There Is No Credo Baptist Heidelberg Catechism or Why Hercules Collins Was Not Reformed

For some years I have complained about Baptist squatters in the Reformed house. These are those Baptists who insist on re-defining the adjective Reformed. As it turns out, however, this habit of squatting is not new at all. Indeed, one of the earliest examples occurred in 1680.

Squatters Then And Now

I use the metaphor of squatters because this is how those are described who take over someone else’s house (or attempt the same) when the homeowner is away and call it their own. When the homeowners are present, it is called a home invasion. To the degree the Reformed did not inhabit their own confessional house—they were away at war for the first half of the twentieth century—they left it vacant and squatters moved in. As we have tried to move back in, however, we have found the house crowded with competing accounts of what it means to be Reformed.

Where are these squatters, you say? Well, take a look at the number of Baptist publications and institutions who appropriate the adjective Reformed. There are Reformed Baptist schools. Reformed Baptist books, websites, etc. They are not hard to find. I was reminded this week of this problem when I received an email from one of my favorite booksellers notifying me of an edition of the Heidelberg Catechism: The Heidelberg Catechism: Credo Baptism Edition.

As a student of the catechism, I have seen many editions, including a modern Hebrew edition, but this one is rather different from the others. The editions to which I refer are all translations of the original Heidelberg Catechism as it was published by the Reformed Church of the German Palatinate in 1563. The edition that came to my attention, however, is a 2021 reprint of a 1680 Particular Baptist revision of the Heidelberg Catechism by Hercules Collins (1647–1702).

Two things stand out about this reprint. First, and most obviously, the subtitle: A Credo Baptism Edition. I think the more correct adjective would be Credo Baptist but even that adjective is a mongrel. It is a cute adjective which rhymes with common American pronunciation of paedobaptist meaning “baby baptizer.” Credo is the Latin verb (1st person singular, present active indicative) “I believe.” Thus, it is a modern, shorthand way of signifying “one who confesses believer’s baptism only.”

To state the obvious: A Baptist version of the Heidelberg Catechism is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. It makes no more sense and has no more relation to reality than would a Second London Confession (1689): A Paedobaptist Version. That document already existed. It is known as the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF; 1647) and the differences between the WCF and 1689, as it is known among Baptists, are rather more profound than is often realized. I myself only gradually came to see how profound those differences are and I will endeavor to explain those differences in forthcoming essays.

A Herculean Task

The second thing to note is that this catechism is a republication of a work first published around 1680 by the Baptist pastor, Hercules Collins. His revision and publication of the Heidelberg under the title, An Orthodox Catechism tell us that the Particular Baptist habit of invading Reformed houses is much older than we might have thought. It is practically baked into the Particular Baptist movement.

Collins was Particular Baptist in England who helped to develop that tradition. He was an active author, publishing twelve books, who vigorously defended the distinctive convictions of the Particular Baptists. A modern, somewhat paraphrased version of his Orthodox Catechism is available online.

The introduction to the modern version says, in part,

This catechism, much like the 1689 Baptist Confession and the 1693 Baptist Catechism demonstrates the congeniality that these Baptist Puritans shared with their reformed, protestant contemporaries in the Christian faith. By utilizing the Heidelberg Catechism, Collins remains within the stream of the reformed tradition while expressing his own conviction of believer’s baptism.

This narrative is widely shared and deeply held among Particular Baptists. Is the Particular Baptist theology “congenial” to Reformed theology, piety, and practice? I think not—at least not as congenial as some Particular Baptists would have us think. The Reformed Baptist project entails significant revisions of Reformed theology which change our reading of redemptive history, the way we read the Bible, and our view of the church and sacraments, and our eschatology. Collin’s version of the Heidelberger is not “within the reformed tradition” as much as it marks a departure from it. Again, I offer as a thought experiment a version of the experiment I proposed in Recovering the Reformed Confession. Let us imagine that Collins were transported back 117 years, to the drafting of the to Heidelberg in 1562–63. Let us say that late in 1562 he made the same revisions that he published in 1680. How would the Palatinate theologians and pastors have responded? We do not have to guess.

The Reformed And The Baptists Contrasted

We know what they thought about the Anabaptist rejection of the continuity of the covenant of grace and their consequent rejection of infant baptism, with which Collins agreed. The Palatinate Church confessed:

74. 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.

This question and answer was a direct response to the Anabaptists and it stands as a response to all Baptists, including the Particular Baptists.

We confess that our children belong to the covenant of grace along with their parents. Why do we say that? We say it because God’s Word teaches it in Genesis 17:7, which we take as the paradigm for the covenant of grace. There are six proof texts in the 1563 edition of Heidelberg Catechism, the first of which is “Gen. 17.” The verse numbers with which we are so familiar were introduced by Stephanus in the late 1550s and were not yet in widespread use.

We confess that the children of believers belong to the covenant of grace because we view the nature of the covenant of grace differently from our Baptist friends. They typically see the covenant of grace as promised in the Old Testament but one coming into existence in the New Testament. In their view, the nature of the covenant of grace is such that no one but believers can be members and therefore only those who profess faith may be visibly entered into the church. In the Baptist view, there is only one way to relate to the covenant of grace.

According to the Reformed understanding of Scripture, there are two ways to relate to the covenant of grace: externally and internally (Rom 2:28; 9:6). We understand that the promise made in Genesis 17:7 is still in force, that it has not only never been revoked but was positively re-stated in Acts 2:39: “for the [Abrahamic] promise is to you and to your children…”

Baptism is for us as circumcision was for Abraham: a sign and seal of the one covenant of grace that was instituted under Adam (Gen 3:15), after the fall, administered under Noah (Gen 6:18), repeated and administered under Abraham (e.g., Gen 12; 15; 17), under Moses (e.g., Ex 2:24; 6:4–5; Lev 26:42), and under David and the prophets (e.g., Ps 105:8–9). We understand that the covenant of grace was not merely promised through types and shadows but that it was actually present, in, with, and under those shadows. We understand that Jesus led the Israelites out of Egypt (Jude v. 5; ESV) and “that rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). We confess that the promise of Genesis 17:7 is still for our children. Thus, as the catechism indicates, unlike at least some Baptists, we do not regard our children as little reprobates and we do not speak of them that way. We regard them as children of the covenant of grace to whom promises have been made. We do not presume on those promises but we prayerfully trust the God who made them and we faithfully make due use of the means he has ordained by which he ordinarily brings his elect to new life and true faith.

Collins’ approach to the sacraments generally is different from the Reformed. Contrast the original Heidelberg Catechism on Q. 65 with Collins’ revisions.

Collins Seeing then that only Faith Maketh Us Partakers of Christ and his Benefits, whence doth it proceed?

A. From the Holy Ghost, who kindleth it in our hearts by the preaching of the Gospel, and other ordinances (emphasis added), and confirmeth it by the use of the sacraments.

Heidelberg Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, from where comes this faith?

The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the Holy Sacraments.

The major difference here is that Collins added “and other ordinances” to the preaching of the gospel as the instrument by which Christ brings his elect to new life and true faith.

It might also be significant that Collins omitted the adjective “holy” from sacraments.

There are similarly minor but suggestive differences between Collins’ version of Q. 66 and the original version of Q. 66. The question is, “What are the sacraments?

Collins They are sacred Signes, and Seals, set before our Eyes, and ordained of God for this cause, that he may declare and seal by them the Promise of his Gospel unto us, to wit, that he giveth freely Remission of Sins, and Life everlasting, not only to his all in general, but to everyone in particular that believeth (emphasis add), for that only Sacrifice of Christ which he accomplished upon the Cross.
Heidelberg The Sacraments are visible holy signs and seals appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof He may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the Gospel: namely, that of free grace, He grants us the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.

Where the framers of the Heidelberg (chiefly Ursinus), after establishing that they are, in the second part of the catechism, preaching the gospel to believers, Collins is at pains to distinguish between believers and unbelievers in the church. Remember, the Baptist movement was born out of concern about unregenerate people in the visible church. Like the Congregationalists, they were going to be sure to achieve a pure visible church in this life.

Collins radical revisions of the Heidelberg become even plainer under the heading of Baptism. In Heidelberg 69 (Lord’s Day 26), the Reformed do not define baptism or a mode. The first thing to which we speak is the significance of holy baptism. The question asks, “69. How is it signified and sealed to you in Holy Baptism, that you have part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?” and the answer says:

Thus: that Christ instituted this outward washing with water and joined therewith this promise: that I am washed with His blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water, whereby commonly the filthiness of the body is taken away.

Collins, however, defines baptism and stipulates the mode of baptism:

What is baptism?

Immersion or dipping the Person in Water in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, by such who are duly qualified by Christ.

Collins then turns immediately to the proper subjects of baptism:

Those who do actually profess Repentance towards God, Faith in, and Obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.

The first proof text Collins gives is Acts 2:38. It is interesting that he does not cite vs. 39. He also cites Acts 8:38,39, and Romans 6:4. The omission of Acts 2:39 is surely significant.

We have considered the Reformed answer to the question, who are the proper subject of baptism and to the question of whether infants are to be baptized. Contrast that answer with Collins’:

Are no Infants to be baptized?

None by no means; for we have neither Precept nor example for Practice in all the Book of God.

Where the Reformed appealed to the Abrahamic pattern, Collins’ flatly repudiated it:

May not the infant Seed of Believers under the Gospel be baptized as well as the Infant Seed of Abraham under the Law was circumcised?

No; For Abraham had a Command then from God to circumcise his Infant Seed, but Believers have no Command to baptism their Infants [sic] Seed under the Gospel.

Collins was entirely unmoved by the Reformed appeal to the continuity of the substance and administration of the covenant of grace. Indeed, as he implied here, he had already argued, in effect, that the use of infant baptism is a denial of the rule of worship. To the question, “Doth the Scripture anywhere expressly forbid the Baptizing of Infants?” he answered, “It is sufficient that the Divine Oracle commands the baptizing of Believers, unless we will make ourselves wiser than what is written.” He appeals to the cases of Nadab and Abihu, who offered strange fire. This was a locus classicus for the Reformed defense of the rule of worship. For Collins it precludes infant baptism. He has an additional, if unstated rule: unless the command to include the infants of believers into the visible covenant community is repeated it is presumed to be expired. The continuity with the Abrahamic covenant is broken.

He made that explicit when, in answer to the question, “Seeing the Infants of Believers are in the Covenant of Grace with their parents, as some say, why may not they be baptized under the Gospel, as well as Abraham’s Infant Seed was circumcised under the Law?”

Before we look at his answer. The reader should note two things about Collins framing of the question. On the one hand, he has clearly read Reformed accounts of the continuity of the covenant of grace but just at the end of the question, he changes the terms by adding “under the Law.” This is a hint of the typical Particular Baptist conflation of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. For the Reformed, the Abrahamic covenant was not “the Law.” The Mosaic covenant was, insofar as it was a republication of the covenant of works, “the Law.” Note also that he added the caveat, “as some say” regarding the including of infants in the covenant of grace.

Collins answered,

By the Infants of Believers being in the Covenant of Grace, it must either be meant of the Covenant of Grace absolutely considered, and if so, then there is no total and final Aposstacy of any Infant seed of Believers from the Covenant, but all must be saved then.

Or, 2. They must mean conditionally, on consideration that when they come to years of maturity, they by true Faith, Love, and Holiness of life, taking hold of God’s Covenant of Grace, shall have the Privileges of it. This being their fence, I then demand what real spiritual privilege the Infant-Seed of Believers, as such, have more than the Infant Seed of Unbelievers, if they live also to years of maturity, and by true Faith and Love take hold God’s Covenant? I further demand, whether the Seal of the Covenant do not under those considers belong as much to the Children of Unbelievers as to the Children of Believers?…

Collins continues at some length—apparently having given up on the idea of catechism—in his response to the Reformed view of the covenant of grace. One can see thus far that Collins’ has conflated the doctrine of election with the covenant of grace and rejected the Reformed doctrine of the external administration of the covenant of grace.

Like most Particular Baptists, he not only rejects the distinction between the substance and administration of the covenant of grace, he seems genuinely not to have been able to understand it. The privilege of the covenant of grace is to grow up in under its influence, to be a part of the external administration (as distinct from being utterly outside its administration). The child who grows up within the external administration not only receives the sign of the covenant but is catechized, is the subject of prayer, Christian instruction, and the life of the covenant community. He grows up hearing the law and the gospel.

Implicit in Collins’ objection seems to be the (Baptist) presumption that Collins knows who is and is not elect. He seems not to account for the judgment of charity whereby the church accepts the profession of faith of members until they demonstrate that they do not believe. We treat them as believers and we treat their children as the children of believers.

Does the Lord operate freely outside of the ordained means? Of course. Does that license us to ignore or to gainsay the divinely ordained means? Of course not.

He goes on to make the same errors that Baptists make today: demanding that if children are admitted to baptism why are they not admitted to the table. Collins seems not to have understood some basic elements of Reformed theology. Then as now, we did (and do not) admit infants to the table because baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two distinct sacraments, with distinct functions. Baptism is the sacrament of initiation and the Supper is the sacrament of renewal. Baptists typically conflate them, turning Baptism into the sign of renewal, and Collins is typical in this regard.

Collins recognized that there were spiritual and (typological) temporal promises to Abraham, but like many Baptists today, he ignored the New Testament’s interpretation of the significance of the land promise and like Baptists today, Collins also sought to cut off New Testament believers from Abraham. In short, as Baptists do, he tried to turn Abraham into Moses, which, according to the Reformed, Paul did not do.


Are the Particular Baptists “in the reformed tradition”? No. The consequence of redefining Reformed to admit the Baptists is that we must give up our reading of redemptive history (e.g., the continuity of the covenant of grace), our way of reading Scripture (i.e., our hermeneutic), our understanding of the nature of the covenant of grace, our view of the visible church, the internal/external distinction, our understanding the sacraments, our understanding of the promises God has made to believers and their children, the nature of the visible church, and, as we will see, our eschatology in favor of an over-realized eschatology that permeates the Baptist vision.

  1. Part 2: 2LC v WCF (1)
  2. Part 3: 1689 Vs. The Westminster Confession (2): Nature, Grace, and Revelation
  3. Part 4: 1689 Vs. The Westminster Confession (3): The Play-By-Play


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  1. This is very helpful. I have rarely seen the Reformed position so clearly laid side by side the Baptist one. The Presbyterian view of the continuity of the covenant of grace is the only way the Bible makes sense as a whole.

  2. Sadly, Dr. Clark continues to play the role Don Quixote. Certainly a scholar of his caliber has something better to do with his time than trying to prune the beautiful tree of the reformed faith down to a single twig. He writes as if the reformed faith was ubiquitously singular and it’s comprehension of covenant theology and he alone can define its Precise perimeters

    • Doug,

      History matters.

      Facts matter.

      Truth matters.

      Would a Second London Confession: A Paedobaptist Version make any sense at all? No, it would not.

      The Particular Baptists have their own, honorable (if wrongheaded) tradition. I want PBs to be PBs and stop calling themselves Reformed. Why is that wrong?

      Why should the Reformed accept the proposed PB redefinition of Reformed?

      Ps. Baptists whine when I don’t read them and they whine when I do read them. What’s a Reformed guy to do?

  3. And by the way, a “Second London Confession: A Paedobaptist and, additionally, More Reformed Version” exists – It’s called “The Savoy Declaration”!

    • John,

      I really don’t believe that is accurate. Owen et al. did not read the history of redemption the way the Baptist did.

      They were congregationalists but they were not Baptists.

    • John, the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith was written in 1689. The Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order was written in 1658. It would have been impossible for the Savoy Synod to draw from a Baptist document that didn’t yet exist and wouldn’t exist for another generation.

      However, the history of the Westminster Confession, Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, and Second London Baptist Confession of Faith is a bit more complex than widely known, either in Presbyterian or Baptist circles. Some history here may help.

      What the Reformed world considers to be the “original” WCF, prior to the American revisions, was not adopted by the English Parliament. The Parliament made a number of changes, while the Scots Kirk preferred the original version, and that meant the versions of the WCF in use in England and Scotland were not identical. The revised English WCF was intended to be a compromise between Congregationalists and Presbyterians, but didn’t satisfy either group, which is why the Scots Kirk adopted the original WCF without the Parliamentary changes.

      The Savoy Synod, which was called during the Commonwealth period when the Congregationalists had gained full control of the English government, was intended to revise the WCF in accord with Congregational principles so Congregationalists would have a document to which they could fully subscribe without having to take exceptions on numerous points, as the Cambridge Synod had done in New England by listing its exceptions shortly after the WCF was drafted. Church order was the primary concern for the Savoy Synod and for John Owen. The Savoy took the WCF version that included the Parliamentary changes as its starting point, which accounts for a number of the differences between the WCF and Savoy. People sometimes think the Congregationalists were innovators in areas where they were actually following the official version of the WCF then in use in England, though not in Scotland.

      That Parliamentary version of the WCF became a dead letter after the restoration of the monarchy, and with it, episcopacy. I am not sure how long the Parliamentary revisions of the WCF continued to be in use in English Presbyterianism, but it’s clear that the version of the WCF used by the Scots Kirk, which was the original version of the WCF, became the standard in Scotland and in colonial America where most colonial Presbyterians were of Scots or Scots-Irish background rather than English.

      I have not done a line-by-line comparison of the Second London Baptist Confession with the original WCF, the Parliamentary changes, and the Savoy Declaration, but my understanding is that the Baptists largely drew from the two confessions that were in common use in Puritan England, namely, the Savoy and the WCF with the Parliamentary changes.

      Hope this historical point is helpful. There aren’t enough Reformed Congregationalists left out there for our own confessional history to be widely known, but it most emphatically is NOT true that we borrowed the Savoy from the Baptists. Any borrowing went the other way around, and the dates of 1658 and 1689 made that indisputable.

    • Indeed, Owen et al did not read the history of redemption the way the 1689 Baptists did (neither do I), and it shows in the “small” differences in wording between Savoy and 1689 – which is why I wrote “and additionally, More Reformed”.

    • Thank you, Dr. Clark.

      I wrote a bit more below in response to Doug.

      The Baptists overreach when they claim Congregationalism in the Puritan era as a transitional step or a middle ground between Presbyterians and Baptists.

      There are similarities, and there is a development of doctrine. I think the Baptists may have a point when they say the Presbyterians of the Puritan era retained the older view that the church should consist of all baptized Englishmen (or Scotsmen, or Ulstermen) in a certain geographical era unless formally excommunicated, whereas the Congregationalists made an important break with that “parish church” view to affirm a “gathered church” of “visible saints,” and the Baptists took the Congregational view.

      On matters of polity, I think most elder-ruled Baptist churches that call themselves Reformed would be comfortable with the church government outlined by the Congregationalists in the 1648 Cambridge Platform, except of course in matters of infant baptism. I think it’s beyond serious historical dispute that elder-ruled Congregational churches, at least in broad outline, were the model to which the early Baptists looked for organizing their local churches.

      But almost no Presbyterians today believe in a parish church system, and that’s no longer really a point of disagreement between Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists. We’ve all been disestablished, and that was done centuries ago, and in the case of the New England Congregationalists, it was not the liberals but the **TRINITARIAN** party that finally pushed to disestablish the Massaschussetts churches in the early 1800s because of abuse by liberals, freethinkers, and Unitarians who were members of the parish but not of the church.

  4. I have never understood why Particular Baptists so earnestly desire to appropriate the designation “Reformed” or “Calvinistic”. Why don’t they just use the more accurate “predestinarian Baptist”? I was going to say “5-point Baptists” but I’m not sure they get all the way up to five.

  5. Thank you so much for this particular blog post – and even more for your comment, “I myself only gradually came to see how profound those differences are and I will endeavor to explain those differences in forthcoming essays.” If you, with all of your education and experience, can still have your eyes opened even wider, imagine the state of the average lay person trying to deal with these matters.

    This is especially an issue in the Southern US where there is a Baptist church (Particular or otherwise) on every corner. In the northeastern states, when one hears “church,” the word Catholic (i.e. Roman Catholic) immediately comes to mind. Hearing that same word in the traditional South works the same way, except the image produced is of a Baptist church…like that one on the corner over there…and over there…and over there.

    Please continue this pursuit for the benefit of the unchurched families “church shopping” (I hate that term) whose journey began with, and continues on with, recommendations to come visit “our church.” Any discussion of why attend there, or why attend any church at all, is only as deep as, “You will make lots of new friends, the worship (always meaning “music”) is modern and upbeat, and the whole Sunday experience is specifically designed to be fun for the kids.”

    Perhaps even more importantly, please continue to pursue this on behalf of the actual Reformed churches who feel the social influence in an ever increasing, day by day manner to change their worship services and even, little-by-little, their preached theology. So often, in this area, they will either de-emphasize their Reformed theology entirely or transform it to the Baptist example – with a whole host of things being publicly put into the “Oh, that doesn’t really matter” category.

  6. Dr. Clark,

    Yes, history and facts are essential. Yet, not all the facts of history are equal in significance. Some are historical others are just history that, over time, are relegated to the scrap heap of insignificance. Unfortunately, your Quixotic assault on the name “Reformed Baptist” is destined to be found in the latter category rather than the former.

    You dismiss fundamental distinctions among the reformed theologians by saying that men such as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin weren’t baptists. True, they weren’t. But neither were they Presbyterian and distanced themselves from the WCF’s understanding of the covenant of grace and the one covenant multiple administration understanding of its structure. Does that prove Confessional Baptists are reformed? No! But it demonstrates your lust to establish particular distinctions while belligerently ignoring others. Owen and Thomas Goodwin had a higher view of the “baptized congregationalist” than you do. In March of 1644, the advice of Thomas Goodwin, Phillip Nye, and Jeremiah Burroughes was sought by Henry Jessey, the pastor of London’s largest and most influential independent congregation. The question at stake was what to do with the growing number of anti-paedobaptist among Jessey’s congregation. Goodwin, Nye, and Burroughes counseled not to excommunicate nor admonish them but to count the members in good standing in the church.

    It’s a foregone conclusion that you will never cease chasing the tail in endless attempts to prove the illegitimacy of the term “Reformed Baptist.” But that isn’t the point. The point is your relentless quest to purge all Reformed Baptists from the realm of the Reformed accomplishes nothing of any meaningful significance. It is “much to do about nothing.” If all the RBs collectively renounced the moniker “Reformed,” it would advance nothing. All it does is earn you pats on your back from your choir.

    Your most excellent writing effort may have been “Recovering the Reformed Confession.” Please don’t be a one-hit wonder focusing on a topic without enduring significance. The signers of the London Baptist Confession of 1689 did not call themselves Reformed Baptists. If their heirs of the 20th and 21st centuries have erred in taking the moniker “Reformed Baptist,” history will expose the faux pas without your help. Please stick to advancing the kingdom rather than building your own.

    • Doug,

      1. There are 7,500 posts/podcasts/quotations etc on the HB. Only a tiny fraction deal with the Baptists. If you actually read the HB regularly or listened to the Heidelcast you would know that.

      2. We don’t confess Owen or any other theologian. We confess the Word of God as summarized in ecclesiastical confessions. I’m comparing confessions. The series will compare/contrast the WCF & the 2LC.

      3. Most people, especially Baptists talk a lot of nonsense about Owen’s covenant theology in an attempt to cloak themselves in Owen’s overcoat. That only works if one reads Owen very selectively and out of context. His covenant theology was, in substance, not radical at all. I can’t comment on Goodwin. I’ve read a lot of Reformed covenant theology and Owen is not a radical and he’s certainly not a Baptist. Read his prefatory explanations in his Hebrews commentary.

      4. I don’t know that I would discipline people for forming a Baptist congregation. It would be a difficult case.

      5. You say it’s much ado about nothing because you’re a Baptist. It’s in your interest to obscure the differences. I wish you guys would be content to Baptists. Our house is occupied.

      6. History is exposing the faux pas right here. I’m a historian. It does need my help. I’m a historian. Your argument here is what is known as special pleading and it’s fallacious. I think you know that it is. What we’re really talking about here is politics and branding. You’re squealing because I’m making it untenable for Baptists to hide behind Reformed skirts. Welcome to our little world buddy. It’s a little chilly out here in the cold (as it were. It’s 88 here right now).

  7. Dr. Clark,

    1. I do read regularly. Often edified. But like a bad rash, you keep returning to this issue as if it were something when it’s nothing.

    2. I have no idea how your # 2 is relevant to this conversation.

    3. No one said anything about Owen being radical. Please stay on point. Owen did most certainly distance his system of theology away from Presbyterianism and the WCF. As a historian you should be willing to acknowledge that. The 17th century Congregationalist were concerned about the unbiblical nature of both the Episcopal and Presbyterian forms of government. The Congregationalist and Independents believed they were advancing a more completely reformed ecclesiology. A subject WA punted on for political reasons.

    4. Your stating it would be “a difficult case” speaks volumes.

    5. What sort of argument is that? 🤣

    6. So your argument is,

    I’m a historian.
    I had a thought on history.
    Therefore, it must be a worthwhile argument.

    Can we say, “hubris”?

    There is a lot of new works being written on the 17th century rise of baptistic thought among the Congregationalist and Independents. Such scholarships on the Baptist history and theological development of that era is exposing a lot of myths and misunderstandings of the era. One example is that the baptized Congregationalist never called themselves Baptist, much less RBs. Do you know why? As a historian, I’m sure you know. Another is how supportive the titans of the Congregational theologians were of those becoming baptistic without feeling the need to distance themselves from them privately, or publicly, or waist a drop of ink trying to prove their Baptist friends weren’t Reformed.

    • Doug, I try to avoid wading into the Baptist fights on Dr. Clark’s page for three reasons: 1) he’s a member of a church in the Dutch Reformed tradition that takes a far harder line on mandating infant baptism for members than most modern Presbyterians do, and I’m not going to criticize someone for following their own confessional tradition, 2) as a person who was a Congregationalist for my entire life before moving to the Missouri Ozarks, where it’s almost impossible to find a Reformed church of any type, and joining a church that left Dr. Clark’s denomination and joined the ARP over a number of issues, including tolerance for Baptist views by private members, I’m the wrong person to speak publicly on Presbyterian distinctives, and 3) my own views on baptism are far stricter than those of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, of which I was a member most of my adult life after leaving a liberal Congregational church. (The 4Cs tolerates both views on baptism and leaves the issue to each local church, which given the context of the organization of the denomination in the 1940s, may have been unavoidable.)

      So why am I speaking up now? Doug, you’re not talking anymore about Baptists and Presbyterians but Baptists and Congregationalists. That’s a subject on which I know more than a little.

      Some real caution is needed in evaluating the relationship between standard Congregational Puritans in the 1600s and Puritans who were moving in a baptistic direction or were (or became) fully Baptist. Are there similarities? Yes. Is there overlap? Yes. Can we speak of a “spectrum” of belief in the Independent movement? Yes. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the word “Independent” was used in 1640s and 1650s Puritanism more broadly than the word “Congregational,” and there are reasons why the 1648 Cambridge Synod in New England disapproved of the use of the word “Independent” for their churches.

      Oliver Cromwell, as Lord Protector and even before that as a Parliamentarian and as a military leader, was more interested in gathering people who opposed “prelacy” and “popery” (words I would not use today, but they were words of his era) than he was in defining exactly who was right on every detail. He was more interested in fighting those who were wrong, and who wanted to kill him and destroy the Reformed faith. To Cromwell’s credit, he was more concerned about whether people were personally converted than he was about the details of their practices. I think those of us in the modern pro-life movement have long ago learned to tolerate differences to organize opposition to a common enemy, and the parallel to Cromwell on that point is clear.

      But the mere fact that a military leader tolerated people who were some of his strongest supporters and made great soldiers isn’t the same as saying the Congregational churches agreed with Cromwell on everything. He was a politician and a soldier, not a pastor.

      If you look at the history of Congregationalists in exile in the Netherlands prior to and shortly after the Pilgrim Fathers emigrated to Plymouth Bay, and before the Puritans gained control of the English Parliament, you’ll find an “English Synod” in the Netherlands that was almost entirely composed of Congregationalists, to the point that the one large English-speaking congregation that was committed to traditional Presbyterian views of church government chose to join the Dutch-speaking classis instead. We know what the early Congregationalists thought of early Baptists — they excommunicated them.

      I grant that some Congregational views, such as the need for church membership to be “visible saints,” i.e., composed of those who could give personal testimony to their conversion, and their children, rather than church members being all baptized non-excommunicate Englishmen, later came to be held by Baptists in a modified form. The one large English-speaking church in the Netherlands that was part of the Dutch classis rather than the English synod had a serious internal fight over whether children should be baptized when neither of their parents could claim to be personally converted. The terms are anachronistic and therefore misleading, but in brief, the proto-Presbyterians said every baby needed to be baptized, while the proto-Congregationalists insisted on personal conversion and were willing to accept the result that there would be unbaptized babies.

      At a much later date, we see figures like John Bunyan who didn’t clearly fall into either Baptist or Congregational orthodoxy of their day and tried to keep peace with both groups.

      Baptists like to point out that early Congregationalists disagreed with early Presbyterians on the need for a church to be composed of visible saints, and from that point, extrapolate that early Congregationalists were incipient Baptists who hadn’t yet worked out the conclusion of their principles. If we’re talking about the very earliest Congregationalists in the churches pastored by the Brownists and Barrowists, maybe, but even then, I’m not convinced. When people in the separated churches of the early 1600s became opponents of infant baptism, they left their churches and became either Dutch Anabaptists or (later) English Baptists. Often, they left under pretty bad terms.

      When dealing with the later Congregationalists, it’s clearly not true. By that time, there were Baptist churches that people holding such views could join, and they did. While it’s true that Congregationalists (usually) called for civil toleration for Baptist churches, as opposed to Anglicans who wanted to shut down Baptist churches and barely tolerated Presbyterians because the Scots had forced the Crown to tolerate Presbyterianism in Scotland, that doesn’t mean the Congregationalists in the late 1600s and early 1700s considered Baptists to hold acceptable views. They did not.

      Agreeing that something should be tolerated is not the same as agreeing with the thing being tolerated.

      Is it true that some (not all) Congregationalists were willing to let opponents of infant baptism remain members of their churches if they didn’t raise discord and dissent? Yes. But that is the same way most American Presbyterian churches operate today. Yes, I am fully aware that the Dutch Reformed tradition is much more insistent on saying nobody can be a member of the church who won’t commit to baptizing their children. I’ve sat in classes at Calvin Seminary and heard professors who were not at all conservative defend that view as an absolutely mandatory part of Reformed doctrine and say no deviation can or should be tolerated.

      Many conservative Presbyterians would agree with what you wrote above: “The question at stake was what to do with the growing number of anti-paedobaptist among Jessey’s congregation. Goodwin, Nye, and Burroughes counseled not to excommunicate nor admonish them but to count the members in good standing in the church.”

      That doesn’t make Goodwin, Nye, and Burroughes into Baptists. It just says they didn’t hold the standard Dutch Reformed opposition to letting Baptists be church members.

      I don’t know a lot of conservative people in the Presbyterian world who would disagree with that advice. I know some, but they’re mostly Dutch, or used to be in the historically Dutch Reformed denominations, or had roots in that world before they became Presbyterians.

    • Doug,

      I’m reflecting on and interacting with the “new scholarship.” It is that scholarship that helped me to see how radically different the PBs are from the Reformed. When I was dealing with the more moderate view, I was less animated. Now that I see what the 2LC is really saying I think the differences need to be illuminated.

      There are something like 5 (out of 7,500) posts on this topic. That you think that’s too many is you problem, as they say.

  8. Dr. Clark: I think you’ve been more than fair with Doug and indeed have indulged his ad hominems well beyond what is customarily allowed in this forum. Hopefully his latest post on this subject will be the last you allow (for our sake).

  9. Speaking as the one presently editing Hercules Collins’s collected Works for H&E:

    It is noteworthy for purposes of this present discussion to add that when John Piggott preached Collins’s funeral sermon, he states in it that Collins’s “Doctrine …. was agreeable to the Sentiments of the Reformed Churches in all Fundamental Articles of Faith.”

    I in no way intend disrespect, sir. I sincerely appreciate your confessional convictions and (usually) your reading of history, and I further recognize that I’m “enjoying the hospitality of the house.”

    I simply submit that, just as the broad movement we call Puritanism was not monolithic in doctrine or practice, neither is the family tree we call Reformed theology.

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    • Reagan,

      It’s interesting that the Baptists get to tell the Reformed what, in their confession, is really important. Did the Reformed churches hold a synod that I missed where we decided that our hermeneutic, our covenant theology, our ecclesiology, our sacramentology, and our eschatology are trivial?

      I understand that the Baptists have long wanted to identify themselves with the Reformed churches but the Reformed churches (as I’ve demonstrated in print—see my essay in On Being Reformed rejected that appeal and attempt.

      I’m not defending “Puritanism” as a concept. Indeed, if you read this site regularly you know that I’m quite critical of that concept. It has little explanatory value. That is one reason you see me discussing Reformed theology, piety, and practice and the Reformed confession. When we root our discussion in what the churches have confessed, the picture becomes much clearer.

      No, Reformed theology was no monolithic but, again, there was and remains a core to it: the confession of the churches and on the key points viz a viz the Baptists, they were all agreed, as I’ve demonstrated.

      The Reformed Churches Confess Infant Baptism

      The evidence is overwhelming.

      The diversity to which you’re appealing didn’t exist. There was diversity on the logical order of the decrees, on how we should talk about republication, what is the best way to talk about the prelapsarian covenant, polity, but on the unity of the covenant of grace (one covenant of grace, multiple administrations) and the hermeneutic that undergirded that conviction and the consequences for church and sacraments, there was a remarkable unity.

  10. Thank you very much for clarifying the importance of the Reformed hermeneutic of the continuity of the Covenant of Grace. I also love PB people, and appreciate their stance on the doctrines of grace, but I’ve also come to see that there’s far more to the Reformed confession.

    There’s also another issue: a lot of Reformed churches, especially those with Presbyterian in their name, have been in a process of recovering their confession by fits and starts. I came into Reformed circles via the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (now merged into the PCA), and recall noting a disconnect between the Westminster Confession and a lingering undercurrent of Dispensatioanal fundamentalism. Hence, many know that the “anything goes” of theological liberalism is beyond the boundary lines, but may not be sure wat to do with certain other errors.

  11. Dr. Clark,

    Part of the ecclesiology of the Reformed churches and theologians includes their doctrine of the civil magistrate, which you reject.

    Part of the ecclesiology and eschatology of the Reformed churches and theologians includes their doctrine of the papal Antichrist, which you also reject.

    Until you return to the teachings of the original Belgic Confession, in its original Article 36, you are doing exactly what you complain of our Baptist brethren.

  12. As a Particular (or Calvinistic) Baptist myself, I appreciate Dr. Clark’s perspective on Particular Baptist theology and the reading of redemptive history. Honestly, I sympathize with some of his concerns about the vocabulary that is (and was) utilized by PB writers in the past and present. Personally, I agree with the WCF 7 on God’s Covenant with Man. Though I think I fairly understand the Reformed perspective on the inclusion of the children of believers in the visible church, I still remain unconvinced that this means that I should baptize my own children before they are instructed in the Christian religion. Though this issue doesn’t look like it will be solved anytime soon, I still appreciate and learn from my brothers and sisters in Reformed & Presbyterian churches.

    Dr. Clark, I understand why you would want to argue for a proper definition of ‘Reformed’. I think that properly speaking, you are correct. For a Christian to be a Reformed Christian is to confess the Christian faith as summarized in one of the historic Reformed Confessions (Westminster Standards, 3 Forms of Unity). One of the problems with defining and categorizing ‘Baptists’ is that there is such dizzying array of groups that would self-identify as ‘Baptist’ (Arminian Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Sovereign Grace Baptists, Southern Baptists, Regular Baptists, etc.) I personally don’t find the ‘Baptist’ name by itself to be all that helpful because we have to ask “What kind of Baptist are we talking about?” That may be why some Particular Baptists in recent history have adopted (or borrowed without asking!) the adjective Reformed to describe their kind of Baptist. I’m not saying that this is historically proper, but it might be part of an explanation.

    At the same time, I wonder whether the way that we categorize Congregationalists groups is confusing. We can say that PBs are not Reformed, but what about the Congregationalists who aligned with the Savoy Declaration? The Savoy did make changes to Chapters 7: Of God’s Covenant with Man (particularly the last paragraph) that are different from WCF. Why did the Savory writers make these changes? Does this indicate that the Congregationalists (including Owen, Goodwin) had a reading of redemptive history that fell outside the bounds of the WCF 7? If this is the case, can the Savoy Congregationalists be properly titled ‘Reformed’ in same way that the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterians are Reformed? I don’t the answer, but it is worth pointing out that the Congregationalists intentionally departed from the WCF at this important point. Why change the WCF at this point if you don’t disagree with it? Just worth considering.

    Additionally, Savoy Congregationalists (SDF 26: Of the Church) clearly depart from the ecclesiology of the WCF (Chapter 25: Of the Church). They intentionally changed the definition of what the visible catholic church is. In fact, where the WCF affirms that the visible church “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children”, the Savoy says that this visible church consists of “The whole body of men throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel and obedience unto God by Christ according to it……”. This is a significant change in the doctrine of ecclesiology. Obviously ecclesiology was one of the major differences between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists. Was this difference in ecclesiology a result of a difference in the reading of redemptive history? I would almost certainly say it was (just as the PB ecclesiology is the result of a difference in the reading of redemptive history). Again, a question I have is whether or not the Congregationalists can still be properly called ‘Reformed’ if they confess a different reading of redemptive history AND a different ecclesiology? If to be ‘Reformed’ is to confess the WCF or the 3 Forms (again, I am not arguing that point), then should the Congregationalists (Owen, Goodwin) still be named ‘Reformed’?

    At this point, I think it worth seeing how the PB’s would see how similar they are to the Congregationalists. When it comes to the doctrine of the church (apart from the doctrine of baptism), the PB’s have many similarities to the Congregationalists. In fact, we borrowed much from their ecclesiology statement (The Institution of Churches, and the Order Appointed in Them by Jesus Christ) and placed it in the 1689 Confession. This does not mean that the Congregationalists were Particular Baptists, but it does mean that they had much in common. In many ways it might be true that the first Particular Baptists would have probably thought of themselves as “Baptistic Congregationalists”.

    I don’t know if what I’ve said is off topic or going on a rabbit trail! Sorry if so! I guess what I am getting at is that if we are going to distinguish the PB’s from being properly ‘Reformed’ then we might want to consider distinguishing the Congregationalists from being ‘Reformed’ as well. They had a different and unique reading of redemptive history than the WCF. They had a different and unique ecclesiology that differs from the WCF. I’m not saying they were Baptists or shared the exact theological or ecclesiological commitments as the Baptists. Does a definition of ‘Reformed’ that excludes the PB’s have room in it for the Savoy Congregationalists? I don’t know, just my thoughts.

    Again, thanks for blog (I love it). And thanks for your clarity in this discussion.


    • Dr. Clark,

      I think some interesting points are made by this gentleman. I would be interested in your thoughts.

      Thank You,

      • Brandon,

        I think I’ve replied to these questions before.

        What about the Savoy? Well, what about it? They were all paedobaptists. The discussion of ecclesiological variety among the Congregationalists is, relative to this question, sand in the air.

        There were Anglicans (Episcopalians), Congregationalists/Independents (I don’t see a meaningful difference), and Presbyterians at Westminster. They argued about polity a lot but they all agreed on “one covenant of grace, multiple administrations.” The Baptists reject that view.

        Do Baptists ever read the first volume of Owen’s commentary on Hebrews or do they only read the vol on chapter 8, and then take it out of context (as if he’s talking about Abraham when he’s actually talking about Moses)?

        There is a “dizzying array” of Baptists but they all agree with the Anabaptists on the rejection of infant baptism and they all do it for the same reasons.

        The similarities of some Baptists to some Congregationalists doesn’t absolve the Baptists of their transgressions re the history of salvation and the essential unity of the covenant of grace.

    • Sorry, I should have been clearer. I am referring to Spencer’s comments regarding the different perspectives that Congregationalists had with the WCF. and his question about their designation inside the community of the “Reformed.” His comments are directly previous to my comment.

      Thank You,

    • Dr. Clark wrote: “…Congregationalists/Independents (I don’t see a meaningful difference)…”

      With regard to the main points being discussed here, I agree with Dr. Clark that the difference isn’t of particular importance, at least with regard to those people who were part of the Westminster Assembly. The “Independent” party at Westminster was clearly Reformed but clearly not Baptist. It’s a somewhat different matter when we look at the broader spectrum of people in England who used terms that didn’t yet have clear definitions defined by written confessions.

      For those who are reading this who don’t know the history: The word “Independent” was the common term in England, and the word “Congregational” was the common word in New England, for those on both sides of the Atlantic who 1) affirmed Reformed theology, 2) rejected the “bishop” as a continuing office in the church separate from the eldership, and 3) believed there was no warrant in Scripture for any ruling body above the elders of the local church.

      The “church order” of New England Congregationalism, the 1648 Cambridge Platform, rejected the term “Independent,” despite the term being in common use in England. Historically speaking, the primary reason for rejection appeared to be the belief that the word “independent” implied that churches were not dependent upon God but were autonomous, i.e., a law unto themselves. Unfortunately, using the term “Congregational” created a brand-new problem — inadvertently resurrecting from the grave of ecclesiastical history an older view held by the Brownists, a very early group of separatists who thought the rule of the church belonged to a congregational vote rather than being exercised by the elders. The Barrowist (elder rule) position was all but universally held by New England Congregationalists and English Independents by the time of the Westminster Assembly, and that is the position taught in the Cambridge Platform. But the term created problems that persist to this day, and it’s part of why a fair number of British Congregationalists still prefer the term “Independent.”

      The complication for the Congregational/Independent party is that by the time of Oliver Cromwell’s protectorate, some of his supporters were advocating positions that disagreed with the Westminster Standards on more than just church government. There was a dizzying variety of doctrines being taught in England during the 1640s and 1650s, some of them quite aberrant. Cromwell wanted good soldiers for his army and wasn’t particularly careful about their doctrine, so long as they were opposed to “prelacy” and “popery” (terms I would not use today but which were used in his time).

      Those views held by some of Cromwell’s supporters included positions that would later be called “Baptist,” but also a lot of other positions with which Particular Baptists, whether in the 1600s or today, would want nothing to do.

      Part of why the Savoy Declaration was written was to clearly define the limits of Congregational orthodoxy and exclude aberrant views. A few decades later, the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith was written, drawing upon the previous work of the Savoy Synod, to define what the Particular Baptists believed.

      There were quite a few groups that called themselves “Independent” in the 1640s and 1650s, and to some extent also later decades, that didn’t clearly fit into the Presbyterian, Congregational or Baptist camps. It’s not entirely clear whether some of the Puritans were Congregationalists who supported infant baptism but tolerated those of different views, or were themselves moving toward a fully Baptist position.

      What is clear is that the creation of the two later confessions helped define the terms more precisely.

      That’s why we have confessions so we can know what a church believes (or is supposed to believe).

    • Dr. Clark,

      Thank you for your swift and crisp response. I will give further consideration to yours and Daryl’s responses.


  13. Dr. Clark,

    In the preface to his catechism, Collins described the distinction between himself and the Reformed by saying, “In what I have written you will see I concenter with most orthodox divines in the fundamental principles and articles of the Christian faith, and also have industriously expressed them in the same words, which have on the like occasion been spoken, only differing in some things about church-constitution…
    “Now albeit there are some differences between many godly divines and us in church constitution, yet inasmuch as those things are not the essence of Christianity, but that we do agree in the fundamental doctrine thereof, there is sufficient ground to lay aside all bitterness and prejudice, and labor to maintain a spirit of love each to other, knowing we shall never see all alike here…”

    Do you think that is a fair statement of the similarity and the distinction between the PBs and the Reformed, or would you see the differences as being greater than what his assessment suggests?

    • Neil,

      I read that and have seen this view or versions of it articulated by Baptists since the 17th century. I address this very issue in tomorrow’s essay.

  14. I think it is presumptuous to think Reformed Baptists are necessarily trying to identify with paedobaptist groups. Reformed can be defined as changing for the better. Maybe this Baptist group is just changing for the better. I mean Scotch Baptists could mean these Baptists are from the country north of England or that they have an affinity for a particular alcoholic beverage. Primitive Baptists could be trying to get to the simple teachings of the Bible or could be identifying with cannibalistic tribes. I am reminded of the song You’re so Vain you probably think this song is about you.

    I personally would love to hear of a Presbyterian Baptist group. I mean baptism means immersion so if Presbyterians immersed even babies at least they would have the mode right.

    I do think you are on to something about Puritan Baptists. I think this would be an appropriate name for this group, and with no puritans still around to be offended there would be no controversy. I am a Sovereign Grace Baptist just for information.

    • Scott,

      Aren’t you making my case for me, that the Baptists are hijacking the adjective Reformed?

      How could it be that the adjective Reformed was known and understood To exclude the Anabaptist view of baptism from the middle of the 16th century until the middle of the 20th century but now it includes the Anabaptist view a baptism? When did that happen? Which ecclesiastical assembly has declared that the doctrine of baptism etc is now indifferent.

      As I keep trying to remind you Baptists, you did not call yourself Reformed until the middle of the 20th century. You called yourselves Particular Baptists. You did that because you knew that you were not Reformed.

      It is not presumptuous to read and explain history. You should read your own history sometime.

  15. Excellent analysis, although I would add that “Reformed” is not only an adjective, but a noun. The Reformed Church has a founder (Zwingli), historic confessions (3 forms, 2nd Helvetic, Gallic, , etc.), and rich ecclesiastical histories spanning half a millennia.

    • Wayne,

      That Zwingli founded the Reformed Church was mainly a nineteenth-century notion. I say “mainly” because Turretin used Zwingli and Luther to frame the question. The sixteenth-century and (for the most part) the seventeenth-century Reformed did not make that claim. The oxygen for this claim was supplied by those mainly German scholars (and Americans echoing them) who argued that the Lutheran “central dogma” was justification and the Reformed “central dogma” was predestination. In the sixteenth century, e.g., Calvin rarely referred to Zwingli at all. He appealed to Luther was the father of the Reformation churches, which were an indistinct mass until 1550s. The differences between them became gradually clearer in the confessional period (1550–80).

      Zwingli himself only started claiming that he learned Reformation theology on his own after the polemics with Luther et al heated up.

      As a matter of objective history, without Luther, there’s no Reformed Reformation. Indeed, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the theological links between the Heidelberg Reformation and Zwingli are tenuous at best. E.g., the language of the Heidelberg is deeply influenced by Luther and hardly at all by Zwingli. The language on justification is Luther’s not Zwingli’s. The language on the Supper is Calvin’s and certainly not Zwingli’s. There were, in fact, some significant tensions between some of the post-Zwingli Zürich leadership (though not Bullinger as far as I know) and some of the leadership (e.g., Olevianus) in Heidelberg.

    • Darrell: If you are speaking on behalf of Particular Baptists, why is it necessary that there be some kind of rapprochement between the Reformed and them? Neither is going to concede on theological differences. Ecumenism which is not based on truth is hollow. As someone who believes in the Reformed Faith, it matters not to me whether Particular Baptists believe they are actually Reformed. They are not, no matter how earnestly they believe it or wish it were so. So what is the point of blurring or softening distinctions unless you are advocating real theological compromise?

    • First, thanks to Wayne Johnson for posting. Good to see you comment here.

      Second, Bob wrote this: “Darrell: If you are speaking on behalf of Particular Baptists…”

      I need to respond to the “if.” I’m not a Baptist and therefore cannot speak on behalf of Baptists, whether, Particular, General, or something else.

      My life would be much easier if I could be a Baptist. Trying to find an evangelical church of **ANY** type in the rural American South that is willing to accept infant baptism, let alone a Reformed church, is extremely difficult and I have to drive more than an hour to the closest confessionally Reformed church that will accept my baptism without requiring rebaptism.

      If I wanted to become a Baptist, that would be easy and there would be a lot of advantages to that.

      I don’t.

      But at the same time, I’d much rather see people preaching that nothing we can do by the works of our hands can save us than see people who call themselves evangelical resurrecting Pelagius out of the grave with sermons that are works-righteousness or worse.

      Self-described “Reformed Baptists” are in error; they are not enemies. That difference is important.

    • Darrell: Baptists who seek to alter the meaning of my confession may not be my enemies but I would hesitate to call them my friends. I don’t see this soft “make nice” attitude among the apostles when addressing theological error. We owe them what we owe all men: the truth. How they receive it is up to them.

    • Fair enough, Bob.

      As I said when this started, I try to avoid the Baptist fights on Dr. Clark’s page.

      In my world, I get into trouble for defending even the possibility that infant baptism might be legitimate. I even get into trouble for raising questions about outright Pelagianism — i.e., “God voted, Satan voted, you cast the deciding vote.”

      I’m not inclined to fight self-described “Reformed Baptists.” Would I prefer that they call themselves something else, perhaps “Sovereign Grace Baptists” or “Particular Baptists?” Yes. But I spent a decade of my life fighting outright denials of biblical authority by Christian Reformed leaders who were ABSOLUTELY adamant that no person should be allowed to join a Christian Reformed congregation who wasn’t willing to baptize their babies, while at the same time those people were fine with denials of inerrancy and infallibility by church members who brought all sorts of liberal doctrines into the church.

      There are worse problems out there than baptism to fight about.

      • Darrell,

        This isn’t just a fight about baptism. I’m happy to let Baptists be Baptists. I used to be a Baptist.

        I’m speaking up because the Reformed theology, piety, and practice is at stake.

        On a recent podcast, three notable Particular Baptist figures agreed to this proposition:

        “The Old Covenant was a typological covenant of works promising temporal life and blessing in a typological land conditioned on outward obedience offered by the regenerate or the unregenerate.”

        This isn’t Reformed theology. This isn’t Reformation theology.

    • Thank you for the podcast quote, Dr. Clark. You may have mentioned that podcast before and if so, I missed it. Can you provide a link, or names of the speakers so I can research them, or (ideally) a reference to what you’ve previously written about those speakers commenting on what they said?

      I think we both agree that there is a significant amount of variance in what self-identified “Reformed Baptists” believe. Some are confessional and adhere to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, or some other doctrinal standard, in more or less the same way that we would subscribe to the traditional Reformed confessional standards. I can respect that. They’re clear about what they believe and submit themselves to a historic confession of faith, recognizing that they need to be accountable to a historic tradition that has been evaluated over many centuries, not acting as if they can come up with their own set of beliefs in their own local church. That’s not defending the SLBCF or saying I agree with it — I don’t — just saying that I respect the desire of people to hold themselves accountable to a historic church confession.

      Others are five-pointers but don’t subscribe to a confession of faith, or if they do, treat it as loose guideline. To be fair, many such people get all sorts of attacks in broadly evangelical circles for being “Calvinists,” even if they have other theological problems. As I’ve written before, I know four-pointers and even premillennial dispensationalists who get attacked for being Calvinists. I hope those people keep studying and move closer to a historic Reformed position.

      When people say they subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity and are members of a NAPARC denomination, I know what they believe, more or less. Same for Presbyterians in most of the NAPARC denominations who say they subscribe to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Sadly, with regard to the PCA, I know I need to ask more questions.

      When someone calls himself a “Reformed Baptist,” “Particular Baptist,” “Sovereign Grace Baptist,” or some similar term, I don’t necessarily know much about what that person believes other than that he believes in predestination. That’s good to know but not all I need to know.

      Some self-described “Reformed Baptists” get upset when I compare the problems in their church circles to the PCA. They say some version of this: “What do you mean? We’re much more conservative, and much more Reformed, than the PCA.”

      They may have a point. There are plenty of people in the PCA who treat the Westminster Standards less seriously than many self-described “Reformed Baptists” treat their confessional documents.

      But as I warn such people, “If you don’t clearly state what you believe in a written document, and hold yourselves to it, and enforce subscription by some form of mutual accountability, you’re going to end up where the PCA is, or worse.”

  16. Speaking as a Particular Baptist – one reason I think we like to try and claim the “reformed” label is that we believe we have far more in common with our reformed brothers and sisters than with most other christian groups. You also see it in our libraries – we tend to lean heavily on presbyterian and dutch reformed works of theology.

    • Hi Richard: It is because the differences between Reformed and Particular Baptists are significant that the Reformed want to maintain the distinction.

    • Richard,

      I think you are correct. Particular Baptists are looking for an identity to distinguish themselves from other Baptists and to signal their identification with aspects of Reformed theology. This is why I say that my project here is to “Make Baptists Great Again.” They don’t need to borrow our identity and we do not need Baptists to redefine the adjective Reformed as it comes at too great a cost. We end up with a minimalist definition that ill serves us and the Baptists. They have an identity, which they articulated very early on: Particular Baptist.

    • Dr. Clark, I try to avoid getting involved in the anti-Baptist fights on this page. It doesn’t make sense for me to criticize Baptists, and since people Google, things I say on Reformed pages can and do get quoted back to me in my own community. It’s already happened, and I am quite aware that what I say in church life can and will affect my business life in the secular world.

      I’ll take the criticism when it can’t be avoided. I live in a world where even a passing mention of infant baptism gets me accused of being a “half-Catholic baby baptizer,” and I have to drive well over an hour to the closest confessionally Reformed church. Those are just facts of life that Reformed people have to deal with if we live outside the historic centers of the Reformed world. (Side point: For some reason the Missouri Synod Lutherans “get a pass” around here on baptism. Maybe it’s because they’re regarded as being both Missourians and Germans — “in but not of” the local culture, just different enough that they aren’t held to Ozark standards of how evangelicals are “supposed to act,” but have been around almost since the beginnings of this state, so they can’t be regarded as “newcoming interlopers.”)

      The way I see things, if people aren’t going to accept infant baptism, I’d like to see them become more Reformed on their soteriology. If people are trusting in God’s finished work for their salvation instead of trusting in their own works, I think that’s a considerable improvement.

      In that regard, Dr. Clark, I like what you’re saying with your phrase that your “project here is to “Make Baptists Great Again.'” I’m fine with that and I think what you mean by that phrase is the same thing I mean in the paragraph above.

      But that’s a different message than what many people see when they read the Heidelblog.

      What’s being communicated isn’t that you want to “Make Baptists Great Again.” What’s being said, or perhaps what’s being heard or even misheard, is that you hate Baptists and don’t consider them to be part of the Reformation at all, but rather kin (or at least kissing cousins) to Thomas Muntzer and the Anabaptists. This website, for obvious reasons, is little-known and rarely mentioned in American evangelical circles. Why would it be? It’s not like there are a lot of Reformed people around in what you have called “Sister Aimee’s America.” But because I have posted here for many years, I’m beginning to get self-described Reformed Baptists who do read this site asking why I would want to be associated with someone who thinks Baptists are barely Christians.

      You haven’t said that and I know you haven’t said that. That’s not a fair accusation.

      But you do give the impression, not just to broad evangelicals but to self-identified Reformed Baptists who have spent a tremendous amount of time fighting Arminianism and worse in the evangelical world, that you think they are not part of the Reformation.

      I just don’t see how it is helpful to be attacking the people who are the closest to us in the American evangelical world, i.e., the self-identified “Reformed Baptists.”

      Perhaps more focus on “Making Baptists Great Again” by telling them they should call themselves Particular Baptists, and less focus on things that get perceived as saying, “Baptists aren’t really part of our group at all,” would reduce the anger and turn the focus to ways we can cooperate with recognition that there are limits to how far that cooperation can go.

      If I understand matters right, a number of your colleagues spent a long time talking about a shared heritage with Lutherans and ways that Lutherans and Reformed are more alike than they are different when it comes to interacting with modern American evangelicalism. Perhaps the same approach, at least in general principles if not specific details, could apply to interacting with “Reformed Baptists,” “Particular Baptists,” “Sovereign Grace Baptists,” or whatever phrase can be accepted as both descriptive and accurate.

      Fighting the people who are closest to us is sometimes necessary but rarely helpful.

      • Darrell,

        I’ve tried, at great length, to explain what I think about Baptists.

        • The history fact is that every Baptist is a kissing cousin to the Anabaptists but the Particular Baptists aren’t either completely Anabaptist nor are they Reformed. They are their own thing. This is why I say, “Make Baptists Great Again.” The Baptists take their hermeneutic, in part, their reading of redemptive history and their increasingly radical rejection of the continuity of the covenant of grace from the Anabaptists. They also take their over-realized eschatology from the Anabaptists even as they reject the Anabaptist Christology and identify with aspects of Reformed theology. The Baptists have a dual heritage, which they need to accept.
        • Try this: criticize the Anabaptists in public and see how many (even Particular) Baptists rush to their defense. They very same folk will turn around and tell us that they aren’t Anabaptist in any way.
        • When I chase squatters out of my house, I am not being unloving. They have no right to be there. No Baptist has a right to redefine the adjective Reformed. I’m sorry if that hurts anyone’s feelings but that’s the way it is.
        • I publish Baptists on the HB. I’ve interviewed them on the Heidelcast. I appear on Baptist podcasts and radio shows. I write for Baptists. I’ve taught with Baptists. I teach Baptists. I pray with Baptists. I cooperate in every way I can but the Reformed are not Baptists and the Baptists are not Reformed.
        • The hard fact is that a lot of American evangelicals only know how to accept affirmation. There are other moods in communication. Elenctics is a thing we do. It’s a Christian thing to do. Telling the truth is a Christian thing to do.
        • In important ways the Baptist tradition is at odds with the Reformation. Their rejection of the Great Christian tradition on baptism puts them at odds with the Reformation. The Reformers would say the same things to the Baptists that they said to the Anabaptists about baptism, hermeneutics, the history of redemption, eschatology, and the continuity of the covenant of grace.
        • It’s ironic for Baptists to complain about un-baptizing people. They did it to the entire Christian church. That’s one of the features of the Baptist movement. They’re offended because they’re in the majority in the USA. This is, in some ways, a Baptist country. In Europe, the Baptists don’t whine like this because they’re a little more rooted in history and the Reformed in Europe are less dependent upon the Baptists for support/help etc. (Would there be giant evangelical websites without the Baptists? Probably not).
        • As to criticizing the Lutherans, well, they started re-defining Reformed I would get after them but they don’t so I leave them alone. Now, if you’ll do a little searching you’ll see that I have criticized the Lutherans on a variety of topics. There is even a resource page on the differences between the Lutherans and the Reformed. Context matters.
        • You’re assuming the very premise that is in dispute here, that the Baptists are “closest” to us. Are they? Who says? On what grounds? Do they recognize our baptism? No. Do they read redemptive history as we do? No. Do they share our hermeneutic? No. Do they share our eschatology? No. Do we recognize their administration of the sacraments as “pure”? Did we in the NL in the 17th century? No. We called them “Doppers, which is the same term we used for the Anabaptists.
    • I appreciate your response, Dr. Clark.

      I don’t fully agree with your explanation, but I agree with a fair amount of it, and I think I understand and sympathize with the points on which I disagree. I do see a more irenic spirit in this explanation of what you do and why you do it than I see in some of your posts.

      There really **ARE** differences between the Baptist approach to church and family life, and the role of the covenant and the institutional church, when contrasted with what most of the Reformed churches have believed for most of Reformed church history.

      Perhaps a greater emphasis on “Make Baptists Great Again — return to your historic tradition and call yourselves Particular Baptists, not Reformed” would help? That’s not denigrating Baptists. It’s saying they have their own tradition, it’s a legitimate tradition, and is deserving of respect while noting the differences.

      If that’s your point and your goal, we agree.

      At the risk of dragging a secular issue into an ecclesiastical matter, perhaps this is not entirely unlike the controversy that has blown up recently on the liberal side of the political aisle over a recent speech by Viktor Orban in Hungary prior to speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference here in America. A few things Orban said in that speech in Hungary got considerably more attention than the much larger body of his work, and his main points have been misunderstood by people who aren’t paying attention to him. The result is Orban has been used as a cudgel to attack American conservatives for welcoming him to speak.

      Somewhat similarly, a few of your more fiery comments about Baptists may be getting more traction than the rest of your track record.

      Until I read Orban’s actual speech, I was prepared to believe that Orban had said horrific things based on the quotes I saw in American media. But after reading the actual speech by Orban, he sounds very much like a secular version of the sort of Dutch Reformed identification of ethnic identity and culture with social and ecclesiastical conservatism that I saw all the time in the Dutch Reformed world, and which is common for European conservatives who commonly identify national fidelity to conservative ideals with ethnic heritage. That’s not part of our American tradition due to a long history of immigration, but it’s the norm in much of European conservatism.

      The recent attacks on Orban took a couple of paragraphs out of context. He may be a horrible person, but his speech doesn’t prove what his opponents claim. On the contrary, he’s arguing for the concept of an ethnic-based national culture that is surprisingly welcoming toward other European Christians who might want to come to Hungary and join Orban’s project. Not that long ago, his willingness to say there is a common Christian culture of Europe that should welcome others who share that culture, while excluding those who are not part of the European Christian cultural consensus, would have been considered “liberal” because it welcomed non-Hungarians. Given Hungary’s centuries-long history of animosity toward and actual warfare with the Ottoman Empire, it should surprise nobody that a Hungarian conservative has a sense that Hungary should have an explicitly Christian culture. The surprise OUGHT to be that Orban is open-minded enough to welcome conservatives from other European cultures that are rejecting their own national heritage.

      Dr. Clark, the controversy at CPAC is something to which a lot of politically conservative “Reformed Baptists” are paying attention because it mirrors some of the fights in the Southern Baptist Convention. Perhaps asking Baptists to give you the same benefit of the doubt they are giving to Orban will help.

      Understanding what Christian leaders say and why they say it is important, just as understanding what secular politicians say and why they said it.

      Motives matter, but so do word choices.

      “Make Baptists Great Again” sounds much different from “bashing Baptists for squatting in our house.”

    • The “Reformed” Baptists have an identity problem. While they want to identify themselves with the theology and soteriology of the great Reformers, they ignore its underpinnings. Reformed theology is based on the principle that the covenant of grace existed since God delivered the good news to Adam in the garden, and then confirmed it with a sign to Abraham. It was a bloody sign until the Sacrifice it pointed to was fulfilled by Christ. It was then replaced by water baptism which visually represents the washing away of sin. Both signs represent the promise of salvation to those who believe in Christ. The promise, “to you and your children” was never rescinded, only it was extended beyond Israel, to those “who are far off. This glorious truth undergirds the integrity of God’s Word, as never changing, and is a foundation of Reformed theology. God always provides salvation through trust in the Saviour. That is the distinction of the Reformed view. Baptists, on the other hand, divide the Bible, insisting that the covenant of grace did not exist until the death of Christ, and therefore is so radically different that it demands administration be restricted to those who are deemed to be true believers. While they want to identify with the Reformers, they deny the foundation of Reformers’ teaching, the unity of Scripture, based on the continuity of the covenant of grace. Sadly, it seems that many do not understand this distinction, or why it is important, and the meaning of what it means to be Reformed is being replaced by something quite different.

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