In a post last week, I listed the Baptist distinctives, using the acrostic BAPTISTS, and suggested that if you believe these, you should not be ashamed of the name Baptist or of your heritage.
B—Biblical Authority in all matters of faith and practice. (See 2 Timothy 3:16; John 17:17; Acts 17:11; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:20–21.)
A—Autonomy or self governing power of the local church. (See Colossians 1:18; Acts 13–14, 20:19–30; Ephesians 1:22–23.)
P—Priesthood of believers. (See Hebrews 4:14–16; 1 Timothy 2:5–6; 1 Peter 2:5–10.)
T—Two offices within the church—pastor and deacon. (See Philippians 1:1; Acts 6:1–7; 1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:6–9; 1 Peter 5:1–4.)
I—Individual soul liberty. (See Romans 10:9–17, 14:1–23.)
S—Separation of church and state. (See Matthew 22:21; Acts 5:29–31; Romans 13:1–4.)
T—Two ordinances—baptism and the Lord’s Table. (See Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; Acts 2:38–43, 8:36–38; Romans 6:1–6.)
S—Separation and personal holiness. (See 2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Peter 1:16.)
I believe in these doctrinal distinctives and am grateful for how the name Baptist identifies a church with these beliefs.
But there is another reason I’m thankful for the name—the heritage it represents.
Historically, the name Baptist started out as Anabaptist—literally, re-baptizers. It was derogatory—given by Catholics during the Dark Ages to Bible-believing churches who practiced believer’s baptism. Because adult converts would have already been “baptized” as infants into the Catholic church, baptism after salvation was seen by Catholics as re-baptism.
In some ways, it’s interesting that it was baptism that so identified the Baptists. After all, why didn’t those who derided these Bible-believing Christians choose to point out their salvation by grace without works or their belief in the substitutionary atonement of Christ? Why baptism as the branding moniker?
It’s actually not so surprising when you consider the historical context of the Dark Ages. In the midst of spiritual darkness with a state church that taught sacraments were necessary for salvation, infant baptism was one sacrament every member of society (unless they had Anabaptist parents) would have participated in. To the state church, this saying that infant baptism was not only unnecessary for salvation, but was also a false work to earn salvation was a direct affront to its doctrine. This wasn’t a squabble over modes of baptism; it was a courageous stand by Bible-believing Christians saying that no sacrament could atone for sin or earn a sinner favor with God. It wasn’t about baptism per se; it was about salvation by grace alone.
I’ve written before of these Baptist forefathers from across Europe who were persecuted for their faith. I’ve been to the river in Munich where Felix Manz was drowned (under the direction of the Reformer Zwingli, no less) for his belief in baptism as a picture of, rather than a piece of, salvation. I’ve been to Italy where the Waldensians were massacred for their teaching that salvation is by grace through faith alone. I’ve been to places across Wales and England, including the London Tower where Anne Askew was imprisoned and tortured for Baptist doctrine in 1546 before being burnt at the stake.
The list of Baptist martyrs is long, but their courage and valor for truth ran deep.
I am thankful for what the name Baptist represents today, and I’m thankful for how it historically identifies us as obedient to the New Testament in both faith (salvation by grace, not by sacraments) and practice (baptism by immersion as practiced in the New Testament).
When it comes to taking a stand for truth, we must remember that faith and practice are both relevant. It’s not only what we say we believe but if we are willing to thoroughly identify with those beliefs. Contending for the faith (Jude 3) is not privately believing true doctrine; it is publicly practicing it. Holding forth the word of life (Philippians 2:15–16) is not just a matter of reading Scripture; it is living it out and offering it to others—even in the midst of an unbelieving culture.
In the previous blog, I suggested that the spirit of pragmatism to change a doctrinally-sound name simply to be less offensive regarding the doctrine it represents, could lead to actually changing doctrine as well, for the same pragmatic reasons.
When it comes to our Baptist forefathers, I’m thankful they did not practice this spirit of pragmatism. It was not, by and large, their beliefs that brought them into persecution; it was their insistence on practicing their beliefs and spreading them to others as they preached the gospel.
In a day when Christians so easily capitulate to culture and are slow to allow their true beliefs to be known, may we not be ashamed of Christ, of His gospel, or of the plain truths of God’s Word. May we faithfully and courageously hold forth the Word of life and remember that we, as local churches, are the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).