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Baptist FAQ

The following are responses to frequently asked questions about the Baptist Christian denomination. If you have further questions, please feel free to make contact with the Church to discuss.

Baptists
The Baptist Church
Who Are the Baptists?

Baptists

Q:   Why are Baptists Baptists?

A:   The term 'Baptist' was a nickname given by others to these people because of their view of baptism. However, this is not really our chief distinctive. Let's go back to the question about 'Who belongs to the church?' The Baptist answer ('only the regenerate') raises another question: 'If baptism is the rite of initiation into the church who should be baptised?' To which a Baptist answers without hesitation: 'Again, only the regenerate'. So Baptists would affirm that it's their view of the Lord-ship of Christ, the authority of the Bible, and the composition of the church that pre-determines their view of baptism.

Let's ask, and try to answer, the 'Where? Who? How? What? and Why?' questions about baptism:

Q:   Where did baptism start?

A:   Mainly in Jewish baptism. When a 'pagan' wanted to become a Jew he had to be 'cleansed' with water. John the Baptist came along and told religious Jews that they too needed to be baptised, as a sign of their repentance. (This was really hard for some of them to take, so they persecuted John.) Jesus was baptised by John, then Jesus' disciples baptised converts during His ministry. At the end of His life He gave His disciples the 'great commission': He commanded them to make disciples everywhere, baptising them 'in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit'. The early Christians obeyed this command. The pattern in Acts and Paul's letters: preaching the Good News, a response of faith, then baptism. (Receiving the Holy Spirit is often mentioned in the same context.)

Q:   Who should be baptised?

A:   In the New Testament, it was those who chose to be. Professor William Barclay (a Presbyterian) says often in his commentaries: 'Baptism in the time of the early church was adult baptism'.

Q:   But what about little children?

A:   Jesus welcomed and blessed small children (as the church should continue to do) but He didn't baptise them nor did He tell His disciples to do so. From Jesus' point of view, children are already within God's love and care, so they don't need a religious ceremony to put them there. Certainly, Christian parents can exercise faith for their children, but this does not guarantee their salvation. (It's possible that even potential church leaders may have unbelieving children.) The parents' task, by their example and their teaching, is to encourage the child's own commitment to Christ. Another great Presbyterian, James Denney, once wrote that any idea of infant baptism getting rid of inherited 'original sin' (as the Roman Catholic Church has taught) and thereby guaranteeing regeneration in the child, is 'barefaced magic'. Baptists would agree. But what about the 'whole households' baptised in the New Testament stories? There is no evidence that Lydia was married. The Philippian jailer had a household that 'believed'. Those baptised in Stephanas' household also 'served God's people'. There is no direct mention in these passages of babies being baptised.

Q:   How were they baptised?

A:   Jews baptised by immersion — they even forbade things like hair ribbons and clenched fists so that water could cover the whole body. John the Baptist baptized the same way (e.g. John 3:22-23 tells us he chose the springs near Salim because there he had enough water), in Acts, we read of a baptised person 'going down into' and 'coming up out of the water Paul, in Romans 6:1-11, talks about being'buried' and 'raised' in baptism. A widely-accepted book of instruction for church members written about AD 100 (The Didache) says baptism ought, if possible, to be by total immersion, or by pouring only if water was scarce. (Many Baptists today would also baptise by pouring ('effusion') in exceptional cases where a person has a severe medical problem, is disabled or very old etc.) Professor Kari Barth, the great Reformed scholar, says 'primitive baptism had the character of a direct threat to life, succeeded immediately by a deliverance and preservation.

Sprinkling infants, he says. robs baptism of this important symbolism. The Greek word 'baptise', according to Arndt & Gingrich's lexicon of the Greek New Testament, means 'to dip, to immerse'. They tell us that in non-Christian writings the word also meant 'to plunge, sink, drench, over-whelm'. So the Bible is quite clear: we baptise believers only, by immersion.

Q:   What does baptism mean?

A:   The New Testament uses several vivid pictures to convey its rich meaning; washing, a cleansing of 'dirt' from one's life; putting off the old life like soiled clothes, and putting on Christ, like a new, clean garment; being buried and raised with Christ. Baptism, like the waters in Noah's time, is linked with our salvation, so we, like him, should be godly in a corrupt and sinful world. Baptism is an act of faith (often of real courage, too) before witnesses. It's a proclamation, a dramatization of Christ's work for sinful people. Baptism means that we are now owned by Christ (the words 'in the name' signified ownership). Baptism is associated, too, with the 'baptism in the Holy Spirit': two aspects of what Paul calls 'one baptism'. Finally, baptism is the door into the church. Baptism is not really an individual event. You don't baptise yourself. You are asking to belong. You are coming into a new community. Paul says we are 'baptised into Christ'and baptised into the Body of Christ. the church. (To demonstrate this association, many churches baptise and receive the candidate into membership at the same service.)

Q:   Why, then, should I be baptised?

A:   Not to save you — we are saved by God's grace and our response in faith, not by anything we do. The best reason for being baptised is that Jesus, your Master, commands it. He Himself was baptised to 'do all that God requires' — shouldn't we follow Him and do the same? Every step of obedience you take (and this is certainly a major one) strengthens and encourages you to follow Christ still further. And so, 'what is to keep me from being baptised?' (Acts 8:36). 'Why wait any longer? Arise and be baptised!'(Acts 22:16).

Write down your own reasons for or against your being baptised. Why not discuss these honestly with your pastor or counselor? What does 'dying, being buried, being raised' mean for you personally?

The Baptist Church

It is not uncommon for Baptist church constitutions to begin: 'The church shall be composed of those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their persona! Saviour and Lord'. When Baptists throughout their history have been asked 'Who belongs to the church?' their response is always: 'Only those who've deliberately chosen to follow the way of Jesus — the “regenerate”, those born again!'

Perhaps this can best be explained by taking a short journey into the past.

Baptists trace their spiritual history back to people like the 'Anabaptists' ('re-baptisers') in 16th century Europe, it was the time when Luther, Calvin and other 'Protestants' urged people to go back to the Bible for their instructions about faith and living, and reject doctrines and practices in the Church of Rome which they believed were unbiblical For example they talked about 'the priesthood of all believers'. The Church of Rome made ordinary believers dependent upon the mediation of the priests, but these 'Reformers' proclaimed the right of every Christian to have access to God through the mediation of Christ alone. They encouraged ordinary people to read the Word of God (something rare — and even forbidden — by the church authorities in those days). They said that every Christian has the Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of Scripture, so God can speak to them by this same Spirit as they read the Bible. You and I don't need the authorities in the church to tell us what to believe — it's all there in God's holy Word.

The Anabaptists, however, said Luther and Calvin and the others didn't take their 'Reformation' far enough. They agreed that 'If it's in the Bible we believe it; if it isn't, we reject it, even though centuries of Christian history are behind a particular belief. But they objected to the close alliance between church and state which had gone on for more than a thousand years. They also rejected infant baptism, which, they believed, served to perpetuate state churches filled with nominal Christians.

Meanwhile, over in England, a 'Puritan' movement emerged within the Church of England, calling that church back to the Scriptures. One learned man, Rev. John Smyth M.A. (a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge University), became a city lecturer at Lincoln at the turn of the 17th century a post which allowed him to expound the Scriptures to his townspeople who weren't satisfied with the teaching they were receiving in their churches. When things got 'too hot' for these Puritans, some went as refugees to Holland. There John Smyth continued to study the Scriptures, and with the help of some Dutch Mennonites (an Anabaptist group) came to hold certain convictions which Baptists have maintained ever since. In 1609 he became the leader of the first English-speaking 'Baptist' church. He saw with the Anabaptists that 'established churches' weren't an apostolic idea at all. You become a member of these churches through infant baptism, and everyone in a particular community or 'parish' therefore almost automatically belonged to the 'parish church'. Now that's all wrong, these' Baptists said. Only people who've had a personal encounter with Christ can belong to the church. You can't be born a Christian: at some point in your life you choose to belong to Christ's church, when you repent of your sins and commit your life willingly to Him.

So Baptists have always been wary of alliances between churches and the state authorities. They've said governments shouldn't influence or interfere with the free choice a person makes about his allegiance to Christ and the church. They have taken the idea a step further, too, and until recently, have generally refused government funding for Their Christian ministries. (Today government grants may be accepted for educational-and social welfare purposes, but not for worship and pastoral ministries.)

Because people willingly choose to belong to the church, a high standard of Christian behavior and discipleship is expected of .members of Baptist churches. Because they possess God's Holy Spirit, they should live on a higher plane than non-Christians. Sometimes/church discipline' has to be lovingly but firmly extended towards those who bring the faith of Christ into disrepute by their disobedient behavior. Occasionally, you'll hear leaders of other churches saying something like this: 'You Baptists expect a more rigorous commitment from your people than we do'. That's right, and we're not going to change that! indeed, many Anabaptists and early Baptists were martyred (often by drowning, 'seeing they like so much water,' these enemies said) for these beliefs. If our forefathers were prepared to go that far. their convictions are perhaps worth closer study!

Who Are the Baptists?

To answer this, we must go back to the 'Good News', the 'gospel'. In essence, Paul says (Philippians 2:10-11), the 'Good News' is that 'JESUS CHRIST IS LORD' That's where Baptists start their thinking. This isn't just an abstract doctrine it's very practical indeed. It means that He's our Master, our King. We are His obedient servants, His subjects, who do what He commands. He is the ultimate authority for all thinking and acting. He is God the Son, through whom everything came into being, and before whom everyone will ultimately 'fall on their knees'. Jesus Christ is Lord or 'Head' of the Church, His Body, So Christians are people who both individually and collectively, are constantly asking; 'What does our Lord want us to believe, and what does He want us to do?' This leads us to the Bible, in which the mind of Christ is revealed. The Bible is God's Word, His authoritative guide for our faith and practice. It is the inspired and trustworthy record of the mighty acts of God in the history of His people Israel and. fulfilled in the life, teachings, and saving work of Christ. So Baptists are encouraged to be keen 'Bible people', seeking with an open and reverent mind to understand what God is saying to us today. Sometimes we won't find specific answers to all our modern problems there, but we'll always find God's guiding principles. The greatest principle, or commandment, said Jesus, is to 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength'. And the second greatest: 'Love your neighbor as you love yourself'. For Baptists, then, God alone is the sovereign Lord. They have always tried to follow the apostolic principle: 'We must obey God rather than men'. Baptists reject doctrines or practices which either contradict or are not in harmony with Christ's will revealed in the Bible. They have simply believed that most of the differences between churches would be resolved if apostolic principles and practices were held in their true scriptural relationship with one another. And so, for just about every question we reply with another: 'What does the Bible say?'

But I hasten to add two things. First, this doesn't mean Baptists arrogantly believe they are the only ones who are right. No one (except God alone) has 'a monopoly on the truth'. We are humble fellow-learners with others who also submit to the truth of Scripture. And 'God has yet more light and truth to break forth from His holy Word'. A Baptist says, with love, to another Christian: 'You are my brother/sister, not because we happen to agree on everything, but because we are both God's children'. Secondly Baptists have produced written 'confessions' but never written 'creeds'. Creeds become 'locked into' the particular questions of one historical era, and later Christians may be asking some different questions. Further, creeds tend to make people 'exclusive' if you don't dot all the i's and cross all the t's you're not acceptable. Baptists aim rather to be inclusive: our bond is simply our common relationship to Jesus Christ.