In The Wake Of The SBC: Baptists Are Neither Reformed Nor Calvinist

The Southern Baptist Convention met and fought this week. Some who lost are talking about “leaving.”One person, seriously or in jest I cannot tell, proposed that Baptists and P&R churches should merge. This is impossible for many reasons:

  1. The words Reformed and Baptist mean something and they are and always have been mutually exclusive. In the 16th century, the Reformed rejected the Anabaptists as “sects,” and “fanatics” for their reading of redemptive history (denying the unity of the covenant of grace), for their Christology, their soteriology, their view of the church and sacraments (of course), and their views of the Christian’s place in society.
  2. The Reformed churches of the British Isles (and Europe) rejected the Baptist churches in the 17th century for many (not all) of the same reasons. The same problems with the reading of redemptive history remained, the problem of the church and sacraments remained. The initial response by many British Reformed theologians was to denounce the Particular Baptists (i.e., the wing that affirmed some aspects of the Reformed doctrine of salvation) as “Anabaptists.” That was not entirely correct but it is telling that they responded that way.
  3. No one, certainly not the Particular Baptists, was calling the Particular Baptists (as distinct from the General Baptists) “Reformed.” Neither should we.
  4. No one called the Particular Baptists “Calvinists” either. Neither should we. The expression “Calvinistic Baptist” implies that Calvin’s and Calvinistic theology can be reduced to some aspects of the doctrine of salvation. That would be a shock to Calvin, who confessed a great deal more than the “doctrines of grace.” The historical and theological reality is that the Baptists and the P&R traditions are distinct. They are not essentially one with, as many people assume, some minor differences.
  5. As I compare the differences between the Second London (Baptist) Confession (1689) with the Westminster I realize that I have been mislead by the formal similarities between the two. I am not alone. When we compare them closely we will find there to be significant differences between them, which differences are illuminating of the substantial differences between the two confessions.
  6. We know that both traditions realize that the words Baptist and Reformed are distinct when a Baptist minister seeks admission to the ministry of a P&R church without changing his views on the history of redemption (e.g., he still denies one covenant of grace, multiple administrations), church, and sacraments). He cannot be admitted and the same would be true of the P&R minister who, because he baptizes hitherto unbaptized converts, wants to call himself a Baptist. The Baptists rightly protest: “But there’s much more to being Baptist.”
  7. I hope to address these in an upcoming series. For now see the resource page on defining Reformed.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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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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14 comments

  1. And yet many P and R churches admit baptists to communion and invite them on the pulpit….

    • I have seen it recently that a particular baptist minister was invited to the pulpit and led the worship service.

    • Peter Kok is right. From what I’ve seen it’s not uncommon for Baptists to be invited to preach in Presbyterian and Reformed churches — and not just in the more “loosey goosey” churches in the PCA that might also invite broad evangelicals, charismatics, or others. I’ve seen quite conservative Reformed churches have pulpit exchanges with the local self-described Reformed Baptist pastor.

      For a small isolated Reformed church, the only realistic alternative to inviting a Baptist who affirms TULIP to fill the pulpit may be having a person in the pulpit who denies not only infant baptism but also multiple points of TULIP, or cancelling church services entirely.

      It’s not as if a small church that is struggling to pay its pastor can afford to track down a man from halfway across the state, or from another state, and pay to have him come down to preach on short notice if their pastor gets sick.

      I have personally seen a lot worse people in some NAPARC pulpits than self-described Reformed Baptists. Not everyplace is West Michigan or Northwest Iowa. Not everyplace is within driveable distance of a Reformed seminary. When it comes to getting a person to fill the pulpit, churches may have no confessionally Reformed option at all, not even a Reformed Baptist.

  2. Interesting stuff. I clearly recall reading that when Al Mohler assumed the office of the presidency of the SBTS back in 1993 he gave a speech to the faculty saying that the seminary was “…Calvinist and if you don’t subscribe to that tradition, you should consider leaving…” I also recall that his speech ruffled a lot of feathers resulting in repercussions throughout the SBC.

    At the time I thought that his statements were rather odd, given what little I knew about the differences in the way Baptists view “Calvinism” versus what I was slowly learning about Reformed theology. Now, over 25 years later I more clearly see the way they tweak TULIP and discount or ignore other aspects of the Reformed confessions (as this blog post points out). It makes me think of that article by Richard Muller, “How Many Points?” (available for reading on Kim Riddlebarger’s website) in which he covers all of the other aspects of what it means to be “Reformed” besides just the five points. I have shared that article with Baptists and received some rather indignant responses.

  3. I have never comprehended why Baptists take umbrage at not being considered Reformed. Many I have encountered seem to perceive the term Reformed as being some kind of value judgment rather than a category judgment. While I have encountered many who want to be considered charismatic Baptists or Reformed Baptists, I have yet to encounter one who aspires to identify as a Lutheran Baptist.

  4. I have just seen it happen in the last few months. A particular baptist pastor was invited to lead the worship services.

    • I don’t know about the Presbyterian system, but in Reformed churches , elders are quite able to lead the services and read a sermon. In my opinion, this is preferable to having a pastor on the pulpit who is not a member of a sister church, or at the least a member of a NAPARC church.

  5. As a Baptist myself, I have enjoyed many of Dr. Clark’s blog posts. Some of the best work done by anyone is your defense of justification by grace through faith alone. I would wholeheartedly agree that there are many differences between Baptist and Confessional Reformed churches. So many differences that I too would agree that these two could not be merged together. It is the shallowness of many on both sides that you will see them trying to reconcile the differences. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be any fellowship between the two sides, just not in the context of the worship service.

  6. In 1981 I, a Methodist at that time, born and raised, began a 12 year sojourn with the Southern Baptists. I was appalled at the semi-Pelagian theology I encountered, a heresy amongst the Wesleyan Arminians and Anglicans. The SBC Traditionalist Statement is semi-Pelagian through and through. I did encounter a few Particular Baptists, but they were few and far between in the SBC and usually kept their heads down rather than be condemned as “heretics”. I sympathized because I did the same, especially because I was Amillenial in my Eschatology. I always felt that the SBC owes its theology to the Charles Finney era of Revivalism.

  7. I think I have boiled the differences between P&R and “Reformed Baptists” to three points. Please tell me if and where I might be wrong:

    Different hermeneutics:

    Reformed believers are guided by one of two hermeneutics. Both usually lead to similar conclusions, but an important distinction exists between the two. And the deeper I go in my studies of the scriptures, the more the distinction seems to really matter.

    The Presbyterian hermeneutic is described in the Westminster Confession of Faith this way:

    The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture… (WCF 1:6).

    The Reformed Baptist hermeneutic sounds similar but it is different because it does not include deduction or “good consequence:”

    The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture (London Baptist Confession 1:6,).

    So what’s the difference? Both often lead to the same conclusion, as they do in the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. I have a silly, simplistic way of illustrating it: If one passage explicitly states that “all normal dogs have four legs,” and another explicitly states that “Spot is a normal dog,” then it is necessarily true that Spot has four legs even though that fact is not explicitly stated. The fact is contained in the book even though not explicitly. A Presbyterian might deduce that since there are other properties of normal dogs, such as two ears, a wet nose, and a wagging tail, then Spot must also have those qualities as well, even if the book doesn’t contain those things in its description of normal dogs. A Reformed Baptist could not reach that far, since two ears, a wet nose, and a wagging tail are not contained in the book’s description. While I realize that my silly simplistic illustration likely falls short of adequately describing the difference, I’m a simple country boy and receptive to correction if I really have misstated the difference. That’s just how I understand it.

    It is that difference, I think, that accounts at least in part for the differences in Covenant Theology between Baptists and Presbyterians, and in the way that the two apply the Regulative Principle of Worship to the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

    Different Covenantal Views:

    Presbyterians view the Old and New Testaments as containing different administrations of the same covenant, which most refer to as the Covenant of Grace. They do this to preserve the continuity of Scripture between both Testaments. But to a Reformed Baptist, it isn’t necessary to preserve the continuity of the Testaments by describing the two as being “different administrations of one covenant.” The writer of Hebrews describes the Old Covenant as “type and shadow” of the New. The New fulfills the Old. But to a Baptist, the two are separate covenants altogether and while one prefigures the other, they apply to different groups of people and different points along the continuum of unfolding eschatology and progressive revelation:

    First, the Old covenant was limited, under it’s different administrations, to one family, one race, one nation; whereas the New removes all such distinctions.
    Second, the Old was temporal rather than eternal as the New covenant is.
    Thirdly the Old was physical, geographical, and political, where the New is spiritual, universal, and “not of this world.”

    Yet under the Old Testament, prefiguring the New, all who were eternally saved were saved just as they are in the New: By faith in One who was to come, the Seed promised to Abraham in the Old covenant, the Second Adam, the Mediator of – as the writer of Hebrews describes it – “a better covenant based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).”

    Different Applications of the Regulative Principle of Worship:

    Both Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians subscribe to this principle, based on Sola Scriptura and described in the Westminster Confession of Faith in these terms:

    …the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and is so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to … any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (WCF 21:1).

    This principle has been reduced by many people to simply, “When it comes to the worship of God, whatever is not commanded is forbidden.” This is quite unlike the Lutheran and Anglican principle which is, to reduce it to it’s simplest form, “whatever is not forbidden is permitted in the worship of God.” This leads them to all sorts of human inventions that “help the people worship,” from drama and dance to more superstitious stuff like making the sign of the cross and assigning mystical properties to the elements in the Lord’s Supper and observing a liturgical calander. Superstition, by the way, I take to mean trying to please, appease, delight, or “reach” God by any means other than revealed in His written word.
    Because the Old Testament is to be interpreted through the lens of the New Testament, and because of the difference in the two views of covenant theology, the Reformed Baptist does not see baptism as a New covenant “replacement” of Old covenant circumcision. And as there is no explicit command in the New Testament to baptize any but confessed believers, Baptists reject what Presbyterians call “covenant baptism” (or “infant baptism”). To a Presbyterian, the command to baptize the infant children of believers is “necessarily deduced ” by the examples of Old covenant circumcision and “household baptisms” in the New Testament.

    These three differences combine to form the theological basis for both credobaptism (believer’s baptism) and paedobaptism (infant baptism). They also represent what my search has “boiled down to.”

    Have I described it accurately? If not, where have I erred? Thanks for your thoughts, and apologies for the length.

    • Robin,

      Thanks for your thoughtful interaction. Comments interspersed.

      I think I have boiled the differences between P&R and “Reformed Baptists” to three points.

      I think your points are partly right and partly not. Of course, I continue to object to the nomenclature, “Reformed Baptist.” It’s oxymoronic. For the reasons I’ve given in the post and in the resources attached to it, it remains true that one is either Reformed or Baptist but not both.

      Please tell me if and where I might be wrong: Different hermeneutics: Reformed believers are guided by one of two hermeneutics.

      There aren’t two Reformed hermeneutics. We should speak of a Baptist hermeneutic and a Reformed hermeneutic. One of two you describe is (a) Baptist hermeneutic and the other is something like the Reformed hermeneutic.

      Both usually lead to similar conclusions,

      I don’t know that the Baptist hermeneutic leads to similar conclusions. It depends upon how one defines similar.

      but an important distinction exists between the two. And the deeper I go in my studies of the scriptures, the more the distinction seems to really matter.

      Amen. As I say, I was told (and believed for a long time) that the differences between the 1689 and the WCF were minor and only regarding Baptism. I have come to see that is not correct. It is in view of these considerable differences that we should not equivocate on the the term Reformed. If we study the Reformed confessions (as distinct from the Baptist) we will see that there isn’t that much variety among them and there certainly is not a radical difference in the reading of redemptive history.

      The Presbyterian hermeneutic is described in the Westminster Confession of Faith this way:

      I take it that you are Particular Baptist. It is an odd habit of PBs to refer to all Reformed folk as “Presbyterian,” which is a polity (church government) and not a system of theology or hermeneutic. The proper adjective is Reformed.

      The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture… (WCF 1:6).

      I agree that the difference between the Baptists and the Reformed is largely (but not entirely) about what inferences must be drawn from Scripture.

      The [Particular] Baptist hermeneutic sounds similar but it is different because it does not include deduction or “good consequence:” The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture (London Baptist Confession 1:6,). So what’s the difference? Both often lead to the same conclusion, as they do in the doctrine of the Trinity, for example.

      Genuine question. Does the PB hermeneutic really lead to the Trinity or does the PB confession piggyback on ecumenical Christianity when it must? The Trinity is a necessary good and necessary consequence. By calling into question good and necessary consequences, it does seem that, in principle, the Particular Baptist hermeneutic has potentially profound consequences for ecumenical truth.

      I have a silly, simplistic way of illustrating it: If one passage explicitly states that “all normal dogs have four legs,” and another explicitly states that “Spot is a normal dog,” then it is necessarily true that Spot has four legs even though that fact is not explicitly stated. The fact is contained in the book even though not explicitly. [The Reformed] might deduce that since there are other properties of normal dogs, such as two ears, a wet nose, and a wagging tail, then Spot must also have those qualities as well, even if the book doesn’t contain those things in its description of normal dogs. A [Particular] Baptist could not reach that far, since two ears, a wet nose, and a wagging tail are not contained in the book’s description. While I realize that my silly simplistic illustration likely falls short of adequately describing the difference, I’m a simple country boy and receptive to correction if I really have misstated the difference.

      One problem with the analogy is that the Reformed don’t simply imagine that God made one covenant of grace or that he ordained to administer that covenant of grace in households, under the types and shadows and in the New Covenant. We see it plainly on the pages of Scripture. In other words, the Reformed are not operating on the basis of a priori notions or assumptions or inferences about what must be. We are drawing “good and necessary” inferences from what is plainly on the pages of Scripture.

      the way that the two apply the Regulative Principle of Worship to the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

      This is a claim made frequently by Particular Baptists but I do not concede that we are operating on the basis of the same principle. The PB claims to hold the rule of worship and he claims that he is following it more closely than we (e.g., Calvin), who articulated the rule of worship (later the RPW). The PB changes the terms of the rule of worship without acknowledging the change. The rule says that we may do in worship only what the Lord commands” he adds the word “explicitly.” We do not. The rule of worship includes the “good and necessary consequence.” By omitting “good and necessary consequence” from the rule, the PB has materially changed it.

      Different Covenantal Views: [The Reformed] view the Old and New Testaments as containing different administrations of the same covenant, which most refer to as the Covenant of Grace. They do this to preserve the continuity of Scripture between both Testaments. But to a [Particular] Baptist, it isn’t necessary to preserve the continuity of the Testaments by describing the two as being “different administrations of one covenant.” The writer of Hebrews describes the Old Covenant as “type and shadow” of the New. The New fulfills the Old. But to a Baptist, the two are separate covenants altogether and while one prefigures the other, they apply to different groups of people and different points along the continuum of unfolding eschatology and progressive revelation: First, the Old covenant was limited, under it’s different administrations, to one family, one race, one nation; whereas the New removes all such distinctions.

      The Reformed are driven by the Word of God, by the explicit teaching of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments and by good and necessary consequences to see one covenant of grace administered in multiple external administrations throughout the history of redemption.

      The PB denial of this is, frankly, one of the most unbiblical, and anti-ecumenical aspects of PB theology. For years the only PBs I knew/read seemed to acknowledge the essential unity of the covenant of grace but also saw the New Covenant as more eschatological than the types and shadows but as I began to read older PB sources and as listened to contemporary advocates of the retrieval of older/classical PB theology I began to see that the PB approach is radically different from the Reformed. This difference alone is sufficient to warrant the Reformed objection to the nomenclature “Reformed Baptist.”

      The PB reading of Redemptive history reflected in your argument is a radical departure from the earliest Patristic accounts of the history of redemption (e.g., Barnabas c. AD 120, Irenaeus (c. AD 170) and the ecumenical tradition running through the Middle Ages and into the Reformation. This is why I have been speaking of the covenant of grace as being in, with, and under the types and shadows. The types were an anticipation but that is not all they were. The covenant of grace was present in them and the OT believers, the OT church, participated in the covenant of grace.

      The OT administrations of the one covenant of grace were NOT entirely limited to one race and one family. Your account reflects the fundamental Baptist error of conflating Moses with Abraham and with the rest of the pre-Mosaic history. Abraham was not Moses. Abraham, was a Gentile when he was called and he was the beginning of the harvest of the Gentiles into the church of Jesus Christ. Further, there were Gentiles (e.g., Naaman et al who were called to faith, who also prefigured the harvest of the Gentiles, after Moses.

      The sort of language you use here is, at best, quasi-Dispensational. It is certainly not Reformed and against illustrates the folly of the novelty “Reformed Baptist.” The entire Reformation rejected the sort of approach advocated by the Baptists (as reflected in your account).

      Second, the Old was temporal rather than eternal as the New covenant is. Thirdly the Old was physical, geographical, and political, where the New is spiritual, universal, and “not of this world.”

      I’m glad you said this. Anyone who knows the Reformed theology and confession will recognize this as a fundamental assault on Reformed theology and on the broader ecumenical reading of the history of redemption. This is soft Dispensationalism not Reformed theology.

      The NT certainly does not read the OT this way. Your account is the product of a kind of rationalism, an a priori that knows how the story must come out before we ever get to the NT.

      It defies Hebrews 11, who treats the OT believers as members of the one covenant of grace, who were looking for a heavenly city, not an earthly homeland.

      Yet under the Old Testament, prefiguring the New, all who were eternally saved were saved just as they are in the New: By faith in One who was to come, the Seed promised to Abraham in the Old covenant, the Second Adam, the Mediator of – as the writer of Hebrews describes it – “a better covenant based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).”

      1. Better relative to Moses. Read the context. The contrast is with Moses. I understand that Baptists don’t see that but it’s frustrating that they seem unable to see it. The contrast in Jer 31:31-33 is between Christ and MOSES and the writer to the Hebrews capitalizes on that contrast. The writer to the Hebrews wasn’t a Baptist (and neither was John Owen). He didn’t conflate Abraham, Noah, et al. with Moses. The Hebrew Christians were being tempted to go back to Moses. He’s expositing Jer 31:31-33 as Paul did in 2 Cor 3. The New Covenant is new relative to MOSES.

      2. New and better does not mean, as the PB assume, essentially different or existing and non-existing. The contrast between New and Old is not only a contrast between Christ and Moses (Old Covenant = Moses in Heb 7-10; 2 Cor 3) but between one administration (the New) and another administration (the Old) of the same covenant. In your account, there is really only one administration of the cov of grace, the New. It never exists in the Old. You didn’t say what some PBs are saying but it seems to be implied: the OT was really a covenant of works and not a covenant of grace.

      As to baptism itself, the issue is the continuity of the covenant of grace. You have evacuated the covenant of grace from the OT, which is ironic since the Lord entered into a covenant of grace with Noah and with Abraham. That grace was present and operative (in, with, and under the types and shadows). In the PB system, however, it can’t be present so, poof, it is erased and the whole system of types and shadows is turned into nothing but anticipation.

      Never mind what Jude says. “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5; ESV)

      Who led the people out of Egypt? Who? What does the NT actually say? Jesus. Who was with the church in the wilderness? What does the NT actually say?

      For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4; ESV).

      Jude, Hebrews, and Paul read the history of redemption much differently from the way the PBs read it. Jude, Hebrews, and Paul rest their argument to the NT church on the basis of substantial continuity between the Old and the New in contrast to the PB doctrine of substantial absence or discontuity.

  8. You have given me much to think about! I thank you for graciously taking so much time with a very thoughtful reply. I shall look more deeply and invest more time in these questions, both in the Scriptures and in Church history. I presently attend a Particular Baptist church, as the only Reformed (PCA) church in town is a shell of it’s former self, having split three ways before I moved to town. Two of the factions started other churches that have since disappeared, and the one remaining seems to be barely having on. I’m now willing to travel farther if need be to find the truest possible church that is thriving and growing and that has room for another family to participate in more than just sitting in a pew and writing checks to keep it “alive” and “on life support” if y’knowhatimean. Again, your reply was thorough and thoughtful, and I’m grateful for the time you spent writing it.

  9. The Covenant of Grace point has definitely had a great impact on my thinking on this issue. It’s not completely new to me, but taking it to it’s logical conclusion is stunning!

    The Apostle Paul himself seems to use “good and necessary consequence” quite a bit in his theological arguments in the Epistles…

    The Covenant of Moses is “an everlasting covenant, throughout your generations,” so it’s not completely abrogated by the New Covenant which fulfills and supersedes it (not cancelling it, and if that is so, then … GASP! …

    Household baptism IS expressly commanded under the New Covenant!

    Is that a fair summary?

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