Pastor, Why? #4: Why Are We Baptists?

Most religious groups under the “Christian” label claim to be Bible-believers, but there are relatively few Bible practicers. Catholics and Mormons for example, claim to be “Bible believers,” but in actual practice they place tradition and extraBiblical revelations above the Bible. True Bible practicers have existed since the apostles (Matthew 16:18). They refused to follow men or churches whose teachings or practices were contrary to the clear doctrines and principles of Scripture. They were often perceived as stubborn non-conformists for their refusal to compromise thier beliefs.

“Baptist” is the name the world gave to true Bible practicers.

They were usually unpopular and severely persecuted. The Bible-practicers have always had special names. In prior ages they were called Donatists, Waldensians, Lollards, Anna-baptists, Baptists, and more recently, “Fundamentalist Christians.” Bible practicers can be identified by several distinctives that have marked them through 2,000 years of history.

A clear historical test of true Bible practicers is BAPTISM. Bible practicers have always baptized only believers by immersion as the Bible teaches (Matt. 3:16; Acts 8:36-38). Sadly, eighty percent of Christian churches sprinkle infants, following the teachings of popes and tradition instead of the Bible, where no such practice can be found.

Bible practicers have always looked to the Bible as the final and absolute AUTHORITY for every doctrine and practice of daily life and church (2 Timothy 3:16-17). They have also believed in the right of each person to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. In contrast, Catholicism teaches, “Both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are the inspired Word of God, and both are forms of divine revelation,” and “The church’s hierarchy alone… is divinely authorized to decisively interpret Scripture.” [The Question & Answer Catholic Catechism, John Hardon, Image Press, 1981, pp. 37, 42]

Bible practicers have always considered Christ to be the head of the local church, and man’s highest authority. (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). These local churches refused to submit to popes, other churches, denominational heads, kings or governments in spiritual matters when the commands of men contradicted clear Scripture. (Acts 5:27-29 “...we ought to obey God rather than men.”)

Bible practicers have generally been advocates of RELI-GIOUS LIBERTY for all. They believe “whosoever will....”, in other words, that each individual has the right to worship our God, another God, or no God; to freely interpret the Scriptures for himself, to believe them or to disbelieve them, to attend our church, another church, or no church “according to the dictates of one’s own conscience.” (Mark 8:34; Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17) History abounds with examples of those who claimed to be Bible believers, yet, in violation of the Bible, persecuted true Bible practicers, often for their mode of baptism. We enjoy religious freedom in America largely because eighteenth-century Bible practicers called Baptists took the lead in advocating for it in Rhode Island, then Virginia and finally at the federal level. (Suggestion: Research Roger Williams and Baptist history in Colonial America.)

Bible-practicers have always been SOULWINNERS. (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). Bible practicing believers have died by the scores for refusing to be silent with the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. Silence might have meant a longer, easier life, but Jesus said, “...preach the gospel to every creature”, and because they were Bible practicers, they did at any cost.

Most churches today that hold these historic Bible-practicing distinctives are identified by the name, “Baptist”. Some others, like Brethren and Bible Churches, also generally hold and practice these beliefs. A couple of historic “Baptist distinctives” (not vital core doctrines) distinguish us from these close cousins:

- Only two Biblical ordinances: Baptism and communion (We generally do not consider foot washing to be a church-wide command.)

- Only two Biblical offices:   Pastor and deacon, with a congre-gational (democratic) church government (as opposed to a board-directed church or multiple pastor/elders).

This acrostic is a way of remembering historic Baptist beliefs.

B iblical authority for all matters of faith and practice

A utonomy (self-government) of each local church - no denominations

P riesthood of the believer - We have direct, personal access to God.

T wo ordinances - Believers’ baptism by immersion and Lord’s supper

I ndividual liberty - Freedom for all to believe as they wish

S alvation and baptism are required for church membership

T wo church offices: Pastor and deacon, with “congregational” rule

S eparation of church and state - No official state church


If this is what you believe, then historically

you are a “Baptist”--by conviction!


For more in-depth study, see the “K” lesson in the A-Z series.