Why am I a Baptist? It is a question that I have addressed several times since I was brought to life by the Spirit of God, and it is one that has been brought up to me on several occasions by esteemed friends who were very much not Baptist in their denominational persuasion. One such friend, after having not spoken with him in several months, said in seeming amazement to me, “You are still Baptist? I had money on your being Presbyterian by now.” After extending to him my regrets for having lost for him a sum of money, I assured him that those same convictions that made me a Baptist before were the same convictions that kept me a Baptist at that time. And to this day, it is those very convictions that I held then that prohibit me from being anything but a Baptist.
You may ask of me the same questions that my Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, etc. friends asked of me several years ago: What business does an amillennialist have in the Southern Baptist Convention? Why would someone who is so unshakably Reformed stay in a denomination that is so doctrinally diverse? Why would someone who is not diehard about baptism by immersion be in a denomination whose very name is derived from that doctrine? These are all questions that I have periodically posed to myself throughout the years whilst reevaluating my denominational affiliation and my supposed position as a doctrinal oddity in the Baptist denomination. Yet in spite of all these differences that I have with many Baptists, there are key doctrines that keep me in the denomination.
1. The Autonomy of the Local Church
The self-governance of the each local church is to me a significant doctrine both biblically and pastorally. Biblically, it is difficult to deny that the authority to govern the church was placed in the hands of the local elders and overseers of the church. 1 Peter 5 ascribes all of these functions—eldership, shepherding, and oversight, to a single office. Given the natural assumption that one who shepherds a flock is actually with the sheep, it is difficult to imagine that leaders of a church, be they called elders, pastors, or bishops, are anywhere but with and dwelling among the church.
Pastorally, it is difficult to justify the paradigm that places the governance of a local church in the hands of those who do not know the church. In other denominations, the man or men who are designated to govern a particular group of churches know nothing about the particular needs of the local church, the struggles of its members, or the concerns of its community. They are stewards of a large flock, but they cannot distinguish the sheep from the goats, and they certainly cannot protect the church from the false teachers than threaten to creep in. In these situations, those who oversee several churches are more likely to do harm than good, doing such things as appointing Reverend Sister Martha Robinson, who, unbeknownst to the church, will be running off with her girlfriend in six months.
2. Regenerate Church Membership
Those who comprise the church has been an ongoing debate since the Religion’s kidnapping by Constantine in the early centuries of Christianity. It was, however, not so much of a debate in the church’s beginning, for to be identified with the church in the New Testament was tantamount to being identified with the elect. Indeed, this is the very meaning of the word ekklesia, viz. those who are called out, and its meaning has progressively been lost, regained, and lost again throughout church history. In Pauline literature particularly, the church is seen to be synonymous with the saints of God and his children. In his introduction to his first letter to the Corinthians the apostle writes, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours (v. 1:2). Therefore, in the mind of the apostle, all those who comprised the churches in the New Testament period were called by God and called upon God.
I do claim this doctrine of regenerate church membership to be a reason why I remain a Baptist to this day, for it is one of the distinctives of Baptists in their history. Yet, a quick and careless survey of American Baptists would reveal something that is quite contrary to this distinctive. Baptist churches, especially those in the South, are full of people who simply “go to church” on Sunday (as if the church were a building!) and live like hell the rest of the week. They neglect the gathering of themselves together, and they despise holiness and righteousness. They are, in fact, not the church, though many of them prayed some concocted prayer that some preacher, who cared more about numbers than about sound doctrine and the souls of men, told them to pray to escape hell. And now, they occupy the seats of church buildings on Sundays, religiously stumbling in and not worrying about any confrontational conviction because some other preacher in a sermon eisegeted the text that says, “Judge not lest you be judged.”
A regenerate church might be a historical distinctive of Baptist to which I hold, but a total lack of church discipline in Baptist churches has ripped this distinctive from the realm of reality to fantasy.
3. A Rejection of Paedobaptism
Most Baptists hold to what is called “believer’s baptism,” which typically means that a person who confesses faith in Christ and repents is either put through a series of tests and classes and then baptized or is simply put on the schedule for the one Sunday night per quarter when baptisms are done. Many if not most Baptists are quite firm on making sure that one is absolutely regenerate before they put them under the water, but I am not quite so concerned.
One might ask, “You have already confessed to your high regard for regenerate church membership, why would you be lax on baptism?” The answer is quite simple, really: I do not see a necessary connection between baptism and church membership. While it is quite clear that every example of baptism that we encounter in the New Testament is after the pattern, “they believed and were baptized,” there is no way, apart from some divine intuition that might have been granted at Pentecost, that those who participated in baptizing the thousands knew the names of the ones they were baptizing much less the sincerity of their hearts. After their baptism, it would have been in smaller groups that the genuineness of a person’s confession came to light, and if they were not genuine they would be disciplined appropriately or excommunicated.
One might object, “But an infidel was baptized!” To which I would respond, “It is only water, my friend!” The waters of baptism have no significance apart from the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and to declare otherwise smacks of sacerdotalism. Just as circumcision in the Old Covenant meant nothing for a soul’s state apart from the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit of God, so baptism is nothing apart from the Spirit. It also must be considered that New Testament baptism always seems to happen immediately after one’s confession and that there exists no condemnation in Scripture for baptizing one who is not a believer as there is for the one who takes communion in an unworthy state.
Despite my “lax” stance on baptism, I firmly do not hold to paedobaptism for a number of reasons. The first of which is simple and obvious: it is unbiblical. There are no instances of the baptizing of infants in the New Testament and every household baptism that is cited is gross speculation. Baptism is always followed by belief and repentance, something that one who has not comprehended the law cannot do (cf. Rom. 7). Also, in Reformed circles, the practice of paedobaptism destroys a right view of the covenants. Most who seek to make an argument for paedobaptism from Scripture will do so on the basis of a supposed continuity between the Old and New Covenants, between circumcision and baptism. The only problem is: there is no continuity between the Old and New Covenants. This is not to say by any means that there were not any Old Testament saints, but it is to say that everyone who is saved before the time of Christ is saved through the New Covenant and through the blood and obedience of Christ. Though there is no time here to deal with this topic exhaustively, the Old Covenant established through Moses and the Law always has temporal promises, i.e. “you will inherit the land,” and is based upon absolute obedience. The New Covenant promised through Abraham and David and wrought in Christ is eternal in its promises and imputes Obedience. To tie these two covenants together in some sort of feigned continuity so that one can continue to wet one’s babies seems to me a terrible cause.
There exist other smaller reasons why I am a Baptist over any other denomination (for instance, half-off tuition at Southeastern Baptist Seminary … totally joking), but these three—the autonomy of the local church, regenerate church membership, and a rejection of paedobaptism are the chief reasons why I am Baptist to this day. I do not foresee my stance on these doctrines changing at any point in the near future, and I thus predict that I will remain a Baptist for quite some time.
† This essay was written for a Baptist History class for a Baptist school, so forgive me for not being as thorough as non-Baptist might desire. Please also forgive any grammatical errors; this is not my completed essay.