Reformed Baptist Fellowship

A Dispatch from the Realm of Non-Existence

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on October 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I had the great privilege yesterday of being reminded once again that I do not exist.  I listened again to the Mortification of Spin podcast – I actually like the podcast, you see – and I discovered that Baptists – all Baptists – have an ecclesiology which is entirely unknown to me.  Apparently my type of Baptist simply does not exist.  This does not surprise me at all; the Reformed have been denying our existence for at least a decade now.

In this particular podcast Todd Pruitt and Carl Trueman discuss Baptist and Presbyterian ecclesiology.  Rev. Pruitt’s ordination in a Southern Baptist mega-church and his

We’re all alike, see?

We’re all alike, see?

five years of service in a “non-denominational” congregation have apparently rendered him an expert on all things Baptist.  Meanwhile Dr. Trueman, while a favorite among Reformed and Particular Baptists for his scathing critique of contemporary evangelicalism, continues to pretend that the moniker “Baptist” simply means “contemporary evangelical.”  Evidently it has meant that ever since the first Baptists formed their congregations in Seventeenth Century England and immediately uploaded links to the Gospel Coalition on their websites.  Dr. Trueman is, after all, an historian, so we can only presume that he knows what he knows.

While a few moments of this podcast addressed the question of baptism (in of course a superficial and unserious way; the wait goes on for some ex-Baptist Presbyterian to actually explain why he made the change – my favorite to date was Derick Thomas’ explanation: “It was sort of a gestalt thing!”), the bulk of the time was spent in a discussion of Baptist ecclesiology – a subject of which it is evident that neither Trueman nor Pruitt know much.  The syllogism of the podcast went something like this:

  • There are some truly awful things that have happened at the lunatic fringe of the Southern Baptist Convention
  • All Baptists ever are exactly like this.
  • It’s too bad they aren’t Presbyterians, because then nothing could ever go wrong.

While Messrs. Trueman & Pruitt talked a lot about “congregationalism,” they don’t seem to understand exactly what it is.  Aside from the failure to differentiate “congregational” from “independent,” they fail to fully appreciate what it means that Baptists, like all independents, relate to their denominations differently than do Presbyterians.  The congregation participates by supporting common missions, not necessarily by adopting the identity of the whole.  The point here is not to argue which approach is more biblical, but instead to make a simple observation: in the loosest of Baptist associations (the convention model) it is wrong to assume that the ecclesiology of one church is that of another.  All Southern Baptists do not operate as loosely as some.  I was also ordained in a Southern Baptist church; my experience was nothing at all like Rev. Pruitt’s.

This determination to flatten out all of Baptist experience leads the mortifying duo up to the very edge of slander.  Dr. Trueman actually names Mark Dever at one point.  If indeed – as he says – Mark is his friend, then he must know that Dr. Dever’s entire career has been dedicated to the recovery of sane ecclesiology within the Convention.  His ecclesiology is not that of the Presbyterians – in fact it is not quite identical to my own, but it is so far removed from the undisciplined chaos which Dr. Trueman ascribes to all Baptist life as to make the implied association a somewhat scandalous misstatement.

And then there are the Non-Existent Ones, those historical Baptists who trace not only our soteriology but also our ecclesiology to a Seventeenth Century Particular Baptist root.  If the smug charges of Pruitt & Trueman don’t really apply to the likes of Dever, they certainly do not apply to us.  I don’t know whether or not Rev. Pruitt has heard of us, but I am quite certain that Dr. Trueman has.  His refusal to admit any variation in Baptist experience is therefore beyond disappointing.

It is difficult not to judge the motives of highly-visible Presbyterians who refuse to admit the existence of Particular Baptists even while they mock the idea of any sort of reformational heritage among Baptists.  One would think that the likes of Darryl Hart or Scott Clark might at least point at us and say, “And then there’s those guys; they’re wrong too, although obviously in different ways and for different reasons.  But wrong as they are, at least they aren’t the same sort of Baptists as Franklin Graham or Mark Driscoll.”  But no.  The admission of our existence seems to be beyond the Presbyterian apologists.  It is as though they fear that if they were to admit that every Baptist is not Andy Stanley, someone might actually ask them to address the question of baptism again – thoroughly, biblically, and without reference to needlessly vapid philosophical terms.

Baptists they are, are they?

Baptists they are, are they?

So it is more convenient for them to return Baptists like me to the realm of non-existence.  As a Baptist whose ordination exam lasted more than fifteen minutes, who knew the pastors who laid hands on me, and above all who is answerable to a confessional standard which has been around longer than the last ten minutes – as such a man I clearly must not be permitted to exist.  But if they will allow me, perhaps I might address the two spinners from within my disembodied, dis-en-souled, non-personhood for a moment:  Be careful of consigning your critics to the ether through a Yoda-esque wave of the hand.  When you lack critics, you lack criticism, and you may stumble through various embarrassing lapses of self-awareness.

I know that you think that you are responding to Baptist critiques, such as that one in which we all mistake you for Episcopalians.  Honestly, in my life I have yet to meet a single Baptist who has expressed such a silly idea.  It is bad enough that you misunderstand us; must you also misrepresent our misunderstandings of you?  And if you do not know our critiques, how can you grow from them?

Men who admit no criticism tend to look more foolish then they actually are.  As, for instance, this statement: “…groups like the Gospel Coalition find it so hard to understand why people like us are skeptical of their project.  Structurally, I have a problem, because if you’re Southern Baptist you have to sacrifice nothing in throwing your energy into something like the Gospel Coalition.  If you’re a Presbyterian and want to throw your energy into the Gospel Coalition, you have to sacrifice everything that makes you a Presbyterian.”  Gentlemen, you do know who the co-leader of the Coalition is, don’t you?

And then there’s this: “We have by and large avoided personality cults.  There are one or two big names in the PCA, but what strikes me about things like the Southern Baptist Convention is that for all of the fact that they repudiate Presbyterianism and they repudiate Episcopalianism, they are functionally Episcopalian, because they vest great power in significant individuals…What I like about Presbyterianism is that that power which you have outside your congregation is regulated by rules and procedures and other people.  It isn’t just rooted in the charismatic personality.”

Gentlemen, let me close with a story.  A few years back I got word that a seminary classmate of mine had taken up the pulpit in a new church not far from mine.  I had lost track of him, and I wanted to know what he was up to, and so I went to his church’s website.  On their front page I found the following statement: “We are a church founded on the ministerial philosophy of Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.”  And after I dug through every sub-page on their site I eventually found an acknowledgement that they were indeed a part of the Presbyterian Church in America.

I see Particular Baptists. All the time. They’re everywhere.

I see Particular Baptists. All the time. They’re everywhere.

But no, you don’t have Presbyterian bishops.  Of course not.  You have been spared from the contemporary idolatry of the Big Name through your superior polity.  And of course you don’t need to worry about this criticism, because it is coming from no one.  Remember, I don’t exist.  Carry on, and please – take care of the real world; I have friends who live there.

Tom Chantry, Pastor
Christ Reformed Baptist Church
  1. I am a regular listener of Mortification of Spin. In fact as I am writing this I am drinking from my MOS coffee mug. I too was disappointed in the recent discussion of ecclesiology. They did unfairly lump all Baptist together. My experience with the PCA is more varied in practice than what they allowed on the show. Presbytarianism did not prevent the PCUSA from going off the rails. Maybe Jeremy Walker and/or Rob Ventura will set them straight on Reformed Baptist ecclesiology.

  2. Pastor, you seem rather thin-skinned when criticisms come the other way.
    Trueman makes some good points. Obviously there are some Baptists who embrace the doctrines of grace, but there are also features quite common to Baptist church life as a whole. This is from someone who was part of it for 25 years. Many PCA members are not happy about the celebrity status of Keller, but it is certainly more of a rarity there.
    Try to relax.

  3. Tom, thanks for posting these comments. After I read your comments, I listened to the podcast (my first-ever MOS podcast). Sadly, I believe you have accurately described their comments. While I believe this kind of conversation is certainly appropriate between friends (as clearly Carl Trueman & Todd Pruitt are friends), as a PUBLIC podcast, I found it imbalanced and unwise. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to listening to MOS more in the future. Press on.

  4. […] Chantry is Pastor of Christ Reformed Baptist Church. This article appeared on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship website and is used with […]

  5. Reblogged this on A Sidekick's Blog and commented:
    When you don’t even acknowledge criticism, how can you grow from it?

  6. No Baptists of any stripe were invited to the Westminster Assembly due to the differences. It doesn’t mean they were not regarded as Christians. Baptists were known as Particular not Reformed until the mid 20th century, 300 years later. Call yourselves what you want but why do you care about what Presbyterians think. Enjoy your baptist heritage.

  7. I’m a “questioning” member of a PCA church, but have noted with just a little bit of terror that our “superior” polity has not protected even the PCA from teetering on the edge of losing the gospel to our need to be “nice” and “unified.” I have been visiting the only Reformed Baptist church in my small town for the last few weeks and have learned quite a bit about you invisible and non-existent folks lately, and I must say, I’m delighted to meet you and proud to call you bretheren.

  8. This is nothing new. Not one baptist was invited to the Westminster Assembly. The differences we have are vital to confessional Presbyterians. We have enough in common though to rejoice in Christ together as we do with all Christians, but we agree with the Baptists being known as Particular not Reformed. They didn’t attain that label by anyone until the mid twentieth century. In an age of confessional laxity one finds less precision today so it’s not surprising.

    Rejoice in your baptist history. Take pride in your baptist theological heritage and all of your great theologians,systematic theologies, and giants of the faith. Why do you feel the need to listen to, quote, read and write about Presbyterian and TFU Reformed folk of today and the past? Focus on Christ and all the great baptists you are a part of.

    When I was a Particular Baptist all I ever heard were quotes from Paedobaptists. I’m glad I did because I started reading them and now I’m a confessional Presbyterian. But it confused me. I thought the baptist church was suffering an identity crisis never quoting their own. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a baptist quoted in my Presbyterian church. Not because we dislike them but were happy in our heritage of the bible and our P&R forefathers.

    So while I agree with Trueman why should you care? Move on. Enjoy being content with Particular like your forefathers. I only posted because I saw this article on the Aquila site and wondered why such a big deal. Blessings to you all.

  9. Here, here! As a rehabilitated TR Presbyterian-turned-Baptist, I have often desired to respond to the casual and dismissive attitude of my former co-denominationalists toward men and women who similarly hold to an essential doctrine on soteriology, yet who differ on other interpretations of the Word. These other issues are important, I don’t deny that, but to adopt the stance that “clearly they haven’t read much, or they wouldn’t continue in their error” is insulting. Not only had I read the apologists for years, I was one myself as a writer with a magazine published by one of their own top personalities. I haven’t arrived at my convictions accidentally. I have no romantic ideas about being a Baptist — in fact, there’s not much romance in being mocked by my family and presby friends. Thanks, Tom, for articulating it so well for us all.

  10. I just wanted to comment and suggest that perhaps another listen is in order. Your article appears to overstate some of their criticisms and leave out some of their qualifying remarks.. For example, Pruitt did address, albeit briefly, the reasons why he left the credo-baptist position and they were quite more substantive (though not in depth) than your quote from Derick Thomas. Also, I thought they were quite fair in how they spoke of the SBC; their point being that there is such a wide variety of doctrinal positions within the SBC.

    While I have sympathy for your being frustrated at being left out in the realm of “Non-Existence,” I was sorry to see you state these things the way you did. I would encourage you and the readers of your post to listen again to the podcast.

    An example of where I believe you go too far. You write that they take things in a logical sequence to say that all Baptists are lunatic fringe types and that nothing ever goes wrong in Presbyterianism. They neither said nor insinuated any such thing. They were clear that things do go wrong in Presbyterianism, but that there are more “checks and balances” in place to mitigate against this.

    I don’t normally post comments, and I have great respect for your work, but this kind of got my goat this morning as I too listened to that podcast and did not think they came “up to the very edge of slander.”

    (By the way, what is the edge of slander? Is there an edge or is it an either/or?)

  11. @ michial brownial. I dot necessarily think its about caring what Presbyterirans think. I it was I woul agree with you. Why do we care right? I think the issue in my opinion is that we represented in a truthful way. Lets be honest. Presbyterians don’t misrepresent those who are also Reformed and Paedobaptist. So why do they misrepresent or ignore Reformed Baptist? I think Pastor Chantry made some really great points that I hope you really take seriously. If you Presbyterians really believe we are your brethren then you would acknowledge us, and speak truthfully about us. We are Reformed just like you. I would argue more Reformed.

  12. They didn’t misrepresent anyone. Everything was qualified, and having been in the wide gamut of baptistic churches, ARBCA to seeker Arminian churches, their points are spot on. Presbyterians have always been quite precise in pointing out areas of disagreements with our own P&R brethren on in house doctrinal discussions, just as we do with those outside our confessional bounds. This was a 20 minute podcast. Ive taken all the points they raised and many, many more the bible raises, explicitly and by good and necessary consequence, which is why I embrace confessional Reformed & Presbyterian covenant theology and all of its biblical implications, not the anachronistic particular baptist hybrid of cov theology and mischaracterization of Owen ala Coxe. Lets truthfully represent Owen.

  13. @ Michial Brown. If you believe Reformed Baptist Churhes are the same as seeker Armininan Baptist Churhes, then I’m not sure what it is you are comparing.

  14. I share your pain brother. I spent some three years on a reformed discussion board, the last year as one of the few Baptist moderators, and grew weary of the condescending attitude with which many (but not all) of the paedobaptists spoke about us. Some stubbornly insisted on referring to us as anabaptists notwithstanding countless corrections. One prominent paedobaptist moderator incessantly chose to designate us by the pejorative title”antipaedobaptist” which was ever the poking of a stick in the eye of reformed baptist members.

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