Summary: The defining truths that make Baptists a distinct people, and the dangers of neglecting those truths, is explored.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
The name “Baptist,” is an opprobrium in some Christian and non-Christian circles. Why would anyone deliberately adopt the name “Baptist?” What you may not know is that Baptists did not choose the name they bear—it was conferred by people who stood opposed to the principles the early Baptists espoused; the name was given by people opposed to what we believe and hold dear as Baptists. Few people who identify as Baptists today are aware of the history of the name. More tragic still is the fact that few people claiming to be Baptist know what Baptists believe. For too many, “Baptist” is simply a name; however, it should define a Faith.
What makes a Baptist a Baptist? The question is central to the search for Baptist identity. There is no individual Baptist without a Baptist congregation. Staunch advocates of believers’ church, Baptists must answer this question of identity together, as well as individually. Eventually, the answer to this question will shape our churches, our affiliations, and every aspect of our work together.
It is sadly obvious that the truths that define us as Baptists are neglected today. Even denominational leaders and seminary instructors have permitted a dilution of Baptist theology during recent years. This is a trend which concerns me deeply, and which should concern each of us both as Christians and as seekers of truth.
The current generation of Baptists knows little about Baptist doctrine. Consequently, contemporary Baptists invest considerable energies searching for some solid ground on which they can base their lives and Christian discipleship. Sadly, this statement is made regarding denominational leaders and teachers in our theological institutions. If those supposed to provide leadership prove to be ignorant of the doctrines Baptist have championed, should we marvel that those occupying the pews of our churches know so little concerning this rich heritage?
The tragedy of this censure is that our Baptist people are joining with non-Baptist evangelicals in a virtual new evangelical ecumenism leading to a number of novel ministry ventures that are not always beneficial to spiritual health of the congregation. Areas of commonality and agreement have been identified with many of these evangelical Christians; and while this trend has decidedly positive elements, the trend exposes neglect of the traits that have forged our unique theological identity and shaped our mission and our passion in pursuing many of these ventures.
The result of this dilution of Baptist doctrine is that we Baptists have lost the power of our convictions and too often lost even our identity as a historic people. If we are truly identical to all the other communions, then let us cease clinging to our identity and join with whoever best fulfils the mission we were assigned. However, if we hold distinctive truths that mark us as a people, and if those distinctive truths make us the people we admire historically, then let us return to those truths and proudly proclaim them. Our endeavour is not to proselytise non-Baptists in order to make them Baptists; rather, it is to clearly articulate truths that may otherwise be neglected to the detriment of the world in which we live. Our purpose is to remain true to the Word of the Living God.
With the Word of God as our authority, Baptists must relearn the basics and reclaim the richness of our doctrinal heritage. We must rediscover a lost and neglected wisdom, and reconstruct the foundation and framework of our faith. It is time that we were again about this task. Though we rejoice in the stand of every believer who honours God—whatever label they bear, we must not turn aside from declaring the truths that have defined us as a people. If we are to define what it means to be Baptist, it will be necessary that we establish the basis for every belief, the basis for every statement. In order to do this we must agree upon a standard. The standard for faith and practise is the Word of God; and in particular, our authority is the New Testament. That truth needs to be explored thoroughly as we prepare ourselves for the future.
Baptists share many doctrines and practises in common with other religious bodies. In common with Jews, we believe in one God, Creator of all things. Many of the teachings of the Catholic Church are acceptable to Baptists. With them, we believe in one God in three Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We also believe in concert with those of the Roman Catholic persuasion in the incarnation, the atoning death and the glorious resurrection of Christ the Lord. As is true of Catholics, we have high regard for the Scriptures as the written Word of God. We do not hesitate to say that we share similar moral views with both Jews and Catholics and even with Mormons. Nevertheless, we hold most truths in common with other evangelical denominations.