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Why I am (Reformed) Baptist

April 17, 2014

Continuing my discussion of this two-part topic… In my previous post I gave my reasons for believing Reformed doctrine; in this article I will discuss why I am a Reformed Baptist specifically, (not Presbyterian or some other denomination).

Baptist doctrine shares a lot in common with other Protestant denominations (the priesthood of believers, etc.), but the most critical distinctives are believer’s baptism by immersion and the independence of each local church. Together these concepts separate Baptists from every other denomination. I am no theologian, so although I do cite Scripture which I think is relevant, this is only a summary of my perspective; far deeper doctrinal explanations are available from far more qualified scholars, but this is how I understand the key points of Baptist doctrine:

Believer’s baptism by immersion

Baptism should follow salvation as a symbolic act of obedience; it does not enable or achieve salvation. Baptism by immersion is not only the model we are shown in Scripture, but is the only method of baptism which demonstrates the symbolic message of the sacrament, that our old lives are buried (beneath the water) with Christ. Before we look at Scriptural support for immersion, though, we will look at references indicating that only believers old enough to have understood the Gospel, repented and accepted Christ as Savior should be baptized:

…Whom should we baptize?

Go therefore and (1) make disciples of all nations, (2) baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… — Matthew 28:19 (#s added)

So those who received his word were baptized… — Acts 2:41a

This view – called Credobaptism – stands contrary to Paedobaptism (the belief that babies should be baptized) as held by Presbyterians and others. Some accuse these denominations of subconsciously carrying over the Catholic model for baptism, but to me that is unfair. Paedobaptist theologians do claim a Biblical justification for their belief, based mainly on the “continuity” of the covenant from the Old Testament (when sons of God’s people were circumcised) to the New Testament (when they believe baptism substitutes for circumcision as the signification of inclusion of a child in the covenant). In my study, I have been convinced of several problems with this claim:

  • Continuity of the covenant from Old to New Testament is not taught in Scripture. Similarities may exist at a theoretical level, but appealing to a theological abstraction for a “pivot” seems problematic
  • God made multiple covenants with Israel in the Old Testament. Only Abraham’s covenant involved circumcision; why would this covenant have modified “continuity” but not the covenants with Moses or David?
  • Jesus states that he is making a new covenant in His blood, and fulfilling (although not abolishing) the covenants with Israel. He makes it clear that the “new covenant” is different than all of the older covenants
  • Hebrews 8:6 states clearly that the old and new covenants are different: “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”
  • The question of circumcision was directly addressed by the early church – and never did they say that baptism was replacing circumcision, despite having the perfect reasons to do so when confirming that Gentiles need not be circumcised before becoming Christian (Acts 15)
  • Circumcision by its nature affects and includes only male offspring; how can this be continuous with something involving both boys and girls?
  • Esau was circumsized, but was outside God’s covenant (Mal 1:3, Rom 9:13)

Paedobaptists also point to Jesus’ words in Mark 10:14b-15 as proof of their position: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” I found this reference in many paedobaptist justifications, but here also there seem to be many problems with using this verse to justify infant baptism:

  • The fact that these children were old enough to be walking around socially means this passage doesn’t teach us anything about infants
  • The kids that Jesus “let come to Him” had sought Him, also showing us that this passage has nothing to do with children prior to their own salvation
  • ”to such” and “like a child” may mean different things, but certainly Christ cannot be teaching something here which conflicts directly with his other teaching, i.e. that all of us are born into sin and must repent and come to Him to be born again
  • Jesus does not even remotely hint that He is talking about baptism

Another concept often referenced as “proof” of infant baptism are the various “households” being baptized throughout Acts. Here again, this argument is a very thin thread on which to hang a key doctrine. None of the household passages mention whether there were even infants present, and even if we assume charitably that some must have had children of infant/toddler age, there is nothing in any of the passages that would tell us whether those would have been included in the sweeping reference to “household”. In fact, other passages (e.g. Acts 2:41) pointedly state that only those who “received” or “understood” or “accepted” the Gospel were baptized.

And so, based on the Scriptural teaching on the subject and the weaknesses of the paedobaptist rationale, I believe strongly in the Baptist doctrine that we should only baptize those whom God has saved, who bear spiritual fruit and have a credible testimony of repentance and turning to Christ as Savior.

…How should we baptize?

Turning attention now to the method of baptism, the Scripture clearly points toward immersion and not for “sprinkling” with water, or any other alternative which makes water the symbol, instead of spiritual rebirth.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him. — Matthew 3:16

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:3-4

The Greek word used in every instance in Scripture is “baptizo” – “to immerse”; there are no baptism references using the Greek words for sprinkling/pouring (“rantizdo”, “ekcheo”, “katacheo”). This is why John the Baptist went “where there was much water” (John 3:23). There truly is no Biblical example of baptism being done any other way. It seems that churches making the decision to pour or sprinkle do so for practical reasons (it is clearly easier) and/or because they mistakenly assume that the symbolism is in the water. They may be resting in the fact that baptism does not save us and feel comfortable enough doing it their own way. But just because something is ancillary to salvation doesn’t mean we should take liberties to change the method and symbolism we are given in the Word of God.

Independence of each local church

Unlike most other denominations, Baptists consider the local church as an independent entity. Organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention provide a forum for collaboration, advisory help and doctrinal discussion for their member churches, but this does not represent a governance structure like a regional Presbytery or Methodist conference. Not all Baptist churches belong to the SBC, and those which don’t join are no less true “Baptists” for that fact.

A good portion of the Biblical justification for a wider organizational structure “above” the local church leadership comes from the use of the word “bishop” in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 in the King James Version and NKJV:

This is a true saying: If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach… — 1 Timothy 3:1-2 (KJV)

For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre… — Titus 1:7 (KJV)

Because of the word choice made by the KJV translators, these references seem to distinguish “bishop” as a different/higher office altogether from local church “elder” (which the KJV uses elsewhere dozens of times). The problem is this: in the Greek, there is no real distinction. Newer translations (ESV, NASV, NIV) use “bishop”, “overseer” and “elder” interchangeably, or just use one of the terms across all references. Also, the specific qualifications/instructions for this role clearly all apply to local church leaders, and do not include any responsibilities to lead or manage other church bodies.

Passages about collaboration among early church leaders (e.g. Acts 11:2-18, Acts 21:21-22) demonstrate only that they interacted in humility and were willing to let other leaders influence their understanding of correct teaching; there is no mandate here for one group of elders to oversee other elders. In fact the clear model we are shown in the early church is a plurality of elders working together in leading each local church:

When they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. – Acts 14:23

So without a Scriptural basis for a governance structure above the local church level, and without a need for such an institution, the Baptist model of local church independence (albeit with much collaboration and partnership across churches and their leaders) is true to the Biblical model and avoids the human temptation to create hierarchies. Only Christ sits above the leadership of each local church.

Baptist doctrine grew out the Reformed faith of the Puritans

The Baptist faith grew out of the English Puritan/Separatist movement – the faith of the Pilgrims. In their commitment to Biblical Truth, they found these doctrines in the Word of God and refused to compromise with the Church of England on them. The Mayflower Pilgrims, refusing also to compromise their lifestyles with the citizens in Holland, risked their lives coming to the American continent in order to live consistently with these beliefs. From their roots and the roots of Puritans and Separatists in England, the Baptist faith grew and was refined by the likes of Charles Spurgeon.

Although today the Southern Baptist Convention is primarily Arminian (with some open hostility being shown to Baptists of the Reformed faith), this was not the case in years past. The oldest state Baptist Convention affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention is the Georgia Baptist Convention – founded in the year 1800. Their original articles leave no doubt as to their belief in the Reformed faith:

We believe in the fall of Adam, and the IMPUTATION of his sin to his posterity, in the CORRUPTION of human NATURE, and the IMPOTENCY of man to recover himself by his OWN FREEWILL. We believe in the everlasting love of GOD TO HIS PEOPLE, and the eternal ELECTION of a DEFINITE NUMBER of the human race, to grace and glory, and that there was a COVENANT OF GRACE or redemption made between the FATHER and the SON, BEFORE THE WORLD BEGAN, in which THEIR salvation is secure, and THEY IN PARTICULAR are saved.

This article and the previous one explain my journey to Reformed Baptist faith. Although it is not (perhaps because it is not) a theological proof by any means, I pray that this humble summary may be of help and encouragement to some who read it.


From → Bible

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