In the course of this study we have considered about a dozen historical names and titles. We have looked at the Novatians, Cathari, Dontatists, Montanists, Paulicians, Albigenses, Waldenses and a few others. Other than the “Paulicians” none of these names are very closely linked with the Bible. Some were related to particular men – around whom Bible-believing people gathered – like Montanus. Some were so named because of the areas in which they lived – like the Waldenses. Some were given names which described their way of life – like the Cathari. The Paulicians were given their name because they tried to follow the writings of the Apostle Paul – rather than the growing traditions of Rome or the spreading heresies of Alexandria.
Keep in mind that these names were known for a few years, even a few centuries and in certain places, but then they were forgotten or forsaken. Sometimes the name became extinct because the people who bore those names became virtually extinct. Sometimes those people were driven away, and at other times they were decimated by persecution. But the truth of God, and the promise of Christ in regard to the perpetuity of His church, remained in effect, and other people, sometimes in other places, arose and enjoyed, for a time, the Lord’s protection and blessing. Only one name came up in the second century and was heard again in every century down to this day. Only the name “Anabaptist” has passed through the tests and trials of time. But that doesn’t mean that the others were not valid or important in their own little niche.
With this lesson we consider another name which has not been heard in every century – but it has been often whispered. And like the “Paulicians” it comes out of the Bible – but in this case even more directly out of the Bible. God’s people have been known as “Baptists,” and I believe that name should still be used to characterize the people of the Christ. It may be, if the Lord doesn’t return soon, that this name, too, will become obsolete or little used. But I am going to resist that possibility with what little strength and influence I have. Our church will always be known as “a Baptist Church” – a sovereign grace, landmark Baptist Church. I would like to hear all God’s churches called as “Baptist” churches until the Lord returns for His saints. I certainly don’t see another title on the horizon to replace it. “People of the Open Door” or “Saints of the Rock” will never join the ranks of the Montanists and Paulicians. “Community Church” will never rival “Waldense” or “Albigense” in the records of Christian history.
At least one of God’s very early New Testament saints was known as a Baptist.
That is an undeniable fact, & I will challenge any Catholic, any atheist, any Protestant to successfully deny it. You will never find anyone in the Bible called a “Roman Catholic,” a “Presbyterian,” or a “Methodist,” but you will find one of God’s most important men called “John the Baptist.” There are men in God’s Word called “prophets” – Nathan the prophet, Isaiah the prophet, and Jeremiah the prophet. But the nature and the future of their work was somewhat different from that of John. I expected to find “Paul the Apostle” and “Peter the Apostle,” but I was surprised to find that this phraseology is not in the Bible. And even if it was more Biblical, once again, apostleship is no longer a Biblical office. But no so with the title “Baptist.”
The Holy Spirit, called John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the “Baptist.” It was not a title applied to him through the hatred of the Sadducees or Pharisees. It was not given to him by the Romans or the Jews. In Matthew 3 we read that name for the first time and the Holy Spirit lead Matthew to write it. Herod the King later called John “the Baptist” and so did Herodias and her daughter. But it was Christ Jesus who called him by that name more than anyone else. He is “John the Baptist” fifteen times in the New Testament.
Besides the simple will of God, what made him known as “the Baptist”? I think that Matthew 3 tells us, “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” John was called “the Baptist” because he was a baptizer, commissioned by God to immerse people when they repented of their sins and expressed a desire to follow the Lord. In the Greek New Testament “John the Baptist” reads “Ioannes (ee-o-an’-nace) baptistes (bap-tis-tace’).” “Baptistes (bap-tis-tace’) is a direct derivative of “baptizo” which speaks of dipping or immersing. John the Baptist was an immerser – a dipper. He did not sprinkle or pour water on those who came to him for baptism, confessing their sins. And he did not immerse anyone who did not come to him confessing their sins. He did not immerse babies, infants or toddlers – he was not a “paedobaptist.” He was “a Baptist.”
No one can say that what John did in his ministry was not authorized by God nor directed by the Holy Spirit. Christ asked His opponents about the authority for John’s baptism and the clear implication was that it came from God. And John was “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” – Luke 1:15. With that authority and under that divine leadership, we aren’t surprised to find that the rest of John’s theology was thoroughly Biblical.
John believed in the sovereignty and omnipotence of Jehovah – “God is able of (the) stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Unlike the Catholics and Protestants, John believed that people must repent of their sins and do this before baptism – because he was sure of judgment to come. As being filled with the Holy Spirit himself, he was sure of the ministry of the Spirit, and it appears that he could recognize the work of conviction and conversion. He preached that the true people of God were expected to live as free from sin as possible with the help of the Spirit – Christians are to live godly in this ungodly world. And he apparently taught that a godly life meant humility, because he was clearly a humble man himself. John was sure of the deity of Christ and the Lord Jesus’ infinite superiority over him, over other believers, over all of creation. He stated that he was aware of the pre-existence of Christ – “He was before me,” even though John had been born prior to Jesus.
But getting back to baptism, how did John come up with the idea of immersion and why? As I’ve already suggested baptism was not his, but given to him by the authority of God. Did John fully understand all that the symbolism of immersion would later teach? I can’t say so with assurance, but having been commissioned directly by the Lord, I wouldn’t be surprised. Immersion indicated the upcoming death of Christ for sin, as well as His burial and resurrection. And it indicated a willing death to sin by the repentant sinner. It illustrated that a new life was underway – it depicted a new birth. And because of the stigma attached to such a public statement, it declared a loyalty to Christ and a fellowship with others of like faith. If these are things which the first Baptist believed, and they are thoroughly Biblical, then they are things which the saints of God should have believed throughout the ages, and they should still be believed today. If people believe these things today, why should those believers NOT bear the same title as the man who believed them two thousand years ago? What is wrong with addressing ourselves with the same title which God applied to His saint John? There was a danger to being baptized by John and there was danger to John in baptizing others. And those dangers have followed the Baptists during every succeeding century.
Some of God’s people have openly been called Baptists for at least five hundred years.
J.T. Christian wrote, “It is amazing how many names were applied, in the period of the Reformation, to the Baptists. They called each other ‘brethren’ & ‘sisters,’ & spoke of each other in the simplest language of affection. Their enemies called them ‘Anabaptists’ because they repeated baptism when converts came from other parties. This name ‘Anabaptist’ is a caricature. It damns first by faint praise and then by distortion. The opprobrious term ‘Anabaptist’ was and is a vile slander.” Why? Because, in one sense we are never more than simple “Baptists” because if we are talking about baptizing those who have been christened in Catholic or Protestant churches, then they were not previously baptized at all. Christian goes on “They were called ‘Catabaptists’ because they denied infant baptism and practiced immersion. (“Cata” is a prefex meaning “down,” “back” or “against.”) The name “Baptist” dates from the earliest days of the Reformation. In contemporary literature they are generally called ‘Baptists.’ It is an old and honored name.”
I have no historical authority to make this statement, although I believe it to be true. Generally speaking, whenever you read the title “Anabaptist” when reading Baptist histories, you could lawfully substitute the simpler word “Baptist.” An exception has to be made, however, when reading the religious histories of many of the Protestants, because they will often include numbskulls like Thomas Mûnser among the Anabaptists, who made the claim without possessing the doctrines of the Baptists.
At the conclusion of his book “The First Baptist,” S. E. Anderson provides us with a good sermon outline. He says, “With these facts in mind, one can readily see the divine wisdom in calling the first Christian by the name ‘Baptist.’ He was not ashamed of it. It is a good name for several reasons.” First, the name “Baptist” is a scriptural name. It was given by God to a man whom Christ approved with the highest of praise. It signified all that John believed and taught his converts to believe. They shared his views. While it is not said that there were called “Baptists” (there was no need then), they could have been so called with perfect propriety. Second, the name “Baptist” is a descriptive name. It describes someone who believes that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ were all carried out of the salvation of that believer. And as a result that believer visibly identified with Christ, in his
baptism. Third, the name “Baptist” is doctrinally sound. Besides conveying the basic points of the gospel in the title, the first Baptist believed the fundamentals of the Word of God in other areas. To identify with John by the use of his God-given title, identifies with the doctrines taught by John. Fourth, the name “Baptist” is Christ-centered. John refused to be praised as anything more than a servant of the Lord. He said, “Christ must increase, and I must decrease.” On several occasions he told his disciples to leave him in order to follow Christ more closely. John’s gospel denied salvation by works, by baptism, by birth, by character, by ancestry. John’s gospel was about repentance and about Christ. Fifth, the name “Baptist” used to be quite unifying. When a believer is immersed he links himself to every other baptized believer. They may be in different churches scattered around the world, but their baptism creates among themselves a unique bond. That recently immersed person may be a young lady or an old man, but they are one in Christ and the symbolism of baptism makes a statement to that effect. Sadly, because Baptists believe in complete liberty, there are people claiming to be Baptists, who are not Baptists at all.
Should the people of God today abandon the name Baptist?
I would have to ask “why?” Why give up a title which God created and used in His eternal Word? Why give up a title which links us to men and women of like faith in the past. Why abandon a title which carries with it the honor of martyr blood?
I admit that there are a lot of people in the last two hundred years who have brought shame to the name. That is all the more reason for the people of God to stand firm and raise their voices, speaking the truth. There is every kind of doctrine under the umbrella of “Christendom” taught in churches with all the generic names being used today. And if someone attends a Lutheran church or a Presbyterian church, he could be a Bible-denying liberal or an old-time conservative Christian. And the same is true of the so-called “Baptist.” But as I said earlier, “Baptist” is a Biblical title – while “Episcopalian” or “Methodist” is not.
I believe that we need to stick to the names which God has applied to His people. We are “saints,” “brethren,” “children of God” and we are also “Baptists.” Let us never be ashamed of the names and titles to which God has given His approval.