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7 Baptist distinctives amid Reformation’s milieu

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark H. Ballard is the founder and president of Northeastern Baptist College in Bennington, Vt.

BENNINGTON, Vt. (BP) — My wife and I moved to New Hampshire in 1998 to start a new church. More than 10 years later the Lord called us to launch a new Christian college in New England. Each time we decided, in spite of contrary advice, to include “Baptist” in the name.

For us, Baptist is more than a traditional title, or something we are in name only. “Baptist” summarizes our beliefs and connects us to a long heritage of bold, New Testament believers.

There are seven distinctive reasons I am a Baptist and intend to remain one.

1. I am a Baptist because I believe in biblical authority.

From the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement centuries ago, through the English Separatists, to the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention, Baptists always turned to the Bible as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. What the Magisterial Reformers (Luther, Calvin and those who followed) heralded — Sola Scriptura — Baptists acted on. Final authority does not rest in church tradition, a church council, a pope or a bishop. God’s Word alone is inerrant, infallible, final and forever. Baptists stand on biblical authority, so I am a Baptist.

2. I am a Baptist because I believe in believer’s baptism.

In October 2017, Protestants will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It will be a worthy celebration. However, one area of distinction between the infant-baptizing Magisterial Reformers and the Radical Reformers is the New Testament pattern of first believing and then being baptized. The pattern was prescribed by Jesus, proclaimed by the apostles and practiced by the church. Baptists insist on believer’s baptism, so I am a Baptist.

3. I am a Baptist because I believe in a believer’s church.

Believer’s baptism is the necessary forerunner of a believer’s church. The Magisterial Reformers promoted a state church. They wanted the state to support their church instead of some other, but in so doing they equated citizenship with church membership. The Radical Reformers, in contrast, insisted on a believer’s church: Baptism and church membership are only for the regenerate, those born again through faith in Jesus Christ. Following the New Testament pattern, Baptists understand the church to be made up of baptized believers who intentionally unite together to form a local church. The church’s purpose is to notify sinners, edify saints and exalt the Savior. We understand, of course, that a regenerate church membership is not guaranteed; it is a goal we pursue. Even so, Baptists continue pursuing a believer’s church, so I am a Baptist.

4. I am a Baptist because I believe in congregational governance.

Believer’s baptism and a believer’s church are the necessary forerunners of congregational governance. If only the regenerate are baptized into church membership, all the church members are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and all can be led by the Holy Spirit as the church body unites to discover and do God’s will. Through the years, Baptists have organized local churches in various ways. Some make all decisions after extensive discussions at monthly business meetings. Other congregations make most decisions through the deacons and pastoral staff or through a fellowship of elders. A variety of congregational organizations are on the spectrum. Yet Baptists have always insisted on local congregational governance. How can churches in the same denomination function with a variety of organizational structures? Baptists believe each congregation has the authority under the lordship of Christ and His Word to determine its own structure. No outside organization dictates to a local Baptist church. Baptists believe in congregational governance, so I am a Baptist.

5. I am a Baptist because I believe in the priesthood of the believer.

Some have misused this Baptist distinctive. It does not mean every individual Christian has the right to believe anything they wish. For Baptists, all matters of faith are under biblical authority. Properly understood, the priesthood of believers means that each believer has direct access to the Father, through Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. No believer needs a priest or church hierarchy to gain access to God. Each believer is a priest; each has direct access to God through prayer and His Word. Baptists insist on the priesthood of believers, so I am a Baptist.

6. I am a Baptist because I believe in the security of believers.

Once a person is truly saved, he/she is eternally secure. Baptists believe that the Holy Spirit securely seals every justified believer until final glorification. A believer’s security is not based on his ability to endure faithfully but on the Savior’s enduring faithfulness. Baptists affirm the Biblical doctrine of the believer’s security, so I am a Baptist.

7. I am a Baptist because I believe in religious liberty.

While Baptists have been known for holding their doctrines firmly and passionately, they also insisted on the rights of others to do the same. The news of radio personality Hank Hanegraaff, the “Bible Answer Man,” recently converting to Eastern Orthodoxy may have surprised many evangelicals, but Baptists support his liberty to convert. It was Baptists who first insisted on religious liberty in Rhode Island. It was Virginia Baptists who wrote to Thomas Jefferson insisting that the Constitution of the United States provide religious liberty for all. Baptists stand for religious liberty, so I am a Baptist.

On Jan. 5, 1527, Felix Manz was executed by drowning. His alleged crime was three-fold. First, following his conversion, he was re-baptized as an adult. Second, he re-baptized others whom he led to Christ. Third, he refused to have his infant children christened.

On the way to his death, Manz would not be silenced. He sang praises to God and preached to the bystanders. Upon arriving at the Limmat River, Manz was placed in a boat, immobilized and tipped into the icy water. Manz gave his life for the convictions for which he had lived.

Manz was one of our Anabaptist forefathers. He lived and died for the Baptist distinctives of biblical authority, believer’s baptism and a believer’s church. Manz was one link in our long heritage of bold, New Testament believers. Following our forefathers’ examples, let us never be ashamed to call ourselves Baptists.

    About the Author

  • Mark H. Ballard