Baptists, reformed-ish Baptists, and Reformed Baptists
May 6, 2016
Tom Chantry is NOT happy with the MOS team. His latest blog entry uses words like “ignorant,” and “galling” which seems to confirm his own assessment that he sounds “irritable.” Indeed.
Chantry’s bad mood was provoked by the most recent episode of Mortification of Spin which dealt with whether it was wise for Presbyterians and Baptists to marry. The discussion focused primarily on two issues: 1) Will the children be baptized as infants? and 2) Will the Presbyterian spouse be willing to be re-baptized in order to join a Baptist church?
Chantry points out what he believed were misrepresentations of the positions of Reformed Baptists. Specifically Chantry takes issue with 1) a book recommendation, 2) a connection made between credo-baptism and Dispensationalism and 3) our contention that in order to join a Baptist church or be welcomed to the Lord’s Table one must have been baptized as a believer.
If you are not familiar with Tom Chantry, he is a Reformed Baptist Pastor and blogger. He is an excellent writer. I enjoy his blog quite a bit. Furthermore, Tom is a serious man and it is appropriate that he receive, what I hope is a reasonable response.
So, here we go…
First, one must remember that the intention of Mortification of Spin, particularly our shorter Bully Pulpit podcasts, is not to present a well-scripted multi-layered and highly nuanced discussion. It is quite intentionally and obviously (sometimes perhaps too obviously!) an unscripted and casual conversation. Our goal on the last podcast was to answer a question from a listener about whether or not her Presbyterian friend should marry a reformed Baptist. Throughout our discussion we mentioned “reformed Baptists” and “baptists.” As many of you surely know this is far from specific in the Baptist world. In the case of our listener’s question did “reformed baptist” mean London Baptist Confession Reformed Baptist or a Calvinistic Baptist or a Doctrines of Grace Baptist or a Baptist who has a high view of God’s sovereignty or an Acts 29 Baptist or a Baptist who likes John Piper or a Baptist whose pastor attends Together for the Gospel? I’m not being glib. The fact is, when one hears “Reformed Baptist” today it could be any one of those options and more.
From Tom’s response I can only suppose that he believed our purpose was to interact with only those Baptists who attend churches conformed to the London Baptist Confession 1689 (or a similar confession). It is understandable. If I were a member of a confessionally Reformed Baptist Church like Pastor Chantry’s I would not want to be lumped in with every other variety of Baptist. But while we did mention “reformed Baptists” I know that at least on my part it was in a less than technical sense. Sometimes, for the sake of brevity if not for sanity, one must speak in generalities. This is particularly true when the subject is something so complicated as the Baptist family tree.
I am not suggesting that LBC Reformed Baptists should not want to be distinguished from the vast sea of other Baptist varieties out there including more general “reformed-ish” Doctrines of Grace Baptists. And I will certainly try to be as specific as I can in the future. Going forward I will try to make it clear when I refer to reformed Baptists whether I am referring to those Baptists who formally embrace one of the historic Reformed Confessions like the LBC or identify as reformed in a broader sense. And perhaps Pastor Chantry can throw a smidgen of sympathy our way considering how hard it is to talk about Baptists, even reformed Baptists generally.
Second, Chantry objected to our recommendation of Tom Schreiner’s book Believer’s Baptism on the grounds that it is not the best representation of the LBC Reformed Baptist defense of believer’s only baptism. I confess to being confused about this one because, while I disagree with Dr. Schreiner’s ultimate point, the book is nevertheless a thorough exegetical study and defense of the believer’s only baptist position. I thought we were being quite magnanimous to recommend a book that might well persuade fellow paedo-baptists to become Baptists. Perhaps a more fitting response would have been: “While I value Schreiner’s defense of believers only baptism, a book that is more specifically reflective of the confessionally Reformed Baptist position would be…”
Third, Chantry took issue with a statement linking Dispensationalism to believer’s only baptism. I understand that Dispensationalism is not a preferred system among LBC Reformed Baptists. That is a good thing. But as someone who was raised in a Dispensational church I know firsthand that believers only baptism is typically seen as part and parcel of the Dispensational system. It is also true that the vast majority of Baptists are, to varying degrees, Dispensationalists. And since we were addressing a broader spectrum of Baptist life than LBC Reformed Baptists only, it was certainly a valid point to raise. That said, Chantry is obviously correct in asserting that LBC Reformed Baptists affirm credo-baptism quite apart from Dispensationalism.
Fourth, Chantry pointed out that we erred in stating that in order to be a member of a Baptist church or be welcomed to the Lord’s Table one must be baptized as a believer. He points out that among some Reformed Baptists this issue is not fully settled. He references an appendix in the LBC which does indeed acknowledge that among those early Reformed Baptists there existed some who exercised freedom in extending “Church-communion” with those who were not baptized as believers.
I have never known a Baptist church to extend membership to anyone who was not a baptized believer. Admittedly, I do not possess comprehensive knowledge of the practices of all Baptist churches. That said, I was raised a Southern Baptist and educated at a Southern Baptist University and Seminary. Throughout all those years of education through and service to Southern Baptists I was never once exposed to the possibility that a person not baptized as a believer could be welcomed into membership or receive the Lord’s Supper.
Therefore, I think Chantry protests too much at this point. That an appendix in the LBC acknowledges that some Reformed Baptists do not feel constrained to insist on believer’s baptism to receive communion does not exactly present a compelling case that the doors of Baptist church membership swing wide for those baptized as infants. I would be curious if Pastor Chantry’s church welcomes those baptized as infants into membership and the Lord’s Table.
Chantry makes some fair points. And I do not begrudge him a desire for more precision in our discussion of “Reformed Baptists.” I understand why he does not consider “Reformed” those Baptists who merely embrace the Doctrines of Grace but not an historic Baptist confession. Indeed there are members of my denomination whose commitment to Reformed distinctives is suspect at best. So I will try to be more specific in my use of terms. Perhaps “Baptists,” “reformed-ish Baptists,” and “Reformed Baptists” will be my way forward.
That acknowledged, I find Chantry’s charge of misrepresentation to be a bit overwrought. But if nothing else maybe some of the bloggers over at TGC will see that responding directly with candor and charity to a critic is not nearly as scary as it seems at first.