Baptists are More Reformed than Presbyterians!? The Further Reformed

Forgive me, if I don’t recognize the azalea-camellia as a camellia.

“But with the third wave the error of infant baptism was exposed. Now the Particular Baptists, self-consciously as part of this progress, were pressing those Reformation principles more fully into further areas of faith and life. Not least the doctrine of the church, especially with regard to its very nature its role and purpose on earth” 

One of the things I do with my time is to look for news and blogs that I think would be of interest to Reformed folks and bring them to the attention of an editor of an online news magazine. Recently I have recommended two articles that respond to my “Can Baptists Be Reformed?”.

One takes me on directly.

The other does not mention my name or refer directly to my blog, but I have sufficient ego to think that I am at least among those to whom the author refers when he writes of “the caustic and dismissive attitude of some others.” He goes on to complain of “the strident demands of some Presbyterians that I relinquish any right to the (Reformed) label”

These statements occur in the introduction of an article that describes the “irenic polemicism” of the 17th century Particular Baptists.

The author notes that the differences among those who are confessional involve “certain proper distinctions (and, in degree, necessary divisions) over issues of the ordinances and ecclesiology (though it should be noted that soteriology raises its head here as well)”. With this we fully agree. The differences involve not just the doctrines of the church and sacraments. The doctrine of salvation is inextricably bound to these. This is made clear simply by comparing the Westminster Confession (and Catechisms) and the London Confession chapters on the church and sacraments (or ordinances, if one prefers).

The author tells us he does not want to get involved in a competition about who is the “most Reformed.” He does not like to hear others speak of themselves as “very Reformed.” He assures his readers that he is “not trying to sneak in the assertion that we (Baptists) are ‘very Reformed’.” But perhaps what he wants to say is that Particular Baptists are “further Reformed” or “more Reformed” than the Presbyterians.

In fact Baptists are “the third” wave of the reformation of Christianity. Calvin and his contemporaries were the first wave. William Ames and John Owen were the second wave. The Baptists are the third: “The Particular Baptists of the seventeenth century unashamedly considered themselves as the heirs and advancers – the third wave, if you will – of the Reformation. (emphasis added)”

What was the primary advance made by the third wave?

The first wave “had struck the first blows, being responsible for exposing the errors of the Antichrist and bringing important doctrines such as justification by faith to light.”

The second wave “argued that on the one hand a true gospel church was comprised of professing saints, but on the other hand that children of believers were still to be baptized by sprinkling.”

“But with the third wave the error of infant baptism was exposed. Now the Particular Baptists, self-consciously as part of this progress, were pressing those Reformation principles more fully into further areas of faith and life. Not least the doctrine of the church, especially with regard to its very nature its role and purpose on earth” (emphases added).

How serious is the error of infant baptism?  “…the principle of a gathered church of baptized believers, conducting itself in the holiness of renewed lives, was something to which these pioneers believed their brothers-in-arms had not attained. A failure to embrace this principle allowed a potentially fatal rot to set in” (emphasis added).

He goes on to quote Benjamin Keach about this ‘rot': “I look upon Infant-Baptism to be one of the chief pillars of the Romish Church and of all National Churches and Constitutions in the European World; this is that Christendom that is so cried up, and the way of making and continuing the pretended Christian-Name; in the Anti-Christian Church, and World, all are made Christian in their Infant Baptism: And thus the inhabitants of the Earth are cheated, and deluded with a Shadow and empty Name that signifies nothing; certain I am, until Christendom (as it is called) is Unchristianized of this pretended Rite, or Christendom, there will never be a thorough Reformation: I mean until they see that Christianity, or Christian-Name that they received at their Infant-Baptism signifies nothing, but throw it away as an Human Innovation, and labor after true Regeneration, or likeness to Christ, and so believe and are baptized according to the profession of their Faith, according as in as in the Apostolical Primitive Church: ‘Tis Infant-Baptism that tend to uphold all National Churches, and deceives poor People who think they were hereby made Christians.”

Suppose you have a camellia bush. You graft onto it another variety of a camellia. Some will find the original bush with its flowers the more beautiful. Some with think the same about the graft. But now comes someone who wants to graft onto the camellia an azalea. He points out that there is something very defective about the original camellia and the grafted camellia. The bush requires the graft of an azalea to reach its full potential as a camellia. Question: Is the camellia bush with the azalea graft still a camellia?

Personally, I like the original camellia. I am OK with the grafted camellia. Forgive me, if I don’t recognize the azalea-camellia as a camellia.

I get Ligon Dever. But I don’t get Mark Calvin.

Bill Smith is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church of America. He is a writer and contributor to a number of Reformed journals and resides in Jackson, MS. This article first appeared at his blog, The Christian Curmudgeon, and is used with his permission.

 

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