What I have for you this evening will not be much more than an outline – or maybe two or three outlines. There won’t be too much meat on these bare bones, but I have reasons for this. First – the points I’d like to make this evening should we well-known to most of you. In fact we are going over some of these in our morning Bible studies. So there is no reason to re-teach them tonight. Anyway, it could take more than one message to treat them adequately. And yet, at the very least, they need to be reiterated from time to time – “This is what we believe, and this is who we are.” My third purpose is to lay the groundwork for another message or two which I hope to share with you in the not too distant future. You could consider this to be the introduction to a future message or messages.
Several weeks ago, I mentioned that I like to hear your questions – easy questions, complex, whatever. I want you to bring to me those things which perplex you or which are disturbing you. I said that sometimes I will have a quick and ready answer. On the other hand, in my diminishing brain-power, you might have to wait while I study the question. And sometimes I will be as perplexed as you, and we’ll have to leave the answers to Bro. Fulton. And then sometimes your questions will develop into a message to share with the entire church.
In this case, after Ellie Kjeldgaard came forward for baptism a couple of weeks ago, and I presented her to the church, one of the members asked me, “Why did we vote about Ellie’s baptism?” My quick reply – my TOO quick reply – was a very weak….. “That’s what we do.” But then after a related question, I added, “Baptists do many things which are not explicitly expressed in the Word of God.” These things are not a matter of Bible doctrine, they are about Baptist polity and practice. Some of our practices come out of expediency, some come from logic, and some are nothing more than Baptist tradition – or our own church’s tradition.
But our message this evening is not really about that sort of thing. I am calling this message – “Baptist Distinctives.” That future message to which I referred will be entitled something like “Baptist Difficulties” or perhaps “Baptist Disappointments.” We who are Baptists do certain specific things in our worship and service of God which differ from other so-called “Christian denominations.” For example, I think that it can still be said that all Baptists baptize by immersion. I hope I’m not wrong about that. But the truth is there are hundreds of churches using the Baptist name, which are no longer Baptist in faith and practice. Maybe they immerse, maybe not, but there are other distinctives which they don’t practice. True Baptists believe certain things from God’s Word, which I will outline here shortly – like immersion. If they no longer believe those things then they should drop the name “Baptist.” They should call themselves “Community churches” or find some weird name like “The Rock,” “His Church,” “The City Assembly” or “The Church on the Corner.”
And there are churches, other than Baptists, which believe some of the points that I’ll share tonight. For example, Mormons baptize by immersion, as do the Campbellites, 7th Day Adventists and others. They may be baptizers, but they aren’t “Baptists,” and they’d punch you if you called them “Baptists.” In other words, it is not simply one doctrine which makes a Baptist church “Baptistic.” Baptists believe in immersion, church autonomy and several other doctrines and practices. Together these points together define us.
I have about 50 books on BAPTIST doctrine, running along side another 50 books on BIBLE doctrine. In those Baptist books, several authors describe what they consider “Baptist Distinctives.” Some mention as few as 4 or 5, but most lay out 8 or 10 different points.
Richard Weeks a leader among the GARBC defines those distinctives as: Biblical authority; regenerated and baptized membership; the autonomy of the local church; The priesthood of the believer and soul liberty; immersion and the Lord’s Supper; And the separation of church and state.
Another man, whose name I didn’t jot down, gave this list: The Lordship of Christ; centrality of the scriptures; the priesthood of the believer and believer’s baptism; Regenerated church membership; the autonomy of the local church; And separation of the church and state and religious freedom. Then he concluded with world evangelism.
One of my authors added adherence to the fundamentals of the faith as a Baptist distinctive. By that the man meant – Baptists believe in the inspiration of the Bible and its preservation. The fundamentals include the virgin birth of Christ and His eternal deity; Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross and His bodily resurrection, followed by His literal return. Repentance and faith are Christian fundamentals, and, I believe, so is eternal security. But are these fundamentals Baptist doctrines or Bible doctrines? I suppose it could be argued that there shouldn’t be any distinction – Bible doctrine should be Baptist doctrine. But there are people of other denominations which believe most of these things, so these shouldn’t be called “Baptist distinctives” as if they are doctrines and practices which, together, are unique to us.
In my research I found, repeated over and over again, a cute little outline for our “Baptist distinctives.” I say “cute,” because some of those preachers intended it to be so. Whoever first came up with it, wanted it to be memorable – easily retained, and this outline certain is. I don’t know how long it has been around, but I wasn’t aware of it until the other day. If we make the word “Baptists” an acronym we have a reasonably good outline of our “Baptist distinctives.” We believe and practice what the Bible teaches. And so we believe in the autonomy of each church, the priesthood of the believer and two ordinances. We believe in individual soul liberty, and the separation of church and state. Baptists believe that only saved, baptized people can be church members. And it’s a Baptist practice today that there are only two offices in God’s churches – pastors and deacons.
As a foretaste of that upcoming message let me point out… If we believe that it is Baptistic to have elders and deacons, why doesn’t our church have any deacons? If having deacons helps to define us as “Baptists,” then is this church really a Baptist church? Let’s just say at this point, that sometimes we let other factors – non-biblical factors – determine what we actually do. Does it mean we aren’t Baptists? Or does it mean that we can be Baptists while holding differences in some of the details? I’m just putting a little rosin on the bow, at this point. This is for a future message or two. Tonight, let’s use the acronym “BAPTISTS” as our cute little outline.
“B” – We believe that the BIBLE is our guide for our faith and practice.
Unlike the Catholics with their papal declarations “ex-cathedra,” we don’t believe that God is giving His churches any new revelation. We don’t have a “Book of Baptists” in the way that the LDS have the “Book of Mormon.” There are no post-revelation books sent to us by God like “The Pearl of Great Price.” But there are several non-Baptist denominations which have elevated the writings of their founders to equivalency or supremacy over the Word of God. Baptists have nothing like that, setting us apart from some of those other “Christian” sects.
The Bible is our final authority in all matters of belief and practice, because the Bible is inspired by God and bears the absolute authority of God Himself. Whatever the Bible affirms, Baptists accept as true. No human opinion, even that of the pastor, can override the Bible. Baptist creeds and confessions of faith, which attempt to explain the doctrines of the Bible, do not carry any divine authority in themselves.
For our church the Holy Scriptures are those words contained in the King James Version of the Bible. Does that mean that everything we do can be found in the KJV? I’m afraid not. Does that mean we actually do all those things which the Bible tells us to do?
“A” – We believe in the AUTONOMY of the church.
By that statement, it goes without saying that we believe that a church is a local congregation. There is no point in making that statement if there was only one universal, made up of all believers. Because we believe that the Bible is our guide, we believe that God’s churches are all local assemblies.
And each church is an independent body – accountable only to the Lord Jesus, the head of the church. Under the Lord, all human authority for regulating the church resides within the local church itself, making it self-governing – that is – “autonomous.” No religious hierarchy outside the local church can dictate a church’s beliefs or practices. No large church in down in the state capital determines what we believe the Bible to teach. We have no bishops or archbishops, overseeing groups of churches. Baptists don’t have synods, diocese, prelacies or bishoprics. However, quite sadly, thousands of Baptist churches have lost this distinctive when their associations became denominations and those denominations became more increasingly organized.
On the other hand, autonomy does not immediately mean isolation. A Baptist church may certainly fellowship with other Baptist churches with which they agree. But a Baptist church cannot be a “member” of any other organization.
“P” – We believe in the PRIESTHOOD of the believer.
There are some denominations which have priests overseeing the congregation and interceding for the membership. Some of those “priests” think that they act as mediators between the membership and God. But the Bible says that the Old Testament priesthood has been done away, and Christ is the only mediator believers need or can have. Scripture teaches that each believer is a priest of God and may come before the throne of grace in prayer directly through our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. No other mediator is needed between God and people. As priests, we can study God’s Word on our own, pray for others, and offer spiritual worship to God. We all have equal access to God – no matter what our position or office in the church might be.
“T” – We believe there are TWO church ORDINANCES.
Here is another spring-board into a second message. Did you know the Bible doesn’t speak of “ordinances” as we Baptists usually use the term? And the Greek word translated “ordinances” in the Bible is far more often translated “traditions.” And here we get ourselves into more hot water. I Corinthians 11:1 says – “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” Did you know that well-known passage isn’t speaking about baptism or communion? The next verse reads, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”
As we generally use the word, and as it is usually meant in this outline, by “ordinances” WE are talking about baptism and the Lord’s supper. We practice the baptism of believers by immersion in water, giving that believer an opportunity to identify with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. And we observe the Lord’s Supper, or communion, commemorating His death for our sins. And we, but not everyone, practice local church communion – that is, “closed communion.” The point is Baptists do not observe “sacraments” – the ordinances are not means through which we receive God’s grace.
While this is true of our church, and most Baptists today, history tells us that Baptists 250 and 300 years ago observed other acts as ordinances as well. Churches split, and churches within communities sometimes would have no fellowship with one another, because one practiced weekly foot-washing while the other didn’t. Foot-washing is found in the Bible, but is it a command? Is it an ordinance? I don’t think so. And what about laying hands on people as a religious ceremony? In the past, in some churches when new members were received, the pastor or more often the whole church came forward, putting their hands on the head of that person. And when people were baptized, sometimes they weren’t actually received into the church until after the “laying on of hands.” These were ordinances to some Baptists, but not to others. These were ordinances in the past but not today. Does that mean that those were not “Baptist” churches? Today, most Baptists observe only two ordinances – baptism and the Lord’s supper. As I say, I think the statement originated in the thought that we do not observe “sacraments.”
“I” – INDIVIDUAL Soul Liberty.
By this we mean that everyone, when it comes to religion, has the liberty to choose what to believe. No one should be forced to serve God according to the law of land or in some State sanctioned church. No one should be forced to join a church, or to be baptized, at the point of a sword. Baptist have always opposed religious persecution, because they have often received it themselves. Of course, as Baptists we will do our best to bring the unbeliever and the mis-believer to the Truth. We should have the liberty to evangelize the lost. And the people of the world should have the liberty to reject or accept our evangelism. Everyone will stand individually before God to be judged for what he believed and did not believe.
“S” – SAVED, baptized church members.
Baptists do not practice infant baptism, or bringing the children of believers into the membership of the church. We don’t believe that just because someone’s parents are members, their children are also members. Church membership is restricted to people who declare that they are trusting the sacrifice of Christ for salvation. Some Baptist churches believe that testimony must be made before the entire congregation. Others believe that so long as the pastor hears it and is convinced of its sincerity, that person can be received. But that testimony is not enough, they must publically identify with their Redeemer in baptism. Only saved and baptized people are qualified to become members in a Baptist church. This is one of our “Baptist distinctives.”
Some people make the “T” in Baptist to refer to the churches TWO OFFICES.
I have been taught, and I teach, that there are only two Biblical offices in a church – pastor and deacon. I believe that there are several terms which are synonymous to “pastor.” “Elder,” and “bishop” or “overseer” refer to the same office. I don’t believe that churches can have both a “pastor” and a “bishop.” They are the same office. There certainly may be more than one “elder” or “pastor,” but what is their relationship to one another? We see deacons in the church in Jerusalem because there problems which needed to be addressed by people other than the very busy elders. The word “deacon” is a transliteration of the Greek word which could be translated “servant.” Does this mean there is a Baptist hierarchy in the each church – “pastor” and “servants?” No. It just means that different people have different responsibilities and modes of service. The piano player is not a lesser church member than the treasurer. They are just different means of service. Oh, and by the way, the Greek Bible speaks of women “servants” in the early church – “deaconesses.” They are in an official office, but what is the significance?
This point raises several questions, two of which are: In addition to – Why doesn’t our church have deacons if it is a Biblical church office? Another is – Why do we vote on people to be treasurers and clerks, if they cannot be found in the Bible? Those are excellent questions, which we will table for now and address at a later time.
The last letter in BAPTISTS is “S” – SEPARATION of church and state.
God established both the church and the civil government, giving to each its own distinct sphere of operation. The government’s purposes are outlined in Romans 13:1-7 which basically devolve into the protection of society from criminals. Secular. The church’s purpose is spiritual – the evangelism of the lost and the edifying of the believers. Neither entity should control the other, nor should there be a direct alliance between the two. Christians in a free society should do their best to guide government towards righteousness through voting and petitioning. Perhaps even in running for office. I personally think that ordinarily it is a mistake for a pastor to hold a governmental, because it would take away from his spiritual time and service. Unlike what history shows – the Bible doesn’t teach that powerful churches or denominations can tell the government what to do – like punish heretics. The focus of the scriptural church must be on the soul, using the means which God has given to those churches.
The distinctives of the Baptist might be summarized by the acronym “BAPTISTS.”
1. Bible authority
2. Autonomy of the congregation
3. Priesthood of the believer
4. Two ordinances
5. Individual soul liberty
6. Saved, baptized members
7. Two church offices
8. Separation of church and state.
Many Baptist people throughout history have given their lives in defense of these principles – as well as for the fundamentals of the faith. These distinctives are still important – they will always be important. And from time to time we need to refresh them in our hearts and minds.