I was just thinking about a question I’ve been asked hundreds of times — “Tom, why are you a Baptist?” That’s a fair question, especially since there are so many different denominations from which to choose.
For a number of years, I could have answered, “I am a Baptist because my parents are Baptists.” Some others might answer, “I am a Baptist because it is the only church in our community.” Those statements might be true, but they are not truly the best answers. So, let me again pose the question in this fashion, “Why be a BMA Baptist?”
While some vehemently state that Baptists were the original church, I am afraid that attempting to “connect the dots” back to the Jerusalem Church might be rather difficult. Indeed, our ancestors and predecessor churches have not always carried the Baptist moniker.
Just as the disciples at Antioch didn’t choose to call themselves Christians(Acts 11:26), neither did those before us choose to be called Baptists. Going back to the latter part of the 2nd Century A.D., when people who had been in the Roman Hierarchy (later the Roman Catholic Church) professed salvation and chose to unite by immersion baptism with a New Testament Church, the church was branded Ana-Baptist. That meant “re-baptizers.”Over the centuries, despite being called by several other names, the title pretty well stuck. Eventually the “re” was dropped and the name Baptist was retained.
Oh! So that’s why we should be Baptists, right? No, there are numerous other reasons.
First, a church should have scriptural identity; that means to have the characteristics and doctrines revealed in the New Testament. Hence, the name New Testament Church. In my opinion, Baptists identify more closely with the churches of the New Testament than any others. Now I must say that I believe there are no perfect churches.
The original concept of the church was a calling by Jesus to a gathering. The Greek word ecclesia also meant an assembling of those called to a meeting place for a specific purpose. True churches are called to a specific purpose — to be witnesses in a visible manner of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Some might say, “Aren’t all churches today Christ’s witnesses?” Sadly, no. While many appear to do the things churches are supposed to do, they actually fall short of the characteristics of a New Testament Church. Though almost every one of them would deny it, there are those who teach that salvation can be obtained by good works. That is not scriptural identity.
Others teach that a person can receive everlasting forgiveness by being baptized. Along that line, the mode of baptism is called to question. A church with scriptural identity baptizes by immersion following receiving salvation by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.
The defense often is, “I was baptized by sprinkling as an infant.” Therein lies the problem — baptism is not a rebirth; baptism is a burial. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, our Lord was providing a foretelling picture of His means of salvation. His baptism showed that He (who needed no salvation) was going to die, be buried and rise again. When people are baptized in a New Testament Church, they give witness to their belief in the good news (gospel) by showing the death, burial (only by immersion baptism) and resurrection of the Lord. The so-called modes of sprinkling or pouring do not show a picture of the Lord’s burial.
Baptism by immersion is an identifying mark of a New Testament Church. Yet we must emphasize that many groups today baptize by immersion, but they lack other important marks of scriptural identity
In the next issue, we will focus on other identifying characteristics that help us to answer the question, “Why Be a Baptist.”