church. Our confession, in its present form gives us a firm footing for ensuring doctrinally sound pastors and teachers in the local church.”

    This seems to be the most biblical to me. It clearly keeps with Eph 4:15-16. It is the churches in aggregate with Christ as the spokesman/head, which make up the body. The nested parts comprise the whole (individuals within the church, churches in relation to each other within the total body around the world).

    Faithful men are desperately needed to lay their hand to the plow guarding against the temptation towards a cult of personality.

  4. The fact that we have so many reformed Baptist churches that hold to the confession proves that it is the strongest statement of our belief to be our guide in all things. We do have strong leaders amongst us but they may not be well known. They are strong in their congregations because they do not waver or try to change our confession. I am privileged to sit under such a pastor.

  5. I have enjoyed your two articles brother. I am with you in spirit. Alas however experience teaches me that one of our greatest problems is the fact that various interpretations of the confession in certain key areas exist and sadly divide men deeply. As yet we have not possessed the humility to address this and as a result we continue I believe to suffer the frown of the
    Lord for it.We end up making the interpretation of the confession a test of fellowship rather than accept differences and continue to relate in grace and love.

  6. Pastor Steve

    I think assessing the confession as a unifying instrument amongst RB’s in modernity is a difficult thing. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that embracing the confession on a local church level is good and necessary. However, Mr. Brigg’s comment is a reflection of of what reformation history has ultimately meant for us today. Confessions of the reformation and the 17th century were really religio-politico instruments-they were first approved and enforced by a magistrate during a period more cognizant of the existence of “Christendom.” Secular modernity (born partly out of seperatism,immediacy) though religious, rejects established religion and is in part responsible for the mindset that associates confessionalism with nationalized religion. Add that in many protestant circles, our attempts at equality has also meant that “everyman,” can be a theologian, preacher or pastor. While this seems egalitarian and spiritual, in it’s attempts to promote religious freedom and truth, it has left us with thorny issue of debate from within and without the protestant movement. Strangely enough religious systems with hieracrchical (bishops etc) leadership tend to have at once more religous diversity, lengthy pedigree and “star,” power than those who do not (note past blogs encouraging us to read the writings of non-baptistic puritans). Each system has it’s own weaknesses and strengths. Congregational autonomy has it’s advantages; it works in a democracy and adds to our need for sanctifying piety, and it’s disadvantages (described above). IMHO this may be related to the humility that Briggs is searching for.

  7. Dear Steve,
    Thanks for the two articles. I am happy to have our faith define us rather than one man or one church.
    I am, perhaps, a bit more hopeful and optimistic than my dear brother Briggsy. I perceive our primary differences with the confession as being application rather than of substance. I have certainly witnessed some brethren with a bad ‘tone’ in their arguments over such things (especially in our abilbity to make mountains out of molehills with music). I am hopeful that we can have a growing good spirit where we can have heartily disagreements and yet think well of others. I believe that we need lose a degree of our defensiveness (on both sides of issues). I have seen this happening to a degree and am hopeful that it will increase! I would add (not to get too far off topic) that it appears that many RB’s are far more critical within our confessional circles than without, willing to believe good of those outside confessional boundaries than within. Not sure why!

  8. I’m actually not pessimistic either brother Jim. I rejoice in the developments I see in various places amongst RB’s my intention was to simply point out what the real issue is that causes so much trouble amongst us. ARBCA faces this in the present and NARBCA as I like to call it has been characterised by it for years.

    I am thankful that I am little bothered by those who want to evaluate my orthodoxy on one or two areas of our Confession that they may interpret differently. I hope I can maintain a Catholic enough spirit to smile and wave !

  9. I am a bit more sanguine of the condition and health of our churches. However, there seems to be some who desire that we become something more than what we are. Now if that more is holiness or Biblical or Christocentric, then you will hear me shout AMEN! Semper Reformata!

    But, if more means more like the broad evangelical church that has gotten into bed with both the world and the charismatic movement, then count me out.

    We do have wonderful leaders in our churches (please STOP telling us to look to men like Driscoll!). More, as one has written on this site, we have faithful people sitting on our church pews!

  10. Pastor Steve,

    In light of your articles, thank you for naming names.. Piper, MacArthur, Driscoll… some of our brothers want to change the 1689 “a little”. But what they want to change and think can be included in that little change are things like the Sabbath, the Regulative Principle, they belive organizations like ARBCA are and have been too narrow in their interpretation of the 1689. That’s why groups such as FIRE and others have many good men too, because those guys feel like the 1689 is their confession too and they call themselves Reformed Baptists too, and they have been calling themselves that before Al Martin and Walt Chantry and Erol Hulse coined the terms years ago, but the interpretation given to the Confession from that side’s heritage of such men — that has been the cause of trouble – it has divided RBs rather than strengthen us.

    In this series I would like to see such objections responded to. I don’t think the combox would be a good place, but perhaps you could expand and make your articles several more in the series and explain specifically why / what is changeable and what is not and still remain true to be an RB.

    Our Reformed Paedo brothers do this same thing to us, since we are Baptist, we are not (cannot be) “truly” reformed… many get the impression from the ARBCA / subscriptionist guys that others are not “truly RB”

    Right now there is, as you know, a “Worship War” of sorts going on because Brother Masters of UK Met has said in no uncertain terms that men like Piper and MacArthur etc have allowed worldly music styles into their ministries. Let alone — those men who are as your article described on the “edgy” side… I’m assuming you meant Driscoll in that reference, I’d be surprised if that wasn’t who you meant. Do you think he can include himself as a Reformed Baptist – mostly because he is Sovereign Grace (x pt Calvinist?) Where would you place him and why? Or C.J. – very respected but Charismatic leanings.. why would it be adviseable for us not to consider his ministry within our RB circles?

    So basically, my question is: Ok, LBCF is what we should follow, not some men or group of men… but why do you think the ARBCA interpretation of the 1689 is the only valid / safest one to follow? Couldn’t the argument come back, you do the same thing you are arguing / positing against? Because what you are really doing is following a certain interpretation of the confession, and following certain men, they just happen to be the leaders of ARBCA, and you have artificially set up ARBCA as the “de facto” declaration of what an RB is…aren’t you following men too like Waldron, Renihan, Savastio and others?


  11. Pat

    “things like the Sabbath, the Regulative Principle” are not small matters. Our churches have not only the right but the obligation to proclaim what the Bible teaches on these (and other matters).

    “things like the Sabbath, the Regulative Principle” circumscribe the right and true worship of God, these, among our churches are beyond dispute. The confession cannot be treated like a waxnose and shaped to the prefernces of any man or group. The confession comes to us with a history, and that history when carefully study will vindicate our interpretation of the confession.

    Dricoll and others may be gifted brothers, and many of us have read or heard them with some benefit. Our shevles are bursting with books not written by Reformed Baptist. However, it can be certain that no one man will ever speak for our churches. As I heard Thabiti Anyabwile say recently, “men and their movements often die together.”

  12. Quick wrote: “aren’t you following men too like Waldron, Renihan, Savastio and others?” Charles wrote:
    “However, it can be certain that no one man will ever speak for our churches.” these comments illustrate the historic dilemma of baptistic congregations. Some Southernbaptist (attempting solidarity) eventually adopt the missionary organization as the “church,” others will forever refer to us as “churches.” At some point in time a continued regress of separation can mean extinction as Charles wrote, or an attempt at unification as quick and Briggs desire. Evaluated from the perspective of Luther and Calvin they might be horrified at the plurality of Christian expression (never mind they wouldn’t tolerate baptists anyways). Maybe in humility we have something to learn from Catholics, episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian systems of leadership?

  13. Rob,

    The extinction that I referred is the kind that is often seen when a church or any other organization is built upon or around a leading figure.

    Now, I would put the average RB pastor against any of these superstar preachers; yet I am thankful that not one of these determines our future. Long after Martin, Savastio, Renihan, Barcellos, Clevenger or whoever is taken away from us, there will continue to be both the churches that they now serve and many other RB churches as well

  14. Discussion of names and personalities reminds me of a conversion story I heard many years ago. It began …

    “We can know about God without knowing him.

    This is dramatically illustrated in a story told by Bishop John Taylor Smith, one-time Chaplain General of the British Army. He was preaching on one occasion in a large cathedral on the necessity of the new birth. In order to drive the point home he said, “My dear people, do not substitute anything for the new birth. You may be a member of a church, even the great church of which I am a member, the historic Church of England, but church membership is not new birth, and ‘except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.'” The rector was sitting on his left. Pointing to him, he said, “You may be a clergyman like my friend the rector here and not be born again and ‘except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.'” Also on his left was the archdeacon in his stall. Pointing directly at him, he said, “You might even be an archdeacon like my friend in his stall and not be born again and ‘except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ You might even be a bishop, like myself, and not be born again and ‘except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.'”

    A day or so later he received a letter from the archdeacon who wrote: “My dear Bishop: You have found me out. I have been a clergyman for over thirty years, but I have never known anything of the joy that Christians speak of.” …. “

  15. The turn to experience or reflective faith (assurance of faith based on a subjective knowledge) is a feature of early American puritan revivalism borne from English experientialism. An insistence on knowing one has faith is a development in xtian theology (Calvin)which has it’s advantages, namely we get security. The danger however is adopting a man centered internal focus and worse yet works oriented. I think it far better to trust in Christ who does not lie, our profession is always suspect. It’s Augustinian to have hope and avoid security (Latin for complacency). Any Augustinian trained Bishop (cath, episcopal) would be familiar with this. The Calvinistic anxiety of “knowing” is a common ministerial problem exemplified by the voluminous literature addressing the issue. Obeds recounting encouraged our pious expectations.

  16. Charles wrote, “The extinction that I referred is the kind that is often seen when a church or any other organization is built upon or around a leading figure.” Extinction can be the result of many factors. Autonomous congregations are not exempt from extinction inspite of professed confessionalism. We need only look to history to discover many examples. RB congregations find comfort in our small groups where we believe that our worship is more pure and our confessionalism more rigourous. Almost every tradition (cath., Protestant, anabaptist) will identify the small pious groups or individuals as exemplary. These include monastics orders, martyrs, those on the frontier or the mission fields, the persecuted anabaptists etc. These are touted by the larger membership (see earlier blogs re: star power) as exemplary. However IMHO therein lies the blessing and the danger of a fractionalized xtianity in a post modern era. Will we be the refuge conservatives run to? Or will we part of xtian mythology? Only God knows.

  17. […] and they should not become a bar to fellowship between congregations.” ((Steve Marquedant, “Who Speaks for Reformed Baptists? Part 2.”; accessed on Nov 8, 2011. [↩]The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand […]

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