The term “Baptist” produces mixed reactions in our day. Upon hearing the term some people will immediately think about a particular mode of Christian baptism, while others will squirm at the thought of a legalistic group that doesn’t dance or drink, and still others will consider the biblical figure, John the Baptist. But, for me, the term Baptist generates thoughts of a denomination rich in biblical heritage that, along with other Protestant denominations, has been privileged to guard “the good deposit” (2 Timothy 1:14).
It is, in fact, this rich, biblical heritage that has gradually made Baptist history one of my favorite topics to study and teach. Here are a few reasons why I love Baptist history:
- The Baptist tradition wrestles with the What and the Who of the church.
Fundamental to the Baptist tradition are the following questions: 1) What is the church? and 2) Who belongs to it? These were vital questions that early Baptists such as John Smyth and Thomas Helwys were driven to answer, and they remain vital questions for Baptists in the 21st century. The reason these questions are of utmost importance is because we see in Matthew 16:18 that Jesus promised to build His church, and if Jesus promised to build His church, it raises the question: What is this church that Jesus promised to build?
Baptists have traditionally defined the church as God’s church, which was purchased by Him with His own blood (Acts 20:28) and is comprised of members who, upon their professions of faith in Christ as Lord, have been baptized (Romans 10:9, Acts 2:41).
- The Baptist tradition forces us to the Scriptures.
Another aspect I love about the Baptist tradition is its rootedness in the truths of Scripture. Baptists have taken seriously the Reformation call of sola scriptura and have sought to build every doctrine and practice on this simple question: What does the Scripture say? This commitment to Scripture is clearly seen in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith: “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”
Baptist theology has traditionally held the Scriptures in high esteem, because the Scriptures are the very Word of God passed down through generations. Though Baptist interpretation of the Scriptures has been lacking at times, Baptist theology has consistently maintained the belief that God has spoken and that we should therefore listen and obey. After all, Jesus said He will build His church, and because it is His church, the church must look to His Word to see how we ought to conduct ourselves as His children.
- The doctrines of grace are prominent in the Baptist tradition.
While not every Baptist church adheres to the doctrines of grace, there is an overwhelming Baptist witness to God’s work in the salvation of undeserving sinners. Because it is God and God alone who saves sinners, the bloody cross stands front and center in Baptist theology.
Without the cross there would be no salvation, and without God sending His Son to suffer “once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18) there would be no redemption. Further, if God did not open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf to learn of this Good News, there would be no deliverance from the fate that sinners so justly deserve.
But because Baptists are persuaded that God will save sinners, we have been compelled to proclaim this Good News to the world. While those who misunderstand the doctrines of grace (also known as Calvinism) may argue that these doctrines kill missions, Baptist history illustrates the exact opposite. In fact, the first Baptist missionaries sent to foreign lands were Calvinists. Men such as William Carey, motivated by God’s salvation of sinners, went to India to take the Gospel to the “heathen,” while Adoniram Judson, deeply impacted by the sovereignty of God, traveled to Burma to make Christ known to those who had never heard His great name.
When we become thoroughly convinced that God saves sinners through the preaching of the Gospel, how can we not be compelled to take the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the world?
- There are wonderful biographical studies throughout the Baptist tradition.
Baptist history springs to life through the study of faithful men and women who fought for and embraced Baptist doctrine and theology. Take, for instance, Benjamin Keach who was fined, imprisoned, and pilloried for his promotion of believer’s baptism; Obadiah Holmes who was whipped for his Baptist beliefs; and Andrew Fuller who stood against the hyper-Calvinistic views of his day in order to Scripturally prove that it is the duty of all men and all women to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Then there is Ann Judson, a woman who did not simply follow her husband in his newfound Baptist convictions but who became a Baptist only after personal examination of the Scriptures. And we can’t leave out Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher who endured to the end, even when Baptist churches in England failed to heed his warnings that they were abandoning biblical truth.
While this is a short list, these biographical studies remind us that countless men and women who lived before us not only embraced Baptist theology but in many cases even risked their lives because of their conviction to believe and follow the Scriptures.
- The Baptist tradition is my heritage.
Over the past few years I have found that the more I study Baptist history the more I fall in love with the great heritage in which I was raised. The Baptist tradition has labored vigorously to defend biblical teachings such as regenerate church membership and believer’s baptism, efforts that make me proud to call myself a Baptist. But more than that, the study of Baptist history and the research of various controversies that took place within the Baptist tradition (such as Landmarkism), remind me that I am part of something greater than the Baptist denomination: the church of Christ.
Christ’s church is so much more than Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists. While these earthly denominations are helpful for us today, there will come a time when denominations will cease to exist.
For this reason, it is my hope and prayer that you are a part of Christ’s church, because it is Christ who is supreme, being the “head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Right now the doors to His church are wide open for all who will come in, no matter your denomination or current walk of life. He is calling everyone, this day, to come to Him, to surrender your rebellious ways, and to trust in Him alone. God’s Word says that “He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). On that day your denominational affiliations (or lack thereof) will not matter. All that will matter is whether you are known by Christ. Therefore, look to Him and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
The Doctrines of Grace are often summarized by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. For a better understanding of these doctrines, check out this article by John Piper: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism
Carey was one of the founders of the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen in October 1792.
Briefly stated, the Landmark controversy was about the nature of non-baptistic churches, and the conclusion drawn was that baptistic churches are the only true churches, an argument that I wholeheartedly reject.