Sunday, May 10, 2009

What Baptists Believe, Part 1

So I've been reading this little book published by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1945 called "Our Baptist Heritage" that I got for a quarter, and it's been really interesting and stimulating to me, so I thought that as I read it, I'd write a series of blog posts to explain what we as Baptists, and especially as Southern Baptists, believe and to explain what distinguishes us from Protestants, Roman catholics, and other Evangelicals.

First, it's important to know that we Baptists are not Protestants since we have no roots in the Roman catholic church. We were never a part of the catholic church and we never protested against the sin and abuse of the catholic church. That's not to say that we're in any way better or superior, and it's not to say that other denominations don't have Godly roots; it's just to say that we're best defined as evangelicals.

We Baptists have many different practices than many Protestants (non-catholic denominations that protested and branched out of the Roman catholic church), and throughout these posts, we'll see those differences, but I thought it'd be good to start by writing about the areas in which we agree. Interestingly enough, we share some truths with Jews, Protestants, Roman catholics, and even Muslims - mainly that we all believe in God, we all believe in heaven and hell, and we all believe in the existence of Jesus and that He was more than just a man.

With Jews, we believe that Yahweh is Creator of all things, with Roman catholics we believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and with Protestants we believe in the incarnation, the inspiration of the Scriptures, the atoning death of Jesus, positional and progressive sanctification, etc. Where we agree is FAR more important than where we disagree, but the things in which we disagree are not unimportant.

For example, there are four main forms of polity (how a denomination is organized and governed):
1. Democracy: government by the people (Baptists, Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, etc.)
2. Republican: government by representation (i.e. Presbyterians, Lutherans, many Reformed, etc.)
3. Oligarchy: government by the few, either chosen or self-perpetuated (like some Episcopals and Moravians)
4. Autocracy: supreme government by one person or source, from which all other inferior officials get their authority (Roman catholicism, with the Pope as the supposed infallible supreme authority)

We as Baptists believe that the Biblical, New Testament form of government is a democracy, where each church is independent and self-governing, taking their orders from nobody except Christ.

Another area of difference is ordinances versus sacraments. An ordinance is something "ordained" or commanded by Christ, and a sacrament is something that is sacred and essentially automatically earns grace (which is silly because be definition, grace is unearned). The Roman catholic church says there are 7 sacraments (infant baptism, confirmation, mass or the eucharist, penance, extreme unction or last rites, marriage) and many Protestants hold to many of those - especially infant baptism and confirmation.

We Baptists, and most other evangelicals, don't believe in sacramentalism; we don't believe you can do anything to earn what is unearned, that you don't automatically get grace by doing the sacraments, and that the only thing commanded by Christ are the two ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. These ordinances symbolize great Biblical truths that are central to the Gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But they have no power in them; you don't get saved by getting baptized, and you don't earn grace through taking the Lord's Supper (aka Communion) as Roman catholics and many Protestant believe.

When it comes to communion, we hold that all believer can administer it - not just a priest. When it comes to baptism, we believe that Biblical baptism is ONLY for believers (those who have intentionally committed their lives to Christ and have accepted His free gift of salvation by grace through faith), AND we believe the the only Biblical mode of baptism is through immersion (dunking).

In matters of salvation, we believe in salvation by grace through faith. That means works (sacraments, being good, doing right, etc.) is useless because according to Ephesians 2:8-9, salvation is a free gift of God through Christ, not something we earn by being good people who do more good than bad. This is the total, polar opposite of what Roman catholics believe and of what many Protestants imply they believe by being sacramentalists.

As far as the Church, there is NO "Baptist Church" as an organization. There is an organized Roman catholic Church, a Methodist Church, a Luther Church, a Presbyterian Church that are organizations with hierarchy and which have authority over their churches. But there is no "Baptist Church"; sure, there's the Southern Baptist Convention, but it's a totally voluntary organization and the SBC has NO power over any local Baptist church and can't tell any local Baptist church what to do. We don't believe that's Biblical, but others like catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, etc. do practice those things.

We Baptists don't believe the Pope or a bishop or cardinal or anyone is the head of a church; according to Ephesians 1:22-23, only Jesus is the Head of His Church. Oh we'll voluntarily and gladly cooperate with other churches in God's purposes in the world, but nobody tells us what to do or how to do it.

Just like we don't have an organization like catholics and Protestants, we also don't have any creeds or doctrine that guide us; the Bible alone is our creed and guide. We have something kind of like a creed, called "The Baptist Faith and Message", but it has no binding authority over a local Baptist church. It's basically a document that tells what Baptists generally believe - but again, our only creed and guide is the Bible.

Similar to having no official organization with hierarchy and having no creed or head over us except Christ, we also have no one specific founder. Martin Luther was the one specific founder or Lutheranism, John Wesley founded the Methodist Church, Presbyterians came about by John Calvin, but we Baptists hold that Christ is our founder and head. Oh sure there are people who were important in forming out Baptist way of faith (like Roger Williams who founded the first Baptist church in America), but we have no specific founder of our way of faith.

So in review:
1. Baptists are NOT Protestants because we have no roots in the Roman catholic church. We're evangelicals.
2. We have many areas in which we agree with other Christian groups, and while those are far more important than where we disagree, that doesn't mean our disagreements are unimportant.
3. There are several ways for a church to be organized and governed, but we believe that the Biblical, New Testament way of "polity" is a democracy, with each church being independent and self-governing, answering only to Jesus.
4. Roman catholics and Protestants practice sacraments (things that supposedly automatically earn grace, which is unearned); we Baptists hold to only two ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper/Communion.
5. Those ordinances have no power to save or to earn a right standing with God; they're purely symbolic of Gospel truths.
6. The only proper, Biblical way of Baptism is immersion (dunking) and baptism is only for believers (those who have consciously and intentionally chosen to make Jesus Christ their personal Savior and Lord).
7. We believe that salvation, as the Bible says, is be grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone - not by good works, not by sacraments, etc.
8. We have no establishment (there is no "The Baptist Church") and we have no supreme authority (like the pope) but Jesus Christ.
9. We don't have any creeds or anything that is our guide except what God says in His book that we call the Holy Bible.
10. While we have people who are important in the formation of our way of faith, we have no one specific founder of our denomination.

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