What is a Baptist?

Being a Baptist or not being a Baptist is not actually the most important issue. Being a Christian or not being a Christian is what we should be most concerned about. Joining any group or claiming any title does not make a person a Christian. Faith in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life is the exclusive way in which that status is granted. There are certainly a great many people who would call themselves Baptists that are not Christians.

So then, why does our church have the word “Baptist” in its title? Just because being a Christian is more important than being a Baptist, does not mean that being a Baptist is unimportant. Our church is a Baptist church because it holds to the beliefs and practices which Baptist churches have historically observed. By claiming the title Baptist we are identifying some of our foundational beliefs about the Bible and God’s expectations for how His church should operate. We are also linking ourself with some important history.

As you may have guessed, baptism is a big deal for Baptists. Throughout the ages, there have been those that held to the Biblical teaching that baptism was an ordinance to be performed following a personal decision of faith. Somewhere along the line, contrary to the teaching of the Bible, the Roman Catholic Church began to baptize babies with the belief that it carried some level of saving grace. Eventually, this practice of baptizing before the presence of faith became so important to the Catholic Church that anyone who rejected this unbiblical teaching was considered a heretic. These heretics were sometimes called Anabaptists. The Catholics (and later some Protestants) claimed that those practicing believer’s baptism were baptizing a second time. Those being baptized upon faith disagreed with the prefix “ana” because it means “again.” They counted infant baptism as invalid and thus claimed that believer’s baptism was their first baptism. In attempts to squash this practice which dared defy the all-powerful Roman Catholic Church and Protestant state churches, many Anabaptists were given the “third baptism” by their enemies. In the third baptism, the brave souls which refused to recant were thrown into rivers and lakes with their hands tied and allowed to drown! The truth of God cannot be drowned however, and rather than be diminished the practice spread. Today, the name Baptist comes from the victors who bravely declared their faith and obedience to God by being baptized following their faith. They didn’t do it because they thought it would save their souls. They did it because they believed that obedience to every command of God was important-no matter the cost! What an important lesson for Christians today!

They didn’t do it because they thought it would save their souls. They did it because they believed that obedience to every command of God was important-no matter the cost!

The Baptists of today are not the only ones who practice believer’s baptism. Baptism cannot therefore be our only distinctive. To list all the distinctives would be exhausting, so I am going to borrow from a Baptist preacher who pastored a church in Pine Valley, New York. He invented the B-A-P-T-I-S-T-S acrostic. It is just a very easy tool to teach us some of the doctrines which separate Baptists from other churches.

Here it is:

Biblical Authority

Autonomy of the Local Church

Priesthood of Believers

Two Church Ordinances

Individual soul- liberty

Saved membership of the church

Two Church Officers

Separation of the Church and State

As you can see this is not a complete theological or doctrinal statement, but a simple tool for memorizing some of the beliefs that set us apart. There are solid Scriptures to back up this acrostic and over the next few weeks I hope to explain each letter in more depth!

I am a Baptist because I like the history of those who have stood firmly against the majority opinion in favor of a literal understanding of Scripture concerning baptism and other issues. I want to associate with such history. Most importantly though, I am a Baptist because I believe that the doctrine of the historical Baptist church is in better alignment which the teaching of the Bible than any other group!

About the Author
Ben Hamilton pastors Emmaus Road Baptist Church in the Bronx, New York. His passion is knowing God's will for his life, and sharing what he has learned with those whom he meets. He has lived in NYC since 2010. Ben is married to Andrea, and they have sevenchildren.

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