Sunday, February 7, 2010


A friend, in an email to me, mentioned that so-and-so was a “Reformed Baptist.” I must admit that I don’t know what the term “Reformed Baptist” means. Are “Reformed Baptists” Reformed or are they Baptist? Is the term “Reformed Baptist” not an oxymoron?

The term “Calvinistic Baptist” perhaps helps a little. From this term one can see that the Baptist at least has Calvinistic leanings, kind of like the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, who are Methodists with Calvinistic leanings. Why then don’t we refer to Calvinistic Methodists as “Reformed Methodists”? Maybe some do and I’ve just missed it. Anyway, I found the following helpful hint about areas in which Reformed Baptists so-called believe that Calvin misread Scripture:

“Are Baptists Calvinists? If a Calvinist is a person who follows strictly the teachings of John Calvin, then in three important respects Baptists are not, and have never been, Calvinists. Calvin was a pedobaptist (practicing infant baptism); Baptists are credobaptists (believers' baptism only). Calvin believed in a presbyterian form of church government; Baptists are congregationalists. Calvin believed that the civil magistrate should enforce both tables of the law (moral responsibilities towards God and towards one's neighbor), suppressing heresy and blasphemy by force if necessary. Baptists believe in religious liberty for all persons.” Timothy George

According to the above Calvinists are:

1. Pedobaptist (ie, believe that the Bible teaches Covenant Baptism).
2. Presbyterian (ie, believe that the Bible teaches the Presbyterian form of Church Government.
3. Theonomist (ie, believe that the Civil Magistrate has the duty to administer the Ten Commandments in Civil Law.

To be sure there a Calvinists who don’t like the term “Theonomist” to describe the responsibilities of the Civil Magistrate, but it seems to me like a fair enough description of the how the Bible describes the function of the Civil Magistrate.

From the three points above we can discern that the Baptist has a different view of

a) The nature of the children of believers.
b) The nature of the Church.
c) The nature of the Civil Magistrate.

For the Calvinist the nature of the children of believers, according to Scripture, is “holy” and therefore is “covenantal.” In a word, infants and little children of believers, on account of God’s covenant, are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Thus, according to Scripture, they are candidates for baptism.

For the Calvinist the nature of the Church is universal, many churches make up the one Church. A church is a congregation which is overseen by a plurality of elders (ie, at least one teaching or preaching elder plus two or more ruling elders.

For the Calvinist the nature of the Civil Magistrate is one that is an expert in the interpretation and application (ie, the administration) of God’s Law as summarized in the Ten Commandments.

Since Reformed churches are Presbyterian in Church Government and Presbyterian churches are Reformed in their doctrine, the term "Reformed" in Reformed Baptist is (to me at least) at best simply confusing and at worst meaningless!


  1. Thank you for your post. As a Reformed Baptist myself, I admit that there are many historical aspects which contradict the use of the term "Reformed Baptist". In fact, R. Scott Clark recently went into that with some detail on his Heidelblog. James White and him went back and forth on this quite a bit. I see Dr. Clark's point; history is on his side. Baptists did come later, and there is sufficient evidence that church history favored infant or household baptism for many centuries prior to the late 17th century. On the other hand, the concept of "semper reformanda" demands that the church continue (as a verb) reforming, and it is my take that believer's baptism is the unreformed doctrine of the Reformation. This I get from exegesis. I wonder what other label a Baptist can use that would tie him to the great truths of the reformation (its ecclesiology, eschatology, and soteriology) other than Reformed Baptist? Calvinistic Baptist doesn't do it, because there is more to Reformed Theology than the doctrines of grace.

  2. It's reformed because we came off the Catholic church and believe in sola gratia, sola scriptura, sola de gloria, as the reformers believed.
    As an idea 'reformed' carries the note that the scriptures contain all the answers, and that we should turn to *it* when in doubt.

  3. I would concur that the name Reformed Baptist is not the best for all the reasons you mention. Perhaps the best way is to look at the essentials. The key is the "way of salvation" as the hallmark of Reformed Theology. Since Reformed Baptists stand with us on the five points (TULIP) then they should be entitled to use the name. I am happy to show the world we are united in at least this much.

    However, I do not agree that among Reformed theologians, children of believers are baptized "on account of the covenant [because] they are presumed innocent..." Innocence is immaterial. Children of believing parents are baptized because, as members of the covenant, they ought to be baptized. The difference with Baptists on this issue (Reformed or otherwise) is a matter of how we see the relationship between the OT and the New.

  4. I would disagree with the differences as you state them:

    i) We (presbyterians and baptists) both believe that children of believers should be brought up to know God amd trust Christ as their Lord, i.e. that the new covenant is for them, otherwise why we would be teaching them to repent and believe? What's really different is that RBs believe you have the new covenant (as defined by Jer 31:31ff) applied to you only after you have repented of your sins and trusted in Christ.

    ii) What's different is the nature of how different congregations should relate to each other. I'm going to a reformed baptist church with 6 elders and all of them on equal footing (no RE or TE, but one is responsible for most of the teaching). We believe that we should be informed by the teaching of others but that a "church court" outside the local congregation can not have any jurisdiction.

    iii) I would argue that many RBs would want the civil magistrate to prosecute against murder, theft, etc. So, I don't see any difference at all between presbyterian and baptist expressions of reformed thinking with regard to the civil magistrate and his responsibilities.