The two most common doctrinal statements of Reformed Baptist churches are the 1646 and the 1689 London Baptist Confessions of Faith. In a previous article I wrote of the history of these two confessions. The 1646 Confession was largely written for “Apologetic” purposes, defending the London Baptists against charges of being rabble-rousing “Anabaptists.” Whereas the 1689 Confession was adopted by Baptists for largely "Political" purposes, to show solidarity with Presbyterian and Congregationalist “non-conformists” who were being persecuted by the Church of England. The 1689 Confession itself is essentially a carbon copy of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith; with a few noted differences relating primarily to mode of baptism.
Another striking difference between the two confessions is the use of language that speaks of the Law “binding” the Christian. Section nineteen of the 1689 Confession says this: “Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly.” (emphasis added) And again, under the heading “Moral Law” the 1689 Confession says: “The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof.” (emphasis added) Regarding the Sabbath, the 1689 Confession says: “In His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him.” (emphasis added)
While it should be noted that the Bible itself never refers to the Law of Moses, nor to the Ten Commandments as the “Moral Law” - nor does the New Testament “bind” the Christian with Sabbath Law (in fact the New Testament expressly declares the Sabbath to be fulfilled in Christ, Heb. 4:1-11 ; Col. 2:16-17); the purpose of this article will not be to address either of these issues; but rather the language of “binding Christians” that is so commonly used in the 1689 Confession.
Certainly it goes without saying that New Testament Christians have an ethical standard by which they live. No serious and genuine Christian would ever argue that Christians are free to live however they wish. The Apostle Paul condemns such thinking in Romans when he himself was accused of “antinomianism” if not downright licentiousness. Paul wrote: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 NASB) The topic I'm addressing is whether or not the Mosaic Law is intended to “bind” the Christian in their conduct; and if this language of “binding” is in fact a means of sanctification in a born again Christian. Does a regenerate believer, who is indwelled by the Holy Spirit, need the Law of Moses to “bind” their conduct? If so, then they may not possess the salvation that they claim. While believers still sin and fall short daily; there is a true desire within them to love and follow Jesus. A “binding” by Mosaic Law is not only unnecessary; but unheard of in the New Testament canon.
Consider for a moment the words of the Apostle John: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:1-3 NASB, emphasis added) Christians have a desire to obey the commands of Jesus, which incidentally would not be the same as the Law of Moses. Paul declared himself “free from the Law” while still being under the “Law of Christ.” (see 1 Cor. 9:21) Clearly Paul differentiates between Mosaic commands and Christian ones. While there is certainly overlap in some of these commands, Paul was not looking to Moses, nor did he declare himself “bound” by Moses; but rather he was under the Law of Christ. And this "Law of Christ" is not burdeonsome to the believer. While sin prevents them from perfect adherence; they are motivated by the Spirit of Love rather than the binding of the Law. Adopting a "binding" type of mindset is clearly at odds with what John is teaching and with what Paul is teaching. What motivates the Christian to obey Christ? Binding Law or unbounded love? Moses or Jesus? The flesh or the Spirit? The New Testament would whole-heartedly affirm the latter in each case.
One danger in adhering to the 1689 London Confession's “bind” language is that it leads to a clear misuse of the Mosaic Law. A Law that was given to a specific people (Israel) under a specific covenant, for a temporary amount of time (Gal. 3:25), and for a specific purpose of pointing to Christ (Gal. 3:24). In taking this Law upon themselves as an ethical standard, New Covenant Christians fall into the trap of mixing the covenants. While embracing the salvation brought by Christ in the New Covenant, they still wish to be sanctified by adhering to the code of Moses; which was not intended to be the standard for the Christian. Why a paedobaptist would wish to do this is obvious. The need to justify infant baptism must be accomplished by linking it to the Old Covenant practice of circumcision. While the Scriptures themselves never do this, the paedo-baptist must in order to explain an unbiblical practice, rooted in Catholicism that is never taught or even implied in the Bible. It's easy to see why a Presbyterian would want to be so closely aligned with Mosaic Law; but it is baffling to consider why a Baptist would. While Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians alike share many common beliefs regarding salvation and the nature of God; it would seem that some Baptists have been duped into going along with unbiblical notions of the Law that have no bearing in the New Testament Scriptures. Strangely enough, such Baptists will defend to the death the Law of Moses, not seeing that in doing so they are arguing for a Presbyterian way of thinking. If they truly do believe in the Mosaic code the same way the Presbyterian does, then they might also be expected to embrace infant baptism as a “sign of the covenant.” There is a sense in which the Presbyterian is more consistent in their erroneous thinking than the Reformed Baptist is, at least the Baptist who adheres to the 1689 Confession.
Another danger of adopting a “bind with the Law” type of mindset is that it often produces a legalistic spirit among Christian brethren. Sadly, this Pharisaic-type of “eye speck” examining by “log eyed” legalists is the very type of practice Jesus condemns (Matt. 7:1-5). Yet if the Law truly “binds” the Christian, then many well-meaning Christians will use this erroneous standard, not only in their own lives, but also to confront, rebuke, and correct others who may not deserve or need the correction. If you've ever been rebuked by a brother for mowing your lawn on a Sunday (the so called Christian Sabbath) then you know of what I speak. While we should have a zeal for personal holiness and even a desire to help others and to hold them accountable; we should seek to avoid a legalistic spirit. But in some ways, the 1689 Confession, and by extension the Westminster Confession; may set up and promote such legalism with the language of “binding” the Christian. Unfortunately there are those zealous Christians out there who see it as their personal goal to police others conduct and will gladly use the Law to “bind” them. They indeed have a zeal, but it is not in accordance with knowledge (Rom. 10:2). And though they may have good intentions, their conduct and spirit is more akin to the Pharisees that Jesus and Paul opposed; rather than the Spirit of Christ that is motivated by love.
Some have said that the paedobaptist needs to “finish the Reformation.” In other words, while many unbiblical practices were rejected as a result of the Reformers cry of “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); infant baptism has been clung to. Reformed Baptists who hold to the 1689 Confession have likewise sought a “middle ground” between clear Biblical teaching and the slavish instructions of unbiblical tradition. Such Reformed Baptists should see this adherence to Mosaic Law for what it is; a Presbyterian attempt to justify unbiblical traditions, and they should “finish the Reformation” in their own right by adopting a more scriptural position.
While Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians have much to celebrate in common confession; the differences really go much deeper than most realize. It is not merely “mode of baptism” that we differ on. It is also the justification for why we use the modes we do. Furthermore there are stark differences between Baptists and Presbyterians over continuity and discontinuity between the covenants; and over the Law in general. Historically speaking, there is also a tendency on the part of paedobaptists to “bind” other believers with their interpretation of the Scriptures. Whereas, historically speaking, Baptists have sought religious liberty and freedom in both church practices and in governmental affairs. A cursory look at colonial America shows this glaring difference, as many paedobaptists desired for America to have a “Church State” that would be paedobaptistic in nature. Some of these patriots sought civil laws that would punish any citizen who refused to baptize their infants. They considered this to be a good and godly thing; after all they were forcing obedience upon the rebels of God's Law. They were “binding” citizens to obey God. Of course true obedience is from the heart. True obedience has nothing to do with infant baptism. And true obedience doesn't come about by “binding.”
It was the Baptists, most notably Roger Williams, who fought against this “binding” Church-State and sought religious freedom to worship according to the dictates of one's own conscience and interpretation of Scripture. Even the very phrase “separation of Church and State” was first penned by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut who feared government intrusion in their church matters. He assured them that the Constitution was set up so that a “wall of separation” existed between the Church and the State. While modern day atheists have misinterpreted this to mean Christians must stay out of the public square, the true intent of the First Amendment was to protect people of all beliefs from governmental control. And most notably to protect Baptists from paedobaptist attempts to “bind” them to Presbyterian beliefs.
In contrast to the 1689 Confession, consider how the 1646 Confession speaks of the Christian's ethical code. Section twenty-four of the 1646 Confession states: "All believers are a holy and sanctified people, and that sanctification is a spiritual grace of the new covenant, and an effect of the love of God manifested in the soul, whereby the believer presseth after a heavenly and evangelical obedience to all the commands, which Christ as head and king in His new covenant hath prescribed to them." This focus on the regenerate nature of a Christian's obedience to Christ rather than a "binding" of the Law of Moses is much more in line with Christian spirit and practice.
In conclusion, the “bind” language of the 1689 London Baptist Confession is rooted in the Westminster Confession's interpretation of Mosaic Law and in a Presbyterian mindset of controlling others actions. Born again believers have a desire to love, follow, and obey Christ; and need not be bound by the Mosaic code. Criminals need “bound” by laws that prevent them from harming others. Christians are free. Not to sin, nor to live as they please. But they are free from the bondage of sin and made “slaves of Christ Jesus” whereby they lovingly follow the voice (and the commandments) of their Chief Shepherd. By all means, Christians need instruction and they need to know God's will regarding their conduct. But ultimately they won't find this instruction in the “binding” of the Law of Moses; but rather in the joyful submission to the Word of God most clearly and supremely expressed in the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ and His inspired Apostles.