What Does It Mean to be Baptist?
Starting at the Beginning
Please note that the title of this article is What Does It Mean to Be Baptist, not What Does It mean to Be A Baptist. Within the context of the independent Baptist movement, we must understand that Baptist is not a noun, but an adjective. I am Baptist, not a Baptist. The word Baptist describes a belief system.
Independent Baptists do not constitute a denomination. That being said, there are all kinds of denominational Baptists: Southern Baptist, American Baptist, General Association of Regular Baptists, the list goes on. There are all kinds of Baptist conferences, conventions, and associations. They belong to a denomination and are not under independent rule.
As independents our rule comes from the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Scripture outlines seven major doctrines that constitute Baptist Doctrine. Baptist is only a term to describe a belief system. You may not adhere to the belief system. That is okay, but I have long ago settled in my mind that these basic Bible doctrines are true. Therefore, this article is not about who is right and who is wrong, but about what constitutes Baptist beliefs.
If you adhere to the following seven doctrinal teachings you are Baptist even though you do not attend a Baptist church. On the other hand, if you attend a Baptist church but do not follow these teachings, you are not Baptist. With that in mind please allow me to briefly introduce you to these seven baptist distinctives.
Contending for the Faith
Baptists possess a rich heritage. Jude 3 tells us, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
It was due to those past contenders that allow us to have the freedom and the Truth today. As Baptists, we trace our roots back to the New Testament Church that we see in the book of Acts. Along the way, many have paid the ultimate price of death to secure the Truth for us. It is because of their sacrifice that we are able to continue in “the old time religion” today.
Seven Baptist Doctrines
The first Baptist Distinctive upon which all others are based is the sole authority of the Scriptures. If the Bible says it, that settles it. The Bible is the sole authority for our faith and practice. We, as Baptist, hold to the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture. In other words, God so guided the human authors that not just the ideas were inspired, but the very words were God-breathed (verbal). Not only that, but that every word is the Word of God (plenary), and equally inspired. All other Baptist beliefs stem from the fact that the Bible is trustworthy and complete (II Timothy 3:16, 17).
Secondly, Baptists hold to the belief of salvation by grace through faith and repentance alone (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Acts 17:30). We cannot earn or pay for our salvation in any way shape or form.
Thirdly, Baptists believe that once we are saved, we cannot lose our salvation (I Peter 1:5). We are eternally secure in the arms of Jesus. We are not given a license to sin. If we truly realize what Christ has done for us, we will love Him and want to serve Him with all of our heart. But absolutely no sin can separate us from the Father (Romans 8:35, 39).
The fourth distinctive is the autonomy of the local church. Each church is independent of every other church and answerable only to her Head, Jesus Christ. Even though Christ is the Head, He has given the pastor (as His under-shepherd) the authority to oversee His church (I Peter 5:2; Hebrews 13:7).
Fifthly, Baptists hold to the doctrine of baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances rather than sacraments. A sacrament is a work required to earn God’s favor. Baptism witnesses to the world of one’s free choice to follow Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. Neither in any way bring salvation.
Baptists also believe in the individual priesthood of the believer—the teaching that each individual can come representing himself before the throne of God (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19; I Peter 2:5). Along with this is the concept of sole liberty. Sole liberty teaches that each individual is responsible only to God for his doctrine, practice, and conscience. Again, that does not justify loose living. Each individual is responsible for his obedience to Christ (I John 2:27; Romans 14:5).
Lastly, Baptists believe in the separation of church and state. If each individual is responsible to God, then certainly the state should not dictate to anyone what religious beliefs they should hold. It seems that the New Testament church has always been under some form of persecution, but true Baptists will always obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). Just as the state is to have no control of an individual’s beliefs, neither is the church to attempt to control the state. We should however, be concerned about the state of politics (Romans 13:1).
Along with these seven distinctives, Baptists also believe in the trinity; the incarnation, virgin birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; the reality of the Second Coming, Heaven and Hell.
If you adhere to all of the above, you are baptist regardless of the name that is on the building. Men, women, and children have all been put to death to protect the freedoms outlined in Scripture and the privileges that accompany them. Remember that with every privilege comes responsibility. You and I have the tremendous responsibility of ensuring that future generations continue to have the opportunity to practice what we so often take for granted.
The Baptist Mission
In 1777 Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. In 1782 the bald eagle became the national bird. In 1896 the phrase “In God We Trust” was placed on our coins. And in 1986 the rose became the official flower of the American people. Our roots run deep. Thousands have sacrificed their lives by shedding their blood on foreign soil that we might remain free. We have a heritage to be proud of, and I for one, am proud to be an American.
Likewise, Baptists have a spiritual heritage. I am also proud to be Baptist, in part, due to its rich history. I am proud to follow in the ways of thousands who have sacrificed their lives by shedding their blood that I might remain spiritually free.
“The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe .” (John 1:7). John the Baptist was paving the way for Jesus and His church. He came as a witness of the Light that should come. Matthew 3:2, 3 goes on to tell us that John came preaching repentance and preparing the way and making the path straight. “And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
John’s message was one of repentance. This is to be our message. We are to be witnesses for the Light. We are to make His paths straight. We have been sent by the same God that established the New Testament church. Our roots run deep.
Jesus said In Matthew 16:18, “…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ promised to build His church upon the foundation of He being the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). He is still building that same church using the same doctrine. Jesus promised that the first century church would never die—NEVER.
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