What Makes A Baptist A Baptist?
†What is a Baptist? What do Baptists believe? Well, the first thing that has to be said is that we are a Christian church. We are an assembly of believers in Jesus Christ. We believe and affirm: that Jesus Christ is true (100%) God and true (100%) human being; that He is our Savior; that His substitutionary, sacrificial death on the cross, His burial, and His literal resurrection all combine together to deal with the sin in our lives (to pay the penalty), and provide salvation for us; that those who believe the gospel and receive Christ by faith as their as their personal Lord and Savior have salvation -- the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
So, the first thing that makes a Baptist a Baptist is that we are a Christian church.
Now, as such, we share with other Christian churches belief in the great doctrines of the Christian faith; such as, that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and that it is true, reliable and trustworthy. We believe in the Trinity -- one God eternally existing in three persons Ė God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We believe in salvation by grace through faith, not by works. We believe in Christian discipleship, morality and stewardship. We believe in the literal Second Coming of Christ and in His ultimate and final triumph over evil. There are many beliefs that we share and affirm and hold in common with other Christian churches.
In addition to these great truths, Baptists emphasize certain distinctives or convictions(*):
A) PERSONAL EXPERIENCE - We believe that each person must receive or reject Jesus Christ for himself/herself. It is an individual decision; no one else can make it for you. No one is a Christian automatically or simply because his/her parents are. If youíre a Christian, itís because you, personally, have made a deliberate decision to repent from your sins, accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and become His disciple.
B) BELIEVER'S BAPTISM - We believe that baptism should be administered only to those who believe and follow Christ. Baptism is only for those who have heard and believed the gospel. We believe that a person needs to be old enough and mature enough to understand the gospel, understand whatís involved and at stake, and be able to receive or reject Christ for themselves. As a Baptist church, we emphasize and practice "Believerís Baptism" --- baptism by immersion of believers only. The reason for the mode of immersion is because the Bible word for "baptize" (baptizo) means, "to dip, plunge, submerge or immerse." It is the only form of baptism we see taught in the Bible and used in the early churches.
There are several reasons why a Christian should be baptized:
1) Baptism is an act of obedience to a command of Christ (see Matt. 28:19). Baptism is not an option nor is it a suggestion ó It is a command of the Lord. If youíre a Christian, then Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life. Therefore, you should do what He asks/tells you to do.
2) Baptism is a public confession of a personal experience with Christ. Baptism is a public declaration that you have received Christ and have become His disciple. We say it this way: You become a Christian by putting your faith in Christ; you proclaim youíre a Christian through the act of water baptism.
3) Baptism is a picture/portrayal of our spiritual experience. This is another reason why we practice immersion. When you became a Christian, you died to the old sinful, self-centered way of living. Your sins were forgiven and wiped away and you became a new creation in Christ. Baptism is a picture or portrayal of that. When you go beneath the water, itís as though you were saying, "I have died to the old way of living; I am burying it; itís over." When you come up out of the water, itís as though you were saying, "From now on, I am going to live the new life that is in Jesus Christ." Only immersion can picture/portray that accurately.
4) Baptism is a symbolic declaration of the Gospel (see 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Christ died for our sins; He was buried; He rose again. When youíre baptized, youíre symbolically dramatizing/declaring that.
C) REGENERATE CHURCH MEMBERSHIP - We believe that church membership is a privilege reserved for baptized believers in Christ. Those who are not yet Christians are welcome to attend services and activities, but our conviction is that the local church is an assembly of Christians who have been baptized. We believe that God expects members to be active and to show that by their regular attendance, participation, and support of the services and activities of the church.
D) PRIESTHOOD OF EVERY BELIEVER - We believe that every Christian stands before God as a priest. In other words, every Christian can approach God directly for himself/herself. Every believer has direct access to God. You do not need someone to act as a priest/mediator for you; you do not need some formal/fancy ritual; all you need is personal faith in Christ.
E) AUTONOMY/INDEPENDENCE OF THE LOCAL CHURCH - We believe in the right of each local congregation to govern itself. Each Baptist church is a self-governing unit; choosing its own pastor and leaders, and managing its own affairs and inner life. It is free to develop as led by the Spirit of God and the Scriptures. What that means on a practical level is this: Each Baptist church is independent and unique (even if it's part of a denomination) and must be evaluated by itself.
F) INTERDEPENDENCE/COOPERATION - This comes right on the heels of autonomy. As a Baptist church, we don't see ourselves as an individual or isolated body of Christ. We see ourselves as one part of the larger Church/Body of Christ which includes all Christians everywhere. Therefore, we cooperate with other churches and denomination in various projects and works of ministry. We recognize the wisdom that says we can do more working together than we can working separately. So, there's a balance between autonomy and interdependence.
G) SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE - We believe that the role and responsibilities of both the state and the church are, and should be, different and distinct from each other. The state should not/cannot exercise control over the theology (beliefs), administration or ministries of the church. Nor should the church exercise control over the governing process of the state. In other words, the state must not dictate to the church, nor the church to the state.
Now, having said that, we also need to say that we do believe (most emphatically), that Christians should be involved in the political process. Christians should vote, run for office, lobby, and pray for their leaders in government.
H) RELIGIOUS FREEDOM - Sometimes we refer to this as "freedom of conscience", or "soul liberty". We believe that every person is responsible to God for his/her own religious beliefs and practices. Therefore, they should have the right to worship God as their own convictions and conscience dictate. And so, we do not presume to dictate to anyone or any church that, "you must worship in this manner or in this way." There is no official prescribed order or uniform church service.
Baptists do observe two formal ordinances: Believer's Baptism and the Lord's Super or Communion. An "ordinance" is simply an event that was ordained or instituted by Christ. Both of these experiences are times when we express our commitment and obedience to Christ, our relationship with Christ and our relationship with each other.
I) THE EVANGELIZATION OF THE WORLD - Baptist take seriously the Great Commission of Jesus Christ in Matthew 28:18-20. Baptist are very committed to the work of missions and evangelism. Christ's message of love and salvation is for everyone. Every church and every believer has the duty and responsibility to be a positive witness/influence for Jesus Christ and the gospel.
SoÖ.These are the things that make a Baptist a Baptist.
†(*) This listing is an adaptation from The New Life by Knight and Schroeder)