Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
On Being "TR" (Truly Reformed)
09/12/2007 - James WhiteJonathan Bonomo has replied to the immediately preceding article. While I truly have no desire for this conversation at all (Mr. Bonomo's ability to embrace contradictory gospels so as to see both Baptists and Roman Catholics as his brothers is far more important, and telling, than anything that comes below), I feel it necessary to clarify some issues.
Mr. Bonomo wrote the following:
When I speak of a Baptist tradition, I am speaking broadly of a basic doctrinal paradigm which reduces Christianity to a personal thing - a matter of merely personal salvation which ordinarily happens apart from any material means (i.e. the ministry of the Church in Word and Sacrament); says that one only becomes a member of the church because one has been saved outside of her rather than being saved by God through her (which is the historic Reformed position); therefore reduces the church to a mere collection of like-minded individuals, the sacraments to mere memorials of what is absent and badges of profession rather than sacred signs of what is present and actual means of grace; and thinks it is ok to break away from the rest of Christendom by claiming that they alone possess true Christian Baptism and therefore think it permissible, good, and necessary to re-baptize anyone not baptized in an age of accountability. This is what I mean by the term Baptist.There is, of course, one main problem. Mr. Bonomo claims to be a former Reformed Baptist. I can only interpret these words as an attempt to describe his former confession, which happens to be my confession. But no Reformed Baptist who has the first level of knowledge of the LBCF, or who has read more than a few paragraphs of RB theological writing, could ever write such a description of his faith. So how is one supposed to respond to such a straw man? Are there "Baptists" about whom the above would be true? There certainly are. If Mr. Bonomo would like to say, "Oh, I didn't mean Reformed Baptists, I meant these Baptists over here..." then great. But his post did not make that distinction.
The citation is a straw man, and an obvious one. It is loaded with "bias words," such as the repeated use of "mere" and "merely." It loads all sorts of false assumptions into its assertions. Briefly:
No RB "reduces" Christianity to merely a "personal thing," "merely personal salvation" etc. I challenge Bonomo to substantiate such assertions from the LBCF. The effort itself would be highly educational in viewing the thinking of one who has moved from one set of convictions to another. As one who has written in defense of the divine nature of Christ's church, and the biblical pattern of its governance (Perspectives on Church Government, 2004, pp. 255-284), I find the insinuation that RB's have no ecclesiology and no belief in the divine nature of the means of grace to require me either to question Mr. Bonomo's motivations or his knowledge of the subject he is addressing.
No RB denies God uses means in the salvation of the elect. No RB denies the normative role of preaching (a means of grace) in that divine work. One does not have to adopt some form of sacramentalism to recognize God uses means.
RB's do believe the New Covenant is perfect and complete, that as Scripture so plainly states, those in that covenant have the law of God written upon their hearts and their sins forgiven. RB's recognize that this is descriptive of the work of God in regeneration, and hence, we accept and believe the teaching of Hebrews 8 regarding this truth, and see it perfectly in line with the apostolic example, consistently found in Acts, of baptizing repentant, confessing believers. So while we recognize the existence of false professors in our midst, we insist that we are being consistent in protecting boththe font and the table: anyone baptized upon profession of faith proving themselves to be reprobate was not properly baptized at all, for the symbol has no connection to reality in them. Further, we insist that while the external Christian fellowship may be marred by false professors and false brethren, it should be the intent of the elders to protect the fellowship, recognizing that the true church is that made up of the elect, and that the number of those in the New Covenant today and the number of the elect who have been regenerated are the same: the New Covenant is unlike the Old at this very point (back to Hebrews 8, Jeremiah 31).
No RB would ever view the church as "a mere collection of like-minded individuals," as the fifteen sections of Chapter 26 of the London Baptist Confession makes so painfully clear. No person who ever took seriously their claim to be a Reformed Baptist, and who has read Chapter 30 of the LBCF on the Supper, could assert that we reduce the ordinances "to mere memorials of what his absent and badges of profession rather than sacred signs of what is present and actual means of grace."Surely we are not sacramentalists, and I will gladly go to the text of Scripture to prove any insinuation that God's grace operates in some ex opere operato fashion, and since this writer seems to think Rome's sacramental theology is no barrier to the gospel, I have a feeling we are very, very far apart on these issues. But again, the "mere" language he uses is nothing but straw-man argumentation which gives him the power to define his views as the standard and any variation is thrown into one of two extremes. Surely he must realize that a self-conscious Reformed Baptist who reads Calvin carefully is far removed from a KJV Only independent fundamentalist who would never dare crack the bindings of the Institutes, so why paint with this broad brush, especially under the title provided?
If the citations of the LBCF are not sufficient, just note Bonomo's reference to "an age of accountability." Again, it is very hard to believe Mr. Bonomo was an RB when he uses this kind of language. Common term amongst Baptists in general? Yes. Reformed Baptists? No.
No RB would view himself as having "broken away" from Christianity because he is convinced the Bible teaches that baptism, like the Supper, is for believing, repentant people. When I join with my Presbyterian brothers in defending the gospel against the heresies of Rome, I will try to remember we are not fellow Christians.
Finally, one has to wonder: does Mr. Bonomo believe that anyone possesses "true Christian baptism" and just how would anyone know? I know it is tremendously naive of me, but I thought we determined these things on the basis of inspired writ, not on the basis of traditions, whether ancient, or derived from the Reformation. And indeed, this seems to be the real "rub" here. How does one determine Christian baptism?Does one do so by appealing to direct, inspired revelation? Upon what consistent biblical teaching would one conclude that this is no longer a valid thing to do, and that a tradition could be established beyond Scriptural examination?
I said I would be brief, so I shall add only two things. First, it troubles me greatly that Mr. Bonomo can have such clarity of conclusion that he can identify my views of baptism as "heretical" while at the same time identifying Roman Catholics as his brothers. Does anyone else find it odd, and in a certain way, very sad, that a "Reformed" person would even find it useful to be comparing Baptists to Roman Catholics while allowing Rome's gospel to go unchallenged? While promoting a form of sacramentalism that, I would assert, compromises the freedom of grace? Which leads me to the second point,one I made in essence in my previous post. What makes someone Reformed? For Bonomo it is clearly one's sacramentology. Fine. He is excused from calling me Reformed. However, I won't be using the term of him, either. Why? Because I think it is far more definitional of the term to insist upon such things as the solas and the centrality of the gospel and the fact that Rome's gospel is a fraud than it is to hold a particular sacramentology. And I will gladly allow our readers to determine who is more consistent with the foundational tenets of the faith--Bonomo and his dismissal of Baptists, or myself and Bill Shishko in our taking our positions to the final court of Christian arbitration, the Word of God, and that before the people of God, all to their benefit and edification? Mr. Bonomo is certainly free to continue to express his views about Baptists and display proudly his Reformed credentials. I will continue to introduce as many as I can to the doctrines of grace, the solas, and the great truth of justification by grace through faith, and let the readers decide.