The name Reformed Baptist does not refer to a distinct denomination but instead is a description of the theological leaning of certain Baptist churches. Not all churches that are reformed in doctrine identify themselves as such. There are two associations of Reformed Baptist churches in the United States: the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, which began in 1997, and the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals, organized in 2000. There are also many associations and churches in other countries.

Reformed Baptist churches quite often adhere to either the First or Second London Baptist Confession of 1644 and 1689 respectively. These two statements are usually not considered exhaustive, but instead are convenient summaries of a church's belief. Reformed Baptists attempt to derive all of their doctrine directly from the Bible, which they see as the sole authority of faith and practice.

Reformed Baptist Churches are distinct in that they are both Reformed (adhering to much of Calvinism) as well as Baptists (believing in baptism for believers only, and that by immersion). Historically, the Five Points of Calvinism have been central tenets of the Reformed faith, with which all Reformed Baptist churches agree by definition.

However, Reformed theology is normally committed to Covenant theology, one application of which is to justify the practice of infant baptism. For this reason more traditional Reformed branches of Christianity (Presbyterian, etc) sometimes refuse to accept their Reformed Baptist brothers as truly Reformed. Nevertheless, Reformed Baptists are distinctly Covenantal in their theology, regarding the Covenant of Grace as made only with the elect. Baptism is seen as a sign of the New Covenant administration - made with those who have been regenerated by having the law written on their hearts, their sins forgiven and who savingly know the Lord (Jeremiah 31:31-34). As typical of Baptists, only those who can credibly profess this reality are to be baptized.

Modern Reformed Baptists usually consider themselves the spiritual heirs of English Baptists John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon. The Calvinist theology of the Reformed Baptist is akin to if not descended directly from that of early English Particular Baptists.

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Common traits of Reformed Baptists

  • The centrality of the Word of God: the church takes no part in human schemes for church growth, nor searches for popularity, but sows the Word and trusts God will make it multiply.

  • Creedalism: historic creeds of the faith are considered useful, but not necessarily authoritative.

  • The Regulative Principle of Worship: the belief that "the acceptable way of Worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself; and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be Worshipped according to the imaginations, and devices of Men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures," (from chapter 22, paragraph 1 of the London Baptist Confession of 1689). This is usually manifested in a relatively simple liturgy.

  • Covenant Theology: most hold to the classic Reformed contrast between the Covenant of Works in Adam and the Covenant of Grace in Christ (the last Adam) - and the Elect in Him as His seed. This eternal Covenant of Grace is progressively revealed through the historic Biblical covenants.

  • Local autonomy: each congregation is a fully independent church, which considers itself accountable directly to Jesus Christ rather than intermediately through an earthly organization such as a Convention, Synod or Presbytery.

  • Plurality in Leadership: each local church has multiple Elders as well as one or more Pastors (also known as plurality of elders); often the terms are interchangeable or denote only a difference in full or partial-time dedication to the ministry. Often all leaders are called elders, with the pastor being considered only a primus inter pares.

  • The reservation of the Elder role for men, and usually also that of Deacon.

  • Moderate Cessationism: the supernatural Gifts of the Holy Ghost in general, and Revivals specifically, are considered exceptional measures sovereignly bestowed by God, not to be searched as a common policy. Thus a rejection of man-generated Revivalism in general and Pentecostalism specifically.

  • The idea of the Sunday as the Christian Sabbath (except for New Covenant Theologians).

Other Calvinistic Baptists

Other independent Calvinistic Baptist churches have purposefully avoided calling themselves "Reformed" Baptists because of recognized differences beyond the issue of baptism. Many of these have become associated with New Covenant Theology which is seen as an alternative to the Reformed Covenant Theology. These churches usually adhere to the First London Baptist Confession of Faith (especially in its 1646 edition) rather than the later London Baptist Confession of 1689 which was for the most part a restatement of the Westminster Confession with minor changes to accommodate believer baptism.

Related history

In the early 17th century, Baptists in England developed along two different theological lines. The General Baptists were so-called because they held to a General (or universal) atonement, which maintains that Christ died for all men alike, making a general provision for all on the condition of faith. This is the same universal atonement of Arminianism. Early General Baptist leaders included John Smyth and Thomas Helwys.

The Particular Baptists were so-called because they held the Particular (or limited) atonement. The Particular view of the atonement is that Christ in His death undertook to save particular individuals, referred to as the elect. This position is the same limited atonement of classic Calvinism. Some early Particular Baptist leaders included Benjamin Keach, Hanserd Knollys, and William Kiffin.

Present day Strict Baptists of England are descendants of the Particular Baptists. Sometimes they are referred to as "Strict and Particular" Baptists. The term "strict" refers to the strict or closed position they held on membership and communion. The majority of early Particular Baptists rejected open membership and open communion. One notable exception was the author of Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan. Over the 18th century, General Baptists lapsed into theological liberalism and practically disappeared from the scene in England. During this same period, the Particular Baptists moved toward extreme doctrinal conservatism, which some have described as Hyper-Calvinism and Antinomianism. In 1785, Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) published The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. This helped turn many Particular Baptists toward a new evangelicalism that was dubbed "Fullerism," and would lead to eventual division among the Particular Baptists of England. The "Fullerites" are probably best represented by Fuller and William Carey (1761-1834), Baptist missionary to India. The leading spokesman for strict Calvinism was John Gill (1696-1771), perhaps best known for his Exposition of the Whole Bible, the only commentary to comment on every verse of the Bible. Among the "Fuller strain" of Particular Baptists, Calvinism declined and the practice of open communion grew. In 1891, most of the remaining General Baptists merged with the Particular Baptists in the Baptist Union of Great Britain (formed 1813). The Old Baptist Union represents General Baptists that did not participate.

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