What is Reformed Theology, Distinctives of Reformed Baptists, and Reformed Baptists in Church History and Today.
Christians come in all shapes and sizes. According to Pew Research in 2010 (NPR), there were 2.2 billion people who profess to be Christians. That number counts all Roman Catholics (the largest group), Protestants, Orthodox adherents, and various heterodox groups. A big swath of the global population names the name of Christ.
One major branch of Christians are Protestants. Protestants are Western Christians who broke away from the Catholic Church in the 16th century. Another segment of Protestantism is Reformed. An even smaller group inside the Reformed tradition is Reformed Baptist.
I am a Reformed Baptist.
What Is “Reformed” Theology?
For starters, it’s helpful to understand what Reformed Christians believe – not just Baptists. In other words, what is Reformed theology? Theology is the term explaining what people believe about God. According to Ligonier.org, C.H. Spurgeon said, “Reformed theology is nothing other than biblical Christianity.”
Ligonier quotes famous 19th century Baptist pastor C.H. Spurgeon in his bold definition of Reformed theology: it is “biblical Christianity”. Broadly speaking, Reformed theology is stripped of its Roman Catholic adornment and Orthodox iconography. However, this theology retains its trust in the Bible as the Word of God contrasted with liberal theology.
In a Reformed Christian’s mind, Reformed theology most clearly explains what God has revealed in the Scriptures about himself, the world, and human beings in key areas of Christian doctrine.
Particulars of Reformed Theology
But Spurgeon’s definition is not specific enough. Tim Challies, a Reformed blogger, outlined the particulars on Reformed theology. In his very good post on ‘What It Means To Be Reformed”, Challies explains five distinctions of Reformed Christianity…
- To confess the consensus of the five first centuries of the church:
- Classic theism
- Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism
- Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.
- Humanity created in the image of God
- The Visible Church
- The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church (NOT Roman Catholic)
- The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God
- The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
- To confess the 4 Solas of the Reformation:
- The authority of Scripture: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
- The basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
- The means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone)
- The merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone)
- To believe in monergism not synergism in salvation: God alone saves.
Monergism affirms in the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt:
T = Total Depravity
U = Unconditional Election
L = Limited Atonement, or, better, Particular Redemption
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints
- Reformed Distinctives
(NOT included in this list because not all Reformed Christians follow them.)
- Finally: in everything, Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory in all things.
Challies’ overview provides a succinct overview of what people mean when they say they are Reformed. Many times, Reformed detractors and adherents focus on the Calvinistic aspects of Reformed theology, especially #3 of the list (monergism and T.U.L.I.P). It is true Reformed theology depends upon a Calvinistic understanding of salvation, but it is also more robust than Calvinism.
Distinctives of Reformed Baptists
Within the Reformed tree, there are several branches.
Some are Anglicans and most are variations of Presbyterian. However, a smaller segment of Reformed believers approach the theology with Baptist convictions about the church. So in addition to holding to Reformed distinctives, Reformed Baptists hold to two “Baptist” distinctives. GotQuestions.org explains…
- Believer Baptism: To be Baptist is to be part of a church or denomination that, broadly speaking, holds to adult believer baptism (typically by full immersion) following a credible statement of faith as the only biblically acceptable way to administer the ordinance of baptism as commanded by our Lord in his Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20). This is the view called credobaptism (“believer” baptism), which is held over against the view of paedobaptism (“infant” baptism) that is commonly practiced by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and many continental Reformed churches.
- Congregational Government: Baptists also generally believe in the autonomy of the local congregation over the more hierarchically structured denominations such as Catholicism (which is based on an episcopal model of church government) and Presbyterianism (which is based on a presbyterian model of church government).
Reformed Baptists in Church History & Today
In early Baptist history, Reformed Baptists were called ‘Particular Baptists’ based on the fact they believed Christ died for a “particular” group of people not an amorphous mass of humans. See Ephesians 5:25: “Christ..gave himself up for her (the church).” In more recent decades, the term “Reformed Baptist” has taken hold.
Since the Reformation, there have been some notable examples of Reformed Baptists within Evangelical Christianity. Some Reformed Baptists include…
- John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress
- William Carey, missionary to India & “Father of Modern Missions”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, Baptist Pastor and “The Prince of Preachers”
- Andrew Fuller, Pastor, Theologian, Missionary Advocate
- Carl F. H. Henry, Theologian, Publisher of Christianity Today
- John MacArthur, Jr., Pastor, Theologian
- John Piper, Pastor, Theologian
- Al Mohler, Theologian, President of Southern Seminary
Although there are two Reformation-era Reformed Baptist confessions (1644 & 1689), Reformed Baptists do not always follow these confessions. Similarly, there are not many Reformed Baptist denominations. Many Reformed Baptists serve in churches where most of the members do not hold to Reformed theology. Personally, I attend to a Southern Baptist church where many in the church are not Reformed. However, other individual Baptist churches and denominations are exclusively Reformed.
In sum, a Reformed Baptist is both Reformed in their understanding about theology and Baptist in their approach to the church.
- Tim Challies on What It Means To Be Reformed.
- RC Sproul’s Lecture Series on What Is Reformed Theology?
- Tom Hicks on What Is A Reformed Baptist?
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.