Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Who Speaks for Reformed Baptists? (Part 1)

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 14, 2013 at 10:26 am


The world is watching with rapt attention the grand spectacle of The Roman Catholic Church selecting their new Pope.  History and mystery combine in a grand spectacle worthy of a Cecil B. DeMille production.  When it comes to bells and smells everyone else is an amateur compared to Rome.  Even the normally skeptical media is somewhat awed at the show.  Now the world waits as the Cardinals, hidden away in total seclusion, speak to us only by means of white or black smoke.

It’s very easy to know who speaks for the Roman Church.  There are many voices, but in the end, it is the Pope who speaks for the church.  It may be true that not all Catholics listen, but his voice is the official voice of their church.

In our government, the President speaks for the nation.  Again, many do not agree, but he is the official spokesman.  But, more powerful than the President, more powerful than the Congress, or the Supreme Court is the Constitution.  Political and Judicial figures come and go, while the Constitution remains.

I choose this analogy, because in our Reformed Baptist churches, the 1689 Confession holds a position similar to our United States Constitution.  It stands as a solid rock of doctrinal unity and stability.  While many churches claim to be Bible-believing, a congregation that sincerely holds this confession possesses a safe, well-defined, and time-tested guard against heresy.

Pastors and elders may come and go.  However, when a congregation requires that a pastor promises adherence to the confession as part of his ordination vows, with the attendant promise that an elder would voluntarily resign should he change his view, the church has a built in safeguard against error.

Differences in style may come and go.  Peripheral issues and emphases may change from eldership to eldership within Reformed Baptist churches.  But a church holding steadfastly to the confession, should be holding the same truths one hundred years from now as it is today in the essential matters of the faith.

I am not aware of any self-consciously Reformed Baptist Church, in America, that has held tenaciously to the 1689 LBCF for the past one hundred years, so, we have no working model to study or examine.  There is a natural tendency for individuals and churches to change and swing, at times, like a pendulum, some more and some less.  For instance, in your own particular area, there is probably a church that tried to follow the “Willow Creek model”, moved on to the “Purpose-Driven model”, and may have now morphed into the more “missional” (see “Emergent” or “Semi-emergent”) model.  If they have a lack of success there, where will they go next?  Don’t worry, there is always something new on the horizon.

Churches will follow a model, and there is a host of models from which to choose.  There are denominational models and trendy models.  Many of the popular models are “personality” driven, with one key figure as the leading spokesman.  One model is set forth as “cutting edge” and “revolutionary” today, and the congregation is full of excitement.  But inevitably they find themselves, maybe twenty-five years later, with a duller cultural edge and left defending their own traditions. Reformed Baptist Churches are not exempt from this pendulum effect.

So who does represent us as the voice that speaks for Reformed Baptists today?  Interestingly, we find ourselves as a movement that doesn’t have a well-known public “voice” like John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll or R.C. Sproul.  We can find major points of agreement with these men, but there are also points of disagreement.  And each of these men would have points of disagreement with our Confession.  None of these famous men listed (and we could have listed many more) would describe himself as a Confessional Reformed Baptist.

Who represents us, as Reformed Baptists, as the quintessential pastor or which church has the ideal ministry?  We have very capable men and some exemplary churches.  However, we haven’t had the kind of “superstar” minister that defines some movements.  Along the way, some men and ministries have been profitably followed.  At other times we have found that imitation is not always the highest form of flattery.  Also as the number of Reformed Baptists has continued to grow (and this growth has been startling during the past twenty years!) we have become more and more diverse.

In my next entry, I will try to answer the question of who best represents us as Reformed Baptists, and what we can do to give our movement stability as we continue to progress into the coming decades.

Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
  1. Thanks, Steve. I appreciate your differentiation between Reformed Baptists and Baptists who are Calvinists (MacArthur, Piper, etc.), especially identifying RB’s as confessional. While this is somewhat arbitrary, it is helpful, aiding us in keeping a stable doctrinal position. I’m convinced that this will fall out to the well-being of a specific church for the reasons you stated: a guard against heresy, faddish methodologies, and elders (or aspirants) who drift from orthodoxy. While it is not a universal panacea regarding these problems, it roots us in the stream of historic orthodoxy and gives us a more objective perspective on our own times. I believe we American Christians have worked hard to articulate the Gospel in a modern context as far as articulation goes, but we have not done as well at holding the standard of Biblical orthodoxy, i.e. the Gospel in its setting of the Apostolic Scriptures. The later is far more important, for the former rests on it.

  2. Sincere question. Why must we be ‘reformed baptist’? Is it not enough that we be merely Baptist? Historically, is there really a difference? Sovereign grace, calvinism, that is Baptist. Why the need for an extra label?

  3. This article is good as far as it defines Reformed Baptists as those who hold to the 1689 London Confession, but there are others who also identify as Reformed Baptists who hold to the 1646 London Confession, which is an original Baptist document, and not just a reworked Baptized version of the Westminster Confession. The 1689 brought in all the Presbyterian covenant theology of the Westminster and simply doctored up the portions pertaining to Baptism. The 1646 however, is not a Baptized Presbyterian document, and many of us, who are also Reformed Baptist’s, do not subscribe to the 1689 confessionalism which you identify as the mark of being “reformed Baptist”. In this aspect of your presentation, you are simply not being accurate. Not all Reformed Baptists are 1689 Reformed Baptists.

  4. Great question Joey. Many Baptist have been de-formed by Dispensationalism, Arminianism and mysticism. They have fallen from their particular Baptist origins. We all wished we could just be called Christians – but error has robbed us all of the single use of that nomenclature.

  5. Will be waiting for the second part!

  6. Earl, the 1646 was a revision of the 1644 which was adapted (about 50% of it) from the paedobaptist 1596 True Confession. It also utilized Ames’ (a paedobaptist) The Marrow of Theology and other extant theological documents, not all by Baptists. The 1st London Baptist Confession did not start from scratch. Also, the first confession predates Westminster so it could not use it. Also, the 1689 did not bring “in all the Presbyterian covenant theology of the Westminster…” There are significant differences (e.g., 2ndLCF 7.3). This article may help.

  7. Although there may be no church in America that has held to the 1689 Confession for 100 years, there are some in Britain. The most famous example is the Metropolitan tabernacle in London (Spurgeon’s). Although it briefly abandoned the confession in the 1950s, it rreturned in 1970 and has held to it ever since.

    Another church is Newhouse Baptist Church in Devon It was founded in 1652, and initially held to the 1644/46 confession but moved on the the 1689 and has held it for around 300 years.

  8. […] Who Speaks for Reformed Baptists? (Part 1) | Reformed Baptist Fellowship […]

  9. I’m anxious to hear the second part! However, I have trouble reconciling the inherent quasi-denominationalism that your post implies with the thorough-going congregationalism of the 1689. Your post seems to suggest this tension, and I myself do not know how to resolve it. One of the core distinctives of Reformed Baptists, and Baptists in general, is their congregationalism — the true, formal independence of every congregation from the leadership and authority of another congregation . . . or synod, convention, or Pope. But when we start asking the question of who speaks for Reformed Baptists it seems that some component of congregationalism must go, or at the very least diminish. Speaking of Reformed Baptists as a movement and of this movement’s exemplars seems to detract from the reality that, in biblical terms, the growth of the movement is nothing more than an increase in local congregations and elders who have adopted the 1689.

    The Reformed Baptist movement certainly is a movement, but it is a movement only in so far as it is made up of congregations ruled by elders. To speak in terms that supersede this “congregational flavor” is to infer a kind of Reformed Baptist hierarchy of authority — those who’s method, form, or style hold more sway than the authority of the local elders. This is what I’m calling a form of quasi-denominationalism. Whether it is compatible with true congregationalism is a question I’m hoping that you touch upon in your next post. I appreciate the topic!

  10. Justin, I am sure Steve will cover your concerns in Part 2. Hopefully, I am not going to spoil his next post by quoting from the Confession: ” The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner [Col. 1:18; Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11,12]; neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming [2 Thes. 2:2-9]” (chapter 26, paragraph 4). Jesus is the only rightful Head of the church, and He is the ONLY ONE who has authority to speak on behalf of His body, the church.

  11. Earl, another interesting thing about the 1stLCF is that the 1644 does not mention the Lord’s Supper and the 1646 only briefly in XXXIX. The lack of mention in 1644 does not necessarily mean they did not believe in it prior to 1646. They probably held similar views to the Independents.

  12. richbarcellos, Thanks for the link, that is a great article, well written and very informative. I did not mean to convey the idea that might have caused you to think that I felt the framers of the earlier confessions (1644 and 1646) were operating in some sort of Baptist vacuum with not outside influences and with no interaction with the extant documents and discussions of the time. Certainly that was not the case. What I did mean to convey was the idea that the language of the earlier confessions contentiously excluded “Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace” language which cannot be found in the Scriptures. The 1689 incorporated that language verbatim from the Westminster standards. IN my opinion this is the huge weakness in the document. My point was that the 1689 does not speak for all Reformed Baptists. Nor does the earlier documents either. One of the tenets of being Baptist, is that the Bible speaks for us rather than the mere documents of men. When we become dazzled with documents, no matter what their date or their content, we detract from our main Baptist distinctive of “Sola SCriptura”. The Bible is what characterizes us and “speaks for Us” as it “speaks to us” and informs us of all things pertaining to doctrine and practice. It is not the 1689 shrine we should be worshiping at. Just as the Presbyterians should not be worship[ping at the Westminster shrine. Justin, I also conquer with your analysis about an unintentional imposition of some sort of denominational hierarchy authoritarianism. Good point. No human document or outside body should direct the autonomous Baptist churches. That is a another Key Baptist distinctive. I fear in our quest to be solidly “reformed” we forget what makes us solidly Baptist. That should not happen. Just my opinion.

  13. Earl, you said, “What I did mean to convey was the idea that the language of the earlier confessions contentiously excluded “Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace” language which cannot be found in the Scriptures.” The author of Confessing the Faith in 1644 and 1689 has another article where he shows that some who had a hand in the creation of the 1st LCF and/or subscribed to it had no problems using “covenant of grace,” “covenant of life,” Moral Law,” “morality of the fourth Commandment, which requires one day in seven,” “…the Sabbath is commanded indeterminately in the fourth commandment, which commands us to observe the day of Gods rest. Now, being the first day of the weeke, is the day of Gods rest, we observe it…” The mens’ writings he surveyed include Richardson, Spilsbury, Hobson, Knollys, and Cox. The article is entitled “Bound to Keep the First Day” – Covenant Theology, the Moral Law, and the Sabbath among the first English Particular Baptists. It is a fascinating and illuminating must read. There was a time in the early 1990s when I understood the two confessions somewhat in opposition to each other. I no longer think this is the case.

  14. Rich, You have pointed some excellent things to me, and I appreciate it. I really don’t have any problem understanding the position of the early Baptists on the Sabbath observance, their view of the Mosaic law or anything like that. I believe they deliberately excluded certain language from the earlier confessions for a reason. The language I am referring to is the “Covenant of works language” which was included in the 1689 in Sections 4:2 and 4:3 which says that Adam and Eve had “the law of God written in their hearts” in addition to the command to not eat of the tree. This law is then equated with the “moral Law” (i.e.the ten Commandments) and is contrasted with “the Covenant of Grace” in Chapter 7. In essence the 1689 asserts the idea that “Adam received the 10 Commandments”. This came verbatim from the Westminster Confession. These view are not included anywhere in the earlier confessions. To say that Adam had the Moral law in addition to the law not to eat of a certain tree, is the assertion from “Covenant Theology” which is absent in the earlier confessions, and in my opinion that makes them far better Baptist documents because there is no passage of Scripture which teaches that Adam possessed “the moral Law”. That is a Covenant Theology supposition, and in my view it is an unwarranted supposition. I believe that language was left out of the earlier Confessions on purpose, and that the 1689 confession was aiming at a more “politically correct” and “popularly acceptable” doctrinal statement. As such, they admitted some errors which should not have been admitted into a Baptist confession. We are supposed to base our doctrines on the Bible, not on other popular confessions of faith. Respectibility is not supposed to determine acceptability of a doctrine. Something happened to cause these fine Baptists scholars to include teachings with not one verse of Scriptural evidence? People like myself who hold to more of a “New Covenant Theology” approach, but who are still very much Reformed Baptists prefer to not use the 1689, because we just do not see these things in Scripture. The article is about “who speaks for Reformed Baptist?” and My contention is The Bible and not 1689. The 1689 has much good doctrine in it, but it has some stuff which is questionable when held directly up to the Bible. There are many other Reformed Baptists who also prefer the 1644 or the 1646. That was not mentioned in the article, and I feel that the idea of Sola Scriptura needs to be discussed as the underpinning for any form of Confessionalism. Confessions bow to Scripture. Because when Confessions do not express the actual beliefs of the churches which endorse them, the door is opened for hypocrisy and confusion. I started out in my ministry using the 1689 exclusively, but I felt compelled to abandon it in the interest of honesty with God, honesty with the Bible, and Honesty with myself. This may not be for you or for anybody else? I can only speak for myself. For me, the 1689 does not speak for me, because when I cannot reconcile a doctrine with the actual teachings of Scripture I abandon the doctrine, and wholeheartedly embrace the teachings of Scripture. I refuse to endorse major doctrines, like “Adam had the Moral law written on His heart” when I do not see it in the Bible. The “Law written on the heart” language is exclusive New Covenant Language (Jer. 31:33), not pre-Mosaic language. It’s strange and weird. It’s clearly and insertion. And it does not make any sense with any known model of hermeneutics that I am familiar with. If God teaches me otherwise, then I will gladly go back to using the 1689, because I feel it is superior in other areas. But for me, this is a big problem. But thanks Rich, for your great links and information. I have read everything you have suggested, and it has lots of good points. God bless you brother.

  15. Ok, Earl, good interacting with you, brother. Press on!

  16. [This law is then equated with the “moral Law” (i.e.the ten Commandments) and is contrasted with “the Covenant of Grace” in Chapter 7. In essence the 1689 asserts the idea that “Adam received the 10 Commandments”.]

    Is this an overstatement? My understanding was that 19:2 taught that “The same law that was first written in the heart of man… …and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments,” was intended by the authors to be understood as “…upon Mount Sinai, [contained or summarized] in ten commandments…” and that they were not explicitly equating the two (per Paul’s distinction in Rom 2:14-15) . Am i mistaken? Could you comment, Earl or Rich? You both appear to be more familiar with the authors and their context than I am…

  17. Debtor, I am not sure I can answer your question but I’ll try. 19:2 says ” The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after
    the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.” I take the language to be exactly the same as the language I pointed out in 4:2-3 and chapter 7. If you want to read it with the idea that they did not mean exactly what they said? and that they intended to say something else? you can do that, but then the entire document becomes worthless, because we have to assume that there are loads of things where they intended to say something else but didn’t. The purpose of the Confession, is to put into specific and concrete language, which is clearly recognizable and plainly understood, what the doctrines of the Bible state. I thinks its wrong to say, “they said this, but they meant that”. That turns all their words into nonspecific nonsense. I believe these men knew how to say exactly what they were trying to say. They were the most educated Baptist scholars and theologians of the day. What they said is that Adam received the very same ten Commandments in His heart before the fall, that Moses received on the mount on tablets of stone. This Adamic Law code if properly understood is “the Covenant of Works” in Covenant Theology. It is said to be binding on Adam “and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience”. Thats very clear and concise language. It’s hard tyo imagine that they meant something else by it. That language is the Basis for their view. That’s what they said, and I do not find any indication anywhere that they meant something different. These statements are almost verbatim lifted from the Westminister Confession, but are absent in the 1644 and 1646 confessions. This means that in the 1689 these Covenant Theology views were fully embedded within the Baptist circles. But it does not mean that they are correct. This is what I have a huge problem with, because none of this has even one verse of scripture that says anything like that. Inserting the “Law upon the heart language” which is New Covenant Language from Jeremiah 31:33, into the creation account and pre-fall narrative, is unwarranted and is the same sort of hermeneutics that the Dispensationalist’s use to insert the entire church age between the 69th and 70th week of Daniels vision. It is always wrong to take things out of context and arbitrarily insert them where they do not appear in the original texts. To insert the “written on the heart language”, and to insert the Ten Commandments into the Garden of Eden story, is bad hermeneutics and horrible exegesis. I am not an expert, but you do not need to be an expert to see how wrong this is? You simply have to read the account in the Bible, and leave exodus 20 over there where it belongs and leave Jer. 31 where it belongs. The First Three Chapters of Genesis do not mention the ten command or that they were written on Adams heart. It’s not difficult to see the fallicy of inserting stuff into the account of Eden and the Fall. Neither Sinai nor The New Covenant belong in the Garden of Eden? This blatant inserting, warps the story and creates false doctrine. That’s why I object to it, and quit using the 1689. It does not speak for me. It does not speak for most New Covenant Theologians who are also Reformed Baptists. It’s as bad as anything dispensationalism ever hatched. Sorry but that’s my opinion. Debtor, I think your question is great, and I think you see what I am saying? Just ask yourself, “If language means anything to educated people, why would 19:2 and the other parts of the Confession where this view is inserted, not mean exactly what it says?” If it means what it says, that it is very objectionable, because it actually twists the clear teachings of scripture. Inserting doctrines and laws where they do not appear is no different that inserting Gaps in consecutive timelines. Same methodology. Same result… A mutilated truth, a mutilated Bible and a false Doctrine. It may be popular, but is it actually what the Bible says? No it is not.

  18. I am just a little Reformed Baptist lay person who has little to add to this confessional discussion, other than to say that I take comfort in not being able to point to one man as the speaker for Reformed Baptists. I know my own propensity to worship the created instead of the creator. Having said that, as I read this blog and recognize the names of the contributors, (either by having heard them preach or having prayed for them and their congregations), I am thankful for men who make a sincere effort to maintain the purity of the Word in their congregations and lives. For my part, I will continue to pray.

  19. debtor, the confessional language of the law written on the heart at creation first appears in chapter 4, Of Creation. Paragraphs 2 and 3 use that language. Paragraph 2 cites Romans 2:14-15. Verse 15 says, “…the work of the law written on their hearts…” This language is based on creation or that which is possessed via “nature” (cf. Rom. 2:14). Chapter 4 of the Confession also connects this with being created in the image of God. When Paul speaks of the renovation of souls in Ephesians 4:24, he says “the new man, which according to God has been created in righteousness…” New creation in Christ includes the reparation of soul “according to the image of the One who created him…” (Col. 3:10). In 19:2, the Confession cites Romans 2:14-15 again, asserting that the law first written on man’s heart via creation still functioned after the fall into sin. Then the Confession asserts that God wrote the same law “in” ten commandments on stone tablets. It is important to make the distinction you hinted at above. Though the essence of that which God wrote on man’s heart at creation and on stone tablets is the same, the form is not necessarily the same. Here is Francis Turretin on Romans 2:14-15, “If it is asked how this natural law [the natural law in the context of Turretin’s discussion is that which all men possess via creation] agrees with or differs from the moral law [the moral law in the context of Turretin’s statement refers to the Decalogue], the answer is easy. It agrees as to substance and with regard to principles, but differs as to accidents and with regard to conclusions. The same duties (both toward God and toward our neighbor) prescribed by the moral law are also contained in the natural law. The difference is with regard to the mode of delivery.” The Bible itself connects creation and a law writing on the heart (presumably by God, the Creator) which ends up being true of all creatures in the image of God. The promise of the New Covenant includes the renovation of all the souls of those in the New Covenant, which I think is all the elect of all time. The new creation in Christ includes the renovation of that which was ruined, tainted, scared, twisted, distorted by the fall into sin. The language of the New Covenant concerning the law written on the heart is the language of the renovation of creation. Grace in Christ both repairs nature and exalts it to a status never attained by Adam. I am rambling now so I will stop. I hope this helps.

  20. Is there need from someone to speak for Reformed Baptists? Somehow that seems counter intuitive to being a Baptist. That said, it would be helpful to have meaningful dialog and debate beyond the local church level. There are a number of issues that deserve to be debated.

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