Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mike Horton on Reformed Baptists and Baptism

Recently I spent some time catching up on the back-log of White Horse Inn audio messages thiat are cluttering up my desk.  In particular I was struck by a clear answer given by Dr. Michael Scott Horton on the relationship between reformed churches (i.e. confessional churches) and reformed Baptists.  The setting for this exchange the Dallas Reformation Conference held at New St. Peter's Church (PCA) in Dallas, Texas in October 2010. 

Note:  I post this, not to stir up controvery or stoke divisions in the church.  Rather, I am posting this because I found it to be a thoughtful answer to a thorny question.

UPDATE:  You can listen to the clip  here:  Go to lecture #4, question and answer.  It is at the 44 minute mark.
Question: Okay, last one.  You could write an entire book on this one, so that’s why I’m closing with it.  What’s the difference between Reformed Churches and Reformed Baptists?  Can you explain the theological difference between the Reformed view of baptism and the Baptist view?  (I think that’s really the question).  Is it ecclesiastical or soteriological?

Horton’s Answer: First of all. We have so many things that we share in common that are wonderful, and I’m thrilled to see this new Calvinism where so many people who are not from a reformed or Presbyterian tradition are getting excited about the Doctrines of Grace at a time when some reformed and Presbyterian churches aren’t interested. That’s wonderful, heart-warming…keep coming (he chuckles).


At the same time it’s…in my humble view, reformed theology…well, it’s not my humble view, it’s our confessions. Reformed theology is not the Five Points of Calvinism. If it were, Thomas Aquinas would be a great Calvinist. Thomas Aquinas believed all of the Five Points of Calvinism, before it was called that. So did the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century, Thomas Bradwardine. So did Martin Luther’s mentor, Johannes von Staupitz – (he) argued for every one one of the five points before Luther ever came on the scene. But that’s not exhaustive of what it means to be ‘reformed.’

If you want to find out what ‘reformed’ is you’ve got go to our confessions. This is different from American evangelicalism. American evangelicalism creates celebrities, around whom people gravitate and say, “I’m that kind of an evangelical” or “I’m that kind of a reformed person.”


George Marsden has defined an evangelical as anyone who likes Billy Graham. Ah...”What’s a Roman Catholic?” (Answer) “Anybody who believes everything the church teaches.” We say, “A reformed Christian is someone who confesses the faith together with other Christians according to our confession.” Our confessions are summaries of the Bible, and so we believe them because we believe this is what the Bible teaches. It’s not their authority: it’s the Bible’s authority. It’s on the basis of the Bible’s authority that we believe that these confessions define what we mean by being reformed.


Baptism is not a secondary issue. Baptism is the second thing Jesus mentioned in the Great Commission. Now the subjects of baptism – who should be baptized – is not as important as baptism itself. But it is still not unimportant.



As reformed Christians we believe, it’s very important. A lot of non-reformed people believe baptism isn’t that important. And so it would stand to reason that we’re the belligerent ones, you know, who are saying that it’s because we think it is important that we baptize our children. And based on the clear promises of the Word of God in the sermon Peter that gave, he says, “The promise”…this is in Acts 2, the Pentecost sermon, “The promise is for you and for your children.” And right after he…talks about baptism - “What shall we do to be saved?” “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized for the remission of your sins. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

And so, just as Isaac and Ishmael were circumcised, Jacob and Esau were circumcised, but, Esau surrendered his birthright so too a Christian today can walk away from it. Hebrews 6 talks about people who’ve been once enlightened - being baptized. Who’ve tasted of the heavenly gift – the Lord’s Supper.  Been made partakers of the Holy Spirit and tasted of the powers of the Word of God and the coming age. And yet they fall away. Fall away from what? He says, “We have better confidence in your case, brothers, things that accompany salvation.”

So, you can be baptized, participate in the Holy Spirit through his community, and even taste of the powers of the age to come and the goodness of God and yet not really be saved. (And) because you’re a covenant child, you’re under greater judgment, a greater threat... There are greater promises in the New Covenant and greater judgments in the New Covenant than in the Old.

Then you have the example of household baptisms where children are also baptized, or the household – “He and his house” – “She and her house.” Paul refers to never having baptized except for the household of Stephanus. Really. No children in any of these households?

And our Baptist brothers and sisters will say, “Well the burden of proof is on you to show explicit commands to baptize children.” And we say, “No, the burden of proof is on you, with all due respect, to show how, in a ‘better covenant’, children are excluded when they were included under the Old Covenant.

And so, if Paul says in I Corinthians 7, that the children of believers, even of one believing parent are holy. What’s the sign and seal of that holiness? Baptism. And I just don’t think it was a big issue in the New Testament because, it was just assumed, especially by Jewish Christians whose children were included. And it wasn’t a big issue as early as the 2nd century: it was the normal practice and there never was a debate. (There was) debate on a lot of other stuff, but you would expect, if people were not baptized – children were not baptized in the New Testament, you would’ve expected an eruption of great controversy at least, when they started to be brought for baptism. But even Tertullian, who didn’t believe in infant baptism, said in the late 2nd century or early 3rd century, that it was wrong for the church to practice this widespread practice that was already true of all the churches of his day.”

Applause and the end of broadcast.

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3 comments:

Brad I. said...

Is it not found here?

Brad I. said...

Sorry - here's address:
http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2010/10/29/michael-horton-mp3s-reformation-conference-2010/

Dave Sarafolean said...

Brad,

Excellent! Thanks for the link. Under Session #4, Question and Answer, the question comes up at the 44 minute mark.

See, I am so behind that I didn't realize the whole thing was on-line. Sooner or later I'll get caught up.