Can you be Evangelical and Reformed?

If one grasps the fact that evangelical doctrine is essentially Baptist, then the answer is no, because baptistic ideas are contrary to the Bible.  There is also the fact that the Reformed Confessions all reject the idiosyncratic baptistic teachings.  Baptists have no idea of the covenant, and cannot see the relevance of the OT to the NT, and how the NT is the fulfilment  of the OT Abrahamic covenants of promise.  Indeed, many baptistic writers have written against it in no uncertain words.

There are of course those who are unaware of the essential incompatibility of the two theologies.  You have men calling themselves Reformed who are really predestinationalist Baptists, or, Reformed Baptists.  Strictly speaking it is a contradiction in terms, but people can call themselves what they like.

The thing to bear in mind is the absolute intolerance of infant baptism that marks the true Baptist, or Evangelical.  There are evangelicals who practice infant baptism, but they are doing so for reasons of tradition and church law, not because of a proper understanding of the issues.  I studied and trained in such a church.

This “tell” of hostility to infant baptism is the dead give-away to the absence of a proper covenant theology.

Then there are those who allow both credo-baptism and infant-baptism.  Again, that is the fruit of not understanding the covenant.  There was a large church near me that split into three over this very issue.  They were Presbyterians without a covenant theology, so they made convinced baptists into elders, they pushed their anti-covenant agenda, and before long the true Presbyterians were compelled to leave.

The turmoil over the Federal Vision boils down to hostility to the covenant from within Reformed churches themselves, the very places where the covenant should be celebrated.  The Federal Vision is authentic Augustinian Reformation theology, plain and simple.

The means of salvation in Evangelicalism and the Reformed Faith

Nothing is more central to an evangelical than the way that a person comes to salvation.  To him it is very simple – “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”.  A key evangelical doctrine that goes with this is the rejection of any role for the sacraments in receiving salvation.  This is precisely what makes evangelicalism just another version of Baptist doctrine.

If you were to ask him, he would say that this is what sole fide is all about, that salvation is received by faith alone.

If you were to go to the men who rediscovered the doctrine of sola fide at the Reformation, men like Luther and Calvin, they would tell you that that is not what is meant at all.  Faith alone is meant to oppose the idea that justification is by works – it is not that faith is the sole MEANS OF GRACE.

A man is justified by faith alone, not by works.  A completely separate issue is HOW God delivers justification and regeneration to us.  The Reformers and all of the Reformation churches agreed with one voice that the sacrament of Baptism is the usual means of conveying grace to the believer.  Baptism when rightly administered and received actually and truly conveys the grace that it signifies.  Baptism signifies justification and regeneration, and thus it conveys justification and regeneration.  There is no other way of conveying these graces mentioned in the Bible, none at all.  This is why an unbaptised child dying in infancy cannot have any assurance of salvation.  God is able to save without baptism, as in the case of Abraham, and we affirm his freedom to do so, while at the same time pointing out that God has not given us freedom to assume or teach that anyone who dies unbaptised will be saved.

Paul believed in Christ on the Damascus Road, but he had to wait for his baptism to receive the remission of his sins:

Acts 22:16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

The purpose of this little article is not to prove the point, but to assert it.  Proof will have to wait for another day, or another publication.

Evangelicalism has at its heart an unbiblical doctrine of salvation.

Baptism is not Secondary

J.I. Packer has said that baptism is a secondary doctrine that should not separate evangelicals.  I think that he is right in terms of his own parameters.  Evangelicals have an unbiblical view of baptism, denying its efficacy to remove sins, and so, whether they practice covenant baptism or baptistic submersion, they are really on the same hymn sheet.

Evangelism is central to evangelicalism, and central to evangelism is the so-called conversion moment where an unbeliever makes a decision for Christ, or says the sinners’ prayer, or whatever particular thing it is that they call for.  Baptism has no connexion to this alleged conversion moment at all, according to the universal agreement of evangelical theology.

The Bible says otherwise on so many words.  The prophets and apostles teach us in plain words that baptism is for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The texts are so plain that disagreement cannot be permitted, because there is no common middle ground.  That baptism is for the remission of sins means that the evangelical model of conversion is wrong, un-Christian, and unbiblical.

Most people are converted when they are baptised.  Period.  Baptism is the conversion experience of the overwhelming majority of believers, with very few exceptions.

There are cases where baptised unbelievers come to faith, no question about it.  In many instances these are men who were brought to Christ at the font, and then spiritually abandoned by their parents.  They were not taught the faith, the commandments, or prayer.  They were plants left unwatered, and so their faith perished.

Later in life someone poured the water of the gospel into their ears, and the seed that was implanted in them by their baptism sprang back to life, and their baptism was completed and improved.

Conversions of unbaptised men are more rare, in my experience, and in the experience of the wider church.  By far the majority of church-goers are the children of church-goers. Where we need to do more thinking and reading is learning how to bring baptised unbelievers back to their ancestral faith.

In closing, then, baptism is central to the gospel, not secondary.  There is no room for disagreement here.  This position was shared by all the Reformers, Fathers, and Presbyterian and Continental Confessions – with no exceptions.

Baptism of Carl Frederick

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Carl Frederick, our fourth son, was baptized yesterday according to the BCP 1662.

Having come to a clear understanding of the ordinance over the past few years, and having escaped the evangelical/baptistic theology that I was taught, my wife and I were greatly blessed by our understanding of what God was doing by means of the “mystical washing”.

My point is that a right understanding of the grace of Baptism is a means whereby God increases our love and gratitude towards him. The sacraments are truly a means of grace, and not only towards those receiving them.