The name Reformed Baptist refers both to a distinct Christian denomination, and to a description of theological leaning. Not all churches or individuals that are Reformed in doctrine identify themselves as Reformed Baptist.
Reformed Baptists are both Baptists and Calvinists, and typically adhere to the 1644 or 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. They can trace their history through the early modern Particular Baptists of England.
Reformed Baptist churches quite often adhere to either the First or Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1644 (modified in 1646 and again in 1651) and 1689 respectively. These two statements are usually not considered exhaustive or infallibly authoritative, but instead are convenient summaries of a church's belief. Reformed Baptists attempt to derive all of their doctrine directly from the Bible, which they see as the sole authority of faith and practice.
Reformed Baptist Churches are distinct in that they are both Reformed (adhering to and showing respect for much of the theology defined by John Calvin) as well as Baptists (believing in baptism for believers only, and that by immersion). Historically, the five points of Calvinism have been central tenets of the Reformed faith, which all Reformed Baptist churches agree with by definition. However, conservative Reformed theology is normally committed to Covenant theology, which is often connected to the practice of infant baptism. For this reason some Reformed branches of Christianity (Presbyterian, etc) question whether Reformed Baptists are truly Reformed. Nevertheless, Reformed Baptists claim to be distinctly and genuinely Covenantal in their theology, regarding the Covenant of Grace as made only with the elect. Baptism is seen as a sign of the New Covenant administration - made with those who have been regenerated by having the law written on their hearts, their sins forgiven and who savingly know the Lord (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Reformed Baptists believe that only those who can credibly profess this are to be baptized. Baptismal candidates are deemed credible after the congregation and elders carefully scrutinize their testimonies and life-styles.
Some common traits of Reformed Baptists are:
- The centrality of the Word of God: the traditional Christian Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) are considered to be the "only rule of faith and practice". However, any interpretation of Scripture must always have an orthodox founding.
- Creedalism: the ancient Creeds (Apostle's, Nicaene, & Athanasian), historic Confessions (London Confessions of 1644 & 1689), as well as Catechisms (Orthodox Catechism of 1680 & London Catechism of 1689) are all considered summaries of Church teaching but none are held in the same authoritative position as the Christian Scriptures.
- Regulative principle of worship: the belief that "the acceptable way of Worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself; and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be Worshipped according to the imaginations, and devices of Men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures," (from chapter 22, paragraph 1 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith). Every element of the regular weekly liturgy must be expressly commanded from Scripture. Whatever is expressly commanded must be included; whatever is not expressly commanded must be excluded. However, most Reformed Baptist elders make exceptions to this rule by allowing worshipers to, for example, sit in chairs and sing hymns with organ or piano accompaniment (neither of which are expressly commanded or forbidden by scripture).
- Covenant Theology: most hold to the classic Reformed contrast between the Covenant of Works in Adam and the Covenant of Grace in Christ (the last Adam) - and the Elect who are united to Him. This eternal Covenant of Grace is progressively revealed through the historic Biblical covenants.
- Congregational & Associational: there is considered to be no earthly church authority above the local body of elders. However, traditionally congregations "associate" with other like-minded congregations. These "Associations," which can be considered denominations of a sort, are formed on the basis of a common doctrinal statement, usually the Second London Confession of 1689. Congregations which ardently teach contrary to what is considered orthodox are finally put out of "Association".
- Ecclesiastical Office: There are two church offices: the Elder and the Deacon. Each local church has multiple Elders (also known as plurality of elders). Amongst Reformed Baptist this local elder body is traditionally called the presbytery (not to be confused with the Presbyterian definition of 'presbytery'). The pastor is also considered one of the elders. The Presbytery usually is concerned with the spiritual up-keep of the church, while the Diaconate is concerned with the physical concerns of church members and the physical up-keep of church property.
- Cessationism: The revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit (Apostles, prophets, miracle-workers, tongues-speakers) are considered by some Reformed Baptists to have ceased. However, there are some Baptists who are self-confessedly Calvinist but who reject cessationism.
- Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. Sunday, usually called "Lord's Day", is considered the only Holy Day of Christianity. On Sundays, Reformed Baptists believe that they are to rest from all "earthly" work and business, attend public worship (called "Sabbath Meeting" or "Meeting" by traditionalists), and be about good works. Despite clear statements in their confessions, there is not full agreement among individual Reformed Baptists about whether or not recreation is allowable on the Sabbath, but this is rarely debated and either opinion is often allowed.
Associations and Churches
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Reformed Baptist congregations sometimes join national or international associations and unions to assist with co-operation. Examples are:
- Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America — United States and Canada, founded in 1997
- Sovereign Grace Fellowship of Canada — Canada
- Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of Quebec (french) - Quebec,Canada, founded in 1999
- Chiese Evangeliche Riformate Battiste in Italia — Italy, founded in April 2006
- Sola 5 - a Reformed Baptist association in Southern Africa
- Fellowship of Reformed Baptist Churches in New Zealand - founded in May 2005
- International Fellowship of Reformed Baptists
- Reformed Baptist Fellowship — international
- The Voice of the Reformation - International
- Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Long Island, NY
- Redeeming Grace Baptist Church - Virginia, USA
In the early 17th century, Baptists in England developed along two different theologies. The General Baptists were so-called because they held the General Atonement. The General view of the atonement is that Christ in His death undertook to make possible the salvation of all men who would believe. This position is identified with Arminianism. Early General Baptist leaders included John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. The Particular Baptists were so-called because they held the Particular Atonement. The Particular view of the atonement is that Christ in His death undertook to save particular individuals, usually referred to as the elect. This position is often identified with Calvinism. Some early Particular Baptist leaders were Benjamin Keach, Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, and Isaac Backus. Present day Strict Baptists of England are descendants of the Particular Baptists. Sometimes they are referred to as "Strict and Particular" Baptists. The terminology "strict" refers to the strict or closed position they held on membership and communion. The majority of early Particular Baptists rejected open membership and open communion. One notable exception was the author of Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan.
Over the 18th century, General Baptists lapsed into theological liberalism and practically disappeared from the scene in England. During this same period, the Particular Baptists moved toward extreme doctrinal conservatism, which some have described as Hyper-Calvinism and Antinomianism. In 1785, Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) published The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. This helped turn many Particular Baptists toward a new evangelicalism that was dubbed "Fullerism," and would lead to eventual division among the Particular Baptists of England. The "Fullerites" are probably best represented by Fuller and William Carey (1761-1834), Baptist missionary to India. The leading spokesman for strict Calvinism was John Gill (1696-1771), perhaps best known for his Exposition of the Whole Bible, the first commentary to comment on every verse of the Bible. Among the "Fuller strain" of Particular Baptists, Calvinism declined and the practice of open communion grew. In 1891, most of the remaining General Baptists merged with the Particular Baptists in the Baptist Union of Great Britain (formed 1813). The Old Baptist Union represents General Baptists that did not participate.
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The term "Reformed" is sometimes seen by Reformed confessionalists to only be accurate when it is describing a belief that is confessional and covenantalistic.
- Confessional, that is holding to one of the historic Reformed confessions, and for Baptists the Reformed confession in the Westminster family of confessions is the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (or Second London Baptist Confession). Other confessions held by Reformed Baptists include the First London Baptist Confession (1644/46), the 1833 New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, and the Baptist Faith and Message.
- Holding to Covenant Theology, as described in these same confessions. This is seen in the common traits above.
Reformed confessionalists often see Baptists who are not confessional, especially those who eschew Covenant Theology, yet have a Calvinistic soteriology (concept of salvation), to be better described as "Calvinistic Baptists" or "Sovereign Grace Baptists". In this view, holding to the five points of Calvinism does not make one “Reformed” in the fuller sense. Similar views among those that consider themselves "Truly Reformed" exists in other Reformed traditions as well (for instance, in Presbyterianism).
Alternately, some Reformed people accept Reformed Baptists as being "Reformed" in the narrower sense, but, since they do not hold to John Calvin's view of the sacraments, not "Calvinistic".
Notable Reformed Baptists
- Benjamin Keach – 17th cent. English Particular Baptist Minister. Introduced 'hymns' to the previous Psalter-only Baptist tradition, compiled first Baptist hymn books.
- William Kiffin – 17th cent. Baptist leader
- Isaac Backus – American revolutionary, delegate to the First Continental Congress
- Alistair Begg – Scottish American pastor of Cleveland's Parkside Church and teacher of radio ministry "Truth for Life"
- James Petigru Boyce – 19th century Southern Baptist pastor, theologian, author, seminary professor and founder and first president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- John Bunyan – 17th century Puritan author of The Pilgrim's Progress
- William Carey – missionary to India and co-founder of the Baptist Missionary Society
- Mark Dever – Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and executive director of 9Marks Ministries
- John Gill – 18th century theologian
- John Gano – Baptist Chaplin. Administered baptism by immersion to George Washington during the American Revolution.
- Charles Spurgeon – 19th century preacher
- Gen. Robert Overton – personal friend of Oliver Cromwell.
- James White – Christian Apologist, director of Alpha and Omega Ministries
- John Piper – Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- R. Albert Mohler, Jr. – ninth president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky
These books are written from a Reformed Baptist perspective:
- History of the English Calvinistic Baptists 1791-1892, by Robert Oliver (2006), ISBN 0-85151-920-2
- Kiffin, Knollys and Keach - Rediscovering our English Baptist Heritage, by Michael A. G. Haykin (1996), ISBN 0-9527913-0-7
- An Introduction to the Baptists, by Erroll Hulse (1976), ISBN 0-85479-780-7
- Baptist Roots in America, by Sam Waldron (1991), ISBN 0-9622508-3-X
- Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, by Sam Waldron (1989), ISBN 0-85234-268-3
- A Reformed Baptist Manifesto, by Sam Waldron and Richard Barcellos (2004), ISBN 978-0976003908
- Reformed Baptist Academic Press — publisher
- Johnny Farese's Reformed Baptist Church Directory — an incomplete international directory of congregations
- Reformed Baptist Theological Review — theology journal
- Reformed Baptist? What is a Reformed Baptist Church? ... — article summarising Reformed Baptist beliefs (published by Truth for Eternity, Grand Rapids, Michigan)