Baptist Distinctives

B- Biblical Authority
2 Tim 3:16-17: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Pet 1:20-21: “Knowing this first that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

Some Baptists refer to the first B in the acronym B-A-P-T-I-S-T as believers’ baptism, highlighting early Baptist dismissal of infant baptism. However, biblical authority was the foundation for all Baptist reforms championed in Europe. We are thankful for the historic Bible reforms of Luther, Knox, Zwingli, and others; but Baptist leaders preached that the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century did not go far enough. Concerning 2 Pet 1:20-21, we must affirm that language has one meaning in context, that of the author, else all communication becomes meaningless. This law of language leads to a literal interpretation of the Bible unless metaphors are used; in which case the original audience understood the author’s communication as a metaphor and applied it appropriately. Correct interpretation thus demands dependence on grammar, context (including not only literary but historical context), theology (no inspired passage contradicts another), and, most importantly, the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). 

A- Autonomy of the Local Church
Mat 18:17: “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. 1Tim 3:15: “But if I tarry long, that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

While church in the New Testament (NT) may refer to the invisible or universal church, which is not denominational and which all believers in Christ are members regardless of denomination, the overwhelming usage of the term church is to a local, visible organized group of baptized believers. While Jesus is in the midst of “two or three gathered in his name,” that situation does not constitute a NT church. NT epistles describe churches as organized with pastor and deacons. Note 1 Cor 5:4-5 and Phil 1:1.

P- Priesthood of the Believer
Rev 5:10: “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. Rev 1:5b-6:  “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”

The Old Testament model of hierarchy of spiritual positions is not mandated for the NT church. While church leaders may function in offices of authority, their offices do not mean they have any inherent spiritual ability greater than that of anybody else in the church. All believers in Christ have direct access to God (1 Tim 2:5). Believers do differ in gifts and abilities, but are equally indwelt by the same Spirit
(1 Cor 12:4-6).

T- Two Offices
Phil 1:1: “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:” 1 Tim 3:2-4: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;  one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence.”

Note in the previous verse “husband of one wife,” literally a “one-woman man.” That his children are in his own home (v.4) would indicate that the marital fidelity here is not just a current marriage but a marriage severed only by death. That Paul was the “chief of sinners” who consented to death does not give license for men to make any wicked choice and expect to be qualified for leadership. Paul sinned “ignorantly in unbelief.” His conscience was misinformed by false religion, not rejected out of sheer selfish judgment. Leadership is earned, not given. All sin may be forgiven, but certain sins have cultural consequences as recognized by society as a whole. These consequences are in contrast to salvation, the free gift of God through faith in Christ (Rom 6:23). The qualifications for deacons are also very high (1 Tim 3:8-12). If everybody is qualified for leadership in a church, what is the point of having qualifications? This worldly definition of grace without biblical restrictions is offensive to the one true, living, holy God (Jude 1:4). In Acts 20:28 and 1 Pet 5:1-3, the titles overseer, shepherd or pastor, and elder are used interchangeably to refer to aspects of the same office. Concerning divorce, Jesus permitted divorce under certain circumstances, but this action is not God’s doing (Mat 19:6-9). Divorce is never an option between two believers (1 Cor 7:10-15).

I- Individual Soul Liberty
Rom 14:1-4: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” John 21:22: “Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.”

Soul liberty differs from priesthood of believers by emphasizing not only our vertical relationship with God but also our horizontal relationships with others believers. While believers must agree on the fundamentals of the faith (1Cor 15:1-5; Eph 4:5), we may choose to differ with others on less clear areas of the Bible. If and when we disagree with other believers, we must not do so in a judgmental or critical spirit.

S- Separation of Church and State
Mat 22:21: “Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Mat 13:30: “Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Separation of church and state does not mean Baptists avoid politics or stop seeking to influence the state, but rather that the two should not control one another. The old European model of a state church not only proved unbiblical throughout 1400 years of the church age beginning in the fourth century but also violently opposed the religious freedom and political liberty taught by Jesus Christ. Hence, Baptists of Connecticut influenced our founding fathers to frame a U.S. Constitution ensuring a bill of rights. Regardless of denomination or religious preference, all Americans should be thankful to Baptists working early and often to ensure the political and religious freedom we all enjoy.   

T- Two Ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)