Yesterday, I had my ordination council. It’s kind of like a bar exam for a pastor. It doesn’t make me a pastor but it licences me as one. Thankfully, after three hours of gruelling questions from a room full of visiting pastors, I was recommended for ordination and am now taking care of some of the paperwork toward finalizing everything. There will be an ordination service at Grace in the coming weeks. I was asked many questions about all kinds of areas of theology and pastoral ministry. There was one question that is often asked of candidates that didn’t come up though, “What is a baptist?”
Many of our members have attended baptist churches for years. But I suspect that there aren’t five people in our congregation who could answer the question. Today, churches aren’t as divided as they once were denominationally and that’s something to celebrate, but the flip side is that most people don’t know or even think deeply about the key doctrines held by the church they attend. Do you know what a baptist is? I call myself a Christian not a baptist, but I am committed to the distinctives of the baptist tradition. Let me encourage you to consider them. They’re typically remembered with the acrostic B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S.
B = Biblical authority
Because the Bible is the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13), baptists believe that the Bible is the final authority in all matters of belief and practice and cannot be overridden by powerful leaders, church traditions or council decrees.
A = Autonomy of the local church
Baptists hold that the local church is directly accountable to Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18) and as such is self-governing. There is no hierarchy of authority outside the local church. But autonomous doesn’t mean isolated. Healthy baptist church are interdependent, learning from and partnering with other churches to accomplish things they couldn’t do on their own.
P = Priesthood of believers
In the Old Testament, there were special people called priests who served God under the High Priest who mediated between God and His people. But since Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, He has become our High Priest and all believers are called priests (1 Peter 2:9) in that we have personal access to God and serve Him in this world.
T = Two ordinances
While some churches practice foot washing, confirmation and various other ordinances, baptists believe that only believer’s baptism by immersion (Matthew 28:19) and the lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-25) are required by the church as on-going practices.
I = Individual soul liberty
Baptists believe in the importance of an individual following his or her own convictions from the Word of God (Romans 14:5, 12) and not being forced to ascribe to beliefs against conscience or belief.
S = Saved, baptized church membership
A pastor friend from another denomination once joked to me that if someone comes to his church twice or more in a year, they’re considered a member. Baptists have held that membership in a local church should be restricted to people who have made a credible profession of faith in Christ and been baptized by immersion as believers (Acts 2:41-42).
T = Two offices
While some denominations appoint church leaders with authority over regions of churches, baptists hold that there are only two church offices in the New Testament: elder and deacon (Philippians 1:1). The terms pastor, elder, bishop and overseer are all used interchangeably in the Bible to refer to the same role (Acts 20:17, 28).
S = Separation of church and state
History has shown that where the church becomes formally enmeshed in a country’s government, problems result. Baptists believe that God established both church and civil government and gave each distinct spheres of influence (Matthew 22:20-21; Romans 13:1-7). Christians can influence government but it’s unhealthy for a denomination of churches to control a government.
How many of the distinctives did you know? Regardless of the church you attend, I’d encourage you to make a practice of learning what the beliefs are that define that church’s practice and then study the Bible to determine for yourself what the Scriptures teach in those areas.
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. - Acts 17:11
In awe of Him,