Being Baptist (Part 2)

Part 1 suggested Baptist distinctives are vitally important but relatively few.  Baptists share the essential convictions of historic Christian orthodoxy.  Given a variety of confessions on a particular issue, one would be hard-pressed to sniff out the Baptist from among them.

For example, take the following selections from three historic confessions of faith on the authority of Scripture:

“Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.  In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.”

“We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith.  And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them—not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God.”

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. . . . The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God its Author (Who is Truth itself). Therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God. . . . The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture, to which nothing is to be added at any time, either by new revelation of the Spirit, or by the traditions of men.”

Of the three selections, which one is a “Baptist” confession?  Any Baptist could (and should) joyfully affirm all three, demonstrating Baptists share a commitment to the absolute inerrancy, infallibility, authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

(For the record, the first selection is from the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) that remains the Anglican/Episcopalian confession of faith.  The second is from the Belgic Confession (1561) which helped distinguish the Reformed faith in the Spanish Inquisition.  The third selection is from the Second London Baptist Confession (1689).    Although, it could have just as well been from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) since the Second London copied the Westminster in most respects.  The Westminster Confession remains the standing confession of the Presbyterian church.  We might consider The Second London a “baptized” version of the Westminster.  It is also the confession that begat the various iterations of later Baptist confessions, not the least of which is The Baptist Faith and Message.)

We could compare a litany of other essential doctrines and find Baptists giving their “Amen” to each.  All the Protestant traditions set out to declare their break with Roman Catholicism (hence, “Protest”).  In doing so, they found themselves on the same side against papal authority and church abuses.  They also labored to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists, who were causing no small agitation in the Protestant cause.  In fact, the subtitle of the 1689 London Baptist Confession is “Of those churches which are commonly (though falsely) called Anabaptists.”  Not even the Baptists wanted to be mistaken for Anabaptists!

While these various confessions remain relatively authoritative today, not every church under their banner necessarily reflects them.  In an age of consumerism, pragmatism and easy believism, the church has largely abandoned her confessions.  Church growth strategies and slick branding have taken the place of substantial confessional integrity.  As a result, there are many Baptists who only know “Baptist” according to what their particular church/denomination does.  Baptist is what our Baptist church does.

But this is not how Baptists (or any tradition) historically defined themselves.  To distinguish themselves, those emerging from the Protestant Reformation wrote confessions of faith.  They would be known for what they believe or confess to be true about and from Scripture.  Those confessions are not infallible and should be always tested against Scripture.  But they do clearly define what marks [insert your name] as a Christian and then a [insert your tradition].

Baptists have a rich confessional heritage to be learned and celebrated.  He is not a Baptist necessarily because he grew up in or attends a Baptist church.  He is not necessarily a Baptist who participates in activities his church does with other Baptist churches.  He is not a Baptist who simply believes in biblical inerrancy, human depravity, salvation by grace through faith or necessity of new birth.  Those are Christian beliefs but not exclusively Baptist.  He is a Baptist who at least confesses those essentials but then holds certain biblical convictions different than the other Protestant traditions.

What are those exclusively Baptist convictions?  In good Baptist fashion we need a third installment to identify them.  Until then, we will sing “Just as I Am” while the plate passes.

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