Saturday, May 03, 2008

R. Scott Clark Denies Particular Baptists are "Reformed"

Dr. R. Scott Clark has written a post denying that Particular Baptists can be considered "Reformed." While I'm certainly not interested in fighting over words, there is an important historiographical principle at stake; so, I've decided to weigh in.

One huge weakness of Clark’s post is that it doesn’t appear to have any historiographic-theological controls. He simply asserts that the Reformed community is defined by its historical confessions which are "received by the churches." But then, he says that the “churches” have rightly modified the Reformed confessions to conform to Scripture (what historical-theological controls govern their right to do this!?). The American Reformed church, says Clark, has rightly moved away from theocracy and revised the WCF accordingly.

I have two responses to his assertions. First, his definition of “Reformed” seems to be arbitrary. More on that later. Second, I see no reason that Baptists do not measure up to Clark’s own characterization of the “Reformed.” Our Reformed/Particular Baptist forefathers modified the Westminster Confession along the lines of the central theological insights of the Reformation in order to remove the objectionable paedobaptistic elements, which elements were historically related to theocracy and the Papacy (Clark does not object to removing theocratic elements).

Additionally, I submit that there is a more historically grounded way of defining the term “Reformed.” The “Reformed” churches are those that have worked out the central theological insights of the Protestant Reformation in their confessions and covenants. Most historians would agree that the basic insights of the Reformation are all related to the “solas” of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura (Regulative Principle of Worship, anti-Papacy and church-state episcopacy, priesthood of all believers, Christian liberty, biblical preaching), Sola Fide (Covenant Theology, one way of salvation through all the biblical covenants, anti-sacerdotalism, the necessity of personal faith in Christ), Sola Gratia (natural inability, soteriological monergism, predestinarianism), Solus Christus (definite atonement, covenant of redemption, imputed righteousness, Christ-centered preaching), and soli Deo Gloria (the eternal and unconditional divine decree governs all of history to the end of God’s glory; this is the best of all possible worlds). Thus, Arminians, Socinians, etc., who came out of Reformed churches actually reverted from the theological insights of the Reformation and, thus, they are not Reformed.

On the other hand, the Particular Baptists, who emerged from English Reformation churches (from Anglicanism through Congregationalism), were not moving away from Reformed theological insights, but sought thoroughly and consistently to apply them to ecclesiology, which had not been done comprehensively to that point in history. The Particular Baptists rigorously applied the Reformed hermeneutic of “Sola Scriptura with NT priority" via the Regulative Principle, which resulted in the elimination of paedobaptism (the Bible does not command the baptism of infants as an element of worship; therefore, it is forbidden). They stressed “sola fide” together with the need for conversion and sought to discipline their churches accordingly, restricting the right to membership to those who genuinely believed. The Particular Baptists revised covenant theology to correct the church-state synergisms of Calvin and Zwingli and in so doing they brought covenant theology into conformity with the whole testimony of Scripture. This fits Clark's own definition of the "Reformed" having the responsibility to conform their confessions to Scripture and it fits with my definition because it recognizes that those confessional changes must be consistent with the central insights of the Reformation.

On a historically controlled definition of “Reformed,” it would seem that one would have grounds on which to argue that Particular Baptists are the ones who are “Reformed,” not the paedobaptists, who are at best "Reforming." It should also be noted that some Presbyterians today are not “Reforming” but “Reverting.” The Federal Vision doctrine is moving many Presbyterians back towards the church-state, theonomic, high church vision of the Papacy with inflated views of clerical authority (undermining sola Scriptura) and the sacraments (undermining sola fide). They have a dual category soteriology, which reads every biblical soteriological concept in terms of "the decrees or eschaton” and “the covenant,” which only blurs “sola gratia,” because it emphasizes the fundamental conditionality of participation in the covenant people of God. This is directly related to their failure to apply consistently the theological insights of the Protestant Reformation.