The Difference Between Calvinism and Reformed
This Sermon was presented at Redeemer Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia on Sunday evening, July 13, 2003.
Greetings from the Trinity Reformed Baptist Church.
One of the things that has really burdened me over the past, I would say, six months is an issue that I hear coming up quite frequently among other reformed pastors as they talk about their congregations and as I hear people in these congregations talking about friends of theirs and other pastors that they know. And the issue is this: the difference between being Calvinistic and being reformed. I’m standing here this evening as a person who’s spent four to six years perhaps being Calvinistic but not Reformed. I’ve come to believe that this is a huge distinction that needs to be made. We need to understand as Reformed congregations what this means because there are a growing number of pastors, for instance, who are claiming to be Calvinistic but when you go to their churches, the church is anything but reformed. Often the pastor is anything but reformed. If we’re going to be truly Reformed congregations in the historic sense of that word, we need to have a handle on what that is. Now I know that in doing this I run the risk of being repetitious. I have no doubt but that pastor Freel has mentioned a number of these things in the past to you and perhaps even recently but it’s a burning thing with me and so if you’ll bear with me if this is repetitious and just consider that it’s in God’s good Providence that you hear it again and we’ll go with it.
I used to be one who thought that being Reformed meant holding to the Five Points of Calvinism as explained by the acrostic T.U.L.I.P.; Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the Saints. I came out of seminary holding to those five things. I didn’t go to a Reformed theological seminary. So it was only by God’s grace that he put me in touch with a few students at the seminary who held to these things. They challenged me. One was my first year Greek teacher. He was a doctoral student and we’re still very good friends. He’s actually an editor at the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. So there are some good men in some of those high places. He was extremely instrumental. Another fellow who was instrumental in my pilgrimage was Dr. Tom Nettles. You may know Tom Nettles from the Founders Ministries. He is Professor of Historical Theology at Southern Seminary, a true friend in this journey and in this issue of the Doctrines of Grace.
So I came out of seminary, I think I mentioned this morning in our Bible study time, Calvinistic but also had majored in church growth. I had taken every church growth class the seminary had to offer. I came out of seminary with this burning desire to grow a “mega church”. I was going to be the pastor, at least by the time I was 42, of a church running 1000-3000 people. I have failed miserably. However, I stand before you as one who is completely liberated and I couldn’t care a flip about any of that. And that’s by God’s grace. It’s an amazing, liberating discovery when you discover that this issue of true conversion and church growth is in God’s hands, not yours. And you don’t have to fabricate things; you don’t have to manipulate people to grow a great church. You just preach the Gospel faithfully and God’s going to give conversions as he wills and you just be content and leave it in his hands. You see, that’s part of what it means to be reformed instead of just simply being Calvinistic.
It’s my contention that we can be Calvinistic and not Reformed but we can’t be reformed and not be Calvinistic. But my hearts desire is that we be Reformed. So we’re going to be Calvinistic if we’re Reformed but, additionally, there are going to be certain things true of us as individuals and true of us as a Church that are going to mark out what a Reformed congregation is.
If you have you’re Bibles, and I trust that you do, I would be disappointed if you didn’t. I’m sure Eric would be very disappointed if you came without your Sword. I know you have it. Turn to 2nd Timothy, Chapter 3, a very familiar passage. Paul is writing to his young protégé in the faith, Timothy. Timothy is a disciple of Paul’s, a young man training for the ministry. He is a young man who, at this particular point in his life, is a pastor but very young in the ministry.Paul is encouraging him. He’s charging Timothy concerning the preaching of the Word, concerning the Word of God. And he is warning Timothy that there’s coming a day when many men will not put up with sound teaching. And he says in verse 16…
16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God…
Now who is the “man of God” in this passage? Typically you hear it taught that the man of God is any Christian and by extension what’s true of the man of God could be true of any Christian but in this context, Paul, by referring to the man of God, is using a technical phrase that refers to the pastor, the one who is charged by the Church to stand before the Church and preach and teach the Word of God. This man, by the Word of God, is “thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
To what kind of work is he referring? He is referring to every kind of good work relating to the life of the Church and the ministry. In other words the man of God, Timothy, as he’s called to pastor this Church, has everything necessary, in the Old Testament and in whatever writings he has available to him at this point and in the message of the Apostles, for his work.He is lacking in nothing.
When we ask the question, what distinguishes one from being simply Calvinistic versus one being reformed I think this is where we have to begin. A Calvinist can hold to the authority of scripture and believe that the scripture is inerrant but he may not necessarily believe that the scripture is truly sufficient for everything that God has called him to do and everything that God has called the Church to do and to be.
You see the great reformers and our Puritan forefathers were adamant that, in the Word of God was everything necessary for both life and the practice of ministry. We were lacking in nothing. There was nothing really that the sciences could teach us about what God had called the Church to do. There was nothing that sociology, psychology and all those other sciences — they have their proper places but they have nothing to contribute when we ask the question, “Lord, what shall the Church be and do?” The Word of God is sufficient for that. If you were to go into a pastor’s library and look at what is on the shelf and if you see all kinds of books on leadership and Church growth and sociology and psychology you might want to take note of that because there’s a good possibility that, at some point along the way, he has adopted a notion that the Bible is insufficient as a textbook for Church growth; that the Bible is insufficient as a textbook concerning what the Church is called to be and to do.
You see, what marks a truly Reformed Christian and a truly Reformed pastor and a truly Reformed Church is that these people hold that the Bible is not just authoritative, not just inerrant but thoroughly sufficient for what God has called us to do.
Now that is, today, a revolutionary idea. Because, you see, if the Bible is sufficient, if it is adequate to equip us for everything that God has called us to do and to be in terms of the Church and it’s ministry and it’s life then we need to pay attention to it. We need to take it seriously. What ought to be in our libraries are more books on scripture and theology and less books on leadership and sociology and psychology. You see our heart is where our treasure is and vice versa. But if the Bible is sufficient we’re going to pay attention to it if that’s our conviction.
Now I mentioned this one first because now everything else I want to say flows from that first assertion. If the Bible is sufficient and we believe that firmly then we are going to plant ourselves in the Word of God and derive our marching orders from the scriptures irrespective of the cost, no matter what men may say. What does Paul go on to say?
2nd Timothy chapter 4
1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead…
What a powerful and profound thing to say.
…and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the Word…
If it is sufficient, preach it.
2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season…
Now my assumption is that what he means by that is when it’s popular and when it’s not. I’ve heard a lot of lofty explanations for what this means but that’s a simple explanation for what this is referring to.
…correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
The Word of God is central to everything that we are and we dare not begin to think that somehow the Word of God is inadequate to give us all that we need. So, again, everything I’m about to say flows from that.
The next place we want to go in terms the essentials of a Reformed congregation, of what marks a Church as being reformed is a great recognition that everything that we are and do is to be directed to the glory of God. It is about our Father and his Son and the Work of the Spirit. It is about God’s glory.
You see I imagine that every reasonably good Baptist would say, “Well of course it’s all about God’s glory.” It’s one thing to say it. It’s another thing to really think through the implications of that statement. You see if my ministry, my congregation in Griffin and your congregation in Macon, if everything we do is to honor and glorify God then it’s not about Church growth but it’s about God’s glory. You see if my main agenda is Church growth then the means to that end might be less than what is Biblical.Because, you see, growth is what I’m about. So I might be prepared to compromise here or there. I might be willing to try some outlandish means to accomplish that end. But if my end, my goal, my desire is to glorify God then whatever means I choose, I’m going to make sure I’m choosing means which glorify and honor God. If I have to select a particular approach to ministry that is not honoring and glorifying to God then what is growth in light of that? It’s nothing. It’s not growth that glorifies and honors God. So this matter of the glory of God is not just some academic issue. It’s incredibly relatable to all that we do. If in everything we do we ask ourselves, “Is this honoring and glorifying to God?” it makes a difference in what we do. Doesn’t it? It makes a huge difference in all that we do. It makes a difference in how we worship, in how we evangelize, in how we do any number of Church related activities. The glory of God is a huge issue for us.
Furthermore, the sovereignty of God is a huge issue for us as Reformed Churches. It’s interesting that when you talk about the sovereignty of God to many people they agree that God is sovereign but then you have to ask them to define what sovereignty means. “Oh, he’s the king of the universe.” Well, what does that mean? And after they begin to define it further you begin to realize that God is not sovereign in their scheme at all. Instead man is sovereign in their scheme and God is a supernatural being who is available to meet their needs but really man is sovereign. Not so for us as Reformed congregations. And by the way any of these things that we’re mentioning here in our sin and in our tendency to devolve we can depart from some of these things. So this is a good prescription for us. We must keep these things ever before us.
The sovereignty of God is an issue. You know people ask me, “What is Calvinism about?” It’s not about election. You realize that. Election is, in some respects, a minor point of Calvinism. The major issue is the sovereignty of God. It just so happens that God is not only sovereign as creator but he’s also the sovereign redeemer. He’s sovereign in all areas.And so the sovereignty of God is the big issue for us. It’s the issue from which everything else in theology flows.
So truly we make a big deal out of the sovereignty of God, now not to the neglect of the responsibility of man. Never. We are not fatalists. We clearly believe that human decisions are meaningful and they are real and they make a difference. Why do we believe that? Because that’s what the Bible teaches. Never do we assume that God is somehow diminished in his rule and authority and sovereignty over the universe because man is responsible.
I remember when 9/11 occurred. It’s interesting that we refer to that awful event as just 9/11. But I say that and you all know immediately what I’m referring too. Were you as perplexed as I was by some of the well-meaning evangelical responses to that event? God had nothing to do with this. This was evil, evil men acting in their free will. Now wait a minute.These are hardcore evangelicals saying this kind of thing. Where was God if God had nothing to do with this? Were his hands tied? Does somehow man’s free will limit God’s sovereignty? No. God’s sovereignty in some sense, in some how or another limits man’s free will, not the other way around. That’s what we recognize as reform congregations. Clearly God had something to do with it. Now we may not understand all of God’s purposes in that event but my Bible says that the kings heart is in the hand of the Lord and He turns it anyway he desires (Proverbs 21:1). If God had not wanted that event to happen, it would not have happened. Imagine this, God subservient to man’s evil free will, what a travesty. As Reformed congregations we would reject that notion. We would hold firmly that God is sovereign, that he is in control of all things and that colors all of our theology.
Furthermore, reform congregations hold to and cherish a notion known as Christian liberty and freedom of conscience. Now sometimes you find Baptist groups who champion this idea but when you begin to uncover what many Christians mean by it, what they really mean is nobody can tell me what to believe. Often you find heretics are big friends of liberty of conscience because they don’t want to have anybody calling them into account for their heretical ideas or beliefs. True reform Christians don’t take this concept in that sense, per se. But instead, the issue of Christian liberty, particularly related to the matter of worship during the reformation and during the Puritan era when the Westminster confession was formed and the London Baptist confession was modeled after the Westminster confession and the Savoy declaration and you perhaps have heard of some of these great statements of faith, some of these confessions of faith.
If you’ve ever noticed, the statement on Christian liberty is back-to-back with the statement on the regulative principle of worship. There’s a reason for that. One flows naturally from the other. You see, what the reformers were concerned about was that the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages had placed all kinds of worship type obligations on God’s people. The reformers were intent on freeing God’s people from all the things which God had not commanded. Be it in worship or in life. If God didn’t say it, we don’t worry about it. In other words if the Church had prohibited something and God had not prohibited it, then it was wrong for men, no matter how great a religious authority or leader they might be, to bind another man’s conscience where God had not bound that conscience. So in worship Calvin would have said the Church has no right or authority to make me responsible to do in worship what God has not prescribed in worship.Additionally, all the other rules and regulation the Church has imposed upon the community of faith are bogus. They have no place in the Christian life. If God says this is what you need to do, then you do it. If God says don’t do this then we don’t do it. But the Church nor the pastor nor any individual has the authority, the right to impose where God has not imposed, to forbid where God has not forbidden, to command where God has not commanded.
One of the things that I find amazing today is that, in many Churches that are what I call doctrinally light Churches where theological truth and doctrinal truth are rarely mentioned, they can be amazingly strict in the area of ethics. And half of what they propagate has no basis in Scripture what so ever. Instead, it’s cultural and traditional taboo. We discovered this in a stark way when we moved to Australia to teach in the theological college there suddenly we were confronted with great Christians who were different from us in some of their social activities. We were blown away. We had only been there a couple of weeks and one of the students in the college and his wife had invited us after Church to a local restaurant. This was like a Sunday night and, I don’t remember but I think one of them was celebrating a birthday and we were sitting in this restaurant celebrating his birthday and the next thing you know here comes the champagne. Now wait a minute, I’m a Southern Baptist. And what do you do? Well, it occurred to me, this is not Georgia. This is Australia and in that culture there was no problem with that sort of thing. We had to learn that there’s a difference between what our religious culture may say versus what God’s word may say. One of the things I was really convicted about is that, in the south, Christians are very prone to take the Lord’s name in vain not even realizing it. You know something happens and you say, “Oh, Lord.” And the Australian Christians just cringe when they hear that sort of thing. Now who’s the more spiritual here? You see, at least they’re paying attention to one of the Commandments whereas many of us in the south are paying more attention to what some well meaning preachers have thought would be good for us but God has never said anything about.
Now our Confession of Faith, in that same vein, goes on to say that this idea of Christian liberty is never to be misconstrued as a license to sin. So reform congregations often seem radical to others because we don’t impose this fence around God’s law like the Pharisees did, trying to keep people from being evil. We trust God’s word, that it’s sufficient. Remember the sufficiency of Scripture. We don’t need to come behind God’s word and create all kinds of additional taboos or restrictions or impositions. God’s word is sufficient.
Well, Christian liberty, as I said, naturally flows on to another essential of a Reformed congregation and that is the regulative principle of worship.Now I know you’re familiar with this idea. That is we are to worship in the way God has prescribed. We have no right to go beyond what God has prescribed. You know the average Baptist does not understand why Baptist worship is relatively simple compared to say Catholic worship, Episcopalian worship or even Lutheran worship. What they don’t understand is that in our tradition as Baptists going all the way back to our English founding fathers in the Particular Baptist denomination there, that association, going back to the Puritans and even on back to Calvin, is that there is this understanding that God has the authority; he has the prerogative to determine what it is we are to do in worship and no one else can do that. We are not free to take away nor are we free to add.
And of course as a model for what not to do we’ve often pointed to that tragic story in the Old Testament where Aaron’s two sons thought about adding “strange fire” (Leviticus 10: 1-2). We have no idea what this “strange fire” was but that’s irrelevant. That is superfluous to the issue. It was something added, you see. It wasn’t something that they took away.They just thought it would be neat to add something. We don’t know what their motives might have been. Perhaps they thought to themselves, “You know worship is getting a little boring. You know if we just added this then perhaps more people would attend worship and find worship more exciting.” Maybe I’m guilty of reading contemporary motives into these two men. Who knows? Their motive is really not important. What’s important is to recognize what they did. The added to what God had prescribed. And what did God do? He killed them. That’s not a politically correct God. That’s not a tame, domesticated deity. That’s a pretty wild thing. He killed them.And what did he say to Moses? He said, “You tell the people I will be hallowed among the people.” What an awesome thing. “My name will be hallowed” (Leviticus 10: 3). In other words, I will be worshiped and honored as I have prescribed and in no other way.
And that principle follows throughout Scripture so that when we come to the New Covenant, we are careful still to pay attention to what God has prescribed in worship. And why is Baptist worship simple? Why has it been historically simple? Because, taking our cues from Scripture (remember it is sufficient), Scripture outlines only a handful of things in worship. What are they? Preaching the Word, singing, praying, public reading of Scripture, and then there’s some question as to whether or not giving is an actual element, it is something we are commanded to do so perhaps we are on safe ground including it as an element of worship, that’s about it. Have I left one out? Of course, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
You hear the objections. “Oh, that’s all we do. That will be boring.” Now let’s look at that objection just very quickly. Let me ask you a question. If this is what God has prescribed in worship and we find that limiting and boring, who has the problem? Has God not foreseen our needs? Is God somehow inadequate in his understanding of what the human heart needs in the worship of God? No. I can assure you that if we find that boring then the problem lies with us. Let me tell you what the old saints would do if they got to a point where they were finding worship boring. They would say, “We must have a controversy with the Holy Spirit.” And they would seek God’s face until they felt like they had gotten right with God and could enjoy worship once again. You know what we’re inclined to do today if we find worship boring? We adjust the worship. You see every time we attempt to adjust the worship, we are failing to do what is so essential which is to adjust our hearts. When a man or woman in our Church says to me, “I find that boring”, it breaks my heart not because I’m afraid we’re doing something wrong but because I’m standing before a heart that is wrong but doesn’t even know it. He or she thinks the problem lies outside of them.The problem lies with the Church. No. The Reformed congregation is reformed in its worship in that it holds strongly this idea that God’s Word is to be honored in worship in that no thing, nothing can be added to worship and nothing can be taken away but just as God has prescribed it.
Well, naturally that leads us to say something about the priority of preaching in Reformed congregations. As churches depart from the regulative principle of worship, these days anyway, often the first thing to go is the preaching of the Word. That doesn’t mean that a man doesn’t stand up behind a pulpit and speak, but it means that the preaching of the Word often suffers. Reformed congregations, remember are those who believe the Word of God is sufficient. It is sufficient to convert men’s souls. And it is sufficient to sanctify men’s souls. We don’t need anything else. The Bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing what?Hearing the Word, the message of the Gospel. (Romans 10:17) This is God’s ordained means of both saving and sanctifying His people.
Our problem today is we don’t believe that works anymore. And so we diminish the preaching of the Word and look toward other means which God has not promised to bless. Now you know God is such a great God and he is a good God and he’s a forgiving God. Surely God has blessed other means in his mercy toward us. But God has not promised to do that. But God has promised to bless his ordained means.
Are you interested to hear all of the talk these days about experiencing God? One of the publishing arms of the Southern Baptist Convention has made millions of dollars off of a series of books on experiencing God. And there’s a never-ending stream of books about experiencing God. Everybody wants to experience God. Well it’s a real simple thing. We make it so difficult. There are two means of experiencing God, the Word and the sacraments. Those are God’s ordained means of experiencing Him. And they both work in basically the same way. One is a verbal presentation of the Gospel. Christianity, let’s deal with it, is a Word based religion. And that’s how God has designed it. He’s just done it that way. He could have, perhaps, done it other ways but this is what he’s decided to do and this is how he’s done it and this is what we have. And the sacraments.
When we get ready to observe the Lord’s Table I often tell our folk, “You’re about to experience God, right now”. You know some Baptists have the opinion that the only place Christ is not present is in the Lord’s Table but he’s there. We are safe, as Baptists, in calling it Communion. Now we don’t adopt the Catholic view of the elements. We don’t adopt the Lutheran view of the elements. But surely it is a participation in the Body of Christ. It is a participation in Christ. Paul said that those who eat this meat that had been sacrificed to idols are they not participating with demons? But we participate with Christ in our observance of the Lord’s Table. (1 Corinthians 10: 14-22)
Listen. What I’m getting at is God has given us prescribed means of experiencing his presence in our lives in both saving and sanctifying ways. And Reformed congregations recognize these things and they give them great priority in the Church’s life. Preaching can never be diminished. Never. Even when it’s not “in season”. When it’s “out of season” Paul said, “Preach the Word”. (2 Timothy 4:2) Don’t back off because there’s coming a time (we perhaps live in one of those times) when men will not endure sound teaching, sound doctrine.Preach the Word anyway. The results are God’s business not ours. Paul talks about preaching the message, that simple proclamation of the Gospel being a foolish message and perhaps, arguably a foolish activity too many people. But it is God’s way. The Spirit has promised to accompany the preached Word. It is a powerful thing. Perhaps, again, the problem is not with the preaching. The problem is with us and our faith in God’s preached word. So reformed, then, place a great deal of emphasis on preaching. Preaching is priority.
Furthermore, and I wish I had more time to develop this concept, but we don’t, and that is reformed congregations insist on the inseparability of the Word and Spirit. Often people don’t understand this or it’s not dawned on them that Martin Luther actually had two religious groups that he confronted during his period of reformation. We are most familiar with the Roman Catholic Church. And when he came to the Scriptures, the Word of God, he confronted them that they had replaced the Word with other authorities. They believed that the Word of God was authoritative but they also had the magisterium, the teaching body of the church. It was considered infallible. The Pope was infallible in addition to the Word being infallible. And he (Luther) recognized that the Word almost always took a back seat to these other authorities. And so he championed the cause of “Scripture alone” as being the only infallible authority. Not that we don’t have other authorities but the Word alone infallible in its authority.
Then there was another group Luther had to contend with and they were the Anabaptists.Many people think that Baptists trace their heritage back to the Anabaptists but we don’t.Nevertheless this group also had another authority, the Spirit. And the spirit, somehow, was separate from the Word and so they were always receiving Devine direction and guidance and Devine revelations and mysteries and so forth from the Spirit. So without realizing it they had a competitor to the Word. They had the Holy Spirit who was competing with the authority of the Scripture. And we know from observation today, in groups similar to this, that when you have that, the Word always takes a back seat to the experience of the Spirit. Does it not? In fact, this so infuriated Martin Luther that he accused one of the Anabaptist leaders of swallowing the Holy Ghost feathers and all. It just tore him out of the frame. Why? Because they both in the Roman Catholic sense and the Anabaptist sense they were taking away from the authority of the Scriptures.
And so both Luther and Calvin and all the reformers insisted that the Spirits work is to use the Word. As the Spirit convicts us, how does he convict us? By the Word. As the Spirit leads us in life how does he do that? By the Word. We dare not accept some sort of ministry of God’s Spirit that separates the Spirit from the Word. The Spirit is not in competition with the Word.He is, instead, in cooperation with the Word. And so as the Pastor stands to preach, the Word is proclaimed and the Spirit is at work with that Word, accompanying that Word, making that Word live and be active and sharper than a two edged sword, piercing to the dividing of soul and spirit. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work. But it’s not divorced from the Word. You know, surely you know all the ramifications with groups that separate the Spirit from the Word. They invariably go off on all kinds of tangents, down heretical trails.
Baptists these days are fond of looking for God to give them guidance in life apart from the Scripture. The Bible, you see, in their estimation is not sufficient. You see it all keeps coming back to the sufficiency of Scripture. Does it not?
I was reading one of Henry Blackaby’s works on experiencing God. It was one of his later ones. I’m not sure of the exact title but he was talking about some people who have been challenging some of his thinking about the Spirit’s guidance. He used as an example parents with children and I have two teenagers. And teenagers, as you know, can be a challenge.Sometimes I think Mark Twain had it right when he said you keep your kids in an oak barrel with a knothole. Then you feed them through the knothole. Then, when they turn 16, plug up the knothole. It’s a challenge. Of course you know this one’s perfect in every way.
But wouldn’t we love to have God say more in his Word about how to rear children. But let’s face it. His instructions on rearing children are rather limited in God’s word. Are they not? I mean God’s Word is not a handbook on child rearing. It has some good things to say about it and some important things to say about it. And it’s sufficient in what it says about it.
But Blackaby’s book says, “How can parents raise children if God doesn’t give them instruction in addition to the Word of God?” In other words, if a parent is struggling with a child then that parent can pray and ask God for supernatural guidance and can expect to, somehow or another, decipher some message from God that’s outside of and in addition to the Scriptures. And I’m reading that thing and thinking, “How dangerous is this?” Now listen, this is basic fare for the average church in the evangelical community. There is no more confidence in the sufficiency of the Scriptures.
Baptists are regularly listening for words from God apart from the Word of God. In other words they have separated the work of the Spirit from the work of the Scriptures. Reformed congregations say to that, “No.” They insist on the inseparability of the Word and the Spirit.
Furthermore, church discipline is something that reformed congregations insist on. My first church out of seminary was founded about 125 years ago. This church practiced church discipline when it was founded. Now they didn’t do it all that well. I managed to get a copy of the minutes going back to the founding of the church back in the early 1800’s. And it seems that there was some gentleman who obviously had a problem with drink and just about every other month he was being put out of the congregation for public drunkenness. And he would come back and, in tears, repent before the congregation and they’d welcome him back into the fellowship. Well, about two months after he had been found to be drunk in public and had repented and come back to the fellowship of the church it seems that some woman in the church had been accused of adultery. And so the church got a group of men together to go investigate the matter. And you know where this is going, don’t you? He was among the group of men sent to investigate the matter. Now this was a man who was on church discipline about every other month himself so no doubt they didn’t do a very good thorough job of the church discipline. But at least they recognized the importance of it and they practiced it. Perhaps because of some of the abuses of past experiences, some churches got away from practicing it. This particular church had not seen a case of it in well over 75 years. Clearly the church minutes would indicate that no church discipline had been exercised since World War II. It’s doubtful that there was much prior to that time but at least since then you could safely say that none had been practiced.
Why? Well, you can speculate as to the reasons but none of them would be adequate. It’s a clear violation of Scripture not to do this. Most churches today do not practice church discipline. And yet the reformers themselves as they were being excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church or leaving the Roman Catholic Church of their own volition they wrestled with the question, “What does constitute a true church?” Because the Roman Catholic Church had said, “We are the true church. And whatever you guys are doing it’s not true.”
So Luther, Calvin, other of the reformers, other Puritans wrestled with the idea, “What is a reform church?” And as they wrestled with it and searched the Scriptures they identified three things, three marks of a true church. And these three things tend to find their way into most of the reformed confessions of faith. The marks are these.
1. A true church preaches the Gospel accurately. In other words it has true doctrine.
2. A true church properly administers the Sacraments. By the way, you know that that one statement which is found among our Presbyterian brethren forced them, in many cases to conclude that Reform Baptists are a sect, not a church. Are you aware of that? Now they love us and respect us but they don’t recognize us as a true church.Why? Because in their estimation we don’t properly administer the sacrament of baptism. Were you aware of that? Well, if you learn nothing else tonight, that’s the one thing… (laughter)
3. The third mark of a true church is that they practice church discipline.
Now if those are the three marks, and we don’t have time to go into all the reasons why those are the three marks of a true church, but if those are the three marks of a true church then how many true churches are there today? There are not many. Because, by and large, most churches do not practice church discipline.
And you know, when we founded our church, and when we determined that church discipline would be a part of our church life, because that’s the only way to maintain a regenerate membership, and that’s scriptural, that’s what God has commanded us to do, that if we adopted that as a principle in our church, it was just a matter of time before we’d be called upon by God to exercise it. And it’s difficult. It is not easy but it honors God and we’re commanded to do it. And reformed congregations value Christ so much and value the souls of men so much that they insist on it and on its importance. If a church is not prepared to discipline its membership, it doesn’t love its membership. Sometimes when people are being disciplined they don’t find it very loving but it is a loving thing to do. How many times have you told your child, when you are administering discipline, I love you. And they’re thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding.” “This hurts. This is painful”. And often it is not until they are much older that they look back and they say, “I’m glad you love me enough to discipline me”. We love people enough if it’s necessary to excommunicate them and to publicly call into question their very salvation as a means of getting their attention, alarming them, warning them of the danger of their souls are in, that’s how much reform congregations need to love people. And we can’t play with this; we have to insist on it.
Elder rule. Elder rule is clearly an essential in a reform congregation. One of the challenges of having a new church is securing qualified men to serve in this capacity. Jason and I were talking this afternoon your particular situation and we’re going to be much in prayer for you that God will raise up men who will be able to serve along with Eric as elders. I’ve not had the opportunity to talk with Eric about this but I think I would know his heart that he is zealous to see that happen, that he would love to see that happen. And that’s part of what it means to be reform. We clearly believe in a plurality of leadership. And we would insist on it. We believe that the man who is pastor, the man who is called by this church to stand before this church and to preach the word week in and week out is himself a sinner in need of accountability.And from where does that accountability come? Well, to start, it has to come from the other elders. But in the final analysis it must also come from the congregation at large. Paul talks about the issue of, when an elder strays to call him before the church and not to do it unless there are two or three witnesses but reprimand him in front of others so that the other elders will take notice and not get out of line. So the plurality of elders is not only assists the congregation in having the wisdom of a multitude of counselors but it also holds the leadership accountable. They’re able to hold one another accountable. It’s elder rule.
The Lord’s Day. Man you want to know something that really distinguishes reform congregations from congregations that are not reformed or congregations that may be Calvinistic but not reformed; their observance of the Lord’s Day. In the year 2000, Southern Baptists produced an updated version of their confession of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message. It had not been revised since 1963. But they came out with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. And thankfully they did a number of very positive things in that statement of faith. They’ve really shorn up the statement concerning scripture which was an enormously important addition. And they did a lot of work in the area of then nature of God to preclude the possibility of this stuff that’s going around today called free will theism whereby God does not know the future. That kind of thing from thing from creeping into Southern Baptist life. It was a very commendable job except they took what was otherwise a very fine statement on the Lord’s Day and they gutted it and made it meaningless. And I was there at that Southern Baptist convention when this confession of faith was voted on and I remember some who had some who had stood in line to be able to raise objections to this and they never were able to do that. So the following year I went back and it had been arranged for some men, one of whom was Fred Malone who’s written this book on Baptism, he was there to speak out against this. Well, those who had worked on the committee to change the statement were prepared. And this is what I heard. And I don’t mind naming a name here; Adrian Rogers stood to offer his objection to Fred Malone’s statements concerning the importance of the Lord’s Day. And this is what he said. He said Southern Baptists have never been Sabaterians (sp?). I thought, now what history books has he been reading? All you have to do is go back to the ’63 Baptist Faith and Message and it has a clear statement concerning the Lord’s Day.And we were so disappointed. All that to say this. This is a very unpopular teaching today.Even among some who call themselves reformed there is a reluctance to take a stand on this matter of the Lord’s Day. But we must take a stand. If we are going to be thoroughly reformed we must recognize the Lord’s Day as a Christian Sabbath. Honor it appropriately.
That leads us naturally to another issue and that is the Law and the Gospel. We all recognize the Gospel but reformed congregations also clearly recognize the place of the Law in the life of the church. We recognize that the Law of God has not somehow been done away with since we have the Gospel but only where the scripture clearly does away with certain aspects of the Law do we do away with those aspects. Like the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law. There is no longer the state of Israel. So naturally the civil aspects of the Law have been done away with. There is no longer the sacrificial system so clearly the ceremonial aspects of the Law have been superseded by Christ’s finished work. However, the moral Law clearly still is in place. And so as reformed congregations we have no qualms about preaching, for instance, the Ten Commandments, the Ten Words and their importance as a rule for living in the Christian life. By the way, whose commandments would you rather have? God’s or some well meaning preacher or some well meaning tradition. Remember the issue of Christian liberty? I’ll take God’s Law any day, even a Law pertaining to the Christian Sabbath. So the Law of God is important in the life of the life of reformed congregation not as a means of salvation but as a means of bringing us to Christ, the tutor which shows us our own sinfulness and inadequacies and our need for Christ and then, after having come to Christ, as an adequate guide to how God would have us to live in response to what He has done in our lives.
Well, additionally, speaking of what God would have us do in our lives, there is the matter of sanctification: how we grow as Christians. Many people are, perhaps, not aware that in the average Baptist church today, there is a particular view of sanctification which is very popular although it goes unnamed and that is the so called Kessic (sp) view of Sanctification where you “let go and let God”. Surrender all to him. How many alter calls have you heard where preachers have admonished folk in the congregation to come up and just lay it all at Jesus’ feet. To just surrender everything to him. This is a view of Sanctification which views Christians as those who need to continually surrender to Christ and have Him control us instead of having us control ourselves. It’s almost passive in nature except for surrendering, if you will. You often hear phrases like, “You can’t live the Christian life, Christ has to live it through you”. I’ve heard people say, “You know, that neighbor of mine, I just don’t love that neighbor. Christ is going to have to love that neighbor through me”. Well, you know what?Wake up. God has commanded you to love your neighbor not this business about waiting on God or Jesus to love your neighbor through you. Now, if we’re saying we need Christ’s power to help us to grow in a love for our neighbor, that’s a different thing. Absolutely we need his help. We need the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But here is reformed Sanctification, and this is unique to reformed congregations, and that is this. It’s one of those both/ands, it’s not an either/or. Remember this morning I mentioned the fact that so many heresies are where man has attempted to take God’s both/ands and turn them into either/ors? What does Paul say in Philippians?
“…to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”
When he says, “work out your salvation” there, the word salvation means not so much your regeneration. That’s a work that God does alone. Not your justification, that’s through faith alone. But your sanctification. Work it out. You’ve been saved, now work it out. Work out the implications of that justification in your life. You are commanded to do that. That’s your responsibility. The Christian life is hard. It’s a tough thing to do. The Christian life is not easy.One of the most damnable things that preachers sometimes communicate to unsuspecting church members is that somehow the Christian life is supposed to be easy. Always victorious.Have you ever sat under that preaching and wondered what was wrong with you? Why are they so victorious and I always fall into sin? Because you’re honest and they’re not. They have a greater problem than they even recognize. They don’t recognize that their thoughts are always sinful. That they’ve not escaped this problem like they’ve perceived they have. They just don’t recognize the depth of their own sin. We are to work it out and it’s tough. Paul says:
“…to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”
We work at it though realizing that:
“…it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”.
Do you see that both/and there? And in sanctification, almost every wrong view opts for either work it out yourself or its God that has to do it. But Paul says you work it out as you realize that God is working in. You see it’s the recognition that God in his sovereignty in the power of His Spirit is at work in my heart, conforming me to the image of Christ. That truth motivates me to get at the task, to work hard at it. I am moved along, as it were, by this recognition that God is at work in me. We don’t opt for an either/or here but a both/and. And that is a significant contribution that the reformed faith has made to Christianity, that sanctification is both man’s work and God’s work.Regeneration is God’s work but sanctification is both our responsibility and God’s responsibility. Regeneration is monergistic: one at work.Sanctification is synergistic: two at work. But our work in sanctification is predicated upon God’s work.
Those are some of the things; I hesitate to say all of the things, but some of the things that mark a reform congregation and a reform believer. And they all go back to this issue of the sufficiency of scripture where Paul says:
2n Timothy 3:16-17
“16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”.
It’s all here; we just need to heed it and to obey it.
Let’s pray together.
Father thank you for your Word and your goodness to us in giving us your Word. Thank you that it is totally sufficient for all of our needs as believers, sufficient for all that we need in both faith and practice. Father I pray that as those who call themselves reformed believers, reformed churches, that we would be faithful to follow your word in every detail. Father, that these things that we have mentioned would be true of us and that we would not shirk any of our responsibilities or duties but that we’d be faithful. And at the end of the day may it be said of us, not that we were innovative, not that we were creative but that we were faithful to your word. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.