Advice From A Former Baptist Pastor For Those Discovering The Reformed Confession

I had recently had a conversation where the discussion turned to my experience transitioning from a Baptist minister to a Teaching Elder in the PCA. Part of it was reflection on what I learned, good decisions, regrets, etc. It would likely require a book to go through all the ins and outs of the process, but for now I would like to offer 14 thoughts that would be good steps and measures as you consider entering into the Reformed tradition.

  1. Read the Westminster Standards and the 3 Forms of Unity (the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort) frequently. I was committed to the 1689 London Baptist Confession before I came to agree with the doctrine of the previously stated confessions. If you are in this point of a transition, I would encourage you to read equally the Standards as you read theological books on paedobaptism, polity, etc. Reading the confessions allows you to read what the tradition you’re considering believes. Frankly, this will save you lots of time if you’re only listening to sermons, podcasts and reading books on specific subjects. At some point, you will have to address the contents of the Westminster Standards, or the Three Forms of Unity. If you are familiar with these confessions, you will be able to tie things together as your delve into all the other resources. It is very easy to be attracted to a tradition for one or two particular points of theology and practice. This is most likely how many of us ended up Calvinists: We were in Baptist or evangelical churches, came to believe the doctrines of grace and sought out churches that held to the same thing. The problem is, you bring another set of issues that need to be dealt with that you aren’t prepared for. This is why Confessions and catechisms are so helpful. They help you sort through things and put things together.
  2. Become familiar with these standards because they will help you sort through much of the content available today. There are other who can speak to this issue much better than I can. But if you’re considering this in 2020, then you are likely overwhelmed by the number of resources in a variety of media that claim to be Reformed. Likely the best way to sort through things is to know the confession they claim to hold, compare their teachings to what the confession says, and see if it adds up. It is a similar process to discerning the orthodoxy of a writer who claims to be a Christian, yet denies a basic teaching of the Bible, and secondarily, a tenet of the Apostles’ Creed. It’s taking their teachings, and going to the source for comparison. If you do this, you could find yourself saying something like, “well, I accept that you believe that, but that’s not what the confessions states.” In the end, there are some things that are within the Reformed faith, and some things that aren’t. That’s easy enough to say, but the problem often lies in many who say they are Reformed, but hold to key doctrines, practices, etc. that are not within that boundary. Becoming familiar with these standards will not guarantee you sort through successfully, but it will help
  3. Become familiar with Reformed worship, specifically the directories of the denomination you join. Reformed worship has some overlap with evangelical worship, but it is quite different on the whole. Reading the directories for worship serves the same purpose as becoming familiar with the confessions.
  4. Get to know Reformed ministers, elders and teachers personally. If you’re at point of joining a Reformed denomination, this isn’t intellectual discussion anymore. You need real friends and mentors now. There are a number of writers, pastors, teachers that provided the ground work for getting here. But when it comes time to test the water, you need someone that’s in the water to help you swim. Those who helped me navigate, prayed with me and for me, are more important to me than the books.
  5. Get to know families from Reformed churches. Those that made a transition later, those that are covenant children either of one generation or from a long line. This puts flesh and blood to what type of Christian life is set before you. They know the lay of the land, the leaders, the history and such. They have perspectives that are invaluable because they are the actual people who make up the tradition. They usually have a good sense of things. They don’t write the catechisms, but they catechize their children. If married, it will be invaluable to both husband and wife.
  6. Listen to your Christian friends in your current church and tradition. They may not understand why you are heading this way, but they can tell that you are. And if they are loving friends, they will help you sort through it, pros and cons. It’s likely they have observed you and Reformed people and churches before, and can offer thoughts and wisdom that you need. If they encourage you not to, or to move slowly, take it seriously, and don’t write them off.
  7. There are in fact cons to leaving Baptist/evangelical churches, but most aren’t in terms of the theology, worship, structure, etc. The hardest part it will change some dynamics of your relationship. If you are members of the same church or association of churches, you will miss being those friends regularly. In addition, you will feel somewhat like an outsider if there are church discussions, whether local or in the broader evangelical church, that you’re not being in that stream will over time make you feel out of the loop, or like you may not have much to contribute. As an example, imagine nearly all your Christian friends discussing the issues of the SBC and here you are now, member of a relatively small Reformed church, in a relatively small denomination. You care, want the best, but what all can you really say? I find this hard even after being away for many years.
  8. If you are a minister wanting to make the transition, talk thoroughly about what that will mean, short term and long term. The transition from being a minister in a Baptist church, to pursuing ordination and taking a call in a Reformed church is very hard. There is no other way to say it. It’s hard to wait, hard to know what to do in the meantime, hard to study for exams, hard to have faith in God’s good plan for your future in this calling you love and desire to see in. Further, unless you live in an area with a plethora of NAPARC/NAPARC-like churches, receiving a call could include moving, and most assuredly will include waiting. But, it’s not hopeless, and far from it. No Christian is without hope through Jesus Christ. I have written about this previously, and will direct you there for more
  9. Tom Petty was right, the waiting is the hardest part. However for the minister in transition, the waiting period could be a true blessing, because it’s similar to getting a free internship. Having some time to observe, ask questions, and listen was invaluable. I would also add that, for the most part, the elders and pastors are happy to help you along, and answer questions. Don’t wear them down, but you’d be surprised at their endurance for lots of questions.
  10. If you have children that haven’t been baptized, then explain plainly to them, answer their questions as easily as possible, and be patient and kind. Your kids will trust you. The thing they will need most is reassurance of your love for them, care for them, and helping them join in on a new church with new people.
  11. Repeat this exact process with those friends who will ask why. Expect that you will have to explain why you aren’t a Roman Catholic. Overwhelmingly, Christians are asking because they care, or at least are curious. Remember that infant baptism, liturgy, structure past the local church, etc., these things are foreign to many Christians today. If that wasn’t true, I would not be writing this. We have to give simple answers, and do so with patience, as so many have with us.
  12. If you desire pastoral ministry, but haven’t yet begun, give thanks to God that your eyes are open now. As I said previously, the transition while serving as a pastor can be quite difficult. If you are joining before seminary, then seek wisdom and counsel from the pastor and session on proceeding to becoming a Reformed/ Presbyterian Minister, if the Lord wills.
  13. Wisely and cautiously bring up examples that support your decision to join a Reformed church when with Christians friends. It’s easy to get into a Presbyterian cage stage like many do with Calvinism. Sadly, the evangelical church often provides red meat for the new Reformed Christian. But going out of your way to show why the Reformed tradition is correct is dangerously close to trying to justify yourself and puff yourself up, in the name of showing why Reformed theology is correct. You don’t want your friends to not feel at ease to discuss Christian matters and issues with you because they dread you saying something like “this is why you need a Presbytery.” I’m sure you’re right. However….
  14. Being wise and cautious doesn’t mean you never explain. Whether right or wrong, deserved or undeserved, many Baptists and evangelicals, assume that those who join or are members of Reformed churches have made their decision from purely theological reasons. In other words, they sense that you are doing this because our of intellectual reasoning and curiosity, not a desire to be godly, to grow spiritually, etc. If it is, then their questions and critiques have some validity. But if not, then assure them that isn’t the case. From there demonstrate such by your character, which means knowing your audience, being patient, and offering examples that would be helpful to them no matter their church. This should allow you overtime to be able to have a deeper talk about why you arrived where here.


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  1. All of the points are excellent, but the first one really is foundational to all the rest, and I wish I had received that guidance before starting my own journey from Baptist to Presbyterian. My own process was for more gradual and piecemeal than it could have been if I had steeped myself in the standards. As it was, I became Presbyterian long before I really knew what it meant to be confessional, and I thought of myself as confessional long before I really was.

    I would urge others to take that advice. I wish I had.

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