The words Reformed and Baptist mean something and they are and always have been mutually exclusive.
So begins one of Scott Clark’s several diatribes on the paradox of Reformed Baptists, the latest of which hit the fan a couple of weeks back with a provocative description of Reformed Baptists as “squatters in the Reformed house.” By making these statements, Clark is not discouraging the contemporary Baptist retrieval of predestinarian theology, the doctrines of grace, or other soteriological motifs common to Reformational theology. Rather he is asserting that the mere adoption of these doctrines cannot of itself render a Baptist Reformed.
He could not be more correct.
As Clark goes on to explain, “The Reformed Baptist project entails significant revisions of Reformed theology which change our reading of redemptive history, the way we read the Bible, and our view of the church and sacraments, and our eschatology.” Most significant, however, is the Baptist adulteration of the Reformed’s one covenant of grace and of the corresponding homogeneity of their singular covenant community.
Try as they may, Reformed Baptists cannot successfully equate OT Israel with the Christian Church. Too many stark differences remain. The former is an ethnic community (a member had to be a Jew), the latter a regenerate community (a member has to credibly express faith in the Christian Gospel); the former is entered by physical birth into the proper family (and by the sign of circumcision for male children); the latter is entered by a profession of faith and the corresponding sign of believer’s baptism (whether male or female).
There have been, of course, a great many attempts by Reformed Baptists to close the gap with various forms of hermeneutical intrigue, starting in the 1680s and persisting today in 1689 Federalism, New Covenant Theology, and Progressive Covenantalism. Some are willing, even (and almost as if on cue), to bend on believer’s baptism and establish “open membership” in their churches in order to establish greater “catholicity” with their Reformed brothers. But then they’re no longer Baptists, are they? Why not simply abandon their Baptist identity entirely?
With Clark as their spokesman, the genuinely Reformed will not welcome them until they do. Because until Baptists relinquish their identity by dropping several of their “distinctives” (most especially credobaptism and a regenerate church membership), there can be no commonality of biblical (much less systematic) theology between Reformed and Baptist.
The good news is that the dispensational Baptist ranks have slowly but surely been shoring up their theological credentials, with growing warmth for predestinarian theology, the doctrines of grace, and other soteriological motifs common to Reformational soteriology. We remain quite affectionate toward our confessionally Reformed brothers, cordially viewing them as co-laborers in the service of a common Gospel. But alas, formal or ecclesiastical communion will likely remain elusive until our Lord Christ returns to settle the salient questions.