Sometimes the question is asked, “What is a Baptist?” or “What do they believe?” While we do believe the Bible to be our authority on everything, that is not always a sufficient answer for everyone. Most denominations claim to believe the Bible, yet there are many differences in Christianity. The purpose of this lesson is to familiarize you with distinctives that are associated with Baptists.
Baptists, historically, have stood for the Word of God. They have taken a stand against liberalism, modernism, and apostasy. They have stood for the doctrines of the Bible to the point that many gave their lives. Baptists are not the same as Protestants. They have never protested anything, nor were they a part of the Protestant Reformation with Martin Luther in 1517 AD, which separated from the Catholic Church. Baptists trace their history to the early church. While sometimes known by different names, the tenets of their faith have remained constant.
In an attempt to simplify these distinctives of Baptist (Bible) doctrine, we have found it helpful to remember them in the form of this acrostic: B-A-P-T-I-S-T-S.
(B) The Bible is our sole authority for all faith, doctrine, and conduct. We need no other revelation from man, because God has given us everything He has desired for us. The Word of God is to be our guide (Psalm 119:133) and our standard of conduct (Titus 2:5). Do you remember earlier in these lessons when we talked about God’s Word? We said it is the foundation of all other doctrines and beliefs. If our thinking about the Bible is unsettled, all other areas of thinking will be unsettled.
In a day when men wish to share their “divine visions” with us, we boldly say that that which is against the Bible is not from God. His Word is our sole authority. God will not contradict His Word by commanding us to do something contrary to the Scripture. While there are certain “experiences” in Christian society, these experiences cannot be used to interpret the Bible. You do not make the Bible fit your experience. The Bible means what it says, and says what it means!
(A) We hold to the autonomy of the local church. Baptists have always held to the autonomy of the local church. Auto comes from a word meaning self. The word nom is a root word that means law or rule. Therefore, autonomy simply means self-governing or self-ruling. We believe that the church is accountable to Christ, not to some council.
When churches in the New Testament had difficulties, they appealed to sister churches on the basis of Galatians 6:4. There was no council who instructed other churches to help. These churches were advised to help, but not commanded to help. The local church has the final authority in how it deals with these difficulties.
Autonomous churches are able to call their own pastor. They can buy properties and build. They are able to send out missionaries and choose whom to support. They are able to arrange the order of service to meet the needs of their own members. An autonomous church can ordain preachers. It can also associate with or withdraw from certain fellowships.
In Revelation 2-3, the messages are to individual churches. These letters are not addressed to a higher council, but to a local church. God is not working through organizations as much as He is working through His church, gathered together in local assemblies.
(P) Baptists hold to the priesthood of believers. All believers are part of a royal priesthood directed by our great High Priest, Christ Jesus. A priest is a mediator between God and man. As believers, we are able to come boldly before God’s throne (Hebrews 4:14-16).
There are those who teach that we must go through another man in order to be heard by Christ. Moreover, there are those who teach that we must go through the Virgin Mary in order for Christ to hear us. This is contrary to Scripture. In the body of Christ, we are all accepted in the beloved for who we are. We need no other person to stand in the gap for us. As a child of God, we have the privilege and the right to go directly to the Lord.
This doctrine of a royal priesthood is one for which Baptists have stood. We stand for it because we believe the Bible teaches it. We are able to pray anytime and anywhere. In fact, we are commanded to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 18:1-2). We have a God-given responsibility to pray for families, friends, other Christians, our government, and our church leadership.
(T) There are only two church offices. We believe the Bible teaches that there are only two New Testament Church offices. These two offices are the Pastor and Deacons. Each of these offices is met with strict qualifications. Character traits, past testimony, and present reputation are all to be considered. A person’s public life and private life are taken into consideration as well.
I Timothy 3 gives a list of qualifications to follow. A pastor is to be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, well behaved, hospitable, able to teach; abstinent from drink, not a fighter, not greedy; patient; not covetous. On top of these qualifications, he must rule his house well, govern with wisdom, and be a shepherd (not a dictator). A pastor is an imperfect man, leading imperfect people.
A deacon is not a title of prestige; it comes from a word meaning servant. I Timothy 3 also gives qualifications to follow for a deacon. Deacons are to be grave, not double tongued, not greedy; of a good conscience, blameless. We are to pray for the men in either of these two positions.
(I) We believe in individual soul liberty. Every one of us will give an account for what he does. No one of us can claim that we are programmed to do certain things. Each of us has a free will and can make his or her own choices.
We are created as individuals, chosen as individuals (Acts 17:4), taught as individuals (I John 2:27), treated as individuals (Acts 10:34), and judged as individuals (II Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:4-5).
The more you read the Bible, the more you will be convinced that you do not have a license to sin. You will be convinced that you will give an account of everything you do in this body. Christ treats us as individuals, not robots. He knocks at the door; He does not knock down the door.
(S) The local church is made up of a saved and baptized membership. The early church was made up of those who were saved, baptized believers (Acts 2:41-47). According to the Bible, we believe there are only two requirements to be a part of a local church. First and foremost, the individual must be saved. The church is the Bride of Christ. An unsaved man has no part in that. The believer must also be baptized. This is her way of publicly identifying with her decision to trust Christ, with her desire to grow in grace, and with her desire to identify with a local church.
Church membership is not an option. We are commanded to assemble ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). It is in the context of a local church that we are able to exercise our spiritual gifts, thereby strengthening the body of Christ. Members are able to help one another spiritually (Galatians 6:10). They are able to personally invest in the work of Christ (II Corinthians 16:1-3; 8:1-6), and they are able to observe the Lord’s Table. (I Corinthians 11:17).
(T) We have only two ordinances. We believe there are two, and only two, ordinances (orders) that Christ left the local church. Each of these ordinances is symbolic in nature, and represents His death, burial, and resurrection.
The two ordinances are baptism and the Lord’s Table. Let us look at each of these separately.
Baptism is NOT for salvation or the washing away of sin. It does not guarantee sanctification, nor does it mean that we are more spiritual. All of these thoughts are foreign to the Bible.
The Bible teaches that baptism is for believers only (Acts 8:33-38). Christ is our example (Matthew 3:15), and we are baptized in obedience to Him (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts2:41). Baptism is by immersion (submersion). This is the only method of baptism that pictures Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
If we refuse baptism, we live in disobedience (James 4:17) and lose our testimony (John 8:31). We will never be able to mature because we have refused to take the first step (I Corinthians 3:1-4).
The Lord’s Table is the second ordinance given to the local church. This is commemorative. It is the way the Lord asked us to remember what He has done for us.
This ordinance is simple in nature. There are two elements involved – the bread and the cup. The bread is symbolic of His body that was broken for us. The cup (juice) is symbolic of the blood that He shed for us. Under no circumstance does the bread or juice actually change into the body and blood of our Savior. While there are those who teach this, they have failed to properly interpret the Scriptures. If the elements were changed, then in reality we would actually be sacrificing Him all over again. The Bible is clear when it says that His sacrifice was once, and that it was sufficient (Hebrews 7:27; 9:26-28).
While the Lord’s Table is simple in nature, we must never fail to see the significance of all that is involved. Why do we have the Lord’s Table? Is it really all that important?
If we understand the significance of this ordinance, we will not approach it flippantly or with disrespect. We will come before His table with holiness. The Lord’s Table should be a time of consecration. It is a time to remember the vows and commitments you have made to the Lord. It is a time to realize that you are determined to press toward the mark. It should also be a time of communion. This ordinance is not observed alone. It is done in the context of a local church among the body of Christ. It also is a time of cheerfulness (Acts2:26). We are happy that the price for sin has been paid.
Because of the seriousness involved with the ordinances of God, we are commanded to examine ourselves for sin before we partake of this table (I Corinthians 11:28-30). We are also cautioned against abstaining from the table (Acts 20:27). We do not have the option to not partake because our lives are not right. Instead, we are commanded to ask the Lord to make our hearts right.
(S) We believe in the separation of church and State. By this, we do not mean that we are above all of the civil laws. We are not saying that the State has no power over us; what we are saying is quite the opposite. Baptists, historically, have always been a voice in the political scene. We believe Christians have a responsibility to obey civil authority as long as it does not violate the Word of God.
Separation of church and state means just that – the church is not the State, any more than the State is the church. The two are different. In Genesis 9, God ordains civil government, and we find no place in the Bible where that has been annulled. We must remember that civil government has control over the earthly sphere, or kingdom of the living. There are two spheres with which the Christian is in contact: the earthly sphere and the heavenly sphere. The church is in the realm of the heavenly sphere, and thereby comes under God's authority. The State does not control the church nor does the church control the State.