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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Unreformed and Unashamed: Introduction (1 of 3)

Introduction and Preliminary Disclaimers

This blog post is not exactly a thorough introduction to the issues of its subject matter. I understand that the post possibly raises more questions than it answers. It introduces several ideas that are new to many Christians, even many solid Christians, as I have recently discovered. As such, I have included some links to help with a cursory understanding of the issues discussed. Moreover, I intend to follow this post up with, at least, two more posts: one explaining why I am not convinced by Covenant Theology, and the next explaining why I am not convinced of the Regulative Principle. Even though this particular series of blog posts is one I would have preferred not to be writing, I feel obligated to do so as my formally Independent Baptist church takes a reformed bent. I want to be any help to those who might wonder, like I often do, what it means to be an unreformed baptist who is, nonetheless, not unorthodox.

On three fronts, the title of this post can be misleading. Firstly, I am reformed in the sense that Christ has taken from me the heart of stone, and given me new birth by His Spirit. As such, I have been truly reformed by His grace, and I continue to be reformed daily by the sanctifying work of His Spirit.

Secondly, in spite of the way my title might sound to my dear brothers of the reformed tradition within Christianity, I do not view the reformed tradition with any derision whatsoever. I believe that there is a real revival in our day amongst our reformed brethren, and all of God's universal church is benefiting tremendously from this mini revival. For instance, there is a proliferation of books written by reformed authors especially to delineate the sorteriological considerations of Christian theology: The church today desperately (and quite sadly) needs to define what the gospel is, and the reformed brethren are doing a wonderful job producing such resources.

Thirdly, in fact, those who relate closest with me argue that I am reformed, but that I am simply embarrassed by aspects of reformed theology. Moreover, I find myself in the trenches of ministry with many reformed brethren today. My current home church was not reformed when I joined it, but it is becoming more reformed by the day--thanks to the influence of my pastor-friend (and the other elders?). Also, thanks to the migration of several reformed young adults from a friendly reformed baptist church on the opposite side of town from us.

I cannot sing enough praises of the reformed tradition. I am glad that our church is reforming. The reformed bent has already injected new life into us. I have prayed for revival for my church for several years now, and God has chosen to send one with a reformed bent: Praise be to His name!

Why do I call myself unreformed?

I am a baptist. Because we moved a lot as a family, I have been a member at various baptist churches with differing doctrinal positions. For the longest time, I was a Southern Baptist. In fact, it is in Southern Baptist circles that I came to faith in Christ and was immersed in the waters of baptism for obedience to Christ's instruction for a public profession of faith in Him. Sadly though, Southern Baptist churches in all the places where I have lived so far tend to have charismatic leanings. After high school, uncomfortable with the charismatic phenomena at my Southern Baptist church and at the Scripture Union at my boarding school, I started looking for a church that was not all about charismatic hype. I had to wait for slightly over a year before I came across an Independent Baptist church, which had just moved into the neighbourhood. (While I waited, I experimented with several churches.

Ironically, I found one Pentecostal church which was much better at de-emphasising the charismatic phenomena than the Southern Baptist churches of this new neighbourhood. I stayed at the Pentecostal church for most of my waiting period.) In His sovereign orchestration of my life, God did not bring me into contact with any Reformed Baptist churches. (I avoided Presbyterian churches for reasons that we are better off not discussing in this post.) However, I learned Calvinism (and came to appreciate it over Arminianism) courtesy of a love for reading. As I read the systematic theologies written by reformed Christians including Hodge and Berkhof, I had my appetite whetted for reformed theology.

As I delved deeper still into books, journals, and other literature with a reformed leaning--specifically Reformed Baptist literature--I came to conclude that, apart from the solas and other foundational aspects of the Protestant Reformation, there are three basic tenets that define Reformed Baptists: The Doctrines of Grace (summarised in the acronym TULIP), Covenant Theology, and a Regulative Principle of church life. I embraced the Doctrines of Grace, but I have not embraced any of the other two tenets of reformed baptism to-date. The time I spent at the Bible college that I attended in Zambia served to reinforce and solidify my leanings against Covenant Theology and against the Regulative Principle.

Therefore, to the extent that Covenant Theology and the Regulative Principle define the reformed identity, I am unreformed. I consider myself unreformed because my theology is not defined by the 1689 Baptist Confession. I have some quarrels with the Westminster Confession beyond simply the question on baptism. Therefore, I have these same quarrels with the 1689 confession since it "is essentially the Westminster Confession of Faith reworded as it pertains to baptism," according to GotQuestions.org (accessed on 22 October 2014). In light of these facts, I hope you can begin to understand why I call myself unreformed.

Why do I have to say that I am unashamed to be unreformed?

The reformed baptist movement is larger than the Independent Baptist movement, and it is not rare to find Reformed Baptist adherents, be it laymen, preachers, or scholars, sound as though they are the only ones on the right track in terms of relationship with God--like Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:10, 18). It seems like the rest of us who are not fully convinced of the reformed identity ought to somehow blush with shame. Honestly, in such a day when the Reformed Baptist movement is doing innumerable exploits for God's Kingdom, I am often tempted to blush over my audacity to question what the movement stands for.

However, recognising that my conscience is bound solely to God's word, I have to remind myself constantly that I cannot be swept by the tide of reformed baptism's Covenant Theology and its Regulative Principle unless I am convinced of these things from the Scriptures, which is the way I was convinced of TULIP. I have to be unashamed (and unashamable) in my stance against Covenant Theology and the Regulative Principle since, as far as I can tell, this stance of mine is based on the Scriptures.

The quote below, which I took from Jonathan Merritt's article, aptly summarises why I feel the necessity to add to this post the idea that I am unashamed to be unreformed.

"Sometimes it seems as if Calvinists view themselves as judge, jury, and executioner of the Christian movement at large—determining who is faithful and not, who believes the gospel and who doesn’t, who is in and who is out. (One might call to mind John Piper’s iconic and infamous “Farewell, Rob Bell” tweet.) Some within the movement talk of God’s sovereignty while seeking to control the destinies of other Christians and often speak of man’s depravity with a haughtiness that undermines it."

--For the full article, follow this link.

Why, then, do I embrace the reformed concept of five-point Calvinism?

Because I believe in Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Persevering Saints (summed in the acronym TULIP), I sound and feel like a reformed baptist to those who are close to me. It seems to me that TULIP is the foremost defining aspect of reformed theology today. Since I shout heartfelt amens to it, it is understandable why someone would find it difficult to believe that I am not actually reformed. In fact, if TULIP is all that being reformed is about, then forget the title of this blog post, I am reformed. This reasoning, however, betrays the fact that we are assuming that Calvin (and the reformed tradition) invented the, so called, doctrines of grace.

When we argue that someone who believes the doctrines of grace must be reformed, we are saying in essence that non-reformed people cannot see these points in the Scriptures unless they are part of the reformed camp. In other words, if we really believe that TULIP is Scriptural, we ought to say that every Christian should believe TULIP whether or not they are reformed, rather than saying that anyone who believes TULIP is, therefore, reformed. R. C. Sproul refuses to equate reformed theology to TULIP, and he is definitely an authority on things reformed. I believe TULIP because I believe that the Scriptures teach it. C. H. Spurgeon said so too. I thank God for Calvin, whom God used to expound it, but I have no reason to think of TULIP as Calvin's invention, unless someone convinces me so, in which case I would abandon it.

Honestly, I have no reason to think that I cannot embrace the "doctrines of grace" unless I am a true son of the reformed tradition. Moreover, I am obviously in more agreement with reformed theology beyond just TULIP. The points of our agreement far outweigh those of our difference: That is why I consider them Christians, and Christians with whom I can do all kinds of Christian ministry. In fact, the points of my disagreement with reformed theology are so nuanced (they might sound facetious) that it quite fair for someone to accuse me of being reformed and only slightly embarrassed by aspects of reformed theology.

Conclusion

So I conclude this blog post more in agreement than disagreement with my reformed baptist brethren. (The next two posts in this three-post series will be squarely focused on the points of disagreement though.) If nothing else, I pray that this series may be a challenge for those among my readers who have not come to any conclusion concerning these matter to think more about them and to gradually come to some form of conclusion over them. They are important matters which govern how we understand the Scriptures. Both sides of this discussion agree on what the Scriptures are. However, there is considerable disagreement over how the Scriptures ought to be handled. That causes the gravely important differences, differences that we dare not simply ignore.

See you next week for part II.

8 comments:

  1. Well you have definitely got my attention. I look forward to read you next blogs. Particularly the regulative principal of worship..

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind words, bro. Knowing that you will read them too will be a motivation to not do a shoddy job and waste your precious time. ;)

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  2. Are you on Facebook? You could follow some discussions concerning this post on https://www.facebook.com/caleb.nakina/posts/960140223999766?comment_id=962562793757509&offset=0&total_comments=5&notif_t=share_comment

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  3. Hi Caleb!
    Am amazed by the truth you have found just by being around churches. could it be God's guiding. or others may say predestination. actually, an a independent Baptist and yeh! i dont agree with the reformed version. the sad thing is that even by staying too long with indep. baptists has taught me a thing or two about their leadership...it needs prayers and mine are not working. the comforting thing is that in all this God is in charge. continue the good work some day you might save us all...perhaps lead us.

    qitonga qithome
    facebook

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind words, Qitonga. I agree with you that our Independent Baptist circles need a lot of work too--especially with regards to the typical bad leadership style, but I will not be the one to "save us all." Only God can save at all. He definitely does so via our prayers, and He may even choose to use our feeble attempts. We must never cease from looking to Him in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17 ff.). "Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9, NASB).

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  4. Conversation imported from Facebook

    Here is why I am unreformed and unashamed to be so, just so you know. Welcome to this 3-post series!

    The ChristRay Blog: Unreformed and Unashamed: Introduction
    This comments section has potential to fulfill the as-iron-sharpens-iron... purpose. All it is waiting for is your input. Do hit that keyboard.
    CALEBNAKINA.BLOGSPOT.NL|BY CALEB NAKINA
    LikeLike · · Share
    Michael Maura, Mapalo Ndhlovu, Castrol Chola Mwape and 3 others like this.
    1 share

    Sandala Mwanje Ok. We are following... I think it's ok to end at the five points:)
    October 24 at 12:16pm · Unlike · 1

    Andrew Simate Sitali Nice title you caught my attention i will try and make time to read all three,thanks for writting.
    October 24 at 1:10pm · Unlike · 1

    Chimba Ireri I've read through, i like the vocabulary used, u shld consider writing a book.
    October 24 at 2:07pm · Unlike · 2

    Andrew Simate Sitali Good article i enjoyed reading it.I think you have done a bit of reductionism,regulative principal and covenant theology are just some things part of the Reformed tradition.The Solas 6 from what i am aware are more good summary of the reformation.
    October 24 at 8:14pm · Edited · Unlike · 1

    Chopo Mwanza You have got my attention!!!! I am so looking forward to the next blogs!!! VERY CURIOUS:)
    October 27 at 6:18pm · Unlike · 1

    Caleb Nakina Andrew, my argument is that I do not agree with certain parts of reformed theology (i.e. Covenant Theology and the Regulative Principle) not that either of these fully defines what reformed theology is. I consider myself unreformed only to the extent t...See More
    October 27 at 6:36pm · Like

    Andrew Simate Sitali Ok thanks for that clarification,but to be unreformed one would have to deny the 6 solas and also trash the Doctrines of Grace and deny God's sovereignty.Reformation is very large, no wander some who are charismatic can be included in it,even when they deny the regulative principle.In America you now have many who are reformed and are dispensation,an interesting mixing going as far as scripture goes and leaving of certain reformed tradition.
    October 27 at 6:42pm · Unlike · 1

    Caleb Nakina Ironically, it seems you are being reductionistic when you choose a part (the solae) to summarize the whole. Take a quick glance at the list on http://www.theopedia.com/Reformed_theology to see what I mean.
    Reformed theology - Theopedia, an encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity
    Reformed theology is generally considered synonymous with Calvinism and most often, in the U.S. and the UK, is specifically associated with the theology of the historic church confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Three Forms of Unity.
    THEOPEDIA.COM
    October 27 at 6:49pm · Edited · Like · Remove Preview

    Andrew Simate Sitali Well just look at the history of the reformation and where it spread,the emphasis was the solas and later Calvinism.One couldn't be reformed in the historical sense of it, without the solas,but one can deny the regulative principle (developed later in the puritan age or covenant theology and be reformed in the historical sense of the term.I just schemed through that link and first on the least are the Sola's.
    October 27 at 6:59pm · Unlike · 1

    ReplyDelete
  5. Caleb Nakina Again, if "reformed" is simply another way of saying "non-Catholic," I would be the last person to call myself unreformed; I am not Catholic. But if Covenant Theology and the Regulative Principle are integral to the definition of "reformed," I get disqualified from the set of reformed people for my conviction which is contrary to both Covenant Theology and the Regulative Principle.
    October 27 at 7:08pm · Like

    Andrew Simate Sitali Do you agree that Calvin and Luther at the start are not emphasizing those two?check out what really spark the reformation,more than just denying Catholicism but rediscovering the gospel and summarizing bible truths like that.Anyway nice to know you don't struggle with the Sola's and maybe Calvinism.I am with you especially on the covenant theology.
    October 27 at 7:15pm · Like

    Oduor Obunga Simate, Christians of the reformed tradition generally subscribe to covenant theology. I would venture to say that it is an organizing rubric among the reformed. Of course there is no denying that the "SOLAS" also occupy an important place among the reformed. That said, I would venture to say that the "SOLAS" (Sola fide, sola scriptura etc) are held by evangelicals (say Baptists for instance, who would not identify themselves as reformed (FBCR for instance) ). I hesitate to say that the doctrines of grace (read TULIP) are distinctive to reformed theology. There are churches ( FBCR, EBC) that wholeheartedly subscribe to these doctrines but do not identify themselves as reformed. I think then that Caleb means that covenant theology is the one distinctive feature of the reformed camp. Please note that by so stating I mean not to de-emphasize the importance they place on TULIP and the SOLAS. I mean to say that its not only those of the "reformed" that subscribe to those (TULIP/SOLA). We must limit terms if we are to have a meaningful discussion otherwise we will be all over the place.
    October 27 at 8:51pm · Like · 1

    Andrew Simate Sitali Ya nice points Bro Nixon,i was approaching it from a historical point of view.
    October 27 at 9:01pm · Like

    Kelvin Kahyata hey chimutu hw ar u?
    October 27 at 9:40pm · Unlike · 1

    Andrew Simate Sitali Oduor Obunga and Caleb Nakina happy reformation day,please look out for articles on Reformation,i just saw a number of them by good authors,guess what they are highlighting the SOLA's yes there are other things like the two Caleb raised.But it seems to me at the core of it all can be found the sola's.Remember it was protesting from the corrupted church to getting back to the Bible and rediscovering of the gospel.
    October 31 at 10:44am · Unlike · 1

    Caleb Nakina Andrew, it seems you think that what is called reformed theology today equals the protestant reformation. In that regard, you seem quite mistaken. (After all, because of their name, Pentecostals also think that they are the wing of Christianity that best represents the day of Pentecost.) As I understand it, what is called reformed theology today is the wing of the protestant reformation that follows closest in John Calvin's footsteps. As such, I understand the protestants who do not follow Calvin as closely to not be reformed. Obviously, Calvin was not the only leader of the protestant reformation.
    Yesterday at 10:27am · Like

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  6. Andrew Simate Sitali No that is not what i think,fortunately,what am saying is as the church has been reforming it has been more organized better today to include some of the aspects you addressed.But what i said was those two are part of the reformed tradition but one could be reformed and not hold strictly to those traditions,for example early reformers practiced infant baptism but today you can find some who do not do that.So those two elements you addressed so well are part of it,without being at the center of the reformed tradition,a good examples are some reformers in Southern Baptist like Al Mohler but who are are not covenantal in the Presbyterian sense.
    23 hrs · Like

    Caleb Nakina Just to be clear, Andrew, do you consider Martin Luther (the reformer) to be reformed in the sense that I am talking about reformed theology?
    3 hrs · Like

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This comments section has the potential to fulfill the "as-iron-sharpens-iron" purpose. All it is waiting for is your input. Do hit that keyboard.