The next thing we come to when we describe Cornerstone is the word Baptist. You may have noticed that the title of this article includes the descriptor “Part 3a.” That is because the topic of what a Baptist is contains quite a bit of information. To make your reading experience more enjoyable, and to help with space issues in the Salem Times-Commoner, I’ve decided to break this article into two separate but very important parts. The first part (which we will be covering today) is that of a doctrinal Baptist (i.e. what Baptists believe from the bible). The next article will deal with historical Baptists, or, where we trace our roots to and the names various groups who today would be considered Baptists had in years past.
To describe what Baptists believe we often use an acrostic of the word “Baptist.” Here is the acrostic with a brief description of each belief.
B – The Bible is our sole authority for faith and practice. This means we, as Baptists, only use the Bible for matter of doctrine and organization. Though we are appreciative of good Christians through the ages who have written books and examined Biblical truth, when it comes to what we believe we go to the Bible first and exclusively. There is nothing wrong with gleaning an opinion from someone about a subject but when that person disagrees with the Bible than the Bible is right! This belief follows the example of the Church in Berea that is mentioned in Acts 17 as being “more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” They didn’t just take the preaching of the Apostle Paul as Gospel truth until they first searched the scriptures to make sure he was preaching correctly.
A – Autonomy of the local church. This hallmark of Baptists throughout history is basically what I talked about in my first article: a church being independent. This follows the only common-sense pattern we can come up with and, more importantly, follows the Biblical pattern of churches being in total control of their own congregations. There were no associations, conventions, denominations, or fellowships in the New Testament and, historically, Baptists have followed this pattern. For more information on this subject I suggest you read this first article in this series on the topic of “Independent.”
P – Priesthood of the believer. In the Old Testament it was necessary to have a priest who would make sacrifices and mediate between God and man. It was a time consuming job and the one chosen had to be fully prepared for the task at hand. After the Law was given to Moses the tribe of Levi was designated at the priests for the nation of Israel. Fast-forward to the New Testament though and you will see that you and I, as born-again believers, are now considered priests unto God. In fact, the Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:9 that “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” We are called a royal priesthood by no less that Peter himself! Why is this? Well, we no longer have to make sacrifices for sin since the Lord Jesus Christ bore our sin on the cross of Calvary. We also don’t need a special person to talk to God for us because Jesus Christ Himself is talking to God on our behalf! Romans 8:34 says, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Because of the intercession on our behalf through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost at the time of salvation (John 20:22), we have access to God 24/7. We don’t have to have any other person speak for us, we can speak to the Almighty ourselves.
T – Two ordinances; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. An ordinance is an established rite or ceremony. These are the two ordinances given by the Lord Jesus Christ to his disciples. These are also the two ordinances that we see the Apostle Paul writing about and instructing the New Testament churches in continuing. Some claim that feet washing is also an ordinance, but we see no mention of such by Paul.
I – Individual soul liberty. The tendency for any group is to force all members into perfect submission and obedience to those in a higher office. We see this time and time again in governments, social clubs, and, unfortunately, churches. The doctrine of individual soul liberty is that you and I can disagree on some issues and still be friendly and fellowship with one another. The main points of Christianity (such as the fundamentals of the faith) are spelled out clearly in scripture and should be believed for fellowship to continue. For other issues though, the Bible may be more indefinite about or not speak about at all. In these issues we should each be fully persuaded in our own minds about the Biblical principles surrounding that topic and make a decision for ourselves, but those who do not share the same opinion should be treated kindly and allowed to continue in their belief. A great example of this is whether or not musical instruments should be allowed in church services. There are those (including some Baptists) who say emphatically that they should not be allowed under any circumstances. I, on the other hand, do not believe that to stand up to the principles concerning music found in scripture. King David writes in Psalm 33:2 “Praise the Lord with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.” We also see in the preparation for the building of the Temple in 1 Chronicles that the musicians (those who played instruments) were to prepare to serve the Lord in the Temple with said instruments. Since the Apostles were converted Jews, and musical instruments were part of the Jewish system of worshiping God in the Temple, it stands to reason that the Apostles used the same instruments in the New Testament churches. If you disagree, though, you are entitled to that opinion as long as you are firmly convinced that God’s Word teaches it.
S – Saved church membership. One of the things I will cover in next week’s article, and something that Baptists for centuries have been persecuted for, is the idea of a saved church membership. That means no one can be baptized into the church until they are first born-again. This also follows the pattern of the Apostles and the New Testament churches. When Philip was in the desert witnessing to the Ethiopian eunuch the man immediately saw his need for Christ and wanted to express his decision in baptism. He asks Philip if he can be baptized since there is a pool of water nearby. He asks, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” to which Philip replies, “If thou believest with all thing heart, thou mayest.” (Acts 8:36-37) The Ethiopian had to first be converted before he could be baptized and, in turn, become a member of the local church.
T – Two offices; Pastor and Deacon. By comparing scripture to scripture we see in the New Testament a plurality of words used to describe the same office. They are Bishop, Elder, Overseer, Shepherd, Presbyter, and Pastor. Today the main word used to denote this office of the church is Pastor, but none of the others are wrong to use. The Apostle Paul writes about the office of the Pastor and his responsibilities and what his character should be like in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. These requirements include: blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, patient, not a brawler, not coveteous, one that ruleth well his own house, not a novice, and having a good report of those not in the church. In the same passage he declares that Deacons should be grave, not doubletoungued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, has assurance of salvation, proven, blameless, married, the husband of one wife, and ruling his children well. He also expresses some of the qualifications for a Pastor in his epistle to Titus. These are the two offices that were given by Paul and the two that the New Testament churches used exclusively.
S – Separation of church and state. This last one may seem like a shock to some. In fact, though, it is a principle that Baptists have stood on for centuries. The first Baptist church in America was founded by Roger Williams in Rhode Island who fled religious persecution by the Puritans in Massachusetts colony. We see in the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel Records and in the writings of the Apostle Paul that early Christians should not seek to set up a government-sponsored religion or belief system. This does not mean, however, that Christians should not vote according to Biblical principles and draft law based on the same. Instead it means that the government should not prefer one organized religion or church over another and should allow the free exercise of all religions within it’s territories. The writers of our Constitution continually referenced Baptist Pastors and theologians and coveted their Biblical knowledge when drafting the First Amendment which guarantees religious freedom in this country. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
There is much more that could be said about these Baptist distinctives. People have literally spent their lives studying and learning these truths from the Word of God. If we are to call ourselves Baptists, though, we need to know what Baptists have stood for and what we should stand for even today.
Next week I’ll discuss Baptist history and those who have believed these distinctives since the time of Christ.