The Gospel According To John (MacArthur)—Part 12

Because the MacArthurite sect of Dispensationalism (we might say post-modified Dispensationalism but not quite Progressive Dispensationalism) intersects only occasionally and tangentially with the Reformation, the defenders of Lordship Salvation assume that any critique of the system is necessarily a defense of Zane Hodges’ antinomianism—a non sequitur. The distance between the MacArthurite system and the Reformation is greater than they think, and of a different sort than they think. His approach to Judas in chapter 9 of GAJ illustrates the distance and nature of the gulf. In this chapter, his foil is the doctrine of the so-called carnal Christian. He writes, “Opponents of lordship salvation admit that one of the reasons they exclude obedience from the concept of saving faith is to make room in the kingdom for believers whose lives are filled with sin.”120

According to this doctrine, as R. Kent Hughes describes it, Romans 7 describes a “carnal Christian.”121

This teaching maintains that these people are truly saved because they have accepted Jesus as Saviour. But they are not living as they should because they have not yet accepted Jesus as their Lord. He is in their lives, but he is not yet on the throne of their hearts! These people have the best of both worlds. They are saved and, therefore, get to go to heaven when they die, but they live as if they were lost.122

This doctrine is the ugly stepchild of the second-blessing approach to theology, which has found many manifestations in the history of the church. In this manifestation, it appears in revivalism, wherein a preacher persuades members of an audience to come forward, pray a prayer (at the anxious bench) and to be declared a Christian by the revivalist. Should the “convert” go on to live impenitently, he is said to be a “carnal Christian.” This approach only makes sense under the assumption that there are two classes of Christians—Christians who have not achieved the “higher life” and those who have.

There are not two classes of Christians. There is only one class: sinners saved by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone (solo Christo). Romans 6 and 8 describe the norm of the Christian life, and Romans 7 describes the ordinary experience of the Christian life. According to the Reformed theologian Caspar Olevianus (1536–87), a contributor to the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), all Christians in this life are but partly sanctified. We all stand only by grace and on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. We are all pilgrims heading for the heavenly city (Heb 11:10). A Christian pilgrim is a sinner, but he is a penitent sinner—that is, because he has been saved sola gratia, sola fide. He lives in union with Christ as a graciously adopted son. Insofar as he is a new man, he wants to obey and he seeks to mortify sin and the old man.

According to the Reformed understanding of conversion, it is not a one-time event. There is a moment in which God the Spirit (John 3) sovereignly, freely grants new life and with it true faith, union with Christ, and adoption, but conversion was traditionally confessed by the Reformed to be a life-long process. The churches teach:

88. In how many things does true repentance or conversion consist?
In two things: the dying of the old man and the quickening of the new.

Notice that the churches use conversion as a synonym for “true repentance” and repentance is treated as the ordinary fruit of new life and true faith. The two parts of the Christian life (conversion) are mortification and vivification, the putting to death of the old man and the making alive of the new.

There are not Christians who have no interest in either of these. We say that the first part of the Christian life, mortification, means, “Heartfelt sorrow for sin, causing us to hate and turn from it always more and more,” and the second part of the Christian life, vivification, means, “Heartfelt joy in God through Christ, causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works.” Should someone be impenitent in their sin—that is, should one “not turn to God from their unthankful, impenitent life” they cannot be saved in that state because “as the Scripture says, no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like shall inherit the Kingdom of God.” (HC 87–90)

We do not say that sinners cannot be saved. Of course, sinners are saved. Those, however, who refuse to acknowledge their sin, who are not grieved by them, who have no interest in sanctification, are not yet born again, have no true faith, and remain under the wrath of God.

So, a confessional Reformed approach to the issues that MacArthur raises in this chapter takes a different trajectory than the approach taught either by Zane Hodges or MacArthur. We exist in a different, parallel universe, and we live, read Scripture, and think according to a different paradigm.

We agree with MacArthur that just because one has come forward at a rally does not mean that he is a Christian, and it is good that he affirms the perseverance of the saints (see the Fifth Head of Doctrine of the Canons of Dort).123 We agree that there is a material difference between the modern revivalist/evangelical doctrine of “once saved, always saved” and the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It is interesting, however, that he affirms something of the fifth head of doctrine of our response to Arminius and the Remonstrants (i.e., the Arminians) but, in this volume, he seems quite unaware of the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism: guilt, grace, and gratitude. In his response to the antinomianism of Zane Hodges et al., instead of turning to the law (guilt), the gospel (grace), and the Christian life lived in union with Christ (to which he appeals once, in the chapter on justification, in the revised edition), his instinct is to put the believers back under the law. The Reformed response, as measured by the confession of the Reformed churches, is to preach the law, the gospel, and to teach the law as the norm of the Christian life, which is lived in the covenant of grace, in union with Christ, out of gratitude. Remarkably, the word gratitude does not occur in The Gospel According to Jesus. This is not merely an indictment of MacArthur but a way of measuring the distance between MacArthurite-nomist-Dispensationalism and confessional Reformed theology.

Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Tim 1:15). He came not for the sinless (Matt 2:17), but helpless sinners. To further illustrate the distance between the way the Reformed talk about salvation and the way that modern (e.g., Dispensational) evangelicals talk about it, when someone asks me, “When were you saved?” I answer, “On Golgotha, in the early AD 30s.” This response has earned me some quizzical looks, but it gives me the opportunity to explain the difference between the accomplishment of redemption and the application of the redemption. Typically, the question is asking about the application of the redemption, but even then, to answer it is a little presumptuous. Jesus is rather clear that we do not know from where the Spirit comes or where he goes (John 3:8). To assume that we know the exact moment that the Holy Spirit regenerated us is to presume to know what Jesus says cannot be known. What we do know is that we believe now.

Both MacArthur and his antinomian opponents come at the question of Lordship from a Baptistic perspective, which reads the history of redemption quite differently from the way the Reformed understand the history of redemption. The Baptistic view sees the New Covenant church as an entirely different entity from what went before. In Dispensationalism, they speak of the “the church age.” In Reformed theology, we do not speak that way. For us, it has been the church age, as it were, since Genesis 3:15, when God the Son, in his pre-incarnate state, came to Adam and Eve, after the fall, and formed the church and gave the gospel promise that he would become incarnate and save his people. Because MacArthur writes from a (leaky) Dispensational theology, he does not view the church as we do nor does he speak of one covenant of grace in multiple administrations as we do.

In the Reformed account, the visible church is now, and always has been, a mixed assembly. All of us (Jacob and Esau, if you will) profess faith but, despite the best efforts of Baptistic theology to put a fence around the church, not everyone in the visible church has been given new life and true faith. Even in the New Covenant, there are, as Olevianus, Beza, and others used to say, “hypocrites and reprobates.” This is the nature of life in the visible church, in a fallen world, before the return of Christ. For MacArthur, in this chapter of GAJ, Judas serves as the prime example of the failure of Zane Hodges’ “easy believism.” For us, however, Judas is a prime example of the reality of hypocrites and reprobates in the visible church. We distinguish between the holy catholic church, which

has existed from the beginning of the world and will last until the end, as appears from the fact that Christ is eternal King who cannot be without subjects. And this holy church is preserved by God against the rage of the whole world, even though for a time it may appear very small in the eyes of men—as though it were snuffed out,124

and the visible church, which can be distinguished from the false church (e.g., Rome) and sects (e.g., most American evangelical congregations):

We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church—for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.” We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.”125

The marks of the true church are three:

  1. The pure preaching of the gospel
  2. The pure administration of the sacraments
  3. The use of church discipline

We appeal to Judas’ presence at the institution of the Lord’s Supper to illustrate the mixed nature of the church:

Moreover, though the sacraments and the thing signified are joined together, not all receive both of them. The wicked person certainly takes the sacrament, to his condemnation, but does not receive the truth of the sacrament, just as Judas and Simon the Sorcerer both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it. He is communicated only to believers.126

So, because the Reformed churches are not Baptistic in our reading of redemptive history and in our view of the visible church, we consider and speak about the history of redemption and the visible church rather differently from MacArthur and Hodges.

Nevertheless, MacArthur is right to observe about the state of the broad evangelical church, “I fear that there are multitudes like Judas in the contemporary church. They are friendly to Jesus. They look and talk like disciples. But they are not committed to Him and are therefore capable of the worst kind of betrayal.”127 We agree that a real disciple may “fail Christ but will never turn against him.”128 It might be well to remember that the ecumenical church was not Novatianist or Donatist. We have never been perfectionist (Pelagian). We do not hinge the validity of the sacraments on the character of the minister (Donatist) and we do not regard, as the Novatianists did, those who lapse as irredeemable. When the time came, in the second and third centuries AD, to confess Christ or die for the sake of Christ, there were Christians, even ministers, who faltered, who denied Christ. In the third century, the Novatianists split the church when those who had fallen, who had denied Christ rather than be martyred, were readmitted.

The Synod of Dort is wonderfully biblical and pastoral when, in Canons 5.4, it says,

Although that power of God strengthening and preserving true believers in grace is more than a match for the flesh, yet those converted are not always so activated and motivated by God that in certain specific actions they cannot by their own fault depart from the leading of grace, be led astray by the desires of the flesh, and give in to them. For this reason they must constantly watch and pray that they may not be led into temptations. When they fail to do this, not only can they be carried away by the flesh, the world, and Satan into sins, even serious and outrageous ones, but also by God’s just permission they sometimes are so carried away—witness the sad cases, described in Scripture, of David, Peter, and other saints falling into sins.

Because salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, God never abandons his people. He always renews them to repentance, even after they have sinned grievously:

For, in the first place, God preserves in those saints when they fall his imperishable seed from which they have been born again, lest it perish or be dislodged. Secondly, by his Word and Spirit he certainly and effectively renews them to repentance so that they have a heartfelt and godly sorrow for the sins they have committed; seek and obtain, through faith and with a contrite heart, forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator; experience again the grace of a reconciled God; through faith adore his mercies; and from then on more eagerly work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (CD, 5.7).

As a pastoral matter, MacArthur would have done well in this chapter to follow the Synod of Dort and to close his discussion of the difference between Judas and struggling believers by giving some gracious encouragement to the bruised reed and the smoking flax (Isa 42:3; Matt 12:20). Believer, if you have trusted Jesus and are grieved by your sins, be assured, as the Synod says,

So it is not by their own merits or strength but by God’s undeserved mercy that they neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves this not only easily could happen, but also undoubtedly would happen; but with respect to God it cannot possibly happen, since his plan cannot be changed, his promise cannot fail, the calling according to his purpose cannot be revoked, the merit of Christ as well as his interceding and preserving cannot be nullified, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated nor wiped out.

The same God who called you to new life and true faith by his powerful gospel will preserve you, despite your sins, to the end. He will not let you go, and his Spirit is at work in you to conform you to Christ more and more, little by little, day by day.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

The series so far.


  1. GAJ, 108.
  2. R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991). He cites Alan F. Johnson, The Freedom Letter (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), p. 112 as his example.
  3. Roger Ellsworth, Opening up James, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009), 97.
  4. GAJ, 109.
  5. Belgic Confession (1561), art. 27.
  6. Belgic Confession (1561), art. 28.
  7. Belgic Confession (1561), art. 35.
  8. GAJ, 115.
  9. GAJ, 115.


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  1. A couple of years ago the Theocast guys on their podcast considered the term ‘carnal Christian’ and what kind of person that describes and they said unreservedly that that describes every single Christian of all time. Does MacArthur think that because he himself has made ‘more’ progress in the service of habit forming disciplines with regard to personal holiness than, say a guy who struggles and often fails with some addictive sin pattern like pornography, that this makes him a Christian and the other guy Judas? John MacArthur sins every single day in thought, word and deed! Where does it say in the creeds or Catechisms that not one of us has ever followed a single one of God’s commands and that in sanctification we will only begin to? Where do the lordship guys fit into that truth? Where does lordship salvation make room for the guy ‘In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail’? What do lordship guys say about bruised reeds and smoldering wicks??

    Because MacArthur himself and all of the other lordship guys sin every single day in thought, word and deed, do they think that the difference between them and a guy ‘who has not made Jesus the Lord Of his life’ is somehow just a matter of degrees? Like, you have to get at least 75 on the test, they all have at least that high of a score and the other people haven’t? To such and understanding of the Christian life like this one my only hope would be to cry out “Woe is me, I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” and then cry out (louder, while bearing by breast!) “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

    • Paul,

      You’re thinking of Heidelberg 60:

      60. How are you righteous before God?

      Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

      The Theocast guys make a good point.

      “Carnal Christian” isn’t a category to defend but Romans 7 does describe our experience and it is God’s Word.

  2. Thank you for this!!

    What of the second paragraph of my comment? Is this a fair characterization. If lordship salvation, that if you are simply obedient *enough* that you past the rest of making Jesus the lord of your life? Is it just a matter of degrees?

    • Paul,

      I think your analysis is correct. Both the nomist-Dispensationalists & Antinomian-Dispensationalists come from the same holiness family tree.

      They aren’t from the Reformation family tree.

      That’s an important part of how we got here. They operate without really important Reformation categories.

      In so far as it is, for them, a matter of degrees, ultimately, they are just different positions on the same spectrum.

  3. In my experience MacArthur’s Lordship Doctrine/Position is tolerable in most cases, although I have not attended a TMS Pastors Church for long periods , where this seems to get problematic is when a zealous and poorly educated “Reformed” (TMS family) preacher starts to incorporate this type of thinking into a Sanctification paradigm, which I have personally experienced. During this period I would regularly hear “how to” sermons and repentance (which really meant penitence), and if one did not meet the “Shepherds” definition of this in deed, then you were in the lower stage of blessing, and were treated as such until you fell into line, and until one did, they would remain there, this is not an uncommon paradigm. The Pastor determined who was in and out of this stage – kind of like TGAJ on Steroids. Good work DR Clark, and thank you for taking a difficult stand on this, I wish TMS people would engage in a civil discussion on this issue.

    • Grant,

      Thank you for the encouragement.

      I suppose there are lots of people who, when taught the lordship salvation doctrine, don’t entirely understand the implications, and thus do not suffer all of the possible consequences. It has been put to me repeatedly that all McArthur is asking is for fruit and evidence. Were that the case, there would be no controversy with the orthodox Reformed. But, of course, it is not the case, hence the controversy.

      Here’s an interview I did with a couple of friends, Chris Gordon, and John Fonville. The latter was a student at TMS and actively involved at GCC. He describes the spiritual effect (and affect) of the lordship salvation doctrine in his life.

      As to the state of the discussion, its history suggests that the LS partisans will ignore what’s actually being said (consider how Hohn Cho was treated) but perhaps this series will help those who aren’t committed to the defense of LS come what may?

  4. “We distinguish between the holy catholic church, and the visible church, which can be distinguished from the false church (e.g., Rome) and sects (e.g., most American evangelical congregations)”.

    Are you saying most American evangelical congregations are sects because of their’e practice of baptism or a lack of gospel preaching? In other words, which mark(s) are they so lacking in as to remove them from the church?
    Would you go as far as to say that any congergations that do not practice infant baptism are by defenition sects? Because I have a hard time going that far. It is not like they avoid baptism altogether. How is that diffrent then posthumously excommunicating the whole church starting at some arbitrary point in the medeiveal era?

    • Sam,

      American evangelical Christianity, in the modern sense of the word evangelical, essentially became or began to become largely Anabaptist in the 19th century. It coincided with the rise of Jacksonian populism (let the reader understand). It was symbolized by the various Pentecostal revivals (e.g., Cane Ridge et al.) and cemented by the Second Great Awakening. American evangelicalism is a blip on the radar of the history of the church. The entire church practiced infant baptism until the rise of the Anabaptist movement in the early 16th century. The evidence for infant baptism dates to c.AD 205 in both Tertullian and Origen. They both indicate that it was an established practice and there’s not a shred of evidence that it was controversial. Augustine said that it was the universal practice of the church, so the practice of infant baptism pre-dates the medieval church by three or four centuries.

      Consider the movements that arose in the 19th century. Not only did we see the Pentecostal movement (which has roots in the early Anabaptists) but also the Millerites, the Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Mormons, to name but a few. American religion became an asylum but one that quite resembled the Anabaptists and other radicals of the early 16th century.

      I did not write the Belgic Confession. The Reformed churches adopted in the 1560s with the full knowledge of what it said about the Anabaptists. To the degree American evangelicals have followed the Anabaptists, to the same degree they have have placed themselves outside of the true church according to Belgic Confession.

      The Anabaptists rejected the Reformation solas. They rejected justification/salvation sola gratia, sola fide. Many of them rejected sola scriptura. When the Belgic Confession says “sects” (art. 29), they are thinking specifically of the Anabaptists and other radical groups, whom the magisterial Protestants called “sects,” “fanatics,” etc. I’m just applying the Belgic to our situation.

      It’s not just baptism, though that is essential. In the 19th century, American revivalist evangelicals largely gave up the Reformation (and thus the Biblical) doctrine of salvation too. It’s hard to overstate the damage done to American Christianity in the 19th century both by the revivalists and the theological liberals. By the early 20th century it was hollowed out by both movements. The mainline churches were deeply infected with the cancer of liberalism and the evangelicals with the cancer of the revivalism.

      For more on this see the essay, “‘Magic and Noise’: On Being Reformed in Sister’s America” in Always Reformed. It’s available on Kindle or in libraries via inter-library loan.

    • I understand what your’e saying, and for the record do not disagree that children of beleivers ought to be baptized. But saying that the sacraments as a mark of the church are so damaged by the refusal to baptize that we do not share “One lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father” ext is a pretty big claim. That conclusion would also have very grave implications, especially if one also affirms that outside the church there is no ordinary possibily of salvation. Of course, if that is what the scriptures teach, one would need to grapple with those implications, but I am still unconvinced that this diffrence is enough for the church to stand or fall.
      It is easy to say that the pentacostals are unchristian, but would you extend that to the most (seemingly?) orthodox particular baptists?

      • Sam,

        The Belgic was not a particularly controversial document, at least among the Reformed, when it was adopted. It has been the confession of the Reformed churches since c. 1567. Our confession hasn’t changed but the world around us has.

        The rise of the Particular Baptist movement is a challenge. They share the Anabaptist error re the sacraments and the implied reading of redemptive history (have you read Sam Renihan et al.?) I’ve engaged the PBs at length on this. My personal opinion is that the more orthodox PB congregations are irregular. I just made that up. It’s not a category in the Belgic and we don’t confess it. It’s my way to recognize the commonalities we have with the PBs but also the discontinuities or the profound disagreements we have. They have, were it possible, unbaptized the whole church prior to 1519. That’s pretty radical, don’t you think? It means that we’re outside the church doesn’t it? It might not seem like a big claim in America, where there are roughly 60 million Baptists, but it does everywhere else in the world.

        So, it’s not obvious to me that I’m making any “big” claims but an ordinary Reformed conviction seems “big” or odd on the funny farm.

        “Irregular” is my attempt to avoid the conclusion of Belgic 28 as applied to the Particular Baptists.

        I’m grateful for my PB friends but they have no compunctions about unbaptizing the entire church and yet get itchy when I apply the Belgic.

        My engagement with the PBs:

        1689 Versus The Westminster Confession: A Comparison And Contrast

    • If the PB are “irregular”, refusing to baptize covenant children is not an issue on which the church stands or falls, as you were suggesting up to now.
      I think scripturally, the big question is whether we can affirm “one baptism” with them (assuming the other marks are fine). Since their’e baptisms are valid I struggle to see how the answer could be “no” when all other marks are there, unless there is some passage I haven’t considered.
      Which brings us back to the original question.

      • Sam,

        The category of true (v. false and sects) church has been around for a long time. It’s in the Scots Confession (1560) and the Belgic uses it in article 9:

        This doctrine of the holy Trinity has always been maintained in the true church, from the time of the apostles until the present, against Jews, Muslims, and certain false Christians and heretics, such as Marcion, Mani, Praxeas, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Arius, and others like them, who were rightly condemned by the holy fathers. And so, in this matter we willingly accept the three ecumenical creeds—the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian—as well as what the ancient fathers decided in agreement with them (emphasis added).

        Again, I didn’t write the Belgic Confession. Maybe it would help to read the full article?

        We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church—for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.” We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.” The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks:

        • The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;
        • It makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;
        • It practices church discipline for correcting faults.

        In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church— and no one ought to be separated from it. As for those who are of the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works. Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him. As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry. These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.

        When you invoke the language of Alsted, “stands or falls,” you’re changing categories. That’s a different question. This is about the “marks” (notes, indicators) of the true church. The article of the standing or falling of the church is justification. The question here is a different one: how can a believer tell the true church from the false or from sects? Thus, like several other Reformed confessions and catechisms, we speak of the marks of the church. E.g., Geneva Catechism (97):

        Q. 97. Can this Church be known in any other way than when she is believed by faith?

        A. There is indeed also a visible Church of God, which he has described to us by certain signs and marks, but here we are properly speaking of the assemblage of those whom he has adopted to salvation by his secret election. This is neither at all times visible to the eye nor discernible by signs.

        and the Second Helvetic:

        Moreover, as we acknowledge no other head of the Church than Christ, so we do not acknowledge every church to be the true Church which vaunts herself to be such; but we teach that the true Church is that in which the signs or marks of the true Church are to be found, especially the lawful and sincere preaching of the Word of God as it was delivered to us in the books of the prophets and the apostles, which all lead us unto Christ, who said in the Gospel: “My sheep hear me voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life. A stranger they do not follow, but they flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:5, 27, 28).

        And those who are such in the Church have one faith and one spirit; and therefore they worship but one God, and him alone they worship in spirit and in truth, loving him alone with all their hearts and with all their strength, praying unto him alone through Jesus Christ, the only Mediator and Intercessor; and they do not seek righteousness and life outside Christ and faith in him. Because they acknowledge Christ the only head and foundation of the Church, and, resting on him, daily renew themselves by repentance, and patiently bear the cross laid upon them. Moreover, joined together with all the members of Christ by an unfeigned love, they show that they are Christ’s disciples by persevering in the bond of peace and holy unity. At the same time they participate in the sacraments instituted by Christ, and delivered unto us by his apostles, using them in no other way than as they received them from the Lord. That saying of the apostle Paul is well known to all: “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (I Cor. 11:23 ff.). Accordingly, we condemn all such churches as strangers from the true Church of Christ, which are not such as we have heard they ought to be, no matter how much they brag of a succession of bishops, of unity, and of antiquity. Moreover, we have a charge from the apostles of Christ “ti shun the worship of idols” (I Cor. 10:14; I John 5:21), and “to come out of Babylon,” and to have no fellowship with her, unless we want to be partakers with her of all God’s plagues (Rev. 18:4; II Cor. 6:17).

        In the Belgic Confession, the Reformed churches are saying what the other Reformed churches.

        It wasn’t the Reformed churches who corrupted the sacrament of baptism. It was the Anabaptists and the Baptists chose to follow them on this.

        “Irregular” seems like a gracious category. It’s not a category the 16th or 17th century Reformed theologians or churches used. When the Reformed in England came into contact with the PBs they denounced them as Anabaptists.

        I don’t think they are ABs, in every respect, but their reading of redemptive history is radically different (though some readings, e.g., Denault and S. Renihan are quasi-Dispensational) so that it destroys the unity of the covenant of grace.

        These things go to the heart of the Reformed confession. My Baptist friends tell me that it’s no big deal but the confessions speak differently. Why should I let the Baptists tell me what is and isn’t important about our confession of God’s Word?

    • Mr Clark,
      I never said you wrote the confessions. But though this may be an intellectual discussion, your role here is of the one who is making an assertion. I am a younger, much less learned person who is asking questions. I struggle to accept this assertion without compelling evidence, but am not confident in rejecting it either.

      My question is,
      Do the scriptures teach that refusing to give the sign of the covenant to children, and giving it to adults who have already received it, is such a great error, that a group making it is by defenition not a member of the commonwealth of Israel, and does not share “one baptism” with the true Church?

      You have made your point regarding the weight of those who held this position. I am asking for clarifications on the biblical evidence behind them.

      • Sam,

        I keep reminding you that I didn’t write the Belgic because you keep writing as if I did write the Belgic. I subscribed the Belgic, the Catechism, and the Canons before God the church and I receive it as my confession.

        Part of Belgic art. 35 says,

        Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists (Anabaptistarum itaque errorem hic detestamur) who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers. We believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children. And truly, Christ has shed his blood no less for washing the little children of believers than he did for adults. Therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for them, just as the Lord commanded in the law that by offering a lamb for them the sacrament of the suffering and death of Christ would be granted them shortly after their birth. This was the sacrament of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, baptism does for our children what circumcision did for the Jewish people. That is why Paul calls baptism the “circumcision of Christ.”

        Every Baptist church shares this detestable error. Am I supposed to ignore that?

        As to what Scripture teaches, what did Yahweh threaten to do to Moses when he refused to circumcise (i.e., baptize) his son?

        And Yahweh said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says Yahweh, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” At a lodging place on the way Yahweh met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision (Exodus 4:21–26).

        I understand that happened under the types and shadows (strictly speaking, the Old, Mosaic Covenant; 2 Cor 3; Her chapters 7–10).

        Our sovereign God instituted infant initiation under Abraham and he has never revoked it. Indeed, when he makes covenant with us, throughout redemptive history, it is always with the believer and his family/seed.

        Here are some resources on these issues. Perhaps you might start with the podcast series and then read the articles in the order presented. They are mostly responses to questions from Baptists.

    • Correction: Dr. Clark, not Mr. Clark

      Clarification: I am equating the “Commonwealth of Israel” with “the true church”

    • The quote from Exodus is helpfull.

      How did the reformers view the pre-reformation church, at the time when most of the abuses were already in place?

      If we can indeed not confess “One Lord, one faith, on baptism, one God and father of all who is above all and through all and in all” with any credobaptists, even the ones who call themselves reformed and even the most orthodox particular baptists (and I do admit I need some time to digest some of these matters), what does this mean for (paedo) Protestant cooperation with Baptists? What does it mean for former baptists who live in areas without any presence of non-baptist protestants?

      • Sam,

        We should not assume that the entire pre-Reformation church was as profoundly corrupt as it came to be in the 13th and 14th centuries. A lot of the corruption that we associate with Rome is relatively late. This is one reason why I do not refer to the pre-Reformation church as “Roman Catholic.” I speak of the Patristic and Medieval church. A lot of what makes Rome what it is was ratified at Trent. The five false/ecclesiastical sacraments were not formalized until 1274.

        The Reformers did not tend to view to medieval church quite the way American evangelicals do because they were aware that many of the corruptions were quite late. They read the Fathers and saw in them much that they wanted to recover. Some of the Protestants read Thomas. He was more widely read by the Protestant orthodox but Calvin and Luther read Bernard and loved him.

        There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”. Whereas the Baptist churches do not recognize our baptisms, the Reformed churches accept their baptisms! We’re not sectarians.

        One an individual basis I cooperate with Particular Baptists all the time but it’s a little more complicated when it comes to ecclesiastical cooperation. Again, why would a Baptist church want to cooperate with people who, in their view, are unbaptized? They can’t have it both ways. They can’t say, on one hand, that the Reformed are (mostly) unbaptized but Baptism isn’t really that important so we’ll pretend there is not issue.

    • I used “pre-reformation” to refer to the last few generations of the medeiveal church, but I can see where the confusion comes in.

      How did the reformers see that period?
      How are we to see baptists?

      To clarify, I learned the relation of Ephesians 4 to the marks of the church from the Augsburg confession. Its one of ths few things I still remember from reading it:

      Article VII. Of the Church.
      Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
      And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6. (Source: )

      Perhaps you would like to nuance or contest this, and explain the diffrence between having one baptism and the baptists lacking it as a mark of the church.

      • Sam,

        The Reformers were very critical of the Franciscans (e.g., Ockham and Biel) but they were appreciative and influenced by the neo-Augustinians, e.g., Bradwardine et al. The Reformed agree with art. 7 of the Augsburg but, again, the question is what is a church? Practicing baptism doesn’t make an assembly a church. The Lutherans were well aware of the Anabaptists when they adopted these words but they didn’t intend by them to include the Anabaptists. E.g., Augsburg Confession art. 7

        Of Baptism [the Lutherans] teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.

        How are we to see Baptists? In general (Baptist is a very broad category) they are radical sectarians. The Particular Baptists are closer to us but they perpetuate some serious Baptist errors. To some degree or other they deny the continuity of the covenant of grace (one covenant of grace, multiple administrations). Some of them affirm that but see the New Covenant as too eschatological to permit infant baptism. Others, however, more radically, deny that the covenant of grace is present in redemptive history until the New Covenant. Such a view is utterly outside the Reformation consensus and outside the bounds of historic Christianity going back as far as Barnabas (c. AD 120), Justin (AD 150), and Irenaeus (c. AD 180), who strongly affirmed one covenant, multiple administrations. Further, more radical of the PBs are now teaching a version of the limbus patrum.

        I’ve had a lots of PB students and I have many PB friends. On an individual level we have good fellowship. I worship regularly with my friend, Pat Abendroth (Omaha Bible Church), who affirms the 1689. I was even present for a (believer’s) baptism not long ago. I was, as he said, outside the “splash zone.” LOL. I’ve even recommended PB congregations when there aren’t any Reformed churches nearby. I don’t think I’m being unduly sectarian.

        So, it’s complicated. I recognize that the PBs want to be considered Reformed (they aren’t) and they want to affirm much of what we teach on Scripture, God, Man, Christ, Salvation, and Eschatology. We still, however, read the Bible rather differently and obviously we have a different view of the church and, to some degree, of the family (although some PBs, inconsistently to my way of thinking) treat their children like covenant children.

        So, the short answer as to how we ought to think about Baptists is, “it depends.” How Baptist are they?

    • How are you defining sectarian?

      Would you use Ephesians 4 when asked to defend the marks of the true church? If you would, what’s the distinction between you having said we have “one baptism” with the baptists, and their’e baptism being insufficient for the marks of the church?
      If you would not, where would you turn?

      Do you think the orthodox PB could be seen as (an irregular) part of the church based on the precedants of the late medeiveal church and some of the less faithful periods in Israels history (say the desert sojourn when they didn’t circumsize)? Or are those exanples fundementaly diffrent?

      • Sam,

        The question is less what I would do and more how the Reformed churches came to their conclusions. One of the better discussions of this is in Calvin’s Institutes (4.1.9ff):

        7. Invisible and visible church
        bHow we are to judge the church visible, which falls within our knowledge, is, I believe, already evident from the above discussion. cFor we have said that Holy Scripture speaks of the church in two ways. Sometimes by the term “church” it means that which is actually in God’s presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Then, indeed, the church includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world. Often, however, the name “church” designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess to worship one God and Christ. By baptism we are initiated into faith in him; by partaking in the Lord’s Supper we attest our unity in true doctrine and love; in the Word of the Lord we have agreement, and for the preaching of the Word the ministry instituted by Christ is preserved. In this church are mingled many hypocrites who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance. There are very many ambitious, greedy, envious persons, evil speakers, and some of quite unclean life. Such are tolerated for a time either because they cannot be convicted by a competent tribunal or because a vigorous discipline does not always flourish as it ought.
        Just as we must believe, therefore, that the former church, invisible to us,14 is visible to the eyes of God alone, so we are commanded to revere and keep communion with the latter, which is called “church” in respect to men.

        8. The limitation of our judgment
        c(b)Accordingly, the Lord by certain marks and tokens has pointed out to us what we should know about the church. aAs we have cited above from Paul, to know who are His is a prerogative belonging solely to God [2 Tim. 2:19].15 Steps were indeed thus taken to restrain men’s undue rashness; and daily events themselves remind us how far his secret judgments surpass our comprehension. For those who seemed utterly lost and quite beyond hope are by his goodness called back to the way; while those who more than others seemed to stand firm often fall. cTherefore, according to God’s secret predestination (as Augustine says), “many sheep are without, and many wolves are within.”16 For he knows and has marked those who know neither him nor themselves. Of those who openly wear his badge, ahis eyes alone see the ones who are unfeignedly holy and will persevere to the very end [Matt. 24:13]—the ultimate point of salvation.
        bBut on the other hand, because he foresaw it to be of some value for us to know who were to be counted as his children, he has in this regard accommodated himself to our capacity. b(a)And, since assurance of faith was not necessary, he substituted for it a certain charitable judgment whereby we recognize as members of the church athose who, by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments, profess the same God and Christ with us.17
        cHe has, moreover, set off by plainer marks the knowledge of his very body to us, knowing how necessary it is to our salvation.

        9. The marks of the church and our application of them to judgment
        bFrom this the face of the church comes forth and becomes visible to our eyes. aWherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists [cf. Eph. 2:20].18 For his promise cannot fail: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” [Matt. 18:20].
        bBut that we may clearly grasp the sum of this matter, we must proceed by the following steps: the church universal is a multitude gathered from all nations; it is divided and dispersed in separate places, but agrees on the one truth of divine doctrine, and is bound by the bond of the same religion. Under it are thus included individual churches, disposed in towns and villages according to human need, so that each rightly has the name and authority of the church. Individual men who, by their profession of religion, are reckoned within such churches, even though they may actually be strangers to the church, still in a sense belong to it until they have been rejected by public judgment.
        There is, however, a slightly different basis for judgment concerning individual men and churches. For it may happen that we ought to treat like brothers and count as believers those whom we think unworthy of the fellowship of the godly, because of the common agreement of the church by which they are borne and tolerated in the body of Christ. We do not by our vote approve such persons as members of the church, but we leave to them such place as they occupy among the people of God until it is lawfully taken from them.
        But we must think otherwise of the whole multitude itself. If it has the ministry of the Word and honors it, if it has the administration of the sacraments, it deserves without doubt to be held and considered a church. For it is certain that such things are not without fruit. In this way we preserve for the universal church its unity, which devilish spirits have always tried to sunder; and we do not defraud of their authority those lawful assemblies which have been set up in accordance with local needs.

        (A church with these marks, however defective, is not to be forsaken: the sin of schism, 10–16)
        10. Marks and authority of the church
        bWe have laid down as distinguishing marks of the church the preaching of the Word and the observance of the sacraments.19 These can never exist without bringing forth fruit and prospering by God’s blessing. I do not say that wherever the Word is preached there will be immediate fruit; but wherever it is received and has a fixed abode, it shows its effectiveness. However it may be, where the preaching of the gospel is reverently heard and the sacraments are not neglected, there for the time being no deceitful or ambiguous form of the church is seen; and no one is permitted to spurn its authority, flout its warnings, resist its counsels, or make light of its chastisements—much less to desert it and break its unity. For the Lord esteems the communion of his church so highly that he counts as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of Word and sacraments. He so esteems the authority of the church that when it is violated he believes his own diminished.
        eIt is of no small importance that it is called “the pillar and ground of the truth” and “the house of God” [1 Tim. 3:15, KJV]. By these words Paul means that the church is the faithful keeper of God’s truth in order that it may not perish in the world. For by its ministry and labor God willed to have the preaching of his Word kept pure and to show himself the Father of a family, while he feeds us with spiritual food and provides everything that makes for our salvation. It is also no common praise to say that Christ has chosen and set apart the church as his bride, “without spot or wrinkle” [Eph. 5:27], “his body and … fullness” [Eph. 1:23]. From this it follows that separation from the church is the denial of God and Christ. Hence, we must even more avoid so wicked a separation. For when with all our might we are attempting the overthrow of God’s truth, we deserve to have him hurl the whole thunderbolt of his wrath to crush us. Nor can any more atrocious crime be conceived than for us by sacrilegious disloyalty to violate the marriage that the only-begotten Son of God deigned to contract with us. [Cf. Eph. 5:23–32.]

        11. The inviolable validity of the marks
        bLet us therefore carefully keep these marks imprinted upon our minds and esteem them in accordance with the Lord’s will. For there is nothing that Satan plots more than to remove and do away with one or both of these. Sometimes he tries by effacing and destroying these marks to remove the true and genuine distinction of the church. Sometimes he tries by heaping contempt upon them to drag us away from the church in open rebellion. By his craft the pure preaching of the Word has in some ages disappeared; and now with the same malice he is striving to overthrow the ministry, a ministry Christ so ordained in the church that, if destroyed, the upbuilding of the church would fail [Eph. 4:12]. But how dangerous—nay, how deadly—a temptation is it, when one is prompted to withdraw from that congregation wherein are seen the signs and tokens with which the Lord thought his church sufficiently marked? We see what great heed we are to take on either hand. For, in order that the title “church” may not deceive us, every congregation that claims the name “church” must be tested by this standard as by a touchstone.20 If in Word and sacraments it has the order approved by the Lord, it will not deceive; let us, then, confidently pay to it the honor due to churches. But again, if, devoid of Word and sacraments, it advertises the name of church, we must just as scrupulously beware such deceits, as we must avoid rashness and pride on the other side.

        12. Heeding the marks guards against capricious separation
        bThe pure ministry of the Word and pure mode of celebrating the sacraments are, as we say, sufficient pledge and guarantee that we may safely embrace as church any society in which both these marks exist. The principle extends to the point that we must not reject it so long as it retains them, even if it otherwise swarms with many faults.
        What is more, some fault may creep into the administration of either doctrine or sacraments, but this ought not to estrange us from communion with the church. For not all the articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the proper principles of religion. Such are: God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God’s mercy; and the like. Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith. Suppose that one church believes—short of unbridled contention and opinionated stubbornness—that souls upon leaving bodies fly to heaven; while another, not daring to define the place, is convinced nevertheless that they live to the Lord. What churches would disagree on this one point? Here are the apostle’s words: “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be of the same mind; and if you be differently minded in anything, God shall reveal this also to you” [Phil. 3:15]. Does this not sufficiently indicate that a difference of opinion over these nonessential matters21 should in no wise be the basis of schism among Christians? First and foremost, we should agree on all points. But since all men are somewhat beclouded with ignorance, either we must leave no church remaining, or we must condone delusion in those matters which can go unknown without harm to the sum of religion and without loss of salvation.
        But here I would not support even the slightest errors with the thought of fostering them through flattery and connivance. But I say we must not thoughtlessly forsake the church because of any petty dissensions. For in it alone is kept safe and uncorrupted that doctrine in which piety stands sound and the use of the sacraments ordained by the Lord is guarded. In the meantime, if we try to correct what displeases us, we do so out of duty. Paul’s statement applies to this: “If a better revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent” [1 Cor. 14:30 p.]. From this it is clear that every member of the church is charged with the responsibility of public edification according to the measure of his grace, provided he perform it decently and in order.22 That is, we are neither to renounce the communion of the church nor, remaining in it, to disturb its peace and duly ordered discipline.


        b edition of 1539

        c edition of 1543

        14 The concept of the invisible church of all the elect is present in Augustine and was habitually employed by Wycliffe. Cf. Augustine, City of God, passim; On Baptism III. xix. 26 (MPL 43. 152; tr. NPNF IV. 445); Wycliffe, De ecclesia, Wyclif Society edition, p. 37: “Universitas fidelium praedestinatorum”; so also Hus, De ecclesia i, ed. S. H. Thomson, pp. 2 f., 8; tr. D. S. Schaff, The Church by John Hus, pp. 3, 6; J. T. McNeill, “Some Emphases in Wyclif’s Teaching,” Journal of Religion VII (1927), 452 ff.; Unitive Protestantism, pp. 25 f. The idea is also familiar to such conciliarists as Dietrich of Niem (see LCC XIV. 150 f.). Luther employs similar language frequently, e.g., in his Preface to Revelation (Sämmtliche Schriften XIV [St. Louis, 1898]; tr. Works of Martin Luther VI. 488). Other citations from Luther and Zwingli are found in OS V. 12, note 1. Cf. J. Courvoisier, La notion d’Église chez Bucer, pp. 68 ff.; Wendel, Calvin, pp. 225 f.; H. Strohl, La Pensée de la Réforme, pp. 174–181; McNeill, Unitive Protestantism, pp. 39–45; Augsburg Confession, articles vii, viii.

        c(b) edition of 1539 as altered in 1543

        a edition of 1536

        15 Sec. 2, above.

        c edition of 1543

        16 Augustine, John’s Gospel xlv. 12 (MPL 35. 1725; tr. NPNF VII. 253 f.).

        a edition of 1536

        b edition of 1539

        b(a) edition of 1536 as altered in 1539

        a edition of 1536

        17 Cf. Luther, Enchiridion piarum precationum (1529) (Werke WA X. ii. 394). Cf. sec. 20, note 30, below.

        c edition of 1543

        b edition of 1539

        a edition of 1536

        18 Cf. Augsburg Confession, art. vii, where the church is defined as “the congregation of saints in which the gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments are rightly administered.” Important as discipline is for Calvin, he does not distinctly make it one of the notae, or marks, by which the church is recognized, as does Bucer, Scripta Anglicana, p. 36. Cf. Wendel, Calvin, p. 228. The First Scots Confession, ch. xviii, makes discipline the third “mark,” as does the Belgic Confession, art. xxix.

        b edition of 1539

        b edition of 1539

        19 Sec. 9, above. Note the important phrase presently added: “where the preaching of the gospel is reverently heard.” Cf. Calvin’s Articles of the Faculty of Paris with the Antidote, art. xviii (CR VII. 29, 31: “ubi verbum eius auditur”; tr. Calvin, Tracts I. 103). See also Comm. John 5:24: “Now he affirms that life is obtained by hearing his word, and by the word ‘hearing’ he means faith.… But faith has its seat not in the ears but in the heart.”

        e edition of 1559

        KJV King James Version

        b edition of 1539

        20 “Ad Lydium lapidem.” The Lydian stone (a velvet-black variety of jasper) was used in testing the purity of gold.

        b edition of 1539

        21 Cf. IV. ii. 1. The distinction of fundamental and nonfundamental articles of belief is woven into Calvin’s thought, though not definitively treated by him. F. Wendel remarks on the importance of this doctrine in Calvin’s championing of church unity, and cites Comm. 1 Cor. 3:11 (CR XLIX. 1354): “The fundamental doctrine, which it is nowise permissible to break, is that we cleave to Christ, for he is the only foundation [unique fondament] of the church.” The doctrines here named are introduced by the word qualia (such as) and are of course not a full enumeration of those which Calvin would hold requisite. The notion of fundamental articles formed the core of various liberal projects of union in the seventeenth century when it was advanced by Georg Calixtus, Pierre Jurieu, Samuel Werenfels, J. A. Turretin, and others. See Rouse and Neill, A History of the Ecumenical Movement, pp. 79 ff., 92 f., 107, 111.

        p. paraphrase, designates a Scripture quotation or near-quotation, not conforming fully to any as yet ascertainable source; many of these are in oratio obliqua.

        22 On 1 Cor. 14:29–33, 40, Reformed and Puritan churches have rested their principle of participation by the members in Scriptural discussions as an expression of the priesthood of all Christians. (Calvin has inserted “better” in verse 30.) Cf. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism, pp. 301, 318 f.; Pannier, Institution II. 133, note a, p. 386.

        John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).

        The marks are objective indicators of the existence of the true church.

        I said that there is one baptism. The Reformed churches accept the baptism performed in Baptist churches but we also accept the baptism performed in the Roman communion, despite the many defects, because they are Trinitarian. I’m not willing to use that fact to change the status of the Roman communion or the Baptist churches.

        We live in fallen world and that leads to many incongruities, difficulties, and tensions. I don’t try to resolve all of them (or very many of them).

        No, I don’t think the precedent of the late-medieval church changes the status of the Baptist churches, who willfully rejected the Reformation view of the church, the Reformation reading of redemptive history, and the sacrament of holy Baptism as practiced in the apostolic and post-apostolic church for 1,500 years. The pre-Reformation church did not have the benefit of the Reformation.

    • One of the secondary questions here that I have been wondering about your’e view of for a while, is that of you beleiving credobaptist congergations can not be true churches, along with the idea that “outside the church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation”. You have not addresed this at much leagth in this conversation (and fair enough – I only brought it up once, and you did address the problem of the Particular Baptists). I just so happened, however, to stumble upon a place where you did helpfully address it – and thought I would paste your’e reply here for the benefit of people reading our conversation in the future. Of course, since it is from 2010, feel free to add to it if you since modified your view.


      Hi Ed,

      I’ve addressed this elsewhere but like you I can’t find it. I do believe that even confessional Baptists deny one of the marks of true church, the “pure administration of the sacraments” (Belgic Confession Art 29). I’m convinced that there’s no way to reconcile the Reformed confession regarding the sacraments and the Baptist denial of the same. There’s no historical evidence, of which I’m aware, that the Reformed churches accepted the Baptist (from 1611) denial of infant baptism any more than they accepted the Anabaptist denial of it.

      So, where does that leave Baptists? Can Baptists be saved? Well, the short answer is yes, they can, in the same way that there are Roman Catholics (and others) who are saved despite the doctrine of their communion, who, despite the doctrine of their communion, are trusting in Christ alone for their righteousness. Should they leave the Roman communion? Calvin thought so and I agree. See the posts on the Nicodemites. As I see things, Baptist congregations are irregular and salvation in them is thus extraordinary (i.e., outside the ordained means). Nevertheless, I won’t try to limit the divine freedom. Further, we’ve always affirmed that there are Christians in the Roman communion. How can they be Christians? How can they be saved? Their communion lacks all three marks. At least a confessional Baptist congregation has two of the marks so, I suppose, we could say that it’s 66% less “extraordinary” for Baptists to be saved.

      I’m happy to have an alternative but I’m unwilling to condemn all Baptists. I don’t think it’s necessary but I’m unwilling to say that the sacraments (including infant baptism) are adiaphora or unimportant. I’m unwilling to negotiate the marks of the church and most Baptists are (rightly) unwilling to recognize me as a baptized person and they (should) regard our congregations as consisting of unbaptized persons and thus outwardly, anyway, non-Christians and if we are Christians it’s just as extraordinary from their point of view.

      I don’t think it will work to redefine “church” or “true church” to mean “any congregation that preaches the gospel and administers discipline.” The sacraments as Christ instituted them continue to be abiding, binding obligations on all congregations and Christians. Thus, I continue to affirm BC 28 and insist that everyone unite himself to a true church while recognizing the anomaly of Baptist Christians who have placed themselves outside the true, visible church.

      I understand how outrageous this must sound. I remember being a Baptist and thinking that everyone who wasn’t a Baptist was in jeopardy. That said, I think Baptists should be uncomfortable. I’m certainly uncomfortable with the tension this situation creates.



      To clarify, I am still a little torn on the issue of baptists (perhaps my own upbringing scews my view here), altough the longer I am reformed, the more problems I see with various baptist groups (or sects, I guess).

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