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Reformed or Baptist: Either…Or

In a recent issue of Reformation Today (Number 68) its editor, Errol1 H&e, an English spokesman for those who call themselves “Reformed Baptists,” makes some remarks about this name in which, in part, he seeks to explain and to justify the name Reformed Baptist. Evidently he writes mainly for the benefit and instruction of Reformed Baptists. Nevertheless, in reflecting on this subject he writes about something which ought to be dear to the heart of any truly Reformed person. And in doing so, Mr. Hulse fails on two counts. In the first place, it appears to me that he presents a woefully weak and lame explanation and justification for their use of the name “Reformed.” And, secondly, he apparently fails to see that the Baptists have emasculated the Reformed confession, i.e., have so changed it by their modifications that they have stripped it of its very Reformed character. The result is that their Confession is no longer Reformed, and they no longer have a true right to call themselves Reformed. This is something which many Reformed and Presbyterian people fail to see, probably because they no longer fully understand and appreciate their own heritage. But it is important nevertheless. He who is a Baptist cannot be Reformed; and he who is Reformed cannot be Baptist. The difference between the two is not incidental; it does not have to do with non-essentials. The difference is fundamental. It is a difference which has to do with the very genius of the Reformed faith. Reformed and Baptist cannot be mixed any more than one can mix water and oil. 

Let us look at this matter a bit more closely in connection with Editor Hulse’s claims. He writes:

To our advantage both words, Reformed and Baptist, convey a great deal of meaning if understood within the context of Church history. To the outsider religious words mean little or nothing. That is one reason why the title ‘Strict and Particular’ has been discarded by some Reformed Baptist churches in England. . . . 

What about the title Reformed Baptist? By Reformed we mean that we believe in the heritage of the Reformation. We believe the 1689 Confession of faith represents the maturest, fullest and most accurate expression of the Christian Faith. The 1689 Confession has 32 rich chapters proceeding in logical order. As it happens this work was not achieved by Baptists but by the Puritans of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1649.

Now it simply is not true that the 1689 Confession (known in this country also by the name ‘The Philadelphia Confession’) was achieved by the Puritans of the Westminster Assembly. Eventually Mr. Hulse has to admit this, as we shall see. But I want to emphasize that this is misrepresentation. If I write a book, and someone comes along and eliminates whole chapters, substituting chapters of his own, then it can no longer be claimed that the book was achieved by Homer Hoeksema. And if, in addition, those chapters which were eliminated were key chapters in the statement of my thoughts and position, then it is even less possible to claim that I am the author of the book. Well, this is the situation with the 1689 Confession. Not the Puritans and the Westminster divines were the authors of it, but certain Baptists. The Puritans were the authors of the Westminster Confession. But the Westminster Confession and the 1689 Confession are by no means the same. 

Mr. Hulse has to admit that the two are different, of course. But when he does so, he tries to minimize the differences, as follows:

The Baptists changed two or three articles and added one (chapter 20) to the Westminster Confession thus arriving at the 1689 Confession, which represents the main body of what we believe. The word Reformed then is accurate, suitable and appropriate, providing we bear the historical background in mind. As with all names we must always avoid everything which may be party-minded or proud. We are not saying we are better than other believers. We are simply saying that in a day when almost all Christian truths are under attack that it is needful to be accurate and definite in declaring our beliefs. It is no small help to find that over hundreds of years the Gospel has not changed. It is timeless.

Notice how the changes are minimized. Only two or three articles were changed, and one was added. It is even suggested that the name ‘Reformed’ is still accurate if only some historical background is taken into account. In the next paragraphs Editor Hulse even tries to suggest that at least in England the addition of the name ‘Baptist’ is not even necessary, but that in other settings and other countries it may prove necessary. Meanwhile, the real difference between Reformed and Baptist, between the Westminster Confession and the 1689 Confession, is nowhere directly mentioned. Writes Hulse:

When the 1689 Confession conveys every major truth why is it necessary to add the word Baptist to our title? The 1689 Confession which is comprehensive deals fully with the nature of the church. Baptism is closely related to the nature of the church. Chapter 26 of the 1689 Confession is fuller and richer on the subject of the church than the Westminster equivalent. Chapter 29 fully expresses our convictions on Baptism. In England therefore we could argue that the one word Reformed is quite adequate to express what we are. We are not threatened by anyone. Why should we use the term Baptist at all? A word could be chosen from any chapter of the confession to use for a title.

Why, indeed? 

The answer is that the 1689 Confession is not the Westminster Confession and is not Reformed. And the answer is that the one word ‘Reformed’ is notadequate to express what those who hold to the 1689 Confession are. In fact, it does not express at all what they are. And the answer is that they should use the word ‘Baptist’ because they are Baptist, not Reformed.

You see, the chapter on baptism was changed completely in order to give expression to the Baptist insistence on immersion as the only proper mode of baptism and to give expression to the Baptist denial of infant baptism. And one of the chief reasons for the change in the chapter on the church was the Baptist insistence that the church consists of professing believers, not of believers and their children or believers and their seed. 

In those four words—BELIEVERS AND THEIR SEED—is expressed the fundamental difference between Baptists and Reformed, a difference which makes it fundamentally impossible and dishonest for Baptists to claim the name ‘Reformed.’ Reformed theology is covenant theology. The Reformed faith holds to the organic realization of God’s covenant, both in the old and new dispensations, with believers and their seed in the line of generations. Baptists deny all this. 

And let no one say this difference is incidental. Change this truth, and it affects the Westminster position radically. Otherwise, why, pray tell, did the Baptists themselves feel the need of a new confession? Moreover, it does not merely change the position of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. In the Westminster tradition it also involves a radical change in the Directory for Public Worship. 

And then we have not even mentioned the fact that the Reformed faith is expressed in numerous other Reformed confessions in which this fundamental covenant theology is expressed, if anything, even more clearly and strongly. Nor have we mentioned a creedal document such as our Form for the Administration of Baptism. 

But there is more. The Baptists have traded this Reformed truth of the organic realization of God’s covenant with believers and their seed for a position which is fundamentally individualistic, a position which emphasizes that God deals strictly with individuals in His work of salvation. This, too, is very important. Reformed theology is not individualistic. All Arminian and Semi-Pelagian and Pelagian views have always been individualistic, and they still are today. And here lies the underlying reason why eventually Baptists cannot succeed, and historically have not succeeded, in holding to the doctrines of sovereign grace, the doctrines of the Five Points of Calvinism. It is possible for Baptists to hold to these doctrines for a time, perhaps; but eventually, because of their inherent individualistic view, they are compelled to drift in the direction of Arminianism. 

So remember—and do not be deceived on this score: Baptist and Reformed do not mix. It is either . . .or! Not both. . .and!

Another Gospel!

Probably like many others, I always tended to think of Robert H. Schuller, of the well-known Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, as just another of the several mass-evangelists in our country. He is touted as such. His congregation is said to number 10,000; and his television program, “The Hour of Power,” it is claimed, is the most widely watched broadcast of all televised church services. Though I never paid much attention to reports about his high-powered operation, I had a vague impression that his name was connected with the phrase “possibility thinking.” For the rest, I had a rather vague idea that, like most of the crusade- type evangelists, he probably came with an Arminian message. 

Recently, however, (like many clergymen whose names found their way to his mailing list) I received a book by Schuller: Self-Esteem, The New Reformation.

While reading in this book, I changed my mind about Robert Schuller. 

Not for better, but for worse. 

Mr. Schuller, I believe, cannot even be classed with those who are sometimes called “evangelicals” in a broad and loose sense, evangelicals of an Arminian bent. 

In fact, I do not hesitate to say that he presents “another gospel.” And my reference in using this term is to what the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 1:6-8: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” 

When Mr. Schuller speaks of “The New Reformation,” he means what he says. He means that we must abandon the Reformation of Luther and Calvin, with its principles, and replace it with something new and different. Just as surely as Luther and Calvin broke radically in the Reformation with the teachings of Rome, so surely Schuller’s “New Reformation” purposes to break with the doctrines of the Reformation and to replace them with new and strange doctrines. 

Let me cite some shocking samples from this new book. 

“For the church to address the unchurched with a theocentric attitude is to invite failure in mission. The non-churched who have no vital belief in a relationship with God will spurn, reject, or simply ignore the theologian, church spokesperson, preacher, or missionary who approaches with Bible in hand, theology on the brain and the lips, and expects nonreligious persons to suspend their doubts and swallow the theocentric assertions as fact. The unconverted will, I submit, take notice when I demonstrate genuine concern about their needs and honestly care about their human hurts.” p. 12

“The scales must tip the other way. It was appropriate for Calvin and Luther to think theocentrically. After all, ‘Everyone was in the church’ and the issues were theological, not philosophical. For them, the central issue was, ‘What is the truth in theology?’ The reformers didn’t have to impress the unchurched so there was no need for them to take the ‘human needs’ approach. . . . 

“Time and history have changed all that. Today the sincere, Christian believer is a minority. So the church must be willing to die as a church and be born again as a mission. We cannot speak out with a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ strategy when we are talking to people who couldn’t care less about the Lord!” pp. 12, 13 

In answer to the question, “What do I mean by sin?” he offers this: 

“I can offer still another answer: ‘Sin is any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem.’ And what is ‘hell’? It is the loss of pride that naturally follows separation from God—the ultimate and unfailing source of our soul’s sense of self-respect. ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ was Christ’s encounter with hell. In that ‘hellish’ death our Lord experienced the ultimate horror—humiliation, shame, and loss of pride as a human being. A person is in hell when he has lost his self-esteem. . . .” pp. 14, 15. 

Here is his definition of self-esteem: “Self-esteem is the human hunger for the divine dignity that God intended to be our emotional birthright as children created in His image.” p. 15 

“Yes, what we need in the worldwide Christian church today is nothing less than a new reformation. Where the sixteenth-century Reformation returned our focus to sacred Scriptures as the only infallible rule for faith and practice, the new reformation will return our focus to the sacred right of every person to self-esteem! The fact is, the church will never succeed until it satisfies the human being’s hunger for self-value.” p. 38 

“The core of original sin, then is LOT—Lack of Trust. Or, it could be considered an innate inability to adequately value ourselves. Label it a ‘negative self-image,’ but do not say that the central core of the human soul is wickedness. If this were so, then truly, the human being is totally depraved. But positive Christianity does not hold to human depravity, but to human inability. I am humanly unable to correct my negative self-image until I encounter a life-changing experience with non-judgmental love bestowed upon me by a person whom I admire so much that to be unconditionally accepted by him is to be born again.” p. 67 

“No theology of salvation, no theology of the church, no theology of Christ, no theology of sin and repentance and regeneration and sanctification and discipleship, can be regarded as authentically Christian if it does not begin with and continue to keep its focus on the right of every person to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect. At the same time, any creed, any biblical interpretation, and any systematic theology that assaults and offends the self-esteem of persons is heretically failing to be truly Christian no matter how interlaced, interfaced, or undergirded it might be with biblical references . . . .” pp. 135, 136. 

Examples equally as shocking could be multiplied. 

It does not require much discernment to detect that my characterization of Schuller’s book is correct. It is indeed “another gospel,” not the gospel of the Scriptures, that he brings!

Correspondence and Reply

From a Holland, Michigan reader I received the following inquiry, dated October 12:

Dear Editor: 

I recently read your Convocation address as printed in the Oct. 1 Standard Bearer. I read the article with great interest and was once again struck by the awesome responsibility that lies with our seminary and its professors. I also thought that the analogy that was drawn between the seminary and the greenhouse was quite fitting, but while reading was struck by the terms that were used in explaining the design of the seminary. In particular, I refer to the weeding out of the culls or the unhealthy plants (page 7). 

In light of the Scriptures and Question and Answer 111 of the Catechism, I would appreciate more of an explanation as to what was meant by those terms. 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you are referring to the students who have not in the past, or will not in the future, meet the requirements of the seminary for one reason or another. I will be looking forward to your response since this area does concern me greatly. 

Sincerely, 

Wesley Koops 

Reply

Dear Brother Koops: 

Thank-you for your letter and the interest that it shows. 

First of all, it may be well to get the pertinent paragraph of my address before our readers: “Positively, the seminary is an institution where ministers of the gospel are prepared, nurtured, trained. Just as a greenhouse with its proper soil, its air, its water, its light, its heat, its plant nutrition, is designed to foster the growth of healthy plants, so the seminary is designed to foster the, growth and preparation of doctrinally and spiritually sound and capable Protestant Reformed ministers of the gospel. And by the same token, of course, it is designed to weed out the culls or the unhealthy plants, as the case may require.” 

Secondly, it was not my purpose to refer either obliquely or implicitly to any specific students. If that had been my purpose, I would have mentioned names and cases. However, I was speaking of the duty andpurpose of the seminary. And the negative side of that duty—sometimes sad and unpleasant for the faculty—includes the weeding out of culls or unhealthy plants. If I were to define what I meant by a “cull,” I would say that is a student who manifests that he does not have the academic abilities and gifts to become a preacher of the Word in our churches. This is, of course, measured by standards which the churches have set for our school. Without going into detail, let me mention, for example, that a preseminarian must have an average grade of at least a B- and show no failing grade in any course, and a seminarian must have an over-all average of at least a C and show no failing grade in any course. Now the whole matter of academic standards and the procedures connected with their application is for the purpose of “culling out” those who do not measure up to these standards. This does not mean or imply, of course, that a person is a “cull” as a Christian person or a “cull” as far as life in general or as far as other callings in life are concerned. I was simply extending the whole figure of a greenhouse in application to the seminary as an institution for the preparation of Protestant Reformed preachers. If I were to define what I meant by “an unhealthy plant,” I would say that is a student who manifests that he is not committed to our Protestant Reformed position. 

Over the years, since 1924, there have been both such culls and unhealthy plants from time to time. And I suppose we may expect this in the future also. And speaking from the experience of my 23 years since my ordination as professor—and, I am sure, speaking for my fellow professors and for the Theological School Committee—it is always a profoundly sad and painful experience when we have to tell a young man that he can’t make it or that he has to discontinue—or when he sees this for him self and informs us. 

Now what about Q. and A. 111 of the Catechism? In its positive explanation of the eighth commandment the Catechism says that God requires “That I promote the advantage of my neighbor in every instance I can or may; and deal with him as I desire to be dealt with by others. . . .” 

I would say this is exactly what we do at seminary in this “weeding” process. And my reasons are two: 1) We promote the advantage of all our many neighbors in the Protestant Reformed Churches by preventing them from receiving less than capable or unfit ministers. 2) We promote the true advantage even of such young men as must discontinue their studies and not enter the ministry. For I assure you that there is no more unhappy position in life than to be in the ministry when you don’t belong there and fit there. A man who has the capabilities of a ditch-digger but has all the responsibilities of corporation president is unhappy. But a child of God who is in the ministry of the Word when he doesn’t fit in that position is far more unhappy.

Cordially, in Christ, 

HCH