Spiritual Sloth Leads To False Teaching

What is the best safe-guard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of the word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm. 119:105). The man who reads it aright will never be allowed greatly to err. It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. They would have us believe that “they are not learned, and do not pretend to have decided opinions.” The plain truth is that they are lazy and idle about reading the Bible, and do not like the trouble of thinking for themselves. Nothing supplies false prophets with followers so much as spiritual sloth under a cloak of humility.

 J.C. Ryle
Commentary, Matthew 7.

Illumination

God must open the eyes of our understanding before we can truly know and rightly interpret His truth. His truth is available only to those with a regenerate spirit and in whom His Spirit dwells, for only the Spirit can illumine Scripture. Just as the physically blind cannot see the sun, the spiritually blind cannot see the Son. Both lack proper illumination.

John MacArthur

“Close the front door and open the back door”

 

I reviewed some of the church growth material coming from our denominational headquarters. One publication said that, in order to get our churches growing again, we should “open the front doors and close the back doors”… What we actually need to do is to close the front door and open the back door!  If we really want to see our churches grow, we need to make it harder to join and we need to be better about excluding people. We need to be able to show that there is a distinction between the church and the world –  that it means something to be a Christian. If someone who claims to be a Christian refuses to live as a Christian should live, we need to follow what Paul said and, for the glory of God and for that person’s own good, we need to exclude him or her form membership in the church.

 Mark Dever  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 156-157.

God-Given Growth – Mark Dever

Everybody wants their church to grow. When a church doesn’t grow for a while, some begin looking for those to blame. Some might say “our sign is too old.” Others might say that the church is doing evangelism all wrong. Still others might blame themselves, and decide that they’re just not friendly enough. The preacher, the leaders, the surrounding community, all can come in for their share of blame. But are any of those people the cause of real church growth? Isn’t God the one really to blame? What should we Christians think of contemporary church-growth thinking?

First of all, it must be said that the Bible is a pro-growth book. From the garden of Genesis to the city of Revelation, God is a God who shows something of His life and energy through growth. Most growth is a good thing in this life. So I want to grow as a husband and father. I want to grow in my competence in my job. And as a Christian I want to grow in my Christian life. So what about our church — do we want our local church to grow? How does that happen? That’s what we want to consider in this article.

If we go back to the beginning of the Bible, there we find in the first chapter that God commands the creatures of the land and sea to multiply: “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth’” (Gen. 1:22). Similar commands are given to Adam and Eve, and then to Noah and his sons after the flood. From there on in the Bible we see that God our Creator has continued to give life, from calling Abram to follow Him, to calling the Jews back home from their Babylonian exile.

It’s important for us to remember this as we consider our local church. Some people today seem to think that a church grows because it has a popular program, or because the pastor is a good communicator, or because the leaders are wise. All of these may be present in a growing church. But behind all these factors is God Himself. It is God that grows the church through His Gospel by His grace.

The rain accomplishes God’s purpose to make things grow (Isa. 55:10–11), but it is still God who gives the growth. In the same way, it is God who gives new life by His Spirit (see John 3). He is both the Creator and the re-Creator.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6–7). Any true church growth is from God, whatever means He may choose to use. Just as Jesus’ first disciples followed Jesus because He called them (John 15:16), so today we follow Him only because He first calls us. God grows the church He planted.

He does so by giving us spiritual life by giving the gift of repentance (see Acts 11:18). It is God’s kindness to us that He ever puts in our rebellious souls a distaste for our revolt against Him. In His mercy, He makes us to feel the bitterness of our choices. In His love, he causes us to turn. This new life that God gives comes through belief in the Gospel — which belief we were appointed for (Acts 13:48). Our “appointment” to such belief again makes the point that spiritual life and growth are from God. He opened the door of Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message (Acts 16:14). It is by God’s “grace you have been saved through faith. And this not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).

And God brings about such repentance and faith by His Spirit’s using the preaching of His Gospel. So when the message about Christ is preached in Antioch, Luke describes the results as “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). Notice it is the Lord who is credited with this church growth. Faith comes through hearing the message (Rom. 10:17).

And the churches are strengthened by hearing the truth (Acts 16:5). So, whether we’re talking about growth through conversion, or growth in being built up and maturing, it is God’s work through the appointed means of preaching God’s truth, and most especially the Gospel, what Jesus called “the word of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:19). Such church growth could even be called “the word of the Lord” spreading (as it was in Acts 19:20) so identified is such growth with the Gospel message.

So if the above is all true — if church growth is from God, then what difference should that make in our churches and in our lives? Here are seven suggestions based upon the Bible’s teaching about church growth. Pray for these in your own life and in the life of your pastor. And share them with others in your church, including the pastors, elders, and deacons.

In order to see God’s church grow, we should use the means God has given to us. As we’ve seen, preaching the Gospel is the normal way God grows His church. Added to this, there is also prayer. Again and again in the book of Acts we find the early Christians at prayer. And as we beseech God for conversion and for maturity, we find God granting our prayers. The more we pray the more we acknowledge that God is the reason for any growth that comes. We acknowledge, in humility, that any growth that comes does not ultimately come from us.

The late great evangelical theologian Carl Henry once said that “numerical bigness has become an infectious epidemic.” When too many of us measure growth mainly in terms of numbers, we show that we forget how deceptive crowds can be. So, the crowds that cheered Jesus one day, called for His crucifixion the next. Even if our church is growing numerically, usually these days in America such numerical growth is more reflective of population redistribution than it is of new conversions.

We can’t control when someone is converted. Though some evangelists may try through well-intentioned manipulation, the human heart is beyond being manipulated to give up its revolt against God. Only a new set of loves — replacing love for self with love for God — can end our revolt, and only God’s Spirit can give that love. Therefore our job in evangelism is to pray for conversions, and work for them by regularly and faithfully sharing the Gospel as well as we can. Work on your own understanding of the Gospel. Think carefully about ways you may be able to improve in sharing it. Work to create opportunities. You can’t make sure someone becomes a Christian. But you can make sure they’ve heard the Gospel.

There is more to church growth than new converts. Those of us already converted can mature in our faith. We can learn to count trials joy, and grow in our love for one another. Remember that maturing is as much growth as seeing new people converted. Certainly in our own lives, we never finish growing in this life in terms of our spiritual maturity.

One way we are certain the church needs to grow is in we ourselves growing, and especially in our humility and self-conscious dependence on God. The Bible’s teaching that God gives growth is important for us to remember so that we won’t become prideful in our church when it does grow numerically. It is also important to encourage us in our humility. Knowing that growth is His gift should increase our time spent in prayer and remind us of our dependence upon Him.

Getting all this right calls us to trust God more and to thank Him for the growth that He does give. When Paul was discouraged in Corinth at the lack of growth in the church, God encouraged him in a vision by assuring him that many would be converted there (see Acts 18:9–10). Most of us, however, don’t have that kind of supernatural encouragement. We do know from God’s Word, however, that God promises His Word will not go out without accomplishing His purpose. But we may not be around to see the harvest from seeds that we plant. As Charles Bridges (a great nineteenth-century Anglican pastor) said, “The seed may lie under the clods till we lie there, and then spring up” (Christian Ministry, p. 75). Some sow, and others reap (John 4:36–38), but God deserves the praise for all the growth that happens.

Finally, realizing the truth about church growth should help us to keep going. It should encourage us to endure in the face of opposition, rejection or indifference. Ezekiel was called by God to preach to a people that wouldn’t listen — their refusal to listen took nothing away from Ezekiel’s faithfulness (see Ezek. (3:7–9; 33:32). How could evangelists go to unresponsive lands and keep preaching if they were constantly counting converts and gaining their main encouragement from that unsteady source? How could you and I be faithful in witnessing to friends and family over the years if we allowed ourselves to be discouraged by initial rejection, or even continuing disinterest? Our continuing to pray for someone is a testimony of our faith not in them or in ourselves, but in God. Jesus’ parable of the sower warned us that there would be a variety of responses to the Word (seeMatt. 13:1–23). And we can be confident that God will bring all His own to Christ, not one of them will be missing (see John 6:37). Present success is not always visible. We should be encouraged to realize that the calling all Christians and all congregations share is one to faithfulness, not immediately apparent success. God may in His providence even disperse our local congregation. But His plan for His universal church is certain victory. Of that we can be sure. The church’s final and ultimate growth is not in question.

What You Reeeally Want in a Pastor

HT: 9marks

There are a lot of things a church should look for in its next pastor. But as your church considers different pastoral candidates, I want to make sure this is toward the top of your list: a supernatural faith in the power of God’s Word.

AS IMPORTANT ANY OTHER QUALITY

I’m not talking about a man who simply checks the belief box on the “authority” or “sufficiency” or “power” of the Bible.

I’m talking about a man who whose conviction here runs so deep that it profoundly influences the way he works and lives. He plans his weekly schedule based on this conviction. He rests his daily mood upon this conviction. He even picks his clothes in the morning knowing that, it’s not how good he looks that will bring life to the dead, it’s the resurrection power of God’s Word and Spirit.

This is as important as any other quality a pastor could have. It’s as important as swimming is to a lifeguard, throwing is to a quarterback, or adding is to an accountant. It defines the very task of what a pastor does.

THE POWER OF THE WORD

Humans create with hands, shovels, and bulldozers. Not God. God creates with words. He says, “Be,” and it is. He says “Peace” to the riotous wind and waves, and they obey. He says “Come forth” to dead people and their eyes pop open.

Just as astonishing, God tells the light to shine in dark hearts, giving them the ability to see the glory of his Son (2 Cor. 4:6). His Word of power saves (Rom. 10:17). It fundamentally changes people (1 Thess. 1:5-7). It gives the new birth (1 Peter 1:23).

Now get this: God gives his faithful servants the ability to do the same things. “If anyone speaks, she should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11). This is why Don Carson calls preaching “re-revelation.” A preacher’s primary task is to say again what God has already said. Did you think life comes to the dead through the power of our intelligence or humor or charisma?

Picture Ezekiel standing in a valley of dry bones. He preaches God’s Word, God’s Spirit blows, and the bones come to life. Your church wants a pastor who believes—deep in his bones!—that the same supernatural power is available to him. POW! He doesn’t rely on “the weapons of the world” but on “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). KAZAMM!

WHY THIS IS CRITICAL

Why is this critical for who your church should look for in a pastor search?

  1. It will keep him from manipulating. Paul said he “renounced secret and shameful ways” but instead “set forth the truth plainly” (2 Cor. 4:2).  If a man believes that the Word alone is powerful to save, that’s what he’ll do—preach plainly and not try to emotionally manipulate.
  2. It will keep him from building your church and your spiritual life on his personality. Paul wasn’t a “trained speaker” with an impressive resume, like the “super-apostles.” He just preached Jesus, the Spirit, and the gospel (2 Cor. 11:4-5). Likewise, you want a man who is a good steward of his gifts, doesn’t rely on or trust his gifts to give life. He plants and waters, but relies on God to give the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Men who build on their personalities have churches filled with nominal Christians.
  3. It will keep him happy. A man who trusts God to save by his Word and Spirit is a man who can sleep at night, because it doesn’t finally depend on him. This is a happy man who probably has a happy wife and children because he spends time with them. He doesn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. This is a man who won’t burn out as easily and will serve your church for years.
  4. It’s the primary means to your growth and your church’s growth. It’s through the words of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God’s people become prepared for works of service “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
  5. It’s your best hope of reaching non-Christian neighbors. “Faith comes from hearing the message,” says Paul (Rom. 10:17). Can the message be proclaimed through special programs and events? Of course. But you want a man who recognizes that it’s the regular, weekly “in season, out of season” work of “great patience and careful instruction” that saves the lost and builds up the saints—you want a man who “does the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:2-5).
HOW CAN YOU TELL?
How do you know if a pastoral candidate has these convictions?
  1. Consider what he’s excited about. Does he make good but secondary things primary?
  2. Ask him about his philosophy of preaching.
  3. Ask him what his last ten sermons were.
  4. Ask what he could imagine preaching in the first year at your church.
  5. Ask about his personal evangelism and personal discipleship of Christians. What role does the Word play?
  6. Look for evidences of patience. A man who believes in the power of God’s Word will be a patient man, not someone who insists on quick, visible results.
This article was originally posted at www.pastorsearchresources.com, and has been reprinted here courtesy of Chris Brauns.

Merry Christmas 2011

The religion of Christ is the religion of joy. Christ came to take away our sins, to roll off our curse, to unbind our chains, to open our prison house, to cancel our debt; in a word, to give us the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Is not this joy? Where can we find a joy so real, so deep, so pure, so lasting? There is every element of joy – deep, ecstatic, satisfying, sanctifying joy – in the gospel of Christ. The believer in Jesus is essentially a happy man. The child of God is, from necessity, a joyful man. His sins are forgiven, his soul is justified, his person is adopted, his trials are blessings, his conflicts are victories, his death is immortality, his future is a heaven of inconceivable, unthought-of, untold, and endless blessedness. With such a God, such a Savior, and such a hope, is he not, ought he not, to be a joyful man? – Octavius Winslow

The portrait of Jesus in the gospels is altogether different from the picture contemporary evangelicals typically imagine. Rather than a would-be redeemer who merely stands outside anxiously awaiting an invitation to come into unregenerate lives, the Savior described in the New Testament is God in the flesh, invading the world of sinful men and challenging them to turn from their iniquity. Rather than waiting for an invitation, He issues His own – in the form of a command to repent and take on a yoke of submission. – John MacArthur

Fundamentally, our Lord’s message was Himself. He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He Himself is that Gospel. He did not come merely to give bread; He said, “I am the Bread.” He did not come merely to shed light; He said, “I am the Light.” He did not come merely to show the door; He said, “I am the Door.” He did not come merely to name a shepherd; He said, “I am the Shepherd.” He did not come merely to point the way; He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” – J. Sidlow Baxter

Are Preachers Preaching or Just Talking?!

“The aim of that kind of expository preaching is to help you eat and digest biblical truth that will make your spiritual bones more like steel, and will double the capacity of your spiritual lungs, and will make the eyes of your heart dazzle with the brightness of the glory of God, and will awake the capabilities of your soul to experience kinds of spiritual joy you did not know existed.”

– John Piper

A Prayer For The Weary

O God, most high, most glorious, the thought of Thine infinite serenity cheers me, for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed, but Thou art for ever at perfect peace. Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment, they stand fast as the eternal hills. Thy power knows no bond, Thy goodness no stint. Thou bringest order out of confusion, and my defeats are Thy victories: The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

I come to Thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows, to leave every concern entirely to Thee, every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood; revive deep spirituality in my heart; let me live near to the great Shepherd, hear His voice, know its tones, follow its calls. Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth, from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit. Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities, burning into me by experience the things I know; Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel, that I may bear its reproach, vindicate it, see Jesus as its essence, know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill; unbelief mars my confidence, sin makes me forget Thee. Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots; grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to Thee, that all else is trifling. Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy. Abide in me, gracious God.

Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett. Reformatted by Eternal Life Ministries.

Don’t You Know..

“Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London? So from every text of Scripture there is a road to Christ. And my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say, now, what is the road to Christ . . . for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it.” – Charles Haddon Spurgeon

What Is A Reformed Baptist Church?

by Jim Savastio


INTRODUCTION

Since the late 1960′s a group of churches calling themselves Reformed Baptist have begun to spring up throughout the United States, Great Britain, and other places around the world. The elders and members of these churches have been asked time and again such questions as, “What is a Reformed Baptist?” “What are you trying to reform?” Many find themselves tongue tied in trying to answer such questions quickly and easily. Some simply say, “We are what Baptist used to be!” This statement is certainly true. However, for most modern believers and unbelievers, that statement explains little. The purpose of this little booklet is to seek to answer the question, “What is a Reformed Baptist Church” in a way that is both brief and substantial. In answering that question three things will be discussed. First of all there is a need to address the difficulty of the question. Secondly, a definition of the terms will be given. Thirdly, the key distinctive of Reformed Baptist Churches will be articulated.

THE DIFFICULTY OF THE SUBJECT

The answer to the question, “What is a Reformed Baptist Church” is difficult for two reasons: First, it is difficult to answer in the first place because the terms reformed and Baptists are often seen to be at odds with one another. Many theologians, from Reformed and Baptist camps, would say that such a title is a misnomer. They would say, “It is not possible to be both reformed and artistic! Though Baptists have been and can be Calvinistic they are not and cannot be Reformed.” The reason for this charge is simple: Reformed theology is almost always associated with paedo-baptism (infant sprinkling). Many who are Reformed view this perspective as the sine qua non of Reformed Theology.

Secondly, the subject is difficult because there exists an ever widening gulf between churches that call themselves Reformed Baptists. The term has not been copyrighted and thus there exists no definitive statement regarding who can lay claim to the title. No two Reformed Baptist churches walk in lock step. There are churches who call themselves ‘Reformed Baptists’ and all that they mean by that is that they hold to the so-called five points of Calvinism and they immerse believers. There are ‘Reformed Baptists’ who believe in pastoral oversight as an integral part of the life of the church and there are other ‘Reformed Baptists’ who say that pastoral oversight is an abuse of power. There are ‘Reformed Baptists’ who hold to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 and there are those who hold to but a few of the articles. While most Reformed Baptists hold to a biblical and puritan view of the Lord’s Day Sabbath, there are some ‘Reformed Baptists’ those who reject the doctrine as legalistic. You will furthermore find Reformed Baptists churches who differ in regard to their understanding of the exact application of the regulative principle of worship (the conviction that the bible alone dictates the worship of the church). You will find difference in who is invited to the Lord’s table, differences in bible translations, hymnals, and the structure of prayer meetings. The list could go on and on.

We must, therefore, explain the parameters of this study. Though the term, ‘Reformed Baptist’ is not copyrighted or patented (we could perhaps wish it were to avoid confusion!), I must define what I mean when I am using the term. The heart of this study will center around churches that adhere to the 1689 Confession in practice as well as in theory. This will settle beforehand such controverted issues as the so-called ‘Law and Grace Debate’, the issue of the Regulative Principle, and the doctrine of the Lord’s Day Sabbath. To adhere to the Confession in practice as well as in theory is to have such doctrines clearly delineated in the Word of God.

A DEFINITION OF TERMS

Two questions will be answered under this heading. What do we mean by reformed?, and what do we mean by Baptist?

What We Mean By ‘Reformed’

We have taken the name ‘reformed’ purposefully and for two reasons. First of all it helpfully explains something of our historical and theological roots.There is a body of theological beliefs that is commonly referred to as the Reformed faith. Such biblical truths as sola fide (justification by faith alone ),sola gratia (salvation by God’s grace alone), sola scriptura (the bible alone is the basis for faith and practice), and soli deo gloria (the fact that God alone is to receive glory in the salvation of sinners) are the hallmarks of the Protestant and Reformed Faith.

The Reformed Faith is perhaps best known for its understanding that God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen certain sinners for salvation.Eph. 1:3ff is a prominent text which underlies this biblical conviction. The Reformed Faith teaches that in time Christ came and died for the sins of the elect. It teaches that in conversion the Holy Spirit works in harmony with the decree of the Father and the death of the Son by applying the work of redemption to the elect.

When we say that we are reformed we are saying that we embrace as biblical that system of theology known as the doctrines of grace. Truths which speak of the total depravity of man, the unconditional nature of election, the limited or particular nature of the atonement, the irresistibility of the effectual call, and the perseverance and preservation of the saints. In this ‘Reformed’ tradition are the great names of Church history. John Calvin, John Knox, John Bunyan, John Newton, Matthew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, C.H. Spurgeon, A.W. Pink, and a host of others held tenaciously to the Reformed Faith. We must underscore however, that we hold to these truths not because Calvin and these other great men of church history held to them, but because Jesus and the apostles so clearly taught them.

Out of this theological understanding came great reformed confessions and creeds–the Synod of Dort, The Westminister Confession of Faith, The Heildberg Confession and Catechism. Our own Confession of Faith is deeply rooted in these historic Reformed Documents (in most places it is a word for word copy), which is why, historically and theologically, we lay hold of the title Reformed.

But we also use the term ‘Reformed’ in a second way: We are seeking to reform ourselves and the churches of our generation back to the bible.Every announcement that I have heard concerning the reformation of the church in recent days has been to move it away from its biblical and historical roots to that which is man centered. There is a reformation going on in our day. It is an attempt to change the nature of the church from the House of God to the House of Entertainment. Sinners are being coddled rather than convicted. God’s power and majesty are things of a by-gone era!

Reformed Baptist are making it their aim and ambition to come more and more in line with the Word of God. In this sense Reformed Baptists are not static churches. We do not claim to have arrived. We want to go back again and again to the scriptures. We do not want to do things because the puritans did them or because other Reformed churches do them, we want to do what we do because we see it in our bibles. ‘To the law and to the testimony’ must be upon our banners!

As modern day reformers, Reformed Baptists are calling on all churches everywhere to repent from their man-centered ways, their man pleasing worship, and their shallow theology. We will, if need be, stand as a lone ‘voice in the wilderness’ calling the church of Jesus Christ to its biblical beauty and uniqueness. We say with no sense of carnal pride that much that goes on in the name of church growth and innovation is an insult to the Spirit of Grace and the Word of God. It is our desire to see all churches have ‘zeal for God’s house eat them up.’

What We Mean By ‘Baptist’

The name Baptist is a form of verbal shorthand for us to convey certain truths. First of all we are stating the biblical truths concerning the subjects and the modes of baptism.

When we speak of the subjects of baptism, we refer to the truth that baptism is for believers only. We as Reformed Baptist have a great debt to our paedo-baptist brethren. Their writings have shaped us and guided us again and again. We count them as our dear brethren. However, the bible is not silent about the issue of baptism. The fact that baptism is for believers only is the clear and indisputable teaching of the Word of God. The subjects of baptism are not discovered in Genesis (though it is my contention that a correct understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant proves believers baptism and demolishes infant baptism), but in the Gospels and in the Epistles. I assert as clearly and as plainly as I know how that there is not one single shred of evidence in the pages of the Old or New Testament to support the notion that the infants of believers are to be baptized. Every single biblical command and every single biblical example as well as every doctrinal statement regarding the nature of baptism proves that it is for believers only.

By ‘mode’ we are referring to the fact that baptism is properly and biblically administered by immersion. The common Greek word for immersion or dipping is the word used in our NT. The argument that the word has been found on one or two occasions to mean to pour or to sprinkle is surely special pleading. There are perfectly good Greek words meaning ‘to sprinkle’ and ‘to pour’. In fact there are numerous occasions in the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the OT) where the words for immerse and sprinkle are used in the same context but with their distinct and separate meaning intact (the instances of the priest dipping his finger in blood and sprinkling an object).

The name Baptist secondly is meant to convey that only those who are converted and baptized have a right to membership in Christ’s church. This is often referred to as a regenerate membership. A careful reading of the NT epistles shows that the apostles assumed that the readers were ‘saints’, ‘faithful brethren’, and ‘cleansed by Christ.’ Sadly, most Baptist churches of our day are more concerned with having a ‘decisioned membership’ and a ‘baptized membership’ than a regenerate membership (Jer. 31:31ff). It is the duty of the pastors and people of true churches to ensure according to the best of their ability that no unconverted person makes their way into the membership of a church.

THE DISTINCTIVE MARKS OF A REFORMED BAPTISTS CHURCH

Someone may be saying, I understand all of that, but what practical difference can be seen in Reformed Baptist Churches?

Reformed Baptist congregations are distinguished by their conviction regarding thesufficiency and authority, in addition to the inspiration and infallibility, of the Word of God. What do I mean by all that verbiage? All true Christians believe in the inspiration and infallibility of the Word of God. 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 lose your soul. But while all true Christians believe this, they do not seek to regulate the life of church in every area by the Word. 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’. Is this not behind much of what we see in the modern church growth movement? 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 they seem to argue God has no principles in His Word concerning the corporate life of his people! The clarion cry of the day by the 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 and the bible alone tells us what worship is and how it is to be given (see John 4:23,24). The bible tells us who can be a member and what is required of members. We have plenty of conservative churches who believe the bible, but not enough who are defined by the bible!

Reformed Baptist churches are distinguished by an unshakeable 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 in our own day to indicate that the measure of a church is seen in what it has to offer man–does it meet felt needs, is it fun, is it relaxing, is it entertaining, is it a place to meet people, etc. We believe that churches need to be far more concerned with the smile of God than with the smile of man. The church is God’s house and not man’s. 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. That being said however, the place of God’s dwelling is solemn and holy. “How awesome is this place–it is no other than the house of God and the gate of heaven,” were Jacob’s words 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.Ours is the day of the para-church. We live in the day of the independently minded Christian who floats from place to place without ever committing themselves to the church. This ‘Lone Ranger’ attitude is not only spiritually dangerous 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 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 churches to plant new churches by means of conversion, baptism, and discipleship. If you want to be where the special presence of God is, then find a biblical church made up of true believers!

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, canceled preaching services, the giving of 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 in the midst of such mindless drivel, “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 that you 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 declare this as the 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. Paul asks the rhetorical question in 2 Cor. 6:14–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 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 Jer. 31 and 1 John 2. Paul says in 2 Cor. 7:19, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” We assert to this antinomian age of Christianity that makes no demands 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 is the same law written on the hearts of those who enter into the New Covenant.

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. 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.” We are so addicted to our pleasures, our games, and our entertainment that the thought that we would have to give them up for 24 hours to worship and to delight in God is seen as legalistic bondage. Far from bondage, God’s people love His law and meditate upon it to the delight of their blood bought souls.

Reformed Baptists 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 in 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 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. 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.

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