Let me first say I have Presbyterian and other reformed friends. If someone was a “Presbyterian” undercover it’s not the same thing as saying they are secretly a vampire or strange being from another world. But Presbyterian churches act/function like Presbyterian and Baptists like Baptists. I think you get the point. And so if some Baptists want to reshape their churches into another tradition then something simply isn’t working right.
I stumbled upon a blog site by a Southern Baptist minister named Les Puryear. His blog (http://lesliepuryear.blogspot.com) recently dealing with Calvinism. Puryear has said that he is a Calvinist and yet he is not reformed. He believes that many Baptists in his denomination (SBC) are Calvinist but not necessarily Reformed and that it is the Reformed part that is causing the division in the SBC. As I discuss this please read my previous blog about not blasting those with disagree with as non-Christian. I believe we should talk about these issues but I by doing so I am not demeaning anyone out there.
Here is what I agree with Puryear. Historically Baptists have had many who were more Calvinist. Particular Baptists in England were Calvinist. Yet General Baptists were not. In the US there have been some who leaned more toward Calvinism and some who did not. And Calvinism has left an impact among many Baptists in various ways (eternal security, etc).
I would disagree with Puryear when he downplays the divisive nature of Calvinism theology. I believe if the average church member understood 5 point Calvinism they would find this quite negative and offensive.
Yet what I agree with Puryear is that not all Baptists who become 3 point or 5 point Calvinists go to the next step and embrace the Reformed category.
Puryear talks about how all Calvinists (5 point folks) agree on the theology regarding salvation but that the Reformed movement has more beliefs to it that he does not accept and feels are not Baptist. Many Baptists embracing Calvinism are becoming “Reformed Baptists” and forming Reformed churches.
What other changes does he mention? He lists the following:
1. Non-congregational polity
2. Liturgical-based worship
3. Societal giving
4. Calvinist in soteriology
5. Covenant theology
7. no “invitation” at the end of worship service
Puryear seems to only accept number 4. He believes the other categories are beliefs that ministers are accepting that are destroying churches.
I believe Non-Congregational Polity is not Baptist and those who accept Reformed styles of church life tend to move to a elder led church and I agree this is destructive. I heard a Calvinist minister of music casually talk about how his church struggled over the elders and pastors all running the church and how the pastor didn’t want the elders to run it with him and now they do. I was shocked. Running the church? What? A Baptist church is congregational and the members all have a voice and vote. A group or person does not ‘run’ the church! I find this change of government by “Reformed” type Baptists is destroying churches. I heard one pastor tell his church that having elders is not Baptist but they needed to do it anyway. Wow!
What about liturgical based worship? This refers to churches that follow the Lectionary and the seasons of the church (Advent, Lent, etc). I admit historically Baptists tended to be more ‘free church worship’ and did not follow a set pattern of worship. Yet Baptists have traditionally celebrated Easter and Christmas. Most Baptist churches tend to set their own ‘liturgy’ of worship. I know many non-Calvinist Baptists follow the liturgy as well. It is popular now in Calvinist and non-Calvinist circles. Since Baptists have never had ‘one’ way of worship Baptists are free to be liturgical or more not. There was no such thing as ‘contemporary’, ‘blended,’ or any of these other styles 400 years ago either and Baptists do those as well. The Baptist way of worship is for the local church to set her course. So I don’t find this one as destructive.
Societal Giving. I disagree with Puryear on this one as well. This is just a way to give. Baptists used to follow the Society model and give to independent organizations for missions, resources etc. Early in the 20th century the Cooperative Program (a place where money is pooled and those institutions get a portion) was devised. Southern Baptists didn’t have a Cooperative Program always and other Baptists don’t have this program. Yet it might be divisive in SBC churches I suspect but I don’t call this non-Baptist. I would argue being anti-mission is anti-Baptist and yet there have been such movements in Baptist life and have faced heavy resistance.
What about Calvinism in soteriology (doctrine of salvation)? Again Baptists have been and have not been. Puryear is and has no problem with it. I do not accept Calvinism but realize some Baptists are and some aren’t. But I also know how destructive it has been historically to missions. I have other issues but I’ve written about this elsewhere.
What about Covenant theology and paedobaptism (infant baptism)? I tied these two together. Basically covenant theology to Puryear (which he rejects) is seeing all members of the family as being in covenant or part of the church. He believes the next step is infant baptism. Obviously Baptists are not baptizing infants but logically why would a Reformed Baptist not do this? This is the reason for my title. I’ll come back to this later. Yet many Baptists who say they are not Calvinist are baptizing children way to young and may not do infant baptism but do preschool baptism. Believer’s Baptism was held for 400 years by Baptists to say each person must choose for himself and then be baptized. Yet I can see that this is the logical step for Calvinism.
What about not having altar calls? I don’t think one is non-Baptist by not having these. I can see why Calvinists might do away with them and yet I know altar calls only go back to the 1800s. Yet the major concern I have is evangelism. I offer an altar call and believe it is a good response in worship and yet I know it is not the only way we did it. The concern again is evangelism. Calvinism in purest form seems to lessen evangelism historically.
And what about creeds? Baptists are non Creedal. I find it interesting that a supporter of the SBC would bring this one up. The SBC has many non-Calvinists who are creedal! The Baptist Faith and Message is becoming a creed to Baptists and this violates who we are historically. The Reformed crowd will really support this and I do believe this is dangerous.
Back to my title. Is it possible that some Baptists have taken the step from Calvinism to moving into a Reformed theology that while part of the Christian family is not Baptist? Perhaps they are no longer Baptist! Maybe they are really more Presbyterian! Again this isn’t the same as being Buddhist! But if we carry a name we should be who we say we are. If a Presbyterian pastor became Baptist in conviction it would not be fair for that pastor to impose his new beliefs on the church.
So I find that I agree this Reformed movement is growing in some Baptist circles. And this is a shame. Puryear is right that this is divisive and most church members don’t realize this means a change in church polity and procedure and will lead to chaos. Baptists tend to operate as Baptists in the local church. We are brothers in sister in faith with those in various Reformed denominations. Yet each denomination has determined how to lead in their churches and we should be true to our heritage. This is integrity!
Baptist churches do not have elders or any other group ‘running the church.’ We are congregational. Baptists are non-creedal. If a church wants to reshape itself into being non-Baptist then do so but be honest with yourself and with others. The biggest issue is when a pastor or a small group wants to reshape that church into something else without being upfront about it.
And so I agree with Puryear that the Reformed camp has major conflicts with Baptist identity (we do differ on some of the issues). Yet I believe his Calvinism views are still an issue to many Baptists. I believe the Calvinism issue if clearly explained to Baptist churches will lead many to shock. There are those who would love to become 5 point Calvinists I’m sure. But as someone who grew up Baptist I believe that dog wouldn’t hunt in most churches.