The name Reformed Baptist does not refer to a distinct denomination but instead is a description of the church's theological leaning. Not all churches that are reformed in doctrine identify themselves as such. There are two associations of Reformed Baptist churches in the United States: the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, which began in 1997, and the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals, organized in 2000. There are also associations in South Africa and New Zealand.
Reformed Baptist churches quite often adhere to either the First or Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1646 and 1689 respectively. These two statements are usually not considered exhaustive or completely accurate, but instead are convenient summaries of a church's belief. All Reformed Baptist derive all of their doctrine directly from the Bible and see it as the sole authority of faith and practice.
Reformed Baptist Churches are distinct in that they are both Reformed (adhering to and showing respect for much of the theology defined by John Calvin) as well as Baptists (believing in baptism for believers only, and that by immersion). Historically, the five points of Calvinism have been central tenets of the Reformed faith, which all Reformed Baptist churches agree with by definition. However, conservative Reformed theology is normally committed to Covenant theology, one application of which is the practice of infant baptism. For this reason more traditional Reformed branches of Christianity (Presbyterian, etc) sometimes refuse to accept their Reformed Baptist brothers as truly Reformed.
Some common (though far from universal) traits of Reformed Baptists are:
- Credalism : historical creeds are considered useful, but not authoritative.
- Localism: each congregation is a fully independent church, to the point of rejecting Conventionalism .
- Simplicity: simple forms of church governance and liturgy, specifically subordinating music to the preaching.
- Multiple pastorship: each church has multiple pastors (aka plurality of elders).
- Moderate Cessationism: the supernatural Gifts of the Holy Ghost in general, and Revivals specifically, are considered exceptional measures sovereignly bestowed by God, not to be searched as a common policy. Thus a rejection of Revivalism in general and Pentecostalism specifically.
- The idea of the Sunday as the Christian Sabbath .
- The centrality of the Word of God : the church takes no part on human schemes for church growth, nor searches for popularity, but sows the Word and trusts God will make it multiply.
- The reservation of the pastor/elder role for men.