Acts 2:36-42

    This title is guaranteed  to raise some eyebrows!  Some will ask, “How can you Baptists set yourselves apart from the broader Christian community?  What right do you have to be so exclusive?”  Others will assume that the reference is to the name Baptist rather than to the doctrine that justifies the name.

     The large, world-wide family of Christian believers who wear this name are a diverse lot.  There may be nothing on which every last one of them would agree beyond the existence of God – and even the demons agree there!  The name is far from some “magic wand” that automatically “covers a multitude of sins” (though in one sense that term does cover many sins!)

      The vast majority of Baptists, of course, affirm the general articles of  common Christian creeds concerning  the triune God, the Bible, the saving person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and many other generally held Christian views.  Yet it is clear that, with many incentives to be part of  the “wider world” of Christendom, most Baptists have chosen  not  to take part in  non-Baptist religious activities.  In many cases it would be to their advantage both financially and socially to forsake this separate identity; yet most Baptists have had little involvement in the various ecumenical movements of the last century.  For this they are often rebuked.

      In some cases, such separation has been costly in the extreme.  Groups holding similar convictions in  the “Dark Ages” were often considered outlaws, their members imprisoned, tortured, even executed.  Consider the edict of Queen Elizabeth the First of Great Britain, predecessor of King James of Bible translation fame.  Twenty-seven members of an illegal conventicle at Aldsgate, England, were arrested, charged with being “Anabaptists,” and placed in prison.  Eleven (ten women and one man)  were convicted of capital crimes against the state; eight were banished, and the most stubborn two were burned at the stake.  When Foxe, the noted martyrologist, interceded with the queen for these women, her refusal stated that it was necessary to make examples of them.  She said, “I wonder that such monstrous opinions [as refusing to have their infants “baptized,” RCB] could come into the mind of any Christian.”   (This is quoted by
R. B. C. Howell in The Terms of Communion at the Lord’s Table,  first issued in 1846.)

      In many parts of the world, even in recent years, Baptists have also found themselves persecuted, often alongside other believers, sometimes even by those claiming to be believers!  There were more martyrs for Christ in the 20th Century than in any earlier one.  What could possibly induce millions of people,  world-wide, age-long, to be so set in a distinct viewpoint which would cause such violent response?  For true believers in general, we may respond, “Faith in Christ.”  But what could lead so many to hold specific, separate  convictions so strongly?

      It is certainly not any goal of obtaining political favor.  Even if it did so in some cases, true Baptists would still not desire more than friendship between church and state, not union.  For this group has seen, and all too often felt, the results of such union.

      It is certainly not prestige.  Baptists are sometimes not even listed among the “mainstream” denominations, though they are the largest non-Catholic group of professing Christians in the United States, and significant in number world-wide.  Most Baptists insist that “We are not Protestants,” and this has blocked some wider recognition.

     While there are areas, such as the American South, where Baptists hold numerous political offices and operate leading businesses, yet for the wider world their views are hardly considered important.  Consider, by contrast, how avidly some relatively smaller groups are courted by media, politicians, and business.  How long has it been since you have heard a serious media discussion of “the Baptist position” on any social or political issue, unless it included a bit of ridicule about “Neanderthal Southern Baptists,”  “preachers of hate,”  “bigots,” etc.?

      Is it possible, then, that Baptists should reconsider their separation?  Some have already answered “Yes,” and have begun to adopt Protestant of “Evangelical” status, removing the offensive word “Baptist.”  (And some should, for they have long since dropped the doctrine which makes the word meaningful!)  Surely all of us should come to such a discussion with an open mind, and with an open Bible!

      For it is just here that Baptists find the grounds that compel them to hold separate identity.  If it were only a question of “How much water?”, or contemporary versus traditional worship, or an exact form of church government, few would find the result worth the effort.  Most would agree that, in America at least, anyone has a legal right to hold and express diverse viewpoints.  (And few realize how much of that fact is owed to Baptist influence!)  But there would surely not be some 30 million people who would choose to maintain an expensive, somewhat unpopular denominational separation over secondary issues in this country, with more overseas, unless there were solid grounds for such action.

      What, then, is the crucial sticking point?  Just this: Baptists have, by and large, insisted on a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, one known to the accountable individual, variously  termed “new birth,” “salvation,” “regeneration,” etc., as the first principle of the Christian faith – coming  BEFORE any and all religious activities or Christian duties.  That experience, involving our minds as well as our emotions (see Matthew 22:37-38),  hassled us to seek fellowship with others who claim the same view of conversion before conduct.  That, in turn, has led to our emphasis on “believer’s church,” a place for the corporate worship of God by like-minded people in close fellowship, and to insist that church membership is not valid without a prior experience of salvation, a Christian testimony.  We recognize that such a testimony may be true or false, from the example of Judas and the related experiences of many (like this writer) who were on a Baptist roll without salvation.  But at least we want the profession before baptism.

(Incidentally, after genuine conversion, this writer had to convince his home church to baptize him!  That wasn’t easy for a shy child!)

      How does such genuine conversion come about?  It came from the presentation of the gospel – “How that Christ died for our sins, and that He was buried, and that He rose,”  I Cor. 15:1-4 – that led us to conviction and conversion.  Someone – usually someone involved with a local church – told us that we are sinful, that we need a Savior, and that we may receive salvation in a personal experience of repentance toward God and faith the in the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures!  So we were driven – better, drawn – to look into that Book for ourselves, and right there we were on our way to being what is meant by the word “Baptist.”

      For we could not simply “believe it because the church says so,”  or take it on “the faith of our fathers” or the word of the minister; tradition may have some truth, but it has much that is self-contradictory; some of it must be false.  Anyone who says, “I’ll look into this Bible for myself” has the first condition of becoming a good Baptist (in the best sense of that term).

    And this ‘believer-priest” relationship brings us to an ever-deepening fellowship with our Lord. 

After all, it was He who told us to “Search the Scriptures,”  for, He said in John 5:39, “These are they which testify of Me.”  We may use helps and helpers, trusted guides, to deepen our under-standing, but finally we must “walk that lonesome road all by ourselves,” humanly speaking, and search the Bible individually.

      Would Baptists, then, suggest that professing Christians in other groups are not saved?  Far from it.  All the saved, of any or no church, are part of the world-wide, age-long family of the born-again, far broader than any denominating lines.  And Baptists claim only to be members of this family of the born-again,  with the truly saved of all groups in all ages!  We be brethren!

      Why, then, do Baptists maintain a separate identity?  It is costly in many ways.  In mere material terms, it is expensive to operate separate buildings, keep up distinct ministries, and maintain a unique identity.  In an age of rising energy costs, when building materials and construction are more and more prohibitive, is it reasonable to keep a separate status?  It is certainly not, unless – and here is the key – unless there are clear distincitives to be proclaimed!

      Up to this point, this paper has been descriptive.  Let me now make it personal.  Why do we maintain a separate identity?  Why not just  “merge and be done with it,” give witness to our views as part of a “world church” and save the costs and strains of singular status?   After all, do we not all desire Heaven as our final home?

      We answer quite simply, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”  And we insist on seeking to follow our Lord’s commands as set forth in that Bible!

      “There you go,” someone says – “you accuse us of not following the Bible, and even suggest that we are not saved!”  No; you identify yourselves with  your own words, in your creeds.

      For there is absolutely no biblical example or command for baptism without a personal profession of faith!  And scholars of most groups (with few exceptions) agree that such baptisms were immersions, dippings – not “affusion” as in pouring or sprinkling.  In Scripture, both by example and by precept, baptism was always a believer’s immersion, not one to produce a believer at that time or later, and not some other act.  And it was always accepted voluntarily.

      Acts 2:38 commands us to “repent and be baptized” – in that order – and belief is clear in the context: “thy who gladly received his word” were the ones baptized.  And the promise is the same, unchanging to them (the Jews), to their children saved the same way, and “to all who are afar off” (Gentiles).  Each one individually is to repent, believe, and  accept baptism.  Unaccountable infants can no more repent, or accept baptism, than they can accept an automobile or a jet plane!  They may or may not resist some physical rite done by a religious group, but there is surely no voluntary obedience on their part.  The command is to seek, not just to passively go through, baptism.

      Some groups sprinkle, pour, or immerse indifferently; some perform a ritual on unthinking infants, thus violating their personal liberty; some immerse to produce a believer; some hold that the believer being immersed may cease to be a believer,  and need another experience (and possibly another immersion).  None of these agree with Baptist convictions.  The unique Baptist principle is just this: absolute, unhesitating obedience to the clear commands of Christ in holy

     Scripture so far as we can understand them.  He said, in Luke 6:46, “Why do ye call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not the things which I say?”  How then may we even hope to please Him or to serve Him if we are in deliberate disobedience?  We fail often enough when  we seek to follow; our humanity manifests itself all too often.  If we try to begin a walk with Christ on any basis except absolute obedience, what can we expect further?

      Thus it is that Baptist baptism is unique; not in the amount of water, for others do immerse; not just because it visibly portrays an experienced salvation, for some will immerse believers if pressed; not because we want to stand apart from fellow-believers as “holier than thou.”  Historic Baptist baptism is unique because Baptists seek  to obey our Lord in company with like-minded believers in these first areas of our Christian walk – salvation, baptism, church membership and fellowship – feeling strongly convicted that to disobey here would limit further obedience severely.  Thus we can have no church fellowship with those whose practice is different.

      But, someone asks, “Where is your Scripture?  What ‘command of Christ’ do you claim to justify your separation from your fellow-believers?”

    Let it be noted historically that those who changed the form and/or significance of baptism were the “first Protestants,” who left true New Testament churches to follow human inventions.  But, can Baptists justify our view by explicit texts?  Besides Acts 2, already noted, surely some of the last words of Jesus Himself should come to mind.  Matthew 28:18-20, often called the “Great Commission,” is enough if there were no other passage – and there are many.  Look carefully at this expanded version.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying:

“All  authority, with the ability to exercise it,

has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth.

Go ye therefore and make disciples out of all the nations,

Immersing them (the disciples) in the Name

Of the  Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

teaching them (the disciples)



And lo, I am with you all, even to the end of the age.  Amen.”

     “All authority, with the ability to act on it” – where?  Here, as well as in Heaven!  “Is given” – perfect tense, stands given!  To whom?  To Him!  We dare not seek to disobey!  “As ye go,” on the way about our daily lives,  “evangelize” – the only imperative verb in  the commission!  Where?  In every nation, of all kinds and classes and ethnic groups – none are to be excluded from this gracious opportunity!  And in Greek grammar, only the disciples are to be baptized, the next step in following this command.  And  logically, only the baptized disciples are to be taught to obey all that Jesus Himself as commanded.  Lost people cannot; disobedient disciples will not; those who seek to obey will fail often enough.  But we have no right to diminish one iota, one jot or tittle, from the precepts and examples which Christ Himself gave and endorsed.  And we insist that these are found in the New Testament alone.

      Yes, Baptist baptism is unique, when it is what it should be.  It does not save; we make no such claim.  We insist that only the saved can be baptized.  It does not keep us saved; we dare not make such a claim.  Obedience is unto blessing, not unto eternal life; that life we already have when we are born into the family of God, with God as our Father and His nature within us

       Scriptural baptism does mark as as those who seek to be obedient servants of our Lord.  And when we have done all that He has commanded, we must still see ourselves as “unprofitable servants,” in the words of Luke 17:10, having done only our duty.  But woe unto us if we deliberately neglect or deny that known duty!

                                                                                   R. Charles Blair

                                                                                  Clinton KY 42031

                                                                                 June 3, 2003, in this form

(The substance of this message was first preached at Elliott Baptist Church, Elliott, Mississippi,  April 21, 2003.  Special thanks are due a dear friend, Brother James Boyce Carlin, for his careful proofreading of the manuscript and several helpful suggestions.  Please feel free to reproduce this material with credit.  May God direct all of us to a deeper obedience is my prayer.)