This morning we conclude our extended series on “What Do Baptists Believe?”. Most of the teaching we’ve heard during these sermons has had application to all Christian denominations, but there has been some that has been specific to Southern Baptists.
In today’s closing message, we will briefly review these “Baptists Distinctives”. As we do so, we will answer the question “What beliefs distinguish a Southern Baptist from other Christians?” We will use an acrostic to help us remember these doctrinal distinctions. Most of the text used in this blog entry is found at www.allaboutbaptists.com/distinctives.html.
Biblical Authority - 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 - Every born again believer has direct access to the throne of God. Therefore, since every child of God shares in the priesthood of the believers, all have the same right as ordained ministers to communicate with God, interpret Scripture, and minister in Christ's name. This is first and foremost a matter of responsibility and servanthood, not privilege and license.
Two Offices of the Church and Congregational Governance - 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. The church operates under the Lordship of Christ through the practice of congregational governance.
Individual Soul Liberty & Security - Every individual Christian has the liberty to believe, right or wrong, as his/her own conscience dictates. While we seek to persuade men to choose the right, a person must not be forced to into compliance, realizing that it is not always the larger group who holds the truth when, in fact, our heritage as Baptists has demonstrated the worth of every individual believer.
The salvation of every individual who has been born again in Christ Jesus is eternally secure. A saved person cannot be re-lost, as their salvation is secured by God himself and sealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their life. Once a person is truly saved, they will always be saved. This is not a license to sin, but rather all the more reason to practice righteousness and endure suffering out of a hopeful confidence.
Saved and 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.
Two Church Ordinances - We practice only believer's baptism by immersion, which is the only acceptable mode for baptism because it alone preserves the picture of saving truth. No other form pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:15). We believe that the Lord's Supper is a symbolic ordinance, picturing Christ's body broken for our sins and His blood shed for our redemption. It is not a saving ordinance, but helps us remember His death, and inspires us while looking forward to His coming. It is to be observed by regenerate, obedient believers.
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 13:17 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.
The doctrines listed above provide a partial list of the distinguishing beliefs of Southern Baptists. Many other Christian denominations take different stances on these issues and have every right to do so. They are just as sincere in their beliefs as we are in ours.
I've heard it said that “the path to a unified church is not found in tearing down the denominational fences that divide us, but rather in opening the denominational gates that are between us.” As Christians, we need to strive for unity, not uniformity. While we are never to compromise on the weightier doctrines (Matthew 23:23) that make us Christians, we must learn to disagree agreeably on the other matters.
Perhaps this series has confirmed that you are a Baptist by reinforcing your belief in these core doctrines we share. If so, I am encouraged that it has strengthened your faith. Or perhaps it has revealed to you that you are not a Baptist because you disagree with these doctrines. If that is the case, while we love you as a Christian brother we’d politely ask you to go elsewhere and join a church where you can be in agreement with the congregation. You’ll be happier, and so will we.
One final thought - what we believe matters, because we are to be a unified people operating with one mind so that we can more effectively do the work of Christ. This is our calling as the children of God. So know what you believe, find a like-minded church, and put your beliefs into practice.