What is a Baptist?

WHAT IS A BAPTIST?

An Introduction to Baptist Distinctives and Baptist History


Notable Baptists:

 John Bunyan (1628-1688) - author of “Pilgrim’s Progress”

 William Carey (1761-1834) – “The father of modern missions”

 Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) – “The Prince of Preachers”

 Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) -  author of “My Utmost for His Highest”

 Charles Stanley (1932- ) –  of “In Touch” Ministries

 

History of the Name “BAPTIST”

 In History we find Baptist churches to be first mentioned in Europe in the 1500’s, whose predecessors would be generally referred to as Anabaptists, which means “Re-baptizers”

-        The name Anabaptist was given to them by others for their practice of re-baptizing those from other denominations. Anabaptists (and Baptists) only believe in one baptism, but they believe in believer’s baptism rather than infant baptism or baptismal regeneration as being scriptural baptism.

 -         The practice of re-baptizing is drawn from Acts 19:1-5

 -         Other descendants of the Anabaptists would include the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, and some Brethren Churches

 

Even amongst Baptists, there can be a great variety of differences between them in areas of both faith and practice.


BAPTIST DISTINCTIVES

 

Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice

 Autonomy of the local church body

  Priesthood of all believers

   Two Church Ordinances – Believer’s Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

    Individual Soul Liberty

    Separation of Church and State

     Two Church Officers – Pastor/Elder and Deacon

      Saved Church Membership

 

1.     Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice

 

          Baptists view the Bible as being a divine revelation given of God to men, that it is absolute truth without any mixture of error, and that it is our complete, infallible guide and standard of authority in all matters of faith and practice. On any issue, decision or question of conduct or doctrine, one is to search the scriptures to determine the whole counsel of God on the matter and then conform their life and faith to its teachings.

 

           Baptists insist that no other authority should be allowed to supersede that of the Bible, whether it be church tradition, religious or secular powers, the teachings of men, human reasoning, or religious experience (2 Peter 1 :16-21). Any teaching or instruction or religious experience is to be brought under the authority of scripture, and if it does not conform to the teachings of scripture it is to be rejected (Galatians 1:8; 1 John 4:1).

 

          Each person has the right, the privilege and the responsibility to study the scriptures themselves and come to his or her own conclusions as to what it teaches without dictation from or dependence on any other person, recognizing he or she is personally responsible to God for rightly dividing the word  of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)

 

2.     Autonomy of the Local Church Body

 

      The word “autonomous” comes from two Greek words – auto, meaning “self” and nomos, meaning “law”. Thus, Autonomous means self governing or self-directing, and an autonomous church governs itself without any outside human direction or control.

 

      On the whole, Baptists believe that Christ is the head of each local church body, and that each has the right and responsibility to direct its affairs in accordance with the word of God and their own conscience, without any other outside authority directing them. Pastors and other leaders are not imposed on a congregation or taken from them without their consent, but rather each congregation has the right to select or remove their own leaders as they see fit. Each church decides its   practice of worship and its own financial matters, directs its own affairs and determines for itself what other congregations it fellowships with.

 

      In this sense, though Baptists are considered one of many denominations, they view themselves as non-denominational, in that Baptist denominational organizations, fellowships or associations may provide encourage, guidance and assistance but do not and should not exert authority over an individual church. Some, out of concern of being brought under the authority of a denominational organization, have separated themselves from all such organizations and refer to themselves as “Independent Baptists”.

 

 3.     Priesthood of All Believers

 

      In the Old Testament we find that priests served as mediators between God and men, and that only the priests, and the High priest in   particular could come before the Lord on behalf of the people. Thus, if someone was to approach to God, he had to go through an intermediary. When Christ died and rose again, he paid the penalty for our sin and became our Great High Priest, the only mediator between God and man (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Tim. 2:5). Thus, all who have trusted Christ as Saviour are priests before God and can have direct access to Him for communion, fellowship, forgiveness and direction (Eph. 2:18; 1 Peter 2:5,9).

 

      Baptists generally do not believe in there being a separation between clergy and laity; each believer is equal before God, and can have equal access to God. 


4.     Two Church Ordinances – Believer’s Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

 

      Baptists refer to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances rather than sacraments, as they view both as being symbolic in nature and having no ability to impart grace. Neither Baptism nor the Lord’s Supper is necessary to either obtain or maintain one’s salvation. Baptist do not see any other ordinances being given by Christ for his churches to keep, so they practice these two alone.

 

      Baptism symbolizes the death, Burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ that has made salvation possible, as well as the spiritual resurrection which has occurred in the believer’s life upon salvation, and thus must always be preceded by a clear decision to repent of one’s sins and trust fully in Christ alone for salvation (Acts 8:36-38). Baptism is the believer’s first act of obedience to God and serves as a sign of identification with Christ, and it is also a declaration of one’s commitment to daily crucify the sin nature and walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12). Baptism is also considered by Baptists to be a prerequisite for church membership (Acts 2:41).

     Because Baptists view Baptism as symbolic, they also maintain that the use of the proper symbols is important, and thus they insist that only the total immersion of a person adequately symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection or Christ (physically) and the believer (spiritually).

      In the same way, using the correct elements and having a biblical understanding of their symbolism is important to Baptists as they practice the Lord’s Supper. Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper during the Jewish meal of Passover, of which unleavened bread and “the fruit of the vine” were part of the meal (Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20).

        The bread was given to represent Christ’s body that would be broken for us, and the cup was given to represent the blood of Christ that he would shed for us. As Christ was to serve as our sinless sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Pet. 1:18,19), and as leaven in Scripture is representative of sin (Exodus 34:25; 1 Cor. 5:6-8), Baptist insist that the bread used be unleavened and the grape juice used be unfermented.

      To Baptists, the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is primarily to remember the Lord’s sacrifice on our behalf (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It also serves as a time of introspection, to ensure that we are in proper fellowship with God and our fellow man and thus partaking worthily (1 Corinthians 11:27-34). It is a time of communion, with God and with fellow believers, which each church is to practice on a regular basis until Christ returns.

 

 5. Individual Soul Liberty

 

     Otherwise referred to as the liberty of the conscience or soul competency, this is the belief that each person has been given the ability and the freedom by God to choose what he or she believes or practices, and each person bears the responsibility for the choices they make. This freedom is to be respected, and one is not to be forced or coerced to believe or practice anything contrary to the guiding of his or her own conscience and the Scriptures as they understand them.

 

          This applies in various ways and circumstances in the Christian life. The      following statements are taken from Edward Hiscox’s “Principles and Practises for Baptist Churches”:

 

           Every man by nature possesses the right of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and in all religious concerns; it is his privilege to read and explain the Bible for himself, without dictation from, or dependence on, any one, being responsible to God alone for his use of the sacred truth.”

 

           All men possess the common right to worship God according to the teachings of the scriptures, as they understand them, without hindrance or molestation, so long as they do not injure or interfere with the rights of others by so doing.”

 

            Religion is to be free and voluntary, both as to faith, worship and service; neither conformity to, nor support of, religion in any form, should be compulsory. Christian faith and practice are matters of  conscience and personal choice, and not subject to official dictation; and for either civil or ecclesiastical authority to enforce conformity,    punish dissent, or compel the support of any form of worship, is a crime against the rights of man, an assumption of divine prerogatives, and treason against Christ, the only Lord of the conscience and  sovereign of the soul.”

 

             Individual soul liberty does not mean that someone can believe whatever they want, as the truth of God’s word is absolute, not relative; rather, it is the understanding that the ways of God are beyond the comprehension of fallen man, and so there is no person on this earth that has perfect knowledge of spiritual things, and therefore no one has the right to coerce or force anyone to conform to his or her beliefs. If a person is mistaken, the fruit of his or her incorrect doctrine will manifest itself in time (Matthew 7:15-20), and God, not     man, will hold him accountable for his mishandling of God’s word (Rom. 14:12).

 

 6.     Separation of Church and State

 

           By separation of Church and State, Baptists believe that no civil           government has the right to dictate to any church or religious organization what they believe or practice, but instead is bound to protect all good citizens so that they may peaceably enjoy their religious rights and privileges. It also means that no specific church or religious organization is to be favoured above others by the government, but each treated with equal respect, and that no church or religious organization should either ask for or receive support from civil authority. The Church is to seek to expand itself through the         preaching of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts and minds of men, and no church is ever to look to government to wield the sword on its behalf to coerce followers or punish dissenters.

 

     By separation of church and state, Baptists do not believe in the           separation of God and State; they recognize that leaders will themselves be held accountable to God for their actions (as all men will be), and that to govern well so that the nation itself is blessed of God those leaders need to have a moral compass and a godly influence, which they hope to provide. Baptists therefore believe that all Christians are to be honest, hardworking and law abiding       citizens, praying for their leaders, paying their taxes, honouring, sustaining and defending their government, and contributing to the good of the nation in which they live in whatever way they can (1Tim. 2:1-3; Matthew 22:17-21; Romans 13:6,7. Furthermore, Christians are duty bound to submit to the rule of law in all matters (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-17) except those in which obeying the government would be clearly in violation of God’s will  (Acts    4:19,20; 5:29).

           It is the hope that as the church and the state have a mutual respect the one for the other, their relationship can be mutually beneficial; both can be a good influence and help to the other, but neither is to exert authority over the other, nor try to assume the role of the other. 

 

 7. Two Church Officers – Pastor/Elder and Deacon

 

          Baptists believe that while all members of Church are of equal    importance for the proper functioning of a church, God has instituted   two specific offices to minister to the needs of a church – pastor and deacon (Baptists believe that the Bible uses three words for the same office – Elder, Bishop and Pastor; and that each title indicates different functions of the same office).

           Qualifications for a Pastor are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5- 9. Each church is to select their own pastor, who is to exercise servant   leadership and minister to the spiritual needs of the people.

           Qualifications for a Deacon are found in 1Timothy 3:8-13. Deacons are to care for the physical needs of the congregation so that the pastors can concentrate on the spiritual needs of the people (Acts 6:1-6)

          Baptists do not believe that ordination gives a person any greater          power or status before God; it simply serves to indicate to other churches and the world that one has been counted worthy to be a pastor of deacon.

 
8. Saved Church Membership

 

          Baptists believe that only those who have trusted Christ as Saviour        should be permitted entry into a local church body, and that all who have trusted Christ as Saviour should be a part of a local church body so that they can be blessed and strengthened by the fellowship. Baptists do not believe that salvation comes from one’s church membership; joining a Church body is to be done because we are saved, not in order to be saved.

 

Other Baptist Distinctives

 

Interpretation of Scripture: Baptists generally take a literal approach to the interpretation of Scripture, comparing scripture with scripture to determine the meaning of a passage.


Things to Come: Baptist have generally held to a pre-millenial, pre-tribulational view of the return of Christ – that Christ could come at any moment, that his coming will be in two parts (the Rapture, in which he comes in the clouds for the saints, and the Revelation, in which he comes to the earth with his saints), and that after his Revelation he will set up his kingdom in Jerusalem and reign for a thousand years.

 

Separation: Baptists generally believe that as representatives of Christ we are to be a holy people, separated from sin unto God – we are to be in the world, but not of the world, and we are not to be conformed to the thinking of the world (John 17:13-16; Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). Thus, in all areas of our daily lives - our thinking, our speech, our conduct – we are to show ourselves to be a peculiar people unto God, abstaining from sin and all appearance of evil (1 Peter 1;15; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:22). Baptists also generally believe that we are to separate from all false doctrine, especially when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 John 1:9-11; Galatians 1:6-11). Thus, one is obligated to separate from any individual or any church which they believe teaches false doctrine, so as not to provide any confusion as to the truth.


We must, be aware, however, that in zeal this thought can be taken too far:

 

 -if we confuse standards of conduct with spirituality, and instead of being truly holy we become “holier-than thou” (Isaiah 65:5). Closeness to God should produce humility, not pride. Furthermore, our relationship with God is not determined by what we do or do not do – that is legalism – but rather it is our relationship with God that determines what we will do or not do.

 

 -if we confuse separation with isolation; we need to be seeking to reach a lost world for Christ, and having an influence upon it. We are to live peaceably with all men, respecting the individual’s soul liberty and the autonomy of each local church, and we are to seek to meet people at their level so that we can direct them to Christ (Rom. 12:18; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

 

-if our doctrine becomes reactionary, focused on proving that another person, church or doctrinal position is wrong rather than just teaching the plain truth of scripture, and we become constantly negative and condemning rather than exhibiting the love of Christ (Luke 9:49,50; John 13:35) 

 

View of the Church: Baptists generally do not use the term “the Church” to refer to all believers through all ages, preferring to use the terms “Family of God” or “Household of Faith” (Ephesians 2:19, Galatians 6:10). While Baptists would view such an all encompassing entity as “the Church” to exist in heaven, in terms of an institution functioning upon this earth, the Baptist view is that there are individual, autonomous, local assemblies, or churches, made up of baptized believers who have been organized to carry out the Lord’s work – the preaching of the gospel, the baptizing of converts into the church and the edifying and perfecting of the saved.  Each church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth in its local area, serving as a beacon of truth and an example of holiness to those around it.

 

 *Note: Some, known as “Baptist Briders”, have taken this to the extreme, that only “true” Baptist churches are real churches, all others are apostate, and that only members of these “true Churches “ will be raptured and make up the Bride of Christ at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). Such would generally insist that one would prove a line of succession from other “true churches”, and that there is an unbroken succession of “true churches” since the time of Christ.

 

 In dealing with this warped view, it is important to remember the following:

 

 -Claims of a church’s pedigree are impossible to prove, ridiculous to claim, and irrelevant if proven; it is not the name of the church nor the leader from which it started that makes a true church, but whether that church remains faithful to the word of God as a whole and to the Gospel of Christ in particular. As one studies history we find various religious groups which may have started off right but have succumbed to false doctrines, while at the same time we find others who emerged from organizations which were in error to form their own organization which more closely adhered to Biblical truth.

 

 -Any denomination, church or organization that claim to have a corner on the truth, or to be the only way of salvation is in obvious error, and is deceived by pride. At the same time, we recognize that any church which teaches any other way of salvation than through repentance and faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ is in obvious error as well (Gal 1:8,9)

 

 -there is no perfect church on earth, nor will there ever be one. The churches of Corinth and Galatia, though they had many problems, did not cease to be churches in any sense. Each congregation and individual must adhere to the scriptures as they understand them, and make whatever changes might be necessary when they become aware that they are in error, understanding that God will hold each person accountable for how they handle the scriptures and live their lives.

 

 -The signs of being true disciples of Christ are the love that we have for one another (Joh 13:35), and the fruits which we produce (Matthew 7:15-20). If a church is wrong on doctrine or practice, the fruit will become evident in time and the church will eventually cease to exist or cease to have any impact on the world around it. However, if a church is correct in doctrine and practice, God will bless that church for it and that church’s impact on the community will be evident as well.

 

An Introduction to Baptist History

 

“Baptist” Groups prior to the Reformation

 Though it is impossible to prove any kind of line of Baptist churches down through the ages, as one studies history with the Baptist distinctives in mind, it becomes evident that in there have been several different groups, called by various names, which seem to have adhered to what we would consider today to be Baptist beliefs – believer’s baptism, church autonomy, individual soul liberty, separation of church and State, etc. 

Even amongst these there are varying beliefs, which makes sense, for if the churches are autonomous of each other they will not necessarily be in full agreement in all areas. As we study some of these groups we will find that they may have held to certain doctrines and practises which we may not agree with, but we need to keep the following in mind:

 

 1.     Some only had portions of the scriptures, so it would make sense that some of their theology would be incomplete.

 

2.     Some had views which were based on a reaction (or overreaction) to another’s views which they deemed to be in error

 

3.     History books are written by the ones who are left behind; some groups may be falsely accused of holding certain doctrines in order to lend justification to their persecutors (1 Peter 3:15,16; Matthew 5:11,12)

 

               4.     No church and no person is infallible (1 Corinthians 10:12).

 

The Montanists -  2nd Century, Asia Minor

 

Notable Montanists: Montanus, Tertullian

 

First group known to have taken a stand against ritualism, the rise of the clergy class and the lack of personal holiness and spirituality amongst establishment churches.

“Montanists believed that salvation through faith in Christ was a prerequisite to church membership. They believed that the Holy Spirit indwells all believers not just the church hierarchy, as may erring churches were teaching. They baptized only believers and never baptized any babies. They believed the tribulation would come before Christ set up his earthly kingdom on the earth.”

 

 Possible errors: Ordination of women, extra-Biblical revelations


The Novatians – 3rd - 5th Century, Italy

 

-Separated from other churches in Rome over issue of re-admittance of those who had denied Christ during the persecutions of Decius Trajan. Held similar beliefs to the Montanists, except for their beliefs concerning the Holy Spirit. First group that could be referred to as Anabaptist, as they were known to re-baptize those from churches with whom they were not in agreement doctrinally.

 

Possible errors: Clinic Baptism, overly strict church discipline

 

The Donatists – 4th -7th Century, North Africa

 

-Refused to become a part of the state church, or to accept the emperor as the leader of the church. Held to believer’s baptism (rebaptizing those from other churches), church autonomy and freedom of conscience. Insisted on holiness amongst church members, especially amongst bishops.

 

The Paulicians -  7th-13th Century, Armenia

 

Notable Paulicians: Constantine/Silvanus, Simeon/Titus, Sergius/Tychicus

 

-Recognized only believer’s baptism and believed strongly in the priesthood of all believers. Rejected all Ceremonialism & Image Worship, and strongly believed in Holy Living, especially amongst their pastors. Were also known to be very missionary minded, spreading out into Thrace, Bulgaria, and the Balkans

 

Albigenses –  11th-13th Century, France

 

-Rejected infant baptism, separated from the State Church to form simple congregations in which they trained their children in the principles of the Bible. Wiped out in the Albigensian Crusade.

 

Waldenses – 12th-16th Century, Italy

 

-Noted for their memorization of large parts of the Bible, their poverty, their preaching and their evangelistic spirit. Believed the Scriptures should be made available to all, even seeking to translate it into their native tongue. Held to believer’s baptism and separated from the State Church.

-Still in existence today in Italy and South America, although since the reformation they have practiced infant baptism.

 

Names Given to other groups which seem to have had Baptistic beliefs: Bogomils, Peterines, Cathari (“Pure Ones”), Arnoldists (After Arnold of Bresia - 1090-1155), Petrobrusians (After Peter de Bruys -1092-1126), Henricans (After Henry of Lausanne who died 1148), Picards, Lyonists

 

Anabaptists through the Reformation Period

 

The name “Anabaptist” was a brand given to people of various beliefs, and often those who were peaceful and sound in doctrine were tarred with the same brush as those who did wrong in order to lend justification to their persecution. Nevertheless we see the heritage of Baptist distinctives amongst some of the Anabaptist groups.

 

Notable Anabaptist Leaders

 

Conrad Grebel (1498-1526), Felix Manz (1490-1527), George Blaurock (1491-1529) – Initially followers of Ulrich Zwingli’s reforms, they separated from him over the issue of Infant Baptism and formed the movement known as the Swiss Brethren. Grebel died of the plague, Manz was drowned and Blaurock was burned at the stake.

 

Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528) – Scholar and Professor who preached in Moravia and was martyred in Vienna.

 

Michael Sattler (1490-1527) Preacher & Missionary in Germany and Switzerland; martyred at Rottenburg.

 

Menno Simons (1496-1561) – Originally a Catholic Priest, became an Anabaptist in 1531. Ministered in Holland, the Netherlands and Germany. Followers came to be known as Mennonites

 

Jacob Hutter (1500-1536)- Preached in Moravia and Tyrol, martyred for his faith. His followers came to be known as the Hutterites

 

Dirk Willems (Died 1569) Born in the Netherlands; escaped prison only to be recaptured after turning back to rescue his pursuer and burned at the stake.

 

Dispersions of the Anabaptists

 

Persecutions drove the Anabaptists from Switzerland, the Netherlands and Holland into German, Austria, Russia, England and the New World

 

Groups which would be considered descendants of the Anabaptists:

 

Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, Brethren, Baptists

 

History of Baptists Since the Reformation

 

In England

 

Prominent leaders – John Smyth (1570-1612) Thomas Helwys (1575-1616), John Spilsbury (1593-1688), John Bunyan (1628-1688), John Gill (1697-1771) Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), William Carey (1761-1834) Charles Spurgeon (1824-1892)

 

Divided into three groups: The General Baptists, who were Arminian in Theology, the Particular Baptists, who were Calvinistic and the Strict Baptists who were Hypercalvinistic. The General and Particular Baptists joined to become the Baptist Union in 1891, from which Spurgeon separated.

 

In America

 

Prominent Leaders – Roger Williams (1600-1684), Dr. John Clarke (1609-1676, Hezekiah Smith (1737-1805) Shubal Stearns (1706-1771), John Leland (1754-1841) William Riley (1861-1947), J Frank Norris (1877-1952)

 

Over time, Baptist Churches formed into associations and conventions. Split occurred in 1845 to form the Northern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. Further separations occurred during the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy of the 1920’s, from which the Independent Baptist Movement emerged.

 

In Canada

 

Prominent leaders – Ebenezer Moulton (1709-1783), T.T. Shields (1873-1955), William Aberhart (1878-1943), Ernest Manning (1908-1996)

Note: Three of Canada’s Prime Ministers  - Alexander Mackenzie (1822-1892), Charles Tupper (1821-1915) and John Diefenbaker (1895-1979) were Baptists

 

The first Baptist Churches in what would come to be known as Canada started in the Maritimes in the 1700’s and spread west, coming west through the 1800’s. Further churches were established in the West, notably in British Columbia, by brethren in the United States coming north.

 

Present Day Baptist Groups in Canada

 

Association of Regular Baptist Churches – formed in 1957; fundamentalist and separatist in doctrine; supports the Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College, and publishes “The Gospel Witness”

 

Baptist General Conference of Canada - body of evangelical Baptist churches introduced to Canada by Swedish Baptists late in the 19th century; formed 1981; headquarters in Edmonton.

 

Canadian Baptist Ministries – formed in 1995 as an association of conventions from Atlantic Canada, Quebec Ontario and the West (The Baptist Union of Western Canada).

 

Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists – Partnered with Southern Baptist of the United States; formed in the 1950’s; headquartered in Cochrane, Alberta; publishers of “The Baptist Horizon”

 

Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada  - formed in 1950’s as an outgrowth of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy; Headquartered in Guelph, Ontario; publisher of “The Evangelical Baptist”

 

Independent Baptists – Various churches of Baptists beliefs with either no formal affiliation or a very loose affiliation (such as the Western Canada Baptist Fellowship, formed in 1992).