This title is guaranteed
to raise some eyebrows! Some
will ask, “How can you Baptists set yourselves apart from the broader
Christian community? What right do
you have to be so exclusive?” Others
will assume that the reference is to the name Baptist rather than to the
doctrine that justifies the name.
The large, world-wide family of Christian
believers who wear this name are a diverse lot.
There may be nothing on which every last one of them would agree beyond
the existence of God – and even the demons agree there!
The name is far from some “magic wand” that automatically “covers a
multitude of sins” (though in one sense that term does cover many sins!)
The vast majority of Baptists, of course, affirm
the general articles of common
Christian creeds concerning the
triune God, the Bible, the saving person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and
many other generally held Christian views.
Yet it is clear that, with many incentives to be part of
the “wider world” of Christendom, most Baptists have chosen not
to take part in non-Baptist
religious activities. In many cases
it would be to their advantage both financially and socially to forsake this
separate identity; yet most Baptists have had little involvement in the various
ecumenical movements of the last century. For
this they are often rebuked.
In some cases, such separation has been costly in
the extreme. Groups holding similar
convictions in the “Dark Ages”
were often considered outlaws, their members imprisoned, tortured, even
executed. Consider the edict of
Queen Elizabeth the First of Great Britain, predecessor of King James of Bible
translation fame. Twenty-seven
members of an illegal conventicle at Aldsgate, England, were arrested, charged
with being “Anabaptists,” and placed in prison.
Eleven (ten women and one man) were
convicted of capital crimes against the state; eight were banished, and the most
stubborn two were burned at the stake. When Foxe, the noted martyrologist, interceded with the queen
for these women, her refusal stated that it was necessary to make examples of
them. She said, “I wonder that
such monstrous opinions [as refusing to have their infants “baptized,” RCB]
could come into the mind of any Christian.” (This is quoted by
R. B. C. Howell in The Terms of Communion at the Lord’s Table,
first issued in 1846.)
In many parts of the world, even in recent years,
Baptists have also found themselves persecuted, often alongside other believers,
sometimes even by those claiming to be believers!
There were more martyrs for Christ in the 20th Century than in
any earlier one. What could
possibly induce millions of people, world-wide,
age-long, to be so set in a distinct viewpoint which would cause such violent
response? For true believers in
general, we may respond, “Faith in Christ.”
But what could lead so many to hold specific, separate
convictions so strongly?
It is certainly not any goal of obtaining
political favor. Even if it did so
in some cases, true Baptists would still not desire more than friendship between
church and state, not union. For
this group has seen, and all too often felt, the results of such union.
It is certainly not prestige.
Baptists are sometimes not even listed among the “mainstream”
denominations, though they are the largest non-Catholic group of professing
Christians in the United States, and significant in number world-wide.
Most Baptists insist that “We are not Protestants,” and this has
blocked some wider recognition.
While there are areas, such as the
American South, where Baptists hold numerous political offices and operate
leading businesses, yet for the wider world their views are hardly considered
important. Consider, by contrast,
how avidly some relatively smaller groups are courted by media, politicians, and
business. How long has it been
since you have heard a serious media discussion of “the Baptist position” on
any social or political issue, unless it included a bit of ridicule about
“Neanderthal Southern Baptists,” “preachers
of hate,” “bigots,” etc.?
Is it possible, then, that Baptists should
reconsider their separation? Some
have already answered “Yes,” and have begun to adopt Protestant of
“Evangelical” status, removing the offensive word “Baptist.”
(And some should, for they have long since dropped the doctrine which
makes the word meaningful!) Surely
all of us should come to such a discussion with an open mind, and
with an open Bible!
For it is just here that Baptists find the
grounds that compel them to hold separate identity.
If it were only a question of “How much water?”, or contemporary
versus traditional worship, or an exact form of church government, few would
find the result worth the effort. Most
would agree that, in America at least, anyone has a legal
right to hold and express diverse viewpoints.
(And few realize how much of that fact is owed to Baptist influence!)
But there would surely not be some 30 million people who would choose to
maintain an expensive, somewhat unpopular denominational separation over
secondary issues in this country, with more overseas, unless there were solid
grounds for such action.
What, then, is the crucial sticking point?
Just this: Baptists have, by and large, insisted on a personal
relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, one known to the accountable
individual, variously termed “new
birth,” “salvation,” “regeneration,” etc., as the first
principle of the Christian faith – coming
BEFORE any and all religious activities or Christian duties.
That experience, involving our minds as well as our emotions (see Matthew
22:37-38), hassled us to seek
fellowship with others who claim the same view of conversion before conduct.
That, in turn, has led to our emphasis on “believer’s church,” a
place for the corporate worship of God by like-minded people in close
fellowship, and to insist that church membership is not valid without a prior
experience of salvation, a Christian testimony.
We recognize that such a testimony may be true or false, from the example
of Judas and the related experiences of many (like this writer) who were on a
Baptist roll without salvation. But
at least we want the profession before baptism.
after genuine conversion, this writer had to convince his home church to baptize
him! That wasn’t easy for a shy
How does such genuine conversion come about?
It came from the presentation of the gospel – “How that Christ died
for our sins, and that He was buried, and that He rose,”
I Cor. 15:1-4 – that led us to conviction and conversion.
Someone – usually someone involved with a local church – told us that
we are sinful, that we need a Savior, and that we may receive salvation in a
personal experience of repentance toward God and faith the in the Lord Jesus
Christ according to the Scriptures!
So we were driven – better, drawn – to look into that Book for
ourselves, and right there we were on our way to being what is meant by the word
For we could not simply “believe it because the
church says so,” or take it on
“the faith of our fathers” or the word of the minister; tradition may have
some truth, but it has much that is self-contradictory; some of it must
be false. Anyone who says,
“I’ll look into this Bible for myself” has the first condition of becoming
a good Baptist (in the best sense of that term).
And this ‘believer-priest” relationship
brings us to an ever-deepening fellowship with our Lord.
all, it was He who told us to “Search the Scriptures,”
for, He said in John 5:39, “These are they which testify of Me.”
We may use helps and helpers, trusted guides, to deepen our
under-standing, but finally we must “walk that lonesome road all by
ourselves,” humanly speaking, and search the Bible individually.
Would Baptists, then, suggest that professing
Christians in other groups are not saved?
Far from it. All the saved,
of any or no church, are part of the world-wide, age-long family of the
born-again, far broader than any denominating lines.
And Baptists claim only to be members of this family of the born-again, with
the truly saved of all groups in all ages!
We be brethren!
Why, then, do Baptists maintain a separate
identity? It is costly in many
ways. In mere material terms, it is
expensive to operate separate buildings, keep up distinct ministries, and
maintain a unique identity. In an
age of rising energy costs, when building materials and construction are more
and more prohibitive, is it reasonable to keep a separate status?
It is certainly not, unless –
and here is the key – unless there are clear distincitives to be proclaimed!
Up to this point, this paper has been
descriptive. Let me now make it
personal. Why do we
maintain a separate identity? Why
not just “merge and be done with
it,” give witness to our views as part of a “world church” and save the
costs and strains of singular status?
After all, do we not all desire Heaven as our final home?
We answer quite simply, “Jesus loves me, this I
know, for the Bible tells me so!”
And we insist on seeking to follow our Lord’s commands as set forth in
“There you go,” someone says – “you
accuse us of not following the Bible, and even suggest that we are not
saved!” No; you identify
yourselves with your own words, in
For there is absolutely no biblical example or
command for baptism without a personal profession of faith! And scholars of most groups (with few exceptions) agree that
such baptisms were immersions, dippings – not “affusion” as in pouring or
sprinkling. In Scripture, both by
example and by precept, baptism was always a believer’s immersion, not
one to produce a believer at that time or later, and not some other act.
And it was always accepted voluntarily.
Acts 2:38 commands us to “repent and be
baptized” – in that order – and
belief is clear in the context: “thy who gladly received his word” were the
ones baptized. And the promise is
the same, unchanging to them (the Jews), to their children saved the same way,
and “to all who are afar off” (Gentiles).
Each one individually is to repent, believe, and
accept baptism. Unaccountable
infants can no more repent, or accept baptism, than they can accept an
automobile or a jet plane! They may
or may not resist some physical rite done by a religious group, but there
is surely no voluntary obedience on their part.
The command is to seek, not just to passively go through, baptism.
Some groups sprinkle, pour, or immerse
indifferently; some perform a ritual on unthinking infants, thus violating their
personal liberty; some immerse to produce a believer; some hold that the
believer being immersed may cease to be a believer,
and need another experience (and possibly another immersion). None of these agree with Baptist convictions.
The unique Baptist principle is just this: absolute, unhesitating
obedience to the clear commands of Christ in holy
Scripture so far as we can understand them.
He said, in Luke 6:46, “Why do ye call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not
the things which I say?” How then
may we even hope to please Him or to serve Him if we are in
deliberate disobedience? We
fail often enough when we seek to follow; our humanity manifests itself all too often.
If we try to begin a walk with Christ on any basis except absolute obedience,
what can we expect further?
Thus it is that Baptist baptism is unique; not in
the amount of water, for others do immerse; not just because it visibly portrays
an experienced salvation, for some will
immerse believers if pressed; not because we want to stand apart from
fellow-believers as “holier than thou.”
Historic Baptist baptism is unique because Baptists seek to obey our Lord
in company with like-minded believers in these first areas of our Christian walk
– salvation, baptism, church membership and fellowship – feeling strongly
convicted that to disobey here would limit further obedience severely.
Thus we can have no church fellowship with those whose practice is different.
But, someone asks, “Where is your Scripture?
What ‘command of Christ’ do you claim to justify your separation from
Let it be noted
historically that those who changed the form and/or significance of
baptism were the “first Protestants,” who left true New Testament churches
to follow human inventions. But,
can Baptists justify our view by explicit texts?
Besides Acts 2, already noted, surely some of the last words of Jesus
Himself should come to mind. Matthew
28:18-20, often called the “Great Commission,” is enough if there were no
other passage – and there are many. Look
carefully at this expanded version.
And Jesus came and spoke to them,
authority, with the ability to exercise it,
been given to Me in Heaven and on earth.
ye therefore and make disciples out of all the nations,
them (the disciples) in the Name
the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit,
them (the disciples)
OBSERVE ALL THINGS
I HAVE COMMANDED YOU ALL.
lo, I am with you all, even to the end of the age.
“All authority, with the ability to act on
it” – where? Here, as
well as in Heaven! “Is given”
– perfect tense, stands given! To whom? To Him!
We dare not seek to disobey! “As
ye go,” on the way about our daily lives, “evangelize” – the only imperative verb in
the commission! Where? In every
nation, of all kinds and classes and ethnic groups – none are to be excluded
from this gracious opportunity! And
in Greek grammar, only the disciples
are to be baptized, the next step in following this command. And logically, only
the baptized disciples are to be taught to obey all that Jesus Himself as
commanded. Lost people cannot; disobedient disciples will not; those who
seek to obey will fail often enough. But
we have no right to diminish one iota, one jot or tittle, from the precepts and
examples which Christ Himself gave and endorsed. And
we insist that these are found in the New Testament alone.
Yes, Baptist baptism is unique, when it is what
it should be. It does not save; we
make no such claim. We insist that
only the saved can be baptized.
It does not keep us saved; we dare not make such a claim.
Obedience is unto blessing, not unto eternal life; that life we already
have when we are born into the family of God, with God as our Father and His
nature within us
Scriptural baptism does mark as as
those who seek to be obedient servants of our Lord.
And when we have done all that He has commanded, we must still see
ourselves as “unprofitable servants,” in the words of Luke 17:10, having
done only our duty. But woe unto us
if we deliberately neglect or deny that known duty!
R. Charles Blair
Clinton KY 42031
3, 2003, in this form
substance of this message was first preached at Elliott Baptist Church, Elliott,
Mississippi, April 21, 2003.
Special thanks are due a dear friend, Brother James Boyce Carlin, for his
careful proofreading of the manuscript and several helpful suggestions.
Please feel free to reproduce this material with credit.
May God direct all of us to a deeper obedience is my prayer.)