Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
I am a Baptist. More importantly, I am a Christian. Baptist identifies one of several “Christian” denominations, each of which must be evaluated as to whether their tenants align to biblical standards as defined by the New Testament as the church. It is not my purpose here to place one denomination over another, but rather to explain my denominational preference.
I am a Baptist because I am a Christian, and the Baptist denomination, for me, more closely aligns with what I understand it means to be a Christian (see my post “I Am a Christian”). Some principle beliefs are: (1) the triune nature of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, (2) the fallen nature of man as a result of original sin, (3) salvation by Grace through faith in Christ alone, (4) the Bible is inspired (breathed out) by God therefore it is inerrant, infallible, and eternal.
I am a Baptist because I am in agreement with Baptist distinctions. For one is the autonomy of the local church. There is no organization that rules over the local church. Some may point to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as such an organization, but the SBC is a cooperative organization mostly designed to conduct national and world missions’ efforts where individual churches would not be effective. The SBC sometimes passes resolutions to confront social ills, but whether for better or worse, individual churches cannot be obligated to comply. This autonomy is also in keeping with the principles of freedom as enumerated in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America. In fact, Baptists were some of the loudest defenders of the First Amendment. The famous “wall of separation between church and state” coined by Thomas Jefferson was in response to a letter from the Danbury Baptists who were concerned that their state constitution did not provide explicit protection of religious liberty. Jefferson’s reply asserted that the First Amendment provided a “wall of separation” that prevented the state from imposing its will on the church. For example, the state cannot establish a “state” church which is supported by taxes imposed on those not belonging to that church. Baptists believe that the church is autonomous and independent from all authority other than Christ alone. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Article 17 on “Religious Liberty” puts it this way:
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others … The church should not resort the civil power to carry on its work … The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.
Along similar lines, another Baptist distinctive is the form of church government. It is congregational and democratic. All baptized members of the local congregation have an equal voice. While this is the ideal form of church government, many Baptists congregations, especially those classified as mega-churches (1000 members and above) have adopted, for pragmatic reasons, a corporate from of government where the senior pastor is seen as the CEO and the professional staff is seen as department heads. Decisions are made by the professional staff, then they are brought before the board of deacons for approval and finally the congregation is given a token vote. Whereas I can see where for some churches, this is perhaps the most efficient method by which to conduct church business, it is not in keeping with form of government of a New Testament church. Jesus commended the church of Ephesus because “this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:6, emphasis added), but He reprimanded the church of Pergamos because “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:15, emphasis added). The word “Nicolaitans” is a transliteration of the Greek word Nikolaitēs which is a compound word: nikaō which means to subdue (literally or figuratively), conquer, overcome, prevail, or to get the victory; and laos, which means people, and from where we get our English word “laity.” So the word “Nicolaitans” refers to someone who subdues, conquers, or rules over the people of the congregation. This is typically seen in the form of hierarchal forms of church government as practiced by the Roman Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox churches and many Protestant denominations. This is a top-down form of government and Jesus says He hates it. Perhaps Baptist churches have not gone to that extreme, at least not on the denominational level, yet the corporate form of government adopted by many individual churches is precariously close to Nicolaitan rule. Still, the congregational form of government is preferable and more in line with the New Testament model.
I am a Baptist because I believe in “believer’s baptism.” That is, before an individual can be baptized, he or she must first be a born-again believer (John 3:3). This precludes infant baptism. A baby cannot make a decision for himself, nor can the parents make a decision for him. Belief is always an individual matter. No matter how much I love my sons, I cannot decide for them that they will be saved – as much as I would like to; they must decide for themselves. This distinctive is what earned this denomination its name – Baptist or re-baptizers or Anabaptists. The name was a form of derision because they rejected infant baptism, and they rejected sprinkling as the mode for baptism. The early Anabaptists believed that only believers should be baptized and the only proper mode was through immersion. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Every example of baptism given in the New Testament is preceded by a demonstration of belief first. The biblical method of baptism is by immersion. The English word “baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizō, which means to “immerse” or to “overwhelm.” The translators of the King James Bible knew this, but since King James of England was an Anglican and the Anglican Church followed the Roman Catholic form of sprinkling, rather than translate the word baptizō, they transliterated it to “baptize” and thus they avoided ruffling any ecclesiastical feathers. The Anabaptists and the Baptists that followed were not bound by such trappings, and so to date, Baptists do not baptize infants and they only baptize by immersion.
I am a Baptist. I believe the Lord’s Supper, known as “communion” by Catholics and Protestants, is commemorative and symbolic. When Jesus initiated the practice, He said, “this do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Even though He said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26) and “this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28), the disciples were not eating the body of Jesus nor drinking His blood; this was meant to be symbolic from the beginning. The elements of the memorial, the bread (wafer) and the wine (grape juice for Baptists), do not mystically transform into the actual body and blood of Christ as taught by the Catholics and some Protestants; they, by their practice, crucify Christ anew each time they partake of communion. No, the elements remain symbols to remind us of His sacrificial act for the remission of our sins.
Likewise baptism is symbolic. The practice is not salvific. If that were the case, why would Jesus need to be baptized seeing that He is God? Rather, He did so as a preview of what He would do on the cross and to provide for us an example that identifies us with Him. In baptism, the believing Christian makes his public profession of faith as he identifies with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, but the key is that the candidate is already a believing Christian, i.e., he is already saved. Baptism does not save anyone; it just gets them wet! It is God’s grace through faith that saves and nothing that we do on our own (Ephesians 2:8-9).
I am a Baptist. On Sunday, I gather with fellow believers, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to worship the Lord and to study His Word – the Bible. We set aside Sunday to worship because it is The Lord’s Day, not the Sabbath. It is the first day of the week, and it is on the first day of the week that the Lord rose from the grave. Following His resurrection, the Lord presented Himself to His disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19). It was on the first day of the week that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church at Pentecost. Thereafter, it became common practice for the church to gather on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). So Sunday, the first day of the week, is the preferred day to set aside to worship the Lord.
I am a Baptist. I am not a Protestant. Baptist history predates the Reformation. Although the moniker “Baptist” was assigned to this curious sect of Christians sometime around the 16th century A.D., their roots go back to the primitive church of the first and second centuries and they were known by such names as Montanists, Donatists, Paulicians, Waldenses, Ana-Baptists and others. Throughout their history they were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church for refusing to submit to the authority of Papal rule. Following the Reformation, Baptists were persecuted by the Protestants (Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc.) for their stance against infant baptism, and sprinkling as a mode of baptism. So, do not call me a Protestant; I am a Baptist.
I am a Baptist. When I am away from home or when I move to a different place, I seek a Baptist church in which to worship. I avoid what I call “Brand-X” churches, because, while many of them are actually Baptist in practice, often they mask practices with which I would not agree or find uncomfortable. At least with the Baptist “brand,” I know what I should expect – not that I have not been surprised on occasion. It is the Baptist faith and practice that I follow, but before that, I am a Christian.