Narrowing an Appelative

The debate is as old as the hills – are Baptists to use the historical moniker “Reformed”? It was recently picked up by James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries who offered some critiques of R. Scott Clark. Clark, who teaches at Westminster West, in turn responded and most recently Michael Haykin of Southern Seminary has weighed in. You can check each out at their respective links.

I would like to reprint in full a comment made on Clark’s blog by Bob Gonzales of Reformed Baptist Seminary. I think he makes a lot of sense:

Dear Dr. Clark,

From a strictly historical perspective, you may have a case. That is, the term “Reformed” denoted in the 16th and 17th centuries primarily that branch of Protestantism that expressed its faith in Symbols that were paedo-baptist in sacramental and covenantal theology.

But a diachronic study of the semantic range of the term “Reformed” would reveal, I suspect, that the term “Reformed,” like the appellative “Lutheran,” has changed with time. Early on in the Reformation, the term “Lutheran” was applied, as I understand it, more broadly to include various kinds of anti-Romanists or “Protestants.” In time the semantic range of “Lutheran” eventually narrowed and was applied to those who affirmed The Augsburg Confession (1530) and/or The Formula of Concord (1576).

On the other hand, the appellative “Reformed” has, it seems, broadened in its semantic range. In point of fact, churches, theological literature (popular and academic), and other media apply the term “Reformed” to Protestant/Evangelicals that are no longer paedo-baptist sacramentally or covenantally but who share much of the same theology expressed in the earlier Reformed Symbols.

So synchronically, the term “Reformed” is no longer used to refer exclusively to paedo-baptist Christians or churches. And since the art/science of lexicography is primarily descriptive and only secondarily prescriptive, I don’t see how you can continually protest against the modern usage of the term “Reformed.” You might as well get offended when someone calls you a “nice guy” and insist that they just classified you as “stupid” or “ignorant” based on an older use of the term. In other words, you’re committing two lexical fallacies: “semantic obsolescence” and “unwarranted restriction of the semantic field” (See D. A. Carson,Exegetical Fallacies, 34-36, 57-62).

Of course, I understand your zeal for the earlier kind of Reformed theology, which was paedo-baptist. That’s fine. As a “Reformed Baptist” (please excuse my liberty with the term), I’m just as zealous for the credo-baptist version. But I think you’ll make a better case arguing from Scripture rather than using a debunked form of linguistics. Besides, your insistence that those of us who confess the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (which draws most of its language and doctrine from the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration) be excluded from “the club,” gives the appearance of “circling the wagons” rather than of extending the right hand of fellowship.

In Christ,
Bob Gonzales
Dean of Reformed Baptist Seminary
Editor of RBS Tabletalk



1 Comment

Filed under baptists, church history, debate

One response to “Narrowing an Appelative

  1. Colin

    Thanks for the helpful post and link to Haykin’s site. I think the term “reformed” is too vague. If I say I’m “Reformed,” I could be mistaken as Jewish. It is a Jewish denomination founded my Moses Mendelsohn in 18th century Germany.

    I prefer the term “Calvinistic Baptist.” Note that I am “Calvinistic,” not “Calvinist,” because I don’t affirm every point of doctrine formulated by Calvin.

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