We call ourselves a “Reformed church” at Cornerstone, or, more specifically, a “Reformed Baptist” church. What does that really mean, though? In a nutshell, it means that we are relentlessly biblical.
Many in our day confine the term “Reformed Baptist” to a belief in a Calvinistic understanding of salvation, but it is more than Calvinism.
Reformed Baptists find their theological heritage among English Separatists of the late sixteenth century and the British Particular Baptists of the seventeenth century. While we officially use the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as informed by the Abstract of Principles (1858) of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, we find our beliefs more explicitly stated in what is known as the Second London Baptist Confession, or the Baptist Confession of 1689. Early Baptists typically identified as either Particular Baptists or General Baptists, and the distinction was primarily over the extent of Christ’s atonement. The Second London Confession reveals a people seeking to be relentlessly biblical.
Particular Baptists believed in the doctrines of grace: total depravity, unconditional election, limited or particular atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. They believed that Christ died effectually for those who would believe upon him (particular atonement), not potentially for everyone in the world (general atonement).
Particular Baptists arose out of the settled dust of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and John Calvin notably defended the New Testament doctrine of the sovereignty of God in all things generally and in individual salvation specifically. Particular Baptists would primarily differ from the earlier Protestants over the subjects of salvation. Baptism was an ordinance reserved for believers in Christ only, not for infants, and those Baptists broke from other Separatists because they sought to be relentlessly biblical.
We must keep in mind, however, that churches never “arrive” at a place of ecclesiastical perfection in this life because we as Christians never arrive at a place of perfection in this life. We still reside in flesh. We still face temptation from without and within, and we have our blind spots. We often fall back into the mindset of organizing and carrying out the functions of a local church based on church traditions and “common sense.” Seeking to be relentlessly biblical will aid us against such errors.
Here’s a relatively minor example: What about displaying the Christian flag and repeating its pledge, say, during Vacation Bible School or Sunday school? Perhaps you remember pledging allegiance to the Christian flag when you were in VBS, or maybe your children did. Do you remember the pledge?
Wikipedia introduces the subject of the Christian flag in this way: “The Christian Flag is an ecumenical flag designed in the early 20th century to represent all of Christianity and Christendom. Since its adoption by the Federal Council of Churches in 1942, it has been used by many Christian traditions, especially Protestant ones, including the Anglican, Baptist, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Quaker, and Reformed, among others.” The Federal Council of Churches was a theologically liberal ecumenical organization in the United States that gave way to the National Council of Churches (NCC). The NCC is a member of the radically liberal World Council of Churches. If that’s not troubling enough, consider the original pledge: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Saviour for whose kingdom it stands; one brotherhood, uniting all mankind in service and in love.” You can easily see the theologically liberal “fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man” in the pledge, saying that everyone is alright with God.
Troubled by that statement, some conservative churches altered the pledge: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands; one Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty for all who believe.” To be sure, that’s much better, and yet we should ask ourselves: What biblical warrant is there for a Christian flag and reciting a pledge to it?
Perhaps you think this is making the proverbial mountain-out-of-a-molehill and can come up with a dozen reasons for why this can be a good thing, but you have to consider that something arising out of theological liberalism should be problematic for Bible-believing Christians. The question remains: Where in the Scriptures is there even a hint of sanction for a Christian flag and pledging allegiance to it?
We have to remember that flags and pledges can in themselves become idolatrous, even by the most well-meaning of persons. Even the Bible can become an idol, with people giving reverence to it while rarely reading it. A pledge to the Bible aids in that idolatry. The Bible is the written word of God which reveals the mind and will of God. The Bible reveals Christ, but the Bible is not itself an object of devotion or worship.
Much better is the recitation of a creed or confession, a declaration of what we believe. A biblical case can be made for such declarations, but we’ll have to leave that for another discussion.