Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Saturday, December 19, 2009

WHY AM I A REFORMED BAPTIST?

Introductory note : I am currently updating and revising our Membership Manual, and I thought that this  segment, "Why  are we  Reformed Baptist?"  might be  worth sharing.






 A.  WHAT DO WE MEAN BY REFORMED ?

1. It  explains something of our historical and theological roots.
    Reformed Baptists  are children of the Protestant Reformation.   The Reformation of the 16th Century  was a movement of the Holy Spirit in which  it pleased God  to lead men to  rediscover the  authority of Scripture.

    Five  primary principles  were crystalised   at this time: 

    (i)   Sola Scriptura (the principle  that  the Bible alone can be  our  basis for faith and practice) 
    (ii)      Sola Fide (that  our justification before  God, is by Faith alone) 
    (iii)  Sola Gratia (that our salvation can only  be  by God's Grace alone – that is  apart from any merits or efforts  by ourselves)
    (iv)   Solus Christus  (that Christ alone is  the Saviour of men )
    (v)   Soli Deo Gloria (that the glory in all things may only ever belong to God. He is the  First Cause , the Beginning and the End of all things) .

    We are  in full agreement with these principles!
    The Bible  emphasizes   that  the salvation of  a sinner  is ultimately only possible only because  God makes it possible  for sinners to be saved. Every human being  by  nature  (since Adam’s fall)  is  totally depraved. By  this  we do not mean  that people are  as evil  as they possibly can be  but we do mean  that there is not sufficient will  in ourselves  to  desire   God more than anything else in the world . For this we were originally created. Now (and because of Adam’s fall)  we are   “dead in our sins” (Eph 2:1,5).  On account of our fallen nature  we are  unresponsive to God’s call.  It is not that we may not come  to God. It is that we will not come to God.
    This does not negate  the fact that God calls  men everywhere to turn and be saved. John 3:16  classically  asserts the fact that the gospel of God  is given  to the  whole world . We have a  clear mandate  from Jesus to preach that gospel to the whole world (Matt 28:18-20)  irrespective of whether  people  will hear  and obey  that gospel or not.  The  gospel is given  for all  to hear and  all  to see . God has placed  no restrictions   on the preaching of the gospel. All are invited! (Lk  14:12-24) .  But all will not come!   Many  come up with excuses as to why they will not  come to Christ to have life  (Jn 5:40).
    Why is this?  Is there something wrong with the gospel ?  No ! There is something wrong with mankind!  Sin has so darkened our hearts  and our understanding, and we are so proud  in ourselves  that mankind refuses  the free offer of the gospel .  So we see that  it  is  essentially the unbelief of man that limits  the effects  of the gospel.
    If it weren’t for the fact  that despite this ‘deadness’   God  had acted  in love  to  predestine   certain among men to belong to Him,  nobody would be saved by their own free will. The  Scripture  shows  us therefore that God goes beyond the general call in  John 3:16 and  issues a particular call  to God the Father has  given His Son a  people  out of the world (see  John 17). And so in time Christ came (Gal 4:4,5) and died for the sins of the elect .  The Bible  teaches  us that in conversion the Holy Spirit works in harmony with the decree of the Father and the death of the Son by applying the work of redemption to the elect (the sheep – John 10) .
    Therefore God has, from before the foundation of the world, chosen certain sinners for salvation. Eph. 1:3ff is a prominent text which underlies this biblical conviction.  God has purposed  from the beginning of time to  have  a people  for Himself  from every tribe , tongue and nation. That promise was first given to Abraham  (Gen 12:2; 18:18), and the fulfillment of it is seen in Revelation  5:9 and 7:9 (a prophetic glimpse into the future).

    2.It explains what we are presently seeking to accomplish:
      Since Reformed Baptists are  persuaded  that the Scriptures alone are  the  infallible guide  for  truth  and life , we are  actively seeking  to bring  ourselves  and our generation back  under the  authority of the Bible. We want to  become intimately acquainted  with what the Bible teaches. We want to trust God more than our natural instincts; we want to trust God more  than  we would trust  the prevailing worldview.
      When we compare  Scripture with current worldviews  we realize  that there are  clashes. The world’s view of  gender roles, family values , authority , sexuality – to name but a  few, clashes with the  worldview  of the Scriptures. We note with great concern  that much of  the modern church has become so uncritical  of  current world views. It appears  that  much of the modern church  uncritically  approves  and follows  the thought patterns  and man made philosophies  of the  world , rather than formulating our worldview from the Scriptures.
      For this reason too, the modern church  by and large lacks that distinctive  prophetic voice, thundering “ thus says the LORD…”.  She is so fixated on being accepted by the world , that she readily compromises her message. She is apparently  more anxious to please man than God.  She shrinks back from proclaiming the holiness of God  and the justice of God. She  is afraid to tell  the world that there is a  sovereign God, who is the King  and the ultimate  Judge of this world  and who will , in due course  demand an accounting from all that He has made  (Matt 25:14-30). The modern church is  often afraid  to tell  their  world that they are sinners  in  trouble with God, and   that apart from repentance  and trust in Christ the Redeemer  there can be no salvation ; they will not tell their  world that they  will in due course will  reap what they have sown; she avoids  telling the world  that there is only one Saviour (Jn 14:6). It is not uncommon  to hear  that  churches now teach that there may be many ways to God , thus excluding  man’s unique need for Christ!   Much of the modern  modern church is therefore left without a gospel.

      Having said this we do not claim  that Reformed Baptist Churches  have “arrived” or that they are better than any  other church. No!  We live  after all under  the  same “world  ethos”; we  are subjected  to  the same current world views . But, by God’s grace we are seeking to  believe  God’s wisdom more than man’s wisdom  (1 Cor  1:18-25)  because  we are  committed  to the authority of  the Scriptures – God’s wisdom .

      B. What  do we mean  by  'Baptist' ? 

      The  Protestant  Reformation   of the 16th Century was undoubtedly   a huge blessing  from God , for it freed God’s people from the bondage of the Roman Catholic church  by bringing the church back under the authority of Scripture. It was primarily  the rediscovery of the doctrine of “Justification by Faith alone” that caused the Reformed Revolution in the 16th Century . 
      But , our  attempts at  reforming our society  according to the Word of God  will always fall short  of a perfect effort . We see this illustrated in the Scriptures.  Even the best of kings in the Old Testament, in reforming their societies  did not manage to bring about  complete reformation. In conclusion of their reign we will often read:  “The high places were not taken away; the people  continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places” (e.g.  2 Ki 12:3). This should however  never stop us from doing  what is right . It shows us also that Reformation is an ongoing  thing.
      Keeping that in mind we may then ask: How are  Reformed   Baptists contributing  to  the ongoing   Reformation process ? 
      Where  are they currently making their strongest contribution?  I believe that the answer is that they  are strongest in their doctrine of the church (ecclesiology) and in its union with Christ : 

      Reformed Baptists  have recovered the biblical meaning of baptism: At the time  of the Reformation the biblical  manner and mode of administering baptism  – the  point of entrance into the church,  according to the Scriptures had generally been misunderstood and misapplied .    Infant baptism  had  followed  a tradition  rather than a biblical practice in the church. When  tradition rules over the plain teaching of Scripture, the Spirit  who caused His Word to be  inspired, is grieved. This  unreformed tradition  of baptizing  babies  into the  communion of the church  has spawned a huge  group of “nominal  believers “ in the world who  may be convinced but not converted !  Whenever  we  ignore  the  necessity, importance  and primacy of the  new birth as  the vital entry point into Christ and into the church, we  will soon find that  our churches  will slowly  die, for the church  that is populated by unregenerate men and women is indeed a barren tree.  Many  mainline denominations (including  Baptists)   are  now  led  by  unconverted men and women. Having not entered through the narrow gate themselves (Matt 7:13,14)  they cannot  teach and persuade others  concerning the importance and necessity of the new  birth (John 3:1-8). If we ignore the necessity of the new birth , then the only other alternative is a mechanical  conversion. The doctrine of baptism  has been abused  to this  end .  Oddly enough, a good number of evangelical believers today continue  to  hold on to the practise of infant baptism, justifying  this  practise  by appealing  to  the  covenant. We  however  believe that this is a misapplication  of the   covenant. The covenant was never  designed by God to be an unconditional guarantee that believer’s children would be  automatically saved because their parents were in covenant  with God ! In that case also the baptism  of children would be a presumptuous thing . The  “If … then” clauses  of the  Old Testament  covenant indicate that the privileges  of the  covenant must not be regarded presumptively.   God requires parents to  teach their children , pray for their children , and walk  in covenantal faithfulness before their children. There is certainly much hope  for parents who walk  in covenantal  faithfulness  before  their God.  However , the  covenant requires  that  God also requires  children to respond  obediently  to their parents teaching. We are of the opinion  that Luther and Calvin  did unfortunately not take the Reformation far enough in this matter of reforming the Roman Catholic  practise of infant baptism . Thankfully  there were those children of the Reformation  ( the Anabaptists and the  English Baptists )  that did  see  the plain meaning, teaching  and practise  of Scripture  in this regard.  Their insistence  upon  the   biblical practise of  the manner and mode of baptism  made them to  inherit the name “Baptist”.  They clearly saw  that  the     New Testament practise  of baptism always only applied to believers. They also saw very clearly that since  baptism is  the biblical response to  one’s profession  of faith , that  this act also became the door  to church membership.  Reformed   Baptists  therefore teach  that only those who are converted and baptized should  have a right to membership in Christ's church. This is often referred to as a “regenerate membership”. 

      Reformed Baptists believe  in a regenerate  membership which expresses itself in meaningful, deep relationships.  A careful reading of the NT epistles shows that the apostles in  writing their letters to the  various churches assumed that the readers were 'saints' i.e.  people  set apart  for God by their conversion  , and therefore qualified for membership in the church.    Reformed Baptist Churches  take  the nature of church membership seriously. We take seriously the duties and responsibilities of church membership. Membership actually means something in Reformed Baptist Churches.  We aim to do things together  - like a family- and in the spirit of a family , for we are indeed a family of the great King ! For this reason  there ought not to be a great disparity between Sunday morning and evening  services  when we come to worship our great God   , and when we have fellowship with the family of God. Biblical churchmanship presupposes such a commitment to God, our  elders , and our brothers and sisters. 

      Reformed Baptists believe that the church exists for the glory of God (Eph. 3:21, 5:26, 27 ; 1 Tim 3:15). Because the church exists for the glory of God, the Word of God  which helps us to worship God  in spirit and in truth is central to its life.  The church is God's temple – His  dwelling place  on  earth . It  is not up to man to do  as he pleases in the church. For this reason , Reformed Baptist  Churches generally tend  to follow “the regulative principle“ in worship. We believe that God is most glorified when He is worshipped in the way  in which He  has most clearly  directed us  to worship Him. The true worship of God  must   include  prayer, congregational singing, offering,  Scripture reading and exposition of Scripture. Nothing can be more glorious on earth than  to assemble with the church and to hear His Word read , sung , prayed and preached.   It is this conviction that explains the reverence and seriousness with which we approach the worship of God.

            Reformed Baptists believe  that the church is central to the purposes of God on the earth. The church alone is the special dwelling place of God upon the earth (Eph. 2:22). God ultimately directs this world for the benefit  of His church !  The Great Commission of the church is fulfilled as preachers of the gospel are sent out by churches to plant new churches by means of conversion, baptism, and discipleship (Matt 28 : 18-20). If you want to be where the special presence of God is, then find a biblical church made up of true believers!

              Reformed Baptists believe that salvation radically alters the life of the convert.  The Jesus we proclaim is a very great Saviour. He does not leave His people in their  sin.  He  came to save His people FROM their sins (Matt. 1:21). We proclaim the biblical truth that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). We proclaim the Jesus who came to make a people zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). We reject as unbiblical the modern notion that a man can embrace Christ as Saviour and reject His Lordship. The word of God nowhere teaches that Christ can be divided. If you have Christ then this  will show  in the bearing  of fruit  in  your conversion.

                In summary :  
                Reformed Baptists  are  rooted in the 16th Century Reformation ,  a movement which is rooted in  a return to the authority of Scripture  alone – connecting the reformation to the faith and practise of the early church.  

                Reformed Baptists  believe   that  conversion  is by the Grace of God alone ( sovereignly applied by the Holy Spirit)  through  Faith alone  in  Christ alone . This conversion is  followed by  biblical believers baptism  and discipleship  in the church.  

                Reformed Baptists believe that the Church is  God’s primary institution  and tool for sanctification of His people . Reformed  Baptists  make much of the church, because she alone is His body!




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