Who or What Defines "Reformed?" (Updated)

In response to the post on Bob Godfrey’s Unexpected Journey, Arthur writes to ask, “So does someone who does not hold to every point of doctrine in the Reformed confessions be considered “Reformed”. More to the point, can a credobaptist not be truly Reformed?”

The answer to that question depends upon the answer one gives to another question: Who or what defines “Reformed”?

Consider bread, not the colloquial, metaphortical bread one spends at the store, but the literal stuff one eats. When the lady at the counter asks, “white or wheat?” we have a common reference point. We are both discussing the same thing. Indeed, the metaphorical bread, as in “give us our daily bread” (i.e. sustenance that may include but is not limited to literal bread) is premised on an agreement as to what bread is. If I ask for bread and the nice lady hands me a stone it is a sign that something is amiss. We haven’t understood each other. We are using the same sign (“bread”) but the res significata (the thing signified) is different. Human communication is predicated upon a common understanding of signs and things signified.

In this case the sign is the adjective “Reformed.” Is there a fixed referent to that adjective or are there as many definitions of that adjective as there are definers? Should we settle for a minimal definition of that adjective or only for a maximal definition?

Well, what did the word “Reformed” signify when it was first used? It signified a theology, piety, and practice. We confessed certain doctrines in every locus (topic) of theology from the stuff one says before one gets to the doctrine of God (i.e. prolegomena), to the doctrines of God, Man, Christ, Salvation, Church, Sacraments, Last Things, and Ethics.

What do the Reformed Churches confess regarding baptism? We confess that God has one covenant of grace, one church, throughout the history of redemption. We confess that there is fundamentally one pattern in the administration of that kingdom/church. We have always had essentially two sacraments: one for admission and one for renewal. Before Christ that church/kingdom was administered with bloody types. With the advent of God the Son incarnate, those types were fulfilled but the pattern of signs of initiation and renewal continue. In other words, we understand that we are in the same church as Abraham. We understand that the Mosaic church/kingdom introduced a temporary, parenthetical, cultic and theocratic administration that ended with the advent of Christ.

Our Baptist friends reject that reading of redemptive history. They insist that the adjective “old covenant” refers to everything that occurred before the incarnation (despite Paul’s definition of “old covenant” in 2 Cor 3 and despite the way it is used in Hebrews) and therefore the new covenant is so utterly different from Abraham that, despite God’s command to initiate covenant children into the visible church/kingdom, we can no longer initiate covenant children thus.

Our Baptist friends are entitled to think what they will but they are not entitled to fundamentally re-define the adjective “Reformed.” Implied in the attempt by some Baptists to re-define “Reformed” so that it no longer entails a doctrine of church and sacraments is a minimalist definition of “Reformed” so that it only refers to the so-called “doctrines of grace.”

Who licensed anyone to re-define the adjective Reformed? Why should Reformed folk accept such a re-definition? If the Baptists, who reject our view of the covenants, who reject our view of our children as heirs of the covenant of grace and its promises, who reject our understanding of redemptive history (no small thing), who reject our ecclesiology, can deny a good bit of what it means to be Reformed and yet call themselves “Reformed” why can’t others play the same game? Why can’t the Open-Theists call themselves “Reformed?” Why can’t Arminians call themselves Reformed? After all, the Remonstrants were members of the Reformed Churches and they accepted a fair bit of our theology. Where do we stop? If the doctrine of the church and sacraments are negotiable why aren’t the doctrines of God, Christ, and salvation also negotiable?

Put another way, why can’t we call Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Bradwardine, and Gregory of Rimini (anachronistically) “Reformed”? They held to “the doctrines of grace.” There were five pointers long before the Synod of Dort. If holding to TULIP makes one Reformed then Godescalc (Gottschalk) of Orbais was Reformed.

Of course there is much more to being Reformed than holding to the five points. The Reformed faith is a contiguous, organic whole. It is a coherent thing. Our theology, piety, and practice are inter-related. We approach God (piety) as we do, by the due use of the ordinary means, because of our theology. We practice the faith by observing the regulative principle of worship and by observing the Christian Sabbath as we do because of our theology and piety.

Thus, the short answer to Arthur’s question is that yes, one must hold to every point of doctrine in the Reformed confessions in order to be Reformed. One might have Reformed sympathies or predestinarian sympathies or covenantal sympathies and the like and not be Reformed. I don’t know what Baptists who sympathize with us on certain points should call themselves. I wouldn’t presume to tell them. I truly wish that they would embrace Abraham as their father in the faith and embrace their children as covenant children and the promises as belonging to their children and that they would thus embrace the Reformed faith as confessed by the Reformed Churches.

UPDATE: Over at the PB, Daniel objects to this post saying:

Hmm…let’s see where this logic is leading us…

The Westminster Confession teaches:

1) Exclusive Psalmody
2) Explicitly Christian Civil Government
3) The Establishment Principle
4) Scottish Sabbatarianism
5) Papal Antichrist
6) Six Day Creation….

To which I reply:

…I should (and will) add the qualification “the Reformed confessions as received by the churches.” The American churches have rightly modified the WCF and BC to remove objectionable theocratic elements. As I’ve written many times in this space, the confessions are the way that the Reformed Churches confess their faith. They are not immutable. Though it is true that we must conform to our confessions, there is a reciprocity. We must always be conforming the confession to Scripture. There are two great areas in which we have made doctrinal progress since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: science and politics. Fortunately our churches have been wise enough not to confess a view of science. We were not as wise regarding politics and I’m glad that the American Presbyterians revised the WCF and that the Dutch churches revised the Belgic regarding politics.

I don’t know what exactly he means by “Scottish Sabbatarianism” since the WCF was hardly a purely “Scottish” document. The WCF reflects the mainstream of Reformed theology, piety, and practice including the Sabbath. It is more explicit about the Sabbath than the Three Forms of Unity but the views reflected in the Westminster Standards were bog standard across the Reformed world.

I don’t see why the office of Pope is not Antichrist. He condemns the gospel still and offers himself as the universal vicar of Christ. If you’re looking for an antichrist what else do you want?

As to creation the Three Forms don’t require 6/24 creation and the American Presbyterians have not received the WCF to require 6/24 creation so this objection is a non-starter.


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  1. Dear Dr Clark,

    On your above definition then I suppose John Owen could not be classed as “Reformed” because of his congregational polity?

    God bless,


  2. Hi Marty,

    It’s a good question. No, I don’t think this follows. His ecclesiology was defective, as was Edwards’ (for most of his ministry) and even Ames, but I don’t know that this necessarily makes them non-Reformed.

    The URCNA statement on the principles of Reformed polity says that connectionalism is not of the essence of the church but the bene esse. I agree with that.

    When I criticize the Baptist view of the church I don’t have connectionalism in mind. They reduce the church only to professors of faith. They don’t include covenant children in the visible, external administration of the covenant of grace. That’s what I meant.

  3. Here’s part of my answer to a comment regarding my post in http://www.twoagespilgrims.com/doctrine/?p=216 :

    [Evangelicals] are clueless as to the doctrine, worship and practice of the historic church. And if their doctrine, worship and practice do not follow the early church and the Protestant Reformers, then they are neither historic nor Reformed.

    And if one believes in TULIP, that doesn’t make him Reformed either, because the Reformers taught many other things in addition. As an example, some Baptists who believe in TULIP call themselves “Reformed” or Calvinists, but they’re not, because Calvin and the Reformers taught infant baptism, Presbyterianism, worship, etc., which they don’t adhere to. “Reformed” Baptists are not heirs of the Reformers, but of Donatists and Anabaptists.

    Finally, today’s evangelicals are NOT Protestants. Why do I say this? Because they do not have an inkling as to what the Protestant Reformers taught! – neither TULIP, Presbyterianism, covenantalism, the means of grace in preaching and the sacraments, worship liturgy, etc. For example, most evangelicals believe that man’s own free will enables them to have faith in Christ, which results in regeneration, i.e., faith precedes regeneration. This is exactly what Canon IV of Trent says. Since this is so, evangelicals are in reality Romanists, not Protestants, when it comes to the very basic doctrine of justification by faith alone.

  4. Ok that makes sense. So I guess the conclusion is: Owen et al are Reformed with a slight deficiency. Perhaps “Reformed with acne”?

    BTW I caught up with Rowland Ward 2 days ago (he is supervising my dissertation). Rowland recommended to me your paper in Strimple’s festschrift–which I’d completely missed in my bibliography!!

    God bless.

  5. As a “layman” with a great deal of experience in attending various denominational and non-denominational churches, I think that we need to promote Reformed doctrine in a series of steps. First, we need to emphasize the importance of doctrine generally. Second, we need to emphasize the importance of Reformed doctrine as it is summarized in TULIP or the doctrines of grace and contrast it with Arminian doctrine. Third, we need to emphasize the importance of Reformed confessions such as Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort) and/or Westminister Confession of Faith. Fourth, we need to emphasize the importance of baptism of infants which emphasizes both the continuity of the covenant and God’s election and faithfulness to the children of believers, although not every child is elect, as opposed to the baptism of only adults which emphasizes man’s free will and which renounces or minimizes God’s promises to children of believers. And, so on.

    The problem that I see of some Reformed clergy, and particularly Reformed seminary students, is sometimes they are so puffed up in their overall knowledge that they throw a wet blanket over the excitement of “new Reformed converts” who are excited about TULIP, and they seem eager to minimize the importance of TULIP and show off their over-all knowledge of what it means to be “Reformed” until the “new Reformed convert” walks away discouraged that he does not know anything.

    Maybe, it is a milk vesus meat analysis. I think there is a place for people like me who offer milk to the “new Reformed converts” and who try to get these new converts excited about TULIP a/k/a doctrines of grace.

    At my web site, http://www.reformeddoctrine.org , I try to lead the reader through at least these first few steps. But, I also offer links to http://www.monergism.com and the doctrinal standards and articles of the Protestant Reformed Churches as well as two of the most widely known Reformed Confessional Questions and Answers. I also present this meat as they want to progress.

    In conclusion, although there certainly are a number of essential elements to what is truly “Reformed”, let us remember that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these “Reformed children”. Let us first serve them milk. Let us delight in each step that they take. Let us also remember that we who think we know so much, really only know a small fraction of what we should know. Thank you.

    Yours truly,
    Bill Hornbeck

  6. Great stuff, Scott.

    It is interesting. For so many Evangelicals the entry point seems to be soteriology. I think this accounts for so much of the sort of question Aurthur asks (implies, whatever). It is quite understandable, if equally misguided. But my own entry point was actually the doctrine of the two kingdoms, and the rest–including a robust wrestling and finally friendly landing in Reformed soteriology–all followed quite naturally.

    I might add for our friend Aurthur that much of the resistance to paedo-baptism seems also to be a function of what some have called “QIRC,” where something yet bothers but one is not able to grow into that which he may not readily understand and that intellectual bother keeps him from a more full-orbed piety. It was something of a jagged little pill for this former Evangelical to swallow, but it sure seemed clear to me that if it was Reformed I wanted to be considered I had to grow into that which was not easy to apprehend quite yet. Is that not the nature of the Gospel itself? That understanding did come in time.

    When credo-baptists “want in,” it always strikes me similar to a Republican wanting bigger government and more taxes, a Roman Cathiolic who wants to default on papal authority, or, ahem, a Baptist who wants his child baptized. In all such cases, you simply can’t do that and retain the name. Or take that thing called a “Calminian,” one who thinks he can find a third, middle way between the Calvinists and Arminians. If such a person understood the very basics of the discussion he’d understand that neither a good Arminian nor a good Calvinist would want anything to do with him. (Unless, of course, he is destined for some prize money for finding a whole number between four and five!)

  7. Thanks for this encouraging post. It is interesting to see how the doctrines of grace are within the theological context of the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession and do not make sense without them.

    This topic has been an issue of tension in such settings like the Together for the Gospel Conference where some espouse to be ‘Reformed Charismatics’ simply because they hold to the doctrines of grace.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer this important question.

  8. I agree with Zrim– the confusion of the entry-point of soteriology (for many) with broad embrace of Reformed theology is common, and hasty.

    TULIP is so helpful; naturally it is a proper outflow of Reformed teaching. But one can accept TULIP without– as you point out, Dr. Clark– accepting, say, a covenantal perspective on baptism. Many people claim to be “4-point Calvinists” or (my favorite) “3½-point Calvinists,” as if that’s close enough; yet Reformed thinkers recognize that this is being inconsistent, because the five points are interrelated, just as TULIP is interrelated with the rest of Reformed theology.

    In a recent Sunday School class (for new/prospective members), I suggested that what defines “Reformed” theology is the fundamental thrust of the Reformation, namely the Solas and the renewed focus on Covenantal theology. I mentioned aspects, such as TULIP, predestination/election, and infant baptism– but as I said then, these strike me as material issues, not formal ones. Is that a fair analysis, in your view?

  9. Quote…
    I truly wish that they would embrace Abraham as their father in the faith and embrace their children as covenant children and the promises as belonging to their children and that they would thus embrace the Reformed faith as confessed by the Reformed Churches.

    Thanks Dr. Clark for your article. I agree that Reformed Baptists are not Reformed in the Presbyterian way ecclesiologically nor concerning who the Children of the Covenant are. We are more in line with John Owen concerning the Covenant of Grace and Ecclesiology. But we do consider Abraham as our Father in the Faith. I bet you are overstating your point for emphasis. We just believe as the text says that those children are children

    (Gal 3:5) Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith–

    (Gal 3:6) just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

    (Gal 3:7) Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

    (Gal 3:8) And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

    (Gal 3:9) So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

    We believe that in both the Old Covenant and the New that those who are faith are only partakers in the Covenant of Grace.

    I do believe the following…..

    WCF 7.6
    ….There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations

    Anyone can read my comments on the PB concerning Genesis 17, Romans 4 and passages in Galations concerning this.

    Just do a search under PuritanCovenanter and the passages.

    I agree with Dr. Clark that we are not Reformed in the same context.

    I agree that anyone who is not Covenantal nor Confessional in thinking is not Reformed.

    As you know, historically we Reformed Baptists are known as Particular Baptists. Reformed Baptist is a rather new term. It is also an evolving term which seems to include just 5 pointers who are credo, whether or not they are Covenantal or confessional. I prefer the term Sovereign Grace Baptist for those guys who are not Covenantal as in believing in the CofW, or the CofG. Which is what a Particular Baptist historically held to according to the 1689 LBCF.

    I like Pastor David Charles understanding of what a Reformed Baptist is.


    Thanks Dr. Clark
    I have learned a lot from you.

  10. forgot to finish a sentence above…. Whoops.

    We just believe as the text says that those children are children of faith. In other words we are children of Abraham if we have like faith in Christ as he did. A faith that is caused by regeneration and God’s monergistic conversion.

    Sorry for not completing my thought.

  11. I’ve always thought of our baptist brothers as more “Calvinistic” or “Confessional” Baptists, rather than “Reformed” Baptists. It’s not a sleight or anything. I don’t know why some take it that way as if it’s bad to call them anything other than “Reformed”. It’s just a more specific title.

    Scott, would you include the London Baptist Confessions as a “Reformed” confession? James

  12. I think his post confirms the fact that any confessional standard which differs from the Reformed confessions on such fundamental issues such as baptism, sacraments, the unity of the covenant of grace, etc. cannot be labeled Reformed. This would include the London Baptist Confession. I would even go a step further in arguing against the use of the word “Calvinistic” to describe Baptist’s who embrace the majority of the Canons of Dordt, and then proceed to disregard their confessional and historical context: Belgic and Heidelburg. Why apply a theological label like “Calvinist” to those who probably would have been tossed out of Calvin’s Geneva in a heartbeat for their aberrant views on ecclesiology? I think we all know how Calvin viewed credobaptism. Anyway, I think Baptist’s with Calvinistic sympathies fall into the tradition of the particular baptists. Maybe this would be a better label?

  13. In follow-up to my prior comment and a sense from the chain of these comments that I may be considered “Reformed-lite” if “Reformed” at all, by reason of my emphasis of TULIP, we need to be careful that we do not define “Reformed” just as to what we may believe and practice.

    We may think that we are fully “Reformed”, whereas others may think that we are deficient in some of our beliefs. Specifically, my denomination by heritage, the Christian Reformed Churches, may think that they are fully “Reformed”. The Protestant Reformed Churches denomination may think otherwise by the failure of the CRC to deny common grace, the well meant offer, and the unconditional covenant.

    Although it goes against my CRC denomination by heritage and the teachings of my great-grandfather, Calvin Theological School Professor William Heyns, I think the Protestant Reformed Churches are right in their position on these issues and that these are very important issues. At my web site, under Excellent Doctrinal Standards, I provide a link to Protestant Reformed Churches literature and articles that explain these issues and their importance.

    But, as much as I agree with the Protestant Reformed Churches on these issues and their importance, I do not think it is accurate or helpful to reserve the title “Reformed” to just the Protestant Reformed Churches. Likewise, I think that the PCA and others need to exercise careful restraint in concluding that others are not “Reformed”, because they may not hold to all the points of belief and practice that they do. Thank you.

    Yours truly,
    Bill Hornbeck

  14. Jordan,

    Calvin is not necessarily the end all of Reformed Theology. Covenant Theology is not addressed as succinctly in Calvin as it is the Reformers after him. I have also read quotes concerning his views of the sacraments that would seemingly put him outside of the WCF. FV guys seem to like to pull some of this stuff up.

    It would be eye opening for you to follow this thread on the PB.

    It won’t necessarily change your mind but you will probably learn a few things.

  15. Wonderful post, Dr. Clark. To celebrate the Institutes, the 3 Forms, and the WSF in every area except for sacramental piety, as do many “reformed baptists,” is a blatant disregard for the covenantal structure and epochs that flow throughout these documents and, for many, a contradiction of their own covenantalism. What do you suppose is to be our attitude in response to those who claim reformed theology, even catechize their children in covenantal thinking and holy living, yet deny these foundations to our most holy faith once for all delivered to the saints?….people in my own circles?

    By the way, your writings and the writings of your fellow WSC colleagues make my desire to attend your seminary all the more full. I pray to get down there in a year.

  16. Randy,
    The FV guys are classic examples of bad Calvin scholarship. Calvin and the WCF are not at odds with respect to either baptism or the Lord’s Supper. My point in using Calvin as an example was to show how ridiculous it is to use the word “Calvinist” to describe an anti-Calvinistic system of doctrine (i.e.- credobaptism, memorialism, exclusion of infants from the covenant, anti-synodical church gov. etc. etc.) While Calvin certainly isn’t the exclusive “end all” of Reformed theology, lets not underestimate his importance. Also, to argue that Calvin’s covenantal theology differs significantly from later confessional expressions on the issue is to fall into the trap that many FV advocates have set in an attempt to pit Calvin against the Puritans. I’d recommend Peter Lillback’s treatment on the subject in his book. It’s my opinion, and the opinion of many Calvin scholars, that continental Calvinism and English Puritanism (i.e. WCF) are theologically harmonious and differ on minor points.

  17. So I guess we are not as Together for the Gospel as one might assume. My apologies for throwing a question out and then disappearing, we are in the process of relocating our family and I just got internet access again.


    “I might add for our friend Aurthur that much of the resistance to paedo-baptism seems also to be a function of what some have called “QIRC,” where something yet bothers but one is not able to grow into that which he may not readily understand and that intellectual bother keeps him from a more full-orbed piety. It was something of a jagged little pill for this former Evangelical to swallow, but it sure seemed clear to me that if it was Reformed I wanted to be considered I had to grow into that which was not easy to apprehend quite yet. ”

    Our rejection of infant baptism has nothing to do with a lack of a “more full-orbed piety”, whatever that is and has everything to do with the lack of Biblical evidence either explicitly commanding the baptism of infants (in contrast with the clear commandment to make disciples and then baptize them) or the sign of any evidence in the Bible of infants being baptized (again in contrast to a multitude of examples of believers being baptized). I guess I find it more important, and dare I say more Reformed, to seek my answers in the Word of God over the confessions of men. Confessions are wonderful tools and guides, but it can be easy to become a servant of the confession instead of being served by it.


    ““Reformed” Baptists are not heirs of the Reformers, but of Donatists and Anabaptists.”

    Are you serious? Do you even know what Donatism is and taught? Comments like those are so loaded as to preclude even basic civil interaction between brothers in Christ. Donatism is heresy. Are you saying that Reformed Baptist, or Baptists of any stripe, are heretics? Spurgeon? Bunyan? Albert Mohler? Heretics? I disagree vociferously with infant baptism but I would never presume to label my brothers in Christ as heretics because of a disagreement of this nature. Reformed Baptist have about as much in common with Donatist who rebaptized people as Reformed padeobaptists have with the PC-USA. Dvopilgrim continued…

    “Since this is so, evangelicals are in reality Romanists, not Protestants, when it comes to the very basic doctrine of justification by faith alone.”

    So says the man who holds to a doctrine that is a holdover from Roman Catholicism. See, those sorts of baseless charges cut both ways.

  18. Hi Arthur,

    Well, I’m sure I agree with Mark Dever (who is a friend and an excellent scholar) on the gospel. I do think that sacraments and ecclesiology are more important than they often seem in broader evangelicalism. I sometimes wonder whether TG4 and Ref21 are efforts to preserve the old predestinarian-evangelical coalition that once dominated evangelicalism. I’ve written about that more than a few times on the HB.

    Three ways…

    Bog Standard 1

    Bog Standard 2

    I agree that Baptists are not heretics. I wouldn’t use that adjective but I think that denying that the administration of the covenant promise to covenant children is a serious problem and even a sin. It’s serious enough that, in my view, I don’t see how Baptist congregations have all the marks of a pure church (BC 29). One of those marks is the “pure administration” of the sacraments. Denial of infant baptism is not a pure administration of the sacraments.

    Of course they don’t (or shouldn’t) regard me as baptized, so I accept turn about as fair play. I don’t take it personally. I have the highest regard for Ken Jones and Mark Dever and Jim Renihan. These are great men but I regard them as seriously confused on the sacraments and they probably think of me the same way (if they think of me!).

    As to Bible v Confessions, well, that’s not a very Baptist answer! Historically Baptists have been as confessional as the Reformed. The “just the Bible Ma’am” approach of biblicism is not a very healthy way to relate to Scripture has no roots in Sola scriptura. As Mike Horton has noted, the “bible only” approach is scriptura solo not Sola scriptura. I hope you’ll keep thinking about this issue.

  19. Simply astounding… to so openly expose your ignorance of what Reformed Baptists to believe. I guess, if you keep parsing “Reformed” down to just you. How long till “Reformed” requires a specifically Dutch view of government, or church polity? Did “semper reformanda” stop with the introduction of the Three Forms of Unity?

  20. Finally someone who has the right attitude and is honest. Thank you Dr. R. Scott Clark. We can view each other as in sin because of our view of the ordinances and still get along. That to me is a big thing.

    I commend your honesty and love. Those two things don’t usually go together.


  21. I think we would all agree, Reformed Baptist as well as Presbyterian, on the importance of confessions. I carry a copy of the 1689 in my laptop case at all times. I am also certain that we would (or should) agree that the confessions stand under the authority of Scripture.

    I would of course disagree with your definition of the purity of the sacraments when applied to infants who are baptized for no reason other than parentage. Certainly there are plenty of Christians without Christian parents (myhself for example) and just as certainly there are plenty of children of Christian parenst who grow up and are revealed to not be Christians. Furthermore I would say that the paedobaptist, born and raised, is in sin by defying the Biblical command and model to be baptized after repentence, instead relying on a ceremony performed as an infant. But we can disagree on these issues without being divided and certainly without being divisive.

  22. BTW, Wasn’t the main thrust of the Donatists to emphasize a regenerate clergy and to exclude those who had denounced Christ at one time? Didn’t they also have some weird views concerning the deity of Christ and his humanity?

  23. Randy you are quite right, from Theopedia re: donatism: “Donatism was an early heresy. Named for its leader, the theologian Donatus the Great (d. 355), Donatism included a group of extremist sects, mostly in North Africa, that emphasized Asceticism. They valued martyrdom and found lapses of faith (even under torture or threat of death) inexcusable. The heresy involved their contention that the sacraments required a priest of pure moral character to be effective and only the pure (who had not lapsed under persecution) should be allowed in the church. They were opposed by Augustine of Hippo.”

    The statement that people like James White, Al Mohler and Mark Dever are spiritual descendents of Donatus exhibits a lack of understanding of the issue at hand and is a sign of intellectual immaturity.

  24. Arthur,

    We don’t baptize covenant infants because of parentage, we baptize them because of the divine command and promise! The question is whether the command has been given, in the covenant of grace, to administer to covenant infants the sign and seal of the promise. Of course we say that the command and promise given to Abraham in Gen 17 still applies, that the typologies have been fulfilled but that the structure of “to you and to your children” is still in force. The promise, “I will be a God to you and to your children” still applies. This is why Abraham is called the father of all who believe and why Peter said, “The promise is to you and to your children…”

  25. Hi M,

    If you read the replies I gave on the PB, to which I provided a link, you’ll see that I answered the question of polity there. No, I haven’t defined “Reformed” as “Dutch Reformed.” In fact our (the URCNA) statement of principles of church government says that connectionalism is of the well being not the essence of the church. To be sure episcopacy is not desirable but the Synod of Dort seated delegates from the Church of England. William Ames and John Owen espouses congregationalism but no one doubts their Reformed convictions.

    As to criticisms of the confessional Baptists, I do spend a fair bit of time among them. How have I misrepresented them? I’ve had a few private posts from CB’s thanking me for this post. They don’t think that I’ve misrepresented them.

    There are universals that unite most all Baptists: That (Abraham, Moses etc) was then, this (the New Covenant) is now. All Baptists deny the continuing validity of God’s command to initiate covenant infants into the visible covenant community.

    As to semper Reformanda, I’ve made it clear here and elsewhere (e.g. in the PB thread) that I do believe that there has been doctrinal progress since the Reformation. I can list several areas:

    1) Covenant theology. The 16th-century Reformed had mainly a seminal covenant theology that needed elaboration and that has been done intermittently since.

    2) Science. Most of the 16th- and 17th-century Reformed were wrong about the relation between natural science and Scripture. Fortunately we didn’t confess anything about science in great detail. Many of them thought that they could work out a natural science from Scripture. By the 17th-century we began to learn that isn’t possible because it isn’t intended.

    3) Politics. Many Reformed in the same period were theocrats and held to the civil enforcement of the first table of the decalogue. By the 18th century we learned better.

    These revisions of the classical Reformed theology have been for the good of the Reformed churches and are an expression of sola Scriptura and semper reformanda. I can’t see how denying a fundamental article of the faith, however, constitutes Reformation.

  26. Aurthur,

    My point about paedo-baptism was that, in my experience, most credo-baptists and those even loosley associated tend to make more solo scriptura appeals than sola scriptura ones for why they withold baptism from covenant children. The former is the system natural to Biblicism, the latter to Confessionalism.

    Those with more Biblicist devotions say things like, “I guess I find it more important, and dare I say more Reformed, to seek my answers in the Word of God over the confessions of men. Confessions are wonderful tools and guides, but it can be easy to become a servant of the confession instead of being served by it.” That is a high opinion of the forms, not a high view. Though opinions run the gamut from low (Finney’s “paper popes”) to high, it is not Reformed at all to simply hold a high opinion. The Reformed have high opinions and views of the forms and reserve infallible views for Scripture, despite the charges that we hold infallible ones of the forms. Don’t mistake high views to be infallible ones.

  27. R. Scott Clark,

    Excellent article, and I have enjoyed reading you additional comments as well. Thanks for this post. The tone of the some comments by others perhaps could be marked by a more irenic attitude. It would be good to see their Reformed worldview applied to their demeanor. But, many have worked through the negative tones, for which I am grateful.

    Perhaps this is throwing fuel on the fire (certainly not my desire, though the flame of the Gospel heats as well as illuminates) but I think this entire discussion is wrongheaded. The issue isn’t whether or not Baptists can legitimately be called Reformed. The real issue is whether or not non-Baptists can legitimately be called so. The Reformation was not an event, rather it was a process set in motion. The logical conclusion of the Reformation (at least as it applies to the sacraments) leads one, in my opinion, to the Baptist view. I am the first to disagree with the typical Baptist insistence on extreme local church autonomy, but it does seem to me that a truly Reformational understanding of Scripture will eventually lead one toward a believers baptism position. One can already see the movement from Luther’s position to that of Calvin. I simply argue that if we let the trajectory run its course, we arrive at the Baptist understanding.

    Now, lest my “less than Reformational” Reformed friends take offense, let me declare my great love and respect for the Reformed denominations. This discussion is one amongst brothers, all of whom will one day be humbled before the throne of grace. One that day, I for one do not wish to face the charge of having demeaned Christ’s bride. He seems to be a protective husband, and I sense one who does not take lightly those who berate and belittle his dear wife. Thus, while I call my non-Baptist friends to a fully reformed view of the sacraments, I hope I do so humbly.

  28. JG,


    This was, of course, the Anabaptist response to the Reformation. “You haven’t gone far enough” they said. They had, from our pov, an “over-realized eschatology.”

    Luther called this eschatology “a theology of glory.” They also manifested the two main lines of the TG: moralism and rationalism. To be sure not all of them were rationalists, at least not explicitly) some were mystics but they were all moralists. Because of their moralism and (implicit) rationalism they rejected the Protestant doctrine of justification (sola gratia et sola fide. They rejected it on the same basis as the Roman communion rejected it: it wouldn’t produce the desired sanctity.

    This is a debate about what the Reformed churches will be or become. We will be Reformed as defined by our confessions or will be be or become something else?

  29. Understood. But not all Baptist groups trace their theological/ideological heritage to the Anabaptist movement, as I assume you are aware. Most certainly the reformed Baptists do not. As to the issue of the sacrament of baptism, the Baptists of course feel that the doctrine of sola fide will inevitably lead to Baptist conclusion on the matter. We argue that the greater reformational community has hit the “pause” button on the implications of sola fide.

    To all my ‘paused-Reformational’ brethren, keep in mind that one of the greatest Reformed documents (the Westminster standards) were produced in the same decade as the Baptist and Congregationalist reformed confessions

    1644 – Second London Baptist Confession (ratified 1689)
    1646 – Westminster Confession
    1658 – Savoy Declaration

    Considering these documents were produced almost exactly at the same time, with intentional Reformed thinking undergirding each document, Baptist find it odd when the “Reformed” groups try to dismiss the 2nd London Confession as a document that is not truly Reformed.

    So, Baptists are reformed according to our documents, and according to at least some of the great reformed documents of the period. Whether our Reformed or Presbyterian brethren wish to acknowledge it or not, we’ve been with you from at least the 17th century forward—and we are here to stay. Certainly the Reformed camp is a tent large enough to incorporate the subtle differences between the memorialist & calvinistic views on the Supper or the view of children’s precise relationship to the covenant community.


  30. Correction:

    I wrote: “…the Baptists of course feel that the doctrine of sola fide will inevitably lead to Baptist conclusion on the matter.”

    I, of course, meant to say “sola scriptura”.

    – Josh

  31. Subtle differences? Herein lies the problem. I for one think that banning covenant children from their rightful place within God’s covenant of grace is much more than a mere theological subtlety. The same goes for a memorialistic view of the Supper. If history tells us anything, I think we can conclude that these are huge issues with profound implications.

  32. Certainly no Reformed person confuses infant baptism with salvation. No gospel-centered Presbyterian would ever claim that the sacrament is a sign of redemption. Thus, whatever advantage baptism offers, we all agree that it is not salvific.

    Also, no (reformed, baptist or otherwise) person denies that God shows special grace to children of covenant parents. Is not being raised in the home of a believer, sitting under the word, and hearing the faith of one’s parents and grandparents (Lord willing), such as was the case with Timothy, in and of itself a wonderful, God-given grace?

    Thus, no baptist has ever denied a child of covenant parents their “rightful” place. We understand what they are: unredeemed children who need to make Christ the Lord of their life (as all Reformed would agree). We raise them in the fear and knowledge of God (as would all Reformed persons). We understand that God has showered them with a special, wonderful grace (as do all Reformed persons).

    Certainly the groups more aligned with Calvin on this issue see a beautiful mystery, which is almost unexplainable, in the practice of Baptism. They see it as the bestowal of a grace which Baptists believe is already present without the sacrament.

    Thus, no Baptist denies children of the covenant their rightful place. We believe they already have it apart from Baptism.

    So, yes. We are dealing with subtle difference.

  33. Sorry..I should have been a bit more articulate. Covenant children are covenant children regardless of whether the sign is applied or not. I stand by what I said earlier: A refusal to apply the sign and seal of salvation to covenant children is much more than a theological subtlety.

    While most Reformed folk do not regard baptism as a means of regeneration, it nevertheless remains true that baptism is the means of initiation into the visible church, and thus is a very very important rite. I don’t know if we all would agree that baptism “is not salvific.” Calvin and some of the other continental Reformers certainly didn’t use this kind of language, nor did many of the Puritans and other Westminster Divines. At issue here is not whether baptism magically brings regeneration, but whether baptism has anything at all to do with the salvation of a covenant child. If baptism is a seal of the covenant, as well as as the means of initiation into the visible church, then baptism is certianly salvific in a very qualified sense, and therefore very important in the sight of God. The same goes for memorialism. Is the Lord’s Supper something that God does for me in the person of Christ, or is it a bare symbol devoid of any supernatural efficacy? These are important questions which shape our understanding of the church and the covenant. Again- refusing the sign to covenant children is not a matter of secondary importance. According to Reformed orthodoxy (take it or leave it) its a entirely different kind of covenantal theology with different pre-suppositions, a different theological method, and radically different conclusions.

  34. While Luther and Calvin differed on whether Baptism was a strict means of regeneration (that is, Luther felt it always regenerated the one baptised, and was, at bare minimum, ordinarily necessary for salvation unless in extreme circumstances), Calvin did view the sacrament as the ordinary means by which the elect were given the new birth:

    “What can anyone infer from this but just that the ordinary method in which God accomplishes our salvation is by beginning it in baptism and carrying it gradually forward during the whole course of life” (Second Answer to Westphal).

    “Again, he asks, if the sacraments are instruments by which God acts efficaciously, and testifies and seals his grace to us, why do we deny, that by the washing of baptism men are born again? As if our alleged denial were not a fiction of his own. Having distinctly asserted, that men are regenerated by baptism, just as they are by the word, I early obviated the impudence of the man, and left nothing for his invective to strike at but his own shadow” (Second Answer to Westphal).

    From these and other statements, it is clear that he did view it as the sacramental means of new birth. It wasn’t a magical rite wherein God was force to grant His Spirit to the baptized (for the non-elect), nor strictly necessary for salvation. It’s importance, however, is much understated in much of the modern Reformed community.

  35. Hi Matthew,

    I’m less confident than you are that Luther taught Baptismal “regeneration” in the way that the Book of Concord (1580) did. In his Large and Small Catechisms just when it seems that Luther might be on the verge of teaching the sort of baptismal regeneration that is often attributed to him he qualifies himself.

    Second, it’s important to note how the word “regeneration” was often used in the 16th century, to mean “sanctification” rather than “to awaken from death to life.”

    For Luther, the Gospel awakens us (by the power of the Spirit). I think there are real differences between Luther and Calvin but there are real connections.

    When Calvin says “salvation” he doesn’t mean “moment of awakening from death to life” but “the process of deliverance from sin.” Baptism is a means of grace. It is a sign and seal of justification and one of the ways through which the Spirit operates but I don’t find Calvin teaching baptismal regeneration (not that you’re saying this) and certainly not baptismal union with Christ as the FV says.

    • And so, RsC, does this not prove your post? We are talking past one another.

      • I say regeneration; you mean “awaken from death to life.”
        You say regeneration; I mean…

  36. JG et al,

    Would that all or even most Baptists agreed with you but I do not find this to be the case. I do know of some Baptists who speak of their children as covenant children and I thank God for this blessed inconsistency, but I don’t see how one can regard children as members of the covenant of grace and yet refuse them sign of initiation any more than Abraham would understand someone wishing to unite with the Abrahamic congregation and yet refuse to present his children for circumcision. It’s non-starter. In that case neither the good intentions of the parent nor the blessed inconsistency of language would help. Abraham would remind the seeker that Yahweh said, “This IS my covenant in your flesh.” The initiation of converts and covenant children is not optional. It is commanded. We are Abraham’s children and members of his congregation, as it were. There is no “new” congregation or covenant relative to Abraham, but only relative to Moses.

  37. Hi there Dr. Clark,

    You said, “I’m less confident than you are that Luther taught Baptismal “regeneration” in the way that the Book of Concord (1580) did. In his Large and Small Catechisms just when it seems that Luther might be on the verge of teaching the sort of baptismal regeneration that is often attributed to him he qualifies himself.”

    I agree with you that what Calvin and Luther taught about Baptism was not significantly different. In fact, in Calvin’s letter to Westphal he mentions the areas in which they differ, which I pointed out in my post. Namely, that Luther made Baptism much more necessary for salvation than Calvin did (especially in the Large Catechism), and that it affected everyone equally, whereas Calvin limited it to the elect (as far as the inner workings, of course the reprobate were still part of the New Covenant community externally by Baptism). Otherwise there was no major disagreement. I think it is true of the early reformers besides Calvin as well. That there never was a significant difference over the issue of Baptism, as there was over the Supper, is a testament to that. The later Lutherans and the Lutheran churches of today largely misread Luther into a Roman Catholic copy on the issue of Baptism.

    Yes, the Federal Vision heretics are BIG on making Calvin’s language support their view of Baptism. My main concern is in the other direction. That for all intents and purposes many Reformed churches (and whole denominations for that matter) make the opposite error. That of minimizing the sacraments to the point of slipping into the same mistake as the Baptists. This seems to be done with both the Supper and Baptism. While on the one hand the heresy of the FV propogates itself, the heresy of the sacraments as merely empty symbols is much more prevalent.

    It is very pleasing to see Calvinists among the United Reformed Church (Mike Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, et al) pointing out this fact and going to pains to give the sacraments their primary and biblical place within church worship, along with the preaching of the Word.

  38. R Scott Clark,

    Of course, if you would follow the biblical command of circumcision as the sign of initiation you would have a point. But since the Apostle Paul will not allow us that option, we can only assume two things:

    1. There is no longer a sign of initiation. Or,
    2. The sign of initiation has been changed.

    This is the dividing line. Baptists argue there is no scripture warrant for assuming the sign of initiation has been continued in a modified form. The Reformed groups assume it MUST be continued, and then apply reason to determine what that symbol might be. Considering their starting assumptions, baptism makes a logical choice.

    I do appreciate the discussion, and will read further comments from my “paused-Reformational” brethren, but will be unable to reply. I’m in over my head with several projects. Blessings to all, and thanks for the edifying conversation.

  39. Josh,

    No sign of initiation now for anyone?

    This strikes me as the typical and, if I may say, desperate, Baptist evasion of Abraham’s fatherhood and the covenant of grace. This is just more of, “that was then, this is now.”

    You’ve circumcised (cut off) Abraham when God hasn’t!

  40. Josh,

    I would ask, in Matthew 28 when Christ gives the command to baptize all the nations and teach them the commands of the New Covenant, what this could be other than initiatory language? Is there any normative example in Scripture where someone is brought into the covenant community without baptism? Granted, they may be regenerate of the Spirit and justified before God prior to baptism, but they would not have been considered part of the community of faith until they are publically baptized.

    While they does not touch infant baptism per se, it logically follows and flows from the New Covenant seal being a continuation of the Old Covenant seal.

    God bless

  41. R. Scott Clark,

    “This strikes me as the typical and, if I may say, desperate, Baptist evasion of Abraham’s fatherhood and the covenant of grace. This is just more of, “that was then, this is now.” ”

    You mean like: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31: 31-34 ESV)

    There has been more dancing around the text on this thread than on Dancing with the Stars. Comments like ZRIMs “The former is the system natural to Biblicism, the latter to Confessionalism.” smack of someone who ignores the text in favor of the confessions despite vehement objections to the contrary. You could throw away every copy of the Westminster confession tomorrow and the Word of God would be just fine.

    The elephant in the padeobaptist room is that there is no textual defense or command to baptize infants. Period. Any honest padeobaptist recognizes that, and typically turns to a argument based on the covenants to defend their church traditions. The great error of all of the covenantal arguments regarding infant baptism is that you overemphasize the sameness of the covenants, which goes above and beyond the continuity. Things have changed, which is why we aren’t slaughtering animals at our church services this Sunday. The new covenant is NOT like the Old, in terms of Mediator and membership. But no one wants to deal with that, instead we throw around academic terminology to avoid the topic at hand. That is the real desperation.

    This whole conversation is an unfortunate example of “Reformed legalism”, continually narrowing down the definition of Reformed. Fortunately most of the proponents of Reformed theology recognize that what unites us is the Gospel, not infant baptism. Come out of the Reformed ghetto every once in a while, and you might be surprised that people who don’t baptize infants can still hold to Reformed theology.

  42. I’m sorry that you’re disappointed Arthur, but I trust that no one is taking you by the ear and forcing you to read the HB.

    You say that it’s about legalism and I say it’s about identity, boundaries, and the future of the Reformed churches.

    You continue to assume that everything that happened before Christ belongs to the “old covenant.” This isn’t what Paul says in 2 Cor 3 or what Heb 7-10 says. They teach that the old covenant refers to the Mosaic epoch (c. 1500 BC) until the death of Christ.

    When the prophets spoke of the new covenant, they were not overturning the Abrahamic covenant. They were announcing the coming end of the temporary Mosaic covenant.

    If that’s so, we’re still in the Abrahamic covenant and we don’t need a new institution of infant initiation. We only need a non-typological sign and seal.

    See Gal 3 on this.


  43. Arthur,

    You wrote, “The elephant in the padeobaptist room is that there is no textual defense or command to baptize infants. Period.”

    The elephant, however, in the credobaptist room is that the command is never given with an age qualification attached to it. Nor is the command ever given a belief qualification. That is, it is never stated to only baptize believing adults. The only qualification that is ever given to baptism is by Jesus in the Great Commission, where he states to baptize “All nations.” The last time I checked “All nations” includes children.

    Generally, credobaptists will resort to example. The only example in Scripture that is ever given to baptism is adults. However, we do not base our biblical dictates upon example, but upon command from God.

  44. Arthur,

    I am glad you quoted Jeremiah 31 but carry on reading past verse 34 and on into the next chapter!

    Jeremiah 32:37-40 “Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: And they shall be my people, and I will be their God: And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.”

    Then turn back to Isaiah 59:20, 21:

    ” And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD. As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.”

    Then turn all the way back to Deuteronomy 30:6:

    “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”

    All of these verses are speaking of the NT age. 🙂

  45. Matthew,

    Double check your reference in Matthew 28. We are to “make disciples of all nations”, then we are to baptize them. While I agree that scripture does not provide an age qualification regarding who can be baptized, it certainly provides a faith qualification. We can argue about whether or not an 8 year old or a 12 year old is capable of making a faith commitment to Christ…but it seems clear a 6 month ago cannot make such a commitment.

    Also, to R. Scott Clark,

    You said, “This strikes me as the typical and, if I may say, desperate, Baptist evasion”. I hope this is not evidence of the degeneration of the conversation. But if so, your comment strikes me as evidence that the one who is desperate is the one who resorts to adjectival insults. Let’s both stick to scripture.

    To rjs1

    But the problem is that even you do not take those verses at face value, though you seem to think you are. Did God really “circumcise the heart” of the seed (i.e. child) when it was still a seed ? The circumcision of the heart in the New Testament is clearly identified as a decision to submit to the Lordship of Christ. Thus, on your interpretation of Deuteronomy, you have to be declaring that an infant is saved. If makes more sense to see this as saying that the salvation of the elect seed is guaranteed. Furthermore, the aspect of “child” is not in view here. Rather, it is the aspect of posterity. And, what is perhaps most damaging to your argument, is that these verses clearly talk about the actual “salvation” of the seed. It says, “my would will not depart out of their mouths”. But, I’ve never met a Reformed person who declares that all babies who have been baptized in Reformed churches are saved and will spend eternity in heaven. It is a fact that many who have been so baptized are not Christian. Rank heretics and apostates have been baptized in reformed churches. Therefore, whatever your passages refer to, they most certainly do not refer to infant baptism–but rather to the salvation of the generalized Christian posterity.

  46. Josh,

    1. You’re still assuming that the “New Covenant” refers to Abraham. This is a HUGE assumption.

    2. This post was never meant to be degenerate into an argument between baptists and paedobaptists. That could go on forever and we’re repeating ourselves. As I said before, the main lines of this argument were sketched out in the 1520s between the Reformed and the Anabaptists. The latter says, “that was then, this is now” and the Reformed say, “We’re in the Abrahamic covenant.”

    As long as the Baptists don’t accept our claim that we’re in the Abrahamic covenant, they’ll never accept the Abrahamic pattern of initiating children.

    Let’s call a halt to the baptism argument.

    Finally, it seems to me that this discussion confirms my basic claim, i.e. that there are fundamental differences between the Baptists and the Reformed. There is a significantly different hermeneutic at work. There is a different ecclesiology. There are two very different views of the sacraments. One sees the sacrament of baptism as a divine promise to be administers to believers and to their children and the other sees it as a human declaration of what has happened or our word to God.

    These differences are sufficient to warrant reserving the name Reformed to those actually believe what the Reformed believed and confessed as churches.

  47. One final quick response.

    Josh, you wrote

    “Double check your reference in Matthew 28. We are to “make disciples of all nations”, then we are to baptize them. While I agree that scripture does not provide an age qualification regarding who can be baptized, it certainly provides a faith qualification. We can argue about whether or not an 8 year old or a 12 year old is capable of making a faith commitment to Christ…but it seems clear a 6 month ago cannot make such a commitment.”

    The qualification in that passage for baptism is still “all nations” as far as a people group, Josh. As far as discipleship, that is not given any qualification either. That is also modified by “all nations” which would include children as well. Especially important when the biblical concept of a covenant family is taken into account.

    Again, Baptists rely on a biblical example of adults being baptized in order to make the assumption that the example is the command. The only direct command in Scripture is not given an age or faith qualification.

  48. Re Scott’s last comment, exactly. This really isn’t a discussion specifically on baptism so much as one generally on systems, thus the term “Reformed.”

    I was just having this dicussion last night with a Revivalist family member, trying to make clear that we are simply in two different traditions and that is why we speak differently, etc. I’d be happy to concede that Broad-Evangelical-Revivalist-Baptists are “Reformed” if by that they mean they stand in the tradition of the Radical Reformation instead of the Reformation-proper. But usually they seem to think they stand with the latter tradition. These discussions go so much easier with Amish or Mennonite folk, who seem to grasp tradition so much better, or good Roman Catholics. Modernity really did a number on some.

  49. …you know, an irony in all this seems to be how we Reformed could easily be comported under a term like “Baptist,” since we are baptizers (infant and adult alike). But despite how easy that might be, you don’t hear many Reformed banging on the Baptist door. The banging seems to come from those for whom it is so difficult to get in.

    …now I have Paul McCartney and Wings in my head.

  50. Dear R. Scott Clark,

    As a Reformed Baptist one of the things that grieves us at times are false statements about what we believe. I’m sure you’ve experiences the same thing. I want to help the discussion by pointing out one in your article. You say:

    “Our Baptist friends reject that reading of redemptive history. They insist that the adjective “old covenant” refers to everything that occurred before the incarnation (despite Paul’s definition of “old covenant” in 2 Cor 3 and despite the way it is used in Hebrews) and therefore the new covenant is so utterly different from Abraham that, despite God’s command to initiate covenant children into the visible church/kingdom, we can no longer initiate covenant children thus.”

    This is false. Confessonal RB’s(1689 London Baptist Confession) do not insist that the adjective “old covenant” refers to everything that occurred before the incarnation. My experience has been that normally the term Old Covenant is understood as referring to the Mosaic Covenant. We do believe that membership in the covenant community under the New Covenant is not a matter of physical birth and descent as under Moses, but is now a matter of spiritual birth. The New Covenant is built “on better promises”. We believe that all God’s historical redemptive covenants are organically and thematically connected and are not separate entirely distinct enactments of God(in other words we are not dispensationalists, nor do we hold to what is called New Covenant Theology) However we believe that the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham did not terminate merely on a physical seed in an physical land but in Christ and those joined to Him by faith who would eventually inherit the whole earth. Galatians 3:26, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus”; Gal. 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise”. Our difference with you is largely over what is new in the new covenant. I think we agree that neither the moral law or the gospel are new. I also think we agree that there is a New Univerality in the New Covenant(the incorporation of the Gentiles). We RB’s also believe in a New and Better Covenant Community under the New Covenant. This is connected to a greater spirituality of the covenant community, since all it’s legitimate members know the Lord, have their sins forgiven, and are given a new heart. The Old Covenant required repentance and faith but did not promise to give them. The New Covenant promises to give to all those who in God’s eternal purpose are included in it, the required response. Their sins and iniquities he remembers no more, he writes his law on their hearts, he puts his fear within them so that they do not depart from Him.

    Concernkng the regulative principle… it is our commitment to that princple that provides another reason we do not baptize infants. We do not find one command anywhere in the N.T. or in scripture anywhere to do so. Thus we consider ourselves to be more true to the regulative principle than our paedobaptist brothers.

    However we will still let you refer to yourselves as Reformed 🙂 Just kidding brother 🙂

    Together with You in Christ,

    Jeff Smith, Pastor
    Covenant Reformed Baptist Church
    Easley, SC

  51. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for your post. I do see that the IRBS folk (I don’t know if you are one) do speak as we do re Moses. I was referring to more typical discussions with predestinarian Baptists who have simply appended predestination to their existing theology and reading of redemptive history.

    Aren’t you still doing “that was then…this is now”? with Abraham? I agree that there is a difference of degree, but does that difference of degree between promise and fulfillment warrant abandoning the positive command (which is a biblical command!) to initiate infants? Why? How?

    Of course, on your argument, as you know, females could not come to the table, could they?

    We understand the “better” aspect of the New Covenant relative to Moses. You seem to be wanting to have it both ways; OC = Moses but NC is “better” relative to Abraham. The “better” aspect is relative to Moses in the context in which it occurs.

    The difference between Abraham and us is the difference between typology and fulfillment and not between Old and New.

    As to the RPW, we do a number of things based on the general equity of the typological revelation as we have precious little data as to NT worship. I’m a very firm adherent to the RPW but I don’t t think that dog will hunt.

  52. “You continue to assume that everything that happened before Christ belongs to the “old covenant.” This isn’t what Paul says in 2 Cor 3 or what Heb 7-10 says.”

    Dr Clark,

    Would you mind expounding on this, or pointing me to an article which defends your assertion (specifically the 2 Cor 3 instance)? Thank you for your time.


  53. Mason,

    See this paper on baptism.

    The point is that, in 2 Cor 3:15, Paul contrasts the New Covenant with the “Old Covenant” (v.14) he identifies the Old Covenant with Moses. He does not contrast the New Covenant with with Abraham. He doesn’t identify the Old Covenant with Abraham. Too many (most) Baptists simply assume that everything that happened before the incarnation may be assigned to the Old Covenant. This is a false assumption and it is a bedrock assumption of the Baptist view that “that was then, this is now.” That might be true of Moses and the Old Covenant, in certain respects, and true relative to types and their fulfillment, but it’s not true that the pattern established in Gen 17 can be dismissed as irrelevant to New Covenant practice.

    This is why paedobaptists insist that the promise is still “I will be a God to you AND to your children.” Nothing about the incarnation changes that promise. Baptists must make it go away by associating it with the Old Covenant.

    This is similar to the move made by antinomians when they wholly identify the decalogue with Moses and ignore its creational roots. If they can succeed in identifying the decalogue with Moses and, if Moses has been utterly fulfilled, then they can do away with the decalogue. If, however, the decalogue is rooted in creation and only the typological elements are fulfilled (e.g. the land promise) then the substance of the decalogue, because it is moral and creational, persists into the New Covenant.

    See also how the writer to the Hebrews contrasts the new and better covenant with Moses in Heb 7-10. In 7:19 “the law made nothing perfect.” It’s even clearer in 8:6ff that the contrast is between Moses the New Covenant. So too in 9:4 and in the subsequent uses.

    The NT interpretation of the phrase “Old Covenant” refers it to Moses. This is how the NT interprets the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah.

    The Baptist attempt to make the New Covenant so utterly spiritual and eschatological as to do away with the Abrahamic promise, “I will be a God to you and to your children” fails at a basic level.

    The continuity of substance and even with the pattern of initiating believers and their children into the visible covenant of grace (the visible church) explains why Peter says in Acts 2:39, “for the promise is to you (believers) and to your children….” This is a re-instatement of the Abrahamic promise.

    For paedobaptists the only way to read this language is as re-statement of the promise and the command to initiate children into the covenant community. With this language there is no need of an explicit command, “Baptize children.” This is it.

    We are Abraham’s children and it won’t do to try to dirty up Abraham by associating him with Moses and the Old Covenant and it’s fulfillment and abolition by Christ.

  54. After more than 60 comments I’m sure I have little to add, but as a Reformed Baptist I can’t help but find this amusing on some level.

    Of course, even Reformed Baptists debate within themselves which are “truly” Reformed Baptists (e.g., Sabbath issues).

    As I read through the original post and even the update, I found myself thinking that with so many caveats the definition really loses its significance.

    To say one must agree with the creeds and then say well, you can change the creeds as long as you don’t change what we who change them consider the essence, then you’re okay … well, it just becomes a shell game, doesn’t it?

    Wouldn’t Reformed Baptists say they’ve modified the creeds, but not in such a way as to change the essence of being Reformed?

    I remember the first conversation I had with a guy insisting on strict adherence to the WCF in its fullness. I was like, “Well, I don’t think the Pope is THE anti-Christ.” And he was like, “Oh, yeah, nobody does. That part’s not important.’

    I disagree that the definition doesn’t exclude Owen or Edwards. If Owen could have affirmed the WCF, then he wouldn’t have been involved in the Savoy Declaration.

    What about Zwingli, incidentally?

    Look, the adjectival labels aren’t all that helpful anyway (e.g., “evangelical”). Why not just have people identify themselves by denominational loyalty or statement of faith.

    Westminsterian is perhaps not as catchy, but it works, although I’m not personally a fan of changing creeds without changing the names of them.

  55. Gunny,

    One point. It doesn’t follow that because Owen was involved in the Savoy that he couldn’t have signed the WCF. One of the three major groups at the Assembly were independents/congregationalists. So far as I know, there’s nothing of substance in the WCF with which Owen disagreed.

    The question is: Is the adjective Reformed defined by ecclesiastical bodies and documents or is it privately defined by a million whims?

  56. “Look, the adjectival labels aren’t all that helpful anyway (e.g., ‘evangelical’). Why not just have people identify themselves by denominational loyalty or statement of faith.”

    If my own time within the CRC has taught anything it is that there seems quite a difference between a loyalty to denomination and one to the Reformed tradition. Granted, it’s hard to dispell the mistaken perception that Reformed confessionalists conflate “denomination” with “church” when they actually do it (!) But the best of the tradition seems able to discern right from wrong.

    Parochialism seems to have two versions, good and bad. The bad kind does things like throw year long 150-birthday parties for itself and promote a glorified culturalism. The good kind, well, actually transcends blind adherence to a denomination.

  57. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for your post. I’m a member of a Sovereign Grace Ministries church who arrived there after leaving the Canadian Reformed Churches. We hold to the doctrines of grace and are indebted to Reformed theologians, but calling ourselves “essentially Reformed” like we do is misleading, I agree. It confuses the discussion by watering down the word.

    (That said, those of us who are credobaptists and/or charismatics not only believe these convictions are more biblical but are actually more consistent with the doctrines of grace. That’s a separate debate, of course.)

    I only hope that those who subscribe to the Reformed confessions are able to rejoice as they see the doctrines of grace take root in surprising places.

  58. Dr. Clark,
    I too am in the ARBCA/IRBS orbit and hold to a baptized covenant theology. To add to Jeff Smith’s comments and your response – a definitive question for me while I was studying at a Reformed seminary (reading Murray, Warfield, RF White, others on the subject) was: what is baptism?

    What troubled me most about the paedobaptist argument was the assumed link between baptism and circumcision as corresponding covenant signs. I couldn’t see any exegetical basis for it. Was baptism a covenant sign in the same way as circumcision? There are similarities as an initiative rite, but does similarity = correspondence. (I of course do not see Colossians 2 as being adequate to make this link…) The only explicit covenant sign in the NT is the Lord’s Supper. What exactly was baptism in the minds of the apostles and early church?

    So I began to ask this question: if the link between baptism and circumcision is true, “WHEN” did baptism replace circumcision conceptually? When did the NT realize baptism was the corresponding NC sign?

    Thinking chronologically the NT, I realized that John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples never would have made that link – they were baptizing Jews (already circumcised people) – baptism was something in addition, something different, equated with repentance and cleansing. It’s significant that John the Baptist told these Jews, “Don’t say we have Abraham as our Father! Bear fruits of repentance.” Baptism was of repentance.

    The first time baptism and circumcision could have been conceptually linked was at the inclusion of the Gentiles. But they weren’t. Peter says, “Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” He never made the connection – and that we know because the Judaizer controversy began to evolve – the question being, “Shouldn’t we be circumcizing these people?” Even after Acts 15, the Judaizer controversy continued. Why? Why was Paul still dealing with it in Galatians? Why did Paul have to write, “Circumcision or uncircumcision avails nothing! Only new creation!” Paul never made the conceptual link with baptism in the thick of the controversy.

    This of course is the baptist argument from silence. My question became: if the NT writers and early church never conceptually equated baptism and circumcision (a covenant argument for infant baptism was never made in the first four centuries of church history – contra the paedobaptist argument from silence), what exactly was baptism in the purview of the NT? Left with NT evidence, baptism is a sign of repentance, faith, the presence of the Holy Spirit, identification with Christ, new creation, etc.

    I have often thought it is even possible (as you mention) for people to view their children as “in” the covenant of grace and not baptize them because baptism serves a different function. (I don’t hold such a view, but see it as possible given this line of reasoning.)

    Is there then any covenant precursor to baptism (as required by covenant theology)? There are many. The waters of the flood, the baptismal laver for the priests (undergone at 30 years of age, a la Jesus’ baptism…) to name a few.

    Anyway, thought I would submit this since the discussion was begun…

  59. Your blog adds weird smileys that I didn’t write in. Wouldn’t do that!

  60. I know Scott said not to continue the debate, but I just wanted to correct a comment on Matt. 28 from Josh Gelatt, who said that Matt. 28 says we are to make disciples and then baptize. This is simply not what Matt. 28 says grammatically. What it says is “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing…and teaching…”: “baptizing” and “teaching” are present participles, so they do not introduce sequence relative to the main verb. They are in fact the means by which the main verb is accomplished: the church makes disciples by baptizing and teaching. On Josh’s view, we would have to make them disciples, and then teach them, which doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. So, baptizing is an important part of discipleship, to which children as well as adults are called. Should we not teach the youngest children to do what Christ has commanded? If that part of discipleship applies from the earliest age, then why doesn’t baptism? Those are rhetorical questions, by the way. The point is not to continue the 400 year old debate here, but correct an erroneous view of Matt. 28:19–“baptizing” in that verse in not subsequent to the making disciples, by the mere structure of the language.

  61. Thank you very much for the link, and especially your reply. Succinctly stated, is the difference, then, between the Baptist and the Reformed concerning the Abrahamic Covenant that the Baptist spiritualizes the entire covenant whereas the Reformed see continuing and binding physical aspects of the covenant?

  62. I agree with Randy. I am not just a Calvinistic Baptist, I am Reformed. I am Covenantal in my theology, and not just merely a 5-pointer and a Baptist.


  63. Mason,

    I’m not sure what you mean by “spiritualizes.” I’m not sure what Baptists do with Abraham. I know what Paul does with him. He says that Abraham is the father of all believers. He isn’t a mirage. We have a genuine link. That link is Christ. Abraham was looking forward to Christ (John 8:56). Christ is the “the seed” (Gal 3). In his circumcision Abraham was identified with Christ’s “circumcision” (being cut off; death) on the cross. In our baptism we are identified with Christ’s death (Col 2:11-12). Abraham was looking for a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11). We have the same faith.

    The Abrahamic covenant was a spiritual covenant with physical signs/seals. The New Covenant is a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant, of the covenant of grace. It is spiritual and it has physical signs/seals.

    Children were included in the administration of the covenant of grace under Abraham and children are included in the administration of the covenant of grace under Christ.

    The typological aspects of the Abrahamic covenant have been fulfilled and replaced. The substance (what makes a thing what is) remains the same however.

  64. Matt,

    Everything you argue could also have been argued against infant circumcision, except that God instituted it! This is why I say that all Baptists have an over-realized eschatology. The Baptist view has too much of the “already” and not enough of the “Not Yet.” The covenant of grace has a substance AND an administration. The substance is eternal, the administration is temporal. It, the administration of the covenant of grace, has always included Esaus and Ishmaels, by divine command. The administration of the covenant of grace also includes Jacobs and Isaacs. They live side-by-side in the visible covenant community with the Esaus and Ishmaels. When the end comes, the messiness of the administration of the covenant will end, but not till then.

  65. […]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.[…]

  66. All,

    This has been a very informative, challenging, and interesting post with equally thought-provoking comments. Let me just weigh in a bit.

    I am a Calvinist credo-baptist who realizes that he doesn’t know a whole lot yet. I will be attending Covenant College, a PCA school, in the fall, majoring in Biblical Studies. I expect that they will probably put up a great deal of argument against my view, and I’m OK with that. I want to finally settle on this issue.

    I don’t think that we should make the definition of “Reformed” to include everything in the confessions talked about above. This, I think, brings an unnecessary divide in the Calvinist world. The gospel is, I believe, of first importance (to quote a “Reformed Charismatic”…), and that should be our point of unification. Ecclesiology, covenant theology, and the sacraments are important issues, but not worth all of this semantical nitpicking. I think it would be best to define “Reformed” as referring to the five points of Calvinism, the five Solas, and the resulting worldview that views all things as existing for God’s glory. This creates more unity between people of different denominations, traditions, and creeds, which, in this age of deficient views of the gospel, is vitally needed.

    I understand the desire to preserve the purity of the Reformed faith as “truly Reformed” people view it. But I think there needs to be more loyalty to Scripture than to denominational traditions (a typical Baptist objection, I know). I don’t want to start an argument about paedo-vs.-credo-baptist, though, because I really don’t know much, and I’m sure I would get creamed in a debate by all of the more educated Presbyterians and such. I think, honestly, that a church can coexist with people who believe both. Whether or not a church like this SHOULD allow both practices in one congregation is up for debate, however.

    Just a further thought: perhaps we should do away with the label “Reformed” altogether and replace it with the one “Reforming”. I think “Reformed” carries the unwanted notion of complete understanding. “Reforming”, on the other hand, leaves room for growth and further sharpening of understanding. In this sense, then, both credo- and paedo-baptists would be considered “Reforming”, because neither group possesses complete knowledge of any theological subject. This, again, creates more unity.

    I think unity is really important, because everyone who actually holds to TULIP believes the same gospel. And unity on this issue is more important than unity on sacraments and such, because the world is not transformed by infant baptism, but by the gospel.

    Feel free to ignore everything I’ve said, because I’m only seventeen and don’t know hardly anything. Hopefully I’ve been humble and gracious.

    Taylor Fletcher

  67. It seems to me that “Reformed” is a little difficult to characterize confessionally, since the Reformed confessions themselves do not agree on every point of doctrine. Adding in the “received by the churches” clause makes it even muddier–after all, the liberal PCUSA “receives” the WCF in its own way.

    I would suggest, borrowing from an idea in mathematics, one look at the “set intersection” of the Reformation-era Reformed confessions, i.e. what they all have in common. They don’t all share a theory of church administration, for example, but they [i]do[/i] share a commitment to infant baptism. They don’t all share affirmative theses on the Lord’s Supper (Calvin’s views were not adopted universally), but they do share negative theses (Luther’s and Aquinas’ views were universally rejected).

    That would be more definite, I think.

  68. Dr. Clark, I’m not sure if I understood your response or if you misunderstood understood mine. Were you responding to me or another Matt? How could everything I argue be also used against infant circumcision?

    I was asking the question – “when” did baptism replace circumcision (redemptive-historically or exegetically)? Did the NT church ever conceptually connect baptism and circumcision? I think the preponderance of evidence is: they did not. To me, the paedobaptist argument stands or falls on this connection. Since I could not justify it, I was thrown back to the question: what exactly is baptism according to the NT? Starting there, you have to arrive at a very different answer than the paedobaptist gives.

  69. Hi Matt,

    I think I understood your response.

    Take all your arguments against infant baptism and apply them to infant circumcision and see what happens. If you can find a way to get rid of infant circumcision, if you can set it up so that infant circumcision doesn’t meet the tests that you set up (for the spirituality of the covenant of grace or whatever tests you want to establish) then you’ll see that you’ve set up fine tests that contradict the express command of God.

    This is why I say that the Baptist view is ultimately grounded in over-realized eschatology. This isn’t heaven. This is just the new covenant. All that Old Covenant language about the New Covenant is just that. It’s not meant to be taken literally. It’s meant to be read as describing the New Covenant in Old Covenant terms. This is how the NT takes that language.

    This is the very same hermeneutic we use to deal with the chiliasts (who’re looking for a literal 1000 years or a literal fulfillment of OT prophecies during the millennium and the like).

    When did baptism replace circumcision? When Jesus gave the great commission, when Peter called believers and their children to be baptized in Acts 2:39.

    What is baptism? It is a ritual identification with Christ’s death, just as circumcision was. The latter anticipated Christ’s death, which Paul calls a circumcision in Col 2:11-12. This is why Paul says that those who are united to Christ sola gratia et sola fide are “the true circumcision” (Phil 3:3), because we are united to Christ who was circumcised (cut off) for us. I read Heb 13:11 in this light. Jesus became the curse symbolized by circumcision.

  70. R. Scott Clark wrote: “The question is: Is the adjective Reformed defined by ecclesiastical bodies and documents or is it privately defined by a million whims?”

    That question is certainly valid. Words do indeed mean things.

    Honestly, when asked to define Reformed (which happens a lot since we’re in the SBC), I go back to the Solas and explain it more as a world view than as a body of doctrine.

    I think the doctrinal statements come out of the mindset (though so much the magisterial aspects).

    I’m not so much against definition (or advocating minimalistic ones), far from it, but sometimes they can become so narrowly defined as to become unhelpful.

  71. Why is it paedobaptists never finish Acts 2:39? Or bother to look at the following verses. Lets look at what Peter says:

    38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

    He tells them to repent first because repentance is an essential part of faith. Note that in the verse that is so often taken out of context Peter makes it clear when he specifies that the promise belongs to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” We know that the evidence of God’s call is repentance and faith in Christ. Luke only records that those who received Peter’s word were baptized, if the promise were baptism then Luke would have recorded that their infants were baptized as well, because one cannot ascertain that an infant has accepted the gospel.

    Regarding this skewed understanding of the covenant you guys have Paul says in Galatians 3:7 “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Covenant relationship is based on faith. A further note Col. 2:11-12 is referring to regeneration or as it is called in the Old Testament circumcision of the heart, it is not a reference to physical baptism but being baptized into Christ which happens at conversion.

  72. Oh no, now I’m a biblicist and non-reformed!?! Oh woe is me. Dr. Clark, can I still be a Christian? Is it okay with you if a use that label?

    I’m glad that according to your definition Karl Barth is still reformed.

  73. Robert,

    Well, Barth denied the Reformed confessions at several key points. He even became a Baptist. Barth thought of himself as Reformed but he wasn’t very Reformed at all. He had grave trouble with the Trinity. The decree swallowed up history. Berkouwer says he was a universalist. He denied the historicity of Adam. He denied the covenant of works. He denied the infallibility of Scripture. We’re he a minister in a Reformed church with any discipline he would and should have been defrocked.

  74. Gunny,

    does it matter that the Reformed confessions are public, ecclesiastical documents and that you, as a private person, are offering your own, private, idiosyncratic definition?

  75. Steven,

    Your post illustrates my critique that the Baptist view reflects an over-realized eschatology.

    What’s happening in Acts 2:39 is the fulfillment of Gen 15 and 17. Abraham’s children are about to become as many as the sands on the shore. The promise is going to all the nations, to believers and to their children.

    Yes, narrowly the promise is to the elect, but broadly, in terms of administration, just as it was for Esau and Ishmael, the covenant is administered to all the children of believers.

    Baptists have set up a system that excludes Ishmael and Esau. The latter is certainly not elect (Rom 9) and the promise was not administered through Ishmael, but both of them were included in the administration of the covenant of grace. Read Gen 17 very carefully. As soon as God finished saying that the promise is not to Ishmael and his line, Abraham circumcised Ishmael! He was included into the visible covenant community, given the “covenant in your flesh.”

    Baptists have set up a system that denies infant circumcision.

  76. We don’t deny that infants were circumcised, or establish a system that does. We see in the New Testament the sign and seal of the covenant of grace being restricted to those who have been transformed in a saving way by that grace. By your reasoning one ought not withhold baptism from an adult pagan because the promise is all inclusive. The issue is as has been noted by men such as Warfield, Murray, and Sproul along with many others, is that there is no explicit statement of infant baptism as being the practice of the New Testament church. Neither is it seen as something necessarily inferred by Scripture. To argue along the lines of the great commission as being where baptism replaces circumcision opens up one hole in your argument. Christ’s command was to make and baptize disciples, it does not say baptize disciples and their infants who are unregenerate.

  77. Can I suggest a few (evidently controversial)things briefly? The NT is God’s full and final word in progressive revelation;it reveals a Christocentric hermeneutic;’covenants’ are historical enactments in our time and space;they are teleological-the promise delivered to Abraham is temporally,literally,’pictorially’fulfilled in the ancillary Old Covenant,and eternally,spiritually in the New;there is a marked discontinuity between Old and New;the fulfilment of the picture of circumcision is regeneration,not…

  78. …water baptism;NT examples of water baptism are not necessarily public;faith has aways been the vehicle for justification,yet the content of saving faith is necessarily greater in this the New Covenant era of the fulfilment of the promise;the faith that is heaven-born and patterns that of Abraham counts but loss all earthly genealogy and heritage…sorry the pithy,double post…am posting via mobile phone.

  79. Dr. Clark, your argument falls to its own accusation. While you complain that the definition of “Refomed” is being stretched too far, you then define “Baptist” too broadly and knock down the straw man.

    I discussed this post with other Reformed Baptists and my friend Tom Hicks wrote an excellent and pointed reply:


    I’d recommend that Dr. Clark and others read it. It is a calm and even handed response.

  80. Sir,what’s happening in Acts2v39 is indeed the ultimate,spiritual fulfilment of the promise to Abraham-concerning Christ in the New Covenant. But you’re mixing apples and oranges-the natural with the spiritual. The biblical fulfilment is the free offer of the gospel coming to all men(whether elect or not),requiring(and supplying in those called)faith and gospel repentance. Paul would have slated any Christianized Judaistic scheme that has any spiritual blessing conferred by any work. Galatians ends that.

  81. Sorry for posting again…superior as I believe they are biblically (epistemologically speaking)at certain points,yet the ‘1689baptist’is,by being so,logically inconsistent with his Covenant theology,in contrast with the’Westminsternarian’. Yet, it seems that such an organizing grid for reading the scriptures (based on theological but not biblical ‘covenants’)has to be deduced by the logic of subjective,uninspired man,and then read into the text. But then one is left with a conditioned bible.

  82. Phil,

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve written extensively against any ex opere view of the sacraments.

    I think you’re failing to distinguish between the substance of the covenant of grace and its administration. God operates through means and administers his promises through means.

    The Baptist problem is that that, in order to facilitate their over-realized eschatology, they must exclude children from the administration of the covenant of grace.

    It is the Baptist view of the sacrament that tends to reduce it to a work. It becomes not a divine promise but a human testimony. I fear you’ve confused the Baptist mistake for the Reformed view.

  83. I’ll clarify…the vehicle of blessing is only and ever faith-both in justification and sanctification. ‘Covenant membership’for unbelievers has some sort of blessing bestowed on the basis of genealogy,apart from faith…but that is to be expected with a ‘Covenant of works-grace’schema that makes the New Covenant ‘new administration’ of the old,national old Covenant Israel the church,the church of today a baptized Israel. I believe both 1689 baptists and yourselves fail to have a realized eschatology…

  84. …that adequately reflects the superiority of the Melchizedecan priesthood over the Levitical. A change in the priesthood brings a change in the law(and thus the whole gamut of the Covenant!). Have you,for example,interacted with any of the material in ‘Abraham’s Four Seeds’ by John Reisinger?Getting the New Covenant right is the strength of Spirit-born holiness. The fulness of ‘not under law,but under grace’,the means for service in the new way of the Spirit,rather than the old way of the written code.

  85. Phil,

    You keep begging the question! When the NT says “the law” in such contexts, it isn’t referring to Abraham. Yes, when it says, “the law and the prophets” and the like, that’s a synechdoche for “The typological revelation from Genesis to Malachi” but usually “the law” refers to the Mosaic covenant. It’s a synonym for “the old covenant.”

    As to the vehicle of blessing, I agree that the only instrument of justification and sanctification is faith. Sola fide. You must have missed the last 9 years of argument against the FV and NPP etc.

    The question is whether the Scriptures and the Reformed faith teach “the means of grace,” and they certainly do. Rom 4 calls circumcision a “sign” and “seal.” Rom 10 says that the Spirit operates through the preaching of the holy gospel to bring sinners to faith. See also HC 65 and WSC 88.

    We’re not Quakers or Anabaptists.

  86. Tim,

    Any sacramental system that unbaptizes the entire Reformed church ipso facto cannot be “Reformed” any more than any system that deposes the Pope can be Roman Catholic. There are some elements of Romanism and some elements of the Reformed theology, piety, and practice that are essential to being Reformed.

    If we say that those who deny infant baptism are Reformed, even though the Reformed churches confess that Scripture explicitly and implicitly requires it and even though the Reformed churches explicitly denounce the Anabaptist error of denying infant baptism, then there is no objective definition of “Reformed.”

    Either the Reformed churches get to define the adjective Reformed, over against the Anabaptist radicals, Rome, the Remonstrants, and our Lutheran cousins, or they do not.

    If those who deny that our children are baptized are to be regarded as “Reformed,” then why aren’t the Remonstrants Reformed? Why is predestination more important to being Reformed than the sign and seal of the covenant of grace?

    I’m pretty sure I’m repeating myself. Time to move on.

  87. Yes, you are indeed repeating yourself. Which means that I didn’t communicate clearly since you seemed to miss entirely what I’ve said. And it probably is time to move on but I have a history of overstaying my welcome 🙂 .

    There is a form of Baptist theology that rose from the English Reformation, that takes its form of theology from the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration.

    Still, from what you’ve said, a Baptist who holds to that confession and believes in the Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Grace, the perpetuity of the Decalogue (including the Sabbath), the Regulative Principle of Worship, the unity of Old Covenant Israel and the New Covenant Church, Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Table, and the Five Solas somehow is not Reformed. I simply don’t think it follows.

    I understand and agree with Covenant Theology, I simply do not agree that the inferences that lead to infant baptism are necessary inferences; I don’t reject the theological structure.

    As you may know, on the campus of WTS-CA is the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies headed by Dr. Jim Renihan. If you have some time and interest, perhaps you could talk with him and explain to him how he isn’t Reformed. Jim is a patient and learned man and I think the discussion would be helpful for both of you. (Gee, I hope he doesn’t mind that I just volunteered him!)

    Oh, and by the way, I am not happy with how the term Reformed Baptist is applied these days. Any Baptist who is a Calvinist seems to fit, even Dispensationalists. That simply isn’t right. However, I don’t think it is accurate to throw out all Baptists as a rule.

  88. R. Scott Clark wrote: “Gunny,

    does it matter that the Reformed confessions are public, ecclesiastical documents and that you, as a private person, are offering your own, private, idiosyncratic definition?”

    Perhaps, but I would submit you’re swimming in the same waters. I’m using the “Solas” as a plumbline. You’re using “confessions” as such, but one wonders which confession, since they are necessarily not uniform.

    Why not use the Reformers themselves? Why hold to, for example, a view of Sabbath (e.g., WCF) that the Reformers did not?

    Is one truly Reformed if Calvin and Luther would disagree on such a huge issue?

    Again, what about Zwingli? Would he still be allowed to be considered Reformed by your definition?

  89. Hi Gunny,

    The sola’s are a necessary but not a sufficient condition to be Reformed. One can’t be Reformed without them but holding them doesn’t make one Reformed.

    I take it that you were or are a Marine. A coastie has a uniform and takes an oath but he or she is not a Marine. We don’t send Coasties to take hills or assault positions. Oaths and uniforms are necessary but not sufficient to being a Marine.

    The Reformed churches confess much more than just soteriology an the authority of Scripture. Your standard reduces the Reformed confession from 7-8 loci to 2 loci.

    We confess a doctrine of the church and sacraments. Our Baptist friends disagree with us. Okay, but how can they be Reformed and disagree with fundamental Reformed doctrines and practice?

    Is Zwingli Reformed? Well, he died before the French, Belgic, Heidelberg, and Canons or even the Second Helvetic were formed and adopted. He was an early Reformed theologian. He had significant problems (e.g. Christology, sacraments) but is usually regarded as a Reformed theologian. Would we ordain him today with the views he held at death? I don’t know. He was pretty vague on justification. Did he probably agree with us? Probably but I would query him closely on the supper. Was he broadly Reformed? Sure. Our churches, however, are more than broadly Reformed. Reformed theology in the 1560s and in 1619 and in 1647 was more mature than in 1531-32.

  90. “Why not use the Reformers themselves? Why hold to, for example, a view of Sabbath (e.g., WCF) that the Reformers did not?

    Is one truly Reformed if Calvin and Luther would disagree on such a huge issue?”

    One might just be truly Lutheran.

    Seriously though, since when did the definition of a tradition come down to what one or two men “thought about an issue”? Again, the question reveals how different ecclesiologies are at work here, one churchly/public/institutional and one individualistic/private. One appeals to a patchwork quilt of individuals (their stature notwithstanding), the other to a systematic and churchly confession.

  91. Interesting piece! Thanks for the history. I believe this piece has emphasized the problems with labels through the centuries.

    Now we don’t know who is an Evangelical anymore. From this standpoint is taken. I guess Reformed Baptists need to fight for this one.

  92. No, sir, no question begging – but you’re misunderstanding me. I’ll try and make myself more clear. Please bear with me. As a “new covenant ‘theologian‘” I pretty much agree with what you defined “Law” as. But, viewing (I believe with the New testament authority of example) the whole of scripture teleologically, redemptive-historically, I would see less room than you for other than this mode of reading of the old testament – as you have a “mathematical” unity of scripture with your covenant theology. Thus I see the “law and the Prophets” is the Old Testament scriptures in toto. “Testament” (apart from where it refers to a “will”) should be translated “covenant”. So, in view of New testament usage, and the fact that that which (in the literal reading) predominantly makes up the old testament writing is historically “old covenant”, it would be fair to call the Old Testament scriptures the “old covenant” scriptures – so long as ( I agree with you with this point) we realize that they cover more than just the old (Mosaic) Covenant. The New Testament (“covenant”) scriptures do indeed deal with the old testament this way – particularly, Paul in Galatians, and the writer of Hebrews – writing with a definite redemptive-historical, Christocentric view of scripture – definitely structure history around the Christ-event dealing with the contrast between the old and new covenants – biblical, historical enactments in our time and space (as opposed to different “administrations” of theological “covenants”, which we have no scriptural authority to define as such and thus eisegete the text where it deals with actual, historical “covenants”). “Law” I agree is a synonym for the “Mosaic Covenant” – for this reason – that the nature of that covenant was one of “works” – it was a “law” covenant – its summary statement the Ten Commandments (Ex34v28). But where again I differ from you, is that you have a part of that “Law” transcending (historical) covenants – because of your covenant theology. When I brought up Heb7v12 – the change in the priesthood bringing a law change, then – it was in the context of a redemptive-historical take on Hebrews – not a covenant theology take. The writer is arguing the superiority of the New Covenant over the old – and the obsolescence of the old now the New is here. But a “covenant” is “one ball of wax”. It has its priesthood, law, etc. Change one bit (nobody denies the priesthood had changed)and the whole covenant goes. That includes its law. In this case, the entire 613 commands of the old covenant, of which the 10 Commandments were the summary statement to that covenant document. And the new covenant has a new law – albeit spiritual, rather than in the letter of the old written code, and a different (higher) content. We don’t have exegetical authority to keep one part of the law (that transcends covenants) and foist it upon a different covenant. All law – whatever that looks like – comes in the way it is intended to come, according to the character of the covenant in belongs to.

    All this is to say, that such things obviously determine one’s respective views on continuity/discontinuity…thus you will have things being “brought over” that someone with my views will not.

    However (and this is why I wasn’t begging the question) the question is, what about the Abrahamic Covenant? But it all depends on how we see the Abrahamic, Old, and New Covenants relating to each other. As I tried to outline in post on May 4th at 12:39 pm (and taking my view strictly [I hope] from God’s New Covenant treatment of the same – particularly Galatians), I see the Abrahamic covenant thus; in its immediate, contextual setting, it has reference to literal, “natural” promises (largely to national Israel). That’s not to say that Abraham had no sense of an ultimate, spiritual fulfilment. But the New Covenant, founded on the death and resurrection of Christ, is this fulfilment, which is the teleological “pinnacle“. Paul writes in Galatians that the promise (using typology on the original “to you and you [naturally promised] seed” to deliver the antitype) – is fulfilled in Christ and those “in him” by faith. The Abrahamic promise was a gospel promise, in a teleological sense. It was the fundamental covenant that revealed what God was going to do in his Son for mankind. The Old Covenant Law added nothing to the promise (that was to be fulfilled on grace terms). But it did, in an ancillary sense, provide the circumstances for its outworking (e.g. Rom11), served a pedagogical and custodial purpose for those “under it”, and serves as typologically attesting to the New Covenant which is the fulfilment of its types and shadows. The New Covenant is thus truly new…and its everything! It will only be bettered, so far as it is consummated in a new heaven and earth. Abraham did not receive the fulfilment of the promises like believers are privileged with today (Heb11v39,40). Likewise, the Old Covenant believers had not received the privileges of sons (Gal3,4), but were under the strict pedagogue of the Law, “heirs in waiting” to be delivered into the glorious liberty that was experientially theirs in the New Covenant. Nonetheless, they were justified by faith alone on account of a faith that was forward-looking in expectation of these things, and was an answer to a sense of God’s kindness and goodness. But they couldn’t have had the content of faith that New Covenant believers have.

    Circumcision, then, and its place or any equivalent, must be determined by New Covenant treatment. It’s treated in the New Testament as a reference to its antitype – as post-Pentecost regeneration, a “new heart” indwelt by the Spirit, sanctifying according to such gospel privileges. Baptism is treated somewhat similarly as well, yet it also clearly has some signification as a physical symbol. But (and also in view of the fact that NT examples are not necessarily a public sign to a visible church, which as an association with circumcision would seem to be necessary), the purpose of the symbol must be based on what it signifies spiritually. Its signification clearly refers to believers.

    Wrt “means of grace” – I don’t like the phrase – I think its unhelpful. It conjures up the idea of some sort of synergistic cooperation with God, whereby I do such and such that is commanded in a formal enactment, and he will give me some grace uniquely in that formal setting, on that basis. I presume this is “sacramentalism” ?. It ties grace too much to the “doing” of some formality – rather than baptism, or the Lord’s supper, being symbols that help the gospel faith I already have to see the grace I already have and thus receive grace on grace, on that basis. Rom 4’s reference to the “sign and seal” is historical – used in a proof of Abraham’s coming into right standing with God by faith alone, not his genealogy. (The same goes for those who’s faith patterns the faith of Abraham.) We can’t base any argument for baptism’s replacement of circumcision, or its reference to unbelieving children, on this reference. Again, in Rom10, an official enactment of monologue preaching before a gathered congregation is not uniquely what Paul has in mind. He’s just saying that people have to hear the truth to understand it, that they may believe it. Again, such texts must be eisegeted with the presuppositions that one brings from elsewhere. The system that is (logically consistent) covenant theology (“Westministernarian”) drives one’s expectations. Thus one sees what one wants to see, and the system is reinforced in a cyclical fashion.

    But, it is surely more “reformed” to derive one’s hermeneutic solely from texts of scripture. If the NT says “this is how this is to be viewed”, then I had better view it in that way, as that’s what God intends me to do. It’s to my loss if I don’t. And I should not raise questions that scripture doesn’t answer. I should make sure I stick with just the questions and answers it gives. Covenant Theology flattens out progressive revelation – it flattens out the bible. Thus, when you (rightly – unlike the classic dispensationalist who doesn‘t have a unity of scripture – a “single” purpose of God in history – and thus can’t see the New Covenant as the ultimate fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham) come to the Old Testament with (some) New Testament understanding, you tend to 1)lose the literal sense of the Old Testament (which obviously – and rightly – rattles the dispensationalists!) by reading the New Testament into the Old (as if – to borrow another’s illustration – the Old Testament Israelite sat in his tent with a copy of John Murray’s “redemption applied”!; and then 2) read this understanding of the Old into the New, and limit the newness of the New Covenant. And you never get out of that cycle, and always appeal to the confessions as the authoritative expression of that same cycle!…The fact that we have such a thing as progressive revelation is clear from, say, Heb 1v1,2, 1Pe1v9-12, Eph3v1-6.

    I guess, as I have seen John Reisinger say – my views on the newness of the new covenant make me doctrinally to be somewhat in the line of both “Reformed” people, and “Anabaptists”(?)Though that’s incidental. I guess – as I indicated – “New Covenant Theology” – and while not entirely monolithic – shares some of its doctrine/epistemology with “covenant theology”, and some with “dispensationalism“. But again, that’s not by design – but by virtue of attempting consistent, “sola scriptura” exegesis – from which a redemptive-historical hermeneutic naturally “falls out”… as I understand it, similar treatment was to be found in the early church…and its often said that the 1st London Baptist confession – without the covenant theology basis that the 1689 Baptists took hold of – is more in line. But quoting the confessions as authoritative does the handling of these issues no good! It’s question begging! Also – and I know that you’re the historian – am I correct that, while the seeds of covenant theology are present in reformers such as Calvin, it was not “worked out” as a system until Ursinus et al? Thus it would seem that some of the principles that the earlier worthies never fully got away from, become evident in their crystalline form in the system that becomes CT. But then to define them by the fully worked out implications of Ctism – and the term “Reformed” by those same (and later) implications – seems to be a bit stretched. Still, that’s one for the historians, not for the biblical theologians.(Not that cannot be one and the same person, just that the two should never contradict, because the one has the pre-eminence!)

    Please, sir…in the interests of biblical theology – more so – Christ and his gospel – engage with the arguments (of others better than myself) on the level of exegesis and not the confessions. I for one, like I gather Charles Hodge said – can’t wait till names and parties and labels are buried for good. I wish it were today.

    Forgive the long post. Just some thoughts from one who knows very little – and less still of what I know, I “know.” I’ll leave you be,now.

    – Phil

  93. Dr. Clark,
    I still think you misunderstand my question and we’re talking past one another. I’m one who does think it is possible for someone (not me) to believe their children are in the covenant of grace (given a certain definition of covenant) and yet not be entitled to baptism – because baptism, in the minds of the apostles and NT was something different than circumcision. I get this from the fact that there was something called a Judaizer controversy when it comes to circumcision. (So this is different than a spirituality of the NC argument, as you suggest I am making – which I do believe holds but is not where I began my journey.)

    If baptism replaced circumcision at the Great Commission and Acts 2, why was there a Judaizer controversy? Why did it go on so long, even after the Council at Jerusalem? Why didn’t the Apostles, after trying to show the limitations of the Law, just go ahead and answer the Judaizers – “Look, baptism fulfills circumcision; are you satisfied?”

    I could go on. I don’t think there’s an answer. Based on this, someone could say, “Baptism must have meant something different in the minds of the Apostles. Maybe more of the accent was on cognitive discipleship or something. Therefore, I will delay my children’s baptism until their old enough to want it for themselves.” (I think Vern Poythress makes some argument like this.)

    As it is, I was thrown back on saying, What is the difference in the symbolism between circumcision and baptism? (Now, this is a spirituality of the new covenant argument.) There are similarities. They are both initiation rites of sorts. They both carry symbolism of repentance and purification. But, according to the NT, circumcision is a symbol of death – of cutting off of the flesh and the flesh dies. As such, it represents the OC and the purpose of the Law (Mosaic Law) as a tutor. This seems to be what Paul is saying in Colossians 2 – (the only place the two are mentioned together) “United to Christ, you have received the fulfillment of circumcision, not a circumcision made with hands, but a putting to death of the flesh (sinful nature), by the putting to death (circumcision) of Christ – buried with him in baptism, in which also you were raised with him through faith.” This passage (in my mind) can’t be used to equate baptism and circumcision (that wasn’t Paul’s point). Paul is drawing pictures of the implications of union with Christ. Circumcision is a symbol of being put to death. Baptism is a symbol of being buried, but also (“in which also”) a symbol of being brought to life.

    This drove me into saying – well, this accords with a baptist understanding of the NC. You say, baptists overemphasize the already at the expense of the not yet. I say, presbyterians (in this one area, based on tradition more than exegesis, or based on good and necessary consequence from the OT and not the NT) overemphasize the not yet at the expense of the already. Do baptists know there is a “not yet” to the New Covenant? Of course. But we believe the accent of the NT is on New Covenant reality – being really united to Christ. I believe the paedobaptist view of baptism incurs the judgment of Paul. If the paedobaptist view of baptism and circumcision is the same, then it seems to me that Paul would say, “If you accept baptism, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts baptism that he is obligated to keep the whole law…for in Christ Jesus neither baptism nor unbaptism counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” I think John the Baptist would say, “Don’t say, in coming to baptism, that your parents are Christians (Abraham is your father), but bring forth fruits of repentance…”

  94. Hi Dr. Clark,

    Forgive me for reviving this conversation, but I wanted to revisit this topic because I’m having trouble grasping your definitions.

    In answering the topic heading, “Who or what defines Reformed?”, you wrote (with your added clarification), “One must hold to every point of doctrine in the Reformed confessions as received by the churches in order to be Reformed.”

    So, in essence, the Reformed churches determine what is Reformed in their Reformed confessions, which they are free to alter as they see fit. Is this correct?

    The weakness I see in this is that opens the question of “Which churches are Reformed churches?” If you say that it’s the churches with Reformed confessions, then you have a self-referential definition: The Reformed confessions are defined by the Reformed churches, which are defined by the Reformed confessions.

    To illustrate this, take the unlikely scenario that a Presbyterian denomination that holds to the WCF (which all agree is Reformed) decides to revise the WCF to the Savoy Declaration. Is the church still Reformed? Is their confession? (Your reply to Marty about Owen implies yes.) What if this Reformed denomination were to revise their confession to the LBC1689? Is the church and their confession still Reformed?

    The problem is this: if “Reformed” is fundamentally defined by the Reformed confessions, then the Church may not modify it at all, or else it will cease to be Reformed. If “Reformed” is fundamentally defined by the churches, then a Reformed church may revise their Confessions to be Baptist and still be Reformed. So which is it?

    The difficulty is only increased when it is recognized that there are several bodies recognized as Reformed denominations. Some require six day, 24-hour creationism. Some don’t. Some require theonomy. Some repudiate it.

    What I suspect is that you already have presuppositions of what is essential to being Reformed by which you judge both churches and confessions.

    You say that the definition of Reformed includes sacraments, covenant inclusion of children, the regulative principle of worship, and Christian Sabbath observance. I suspect if American Presbyterians were to strike the regulative principle or infant baptism from their confessions, you would say that they are no longer Reformed. So, as you define it, those things are essential to being Reformed.

    And yet, on Reformed polity, you’re willing to say that John Owen is still Reformed even though he deviated from the WCF in the Savoy Declaration. On the American revisions of WCF, in which theocratic elements were removed, you voice your approval.

    So, my conclusion is that neither Reformed churches or Reformed confessions can be the basis for being Reformed if one is to be consistent in allowing revisions and excluding Baptists, and that what is Reformed boils down to presuppositions about what is essential to being Reformed. Baptists who use the term “Reformed” will disagree on what these essentials are to being Reformed.

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood what you’re trying to say. If you can clarify your views, I’d love to hear it. Blessings, Dr. Clark!

  95. Elnwood,

    I think we are making different assumptions.

    I assume that words mean things. I assume that there is a relation between the essence of what it is to be Reformed and the word or the symbol, “Reformed.”

    The word Reformed cannot be meaningful and have as many definitions as there are persons. Your approach seems to represent that sort of subjectivisim.

    When the Reformed faith developed out of Lutheranism or out of a more generic evangelical Reformation faith the churches confessed their faith. The churches continued to confess their faith but there is an observable continuity in the Reformed faith as confessed by the Reformed churches.

    As to Baptists, there were Seventh Day Baptists (Sabbatarians) in the 16th century and they were not regarded as Reformed. The Anabaptists were not regarded as Reformed. The Belgic Confession says, “We detest the Anabaptists.” Much of what today passes for “evangelicalism” was regarded as Anabaptist fanaticism in the 16th century. By the time the modern Baptist movement developed in the 17th century the cleavage between the Reformed Churches and the Baptist congregations was clear. They were not regarded as Reformed.

    As to Owen and ecclesiology, well there were three parties at the Assembly, independents, presbyterians, and Anglicans. They didn’t confess an ecclesiology. That’s why the Scottish Church had to define how they were receiving the Confession, as Presbyterians.

    There is a Reformed faith. There is an existing body of mainstream Reformed theology. The essence of that faith is confessed by the Reformed Churches. That faith can be known, read, observed, and practiced and has been since the 1520s.

    I don’t see why this is a mystery unless someone wants it to be. One can call a car a “kitten” but that doesn’t make it so.

  96. Hi Dr. Clark,

    It seems as if you are agreeing with me, that “Reformed” is not defined by a church, of by particular confessions, but by what you consider as essentials, and what you consider to be essentials of being Reformed are what has historically been considered Reformed.

    In this, I agree with you — Baptists have never [i]historically[/i] been considered Reformed inasmuch that, during the Reformation, they were not considered by any party to be Reformed. In fact, the 1689 LBCF struck out the word Reformed from the WCF/Savoy in the chapter on marriage.

    So, if I were you, I would frame your definition of Reformed not around the Reformed confessions, which have since been modified since they were written, or around the Reformed churches, which can deviate such as the PCUSA, but just say that you think Reformed should be defined entirely by its historical usage regarding doctrine.

    Since you are a historical theologian, I can understand why you feel that way. However, there are other definitions of Reformed other than historical. I do not believe that every person can have their own definition of a word (else a word ceases to have a meaning), but I think that once a word is generally recognized to mean a certain thing in a particular context, it is a valid meaning.

    For example, Reformed can refer to Dutch/Continental Reformed tradition as opposed to the Scottish Presbyterian definition. This is another generally recognized definition of Reformed.

    Confessionally Reformed can be another distinct and valid use of the word Reformed (once you have an agreed definition of which Confessions are Reformed).

    One of the most common usage of the word is to mean Calvinistic in soteriology. Now, I can see how that can rub you the wrong way as an historical theologian, but it is both commonly used and recognized as meaning Reformed in soteriology. This is not its historical usage, but definitions do change. Some of the words in the KJV have changed meaning, and some people actually endorse bringing back the old usages of the archaic words. I don’t think this is fruitful. We should recognize that words shift meanings, or new ones arise out of old ones.

    Regarding the Westminster Assembly, they did indeed confess ecclesiology. Chapter 31, “Of Synods and Councils,” says there ought to be synods and councils, which both the Savoy and London assemblies eliminated outright, and the American Presbyterians thoroughly revised it.

    Chapter 31 of the WCF is in direct contradiction with the Savoy Declaration’s addendum “Of the Institution of Churches, and the Order Appointed in Them by Jesus Christ.” The former says that synods and councils are to authoritatively determine controversies of faith, and the latter says that synods and councils have no authority of the over the local churches. There’s no possible way that John Owen could have agreed to both confessions.

  97. No, I don’t think we agree at all.

    I was using the word “Reformed” in two senses, broadly and narrowly. There are doctrines that Reformed theology has taught and held before they were confessed by the churches, e.g., covenant theology. The writers who wrote the Heidelberg Catechism helped to develop covenant theology but they did not confess it in detail or explicitly in the HC. It was a only a little more explicit in the Belgic. Yet, both what is confessed by the churches in the BC and HC and what was taught by the Reformed theologians in that period is Reformed.

    The narrower definition is what is confessed by the churches. That is essential to being Reformed. No one can defy what the churches confess and be Reformed.

    We’re not Baptists. We don’t confess the “soul authority” of the believer. The narrow definition is established by the Word of God as confessed by the churches corporately in public documents.

    Nevertheless, the confessions do not exhaust Reformed theology more broadly considered, as I illustrated above.

    The Baptist view of the sacraments and the covenants, however, is not consistent with the Reformed faith as confessed by the churches.

    The substance of the confession has not changed since the 16th century. I don’t accept your assertion to the contrary. Nor do I accept as fact your assertion about the differences between the Scots and Europeans.

    When I said that the WCF did not confess an ecclesiology, I meant, and thought that you would understand, that it doesn’t confess a particular polity, at least not in detail.

    I don’t know of any Reformed writer or any historian of the Reformed tradition who would not regard Owen as Reformed. Any assertion that he is not Reformed is bizarre. Even our own church order says that connectional polity is not of the essence of the church but the bene esse.

    I deal with these questions at length in the book that is to come out next month.

  98. Dr. Clark,

    I see that you continue to define “Reformed” according to historical grounds. As I stated before, if you want to base your definition of Reformed by the historic definition, I agree that Baptists are not Reformed. But, as I tried to show, I do not think the historical definition is the only valid one.

    Regarding John Owen, if you continue say that John Owen is Reformed (and, historically, I agree that he is considered to be so), then perhaps you need to reconsider the statement you wrote: “yes, one must hold to every point of doctrine in the Reformed confessions in order to be Reformed.” As the Savoy Declaration shows, John Owen clearly disagreed with doctrine in the WCF, specifically chapter 31.

  99. elnwood,

    You wrote: “Regarding John Owen, if you continue say that John Owen is Reformed (and, historically, I agree that he is considered to be so), then perhaps you need to reconsider the statement you wrote: “yes, one must hold to every point of doctrine in the Reformed confessions in order to be Reformed.” As the Savoy Declaration shows, John Owen clearly disagreed with doctrine in the WCF, specifically chapter 31.”

    My question would be where Dr. Clark said that one must agree with every article of the WCF to be considered Reformed? He did address the issue of Owen’s view of church polity being defective, but not of an essence to disqualify him from holding to every other major aspect of Reformed doctrine: covenant theology, soteriology, sacramentology, etc.

  100. As for Gottschalk of Orbais, his theology has not been thoroughly researched as yet. Whether or not he actually held to TULIP can be judged from his original writings in Latin now available at The Gottschalk Homepage.

  101. Thanks. Have seen and used it.

    I have the hardcopy on my shelf and have read enough to think that, at least, Gottschalk was returning to Augustine’s high doctrine of predestination. I see at least a little evidence that he held to a doctrine of limited atonement — which wasn’t that radical in the medieval context. Universalism was much less common then than now. Perseverance seems to appear pretty clearly as does total depravity and unconditional election (the latter was not terribly controversial in the middle ages).

    What was controversial was Gottschalk’s doctrine of reprobation and his doctrine of depravity which was more consistently Augustinian than the prevailing doctrine of sin which downplayed the effects of the fall.

  102. Only read the post, not the comments. I did see the add-on, but “as the church receives them” doesn’t seem to exclude the guys that made the LBC anymore.

    You write:

    Why can’t the Open-Theists call themselves “Reformed?” Why can’t Arminians call themselves Reformed? After all, the Remonstrants were members of the Reformed Churches and they accepted a fair bit of our theology. Where do we stop? If the doctrine of the church and sacraments are negotiable why aren’t the doctrines of God, Christ, and salvation also negotiable?

    Of course there is much more to being Reformed than holding to the five points. The Reformed faith is a contiguous, organic whole. It is a coherent thing.

    To that I’ll pose the positive question: Why can non-theocrats call themselves Reformed?

    (Because we say they were wrong is the answer)

    Here’s another question: Why can’t modern day theocrats call themselves Reformed?

    (I don’t know, but Dr. Clark seems to think that I am not Reformed)

    I’d rather Dr. Clark at least admit that I am reformed but he thinks I am wrong to embrace the theocratic position.

    I write why American Presby’s were Irrational here: theonomist.wordpress.com/2008/04/06/the-irrational-presbyterians-of-america/


  103. Response to Matthew:

    You wrote: “My question would be where Dr. Clark said that one must agree with every article of the WCF to be considered Reformed?”

    I quoted Dr. Clark’s statement from the end of the original post. He indeed said that “one must hold to every point of doctrine in the Reformed confessions in order to be Reformed.”

    Perhaps you are drawing a distinction between agreeing with every “article” and every “point of doctrine.” Church polity IS a point of doctrine. Dr. Clark supposed that the Savoy Declaration that Owen subscribed to is compatible with the Westminster, but this is clearly not the case.

    Now, Dr. Clark did argue that church polity is not of the essence of being Reformed , and you wrote that it is not a “major” doctrine. But who decides what is a major doctrine and what is not? If it’s a minor doctrine, why is it even there? Dr. Clark claims that Sabbatarianism is a major doctrine, but the vast majority of the PCA disagrees.

    The question that Dr. Clark has not answered is this: Do the Reformed churches determine what is Reformed by their confessions, or do the Reformed confessions determine which churches are Reformed?

    If the Reformed churches determine what is Reformed in their confessions, then the PCA should be able to say that Sabbatarianism is not an essential. They can even revise their Confessions to eliminate it. They could even accept credobaptism and other 1689 LBC revisions. But that idea is unacceptable to most of the Reformed.

    If, instead, the confessions determine which churches, doctrines, ministers, etc. are Reformed, then the churches cannot deviate from the confessions and still be Reformed. But the Reformed churches in America have made significant revisions to the Westminster and still consider themselves Reformed, so likewise that idea is unacceptable.

    Do you see the problem of defining Reformed either by the Reformed churches, or by the Reformed confessions?

  104. Bill Hornbeck wrote: “But, as much as I agree with the Protestant Reformed Churches on these issues and their importance, I do not think it is accurate or helpful to reserve the title “Reformed” to just the Protestant Reformed Churches.”

    I attend the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grandville, MI, and all I can say is, “Amen, brother!” There are many other Reformed Churches containing many Reformed believers!

    Thanks for your patience with new converts and your comments here–very encouraging 🙂

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