• The Reformed Baptist Movement

If one subscribes to sovereign grace with Baptist convictions, it is assumed he/she by default is a Reformed Baptist. It is then assumed a Reformed Baptist is another name for the historic group of churches known as the Particular Baptists. Henceforth, the appellations Reformed and Particular are used interchangeably, the legacy of the latter being subsumed by the identity of the former. However, according to Dr. Kenneth Dix, then Chairman for the Strict Baptist Historical Society, the Reformed Baptist movement emerged during the 1950’s, distinguished by teachings which differ from the Particular Baptists.

The Origin Of The Reformed Baptist Movement

Dr. Dix traced the origin of the Reformed Baptist movement to September 1955, with the first publication of the Banner of Truth Magazine. This magazine was started by Sidney Norton, the minister of St John’s Church, Oxford, and his ministerial assistant, Iain Murray. In 1956, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones invited Iain to serve as his assistant at Westminister Chapel, London. He held this post for three years, during which time the Banner of Truth Trust was organized. The purpose of the Trust was to republish out-of-print Reformed and Puritan books. This ministry grew quickly, with book sales reaching forty countries. During the late 1960’s, a Banner of Truth Trust office was opened in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA. Of course, Martyn and Iain were not Baptists, and therefore their interests rested squarely on the “Reformed” tradition of church history.

On July 22, 1957, The Banner of Truth Trust was registered as a non-profit charity, the trust deed stating: “The object of the Charity is to promote in such parts of the world as the Trustees may decide the better knowledge and understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith as taught by the Protestant Reformers and English Puritans.” It should be noted, aside from the out-of-print books belonging to the Protestant Reformers and the English Puritans were also the hidden treasures of the Particular Baptists. However, the Trust was not interested “to promote the doctrines of the Christian faith as taught by the” Particular Baptists.

In addition to the publication of Protestant Reformed writings and the English Puritans, the Banner of Truth began hosting Minister conferences in the early 1960’s. Youth conferences followed during the 1970’s. These conferences were soon attended by large numbers of Calvinistic Baptists, who were drawn together by the resurgence of sovereign grace literature. The void of Baptist resources was easily filled by the plethora of Protestant books, which eventually led to the strange teachings (from a Baptist perspective) of the Reformed Baptist movement.

Simultaneous with the Banner of Truth publications and conferences was the start of another magazine called Reformation Today. It was founded in 1970 by Erroll Hulse, a friend of Iain Murray and the first manager of the Banner of Truth Trust between 1957 and 1967. Deeply influenced by Protestantism, Erroll adopted a number of views differing from his Particular Baptist counterparts, thus introducing a new branch of Baptist churches. Indeed, Erroll is one of the pioneering pastors of the Reformed Baptist movement.

The far reaching influence of The Banner of Truth Trust and the Reformation Today magazine during the 20th and 21st centuries cannot be denied or underestimated. Alister McGrath, in his biography of J. I. Packer, speaks of the “revival in Puritan spirituality that had been borne aloft on the wings of Banner of Truth’s inexpensive paperbacks.” Curt Daniel, in his History and Theology of Calvinism, describes the Reformation Today magazine as “the unofficial organ of the Reformed Baptists.” Without question, the publications and the conferences of these organizations gave rise to the Reformed Baptist movement, the teachings of which lean heavily on Protestantism, rather than the distinguished doctrines, history and legacy of the Particular Baptists.

My Journey Of Grace With The Lord

I was converted to Christ at the age of eight and became a member of a Strict and Particular Baptist church in London, England. Historically, the chapel belonged to the 19th century high-Calvinist circle of churches. However, by the 1980’s, it had adopted a moderate view of sovereign grace, subscribing to the doctrines of Duty Faith, the Free Offer and Law Sanctification. I was appointed the Pastor of this church at the age of twenty-two. For the first ten years of my ministry, I nurtured views similar to those under which I had been taught and trained for the gospel ministry. However, I never identified as a Reformed Baptist, neither did I refer to the church under my care by that name. Even though we and the Reformed Baptists shared similar views on moderate-Calvinism, it was quite clear, having been brought up in a Strict and Particular Baptist church, that the Reformed Baptists were not in alignment with that circle of churches. First, they held strong Protestant (rather than Baptist) views on the nature and function of the church. For instance, they opened the communion table to a wider group of recipients, replaced the Pastor with a plural eldership and pledged allegiance to local associations and elder fraternals, all of which resembled a Presbyterian style governance. Second, most (though not all) abandoned the Authorized Version of the Scriptures, believing certain modern translations to be the most reliable (or more readable) Bibles. On both issues, that of the church and of the Scriptures, I felt the Reformed Baptists had lost their way, imbibing teachings which undermined the authority of the church and the integrity of the Scriptures. In addition, I was quite concerned with the way the Reformed Baptists were conducting themselves. They were obviously a new group of Baptists, holding views which differed significantly from the Strict and Particular Baptists, yet instead of organizing new churches around their teachings, they sought to “reform” the Strict and Particular Baptist churches. Many of the historic chapels were commandered by the Reformed Baptists. It was not a difficult task ‘reforming’ these churches, for the congregations were relatively small in number. Eventually, the name ‘Particular’ was replaced with ‘Grace’, and thus emerged the Grace Baptist churches of England. Putting these observations and concerns to the side, it wasn’t until the eleventh year of my pastorate that I came to embrace sharper views of sovereign grace, leading to an understanding and conviction in high-Calvinism. It was then that the church I pastored returned to her roots, subscribing once again to the high-Calvinistic views around which she had been organized in the 19th century. It was also at that time the fallacy of the Reformed Baptists came into full view, which only confirmed my earlier observations—they are an entirely separate group from the Strict and Particular Baptists.

Here are ten reasons I am not a Reformed Baptist.

1. The Reformed Baptist Teachings Are A Protestant Interpretation Of Baptist Ecclesiology.

Strict Baptists maintain (1) the church is by nature a local and visible body of baptized believers, (2) the polity is congregational, with the oversight of a bishop, assisted by deacons, (3) and the Lord’s Table is restricted to those in membership with the local assembly. Reformed Baptists, however, (1) emphasize a…

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The sermons from which this tract sprang were preached to the Grace Baptist Church of Danville in Danville, Kentucky – USA, November 2, 1997 by Pastor Don Fortner. The tract is taken directly from the pastor’s sermon notes, with as few changes as possible. It was intended for our congregation, and is offered to the public only because of numerous requests that it be put into print. Tapes of the original messages preached in Danville are available.

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” – Colossians 2:8

We are warned repeatedly to beware of false religion, false doctrine, and false prophets. Here Paul urges us to beware of those who would spoil us through the deceitful religious philosophies and traditions of men, particularly those who would bring us back under the rudiments of the world, that is to say, those who would make us subservient to carnal ceremonialism, sacramentalism, and legalism.

This warning is given and given repeatedly because we are all naturally prone to idolatry and works religion. Did you ever notice how often in the Old Testament the Lord warned those who worshipped him that they must never, at any time or for any reason, put their hands upon those things which typified our Lord Jesus Christ and his great work of redemption? (Read Exodus 20:25-26, Numbers 5:15, Deuteronomy 27:5, Joshua 8:30-31, 1 Kings 6:7, 1 Chronicles 13:9-10)

These numerous warnings are not given merely to fill up space. The altars and sacrifices by which the holy Lord God allowed men to worship him in the typical, ceremonial dispensation of the law were all typical of our Lord Jesus Christ and God’s free grace salvation in him. For a man to lift up his tool upon any of them, or to mix something of his own with them was, ceremonially, a total denial of the gospel of Christ represented in them. Therefore, when Uzza reached out his hand to steady the ark of God, he presumed to declare that God’s Son and God’s salvation were in some way, or to some degree, dependent upon him. For that God killed him.

Nothing has changed. Anyone who presumes that God’s salvation, that the work of the Lord Jesus Christ is in some way, or to some degree dependent upon and determined by the will, work, and worth of man denies the gospel of Christ altogether. For that he shall be forever damned. It is for this reason that I have written this tract. In all that is herein set forth, I trust that our all glorious Christ is honored and his people served.

There is one form of religion that is even more subtle than Arminianism and just as deadly, one form of religion which more subtly promotes the mixture of works with grace than any other. That is what men call Reformed Theology, or the Reformed Faith, or Reformed Doctrine. I am fully aware that those who call themselves Reformed profess to believe the doctrines of grace:

• Salvation By Grace Alone.
• Divine Predestination.
• Total Depravity.
• Unconditional Election.
• Particular Redemption.
• Effectual Grace.
• Perseverance of the Saints.

I also realize that the Reformed faith has become very popular, especially among smug religious people who think of themselves as academically superior intellectuals. I am fully aware that in publishing this message, I will incur the wrath of many. Be that as it may, this message has been on my heart and mind for the past several months. It must be delivered. My concern is for you for whom I am responsible before God. I am concerned for the welfare of your souls. My concern is for the glory of God and the gospel of his free and sovereign grace in Christ.

Everywhere I go, I hear people talk about the Reformed Faith. Those who do, usually talk more, much more, about the Reformed Faith, the reformers, the Reformation, and the Puritans than they do about the Bible, the grace of God, or Christ. I am weary of it. I want you to understand at the outset that we (The men and women of Grace Baptist Church of Danville) are not Protestants. We are not reformed. We are Baptists. Baptists are not, never have been, and simply cannot be either Protestant or reformed.

When I speak of Reformed Doctrine, the Reformed Faith, or Reformed Theology, I am basically talking about Presbyterianism as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith. In recent years a denomination has arisen called Reformed Baptists. In reality, for the most part, they are not Baptists at all, but just dunking Presbyterians. They hold to reformed theology in all areas except baptism.

As you know, we have no confession of faith but the Word of God, no creed but Holy Scripture. I do not say that with any superficial air of superiority, but simply as a matter of fact. Our only rule of faith and practice is the Word of God. However, as I said, this message has been on my mind a good bit lately. So for the past several weeks I have been carefully studying those confessions of faith most commonly accepted as the doctrinal standards of both Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists: The Westminster Confession and The 1689 Baptist Confession. You will be shocked to discover the heresies cleverly packaged in them. I am bringing this message to you because these things are not matters of indifference. They are matters vital to the gospel.

Be sure you understand the importance of never mixing grace and works, at any point. Any teaching that mixes, to any degree or at any point, the grace of God and the works of man in the affair of salvation totally denies salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Rom. 11:6).

NOTE: Before I proceed further, let me clarify one thing. I know that there are some Presbyterians and some Reformed Baptists who may not fit the mold presented in these confessions. If so, I am not talking about them. I am talking about those who believe the heresies I am about to discuss.

I want to show you five subtle heresies of reformed doctrine. I will not build a straw man, just to knock him down. I leave that deceitful practice to others. I will give you their own words from their own confessions, in the context and order in which they are given. As I said before, Reformed Baptists are really just ducking Presbyterians. They would really like to be Presbyterians. They just cannot find a way to justify infant baptism. In fact, the 1689 confession of faith adopted by the Reformed Baptists of our day is almost identical with the Westminster Confession (1646), except on the subject of Baptism.

Generally, I prefer to deal with things from a positive position. Rather than pointing out what is wrong with this doctrine or that, I prefer simply to declare the truth of the gospel. But, as our Lord warned of the Nicolaitanes, and Paul warned against Judaizers, it is sometimes necessary to identify heresy and heretics with specific clarity, so that you will know exactly what I am talking about. Here are the five heresies of reformed doctrine about which you must be warned. When you lay this tract down, I want you to know precisely why we refuse to practice these things, believe them, or participate in any way with those who do.

1 The Heresy of Necessary Consequence
2 The Heresy of Conditional Grace
3 The Heresy of Self-Righteous Assurance
4 The Heresy of Legalism
5 The Heresy of Sacramentalism

The Heresy of Necessary Consequence

Perhaps you are scratching your heads, saying, “What on earth is the heresy of necessary consequence?” It is the doctrine which says that the Bible alone is our only rule of faith and practice, that is to say, that which is written in the Bible and that which is logically and rationally deduced from the Bible. This is the first great error of Protestant theology. The Reformers retained this little bit of Romanism which led to the retention of much more.

In the 1689 Baptist Confession we read, “The sum total of God’s revelation concerning all things essential to His own glory, and to the salvation and faith and life of men, is either explicitly set down or implicitly contained in the Holy Scripture.” In other words, God’s Word must be supplemented by our reason and logic to determine our faith and practice!

The Westminster Confession is even more specific. “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”

It is this doctrine of necessary consequence which allows churches and preachers to devise their own creeds and confessions and causes them to hold their creeds and confessions above the Scriptures, making void the Word of God by their traditions!

This doctrine of Necessary Consequence is not something considered insignificant to reformed theologians. It is vigorously defended by them in every age. Without it, the whole system would collapse. Those who reject it are ridiculed as being…

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The Reformed Baptists have more in common with Presbyterianism, than their Particular Baptist brethren. Those who believe themselves to be aligned with the history and heritage of the Particular Baptists are either ill informed or historically and doctrinally dishonest.

The Particular Baptists emerged in England during the 17th century and continue as a distinct grouping of churches to this day, whereas the Reformed Baptists emerged in England during the 20th century with divergent teachings.

The Particular Baptists retain their identity and legacy through historic churches that have never amalgamated with other groups, whereas the Reformed Baptists have either hijacked many of these historic chapels or branded modern churches with the name, thereby seizing that identity and appropriating their legacy.

The Particular Baptists sought to distinguish themselves from Presbyterianism, whereas the Reformed Baptists seek to conform themselves to it.

The Particular Baptists continued to “reform” their teachings on sovereign grace and the covenants during the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas the Reformed Baptists believe all “reforms” ended in 1689 with the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.

The Particular Baptists are authentically and unapologetically sovereign grace Baptists, whereas the Reformed Baptists are sheepish congregationalists and befuddled sovereign gracers.

I served for twenty years as the pastor of a historic Particular Baptist church in London, England. If you are a Reformed Baptist, curious to explore the history and the teachings of the Particular Baptists, then may I suggest you speak to those who belong to that circle of historic churches?

Jared Smith

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