A Sidekick's Blog

Presbyterian Again

May 24, 2017
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I guess it was about 2 years ago that I left a Presbyterian Church in America – henceforth PCA church for a Reformed Baptist church that was truly Reformed, not a mixture of Eastern Orthodox liturgy with popular evangelicalism and secret flirtations among the staff with the writings of N.T. Wright. I explained in a blog post why I became a Baptist. Now, I find myself back in a PCA church – and with the blessing of the Elders at my former Baptist church! Not due to doctrinal differences (which do still matter), but because my bride and I need to be of the same mind and under the same spiritual headship. We had been getting some marriage counseling. Everyone should! It’s very helpful to avoid self-deception and making me aware of way I was hurting my family without even knowing it. At a certain point, because church is central and vital to making the best of a Christian marriage, and because my wife wouldn’t join my church (why is not relevant to this post), I asked the Elders about looking elsewhere, even though I had a vital role in worship there. It is with their blessing that my wife and I – together – are joining with a PCA church here in town. None of the fancy Orthodox-inspired liturgy, no flirtations with damnable heresies, and the Lord’s Supper every week (I have always wished for that)! A chance at real friendships is part of the reason God is moving us there too, I think. It just wasn’t possible without both of us being committed to the same church.

In the post linked above, I cited three differences between Reformed Baptists and their Presbyterian brethren. In my situation now I’m having to give them a second look, especially since we’re joining this new church and expect to be more than just “regular attenders.”

Hermeneutics:

“Baptists don’t deuce,” my former pastor told me in explaining the difference. But to reach some of the conclusions they have reached, they had to have deduced them “by necessary consequence” even though not contained, per se, in the Scriptures. Baptism, for example, which they define as immersion only, forbidding any other mode. In Scripture there are multiple baptisms, and not all of them by immersion. “The Greek word baptizo means ‘to immerse,'” they say, yet I can’t find independent proof of that claim from anyone but Baptist scholars who simply assert it as fact. Applying the sacrament only to believers is also deduced, since creating a type-and-shadow relationship between physical birth and spiritual birth (regeneration) also requires deduction beyond what is strictly contained in the Scriptures. The Scriptures themselves draw a parallel between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament covenant baptism. One of my favorite little Baptist deductions is drawn from 1 Peter 3:18-21, in which Baptists must deduce that “baptism now saves you” means “only believers should be baptized.” Two Old Testament events are compared to baptism (besides covenant baptism): Noah’s flood (in the 1 Peter 3 passage), and the flight from Egypt (1st Corinthians 10:1-4). In both of those events, I say with a wry but sincerely friendly smile, the people of God were sprinkled, and it was the enemies of God who were immersed! Oops…

Covenant:

The covenants of God with Adam, with Moses, with David – are eternal, even though ancient Israel as it was in Moses’ time and David’s time is long gone. Baptists separate them, reasonably so, into Old (type and shadow) and New (reality prefigured by type and shadow). But Christ fulfilled the Covenants rather than doing away with them. There remains one everlasting Covenant of Grace, which existed even before Creation itself, as the Three Persons of the Godhead covenanted together to redeem a people for God from the fallen race of Adam. Type and shadow are certainly demonstrable from the Scriptures, but they do not represent separate covenants, nor separate people.

The Regulative Principle of Worship

Since the baptism of the children of believers is not expressly and explicitly commanded in the New Testament, Baptists are wise to refer to the Regulative Principle as their main argument for not practicing covenant (“infant”) baptism. We are, however, expressly and explicitly commanded not to neglect the traditions of the Apostles (2 Thes 3:6, 25). The validity of custom is asserted “for those who wish to be contentious,” in 1st Cor. 11:16. So I’m not sure the RP truly applies when it comes to baptism.

A lot of Baptist ways of thinking and applying the Word will remain with me as long as I live, and I’m grateful for it!

But – omygosh, my friends – I’m a Presbyterian. Again.


Defining “Reformed Baptist” (again)

March 9, 2015
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It’s surprising how quickly the meanings of words and definitions change.  In fact I’m sure that a lot of plain, longstanding theological definitions are deliberately changed – without saying so – in order to “justify” some new and completely unorthodox theological position while making it appear orthodox by using familiar terminology.

Federal Visionists in my former denomination have turned the Reformation on it’s head to justify such unorthodox things as paedocommunion and salvation-by-sacrament, yet most of them claim the Westminster Confession and the Three Forms of Unity.  All they had to do was apply new definitions to the old terms and viola – they’ve undone the Reformation using their Reformed Confession.  They know that their heretical position cannot be justified in Baptist theology, so they call even 1689-Confessional Baptists “non-Reformed.”

Absurd.  They’re a heckuvalot further removed from the Reformation than any Reformed Baptist is.  But it seems that, again, Reformed Baptists – just at a time when we are rediscovering our own roots and restoring our churches to their historic heritage – have to defend our very existence again, as others change the meanings of plain, long-understood theological terms.  Linked below is a wonderfully clear article which I hope will help cement our identity.  Enjoy:

Defining “Reformed Baptist” (again).

 


Semper Reformanda

February 9, 2014
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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.


Covenant Theology from a Baptist Point of View

February 4, 2014
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In my continuing search for a Reformed church to join myself to, I have found a “Founders” church. It’s a Southern Baptist church listed among those who are dedicated to preserving the doctrines of grace, recovered from obscurity and buried in Roman Catholic superstitions. Now largely “lost” again in these days of Christian science-fiction, book and seminar sales, mega-churches, and prosperity teaching.

Being a good Presbyterian boy I naturally have to question some of the things Baptists do differently from Presbyterians, with particular focus on the theological reasons for those differences. The trite little “pat answers” I’ve gotten, even from Baptist pastors I have interviewed, have focused not on the theological reasons for denying paedobaptism, for example, but on Baptist tradition, on a weak transliteration of the Greek word baptizo, and on a little pamphlet with such vague sweeping statements that it can be interpreted a zillion-and-four different ways.

Until I found this little link, doing some Googling and Binging and Yahooing. I offer it as a resource for other “questioning Presbyterians” like me who require sound biblical grounds to support any theological position. It is not downloadable, nor can it be copied without permission (which I haven’t got yet), so here is the link:

http://www.reformedbaptist.net/renihan-presentation

I have summarized what I believe to be the author’s position below. At face value I must admit that if his conclusions are correct, it eliminates two big issues for us Presbyterians:

I. Firstly the whole “Federal Vision” teaching which has crept into the PCA is completely incompatible with this view of covenant theology, and,

II. It addresses a few inconsistencies with Presbyterian practice which have sat smoldering on the back burner of my conscience just nagging at me.

A. Why do we baptize infants but not allow them at the Lord’s Table
until they can articulate their faith in an adult manner?
(FV answers that objection by turning the Reformation on it’s head!)

B. If we’re interpreting New Testament sacramental practice “backwards”
(letting the Old type-and-shadow define application of the New substance),
then let’s baptize babies and worship on Saturday instead of Sunday.

As an officer in my PCA church I was required to take some theological training. I was taught that “the Reformed view” (read: the Presbyterian view) of covenant theology describes the Old and New Testaments as different administrations of the same covenant – the Covenant of Grace. Correct me in comments below, please, if I summarize the article wrong. But I’m reading this article to say that:

I The Old and New Testaments are two separate covenants, the Old type-and-shadow prefiguring and preparing the way for the New, the substance. The Old Covenant had separate administrations, each with it’s own covenantal conditions:

A. Adam
B. Abraham
C. Moses
D. David

II. The New Covenant applies to the family of faith, rather than to physical descendants, and has one administration, one Mediator, the Man Christ Jesus. It is the substance depicted in the Old covenant, and applies spiritually and eternally.

III. Many of those under the Old Covenant participated in the New as well, knowing that the Old was type and shadow of substance to come (Hebrews 11:10-16). They received justification, sanctification, and will inherit the New Heavens and New Earth by the same means we all do under the New Covenant – by faith alone, in Christ alone, through grace alone. But the Old Covenant was not all-inclusive. It was restricted to one family, or one nation, one race, one earthly kingdom. Under the New Covenant there are no distinctions of race, gender, nationality, or language.

IV. Applying the Regulative Principle of Worship according to this view of separate covenants forbids infant baptism because the participants of the New Covenant are not physical descendants of a covenant people, but spiritual descendants of Abraham by faith in Christ. And since faith requires an object, and the object of our faith requires confession, infants are therefore ordinarily not members of the New Covenant.

Food for thought, good meaty stuff to chew on a for a few days before I start the next barrage of questions for my Reformed Baptist brethren. Comment is invited and encouraged!