Are Covenantal Baptists Reformed in the Historical Sense of what Reformed Theology is?


Are Covenantal Baptists Reformed in the Historical Understanding of Reformed Theology

I first posted this on the years ago and found it necessary to edit it a bit as time has passed.

Here is a link to Matthew MacMahon’s article ‘What Does It Mean To Be Reformed’ which gives a pretty good historical definition of what it means to be Reformed.

This blog was a response to all of those who were conflicted over Dr. R. Scott Clark’s comments on an old blog post he wrote that no longer exists.

Dr. Clark said, “Calling a Baptist “Reformed” is like calling Presbyterians “Baptist” because they believe in believer’s baptism. The Reformed churches do practice the baptism of unbaptized believers but they also baptize the infants of believers. No self-respecting, confessional Baptist should accept me as “Baptist” and Reformed folk should resist labeling anyone who rejects most of Reformed theology as “Reformed.”

This comment got a lot of attention on his blog back then. Especially since he had a readership that includes many Reformed Baptists. I use to be one of them.

I would agree with this comment by Rev. Matthew Winzer on the, “I think the last time this was discussed the consensus was that “reformed” before “baptist” is one thing, and “reformed” on its own is another. Reformed Baptists are just that — Baptists who have become reformed. But they are still distinct from reformed churches.”

Just to clarify some things here, I believe everyone is getting up in arms over terms they have endeared themselves to. Let me give you all an example. A Pastor friend of mine wrote a blog defining what a Reformed Baptist was. This of course made some Baptists upset because they wanted to be included as Reformed Baptists but they were dispensational (denying Covenant Theology) or had problems with one of the other points that Pastor David Charles included in his definition of what a Reformed Baptist is. These guys generally are New Covenant Theologians or Calvinistic Dispensationalists as John MacArthur. Just as some of the Calvinistic Baptists were offended by Pastor Charles, many Credo Baptists are finding themselves offended at Dr. Clark’s insinuation that Baptists are not Reformed Theologians.

The term Reformed Baptist is a rather new one in church history. It was developed around the time that Ernest Reisinger was starting to work with Banner of Truth Trust by bringing good Puritan and Reformed writings back to the American Churches. He was the first ordained Preaching Layman in a Presbyterian Church. He was undecided about his position concerning baptism when he was ordained to preach. But he became a Credo Covenantal Baptist as time went on. It has been thought by some that Ernie’s close association with Banner of Truth Trust (A Reformed Publishing Company) and his adherence to the Credo-Baptist position somehow made the two terms come together.

Historic Baptist theology was being rediscovered during this time. Dispensationalism had taken over much of the church in the mid 1900’s. And it is not the Historic Theology of the Reformers. It denies Covenant Theology and formed a new basis of hermeneutics and how others looked at portions of scripture. This dispensational hermeneutic interpreted the Bible in portions claiming that some sections were only meant for the Jews and certain periods of time and other sections were for everyone and others just for the gentiles. Example…Matthew chapter 5 is just for the Jews in the Millennium. This was foreign to Covenant Theology and very unbiblical. Ernie helped in a major way to get the Church back on track by being a representative for Banner of Truth Trust and promoting Covenantal thinking back into the American Church. To the dismay of some, even some Presby’s took up with dispensational teaching.

Historically the Puritan Credo Pastors in the 1600’s were not known as Reformed but as Particular Baptists. They did hold to a Covenant Theology much like the Reformers but more closely to a Covenant Theology that was taught by John Owen and Samuel Petto. The New is not the Old renewed. It is New. They held to a unity of the Covenant of Grace through out the scriptures but more discontinuity between the particular covenants that God had instituted through Abraham, Moses, etc. These Baptists also adhered to the same soteriology of the Reformers. But they held to a different understanding of who was a Covenant Member in the Covenant of Grace. They believed that only the Elect were Covenant Members in the Covenant of Grace. The Confessional Reformers held that the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants were administrations of the Covenant of Grace and that it included both the elect and non-elect per their physical covenantal lineage.

There are Baptists today who call themselves Reformed Baptists because they hold to the 5 points of Calvinism but they are not Covenant Theologians. Some have developed a new theology called New Covenant Theology. Most of its adherents deny the Covenant of Works and some deny one Covenant of Grace believing there are two Covenants which are separate Administrations of Grace. Some may tend to be antinomian in some ways.

The term Reformed (as it has been used in Church history) has been prostituted from the Confessional understanding of what it meant to be Reformed. The word Reformed has lost its historical understanding because of those who wish to be called Reformed when in fact they are not according to Christianity’s Reformed Historical Confessional Standards. (ie. The Three Form’s of Unity, The Westminster Standards, etc.)

When Matthew McMahan challenged me on what Reformed meant, when I first joined the, I was slightly offended because he said I wasn’t reformed. I just said he wasn’t reformed enough. I was ignorant about what he meant in its historical theological understanding. I was thinking of Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger, Bucer, Calvin, Bunyan, Owen, and all those during the time of the reformation and thinking that I was following their teachings. But some would say that Luther and Melancthon are not Reformed. I guess it depends on what you are referring to when you say Reformed. I think when a person is defining what Reformed is it matters what a person is referring to in relation to the time period or a system of doctrinal understanding. According to the Presbyterian’s and Reformed Confessional Churches those who are Reformed are those who follow a theology and practice. They are correct. Reformed Theology is based upon an historical and theological understanding.

Reformed Baptists are not Reformed Theologians. They are Particular Baptist Theologians defined by their theology and practice as Reformed Theologians are by their’s.

Be Encouraged,
R. Martin Snyder