Having, by the grace of God, grown up in Baptist churches most of my life, I’ve heard various formulations of the great Baptist Distinctives. It’s interesting that different movements within Baptist life place emphasis on different elements of what makes Baptist distinct in our fidelity to God’s Word. For example, the following acrostic spells out the word Baptist and can be found on Wikipedia, GARBC, and various other websites about Baptists and their history.
The Bible is the final authority in all matters of belief and practice because the Bible is inspired by God and bears the absolute authority of God Himself. Whatever the Bible affirms, Baptists accept as true. No human opinion or decree of any church group can override the Bible. Even creeds and confessions of faith, which attempt to articulate the theology of Scripture, do not carry Scripture’s inherent authority.
Autonomy of the Local Church
The local church is an independent body accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church. All human authority for governing the local church resides within the local church itself. Thus the church is autonomous, or self-governing. No religious hierarchy outside the local church may dictate a church’s beliefs or practices. Autonomy does not mean isolation. A Baptist church may fellowship with other churches around mutual interests and in an associational tie, but a Baptist church cannot be a “member” of any other body.
Priesthood of the Believer
“Priest” is defined as “one authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and God.” Every believer today is a priest of God and may enter into His presence in prayer directly through our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. No other mediator is needed between God and people. As priests, we can study God’s Word, pray for others, and offer spiritual worship to God. We all have equal access to God–whether we are a preacher or not.
The local church should practice two ordinances: (1) baptism of believers by immersion in water, identifying the individual with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, and (2) the Lord’s Supper, or communion, commemorating His death for our sins.
Individual Soul Liberty
Every individual, whether a believer or an unbeliever, has the liberty to choose what he believes is right in the religious realm. No one should be forced to assent to any belief against his will. Baptists have always opposed religious persecution. However, this liberty does not exempt one from responsibility to the Word of God or from accountability to God Himself.
Romans 14:5, 12; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Titus 1:9
Saved, Baptized Church Membership
Local church membership is restricted to individuals who give a believable testimony of personal faith in Christ and have publicly identified themselves with Him in believer’s baptism. When the members of a local church are believers, a oneness in Christ exists, and the members can endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The Bible mandates only two offices in the church–pastor and deacon. The three terms–”pastor,” “elder,” and “bishop,” or “overseer”–all refer to the same office. The two offices of pastor and deacon exist within the local church, not as a hierarchy outside or over the local church.
Separation of Church and State
God established both the church and the civil government, and He gave each its own distinct sphere of operation. The government’s purposes are outlined in Romans 13:1-7 and the church’s purposes in Matthew 28:19 and 20. Neither should control the other, nor should there be an alliance between the two. Christians in a free society can properly influence government toward righteousness, which is not the same as a denomination or group of churches controlling the government.
Note: For a fuller and more historical and theological precise statement of Baptist Beliefs, see the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, HERE.
In general, the thing that makes a Baptist church unique amongst Christian denominations is that a Baptist church is a local, independant congregation of redeemed believers who are self governed, hold the Bible as their final authority, taught by Pastors, served by Deacons, and hold a pure and Scriptural view of the Lord’s ordinances: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In fact, several of our distinctives are actually shared by other denominations, and it may actually be our strict and scriptural views of the ordinances that really set us apart.
As such, it should be of the highest import for Baptist believers to study what the Scripture teaches regarding our Lord’s ordinances so that we can have a Biblical, rather than traditional, practice. Many good historic resources are available for study HERE – and given the polemical times in which our Baptist fathers lived, the good resources are usually the older or oldest ones.
A couple modern resources, which I have not read, but about which I have heard good things are two recent offering from the Southern Baptist publisher Broadman and Holman. These are part of the NEW AMERICAN COMMENTARY STUDIES IN BIBLE & THEOLOGY (NACSBT) series:
Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn Wright, who are both pastors of Southern Baptist Congregations in Louisville, KY, and professors at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
and the more recent offering from the series…
Authored by Thomas Schreiner and Matthew Crawford, a doctoral student.
If you’ve read or are familiar with these works, please provide a short review (or link to a review) in the comments section below.