Reformed of Baptist – Either…Or

In these columns we have more than once made reference to the fact that the terms Reformed andBaptist are mutually exclusive, and that therefore the name “Reformed Baptist” is really a contradiction in terms. The same is true of the term that is sometimes used, “Calvinist Baptist.” We are aware, of course, of the reasoning behind the use of these names. Both the “Reformed” and the “Calvinist” part of these names is intended to convey the idea that Baptists who go by these names hold, or claim to hold, some of the truths which are professed by Reformed, or Calvinist, believers. The reference is usually especially to the so-called “doctrines of grace,” sometimes designated as the “Five Points of Calvinism.” 

Now one can only rejoice at the fact that there are Christians outside the Reformed family who hold to and proclaim these “doctrines of grace,” at the same time hoping that these Christians will see the light and will profess the full-orbed Reformed faith. 

At the same time, however, we must insistently deny to them the right to the name “Reformed” or “Calvinist.” We must insist that both historically andconfessionally it belongs to the very genius of the Reformed faith to hold to the truth of the covenant of grace, to the truth that infants no less than adults are included in the covenant and church of God, and that infant baptism is therefore a necessity (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. and A. 74). The thought is not uncommon that profession of the doctrines of grace, or the Five Points of Calvinism, is the distinguishing mark of a Reformed believer, or a Calvinist. This is a mistake. There are a good many truths which it is essential for a Reformed believer to profess. But certainly, if one were called upon to mention those truths which are distinctively Reformed — I say again, both from a confessional and a historical point of view — the above-mentioned truth of the covenant of grace and all that is implied in it deserves a place next to the truth of sovereign grace. The former is as distinctively Reformed as the latter, if not more so. But it is that former truth that constitutes a stumblingblock for all Baptists. And it is the denial of this truth that also denies to them the right to the name “Reformed.” Personally, I am also of the conviction that it is ultimately impossible in process of time to maintain either one of these truths separately. It certainly is impossible to maintain the truth of the covenant of grace and its inseparably related truth of infant baptism without adhering to the doctrine of sovereign grace. But although it may be possible for a time, perhaps, to maintain the doctrine of sovereign grace without teaching the doctrine of the covenant of grace, I believe that ultimately this is impossible and that the Baptist must end in some kind of Arminianistic position. But that is another story. I wish to emphasize now that Baptists have no right to the name “Reformed,” and that the name “Reformed Baptist” is a contradiction in terms. 

Nor do we do Baptist brethren a favor by allowing them to call themselves Reformed or by recognizing them as Reformed brethren who merely differ with us on one matter, that of baptism. We must rather convince them that they are not Reformed as long as they are Baptist, and we must strive to convince them to become genuinely Reformed and to abandon their Baptist position. 

Do not forget meanwhile that Baptists themselves are very insistent on their baptistic position. They elevate it to the sine qua non of ecclesiastical fellowship. To them the essential thing is not whether you are Reformed but whether you are Baptist. Accordingly, they divide people into Reformed Baptists and Reformed non-Baptists. 

Of this I was reminded by an article from the pen of Pastor Errol1 Hulse, Editor of Reformation Today and pastor of Cuckfield Baptist Church, Sussex, England, (Reformation Today, Number 53, pp. 3, ff.). The article is entitled “Unity, the Covenant and Baptism.” The article is an abridgement of the first chapter of a forthcoming book under the above title. The book, in turn, is a reply to a discussion of Reformed Baptists and their practice by Prof. Dr. J. Douma of the Theological College of the Gereformeerde Kerken(Liberated) at Kampen. Prof. Douma wrote at length inDe Reformatie, especially in reply to and criticism of a little book by David Kingdon, Children of Abraham. At the time he wrote, I was struck by the fact that with the Liberated position on the covenant (a general, conditional promise) there is no defense against Kingdon’s position. Incidentally, Prof. Hanko is writing an extended critique of Kingdon’s position in our Prot. Ref. Theological Journal. But all this is not my point at present. 

My point is that Pastor Hulse in the course of this article repeatedly refers to “Reformed Baptists” and “Reformed Non-Baptists.” 

Editor Hulse finds seven factors which, according to him, unite “Reformed Baptists” and “Reformed Non-Baptists.” It is not my purpose at this time to debate the accuracy of these alleged points of agreement, though I have grave doubts as to the accuracy and truth of some of them as far as Mr. Hulse is concerned, as our readers well know. Permit me simply to list these points: 

“1. A shared thankfulness for the Reformation. 

“2. A common belief in the infallible Word of God as the only authority for faith and practice. 

“3. The sovereignty of God and predestination. 

“4. The sovereign grace of God in salvation. 

“5. A joint desire for true Christian worship. 

“6. The recovery of powerful, evangelical preaching. 

“7. A shared belief in the importance of biblical Theology and the covenant.” 

But now take note of the fact that Pastor Hulse is insistent on his baptistic position. When it comes down to the hard issue, he very definitely wants to divide not into Reformed and non-Reformed, but into Baptist and non-Baptist. He writes (italics mine):

Now it is my purpose to prove that Reformed Baptists give proper credence to the place, development and importance of the covenant. Not only do they do this in common with Reformed non-Baptists but they go further. Reformed Baptists alone do justice to the diversity of the administration of the covenant. Reformed Baptists alone are consistent in heeding the tremendous stress expressed in Hebrews chapters 8-10. They and they alone heed the double imperative to observe that the New Covenant has entirely replaced the Old, and that the Old as a way of practice or administration is now totally and completely revoked. . . . 

Reformed Baptists in this way are consistent in their practice. They alone are true and faithful to covenant theology as it respects the New Testament and baptism.

Notice, further, that in spite of the alleged unity on certain matters, Hulse finds a most significant separation. Notice, too, that the very essence of this significant separation, according to him, lies not in the question of being Reformed or non-Reformed, but in the matter of being Baptist or non-Baptist:

We have so much in common by which our unity is strengthened and our fellowship enriched yet when it comes to our churches there is a gulf. The difference between churches in which the membership is confined to those who maintain a credible and consistent confession of faith in lip and life (Baptist, in Hulse’s view, HCH), and churches where memberships are infiltrated by nominal believers, sometimes in large numbers (non-Baptist, in Hulse’s view, HCH), cannot be exaggerated.

It is not surprising, therefore, that also Pastor Hulse’s alleged thankfulness for the Reformation is greatly tempered, as is plain from the following statement, a statement which again comes down to the difference between Baptist and non-Baptist, to use Hulse’s terminology:

The reformation of the sixteenth century has never been completed because the doctrine of Rome with respect to infant baptism was accommodated. (I challenge Hulse to prove this statement from John Calvin. HCH) Reasoning from the covenant was utilized for this accommodation.

Now all of these matters are of crucial importance to Editor Hulse. His real concern is not about being Reformed or non-Reformed, but about being what he chooses to call Baptist or non-Baptist. This is plain from his “practical conclusions” at the end of his article. He writes in conclusion “5” as follows: “If unity is to be feasible at the practical level a Church must take a definite position on baptism. This is because the practical implications are so far reaching.” And again, in conclusion “6” he states: “The maintenance of two basically contradictory practices on Christian initiation is confusing to converts.” 

Now I am quite willing to recognize the crucial difference between the Baptist and the Reformed position. In fact, I would find the difference to be even more significant than does Mr. Hulse. The difference is emphatically one of principle, not merely of far reaching practical implications. 

But I do not want to be classified as a non-Baptist! Not even as a Reformed non-Baptist! In the first place, that name is negative; and it is negative by way of reference to the baptistic position. That is historically incorrect. It is also factually incorrect. The Reformed believer does not occupy a negative position. No more than you can define a man by saying he is a non-horse, or a non-stone, or a non-tree, or a non-cabbage, no more can you define a Reformed Christian by naming him a non-Baptist. In the second place, I am not a Baptist, nor a non-Baptist, nor a Reformed non-Baptist, nor a paedo-Baptist, nor even a Reformed paedo-Baptist, nor any other kind of “-ist” or “non-ist.” I am Reformed — period. 

Nor is that a matter of mere semantics. 

It is a fundamental matter, and one which concerns the well-known three marks of the church. 

This is very plain. Pastor Hulse maintains that the Reformation was not complete, and that, too, in a crucial aspect. But this means really that it was not genuine reformation. I maintain that the Reformation, particularly in its Reformed manifestation, was indeed principally complete and true with respect to all facets of the truth. 

Pastor Hulse wants to divide into Baptists and non-Baptists. In turn, then, there are Reformed Baptists and non-Reformed Baptists; and there are also Reformed non-Baptists and non-Reformed non- Baptists. I know but two fundamental categories: Reformed and non-Reformed. Reformed are those who adhere to Scripture and the historic Reformed creeds and manifest, accordingly, the marks of the church. Non-Reformed are all others, including not only Baptists of various kinds but also many who adhere to paedo-baptism, who do not adhere to Scripture and the Reformed creeds and who to one degree or another do not manifest the marks of the church. 

But a Reformed church cannot be Baptist; and a Baptist church cannot be Reformed. The names — and the positions they represent — are mutually exclusive. To be Baptist is to be non-Reformed.