What Does a Baptist Believe?
People who have studied the doctrines of various Christian groups have identified certain characteristic beliefs that are distinctive of Baptists. They have termed these core beliefs "Baptist Distinctives". When all of these beliefs are held by a person or a group, they can rightly be called "Baptist". If they hold most of them, I suppose that we could call them "Baptistic".
When all of these beliefs are held by a person or a group, they can rightly be called "Baptist".
I have seen a number of lists of these doctrines, some with as few as five and others with as many as eight distinctives. The longer lists tend to expand points that are in the shorter ones. For here, I have chosen to go with a longer list. I wish I knew who organized this list into an acrostic and give them proper credit for it, all I know is that I learned it while in Bible college. It is based on the word "Baptists" and is easy to memorize and recall.
I. Biblical Authority
Example Verses: II Timothy 3:16-17; I Peter 1:23-25
Baptists hold to the belief that the Bible and its clear, literal teachings are the final authority for faith and practice. We at least attempt to back up everything we believe with "Chapter and Verse", and hold that anything that is contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible is not true. Such things as church councils, church leaders, tradition, and other books are often held in some authority by other Christian groups.
II. Autonomy of the Local Church
Example Verses: Revelation 1:11,20
Each individual, local congregation of believers is free to act for and govern itself. Each congregation is free to operate inside the guidelines laid out in the Bible, elect its own pastor, and manage its own affairs. There is no type of ecclesiastical hierarchy of bishops, synods, councils, or any other authority that oversees groups of churches.
However, their are a large number of Baptist churches today that have created alliances and conventions, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, and are willingly submitting themselves to a non-local church authority. This is not to say that all "fellowships" or "associations" bear rule over churches that participate in them, but many have centralized governing power that is not in harmony with the historic Baptist position of local church autonomy.
III. Priesthood of the Believer
Example Verses: I Timothy 2:5; I Peter 2:5,9
The Priesthood of the Believer basically means that we have no intermediate authority between us and God. Baptists believe that their is no man or church authority that one must go through to fellowship with God and likewise that God must go through to fellowship with us. We can go directly to God with our petitions and prayers, and He may make His will known directly to us.
IV. Two Ordinances
Example Verses: Acts 8:36-37; I Corinthians 11:23-31
Baptists believe that the Bible only teaches us to observe two ordinances inside the authority of the local church: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. These are not called sacraments and are not necessary for salvation. They are commanded in the Bible to be observed, and we humbly do so.
Baptism is a symbolic act that represents the salvation of an individual. It is often called "Believer's Baptism" since a testimony of salvation is required before one can be baptized. This baptism is performed by immersion. It has no redemptive or regenerative power that can save a human soul. Also any form of infant baptism is rejected.
The Lord's Supper, sometimes called "communion", is the partaking of unleavened bread and grape juice. This is done in remembrance of Christ's broken body and shed blood.
There is much more that we could go into with these two ordinances. Both are subjects of quite a lot of debate in Christendom, and even inside some Baptist churches. For the sake of brevity we will leave these discussions for another place.
V. Individual Soul Liberty
Example Verses: Matthew 16:27; 2 Peter 3:9
Baptists hold that each individual is free to determine their own eternal destiny. With this freedom of choice also comes responsibility as each man will answer to God for their choice. The salvation of an individual is ultimately a choice they must make for themselves.
VI. Separation of Church and State
Example Verses: Acts 5:29; Romans 13
Baptists hold that the church and state or two separate entities and are not mix their authorities. Both are ordained by God for different purposes. We believe that no government or authority should press for or require mandatory observance of a sponsored or endorsed religious system. This even applies to Baptists and their beliefs, which they have never attempted to force on anyone through any form of government.
This belief does not mean that Baptists are anti-government. Baptists have been and continue to be model citizens and patriots. They simple believe that no governmental authority should govern churches and their practices.
VII. Two Officers
Example Verses: I Timothy 3:2-13
The only two offices that the Bible mentions for churches are these: Pastor and Deacon. The Pastor is the "under shepherd" of the church, and the care of its members is his responsibility. He is to be the leader of each congregation, whose responsibility it is to elect them. This office is also called by the names "Bishop" and "Elder" in the New Testament.
The Deacon is a servant of the church, and is to assist the Pastor in his duties. These men are elected by the congregation to this office. They are not given authority to rule over the church or pastor, but to aid in the work of the church.
VIII. Salvation by Grace through Faith
Example Verses: John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9
According to the Scriptures, a person's eternal destiny is based on whether or not they receive the gift of salvation offered by the Lord Jesus Christ. All men are sinners and are in need of salvation, else they will be under judgment in Hell for all eternity. However, Christ has purchased our salvation through His death and resurrection. He now offers this free gift of salvation and the promise of an eternity in Heaven to all men. We receive salvation by believing wholly on Him and trusting in His finished work and the veracity of His offer. There is nothing we can do to merit salvation nor any other means of entrance into Heaven except through accepting Christ's offer.
NOTE - Another point that is sometimes included in older lists of the Baptist Distinctives is this: Baptists have always been on the receiving end of persecution and not on the delivering. True, Baptists have been recipients of persecution from Governments, Religions, and even other Christians (Catholic and Protestant alike), yet I feel that this is more of a historical evidence than a doctrinal distinctive.