A Sidekick's Blog

Semper Reformanda | February 9, 2014

Always Reforming. Constantly challenging my faith and practice against the revealed word of God, as found in the bible.

Admittedly driven this time by a sense of expediency because I am “between churches” and the only real Reformed alternative nearby is a Reformed Baptist church, it is nevertheless always a good thing to take measure of one’s beliefs using the scriptures as a guide. What scares me a little is that there’s a part of me, in a rush to bring my heart-achy search to a conclusion, that wants to “prove” from the scriptures that I’m justified in moving over to the Baptist church. To counter that tendency I’ve determined to do nothing until I have read, absorbed, and debated these things with both Baptist and Presbyterian brothers. The trouble I’m having is in finding people from either camp who are actually willing to be challenged in that way. I have been a Presbyterian for over two decades. Both of my adult children were raised in that tradition, both baptized as infants by sprinkling. If I am to make any big changes in my theology at this point in my life, I’m darn well going to have good solid reasons for doing it.

So on my own I have been reading articles, listening to audio recordings of debate between Baptist and Presbyterian theologians, looking at questions through the eyes of both sides, and re-examining my own hermeneutics.

So far, in the admittedly short time I have been examining these things, it appears to boil down to these three things:

Different hermeneutics:

Reformed believers are guided by one of two hermeneutics. Both usually lead to similar conclusions I think, but an important distinction exists between the two. And the deeper I go in my study, the more the distinction seems to matter.

The Presbyterian hermeneutic is described in the Westminster Confession of Faith this way:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture… (WCF 1:6, emphasis mine).

The Reformed Baptist hermeneutic sounds similar but it is different because it does not include deduction or “good consequence:”

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture (London Baptist Confession 1:6, emphasis mine).

So what’s the difference? Both often lead to the same conclusion, as they do in the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. I have a silly, simplistic way of illustrating it: If one passage explicitly states that “all normal dogs have four legs,” and another explicitly states that “Spot is a normal dog,” then it is necessarily true that Spot has four legs even though that fact is not explicitly stated. The fact is contained in the book even though not explicitly. A Presbyterian might deduce that since there are other properties of normal dogs, such as two ears, a wet nose, and a wagging tail, then Spot must also have those qualities as well, even if the book doesn’t contain those things in its description of normal dogs. A Reformed Baptist could not reach that far, since two ears, a wet nose, and a wagging tail are not contained in the book’s description. While I realize that my silly simplistic illustration likely falls short of adequately describing the difference, I’m a simple Boy Wonder and receptive to correction if I really have misstated the difference. That’s just how I understand it for now.

It is that difference, I think, that accounts at least in part for the differences in Covenant Theology between Baptists and Presbyterians, and in the way that the two apply the Regulative Principle of Worship to the two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Different Covenantal Views:

Presbyterians view the Old and New Testaments as containing different administrations of the same covenant which most refer to as the Covenant of Grace. They do this to preserve the continuity of Scripture to include both Testaments. But, to a Reformed Baptist, it isn’t necessary to preserve the continuity of the Testaments by describing the two as being “different administrations of one covenant.” The writer of Hebrews describes the Old Covenant as “type and shadow” of the New. The New fulfills the Old. But to a Baptist, the two are separate covenants altogether and while one prefigures the other, they apply to different groups of people and different points along the continuum of unfolding eschatology and progressive revelation. The Old covenant was limited, under it’s different administrations, to one family, one race, one nation; whereas the New removes all such distinctions. The Old was temporal rather than eternal as the New covenant is. The Old was physical, geographical, and political. The New is spiritual, universal, and “not of this world.” Yet under the Old, prefiguring the New, all who were eternally saved were saved just as they are in the New: By faith in One who was to come, the Seed promised to Abraham in the Old covenant, the Second Adam, the Mediator of – as the writer of Hebrews describes it – “a better covenant based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).” I’m told by a Reformed Baptist theologian that my summary of the Baptist covenantal view in my previous blog post is accurate, so please refer to it for a more complete picture of why Baptists separate the two differently than Presbyterians do.

Different Applications of the Regulative Principle of Worship:

Both Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians subscribe to this principle, based on Sola Scriptura and described in the Westminster Confession of Faith in these terms:

…the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and is so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to … any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (WCF 21:1).

This principle has been reduced by many people to simply, “When it comes to the worship of God, whatever is not commanded is forbidden.” This is quite unlike the Lutheran and Anglican principle which is, to reduce it to it’s simplest form, “whatever is not forbidden is permitted in the worship of God.” This leads them to all sorts of human inventions that “help the people worship,” from drama and dance to more superstitious stuff like making the sign of the cross and assigning mystical properties to the elements in the Lord’s Supper and observing a liturgical calender. Superstition, by the way, I take to mean trying to please, appease, delight, or “reach” God by any means other than revealed in His written word.

Because the Old Testament is to be interpreted through the lens of the New Testament, and because of the difference in the two views of covenant theology, the Reformed Baptist does not see baptism as a New covenant “replacement” of Old covenant circumcision. And as there is no explicit command in the New Testament to baptize any but confessed believers, Baptists reject what Presbyterians call “covenant baptism” (or “infant baptism”). To a Presbyterian, the command to baptize the infant children of believers is necessarily deduced by the examples of Old covenant circumcision and “household baptisms” in the New Testament.

These three differences combine to form the theological basis for both credobaptism (believer’s baptism) and paedobaptism (infant baptism). They also represent what my search has “boiled down to.” To most people I know, none of this matters. One just goes to “whatever church makes them happy” as long as it adheres to “the essentials.” That can’t be enough for me. In fact it hasn’t been enough for me ever. Not because I’m “too nitpicky,” but because love demands the pursuit of the truest possible knowledge of God.

Despite my desire to avoid it, I suspect that this blog post likely betrays a little bias towards the Baptist position. In fact it is the Baptist position which seems more consistent (Presbyterians baptize babies yet keep them from the Supper until they can articulate their faith in an adult manner), closer to the Reformation cry of Sola Scriptura (because it insists upon not exceeding what is written no matter how flawlessly logical and reasonable it may seem to do so), and by painting a picture of the covenants in a way that preserves the continuity of Scripture without the confusing of merger of Old and New sacraments, signs, shadows, and types. Perhaps I haven’t been a very good Presbyterian all these years, but it isn’t because I haven’t made every effort to understand, apprehend, and articulate my faith without becoming bewildered and confused by that hermeneutic and getting lost in the details. As I said, I’m a simple sidekick, and tend to ruin in favor of those things which “are so clearly propounded and opened in Scripture that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain unto an sufficient understanding of them (WCF 1:7).”

God help me.

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2 Comments »

  1. You know my brother it is good seeing you come to the credo side of things. There are a lot of good stuff to learn here and the only gripe I have is that there is a dearth of e-books on this stuff. But I suggest that if you can take a listen to the Confessing Baptist podcast they have some great stuff on Pascal Denault’s book on Baptist Covenant Theology distinctives.

    Comment by keachfan — February 11, 2014 @ 3:26 am

  2. My search really began a lonnnnnng time ago as my PCA church made gradual, ever-increasing departures from the Reformation with respect to worship, marrying itself to the Western liturgical calander and borrowing frequently from Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. I have been digging deeply into the the PCA’s history and it’s recent court rulings with respect to Federal Vision and really didn’t like what I saw, so I started looking around for Reformed churches outside of the PCA. The only Orthodox Presbyterian Church in town was on life support when I visited, and I hear now that they have finally folded. But there is one truly Reformed church in town, a Baptist church. I visited and loved it… and that’s what prompted my search into Reformed Baptist belief and practice. That was around September or October of last year. So it’s actually been a short time to my mind, but I could do it “full time” since I’m not working at present. Having just this week inescapably concluded that the Baptists are right, I called my future pastor yesterday to ask some questions specific to that particular church, and am delighted with all his answers. This Lord’s Day I will present myself for membership. It has been a heart-wrenching, painful, and wonderfully enlightening journey, and I want to express my gratitude to those who shared it with me and helped me navigate the turbulent waters of transition.

    Comment by adoptedsidekick — February 14, 2014 @ 11:29 am


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