After the time of the apostles, churches continued to multiply everywhere. As the years passed, many churches began to depart from the teachings of Christ and the Holy Scriptures. Superstition and human traditions were propagated as truth. Wars were waged in the name of Christianity. Immorality, idolatry, and corruption were rampant in the so-called Christian world. The true Christians were a persecuted minority.
In the 16th century, God brought about a mighty stirring in Europe, causing many people to seek Him and hunger again after the truth. This is now called the Reformation. Despite the attempts of the older churches to counter this movement, new churches were founded right through the 17th century.
In England the particular Baptists churches arose in the first half of the 17th century. They were known as Baptists because, unlike the other reformed churches, they held to the baptism of believers by immersion. They were known as Particular Baptists because, unlike the General Baptists, they held to the doctrine of “particular redemption,” i.e. the belief that Christ died specifically for the elect.
The Particular Baptist churches grew in number quickly in Britain and America, until they were affected by hyper-Calvinism in the 18th century. Hyper Calvinism distorts the doctrine of the sovereignty of God by denying that it is right to call upon sinners to repent and believe in Christ.
From the 19th century, all evangelical churches were weakened by the rise of modernism. The Particular Baptists were not spared. Modernism (or liberalism) denies the supernatural and miraculous of the Bible in the name of proud scholarship. A man-centered emphasis settled upon the churches. The prevailing laxity and low view of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture allowed the charismatic movement to spread fast in the 20th century, with its humanistic practices of tongue-speaking, prophesying, healing, dancing, drama, and the use of high-powered music.
A revival of interest in reformed theology began in the 1960s, focused at first in Britain and America. It began to spread worldwide, so that today a reformed movement is in almost every part of the world. The Baptists and Presbyterians have benefited most from this recovery. The older Particular Baptist churches have been revived and newer Reformed Baptist churches have been founded, the two streams merging to form a worldwide Reformed Baptist movement.
The beliefs of the Reformed Baptists are summarized in the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. Reformed Baptists are confessional subscribing fully to this Confession of Faith as a subordinate standard and summary of those things most surely believed among us. In this document, the major doctrines of the Bible are stated clearly and concisely, yet with sufficient fullness so as to provide a useful reference manual in this age of shallowness and confusion.
Apart from referring to this document, how may we describe the Reformed Baptists? Reformed Baptists are characterized by the following emphases:
- The primacy of the Word of God: Holy Scripture, the Bible, is the inerrant, infallible, sole, and only authority in all matters of faith and practice. Preaching the Scriptures must occupy the central place in the worship of God. The Bible is to be preached in an expository, verse-by-verse, manner; giving the correct meaning and applications, and directed to the consciences of the hearers.
- The sovereignty of God: God is all-powerful and in absolute control of creation, history, and salvation. God has predestined certain individuals from before the creation of the world to be saved. These are known as “the elect.” Every person is born sinful and is unable to do anything good to make God accept him. God calls out the elect from the world by the proclamation of the gospel, and changes their nature by the power of the Holy Spirit so they willingly turn from sin to Christ to be saved. Christ died as a sacrifice in the place of the elect, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven to give them eternal life. Salvation is therefore a free gift of God, not gained by human merit, but received by faith alone in Christ alone. This understanding of salvation has been called “Calvinism,” after the major Protestant Reformer — John Calvin.
- The purity of worship: The worship of God must be carried out in “spirit and in truth,” (i.e. with sincerity and according to God’s Word). Whatever is commanded must be followed, while anything not commanded must be rejected. This is sometimes called “the regulative principle.” Worship is kept God-centered, instead of man-centered, at the same time that the worshippers maintain a spirit of reverence, joy, warmth, and love.
- The centrality of the church: The local church is central and unique in all the redemptive purposes of God. The New Testament knows nothing of a churchless Christianity. Baptized believers should voluntarily covenant together in a church to worship and serve God the Lord. A high level of commitment is required of the members, but no higher than what is taught in the Holy Bible. Through the exercise of pastoral oversight and church discipline, the membership is kept healthy and pure. No church is perfect in this world, but that does not mean a church should be allowed to lose its spirituality.
- A radical discipleship: Reformed Baptists take seriously the truth that they have been bought by the blood of Christ. They belong to God and wish to glorify Him by living in accordance to the teaching of Holy Scripture. They are not extremists who love violence, nor fanatics who disrupt the peace of the public. Conscious that they have been reconciled to a thrice-holy God, they actively seek to live holy lives before God and men. This holiness is not according to man-made rules, but according to the dictates of Scripture. The Law of God, the 10 Commandments, is an abiding rule of faith to aid in gospel holiness. They do not claim to be perfect but, in dependence upon God, attempt to live holy lives. Also, being mindful of their reconciliation to God, they actively seek to lead others to saving faith in Christ.
How Do Reformed Baptists Differ From Other Evangelicals?
There are evangelical churches that show great love for the Lord and have been mightily blessed by Him. Such churches often put us to shame and make us yearn to live better for Christ. Having said that, it remains true that there are evangelicals who are weak in precisely those five areas that Reformed Baptists are strong. Many evangelicals think that is enough to have faith in Christ, to pray, to attempt to win souls for Christ. They have a low view of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and a defective view of the sovereignty of God. Many have succumbed to charismatic teaching and practice, and also compromised the truth by seeking to please men.
How Do Reformed Baptists Differ From Other Reformed Churches?
There are reformed Christians who hold to infant baptism, believing that the children of believers should be treated as church members and are therefore baptized. They baptize by sprinkling instead of immersion. The baptism of infants leads to a mixed church membership; one consisting of believers and unbelievers. Reformed Baptists are of the view that only believers should make up the membership of the church.
Some churches claim that they are “reformed” yet show little or no appreciation of the Reformation nor of the truths recovered at that time. We do not use the word “reformed” in these ways.
How Do Reformed Baptists Differ From Other Baptists?
Like the other evangelical churches, most of the non-reformed Baptists are either fully-fledged Arminians or hold to a modified Arminianism. This system teaches that Christ died for every individual in the world, and man has a free-will which must be exercised to “accept Christ” so as to be saved. Reformed Baptists strongly reject this.
How Do Reformed Baptists Relate To Other Evangelical Churches?
We recognize others churches as true churches of Christ when the cardinal doctrines of the faith are upheld by them. The limitations of time, ability, and opportunity means that we have to practice selective fellowship. Truth determines the degree of closeness with other churches: the more of truth we agree upon, the closer our fellowship. Consequently, our closest fellowship is with other Reformed Baptist churches, followed by other reformed churches, and then other evangelical churches.
by Dr. Poh Boon Sing and Rev. Earl M. Blackburn, “Who Are The Reformed Baptists?”