What is a Reformed Baptist Church?
By Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville
Someone may be saying, “I understand all of that, but what practical difference can be seen in Reformed Baptist churches?” How does this theology work itself out practically? Let me say at the outset that numerous truths concerning the marks of true churches are not here dealt with. All true churches must be marked by such things as love for Christ, the presence of the Spirit of God, sincere and earnest love for the brethren, and heartfelt prayer and devotion among God’s people. My purpose here is to lay out the practical
differences that exist in our particular churches.
Reformed Baptist congregations are distinguished by their conviction regarding the sufficiency and authority of the Word of God. While all true Christians believe in the inspiration and infallibility of the Word of God, all do not believe in the sufficiency of the Bible. All true Christians believe that the Bible was “breathed out” by God and that it is infallible and without error in all of its parts. To deny this is to call God a liar, and hence, to lose your soul.
But while all true Christians believe this, all do not seek to regulate the life of the church in every area by the Word of God. There is a common belief, whether it is clearly stated or not, that the Bible is not a sufficient guide to tell you “how to do church.” This is behind much of what we see in the modern church growth movement, and it is founded by and large upon a belief that the Bible is silent regarding the nature and purpose of the church. It is for this cause that many feel the freedom to “reinvent the church.” For some reason, many believers seem to argue that God has no principles in His Word concerning the corporate life of his people! In these days, the clarion cry of all Christ-appointed shepherds of sheep needs to be that of the prophet Isaiah: “To the law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them.”
Reformed Baptists have a conviction that the Bible and the Bible alone tells us what a church is (see 1 Tim. 3:15). The Bible and the Bible alone defines the offices of the church. The Bible tells us their number (two—elders and deacons), their qualifications, and their function ( See Acts 20, 1 Tim.3, Titus 1, Heb. 13, and 1 Peter 5). The Bible is a sufficient guide to tell us what worship is and how it is to be given (see Deut. 12:32, Lev. 10:1ff; John 4:23,24), as well as who can be a church-member, and what is required of those members.
The Bible is also sufficient to tell us what we are to do as a church, how we are to cooperate with other churches, how we are to send out missionaries, train men for the ministry, and a host of other things related to God’s will for His people. Paul told Timothy that the God-breathed scriptures would make the man of God complete, and that it would thoroughly equip him for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Can words be any more plain? If this text does not teach us to have confidence in the Bible and to look to the Scriptures for everything that God calls the church to do, then what does it teach? We have plenty of conservative churches in our day who believe the Bible, but not enough who are defined by the Bible!
Reformed Baptist churches are distinguished by an unshakable conviction that the church exists for the glory of God (Eph. 3:21, 5:26, 27 and 1 Timothy 3:15). Because the church exists for the glory of God, the worship of God and the Word of God are central to its life. We have seen far too much at the present hour to indicate that the measure of a church is seen in what it has to offer man—the typical questions asked of a church are “Does it meet ‘felt needs’?” “Is it fun, is it relaxing, is it entertaining?” “What are its kid’s programs?” “Is it a place to meet people?”
But we believe that churches need to be far more concerned with the smile of God than with the smile of man, and that a suitable counter-question might be, “Whose house is it, anyway?” The answer is that the church is God’s house and not man’s. It is the place where He meets with His people in a special way. However, this does not mean that it is to be a dull, grim, unfeeling, insensitive place. The place where God dwells is the most glorious place on earth to the saint and it is an oasis to the thirsty soul of a sinner seeking the grace of God. However, the place of God’s dwelling is also solemn and holy. “How awesome is this place—it is no other than the house of God and the gate of heaven,” was Jacob’s exclamation in Genesis 28.
It is this conviction that explains the reverence and seriousness with which we approach the worship of God. Reformed Baptist churches are distinguished by their conviction that the local church is central to the purposes of God on the earth. We live in the time of the “para-church.” We live in the day of independently-minded Christians who floats from place to place without ever committing themselves to the church. This “Lone Ranger” attitude is not only spiritually dangerous, but it is thoroughly contrary to the revealed mind of God.
While many have rightly diagnosed the failure of the church to do its mission, the answer is not to abandon the church, but rather to seek its reformation and its biblical restoration. The church alone is the special dwelling place of God upon the earth (Eph. 2:22). The great commission of the church is fulfilled as preachers of the gospel are sent out by local churches to plant new churches by means of conversion, baptism, and discipleship. Many well-meaning organizations are seeking to take upon themselves the task that the living
God entrusted to His church. To whom has God entrusted the missionary mandate? To whom did God give instructions for the discipleship and encouragement and shaping of believers? To whom did God entrust the equipping of the saints and the training of men to lead the next generation? If the all-sufficient Bible answers that all these are the responsibilities of the local church, are we free to ignore it in light of the status quo? Do
we simply throw up our hands and admit that these things just won’t work? Or do we take up our duty with courage, believing in the justice of our cause? May God help us to embrace our identity!
Reformed Baptist churches are distinguished by their conviction that preaching is foundational to the life of the church. How is God most often pleased to save sinners? How is God most often pleased to exhort, challenge, and build up his saints? How is Christ most powerfully displayed to the mind and heart? It is through the preaching of the Word of God! (1 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 4:11-16 ; 2 Tim. 4:1ff)
Therefore, as Reformed Baptists, but more particularly as serious, biblically-minded Christians, we reject the trends of our day toward shallow teaching, cancelled preaching services, the giving of the services of worship over to testimonies, movies, drama, dance, or singing. The Word of God is to be central in the worship of God.
Paul warned of the day that would come when professed churchman would no longer tolerate sound doctrine. He stated that according to their own desires they would heap up for themselves teachers who would tickle their itching ears. The apostolic command thundered forth to Timothy, that in the midst of such mindless drivel he should “Preach the Word!” (2 Tim. 4:1ff).
We abominate lazy preaching and unfaithful shepherds who will not feed the sheep. The condemnation of the Word of God is clear to such: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (Ezekiel 34:2).
Reformed Baptist churches are distinguished by the conviction that salvation radically alters the life of the convert. It is tragic that such a thing needs to be mentioned. We live in the day of decisionism. The idea is that you pray a certain formula prayer and are therefore declared to be saved. It matters not whether you break with sin or pursue holiness (Heb. 12:14). You can live like hell and go to heaven! What a bargain! Many popular Bible teachers claim this as a great defense of the grace of God. We see it clearly as a “turning of the grace of God into licentiousness” (Jude v. 4). When Paul describes the conversion of the Ephesians in chapter five he uses the greatest antonyms in the human language—you were darkness but now you are light in the Lord. And in 2 Cor. 6:14 Paul asks the rhetorical question: “What fellowship has light with darkness?” The Jesus we proclaim is a great Savior. He does not leave His people in their lifeless condition. We proclaim the Jesus who came to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). We proclaim the biblical truth that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). We proclaim the Jesus who came to make a people zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). We reject as unbiblical the modern notion that a man can embrace Christ as Savior and reject his Lordship. The word of God nowhere teaches that Christ can be divided. If you have Christ at all, you have received a whole Christ—Prophet, Priest, and King.
Reformed Baptist churches have a conviction that the Law of God (as expressed in the Ten Commandments) is regulative in the life of the new covenant believer (see Jere. 31:31-34 and 1 John 2:3,4). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:19 that, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” We assert to this antinomian (lawless) age of Christianity, which makes no demands on its “converts,” that God’s way of holiness has not changed. The law written on the heart in creation is the same law codified in the Ten Commandments on Sinai, and the same law written on the hearts of those who enter into the New Covenant. The Apostle John tells us that if we claim to know God and yet do not keep His commandments, we are liars and the truth is not in us. Jesus told His disciples that the way in which they would demonstrate that they truly loved Him was by obeying His commandments. Jesus tells us in Matt. 7 that many professing Christians will find themselves cast out on the last day because they were “ practicer's of lawlessness” who did not do the Father’s will (i.e. obey His commandments).
Among the laws of God none is so hated as the thought that God requires believers to give of their time to worship him and to turn from worldly pursuits. In recent years many have leveled an unrelenting attack upon the Fourth Commandment. The Presbyterian pastor and Bible commentator Albert Barnes once wrote, “There is a state of things in this land that is tending to obliterate the Sabbath altogether. The Sabbath has more enemies in this land than all the other institutions of religion put together. At the same time it is more difficult to meet the enemy here than anywhere else—for we come into conflict not with argument but with interest and pleasure and the love of indulgence and of gain.”
We agree with John Bunyan, who said, “A man shall show his heart and life, what they are, more by one Lord’s Day than by all the days of the week besides. To delight ourselves in God’s service upon His Holy Day gives a better proof of a sanctified nature than to grudge at the coming of such days.”
Modern man is so addicted to his pleasures, his games, and his entertainment that the thought that he must give them up for twenty-four hours to worship and to delight in God is seen as legalistic bondage. It is a particular grief to see those who profess to love Jesus Christ shrink from turning from their own pleasures. To God’s people, who love His law and meditate upon it to the delight of their blood-bought souls, such a commandment is not bondage, but a precious gift.
Reformed Baptist churches are distinguished by a conviction regarding male leadership in the church. Our age has witnessed the feminization of Christianity. God created two sexes in creation and gave to each different corresponding roles. While the sexes are equal in Creation, the Fall, and Redemption, God has nonetheless sovereignly ordained that leadership in the home, the state, and the church is to be male. It is our experience
that those whose minds have been unduly influenced by this generation find our worship, leadership, and family structure to be jarring. When the Bible speaks of husbands and fathers leading the home (see Eph. 5,6, and Col. 3) it is not culturally conditioned. When the Bible speaks of men leading in prayer, teaching, preaching, and serving as elders and deacons (see 1 Tim 2 and 3), we must bow with submissive and dutiful hearts. Culture must not carry the day in the church of Jesus Christ!
Reformed Baptist churches are distinguished by a conviction regarding the serious nature of church membership. We take seriously the admonition of Heb.10:24,25 to “…stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” We take seriously the duties and responsibilities of church membership. In other words, membership actually means something in Reformed Baptist Churches. There ought not to be a great disparity between Sunday morning and evening and mid- week. The same
membership is expected to be at all the services of the church. It is impossible to share in the life of the church in the manner which God intended and to willingly absent yourself from its public gatherings. We recognize that few churches would make such a demand, but biblical churchmanship presupposes such a commitment to God, your pastors, and your brothers and sisters.
In closing let me seek to apply these things to our hearts. First of all, a word to my fellow Reformed Baptists. Let us see the importance of our distinctives. I urge you not to surrender them to the pressures to conform to modern Christianity.
To those who are considering joining such a church, I encourage you to count the cost. Realize that you are committing yourself not only to a local body, but to these distinctives as well. If you are a Christian your only excuse for leaving a church committed to such principles is to find one that is more biblical—not less.
To our children, I would say that our greatest desire is your conversion to Christ. But after that great transformation we long to see you embrace these biblical truths and to exceed us in your biblical convictions and practices! This, then, is what we mean when we say that we are Reformed Baptists. If these truths have echoed in your heart as biblical, it is our desire that you will seek out a safe place for the feeding and nurturing of your never dying soul.
If you believe in a church like this and live in the Huntington, West Virginia area and are interested in learning more about the future church plant in this area, contact:
Dale Anderson II