Reformed? Bapticostal? What?

In arguably his most famous play, Shakespeare’s female protagonist asks a well known question about the substance of a name;

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

I haven’t really thought about this until now, but Shakespeare is like the king of the English language (other authors come and go but Shakespeare will seemingly forever be studied by English students) and yet in this very famous scene the character wants to disregard the word (in this case a surname) as a means of describing the idea or person that it represents. This of course goes against the grain of history in which names carried authority, tradition, and identity.

Similarly, 19th Century Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is quoted as saying

Once you label me you negate me.

Now without getting into a full blown discussion on post-modernity, relativism, ‘progressive social norms’ and ‘subjective reality’ (I know, this sounds like an oxymoron, but I’ll leave that for later), I have to say both men were ahead of their time with the notion of wanting to strip words of their definitive meaning, instead freeing up concepts, ideas and even identities to remain undefined and unrestricted. However, I also think this notion is, at times, extremely unhelpful.

I’ll concede that in some cases labels can be an unhelpful distraction or can trigger judgements based on stereotypes rather than reality, however there are also legitimate cases wherein labels are extremely useful in helping us understand and form logical boundaries in order to organise and store knowledge.

This post, while not intending to affix a label to my identity for the sake of joining some club or denomination, will try to unpack and make sense of the overarching title of this blog. What the heck, I hear you say, is a Reformed Bapticostal anyway? Why would I want to even consider using such an old fashioned/’religious’ sounding label in 2015?

To be honest, I think there is already enough confusion in our subjectivity-obsessed society, so if I can eliminate some of the confusion for myself and those around me by summing up quickly and easily where I’m coming from, surely that can only make life easier!

Those of you who’ve been around church for a while may have heard the word ‘reformed’ used alongside terms like “the reformation”, “Martin Luther”, “the Puritans”, “Jonathon Edwards” and so on. Reformed Theology could be (and may be) the subject of a separate post in future, but it’s an important part of how I am currently positioned in my understanding of who God is. It’s also something I’ve come to treasure the more I’ve studied it.

Theology matters. Sometimes when I say this little catchphrase to Christian friends they roll their eyes as if to say “just let people believe what they want to believe, even if they don’t know why they believe it.” I can understand not wanting to over-intellectualise spiritual matters for the sake of it, but at the same time I believe it is worth considering what you believe and why you believe it and studying these things carefully in order to grow in wisdom and understanding whilst bolstering your ability to give a reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:14-16). Theology allows us to know the difference between following the teaching’s of God or following false/distorted messages.

What is a ‘Bapticostal’?

To unpack the ‘Reformed Bapticostal’ title a bit more, I’ll start with the second part; Bapticostal. When you first hear it I’m sure it sounds like some kind of indigestion-alleviating medication – you know like “Bapticostal, now in orange, lemon AND blackcurrant flavours,” but as far as I know, it is not. It is simply a portmanteau of the words ‘Baptist’ and ‘Pentecostal’. Why mix the two though? The answer is basically that it best describes what I consider to be an ideal balance of denominational characteristics within the Australian church. Again, some people I talk to like to say “who cares about denominations” and “we’re all one church really” and in many ways I affirm both of these statements, but I also understand that denominations are not only a reality but at times a helpful identifying tool to understand how various churches align themselves on certain matters. I would argue that on the absolute fundamental tenets of the faith the mainline protestant denominations are in agreement and it is [generally] the smaller, practical, stylistic issues that vary most widely between denominations. I would also argue that just because I like the ‘Bapticostal’ mix it does not invalidate the other denominations. Nonetheless, the distinctions can at times be helpful.

Without writing a dissertation on each denomination (which I’m not really qualified to do), I’ll briefly explain how I’ve come into contact with various denominations to give a bit more background to my story:

  1. Grew up attending a bible-based, evangelical, contemporary Baptist church
  2. Attended a private Lutheran Primary School
  3. At age 18 transitioned to a Uniting Church (the UCA has its roots in a combination of the Methodist / Presbyterian traditions)
  4. At 22 transitioned back to my original Baptist church (around the time I got married)
  5. At 24 my wife and I decided we should to move to a church neither of us had grown up in and one closer to where we were now living, so we joined a small pentecostal church re-plant under the pastoral leadership of a friend who we knew was ‘solid’ and not big on hype
  6. At 26 moved to another pentecostal church closer to home (though I generally visit my original [Baptist] church when I’m in the area)
  7. Throughout my twenty-something years I led on a non-denominational youth camp which was (in recent years) largely overseen by members of an evangelical Anglican church

Please note that in Australia, the ‘Baptist’ denomination does not have any association to the Westboro Baptist ‘Church’ in America. I know of many great Baptist churches in America who I’m sure are horrified about the conduct of Westboro’s members, whose favourite prefix phrase is “God hates…”

In contrast, the God of the Bible is a God whose very nature is love, while also being a God of righteousness and perfect justice. God hates sin, but his key message is one of love towards people, not hate.

Below are some strengths of the two denominations (Baptist and Pentecostal) that I try to retain in my own theology. These are not exhaustive lists, but are some of the key characteristics that I have noted:

Baptist

  • thorough dedication to biblical accuracy and scriptural sufficiency in preaching and teaching
  • contemporary worship that strives for excellence but seeks to be real, not flashy or driven by hype
  • prayer seen as a vital aspect of church life and individual lives of believers
  • missions as a key focus and function of the body of Christ
  • communion taken regularly, but not weekly
  • adult baptism by immersion celebrated as a public declaration of faith and outward sign of an inner life change
  • gifts of the Spirit encouraged
  • Spiritual gifts traditionally seen as ‘charismatic’ (such as speaking in tongues and prophecy) used in accordance with Biblical instruction (eg. 1 Corinthians 14:26-40). For example, if tongues are spoken aloud during a corporate gathering, the congregation expects that God will provide an interpretation so that the gift edifies the body rather than the individual
  • social justice causes often involve spiritual input so as to meet spiritual needs of individuals and communities as well as physical needs
  • congregations are largely autonomous, with a system of pastors, elders/deacons and members who vote on constitutional issues/major changes in the life of the church (leading to transparency in big-decision making process)

Pentecostal

  • intentional openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit
  • dedication to teaching, challenging and encouraging the body through the preaching of the Word
  • a sense of real joy in God – fueling our lives as believers throughout the week
  • a focus on the love of God for us, his children
  • prayer seen as a vital aspect of church life and individual lives of believers
  • expectation for the miraculous to continue to take place in the present day via the work of the Holy Spirit
  • contemporary worship that strives for excellence and seeks to allow room for the Spirit to guide the service, at times changing the original plan or flow
  • prophetic gifts exercised semi-regularly during church meetings
  • high sensitivity to being ‘seeker friendly’ and offering outreach programs that meet the needs of the community

These lists are not intended to portray either denomination as better than the other, but they are aspects of each denomination that I am thankful for and that have helped shape me as a follower of Jesus.

Famous Baptist preacher Charles Haddon (C.H.) Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) had this to say about the Baptist tradition:

“We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians.  We did not commence our existence at the Reformation, we were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel underground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor; I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer; as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government! And we will never make the Church… the despot over the consciences of men.”

– Charles Spurgeon (click here for quote source).

Baptists have a tendency to be seen as fairly straight-down-the-line, and perhaps a bit too serious at times. This is a stereotype and indeed many of my Baptist friends are extremely joy-filled, fun loving people, but their serious commitment to preaching and teaching with accuracy, and to faithfully modeling the finer points of church doctrine and practice on the instructions set forth in New Testament scripture is something I really treasure.

In terms of the Pentecostal tradition, the following quote from Protestant preacher Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones aka “The Doctor” (1899 – 1981) sums it up well. Following his diagnosis and during his battle with cancer his state of health forced him to resign from his position as Senior Pastor of Westminster Chapel in London (1968). During this year he spent several months traveling to other churches in the region, listening to the preaching of his peers. Dr Lloyd-Jones is, in my opinion, one of the greatest preachers of the past 200 years in terms of his faithful interpretation and communication of scripture, however his comment (after visiting other non-charismatic churches) was that one aspect in particular required more attention.

For six months, until September, I did not preach at all. For four months I have had the most valuable experience of being a listener. My general impression is that most of our services are terribly depressing! I am amazed people still go to church; most who go are female and over the age of forty. The note missing is ‘joy in the Holy Ghost’. There is nothing in these services to make a stranger feel that he is missing something by not being there.”

– Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (click here for quote source).

Again, please understand that neither of these quotes (or dot-point lists) is supposed to paint either side of the Bapti-costal equation as being deficient. In fact, the Baptist church I grew up in is quite comfortable with the Holy Spirit’s presence and the Pentecostal church I now attend has some excellent preachers of scripture, but in my experience this combination of denominational theologies/ideals/practices has provided me with both a love for scriptural study and a willingness to at times check my personal, human comforts at the door and allow the Holy Spirit of God the freedom to direct the church in a way that simultaneously points us to Jesus and equips us for ministry.

Why ‘reformed’?

Hopefully that explains ‘Bapticostal’ a bit more, but what about ‘Reformed’? My computer is telling me this post is already 2064 words in length so I’ll make it as brief as possible!

Having watched my Dad minister to numerous people from various walks of life over the years, there are several occasions that stick out in my mind. One of these was when two Mormon missionaries came knocking on the door and my Dad invited them into the living room and walked them through the book of Romans. I didn’t fully understand the heavy theology of Romans at the time, but I admired his loving yet uncompromising approach. Couple this with my youth pastor instilling in me a sense of the importance of mission and our role as ‘sacred agents’ of Jesus in this world and my love for shall we say ‘robust discussion’ at times and I have developed a real passion for apologetics. Needless to say, when some Mormon missionaries came knocking on my door last year, I too invited them in… they stayed about three hours. I figure Jesus told the disciples he would make them “fishers of men”, so if the fish come to my door, I won’t just turn them away! This experience birthed in me a passion to understand Mormon theology better so that I could more adequately reason with them from the scriptures and show the reason for the hope I have, and how this differs drastically from theirs based on the object of that hope. I believe it was at this time that God led me to a podcast by an American church involved heavily in on-the-ground evangelism and apologetics (including to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses – both of which I’ve spoken to at length on various occasions), but also aligned strongly to reformed theology. Needless to say I read, studied and listened to as much material as I could before I met with my Mormon friends again.

The second time they came back for two hours and then another time for 2 more hours. By this time I’d walked them through Romans and explained salvation by grace (not works) and that the Bible gave us the test of a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:21-22) which Joseph Smith simply doesn’t stand up to. In fact, I was able to point out to them from their own historical documents via the Brigham Young University website that Joseph Smith was even so wrong as to boast about being greater than Jesus (History of the Church Volume 6, Chapter 19, page 409). As a result I believe (and pray) that seeds were planted as we talked through these important differences between Christianity and Mormanism.

Something else I’ve learned from my study over this last year, is that reformed theology has caused the Bible to come alive to me in a fresh way. It holds to the five solas – with a particular emphasis for me [as a 21st Century believer] on sola scriptura – wherein the Bible is the supreme rule of faith in all matters of doctrine and practice. It also holds to a ‘big view of God’, wherein God is sovereign over all things. Literally, ALL THINGS (I always knew/confessed this but when it came to issues like predestination I was a fence sitter). I know some people get nervous about 5 point (TULIP) Calvinism, but the more I study, the more I believe that God is a God of order, consistency and powerful [active] love (as opposed to love based primarily on human response). Whereas before I’d straddled the line on the ever contentious ‘predestination debate’ I now believe that God has predestined a people for himself and that we have a responsibility to respond to him, but this response is initiated by the Holy Spirit as he regenerates our hearts, prompting us of our need for repentance. I had always said “God is in control”, but I had thought that our salvation was dependent on our choice to respond or not, of our own free will. When I considered more seriously the idea that we cannot respond until we are drawn to him, it gave me a new sense of wonder for this God who chose me before the foundation of the world. It also stirs my heart for his mission afresh because I don’t know who the elect are, and I am not intended to – I am just commanded to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations in the name of my Heavenly Father, His Son and the Holy Spirit.

Below are just some scripture references that have helped bolster reformed theology for me and have led me to a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty (including the doctrine of predestination):

  • Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV)
  • 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-12 ESV)
  • 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-9 ESV)
  • The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. (Proverbs 16:4 ESV)
  • 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30 ESV aka “The Golden Chain of Redemption”)
  • 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44 ESV)
  • Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV)
  • And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ (Luke 8:9-10 ESV)
  • 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16 ESV)
  • 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48 ESV)
  • 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” … 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9:7-33 ESV)
  • 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15 ESV)
  • 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV – my emphasis added)
  • 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18 ESV)

I am not yet at the end of my life (as far as I know at the time of writing), so I’m sure I still have much to learn, but the fact is that God has led me to a deeper understanding of and love for Him and His sovereignty through reformed theology. Sure, for all intents and purposes to the non-believer I’m ‘a Christian’ – a label I still very much embrace. Personally though, I have found it helpful to work out where I fit (Reformed Bapticostal is the best way I can describe it currently) and where God is leading me on this faith journey as he continues to reveal himself to me.

If you don’t yet know God, I’d encourage you to ask him (in plain speech is fine) to reveal himself to you. Begin to read his word (I recommend the English Standard Version (ESV), but the NIV and NKJV are good too) and get connected with a local bible-based church. If you already know God, I’d encourage you to consider where you are at in your understanding of who He is and what He has done for you. Where is there room for growth? What hard questions do you still have about his-story as revealed in scripture, and about how you relate to it? I have personally found more clarity and delight in God since coming to understand more fully that He is sovereign over all, and yet knows you intimately and chose you, before the world began. What a treasure it is to know this God, the God who can do all things and “works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

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