2018 is my 10 year anniversary of being a committed Reformed Southern Baptist. By Reformed Baptist I mean one who holds to the 5 Solas, TULIP, and Baptist covenant theology (the first two in that list were what it meant to be a Southern Baptist when the denomination was founded in 1845, i.e. there was almost no controversy among them among SBC churches since they all subscribed to confessions of faith that clearly taught these truths*). While I think those distinctions are important, I also think there may be some pitfalls too.
Let me explain.
On a macro level of Christianity, I think labels are helpful and important. I am a Reformed Baptist, cessationist, and hold to an amillenial eschatological view. For those that know what those terms mean, that can be a helpful distinction. I ascribe officially to the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) as that is what my church holds to, but personally, fill in the gaps on the BFM with the 1689 London Baptist Confession. So, on a macro level, so to speak, I think labels are necessary to distinguish what we really believe about certain key doctrines. We need to be clear about what we believe and why we believe it. We need to eschew the idea that we just “all believe in Jesus.” I get the call for unity, and we need that. But we don’t need unity at the cost of minimizing key truth. Sound doctrine is vital in order to actually understand what we truly believe about Jesus and if we believe in the right Jesus at all (2 Corinthians 11:4)!
With that being said, on a micro level, I have a little different philosophy. I am a pastor, and I seek to shepherd the flock of God that is among me biblically, faithfully, and lovingly. Maybe it’s because of my past experiences, maybe it’s because of how I personally came to the Reformed understanding, or maybe because it is most biblical, but what I am concerned with on a micro level is more of an emphasis on correct preaching, teaching, and application of Scripture than labels. Again, not that labels can’t be helpful (they are!).
But what I seek to do week in and week out at Perryville Second Baptist is preach the Scriptures in their proper context, and see God work in the hearts of the people to show them how absolutely glorious the Triune God of the Bible is. More than I want people to carry the label “Reformed” (even though I do embrace that label, and want to see others embrace it too!), I want to see them treasure Christ.
Now, I obviously think the Solas, TULIP, and a humble awe of God’s sovereignty in all things is the most Biblical way to treasure Christ. I also think there are the A.W. Tozers of the world who treasure the God-ness of God in Christ who might not ever fully embrace some of things I embrace as Scripture’s plain teaching.
I gladly share in Christ with other brothers and sisters in the SBC who may not fully embrace all the tenants of Reformed theology like I do, and I happily partner alongside them for the sake of the gospel.
Furthermore, and this probably a tool of Satan, the term ‘Calvinism’ itself has become extremely broad. For some, it means no concern for witnessing or prayer and a cold church setting where babies are baptized. For others, it means drinking beer and going to church looking like you just rolled out of bed with your iPad and latte. For some, it’s soul-comforting theology, for others it’s the fad of the week. I don’t mean those stereotypes are always true, but I do mean they exist regardless of whether we agree with them or not.
So, when I hear the word Calvinism, Doctrines of Grace, or Reformed Theology, I think it means biblical Christianity. I think it means a humble and robust understanding of the Scriptures. I think it means a pristine picture of Christ and His finished work. I think it means compassion and hope for the nations because of a God who actually saves. I think it means a commitment to holiness. I think it means seeing the local church as precious in the eyes of Christ and seeking to order it rightly according to Scripture. I think it means loving to drink deeply from the Bible and to worship its Author as He has prescribed. I think it means a fervent zeal for evangelism and discipleship.
But not everyone who hears those labels thinks the same thing I do.
So, rather than throwing around a label that some may not even understand, or intentionally misdefine, I seek to be firmly committed to Scripture and use the label when I think there is sufficient understanding and opportunity for clarity.
So, as a Reformed Baptist, I am fully and unequivocally committed to these precious doctrines that we hold so dear, but I see them not as an end in and of themselves. I see them as a means to a greater end, namely Christ. Not that you have to be a Reformed Baptist to be a Christian (not at all!), but understanding Scripture in this light magnifies Jesus in such a way that His magnanimous grace is seen in every area of our lives and that we live for the praise of His glory.
The beauty of Reformed Theology is not a flower, a battle cry, or even the 5 Solas. Those are all vital. But the beauty is Christ. To put anything in His place isn’t being faithful to our Baptist heritage. It’s being idolatrous. A Reformed Baptist church 30 minutes down the road from me has this saying in their foyer: Known for the Gospel. I love that. That’s what I want to be known for too.
A great illustration I heard one time was this: Reformed Theology is just a pair of glasses that you put on to see a clearer picture of Christ and His gospel. Don’t worship the glasses.
If you are wrestling with these things, I know there are tons of good books out there, and there are many that I hope you will eventually read on the subject. But really, more than that, I hope you’ll read your Bible, every single day.
Commit to picking it up and reading it and truly meditating on what it says, seeking understanding and application. The confessions are definitely important to help explain what we believe, but what I am saying is immerse yourself in Scripture as you are seeking these things out, and I humbly believe you’ll wind up like me — only hopefully without the bumps in the road along the way.
So, there’s my story, not all that marvelous in regards to me, but in the end, I am grateful to be another trophy of God’s grace as we gather around His throne one day to praise His name forever. Soli Deo Gloria!
*”All 293 delegates who assembled in Augusta, Georgia in 1845 to form the SBC, came from churches or associations that held to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith or Charleston Confession of Faith (which is almost verbatim the London Baptist Confession of 1689). There was a clear, theological consensus among Southern Baptists at the inception of the convention. Those who share that consensus today should consider that they are standing where the very founders of the convention stood and pause before walking away from it.” Source: https://founders.org/2017/05/18/why-stay-in-the-sbc/