The recent Southern Baptist convention in Florida has seemed to spur once again the discussion of issues regarding the relationship of Southern Baptist distinctives — that is, what distinguishes Southern Baptists from other Christ-followers — and Reformed theology.
Les Puryear (blog) and Justin Nale (blog) have been dueling on their banjos regarding this topic, generally generating more light than heat, which demonstrates quite a bit of progress in comparison to the customary treatments of such subjects in the blogosphere.
The general question is whether one can be both Reformed and Southern Baptist: Les says No, Justin says Yes.
Justin fairly represents the Affirmative side of the debate — into which I fall — so I won’t duplicate his efforts, but I will demonstrate what I take to be the most serious errors of the Negative side, to which I think Les gives appropriate voice.
Primarily, Les commits a classic error by deciding for himself what “Reformed” in Baptist circles means, then attacking it (the “straw man” fallacy). He proposes that a Reformed Baptist must look exactly like a Reformed Presbyterian, as if the only theological and ecclesiological brand coming out of the Reformation was the Presbyterian church, and that to be “Reformed” means, necessarily, that one accept a litany of positions that Les decries as not only inconsistent with Southern Baptist thought and practice, but also as antithetical to it.
If, in fact, Les’s description of a “Reformed Baptist” were accurate, I would be opposed to it, too. Les maintains that “some characteristics” of Reformed Baptists include:
“1. Non-congregational polity
2. Liturgical-based worship
3. Societal giving
4. Calvinist in soteriology
5. Covenant theology
7. no “invitation” at the end of worship service
I consider myself “Reformed Baptist,” but this list mystifies me. For Les, a Reformed Baptist who does not admit to each of these is secretly attempting to convert his congregation, despite all protestations to the contrary (both by the duped church and the deceitful pastor).
Yet I have never met any Baptist who claimed to be Reformed who looked like this Reformed Baptist man, straw or otherwise.
Reformed Baptists actually hold to a congregational, elder-led form of church structure (#1), which is a far cry from “non-congregational”. Every church — whether they protest liturgy or not — has a liturgy (#2): stand up, opening song, welcome, prayer, sit down, song, prayer, stand up, song…look familiar? So, if by this Les means that Reformed Baptists prefer ‘high church’ liturgy, he is mistaken.
I would also think that all Baptists would be in favor of “societal giving,” (#3) but here I think that Les opposes anything but Cooperative Program giving as being anti-Southern Baptist. This too is mistaken and unfortunate.
Most Reformed Baptists are “Calvinist in soteriology,” (#4) meaning simply that God is sovereign over the salvation process from first to last, while maintaining the truth of human responsibility, and which rejects all forms of Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, Wesleyanism, and Arminianism.
However, being Reformed Baptist does not mean that one holds to “covenant theology” (#5, which is different from recognizing the New Covenant in Christ), or is in favor of baptizing infants (#6 paedobaptism). In fact, Reformed Baptists are generally more sensitive to the distinctive of believers’ baptism in that they are not inclined to baptize or accept into membership anyone who does not evidence belief.
Which is why, for most Reformed Baptists, the invitation at the end of the service is not a good idea, because combined with an immediate “vote” for membership, this type of response to invitations eliminates any possibility of examining a person’s profession of faith (#7). Furthermore, such invitations are relatively recent, dating to the time of Charles Finney, who manipulated people into false professions with extended, laborious invitations. Nonetheless, Reformed Baptists insist on presenting the gospel and explaining the urgency of the situation to those who hear it. Yet “urging men on behalf of God” does not mandate the typical invitation.
“No creed but the Bible,” (#8) is, to put it plainly, hogwash, and terribly irresponsible, to boot. For a creed is nothing more than that set of beliefs that ‘distinguishes’ your fellowship from another. And, while Southern Baptists do not require assent to the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed, for example, we do ‘distinguish’ ourselves from other fellowships with congregational polity, believers’ baptism, and so forth.
So, while Southern Baptists typically do not identify ourselves with a certain established creed, we are, nonetheless, creedal, in the sense that we consider ourselves distinguished from others on the basis of certain interpretations of Scripture. We do, after all, frequently cite our affirmation of the Baptist Faith & Message. Reformed Baptists, themselves, typically do not require adherence to an established creed as a test of orthodoxy, but frequently prefer, for example, the Second London Confession for its greater detail on key doctrinal issues.
Secondarily, Les commits the additional error of confusing the issue regarding what Baptist distinctives are. Is it accurate to say that we want our distinctives to be such things as “democratic congregational” church government? Or fidelity to the Cooperative Program? Or a confused idea that we have no creed?
This is on par with suggesting that we should continue to be known as tee-totalers, because that is “who we are” as Southern Baptist believers.
But a faith that defines itself upon such terms is neither one of which I want to be a part, nor that I find in the pages of Scripture, nor that I believe best demonstrates the power of the gospel for salvation.