Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Who Can Argue against Being a Biblicist?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on February 17, 2010 at 4:48 am

In our Adult Bible Class we are taking an in-depth look at our Confession of Faith and using it as a springboard to teach our people Systematic Theology.  Our Confession, properly used, is an excellent tool for that very purpose.  We spent over half a year on Chapter 2 – “Of God and the Holy Trinity”.  Obviously we were looking beyond a mere explanation of the statements contained in the three paragraphs of the Confession.  We used the Confession as our guide to the discipline of Theology Proper.  Now, we are in Chapter 3, “of God’s Decree”.  Our Confession can serve us well as a quick and easy tool to proclaim the faith that is most surely believed among us, and also serves as a skeletal backbone which systematizes the teachings of Scripture.

The Confession serves many useful purposes for us as Reformed Baptists.  We hand it to visitors and to those who are interested in joining to let them know the direction and framework of the things they will hear from our pulpits.  We use it as an educational tool for our people.  We use it as a check against heresy in leadership.  In the circles I came from, it was loudly proclaimed “no authority but the Bible, no creed but Christ”, but there really was both authority and creed.  It was unwritten, and usually consisted of whatever the pastor of that particular church believed.

As Reformed Baptists we are careful to maintain the truth that the Scriptures alone are inspired and are the final authority in faith and practice.  Every Reformed Baptist pastor that I know believes that.  Yet, if we are not careful, such a statement, as true as it is, can over time begin to minimize the importance of the Confession in our own thinking, and if this statement is proclaimed over and over from the pulpit, can minimize the importance of the Confession in the minds of our hearers.  The Confession is secondary to Scripture, but we should not be inculcating the belief that the Confession is contrary to Scripture.

My early theological training emphasized that in my theology I was to be a “Biblicist”.  As such I was to make sure that I was neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian.   I was to be “a Calvinist on my knees and an Arminian on my feet”.  As we explored expository preaching, we learned if the passage was a Calvinistic one, preach it like you were a Calvinist.  However, if it was an Arminian passage, we must preach it like an Arminian.  Without a robust systematic theology we became theological schizophrenics, tossed to and fro, all in the name of balance.  Unfortunately, the message that comes from such a practice is that theology is confusing; it makes no sense, and is best left to the theologians.  The layman just needs to “get to know the real Jesus.”  The “real” Jesus is often learned from the Christian culture around us.  A trip to your local Christian Bookstore and an examination of the Christian trinkets that abound should make that realization rather shocking.

Let me recount a typical journey in grace for many who become Reformed Baptists from Fundamentalist or Evangelical backgrounds, two groups that loudly trumpet the cry of “no creed but Christ”.  Somehow we came into contact with good literature, like “Banner of Truth” books, and we discovered the Puritans.  From reading the Puritans we learned that they did more than burn witches and make sure a woman was clad in such a manner that her ankles wouldn’t show.  As we read various Puritans for ourselves we discovered the richness of the Reformed Faith and began to form a Christocentric theology.  As the journey continued for many of us, we came to that crucial fork in the road that would lead to paedobaptism, or keep us in the Baptist camp.  What joy came when we discovered we did not need to “re-invent the wheel” and write a new confession from scratch.  We as Baptists have a rich creedal heritage steeped in the Doctrines of Grace.  That heritage was hidden from us most likely because of opposition to the strong Calvinistic teachings in that heritage.  Many of the older guard among us then embraced the Confession, not so much because we learned from it, but because we discovered it after our other readings, and found it to agree with the truths we had already embraced.  Once we began to study the Confession, we learned even more.

No one lives life in a vacuum.  We are influenced by our families, our culture, who we read, who we listen to, our friends, our enemies, what we watch, in short, we are influenced by everything around us.  We are most heavily influenced by what we take notice of the most, whether in agreement or in disapproval.  What catches our attention has a profound influence upon us, just like the Puritans did in those early days.

Evangelicals pride themselves on being “Biblicists”.  How can anyone be against being a “Biblicist”?  Every Reformed Baptist we know confesses that the Bible is the only supreme authority for faith and practice.  In fact, the Confession itself states this truth, so what is the problem?  The problem is this:  The term “Biblicist” is simply too broad.  It needs definition.  It says so much, it in essence says practically nothing.  “I believe the Bible” is a crucial statement, and we should not give a serious hearing to anyone who refuses to confess it.  But if we are content to say only that, how are we going to interpret this Bible that we believe?  This is where Creedal Christianity is vital, linking us to the wisdom of Christians who came before us instead of ignoring their contributions and re-inventing the wheel over and over again.  This is the safety and solid foundation we find in a Confession like our own 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.

Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
www.sgbc-ontario.us
  1. I couldn’t agree more. I find assurance to sit under teaching that isn’t going to change like the wind. We have much to gain by those who went before us and wrote down what they believed to be true according the God’s word. Without solid foundation, preachers can preach what they think their listeners want to hear to keep them in their pews. We come every Sunday knowing that the message is going to be not only according to the Bible but acccording to others of like mindedness. Our confession of faith gives us that assurance.

  2. Bravo!

    As one who came from a previous “foot in both camps” church…

    who realized that there had to be something out there that defined what I believed – “Oh, I’m REFORMED!”

    then, “Wow! What kind of reformed, am I?”

    to finally, “Ah! Look at this 1689 LBCF! That’s IT! I’m a REFORMED BAPTIST!!”

    …I was never more thankful than to find the document that stated clearly what the Lord had been teaching me from the Scriptures all along, so that I could then find the church who was willing to stand firm in that truth.

  3. A hearty “Amen” to the article.

    Those of us who were previously associated with churches that did not hold to a confessional position and decried those who did, can now see the results of their error. The lack of a uniformity of doctrine and practice leads to the slippery slope of unorthodox pragmatic mysticism. The only boundary of such thinking is the extent those in leadership are willing to go to accomplish what they view as “success”. We who have been liberated from such have NO desire to return and must guard this precious freedom carefully on every hand in our churches. Some cannot fully appreciate the cost that many of us have paid, the loss of lifelong friendships, ministries, finances, etc, in order to hold and maintain this position. We will not surrender this great Confession nor be ashamed of it under the guise of relevancy, church growth and acceptance in the larger community. Those who would do so are deceiving themselves for the slope is much more slippery than they think, they are no stronger than those before them and has taken better men and ministries than theirs into the grey mass of bankrupt evangelicalism.
    Again, thanks for the article.

    Grace, Wisdom & Courage
    TW

  4. Amen Steve, how I love the 1689 ! Going through it with our folks at the moment too. Still in Chapter 1 after five weeks, what richness and timeless truth !! At the present rate it will be a good long study !!! Seriously needed in our day !

  5. Steve,

    Reading this reminded me of my very own rescue from the faulty and shifting ground of the Charismatic movement. I am so thankful for the faithfulness of the men and women who found no incongruence between a robust confessionalism, and a high view of Scripture.

    “As we read various Puritans for ourselves we discovered the richness of the Reformed Faith and began to form a Christocentric theology” Yes! May we have the grace to go deeper into our Christocentric theology!

    Thanks brother

  6. Modernity (a byproduct of the reformation) rejects authority and tradition as imcompatible with reason. Confessions are considered by most evangelicals as rigid and auhoritarian. I happen to belieive that Christian experience Is shaped by tradition and not the other way around. A confession is akin to teaching a child how to speak, once they learn language skills they ar able to reason. The tradition of a confession thus provides us with a paradigm for understanding Christian experience. Without it whose to say what legitimate Christian experience is? As a result of the rejection of tradition and authority, Protestant evangelicalism is actually becoming a form of residual Christianity. The challenge for us lies not in the appreciation of confessions,we do that, but in recognizing we too are in debt to traditions before us stretching back to aquinas and yes even Catholicism, Otherwise we too become part of modernity- western xtianity secularizing itself.

    Thanks Steve for your thoughts.
    Rob

  7. I’m thankful that our elders have sworn to uphold our confession or else step down from their position of authority. This is a great safeguard for God’s people. This is a very good article and I’m blessed by the comments as well.

  8. At my own church we stand by this confession, it is a sad thing that so many old “strict” baptist churches who would still say that they take this confession as their basis of faith have walked away from some of it’s major principals. The Bible League Trust, based in the UK have just published Affirmation 2010, to which I am pleased to be one of the initial signatories. This affirmation is a call to all true believers to return to the foundational doctrines of the Christian Faith. The affirmation can be read at http://www.affirmation-2010.org.

  9. At my own church we stand by this confession, it is a sad thing that so many old “strict” baptist churches who would still say that they take this confession as their basis of faith have walked away from some of it’s major principals. The Bible League Trust, based in the UK have just published Affirmation 2010, to which I am pleased to be one of the initial signatories. This affirmation is a call to all true believers to return to the foundational doctrines of the Christian Faith. The affirmation can be read at http://www.affirmation-2010.org.

    (This post relates to me and not DJS)

  10. Yes that is true about Biblicist? This is the same at my own church which stands for the Doctrine of Grace and stand for the this Confession just like the puritans who wher true to their faith and who stood for the John Calvin or Calvinist and to which we must have a foundational Doctrine of faith in the true word of God.

  11. I am from a non-confessional background though by no means non-theological. As you point out any church community has a belief system written or unwritten. Whether written or unwritten each generation should be taught to evaluate their tradition against the bar of Scripture.

    Whether confessional or non-confessional the danger is that the tradition is treated as ‘inspired’ if not in theory then in practice. This worries me. To be frank, it worries me about many confessional believers I ‘meet’ online. All too often they can quote the confession but seem to have little ability to engage with Scripture – a generalization I know, but I think often true.

    What worries me too is that those to whom I speak who are confessional never seem to think their confession has it wrong. This seems to me very dangerous. I find it beyond credibility that any confession (often much more detailed than creeds) is absolutely correct and biblical in what it confesses. That those who adhere to it find no fault suggests the confession has an authority over their minds greater than it ought to have.

    For these reasons I am content to be called a ‘biblicist’ because I believe that the Bible is my only true authority in faith and practice and I wish to do nothing to undermine that perspective.

  12. John,

    “I believe that the Bible is my only true authority in faith and practice.”

    This statement is itself a confessional statement. Now, do you believe this “is absolutely correct and biblical in what it confesses”?

    You see, being confessional for a Christian is unavoidable. The question becomes one of breadth and orthodoxy.

  13. John – When the confession itself says: “The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved” (1689 LBCF 1:10), I hardly think that confessional men would ever place the confession above the scriptures, or to claim they are infallible – because to do so would be to be non-confessional! Your arguments simply do not hold water, and are self-refuting.

  14. David

    I agree we all are in the sense of your example confessional. However, this is not the sense under discussion. ‘Confessional’ under discussion refers to a specific and very detailed belief statement that effectively binds the conscience of those who adhere to it.

    My problem is the more comprehensive and detailed this confession is the less likely it is to be accurate and the more difficult it seems to me it is to give it 100% loyalty. Where this 100% loyalty exists I begin to question whether Scripture is free to breathe.

    You mention orthodoxy. What determines orthodoxy? Is it the LBCF? What of other Protestant confessions that differ? Is orthodoxy broader than any one confession? If we narrow orthodoxy to a particular confession and base fellowship on this (as we ought if all else is heresy) are we being sectarian and refusing fellowship to true believers?

    Max

    My point is not that confessionalists claim the confession to be infallible in theory but that they treat them as infallible in practice. Do you have problems with any statements in the confession? If you do are you free to voice these doubts and believe and teach otherwise? If so, then the confession is indeed just a guide and I am wrong in this case though it is not my experience that confessional believers do or can believe contrary to the confession at any point. When this is the case the confession has trumped Scripture.

  15. John – You said: “Do you have problems with any statements in the confession? If you do are you free to voice these doubts and believe and teach otherwise? If so, then the confession is indeed just a guide and I am wrong in this case though it is not my experience that confessional believers do or can believe contrary to the confession at any point.”

    I reply: Yes, I do have problems with some statements in the confession – I know of no confessional men who do not. And yes, I am free to voice those doubts (I just did) and teach otherwise. Check my church’s constitution to see where we do differ from the confession.

    So, as you said, the confession is just a guide, (and an excellent expression of the things most surely believed among us) and you are wrong. I do not know who these men are you are talking about who give to the confession equal weight with the scriptures in practice. I have never met any such men. I think that is a bit of a straw man argument on your part.

  16. Max

    I am glad to hear all of that. Confessions viewed as fallible and genuinely open to being corrected I have no real problem with. I apologize if I have misjudged. However, as I say, this is not my experience online. On quite a number of blogs bloggers often assert that they are bound by the confession and expect others from the same confessional church to be so bound. Indeed failure to adhere to the confession is grounds for Church censure even excommunication.

    You need only follow some of the online arguments about views on the Sabbath and imputed active obedience (a view I note is expressed in the 1689 LBCF but not the 1644 original)to see that failure to adhere to these confessional beliefs leads to denominational censure. Also, all too often in discussion, the final word is, ‘the confession says…’ rather than argument from Scripture.

  17. John,

    How could an educated believer know what he will be taught in your church? Without a confession as “the glue” (the things most surely believed among us) we are left to the study and beliefs of the one teaching for establishing the doctrines of the church, essentially making it, “the things most surely believed by the pastor.”

    I can see our experiences have been very different. My background is one where the doctrine was “the pastor says”. To me it is very freeing to know that I, the brothers and the sisters in our church all confess the 1689. When people join — some differ on this point or that point — but we are able to say — here are the doctrines that will be taught from this pulpit.

  18. Steve

    My background denominationally is Christian Brethren or Open Brethren. We don’t have a pastor as such. Elders have an important role in guarding what is taught from the pulpit. Traditionally a stong emphasis exists on the absolute authority of Scripture in all matters of faith and practice coupled with a belief that prayerful dependence on the Spirit to illuminate the Word will protect us from error. Any thinking of joining would observe for some time and discuss with the elders the belief and practice of the church. They would go through a membership course which would cover the basic beliefs and practices of the church but this would be far less detailed than a comprehensive confession.

    Of course we are human and so the results are less than perfect. In the church to which I belong there is a short statement of faith not much more than a creedal statement.

    On the whole I am happy with this for a number of reasons.

    1. If formal statements of faith/confessions were such an advance in protecting churches from error I would expect the Holy Spirit to have revealed this to the early church but there is a complete absence of such advice in the NT. Nor do any of the apostles write such a confession. They speak of the faith delivered to the saints; they look for faithful men teaching faithful men; and they have great confidence in the Spirit of God as the teacher and keeper of the church and its people.

    2. Historically confessions have not prevented apostasy in the denominations which have them.

    3. The danger is confessions may ossify truth for conscientious believers. They are reluctant to think outside the framework or bounds of the confession. The more binding the confession is considered the less able they are to disagree with it.

    4. Confessions have, in the past at least, acted as barriers to church fellowship between true believers. Communion was open only to church members confessing the confession. I suspect as evangelicalism seems to be losing its identity confessions and confessions are regaining importance these barriers will become more rigid once more. The pendulum swings. A sectarian spirit is once again alive.

    Where confessions act as a guide rather and are not binding on an individual conscience I am more comfortable. I am not for a moment questioning the godliness of the many believers in confessional churches. Many have a faith and devotion to Christ far in excess of my own. I am sure that is true of many who confess the Baptist 1689 Confession.

    However, when my confessional brothers are a little dismissive of ‘biblicism’ and I happen to come across it then I feel it does no harm to present a few ‘balancing’ observations.

    regards in Christ

  19. This is not a slam at John, but a general observation about non-confessionalism that I believe is historically true. It is a quote from Timothy George I came across in my reading today. The book is The British Particular Baptists 1638-1910 (page 149).

    “Early on the General Baptists were aggressively evangelistic in winning many to faith in Christ and planting churches throughout England. However, by the mid-eighteenth century they had ceased to be a vital force within Evangelical Christianity. Swept along by he rising currents of rationalistic theology, most General Baptists came to deny both the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinty. Still others, who remained formally orthodox for the time being, refused to subscribe to a Trinitarian confession of faith for fear that their Christian liberty would be abridged by the act. Historian Raymond Brown has aptly described the upshot of this posture: ‘Resistance to subscription became the prelude to heterodoxy. People who refused to sign the articles came eventually to deny them and those General Baptists who were theologically uncertain ultimately became committed Unitarians.’

  20. The truth of what Pastor Marquedant writes is evidenced by the fact that the chapter on _Of God and the Holy Trinity_ is longer and more expansive than that of the WMC.

    This also teaches us that when there is theological controversy, we should write and preach more, not less at that very point where Truth is being assailed!

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