Another Baptist Pastor Becomes Confessionally Reformed

Benjamin Lee, Director of Youth Ministry at Oakwood Presbyterian Church (PCA), announced (via Twitter) that he had accepted this new position. He also indicated that he had left his Baptist convictions to adopt the Reformed confession (including the Reformed view of the sacraments). Below is our interview. This is the second in what might become a series.

§

1. Where did you grow up and how did you come to faith?

I grew up in Madison, Indiana on a small sheep farm. I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home with parents who were faithful to share the gospel with me and my sisters. My exposure to the gospel came in large part through their faithful ministry, which included taking us to church every time the doors were open. By God’s grace I heard the gospel proclaimed each week from faithful preachers in the SBC church I attended as a child. I made a profession of faith around age 7, which was when I was baptized.

2. Small world. Do you know Collin Welch? He is a student at Westminster Seminary California? He’s from Madison and he’s hoping to plant a URC congregation there.

I do know Collin, though not well. He was a few years behind me in school, but we didn’t interact much then. We found each other on Twitter last year sometime and have been in contact since. I’m glad he’s at WSCAL!

3. How did you discover the Reformed faith?

I’ve been Calvinistic for as long as I can remember, but the first hint that there was more to being Reformed than the five points came in a church history class at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during my MDiv studies. During a lecture on baptism I realized for the first time that Baptists did not have a monopoly on it. I was stunned to learn that the vast majority of Christians throughout church history have held the paedobaptist position, and it’s not even close. I was further stunned to discover that the Baptist position was a relatively new position in the Church. Though that discovery did not initially change my convictions it did stick in my mind.

After my seminary education was completed I began pastoring a Baptist Church near State College, PA. During my first few years there I discovered the Reformed Confessions, particularly the Heidelberg. As I studied the Confessions I realized that what I had been hearing from some of the “Reformed” preachers and authors, who had influenced me over the years, did not jibe with what had been handed down to the church by the Apostles and Prophets. What a relief it was to learn that I wasn’t the only person who was troubled by the language of initial justification! Though I didn’t realize it at the time, jumping it to the Reformed Confessions was the beginning of the end of my life as a Baptist.

It was the next event, however, that proved to be the decisive falling domino that pushed me full force into the Reformed world. I was at a gathering of Reformed pastors (P&R and Baptists) when we began discussing how the Bible fit together. I was taught Progressive Covenantalism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but realized in this meeting that I wanted to understand the positions better. This led to a long investigation into covenant theology. As I studied the Bible I came to believe that the Bible teaches one covenant of grace revealed to us in multiple administrations. And I, being a novice of covenant theology, assumed that everyone who professes to be covenantal believes the same. I wanted to understand how Baptists arrived at believers-only-baptism while holding to covenant theology. So I returned to the primary sources of the Particular Baptists. In doing so I discovered the vast differences between Particular Baptists and the Reformed, especially that PBs do not consider the Abrahamic Covenant to be part of the Covenant of Grace. I was stunned. After that I was fully in the Reformed covenant theology camp. The jump to pedobaptism wasn’t too great of a jump after that, though it did take some time.

4. It seems as if the turning point for your was your reading of primary sources in the Particular Baptist tradition. Whom were you reading?

It was definitely the turning point. I assumed I would read the Particular Baptists and be more deeply rooted in Baptist distinctives. My primary source was Nehemiah Coxe along with Pascal Denault’s book on Particular Baptist covenant theology. As it turns out, however, far from convincing me of the baptist position, Denault’s book pushed me quickly into the Reformed camp.

5. So, you were pastoring a Baptist congregation when you started to adopt Reformed convictions? How did that go?

I was pastoring a Baptist church at the time. Telling the elders at BEBC of my theological shift and desire to be part of the PCA was the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had. They were disappointed I had to resign, but they were gracious. I love those men and the church.

6. How have your family and friends responded to your adoption of the
Reformed confession?

My wife has been fully on board. Actually, having been born into a Presbyterian Church she has been telling me since seminary to become Presbyterian. She was a sounding board as I worked through my positions. I am sure this would have been a much longer and more difficult process without her by my side. My father is a Baptist minister, so telling my parents was difficult, but they have been supportive of the transition.

7. What was it about the Reformed confession that drew you to it?

Two things come to mind. The first is the pastoral nature of the confessions, especially the Heidelberg Catechism. The confessions are not intended merely to impart knowledge (thought they certainly do). They are intended to help believers understand what that knowledge means for us. I experienced the benefits of this pastoral quality personally. Several years ago I found myself in the midst of a long period of spiritual anxiety. For years I could not escape a severely debilitating pattern of being turned in on myself, to use Luther’s language. In fact, I had much in common with Luther’s early experience as a monk. I was constantly afraid I wasnt repentant enough, that I hadn’t confessed all my sins, that my faith was fake. I know what Luther meant when he said, “No one knows the terror of those days but myself.” But then, in God’s providence I stumbled across Heidelberg 60: How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me thatI have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.

Faith came slowly, but come it did, in God’s timing. The confessions have been a close friend since.

Second, what drew me to the confessions was their comprehensive nature. The doctrinal statements I had encountered in the past were purposefully minimal; usually just 10 or so simple statements on key doctrines. These statements, though fine, are not comprehensive enough to provide a robust understanding of Christian piety and practice. What I’ve found in the Westminster Standards [i.e., the Westminster Confession, the Shorter Catechism, and the Larger Catechism], the Heidelberg, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort have put the flesh on my theological skeleton, as well as encouraged my faith.

8. Tell us about your new call and congregation.

When I began to question my position on baptism I reached out to some trusted pastor-friends at a nearby PCA church. As we worked through it together and I realized I was going to have to resign from my church, they graciously invited me to be the Director of Youth Ministry at their church. I resigned my position mid-December of 2019 and began at Oakwood PCA in January. God was so gracious throughout the process. I began speaking with those men about my theological shift in June 2019, and by October they had offered me the position. It is difficult to express our level of gratitude both to them and to God. Over the next few years I’ll be serving the youth their in a bi-vocational capacity while I work through the ordination process. I also work for a reclaimed wood company outside of State College, PA called Antique Building Solutions. The church has welcomed us with open arms, and we’re excited to be part of what God is doing at Oakwood.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    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.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


11 comments

  1. This is such a cool story. I am sure many of us lurkers can relate having come from a non-Reformed tradition. But his doctrinal move as described is so sacrificial, deliberate and thoughtful; it was encouraging. Many of us left dispi/arminian/baptistic fellowships on much thinner ground. Glad to see a Pastor that did it the right way. Particularly with regards to his sorting through the various covenantal positions – something I am still working through after 25 years in the Reformed camp.

  2. I am in this same position now. I am a reformed baptist pastor and have embraced the 3FU and the Reformed position on infant baptism. I believe the children of believers should be baptized and desire for my children to receive it. This post gives me hope…I would appreciate your prayers for me. My family’s whole financial provision is bound up in a pastorate that I know I cannot keep. I don’t know what to do.

    • Ultimately honesty and decency mandate that you will have to bring your change in convictions to light by sharing it with your church and its elders. It would not be fair to keep such a change in conviction secret for longer than is required for you to consider whether it is complete and permanent, or merely a partial/temporary change of conviction. If you are sure it is lasting, then you need to bring it to your elders soon. If the church handles the matter graciously, which is likely (though, alas, not certain) it is possible that they will allow you a period of time to transition by allowing you to continue to exercise your pastoral office (with the understanding that you will not teach your new views that differ from its) or otherwise receive financial support until you can find suitable alternate employment. At that time you can then pursue ordination in a Reformed denomination if you believe you are called to do so, though you must realize this will not be a quick and easy process, and may involve further sacrifice on your part. Then too, you might not be eligible for such ordination absent further education, depending on your present background/education. I would do extensive research and have plenty of discussions with the relevant Reformed authorities prior to pursuing such ordination. Above all, pray and trust God.

  3. I appreciate the humility displayed in this account; however, as a particular baptist myself, I think it’s important to recognize the importance of the ‘regulative principle’. I know that there are many verses that both sides of the debate can present in order to support their position, but it is the perpetual ‘elephant in the room’. As a reformed baptist, sola scriptura is the starting point and should guide our understanding of the covenants revealed in Scripture. If you begin with the WCF(as beautifully written as it is, yet fallible) you will logically find yourself in the Paedobaptist camp. If, however, you begin with the WCF, I would argue that sola scriptura is not necessarily being upheld. Furthermore, the references to entire households being baptized in scripture does not necessitate a norm for baptizing an infant since we have no idea the age make-up within these homes. It has always seemed to me that the sign of ethnic Israel(circumcision) being abrogated by the spiritual sign of baptism as confusing earthly promises with heavenly. I do believe both views of baptism are within orthodoxy, however, since they do not view baptism as regenerative.

    • RJeff,

      I see this argument regularly.

      It’s not persuasive because it assumes the Baptist view. The rule of worship, which the Baptists learned from us (and now presume to teach us) is that we may do in worship only what God has commanded.

      God has commanded baptism. He has commanded the administration of the Lord’s Supper. What he has not commanded is the confusion of the two, as the Baptist view entails, by turning baptism into the confirmation of the profession of faith. Like circumcision, baptism is the sign of initiation. Like the feasts, the Supper is the sign of covenant renewal, not the sign of admission to the visible covenant community.

      We’re obey Acts 2:

      Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 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. 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.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:37–42; ESV).

      The apostolic command, thus the divine command, is for believers and their children to be baptized because the [Abrahamic] promise is to believers and to their children. We baptize infants of believers because of the divine command, not out of sentiment or tradition.

      Here are more resources on this.

    • Dr Clark thank for taking the time to provide your input as well as the relevant references, I appreciate it.

      The larger context of Acts 2 is the recurring theme of God the Father pouring out His Holy Spirit on both adults and children(Pentecost). The promise he refers to is stated clearly in the immediate text and Abraham is never alluded to; Salvation occurs when faith and repentance occur and baptism is the outward sign of this new life(Col 2:12). Repent and be baptized is the common precursor to baptize which would assume persons who can do such, whatever that age may be. The reference to children in Acts 2 is simply stating the fact that age is irrelevant if faith and repentance occurs in an individual. I imagine that the 3,000 that accepted Peter’s message likely included their children, but specifically those who were ‘cut to the heart’ by his message.

    • Your comments prove that Baptists are not Reformed. It puzzles me that Baptists want to be seen as Reformed in spite of denying basic Reformed distinctives. They have a different reading of Scripture, the sacraments, and redemptive history.

  4. I am a Christian. I am reformed in the sense that I want to uphold the Five Solas of the reformation and I also believe in the Doctrines of Grace. If others don’t view this as reformed I’m ok with that. As I stated before, both views of baptism are within orthodoxy in my opinion since neither viewpoint sees it as salvific, I wanted to simply defend the baptist viewpoint that is all.

    • Jeff,

      1. It’s not a matter of what “others” think. It’s a matter of what the Reformed Churches confess God’s Word to teach. This isn’t a matter of competing private opinions. It’s a matter of public, official ecclesiastical statements. The Reformed Churches all affirm one covenant of grace, with multiple administrations. This isn’t negotiable.

      2. The Reformed faith cannot be reduced to the solas. They are necessary but they aren’t sufficient. We confess much more than the solas.

      3. We have a covenant theology that we began expressing in the 1520s against the Anabaptists. It’s in our confessions. It’s integral to our understanding of Scripture. The Baptists have a different covenant theology. It’s a competing system.

      4. Please take a look at the resource page linked earlier. It covers all these topics at length.

      Blessings,

      rsc

Comments are closed.