Who or What Gets to Define "Reformed" (re-posted)

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 what 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.

Here’s the original post (with the comments).


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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. As a Baptist outside, I have an honest question that somebody should be able to easily explain. How do we determine which are the “Reformed” confessions? For example, would the 39 Art. of the C of E be “Reformed”? Why/why not? Likewise, what about the Savoy decl. or the 1689 London Baptist Confession? Why/why not?

    Thanks for your stimulating blog.

  2. “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. ”

    Amen! It is a holistic worldview that incorporates the Creational mandate along side a holistic Covenant of Redemption not a quasi gnostic spiritualism.

  3. Hi Timothy,

    Here’s a list of posts where I’ve addressed this point.

    It would also be helpful for you to read Recovering the Reformed Confession.

    The very short answer to your question is: what did “Reformed” mean from 1523-1740? Who wrote the Reformed Confessions in that period, especially from 1523-1647? What did those churches believe?

    See especially this post asking whether we can define the word “Baptist”?

    Is there a definition to the adjective “Ford” or “Toyota”? Yes. What is it? A product is a “Honda” product if it is manufactured by Honda, if it bears the Honda logo, if it is genuine and approved by Honda. If I build a car in my garage and steal the Honda nameplate from a Honda and fix it to my creation, does that make it a Honda? No. Why not? Both have wheels. Both have transmissions. Both have engines. Both may even be painted the same color. So why isn’t my car a Honda? Because it wasn’t created by Honda. It isn’t made of Honda products and it it’s missing lots of important Honda ingredients.

    The real question is whether there is a relation between a word (a sign) and the thing to which that word refers. Is that relation arbitrary? Can we call golf balls “the moon” if we want? No. The moon is a satellite of the earth. A golf ball is not, even when Tiger hits it as far as he does, it doesn’t become a satellite of the earth.

    So, if the word “Reformed” describes the theology, piety, and practice of the Reformed Churches from 1523, then those bodies or individuals who dissent from substantial aspects of that theology, piety, and practice are not “Reformed.”

  4. Amen! It [the Reformed faith] is a holistic worldview that incorporates the Creational mandate along side a holistic Covenant of Redemption not a quasi gnostic spiritualism.


    That is not how I understand the assertion that the Reformed tradition is a “continuous, organic whole…a coherent thing.” Certainly, the sort of Reformed confessionalism being asserted here has arguably the highest view of creation attending it. But that doesn’t seem the same thing as saying the “creational mandate is collapsed into the covenant of redemption.” That just seems like the all too common confusion of creation and redemption, and in fact, seems to imply a lower view of creation than is also being offered here.

  5. Zrim,
    We’ve been running circles on this. Almost the entirety of the Continental tradition and a majority of the Presbyterian tradition include the Covenant of Creation as an organic part of the Covenant of Redemption.

    See O. Palmer Robertson’s “Christ of the Covenant”.

  6. GAS,

    I very much appreciate Palmer’s work but his view of the Covenant of Redemption is not the historic view. I’ll see your reference and raise you one. See CJPM. There’s an entire chapter on this. Palmer is an OT scholar by training and not a historian.

  7. Clark,
    I guess I’m not surprised CJPM is critical of Palmer since he was critical, in places, of Kline. But I would hardly call Kline’s views the “historic view”.

  8. GAS,

    I’ll leave the survey of history to the historians; and I understand the CoW and the CoG to subsume the COD. But what I worry about is this “holistic worldview” which seems to suggest that creation and redemption have something to do with each other. And I can’t help but think there is some cross-pollenization with this suggestion and the confusion of law and gospel.

  9. Zrim,

    I think it’s a mistake to have the Covenant of Creation = the Covenant of Works. Within the broader Cultural mandate was the testing aspect that we call the Covenant of Works.

  10. “Reformed” Baptists tend to be called “Reformed Baptists”. Why shouldn’t this be? They’ve rejected Arminian (and in some cases dispensational) tendencies that many Baptists have had in favour of the 5 points and something at least related to covenant theology.

    Are you going to give Reformed Jews a ticking off for not agreeing with the WCF?

    I agree that it’s helpful when people talk using the same terms, but like it or not language evolves to deal with historical trends. Far better to coin a new term (maybe Wes’ Side, after Westminster) – that might catch on.

  11. GAS,

    If you actually read CJPM you would see that I learned my view of the pactum salutis from the Reformed tradition. If you paid attention to Palmer you would see that he was aware that he was rejecting the older Reformed view. I didn’t know that MGK even held the pactum salutis until I had been teaching here a number of years.

  12. Clark,

    Yes, Palmer does reject the pactum salutis or a least finds no Biblical support which has been historically held in the Reformed Churches.

    But I’m not convinced that accepting or rejecting the pactum salutis effects the organic nature between the Covenant of Creation and the Covenant of Redemption.

  13. Theologymnast,

    So I can call myself a Bulgarian Baptist despite the fact that I’m neither, in the real world, Bulgarian nor Baptist? I have Bulgarian friends and I have Baptist friends and we have things in common, is that sufficient? No!

    Yes, Reformed folk and Baptist folk have things in common but at the end of the day we have quite different views of the church, sacraments, and the history of redemption, and hermeneutics to name a few things. You want to reduce Reformed theology to soteriology. Why should I should I go along with that? What’s in it for me? Would Calvin agree to it? Did the Reformed Churches agree to it? Did the Westminster Assembly agree to it? No, they said it was sinful to “neglect” the sacrament of baptism. To refuse to Baptize one’s children in the interests of a “pure” church is a neglect of the sacrament of Baptism and a rejection of the promise God gave to Abraham. It’s a rejection of a fundamental aspect of Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

    Why can’t you simply call yourselves “particular” or “sovereign grace” Baptists? What’s wrong with that?

    Yes, language evolves but we’re not talking “evolution” here. We’re talking theft and I’m holding on to the property and you’re dragging me down the street. I think the 8th and 10th commandments are relevant here.

    • Thank you for this comment. The reason we desire to draw near to you under the “Reformed umbrella” is that most “sovereign grace Baptists”, like myself see our doctrinal commonalities with “old Calvinist” Covenantal brethren to be infinitely more important than our differences in the face of this emergent tsunami, of which new calvinism is the latest manifestation. I say this because although one of us is necessarily in error regarding God’s covenants, we are nevertheless both from that strain which genuinely looks to scripture as the arbiter of our doctrines rather than that purpose-driven expedience that is destroying the Gospel witness of churches every day.

      I am a Baptist by long-studied conviction, yet He who searches the hearts knows that if I am mistaken, I would want to die a Presbyterian. One of us is mistaken, but neither of us places anything above the glory of God and the absolute and sole authority of His Word, which was a bottom, the spirit of the Reformation.

  14. GAS,

    Can you say EXACTLY what you think is at stake here? Is it the question of when the covenant of works began? On that point I tend to side with the WCF. I think MGK tended to say that the covenant of works was co-extensive with creation. At the same time I’m not sure that there was much important about the question so long as folk hold to the covenant of works and the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis) I’m satisfied.

  15. GAS,

    To your mind, what is to be gained by distinguishing between creation and law (or works) the way you suggest? It seems as torturous, and not a little Gnostic (something you mentioned above), as what is done to the soul and spirit in trichotomy.

  16. Clark,

    Sure. I agree with your basic premise in these posts that it’s a form of theft for someone to use a term that has a complete worldview but hijacking it for only a small aspect of that worldview.

    OTOH, I believe one shoots oneself in the foot if they themself reject a part of that worldview.

  17. Zrim,

    What’s been gained is the understanding that only one aspect of the Covenant of Creation has been nullified but not the whole of that Covenant.

  18. GAS,

    Ah. So you perceive a denigration of creation if works is co-extensive with it, which explains the “quasi Gnostic spiritulism.”

    Well, it seems to me that just as transformationism begins with a high view of creation and quickly goes south as it seeks to redeem it, this distinction you make seems to actually end up wanting to protect creation without much warrant: when man sinned he plunged the whole package. I don’t see how this implies something futile about creation at all though. It’s still very good in its essence despite its condition.

  19. Zrim said: “Ah. So you perceive a denigration of creation if works is co-extensive with it, which explains the “quasi Gnostic spiritulism.” ”

    No. With the passing of each Covenant administration some aspect of that Covenant passes away yet the core of the Covenant remain. In the Abrahamic Covenant the heart of the covenant was faith but the sign of circumcision passed. In the Mosiac covenant the Law remains but the types faded.

    So in the Creation covenant the cultural mandate remains while the testing has passed.

  20. GAS,

    I don’t necessarily disagree but I worry that there are as many definitions of the “cultural mandate” as there are definers. No question this is God’s world and we are his creatures and we have creational obligations, but I wonder what, if anything, the New Covenant does to the cultural mandate? Does Matt 28:18-20 do anything to it?

  21. I don’t understand why this keeps needing to be repeated. Why do Baptists want to be ‘Reformed’? The London Confession of 1689 is a near-verbatim copy of the WCF with less covenant theology and a distinctly non-Reformed view of not only baptism, but also the Lord’s supper. Why can’t they just be Baptists? They defined what it means to be a Baptist, which is pretty much what they try to call “Reformed” Baptists today. It’s not the fault of the Reformed that the Baptists pulled away from their London Confessional moorings. They can’t steal our definitions because they’ve allowed what it means to be a ‘Baptist’ drift. I once had a “Reformed” Baptist give me an earful because I was reading a Mike Horton book on covenant theology, which he found unbiblical.

  22. Dear RSC,

    As I’ve said before many times John Owen saw himself as “reformed” (as one can see in many mnay of his works) and could not subscribe to the Westminster Confession. So too did the particular Baptist divines who wrote the 1644 and 1689.

    All these folks saw themselves as part of the one tradition, and yet wrote confessions that differed over things like church govt and baptism. That’s because these issues are secondary in that grand tradition. More importantly those issues are secondary according to Scripture.

    Why are you starting this fight? There are more important things to fight about.



  23. Walt,

    Heh. I’ve been wondering the same thing. Watching this exchange as an outsider (Lutheran) with fascination. A similar debate could easily occur, and probably does, within the pale of Lutheran “orthodoxy,” a term used very loosely within the context.

    Lutherans have their own similar debacle with synods like WELS and the ELS at the more confessional core, the LCMS in the middle, and the ELCA at the very liberal periphery. So, to wit, what defines “Lutheran?” In my mind and upbringing, it means adherence to the standard confessions of the Lutheran Church (or Confessing or Evangelical, in the original sense), those being the Formula of Concord, the Smalcald as a subset, Luther’s Large and Small Catechism IN ADDITION TO the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athenasian Creed IN SUMMARY OF WHAT SCRIPTURE SAYS.

    Under that definition, the ELCA has very little justification for including Luther’s name any place in its title. It has, as an entity, abandoned most of the doctrines that make it distinct from the Papists (which, after all, is what “the” Reformation was all about), to the extent that they were shamefully willing to sign the infamous Joint Declaration (of unity?) a few years ago.

    So why continue to hang onto the label of Lutheran? I’ve read Horton, et. al., on the 1st and 2nd great awakenings and the impact they had of sustaining and subsequently weakening the Reformed church as its members fled to the New World. And I understand his emphasis on all of the various philosophical influences that helped to create what we see as American Evangelicalism these days.

    Within Lutheranism, at least, the influence of Pietism, which may be traced directly back to the likes of Spener and Franke (who carried on his ideals) is largely responsible for the social ministry-oriented ELCA we see today (as the result of many mergers over a period of 20-30 years). The LCMS, although a synod that would have been called “confessional Lutheran” in the past, is gradually drifting in the same direction.

    But it seems like something else has helped to push those synodical bodies in a less-than-confessional direction and over the years I’ve noted that it seems to be an increased openness toward ecumenism. Why? Perhaps because of inter-marriage and inclusiveness? I’m not sure. But there has been a whole scale adoption of the Church Growth Movement by the majority of their leadership who have moved the goal of numerical growth ahead of preaching the Gospel, in the name of evangelism.

    So now a traditional Lutheran sits in the pew next to a Pentecostal, Methodist, or Baptist boy friend/wife/friend and listens to them bemoaning the liturgy or the creeds or the hymns. And instead of providing proper instruction about these things and the way they fit into worship, their pastors have bowed to the demands of external influences. Contemporary culture, after all, demands it or else …

  24. Clark,

    If I’m not mistaken the project here is to find the historic definition of the Reformed Churches. Certainly I would think we could make some sociological conclusions about the Reformed Churches attitude toward the world. In that regard let me quote William R. Stevenson Jr, “Sovereign Grace: The Place and Significance of Christian Freedom in John Calvin’s Political Thought”, pp 64-65:

    “The writing of the Institutes,” according to Suzanne Selinger, “was an unconscious and intuitively therapeutic vita activa” (9). Calvinism “as a whole,” Ernest Troeltsch once asserted, is “active and aggressive.” It “desires to re-shape the world to the glory of God, and make the reprobate bow submissively to the Divine law.” To this end, it will “with all diligence create and maintain a Christian commonwealth.” Whereas Lutheranism, Ernst Troeltsch says, “endures the world in suffering, pain and martyrdom,” Calvinism “masters it” ( Protestantism, 83-84). Upon studying Calvin, Fred Graham claims that it is no wonder that while Lutheranism “tended toward quiescence in the economic and political realms,” Calvinism tended “toward activism and seizure of the reins of power, whether political or technological” ( Constructive, 208). Charles Taylor agrees: “Calvinism is marked out by a militant activism, a drive to reorganize the church and the world” ( Sources of the Self, 227). Indeed, Ralph Hancock speaks of “the paradoxical worldliness of Calvin’s otherworldliness” ( Foundations, 20). 1

    To find such an activist spirit in Calvin takes little effort. It resides openly in his thinking and writing, to be sure. “Upon the advent of Christ,” he says, God’s glory “shines through all the earth.” In this sense, “the whole world became an enlarged Mount Zion,” the “everlasting residence of God” ( Comm. Ps. 132:14 [5: 158]). Wherever the church may be, he means to say, there God is. Hence wherever the church may be, there it has temporal work to do. Yet, as this quotation reveals, if Calvinism appears to breed a kind of worldly imperialism, then such imperialism, as John DeGruchy points out, “embodied something essentially biblical.” It grows from Calvin’s vision of God’s kingdom, and the “concomitant calling and responsibility of the church to proclaim God’s rule within and OVER (emphasis mine) the world” [This I think answers your question regarding Mathew 28:18-20](20). Christians are not merely to worship God, they are to put themselves in his hands for the massive, indeed global, reclamation project which Christ and his Spirit are working to accomplish.”

  25. Dr Clark,

    Would you regard John Owen as Reformed (a congregationalist whose theology was consistent with the Savoy Decloration – a confession in many respects is the ‘Father’ of the 1689 Baptist Confession)?

    Stephen Smith
    New Zealand

  26. GAS,

    If you read my book on Olevian you’ll see I take issue with Selinger and Graham — well, I did in the thesis. I don’t remember how much of that made it into the book and how much ended up on the cutting room floor. I think that picture is grossly overdrawn. The activist-transformationalist Calvin is an anachronism. Remember, Calvin was dragged into the Geneva kicking and screaming. I don’t think it holds up.

    It was the Lutherans who began to write a resistance theory in the 1540s. Calvin inherited that from them. Further, this view of Calvin is more or less deduced from a series of a priori notions more than from the actual history of the Reformation.


    I don’t know how many things are more important than the definition of “Reformed.” There are a few things but that’s pretty important.

    I just wrote again, in this space, in defense of justification sola gratia, sola fide? Do I get applause for that? (not that I’m writing for applause, I’m just trying to figure out what you think is important? The culture wars?)

    I’m a Reformed minister. I won’t sit by and let folks arbitrarily redefine the Reformed faith to mere soteriology. Have you read RRC?

    You keep claiming that Owen couldn’t sign the WCF? Really? Why not? Couldn’t is not the same thing as “didn’t.”

    I’ve said it before. There were three polities at the Assembly. Polity isn’t essential. Your reductio ad absurdum doesn’t work. The Savoy is virtually identical to the WCF except for polity and the WCF is silent about polity because there were congregationalists, episcopalians, and presbyterians present.

    What’s your point?

  27. So, GAS, what exactly is the difference between your read of Calvinism and what one might find in the New Schoolers or Liberals?

    And how does it follow that because “Upon the advent of Christ God’s glory shines through all the earth; the whole world became an enlarged Mount Zion, the everlasting residence of God; that wherever the church may be, there God is” that …”hence wherever the church may be, there it has temporal work to do”? True enough, through the advent of Christ God’s glory shines through all the earth. But how does that translate into dominionism?

  28. Stephen,

    I’ve said several times here that, as far as I can tell, the only major difference between the WCF and Savoy Declaration is the Savoy’s article on church polity.

    Baptist? The Savoy, Art. 29.4 is decided paedobaptist! Quoth the Savoy:

    “Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptised, and those only.”

    I have no idea on what basis one would consider the Savoy to be a proto-Baptist document. The congregationalists were largely paedo, so far as I know. Again, there were a number of congregationalists at the Westminster Assembly.

    Yes, the Savoy in the family of Reformed confessions. Are there confessing groups who still believe and practice what the Savoy confesses? There aren’t many in North America, as far as I know.

  29. Clark said: “The activist-transformationalist Calvin is an anachronism. Remember, Calvin was dragged into the Geneva kicking and screaming. I don’t think it holds up.”

    Stevenson addresses the Genevan situation but to be sure once Calvin arrived he was very active in the government of the city.

    No doubt the religio-political situation of that period almost forced an activist mentality.

    Reading Stevenson I don’t read any a priori notions rather an analysis of Calvin’s writings.

  30. Zrim said: “So, GAS, what exactly is the difference between your read of Calvinism and what one might find in the New Schoolers or Liberals?”

    Me: Simple. Predestination. Calvin taught that because one had assurance through election he no longer needed to constantly look inward for justification but could perform good work out of gratitude without worrying about whether his actions would cause him to lose his salvation.

    Zrim said: “True enough, through the advent of Christ God’s glory shines through all the earth. But how does that translate into dominionism?”

    Me: Once again, the Cultural Mandate is organic to the Covenant of Redemption such that ruling over and subduing the earth is coterminous of the Christian life. Also, our duties of love involve full participation in social institutions.

  31. Dr Clark,

    I think you acknowledgement that the Independents (particularly John Owen) are Reformed is a significant concession that Reformed Baptists are also Reformed.

    Some relevant points:
    1. John Owen held that each covenant had to be defined by revelation concerning that covenant. This is especially relevant when defining the new Covenant on the basis of ‘priority of New Testament’interpretation’. This is precisely the RB position.
    2. Owen argued that the New Covenant is indeed a “New” covenant – a new covenant administration of the one covenant of grace. For a further expansion of this see “Covenant Theology – From Adam to Christ” edited by my good friend Jim Renihan. These 2 points are vitally important to understanding the RB position; on this we agree with Owen.
    3. RB’s have the same view of the Covenant of Grace as the WLC Q 30-35. Note this Catechism clearly defines the COG as being made with Christ and the elect as His seed. This catechism could have been written by a RB 🙂
    4. The RB position (and John Owen) answers who is ‘in Christ’ 1 Cor 15:22. Paedobaptist’s historically have had differing positions on this because they are not sure how to place their baptised infants – in Adam? in Christ? Are they Christians? In fact, the leading paedobaptist William Cunningham, wrote an article“Zwingli and the Sacraments” in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Banner of Truth, 1967 reprint) esentially arguing for a RB position because he feared Baptismal Regeneration!! The basic New Testament position is that you cannot be in the Covenant of works (in Adam) and the Covenant of Grace (in Christ) at the same time!

    To get back to the main point – on the nature of defining the covenants, and understanding the New Covenant (very fundamental issues for understanding Reformed Covenant Theology) RB’s are in agreement with Owen. If Owen is Reformed, then so are Reformed Baptists.

    I am a Reformed Baptist and I hold to a reformed view of the Sacraments (as defined by the 1689 Confession and a RB understanding of the New Covenant.

  32. RSC,

    American Presbyterians have not received the WCF to require 6/24 creation so this objection is a non-starter.

    Am I to infer from this that in order to be “Reformed” American Presbyterians are free to drop a belief in 6/24 creation but their British and Irish counterparts must adhere to it as it has not been removed from their Confessional standard?

    It would also be interested to explore precisely why many American Presbyterians rejected a belief in 6/24 creation, but I digress.

  33. Clark –

    Your own response to the puritan board, I think, lets baptists come to the reformed table.

    Here you say, “Though it is true that we must conform to our confessions, there is a reciprocity. We must always be conforming the confession to Scripture.”

    Are not baptists conforming confessions to Scripture? We can disagree over interpretation, but in principle, this is all they are doing. They have confessions which align with Scripture and are received by the churches.

    If this principle is not correct, then what what gave the American Reformed churches the right to edit the original Reformed confessions?

    You have a methodological problem here.

  34. Zrim said: “So, GAS, what exactly is the difference between your read of Calvinism and what one might find in the New Schoolers or Liberals?”

    Me: Simple. Predestination. Calvin taught that because one had assurance through election he no longer needed to constantly look inward for justification but could perform good work out of gratitude without worrying about whether his actions would cause him to lose his salvation.

    Isn’t that a form of magic bullet predestinarianism? I don’t disagree at all with your formulation of assurance and gratitude. But I still don’t see how that implies dominionism, especially with explicit NT imperatives to live a quiet life, work with one’s hands and mind one’s own business. This seems like the way some want to distinguish between good social gospel and bad social gospel, which seems to require a lot finger crossing.

  35. Stephen,

    With all due affection, you should look up the words “non sequitur.” Owen wasn’t a Baptist. Owen’s theology wasn’t Baptist.

    Here’s your argument:

    1. Owen theology held x
    2. Baptist theology holds x
    3. Owen is Reformed.
    4. Ergo Baptists are Reformed.

    It doesn’t follow that if there are formal similarities between some aspect of Owen’s theology (similarities which I’ve not seen any major scholar of Owen pointing out) that there is some substantial identity.

    A Baptist may not go about re-baptizing folks in the past (that’s a Mormon practice!) in order to make them acceptable to Baptists. Owen was a PAEDOBAPTIST because his covenant theology led him to it.

    As to the New Covenant being new, one reason he was a paedobaptist was because he understood, unlike Baptists, that the New Covenant is new relative to Moses not to Abraham.

    All Reformed theologians understand that the New Covenant is new. Caspar Olevianus wrote about the “newness” of the New Covenant frequently. That aspect of classic Reformed theology was essential to their argument with Rome. See my book on Olevianus. See also Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

  36. Richard,

    If you’ll read RRC you see that I give an account not only of the original intent of the framers of the WCF but also of the reception of the confession. Further, your comment assumes that we all agree on the original intent of the WCF. That question is disputed. The WCF was received by the Scots Kirk as Presbyterian. They had to express that understanding explicitly. The American Presbyterians also had to receive the WCF.

  37. Meade,

    To quote Strother Martin, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” More properly, what we have here is a bad assumption.

    You equivocate on the pronoun “our.” You assign it to Reformed folk and to Baptists simultaneously. As the author of the quotation I assert that is not my intent.

    The reference to the pronoun “our” is “confessional Reformed Churches holding to the Three Forms or the Westminster Standards (or the Savoy).”

    I do not recognize a theology, piety, or practice that denies to covenant children membership into the covenant community as “Reformed.”

    The reciprocity of which I spoke assumes the Reformed (not Baptist) confessions.

  38. Zrim,

    When walking along a ridgeline one sees a slippery slope everywhere he looks. Some continue on the narrow path, others fall off the slippery slope, and others set up an edifice along the path and sit on their hands.

    You’ve decided to setup an edifice based upon one passage of Scripture. That’s not good Protestant exegesis. You’ve summarily dismissed the greater part of the Law. You’ve bought into the quirkish quietism of those like the Quakers, Amish, Ana-Baptists, Fundementalists, et, al.

    Calvin’s Commentary:

    “He does not mean, however, that every one shall mind his own business in such a way as that each one should live apart, having no care for others, but has merely in view to correct an idle levity, which makes men noisy bustlers in public, who ought to lead a quiet life in their own houses.”

  39. >I do not recognize a theology, piety, or practice that denies to covenant children membership into the covenant community as “Reformed.”

    You probably don’t want to get into the doctrinal implications of this. Suffice to say a Reformed Christian would tell you that you can’t deny anything to an elect of God. Now, you don’t believe in baptismal regeneration, do you? You don’t believe ritual water baptism is how God’s elect enter the invisible church of which Christ is King, do you? Of course you don’t. So what we have is Christian paedo parents and Christian credo parents bringing up their children as Christians see fit to bring up their children. The Word and the Spirit are what regenerates.

    I repeat over and over: read Calvin’s 40th sermon on Ephesians. He gave that sermon in 1559(!). You will see why we Reformed Baptists come across as we do. We know Reformation era doctrine. We know apostolic biblical doctrine. We know the Word of God. We know what regenerates because we have experienced it.

  40. Clark –

    Ok. But what gave the American Reformed Churches to modify the original confessions?

    I suppose you will say, Scripture.

    But why be arbitrary on what can and can’t be reformed according to Scripture?

    Why polity and not baptism?

  41. GAS,

    That wasn’t proof-texting I was using. It was the employing of a certain reference out of a whole biblical context to make a point (unless you want to accuse the HC’s biblical references as poor exegesis as well?). In other words, I don’t see anything in holy writ that suggests the sort of activism you do. What I do see is a set of imperatives to mind that limited circumference of earth actually ordained to us; and, if the ordinary life of raising children and sitting on PTA boards is any measure, I wonder if I even have any influence over in the first place (!). As for sitting on hands, minding one’s ordained circumstance is a lot more work than fantasizing about how much of creation one is transforming. But making snowmen is way easier than trasforming them, unless I suspend too much belief when watching “Frosty the Snowman”?

    It is always intriguing to me to be accused by my fellow Reformed of some kind of stow-the-polish-Dispensational-fundamentalism (that is, when the antinomian Lutheran stuff isn’t all the rage). It was precisely the entrenched, Gnostic, world-flight, culture warrior Fundamentalism I converted into that demanded a greater tradition. The cultural Calvinism I am neck deep in at the moment, and that which you suggest, seems like the kinder and gentler version of domininism. The irony is that I see both the meaner and nicer forms of cultural Christianity only building more bunkers and bubbles within which to reside so that the big, bad world might not be touched; the quietism you charge is actually the most world-affirming thing I’ve ever encountered.

  42. Meade,

    There were episcopalians and presbyterians at Dort. There were presbyterians, congregationalists, and episcopalians at Westminster. Savoy was congregationalist. The mainstream of Reformed polity is presbyterial (note the lower case) but that’s never been of the essence esse of being Reformed. It’s of the “well being” (bene esse) of being Reformed. Even today, if you look at the United Reformed Churches in North America (my federation) documents, you’ll see that we do not describe presbyterial polity as being of the essence of the church. Many of our congregations were effective congregational prior to becoming a federation. As far as I know, the Dutch Reformed tradition has tended to speak of “the churches” rather than “the church” (which is perhaps a more Presbyterian way of speaking; note the upper case).

    Thus the 39 Articles were recognized as an expression of the (basically Swiss) Reformed faith. In our arguments with the Lutherans polity was not a major issue. We focused on the sacraments and especially the Supper and Christology.

    There is no question that, from the point of view of the 16th and 17th century Reformed Churches in Europe and Britain, whether the sacraments were essential to Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

    It’s only in the modern (post 1740) period when religious experience (QiRE) and rationalism (QIRC) has trumped all that the sacraments have been relegated to the status of “non-essential.” None of our confessional documents or constitutional documents treat the sacraments thus.

    If we the Five Points are the definition of “Reformed” then there are many medieval theologians whom we would have to call “Reformed.” That’s just silly.

    I argue this at great length and in more detail in RRC.

  43. Clark –

    My point is more basic than this one. English baptists come out of the reformation heritage. They employed the principle (which you say applies to Reformed churches) that Scripture conforms confessions. In their view, they are reformed, they are carrying the reformation to the degree of complete conformity to Scripture, and they also put those beliefs into a confession, which is extremely Protestant. They were not heirs of the Lutherans, but of the Reformed, since their view of the Supper is that of Calvin’s.

    They reformed paedobaptism to believer’s baptism on the basis of Scripture. They saw that the new covenant included only regenerate confessing individuals, and that the household principle of the Abrahamic covenant had been trumped by the freedom of the Spirit to blow where he wills, and that no child of God is born of the husbands will, but born directly of God (John 1:12-13).

    But by abandoning this particular doctrine, they did not abandon being Reformed or the Reformation. They carried the project to its end.

  44. One more point here.

    Please note that the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Standards, say relatively little about church polity. The Belgic Confession (Articles 31 and following) mentions the three offices of minister, elder, and deacon. The Westminster Standards mention no offices nor do they mention a polity. The Canons, of course, do not mention polity. The fact of the absence of polity in the Reformed confessions is fatal to the argument that polity and sacraments are equally important in the Reformed Confessions.

    Thus it is not the case that if the adjective “Reformed” is defined in a way that necessarily excludes Baptists that therefore it must also exclude this or that polity. Clearly polity does not play the same role in the Reformed confessions as the sacraments do.

  45. Meade,

    Of course that’s the Baptist argument, that they are the logical fruition of the Reformation. The Reformed Churches did not accept that argument. There are three responses: 1) I suppose Baptists can call themselves anything they want. There’s not much we can do about that; 2) The Reformed Churches should not accept the minimalist or minimalizing definition.

    3) Most importantly, the Baptists operate(d) on a quite different hermeneutic than the Reformed. That’s why the Reformed (with all the magisterial Protestants) rejected the Anabaptist view of Baptism. The truth is that, on Baptism, all Baptists are Anabaptists and all the Reformed rejected that view and the hermeneutic and view of redemptive history latent or explicit in it. Those are facts that cannot be overcome.

    Thus the so-called RB is left to argue a theological case that the Baptist view is the most consistent Protestant view etc. Now we’re not doing history but theology. We’re not talking intent but openly talking about re-defining a term.

    Thus I return to my original point. I reject the proposed re-definition on the grounds given above.

  46. Dr. Clark,

    I love you man – but you gotta work on your understanding of Reformed Baptist theology before you tell others what we believe. The 1689 Baptist confession says this in chapter 26 first paragraph on the church,

    “The universal Church, which may be called invisible (in respect of the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) consists of the entire number of the elect, all those who have been, who are, or who shall be gathered into one under Christ, Who is the Head. This universal Church is the wife, the body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all.”

    This reads very differently than what you wrote against the Baptist in paragraph 6 and 7

    Also, the 1689 affirms that all the elect in every age are in the same covenant of grace in Chapter 7 paragraph 3 it states,

    “This covenant is revealed through the Gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by further steps until the full revelation of it became complete in the New Testament. The covenant of salvation rests upon an eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. It is solely by the grace of this covenant that all the descendants of fallen Adam who have ever been saved have obtained life and blessed immortality, because man is now utterly incapable of gaining acceptance with God on the terms by which Adam stood in his state of innocency.”

    I am sure that you have read Nehemiah Coxe’s Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ, but if you haven’t I commend it to you. Coxe may have been the editor of the 1689 Baptist Confession.

    It seems to me the real difference between you and the Reformed Baptist is that you want non-elect people in the covenant of grace while they affirm that this covenant is reserved only for the elect.

    Thanks for your work and your books – You are a genuine blessing even to us Baptist. God blessing on you.

  47. Hi Doug,

    I appreciate this. I understand what you’re saying and I understand what the LBC says. I understand that, e.g. the ARBCA folk agree with much of what I’ve written here, so perhaps I should have said, “Most sovereign grace Baptists, i.e. those evangelicals who identify with the Five Points of Dort….”

    Nevertheless, when it comes to recognizing covenant children as members of the covenant of grace and admitting them to the external administration of the covenant of grace, i.e., to the sign/seal of initiation (Baptism), even the LBC folk deny the continuity with the Abrahamic promise.

    If they did not, then they would not be Baptist!

  48. Just to come back to my post above – I’m actually a Reformed Reformed Baptist (which in the U.K. is called an Anglican). By that I mean I once was a “Reformed Baptist” but now see the light and would agree with you on the vast majority of these issues.

    Sovereign Grace Ministries pretty much have a trademark on the phrase “sovereign grace” but I totally agree that that would be a more helpful name. There’s a small denomination of “grace baptists” in the UK who are TULIP baptists.

    You would certainly be welcome to call yourself a baptist as far as I’m concerned – it would be fairly novel, but fair. However I’m not aware of another meaning of Hungarian that means you have friends from there. But “reformed” can refer to a criminal who has turned from his old ways. After all, the reformed church is the church that left old, bad ways of catholicism behind and were reformed. If “reformed baptists” left their old arminian ways behind, let’s rejoice and plead with them to go the whole way. But I don’t think calling them to leave our trademark word “reformed” alone is a) going to achieve anything or b) encourage them to take on the rest of historic reformed doctrine.

    Regarding the 8th and 10th commandments – I’m not convinced that anyone using the reformed word incorrectly are taking anything from you, which on my (admittedly limited) knowledge kind of means they aren’t stealing. Coveting – you may well be right there, but being a primarily emotional sin, it’s hard to pin them down there.

    In conclusion, yes, “Reformed” doctrine is bigger than the 5 points. Yes, it is confusing when “Reformed Baptists” call themselves as such, since we have as much right to that name as they do. But since we don’t tend to call ourselves that, and there’s little confusion resulting from what they mean, we don’t need to tell them to get off our turf. Let’s just tell them to mow the grass, and join us inside for tea and scones.

  49. Thank you Doug for pointing the brother to Coxe’s work. The English baptists at least did not use the anabaptist hermeneutic.

    But Clark, this statement is misleading: 3) Most importantly, the Baptists operate(d) on a quite different hermeneutic than the Reformed. That’s why the Reformed (with all the magisterial Protestants) rejected the Anabaptist view of Baptism. The truth is that, on Baptism, all Baptists are Anabaptists and all the Reformed rejected that view and the hermeneutic and view of redemptive history latent or explicit in it. Those are facts that cannot be overcome.

    Are you suggesting that all of the magisterial reformers used the same hermeneutic as the Reformed? Did the Lutherans really argue for paedobaptism in the same way that Calvin and the Reformed did? Certainly not in emphasis if it all. Do the Anglicans argue for paedobaptism in the same way that the Reformed did? The Reformed have to admit that Zwingli’s covenantal argument has very little precedent, if any. It certainly was not the argument of the early church.

    I don’t think your right about this. The Reformed were novel on this point as well.

  50. You also say to Doug,

    Nevertheless, when it comes to recognizing covenant children as members of the covenant of grace and admitting them to the external administration of the covenant of grace, i.e., to the sign/seal of initiation (Baptism), even the LBC folk deny the continuity with the Abrahamic promise.

    But who is defining continuity? We affirm to Abraham and to his seed, but the seed is Christ (Gal. 3). The covenant was fulfilled in Christ, not in the children of believers today. Christ’s children are Abraham’s children. Those who have received the promised Holy Spirit are children of Abraham. Do you believe that every baptized infant receives the Holy Spirit? That seems like the consistent position, but you probably don’t hold that view.

    Thanks for the exchange. I think I understand better where you are coming from. I could not disagree more with you, but at least I understand your view.

  51. Meade,

    I don’t know where you learned your historical theology or where you teach but the story I tell my students is that, in fact, the Reformed view of the history of redemption is quite like that taught by Irenaeus (who was an early church father) and like that taught by Justin Martyr and other fathers. As I’ve pointed out here and as I’ve argued in print, and as I argue in a forthcoming essay, there is a long history of the sort of covenant theology found in Bullinger’s 1534 Treatise.

    Luther did, eventually, come to argue for a similar view of redemptive history. You can see it in his lectures on Genesis given not long before his death. Luther also made other arguments for infant baptism (as did some Reformed) that were abandoned by Reformed theology (e.g. infant faith).

    Zwingli’s arguments for infant baptism in 1525 became standard for all the Reformed theologians. So, I don’t quite understand that you’re claiming there.

    When I say “Anabaptist,” I mean that all Baptists are Anabaptists at least inasmuch as they won’t baptize infants and inasmuch as they make the New Covenant so New that it becomes substantially different from Abraham. If we’re REALLY under the Abrahamic covenant and promises then there are no reasons not to baptize covenant children just as there were no reasons not to circumcise covenant children. Clearly Baptists won’t baptize covenant children so there is, for them, some significant discontinuity with Abraham. Reformed theology does not recognize such a discontinuity.

    As to Anglicans, well the Reformed Anglicans (e.g. Cranmer in his later years et al) were essentially followers of Zwingli and Bullinger and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Calvin. The C of E was a broad church, however, so one could not make sweeping claims about all Anglicans in virtually any period.

  52. Meade,

    Evidently you do take the sacraments seriously, so why then would you want to equivocate on such an important adjective as “Reformed”?

    “Reformed” cannot mean simultaneously, “affirms paeobaptism” and “denies paedobaptism” and certainly not “is indifferent to the matter of paedobaptism.” These are the choices.

    The YRR lot wants to re-define “Reformed to mean b) “is indifferent to paedobaptism.” That’s crazy! Who of the 16th or 17th century Reformed Churches was “indifferent” to padeobaptism?

    Certainly not the Heidelberg Catechism:

    “Are infants also to be baptized?

    Yes, for since they belong to the covenant and people of God as well as their parents, and since redemption from sin through the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as the sign of the Covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by Circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is instituted.”

    However wrong the Reformed might have been there’s no doubt that they were all paedobaptists so the question remains whether those who dissent from a substantial element of the Reformed faith (that which makes it what it is) may also use the same adjective to describe their own theology, piety, and practice?

    If I cheer for the Cubs (an American baseball team on the north side of Chicago) may I call myself a “Sox” (a team from the south side of Chicago and bitter rivals of the Cubs) fan? Is there no connection between the sign and the thing signified or are words mere conventions subject to a thousand definitions?

  53. Dr. Scott,

    So you are saying that the confessional Reformed Baptist are not reformed even though they agree with you on the formal and material cause of the 16th century reformation, hold to other solas as well, agree with you on the Sabbath, believe in the the primacy of the public means of grace, believe that sacraments are a genuine means of grace, are Psalm singers, worship on the Lord’s Day in a covenant renewal patterns and hold to a covenantal hermeneutic?

    You believe Reformed Baptist are not reformed because they believe that the one covenant of grace is for the elect of every generation, past, present and future, who are the sons of Abraham by promise rather than the sons of the flesh? Because they don’t hold that non-elect persons don’t participate in the covenant of grace, this is the main cause you have for saying Reformed Baptist are not reformed?

  54. Doug,

    Well, yes. It’s that important.

    Second, much of what you say is also true of Lutherans. We probably have as much in common with them on many of the points you list as we do with the small group of RBs who would agree with you on covenant theology.

    The HC says that children are members of the covenant of grace. You introduce a substantial discontinuity between Abraham and the Christian. For Abraham it was okay to initiate children into the visible covenant community but because the New Covenant, for you, is so substantially different, so eschatological, we cannot initiate our children despite the fact that God nowhere overturned his command to Abraham and, in fact, repeated it in Acts 2:39.

    So, the strictly confessional RBs (e.g. ARBCA) holds “a” covenantal hermeneutic but it is not exactly the covenantal hermeneutic of Zwingli, Bullinger, Calvin, and the Reformed Churches.

    This gets to my point that not all covenant theologies are the same. I appreciate the intent of the LBC folk to be covenantal but you’ve changed the nature of the covenant of grace in the New Covenant and that’s no small thing.

    Remember, the point began in these posts not to deal with the ARBCA, which is admittedly the most difficult case, but to deal with the YRR who accept far less of the Reformed covenant theology than the ARBCA folk accept.

  55. Dr. Clark,

    With all due respect, aren’t you making the sine qua non of the reformation infant baptism? Isn’t that a little too reductionistic?

  56. Clark –

    My point was not whether the early church held to typology or not or that there was a view of redemptive history or not. It is pretty hard to deny this point.

    However, my argument is that this argument was not picked up to support paedobaptism until Zwingli. Did Justin Martyr argue for paedobaptism from redemptive history? Not on my reading of his Apologies. He gives a very detailed description of baptism. No infants mentioned, the baptizee confesses at the waters and on and on. I can’t see an infant doing that. The Didache does not support infant baptism. Pretty hard to imagine the infant fasting for two days, and learning all of the material in the first 6 chapters of the same document. This is another discussion, I realize.

    Just pointing to Luther on Genesis, you know as well as I, does not speak for the Lutheran confessional tradition. They do not hold to the covenant of grace and they certainly do not use it in support of infant baptism.

    Thus the reformed only maintained the same practice as the early church, but for entirely different reasons.

    You have defined continuity with the Abrahamic covenant in a way that the Apostle does not. Paul defines Christ as the seed, not children of believers today. That is a problem on the theological side, not the historical.

    So infants baptized do receive the Holy Spirit? How do you understand “promised to”? Does regeneration really happens at baptism? How do you account for when some covenant children fall away, not simply by evidence, but leave the church altogether. Does this not create tension with the 5th point of Dort?

  57. Doug,

    No, the sine qua non of the Reformation was the material principle (justification sola fide) and the formal principle (sola scriptura). So here we have generic Protestantism. I’m happy to accept confessional (LBC) Baptists as fellow “evangelicals” in the older sense of the word but that would include confessional Lutherans. Thence we make a further distinction that excludes both Lutherans (who exclude us!) and Baptists (who don’t regard us as Baptized). That seems fair doesn’t it?


    There is a strong evidence from the middle of 2nd century for paedobaptism, but that’s another discussion.

    We’ll have to disagree over Paul — and that’s just the point isn’t it? Reformed folk recognize certainly that Paul says that Christ is “the seed” but that doesn’t obviate or change the promise made to us and to our children. Christ was the seed before the incarnation and he’s the seed after. Nothing about the New Covenant changed that. On your argument Abraham should never have circumcised any children, let alone Ishmael, but that’s what happened.

    “Entirely different reasons”? Really? Have you read Bullinger’s Treatise? They were reading Irenaeus and Justin. So was Calvin. They were making the same arguments against the Anabaptists that the Fathers made against the gnostics — both groups made a radical discontinuity between the OT (broadly defined) and the NT. So I quite disagree with your history.

    Lutherans don’t believe in the “covenant of grace”? If by that you mean that they didn’t have a highly developed covenant theology, yes, but your’s is an overstatement. The Book of Concord does, in fact, use the expression “the covenant of grace.” Most Reformed would have (and do) agree with the argument in Art 9 of the Defense of the Augsburg Confession. Just because the magic word “covenant” does not appear does not mean that the same reading of redemptive history was not at work. I’ve argued this case in my book on Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant.

    No, infants don’t necessarily receive the HS, neither did Ishmael. We don’t accept the Baptist premise that only those who’ve received the Spirit are eligible for Baptism. That’s the point. We initiate those whom God has said we should initiate. That’s why we’re not Baptists. We don’t have to account for anything. The covenant community has always had Ishmels and Esaus. That’s not our business, it’s God’s. We obey his commands and leave the outcome to his sovereign grace.

  58. Clark –

    Aren’t we reading Justin? Do you find paedobaptism in Justin?

    Luther took the uncritical word of Augustine that paedobaptism goes all the way back to the apostles. Do you? I quite disagree with your history if that is how you conduct it. I find the arguments of Kurt Aland convincing, but I realize that not everyone does.

    On my argument, Abraham should have circumcised his children. Afterall Gen. 17 says so. My problem is with your hermeneutic and even your reading into texts such as Acts 2:39. There is no command to baptize anyone there. The command is in 2:38, but this is quibble since you will say they are to be baptized on the basis of the promise. But how do you understand the “all those who are afar off?” Should they not be baptized too, apart from faith since that is what you do with the infants? Furthermore, all three of those groups are qualified by “all who our Lord God will call.”

    Well, I digress. Enjoy the Lord’s Day.

  59. Meade,

    Of course I tend to agree with Jeremias. Most of the 2nd century evidence is determined by how one reads the NT so that goes back to exegesis of the NT and that goes back to reading the history of redemption and the nature of the Abrahamic covenant. Of course I say that Acts 2:39 is a repetition of the promise of Gen 17. There was no need to repeat the command to initiate children since that command was explicit in Gen 17. Acts 2 is a terrible way to say, “Well, I know that we’ve been initiating children into the visible covenant community for 2000 years but now that the New Covenant is here, that’s all over now. This is the New Covenant and it’s so eschatological that we couldn’t possibly include children in its administration.” No one at Pentecost would have understood Peter’s words thus.

    “As many who are far off” = Gentiles. Adult believers and their should be baptized as always. The promise is to those who are present (and to their children) and to those gentiles who are remote.

    As to patristics:

    Tertullian acknowledges the existence of PB c. 200 in De Baptismo 18.5
    Irenaeus, Adv Haer. 3.39, renascuntur in Deum of infantes, parvulos, et pueros. Renascor = baptism?

    Origen, Homily in Luc 14. “parvuli baptizantur in remissione peccatorum”)

    Cyprian Synodal Letter (Ep. 64) c. 250 requires baptism to be admin to newborn infants.

    Jeremias stretches some evidence but Aland ignores Tertullian and treat paedobaptism as if it dropped out of the sky.

  60. I would say that Jeremias stretches more than some evidence.

    The Didache doesn’t mention paedobaptism. Neither does Justin. Jeremias attempts to argue from the ages of saints, as Polycarp who was baptized 86 years ago and other such references. This kind of evidence is not very strong in my opinion.

    Furthermore, Tertullian should be read in such a way as to see paedobaptism as an inovation. He argues against the new practice of paedo. Therefore the evidence from the second century leads me to believe the practice did not exist. With infant mortality and a strong emphasis on original sin vs. infant innocence, the doctrine of paedobaptism was ripe for coming on the scene.

    I’m not arguing whether the practice existed in the third century. It did, though it was not as wide spread as some have tried to make it. The Eastern Church still did not recognize it. We have evidence that Gregory of Nyssa, son of a bishop, was not baptized till c. 30. It is not until the fifth century that the practice becomes widespread.

    If it was the undeniable practice of the NT, how come we have no evidence from the second century, except Tert. c. 200 arguing against small pockets of it? If it was the undeniable practice of the NT, how come the evidence for the universal practice does not appear until the fifth century? This puzzles me and causes me to reject the paedbaptist claim that this practice extends all the way back to the NT. The best argument for the paedobaptist is the NT itself, and to argue that the 2nd century church was in need of immediate reform on this issue.

    Since you seem to want to continue the dialogue over Acts 2, how do you understand the meaning of the word “call” in 2:39? Do you not see kaleo as the usual verb to indicate God’s effective call? Do you argue that the infant knows or is conscious of what is going on in baptism? If so, how? If not, how do you understand oi apodexamenoi ton logon in 2:41? I take this phrase to mean all who accepted the claim were baptized. Meaning that only those who weighed it and accepted it into their minds were baptized. I’m not a Cambellite. Repentance in 2:38 and God’s call in 2:39 are necessary before baptism, but so is an understanding of the gospel claims, which 2:41 confirms.

  61. Meade,

    How do you understand “promise”? To what does the “promise” of v. 39 refer? Peter was re-stating the Abrahamic promise. God will call his elect. The sign was to be placed upon believers and their children. Will all those children necessarily come to faith? No. Did Esau come to faith? No. Was he included in the administration of the covenant of grace? Yes. You can’t bring anti-Abrahamic assumptions to this passage.

    The great Baptist a priori is that the New Covenant is new relative to Abraham. The Reformed understand that Paul, in 2 Cor 3, Gal 3, and the writer to the Hebrews in chs 7-10, following Jer 31, is/are (is the subject plural or just collective?) clear that the New Covenant is new relative to Moses not Abraham. The latter remains the father of all who believe (Rom 3-4).

    Read from the Reformed approach (as distinct from the Baptist) Peter is explaining how the New Covenant functions. To those Jewish men present, representing thousand of covenant households, the promise is to them and to their children and to those beyond, as many as the Lord calls. What is the promise? “I will be your God and your children’s God.” Who inherits the promise? Those who believe. Who believes? The elect. To whom do we make the promise/offer? To everyone. That’s why the mainstream of the Reformed tradition has spoken of the “offer” of the gospel or the “free” or “well-meant” offer.


    As I’ve noted above (perhaps you missed it) there have always been multiple covenant theologies. That is why one must pay attention to the particulars in and about one’s covenant theology as much as to the CT itself. There were medieval “covenant” theologies. It’s just code for a “reading of redemptive history” in many cases. Yes, Coxe’s reading was similar to the Reformed, right up until it became a Baptist reading!

    Yes, in the 17c Baptists identified with aspects of Reformed theology, piety, and practice. So what? The Reformed had been paedobaptist and a distinct movement for a century by then (since 1523). Did the Reformed churches change their mind about the fundamental issue? Did they decide that infant baptism wasn’t essential to their theology, piety, and practice? No.

    This all gets back to the problem of a minimalist v maximalist definition of the adjective and an objective definition (the six-forms of unity) of “Reformed.”

  62. ps. Don’t many of the Baptist comments here essentially prove my point? There are two distinct readings of redemptive history at work here: the Reformed and the Baptist. Yes they overlap at places and yes, there are Baptists who hold to divine sovereignty but, at the end of the day, all Baptists are Baptists! Surely that can’t be controversial?

    Thus the Baptist and the Reformed have quite different ecclesiologies, different views of the sacraments, and different heremeneutics (however long it may take that difference to emerge).

    Baptists don’t think most Reformed folk are Baptized! Why would they want to equivocate on the adjective “Reformed” with a lot of unbaptized folk pretending to be Christians? How important are the sacraments to Baptists? They must be pretty important or they wouldn’t unbapitze us in the interests of re-baptizing us and yet some of them want to “Reformed.” I don’t get it.

    Hence I go back to my argument that the Baptist appropriation of the adjective “Reformed,” especially in the case of the YRR, is a form of vandalism or theft. They demand that we hand over our name, our heritage, and our identity. They want to re-baptize the adjective Reformed! Just as in the case of re-baptism and re-circumcision, it’s a mutilation, isn’t it?

  63. Clark –

    I still disagree with you :).

    I think the baptist view uses the same hermeneutic but it is more consistently applied. We have a covenant theology. We seek to understand the text through the covenants, just as the reformed, but where the reformed see pure continuity between Abraham and the New, we see a heightening or a fulfilling of the Abrahamic covenant. I believe we share the same hermeneutical presuppositions, but we apply it differently.

    To get to your point from Acts 2:39, I believe you read into this text your view of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise, rather than listen to how the NT interprets the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. Try to follow these links with me.

    First, does not Jesus in Acts 1:4-5 define the promise? The promise is the Holy Spirit. The disciples are to wait in the city to receive the promised Holy Spirit. Of course this happens at Pentacost. This is far different than reading Gen. 17 into Acts 2:39, but the NT makes this connection between Abraham and the Spirit elsewhere.

    Second, Gal. 3:13-14 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” The NT clearly links the blessing of Abraham to the promised Spirit. The promise cannot be reduced to a simplistic application of Gen. 17 to the NT. Rather the NT interprets the Abrahamic promise as the reception of the Holy Spirit, the sign that one is a child of Abraham. That is why I asked if you believed if all the baptized infants received the Holy Spirit. You are giving them the fulfilled sign of the Abrahamic/new covenant which signifies that these are confessing believers who have received the Holy Spirit and the gospel.

    This conclusion makes sense of what Paul says in 3:15ff. Christ is the seed of Abraham. He is the final destination of that promise. Now, there are descendents of Abraham, and Paul identifies them in 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Only union with Christ secures one’s place as a descendent and heir of Abraham’s promise. Union with Christ can only happen by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6 and 8).

    Covenant children are those who are Christ’s, not simply those children of believers. Hebrews 2:13, “And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”” Christ has children and only his children are Abraham’s. Christ has only died for his children. He has not died for the Esau’s or for the Ishmaels, even though these were covenant children under Abraham. He has died for his true children, the members of the New and unbreakable Covenant, which procures final forgiveness of sin.

    Sure we are baptists, but we use the same Reformed hermeneutic to be baptists. Why not just say that is your idiosyncratic reformed paedobaptism that makes you Reformed. You are Reformed because of the novel reasons of Zwingli, and no other group claims that. But covenant theology is a broader theme that reformed baptists and the Reformed have in common, even though they draw a different conclusion.

    You can claim your conclusion as reformed, but you cannot claim the hermeneutic as strictly REFORMED, since reformed baptists use it as well.

  64. Not sure why all the heat in my direction; I was simply stating what RB’s thought of themselves and why (it was in relation to a comment above which suggested that Baptists didn’t vew themselves as Reformed). I even made clear that I wasn’t getting into my own personal convictions, and, if anything, I thought I was quite clear that I thought Baptists were crazy to claim John Owen.

  65. Meade,

    Let me get this right: you (and those Baptists who agree with you) know better than all the Reformed Churches and confessions and theologians the Reformed hermeneutic?

    Nick at Restless and Reforming quotes this from Richard Muller’s essay (another one of those self-deluded Reformed guys who doesn’t really understand the implications of his own hermeneutic!):

    “Salvation does not arise out of human merit but by grace alone through the acceptance, by graciously engendered faith, of the sufficient sacrifice of Christ for our sins. Baptism, rightly understood from the human side, signifies the placement of our children into the context where the promised grace of God is surely at work. And who more than an infant, incapable of meritorious works, can indicate to us that this salvation is by grace alone? By way of contrast, the restriction of baptism to adult believers who make a “decision” and who come forward voluntarily to receive a mere ordinance stands against recognition of baptism as a sign of utter graciousness on the part of God: Baptism here is offered only to certain individuals who have passed muster before a human, albeit churchly, court — or to state the problem slightly differently, who have had a particular experience viewed as the necessary prerequisite to baptism by a particular churchly group. If grace and election relate to this post-decision baptism, they can hardly be qualified by the terms “irresistible” and “unconditional.” There is an inescapable irony in refusing baptism to children, offering it only to adults, and then telling the adults that they must become as little children in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven. “

  66. The Muller quote conflates ritual water baptism with regeneration. It also conflates Reformed Baptists with Arminians.

  67. Clark –

    Does your denomination baptize adult converts? Are these trophies of grace any less significant or important just because they were old and made a “decision” (this choice of term is charged and really unnecessary).

    Surely, God’s grace is just as magnified when one sinner repents. That’s the advantage to seeing an adult CONVERTED by the grace of God. He has turned from serving idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9-10), and the whole world knows it.

    You still have not defended how the reformed and the reformed baptists have the same hermeneutic (covenant theology), but hold different implications for such a hermeneutic. What do you call the Reformed baptist hermeneutic? I think this gets back to Doug’s point. If we only claim to read the text via the covenants then what do you call what we do?

  68. Meade,

    We also realize the joy of seeing covenant children profess faith in their Savior, of watching them take personal possession of those things that were promised, in baptism, to all who believe. We don’t have to choose between the one or the other. My wife and children, praise God, we’re raised in covenant homes and do not remember a time when they did not believe. They’ve always believed. In my case, in the providence of God, there was time between the administration of the sign and the realization of the benefits of the sign and even the process, if I may use that word, was a irregular. Nevertheless, by God’s grace, in time, I came to receive the benefits promised by baptism.

    One of the problems with the Baptist view is that it ends up conflating the visible and invisible churches, which we do not do. On this see my essay in the Confessional Presbyterian and/or my booklet on Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace (go to http://www.wscal.edu/clark). We recognize Paul’s distinction between those who are in the covenant of grace only externally and those who are also in the covenant of grace internally. There is one covenant of grace, whether under Abraham or under Christ, but there are two ways of existing in that covenant of grace. Baptists, in the New Covenant, flatten out that distinction.

    Thus I come to the heremenutical difference. As I understand hermeneutics it is not merely a collection of interpretative principles, though it is that, it also includes the results of those principles and the reciprocal process of reading Scripture in the light of the process and the results. We come to markedly different conclusions about the nature of the New Covenant (and about Abraham and the whole history of redemption really) because we not only employ different methods but we come to different results. The fact that our conclusions overlap in some systematic areas and in some parts of redemptive history does not mean that we have the same hermeentuic.

  69. Dr. Clark,

    I am truly thankful for your addressing this issue of YRR and the issues of who is reformed. Though you would see me as a confessional Reformed Baptist as part of the problem, we share a concern of the diluting of the name “reformed” by those who have reduced its meaning to election or the 5 points.

    I also agree with you that the issue of baptism is no small matter. While we agree on many points of the meaning and purpose of baptism our disagreements are not insignificant.

    However, I do think that you, unwittingly, are closer to the YRR at one point then you might think. Your ultimate test of being reformed is a single point. If I affirm every point of reformed doctrine save infant baptism you would say I am not reformed.

    Of course, you would say more is at stake in infant baptism than just the act of baptism. The right understanding of covenantal hermeneutic is the real issue. Fine. I accept that. Except, even the reformed camp as you define reformed there isn’t a singular covenantal hermeneutic.

    Calvin writes in the Institutes 2.10.1 “The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation.”

    Obviously, Calvin is not dealing with the covenant of grace per se but the distinction between the OT and NT as the chapter title suggests.

    Michael Horton’s 4 volume work on covenants (master piece don’t you think!?) argues that the difference between the two is significantly greater. OT Suzerain Vassal Covenant – in by grace/stay in by works vs. Royal Grant Covenant which is pure promise.

    So, who is reformed? Calvin or Horton? They don’t use the same covenantal hermeneutic.

    How about John Murray, or more explicetly O Palmer Robinson and their denial of a covenant of works vs. The WCF and its affirmation of a covenant of works. With Sam Shepherd we see the end result of denying a covenant of works. So who is reformed, Murray/Robinson or WCF and Witsius, Horton and you?

    Which brings me back to my first point. There is not inside of the reformed camp a singular understanding of covenantal hermeneutic or the covenant of grace is specific. Yet, with the exception of Shepherd, I doubt you would say any of the above named men our not reformed. What do they have in common? Not a specific covenantal hermeneutic but infant baptism.

  70. Doug,

    With all due respect, you can’t expect me to accept such a blatant and cavalier mischaracterization of Calvin and Horton, can you? I take it that you’re having an extended joke at my expense. I’m really busy this week (play time is over) but the way you set Horton against Calvin is very amusing. It almost seems as if you mean it, as if you’re failing to recognize that Calvin is speaking in broader terms and Horton in rather more precise terms. I know that you know that, in substance, Horton hold the same covenant theology relative to the continuity of the covenant of grace and relative to baptism. I know that you know that the section headings in the Institutes are editorial additions.

    As to Mr Murray, you can see in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry (click on the books link above) how we dealt with his self-conscious deviations from historic Reformed covenant theology. I also recommend the new volume, The Law is Not of Faith regarding the question of “republication.” Ditto for Palmer Robertson. Check the index of CJPM.

    Yes, prior to the 20th century, there was a considerable unity in Reformed covenant theology. The diversity to which you appeal is all quite recent. That’s why we wrote CJPM.

    ps. Yes, the 4 vol Horton series is a magnificent achievement!

  71. Are you really suggesting that there is no dissimilarity whatsoever between Calvin’s tendency to flatten the distinction between the OT and NT and the Kline’s significant heightening of distinctions drawn between Suzerain Vassal vs. Royal Grant covenants?

    From your second paragraph, you mention Murray’s “self-conscious deviations from historic Reformed covenant theology” and “ditto” for Robertson. Are they not reformed by your definition?

    No. I am not trying to be funny. I am trying to understand.

  72. Doug,

    1. The OT/NT distinction can be used in at least a couple of ways. It can be used broadly where OT = the entire typological period and the NT = the period of fulfillment. Calvin used the distinction in this way. The distinction can also be used more narrowly to distinguish between Moses and Christ. In the narrower use Abraham is not included. It’s not fair to contrast two writers without making clear how they are using this distinction.

    2. Is Horton’s covenant theology the result of 450 years of clarification? Sure it is! Reformed covenant theology in 1664 was rather different and more precise than it was in 1564.

    3. Nevertheless, if you read The Law is Not of Faith you will see that there is a considerable degree of substantial continuity between Calvin and the later Reformed covenant theology, even though the later RCT was more precise and addressed issues that had not existed before Calvin died.

    4. Horton acknowledges in The God of Promise that the problem of how to speak about the Mosiac covenant and republication is difficult and there were several views in the 17th century. Nevertheless, Calvin taught a version of republication while also teaching that Moses was also an administration of the covenant of grace.

    5. Mr Murray rejected that tension and made Moses only an administration of the covenant of grace. Does this (along with his revision of the covenant of works and his rejection of the covenant of redemption) make him “non-Reformed”? No, but it does also not make his a paradigm of orthodoxy in RCT. It makes him a revisionist — which he intended to be. Some (many?) of us have judged that his revisions are not persuasive or helpful on these points. Many of us were, as it were, raised on Murray’s revisions but have, through our own study of the tradition, come to appreciate it more than the revisions.

    CJPM explains this dynamic as does the more recent vol. mentioned above.

    Mr Murray was part of a general revision of covenant theology in 20th century that included K. Schilder in the NL, H. Hoeksema in the USA and even K. Barth. Indeed, apart from Louis Berkhof and a few others it was difficult to find anyone standing up unequivocally for the Classic Covenant Theology. See CJPM on this. The 20th century in Reformed Theology was an aberration. It wasn’t the norm but Americans are unhistorical and don’t know the tradition beyond their favorite 20th-century author so it’s going to take a while.

    This is why I’m editing the CRT series for RHB, to introduce English readers to the classic Reformed theology that I talk about all the time. Take a look at the new Ames volume and see for yourself. Have you read the survey of the history of covenant theology on my wscal website? http://www.wscal.edu/clark click on covenant theology -> A Brief History of Covenant Theology.

    A much longer and more detailed history should come out, Dv, later this year or early next year.

  73. My goodness, where did the phrase Reformed Covenant Theology come from? Covenant Theology IS Reformed Theology.

    There were not a few Baptist covenant theologians who held to little things like the Covenant of Works, which as noted many ‘Reformed’ covenant theologians didn’t think was too very important (Federal Theology? Remember?).

    We say Classical Covenant Theology. We say classical Covenant – Federal – Theology.

    Especially when you are talking about *refinement.* Or just merely referencing the river of on-the-mark (i.e. biblical) covenant theology that flowed into and through the 20th century in Vos, Berkhof, and Kline (and let’s not forget Pink, who, in his way may have been more influential than the others). There were, again, not a few Baptists covenant theologians in there doing the refining and defending. Some rather famous ones.

  74. Well, I tend to agree with this article as far as it goes. However, in my church, the confession we use is the 39 Articles of Religion. I consider this as agreeable to the 5 point view of Calvinism but when the Articles were formulated that issue had not yet occurred.

    But the Lambeth Articles of 1595 foreshadow the Canons of Dordt, though they were never accepted in the Church of England as a whole. My rector is a 4 point Calvinist. I have continually told him that he is a 1 point Arminian and not a 4 point Calvinist. I myself subscribe to the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity in addition to the 39 Articles, Lambeth Articles, and the Irish Articles. I also like the Consensus Tigerinus and the Consensus Formula of Helvetica against the Amyraldians.

    I would want to add to this list the five solas of the Reformation. Can you think of any other confessions I need to subscribe to in order to nail it down tighter???


    • Charlie:

      There were some good men at Dordt from the Church of England. Bancroft was one of them.

      However, Anglican’s signal failure, among others, came with that narcissist in Canterbury, Billy Laud, who staffed all major positions with Arminians. And the ecclesiology needed reforming, then, as now with “bishops” elected for term limits and as senior presbyters, primes inter pares. Elizabeth, James, and Charles 1 seriously limited honourable Churchmen by failing–I repeat–failure to upgrade the XXXIX Articles.

      I’ll stick with Senior Presbyter, Bp. of London, Edmund Grindal (later Cantaur) who wrote Heinrich Bullinger in 1566, to wit, that he and “all the others” accepted the Second Helvetic Confession. Elizabeth the Sovereign Exegete did NOT want those sort of definitions.

      As good as our old Prayer Book is, and it surely is, and surely it’s an impoverishment without it, it’s time for reformation amongst Prayer Book folks. And we can start by insisting on Psalm-singing almost exclusively. Said to include, but not limited to, “reformation hour” for Dr. James Innes Packer re: Anglo-Tractarians, Romanists, and these “things” called evangelicals. What a failure! Charlie, just ain’t gonna take these Western Anglican any moe! No moe! Charlie, I’m fed up with them.

      • Correction, Charlie, not Bancroft but Bp. Carleton, the only bishops, and four others. Interestingly and curiously, James the 1st wrote the Dutch Parliament in 1617 advising a international Reformed synod to extirpate Arminianism. It was not a Dutch event, but every nation was represented except the French Reformed Huguenots, prevented by political, Romanist and antichristian restrictions in France. Scotland, England, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

        • Hi, Phil… Thanks for the encouragement. I don’t know if I could agree with making everyone do psalm singing but I do think that the psalter is more solid than many of the traditional hymns. It is way more solid than anything the contemporary worship crowd has to offer.

          I am working on an article about the state of the Anglican Communion here in the USA. In particular the recent Central Florida Diocese Convention was discouraging. They passed a resolution against the consecration of the openly lesbian bishop in the Los Angeles diocese by only 174-152 margin. And I later discovered that the bishop himself was not in favor of the resolution! And John Howe “claims” to be conservative. I am beginning to have serious doubts that he is really against the homosexuals and the liberals.

          Additionally, there were NO Evangelicals at the convention at all. ZERO. My rector, our senior warden and I were the only Evangelicals there. That, my brother, is a sad statement indeed.

          Sincerely yours in Christ,


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