Who best represents Reformed Baptists? Is there a specific individual or church we can look to as our definitive model? History attests that leaders come and go. We should be wise enough to see the devastation that inevitably occurs when a movement simply follows a man, no matter how good a man he is. Eventually, once “the man” is gone, the group usually takes on a different form or emphasis than “the man” had intended.
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. These movements usually are not able to come up with “a second man” but instead splinter as they divide in theological power struggles. Within the third generation the movement has generally changed enough to no longer be what the founder envisioned.
Even a local church is bound to go through a transition period over the course of 30+ years. Natural human frailty in this flesh inevitably dictates that Elders come and go. The direction of the church may change with each change of leadership. The surrounding theological landscape of evangelicalism and what it means to be “reformed” almost certainly changes. We have seen this definition change dramatically in the last 15 years. Hopefully, churches get stronger, but that is not always the case. Without some kind of a strong foundation, it is almost a certainty that the changes will not be for the better.
The 1689 Confession itself best defines a Reformed Baptist Church. It is a positive voice for what we believe and a strong defense against error. It is not changeable, unless a conscious effort is made to change it. Men are changeable. We have sadly witnessed once strong men who have moved in 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 borderlines 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).
Our Confession is the best safeguard for the local congregation and for Reformed Baptists as a whole. That is not to say, that the wording cannot be brought up to date. Stan Reeves has done a good service with his modern update which can be of great benefit to the man in the pew. But with the Confession accepted as a whole, we have the advantage of standing on the shoulders of giants. When has a more august company met than the Westminster Divines? Savoy made improvements from the pure Presbyterian ecclesiology of Westminster. Our Particular Baptist Forefathers made further improvements in language, ecclesiology and Reformed Baptist covenant theology. They could adopt the Confession of 1677/89 without repudiating the Confession of 1644/46 because the truths were essentially the same. However, these truths had been even better refined and defined by their reformed brethren along with their own theological improvement and understanding. In a multitude of counselors…
Local churches are free to take exceptions or make clarifying statements to the Confession. This should be done carefully because every change or addition has the potential to undermine an essential doctrine. For instance, there may be value in churches clarifying their stance on marriage, but is it even necessary? Our Confession speaks to the contemporary issue of “gay marriage” by stating without apology in 25:1, “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman;”.
In a sea with so many diverse and changeable voices, the Confession tells the world what we, as Particular Baptists (what called themselves) or Reformed Baptists (the more modern term), believe. It gives us a point of unity and heritage with our like-minded reformed brethren. It stands as the definitive Statement of Faith for our churches. Our Confession speaks for us and has stood the test of time. We should learn from it, study the heritage behind it, and discover in even greater ways from our Particular Baptist forefathers the truths contained in that age old document. It does a great job defining “the things most surely believed among us.”Steve Marquedant Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church Ontario, California www.sgbc-ontario.us Who Speaks for Reformed Baptists? (Part 1) .