THE DISTINCTIVE MARKS OF A REFORMED (NBC/SBC) BAPTIST CHURCH
Compiled by Lewis C. Lampley
The name “reformed” is purposely adopted for two reasons. First, the name Reformed Baptist explains something of our historical and theological roots.
There is a body of theological beliefs that is referred to as the Reformed faith.
Such biblical truths as sola fide (justification by faith alone), sola gratia (salvation by God’s grace alone), sola scriptura (the Bible alone is the basis for faith and practice), soli Christos (Christ alone is our mediator), and soli Deo gloria (the fact that God alone is to receive all the glory in the salvation of sinners) are the hallmarks of the Protestant and Reformed Faith.
The Reformed Faith is perhaps best known for its understanding that God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen certain sinners for salvation. Eph.1:4 is a prominent text, which underlies this biblical conviction.
The Reformed Faith believes and teaches that in time Christ came and died for the sins of the elect. Also the Reformers believe and teach that in conversion the Holy Spirit works in harmony with the decree of the Father and the death of the Son by applying the work of redemption to the elect.
When we say that we are
reformed we are saying that we embrace as biblical that system of theology known
as the doctrines of grace. Truths which speak of: 1) Humanity’s Radical
Corruption (referred to in the Scriptures) or Total Depravity (Gen. 6:5; Jer.
17:9; Rom. 3:9-12
The LORD saw that the human beings on the earth were very wicked and that everything they thought about was evil (Gen. 6:5). More than anything else, a person’s mind is evil and cannot be healed. No one truly understands it. But I, the LORD, look into a person’s heart and test the mind. So I can decide what each one deserves; I can give each one the right payment for what he does.” (Jer. 17:9-10).
So are we Jews better than others? No! We have already said that Jews and those who are not Jews are all guilty of sin. As the Scriptures say: “There is no one who always does what is right, not even one. There is no one who understands. There is no one who looks to God for help. All have turned away. Together, everyone has become useless.
There is no one who does anything good; there is not even one.” (Rom. 3:9-12)
(New Century Version)
2) God’s Sovereign Choice or Unconditional Election (John 15:16; Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:4)
You did not choose me; I chose you. And I gave you this work: to go and produce fruit, fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name. (John 16:15)
And as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love:
3) Christ’s Purposeful Atonement or Limited Atonement (John 10: 14-18; Acts 2:22-24; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 2:9-18; Rev. 5:9-10).
I am the good shepherd; and I know mine own, and mine own know me, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and they shall become one flock, one shepherd. Therefore does the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from my Father. (John 10: 14-18)
You men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know; him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay: whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. (Acts 2: 22-24)
For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commends his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life; (Rom. 5:6-10).
Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:21)
But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for every man.
10For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, In the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise. 13And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold, I and the children whom God hath given me.
14Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16For verily not to angels doth he give help, but he giveth help to the seed of Abraham. 17Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. (Heb. 2:9-18).
And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, 10and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon earth. (Rev. 5:9-10).
4) The Spirit’s Effectual Call or Irresistible Grace (John 3: 5,6; Eph. 1:12-14; 2 Thess. 2:13,14; Titus 3:5)
5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God! 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5,6).
to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: 13in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,-- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God’s own possession, unto the praise of his glory. ( Eph. 1:12-14).
4But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared, 5not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:4,5).
5) God’s Preservation of the Saints or Perserverance of the Saints (John 6:37-40, 10:27-30; Rom. 8:26-39; 1 Pet. 1:1-5).
37All that which the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 38For I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. 39And this is the will of him that sent me, that of all that which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:37-40).
27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who hath given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one. (John 27-30).
26And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; 27and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.
29For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: 30and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? 33Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; 34who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36Even as it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom.8:26-39).
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ( 1 Pet. 1:1-5) The acrostic for the five statements above is RSPEP. In addition to the traditional TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints), & RSPEP, (Radical Corruption, Sovereign Choice, Purposeful Atonement, Effectual Calling, and Preservation of the Saints). I am suggesting three more core truths of the gospel that reformed believers embrace. They are listed below:
6) God’s Absolute Freedom (John 6:37,40; John 17:2; Rom. 8:28-30, 9:14-24).
All that which the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. (John 6:37).
40For this is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You,
even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life (John 17:1-2).
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. 16So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy. 17For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth. 18So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardeneth. 19Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will? 20Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus? 21Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? 22What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction: 23and that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto glory, 24even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles? (Rom. 9:14-24).
7) God’s Pleasure In His Own (Eph. 1:5; Phil. 2:12-13; 2 Thess. 1:11,12).
5having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: (Eph. 1:5,6).
12So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12,313).
11To which end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfil every desire of goodness and every work of faith, with power; 12that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 1:11,12).
8) God’s Supreme Love for His Son (John 15:9, 17:20-26)
9Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. (John 15:9). Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; 21that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me. 22And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; 23I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.
24Father, I desire that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. 25O righteous Father, the world knew thee not, but I knew thee; and these knew that thou didst send me; 26and I made known unto them thy name, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:20-26).
The doctrines of grace have their origin in the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles. In this Reformed tradition are the great names of Church History. John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, John Newton, Mathew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, C.H. Spurgeon, A.W. Pink, and a host of others who held tenaciously to the Reformed Faith.
We need to underscore, however, that we hold to these truths not because of Mathew Henry and other great men of church history held to them, but because they are biblical.
Not only does the name Reformed Baptist explains something of our historical and theological roots. But we also use the term “Reformed” in a second way: We are always seeking to reform ourselves and other Evangelical Churches of our generation back to the Bible. Reformed Baptists make it their aim and ambition to come more and more in line with the Word of God. In this sense Reformed Baptists are not static churches. We have not arrived. But we do go back again and again to the Scriptures. In other words, we do not want to do things because the puritans did them or because other Reformed churches do them, we must do what we do because we see it in God’s Word.
As 21st century reformers, Reformed Baptists are appealing to and challenging all churches everywhere to repent and turn from their “man-centered” ways, their man pleasing worship, and their shallow theology. In a spirit of humility, we will call the church of Jesus Christ to its biblical beauty and uniqueness. It is the reformer’s de-sire to see all Bible believing churches have ‘zeal for God’s house eat them up.’
So it comes as no great surprise that when examining The Baptist Faith and Mess-age in all three revisions (1925, 1963, 2000), that we find what theologians today would call “a clear and accurate definition of the Historical Reformed Doctrines of Election, and the necessity and order of Regeneration in Salvation.”
A very important part of our National and Southern Baptist “Doctrinal Heritage” that has been entrusted unto this generation of Baptist believers are the “Reformed Doctrines”of “Regeneration” and “Election” that have been believed and defended by each generation of Baptists that preceded us.
Even a casual look at The Baptist Faith and Message
2000 reveals our reformed roots. Take for example, articles:
Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In it broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
Regeneration, or the New Birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.
Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.
(*Note - See the BF&M 2000 for the remainder of Article IV)
V.God's Purpose of Grace
ELECTION – is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanc-tifies, and glorifies the sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is in-finitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
As a Bible believing Baptist, you can be bold because Southern and National Baptists are not some “Johnny come lately” when it comes to what we believe. Our Confessions of Faith (called by some ‘The Articles of Faith) are deeply rooted in his-toric Reformed Documents such as:
A. Waldensian Confession (1120 A.D.)
B. Westminster Confession (1648 A.D.)
C. London Baptist Confession (1689 A.D.)
D. Philadelphia Baptist Confession (1742 A.D.)
E. New Hampshire Confession (1853 A.D.)
F. The Abstract of Principles (1887 A.D.)
G. Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963 & 2000 A.D.)
Historically and theologically, we are on a sure foundation in the Reformed Faith tradition. “Reformed theology then, is the system of doctrine that seeks to give God all the glory for his grace in the gospel.”
You may be saying, I understand all of that, but what practical difference can be seen in Reformed (NBC/SBC) Baptist Churches?
THE DISTINCTIVES AND CONVICTIONS OF REFORMED BAPTIST CHURCHES
A Reformed Baptist Church is distinguished by its conviction regarding the sufficiency and authority, in addition to the inspiration and infallibility, of the Word of God. (Isa. 8:20; 1 Tim.3:15; Acts 20; 1 Tim.3; Titus 1; Heb. 13; 1 Pet. 5; and John 4:23,24). In other words, the Bible and the Bible alone defines what the church is, biblical officers and their function, acceptable worship, and what is required for church membership.
A Reformed Baptist Church is distinguished by an unshakeable conviction that the church exists for the glory of God (Eph. 3:21, 5:26, 27 and 1 Tim. 3:15). Because the church exists for the glory of God, the worship of God and the Word of God are central to its life.
A Reformed Baptist church is distinguished by its conviction that the local church is central to the purposes of God on the earth. The church alone is the special dwelling place of God upon the earth (Eph. 2:22). The great commission of the church is fulfilled as preachers of the gospel are sent out by churches to plant new churches by means of conversions, baptisms, and discipleship. A church that is truly reformed is a gospel - spreading church.
A Reformed Baptist Church is distinguished by its conviction that preaching is foundational to the life of the church. How is God most often pleased to save sinners? How is God most often pleased to exhort, challenge, and build up His people? How is Christ most powerfully displayed to the mind and heart? It is through the exegetical and expository preaching of the Word of God (1 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 4:1; Ezek. 34:2).
A Reformed Baptist Church is distinguished by the conviction that salvation radically alters the life of the convert. As reformers, we proclaim the Jesus who came to save His people FROM their sins (Matt. 1:21). We proclaim the biblical truth that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). We proclaim the Jesus who came to make a people zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). We reject as unbiblical the modern notion that a man can embrace Christ as Savior and reject Him as Lord. The Word of God nowhere teaches that Christ can be divided. If you have Christ at all, you have received a whole Christ – Prophet, Priest, and King.
A Reformed Baptist Church has a conviction that the Law of God (as expressed in the Ten Com-mandments) is regulative in the life of the new covenant believer. (Jer. 31; 1 John 2). Paul says in 2 Cor. 7:19, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, keeping the commandments of God is what matters.”
As one of the earlier reformers, at first, Martin Luther saw the role of the law as simply preparing sinners for grace by revealing their sin, but he later broadened his understanding of its use. In 1577, the Lutheran Formula of Concord recognized a threefold use of the law: to reveal sin, to establish decency in society, and to provide a rule of life for Christians. As reformers, we must assert to this antinomian (“that which is against the law”) age of Christianity that makes no demands that God’s way of holiness has not changed. The law written on the heart in creation is the same law codified in the Ten Commandments on Sinai and is the same law written on the hearts of those who enter into the New Covenant.
A Reformed Baptist Church is distinguished by a conviction regarding male leadership in the church.
Our age has witnessed the feminization of Christianity. God created two sexes in creation and gave to each different corresponding roles. While the sexes are equal in Creation, the Fall, and in Redemp-tion God has nonetheless Sovereignly ordained that leadership in the home, state, and the church is to be male. It is our experience that those whose minds have been unduly influenced by this gene-ration find our worship, leadership and family structure to be jarring (Eph. 5:18-6:4; Col. 3:18-21; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). When the Bible speaks of husbands and fathers leading the home it IS Not culturally conditioned. When the Bible speaks of men leading in prayer, teaching, preaching, and serving as pastor-teachers, elders and deacons we must bow with submissive and dutiful hearts. Culture must not carry the day in the church of Jesus Christ!
A Reformed Baptist Church is distinguished by a conviction regarding the serious nature of church membership. We take seriously the admonition of Heb. 10: 24,25. A reformed pastor-teacher takes seriously the duties and responsibilities of church membership. In other words, membership actually means something in Reformed Baptist Churches. There ought not to be a great disparity between Sunday morning and evening and mid week. The same membership is expected to be at all the services of the church. Why? Because it is impossible to share in the life of the church in the manner which God intended and to willingly absent oneself from its public gatherings
A Reformed Baptist Church is distinguished by a conviction regarding biblical church discipline that is redemptive and restorative (Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:10. Discipline is to be carried out in a twofold way: Nomitative Discipline, that is, through preaching and teaching, and Corrective Discipline, that is, by calling the sinning believer to repentance, and disfellowshipping the non-repentant (1 Cor. 5). Discipline is a means of keeping the church pure, and a pure church is a powerful church.
We need to be reminded that the stated distinctives and convictions do not give Reformed Baptists the right to be arrogant, boastful, or proud, because “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). To summarize the character qualities of reformers, then, is appropriate. “The true Reformer has a mind that is centered on God’s majesty, a spirit that is sorry for sin, a heart that is full of gratitude for God’s grace, and a will that submits to His holy purpose. In other words, the true Reformer is a person whose whole person and entire life are dedicated to the glory of God!”
In closing let me seek to apply these things to our hearts. I believe the most effective way is to encourage us to meditate deeply on the following passages:
I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; 4and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. 5But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry.
2 Tim. 2:8-13
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel: 9wherein I suffer hardship unto bonds, as a malefactor; but the word of God is not bound. 10Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11Faithful is the saying:
For if we died with him, we shall also live with him: 12if we endure, we shall also reign with him: if we shall deny him, he also will deny us: 13if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself.
14For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; 17that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God. 20Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.
Verse 21 clearly demonstrates that “The chief end of God is to glorify Himself.” Since it is God’s purpose to pursue His glory, then it only makes sense that this is also our purpose.
An Abbreviated Paper on The Distinctive Marks of Reformed Church