This past Sunday morning, I stood in front of several dozen adults—all who are newer to Lancaster Baptist Church and most of which are new Christians as well—and taught week two of “Starting Point,” a three-week class I teach several times a year.
On the second week of each Starting Point class, I teach on the Baptist distinctives—the doctrines that, as a whole, set Baptists apart from any other denomination. I use an acrostic as an outline to teach these scriptural beliefs:
- Biblical Authority in all matters of faith and practice
- Autonomy or self governing power of the local church
- Priesthood of believers
- Two offices within the church—pastor and deacon
- Individual soul liberty
- Separation of church and state
- Two ordinances—baptism and the Lord’s Table
- Separation and personal holiness
As a Baptist pastor of a Baptist church, I believe that each of these distinctives are not only biblical, but they are vital. They are doctrinal. And doctrine matters.
There are some things Baptists may differ on and still be on the same page doctrinally. For instance, the frequency with which the Lord’s Table is served or how many deacons a church needs. But these are simply differences in practice or interpretation—not of doctrine.
The doctrines themselves set Baptists apart from other groups. For instance, the ordinance of believers baptism by immersion sets Baptists apart from denominations that practice infant baptism and/or sprinkling or pouring. The distinctive of the autonomy of the local church likewise sets Baptists apart from the denominational hierarchy of Presbyterians, Methodists, etc.
And the distinctive of biblical authority (which is actually the foundation for every other distinctive) sets us apart from many groups—including those who practice speaking in tongues (such as Charismatics and Pentecostals).
This is why it grieved me to learn of the recent decision by the International Mission Board (the missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention) to drop the requisites for missionaries regarding speaking in tongues.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not a Southern Baptist, nor do I intend to be. While I have other differences with the SBC, the reason this is so grievous to me is that I love the name Baptist. And this decision undermines the very foundation of what Baptist means.
(I won’t take space here to develop the Baptist belief on the cessation of tongues, except to point you to this booklet. In summary, we believe in the complete and final authority of Scripture—and that it is God’s complete revelation to man. We believe that tongues and the supernatural sign gifts were foundational to the first century and that they ceased when “that which is perfect”—the Word of God—was given. Scriptures for these beliefs include 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Ephesians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 12:12, and 1 Corinthians 13:8–10.)
While I am thankful for every gospel-preaching missionary (and I do recognize that there are many who preach the gospel who do not carry the name “Baptist”), I still believe that Baptist doctrine matters. The gospel is not the totality of our doctrine. Scripture is. And while the gospel is woven through every page of Scripture, it is not the sum total of the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). We must believe and preach “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), which includes vital doctrines.
The name Baptist means something. It’s not simply a club or a cause with an ancient word used as a password for access. It embodies a set of beliefs. And if a person does not hold to these beliefs, they are not a Baptist. They may be in name, but they are not in reality.