What are Baptists?

Posted by Capn Coconuts On Tuesday, January 24, 2012 0 comments
I believe a subject of this nature is necessary because:
  1. Westboro Baptist Church is... well, a Baptist church, and
  2. I'm a Baptist and strongly disapprove of them.
The Baptist "denomination", so to speak, is so named because of its tenet that baptism is for believers only and is done by immersion. They were often called "Anabaptists" in a derogatory manner because they rebaptized those who they believed hadn't been baptized right under Protestant denominations.

Speaking of which, Baptists do not identify themselves as Protestants; they see themselves as having an unbroken line of doctrine to the early apostles themselves, though the believers of said doctrines called themselves Waldensians, Paulicians, Donatists, or something else instead of Baptists. They have many quotes from men of ages long gone to support their belief:
"The Baptists are the only known body of known Christians that have never symbolized with Rome."
--Sir Isaac Newton 
"The institution of the Anabaptists is no novelty, but for 1300 years has caused great trouble in the church."
--Ulrich Zwingli, Protestant reformer 
"The sentiments of Baptists and their practice of baptism FROM THE APOSTOLIC AGE to the present, have had a continued claim of advocates, and public monuments of their existence in every century can be produced."
--Alexander Campbell, founder of the Campbellites
But the history of Baptists is not the purpose of this blog post. If you wish to have that history, I recommend that you look for and purchase A History of the Baptists by John T. Christian.

So wait, is that it? Just a dispute on an ordinance?

Well, no. Baptists have several distinctives, which many of them put into this nifty acrostic:

  • B: Bible as Sole Authority. The Bible is the only authority for Christian faith and practice. Jesus ripped the Pharisees a new one for putting tradition over the weightier matters of the law, so we see no need to do the exact same thing they did. Sola scriptura all the way.
  • A: Autonomy of the Local Church. Each church runs itself, basically. There are no boards or hierarchies that make decisions for individual assemblies. Thus, one cannot expect individual churches to always 100% agree on everything, particularly when comparing good Baptist churches and Westboro Baptist Church.
  • P: Priesthood of Every Believer. Each believer can personally come to God through our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, because he is the only mediator between God and men (1 Ti. 2:5).
  • T: Two offices: Pastor and Deacon. Just two groups that have any authority over how the church is run.
  • I: Individual Soul Liberty. Each person has the right to believe what he wishes to believe in this life, free from any governmental demand. Believers do, however, have the right to influence others and vice versa.
  • S: Saved (and baptized) church membership. Each church is an assembly of local believers. Unbelievers and the unbaptized (or baptized wrong) may visit the assembly but cannot join in membership until they are saved and baptized right.
  • T: Two ordinances: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. We believe that both of these were meant to be ordinances performed by all local churches, not just something done in the book of Acts.
  • S: Separation of Church and State: Neither the Church nor the State have any authority over each other. Baptists do not believe that government should be run (in this age) by a theocracy, or that the church should be government-run for any reason. Both are free to influence each other, though.

Because most Baptists are members of an independent church (exceptions exist--churches under the Southern Baptist Convention sacrifice some autonomy), the Baptist group has several sub-groups, some of them overlapping or encompassing others. Here are a few of them.

Primitive Baptists, also known as Hard Shell Baptists or Anti-Mission Baptists, hold to strong Calvinistic beliefs and refuse to support the idea of having mission boards. They generally don't like the idea of supporting missionaries, although a preacher going to foreign lands to preach is alright. Primitive Baptists came from the 18th century Separate Baptists that spawned from the Great Awakening. Westboro Baptist Church members are (radical) Primitive Baptists.

Reformed Baptists also hold to strong Calvinistic beliefs, but they do not seem to have strong views against mission boards. While not as common as General Baptists today, many great men in past times were Reformed Baptists, such as John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon (who I respect despite being Calvinists). Reformed Baptists came from the old Particular Baptists in 15th century England.

General Baptists explicitly believe in a general atonement--that is, that Jesus Christ died on the cross for all mankind. Therefore, they do not hold to Calvinistic theology. The administrator of Westboro Watch, Cap'n Coconuts, leans towards General Baptist views.

Independent Baptists are Baptists that are completely autonomous and independent from any denominations or conventions. Cap'n Coconuts is an Independent Baptist. Westboro Baptist Church is independent, not only because it believes as such, but also because no convention would want to deal with them.

Southern Baptists are those under the Southern Baptist Convention. While Southern Baptist churches have some autonomy, some organization happens at the state and national convention level, and thus they are not fully independent. Southern Baptists have Separate Baptists in their line of ancestry.

As I said before, if you wish to learn more about the history of the Baptists, John T. Christian is your author, and A History of the Baptists is your book. Or two books, rather. One volume is dedicated to early Christianity and European Baptists, and the other is dedicated to early American ones. Just shop carefully; there are some people on Amazon who would like to rip you off (as of this post, someone is selling Volume 1 for $242.22!).


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