What is a Baptist?

There are many different types of Baptists in the United States. We’re home to a wide variety of Baptist denominations, associations, and other affiliated groups as well as a wide variety of “stand-alone” independent Baptist churches. If we listed those groups you would probably click out of here. But, if you’re interested you can find them here.

The question, “What exactly is a Baptist?” may be impossible to answer. Historically, there are six beliefs that distinguish Baptists from other groups of Christians. Although many other groups may also claim some of these beliefs, Baptists hold to all of them. Over time, though, outside influences have diminished the importance of one or more in some Baptist bodies, as an American Baptist Church, we continue to claim all six.

  • The complete separation of Church and State. Baptists, along with the Congregationalists of New England, led the charge in demanding the State stay out of their business and that the Church would return the favor. Each institutions work best without the manipulation and “hidden agenda” motives of the other.
  • The priesthood of all believers. All who accept Jesus’ way of being connected with God need no priest to intervene or to mediate their relationship. They have been freed and empowered to establish their own relationship with God. It also carries with it the understanding that anyone called by God may perform acts of ministry – even presiding over the ordinances of Communion and Baptism – without the approval of mere human beings.
  • Autonomy of the local church. Even though we are in a covenantal relationship with the American Baptist Churches of USA, we exercise complete control over the affairs and governing of our local congregation. Among other things, this includes the calling of the Pastor, the form of worship, budgeting priorities, relationships with other organizations, and theological position on issues.
  • Soul competency. Each person has within their person the God-given ability to make their own choices. And we are individually responsible for the decisions we make – not our pastor, not our church, not our denomination. Just as Jesus never coerced people to follow him, neither do Baptists. The most important decision a person can make is whether or not to respond to God’s desire for their life. Of course, God does not hold everyone to the same standard. Each person has their limits, their weaknesses, their impairments, etc., and God will meet them where they are.
  • No creed but the Bible. Whereas many other groups of Christians have human-developed statements that their constituents are expected to accept as part of their belief system, Baptists believe that everything a person needs to know (at a minimum) can be found in the Bible. Certainly, there is much, much more that can be learned about God from the history of the Church, from the experience of others, and from one’s own experiences. But all we truly need to know is contained in the Bible.
  • Two ordinances, no sacraments. There are only two practices that Baptists claim are directed by Jesus: believer’s baptism and communion. We refer to them as ordinances, not sacraments, because we believe they are strictly symbolic in nature and have nothing to do with a person’s saving relationship with God. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward change that has already taken place in a person’s heart – their acceptance of Jesus – and communion is to make us remember who Jesus is, what he preached and taught, and what he expects of us.

Of course, the above explanations are brief and do not cover all questions or issues, they are presented here to help you have a feeling for who we are and what defines us as a congregation. We are well aware that there are Baptist bodies today that may not subscribe to all six distinctive and that there are many other Christian groups that would reject them all.

What I have to say in response is that all these differences are man-made. Regardless of what you may hear, not one person on Earth knows “the right” way to be connected with God or “the correct” formula for the conduct of a church. Regardless of what we may know about God – and especially what we think we know about God – God remains a mystery. Not a mystery to be solved, but a mystery to be in awe of.

The moment a person thinks they understand God, they have begun to worship their own intellect. Faith (a synonym for “trust”) is no longer necessary to a person that has it “all figured out.”

But we have to cling to something, to some concepts, to some approaches to our life together as a community of believers that we feel allows us to be drawn closer to God, every day. It is this, then, that we refer to as being “born again”. This is not a one-time event or a form of identity. It’s an attitude that frees us up so we are willing and able to change and grow every day in our relationship with God so that we can experience a newness daily. Such change and growth, of course, requires a willingness to let go of old beliefs that would otherwise hinder such growth.

If you would like to learn more or discuss any of these concepts further, please contact us.