Monday, December 26, 2005

"Baptists Can't Be Reformed . . . Can They?"

Much of me hesitates to even do this post. I do not wish to take part in logomachy, or disputes over mere words. To tell you the truth, I think that arguing over who is "Reformed" and who is not does nothing to help the advance toward unity of the faith. Therefore, my only point in doing this post is to simply get our paedobaptistic brothers and sisters to consider the validity of my points (or the non-validity).

The term "Reformed" is a loaded term. Just what does it mean? Baptists are not the first to be accused of not being truly "Reformed." Others who have been accused of not being "truly Reformed" include paedocommunionists, theonomists, and the like. However, Baptists are indeed part of the Reformation heritage, and most Reformed Baptists hold to covenant theology as well. So let us consider this.

AM I REFORMED?

Let us examine myself, to see whether I be part of the Reformed faith. (I know, this is rather goofy!) The following I believe and confess:

*I hold to covenant theology, with the covenants of redemption, works, and grace.

*I hold to the so-called "five points of Calvinism," or the doctrines of sovereign grace.

*I hold to the five "solas" (sola fide, solus Christus, sola Scriptura, sola gratia, and soli Deo gloria).

*I hang out in "Reformed" circles, use "Reformed" lingo, and I appreciate the use and legitimacy of confessions of faith.

*Etc.

More could be said about me being "truly Reformed," since I hold to the "Calvinist view" of the "Eucharist," or Lord's Table; since I prefer to use the term "sacrament" rather than "ordinance," and the list could go on.

I think that all of this is rather ridiculous and silly.

Why are we quibbling over who is "truly Reformed" and who is not? Since when did the label "Reformed" become important to the apostles?

So, it doesn't really bother me if my paedobaptistic brothers and sisters tell me, as I have so often heard, that "Reformed Baptist is an oxymoron!" I usually respond to that in one of two ways. I either say, "OK. That's fine." Or I have a little fun sometimes and take them to task.

When I take them to task, I try to do it respectfully and just for fun. So let the fun begin.

RESPONSES TO THE PAEDOBAPTIST "BAPTISTS CAN'T BE REFORMED" ARGUMENTS

"Baptists can't be Reformed!", cries the paedobaptist.

ASSERTION: "Baptists can't be Reformed because they can't really hold to covenant theology without redefining it, since they cut the children out of the covenant.

RESPONSE: Paedobaptists "cut out" the unbelieving spouse, or other household members, of the covenant. They have a "dispensational hermeneutic" here.

ASSERTION: "Baptists can't be Reformed because of the view they have of an independent church."

RESPONSE: The Savoy Declaration is the confession of the Congregationalist churches. These churches still practiced infant baptism, but believed in an independent and autonomous local church. Among them was none other than John Owen, perhaps the greatest theologian of the Puritans.

ASSERTION: "Baptists can't be Reformed because they focus on the New Covenant not being like the Old Covenant."

RESPONSE: John Owen also believed that all of the Old Covenant had passed away. This is not something new, but this was a view which was held by some Puritans as well--even those who were paedobaptists, such as Owen.

ASSERTION: "Baptists can't be Reformed because they don't see the sacraments as having saving efficacy."

RESPONSE: This may depend upon what kind of Reformed Baptist you encounter. But Keach's Catechism does use the language that the ordinances are "effectual unto salvation." Of course, not by any virtue in themselves, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. We do see God's ordinances as indispensable, and we especially think that those who neglect the Lord's Supper neglect their very own soul. It is indeed a means of grace.

ASSERTION: "Baptists can't be Reformed because by cutting the children out of the covenant, they are being dispensational."

RESPONSE: Paedobaptists cut the other household members out of the covenant, so they are being dispensational.

ASSERTION: "Baptists can't be Reformed because they have an aberrant view of covenant theology."

RESPONSE: This assertion has never been proven. Besides, there is no one strand of covenant theology. There are several strands, and Baptists are just another strand of it.

I would like to conclude with one other thing to consider.

INFANT BAPTISM UNDERMINES COVENANT THEOLOGY

I believe that only the Baptist view of the covenant even allows for covenant theology. When we consider the doctrine of covenant or federal or representative headship, namely, that Adam is the federal head of all unbelievers, and we are born and conceived with Adam as our federal head, we must ask our paedobaptist friends:

Who is the federal head of the "covenant child"?

I have seen paedobaptists admit that the "covenant child" still needs to be regenerated. (They must add a kind of confirmation before they are admitted to the Lord's Table, interestingly enough. William Einwechter calls infant baptism a half-sacrament, because baptism was designed to be the sacrament of faith.) However, I have never heard or read a paedobaptist admit that their "covenant child" was conceived under God's wrath. But how then would the analogy hold of them being called out of the Egypt of slavery to sin and into the promised land of faith? It would not hold.

So I believe that covenant theology is Scriptural. This is why I think that the ultimate danger of paedobaptism is that it undermines the fabric of the faith itself. Could this be why the New Perspective on Paul is becoming so popular in Reformed circles these days? I of course can't prove this, but I do think it is something to think about. Could infant baptism be the catalyst for all of this?

CONCLUSION: STRIVE TOWARD UNITY, DON'T QUIBBLE OVER WORDS

Again, I was reluctant to write this post. Since the term "Reformed" is such a loaded term anyways, I think we should be careful when and how we use it. To argue over who is "Reformed," I believe, is silly. It does nothing to help the advance of the faith. In the above post my point was not to argue that Baptists can be Reformed--because I don't care. My point was to give our paedobaptistic brothers and sisters something to consider. I believe it is uncharitable to fight over this.

Who cares who is Reformed or not? Let's dialogue about what the Bible says, and not about who is "Reformed" or not.

May God continue to be patient with us, and with our many shortcomings.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

WE ARE LIKE GRASS . . .

I just found out that the lead singer of the first band I was in (called "The Big Cheeze") died suddenly of a heart attack last Wednesday.

His name was Cory Denton. He was very healthy, and athletically fit. He died of a heart attack during a soccer game he was playing.

This news came as shocking to me.

I remember spending the night at his house, playing chess with him, and of course playing in the band with him. He was our lead singer.

What should our response to this be?

We should pray that the Lord would have mercy upon us. We should recognize that God is the Source of all things. He is the Giver and Taker of life.

We should bow the knee before Him in repentance.

You see, this has been a wakeup call to me. Our death is imminent. We need to know that we are right with God.

There will be many on the last day who thought they were right with God, but Christ will tell them to depart from Him.

MANY HAVE ABANDONED THE FAITH

I have seen enough people fall away from the faith to last me a lifetime. When I was in Cory's band, shortly thereafter many in our circles started abandoning Christianity, and many started claiming they were Christians, but living lives like the world.

I have seen my own relatives abandon the faith.

I pray that God would be pleased to use this shocking situation to cause us all to seek His face in repentance and covenant obedience.

Lord, have mercy on me, the chief of sinners. Thank You for all of Your wonderful gifts. Thank You, most of all, for the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the Lord our Righteousness. I pray that You would cause us to live in covenant obedience to You and to Your Holy Word. Cause us to live lives of repentance and faith. Let us walk humbly before You, our God. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Glorious Truth of Postmillennialism

The following post is of course in no way meant to be an exhaustive treatment of eschatology (the study of last things). I would refer the reader to the following books before I give my shpiel:

Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope, by Keith Mathison. Although I would disagree with Mathison's partial preterism, otherwise I think the book is excellent. He argues that postmillennialism is consistent with Reformed theology, and considers various passages of Scripture in both testaments.

The Victory of Christ's Kingdom, by John Jefferson Davis. This book is an excellent introduction to the postmillennial eschatology.

Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, with Kenneth Gentry presenting the postmillennial view. One thing I appreciate much is his response to Robert Strimple, a Reformed amillennialist. Gentry says that amillennialism stops short of postmillennial conclusions. This truth was one thing which led my wife and me from amillennialism to postmillennialism as well.

--Greg Bahnsen's article, "The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism." I believe it can be found for free at www.cmfnow.com, but it is also a chapter in his book, Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism. I think this article is a good article to whet your appetite and prepare you for further study.

Now, without further ado, let us begin our feast.

POSTMILLENNIALISM IS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT ESCHATOLOGY AS IT IS ABOUT CHRISTOLOGY

Postmillennialism is that view of last things which holds that the gospel of Christ will have overwhelming success in history, and that it will have converted the majority of mankind at some point before Christ returns. Most postmillennialists, as do I, also hold that God has elected to eternal life a multitude more than those He has reprobated.

Why does the Scripture hold this as true? This view is more about how we view Christ's kingship. Christ has been crucified, and He has risen in vindication. He now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. This is a place of authority and power.

In the Great Commission, our Lord says that, "all authority in heaven and on earth [italics mine] has been given to Me. Therefore go and disciple the nations." The Great Commission is concerned with people groups, and we are told in Matthew 24 that before our Lord returns, this gospel of the kingdom must be preached as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

This is connected to Psalm 110, where God says to Christ to "sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for Your feet." This cannot be talking about the future only, because in the same passage God tells Christ to "rule in the midst of Your enemies."

In the book of Revelation Christ conquers by the sword in His mouth, which is symbolic of the gospel preached. He goes out on a white horse and conquers the nations by the power of the Sword of God, that is, the gospel preached and applied by the Holy Spirit.

But all of this has its source in the promise that God made with Abraham. He promised he would be the father of many nations, and that his children would be as the dust of the earth. We are told in Galatians 3 that this is fulfilled in Christ, and in all who are united to Him by faith.

This is why David can say in Psalm 22 that "all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families You have made will worship You."

And we are told in Romans 11 that God's purpose in temporarily casting Israel aside is for the gospel to conquer the Gentile nations, at which Israel will become jealous, and then they too will turn to the Lord, which will spark an even greater host of conversions.

This, of course, is only a start for the study of God's promises. But Christ has come to destroy the works of the devil, and He has bound the strong man, so now He will spoil his house. Notice that Satan's kingdom will be spoiled, not just hit a little here and a little there. The gates of hades are no match for the onward march of the church of God. They will not stand up under the onslaught of Christ's church.

God is in the business of doing things which seem impossible to us. He gave Sarah a baby in her old age. He promises to cause us to persevere.

He also promises that His gospel will conquer.

Praise be to our covenant-keeping God!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Biblical View of Salvation

The term "salvation" in Scripture is spoken of in past, present, and future terms.

Past: We have been saved from the penalty of sin--> "justified" (declared righteous because of Christ's perfect obedience, satisfaction on the cross, and resurrection); God regenerated us and gave us a new nature, and He broke the chains of sin and thus set us apart for obedience (definitive sanctification).

Present: We are being saved from the power of sin--> "sanctified" (growing in holiness and in the image of Christ). This is called "progressive sanctification."

Future: We will be saved from the presence of sin--> "glorification."

The Bible equally teaches that to be "glorified" we must persevere in the faith until the very end of our lives.

But the term "perseverance" has been misunderstood as well. We are to strive in our sanctification and our perseverance. We may not remain complacent or lazy. We must progress, and we must continue progressing. If we do not, we will not gain heaven.

The Scriptures are clear on this. We are warned several times in Hebrews to strive to persevere. Hebrews 4 says, "Since we have the promise of entering His rest, let us make every effort to enter that rest."

Paul tells us to run in such a way that we may get the prize in 1 Corinthians 9. "I beat my body and make it my slave, lest I be disqualified for the prize."

Hebrews 12 tells us to strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Jesus tells us to make every effort to enter through the narrow gate. He says that many will try, and will not be able.

He also warns us to not be weighed down by the cares of this life. He warns His disciples to watch and pray, that they may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

Jesus says that the kingdom of God, since the days of John the Baptist, has "suffered violence, and violent men take it by force." Have you considered what our Lord means here? He is saying that we will not persevere in the faith and lay hold of heaven without violence and mortification in our sanctification.

Paul the apostle warns us not to be arrogant, but to fear in Romans 11.

Paul also considers himself not to have taken hold of it yet in Philippians 3.

All this is to say that, even though on the one side the Bible speaks of election and the assurance of perseverance, and that the elect can never lose their salvation, on the other hand it exhorts us to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1). We are to make sure that we really are of the elect. There have been many who "knew" they were elect, and abandoned the faith.

We therefore must watch and pray, and "wrestle with God" for our perseverance.

We need to have a healthy fear against falling away.

The Scriptures are replete with passages on this issue.

I think three books which look at this in an excellent biblical light are the following:

The Heavenly Footman, by John Bunyan.

The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan. (Note especially the warning that Interpreter gives to Christian when Christian observes the Man in the Iron Cage.)

Heaven Taken By Storm, by Thomas Watson.

May the Lord grant that we would not be slothful, but that we would press on in our faith and lay hold of Christ, our Prize.

--Josh Brisby