Reformed Baptist Theology: Its Distinctives and Characteristics

Whenever someone finds out I am a Baptist, they typically ask questions like: What is a Baptist? How do Baptists differ from Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Roman Catholics, and so forth? Which kind of Baptist? American Baptist or Southern Baptist? General or Particular Baptist? Each one of these questions is important and has been addressed sufficiently by Baptist historians and theologians.

However, the one question I would like to address, which seems to raise eyebrows even amongst Baptists is: Why am I a Reformed Baptist? In order to accomplish this task, I would like to provide several links on Baptist distinctives, and I would like to specifically address the particular elements that distinguish Reformed Baptists from other types of Baptists.

First, the Founders Ministries posted an article by Tom Hicks, titled: What is a Baptist? Hicks claims:

Many times when people ask the question, “What is a Baptist?,” they’re looking for certain qualities that distinguish Baptists from other denominations. But to look for distinguishing characteristics of Baptists is a question of “Baptist distinctives.” The definition of a “Baptist” includes far more than our distinguishing doctrines and practices. What it means to be “Baptist” involves the whole of “Baptist identity.” So, the question before us is “What are the basic elements of Baptist identity?” “Baptist Identity” is an interconnected web of doctrine that leads to Baptist distinctives (in the Baptist’s opinion).

He goes on to list the following distinctives, which Hicks and other Baptist theologians believe characterize Baptists. Hicks notes:

  1. Baptists are Orthodox.
  2. Baptists are Evangelical.
  3. Baptists are Separate.
  4. Implications of Baptist Separationism
    1. First, only evangelism can grow the church.
    2. Second, congregational church government is implied.
    3. Third, separation of church and state is required.
    4. Fourth, all of this rules out infant baptism.

Founders Ministries asked Hicks to write a second article, titled: What is a Reformed Baptist? There, Hicks goes on to ask:

What is it that makes a “Reformed Baptist” distinct from other kinds of Baptists and Reformed folks? Reformed Baptists grew out of the English Reformation, emerging from Independent paedobaptist churches in the 1640’s for some very specific theological reasons, and they held to a particular kind of theology. Here are some of the theological identity markers of Reformed Baptist churches.

Hicks highlights specific differences between Baptists per se and Reformed Baptists in particular. He lists the following characteristics, which he believes distinguish Reformed Baptists:

  1. The Regulative Principle of Worship.
  2. Covenant Theology.
  3. Calvinism.
  4. The Law of God.
  5. Confessional.

Hicks also includes a link to Tom Nettles’ book defending the Reformed and Calvinist tradition throughout Baptist history, titled: By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life. Someone could also reference Nettles three volume works, titled: The Baptists: Beginnings in Britain, vol. 1; The Baptists: Beginnings in America, vol. 2; Baptists: The Modern Era, vol. 3.

For anyone interested in understanding the distinctives of Reformed Baptist theology and the covenant Baptist heritage, they should read The Distinctives of Covenant Baptist Theology, revised edition, by Pascal Denault and Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology, edited by Richard Barcellos. For anyone interested in studying Reformed Baptist Theology at the seminary level, they should consider: Reformed Theological Seminary and the The Nicole Institute of Baptist Studies, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Reformed Baptist Theological Seminary, and the newly formed Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies Theological Seminary. Finally, for anyone interested in understanding or defending the Reformed Baptist position on Baptism, please consult two articles by Dr. Greg Welty, titled, A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism and From Circumcision to Baptism.

I would like to conclude by recommending a sermon, given by Dr. James White at Alpha and Omega Ministries, titled: Why I Am a Reformed Baptist.  Dr. White lists the following reasons:

  1. Sola Scriptura.
  2. Tota Scriptura (All of Scripture).
  3. Sola Fide and Sola Gratia—The Gospel.
  4. Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be The Glory).
  5. The 1689 London Baptist Confession.
  6. The Local Church.
  7. Consistency.

Here is a link to Dr. White’s sermon:


The majority of Reformed Baptists held to the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 because they believed it summarized best the particular distinctives of what they believe Scripture teaches. This confession is probably the best resource for anyone interested in understanding the particular affirmations and distinctives of Reformed Baptist theology.


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