We are often asked this question as well. It seems that most folks feel more comfortable having everybody pigeonholed into neat little categories This is often done so that they know whether to pay any attention to anything you might say because they think they know what you are going to say or either to just write you off as being one of “those”. As we have stated in the past, we are not actually fond of being called by any sort of name, most certainly not one which we have designed. We continually hope that we will give enough evidence to those we come in contact with that they would be so kind as to call us Christians or followers of CHRIST. We are not so naïve on the other hand to think that everyone who is thus designated are indeed true followers of CHRIST, most assuredly not to think that one becomes a true Christian by calling himself by that name.
There was only one Baptist (so named) in the scriptures that we are aware of, and his name was John. He was thus called because of what he was known to be doing. He was literally called “John the immerser, or dipper”. He frequented places where there was “much water” in order to carry out the task that he was sent to do as he immersed men in water as a signification of their repentance. Now while immersing believers in water is something that is usually (rightly) associated with those who have historically been called “Baptists”, this is not the only distinction which is shared among the multitudes who have been so called.
According to some sources there are over fifty separate groups in the United States who call themselves Baptists and there are probably that many more whose practices generally line up with modern Baptists who are not designated as such by themselves or others. One in five “Christians” in the United States identifies themselves as being “Baptists”. Just because this or that group baptizes their disciples in water does not in itself make them sound in the faith nor does it in fact mean that they identify themselves with historic Baptist practices and commonly received doctrines. They just may be cleaner than some while at the same time be totally in error as to what the “faith of GOD’s elect” is.
Baptists have no fleshly line of succession from the time of the Apostles which they can point to as their pedigree, even though there are some among them who claim to be able to do so. This is so much smoke and mirrors and is only attempted in order to satisfy the flesh. Unless we are spiritual descendants from the early church it does not matter through what line our “baptism” may have come either in antiquity or the present day. To spend a great deal of time in such a fruitless and futile endeavor is to be found denying one of the principles which sets “Baptists” apart from all other religions patterned by men after Christianity. That is the principle that men must be born again by the SPIRIT of GOD in order to have any connection to the church of GOD manifested in the earth.
This is not a church which can be entered by the laying on of the hands of men, waters of baptism, conference of blessing, or family ties. To be a part of this church a man must be wed to CHRIST and all of his reliance of acceptance is found in his LORD. They have no confidence in any sacerdotal (i.e.; of priests or relying on human priestly work) rite of man’s religion nor can such add any validity to their entrance there. In more modern times some who call themselves Baptists have forgotten this and do in some measure rely upon a form of sacerdotalism by their making baptism an “initiation rite” into the church which must be “performed” by a certain sort of individual in order to be valid.
Closely aligned with this consideration of the necessity of the new birth is the very foundation of what Baptists believe that baptism is for. The word baptize is actually a “transliteration” of the Greek word “baptizo” rather than a translation of it. A translation of the word would be “to dip or immerse”. The “translators” of the KJV had a philosophical problem with this word so they chose to leave it basically as it is, perhaps to soften the truth of it since most of them did not actually practice what the word said to do. While Baptists cannot trace a human line of succession from the time of the Apostles, they do believe that there have always been some who have followed the New Testament practice and pattern since the very inception of the church in the earth. Very early on they were relegated to second class status as Christianity became a “religion” rather than a lifestyle and multitudes were swept into the church because of its popularity. It took on mega proportions in the time of Constantine when it also became intertwined with earthly government. Those who adopted this mindset lapsed more and more into the depths of sacerdotalism which became increasingly necessary as the membership of the “church” basically included everyone rather than just those who confessed faith having been born again. During this time baptism became something it could not actually be, which was the sprinkling of water, or in some cases pouring it. This was primarily done for convenience sake and after all, when man designs a religion, he wants it to be as user friendly as possible especially when it is used as a means of subduing and subjugating people rather than setting them free. So, the church adopted all manner of pagan customs to the point that it could hardly be recognized.
Against this backdrop of church/statism/paganism was contrasted little groups and bands of believers who continued to gather together in the name of the LORD according to the gospel which was relatively untainted by man’s inventions. Ultimately these groups were called (by their detractors) Anabaptists which literally means “re-baptisers”. This was because of their following the biblical example of baptizing believers upon a profession of faith. Many who had grown up in the “mega-church” were sprinkled as babies and this was called “baptism” by those who promoted these institutions. Of course, sprinkling cannot be “baptism” anymore than rain can be called an ocean. Those who were called “re-baptizers” were not in fact re-baptizing anyone since those who came to them confessing faith in CHRIST had never been baptized in the first place.
The proper name for sprinkling is rantism and not baptism. As important as we believe the mode of baptism to be, the mode is not nearly as important as who is to be baptized. Those whose heritage stems from the great whore church (mainline religion or Roman Catholicism) have generally all adopted the concept of baptism as being a sign of the covenant of grace. Those who believe that it is a sign of the covenant of grace purport that baptism (actually rantism) takes the place of circumcision in the old testament as the sign so that those who are sprinkled (by one sacerdotally equipped) are included in the covenant of grace. Thus, they sprinkle their children as infants in order to signify that their children are included in the covenant. One can get varied answers as to just exactly what that means but in essence, they become a part of the “church” by it. So, they are known as pedobaptists or infant sprinklers.
Baptists do not believe that Baptism is a “sign” of anything since an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign. Circumcision of the flesh was replaced by the circumcision of the heart which takes place when the LORD is pleased to make a man into a new creature by the new birth. Baptism is the answer of a good conscience unto the LORD, a profession of one’s faith in and desire to follow the LORD JESUS CHRIST. It is not to be performed on someone without their knowledge but rather as an act of obedience which is chosen by those whose desire is to follow the LORD in all things. While we are not desirous of being called Baptists, we most assuredly do not want to be called a pedo-baptist (rantist) because we cannot find even one clear cut instance in the scripture where anyone other than professing believers were baptised. If the baby sprinklers are right, then why do we not find one example of the practice in the scripture or even one command to do so? So, the difference boils down to one group (the pedo-baptists) believing that inclusion in the covenant of grace is signified by a ceremonial sprinkling of their children while the Baptists believe that the sign that one is included in this covenant of grace is by the SPIRIT’s circumcision of the heart. Baptism is not a “ceremony” but a mere act of obedience and confession of faith.
This brings us to another significant difference between those groups which have been “historically” known as Baptists. The lack of ceremony and liturgical (the use of rites and forms) worship. Those groups (for the most part) which have sprung from the whore church in rightly rejecting her doctrines of soteriology (salvation) continued to maintain (more or less) a certain level of pomp and circumstance, ceremony, and forms of organized and orchestrated “worship”. This is primarily seen in their continuation of “priestcraft” (which we will discuss later) in the form of ordaining or setting aside of certain individuals in their midst as a separate clergical class who are empowered to perform certain duties and ceremonies not available to the “laity” (common people). This orchestrated “worship” is thought to be more in keeping with order and good taste and not quite so coarse as to encourage any form of spontaneity. If everyone knows what to expect they can all settle back into a comfortable place and just enjoy being spoon-fed rather than actually having to wait upon the SPIRIT of GOD. The LORD JESUS said those that worship HIM must do it in spirit and truth, this can in no wise be “produced” by any sort of ceremony or form of worship organized by men.
Sadly, this very feature associated with “Baptists” in history, has in great measure been compromised by those calling themselves Baptists since the time of the Reformation and most especially in the last three hundred years. Most “modern Baptists” have adopted some of the same ideas of those whose heritage is from Rome. It is very common to find printed forms and orders of service in many such churches and even when it is not “written” down the “order” is most assuredly understood in “unwritten forms” and practices designed to produce a certain mood. These practices developed over time because of the nature of men to have an air of “credibility” added to their assemblies. As they desired to become more “respectable” they adopted the practices of their step brothers. The “order” Paul describes in the 14th chapter of I Corinthians is totally foreign to the average “baptist” meeting one might attend. The error of all of this is that some have become convinced that they can produce “order” by their forms when in reality the only one who can cause things to be done decently and in order in the local church is the SPIRIT of GOD. HE does this not by making it impossible for the children of GOD to participate by nothing more than showing up and filling a pew, but by making each one a part of the body which is dependent on each part to supply what the body without it lacks (see Eph.4:11-16). The assemblies of GOD’s people ought to be characterized by simplicity, lack of ceremony, and openness for even the weakest of the saints to participate in more ways than simply filling a seat on a pew. We are members one of another (Rom.12:5; Eph.4:25) with ONE HEAD and no unnecessary or more “important” parts. “But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” (1Cor 12:20-25)
Baptists have historically contended for the “priesthood of the believer” (see Rev.1:6). Peter said, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:” (1Pet. 2:9). In more modern times many, who call themselves Baptists, have in great measure adopted the practices of priestcraft by appointing and endowing members of the body who possess certain “gifts” with status and power to be set apart from the “common members”. Some have even begun to use the designations of the Romans such as Reverend, etc. But the same practice is basically carried on by those who use “Elder” as a title rather than simply the description of the office one may be called to in a local church. Regardless of what we may choose to use for a name for these individuals when we consider that a place of service in the local assembly is equal to those persons becoming a part of some order or class worthy of titles then we have departed from the basic concept of each individual member being of the same priesthood. We do not deny that GOD’s children have different gifts and callings but none of those gifts and callings carry with them a certain status or class distinction nor are special privileges attached to them. A gift or calling to preach or teach is very useful to the body but the body does not define its existence by having it nor its ability to function when those gifts are absent from it.
Another historic distinctive of those who have been known as Baptists is the autonomy of the local church from outside interference in its own affairs by other churches or groups of churches. They believe in no such thing as a hierarchy or central governing body which has control over individual churches. This concept arises out of the belief of the individual priesthood of believers. This has caused them to believe in congregational rule rather than from a group of presbyters.
Sadly, even this principle has been abandoned by many calling themselves Baptists as they have joined together in associations and conventions which may not theoretically control them but in reality does by several means, not the least of which is associational moderators or (gasp) associational missionaries who rule through various power plays and influence peddling. Usually the descendants of Diotrephes (see III John 1:9) find their way into these positions and the people love to have it so. Nothing is more un-Baptistic.
Liberty of conscience has always been a hallmark of those who have been historically identified as Baptists. Paul speaks of such in Romans saying, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” (Rom 14:12-15) It is not the church’s place to dictate to its members those things which are matters of conscience. One brother may regard one day above another while another brother may regard all days alike. The church is not to force everyone into a rote conformity but each one having regard to the other’s conscience before GOD to love and esteem one another as brethren in the LORD.
This has by no means been a comprehensive study of what a “Baptist” is but perhaps it has been helpful in defining what a Baptist is not. We do not identify ourselves as Baptists because that name is basically identified with many in our day who have almost totally abandoned Baptist principles in search of the comforts and stability of religion. We are most certainly not pedo-baptists nor do we identify ourselves as those whose heritage can be traced through Rome. Yet we are not ashamed to be identified with those who have historically believed that Baptism is immersion, that only professing believers should be baptized, that every individual member of the church is a priest and king before GOD, that each member is equally important to the function of the church, that there is no such distinction of clergy and laity, that true worship is devoid of forms, rituals, and ceremonies, and that each one of GOD’s dear children is free to walk according to the leadership of the SPIRIT of GOD as HE teaches them through the written word. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1-4)mam