What is a Baptist?
This is Queen Street Baptist Church. Queen Street BAPTIST Church. We belong to the Canadian BAPTISTS of Ontario and Quebec. What in the world is a Baptist?
Many people think that Baptists are simply about using a lot of water for baptisms. But it is so much more than that.
There was a school class where the teacher was trying to teach about diversity. The teacher invited the children to bring something for show and tell that represented their religion. A Jewish girl brought in a Menorah. A Roman Catholic boy brought in some rosary beads. The teacher asked the Baptist child what he had brought. He told her he brought a casserole for the potluck. I will say as someone who has been to many churches that Baptists do have the best potlucks.
I was not raised Baptist. In fact I was baptized as a baby in an Anglican church and was baptized as a believer in a Pentecostal church. But I chose to be a Baptist at a time when I was wrestling with how my own beliefs fit with the traditions I was participating in. I think there is something great about Baptist distinctives.
Having said that, this message is not about why the Baptists are the best or why you should be Baptist, if you don’t already identify as such. If you identify with another Christian tradition, this is a time for us to all learn together. There are some things here that we can all agree on.
Before getting into the seven Baptist distinctives, I need to give you a very short history lesson as it will affect Baptist thought and practice. The first ever Baptist congregation appeared in Holland in 1609. It was made up of people who had fled from England. John Smyth was the first pastor. It was a time of great religious upheaval in England. The state church in England moved from Anglican to Catholic and back again. Whoever was in power vigorously persecuted the Christians of the “wrong” tradition. Many Baptist beliefs are a reaction to this situation.
So what do Baptists believe?
1. Jesus is Lord
What is the core of the Christian faith? What is it that unites us? From the very beginning, Christians have created creeds and faith statements that tell us what is the orthodox faith. Some of these creeds are better than others. But as new groups and traditions appeared, the creeds became more detailed and precise. Again, that is not necessarily bad.
But the early Baptists were seeking to be a New Testament church. This led them to look at what the earliest Christian creed was in the New Testament. It was pretty simple. Jesus is Lord.
“Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
This does not mean that we don’t believe anything else. But this is the foundation of our faith.
I said it was simple, but it is not easy. This is the creed that got the early church in trouble with the Romans. The Romans proclaimed that Caesar is Lord, that was the foundation of the Roman Empire. When the Christians said Jesus is Lord, they were also saying that Caesar is not Lord.
What are the implications when we say Jesus is Lord. Whose lordship are we denying? We cannot have two lords. If we make Jesus our Lord something has to go. We cannot simply tag Jesus beliefs onto our regular life.
2. Word of God is the Authoritative Rule of Faith
Another aspect of Baptist thought is our focus on the Bible as our final authority. Baptists have traditionally had a high view of Scripture. While from my background I have respect for tradition and experience, ultimately the Word of God is the only sure guide. I appreciate the words of the Apostle Paul:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
We don’t believe that the Bible is just a collection of old tales and reflections of some religious leaders. We believe that the Bible is inspired, or God-breathed. This does not mean that God dictated the Bible. It means God used these writers in their experiences with their personalities to give us exactly what we need to know who God is and how to be in right relationship with him. All that we do and believe must constantly be compared and corrected by the Scriptures.
3. Priesthood of All Believers
What are priests? In the Old Testament, the priests were men from a certain tribe, Levi, and a certain family, the descendants of Aaron. It was the priests who would offer sacrifices on behalf of the people and would do what was necessary to arrange for sacrifices. The role of the priest was essential.
There are some traditions within Christianity that have taken on a similar model for their clergy. Not only do they call their pastors a priest, they see their priest as playing an intermediary role.
One of our Baptists beliefs is in the priesthood of all believers.
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever!” (Revelation 1:5-6)
Sometimes Baptists fall into the old model of pastor, thinking the pastor has to do the prayer or the pastor has to lead worship. I am happy to do these things, but I do them in my priesthood as a believer and not because i received a special connection to God when I was ordained.
All believers in Jesus Christ are priests and have direct connection to God. The pastor’s job is to teach and encourage. You never have to wait for the pastor to connect with God.
4. A Believer’s Church
What is the Church? There is the church and there is the Church. Anyone can gather a group of people together, form an organization, put together a constitution and call it a church. But that does not make it the Church.
The Church is a very specific thing and it is no human creation. The Church, and by this I do not mean the Baptist church, I mean the Christian Church, is the body of Christ, the collection of all born again follower of Jesus. A person cannot buy their way into the Church. They cannot work their way into the Church. Once a person calls upon Jesus as their Lord, they are a part of the Church. Those who are yet to believe are welcome and invited to participate in our worship services. But one has to be a believer to be a part of the Church.
5. Believer’s Baptism by Immersion
Baptism is what many people identify Baptists with. I need to say that I know people who feel infant baptism is the proper way or who believe that sprinkling is the proper way. I respect those positions but I am here to share the Baptist view.
The most important part of this is the believer’s aspect of baptism. What we see in the New Testament are people coming to faith and being baptized. That just seems to be the model. It seems as if baptism is a response to faith not a precursor.
We perform baptism by immersion. This seems to be the basic meaning of the word baptize which means something like dip. It is also a powerful image of the death and resurrection of Jesus. One thing I need to stress. Baptism is not required for salvation. If you had a heart attack on your way to your baptism service at church, you would not go to hell. Baptism is not the washing away of sin, it is the outward sign of what Jesus has already done.
I was baptized as a baby and like many Christians, I felt that was fine. But when I attended some baptism services and saw people experience believer’s baptism by immersion, I knew this was what I needed. That is not to say baby baptisms are meaningless. I value that my parents stood in church and expressed their intention to raise me as a Christian. But for me believer’s baptism expressed my personal faith.
6. Congregational Government
Baptists have always focused on congregational government. I know that church government sounds boring but let me continue. There are churches that have a strong hierarchical denominational structure. There may be a person or a group of people who make decisions and that filters down and is adopted by the local congregations.
That is not the way it works in the Baptist church. It is all about the local church. We choose to associate with other Baptist church, but there is no central authority that can tell us what to do or what to believe. Although that could lead to issues, it is assuming the previous points of the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of Scripture. If we submit to Christ and study the Scriptures, we should stay on the right road without being directed by the denomination or other human authority.
7. Separation of Church and State
We hear a lot about the separation of church and state. The way it is described today, it looks as if it is a limitation on religion to keep it out of the public sphere. Ten Commandments and nativity scenes should be hidden and no one should be allowed to mention God in school. The separation of church and state is there to protect the state from the church.
But that is not what the separation of church and state is at all. In fact, it was the church that insisted on this separation and not the government. The separation of church and state is meant to protect the church from the state.
The earliest Baptists came out of England which, like a number of other countries in Europe, had a state church. The particular tradition adopted as the state church received rich benefits and those of other traditions received a best limitations and at worse persecution. The Baptists saw the worst of the state church and decided that was enough. The problem was not that the Baptists were not the state church, it was that there was a state church to begin with.
This separation does not mean that Baptists or other Christians can not run for office, speak out on political issues or otherwise get involved with national interests. It simply means that the state should not pick one tradition and give it special status.
A state church is like the ring of power from the Lord of the Rings. Gandalf refused the ring even though it would make him powerful enough to destroy Sauron because he knew the ring would corrupt him and he would become just as evil. Gandalf would have made a good Baptist.
As Baptists, we want to be free to express our faith as we understand it from the Scripture without interference from the government.
I am not here to say that the Baptist church is the one true church. But I do want to say that I think that Baptists have some good things to say. While I primarily identify as a Christian, I am comfortable with the Baptist distinctives. We are not the only Christians to believe at least some of these statements. I would hope that all Christians would affirm Jesus as Lord and the authority of Scripture. The other beliefs are important as well but there is room for us to have conversation with other traditions. I stand in solidarity with brothers and sisters who have other forms of baptism or hold to episcopal or presbyterian forms of church government. All Christians of all traditions are welcome to worship here. At the same time, there is a place for us to celebrate our Baptist tradition.