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Great Questions! A Further Response

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Thanks for all the thoughtful interaction regarding my recent blog post.  I’ll pick out Andrew Meredith’s for further reflection:
As part of the so-called “young, restless, and Reformed” movement, I would consider myself an evangelical who has been significantly impacted by the Reformed tradition. Although I have respect for the “Reformed rooms,” I could not agree with the Reformed confessions. My question is twofold: on what basis does one accept these confessions as one’s own belief, and what exactly is there authority in the church?

Many Protestants today—especially in America—view creeds and confessions with suspicion, or at least treat them as suggestive for individual believers rather than as a shared confession of doctrine.  However, this is itself a tradition.  It’s largely shaped by Anabaptist and revivalist sources.

Roman Catholics are bound to the church’s teachings on the ground that they are simply the teachings of the church.  Reformed Christians are bound to their church’s teachings on the ground that they summarize Holy Scripture.

When the practical implications of the Jew-Gentile relationship in the church came to a head, the church of Antioch (probably a group of local churches) appointed delegates (Paul and Barnabus) to a specially called Synod of Jerusalem (Ac 15).  Repeatedly we read that “the apostles and elders,” sent from each city, met to deliberate and they concluded with a consensus statement: the first time “dogma” (dogmata) is used in the New Testament.  Peter did not act as a pope, speaking ex cathedra.  Nor did each local church (much less each member) decide the case.  As Paul, Silas, and Timothy traveled from city to city, they “delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Ac 16:4-5).  Following this pattern, Reformed Christians believe that the church has real authority from Christ and that the interpretations of Scripture by the church in its representative assemblies are binding—though always open to revision in the light of God’s Word.

However, we know that Reformed and Presbyterian churches are not the only visible expressions of “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”  One of my motives for advocating a more inclusive term like “evangelical Calvinist” is that it might relieve some of the stress between people who like some Reformed teachings (such as the doctrines of grace), but, as you say, cannot “agree with the Reformed confessions.”  Evangelical Calvinists can get together at conferences, but we’re all called by Christ to gather regularly for the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Ac 2:39).  We’re free to attend edifying conferences, but we’re commanded to belong to faithful churches.

“Reformed” isn’t just a few doctrines; in fact, it’s not even a long list of doctrines.  It’s a covenantal way of faith and life.  The way our confessions and catechisms talk about even issues like election, justification, and union with Christ is inseparable from the way they talk about sanctification, eschatology, and the nature and ministry of the church.  There are some people who call themselves Reformed simply because they affirm a world-embracing faith, even though they deny the “five points.” There are others who affirm the “five points,” but have an at least implicitly Wesleyan-Arminian view of sanctification or a Baptist view of the status of covenant children or embrace a radical distinction between Israel and the church in Scripture.

If something is taught in Scripture, we are obligated to believe it.  As a Reformed Christian, I believe that our confessions and catechisms most faithfully summarize what is taught in Scripture.  And I confess that together with “a cloud of witnesses”—both in heaven and on earth, across the boundaries of time and place.

It’s wonderful when Christians can affirm “mere Christianity” together.  And it’s great when we can affirm the doctrines of grace together.  However, we aren’t all Lutherans because we believe in justification or Roman Catholics because we believe in the Trinity or Baptists because we believe in baptism.  There is such a thing as the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition.  Piper, Sproul, Horton, nor anyone else gets to define what that is.  We have to submit ourselves to the common confession of Scripture in a communion of saints.

-Michael Horton

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  • Guest - Steve D

    Thank you for this, Dr. Horton. I agree with you whole-heartedly.

    My question, as I read the many responses to Dr. Horton on his previous post, is: why do Baptists who have embraced the “doctrines of grace” want so badly to be called Reformed? Why does the desire for the word Reformed to mean something specific particularly upset those who are Baptist?

    Some who have commented question the need for such clarity in definition. My response is to point them to the word “evangelical.” It essentially means nothing now. It has become so broad and ambiguous that someone claiming the evangelical mantel is not really saying anything about their belief system – only that they probably go to church somewhere and talk about Jesus once in a while.

    Thus, I believe the response of Dr. Horton and Dr. Clark and others is laudable – they are trying to save the word “Reformed” from going down the same rabbit hole. The word should mean something (as it has in the past) specific without becoming so broad that it ends up meaning nothing.

    Again, though, I come back to the desire for Baptists and other non-confessional Christians to be called Reformed. Why? I grew up a Baptist, believed in Christ as a Baptist, and was given my initial instruction in the faith as a Baptist. I went to a seminary with a very high Baptist placement rate and ended up preaching at a Baptist church for three years.

    I’m now Reformed. I am not a Baptist. My desire is not to demean Baptists, but to point out that there are differences between the two and these differences are important.

    Were Baptists that held to the London Confession called Reformed? Not that I can find. Have any Baptists prior to the 20th century been called Reformed? Not that I can find - even if they believed in the doctrines of grace. Spurgeon himself is referred to as the great Baptist preacher, not the great Reformed Baptist preacher. Again, why the desire by Spurgeon followers to be called Reformed?

    As I journeyed from my Baptist upbringing into confessional Reformed theology, I realized that I could not hold to both. If I was to be intellectually honest with all that Reformed covenantal theology meant, I had to embrace paedobaptism, embrace a high view of the sacraments, and reject all things dispensational.

    However, I wanted to cherry pick the things I liked from both camps. I wanted to be Reformed and Baptist for a while. But I soon recognized that such a possibility, in my opinion (not to make any reading this comment mad), was disingenuous to say the least. Accepting the logical progression of covenant theology meant accepting the logical outcome as well. My wife will tell you, I did not want to be paedobaptist. Yet all of my five children have now been baptized. Why? Because I could not fathom just coming over half-way. I either believed confessional Reformed theology or I did not. And if I did not, I wasn’t going to hijack the term Reformed and attach it to my personal brand of belief and try and play myself off as something I really wasn’t – tempting as that sounded.

    So, I am no longer Baptist, I am Reformed. Personally, I cannot see where I can be both. And I do not understand the entrenched desire for so many to want to be both.

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  • So, if I have this right, your answer to the two-fold question: "... on what basis does one accept these confessions as one's own belief and what exactly is their authority in the Church?" is:

    Part 1 - The Church accepts their authority as binding because they are a corporately derived summary of Scripture and she is required to accept Scripture. and

    Part 2 - one accepts these confessions as one's own belief because, "as a Reformed Christian I believe our confessions and catechisms most faithfully summarize what is in Scripture." You again add a corporate perspective to this.

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  • Steve,
    I am glad that you see the Paedobaptist underpinnings of Reformed Covenantal Theology. I empathize with your desire to hold on to treasured meanings of older words. You mentioned the word evangelical, you could add Church, Christian, Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Reformed, Calvinist and even Particular Baptist to that list - though some may still dispute the addition of the last three. Then, why stop there - how about meek, charity, humble - shall I go on?

    My point is that a label is a label. We all at one time or another may use any of the above "broad" terms according to the situation we find ourselves in (except the Baptist and Anglican ones). The use of a particular term may be according to the expectation that we might have a useful discussion. The likelihood we might discover more clearly what God has revealed in his word determines the usefulness.

    Does a Baptist wish to use the word Reformed? If I want to know why, I am free to ask - and it may be a good opportunity to share a little more light from the Bible on some of those distinctives you mention. The same would be true for anyone who uses the term. I am known as the Reformed Examiner for Northern Michigan - I choose to use the term "Reformed Examiner" because, working for the Examiner e-Newspaper, it allows an opportunity I might miss otherwise, to discuss Christian things. Am I wrong to do so? I think not.

    You use the term "Paedobaptist" does that mean you don't believe adults ought to be baptised? It is one interpretation someone might make of the term - why not use covenantal baptist or household baptist? The term should not be the issue it is what we believe and how we (as Christians) deal with others of the faith.

    Now, can we put aside this debate over words and get together to do some *real* work - like calling sinners to flee from the wrath to come?

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  • "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of
    demons." (1 Tim. 4:1)

    Only those abiding in the doctrine of Christ have the Father and the Son (2 John 1:9). The Holy Spirit is warning us of apostasy in these last days. Depart means to reject, sever, or fall away. Christians are departing from their faith in Jesus by believing in doctrines of demons being spread by deceiving spirits. Yet, Pastor Charles Stanley teaches falling away is never about losing one's salvation. [3. Charles Stanley: Can You Recognize False Teaching 1, T. 6:30-7:27] He insists a Christian cannot be lost; they simply become useless. Is useless mentioned in this verse? And how can a useless believer heeding doctrines of demons serve Christ? Dr. Stanley claims only unbelievers can fall away. Seriously, how can unsaved people fall away from a faith they never had? A partaker of Christ is someone saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). One cannot continue to receive grace if they choose to deny their faith in Christ (2 Tim. 2:12, 2 Pet. 2:1).

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  • Guest - Reg Schofield

    As a Baptist with strong Reformed leanings , I guess I will refrain from calling myself Reformed Baptist because I do not believe that if one applies exegesis consistently , you can argue for infant baptism. But that is the only issue . All other points of the Reformed confessions I can agree to. Even the London Baptist Confession is about 90 % in accord with the Westminster Confession but it seems infant baptism is the dividing line . For me when I called myself a Reformed Baptist , it was not to the confessions that developed later but to the primary causes of the reformation , so from now on I will call myself a 5 Sola Baptist and confuse even more people.
    In all seriousness , I do appreciate Horton's graciousness in trying to at least find a word or term to at least show that within those who hold to the doctrines of grace, there is much gained by mutual respect and cooperation.

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