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By Gary F. Zeolla
Darkness to Light is dedicated to explaining and defending the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. But also, at various places on this Web site, it is mentioned that this ministry and its the director ascribe to a "Reformed-Baptist Perspective" of the Christian faith. I have been asked what I mean by this phrase. This question will be answered by looking at each term separately.
The Reformation began in 1517 by Martin Luther (1483-1546) when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. Lutheran churches of today trace their roots to Martin Luther and his teachings.
John Calvin (150964) was the second major reformer. Calvins views were similar to Luthers; but with some significant differences. Calvin articulated his ideas in great detail in his Institutes of the Christian Religion and in his many Biblical commentaries.
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was a third major reformer of the 1500s. His views were similar to Calvins. Various Reformed and Presbyterian churches trace their roots to the teachings of Calvin and/ or Zwingli.
For the purposes of this article, these three men, along with their close companions, will be collectively called the Reformers. The theological system based on the teachings of Calvin, Zwingli, and others of like-mindedness is known as "Calvinism" or more generally, "Reformed."
Calvinism is summarized in "The Five Points of Calvinism."1 These points are also called "The Doctrines of Grace."
Another way to summarize the teachings of the Reformers and the Reformed faith is with the three "rallying cries" of the Reformation. This article will look at each of these, along with one additional point. The "cries" were expressed by three Latin phrases.
The first rallying cry was sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). This idea is represented in this ministrys Confession of Faith when it states that the Scriptures are, "the Divine and final authority for all Christian faith and life" (2Tim 3:14-17).
Moreover, the Reformers believed in the perspicuity of Scripture. Perspicuity comes from "perspicuous" which means, "Clearly expressed or presented; easy to understand."2
The Reformers believed the basic teachings of the Scriptures could be understood by the common person. They did not need an ecclesiastic authority to interpret the Bible for them (Deut 30:11-14; Rom 10:6-8; 1John 2:27).
What the people needed was a reliable translation in their own language. So Martin Luther translated the Bible into his native German. Other Reformers then translated the Scriptures into their native tongues.
However, by Sola Scriptura the Reformers did not mean that only the Bible should be read and studied. They recognized that God has been working in his people throughout the centuries, raising up faithful teachers for Himself. And the reading of these writings can be of much spiritual benefit (Neh 8:6-8; 1Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11).
Moreover, they were just as they were called "reformers." Initially, Luther simply wanted to reform the Catholic Church. But in April 1521 Luther was summoned to Worms by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The Archbishop of Tier asked Luther if he would recant his writings.
After a day of reflection, Luther uttered his now famous words:
Since then your Majesty and your lordships desire a reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reasonI do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each othermy conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. Amen.3
It was only after the Diet at Worms that the reformation was moved to outside of the Catholic Church. But even then, the Reformers did not believe they were starting a new church; they believed they were reforming the true Church.
But they now used the original definition of the word "church" as being a community or assembly, rather than an organization.4 They considered the Church to be where Christians were gathered together with the Gospel being preached rightly and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lords Supper being administered (Acts 2:42).
Moreover, the Reformers took great pains to demonstrate that their teachings, along with being Biblical, also agreed with what Christians leaders had taught at various times, especially in the early centuries.
Calvins Institutes, for instance, is filled not only with Biblical quotes, but also with quotations of numerous Christian writers since the time of the Apostles.
Nor did the Reformers believe that all the Catholic Churchs traditions needed to be tossed out. But they differed in how far to go in this regard. Luther believed any tradition could be retained provided it did not conflict with Scripture (Matt 15:1-6; Mark 7:1-13). So much of the Catholic liturgy was retained. Calvin, on the other hand, believed any Catholic church laws without explicit Scriptural support should be discarded. Only traditions based on the Word of God should be retained (1Cor 11:2; 2Thes 2:15; 3:6; Col 2:8). So Reformed and Presbyterian churches are much less liturgical than Lutheran churches.5
This writer agrees with Luther that traditions conflicting with Scripture need to be avoided. And I agree with Calvin that traditions without Scriptural support must not become church "laws" that must be followed. Our liberty in Christ should never be compromised (Gal 5;1,13; Col 2:20-23; 1Tim 4:1-5).6
The second rallying cry of the Reformation was sola gratia (grace alone). But before discussing this point, another emphasis of Reformed thought needs to be looked at: the holiness of God.
The importance of a proper grasp of Gods holiness became apparent to this writer years ago when I read R.C. Sprouls book The Holiness of God.
On the back cover is a quotation by Chuck Colson, "The material in this book drove me to my knees and dramatically changed my Christian life."7 I had the same experience.
The most interesting chapter in the book is Chapter Five entitled, "The Insanity of Luther." In it, Sproul relates the events that transpired when Luther performed his first Mass as a Catholic priest. When it came time for the Prayer of Consecration, Luther froze. He was unable to pray the words, "We offer unto thee, the living, the true, the eternal God."
Luther later explained what happened:
At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, "With what tongue shall I address such majesty, seeing that all men ought to tremble in the presence of even an earthly prince? Who am I that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround him. At his nod the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say, "I want this, or I ask for that?" For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living, eternal and the true God.8
Luther had been a monk before he became a priest. And, "As a monk Luther devoted himself to a rigorous kind of austerity. He set out to be the perfect monk."9 He knew that since God was perfectly holy, he had to be perfectly holy in order to please Him (Matt 5:48).
But no matter how hard he tried he simply could not be perfectly sinless (Deut 27:26; Gal 3:10; 1John 1:8).
Eventually, Luther came to understand the grace of God by studying the Book of Romans. It was only then that his troubled heart could be settled (Rom 4:4-8; 5:1,2).
The order here is important, first a grasp of Gods holiness, then a grasp of our utter sinfulness before God, then, and only then, can Gods grace be truly understood (Isa 6:1-7).10
The third rallying cry of the Reformation was sola fide (faith alone). This term refers to the doctrine that salvation is by faith alone, apart from any human works (Rom 3:20-22; Gal 2:16). This idea is common in the evangelical world today; however, most today do not take it as far as the Reformers did.
Calvin explains the doctrine:
If a price is to be put upon works according to their own worth, we hold that they are unfit to appear in the presence of God: that man, accordingly, has no works in which he can glory before God, and that hence, deprived of all aid from works, he is justified by faith alone. Justification, moreover, we thus define: The sinner being admitted into communion with Christ is, for his sake, reconciled to God; when purged by his blood he obtains the remission of sins, and clothed with righteousness, just as if it were his own, stands secure before the judgment-seat of heaven.11
With the above paragraph the average evangelical would agree. However Calvin goes further. He states, " faith itself is produced only by the Spirit." He also refers to "the gift of faith" and says, "faith is a special gift." Even further, "election is the parent of faith" and "faith is aptly conjoined with election, provided it hold the second place." 12
So salvation by faith alone for the Reformers was bound up with the idea of election. Faith is a gift God gives to his elect (Acts 13:48; 16:14; Eph 2:8). Thus it could truly be said, "Salvation is of the Lord" (see Jonah 2:9).
Sovereignty of God:
The last aspect of the Reformed faith to be looked at is Gods sovereignty. All of the Reformers put an emphasis on the sovereignty of God. But it is Calvin who is best remembered for this doctrine, and the resultant predestination.
Simply put, this doctrine states that God is in control (Dan 4:34,35). And in the Reformed view, this means God is in control all things, including so called human freewill (Ezra 1:1; 7:27f; Prov 21:1).
This concept is important. Unless God is absolutely sovereign there would be no basis for trusting in him. If any event in history were outside of Gods control, He could not be trusted with our lives, our destinies, or even our prayers.
Calvin comments on the first clause in the "Lords Prayer" ("Our Father in heaven"), " we must put our confidence in him, understanding that heaven and earth are governed by his providence and power . Then when his throne is fixed in heaven, we are reminded that he governs the world, and, therefore, that it is not in vain to approach him whose present care we actually experience"13 (Neh 1:4-2:8; Acts 7:9,10).
Much more could be said on the Reformed faith. But this section will have to close by saying this writer, for the most part, ascribes to the "Westminster Confession of Faith." This document is a detailed expression of the Reformed faith, originally drafted in 1647.
The Baptist movement was, " begun (c.1608) by English Separatists in Amsterdam. The first American congregation was founded (1639) by Roger Williams in Providence, R.I.14
Christian History magazine lists "Five key convictions that have been essential to Baptists from their beginnings." These five Baptist distinctives will be overviewed.
A quotation from a Baptist writer will first be used to explain each point.15 Then a comparison with the Reformed view will be made, and lastly, my own position articulated.16
1. The supreme authority of
"The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience" (Thomas Helwys - 1611).
Calvinists would most definitely agree with the first point. However, as stated above, the Reformers were just that, reformers. But the Baptists more considered themselves "restorers." They felt the truth of God had been lost and needed to be restored. As such, they did not see as much as a need to refer to Christian writers of centuries past as the Reformers did.
This writer is more in accord with the Reformers on this point. God has been working throughout the centuries. He did not stop working when the last Apostle died and start to work again yesterday. If Christians ignore the great Christian writings of the past two millennia, they do so to their spiritual detriment.17
But it must be emphasized, both Calvinists and Baptists would agree that the Scriptures are "the divine and final authority" (Isa 8:20).
2. Preaching and evangelism:
"The work of the Christian ministry, it has been said, is to preach the gospel, or to hold up the free grace of God through Jesus Christ, as the only way of a sinners salvation. This is doubtless true; and if this be not the leading theme of our ministrations, we had better be anything than preachers" (Andrew Fuller - 1785).
The Reformers would wholeheartedly agree with this attitude, and so would this writer (Luke 24:46; 1Cor 2:2).
3. Believers baptism:
"Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispersed only upon persons professing faith. The way and manner of dispensing this Ordinance the Scripture holds to be dipping or plunging the whole body under water" (The London Confession - 1644).
This is where the Reformers part company with the Baptists. The Reformers uniformly believed in infant baptism by sprinkling or pouring. The difference here is the result of differing definitions of what a local church should be.
To the Reformers a church included Christians, and their children. They considered baptism to be the New Testament equivalent of Old Testament circumcision. Just as the children of the old covenant were circumcised and made a member of the community, so should children in the new covenant be baptized and become members of the church.
For Baptists, a church is a community of believers.18 Children and non-believers are, of course, welcome. But only believers are considered members of the church.
As for baptism itself, nowhere in the New Testament are infants specifically said to be baptized. Moreover, every example of baptism in the New Testament occurs after someone places their faith in Christ.
Also, baptism is a symbol of dying and rising with Christ. Only baptism by immersion fits this description (Rom 6:1-4).
On this subject, this writer agrees with the Baptist position.19
4. Local church autonomy
"Each particular church has a complete power and authority from Jesus Christ to administer all gospel ordinances, provided they have sufficient, duly qualified officers to receive in and cast out, and also to try and ordain their own officers, and to exercise every part of gospel discipline and church government, independent of any other church or assembly whatever" (Benjamin Griffiths - 1746).
Baptists churches do, however, sometimes join an association or loosely connected organization for missionary and other endeavors. For instance, this writer attended Denver Seminary, which is run by the Conservative Baptist Association.
In contrast to this view, Reformed and Presbyterian churches generally follow some form of Presbyterian church government. This refers to a church being overseen by a board of elders or Presbyters. These Presbyters then meet together with other Presbyters in a local area to make decisions for the organization of churches.20 There is then often a larger meeting of Presbyters throughout a given country.
Each view, again, flows out of each traditions definition of a local church. If, in the Reformed view, children are baptized and made members of the church, then eventually there will be adult members who are not actually Christians. So not all members should participate in decisions. Only the ordained Presbyters, who assumable will be Christians, are qualified.
But in the Baptist view, only believers are members. Further, Baptists believe strongly in the "priesthood of believers" (1Peter 2:9).21 So any member is qualified for making decisions in the church.
So which view does this writer agree with? Thats hard to say. A few years ago I purchased The Classic Bible Dictionary. Under the entry of "Church, Nature and Government of" there are separate articles on seven different views of church government. Most are written by proponents of that particular view.22
I found myself in agreement with two of the articles: "Autonomous View" and "Presbyterian View." So I guess I believe in some kind of combination of the two.
In fact, Christ Community Fellowship (CCF), the church this ministry is associated with, ascribes to a "modified congregationalism" according to Pastor Jeff Youell.
As a member of the Evangelical Free Church of America, which is officially congregational, CCF has aspects of congregationalism.23 But CCF also believes the elders should have decision making authority (Acts 20:17,28; Heb 13:17).
5. Separation of Church and
"As religion must always be a matter between God and individuals, no man can be made a member of a truly religious society by force or without his own consent, neither can any corporation that is not a religious society have a just right to govern in religious affairs" (Isaac Backus - 1781).
The Reformers views on this subject were varied, and probably changed over time with shifting political situations. One thing is certain though, the Reformers did not advocate religious freedom to the degree the Baptists did.
As a citizen of the USA, this writer thanks God for the First Amendment to The Constitution of the United States, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (Matt 22:21; John 18:36).
Again, much more could be said on the Baptist movement. The above should show, though, that there are affinities between the Baptist and Reformed views, with a few significant differences. But overall, the two viewpoints are not incompatible.
The word "perspective" can mean, "The relationship of aspects of a subject to each other and to a whole: a perspective of history; a need to view the problem in the proper perspective."24
So to get a "perspective" of a subject one needs to understand each individual element of a subject in relationship to each other element and to the entire overall subject.
Throughout this Web site, various, individual elements of the Christian faith are explained and defended. The emphasis is on the "essentials of the faith" as outlined on Darkness to Light's Confession of Faith. But also, other important topics are addressed.25
As all of these Biblical teachings are put together, this writer believes a combination of "Reformed" and "Baptist" thinking helps best to organize and understand the material.
So "Reformed-Baptist Perspective" means this writer believes that in a combination of these two traditions is found the best expression of the Biblical worldview.
"I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.
"I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross."
(C.H. Spurgeon, who probably would have said he ascribed to a "Reformed-Baptist Perspective" also. From a sermon by Spurgeon titled "A Defense of Calvinism" as found in the book Charles H. Spurgeon: The Best from All His Works. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988, p.264.)
1 See the Scripture Study The Five Points of Calvinism found in my Scripture Workbook and Introduction to Calvinism by Ted Sims.
2Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Company. Electronic version licensed from InfoSoft International, Inc. All rights reserved.
3Diet of" in Walter A. Elwell, editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Quoted in C.G. Fry. "Worms, MI: Baker Book House, 1984), p.1192.
4 "Church" comes form the Greek word ekklesia. It can refer to: 1. An assembly in the ordinary classical sense (Acts 19:32,39,41). 2. The whole body of the redeemed (Eph 5:23,25,27,29 Heb 12:23). 3. A few Christians associated together in observing the ordinances of the Gospel (Ro 16:5 Col 4:15). 4. All the Christians in a particular city (Acts 8:1; 13:1; 1Cor 1:2; Rev 2:1). 5. Christians throughout the world (1Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13 Mt 16:18). Adapted from the Online Bible 7.0. In none of these definitions is there the connotation of an organization.
5Another area of major disagreement between Lutheran and Reformed views would regard the nature of the presence of Christ in the communion elements. The Baptists would then disagree with both of these views. This complex subject will not be pursued here. I will only say that my view would probably be somewhat between the Reformed and Baptist views.
6 It must be said, all churches have traditions, even less liturgical ones like Baptists. The traditions and liturgy may not be written down, but they are there. Further, though this writer prefers a less liturgical format, neither strongly liturgical nor less liturgical formats are "better" just different.
7 Quoted in R.C. Sproul. Knowing God (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985), back cover.
8 Ibid., p. 107.
9 Ibid., p. 112.
10 For more on holiness and grace see Is Your God the God of Isaiah? and Acquaint Yourself with God by Joel Rishel.
11 John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 17, Section 8.
12 Ibid., Book 3, Chapter 1, Section 4.
13 Ibid., Book 3, Chapter 20. Section 40.
14 Concise Columbia Encyclopedia is licensed from Columbia University Press. Copyright © 1995, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
15 "Baptist Distinctives," Christian History, Vol. IV, No.2, p.25. All Baptists quotations are from this source.
16 The Anabaptists of the 1500s (the "Radical Reformers") held many beliefs similar to the Baptists, including all five of the "Baptist distinctives" described here. So I could almost say I ascribe to a "Reform-Anabaptist perspective." However, the Anabaptists also held some unique doctrines, such as pacifism, that Im not quite so sure about. See the Scripture Study Christians and the Government.
17 I am NOT saying these Christian writings are inspired in the sense that the Bible is. However, God gave some to be teachers (see Eph 4:11). The ministry of those with the gift of teaching is to help people better understand what the inspired Biblical writers meant by what they said (Neh 8:1-12). See the Scripture Study Teaching and Defending the Faith for more on the need for teachers and About Darkness to Light for this ministry's perspective in this regard.
18 Hence why Baptists churches are called "Believers churches."
19 For more on this subject, see the Scripture Study Questions on Baptism.
20 Adapted form Milliard J. Erickson, Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), p.132,133.
21 The Reformers also believed in the "priesthood of believers." But they did not draw the conclusion of a regenerate church as a result.
22 Jay P. Green, Sr., editor, Classic Bible Dictionary (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Trust, 1988), pp.281-295.
23 "The Evangelical Free Church of America is an association of local churches joined together in the bonds of love for the purpose of developing and carrying on ministries which are most effectively accomplished by mutual cooperation" (www.r-i-b-s.com/EFCA/; file no longer found). The EFCA is basically Baptist in doctrine and practice.
24 The American Heritage® Dictionary.
25 See the Scripture Study Teaching and Defending the Faith for the need to explain and defend the essentials of the faith, but also other doctrines as well.
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
Reformed-Baptist Perspective. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
For a follow-up to the above article, see Re: Reformed-Baptist Perspective.
The above article was published in Darkness to Light
and posted on this website in October 1997.
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