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.


  1. Go Tom!! Great stuff. Thanks for sharing these reflections.

  2. YES!!


    I've felt alot like that kid at school who called himself a part of the cool kids but kinda just walks behind the ACTUAL cool kids.

    I think the article "how many points?" did it to me.

    Go Tom!!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Your post is interesting but does not follow what Clark has said close enough.

    To compare paedobaptism and the theocratic element within the Reformed mindset is to compare two opposite entities as if they were parallel.

    The Reformed churches have seen the inconsistency of theocratic elements with the already established understanding of the two kingdoms/cities approach to the world, as seen with Calvin and Luther's view of vocation which directly tied them to Augustine.

    To say that paedobaptism is of the same element and is related to the Papacy is incorrect. The Baptizing of infants was long before the RCC in its classic understanding was formed.

    To apply the RPW to paedobaptism seems to be a strong argument but is flawed for you assume a radical disjunction in the application of the sign (promissory note) of the Abrahamic Covenant in the time until Christ and the time after Christ, which has yet been proven.

    The Particular Baptists may have indeed come from the Reformation and not entirely from the Anabaptists but they are not Reformed.

    Your redefinition of Covenant theology shows exactly what has been discussed. Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger, et al. would have seen those who disallowed the children of believers to be baptized as they saw the Anabaptists. Infant baptism is not secondary in their minds from the regulation of worship.

    This belief was quite unlike the reticence Calvin had as seen in his own letters to friends for the establishmentarianism/theonomic element in Geneva.

    The 'control' you add is from your standpoint what you believe is biblical and is guilty of equivocation of terms.

    Particular Baptists are not the ones who were Reformed nor are they. To create a new system of thought which Baptists have done, as you have shown with redefining terms, is to move away from what was commonly called and coined as Reformed by the Reformers' tradition.

    Conforming the situation of the Federal Vision unrealistically to your 'controlled definition' adds to the revisionism. The same monocovenantalism that they FVers are guilty of can be seen with Baptist theology with its over-realized eschatological understanding of the covenantal decree as was seen with men like John Gill.

    It is also incorrect to think that the Protestant Reformation was purely soteriological. If anyone reads the Institutes or the Reformers's works the in-depth ecclesiology is quite apparent. They wanted a Reform of the whole church back to the creedal, patristic, and apostolic Church.

    To read such thoughts back into the Reformation is dishonest.

    Honestly, I do not see why it is such a big deal to say Baptists are not Reformed. Be a Baptist, that is fine, but do not add to the misappropriation of theological terms that is characteristic of classic liberalism.

    You may well see the Five Solas as you wish but do not think that this is the way historic Christianity of the Reformers so those concepts. When I first started studying Reformed theology, I was a Baptist and would have said I was Reformed b/c I held to the doctrines of grace and a form of covenant theology. But this was wrong and was not consistent for it was not the covenant theology, piety, or practice that was held by the continental Reformers or what they defined in their confessions. Thus I was not Reformed.

  5. Hi Timothy, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I'm sorry I'm only now responding.

    I'm not certain that appealing to Augustine, Calvin, and Luther as the architects of the Reformed understanding of the relation between church and state advances your argument that paedobaptism isn't tied to theocracy since for each of those reformers, it was most certainly so tied. While Luther held a two-kingdoms view of church and state (Calvin did not), he advocated the priority of the state over the church and believed it was the state's responsibility to support the church and advance the kingdom of God. Paedobaptism and theocracy went hand in hand for Luther and the continental reformers as well as for the English reformers. This is evident in their writings.

    You say that connecting paedobaptism to the papacy is incorrect. Certainly the papacy didn't lead to paeodbaptism, but paedobaptism was a necessary condition of the papacy. Without paedoism, the papacy couldn't have existed. Indeed, paedobaptism was not a normalized practice in the early church until Augustine's view was standardized. Prior to the 400's there is simply no evidence that paedoism was the majority practice. But after 400, paedobaptism became one of the main theological instruments used to implement the church state theocracy of Roman Catholicism and the medieval synthesis of the middle ages.

    Your objection that the RPW fails to disprove paedoism rests on the notion that the New Covenant is the Abrahamic covenant. However, while there is only one covenant of grace spanning throughout redemptive history, the biblical covenants are distinct administrations of that singular covenant. Both the Old and New Testaments specifically repeal infant inclusion in the New Covenant because Scripture says "they shall all know me" in the New Covenant. When this is coupled with the specific abolishment of circumcision as any requirement of the NT people of God, we have sufficient ground to withhold the covenant sign from infants. The Reformed Covenantal hermeneutic is correct: unless the NT repeals a law or principle of the OT, then that law or principle continues in the NT period. But infant inclusion is specifically repealed, not just in the NT, but by the OT's prophecy of the NC (Jer 31). The NC, according to Scripture, is composed of those who know God, who are forgiven, and is an unbreakable covenant (Heb 8:9).

    Your assertion that Particular Baptists aren't Reformed fails all the relevant historiographical tests. We emerge directly from the line of the Reformed Churches, not because of Anabaptist influence, but because of our desire to adhere to the *Reformed* hermeneutic. We sought only to apply the Reformed Covenantal hermeneutic to baptism in our theology and the Reformed Regulative principle in our worship. The outcome of these efforts was credobaptism. We adopted the Westminster Confession and removed objectionable paedobaptist/theocratic elements from it, just as American Presbyterians modified classical Westminsterian Presbyterianism to exclude theocracy. Particular Baptists hold the Reformed view of Christology over and against the Lutheran view. We hold to all of the central theological insights of the Reformation and apply them even more rigorously than do our beloved paedobaptist brethren. Therefore, I conclude that the Particular Baptists are categorically “Reformed” if we understand that term from an historiographical perspective.

    Reformed Baptists have not redefined covenant theology; rather, we hold its principles more consistently than do our beloved paedobaptist brethren. While Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger and the like certainly didn't approve of our credobaptism, their reasons for objection related to their commitment to the church-state as a social institution. They understood that paedobaptism was necessary to uphold the European culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they defended the practice of paedoism theologically unto that end. If you go back and read their responses to the Baptists, you'll find that their arguments move from the theological to the socio-political very quickly. Calvin defended paedobaptism partly out of a concern to uphold the state church of Geneva. He believed that failure to practice paedobaptism would result in a lawless and godless society and accused credobaptists of advocating principles that would lead to such. But, all this is well known.

    The "control" I add is not at all derived from my own theological commitments, but from a careful reading of history. The central theological insights are historically identifiable doctrines about which historians generally agree. My argument is that those central insights are most thoroughly deployed in the fully developed covenant theology and hermeneutic of the Particular Baptists.

    I would further argue that the Baptists alone have an ecclesiology sufficient to preserve the insights of the Reformation. This has proven itself to be true time and again throughout history. While Presbyerians tend to revert to theocractic visions of the faith, to Arminianism, and ultimately to Socinianism (as through Baxter to Socinianism), Baptist ecclesiology has proven most responsive to reform within the existing structures.

    Your linking of Gill with an overrealized eschatology is a confusion of terms, since Gill's problem was opposite that of the FVists. Whereas the FVists overblow temporal categories, Gill made too little allowance for them and tended to throw everything back into God’s eternal mind. The FVists tend to anchor everything in the objective temporal practice of "Christians.” Give me Gill over James Jordan any day of the week; their errors are like day and night.

    You say it is incorrect to think of the Reformation purely in terms of soteriology. I believe my initial post avoids any suggestion of that error. Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide (and all of the Solas) had as much to do with ecclesiology as soteriology. The RCC saw this all too well, which is why they resisted the Reformation with such rigor. And I agree with you that to suggest the central insights of the Reformation have only to do with soteriology is dishonest. Surely, you're not doing that by suggesting that to identify the solas of the Reformation as its central insights limits those insights to soteriology only. Obviously the Solas are as much about ecclesiology, hermeneutics, and covenant theology as they are about soteriology.

    It's a "big deal," as you say, to deny that Particular Baptists are Reformed because it is bad history. It’s also a “big deal” because it displays an ignorance of the main principles of the Reformation and historical organic relations of the Reformed churches, which were both paedobaptist and credobaptist.

    When you moved from a Baptist ecclesiology to a paedobaptist one, from a historical perspective, I would argue that you took a few steps back from the necessary outworkings of the central insights of the Reformation. You moved away from the Reformation, not toward it. Particular Baptists are the finished product of the Reformation.

    Blessings and peace,

  6. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, a excellent Presbyterian historical theologian, gets it right. He writes:

    "For various reasons, many reformed Baptists of our time have failed to realize that historic Covenant Theology was fully appreciated and theologically deployed in the very best of the Calvinistic Baptist tradition. Whereas many Baptists today who are reformed have opted for speaking of themselves as some form of dispensationalist (modified or progressive) or have felt drawn to so-called 'New Covenant Theology,' Baptists who embrace the great Reformed distinctives (like Spurgeon did) have seen themselves as covenant theologians. May their tribe increase!" - Ligon Duncan

  7. AMEN!

    May our tribe indeed increase!


  8. Your rereading of the paedobaptism as a theocratic necessity is revisionistic. Paedobaptism predates the 400s. It is mentioned in the 100s.

    Once again, it seems that you are failing to see what is sad. While Particular Baptists may indeed take a more Reformed than Anabaptist understanding of certain issues, Baptists are not Reformed. The very fact that you think that you have the right to redefine what has been defined by others and say they were not Reformed enough shows you are not Reformed and that your theological revisionism is linked to the Anabaptists who said the SAME exact thing to the Reformers.

    While the Reformers may have linked certain advantages from paedoism to theocratic state, they did not see one as flowing from the other. This can be seen in Calvin's letters concerning his personal apprehension for government that advanced such issues as seen with Servetus.

    To argue from problems that arise from a system does not prove your point anymore than my pointing to the fact that Baptist egalitarianism helped produce the pluralistic society in which we now live.

    While I would agree with your assessment of Gill in comparison to the FVers, I would still stand by the fact that they are both monocovenantal. It just springs up in two different forms. One over-emphasizes the eternal decree and the other over-emphasizes the condionality and bilateral nature of the Berith/diatheke.

    While you may have included ecclesiology in your post, the idea that you can separate the soteriological understanding of the Reformers from their ecclesiology (i.e. paedobaptism) is reductionistic and practically looks at the Reformation as merely soteriological.

    While Particular Baptists have much more in common with the Reformed tradition than say the Church-growth movements or Charismatics, I must adamantly deny that idea you propagate.

    I would heartily disagree that I moved from the Reformation. In fact, I believe the Scriptures are plainer more perspicuous than ever now that I have accepted Reformed Covenant theology and practice.

    Great quote by Duncan concerning the covenantal understanding of Particular Baptists. I would have to disagree with his assessment concerning their theological development and the use of the word 'Reformed.'

    I will not argue that they held to dispensationalism historically or to New Covenant theology but they did not hold to the theology of the Reformation. To think so is historic revisionism.

    Unless different issues or topics are raised other than those already discussed, I will not be replying again for we are being quite redundant.

    Thanks for the reply and letting me know.

  9. Tom, just a quick note to say that I am extremely glad to still have you blogging. Don't ever stop.