EDITORS’ NOTE: The following article appeared in the Charleston, W.Va., Sunday Gazette-Mail July 2.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (BP)–Far from being a regional group of Baptists who congregate below the Mason-Dixon line, Southern Baptists comprise the nation’s largest non-Catholic Christian group with more than 41,000 churches in all 50 states and with nearly 10,000 missionaries across the United States and in more than 130 countries worldwide.
To say, “This is what Southern Baptists believe,” is to misunderstand Southern Baptists to begin with. No one Baptist may speak for another Baptist. Individuality and local church autonomy are key characteristics of Southern Baptists. Neither the Southern Baptist Convention in its national setting, nor a state Baptist convention, nor any local Baptist association determines the belief or conduct of any individual church.
The churches are self-governing and individual Baptists are responsible before God for their beliefs. The national and state conventions and the local associations are voluntary associations of free churches who seek to cooperate in ministries and missions. In the same manner, the conventions and associations are free to determine their membership and free to exercise church discipline should any church or individual embrace any aberrant doctrine or immoral behavior.
A general description of Southern Baptist beliefs is contained in the Baptist Faith and Message, the full text of which can be obtained at the Southern Baptist Convention website, www.sbc.net. Not a creed, it is a basic statement of what most Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches about basic issues.
Southern Baptists are people of the Book. They believe that the Bible is God’s Word, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit and authoritative in all matters. The Bible is the basis and the source of what Baptists believe. The Bible has “God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.”
Southern Baptists believe that there is only one living and true God who is “an intelligent, spiritual and personal Being, the creator, Redeemer, Preserver and Ruler of the universe, … infinite in holiness, … all powerful and all knowing.” God reveals himself to mankind as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with “distinct personal attributes but without division of nature, essence or being.”
Southern Baptists believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus demonstrated God’s love in his miraculous works of healing and help for people. Jesus demonstrated God’s wisdom in his teachings. However, the primary purpose of Jesus’ life was to provide a sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
Southern Baptists believe that God created mankind in his image. “By his own free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race.” Baptists refer to the Scriptures of Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Southern Baptists believe that Jesus died on the cross to make provision for the redemption of mankind. His death and subsequent resurrection makes possible the forgiveness of sin for all persons who will repent of their sin, place their faith in him and receive Jesus as Savior. We believe that Jesus meant what he said when he told the disciples, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” If there were some other way for people to be forgiven and go to heaven, Jesus would not have had to die on the cross.
We believe that while believers are not perfect, their salvation is secure in the finished work of Christ. They do not lose their salvation. Eternal security is not due to their works, but to Christ’s work. Nevertheless, Christians are accountable before God for their actions.
Southern Baptists believe that a New Testament church is “an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers.” Baptism is an ordinance of the church in which a person who has accepted Jesus as Savior is immersed, symbolizing the believer’s “faith in a crucified, buried and risen Savior and the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.” Another ordinance of the church is the Lord’s Supper, which is a symbolic act of obedience in which, through eating the bread and the fruit of the vine, believers memorialize the death of Jesus and anticipate his second coming in which Jesus will return in judgment and power.
We believe that it is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ to fulfill his Great Commission — that is to endeavor to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all things which Christ has commanded. By verbal witness and consistent lifestyle, Christians are to proclaim the gospel of Christ.
Southern Baptists believe in cooperation. Working voluntarily together in associations, state conventions and the national convention, we can accomplish much more than all could separately. Yet Baptists believe in autonomy. No association or convention wields any authority, control or power over any church. Instead, messengers elected by the churches and participating in annual meetings make the decisions that govern the denominational organizations.
We believe in making a positive contribution to society by first making “the will of Christ supreme in our own lives.” We believe that the only true and permanent cure for the problems of society is rooted in the changes of individual lives through the power of God in Jesus Christ. We believe that Christians “should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness and vice and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality and pornography.” We believe Christians should “work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless and the sick.”
Southern Baptists believe in religious liberty — a free church in a free state, which implies the right of “free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” Still, it is the “duty of Christians to render loyal obedience” to properly ordained government in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God.
We believe in the family — that God has ordained the family as “the foundational institution of human society.” We believe that marriage is “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” We believe that “the husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image.” The husband is to “love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the responsibility to provide for, to protect and to lead his family.” The wife supports the servant leadership of her husband. Being created in God’s image, as is her husband, she is equal to him and has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to help him in managing the household and in nurturing their children. We believe that parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and lead them through an exemplary lifestyle and loving discipline to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.
These brief statements are not exhaustive of the many principles Southern Baptists believe are revealed in the Bible. Hopefully, they give some insight into just who these folks are and why they believe what they do. Southern Baptists are your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow PTA members. They pay their taxes, mow their yards and vote on election day. Southern Baptists are people much like you, not perfect by a long shot. But simply trusting in God and his Word, they try to live and share the life of Christ.
Phillips is executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists.