Recently our church hosted its annual Theology Conference and we had the privilege of having Dr. Jim Renihan with us from the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies at Westminster in California. The lectures are posted here (CLICK). At the end of one of those sessions, I got up as the host pastor to end the session, and thank Jim, etc. He had shown a video in that session from 1689federalism.com, and it was a video that I had seen a few times. When I got up to speak, I was filled with emotion...and for about 15-20 seconds, I couldn't address the congregation due to my tears. Why did that happen?!?
I'm almost 35. For 30 years I have been professing Christ as Savior and Lord. In late high school, thanks to discussions with my father on Calvinism, and some eventual Tabletalk (Ligonier) articles given to me by a Presbyterian Friend, I became a Calvinist/5-Pointer. This was before the days of "Young, Restless and Reformed", or even "cage-stage Calvinism". However, a Baptist Calvinist I became. In early college, I became that "cage-stage Calvinist", and both the Gospel and Tulip, for a season, became my message. Then, I came under the influence of a variety of modern Calvinists and started to use the word "Reformed" to describe myself. This would continue for years. I added Puritans to my reading lists alongside some of the "New Calvinists" I was reading. Then, I started to study Covenant Theology, and my heart was sold! I left an associate pastor position in an SBC church, and went into Christian counseling full time, and ultimately, the Lord took my wife and I to a Reformed Presbyterian church as members (nope, our children were not given infant baptism) because we were looking during this season to be a part of an intentionally Reformed congregation. However, it was in this period of time that I really came to embrace Reformed Theology beyond the 5 points of Calvinism. I furthered my growing appreciation for Covenant Theology, for a gospel flow/liturgy of service, for Confessions, for a means of grace view of the ordinances, and more. I also wrestled with the Reformed debate over baptism.
I kept bumping into the issue of seeking to apply the Baptist view of Baptism to a Presbyterian Covenant theology. It just didn't work in the end. If the substance of the Covenant of Grace existed with Abraham just like in the New Covenant, then eventually the conclusion is that one must baptize his children (this is the Presbyterian conclusion). I also wrestled with a seeming theological dissonance that I was having with my Baptist brothers and sisters. I valued true associations where a communion among churches existed. I was (and am) a Congregationalist (in the plural-elder sense), yet I saw a strong "independence" or lack of true, doctrinally-shared cooperation among too many Baptist churches, and I tended, while not Presbyterian in polity, to see value (not to mention seeming Scriptural warrant) in true churches associating beyond just pooling a few dollars each year. I also became delightfully convinced of the Sacraments (yes, a word often unused by modern Baptists) being not just a memorial, but a true means of grace. I felt like I was a Baptist, with Presbyterian roots.
My hermeneutic was covenantal, "yet" my practice was credobaptism. It was during my time that my love for God's work in covenant continued AND it was during this time that I discovered through much study, the Particular Baptist Federalist Theology of the 1600s (see: http://www.1689federalism.com/) thanks mainly to Pascal Denault's work (Click Here). It made all the difference, particularly on the second read through. The Baptists of the 1600's were thoroughly Reformed, and their Covenant Theology didn't tack on Believer's Baptism. It was the rightful and true implication flowing from it. The Bible describes not "one covenant in two administrations", but rather, one overarching covenant of grace through which all believers, Old Testament and New Testament alike, are saved, but a covenant of grace that is progressively revealed in the other Biblical Covenants, but not enacted until the New Covenant. Christ then, is the true telos of all of the other covenants. The Covenant of Grace is rooted in the Covenant of Redemption, and is not overly weighted to the Abrahamic Covenant for structure. The Baptist Confession reads (LBCF 7.3): This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in
the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by
farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the
New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction
that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect;
and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of
fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality,
man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms
on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.
Next, through researching the early Reformed Baptists, I saw a healthy view of association (see LBCF 26.14-15). I also reflected on the early Particular Baptists' view of the ordinances (many were willing to use the word 'sacrament') and I read this:
"The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same
night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches, unto
the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth
the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of
believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment,
and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which
they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with
him, and with each other." (LBCF 30.1)
These early brothers did not view the table as merely a memorial. I felt like I had a home...and one with roots in the Reformation that was thoroughly Baptist. I, like the early signatories of the LBCF, loved my Presbyterian brothers and sisters, and I have gleaned so much from them, but I didn't have to jettison being Baptist to be thoroughly covenantally Reformed. During all of this, the Lord in His providence carried my family to a Baptist
church with Calvinistic roots where I began to serve as pastor. I love
this body, and this people, and we have been happily a part of that faith
family for nearly seven years.
It was at this church's annual theology conference where, although these ideas were not now new to me, I rejoiced to see them discussed, and following the video screening,...I got emotional--emotional because I rejoiced as these truths were unfolded; because I was happy for our people, and the people of another church joining us, to hear it; because, it was a reminder that I had a historical/theological home, and there were others, for centuries, who were Reformed, Covenantal, Evangelistic, Baptist, 'Means of Grace-rs' with whom I shared this home. I got emotional because rich, Biblically true theology moves us.
The Federalism, or Covenant Theology of the earliest of Reformed Baptists moves me to tears...and I'm at home in it.
*UPDATE: I should also mention that through it all, my wife, a lover of theology herself, was instrumental as a listener. We have joyfully journeyed together in theological pursuits, and I have been blessed to be able to have her as a sounding board, and a partner to remind me of the Lord's providential direction.