What is a reformed Baptist? Here is a question that needs answering, so there isn't confusion among today's Baptists. There is a common misunderstanding that if you are a Baptist who holds to the doctrines of grace then you are a 'reformed Baptist'. It is a wonderful thing to see Baptists come to embrace the doctrines of grace, but too often they stop there and don't dig deeper into their rich biblical heritage as Baptists. Embracing the doctrines of grace doesn't make you a reformed Baptist. There is more to it. Simply, a reformed Baptist is one who embraces the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. In the confession, a number of the doctrines espoused would be believed among many evangelicals: doctrines like the Trinity and Christ’s second coming. Baptists who hold to the doctrines of grace would find even more to agree with: in the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and the ordinances. But there are other doctrines put forth in the confession that makes it distinctively reformed, namely covenant theology, the moral law, the regulative principle of worship, and the Christian Sabbath. I would like to put forth several of these doctrines to show a distinction between the ‘doctrines of grace’ baptist from the reformed baptist. (To read the confession on line go to: http://www.arbca.com/1689-confession )
Let us first look at chapter seven of the Confession “Of God’s Covenant”. A distinction of reformed baptists is that they are covenantal. They believe in covenant theology, as opposed to dispensationalism or new covenant theology. One can hold to the doctrines of grace and also hold to one of these other two systems. Dr. John MacArthur would be an example of a pastor who holds to the Doctrines of grace and dispensationalism. D. A. Carson an example of one who holds to new covenant theology. Covenant theology is the teaching that the way God has interacted with man concerning eternal life has been by way of covenant. Earl Blackburn states it simply that Covenant Theology, “. . . is the view of God and redemption that interprets the Holy Scriptures by way of covenants.” (Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive p. 17) God has only ever had one plan of salvation, one people and one Savior. This plan of salvation was expressed by way of covenant. After the fall of man God revealed the Covenant of Grace to man first: in the garden, then progressively throughout the Old Testament, then fully revealed and completed in the New Testament. Anyone who was ever saved was saved by the grace of this covenant. (For a further study on Covenant Theology visit http://www.1689federalism.com/ it has some great videos and recomend books to read).
Now let's look at chapters 19, “Of the Law of God”. What is the relationship of the moral law to the Christian? The reformed baptist believes, “The moral law does for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof. . .” (BCF 19.5). The moral law was first written on the heart of man at his creation, but later on delivered by God to Moses in the Ten Commandments. “The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.” (BCF 19.2) Pastor Jim Savastio states “Reformed Baptist churches have a conviction that the Law of God (as expressed in the Ten Commandments) is regulative in the life of the new covenant believer (see Jere. 31:31-34 and 1 John 2:3,4). . . The law written on the heart in creation is the same law codified in the Ten Commandments on Sinai, and the same law written on the hearts of those who enter into the New Covenant." (http://www.hbcma.org/content/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=42:what-is-a-reformed-baptist-church&catid=6:aboutus&Itemid=18)
Finally, let's look at chapter 22 “Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day”. Reformed Baptists uphold and practice the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). The RPW is the teaching that only that which God commands concerning elements of Worship are to be practiced. This is in contrast to the Normative Principle of Worship (NPW) which permits anything as an element into the Worship of God as long as God doesn’t forbid it. The NPW has historically been held among the the Episcopalians and the RPW among the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists. This has changed in the churches of our day, however, and you will find many Baptists holding to the NPW. Reformed Baptists believe that God alone is to determine how He is to be worshipped.
The Christian Sabbath is precious among reformed baptists. They see the fourth commandment just as binding as the other nine. They believe that God has set one day in seven for His worship, that day being Sunday. On that day one is to put aside worldly employment and our worldly pleasures for the worship of God both in private and in public. That we are to “make the Sabbath a delight” and to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Such a practice is unpopular even among our doctrines of grace brethren. Pastor Jim Savastio mentions as such in his article: “Among the laws of God none is so hated as the thought that God requires believers to give of their time to worship him and to turn from worldly pursuits. In recent years many have leveled an unrelenting attack upon the Fourth Commandment. . . . We agree with John Bunyan, who said, “A man shall show his heart and life, what they are, more by one Lord’s Day than by all the days of the week besides. To delight ourselves in God’s service upon His Holy Day gives a better proof of a sanctified nature than to grudge at the coming of such days."" (http://www.hbcma.org/content/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=42:what-is-a-reformed-baptist-church&catid=6:aboutus&Itemid=18)
We have seen then what a reformed Baptist is and how such a one is distinct from those baptists who hold to the doctrines of grace. I believe that Baptists who hold to the doctrines of grace are my brothers and my intent is not to lessen them, but to bring clarity to terms that are packed with meaning, and have a historical understanding. If you don’t believe in covenant theology, the moral law being binding upon the believer, the Regulative Principle of Worship, and the Christian Sabbath, then you are not a reformed baptist and should reconsider using that terminology.